PRETTY, John and Maria Farrell
This is a story easy to imagine if you have ever traveled along Lookout Road in Westmeath Township; – a young Irishman , 31 years, his new wife with a wee lad of only one year – after he had faced the hardships of the Irish famine and a North Atlantic crossing – finds himself at the top of the world or at least the top elevation of this part of our world. How could the young couple not think it fate when their surname is Pretty and their new farmstead is at one of the prettiest spots in the township?
The Pretty family’s new farmstead was situated on land with the most stunning views to be found in Eastern Ontario. To this day tourists and locals alike, take time to walk up to the pinnacle of an ancient moraine to look out to the vast sweep of the Ottawa River and scan around all 360 degrees; to quietly soak in the beauty of its valley. Old-timers still refer to this hill as “Pretty’s Hill”. Some documents use the spelling of Prettie. In later years a small park and a hilltop gazebo was built on the neighbouring property by the Wright family on Lookout Road and maintained by the Township of Whitewater Region.
John Pretty (1820-1892) was born in County Down, Ireland. He came to Upper Canada and found his new wife Maria Farrell (1829 – 1884). After their marriage by the Methodist minister in Westmeath in 1850 and witnessed by Abel Beach and Noah Jackson Sr., they settled into raising a family – he was 31 and she 24. 1850 Marriage Registration. In that busy first year a new son was born and the couple started farming on their homestead.
In the 1851 Census, the farm on Lot 16, Concession 7, is 150 acres with 40 acres under cultivation – 34 in crops and 6 in pasture. There are 110 acres “wood or wild” and the Pretty’s produced 100 bushels of wheat grown on 5 acres.
New landowners and newlyweds: 1851 Census. Ten years later in 1861 the family had grown to six children.
The family attended the Westmeath St. Mary’s Anglican Church. In the 1881 Census the two older brothers are farming with their father and sister Alice is a school teacher. PRETTY family listed 1881 Census Westmeath Township.
Puzzling: Good fortune arrived in 1897 when Maria Farrell Prettie inherited great wealth even by today’s standard. Or at least we assume this to be Maria Farrell’s fortune; BUT Maria had died three years earlier in 1894. There was only one Prettie or Pretty family in Westmeath – had the inheritance been announced without checking if the heiress was alive or dead? [Converting the $375,000. into today’s money, the sum is equivalent to $10.5 million!]
The children of John and Maria Pretty are:
1. William Henry Pretty (1851 – 1919) – did not marry, died at age 68 yrs. William is listed in the 1896 Voter’s List as owner of S 1/2 16, Conc. 8, EML.
2. James Pretty (1853 – 1887) – died at age 34 yrs. See stone with Thomas.
3. Elizabeth Pretty (1854 – 1879) m. James Comrie (1841- ) in 1876 in the Beachburg Presbyterian Church She would died age 25 yrs. James was son of Catherine Bennie and Peter Comrie. See BENNIE entry.
4. Margaret Emma Pretty (1856– 1943) m. John Gilbraith McLean (1846 – ) in Ramsay Township, Lanark County. They lived in Beachburg Village. Their children are:
i. Maria Bertha McLean (1876-1951), in Cobden, Ontario,
ii. Donald L McLean (1877 -1961) in Beachburg, Ontario.
iii. Lillian May McLean (1893- 1954) m. John Harry Johnston (1890-1968) in Westmeath, ON.Marriage Reg 1913.
7. Mary Ann Pretty (1859 – 1897) – died at age 38 years.
8. Maria Pretty (1861 – 1943) m. James Comrie of Beachburg. She died age 82 yrs. See COMRIE entry.
9. Alice Pretty (1862 – 1936) – school “Lead Teacher“. In 1882 Alice married John R. Davidson (1856-1931). They had two children: i. Robert George Davidson (1884- ; ii. Edna H. Davidson (1885- ). Alice would die at age 73 in Beachburg.
10. John (1864-1933) – died age 69 yrs.
10. Jane Pretty (1871 – 1911)
11. Thomas Pretty (1878 – 1883) – died at age 5.
Fortunately a much fuller account of this family’s history in the township has generously been submitted to this website by Miriam Mathieson Barry, a great great granddaughter of John and Maria Pretty, and granddaughter of Maria Bertha McLean. This account sets out the hardships settler’s faced and the toll taken by diseases such as tuberculosis or consumption; which today would be successfully treated.
John Pretty and Maria Farrell
Their Pretty family
By Miriam Mathieson Barry
The Pretty Story
Note that Pretty is sometimes spelled Pretty, Prettie, Pritty or Prittie. I have used Pretty as it is the spelling on their gravestone and one used most often in our family records.
The following is a history of John Pretty written by Murray A. Mathieson, his great grandson (1954), taken from ‘The Ancestors and Descendents of William Mathieson and Maria Bertha McLean’. This a volume of Mathieson history, edited by Stanley Mathieson from material collected by his younger brother Murray A Mathieson in the 1950s.
Notes in square brackets are by Miriam Mathieson Barry, a great great granddaughter.
Pretty Early Years in Canada
Just before the year 1850, after the potato famine in Ireland, an Irish immigrant John Pretty arrived near the present village of Westmeath. At the time the countryside was heavily wooded and as a result of the restricted drainage was to a large extent swampy. This led to the pioneer’s choice of land on the highest site in the locality. The place now may be seen on the crest of the hill which bears his name and commands a fine view of the Ottawa River and the western side of the township.
[Note: a) in the 1980’s the name Pretty’s Hill was changed to Lookout Hill. b) John Pretty’s land was S ½ of Lot 16, Concession 7, Westmeath township]
Being a bachelor he didn’t have to raise a shelter for a family at once and he is said to have used a hollow log for his first habitation. The cost of the land was undoubtedly small but he is reported to have paid off the debt in 3 years. He worked for a Mr Mason (a settler nearer Westmeath village) to make his first farm payment. He made his payments at Ottawa, at first travelling to and from Bytown (then so named) on foot. On one of those trips, being refreshed at a hotel table, he learned that the waitress was from his home town in Ireland (Bytown’s population was about half Irish). With such a kinship established, and no doubt being well served and his morals thereby fortified, he asked her to marry him. In the words of one of his grandsons (Donald) ‘he was engaged before he got up from the table’. The lady concerned – Maria Farrell was in charge of the meals being cook and waitress combined.
Another (less spectacular) account denies he met Miss Farrell in Ottawa. It contends that she worked in Pembroke and that Mr. Pretty sold his farm produce there rather than in Ottawa. Maria Farrell is believed to have come from Ireland with another girl. – later (by) Mrs. Reilly who lived on the government road near Forester’s Falls (Lot 3 Conc. 6 Ross twp).
The ‘Pretty’ farm became one of the best large farms in the vicinity. They were hard-working people and during their lifetime raised a large family and accumulated an estate counted in tens of thousands of dollars; a remarkable fortune in those days, and especially so when one considers their primitive beginning. John Pretty loaned the money to build the Methodist church in Beachburg (burned about 1930). After the monstrous work of clearing the land and in the first years being able to live on meager produce, Mr. Pretty made long slow journeys to sell the crops of his field and garden in Ottawa. From these trips which stretched into weeks, he brought back to his home such few essentials as they used for the minimum of comfort and convenience. Also he kept a keg of spirits to help maintain the frontier in the wilderness. On occasion he became rambunksous [sic] as a result of imbibing over much according to a neighbour’s report. But he was a stalwart citizen none the less, generous and considerate.
In their first married years the family attended the Church of England in Westmeath village. They often were hosts to the parson for Sunday dinner after attending the regular morning service. One Sunday while passing the village Methodist church in their horse-drawn conveyance, the pastor made some unfavourable remark about the competing congregation. Mr Pretty replied by saying to his wife – ‘That is the church we’ll go to next Sunday’. After that they were supporters of the Methodist church. [This happened between the 1881 census when the family were recorded as Church of England, and the marriage of daughter Alice 22 July 1882 who was recorded as Methodist in the marriage registration.]
It is also told, as an illustration of his generosity and kindness, that on hearing the approach of the new settler’s wagons along the present ‘6th line’, he would go out to meet and invite them to stop. It was a tradition that no strangers passed his place without enjoying his home and having a meal.
News was received in the Pretty homestead from the Carleton Place Herald – weekly paper. In Oct. 1871 when the children were kept home from school to help in digging the potato crop the sky was smoky and remained so for many days. Later, it was learned, the Great Chicago fire was the source of the smoke.
The Pretty family included eleven children in all. However several of them died of tuberculosis, only about half of the family members reached middle age. As none of the sons married, the family name died out completely. The deaths of the last remaining three sisters occurred in 1943.
One item of local interest was the case of the local veterinary doctor who paid court to Jane Pretty. At the end of the affair she sued him for Breach of Promise.
John Pretty the son, who never married or was noted for ambition, used his share of his father’s endowment in travelling around the world. He was considered a well educated man though he never had much formal schooling. One neighbour remembers him for recognizing a farmer’s find as a stone Indian artifact and turning it over to Beachburg Continuation School.
The Pretty story by Miriam Mathieson Barry
1850 was an important year for John Pretty. On April 4th the Wesleyan Methodist minister Rev John Howes married John Pretty and Maria Farrell in Westmeath. On Oct 6th John Pretty, yeoman, bought 50 acres of land for £8 2s 6d of lawful money of Canada from Patrick O’Brien of Westmeath, being E ½ of S ½ Lot 16 Conc. 6 EML.
In the 1851 census of the township of Westmeath the entries were John Pretty, farmer, born in Ireland, religion – Episcopalian, age next birthday 31. Maria Pretty was born in Ireland, religion – Episcopalian, age next birthday 24. William H Pretty was born in Canada West, religion – Episcopalian, age next birthday 1.
Census from 1861 to 1891 names the other children born to John and Maria: James (1853), Elizabeth (1854), Margaret (1856), Mary Anne (1859), Maria (1860), Alice (1863), John (1864), Matilda (1867), Jennie (1871) and Thomas (1878).
The family faced tragedy as well as happiness. In 1879 Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, age 25, died of consumption only five years after being married. In 1883 her youngest brother Thomas died, age 5, from whooping cough. Their mother Maria died age 55, a year later in 1884, also of consumption. Three years later in 1887 another son, James died, age 34 of consumption. Then in 1982 John Pretty, the father , died age 72. Surprisingly he did so without making a will so his eldest son William Henry became the administrator of his father’s estate. Another daughter Mary Ann died age 38 of Bright’s disease in 1897. All this happened within 18 years.
For happiness, none of the sons married but four of the daughters did. The first was Margaret Emma Pretty who married John Galbraith McLean in 1875. The next year, 1876, her older sister Elizabeth Pretty married James Comrie. In 1882 Alice Pretty married John R. Davidson and finally in 1894 Matilda Pretty married John Purcell. The other sisters, Mary Ann, Maria and Jennie, lived at home with their brothers all their lives.
The tax assessments of Westmeath township show John Pretty’s prosperity. In 1870 John was a supporter of School Section #5; S ½ Lot 16 Conc. 8 of 100 acres was valued at $850.00. He had 11 cattle, 20 sheep, 6 hogs and 4 horses. In 1874 John Pretty had S ½ Lot 16 Conc. 7 of 100 acres with 40 acres of that cleared, valued at $200.00. He had 4 cattle, 6 hogs and 4 horses. His total taxes were $21.62.
Mother Maria’s death at age 55 in 5th December 1884 must have been a blow for the family. She had been an active farmer’s wife and mother of 11 children, the last Tommy, born when Maria was in her late 40s. Four members of the family died of consumption (tuberculosis); she was the second.
In April 1888 John Pretty sold a ½ acre of land to three trustees of SS #5 Westmeath twp for $70.00. The land was part of Lot 16, Conc 7. and presumably used for building a school.
On January 8, 1982 John Pretty died intestate. His eldest son William Henry was appointed by the Surrogate Court to administer the estate. The Inventory and Valuation totalled $8,848.00.
His personal estate was Horses – $210.00, Horned cattle – 80.00, Sheep and Swine – $38.00, Farming Implements – $120.00, Household Furniture – $25.00, Hay, Grain and Potatoes – $610.00, Money on deposit – $395.00, Money secured by mortgages – $3,700.00, Cash on Hand – $2.00 totalling $5,180.00
His real estate comprised of South ½ Lot 16 in 7th Conc. Westmeath – $1500.00; South ½ Lot 16 in 8th Conc. Westmeath – $2,000.00; North Half Lot 16 in 5th Conc. Westmeath – $118.00 South Last Part Lot 16 in 6th Conc – $50.00 totalling $3668.00.
In settling the estate, the married daughters Margaret, Alice and Matilda received $500.00 each and son John $1,500.00. The other daughters, Mary Ann, Maria and Jennie shared title to the lands that their father had owned.
The family had a burial plot in Westmeath Union cemetery behind the Methodist church (now St Andrew’s United) where they were all buried except the married daughters.
A verse on the plinth on the east face reads:
Sweet is the sleep our mother takes
Till in Christ Jesus she awakes
Then will her happy soul rejoice
To hear her blessed Saviours voice
On the base and now covered by grass is carved the following:
Now if we be dead with Christ we
believe that we shall also live with him
A verse on the plinth of the north face reads:
Thou art gone Little Tommy
Sweet child of our love
From earth=s fairy strand
To bright mansions above
and below it on the side of the base is carved:
Them also who sleep in Jesus
Will God bring with him
Inscriptions on the Pretty headstone are:
|NORTHThomasson ofJohn & MariaPrettyDied Feb. 27 1883Aged 5 y=rs7 m=s & 12 days
Aug. 18, 1887
aged 34 y=rs
& 5 mo=s
|EASTMaria Farrellwife ofJohn Prettydied Dec.5,1884Aged 55y=rs9 m=s & 18days
Aged 72 y=rs
& 24 Days
|SOUTHMary A.PrettyDiedAug. 25, 1897Aged 38 y=rsJennie
Oct. 2, 1871
Apr. 15, 1911
|WESTWilliamHenry Pretty1851 – 1919John Pretty1864 – 1933
1860 – 1943
William Henry Pretty 1851 – 1919
There is some confusion about William’s birthday. On one census it is given as 23 January 1852 but he was listed in the 1851 census with his next birthday to be age one. His life can be summed up as – he was a farmer’s son, became a farmer on his own, and lived with and looked after his family all his life.
By 1874 William owned 100 acres of land S ½ Lot 16 Conc. 8 with 12 acres cleared. Its value was $200.00 and he paid taxes of $7.21. In 1884 his taxes had risen to $14.54. Interestingly he owned 18 dogs then and had to pay a dog tax too.
In 1882 when his father died intestate William Henry was appointed the administrator of his father’s estate. It took some time to work through all the legal paperwork with William having to find guarantors of his standing to be an administrator. Five men came forward to post bonds of $3,540.00 each so that William Henry could do it. They were George Schmidt, a butcher, of Pembroke; Alexander Miller, a merchant, of Pembroke; Norman Reid, a merchant of Westmeath; William Murray, a merchant of Pembroke and Archibald Foster, a merchant of Pembroke.
William lived in the homestead on the 6th line until sometime in the early 1900s. In the 1901 census he is head of the household, living with his brother John and sisters Jane (Jennie) and Maria. In the 1911 census he had retired and was s living in Beachburg with sisters Maria and Jennie.
William Henry died 18 March 1919, age 68, at home in Beachburg after suffering from consumption for more than a year, the fourth member of the family to do so. His brother John, also of Beachburg, was the informant on the death certificate.
The obituary in the Cobden Sun newspaper April 4, 1919 says William Henry had been ill for two years before worsening and dying at home in Beachburg. He was a quite [sic] inoffensive character. The funeral service was held at home before burial in Westmeath cemetery. He is survived by one brother John of Beachburg and four sisters Mrs John G Mclean (Margaret) of Beachburg, Mrs John R Davidson (Alice) of Alba, Mrs John Purcell (Matilda) of North Bay and Miss Maria Pretty at home.
In the photograph above, William Henry looks a lot like his mother.
James Pretty 1853 – 1887
James was the second son of John and Maria Pretty. In the three census, 1861, 1871 and 1881 he is living at home with his parents and family. However James became ill with consumption and died August 18, 1887. His death certificate says he died after six months in hospital in Montreal. Treatment of tuberculosis was in isolation hospitals then. How difficult it would be for family to visit him so far away.
Poem was inserted in the Pembroke Observer and Upper Ottawa Advertiser after his death:
Affliction sore long time he bore,
Physicians were in vain,
But God gave ease, when he did please,
And freed him from his pain.
A precious soul from us is gone,
A voice we loved is stilled,
A place is vacant in our home,
Which never can be filled.
He is gone, the one we loved,
and laid beneath the sod:
Oh, it is hard, but we must know,
‘Twas by the hand of God.
He is gone, that faithful brother,
To his happy home above,
Where there is no pain nor sorrow,
But all is joy and love.
Elizabeth Pretty Comrie 1854 – 1879
Elizabeth was the second daughter to marry. January 21, 1876 she married James Comrie in the Westmeath manse. James was a farmer of Westmeath, age 25, a Presbyterian, and Elizabeth was 22, of the Church of England. Witnesses were Angus Barr and Catherine Comrie, perhaps a sister of the groom.
A child of the marriage was a daughter Daisy Caro Comrie. Unfortunately she died a month before her mother August 15, 1879, age 8 months, of ‘Getting Teeth’. On September 16th Elizabeth herself died of consumption. The death certificate says she suffered from it for nine months.
Margaret Emma Pretty McLean 1856 – 1943
Margaret Emma was the second daughter of John and Maria Pretty and the first to marry.
She was born at home on November 1856 and lived at home in the 1861 and 1871 census. On April 21, 1875 she married John Galbraith McLean by licence at her home on the 6th line. She was 19 and he was 10 years older, 29. Witnesses were his brother James McLean and her sister Mary Ann Pretty. John G., (to identify him from all the other John McLeans living in the area), was a farmer with land further down the 6th line.
They had 12 children: Maria Bertha (m. William Mathieson), Donald L (m. Margaret Barr), John McGregor (m. Ethel Cameron), Elizabeth Pretty (m. Archibald Cameron), Alexander (Sandy) (m. Pearl McDowell), Gillan McLean, Margaret (m. George McLean), Martha McLean (m. Christopher Bates), Lillian (m. Harry Johnston), W Cecil R (m. Agnes Yett), and Clarence H (m. Gertrude McDowell).
In June of 1917 they sold the farm to their son Clarence and retired to Beachburg. In April 1925 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
In 1926 they visited their son, Cecil, in Haileybury (north of North Bay). On August 26th while walking down the street, John was struck by a runaway horse and buggy. Although he was taken to hospital and the doctor could find no apparent injuries, 84 year old John died four hours later. His body was brought back to Beachburg for burial.
Margaret continued to live in Beachburg and kept in touch with all her family. Her daughter Margaret and son-in-law George MacLean in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec were a support to her and Margaret often spent the winter with them. It was there that Margaret died in December 1943, the last of the Pretty family.
Mary Ann Pretty 1859 – 1897
Mary Ann was the third daughter of John and Maria Pretty. She was born at home on the 6th line and lived there until her death. The death registration of August 25, 1897 says it was of Bright’s disease or nephritis. Her sister Alice Davidson was the executor of her will.
Maria Pretty 1860 – 1943
Maria was the fourth daughter of John and Maria Pretty. She remained single all her life and lived with her brothers and sisters first in the family homestead on the 6th line and then after 1913 in Beachburg. She was the first of the last remaining three sisters, herself, Matilda and Margaret to die in 1943, on February 14th.
In her will she named her sister Matilda Pretty Purcell and her nephew Alexander M McLean (son of sister Margaret) to be her executors. Maria gave bequests of varying amounts of money from $500.00 to $5000.00 to sisters, nephews and nieces totalling $21,800.00.
Alice Pretty Davidson 1862 – 1936
Alice was the fifth daughter of John and Maria Pretty. She was born March 1, 1862 at home on the 6th Line. In the 1881 census she was still living at home age 19, and working as at school teacher.
July 26, 1882 Alice, age 20, married John R Davidson, age 24, by licence at home in Westmeath. They were both Methodists. They had at least three known children – Robert T Davidson (1884), Edna H Davidson (1885) and John R Davidson (1892). Sadly John R did not live long, dying of whooping cough January 26, 1893 when only 28 days old.
Alice and John R lived in Greenwood, Westmeath township where they farmed. According to her obituary Alice was active in United Church affairs, taught Sunday School and was prominently associated with the Women’s Missionary Society.
In 1921 they retired from farming and moved to Beachburg. On November 2, 1931 husband John R Davidson died in Pembroke Cottage hospital of arteriosclerosis. Five years later, on January 13, 1936, Alice too died of arteriosclerosis at home which she had been treated for 14 years.
John Pretty 1864 – 1933
John is in the photo with his older brother William Henry Pretty.
John was born May 1, 1864, stayed single and lived with his family all his life, first on the 6th Line homestead, then in Beachburg after they retired there. John inherited $1,500.00 from his father’s estate. It is said [ref Murray A Mathieson] that John travelled with his inheritance.
In the Voter’s List of Westmeath Township in 1933, John is described as a labourer. He died in Beachburg on October 4, 1933 after suffering from pneumonia for three days.
Death notice newspaper clipping – John Pretty, a member of a well known Westmeath township family died Wednesday night at his home in Beachburg after a brief illness. He was in his 70th year. Mr Pretty was unmarried and is survived by four sisters, Miss Maria Pretty, Mrs John R. Davidson, and Mrs John G MacLean all of Beachburg and Mrs John Purcell of Stratford. The funeral will take place Friday afternoon from the home with burial at Westmeath.
Matilda (Tilly) Pretty Purcell 1867 – 1943
Matilda was the sixth daughter of John and Maria Pretty. Born in February 1867, she lived at home on the 6th Line until her marriage in 1894. Before that she accepted $500.00 as her share of her father’s estate.
July 4 1894 Matilda, age 26, married John Purcell, age 27, of Ottawa at her home on the 6th Line, Westmeath. John Purcell was living in Ottawa, occupation – a mail clerk, religion – Church of England. Matilda was living at home in Westmeath, religion – Presbyterian. Witnesses to the marriage were George Purcell of Westmeath (father or brother?), and her sister Jennie Pretty of Westmeath. John Purcell was born in Jolliette, Quebec
December 10th 1898 a son Aubrey Dyson Purcell was born to John Purcell and Tilly Pretty
Sometime after his retirement in 1930, husband John Purcell died. His newspaper obituary said that for a number of years he was a railway mail clerk and lived in Pembroke. In 1915 he was promoted to the position of superintendent of railway mail service with headquarters in North Bay. In 1922 he became postal inspector attached to the district superintendent’s office. He retired in 1930. He was living with his son Aubrey in Stratford, suffering from ill health for some time before his death.
Matilda died June 2, 1943 at the home of her remaining sister, Margaret G. McLean in Beachburg, the second of the three sisters who died that year. In her newspaper obituary Tillie was survived by her daughter-in-law and grandson of Stratford, Ontario. This meant her son Aubrey had married and died.
Janet (Jennie) Pretty 1870 – 1911
Jennie was the seventh and last daughter of John and Maria Pretty. She was born at home on October 2, 1870 on the 6th Line and lived with her family all her life, first on the homestead, then in Beachburg by 1911.
In the 6 July 1894 issue of the Pembroke Observer there is a notice that Jennie passed with honours at the Intermediate level, a music examination in Ottawa by the Canadian College of Music. She was a music teacher and a school teacher in Beachburg during her life.
Jennie died April 15, 1911 after suffering from asthma for several years and the debilitating effects of asthma for two months. Informant of the death was Maria Pretty.
Family Lore – Jennie was jilted by the local vet and she sued him for breach of Promise of Marriage
Thomas Pretty 1878 – 1883
Thomas was the fourth son and last child of John and Maria Pretty. His mother was in her late 40s when he was born on July 13, 1877.
Sadly Thomas died of diphtheria, after four days, aged 5 years, 7 months and 12 days on February 27, 1883. On the death registration page another child Robert Davidson, age 3, son of a Thomas Davidson, also a farmer of Westmeath died the day before Thomas. Was there an epidemic at the time?
Tommy was deeply mourned as shown by the poem on the family tombstone in Westmeath cemetery:
Thou are gone Little Tommy
Sweet child of our love
From earth’s fairy strand
To bright mansions above.