William Cassidy (1797-1886)

William Cassidy was clearly a self-confident individual. Newly married, he left home at age 22 for an undeveloped and distant land. At age 28 we find him contracting for a large tract of property on which to establish a homestead. By his late 30s he’s taking the initiative to support the development of the religious community at Cassidy Lake including obtaining a society ticket from the Methodist church.

The oldest of ten children, William was born in The Port, Parish of Inver, County Donegal, Ireland on March 4, 1797. His wife, Jane Milligan, was also born in The Port on June 22, 1798. The story goes that they eloped on May 20, 1818 to Gretna Green, Scotland. The village blacksmith performed the wedding ceremony over an anvil. After her marriage, Jane, whose family were upper class land owners, was disowned by her family.

The problem with this story is that Mike Cassidy found the Church of Ireland records for the Parish of Inver showing their marriage on May 25, 1818. Mike speculates that perhaps William and Jane did elope to Gretna Green, but returned home to be legally married in the church.

We have no knowledge of William or Jane’s education. Based on the fact that William signed his name on the land contracts with good penmanship indicates he was quite literate. Jane, on the other hand, signed her name with an “X” prior to 1870. The 1872 deed with William Kirkpatrick has a proper signature for her. At this point, Jane is 75 years old.

During one of his visits to Ireland, Mike Cassidy learned that it was common in the early 1800s for ships to drop anchor in Donegal harbor (7 miles from The Port) and send out word that they were taking passengers to the U.S. or Canada. They would stay in the harbor for a week or so until they were full, then set off. Given this activity, travel to America would be common knowledge for people living around The Port.

William and Jane went to Derry, Ireland where they took a ship to Canada. On September 1, 1819 they landed in Saint John, New Brunswick where they purchased a piece of land which is now at the head of King Street where the Woolworth store was located in 1970s. [Brian Cassidy reported on May 21, 2016: After extensive research at the Provincial Archives, I think we can say definitely that William Cassidy did not own land in Saint John. I did extensive research on this and came up totally empty. There are no Cassidy entries for deeds in the 1820 to 1825 time frame. I even got help from PANB staff who consulted a private source not available to the public. Searching the land petitions in Saint John County, I found two petitions in 1827 which I decided were not relevant because both people were born in NS (James Cassidy, Age 30, born in NS, not married). My best guess is that William rented housing in Saint John but there was never any official property ownership because there is no corresponding deed.]

While in Saint John, William was engaged in ship building. After being given a grant of land at Shepody, New Brunswick (of which we know nothing except that it was unsatisfactory), he moved there and lived alone in a log hut while his family remained in Saint John. In 1823 the family moved to the south side of Cassidy Lake, where they resided until 1825 when they moved to a 150 acre (61 ha) parcel of land on the north side of the lake. The story is they acquired this farm by selling their land in Saint John. We question this fact as we are fairly certain they did not own land in Saint John. William had to walk a distance of 100 miles (160 km) to Fredericton, the capital of the province, to acquire the land. He did this in the winter when the rivers and lakes were frozen so he could cross them. With only a primitive compass to guide him and a flint-lock, muzzle-loading gun to protect him, he undertook the journey through the forests.

After settling on the north side of Cassidy Lake, Jane would paddle across the lake to the site of their former home where there was a pasture for the family’s only cow. Once while crossing the lake in October 1825, she became lost in a dense smoke which had drifted over the lake from a large forest fire along the Miramichi River – some 125 airline miles (200 km) north. Her husband guided her safely to shore by blowing a seashell horn. This same shell horn was later used as a dinner horn by Stan Cassidy and is now (1998) in his son Bruce’s possession.

The life style of William and Jane is typical of a farm family of that period. Candles made of tallow, salvaged and remolded continually, supplied light for their home. A fireplace built of field stone served as the only heating device. Cast iron pots hooked on iron cranes were used for cooking over the fire. For bread, they grew and ground the wheat and baked the bread in a cast iron dish buried in the bed of coals at the bottom of the fireplace. The family’s clothing was made from homespun cloth woven on hand looms. William was a master craftsman in the making of these hand looms.

Although it was some 30 miles (48 km) away, Saint John was their center of supply. Roads in New Brunswick at this time were poor to non-existent. They would travel to the city by horseback along a path cut in the dense forest. On the return journey, the load would be packed on the horse’s back while the rider walked. An idea of the hazards faced by these people may be obtained from the story of William defending himself with a heavy cross-cut saw when he accidentally surprised a mother bear and her cubs.

William died on March 26, 1886, eleven years after his wife who had died on January 7, 1875. Both are buried in the cemetery on the Cassidy farm at Cassidy Lake.

As noted earlier, William was a religious man. He and Jane were Anglican, stemming from their Church of Ireland upbringing. When William was in his late 30s, they became Methodists and opened their home to the Circuit Riders. From then on the ministers all came to William’s home and held services. The ministers always stayed overnight. This meant a lot of house cleaning and polishing of the tableware. The following excerpt from a memorial service given by J.C. [full name unknown] gives us a sense of how serious William was about his religion:

It was under the preaching of some of the Wesleyan Methodist preachers on the Sussex circuit that he [William Cassidy] was led to Christ. When referring to this charge, he used to say, “God was pleased to send some of the Wesleyan preachers to Sussex, whom I had the pleasure of hearing. Thank God that he brought me to see that I was a sinner, and that nothing but faith in Jesus Christ could save me. Thank God for his mercy to me in plucking me as a brand out of the fire.” Bro. Cassidy received a society ticket from Rev. P. Bent in Sept. 1831.

While Williams’ son, Francis Edward, gets the credit for building the church on the family property, William helped with the construction and would have been fully supportive of the project.