Of The Elgee Family
William H. Elgee
- Among the members
of the Elgee family in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada it has been
accepted that the earliest of our forefathers here carrying the name
was Alexander, who came with the Loyalists to St. John, in 1783.
He and Capt. John MacLean were said to have owned land on King
Street, St. John. From there he continued to Grand Lake in Queens
County, and obtained a grant of land in Lower Cumberland Bay. His
farm was that first above the junction of the two roads, one from
Young’s Cove, and the other from Cumberland Point, both
leading to Upper Cumberland Bay. The school house in which the
writer of these notes began his public education, now called the
Edgewater School, is a landmark at that junction, for it sits on the
lake side of the road and at the lower line of that lot. The school
ground, however, if my childhood memory serves me right, is taken
from the farm below the line. I have seen, at the home of Burtis
MacLean, at Cumberland Point, a copy of the original grand with
Alexander’s name on that lot, No. 10.
source of my information about the family was in the recollections
of my father, Merrit C. Elgee, 1863-1945, who, in my judgment, had
the most knowledge of the traditions and the members of the
different generations possessed by any in the connection. He
retained in his memory most of the names back to the Loyalist, and,
- in addition to much
that I had already gleaned from him, he gave me, when he was nearly
80 years of age, as full an account as he was able, which I
committed to paper.
original lot was owned, in my boyhood, by Willard Colwell, and well
can I remember, at seven years of age, being permitted in school
hours to go to that house to get from Mrs. Colwell a half-pail of
water to wet the palates of the twenty children in the school.
Afterward one of the sons, Arthur Colwell, returned and carried on
the farm well into the twentieth century.
One problem remains
unsolved: Was not Alexander very young when he came? We do not know
the date of his birth; but we do have the date of his marriage,
1797; and that of his death, 1853. The tradition from my father
represented him as a very old man at the time of his death. Even if
he lived to be ninety he would have been only twenty on arrival.
That also would leave him unmarried until the age of thirty-four,
unusual in that day. It would seem improbable that he could begin
on a bush farm before the age of twenty; even then how could he do
it alone? Who was with him? Mrs. Esther Clark Wright, in her book
on the Loyalists, lists others under the names: Algee, Algie,
Elgee, but of whom we know nothing, as:
David . . . . to Queens
James . . . . to Kings?
John, arrived 1785 . . to
- It seems doubtful
that they could have stayed in New Bruns-
- Wick and raised
children or the families would have met. The lack of any hint of
these names in the tradition makes it fairly sure that they did not
continue to have any close relation with Alexander. Where were his
parents? What were their names? These are unsolved problems.
There are two
possible sources of the Elgee name in the British Isles, of which I
know, one in Scotland and one in Ireland. My father’s memory
held the tradition that Alexander had come from Scotland to the
American colonies, and from there to New Brunswick. This is
confirmed by the manifest lists of the Loyalist ships, and by the
researches of Mrs. Wright in New York, so that in her book he is
listed as from Scot./N.Y. Also father said that the Elgees and the
MacLeans of Cumberland Bay were from the same part of Scotland; and
that Hector MacLean’s son Walter, of father’s generation
became captain of one of Vanderbilt’s yachts, visited
Scotland, and found the two names in the same cemetery.
In my work in Church
History, the minor in my postgraduate study, I found in “The
Covenanters”, Vol. II, by J. King Howison, that James Algie
was hanged for his faith at the Paisley Cross, on October 3, 1685,
along with John Park. They were tenants on a small farm of
Kennishead in Eastwald. They would not sign the Test Act. This was
in the persecution under Graham of Claverhouse. That form of the
name is to be linked with the fact that my grandfather, John,
spelled his name Algee, as I have
- seen his initials,
J.A., on his carpenter’s tools; also the fact that on the
original land grant the name is Alexander Algee; that the same
spelling is to be found in original church records in Cumberland
Bay; and that in the manifest lists the name is spelled both ways.
In Ontario there are
people who spell their name Algie; and others Elgie. C.G. Elgie was
a well-known lawyer and alderman of Toronto. Father found in an
agricultural paper the record of an Elgie family in the area of
Sault Ste. Marie.
Robert Algie came
from the Niagara Peninsula to Moncton when the Eaton store was
opened. Members of that family trace their descent from a brother
of the martyr, James Algie, and have a full family tree of that
branch. Mrs. Robert Algie has been kind enough to procure for me a
copy. The earliest form of the name is there given as Algeo. The
Algeo. Born about 1420. Died 1489. Crawford the historian,
Metcalf, and others agree in stating that the first of the name to
settle in Scotland came from Rome in the train of Thoimas de Tardas,
Abbot of Paisley, in the year 1452. He was a Notary Public and
connected with the Monastery. When the Town of Paisley was erected
into a Burgh of Bardny by King James the Fourth on 19th
August, 1422, the name of Jacobo Algeo appears in the list of the
original fenars as the proprietor of the piece of land known as the
- During both
recent wars, members of that family, from different parts of the
Commonwealth, one of whom received the Victoria Cross, have visited
Scotland and examined the monument at Paisley Cross carrying the two
- of James Algie and
John Park, of which they have a photograph. The church at that
place is known as the Martyr’s Kirk. That family has a
tradition that every generation must have a James. My photostatic
copy of the Algie tree has been accompanied with a few notes by R.
Bruce Algie in which he says that the first change in spelling from
Algeo to Algie appears in the sixth generation, at about the date of
the martyr. He says that as “not all changed their names at
the same time”, “it is quite possible that one changed
to Elgee which, like Algeo, is easier to pronounce than Algie.”
He further says that among the “XIIth generation many moved
abroad. Perhaps Alexander was one of them”.
I found some record
of the Irish source of the name in discovering that the mother of
the poet, Oscar Wilde, was Jane Francisca Elgee. She had become a
writer of local reputation under the signature, ‘Speranza’.
“She was born in Wexford, Ireland, into the family of the
conservative Protestant Irish Elgees”. Her father was a
lawyer, and her grandfather was Archdeacon John Elgee, Rector of
Wexford, of the Irish Protestant Church. Two different traditions
trace this family also to Italy.
So in Ireland we can
find the name as we spell it. However, both tradition and history
definitely trace our family to Scotland. And, though there is
little evidence of the spelling Algie among us in the Maritimes, I
have no question that we are of the same family as
- James Algie of
Paisley Cross, and of Jacobo Algeo, the Notary Public under the
Abbot of Paisley, of Italian birth.
My father told me
that his oldest brother, Jacob, who had a bit more education than
some of the rest, who wrote a copyplate hand, of which I have
samples, and who moved out from home early, once in young manhood
came home, went either the 40 miles by road, or 10 miles across the
lake to Newcastle Creek where Alexander was buried, and found his
name spelled Elgee, and straightway succeeded in turning the whold
family back to the spelling with an ‘E’. Church records
at Lower Cumberland Bay show that this happened between 1866 and
I now turn back from
the name to the family tree. Alexander Elgee, or Algee, married Ann
Robinson after he had been here fourteen years. Records of the
Robertson family at Cambridge, Queens County, reported to me by Mrs.
Victor Robinson, provide the date of Alexander’s marriage to
Ann Robinson, daughter of Patrick Robinson, July 12, 1797. That
branch of the family tree goes as follows:
married Sally Hatton of New York. They came to New Brunswick in
1783. They were buried at Gagetown. They left a family of nine
children, some born before and some after arrival, as follows:
November 13, 1780. Descendants at Cambridge, N.B.
James Descendants at
Newcastle Creek, N.S.
William Married Mary
- John Went to sea.
Unheard of afterward
Bookout. Lived in Ohio
Rebecca Married Humes
Mary Married Albright
Alexander Elgee, July 12, 1797
- The Robinson
line, still established at Cambridge, with whose members we
therefore have had some acquaintance, and who are our very distant
cousins, goes, from father to son across two centuries, as follows:
Patrick; 2. Charles; 1780-1864; 3. John, 1819-1900; 4. George,
1864-1954; 5. Victor, 1898 - , who married Helen Chapman, daughter
of Mr. And Mrs. Acel Chapman, also life-time friends of our family;
6. Reginald, 1925 - , who married Lena Wiggins; 7. George Brian,
1951 - .
Another family with
whom we have had close acquaintance also belongs in this line.
Of generation 4,
Martha Robinson, sister of George, married John R. Belyea also of
Cambridge or Narrows. Their children: George; Fred; Rev. Robert;
Edith; and Flora long have been our good friends.
The second generation
in the Elgee family is as follows: Children of Alexander Elgee and
John, born April 4,
1800. Died 1888. Buried at Cumberland Point
- My father’s
memory preserved a number of facts with some suppositions about this
second generation. Since my family is descended from this John we
have the date of his birth in 1800. If, therefore, James was the
eldest, born perhaps in 1798, it would seem to signify the tradition
of continuing the name of James. The general understanding that he
also inherited the original farm would further be in accord with the
belief that he was the eldest. However, father understood that he
traded the farm for a vessel, a wood-boat, on the Grand lake and the
St. John river. He sold, bought a larger vessel, and went to sea.
The family then lost all trace of him, and took it for granted that
he was drowned at sea. However, father’s brother, Jacob,
living in western United States, reported that he had found James’
sons, who said that he had not been lost at sea, but had married a
German woman, their mother.
William went to Nova
Scotia; and father’s cousin, Ada Elgee Speight of St. John
gave him the address of William’s descendants at Black Rock,
N.S. Recently also I have further information about this from Ada’s
daughter, Hazel Speight. Ada’s record was that her father,
- William of generation
3, being in St. John from Queens County on a hurried business trip,
met a ship-master who, on hearing his name, told him that he knew
his relatives in Nova Scotia, and offered to take him to see them.
Being under the necessity to return to his family and his farm, he
was unable to accept.
In 1958 I visited
some of these people. After supper on August 29, being at the
Baptist Convention at Wolfville, I drove to Cambridge, N.S., and
thence to Lakeville. Here I found Elizabeth, widow of Robert Algee,
and her son, Raymond. Later I received a letter from Mrs. Malcolm
MacLean, nee Della Algee. Her grandfather, William Algee, settled
at Black Rock, some miles nearer the ocean. Their tradition is that
he was one of three brothers from England who were ship-wrecked;
another went to New Brunswick; another to Massachusetts. If you
will substitute Britain for England and recognize that there was a
ship-wreck whether all three brothers were in it or not, it is not
difficult to harmonize this with our records.
On the supposition
that this William came from New Brunswick he is of the 2nd
generation in the Maritimes. Mrs. MacLean says that he lived until
October 8, 1891. He was twice married. His first wife’s name
is unknown; his second wife was Elizabeth Lawson from Scotland.
William’s only child, apparently, was of this second union,
Alexander Bruce, generation 3.
Alexander Bruce also
was twice married. By his
- first wife, Annie
Cameron, his children were Robert, Garfield, Emma, and William
Wilbur. His second wife was Annie Goris, and their children were
Alexander Bruce, Della, Gertie, Charles, and Dora. These compose
generation 4. It is Elizabeth, the widow of this Robert, and their
son Raymond whom I have met. I believe there is another son with a
family in the area. And it is this Della, Mrs. MacLean, whose
letter I have. Her mother, Annie Goris Algee, is living, and has a
There are several
circumstances which convince me that we are of the same family. I
believe the two traditions do not conflict more than is to be
expected in oral accounts subject to the misunderstandings of 135
years. The names Alexander and William speak of the relation. The
names Robert and Bruce show a link with Scotland. The date of
William’s death, 1891, corresponds closely with that of John
in New Brunswick, 1888, as of the same generation. Most records of
the New Brunswick name in that period show it as Algee.
Of two other members
of generation 2 in New Brunswick, Alexander’s daughters, Betsy
and Hannah, father knew only that they remained unmarried and lived
together at Salmon river. Salmon river could mean Chipman, N.B.,
but I knew that the early settlement was at Gaspereaux Forks, five
miles above the present Chipman, where the First Baptist Church is
still located, while that in the village of Chipman is Second.
Perhaps they lived there.
- As recently as 1959 I
have obtained further information to confirm this hypothesis. In
Fredricton, nursing in one of our homes, I find Mrs. Alexander F.
Hopkins whose home is in Gaspereau Forks. “Father said that
two great aunts of our name, Betsy and Hannah, lived at Salmon
River. You would not know of them?” “Yes, I have often
heard my father talk of them.” What a discovery! She knows
the six-room house which was their home, and which I since have
seen. It was repaired as a hunting lodge, and now is owned by Oran
Wallace of Fredricton. It is four miles up the Gaspereau stream
where the woods are creeping in upon the old settlement. Mrs.
Hopkins’ understanding is that these Algee women made their
living by hand weaving of woolen cloth in the homes of the
neighbourhood, a lumbering area, where heavy woolen cloth was in
demand. In the church records there is the entry that in 1871
Hannah Algee and Betsy Algee each gave one dollar toward the salary
of the Minister, Rev. J. E. Hopper, who was settling for one year.
Of course, each such gift would probably be equal in value to twenty
Katherine or Katie,
seems to have been something of a character. Tragedy entered her
life early, for, while unmarried, she gave birth to a son. I do not
know his name. Then, on the basis of some principle of
independence, or because he was a ne’er-do-well, she refused
to marry the child’s father, and reared the boy herself.
We know something of
Katie’s later years. In the church book of First Grand Lake
Baptist Church, at Lower
- Cumberland Bay is the
record that Catherine Algee was baptized on May 5, 1866, by Elder
Strang. If this is our Katherine, and we know of no other, she
would probably be over 50 years of age and ten miles from home. For
we know that she made her home and died at Newcastle Creek on the
north-western side of Grand lake, 18 miles below Chipman.
Father knew this and
also that Alexander, her father had been buried there. So, on a
brief holiday trip in 1933 I took father, mother, and my family,
from Jemseg, circled Grand lake, and stopped at Newcastle Creek to
enquire and to look at the cemetery. We found a wooden grave marker
which had been driven into the ground, had rotted off, and been
driven in again, on which were the two initials, K. E. Father was
prepared for this discovery, so we had found the place where Katie
was buried, and evidence of spelling. Later, on October 2, 1951,
being in the area attending a district meeting, I went back and
hunted out Mr. Harry Flower, the caretaker. He said that he had
seen that board but did not know for whom it stood. His wife
recommended that I enquire of Mrs. Rupert Sypher of Minto. I did
so, and my further knowledge of Katie comes from Mrs. Sypher.
Katie spent her last
years in a home which had been a Robinson home at Newcastle Creek.
This, I feel sure, was an uncle’s or a cousin’s home
among her mother’s people. The record of the Robinson family,
her mother’s brothers and sisters, says that James Robinson
- Newcastle. Into this
home a boy, Leonard Akerly, son of Mr. And Mrs. Menzies Akerly, was
received after the death of his mother. Katherine he called Aunt
Katie, as many people did. So Mrs. Sypher has supposed that he was
a nephew, but I can find no evidence which makes this probable.
A little later
Frances Chapman, 1836 – 1916, came to this home to work.
Here, once again, Mrs. Victor Robinson, whose maiden name was
Chapman, has given me help, for this Frances Chapman was her
grandfather’s sister. Leonard Akerly and Frances Chapman were
married and Mrs. Sypher (Bertha) was their youngest child, and
accordingly grew up also in this Robinson home. Leonard Akerley,
her father, was drowned when she was very small, so she scarcely
remembers him. But she remembers Katie well. So here is a living
memory, only once removed, from Alexander himself.
Katie lived to be
very old. Mrs. Sypher remembers how deeply stooped she was. She
would sleep in her chair with her head almost between her knees.
She died when Mrs. Sypher herself was, as she considers, about 17
years old. It was in March, snowy, wet, and slushy. She had to
stay at home from school to help care for Katie. Mrs. Sypher was
born, as I find by subtracting her age from the date of our
conversation, in 1874. Therefore the date of Katie’s death,
when the girl was 17, was 1891. William Algee, perhaps her brother,
in Nova Scotia, died the same year.
Katie belonged to a
very strict generation. Mrs.
- Sypher remembers how
strongly opposed all the Robinson women were to playing cards. Her
mother, while working there as a girl, found them. Being
unacquainted with cards, and thinking how pretty they were, she
showed them to the older women. They were horrified and burned
them. The girl was puzzled between the piety of destroying the
cards and the lack of honesty in taking what belonged to another, a
problem of ethics which that generation sometimes failed to face.
Alexander had still
another daughter whose first name father did not know. All that he
could recall was that she married John Chesley and lived in St.
John. Charles Elgee also, of generation 4, in Fredericton, has
childhood memories which strongly confirm this connection. When he
was a small boy his father William, of generation 3, visited John
and Alfonzo Chesley in St. John where they had an iron foundry. He
remembers the relationship as being that of nephew and uncle. Since
Mrs. Chesley was of generation 2, she would be William’s aunt,
and her husband his uncle by marriage. This relation is plainly
indicated by the fact that Charles has Chesley as his second name.
There are very few of
the Chesley name now in St. John, or even New Brunswick, I believe.
I have communicated with Mr. John (Jack) Chesley in St. John, and
with his cousin, Mrs. W. R. Harrington, whose maiden name was
Chesley. They can trace their family back to the grand-parents, but
know nothing of the generation before
- That, and it would be
through a great grandmother that we might expect to trace the Algee
that John Clesley had charge of the light-houses down the coast; and
Charles thought an Alfonzo Chesley from St. John, who perished in a
prairie fire, was the brother. I doubt both of these
identifications. I consider them to be examples of natural
misplacement of incident in an oral tradition. The facts are true
but falsely placed. The Alfonzo many years later in the fire is
evidence of a family name being carried on. Mr. Jack Chesley tells
me that the John Chesley in charge of the light-houses was two
generations younger than we supposed. So I still have failed to
find Mrs. Chesley’s first name. But of the basic facts there
can be no question.
Finally we come to
John, the last member of generation 2 to be considered, not the
latest in birth, but left to the last for convenience, since my
family are among his descendents. John Elgee or Algee, 1800-1888,
married Phoebe Smith. Their children were:
October 13, 1823
- I know little of
Phoebe’s family except that she was a sister of William Smith,
and an aunt of Asa Smith
- who lived beside my
father, in the house next below the Lower Cumberland Bay Baptist
Church in my earliest childhood.
John and Phoebe lived
on the whole farm next above the same church, the place of my birth,
and two miles below Alexander’s original lot. Father
understood that this farm had been acquired from a Langley family.
And John Langley’s name appears there in the copy of the grant
which I have seen.
I have postponed
giving the account of the last days of Alexander, the pioneer, until
this place because it is so closely connected with his grandsons
that they must be on the scene before it can reasonably be told.
I have said that
Alexander gave or sold his original farm to his son James. On the
other hand he obtained more land, the farm third below his own
which, in my boyhood, was occupied by David Phillips and his son
Rufus, and perhaps the farm first below his own, next below the
school, where in my memory Howard Phillips lived. In the grand
these properties are designated with the name Wiggins. On what I
have called the Rufus Phillips farm, Alexander had a house which I
have seen, since it was that part with gabel to the road standing in
Now when his grandson
William was planning to be married, William’s father, John,
divided his farm with him, giving William the upper half, whether by
gift or sale I do not know. This was the farm next above the
- church. On this upper
half William began to build a house.
At this time it would
seem that Alexander’s wife had died and he was alone. He said
to his grandson William, “Don’t bother to build. Come
and take care of me, and I will give you my farm”, the Rufus
Phillips farm. William agreed and did so.
The story continues
that the old man lived only a year. He died in July. He had been
feeling fine. They had green beans for dinner. He ate heartily and
died before night. He was buried at Newcastle Creek on the other
side of Grand lake. I draw the conclusion that his wife was already
buried there among her own people, the Robinsons.
I feel sure that the
above story is correct, although I now have evidence to make me
suspect that father was wrong in the date. He believed that
Alexander died about 1845. I now would place it in 1853. Charles
Elgee, a younger son of the above William, tells me that James, his
oldest brother, the oldest of the family, was born in 1853. I also
have this date from his grave stone and in other records. This
dates William’s marriage and the beginning of his care of
Alexander perhaps in 1852, and the old gentleman’s death in
- NOTE: There is much
more of this record, it is 117 pages long. I don’t think I
will type it all out due to the fact the most closely related Alger
branch of my family is mostly mentioned only on pages 8, 9, and 10.
If you are interested in the rest of this book, please send me an
e-mail, there is a lot of information in it. - Jessi