Robert Reynolds

“Robert Reynolds’ mistake” still very much a part of Amherstburg

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the 21st in a series of articles about the Belle Vue property, most of which have been written by Debra Honor. Honor is a local historian/genealogist and a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor, U.E.

 

Robert Reynolds was the Assistant Commissary General for Fort Malden during and after the War of 1812. As the Assistant Commissary General, Robert oversaw ordering and dispersing the supplies needed to run the business of the government facility. This did not include the military guns, ammunition or other war implements, but rather the food supplies, uniforms, and building supplies needed to run an efficient fort. As such, Robert Reynolds would have been very precise in the amount of supplies needed when ordering.

The brick work at Belle Vue is seen here. (Submitted photo)

After the American occupation ended in 1815, the Western District was under a great depression. Many who had fled, either individually or with the British military, returned. The British army continued to rebuild Fort Malden on the design begun by the occupying American army. This fort was smaller and more efficient than the original British fort.

The year 1819 saw the completion of three major buildings, and interestingly, Robert Reynolds had a hand in all three. The British army built a fine brick barrack at Fort Malden. Robert Reynolds was responsible for procuring the bricks from the brick yards at River Rouge which was done through government contract. The brick barrack still stands today. The town also saw the completion of a stately home for Robert Reynolds and a beautiful new Church of England of which Reynolds was a patron.

Reynolds procured all the bricks from River Rouge. He built his new home and tradition says he gave the “left over” bricks to build Christ Church. There is a plaque inside the church commemorating Reynolds’ donation to the church. As purchasing agent, it is unlikely he would make such a huge mistake in ordering brick for his house that there would be enough left over to build the church. Therefore, there was no mistake in the brick order. It was well planned even to the extent that we see Reynolds influence on the design of the church building which is in the same style as his home, Belle Vue.

Christ Church, located at 317 Ramsay St., was built with bricks donated by Robert Reynolds. (Submitted photo)

The barracks at Fort Malden are another example of a building constructed with bricks procured by Robert Reynolds. (Submitted photo)

Is it not amazing that all three buildings are still a part of Amherstburg 200 years later? It is impressive that Reynolds 1819 bricks on Belle Vue are still in good shape. The brick from later additions are the ones that are failing and need the most repair.

We can take pride in our three early buildings stemming from the War of 1812 that are being preserved, and all of them owe something to Robert Reynolds.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

 

 

 

 

Building the Canadian Identity in Amherstburg

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourteenth in a series of articles regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Historian/genealogist Debra Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

There was a corps of influential people, who strove to create a Canadian identity in Upper Canada vs. the strong American identity across the river. An example was the American political elections of the 1830’s.

Some of those who were running for office in 1836 and 1840 had fought in the War of 1812.

Richard M. Johnson, in 1836 ran for Vice President with President Martin Van Buren. Johnson was at the Battle of the Thames in which Johnson was given credit for killing Tecumseh. His campaign slogan was “Rumseh, dumseh, Johnson killed Tecumseh.” Van Buren and Johnson won the election for the Democratic party.

In 1840, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler ran for the Republican party using the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” In 1811, six months before the War of 1812, William Harrison had gone to Tippecanoe to confront Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet. Tecumseh was not present, but Harrison’s troops destroyed Prophetstown. It was considered a great American victory. In 1813, Harrison also commanded the American troops at the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh was killed.

Robert Reynolds

How did this American hatred of Tecumseh compare with the Canadians in Upper Canada? Many of the men in the area had known and fought beside Tecumseh. They knew his great bravery and thought he should be honoured and commemorated.

In the Western Herald newspaper of June 17, 1841, many prominent men proposed to erect a monument to show their respect for Tecumseh. A monument had been erected to commemorate Isaac Brock. So, a memorial should also be made to the great warrior, Tecumseh.

Rev. Cheyne and George Bullock resolved: “That although this may be the first instance of a civilized people erecting a monument to an untutored Indian, yet the sterling worth and noble conduct of that brave warrior, who sacrificed his life in defence of our country, entitles his memory to our lasting gratitude.”

A committee was formed to collect subscriptions to pay for the monument which included: Hon. James Gordon, Francis Caldwell, Robert Reynolds, J.P., William Duff, J.P., Col. Matthew Elliott, J.P., Col. Wm. Ambridge, J.P., Charles Fortier, J.P., James Dougall, J.P., William Anderton, J.P., Lewis J. Gordon, J.P., George Ironside, Major Rudyard, Andrew Kemp, George Bullock and others.

So, while the Americans demonized Tecumseh, the Canadians of Amherstburg celebrated his greatness by planning the first monument to a First Nations leader, Tecumseh.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

For more information on the Belle Vue Conservancy and its upcoming events, please visit www.bellevueconservancy.com.

Belle Vue through the hands of the property owners

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

The beautiful home of Robert Reynolds, Belle Vue, has over 200 years of stories to tell. This article will explain the progression of owners.

The Wyandot First Nations made a gift of land to the many Loyalists who helped during the American Revolution. The Crown accepted the transfer of the property in 1797 and granted Alexander McKee with 2,000 acres which included Lot 4 Concession 1. Alexander’s son, Thomas McKee, sold the property to William Mills on the 20th November 1807.

William Mills was mortally wounded at the Battle of the River Raisin 1813 and is buried in the big stone crypt at Christ Church. After the War of 1812, having no children, his estate was settled. James Gordon acquired his house (Gordon House) and Robert Reynolds bought the former McKee property for £2,000. The transaction settled on the 20 August 1817. This property included Lots 4, 21, 28, 40 and 47 going back to Concession 5. Five days later, Robert sold the south half of all those lots to George Benson Hall for £1,000. Robert Reynolds built Belle Vue on Lot 4 on the riverfront.

This is the front of Belle Vue in the Italianate style with William Johnston and his family on the front lawn. (Special to the RTT)

This is the front of Belle Vue in the Italianate style with William Johnston and his family on the front lawn. (Special to the RTT)

Robert owned the property for 42 years. In 1842, he severed a part of Lot 4 for his son, Dr. Robert Todd Reynolds to build a house. Dr. Reynolds purchased his aging father’s property on 27 May 1859 giving his father a “Life Lease”. Robert Reynolds died in 1865 and his son soon put the farm up for sale which took until the 1st August 1871 when William Johnston, a local druggist (pharmacist) purchased the property. The Johnston family modernized and enlarged the house in the Italianate style including two large reception rooms with bay windows and a new front veranda. They lived in the house for 16 years.

(Continued next month)

 

Please support our fundraising campaign. One-hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

Reynolds Marriages, “More Than Mere Love”

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE PLCGS

 

Robert Reynolds’ father, Thomas, brought the family to the Detroit area around 1777 to pursue his occupation as the Assistant Deputy Commissary Officer at Fort Lernoult. Thomas and his wife, Jean Goodfellow, had five children who lived to adulthood including Margaret, Thomas Augustus, Ebenezer, Robert and Catherine. The first two were born in Scotland and the other three were born in Detroit. Margaret and Catherine never married but in later years became known for their artistic skills. Thomas Augustus joined the Royal Navy and moved to England. Ebenezer and Robert stayed in the Essex County area to build their careers.

Robert Reynolds, as an older man

Robert Reynolds, as an older man

Thomas was well connected with the British army and was one of the wealthiest families in Amherstburg. Although his sons, Ebenezer age 21 and Robert age 19 began their careers as shopkeepers on First Street (Dalhousie) in 1799, their family’s social status demanded good marriages. In October of 1803, Ebenezer married Rose Bouchette. A month later, Robert married her sister, Thérèse. Their father was Jean Baptiste Bouchette of the Provincial Marine who later gained prominence as the Commodore of the navy on Lake Ontario.

Robert’s marriage to Thérèse was even more strategic. Thérèse was the widow of the step-son of James McGill of the North-West Fur Trading Company of Montreal. Amherstburg was an important post for the company, trading furs out of the Ohio region.

James McGill had married Charlotte Guillimin Trottier dit Desrivières, the widow of his business partner, who had two sons whom he raised as his own. The youngest, Thomas Hippolyte, married Thérèse Bouchette and together they had one son, James McGill Trottier dit Desrivières. McGill had bought Thomas Hippolyte a commission in the army but in 1801, he was killed in “a foolish duel” in the West Indies.

Therese Bouchette Reynolds

Therese Bouchette Reynolds

Robert Reynolds marriage to Therese provided him a marriage alliance with one of the most powerful and wealthy families in the Canadas. Through this family connection and his own fortunes, Robert Reynolds could demonstrate his position by building his grand country house, Belle Vue.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One-hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again

Reynolds builds Belle Vue during economic depression

 

By Debra Honor UE

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a regular series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history.)

The War of 1812 was finally over.

On July 1, 1815, the American forces that had occupied most of Southwestern Upper Canada (Ontario) withdrew. The Union Jack again flew over Fort Malden. The Treaty of Ghent had restored the borders as before the war. Just the year before, the American forces had burned and pillaged the area, starving the population into submission.

A drawing by Catherine Reynolds, an original occupant of Belle Vue, is depicted. This is the view of the east side of the residence.

A drawing by Catherine Reynolds, an original occupant of Belle Vue, is depicted. This is the view of the east side of the residence.

American General McArthur’s plan was to make the Western District “a desert between us and them.” Most of the mills were burned all the way up to Port Dover. His next plan was to burn Amherstburg, Sandwich and then Michigan because he thought even the population of Michigan was against the American troops. The declaration of peace prevented him from starting his plan.

Yet because of the severity of the occupation, people were starving. The weather didn’t help either as the volcano on Mount Tambora, Dutch East Indies erupted in April 1815 that caused “the Year without a Summer” in 1816. Crops failed. Severe frost and snow happened even in the summer all over the Northern Hemisphere. But because of the burning of the crops and mills by the Americans, the Western District was hit even harder by the weather changes.

Robert Reynolds returned to Fort Malden with the British army as Commissary Officer with his family to rebuild their lives and the community. He bought a 2,000-acre farm on the river south of Amherstburg from the estate of William Mills who had died in 1813 from wounds he received at the battle of River Raisin. The next year construction began on the largest home in Upper Canada to date. His wife, Therese, being of French background, named the house Belle Vue.

bellevue-1984

Belle Vue, circa 1984

Through marriage and business alliances, Robert Reynolds was connected to some of the richest people in the Canadas. His father in law was James McGill of Montreal of the North-West Fur Trading Company. Robert Reynolds, through his patronage and investment in the community, helped start Amherstburg on an optimistic and hopeful future.

Please support our fundraising campaign. 100% of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!