Descendants of PEI Fathers of Confederation Enjoy Reunion Commemorating 150th Anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference

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By Sam McBride

The reunion of descendants of Prince Edward Island`s seven Fathers of Confederation was a memorable part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the historic Charlottetown Conference of September 1864 which set the stage for the creation of Canada as a self-governing, transcontinental nation in 1867.

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At the opening reception for the Descendants Reunion on Sept. 11th, project chairman Bob Pierce of the PEI Genealogical Society introduces the researchers who studied each of the PEI Fathers of Confederation and identified descendants.

Many thanks to the Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society (PEIGS), as well as the wider PEI heritage community, for bringing descendants together from many parts of Canada and the U.S. to share in a special experience honouring their renowned ancestors.

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New sculpture near Province House of the two Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray was unveiled Sept. 4, 2014.   See Guardian story on the artist and the unveiling of the sculpture at http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2014-09-04/article-3858056/Bronze-statue-unveiled-on-Great-George-Street/1

 

 

 

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Top left: new sculpture of Father of Confederation William Henry Pope at Charlottetown`s picturesque waterfront, depicting him welcoming Charlottetown Conference delegates from a rowboat.  Bottom left: three of the great-great-grandchildren of PEI Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray (right) pose with the new sculpture on Great Georges Street that shows PEI Premier Gray interacting in 1864 with his namesake (no relation) John Hamilton Gray, who was a Father of Confederation from New Brunswick. Right: detail of the PEI Gray enjoying the late summer sun.

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Top: the famous photo of the Fathers of Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference. Below: some of the descendants of PEI Fathers of Confederation John Hamilton Gray and Thomas Heath Haviland at the descendant reunion at the same location, which today serves as the official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of PEI.

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New brands of Fathers of Confederation beer launched this year as part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.

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Reunion participants (PEI Gray and Haviland) beside the tombstones of John Hamilton Gray and his daughter Rosie Gray in Sherwood Cemetery in Charlottetown.

The reunion began with a welcome reception in Charlottetown where descendants met their PEIGS hosts, as well as PEI historians, researchers, archivists and representatives of the provincial government, including the Hon. Robert Henderson, Minister of Tourism and Culture. It was also a chance to meet descendents of other PEI Fathers of Confederation.  For me and other British Columbia descendants of John Hamilton Gray through his daughter Bertha Peters, it was the first time we met our third cousins in PEI descended from Bertha’s sister Margaret Lord.

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Reunion participants learn about the PEI Fathers of Confederation at a Sept. 12th presentation at the Carriage House by U of PEI history professor Ed MacDonald.

The three-day schedule of the reunion also included tours of locations, buildings, sculptures and cemeteries associated with our ancestor, a presentation on the PEI Fathers of Confederation by University of PEI history professor Edward MacDonald, and a fun evening at the Red Shores Race Track where the Fathers of Confederation Descendants Race was run, and reunion participants presented a cooler to the winning horse and driver in the winners circle. We also enjoyed a tour of the PEI Brewing Co. to see how their beers honouring the Fathers of Confederation were made, and taste the results.  In the months leading up to the reunion, the Charlottetown Guardian newspaper presented a series of feature stories by writer Louise Campbell on each PEI Father of Confederation and their descendants.

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Reunion participants enjoyed exciting races at the Red Shores Racetrack on Sept. 13th, which included a Fathers of Confederation Descendants race and presentation to winning horse and rider.

The largest contingent in the gathering were descendants of William Henry Pope, who was Colonial Secretary of PEI at the time and is probably best-remembered in Canadian history for the painting of him in a rowboat greeting John A. Macdonald and other delegates from Upper and Lower Canada as they arrived in Charlottetown harbour to meet with Maritime colony delegates for the first time. Descendants of Col. John Hamilton Gray – who had large role in the conference as chairman of the conference and host of a major social event — made up the second-largest delegation of descendants.  Pope and Gray were enthusiastic supporters of Confederation early on, while most of the other PEI delegates were against joining the Canadian union.  PEI eventually joined Confederation in 1873 – six years after the founding of Canada in 1867 – when the island faced a financial crisis involving railway debt, and the deal to join Canada resolved that problem, along with land issues.

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Commemorative book published for reunion participants, including stories and descendant trees of each of the seven PEI Fathers of Confederation.

My mother Dee Dee Dewdney McBride and grandmother Helen Peters Dewdney often talked of their ancestor Col. John Hamilton Gray who was premier of PEI at the time of the Charlottetown Conference and rated as a Father of Confederation.   In the family, Gray was viewed as one of three ancestors who were PEI premiers.  His son-in-law Frederick Peters (father of Helen) was premier in the 1890s, and his brother Arthur Peters was premier in the early 1900s.  Helen never knew her famous grandfather John Hamilton Gray, as he died 18 days before she was born in Charlottetown in August 1887, but she often heard stories of him told by her mother Bertha, who lived with the Dewdney family as a widow when her grandchildren were growing up in B.C.  Bertha brought with her a dining room table from Inkerman House that her father bequeathed to her in his will, and continues to be a treasured heirloom of her descendants.  She regularly commented to visitors that “the Fathers of Confederation sat around that table“.  Bertha was at Inkerman House on Sept. 3, 1864 when her father hosted the Charlottetown Conference delegates for an after-dinner party, but had no memory of it as she was just two years old.  Years later her father and older sisters told her of the memorable night when the family home was filled with distinguished-looking men, most of them in various stages of inebriation.  The group came to Inkerman House directly from a jovial dinner party on HMS Queen Victoria in Charlottetown harbour where an ample supply of drinks were served, and a spirit of friendship and unity developed.

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Souvenir card for John Hamilton Gray in the Parks Canada “Who`s Your Father?“ quiz. http://www.whosyourfather.ca.

As he also attended the Quebec Conference of October 1864, Col. Gray qualifies as a Father of Confederation. (As a historical standard, individuals rate as Fathers of Confederation if they attended at least two of three conferences: the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, the Quebec Conference of 1864 and the London Conference of 1866. They are included as Fathers of Confederation even if they were adamantly against the union of the British colonies at the time).

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Program for a theatrical production at the Guild theatre in Charlottetown spoofing the famous characters. events and imbibing of 1864.

Identifying and locating the descendants was a big challenge for the PEIGS, as they normally research backwards in time to identify the names and stories of ancestors. It is more difficult to identify the descendants of today, because the census and vital statistics data genealogists usually rely on are not available because of government regulations protecting the privacy of living persons.  Fortunately, the electronic media of today was a big help in determining and contacting descendants.

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Checking out the large framed print of Premier Gray at the Colonel Gray Senior High School in Charlottetown, which is one of many venues in the area named after him. He was only premier of PEI for a year and a half, but it turned out to be a crucial time in the history of PEI and Canada.

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The descendants reunion was one of 150 events held in PEI in 2014 commemorating the 150th anniversary, including leadership conferences, heritage conservation conferences, historic costume-making classes, garden exhibitions, theatrical presentations, and music events highlighted by a Shania Twain concert.  See http://pei2014.ca/home.php?page=month_activities&subtype=%&region=%&pagegroup=5

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One of the sesquicentennial projects in Charlottetown in 2014 unveiled new gardens in the city`s parks named after each of the PEI Fathers of Confederation.

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There was something about John Hamilton Gray that led people to name things or children in his honour.   Charlottetown has a park, high school and numerous commemorative plaques named after him.   In the years before the Confederation Bridge was built, one of the car ferries was named MV John Hamilton Gray, which conveniently referred to both the PEI and New Brunswick Fathers of Confederation with the same name.  Likewise, the new sculpture on Georges Street commemorates both John Hamilton Grays.   Dozens of the PEI Gray`s descendants have the word Hamilton in their full name.  It was originally a tribute by Gray`s father Robert Gray`s business colleagues, but for generations after Premier Gray it became a tribute to him, beginning with his children Mary Stukeley Hamilton Gray, Bertha Hamilton Susan Gray, Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton Gray and Hamilton Edward Jarvis Gray.    One of the Gray descendants participating in the reunion in Charlottetown was my B.C. cousin Richard Hamilton Dewdney, whose father Frederic Hamilton Peter Dewdney also hearkened back to the Father of Confederation who was greatly admired by his family, partly for his role in the formation of Canada and partly for his distinguished career as a cavalry officer in the British Army.

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At a gathering Sept. 14 of Gray descendants in Charlottetown, visitors from B.C. checked out two valuable Gray family heirlooms with white gloves to avoid damaging them: a sword used by Col. Robert Gray in the Revolutionary War (with lettering “The Kings American Regt“) and a fowler rifle used by Gray`s son John Hamilton Gray engraved with his name. From left are host Sandi Lord Hurry, her sister Joanne Lord MacLeod, Sandi`s son Ernest “Tyler“ Hurry and their third cousins from B.C. Sam McBride and Richard Hamilton Dewdney.

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Scabbard of the Robert Gray sword from the American Revolution has the writing The Kings American Reg.

 

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In my family history files I found an invitation my mother received in 1989 for the 125th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference. Unfortunately, she never made it to the event.

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Facts of interest about Colonel John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island

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John Hamilton Gray

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Col. Gray c. 1860

 

  • John Hamilton Gray was likely one of very few men to have had a father (the United Empire Loyalist Col. Robert Gray) serve in the American Revolutionary War in the 18th century, and a son (Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton-Gray) serve in World War One in the 20th century.
  • Robert Gray was 64 when his son John Hamilton was born in 1811. John Hamilton Gray was 65 when his son Arthur was born in 1876.
  • In an October 1864 speech, John Hamilton Gray reflected on the great benefits of Confederation for “our sons”. In 1876, after six daughters, Gray finally had a son, Arthur, with his third wife Sarah Caroline Cambridge. He had another son, Hamilton Edward Jarvis Gray, in 1880 when he was 69, but the boy did not survive to adulthood. His first two wives, Fanny Sewell Chamier and Susan Ellen Bartley-Pennefather, each died of childbirth-related ailments.

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    painting of Gray`s second wife Susan in India in about 1842 when she was 17 and they were about to be married.

  • As a soldier, John Hamilton Gray participated in a sensational duel of honour. His pistol shot winged his opponent, who missed Gray in the exchange of fire. To defend the honour of his regiment, he had been issued a pair of dueling pistols as a new officer with the elite Dragoon Guards cavalry regiment.
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Battle of Zwartkoppies, South Africa, April 30, 1845, photograph of colour painting by Major Sir Harry Darrell, 7th Dragoon Guards

 

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Detail of hand symbol pointing to Capt. John Hamilton Gray capturing the cannon at Battle of Zwartkoppies

  • In 1845 Gray received a medal for capturing an enemy cannon in action against insurgent Boers in South Africa.  His colleague General Graham Montgomery-Moore later said Gray would have qualified for a Victoria Cross for that act of heroism, but it was 11 years before Queen Victoria established the Victoria Cross as the highest honour for valour in the face of an enemy.
  • Among the seven Prince Edward Island Fathers of Confederation, Gray was the most fervent supporter of PEI joining Confederation at the Quebec Conference of October 1864 and in subsequent presentations. When colleagues turned against Confederation, he resigned as leader of the PEI government in protest in December 1864.
  • Perhaps the best-known story about Gray is him mentioning to the future King Edward the Seventh that he had daughters born in each quadrant of the world: Harriet on a troop ship in the Red Sea, Margaret at Fort Beaufort, South Africa, Florence in Kent, England, and Mary in Charlottetown, PEI.  He subsequently had two more daughters in Charlottetown: Bertha and Rosie, and finally a son, Arthur.

    Bertha`s siblings, clockwise from bottom left: sister Harriet Worrall Gray (later married Henry Stokes) in 1864; another of Harriet in Aldershot, England, where she was caregiver for her aged Pennefather grandparents; front, sister Margaret Gray (Lord), standing Florence Gray (Poole) with cousin Edward Jarvis at left, 1868; sister Mary "Mim" Gray (Abbott); stepbrother Arthur Cavendish Hamilton Gray, when serving as a lieutenant with the New Brunswick regiment in the Boer War; and sister Florence with grandmother Lady Pennefather. (McBride Collection)

    Clockwise from bottom left: Harriet Worrell Gray (later married Henry Stokes) in 1864; another of Harriet in Aldershot, England; sitting is Margaret Gray (Lord), standing Florence Gray (Poole) with cousin Edward Jarvis at left, 1868; Mary Gray (Abbott); Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton-Gray, when serving as a lieutenant with the New Brunswick regiment in the 1890s; and Florence with grandmother Lady Pennefather.

  • By phenomenal coincidence, there were two unrelated Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray – one in PEI and the other in New Brunswick. Even more amazing, each one was known as Colonel Gray – the PEI Gray achieving the rank as a career officer with the British Cavalry, and the New Brunswick Gray for his service with the militia.
  • There is no record of the PEI Gray venturing west of Ontario, but the New Brunswick Gray moved to Victoria, B.C. late in his career and died in Victoria in 1889. Ironically, the New Brunswick Gray is buried at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria close to the burial site of the PEI Gray’s son-in-law Frederick Peters and granddaughter Violet Peters.

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    Gray`s daughter Bertha Gray Peters. Known in the family as Dally.

  • Gray and his brother Robert Gray both suffered from gout.  They believed they inherited the condition from their hard-drinking grandfather Lt. George Burns, who was an original proprietor (among the first land grantees after Britain gained control of the island in the 1760s).
  • Gray’s son Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Hamilton-Gray was likely named after Gray’s long-time friend and colleague in the 7th Dragoon Guards, Major Arthur Cavendish Bentinck. In his will, Arthur styled his surname as Hamilton-Gray.

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    Major Arthur Cavendish Bentinck of the 7th Dragoon Guards.

  • At age 18, John Hamilton Gray’s daughter Margaret Stukeley Pennefather Gray accompanied her father to the Quebec Conference and subsequent Confederation-related events, including a visit to Niagara Falls, in October 1864. By the 1930s, Margaret Gray Lord was the last surviving participant of the Quebec Conference. She died at age 96 on December 31, 1941.

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    Margaret Gray Lord

  • Gray idolized his father-in-law General Sir John Lysaght Pennefather, a victorious hero of the Battle of Inkerman in the Crimean War in 1854.   In honour of his father-in-law, Gray named his new estate in Charlottetown Inkerman House, and carefully planted trees along the entrance known as Inkerman Way to represent the order of battle at Inkerman involving British and French forces on one side, and Russians on the other side.

    (c) The Royal Hospital Chelsea; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

    Gen. Sir John Lysaght Pennefather

  • Gray’s roots in PEI go back to the beginning of British control of the island in the 1700s. His grandfather Lt. George Burns was granted land on the northeast coast of the island for his service at the coronation of King George the Third.
  • Gray was named after the Hamilton family in Scotland who hired his father Robert as an agent for their tobacco business in Virginia. As Robert’s family was in financial distress, Robert appreciated the opportunity given him by the Hamiltons for the rest of his life, and named his youngest son in their honour.

Confederation-related quotes from Col. John Hamilton Gray

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The following quotes from John Hamilton Gray are from “Prince Edward Island and Confederation 1863-1873“ by Reverend Francis W.P. Bolger, St. Dunstan`s University Press, 1964.

Speaking during discussion of Maritime union in the P.E.I. House of Assembly, April 18, 1864, Gray said:  “If the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were to be annexed to Prince Edward Island, great benefits might result to our people; but if this Colony were to be annexed to these Provinces, the opposite might be the effect.  …We are here to maintain our rights, and we shall never enter a Union which will deprive us of this birthright.”

Speaking at the final banquet of the Charlottetown Conference September 8, 1864, Gray was prophetic when he expressed the belief that the Charlottetown Conference “would serve as the harbinger of such a union of sentiment and interests among the three and a half millions of freemen who now inhabit British North America, as neither time nor change could forever destroy.”

Oct. 10, 1864 at the Quebec Conference, Gray said “When I spoke of establishing a nationality I only referred to what has been the dream of my life to be one day a citizen of a Great nation extending from the Great West to the Atlantic seaboard.  I sincerely hope that the delegates from all the Provinces will unite to accomplish this great work.  Prince Edward Island is but a small province but it could be to the other provinces all that the little state of Rhode Island is to the great American Union.”

At Ottawa following the Quebec Conference Gray concluded a glowing tribute to the proposed union with the hope that all the people “would soon have their territory washed by the Atlantic at Halifax and by the Pacific at Vancouver Island.”

On Nov.16, 1864 Gray addressed an appeal to the people of Prince Edward Island that was published in all the newspapers:  “Shall we form part of a great nation extending from Halifax to Vancouver, as citizens of which our sons will reach distinction and carve out for themselves fame and fortune… It is a question of life or death to Prince Edward Island.  I pray to the most high God to direct your decision.”

Gray speaking in the 1865 Assembly Debates:  “We (PEI) have little prospect for the future beyond a dwarfed existence and ultimate absorption into the neighboring Republic.  One of these must be chosen, the other rejected – there is no alternative.  Yes, Mr. Speaker, federation or annexation is what we must regard as our future.”

In a letter to his close friend John A. Macdonald dated June 27, 1866, Gray said  “I much regret that all the endeavours of the friends of Confederation in this Island have been unsuccessful, and I have little hope that our people will change, and if Imperial Authorities do not legislate for us Prince Edward Island is lost .”

As it turned out, the PEI government decided not to join New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Upper and Lower Canada in the new country of Canada in 1867, but PEI did join Confederation six years later in 1873 when the Government of Canada assumed the colony`s railway debts and agreed to finance a buy-out of the last of the colony’s absentee landlords.

Describing Gray, the author Bolger said: “Colonel Gray was a man of outstanding honor.  He was universally respected on account of his integrity in the conduct of public affairs.  He was deeply religious and served for many years as an Elder of the Presbyterian Church on the Island.  His training as a soldier endowed him with an unusual amount of courage and tenacity.  When convinced of the rightfulness of a policy, he would not consider compromise.  When Confederation became the issue in Island politics, Colonel Gray unhesitatingly sacrificed political popularity and the emoluments of office in its furtherance.”