Lucan and Farming Life

[ Exterior View of the Barn Erected on the Donnelly Property in the 1880s After the Murders Took Place, Thanks to Robert Salts, present-day owner of the Donnelly Homestead, who allowed this photograph to be taken.  Copyright Great Unsolved Canadian Mysteries Project, Jennifer Pettit,   ]

The saga of the Donnellys and their murder takes place in the township of Biddulph, near the village of Lucan in southwestern Ontario. This area was originally part of Huron County, but it was annexed by Middlesex County in 1865.

Prior to the arrival of the Donnellys in the 1840s, this area was settled as the Wilberforce colony, a community of African Americans supported by Quakers interested in helping slaves from the United States. The community though, never was as successful as its backers had hoped.

More influential to the area was the Canada Company, chartered in the 1820s with the purpose of acquiring land in what would become Canada and selling it to prospective settlers. Biddulph and Lucan were located in the Huron Tract, a fertile region owned by the Company. The excellent soil and farming conditions attracted numerous settlers, many of them Irish from Tipperary as were the Donnellys. However, many of the settlers could not afford to buy or lease land from the Company.

Indeed, land played a central role in the lives and the deaths of the Donnelly family. Like the majority of the population in Ontario in the nineteenth century, the experience of life in a farming community framed their experiences. While southwestern Ontario may have offered plenty of opportunity, for reasons indicated in the primary sources, life for a new farmer was very difficult.


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