Oliver Grace and the Sloop Mary Ann

I remain fascinated by the fluidity with which men and women have flowed across the international border that “divides” the Great Lakes.  This story is about an Irishman who served in the Royal Navy (whether voluntarily or not remains to be discovered), leaving a young family behind, emigrated to the United States, settled in Upper Canada.  He sailed a sloop on Lake Ontario with an American-born “late loyalist” who after a few years moved to the States.  His son was brought to Upper Canada to be apprenticed to millers, and  who then defected to the US with them, having fought on both sides in the War of 1812. The father served in the Provincial Marine until the Royal Navy showed up, left in disgust and went back to friends in England and family in Ireland, before returning to North America.  He died in New York on his way back to the Great Lakes region.  The son remained on the border where for over 30 years he served in the customs service, looking out over a border he dared not cross.  The wife and daughter never did leave Ireland.  The Mary Ann, by contrast, was probably built in Upper Canada, but was captured during the War of 1812, and burned after ferrying an force of the US Army down the St. Lawrence in an ill conceived attempt to attack Montreal.

Oliver Grace was described as native of County Kilkenny, Ireland, where he was born about 1758.[1] In a petition almost 50 years later, Grace detailed how he had spent much of his adult years.  While not saying when he joined, Grace served in the Royal Navy on a number of vessels.  He first joined HMS Enterprise (28 guns, Capt. John Willet Payne) as an able seaman, although he claimed he was subsequently rated a midshipman and master’s mate.  He subsequently served as master’s mate in HMS Princess Amelia (80 guns) in the West Indies.  By the end of the American Revolution he had been transferred to HMS Leander (50 guns) where he served as masters mate, and, he claimed “some time acting lieutenant.”  Leander was paid off before he could be confirmed as an officer (and thus draw half pay). Grace subsequently sailed in the British merchant marine, including at least one voyage in the service of the East India Company.  While sailing up the Houghly River approaching Calcutta, his vessel overturned.  Grace swam to safety but “his Journals pocket book containing his Certificates and all the property he there had were lost.” On his return from the East Indies, Grace left for North America and according to his petition “came into this Country the latter end of the year 1798.”[2] At some point in the 1790s he was back in Ireland, because his son, Oliver Grace Jr. was born there about 1795.[3] Many other Irishmen, both Protestant and Catholic were emigrating to the United States; Grace would be among them.

In the fall of 1799, he was described as arriving in the Rochester region “with a boat load from Schenectady, the freight costing $3.00 per 112 lbs.”[4] Another account identified him as an agent or clerk for Tryon and Adams in the area of Irondequoit Bay near Rochester at some point before 1804.[5]

It is not clear at what date the sloop Mary Ann made her first appearance on Lake Ontario.  Grace’s 1806 account claimed on arriving in the country he “laid out his property in this province [Upper Canada] in Building and Equipping a Vessel called the Mary Ann in the River Humber which he yet continues to own & navigate.” It is likely that he engaged John Dennis as the shipwright. Dennis had built the yacht Toronto for the government of Upper Canada in 1798/99 at a small shipyard on the Humber. Given Dennis’s other commitments, it is likely that Mary Ann was constructed in 1800 or 1801.  The first precise reference to the sloop’s existence came in January 1802 with was a notice in the Niagara Herald, that she was going to sail from Niagara “on first favourable day.”[6] Grace’s account fails to credit any relationship with Isiah Skinner, who had left the province by the time Grace’s petition was written, but other accounts having them jointly owning the sloop.  Skinner had been a miller on the Don River, east of York (later Toronto) before 1801, when he sold out to his father and for a few years took up sailing.[7] There is another account of “Skinner’s sloop” arriving in York in March 1802. Later, that summer, James McQueen was drowned from Mary Ann while he fell overboard when she was underway.[8]

Mary Ann (36 tons) had Oliver Grace as master when she entered Queenston on 7 July 1803. Three weeks later Mary Ann returned to Queenston under the command of Isaiah Skinner, Grace’s partner. In 1803 she would enter Queenston six more times, five of them with Skinner as master. They continued to share the role in 1804, after which there is little evidence of Skinner on Lake Ontario.[9] Skinner was gone by 1806, presumably having sold his share of the Mary Ann to Grace and left Niagara for the United States. One account in 1808 referenced her cargo as “an elegant assortment of fashionable printed cottons and calicoes.”[10] Grace would continue to sail Mary Ann at least through the 1810 season. Almost their only principal routes appears to have been between Niagara, Kingston and York. One exception was a reported trip in May 1805 when she arrived at the mouth of the Genesee River from Oswego, unloaded and cleared for Oswego the same day.[11] There are no accounts of Mary Ann running in 1811, but in the spring of 1812 she made two entrances into Kingston under the command of George Langley.[12]

In July 1812, Melancthon T. Woolsey, at that point the senior American naval officer on the Lakes, reported that Mary Ann was being armed with a single cannon.[13] Whether his information was correct or not, is difficult to confirm. Mary Ann was one of a number of vessels captured by the U. S. Navy on Lake Ontario near the Ducks in early October 1813. She had been in Burlington Bay picking up sick and wounded men for delivery to the hospital at York before sailing with the unescorted British convoy for Kingston.[14] Shortly afterwards she was passed to the US Army Transport Service who used Mary Ann and two of the other captured vessels to move General Wilkinson’s troops down the St. Lawrence in the campaign that ended in the American defeat at Crysler’s Farm. She was burned by the Americans at French Creek during the course of the campaign. Almost a year after the burning of Mary Ann a prize court in New York decided she was worth $1600 when taken.[15] Which leaves outstanding the question of which Upper Canadian owned Mary Ann when she was taken.

As a result of his 1806 petition Grace had been granted a farm lot, which he had never bothered to locate. He had acquired a lot in the immediate vicinity of what would become Port Credit (modern Mississauga, ON), and in 1810 leased the clergy reserve lot next to it. He was also one of the investors in Malcolm’s Mills at Oakland on the Grand River. The owning firm was Markle, Biggar & Company. Grace sent back to Ireland for his 16-year-old son, Oliver Grace Jr., who was apprenticed to the firm just before the outbreak of the war.[16]

Almost immediately, Oliver Grace volunteered “his services in his line” to General Sir Isaac Brock who appointed him a Lieutenant in the Provincial Marine. Initially he was assigned to the Queen Charlotte on Lake Erie, but before he could report he was transferred as 2nd Lieutenant to the Provincial Marine schooner Prince Regent, which John Dennis launched on Lake Ontario in July 1812. [17] Given Grace’s experience as a sailor on Lake Ontario, it was certainly a more logical posting. According to Grace, he left “his Plantation, Vessel and Business in charge of his son & a friend…” This single sentence suggests that Grace still owned a vessel, quite possibly the Mary Ann.[18] When in the spring of 1813, the Royal Navy arrived on the Lakes and took command of the vessels of the Provincial Marine, Lt. Oliver Grace found himself superseded and without a job, his farm idle, his vessel “useless.” He claimed that he had gone to York, and returned with the prisoners of war after the battle there. Robert Malcolmson, in his study of the naval war on Lake Ontario, claimed “Grace obtained permission to resign his commission for health reasons.” What Barclay had said was “2 Lieut’t Grace of the Regent is a very old man, and cannot, from bad health, serve. he consequently is not to be included in the number who left the service in an unofficer like manner.” [19] Shortly afterwards he left Upper Canada for Great Britain in one of the returning transport vessels. It sank, leaving Grace and nineteen others in a boat on the North Atlantic for four days before the survivors were rescued. His daughter would claim that the resulting “consumption” was what eventually killed him. The following spring, from London, England he petitioned the British government for some “relief.” There would be little. Back in Quebec City by October 1814, he wrote the Governor General’s Military Secretary in Montreal about the possibility he qualified for six months pay that was to be allotted to the superseded officers of the Provincial Marine. He claimed “my finances are dried up” and hoped that the governor general would give an order for his passage on any transport sailing for England or Ireland.[20]

Part of Grace’s 1814 claim was that his son, Oliver jr., had gone on the expedition against General Harrison in the Indian Territory beyond Detroit. Unfortunately, his news was several months behind. On 1 October 1813, shortly after the Battle of Lake Erie and the British retreat from the Detroit frontier, Oliver jr. followed Abraham Markle, William Biggar and others over to the American side. Branded a traitor by the Upper Canadians, Oliver jr. was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Volunteers, a unit of the American army. He was particularly known as a leader in the raid on Port Dover in May 1814. He was also present in the campaign that included the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane. Shortly, afterward, In August 1814, shortly before Willcocks, the charismatic leader of the Canadian Volunteers was killed during the siege of Fort Erie, Oliver Grace Jr. resigned his commission.[21]

In November 1814, at the battle of Malcolm’s Mills, his father’s stake on the Grand River was destroyed by a force under American general Duncan McArthur who had raided all the way from Detroit. The raid was one of the last acts of the land war in Upper Canada.[22]

At the beginning of 1816, Oliver Sr. left his family in Ireland once again to make his way back to Upper Canada. On February 23, he died in New York, apparently at the home of Charles Irish, a watchmaker at no. 5 Wall Street.[23] Without a will, with Oliver Jr. his only son and principal heir, his lands were considered forfeit. This included the claim for the losses at Malcolm’s Mills.

Maria Grace, Oliver Grace’s daughter would make a series of efforts to get back control of her father’s Upper Canadian assets. In December 1821 a petition was presented to the Upper Canadian legislature asking that her father’s property be restored to her. The legislature refused to consider the petition.[24]  A year later Maria petitioned the king, via Earl Bathurst claiming that even her mother’s dowry was being withheld, leaving her “in the greatest poverty and distress” and begging him to consider “the case of the unprovided and unprotected widow and orphan of an officer who served your Majesty, in every quarter of the Glove, with courage, zeal and fidelity….”[25] The next month, before any response could have been generated, fifty acres in Ancaster township were declared forfeit and ordered to be sold.[26] In 1819 Maria petitioned as “only Daughter & Heir at Law” to Oliver Grace sr. The surveyor general reported that Oliver Sr had never located the 1806 grant and the location was recommended.  This was probably  lot 12, concession 7 of Lobo Township, just west of London which she eventually patented on 28 Dec. 1842. A subsequent law case hinged, in part, on the process that she and her husband Richard Evans, of Dublin, then went through to sell the lot in 1859.[27]

Oliver Jr. was left on the Niagara frontier with no family, and access to none of the assets he should have inherited from his father. In 1817 he married Sarah Rees Lee, the daughter of Robert Lee, collector of customs for the Niagara region since 1804.[28] The following year, at the first town meeting of Lewiston, 7 April 1818, Oliver was elected town clerk. Three years later, when Niagara and Erie counties were separated, Oliver was appointed the first clerk of Niagara.[29] In 1823 he bought out the Lewiston Sentinel, moving it shortly afterwards to Lockport, NY, renaming it the Lockport Sentinel.[30] He merged it with the Lockport Observatory in 1827, joining with Orasmus Turner, the latter’s proprietor, before they sold out a few months later.[31] At the heart of Grace’s withdrawal from the newspaper business seems to have been his identification as a Mason, in the heart of the Morgan kidnapping affair. As footnote to Oliver Jr.’s role as a publisher, he printed the first issues of the Colonial Advocate, published across the river at Queenston by Reformer, and eventual rebellion leader, William Lyon Mackenzie.[32] Most of Oliver Jr.’s subsequent life was spent in the customs service, for many years at Lewiston, and with the opening of the Niagara Suspension Bridge, at that post. It helped, no doubt, that his father-in-law was the collector for the customs district for many of those years.[33] In 1839, in the wake of the Upper Canada rebellions, Oliver jr. petitioned the Lt. Governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur, for permission to return “to arrange some business for his sister(s?), now residing in Ireland.” Permission was refused. A far more satisfactory response came 10 years later, when in a special act of the Province of Canada, the attainder of Oliver Grace was reversed. It did nothing, of course, to restore the lands that had been seized and sold.[34] After the death of his wife, Sarah, in 1866, the childless Grace retired to Rochester where he died in 1874.[35]



[1] New York Herald, 24 Feb 1816, p. 3. (http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/113273/dataThe Spectator (St. Davids, UC), 15 March 1816, p. 5 (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=geVfx-PNG5EC&dat=18160315&printsec=frontpage&hl=en).

[2] Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG 1, L3, Upper Canada Land Petitions, vol. 204(a), G8/15 (1806) (reel C-2041). Upper Canada Land Books, p. 113, (30 July 1806). Emily Cain, “Ghost Ships: Hamilton and Scourge, Historical Treasures from the War of 1812 Era,” Oceans ’86 (conference, Washington DC, 23-25 Sept. 1986, CH2363-0/86/0000-0029) p. 32.(http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/OCEANS.1896.1160551);

[3] LAC, Colonial Office, “Q” Series, Public Offices and Miscellaneous, 1822, MG11, v. 332, pt. 1, pp. 123, Petition of Maria Grace, Kilkenny, 24 December 1822. (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c10765/139).; “Obituary,” Niagara Falls Gazette, 20 May 1874, identifies the late Oliver Grace, jr. as “nearly 79 years old.”

[4] O. Turner, History of the pioneer settlement of Phelps & Gorham’s purchase, and Morris’ Reserve (Rochester: William Alling, 1852), p. 429 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433062501725?urlappend=%3Bseq=445)

[5] O. Turner, Pioneer history of the Holland purchase of Western New York, (Buffalo: Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1850) p. 389 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.afj8020.0001.001?urlappend=%3Bseq=393). The reference was specifically to the “father of Oliver Grace, Esq., of Lewiston.”

[6] Niagara Herald, 13 Jan. 1802, p. 3.

[7] Elanor Darke, A Mill Should Be Build Thereon: An Early History of the Todmorden Mills (Toronto: Natural History/Natural Heritage, 1995) p. 36 https://books.google.ca/books?id=bvU21Xamry4C&pg=PA36)

[8] Henry Scadding , Toronto of Old, (Toronto: Adam, Stevenson and Co., 1873) , p. 527. (http://www.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/documents/Scadding/default.asp?ID=c002#p062)

[9] Naval and Marine Archives. Queenston Lighthouse Duties, 1803-1812.

[10] Upper Canada Gazette, 7 April 1808 quoted in Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto (Toronto: J. R. R. Robertson, 1896) 2: 834 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89077057727?urlappend=%3Bseq=338)

[11] Emma M. Pollard Greer, History of Charlotte (n.p., n.d.) p. 24 (copy in Rochester, NY, Public Library). Reference courtesy Gary M. Gibson. This would have been in defiance of the coastal regulations of the United States, which were not seriously enforced on the Lakes in the first years of commercial sale. The first customs officer on the Lakes was appointed in 1804.

[12] Langley was classed as a seaman when he was captured on board either the schooner Mary Hatt or the sloop Elizabeth in November 1812 by the United States Navy. E. A. Cruikshank, The Documentary History of the Campaign Upon the Niagara Frontier, p. 230 “Return of British Prisoners made by the Squadron under the command of Commodore Isaac Chauncey”

[13] Melancthon T. Woolsey to Paul Hamilton, 10 July 1812, National Archives of the United States, RG 45, Secretary of the Navy, Letters received from Officers, 1813, vol. 3, item 16, M148 roll 12.
 (reference courtesy Gary M. Gibson)

[14] “Copy of a letter from Commodore Chauncey to the Secretary of the Navy, 8 Oct. 1813,” Universal Gazette (Washington, DC), 29 Oct. 1813, p. 1.

[15] Gary M. Gibson, “Consolation Prize,” Inland Seas, ____, pp. 236, 239, 243, 245.

[16] LAC, MG11, v. 332, pt. 1, pp. 122-25, Petition of Maria Grace, Kilkenny, 24 December 1822. (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c10765/139). The reference was specifically to Markle, Biggar & Company of Ancaster. For more on Abraham Markle and the firm see Robert Lochiel Fraser, “Abraham Markle (Marakle, Marcle)” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987) 6: 488-91. (http://biographi.ca/en/bio/markle_abraham_6E.html)

[17] There would be two Prince Regents in the War of 1812. This smaller one was renamed Lord Beresford in 1813 and Netley in 1814. Robert Malcomson, Warships of the Great Lakes (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001) p. 70.

[18] At this point, I have found no evidence that anyone submitted a claim for the loss of the Mary Ann. Certainly it was not filed under Oliver Grace’s name

[19] Robert Malcomson, Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812-1814 (Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 1998), p. 113 citing Barclay to Freer, 9 May 1813 NAC, RG 8, I, 729: 183; Barclay to Prescott, 16 May 1813, ibid.: 193.  Maria’s 1819 petition referred to Grace as “Lieu’t & Commanding Officer on board His Majesty’s Schooner Prince Regent.”  He was second in command.  The master was First Lieutenant William Fish, whose service before the war ended when under his command, the government yacht Toronto was wrecked on one of the Toronto islands.  Captain Gray, the officer of the Quartermaster General’s department responsible for the Provincial Marine, described the Prince Regent after she came into Kingston on 17 April 1813: “I found the vessel insect a disorderly State, that the want of talents or want of attention to his duty in the master was evident in every part of the vessel. … I have never seen more palpable negligence in all the Duties of a Commander of an Armed vessel.” A. Gray to Freer, 18 April 1813, NAC, RG 8, I, 729: 162.

[20] LAC, MG11, v. 130, pt. 2, pp. 441-43, Petition of Oliver Grace, London 4 April 1814. (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c11921/1442?r=0&s=4) Grace to Freer, 27 Oct. 1814, LAC, RG 8, I, 733: 89

[21] LAC, MG11, v. 332, pt. 1, pp. 122-25, Petition of Maria Grace (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c10765/139). Charles K. Gardner, A Dictionary of All Officers, who have been Commissioned, or have been Appointed and served, in the Army of the United States … (New York: G. P. Putnam and Company, 1853), p. 143 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015012904499?urlappend=%3Bseq=204)

[22] LAC, RG 19 Department of Finance, E 5a Upper Canada: War of 1812 Losses Claims, v. 3754, file 1 “Statement of Losses Sustained by Ethan Woodruff & Oliver Grace, the only remaining Partners of the firm of Grace, Biggar & Co. During the late war with the United States of America” (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/microform-digitization/006003-119.01-e.php?sqn=46&q2=33&q3=2809&tt=1102)

[23] New York Herald, 24 Feb 1816, p. 3 (http://images.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/113273/data) LAC, MG11, v. 332, pt. 1, pp. 122-25, Petition of Maria Grace (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c10765/139).

[24] Archives of Ontario, Report, 1914, p. 91 (22 Dec. 1821). (http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_70137_11/104)

[25] LAC, MG11, v. 332, pt. 1, pp. 122-25, Petition of Maria Grace, Kilkenny, 24 December 1822. (http://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_c10765/139?r=0&s=1)

[26] Ibid, p. 222 (22 Jan. 1823).

[27] 7 Upper Canada Common Pleas 248-52, Folmsbee v. Brown and Carmichael (https://books.google.ca/books?id=12VFAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA249).

[28] Niagara Falls Gazette, 17 Aug. 1859, p. 3 (Obit. of Hannah Lee); 14 March 1866, (Obit of Sarah Rees Grace). Lee had been in the regular infantry as an officer from 1792 to 1797. Before his appointment as Collector of Customs, he served as the agent of the quartermaster’s department at Fort Niagara starting in 1800. (Gardner, Dictionary, p. 274)

[29] Edward T. Williams, Niagara County New York … A concise record of her progress and people, 1821-1921 (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Company, 1921) I: 171, 383 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433062528942?urlappend=%3Bseq=211) Franklin B. Hough, New-York Civil List From 1777 to 1858, (Albany: Weed Parsons & Co., 1858), p. 390. (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nnc2.ark:/13960/t2n60dj1x?urlappend=%3Bseq=416)

[30] Williams, p. 351-52 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433062528942?urlappend=%3Bseq=401)

[31] Albany Argus, 4 July 1827, p. 2 (http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2021/Albany%20NY%20Argus/Albany%20NY%20Argus%201827/Albany%20NY%20Argus%201827%20-%200631.pdf) ; 20 October 1827, p. 2.(http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2021/Albany%20NY%20Argus/Albany%20NY%20Argus%201827/Albany%20NY%20Argus%201827%20-%201005.pdf)

[32] James J. Talman, “The Printing Presses of William Lyon Mackenzie, prior to 1837,” Canadian Historical Review, 18 (4): 414-18. (http://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/bsc/article/view/17627/14561)

[33] United States, Serial Set, v. 192, 21st Cong. 1st Sess., no. 15 Report from the Secretary of the Treasury, … 7 Jan. 1830. C. No. 1, Statement exhibiting the amount of payments made to Inspectors, Gaugers, Weighers, and Measurers, in the several Collection Districts of the United States from the 1st January to the 31st of December, 1826. p. 34. (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.b3983174?urlappend=%3Bseq=536) Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States on the Thirtieth September, 1859 … (Washington, DC: William A. Harris, 1859), p. 49. (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.hxpgpt?urlappend=%3Bseq=69)

[34] Province of Canada, Statutes (12 Vict. Cap. 175) An Act for the reversal of the attainder of Oliver Grace, and for other purposes therein mentioned. (Royal Assent, 30 May 1849). (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/umn.31951d01300729a?urlappend=%3Bseq=967) The act followed the much more controversial Rebellion Losses Act, but also represented the first time that a Reform party controlled both the legislature and the executive in the history of the Canadas.

[35] Niagara Falls Gazette, 20 May 1874. (http://fultonhistory.com/newspaper%208/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette%201868-1874%20Grayscale/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette%201868-1874%20Grayscale%20-%201189.pdf)


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