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Berczy Settler

Frederick Helmkay (originally Friedrich Heinrich Christoph Helmke) was a boy of ten when, with his father John Englehard Helmke, he sailed from Altona, Germany aboard the Catherina on May 2, 1792. The Helmkes were part of a company of over 200 German settlers organized by William Berczy. They arrived at Philadelphia on July 28, and made their way through Pennsylvania to the Genesee Tract in upper New York State. In May 1794, Berczy negotiated a grant from Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada for 64,000 acres in Markham Township, and the settlers were located by mid November.

When the lots were drawn in 1794, Frederick was 12 and considered a settler in his own right. He drew Lot 8, 4th Con of Markham, while his father drew Lot 8 on the 6th Concession7. By 1803, Frederick was indebted to Berczy for £500 and sold him his lot8, which was given to Joachim Lunau.

Military Service

On 4 April 1820, Frederick Helmkay received a land grant of 100 acres for his service in the War of 1812. The grant states that he served in Capt. Button's Cavalry Company of the First Regiment of York Militia from July 2, 1812 to January 2, 18133. The certificate supporting his claim for service, signed by John Button on 8 March 1820, states that he served a full year to 2 July 1813.

Pierre Berton4 supplies some background as to what was going on at this time and what action the York Volunteers were involved in. War was declared by the United States on June 18, 1812. In early August 1812, with General Hull threatening to take Amherstburg, General Isaac Brock called for volunteers to accompany him to Amherstburg. He accepted half of the 500 who responded. Proceeding to Queenston, where they were joined by 60 more volunteers, the militia arrived at Amherstburg via boat from Port Talbot on August 13. Local militia and regular soldiers brought the force to 400 which, with 600 Indians under Tecumseh, captured Detroit on August 16 without a shot being fired.

The militia returned to strengthen the Niagara frontier where they took part in the battle of Queenston Heights on October 13. The following day, the Kingston Gazette published the patriotic story that Brock's last words as he fell were "Push on brave York Volunteers".

The 1st Regiment of York Militia was enrolled in the townships of Markham, Vaughan, King, Whitchurch and the Gwillimburys, as well as the scattered settlements in Uxbridge. The regiment consisted of 11 companies, of which the 11th, the only cavalry company, was under the command of Capt. John Button. These dragoons provided their own horses, saddles and bridles, as well as their own clothing; the government supplied them with sabres and pistols. Ten men from Button's troop were included in Brock's force at Detroit6.

Was Frederick at the Battle of Detriot? I have not been able to locate a list of the ten men from Button's troop who were16. One of these was George Buckendahl, son of another Berczy settler, who married Frederick's sister on 21 January 1813. George was awarded the General Service Medal - Fort Detroit posthumously in 185217.

Evidently Frederick missed the battle of Queenston Heights, for there is a claim for compensation of Gideon Tiffany for quartering him and another dragoon from Sept 29 to Nov 17, 18125. Frederick and Peter Ritter (also the son of a Berczy settler) were kept at Delaware (near London). Tiffany claimed £16.16.0 (New York currency) for boarding the two plus dog and horse (? - the handwriting is difficult to decipher).

In the middle of (or immediately after) his service, on 21 January 1813, Frederick acted as a sponsor to the baptism of two Quantz cousins, George son of Frederick and Elizabeth, and Frederick, son of George and Mary, at St. James Church, Toronto14. Presumably, John Strahan, who became rector in 1812, performed the baptisms. (It is possible that they were performed in Markham and simply recorded in the St. James baptismal register.) Possibly it was the patriotic fever generated by the war that prompted these Lutheran Berczy settlers to briefly identify with the establishment Anglican church.

Vital Statistics

Bloomington CemeteryFrederick married an American, Nancy Ann in 1814 at the age of 33. Her surname is not known. They had fifteen children, many of whom were baptized by Rev. Mayerhoffer at St. Philip's Lutheran Church, Unionville9. Mary Ann Helmkay's baptism on 8 Feb 1817 is recorded at St. James Anglican, Toronto14.

Frederick died April 30, 1857 aged 76, and Nancy Ann died in 1869, aged 80. They are buried in Bloomington cemetery13. The flat stone was transcribed in 1973, but when I located it (July 14, 1991) it was under several inches of turf.


Frederick received a land grant of 100 acres for his service in the War of 1812, being the S1/2 of Lot 9, Con 14 of Innisfil Township1. He received title to the land on 1 Nov 1826 and sold it on 29 Dec 1826 for £65 to Charles Ridout of York. Frederick was living in Markham at this time.

Frederick is mentioned in Walton's Directory of 1837 as living on Lot 17, Con 9 of Whitchurch Twp. After his death in 1857, his family produced receipts showing that he had rented Lot 18 from the Home District from at least 10 Sept 1847. In 1859, this lot was divided among his four sons. John and Isaiah sold their quarter lots to George and Philip for £100. Nancy Ann and her 7 daughters renounced their rights for $1. George already owned the W1/2 of Lot 17, originally a clergy reserve, which he bought in 1856 (2).

The Abstract Index of Deeds shows George receiving a crown patent for the W1/2 of Lot 17 on 17 Nov 1860, and Phillip receiving a crown patent for the E1/2 of Lot 17 on 31 Jan 186211.

The Collector's Rolls12 from 1851-55 show Frederick, Phillip and Henry (or Polly in 1853) being Householders (as distinct from Freeholders) of Lot 17. Frederick has 100 acres (W1/2) and Phillip and Henry each have 50 acres (E1/2). In 1856, the list changes to George, John and Philip and all are now freeholders.

Note: Frederick is listed on Lot 17 in Walton's Directory (1837), Brown's Directory (1846-7) and Roswell's Directory (1850-51)10. Mrs. Helmkay is shown on the W1/2 of Lot 17 in the York County atlas. Similarly, from at least 1846-7, Richard Graham (Frederick's son-in-law) is located on Lot 18. Why then is it Lot 18 that is divided among Frederick's heirs in 1859?


1. Whitchurch Township Papers, OA MS-658.

2. Land Record Index, OA

3. AO Land Record Index, S1/2 of Lot 9, Conc 14, Innisfil Twp. Grant dated Apr 4, 1820. RG01-C13, Vol 132, pg 011 (see MS658 - Reel #218). Frederick's half-brother Frances received the S1/2 of Lot 8. See also PAC RG9-1B4, 'Register of UC Militia Land Grants for Services during the War of 1812', Vol 21, file 41, pg 16; Vol 27 pg 49 and Vol 28 pg 11.

4. Berton, Pierre, The Invasion of Canada, 1812-1813, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1980

5. PAC Military 'C' Series, Vol 84, pg 324, reel C-2645. The claim was sworn before a J.P. at Ancaster 11 June, 1813.

6. Isabel Champion, Editor, Markham 1793-1900, The Markham Historical Society, 2nd Edition Revised, 1989. pp 207, 208

7. See Berczy's 1804 census of Markham. PAC, William Berczy Papers, (MG 23, H II, 6, Volume 1, pp 65 - 72). Reprinted as Appendix V in John Andre, Infant Toronto as Simcoe's Folly, Centennial Press, Toronto, 1971.

8. PAC, William Berczy Papers, (MG 23, H II, 6, Volume 4, pp 660-664, 669-671).

9. Shank, Robert J., The Descendants of Johan Engelhard Helmke, Markham Berczy Settler Series, August 1994

10. Burkholder, Ruth Index to Whitchurch Township Residents as shown in Directories and Census 1837 - 1891, RMB Services, Stouffville, 1988.

11. Whitchurch Twp. Abstract Index to Deeds (OA GS 6422B).

12. Whitchurch Twp Collector's Roll, 1851-60 (OA GS 6433).

13. Whitchurch Cemetery Transcriptions, OGS (1973).

14. St. James Cathedral, Toronto, Register of Baptisms, 1807 - 1908, transcribed by OGS and published on fiche, 1989.

15. Cruikshank, E.A. Documents Relating to the Invasion of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit 1812, Govt Printing Bureau, Ottawa, 1912.

16. Statement of army prize money awarded to veterans of the siege of Detroit (mentioned in Cruikshank), a copy of which is at the PAC (Great Britain, Royal Hospital, MG 24 G 70) does not list personal names. There is also no reference to York Militia among the list of soldiers in the Battle of Detroit, Hiram Walker Collection (OA ref. 20-287).

17. Shank, Robert J., The Descendants of Peter & Maria Buckendahl and Johan Engelhard  & Mary Ann Helmke, Berczy Settler Series, Kanata, December 1985

18. No Helmkay among the Crown Lands Papers Petitions

19. No Upper Canada land petition for Frederick Helmkay (OA). This was expected to contain Frederick's petition from 1819-20, including details of his service in the War of 1812. (NB. The certificate of service was found in PAC RG 9 IB4, vol 21, file 41, pg 16).

© 2000-2006 Russ McGillivray


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