A Record of Thirty-five Years Prepared By William Donnelly.


The following record of outrages said to have occurred in the Township of Biddulph, in the vicinty of the Biddulph Tragedy, appears as a letter in a western journal.

DEAR SIR.- I'll here endeavour to write you a short account of the crimes that have been committed in Biddulph and its surroundings for the last thirty- five years, none of which were ever laid at the Donnelly's doors.

About thirty-five years ago all the farms around the Sauble Hill were taken up by coloured people. Some of the folks who now call themselves law-abiders of Lucan lived at that time convenient to the Sauble Hill, and being eager to get the land out of the hands of the poor Africans, were willing to use any means to accomplish their ends. Accordingly the plan was laid, and in the middle of the night, and in the depth of winter, those poor coloured folks, with honest hearts into them, were rooted out of house and home. Where this occurred is about half a mile from Lucan, and to their credit be it said the great part of those arrested for it are high-flyers in Lucan to-day. One thing certain none of our family were born at that time, except my father and mother, and they were never blamed for it.

About twenty years ago there lived on the Cedar Swamp line a man named Dunigan. He had a falling-out with some of his neighbours about an oak tree that was stolen off his farm. Dunigan and his neighbors met at a bee where whiskey was plenty, and what occurred? Nine or ten men stripped poor Dunigan off, and then put red hot irons all over his body, roasting the flesh on his bones. They then put him behind what was called the back log of the fire-place, and afterwards took him out and threw him in a mud hole, one of the party striking him with a mall head for splitting rails and making the remark:- "What about the oak tree now Dunigan?" They next went to cut off his ears but were prevented by a woman who risked her life to save the man from any further torture. On the following day Father Crinnan (who is now Bishop of Hamilton) came to see Dunigan, and when the priest turned him in bed the flesh actually fell off his bones. The good priest, horrified at the sight, looked to heaven and said he was afraid the hand of God would fall on Biddulph. The whole affair was hushed up for a few dollars. Dunigan being a lone man among a lot of savages, and doubtless afraid to send them to the penitentiary for their doings. The Donnellys were not blamed for this. Father Crinnan then said he wanted all of them to come in presence of all the congregation and ask God's pardon. But how many came? None but one who was looking at the crime being committed. He asked God to pardon him for being in such company. Since then he has prospered, and is well off to-day, when the rest are marked by either poverty or drunkness. And now, dear sir, need I wonder at those men - some of whom are still living in Biddulph - coming at dead of night calling my family out of their honest beds and murdering them, and then roasting them to a cinder?

About twenty-five years ago an Englishman moved in on a Canada Company lot adjoining Biddulph, and built a house upon it. A gentleman, who now uses more of the sidewalk in Lucan than he pays taxes for, coveted this farm, and took a gang of Biddulphers and threw a lot of trees on the house, smashing it to pieces and frightening the poor stranger so that he ran away with his life. This noted bushwhacher then erected a shanty on the farm, and remained on it for a number of years, until the Canada Company put himself and his furniture, which amounted to a table and an ex-yoke, out on the road. The Donnellys were not blamed for this.

Twenty-three years ago a man named Brinigan, from near St. Thomas, bought a farm in Usborne, adjoining Biddulph. A gentleman who is now living in Biddulph, and is by the way a Vigilant magistrate, and figured conspiscously in the law-suit between my father and Ryder for the burning of the barns, was Brinigan's next neighbor. Brinigan had a bee, and some one insulted this newly-appointed J. P., whereupon he swore he would be revenged of Brinigan. In a short time after this poor honest man was moving his effects on to his new farm, but was met on the Roman Line by a man and was killed. A friend of the murderer found Brinigan dead, and drew his body across the track with a view of making the people believe he fell from his load and was killed. The murderer and the man who got it done were both arrested. One escaped from prison to the States, where he remained until the excitement blew over. The other stood trial, and, of course, got clear, the Key of Heaven having been chewed to pieces by the Roman Liners. The Donnellys were not blamed for this unpardonable crime.

About this time the building of the Grand Trunk Railway was being let to contractors. There was a large contract of cutting on a farm owned by a man on the Roman Line. This man had eight sons, who were noted for their treachery and rascality, and they at once dared any man to take the contract of cutting through their farm, wanting to get the job themselves at their own price. However, Andrew Keefe, who is well and respectably known in your city, took the job, and commenced working. At this time Mr. Keefe kept a hotel at the Catholic Church Corner, and kept his horses stabled there at night, and also gave accommondations to the travelling public, but on the following July, 1857, Mr. Keefe's stable, which contained seven working horses and a valuable stallion, was set on fire in the dead of night and all consumed. His hotel was also set on fire, but was seen in time to be saved. I might here remark that there were two kegs of blasting powder in the htoel, which, no doubt, would have had the desired effect had the fire not been put out. Were the Donnellys arrested for this? No; but there were nine or ten arrested for it, including the Ryders and Toohays, but as usual they got clear.

Twenty years ago a man named William Cohalan, living on the 11th con., Biddulph, had some words with his next neighbour, Mike Cain, better know as "But." Cain at once attacked Cohalan, and held him until Cain's son came and killed poor Cohalan with a piece of board. Young Cain made good his escape. The old man stood trial, but, of course, got clear. In 1860 a strange man, named Mitchell, came in on the Roman Line with a threshing machine, but this not suiting some of the inhabitants, they went in the night and cut his machine to pieces. The Donnellys were not blamed for that.

In the fall of 1867 my father had his barn full of grain unthreshed, but about three o'clock in the morning we were awakened by the barn being in flames. Who done that job?

In the harvest of 1868 old Mr Toohey, living on the Roman Line, had some trouble or other with his sons, and they would not take off the crop nor allow anyone else to do it. About half the crop rotted. His son Pat, who was a married man, at last took some help and saved the balance of the crop; but on getting out of bed a few morning afterwards he found his apple trees broken and a fine mare he had minus her tail and ears. Thus was the first case of horse clipping we had in Biddulph, and Mr. Toohey did not blame the Donnellys for it.

In the fall of the same year a man named Thomas Hodgins moved in on the Roman Line with a threshing machine, but this not being satisfactory to the law-abiders they went in the night and clipped his horses in a shameful manner. Mr Hodgins did not blame the Donnellys for this.

About this time Alex. Armitage was living in that far-famed town Lucan. He was town-ship treasurer, and on coming from church one Sunday he found his house had been entered and robbed of all the Biddulphers cents to the dollar. The Donnellys did not do this, but like Mr. Parson's pork, the thing was hushed up.

About that year 1870 Mr. T. Morgan’s barns were burned on the Sauble Line. The man who set it on fire was seen running away, but on one ever suffered for it.

In the winter of 1875 my brother and J. Watson were running stage in partnership. They had Mr. Collins stable in Lucan rented, but one night the stable was set fire to and one of the horses consumed in the flames. The following spring our new stage was set fire to and burned at the Montgomery House, in London Township. The two men who did it drove from Lucan. We afterwards got another new stage built, but on the following 4th of July Fitzhenry's hotel and stables in Lucan, were set on fire and burned to the ground, together with our new stage that stood in the stable. The Donnellys did not do this.

In the fall of the same year Mr. Roycraft, who lives on the 11th concession of Biddulph, had all his buildings and crops burned by incendiarism. Mr Roycraft did not blame the Donnellys for this job. Now, dear sir, I will pass on to the 4th of February last, at which time your special correspondent intimates the doers of all evils were removed from this earth, and that peace and quietness have returned after years of turmoil; but, dear sir, who committed all the above mentioned crimes that have no equal in the history of Canada, or who have committed the crimes that have been done since the memorable 4th of February.

In about a month after that date Mr. Carter's grain store in Granton was set on fire and consumed, together with it contents, and a few nights after Mr. Timothy Collinson's barn and contents were reduced to ashes. Mr Collinson has always been a good friend to our family, and surely my father's roasted bones did not go across from the churchyard and destroy his property.

As this history of crime is composed of facts that cannot be contradicted, I trust that you will give it a place in your valuable paper, and give the outer world an idea how long and deep the hands of Biddulphers (outside of the Donnellys) have been steeped in crime. I also trust you will excuse my grammar and spelling. I have no big words to give you, but will use my own name and defy contradiction. By so doing you will greatly oblige

Your humble servant,

Source: William Donnelly, "Biddulph In Days Gone By - A Record of Thirty-Five Years Prepared by William Donnelly," Globe, September 10, 1880.

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