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September 22, 2013

Finding a Black Ancestor Using Circumstantial Evidence, Part 3

On to Upper Canada Sundries!

Certificate of Character
Still desperately wanting to know where Jonathan's various land lots were located so I could find some exact dates of acquisition and leaving, I decided to next look through the Heir & Devissee Commission records (unindexed but online) and the Upper Canada Sundries (also unindexed but online at

And once more I got lucky. In the Sundries I found a  Certificate of Character for J. Butler, a black man. It was dated March 1816 and noted as in Etobicoke. That was a huge clue! Etobicoke is on the outside western edge of the city of Toronto. I was getting closer to figuring out exactly where Jonathan lived. 

Another clue in this small document is that signer indicated he had known Jonathan for several years. We're slowly narrowing down his immigration from Pennsylvania to Upper Canada *if* this is our man.

This document does not provide a full first name but in 1816 there were very few people in the Toronto township area, and even fewer black men named J. Butler! As well the date of the certificate fits well with Jonathan's petition for land. After the War of 1812 those born in the USA had to either sign an oath or provide a certificate of character and loyalty to the Crown. 

Think Outside the Box

After mulling on this new find I realized that the man who signed the Certificate of Character had to be someone who knew Jonathan fairly well. That meant it was likely to be a neighbour. Therefore if I could read the signature, I could try to find land records for the person signing. That might give me a more precise location for Jonathan in 1816! 

1816 signature
I concluded that the signature was "S Smith".  The first "S" is a very strong straight line S joined to the S in Smith, making it look like a stylized "H" But comparing the signature to the rest of the document leads me to believe it is definitely S. Smith. That meant I was looking for an S Smith in Etobicoke. 

1796 signature
My research found that a Col. Samuel Smith was granted a huge area of land in Etobicoke which he partitioned into smaller sections and leased to early settlers. Etobicoke was right on the border of the exisiting city of Toronto and it seemed very likely that this is where Jonathan had settled after leaving Pennsylvania. 

A check of a map of Toronto Township shows that the Etobicoke River runs along its eastern border. An 1881 map of Toronto Township reveals that Samuel Smith's son or grandson B.S. Smith owns a large tract of land bordering that same river, close to Lake Ontario on the south. The clues are coming together at last! 

Looking for Proof of My Theory

My next step was to prove that the Certificate of Character for Jonathan had indeed been signed by Col. Smith. If it was, it was very strong circumstantial evidence that Jonathan was one of the settlers who leased land from the Col. 

It was easy to find signature samples from Col. Smith. He was an important figure in early Ontario history and as such, signed many documents. You can see a sample of his signature from a 1796 document above. My vote is yes they are the same man. The "S" in Saml. is almost identical to the "S" in Jonathan's Certificate. It is a hard straight line sharp pointed S.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

And there you have it. This is how I have narrowed my search for Jonathan Butler's whereabouts in Ontario before 1837. A lot of what I have found is circumstantial but as this evidence piles up, each piece adds more weight to what I found previously.

My next step is to find a list of the settlers who leased land from Col. Smith. I might get lucky and find an exact location (lot and concession number). I may have to look further, check other records to find this information but I am hopeful it can be found. It just needs patience and creative thinking. Oh, and not jumping on a "fact" without solid proof or a whole lot of circumstantial evidence to support it!

Part 4 (the last of 4) will be posted tomorrow


Celia Lewis said...

The suspense is killing me, Lorine! I thought this part would finish it, but nooooo, we have to come back another day!! Very fascinating story, and great clues/digging too. This has been very educational as well as interesting.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

I hope you're not disappointed Celia! Writing this out was very helpful for me to organize my thinking and spot clues I missed first time around.

But I'm not sure if non-relatives would find it interesting or not!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

PS Part 3 was originally the last post but I decided I wanted to sum things up and add some miscellaneous items I've found on Jonathan over the years.