Short refresher: Irish immigrants Richard and Eliza Cobe appear out of thin air in the 1840 U.S. Census district of Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio. Tantalizing clues lead me to believe they are the same Richard and Eliza Cobb (but pronounced Cobe) enumerated in the 1837 Census of Barrie, Ontario, Canada. The 1837 census is essential to Ontario Canada because it is the delineation year between pre-revolution Canada and post-revolution Canada to identify the region’s true pioneers.
I am growing more confident that our Richard Cobe, who emmigrated from Ireland to Ohio, as the same Richard who was enumerated as Cobb in Barrie, Canada by combining some older clues with a newer one. But to do that, I need to tell a story because the peripheral history of the area lends weight to my analysis, which lacks actual facts through records.
Irishman, Richard Cobb (but pronounced Cobe), arrived in Barrie, Canada, with his wife, Eliza, sometime before 1837. Richard Cobb was identified as the head of one of 28 families who were “settlers before 1837”. Why is the year 1837 repeatedly referenced in many records of Simcoe County? Two significant reasons:
- It was the year the Act of 1837 clearly established Barrie as the county seat separate from the city of Toronto; and
- It was the year of rebellion.
For these two reasons, settlers (those who actually resided there) are considered more significant than those settlers who only owned land (but resided elsewhere) or arrived in subsequent years. The early members of the historical society in Simcoe County will clearly delineate between pre-rebellion landowners vs. residents in their publications and went through great pains to identify those in the former.
Canada, being a British colony, was mostly settled by subjects of Great Britain. By 1837 settlers of Simcoe County were represented by English, Irish, and Scotts, living in their own “groups.” The British government encouraged emigration to Canada vice the United States after the War of 1812 by lowering passenger fares to colonial Canada and inflating fares on ships bound for the United States. Another byproduct of that war was the building of canals to move trade off the St. Lawrence River and further onto British colonial Canada. The British government imported large numbers of Irish to the area to clear the lumber and build the canals.
In 1837, Richard, Eliza, and their business partner, David McCausland, were innkeepers at the corner of Elizabeth and Bayfield Streets in Barrie (this appears to be modern-day “five points”). Richard and David supplemented their income by operating a mail route between Holland Landing (south of town) and Coldwater (north of town). There were many taverns and inns at this time. It appears as though most townspeople were proprietors of such establishments due to the constant arrival of immigrants who could not find proper hotels and the lack of government regulations (no licenses required).
Rebellion in Lower Canada (Quebec province) broke out in the Fall of 1837 and spread quickly to Upper Canada (Ontario province). Simcoe County began accepting able-bodied volunteers to fight in defense of the British crown and formed their militias based on municipalities. Like the US Civil War, the residents of Simcoe County were politically split during this conflict. Many of Richard’s neighbors fought for or supported the rebellion. Richard chose to be a loyalist.
In Simcoe County there were many retired officers and men formerly with the British army who were capable of assuming command and of training such a Force. …They signed up in family groups – settlers and their sons, black and white, land owners and others, forming 23 companies. The muster rolls read like the list of “Settlers Before 1837” as found in A.F. Hunter’s “A History of Simcoe County”, published in 1909. There was little time for formal training, no official uniforms or equipment. There were to be no glorious battles or medals struck for gallantry.Helen A. Wanless, Simcoe County Militia 1837: Muster Rolls and Pay Lists of the Volunteers (1990)
Richard enlisted in Barrie and served as a sergeant under the command of Francis Hewson and received pay from 7 to 15 December 1837 under this command. Besides Sergt. Richard “Cobbe” and Mr. Hewson (no rank was given), this unnumbered company of the 1st Regiment consisted of an additional 21 privates. Including Richard and Mr. Hewson, three others of this company were counted as “heads of early settlers” and fellow Irishmen.
The newest clue I have is as follows: I had often wondered why Richard and Eliza Cobb of Barrie would have waited two years before starting a family. Then, I found an 1838 payroll for dependent wives and children. Richard “Cobe” reported his wife, Eliza, and three children whose names have been lost to time. These children were aged: one “over 7” and two were “under 7”. This places the oldest child’s birth at 1831 or earlier, and the two youngest between 1831 and 1838. If this is the same couple as our Ohio ancestors, they would have been 14 and 16, respectively, in 1831.
BUT, the annotation of payment made is blank (far right column). Did Eliza ever collect her Commutation Money, or had she already left Barrie?
This is my biggest conundrum; however, the Irish were known to marry and start families quite early due to poverty and large families. The sooner an Irish dependant child married and left home, the fewer mouths there were to feed. But this was indicative in overpopulated and depressed Ireland of that era, so I am not sure how “mainstream” this would have been in Canada. Alternatively – these three unnamed children are not explicitly identified as Richard’s natural-born children, just dependent children in his household. I will have to do more research.
At the end of the war, incomers began to inflate the population and probably began to make “improvements.” Richard and his business partner broke ties, but the reasons are not recorded. His former partner built a new tavern across the street (this same site later hosted the Wellington Hotel located at five points), and Richard & Eliza disappear from Barrie. Could it be they broke off ties because the Cobbs were leaving town?
In 1840, at a little town called Napoleon, designated as the Henry County seat, and situated along the Maumee River, Richard Cobe was found living with an adult woman and three minors. Before Richard & Eliza arrived in Ohio, the Miami & Erie Canal was under construction by mainly Irish immigrants, and the lumbering industry sprouted to clear Ohio land. The Miami & Erie Canal ran along the Maumee River and connected to the Wabash & Erie Canal in nearby Paulding County. In 1840, the easiest way to get to Napoleon (if you were coming from, say, Canada) was to traverse Lake Erie, land at Toledo, and take a boat down the Maumee River. No need to record your entry into the United States.
The ages of the three children in Richard Cobbe’s military record from Barrie and the three children listed in this 1840 U.S. Census…closely match each other. The newest clue of the three children in Canada forms the newest coincidence between the Cobbs and the Cobes.
Richard Cobe’s 1840 household in Napoleon, Ohio:
- Richard Cobe, aged 20-29, b. 1810-1819
- Woman, aged 20-29, b. 1810-1819 (Eliza)
- Male, aged 10-14, b. 1826-1830 – never identified
- Male, under 5, b. bet. 1835 and 1840 (Frederick or someone else?)
- Female, under 5, b. bet. 1835 and 1840 (Rebecca “Delilah” or someone else?)
Note: I had previously assumed the two younger children in 1840 were Richard and Eliza Cobe’s two oldest children in Ohio due to the nearness in age. But both Cobe siblings used 1841 as their birth years later in life even though they were not twins. If these 1840 children were Frederick and Rebecca (Delilah), they were possibly born in Canada before 1841 and not in Ohio. The gap in ages between the oldest child and the two younger children, combined with the age of Eliza when that same child was born, could indicate that this one was not a child of Richard and Eliza but could be a relative.
I have identified every Cobe living in Ohio between 1840 and 1860, except for one mysterious Elizabeth Cobe (age unknown) who married in Ohio in 1858, around the time Richard is presumed dead. But then she and her groom disappear. I have ruled this mysterious Elizabeth out as Eliza since Eliza continues to be enumerated in the 1860 and 1870 census as Eliza Cobe. Was her second marriage short-lived? Was this a transcription error on surnames? Were there other Cobes somehow hidden in the census (no, I can’t definitively find the groom in census either)? She is also not the mysterious first older child in 1840, as that was a male. The only other tick mark she could match is the female born between 1835 and 1840 (not Rebecca).
Two other plausible theories are: 1) they did not survive to 1850, or 2) one or all three children were not named Cobe, and are not the offspring of Richard and Eliza. Since I have no other Cobe candidates in Ohio, perhaps they were Eliza’s siblings. This would also explain her young age when the 1831 child was born. So, maybe one or all of their surname is Smith. Smith – one of the most common names in the United States.
I am not done researching, of course. Because genealogy research never really ends. I have finally found digitized church records online for early Simcoe County baptisms and marriages, but they are not transcribed or indexed, so I scour them page by page. In conclusion, we have the following coincidences (ever-growing):
- Richard and Eliza Cobb (but pronounced Cobe) in Barrie
- Both couples were Irish
- Richard and Eliza Cobb/Cobbe do not remain in Simcoe County after 1838
- Richard and Eliza Cobe arrive in Ohio around 1840, no Cobe families are enumerated in Ohio in 1830 and no other Cobe families are in Ohio except this one in 1840, 1850, and 1860
- Both couples chose to live near Irish communities involved with canal and lumber industries
- One branch of our Cobe cousins in Michigan passed down an 1837 Canadian coin, though the story of its significance has been lost
- Three children in the 1840 Ohio household with similar ages as children found in Richard Cobbe’s 1838 household.
Sanity check…what do you think?