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Nolan-McCormick History
 
 
This history is written by Meg McGowan.  Family members are free to cite it with permission and proper attribution.  It is a work in progress and will be updated as new information become available. For this reason, please do not copy the material and post it elsewhere, as the material may be outdated over time..
St. Joseph’s Church in Macton, Ontario, home of the Nolan and McCormick families.
 
 
A Nolan-McCormick Family History
James Nolan emigrated from County Carlow, Ireland, which was home to many Nolans. He may have arrived in Ontario in the late 1820's, about 20 years before the mass exodus caused by the Great Irish Famine. James son, also James, married Catherine McCormick, the daughter of  John and Cecily McCormick, originally from County Donegal, Ireland. The Nolan and McCormick familes were among the early settlers in Waterloo-Wellesley counties in Ontario.
 
It isn't known whether James Nolan and his wife Catherine McNertny were married in Ireland or in Canada. Their oldest son Anthony was born in North America about 1830.  Economic dislocation in Ireland in the early 19th century was a stimulus for pre-famine Irish emigration. Kerby Miller, in Emigrants and Exiles, describes the reluctance of Irish Catholics to emigrate, even in the face of great economic hardship at home. Many considered emigration forced "exile," and even after they decided to leave still, initially at least, hoped to return home.
 
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had stimulated the development of a cash economy in Ireland, but after the war, demand for and prices of agricultural products dropped. Faced with economic hardship, more Irish looked to emigration, as economic opportunities outside of Ireland became more apparent. In the early 1820's the British government gave a huge boost to southern Irish emigration with free passage to Canada and land grants to a small number of impoverished Irish, primarily from County Cork. The general success of this initial effort encouraged further aids to emigration. About 20,000 Irish emigrated in 1827 and over 400,000 left in the decade from 1828 to 1837.
 
Peterborough County, Ontario was the site of one of the earliest organized emigration plans, starting in 1823. Although the Nolans aren't on the list of the original settlers brought in by Peter Robinson, they must have been encouraged by reports from North America.
 
The voyage from Ireland was a tough one.  One of the members of the extended Nolan family, Laughlin, described his family’s crossing in a 1918 newspaper interview with the Peterborough Examiner:
 
The journey started out by the family being held up for eight days from crossing to England by a storm in which the sister ship to the one he was to sail was wrecked.
 
The final sailing was made from Liverpool on a three-masted West Indian trader, which carried guns in case of encountering pirates which were fairly plentiful in ’33.  The sailing across occupied nine weeks and three days, a fairly brief journey in those days.
 
Arriving at Quebec the Nolan family came by boat to Cobourg, and from there to Rice Lake by land, and latterly wound up in a woods which was later to become Peterborough.   There were then three log wood stores . . . and a few log huts in isolated spots.. .
 
Any municipal affairs were transacted in a roughly built log hut. . . This building acted a market hall and city hall.  The few supplies which were ever on hand were brought the the three small stores by waggons [stet], the drivers of which were in constant fear of meeting wolves in the dense and lonely woods by the trail.
 
Although there is uncertainty about the birthplace of James oldest son Anthony (his obituary lists his birthplace as New York but Canada census records indicate his birthplace in Peterborough), four or five more Nolan children were born in Peterborough.  On Dec. 27, 1834 , James Nolan bought the western half of Lot 19, 5th Concession in Douro township near Peterborough for 25 pounds, agreeing to four yearly payments to the Commissioner for Crown Lands.  A later note indicates that James had difficulty making the scheduled payments, which was perhaps not usual for the early settlers.   James made the final payment “about November 1846 at Montreal and was promised that my Deed would be forwarded to Peterboro within a month from that time.”  He was living in Wellesley township then and had come to Peterborough in December 1847 to obtain the deed.  A copy of the bill of sale dated 22 Dec. 1847 was eventually filed in Peterborough.
 
An Edward Nolan moved to Peterborough from Ballykealy Townland, County Carlow, with his large family sometime about 1834. Edward remained in Peterborough, where his descendants live today. Although the exact relationship between James and Edward has not been confirmed, a family relationship is documented in later newspaper accounts which identify James Nolan’s grandson James Joseph and Edward Nolan’s grandson Edward as cousins.   James No(w)lan was one of two men attesting to Edward’s claim to a plot of land that he wanted to purchase in Douro township in March 1839.
 
Move to Wellesley
 
According to a Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Wellington published in 1867, the village of Macton in Peel Township,  was first settled in 1843 by James Nolen [stet] and Matthew Cogan. The major census in Ontario taken in 1852 lists a Nolan household consisting of James and Catherine, ages 48 and 47 on their next birthdays. James was listed as Farmer, and the home was described as a Log Shanty, as were the other homes in the same area. Five children included Anthony, 22; Mary Ann, 19; Ellen, 13; James 11; and Michael Hugh, 7, all born in Canada. Michael was listed on a later census as having been born in Wellesley.  Anthony was noted as absent from the family. Given that James may still have owned the property in Peterborough, Anthony may have been living there. His obituary indicated he married for the first time in Peterborough.  (A family tree prepared by Nolan descendant Blanche Yearsley lists another unnamed child between James and Michael, but other evidence for this has not been located.)  In February 1861, another census yielded more information about the Nolan household. James and Catherine were both listed as age 56 on their next birthday. Catherine's maiden name is listed as McAnatley. (The name McNertny seems more likely as it was reported by her grandson James Joseph at the time of his father’s death.) Another family member is listed for the first time, Martin Nolan, age 25. The ages of the other family members vary slightly from the previous enumeration, Anthony, 27; Mary Ann, 23; Ellen, 21; James 19; and Michael 17. On this list, all but Michael are listed as born in Peterborough; and Michael in Wellesley. The family home is a one-story log home built in 1855.
 
Although Mary Ann and Ellen were listed with the Nolan family on the 1861 census, both had already married and had at least one child each by this time. Mary Ann had married James O’Neill of Peel Township and their first child, William was born about 1860. Ellen married Frederick August Potter in the United Lutheran Church of Waterloo on May 29, 1859. Their first child, Mary Ann, was born in April 1860. Ellen and Frederick Potter had five children before Ellen died in 1868 at the age of 30. After his wife’s death, Frederick sent the older children to be cared for by his sister and the younger by his parents.
 
A puzzling piece of information is included in the 1861 census. Anthony is again listed as absent from the home, as are Martin and Catherine,  the mother. There are marks for these three names in the column for "Members of the Family Absent."  It is possible this is an early indication of Catherine’s later health problems (see below).
 
The McCormicks
 
Just across the county line from the Nolans in Peel Township, Wellington County, John and Cecily McCormick were among the earliest European settlers. Catherine (Kate)  McCormick was their second daughter.
 
The European settlers were not the first outsiders in the area. According to Portraits of Peel, by the 1999 Peel History Committee, fugitive American Black slaves had been arriving in the area in the 1830's, and were the first to clear the land and plant crops. Many of them settled in a wooded area along the Conestogo River, which became known as Queen’s Bush. They erected a church and school in a town called Little Buffalo, which became Yatton. The squatters were allowed to purchase their claims after the land was surveyed, but the land was valued at about $3 an acre. On an installment plan with 10 per cent interest, few could pay, and many abandoned their land. Others lost their claims through scare tactics or coercion by greedy land agents or buyers.
 
A survey of Peel was undertaken in 1843 by Robert Kerr. His notes indicate that at least 30 settlers lived on Concessions 1, 2, and 3, Lots 11 through 22. Within a decade after the survey, all the land in Peel had been taken up. John McCormick and his son Manus were given the original deed to 100 acres in the western half of Concession 1, Lot 11 in 1847. They may have settled on the land for a few years before registering their claim. The registration office was in Guelph, nearly a two day journey .
 
Catherine McCormick’s marriage record lists her birthplace as Peel Township, but this is unlikely. She was listed as age 28 on the marriage record, suggesting she was born in 1840-41 before Peel was surveyed. On the 1852 census, she was listed as age 14, suggesting she was born in about 1838. Her next oldest sibling was her sister Rose, who was 19 on the 1852 census. Rose was born in Ireland, suggesting the family came to Canada some time between 1834 and 1838, a few years after the James Nolan family. A death record for Catherine’s younger brother John indicates he was born in Simcoe County, before before the family settled  in Peel between 1843 and 1847.
 
It seems clear the McCormicks came from County Donegal. The marriage record for their son Patrick McCormick,  incorrectly listed as the son of a James McCormick, was born in Donegal about 1834.
 
Portraits of Peel contains information about the McCormick’s land claims in Peel: “In 1847, John and Cecily McCormick purchased the west half of Lot 11 from the Crown and in 1848, the Crown land east half of Lot 11 2 was purchased. They farmed this land with the help of their five sons. In 1860 they bought the 200 acres of Lot 12, Concession 1 and in 1864 they purchased 50 acres on Concession 2.” This would bring their total family acreage to 450 acres.
 
Life was very rough. Cecilia Nolan, daughter of Kate McCormick Nolan, reported much later that the family “had to follow a trail, on horse back, through hardwood bushes for twenty miles to get a sack of flour and some groceries.”  Wheat, peas, oats and barley were the chief crops in this area, and crop rotation was widely practiced. Potatoes, turnips, fax and hemp were grown on a small scale. Yields were generally good, but there were difficult years, including a hard winter and July frost in 1852 which wiped out food production and caused famine. This was followed by a wheat boom at the time of the Crimean war (1853-6), leading to high prices for land but then followed by a crash in prices. 1860 was the deadline for many settlers to fulfill their land purchase contracts. 200 settlers signed a petition to the Governor General asking for relief from payments, which was denied. Many lost their land at this time, while others were saved by a fund put up by the county council.  Increased American trade during the Civil War and western expansion led to a conversion from grain farming to cattle farming in Peel. Westward expansion also lead to a population decline up until 1900.
 
In adjacent Wellesley Township in Waterloo County, James Nolan finally acquired the eastern half of Concession 14, Lot 11 (100 acres) in 1869 from Henry Jackson, who had acquired it from the Crown in the same year. At the time of his death in 1873, his property is listed as the 100 acres in the Western Section of this lot, though the land records indicate he acquired this section in 1874, which would have been after his death. The land records indicate the eastern section passed to his son James Jr. (pictured above right) in 1873 through the elder James’ will.
    
Village of Macton
    
Macton developed around St. Joseph’s Church  (pictured above left), which was built in 1858 on a corner of the Connolly farm; and a hotel, which was started by James Connolly. The hotel, which also served as the post office, was taken over by Manus McCormick after James Connolly died, and subsequently operated by Manus’ son John and his wife Regina. After John’s early death at age 37 in 1902, it was operated by Regina. The hotel was closed in 1934. Portraits of Peel has a photo of John and Regina’s son Albert and his wife and six children and three other men by the hotel. Macton also had a Methodist church, livery stable and blacksmith shop, and in the 1860’s and 1870’s a grocery store. According to a history of St. Joseph’s Church, the purchase of three acres of land for the church caused “considerable friction and trouble.” When Fr. Laussier became pastor in 1858, he organized construction of the church, which “cost considerably more than was expected so that there was some dissatisfaction and murmuring.”
 
James Nolan and Catherine McCormick were married at St. Joseph’s Church Feb. 1, 1869 by Fr. Laussier. James McCormick and Mary Connolly were witnesses. The marriage record contains Catherine’s mother’s name and it is very difficult to read. A McCormick family member says Cecily's family name is Gohen. Another record for Catherine’s brother John lists their mother’s name as Gallon.  Other sources suggest her name might have been Callaghan or Gallahan.  James and Catherine made their home on the Nolan family farm, although in 1871 they are listed as having their own home on the property. Their first child, a daughter Mary, was born in March 1870 and died less than three months later. Their second, also a daughter, Cecilia Ann, named for Catherine’s mother, was born in 1872.
 
Death of James Nolan Senior
    
The elder James Nolan died May 9, 1873 of apoplexy (stroke) and Bright’s disease of the kidneys. His will, dated April 21, about 20 days before his death, was witnessed by Manus McCormick and James Connolly, the Macton hotel keepers.  James left his household goods to his wife; gave $5 each to three sons, Anthony, Michael, and Martin, and $100 to his daughter Mary Ann O’Neill, who was living in the area. The balance of the estate, which included 200 acres of farm land and two village lots in the town of Hawksville, Wellesley township, was left to his son, James, on the condition that he pay his mother $150 per year. There were no bequests to any of the children of Ellen Nolan Potter, who had died five years earlier. James signed his will with an x mark, indicating he was unable to write.
 
A statement with the will from the attending Doctor Vardon indicated that at the time of his death, James Sr. had “rented his farm in the Township of Wellesley and moved across the road to the township of Peel living in a small house which he rented and lived in up to the time of his decease.”  Dr. Vardon noted that James Sr. had been a resident of Waterloo County for “upwards of 20 years”.
 
The small gifts to James' three sons might suggest some estrangement in the family. We don’t know what happened to Martin and Michael, but Anthony had enlisted in the Union Army in Buffalo, New York on September 19, 1862. He may have falsely listed his birthplace as New York state in order to enlist. He fought in Company K, 9th Cavalry Regiment of New York, which had already fought at Bull Run in August 1862 and was to fight at Chancellorsville, in May 1963 and Gettysburg in July 1863. Anthony Nolan was wounded at Meadow Bridge, Va, in May 12, 1864. The Meadow Bridge battle is described in Union army records:
 
The 4th Michigan cavalry was ordered at daylight to cross the Chickahominy at Meadow Bridge. The Confederates destroyed the bridge on the approach of the force, but a crossing was effected on the railroad bridge and the enemy driven back half a mile into his entrenchment's upon a hill. Reinforcements were sent up at this time and after an hour’s engagement the Confederates were flanked and routed. The losses, although not definitely reported, were not heavy.”
 
Anthony was promoted to Full Sergeant at some time during his service and mustered out on June 1, 1865.
 
Catherine’s Illness
    
Anthony’s mother, the widow, Catherine McNertny Nolan, went into a mental decline in the decade following her husband’s death.  In the 1881 census,  Catherine Nolan, age 71, widow, Catholic, born in Ireland, was living in the House of Industry (poor house) in Berlin, about 20 miles from Macton. Listed in the same record, two lines below Catherine Nolan, is Rosinda Potter. age 15, born in Ontario. There is no record to indicate that Rosinda Potter might be the child of Ellen Nolan Potter. However, it would not have been unheard of for a family to put an elderly senile family member in the poor house, since all the family had to work on the farm. It is also possible that the family might have sent one of her motherless grandchildren with her to care for her.
 
Catherine was later admitted to the Toronto Insane Asylum, from the Waterloo County Gaol  on August 29, 1882 .  She was diagnosed with Dementia,  suffering from it for one year.  The record indicates she “imagines she is in hell in charge of the Devil and that they use her well.”  Information provided with the online Ontario Genealogy data base asylum records provides some background on the handling of the mentally ill during this period:
 
“The establishment of mental hospitals in Upper Canada from the 1840s to the 1880s brought some relief to mentally ill people who had previously been placed in jails, almshouses, or who had been left to care for themselves. Throughout Upper Canada’s early history, many mentally ill people were left to wander at will, provided that they neither endangered nor were perceived to endanger people or property. Others, who were viewed as disruptive or who elicited fear in the populace, were placed in almshouses, poorhouses, jails, and penitentiaries. This rise of institutional psychiatry in the form of asylums, while it did bring some relief to mentally ill people, also caused a considerable amount of misery for a portion of the asylum residents.”
 
Catherine stayed at the Toronto asylum until her death from senility on September 23, 1883.  The inscriptions for St. Joseph’s cemetery in Macton do not have a grave listing for either the elder James or elder Catherine. There are some stones listed as unreadable, so it is possible that they are buried in this cemetery.
 
Catherine McCormick Nolan's parents, John and Cecily, died in the first decade after her marriage. Cecily died sometime before the 1871 census, and a death record has not yet been found. In 1871, John McCormick was living on the family farm with his sons, James, 28, John, 26, and Bernard, 24. The elder John died in 1877 of dysentery, after an illness of one week. The family lands had been divided among three sons, Manus, Patrick and James.
 
James Jr.  and Kate Nolan had five more children while living on the farm in Wellesley township, and four grew to adulthood. Another daughter named Mary was born in October 1873 but died less than two years later and is buried with her sister of the same name in St. Joseph’s cemetery. Catherine Alice was born in 1875; James Joseph in 1877, and John in 1878. There is an official birth record for a son Martin Edward, born May 12, 1880 but on the 1881 census, he is not listed.  There was  confusion about birth dates of the family members throughout their lives. The 1900 U. S. census, for example, lists James’s birth year as 1846 and Catherine’s as 1848, which are clearly inconsistent with the 1851 census. On the 1900 census their son James Joseph’s birth is listed as Dec. 1877 although it was recognized by the family to be Dec. 7 1878, which is consistent with the 1881 census. (Celia Rowley had to swear in an affidavit that she had found a record of this birthday in the family bible. The affidavit was used to obtain pension benefits for James Joseph in the absence of a birth certificate.) In the 1900 census, John is listed as born in Sept. 1880, which wouldn’t be possible if Catherine had given birth to Martin Edward in May 1880.
 
Farming was very difficult in the area. A severe winter in 1885, attributed to the after effects of eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia two years earlier, caused crop failures, and many area residents lost their farms, according to Portraits of Peel. James and Kate Nolan were among those who who were unable to keep up payments. James had transferred 60 acres of the western half of the farm to "executors of Conrad Gies" in 1876. In 1885 he transferred his remaining 140 acres to Joseph Beavers, who apparently held the mortgage on the property. There was considerable legal action occurring at this time. Several legal actions against J. Beavers or G. Beavers are listed in the land records. Subsequently in the same year, Mr. Beavers transferred the former Nolan lands to John W. Scott.
 
Move to Minnesota
 
The oldest brother Anthony had moved to Brainerd, Crow Wing County, Minnesota by 1885, after living in North Dakota after the Civil War.  His obituary told of his post-war life:
 
He then went to the then wilds of North Dakota shortly after his discharge from the service and was engaged in Indian warfare, but with what organization is not known. He also carried mail between Ft. Abercrombie and Ft. Pembina in the latter sixties and early seventies and is said to have been the first man to plant wheat in the now state of North Dakota. He returned from Dakota in 1878, settling in Brainerd, where he has since resided.
 
Anthony is listed in the 1880 Census in Richland, Town 135, Dakota Territory, as a widower farmer, age 45. In 1885, he appeared in the Minnesota state census in Brainerd,  having married Levi (Lucy) Nolan.  Anthony was listed as age 53 and his wife 42, and they lived in  a boarding house.
 
After losing his farm, James Nolan visited Anthony in Brainerd, in 1889 and decided to stay, according to a 1937 record by Cecilia Nolan. He took a job in the Northern Pacific railroad shops, and later sent for his family. James' naturalization record indicates he arrived at the port of Sault Ste. Marie,Michigan in October 1890. As of April 7, 1891, when the Canada Census was taken, the family was still living in Berlin, in Waterloo County. The eldest daughter Celia was working as a laundress and the other children were in school.  Later US census records indicate the family moved in  1891. In Brainerd, the family lived on the block east of the high school on the southeast corner. Later they bought “the Nelson home” at 208 Northeast 1st Street and lived there for the remainder of the parents’ lives.
 
According to the 1888 Brainerd City Directory, the Northern Pacific Railroad ran from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, had a network of branches and feeders covering northern Minnesota and Dakota, and had its central operating and repair headquarters in Brainerd. There were three daily express trains each way through Brainerd. The directory reported that the Northern Pacific shops were the largest and most complete of any similar work in Minnesota, and while intended for repair, had the capacity for manufacture of locomotives. The shops were responsible for repair of 2,000 miles of roadway. Up to 1200 people could be employed, but in 1888 there were 630 on the payroll.  The directory listed Anthony Nolan as a foreman of the Northern Pacific wood yard, living at 220 East Laurel St. However, on the list of Northern Pacific employees, Anthony Nolan is identified as one of nine laborers in the coal yard.
 
On June 10, 1898, James’ son James Joseph Nolan graduated from Brainerd High School and gave the class oration at the graduation ceremony on “The Cuban Question.” Three months later, he enrolled in St. Cloud State Normal School. He completed the “Elementary” course of study in June 1899 and was “authorized to teach in the public schools” of Minnesota.
 
The 1901 City Directory for Brainerd, lists the elder James as a teamster; Anthony as a wiper at the railroad, residing at 1602 E Laurel St. with his wife Lucy. James Joseph was teaching in Brainerd, and boarding at his parents’ home. Another Nolan in the community is Edward, a laborer at the Brainerd Lumber yard, whose wife’s name was Ellen. Edward was born in Peterborough, and was the son of Martin and Margaret Nolan. Martin is the son of Edward who remained in Peterborough and likely a cousin of James, Jr. and Anthony.
 
Another branch of the Nolan family had also moved to Crow Wing County. Robert Nelson Potter, the son of Ellen Nolan Potter, had moved to Maple Grove, Minnesota, between 1892-94 with his growing family. According to a Potter genealogy, Robert had gone to work in a Mennonite family when his family broke up, where he had met his wife Lavina. Robert’s daughter Maud moved to Brainerd by 1908 when she was 21 and the rest of the family is listed as living on a farm in Long Lake, Minnesota in 1910.
 
By this time, both of James and Kate’s daughters had married. Catherine Alice, called Alice, had married Sam Adair, also from Ontario, a jeweler and optician, whose business was at 2105 S. 6th St., and residence at 620 Maple St. Cecilia (called Celia) married Charles Rowley, a contractor, in 1900 .  (The wedding photo is included at the top of this page). The Rowley’s business and residence were at 323 S. 5th St.
 
The 1901 City Directory also lists the Theviot family. Henry Theviot had a saloon at 213 S. Broadway, and his family residence was at 324 S. 6th St. His daughter Eleanor Theviot is listed as a milliner, at 324 S. 6th St. and she was listed as boarding at the same location. Another listing for the same person, but as Miss Nora Theviot, indicated she was also a clerk at R. Parker Dry Goods, so she may have been holding a job in addition to her millinery work.
 
In 1903 James J. had left his teaching job and become a letter carrier. The marriage of James Joseph Nolan and Eleanor Theviot on June 21, 1904 was announced in the Brainerd paper as “Two Popular People To Wed.” Nora’s sister Adelaide and A. A. Finn were the witnesses, and Fr. D. W. Lynch presided.
 
Anthony Nolan’s marriage had problems, and in the 1905 directory, his wife Lucy had moved to board at the home of Joseph Rosko, Jr., at 1316 Quince St. while Anthony remained at their home on Maple St. He had been listed as a “caller” on the railroad in the 1903 directory and his occupation was not listed in 1905. Edward had moved into 1601 Maple St., and was now a laborer on the railroad.
 
Anthony died April 13, 1907, after a brief illness, according to his obituary in the Brainerd Dispatch. His death certificate lists the cause of death as senility. The obituary said “He was well known here especially among railroad men, having been engaged in calling engine crews for so long that he and his bicycle were familiar sights.” His military service entitled him to full military honors at the burial, including a rifle salute and escort. His funeral was at the Methodist church. The obituary mentions his first wife, Anettta (Nettie Merriman), reporting that they married in Dakota and she died after a few days. This is probably incorrect. A family listing from distant relative Blanche Yearsley says Nettie was born in Peterborough, suggesting that they married there, and they had a daughter Mayme, who is not mentioned in the obituary.  
 
James lived to age 76 in 1916, and was able to enjoy a growing family of grandchildren. Celia and Alice each had one daughter survive childhood--Ione Rowley and Marie Adair--and James J. had five children at the time of his father’s death. Kate continued to share her home with her son John until her death in 1920.
For more information on the James and Nora Nolan family, please read the history provided by their daughter Margaret Nolan McGrann.