But where were Richard and Eliza before their arrival in Ohio near 1840? Here is what I think but cannot prove.
Barrie, Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada
I cannot remember exactly how I came to this, but I had stumbled across a publication called “Pioneer Papers” which were written in 1908. The town of Barrie in Ontario had attempted to identify earlier pioneers by sorting between who simply owned land (but lived elsewhere) and who were actual residents of the area before 1837. The significance of 1837, I learned, was Canada’s Rebellion of 1837-1838. This rebellion was somewhat similar to America’s revolution and resulted in the creation of the Canadian government.
In the Pioneer Papers, the researchers included in their list of 1837 residents “Richard Cobb (but pronounced Cobe by everyone) and his wife Eliza who were both from Ireland.” The Barrie records have Richard’s year of birth as around 1816 (close enough) and he was running the local Inn and serving as a postal carrier. This Richard and Eliza were known for their love of Whiskey. Their children were not mentioned in any Barrie records, and if they are the same couple, they didn’t start having children until they arrived in the United States, or earlier children didn’t survive. Also, this couple conveniently disappears from Barrie records after 1837.
Richard Cobb of Barrie also served a short (8 whole days) tenure as a Sergeant in Canada during the 1837-1838 Rebellion. I am not quite clear on the rebellion’s details – but it appears as though Richard Cobb served on the side of the crown to quell the rebellion.
There were several Smith’s living in Simcoe County at the time of Richard and Eliza Cobb, But due to the common use of Smith across many countries and cultures, without clear records, it is difficult to say if they are related. Three Smith’s were living in Barrie; first was a man named Eugene Smith from Cork, Ireland; second Barrie’s first Sherriff was one Benjamin W. Smith who served in that capacity from 1843 to 1875; third a blacksmith named Thomas Smith is recorded in the same 1837 census as Richard and Eliza Cobb, though he is reportedly from England. No records have been found to date to tie any of these Smith’s to Eliza or Richard Cobb of Barrie.
Irish Immigration to Canada
I was curious about why the Irish would immigrate to Canada instead of America, especially since so many ended up in America. In the case of our Richard Cobe, I had not found any evidence of a direct immigration to America. Also, I knew the Cobe’s were in America as early as 1840, but their arrival preceded the officially recognized time-period of the Great Potato Famine by five or more years. Genealogist are sometimes plagued with wanting to know motives – why leave Ireland? Why stop in Canada first? This is where genealogist takes off their family history hat and put on the historian hat.
It turns out, the British Empire was still smarting over the War of 1812. Between 1820 and 1860, the British Passenger Acts redirected immigration to Canada by making the fare cheaper to Ontario while driving up fares to New York. Many Irish bought the affordable trip to Ontario, where they could buy cheap fares to the United States over the Great Lakes or simply walk or boat across the border.
The socio-economic situation in Ireland was already creating gross overpopulation, affecting the quality of life for tenant farmers and earlier potato blights were beginning to trigger the famines, slowly driving the poorer farmers out of the country. The strain of overpopulation encouraged marriages to occur as early as 14 or 15 years old among tenant farmers, especially the daughters (farmers wanted sons as free farm hands). Due to Protestant prejudices, the Catholic tenant farmers were driven out in larger numbers. In Canada, the Irish found work building canals, roadways, railroads, and working in the lumber industry (remember John and Emmet?) or running businesses that supported these labor communities.
Other Connections between Cobb and Cobe
After finding my tenuous line to Barrie, Canada, I learned that our Gleason cousin’s had an 1837 Canadian penny that was passed down through the generations, they believe through their Cobe line; Hortense Cobe Geason. This possibly ties our Cobe’s to Canada in 1837. Sadly, my Gleason comrade in research doesn’t know where that penny went, but she and her brother remember seeing and handling it.
The Canadian penny and the fact that Richard and Eliza Cobe materialize in Ohio so close to Lake Erie (one of the crossing points between Canada and the United States), lived near canals, and traded farming for lumber work are further hints (but not proof) that this may be the path that Richard and Eliza took.
If Richard and Eliza Cobb of Barrie, Canada are the same people, then based on the history of Ireland’s conditions, they could have been married in Ireland as early as 1833 (assuming an age of 15 for Eliza) before making their way to Canada. Perhaps their families scraped just enough money together for this young couple’s passage and a hope for a better life away from the British Isles. If so, I think they succeeded greatly.
Since several records indicate Richard and Eliza were Irish I looked up Irish surnames. This quick search reveals that in Ireland the name may have originally been spelled Cobb or Cobbe.
Richard Cobe was born abt. 1815 in Ireland and Eliza Smith was born abt. 1818 in Ireland. They may have come to the United States by way of Ontario, Canada sometime before 1837. They came to the United States around 1840. Richard filed for naturalization in 1850.
Richard and Eliza were married sometime before 1839 (birth of son, Frederick), probably before arriving in Ohio (no known evidence of marriage in the United States), and maybe as early as 1833 when Eliza was 15.
Richard and Eliza had five known children:
- Frederick A. Cobe was born 26 May 1841 (per death record, but possibly 1839 based on consistency in early census records) in Ohio and died 20 September 1912 in Winfield, Cowley County, Kansas. He married Emeline Morris on 8 October 1865 in Paulding County, Ohio. He was a Civil War veteran. They may not have had any children.
- Delila Cobe, aka Rebecca, was born abt. 1842 in Ohio and died 8 June 1867 in Paulding County, Ohio. She married Reuben F. Graham on 1 January 1859 in Paulding County, Ohio.
- Richard Cobe (junior) was born 1845 in Ohio and died 13 February 1902 at the Michigan Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He married 1) Margaret Russell and 2) Helen McKevit. He and his son, John, are the only Cobe’s who left records that they were Catholic.
- Maria or Mary Cobe was born abt. 1847 in Ohio and died 11 January 1916 in Winfield, Cowley County, Kansas. She married Levi Weimer on 1 October 1865 in Paulding County, Ohio.
- Hamilton R. Cobe was born abt. 1849 in Ohio and died 25 June 1881 in Junction City, Geary County, Kansas. He married Philetta Woodworth and tragically died shortly after.
Richard Cobe died sometime between 1850 and 1860 and Eliza Smith Cobe died between 1870 and 1880, presumably in Ohio. Neither of the burials have been found, nor records of death.