Student Museum Musings: Thomas Conant’s Century-Old Musings

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello and long time no see! I’m Adam, you may remember me as the guy from last summer who exclusively blogged about transcriptions. This summer I have a rather different role, that of a researcher. Specifically, I have been tasked with gathering information about the Loyalist and Late Loyalist settlers of Oshawa for a chapter in a future museum publication.

Loyalists were those from the Thirteen Colonies who fought for or otherwise remained loyal to the British during the American Revolutionary War, after which many faced harassment and suspicion from their neighbours. Accordingly, many thousands left the embryonic United States of America to start anew in Britain’s remaining North American possessions. Late Loyalists were a later wave of migrants from the USA who came to Upper Canada and renewed their loyalty to the British Crown in pursuit of the free land on offer. In the book these two sets of early migrants from America will be contextualized as Oshawa’s third group of inhabitants following various First Nations and the French.

Researching this topic has involved a lot of reading. Since the start of this month I have powered through two articles and four books relevant to this period of Oshawa’s history. Oshawa is especially gifted with its wealth of amateur historians from the turn of the century who endeavoured to coalesce various local and oral histories of Oshawa’s pioneer days into a number of books on our early history.

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Mr. Thomas Conant’s two publications Upper Canada Sketches (1898) and Life in Canada (1903) have been particularly useful. Mr. Conant trace’s his family history in North America back to 1623 when his ancestor arrived in New England where he and his descendants proved highly successful. The Conant’s history in Canada begins with the settlement of Roger Conant in this area in 1794. Roger had been a Loyalist, in so far as he never took up arms against the crown, and migrated north to Canada as he felt unwelcome in Massachusetts.

 

img014 Roger Conant's homestead
“Roger Conants First Settlement in Darlington, Co. Durham, Upper Canada, 1778” by ES Shrapnel, as appeared in Upper Canada Sketches

With this as a starting point, Mr. Conant’s writings cover a number of subjects including family history, economic history, political history, and social history. Over the combined 40 chapters of his two books he relates: how land was cleared; the importance of trade and cordial relations with the Mississauga; the danger presented by packs of wolves; the impact of the War of 1812; tensions between those of American descent and more recent arrivals from Britain; the utility of Whitby’s port; the influence of American religious movements such as Millerism and Mormonism; the price and productivity of land; the establishment and growth of local industries; the tyranny and downfall of the Family Compact; the importance of the Grand Trunk Railway; and, much more. His writing strongly conveys the risks faced and rewards received by those would-be Americans who by choice or by circumstance ended up here in Oshawa.

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“World to Come to an End.  Stars Falling, 1833” by ES Shrapnel, as appeared in Upper Canada Sketches

 

Thomas Conant’s writings present a genuine treasure trove of information from Oshawa’s pioneer days, which allow one to really appreciate the legacy of the pioneers’ labours. Those who wish to learn more are encouraged to visit us at the Oshawa Museum. Additionally, prints of the titular illustrations from Upper Canada Sketches are available in our gift shop.