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February 8, 2013

William Massey Goes to Jail in 1863!

1863 Indictment William Massey for Theft
St. Mary's was, and still is, a very small town where my husband's 3rd great-grandfather William Massey lived from 1860 until his death in 1865.  Before 1860 he lived in Quebec with his wife and family.

William, a teamster, worked for the newly formed American Express Company which had an office in St. Mary's in the mid 1800s. In 1862 William was charged with stealing over $800.00 from the Company (approximately $20,000.00 now) and arraigned for trial. One of the jurors at his arraignment was non other than Timothy Eaton, founder of Eaton's Company stores.

Court Records Missing

We have not had any further luck finding out what happened at William's trial, as the court records for that area and time are missing. Likewise the newspaper for the town of St. Mary's is missing all issues from 1862. But we believe that he skipped town before his trial and fled to the USA to enlist in the Civil War. Our reason for thinking this was a newspaper article regarding William's daughter Mary Ann (Massey) Birtch in 1927:

Newspaper Article re Massey
"When the Civil War broke out in the States Mrs. Birtch's father went to Tennessee and joined Grant's Army and after the war he was so broken in health that after spending six months in a Federal Hospital he was discharged and came home to St. Marys where he died. "

Civil War Records Hunt

For years we've searched for a record of a William Massey born in Ireland ca 1820, living Ontario Canada and joining the Union Forces. But nothing was found so we began to wonder if he joined under an assumed name.

Jail Time!

Then the breakthrough! William Massey was sent to trial, found guilty and given 6 months at hard labour in the Stratford Jail. He was found guilty on April 18, 1863. His sentence began December 10, 1863 and he was released June 10, 1864. So William was incarcerated in the Stratford Jail and not in Tennessee fighting for Grant. Sadly William died a year and a half after his release from jail.

Our best guess is that a lie was told to his children (ages 3 to 16) when he was imprisoned. Far better to tell the little ones that Daddy was off being a hero fighting a war, then to say Daddy was a thief and was sent to jail. And note MaryAnn's words in the newspaper article "....after spending 6 months in a Federal Hospital he was discharged..." Wow - 6 months - his sentence in Stratford Jail!" We are just surprised that in such a small town, the gossip didn't make the rounds  for the kids to get wind of! Or did MaryAnn simply make up the story on her own.

We think the jail term may have hastened William's early death. He was 41 when he served his time at hard labour. And it would have been very hard. Conditions at the jail were not good, there was very little ventilation, it was cold in winter and hot in summer. Disease was almost certainly rampant.

So as sad as it is to think of William suffering as he must have, we are delighted to have found yet another bit of detail to help us form our story of this ancestor.

Prison Records Provide the Clues Needed

It was not the non-existent court records suddenly appearing that provided this information. It was the records of the Stratford Jail. They are sparse but they do provide the prisoner's name, age, length of stay in Canada, place of birth, crime and date imprisonment began and ended. The records also provided us with height, colour of eyes and hair, and a few other comments about his character. William has two mentions, the second states that his conduct as a prisoner was good.

The other very welcome bit of information we gleaned from the jail records was that William had lived in Canada for 20 years. This gives us an approximate year of immigration from Ireland. Since ships passenger lists to Canada were not archived before 1865 we had no year of immigration and had previously only known that in 1843 William married Ellen Montgomery in Quebec. But we did not know if he arrived in Quebec as a child (with parents) or as a young man.

Now we know that he was approximately 21 years old when he sailed from Ireland to Canada. Since his wife's family was already in Quebec, and had been for many years, we assume he met her soon after arrival.


Unknown said...

Happy Blogiversary!! So that was a fair and impartial jury? Wow! I'm sure you will always wonder if he actually committed the crime or he was just the person to take the blame.


Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Betty that's exactly what hubs wonders - did William really steal that money? It would be pretty stupid of him, he'd be bound to get caught

And thanks for the birthday wishes!

BDM said...

I love it when perseverance unravels a family story, even though we understand (or try to) the reasons for its invention. Good post! Also interesting to see that T. Eaton spent early years in St Mary's.