1825 — January, 1880
The Canada Company, an enterprise designed to sell land to settlers in areas like the Huron Tract, is chartered. The township of Biddulph in the Huron Tract (future home of the Donnellys) is named after Robert Biddulph, one of the backers of the township.
The Wilberforce settlers arrive in Biddulph/Lucan. The Wilberforce Colony is a community created to aid refugee slaves from the United States. In the 1830s the first settlers from Ireland also arrive and they name the area Marystown. In the 1860s the name is changed to Lucan. Many of the first Irish settlers are Protestants.
The Canada Company begins leasing lands in addition to selling property. Irish Catholics also start arriving in Biddulph. More Irish settlers arrive at the end of the 1840s due to famine in Ireland.
James and Johannah are married in Ireland. Son James Jr. is born in 1841.
About this time James and Johannah Donnelly move to Upper Canada. James may have arrived first and Johannah followed.
Son William is born in Canada and the family builds a home on Lot 18, Concession 6 in Biddulph. For a time the family moved to another plot, but they returned to Lot 18. They did not own this plot, but early on they may have had some sort of arrangement with owner John Grace.
John Donnelly is born.
Patrick Donnelly is born.
Michael Donnelly is born.
St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church built in Biddulph. The present church is erected in 1858-59.
Robert Donnelly is born.
Thomas Donnelly is born.
John Grace sells the southern 50 acres of Lot 18, Concession 6 to Michael Maher for £200. However, the Donnelly family is still living on the land.
Not long after the sale of Donnelly’s land he is charged with shooting at Patrick Farrell, likely over some sort of squabble over land.
John Grace applies to eject Donnelly from the northern half of Lot 18, Concession 6. Michael Maher does the same for the southern half of the property. In the end, however, Grace sells Donnelly the southern half of the property for £50, far less than the £200 paid by Maher due to Donnelly’s improvements on the land.
Richard Brimmacombe is murdered. Patrick Ryder and William Casey are tried for the crime, but are acquitted.
During a logging bee at a neighbour’s farm James Donnelly Sr. kills Patrick Farrell with a handspike. James Donnelly goes into hiding and a $400 reward is offered for his capture.
Daughter Jennie is born. James turns himself in to authorities. He is convicted of the murder of Farrell and he is sentenced to be executed. Johannah and others gather petitions asking that James Donnelly’s sentence be commuted. They are successful and James Donnelly’s sentence is reduced to 7 years in the Kingston Penitentiary. Left behind, Johannah takes out mortgages on the farm, but manages to keep the property. Part of the land is sold for a small fee so that a schoolhouse for the children of Biddulph can be constructed.
James Donnelly returns from Kingston Penitentiary.
William Donnelly is charged with larceny by John Graham. He is acquitted. Not long after James Jr. and William are charged with robbing the post office in Granton. They are acquitted.
The Donnelly barn burns down. It is believed that the fire is due to arson.
The Donnelly boys establish themselves in careers. James Jr. moves to Michigan. Patrick trains in wagon/carriage making and marries Mary Ryan. John manages a saloon in Lucan, etc. He elopes but the marriage lasts only a few months. Robert, Michael and Thomas farm on another property in Biddulph. William continues to help out on his parents’ farm. The battles over the stage lines begin in the early 1870s. The Donnellys begin to work for the stage line owned by McPhee and Keefe. The opposition stage is managed by John Hawkshaw.
A quarrel takes place between Will Donnelly and William Brooks who worked for the John Hawkshaw stage line. William decides to open his own stage line when McPhee folds. Brothers Michael, Robert and Thomas also drive stages. They join forces with the Calder stage. There are reports of sabotage of stages.
William asks Margaret Thompson to marry him. Her father, William Thompson, sends her away so that the marriage does not take place.
After a series of letters from Margaret in which she asks William to come and get her, William Donnelly and friends search the Thompson household for Margaret. They also search the homes of neighbour Ellen Fogarty and William Thompson Jr. The group is charged, but are acquitted. This same year William Thompson Jr. marries Mary Carroll. The Donnellys hold a shivaree (charivari), a noisy and sometimes destructive salutation for newlyweds, much to the annoyance of the couple.
Patrick Flanagan opens another rival stage line.
Michael, James Jr. and Robert Donnelly are ejected from Lot 26, Concession 11. Joseph Carswell is awarded the land. He finds though, that once he takes possession he suffers from fires, the deaths of his animals, etc.
William Donnelly marries Nora Kennedy. This angers members of the Kennedy family such as brother-in-laws Rhody and John Kennedy.
James Jr. is charged with stealing from and assaulting Thomas Gibbs, a fruit vender. He is convicted of assault, but not theft.
One of Flanagan’s stages is destroyed. William Brooks, stage driver for Flanagan, is killed when a wheel falls off of his coach. Many suspect the damage to the stage is caused by sabotage. Robert McLeod who works for Flanagan cuts off the Donnelly stage causing passengers to fall out of the carriage; Donnelly charges him and receives damages. Louisa and Martha Lindsay charge the Donnellys for dumping them out of the stage and the Donnellys end up paying damages.
Joseph Berryhill challenges James Keefe and the Donnellys to a fight. Keefe and the Donnellys end up being charged with assault, and Thomas is convicted.
James Curry claims that Keefe, James Jr. and Thomas Donnelly attack and rob him. Nothing comes of the charge.
Flanagan and Crawley’s stables are burned. Late in the year Flanagan is beaten and another of his stages are burned. The Donnellys also fight with Rhody Kennedy who blames the Donnellys for the fire. The Donnellys are acquitted and Kennedy is charged with perjury.
Flanagan gives up the stage business but Crawley continues with Richard Bryant. They hire Peter McKeller who has an altercation with the Donnellys. Michael is convicted of threatening the life of McKellar. William Donnelly then charges McKellar with threatening him. Rhody Kennedy (a one-armed constable) is sent to arrest Robert Donnelly and another fight ensues. McKellar charges William with perjury.
Hugh McKinnon, a private detective, comes to Lucan. He goes to work with Constables John Bawden, John Coursey and John Reid. The constables go to Thomas Ryder’s wedding to arrest the Donnellys for a variety of crimes. A riot ensues and shots are fired. The Donnellys escape and a group of townspeople go in search of them. Many come forward to pursue old charges against the Donnellys. For instance, William Esdale charges Thomas Donnelly with a robbery that took place a year prior. Constable Bawden captures Michael Donnelly and holds him in a Lucan hotel, but Michael manages to escape.
Most of the charges against the Donnellys with regards to McKellar, Kennedy, Esdale, etc. lead to no convictions. However, William is convicted of the assault of constable Bawden, as is John Donnelly. Will is discharged from prison due to illness.
Violence in Lucan increases. There are a number of fires. The Donnellys’ stables and stages are burned, as is Michael Donnelly’s home. Lucan appoints Samuel Everett as a village constable. The Donnellys are often blamed for crimes, but there is seldom proof that they are the culprits.
James Jr. dies of some sort of illness. Some suggest he might have been shot.
Stages close due to the creation of the London, Huron and Bruce Railway.
Troubles between James Carroll and the Donnelly family begin. Carroll charges them with assault. He charges Johannah with using abusive language. The Donnellys charge him with threatening to shoot.
Constable Samuel Everett claims someone fires a shot at him. He says the guilty party is Robert Donnelly and Robert is sentenced to two years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
Constable Everett is convicted of assaulting William Hodgins, another constable. Everett also confesses that he is not certain that it was Robert Donnelly who shot him.
Father John Connolly arrives at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Biddulph. He hears stories about the troublesome Donnelly family and forms a negative judgement before meeting them. William writes him a letter complaining that the priest is unfair to the Donnellys.
In June Father Connolly creates a Peace Society/Assocation. He asks people in the community to pledge their support. People agree to have their homes searched for stolen property. The Donnellys do not sign the pledge.
In August a splinter group of the Peace Society begins meeting at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse in Biddulph. James Carroll is part of the group, as are many of the neighbours of the Donnellys. This group becomes known as the Vigilance Committee/Society.
Not long after the creation of the Vigilance Committee, a cow disappears from Mary and William Thompson’s farm. The Vigilance Committee, including James Carroll, decides to search the Donnelly farm for the cow. The cow is later found at home. It is likely this is a set-up, and the Donnellys charge the group with trespassing.
After the Thompson cow incident, James Carroll is made a constable. He promises to rid the township of the Donnellys. Carroll decides to go in search of Thomas to arrest him for old charges. Carroll goes to William’s home to look for Thomas, but Thomas is at his parents’ home. William goes quickly to warn Thomas and John helps Thomas escape. The Vigilance Committee helps Carroll search for Tom. John is charged with aiding Tom’s escape and he is also later charged with perjury. He is acquitted. However, Carroll and the Vigilance Committee encourage townsfolk to abhor the Donnellys. Some neighbours become nervous over associating with the Donnellys.
Michael Donnelly, who has moved to St. Thomas to work for the railway, goes to Waterford as part of his employment duties. There, he gets in a squabble with William Lewis who stabs and kills Michael. Lewis is convicted of manslaughter and his sent to the Kingston Penitentiary. Only 5 of the Donnelly sons remain alive.
Robert Donnelly returns from serving his sentence for allegedly shooting at Constable Everett.
On January 15 the barns of Patrick “Grouchy” Ryder are burned down. That night, Thomas, John and William are at a wedding, so the Vigilance Committee blames James Sr. and Johnannah for the fire. James complains that the Donnellys are unfairly “blamed for everything.” Their trial begins at the end of January and is scheduled to reconvene February 4.