Welcome to the first blog about the founders of York Region’s towns. What a better start than starting where I live now; Newmarket, Ontario.
25 kilometres north of Toronto lay the Holland River and its tributaries. Gathering together, these waterways begin to create the base of Cook’s Bay. This area included an Indian trail that heads towards Lake Ontario. In 1793 John Graves Simcoe travelled this trail. Soon after, he would suggest that Timothy Rogers move to the area with new settlers from Pennsylvania.
In 1801, one of Rogers’ group members named Joseph Hill was intrigued by the water’s power potential and built a mill on the river. Hill became the first settler of Newmarket, yet he did not found the town. This honour would go to an ambitious rival. His name: Elisha Beman.
Elisha Beman was born in 1759. Baptismal records show that he was baptised on June 24, 1759 in Litchfield, Connecticut to parents Thomas and Lydia Roberts Beman. Thomas Beman was a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary war. Thomas had purchased a 100 acre farm in January 1759. Elisha was the fourth child born to the couple.
Elisha grew up in a turbulent time. Growing troubles between some who wanted a ‘united’ country and some who wanted the country to remain loyal to England. The young boy grew up on the edge of revolution. There is little known of his first 15 years, but it is noted that he is listed as a private in the 7th Regiment in Connecticut during the US Revolutionary War between 1777 and 1780.
Elisha Beman would marry a lady by the name of Sarah Powers. They married in Hartford, Connecticut in 1780. The couple went on to have five children. I have been unable to find any documents to connect Elisha between the time of his marriage and his arrival in Canada.
In 1795, Elisha Beman came up to Canada. Since he had taken the Oath of Allegiance in the United States, Beman did not enter Canada as a United Empire Loyalist. Nonetheless, Elisha arrived in York and began his new life. It did not take long for Beman to establish himself in the new country. He opened a tavern and a general mercantile store.
Beman knew the importance of creating a town along the fur-trade route. On November 13, 1797, Elisha Beman applied for and was recommended for a 200 acre lot from the Crown. At the time, he was the owner of a town lot at the corners of Graves Street and Hospital Street in the town of York. This location is now the corner of Richmond and Simcoe Streets in Toronto. He dreamed of opening a mill in the North and having a ferry for Lake Simcoe. He knew that this could be very lucrative. Wisely, he was cautious of jumping in feet first. On December 22, 1797, he petitioned the Executive Council again for more land.
In July of 1798, Elisha was going to pick-up supplies and goods that had been left for him. Beman arrived to find that the goods that had been left in care of his employees were stolen. It did not take long for Elisha to find out what had happened. It seems that four of his men had planned to take the goods. After the theft, the four men began to drink and eventually fought with each other. One of the men turned the other three in. All were arrested and all were punished.
Beman became well established in York. Elisha was known for his hospitality and generosity. He also befriended some notable people of the time. It has been said that Elisha was the executor of Christopher Robinson’s will. Robinson was Inspector of the Woods, Reserves, and all Rents and Profits of the Crown. Christopher Robinson died on November 2, 1798 from an acute case of gout. He left behind a widow and five children, the youngest being an infant.
Elisha became Town Assessor and Supervisor of Highways in 1799. He continued to run his businesses in York as well as this new duty. On the 13th of April 1799, Beman received the news that he had been granted 1,000 more acres of land with certain conditions. Beman had desired the location to be in Holland Landing or further north at the Severn River. Fate dictated that his dream to start the town would have to wait.
The onset of the new century would not be kind to Beman. As Beman was a tavern owner, he was elected to be Constable for the town of York. Sarah and Elisha’s daughter died suddenly on April 14, 1801. On October 17th 1801, Beman was elected to be Commissioner of Dry Measures. His wife Sarah fell ill. Sarah was to die on August 31, 1801.
Beman was now widowed. In April of 1802, he was elected as Constable in the Home district. A great asset to Elisha would be his marriage to Esther Sayre Robinson, the widow of Christopher Robinson. The marriage was to bring Beman a connection to the controlling groups that would eventually form the Family Compact. The marriage took place in York on September 5, 1802.
Elisha got advice from many during this time. Reverend Stuart, along with Beman, decided that Esther’s son John, attend school with Reverend John Strachan in Cornwall, Ontario. Elisha would let step-son Peter study law in Toronto. It was in the spring of 1803 that Beman moved his extended family north upon Yonge Street. It may never be known why Beman stopped at the valley where the Holland River flows. Beman would be elected as a Justice of Peace for the Home County in 1803.
In September of 1803, Elisha purchased Lot 92 on the 1st Concession of Whitchurch from James McMurtrie. It is said that Elisha built a small cabin on the north-east corner of the lot. Beman was not the petitioner of the Crown land. Simon McMurtrie received this in May of 1802. He in turn transferred the title to James McMurtrie in September 1803.
In August of 1804, Beman bought Lot 94 from Timothy Rogers. In October 1804, Beman would sell lot 92 to Joseph Hill. Beman had bought the adjoining property, Lot 93, around the same time. Lot 93 had a mill, a store, and a residential home already erected. Elisha was buying the acres he was entitled to and began to prosper. Elisha Beman and Joseph Hill would soon begin a hatred that would end with one man leaving Canada.
Joseph Hill became interested in Lot 33 in the 2nd Concession of Whitchurch. He built the first tannery on the valuable waterway on that property. Hill’s son George would run the tannery. This property was adjacent to the east side of Lot 93 owned by Beman. Joseph Hill had not acquired a lease from the Crown. The tannery was located on a Crown Reserve.
Elisha Beman found the mistake and he took no time in taking advantage of it. Beman obtained a lease for 21 years on the land. Then, he ousted Hill. This action would lead Hill to claim that he was a victim of “judicial robbery”. Beman’s Corners, as the town was now being called, was expanding.
Elisha Beman wanted to open a tavern in the new town. He petitioned for the licence in 1805 and was denied the licence. Instead of being defeated, he carried on. Beman built a distillery on the east corner of Water Street and Main Street. On December 27, 1806, Elisha is named Commissioner of the Peace, becoming the first legal appointment for the town.
In 1806, Elisha’s family was expanding. He became further entrenched in York’s elite by marriage. On January 13 of that year, his step-daughter Sarah married D’Arcy Boulton II. Boulton was known as a supporter and a key player in the brooding Family Compact. Elisha’s daughter Sophia married Eli Playter on November 27, 1806. The Playters’ owned land on the Don River and were part of York’s society.
Early in March of 1808 a fire sweep through Elisha’s home. It was reported in the local newspaper of the day. It did not take long for Beman to find a loan to help him rebuild the damage.
Elisha Beman and his step-sons financially flourished. Beman was made an agent for Quetton St. George. St. George owned a wholesale house for grains on Yonge Street. Farmers now had the choice to have their grains brought to Beman’s instead of travelling so far south. It was not long before the small store developed by Beman and his step-sons became one of the largest trading centres in the region.
Peter Robinson became a chief fur trader in the area. He had a great rapport with the Natives. The business ran by Beman-Robinsons sold everything from furs, cloth and potash to kettles. Beman would open the first ashery in the area. William Benjamin Robinson would rebuild the mill that was built by Joseph Hill. Elisha and Esther Beman were even entertaining people like Dr. John Strachan, Lord Dalhousie, Sir Peregrine Maitland and Sir John Ross.
1812 saw the end of the feud between Joseph Hill and Beman. Hill was heavily indebted to St. George. Hill had to foreclose his business. Peter Robinson attended the auction to sell Hill’s assets. Peter gave the highest bid for the mill’s entire contents. This purchase infuriated Joseph Hill. Shortly after, war broke out. Many members of the town joined a militia. Hill was asked to join the fight. He refused. Hill and his family then left, returning to the United States.
Peter and John Robinson were in the war. Both survived the battles. Peter would come home and begin to purchase land of his own. Elisha was slowing down by this time. William Benjamin Robinson began taking over the business affairs. Beman would begin to work his farms alongside his son Joel.
By the time 1820 arrived, Beman’s Corners was a thriving success. The town had 14 buildings along the Main Street. There were three stores, a blacksmith, a saddler, and a carpenter. Also along the strip were a tailor, a tanner and a shoemaker. There was the inn and the meeting house. There were two flour / grist mills and a frilling / carding mill. The village even had its own doctor’s office.
Elisha suffered an attack in early October 1821. Many think that it was a stroke. On October 7, Elisha drew up his will. One week later, Elisha Beman died. He was buried in the Anglican cemetery that was on his property on Eagle Street.
Was Elisha Beman a cad? A swindler? Or was Elisha Beman opportunistic at the wrong time? We may never know. Yet, what is known is that Elisha did more than just secure the village as the market hub of the upper York region. His son Eli would go on to be noted in the Barrie-Orillia area. Eli would also go on to full-fill his father’s idea of having a ferry on Lake Simcoe. Son Joel would move to Clarke Township Ontario and continue farming. Daughter Susan and son Lester were taken care of in concordance to his will. Esther Sayre Robinson Beman would pass away on July 27, 1827. She is buried next to her husband.
Elisha’s influence spilled on to his step-sons as well. Peter would be a member of the Legislative Assembly and he was involved with emigration, most notably by bringing immigrants to Peterborough, Ontario. He died in 1838. John would go on to be Solicitor General of Canada. He was titled Baronet. John died in 1863. William would become a politician and major fur trader. He also became a treaty maker and oversaw the beginning of the Welland Canal. He would die in 1873. All three of the Robinson boys were active in the Family Compact.
Beman’s daughter Sophia would end up living in New York with her husband. Eli Playter would move to the United States in 1827 after a disagreement with his wife’s step-brothers. He feared for his family’s safety and did not agree on all of their beliefs.
It is a shame that there are no persons with the name of Beman living in the new market’s area. But just over a hundred years later, the Town of Newmarket has many who have been touched by Beman. A swindler and a rogue. Maybe, he just saw this valley as something that he could secure for the future.