James Miller, Lanark Society Settler

Posted by on October 25, 2019 in Community & Family History, Featured Flag | 13 comments

I am hoping for feedback from readers in regards to this and other posts regarding family history.

In 1821, James Miller traveled to Canada as a member of the Glasgow Canadian Emigration Society on the brig George Canning. James, his wife and three children, traveled with his parents and brother Andrew. They arrive at Quebec on 14 April 1821 and traveled on to the Lanark settlement to join his brother William who emigrated late the previous year.

James Miller and Janet Stewart

James Millar was born in early January 1794 to William Millar and Elizabeth Gilmour. On the 10th of December 1814 he married Janet Stewart, daughter of Archibald Stewart and Janet Weir in Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

After surveying the area, and probably drawing lots for a location, James initially located in Lanark Township Concession 5 Lot 8 NE, 15 July 1821, a lot slightly to the north and east of the settlement that would become Lanark Village. In his 1834 Report on the Settlement of Immigrants Colonel Marshall described this lot as worthless and, most likely based on information provided by neighbours, reported that the grantee had returned to Scotland. This property appears to be remote bushland or swamp as others did not chose to locate here once it was declared vacant. The patents were not granted for either portion of the lot until about 1860.

No doubt Janet and James worked hard to prepare for the winter ahead, constructing a shanty and gathering what supplies they could for the first winter. Their three children were recorded on shipboard as one son and two daughters under twelve years of age. Research suggest that it may have been the reverse – Margaret born 1815, William born 1819 and James Stewart born shortly before departure in 1821. In their new home, Robert was born 21st of December 1826. The baby survived but Janet died at the age of 28 of complications after the delivery.

When reviewing information transcribed from Robert Boyle’s bible, found in a shed at Kelvin Grove in the Fassifern Valley, Queensland, the following information was found:

“Robert Miller son of James Miller and his wife Janet Stewart was born upon the night of thursday the 21st of December1826 and his mother dieing through the night, he was taken from his ‘father’s’ house upon sabath the 24th and arived in my house on the 25th to be taken care of as one of my own family on account of Dr. Gemel objecting to his Father keeping him for baptism unless that he afterwards took him home and my wife and me stating to his Father that after nursing the child we would not like to part with him and his Father agreed to let us keep him, and in conseqency was presented by me for baptism on the sabath the 14th of Jany 1827 and God out of his infinet grace enabled me to perform the duties encombent upon me to bring him & the rest of my family up in the fear of the Lord. R.B.

R.B. James Miller getting married a second time became desireous to have his son Robert home, but on account of engagements I came under at his baptism I objected unless Dr. Gemel and his elders thought that I could do it. Accordingly, at a meeting in dallhousey they took into consideration and agreeable to my wishes.

James publicly agreed to take him as his son.”

It has been difficult to trace the family during the next few years, but it appears that James and the young children may have returned to Scotland. Education was a priority in the Miller family and the children would have been of school age. Their home, in a remote location in Lanark township, did not provide easy access to schooling.

James Miller and Catherine Slater

About 1828, possibly while in Scotland, James remarried to Catherine Slater, believed to be a daughter of John Slater and Margaret Bews. It appears that James and Catherine returned to Upper Canada and may have left Janet’s older children with family in Scotland where schooling and care were available. Catherine and James had two children – John Slater Miller, born in 1829 and Janet Miller born in 1831.

On their return to Canada James and Catherine resided on Concession 6 Lot 12 SW in Dalhousie township. In Colonel Marshall’s 1834 Report on Settlers he records “Miller going to Plympton. Flat rock and broken lot.”

The Influence of Malcolm Cameron

James and Catherine Miller never received a patent for land in Lanark County. They were among the many Lanark County families who followed Malcolm Cameron to Sarnia during the 1830s-40s. About this time, Malcolm Cameron (1808-1876), whose family lived on the banks of the Mississippi river that flows through the nearby townships, became entranced with the land along the St. Clair river. His entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured at an early age while he ferried people across the river and when he later joined his brother John in establishing the Bathurst Courier, an independent newspaper shunned by the Tory merchants of the area. Malcolm Cameron was a Reformer. By the 1830s it became evident that the Lanark settlers could not repay the loan advanced to them at the time of their settlement. The land on which they settled was rugged and did not support agriculture beyond meeting the needs of the individual family. Transportation for goods beyond local markets was difficult and expensive. Cameron took up the cause of the settlers in 1835 and negotiated forgiveness of their loans. This allowed the settlers to apply for patents for their land allotments. In 1836, as a Reformer, he was elected to represent Lanark county and continued to do so until 1851.

The Lambton County History provides the following description of the appeal of land near the St. Clair River.

“In 1833 Cameron visited the St. Clair area and was impressed by the opportunities that the area offered. He established a general store in Port Sarnia in 1835 and moved there in 1837. He operated lumber and flour mills and built ships to transport merchandise along the lakes from Chicago to Quebec city. He acquired good land in the interior and established a timber business. In 1847 Cameron was a contractor in the building of the Great Western Railway.

The land in Lambton was virgin forest so the first crop from the land was oak timbers for the shipyards, shingles from the pine trees, potash for soap, fertilizer and ammunition from the elms and syrup and sugar from the maples. Cameron brought in settlers to clear Cameron lands of trees sawn at the Cameron mills and shipped to markets on the Cameron ships. In one year, one-sixth of all the oak timber moved from Canada to Great Britain came from Sarnia and tons of oak staves headed to Jamaica for rum barrels. By 1861, Cameron was worth more that $200,000, a multi-millionaire in relative terms.

Cameron made a fortune launching businesses and speculating in land. As thousands of Sarnians found out, that free-wheeling legacy still resonates today in the infamous “Cameron Lands” deal. Cameron had negotiated with three local chiefs to buy a huge chunk of the Chippewa reserve in what is now south Sarnia, back in 1839. The Aamjiwnaang First Nation long suspected a swindle and finally filed claim in 1995, alleging that four-square miles were never legally surrendered. The courts agreed, and after a seven-year legal battle, the band sought compensation from the federal and provincial governments.

Early Lambton County courtesy of Ontario Genealogy.com

Once the forest was cut the land looked like a prairie, ready for crops. The land in Plympton and Enniskillen, Sarnia and other townships appeared to be much better farmland that where the settlers had located in Lanark County. However, Lambton County is notoriously flat and wet. It was once known as the Great Enniskillen Swamp. In fact, people didn’t bother venturing into the swamps until oil was discovered, because they had no reason to do so. The wetness acted as a barrier to agriculture, settlement, and transportation. It also led to swamp fever and malaria.”

(Pp. 19-20, Lambton History)

James and Catherine Miller in Sarnia Township

The same year that Col Marshall reported that James Miller was planning to go to Plympton, James accompanied a group from Lanark County that travelled to Sarnia township to clear land and erect a shelter for their families. He returned to Dalhousie township and in the spring of 1835 James and his family undertook to settle in a third location since his arrival in the spring of 1821.

 “In the year 1834 quite a large number of new settlers came in, many of them from the county of Lanark. Several of these settled in what is now (Sarnia) Township, and this was, in fact, the first year in which any had so located. Among them were Samuel Cole, Joshua Lockington, Robert Sym, John Stokes, Andrew Graham, the Pattersons, the Burn’s, George Watson, James Miller, Robert Menzies, James Duncan, one Findlay, Samuel Proctor, and Capt. Elliott; also, Andrew McCausland, who located in Plympton in 1833, but removed this season to Sarnia. When they came there were only a half dozen families in what is now the town, including (besides those above mentioned), Oliver Allen, who kept a little log tavern where the Bellchamber House now stands, and Mr. Harris, a deputy of the Indian Agent, who performed the duties of Indian schoolmaster. All the above (except Capt. Elliott who was afterwards appointed Customs Officer at Windsor), went back home (to Lanark) after making small clearings and erecting shanties thereon, returning with their families in 1835.”

From Historical Sketch of the County of Lambton -Beldon’s Illustrated Historical Atlas, County of Lambton, 1880

The Sarnia township land records indicate that the Crown patent for 200 acres near Oil Wells, Concession 1 Lot 7 in Sarnia township, was issued to Dorothy McArthur 12 Nov 1836. James purchased this 200 acres from Duncan McArthur on the 21 Oct 1836 and received the deed 23 Feb 1841. On 2 July 1861 the property was transferred to John Slater Miller, his son, and in 1864 a half acre of the property was deeded to the trustees of the Union School (SS#13). In 1873 a 20-foot strip was used for a road allowance and 100 acres were sold to John Jackson. This property was located on the NW corner where the Petrolia Line meets Mandaumin Road. James selected land with growing access to transportation, where a school would soon be located on the corner of the Miller property and the Osborne Post Office would be located nearby. The family was now living in a growing and increasingly prosperous community.

1880 Beldon Atlas, Sarnia Twp, Concession 1 Lot 7 – note school on corner of property.

The Children of James Miller and Catherine Slater

James Miller and Elizabeth Slater had two children, John Slater Miller (b. 1829, d. abt 1889) and Janet Miller (1831-1879).  The burials of both children have been identified in Lambton County. John married Agnes Duncan (1830-1915), daughter of James Duncan and Christina “Christy” Chalmers. The Duncan family were also settlers who moved from Dalhousie to Sarnia Township. Janet Miller did not marry.

The Children of James Miller and Janet Stewart

The children of James Millar and Janet Stewart have proven to be more difficult to trace.

Margaret Miller was born 26 July 1815 in Dumbarton Parish, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, William Miller was born 11 January 1819 in Cardross Parish, Dunbartonshire, and James Stewart Miller was born 30 January 1821, in Old Kilpatrick, Dumbartonshire, just prior to the family’s departure for Canada. Robert Miller was born in Lanark Township, Lanark County, Ontario on 21 December 1826. An exhaustive search of records in Ontario did not reveal any information about these members of the family. I discovered Robert Miller in Sarnia. Robert, as a newborn, probably remained in Canada with family members when James took the older children back to Scotland. Robert and Ann Jane Brown his wife, spent most of their lives in Sarnia Township, Ontario. Both Robert and Annie died in Detroit, Michigan where their daughter Susan lived (Robert on 24 Feb 1910, Ann 14 Mar 1923).

Questions to be Answered

I have been unable to determine where James and Catherine were married, and that Catherine was born in Orkney, Scotland. Records do not currently seem to exist.

After an exhaustive search for records in Canada and in Scotland, I am speculating that William Miller, born 11 January 1819, in Cardross Parish, Dumbarton is the William who married Helen Hood of Gallingate, Glasgow, Lanarkshire about 1840. If so, William, who returned to Scotland as a child after Jane Stewart’s (his mother) death in 1826, returned to Canada about 1843. If my theory proves accurate, various sources describe William as a Glasgow weaver and a respected settler of North Sherbrooke Concession 4 Lot 7.

If William returned to Scotland, did Margaret Miller return as well? To date I have not found any information about Margaret.  

James Stewart Miller also proved difficult to find. Once again, I float a hypothesis for feedback. James Stewart Miller, born 20 Jan 1821, Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire would have been five years of age when his mother died, thus also of school age. If he returned to Scotland, could he be the James Miller who married Isabella Weir on 22 January 1843? Isabella was born about Aug 1820 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. James and Isabella are recorded in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 census of Scotland as living in Glasgow. It appears that they had no children. In 1851 James is listed as an Upholsterer, employing 6 men and 5 women in St. David Parish, Glasgow; In 1861, his occupation is upholstered cab and feather merchant; and in 1871, he is recorded as a retired upholsterer. Isabella is still living. At this point they disappear from records. Did they die or did they come to Canada?


  1. Hello Diane, I am interested in your information regarding James Stewart Miller and Isabella weir. I am related to Robert Miller born 1859 and Isabella Weir (birth date unknown) married in 1884 Scotland, they had four children, a daughter Isabella Miller was my great grandmother. My grandmother And mother were born in Scotland. They moved around 1925 to Canada. Any relation? I appreciate any information.

    • Hi Ruth,
      Sorry for the delay in response. I’ve been ill. Am I to understand that Robert and Isabella stayed in Scotland? If so, I have to confess that I have only done limited research on recent generations of the family who remained. Much of my research goes back to the settlement period in Canada around the 1815 – 1830 periods. maybe we can collaborate. How far back can you go and what part of Scotland do your family lines trace to?

      • Hello Diane, I apologize for not responding sooner. I hope you are feeling better.

        I have an old handwritten ancestry chart that goes back to 1820s. If you would like it, please provide me your email.

        Robert and Isabella married and stayed in Scotland. My mother was born in Glasgow then moved to Winnipeg Canada in 1924 or 1925.

  2. Dear Diane,
    Interesting posting – thank you. I am interested to learn more about this family.
    The posting lists two forenames for James Miller’s second wife. First listed as Catherine Slater and later as Elizabeth Slater. Was this a typo or do historical records list both names ?
    For your information the FindAGrave website has memorials for James Miller and his wife Catherine and their daughter Janet (#43701380 & #43701318) and John S. Miller and his wife Agnes Duncan (#177375646) including gravestone photos.
    In addition, the FamilySearch website recently added transcriptions for “Canada, Ontario Tax Assessment Rolls, 1834-1899”. The 1873 record image for John S. Miller (age 42) also lists James Miller (age 81).

    • Thanks,
      I haven’t revisited this family recently. What I currently have is what was available several years ago. Let me check this out. I would like to send you an email so we can exchange copies of records. This is intriguing.

    • Jaime,
      All of that data was taken into account when I prepared this post. So we are in agreement. I do have other information available and have DNA matches that back up this linkage. I’d love to discuss where you are at in your research.

  3. Do you know anything about a James Miller from Scotland marrying an Isabella Browlee and then eventually that Miller line settling to Mississippi?

    • Hi Didi,
      Could you provide more information? Do you know the birth and death dates for James and Isabella Brownlee? I am assuming you refer to ‘Mississippi’ in eastern Ontario.

      • After getting further info, Google has brought me back to your site. My Miller line starts in Lucedale Mississippi and I really believe it is where your research will end. I think you have one end and I have the other, so to speak. A website called mytrueancestry dot com analyzed my DNA results and determined I have Clan Menzies, Clan weir, Clan Cunningham, Clan Hay, snd Clan Donnachaidh. What i know for certain in my family tree is John Miller b. 1862 married Sarah Addison Howell b1860 in Jackson MS. Their birthday dates I think might not be 100%but it’s what is on their headstone. I don’t know John Miller parents. Familysearch dot com says Margaret Menzies and William Miller are his line. But I just can’t seem to put it all together in correct order.

        • Hi Didi’ I don’t think that we connect on this. In that time period few left canada to head to the far south.

  4. Hi Diane, so you think this William Millar at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/58207478/william-millar is the one that is your ancestor? I know they lived on Con 4 Lot 7 on N. Sherbrooke township and when I was growing up in Elphin that farm was know as the Hugh Millar(son of William) farm. another son John H. lived on the farm behind Crawford’s Cemetery in Dalhousie Twp. and when he retired him and his wife Elizabeth moved to Elphin and rented a house from their good friends my Grandparents Lawrence and Edith Brownlee. Several of the Millar family moved to Minnesota, USA.
    When looking at Millar/Miller families around Elphin/Snow Road/McDonalds Corner, there is one family of Millers and two different families of Millars, one family was from William Millar and Helen Hood and the other family was from James Millar annd Elizabeth “Granny Millar” Smith.

    • Thanks Jim for the comment. I would like to explore this information further and will contact you off line.

    • Hi Jim,
      Hope you get this message. I diverted my attention to writing the story of James Millar’s niece Janet Millar, daughter of William Millar or Dalhousie C2 L14. I believe that William Millar who married Helen Hood was a son of James Millar 1794-1879 and Janet Stewart 1798-1826. His birth and baptism are recorded in Scotland’s Select Births and Baptisms and in the old parish records on Scotlands People. I haven’t connected James Millar to my family ‘yet’ but Granny Smith Millar later married Robert Millar who is connected to my family. Would love to discuss further.

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