Yeoman Pioneers in Upper Canada

The history of our ancestors can be a source of pride and inspiration, and for me, that history is rooted in the yeoman farmers of Upper Canada in the 1800s. 

On my paternal side, my third great-grandfather Thomas Gibbs came from East Grinstead, West Sussex England, and settled around London, Ontario, where he and his sons began farming. Eventually, he and his son John moved to Maple Lake, near Carnarvon, Ontario, to continue their farming legacy. 

On my maternal side, my third great-grandfather Reuben Walling immigrated from Kingskerswell, Devon, England, where he first set up a tailoring business in York, Ontario (now Toronto). Before coming to Canada Reuben began his apprenticeship as a tailor under my 4th great-grandfather James who was a Master Tailor. However, he later shifted gears and established a dairy farm in Haliburton, Ontario, running a successful business known as “Walling’s Dairy.” 

As I reflect on my family’s past, I am proud to be part of the legacy of these early pioneer yeoman farmers who worked hard to build a life for their families in a new land.

Have you ever wondered about your family history and the lives of your ancestors? Discovering your past can be an exciting and rewarding journey, filled with stories of hardship, perseverance, and resilience. In this blog post, we’ll explore the lives of yeoman pioneers in Upper Canada and how they built a life from the land through hard work, determination, and a deep connection to their community.

Who were the Yeoman Pioneers?

Originally the term yeoman dates back to the In 13th and 14th centuries in England and was classified as freehold peasants. Today they are known for being an attendant or officer in a royal or noble households. Times sure have changed over the last 700 years and occupations have changed and evolved over the last millennium.

Yeoman farmers were a group of self-sufficient landowners who were considered to be the backbone of the rural economy in the United States and in Upper Canada during the 1800s. They were typically small landowners who owned between 50 and 200 acres of land and were able to produce enough food to feed their families and provide a surplus for sale or trade.

Yeoman farmers were often of British descent and were considered to be part of the lower-middle class. They were not wealthy, but they were able to provide a comfortable living for themselves and their families through their hard work and dedication to their farms.

What did they Farm?

Searching for your ancestors can be a fascinating and enriching experience, as it allows you to learn more about your family’s history and the lives of your ancestors. It can be particularly exciting to discover that your ancestors owned and cultivated their own land.

Yeoman farmers in Upper Canada typically grew a variety of crops, including wheat, oats, barley, corn, and hay. These crops were essential for feeding both their families and their livestock. In addition to grains, yeoman farmers also grew a variety of vegetables, including potatoes, turnips, carrots, and onions.

One of the most important crops grown by yeoman farmers was wheat, which was used to make bread, one of the staples of the colonial diet. These vegetables were important for providing essential nutrients and preventing scurvy, a common disease caused by a lack of vitamin C.

Other vegetables commonly grown by yeoman farmers in Upper Canada in the 1800s included peas, beans, corn, and pumpkins. These vegetables were typically used for cooking and preserving, as well as for feeding livestock.

Speaking of livestock, it’s likely that your yeoman farmer ancestors also raised a range of animals on their farm. Cattle, pigs, and chickens were among the most common animals raised as they provided essential food products such as meat, milk, and eggs, as well as animal skins and wool for clothing. Chickens were also a valuable asset, providing both eggs and meat for the family’s consumption or for sale in local markets.

Vegetables played an important role in the yeoman farmers’ diet, as they provided important vitamins and nutrients that were not always available through meat or grain. However, the types of vegetables grown varied depending on the region and the availability of seeds. For example, in the early days of Upper Canada, cabbage was a popular vegetable because it was easy to grow and stored well through the winter. As more settlers arrived and brought new seeds with them, the variety of vegetables available expanded.

A Dairy Farmer’s Day

While the daily routine of a yeoman farmer varied depending on the season and the specific tasks at hand, a typical day for a dairy farmer might look like this:

4:00 AM – Wake up and milk the cows

6:00 AM – Return to the house for breakfast with the family

7:00 AM – Begin the day’s work, which might include feeding the animals, cleaning the barn, and preparing the milk for transport to market

12:00 PM – Break for lunch and a brief rest

1:00 PM – Return to work, which might include planting or harvesting crops, tending to the animals, and repairing equipment

6:00 PM – Return to the house for dinner with the family

7:00 PM – Finish any remaining work, such as milking the cows again or finishing up repairs

9:00 PM – Retire for the night

Of course, the routine of a dairy farmer varied depending on the specific needs of their farm and their family. However, the overall pattern of rising early, working hard throughout the day, and spending time with family in the evenings was a common thread among yeoman farmers in Upper Canada.

Challenges and Rewards

Farming was a difficult and often unforgiving way of life in Upper Canada during the 1800s. Yeoman farmers faced a variety of challenges, from harsh weather conditions to insect infestations to the threat of crop failure. They also had to contend with the ever-present threat of illness and injury, which could quickly derail their plans for the future.

Despite these challenges, yeoman farmers were able to build a life for themselves and their families through hard work and dedication to their farms. They were part of a close-knit community of settlers who relied on each other for support and guidance. They shared knowledge and resources, lent a helping hand when needed, and celebrated each other’s successes.

Discovering your family’s history can be an exciting and rewarding journey, filled with stories of perseverance, hard work, and resilience. Yeoman farmers in Upper Canada were an important part of the rural economy during the 1800s, relying on their farms for their livelihoods and their communities for support. By understanding their lives and the challenges they faced, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices they made and the legacy they left behind.

In conclusion, discovering our family’s history can be an eye-opening and rewarding journey that provides us with a greater appreciation of our ancestors’ struggles and triumphs. For me, learning about my ancestors’ lives as yeoman farmers in Upper Canada in the 1800s has given me a deeper understanding of their values and the legacy they left behind. Through their hard work, resilience, and community support, they were able to build prosperous farms and create a strong foundation for their families to thrive. As a descendant of these early pioneer yeoman farmers, I am proud to be part of their legacy and strive to honor their memory by living a life of hard work, dedication, and community spirit. By understanding our family’s past, we can gain a greater appreciation for our roots and the sacrifices our ancestors made to pave the way for our future.

Listen to the podcast that aired on radio about the Walling’s and what they contributed to the local Haliburton community – Time Warp Podcast 7 Oct 2020

The Walling’s Family plus Mona Louise ParsonsTime Warp is a podcast on the Canoe FM platform featuring Host Paul Vorvis and Co-Host Kate Butler from the Haliburton Highlands Museum talking about Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada history – as well as some other stories from Canada’s history.

Published by Darrell Gibbs

A father of three children and five grandchildren who retired in 2015 and began a career as a non-fiction writer in genealogy resource ebooks for new family historians. Aspiring towards the future as a Historical Fiction Author of his premier book "Wessex Reign".

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