Barnett Museum Visitors - Benj. & Mary Spencer
From Loyalists to Republicans:
Benjamin (1808-1895) and Mary Spencer (1817-1913)
Benjamin Spencer’s grandfather, Robert Spencer U.E., emigrated from Ireland to New York in his youth. Around 1776, he enlisted to fight for the British during the American Revolution. Like many Loyalists (those who wanted the United States to remain a colony of the British Empire rather than become a republic), the Spencer family were harassed and persecuted by their Revolutionary neighbours. The family fled to Montreal while Robert fought with Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist regiment based in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake.On July 5, 1839, a married couple from Dundas, Benjamin and Mary Spencer, visited the Niagara Falls Museum with a James or Joseph Spencer of Stamford, presumably a relative. The Spencers were a prominent family in Dundas at the time- and later on in Clinton County, Iowa- but had deep Niagara Falls roots.
When Butler’s Rangers was dissolved in 1784, its members were granted land in the Niagara Region as thanks for their service. In 1785, Robert was granted about 100 acres in Stamford Township, now Niagara Falls, near the whirlpool. In 1797, he was granted a further 550 acres.
Benjamin’s father, Adam, and his brother took up residence a short distance away in the ‘Beechwood’ area (Their lot can be seen just above and to the left of the pop-out on the map, marked ‘R. Spencer Jnr.”) Adam married Ann Corwin, a daughter of another Loyalist family, and they had 10 children together, including Benjamin. According to the Norwich Gazette’s account of Spencer family history, Adam died by drinking cold water while he was very warm. He developed a ‘disease’ or infection in his leg and, though the limb was amputated, passed away in 1815.
In 1828, at the age of 20, Benjamin moved from Niagara Falls to Dundas with his older brother, Joseph. There, Benjamin established himself trading in lumber and grain. He became a prominent member of the community, serving as the first Superintendent of the St. Paul’s Methodist Sunday School, an elected Justice of the Peace and a County Councilman.
In 1854, for an unknown reason, Benjamin decided to leave Canada altogether and move to Iowa. He brought with him his family- his second wife, Mary, and their 6 children (The pair went on to have 4 more children, for a total of 10). In Maquoketa and Clinton County, Benjamin reestablished himself as a merchant. He continued to dedicate himself to public service and was again elected to several posts. From 1870-1872, Benjamin was even an elected member of the Iowa House of Representatives as a Republican.
- Middleton, G. (2004) "The Spencers of Dundas." Dundas Valley Historical Society. <http://www.unityserve.org/dundashistory/articles/0008.shtml>.
- Spencer, A. (1977) "Old Time Experiences in the Bush and on the Farm." Newsletter, Canadian Friends Historical Association
- The History of Clinton County, Iowa: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns &c., Biographical Sketches of Citizens. (1879) Chicago: Western Historical Company.
To discover more about the people who visited the first museum in Canada, check out our guest registry page