The First 200 Years, 

A Brief History of Darlington Township

Thank you for your interest in Darlington Township.  Following is some information about the township that may come in handy while you are researching your ancestors, or just learning more about the townships of the former Durham County.   The First 200 Years is now in its second printing, as a revised edition.  It has all the same great information as the original first edition, but the typo's have been corrected and new information has been added since the original material was gathered in 1994.

          The Early History of Darlington Township and Bowmanville

The first actual settlement of Darlington took place in 1794.  Induced by the land bounty of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe,  many families from the United States made their way to the north shore of Lake Ontario and pitched upon the most favorable locations along its banks.  Among these were the families of John BURK, John W. TRULL, and Roger CONAT, who,  in the fall of that year, landed near Barber’s Creek, now Port Darlington.   These were the earliest pioneers who settled down in the then impenetrable forest.  The Burks, Trulls and Conats came from the Susquehanna River, and their journey to the new settlement is described as one of innumerable difficulties and hardships.  Their families and household effects were placed on board a large open batteau, which was coasted around the head of the lake, running into bays and inlets to avoid stress of weather, and for the purpose of cooking their meals and camping during the night.  Their stock, which consisted of a horse and two cows, were driven around the shore and the tedious journey - crossing swamps, creeks and marshes on the way - may well be imagined.  Those in charge of the boats having crossed the Niagara river into Canada, were received at Newark with great kindness by the Governor, who sent a man back to assist in bringing around the stock as far as York.  The small band reached their destination in safety, after surmounting all obstacles, on the 2nd of October, 1794. 

The settlers at Barber’s Creek at once set to work to prepare against the approach of winter.  They built log shanties, with bark roofs, plastered on the inside with mud.  Mr John BURK built his house on the margin of the lake, being the southern portion of the farm now owned by his grandson, Wm. K. BURK.  In a letter written by Jr. Jessia BURK some years afterwards, he says:   “We had no neighbors but the Indians for two or three years, save old Benj. WILSON and the TRULLs, who lived at Baldwin’s Creek.  There was not a house withing 30 miles to the west, save an old French trading house that WILSON got in, and old CONATs, two miles to the east of Wilson’s; and none east of us short of Smith’s Creek.”  (Port Hope) 

During the winter these pioneers spent most of their time trapping and hunting; the deer and bear being so plentiful, that an abundance of animal food could be procured with very little trouble.  The furred animals were also very numerous, and required but little skill to trap them, their skins being about the only thing that could be sold for money.

A very great inconvenience felt among them was the want of a mill to grind their grain and corn, the nearest being Meyers’Mills, situate at the foot of Lake Ontario, 60 miles distant.  Those who went to mill, usually took two weeks to go and return, using a canoe for the purpose, hauling it up on the shore at night, and camping in the woods.  When a storm occurred, they were weather-bound until it passed over.  On their arrival at the mill, they waited until the grist was ground, when they returned home in the same manner.  As going to mill was no light undertaking, and attended with so many obstacles and perils, a great many expedients were resorted to in order to obviate this necessity.  Some of the settlers had brought large coffee mills with them, and these were used to grind or crack their grain.  Other contrivances were improvised; one method very much in vogue was to make a rude mortar, by hollowing out a stump.  Sometimes this was done by boring or chiseling, but it was frequently burnt out, and the cavity scraped with a knife or other instrument until all the charred spots were removed.  They  had a wooden pounder attached to a swing pole.  They put the corn into the cavity, and pounded it with this rude pestle.  This bruised corn was known by the name of Samp; and when pounded fine, was made into Johnny Cake, the coarse being boiled into mush,.  Another nutritious and wholesome article of food was found in the wild rice, which grew in most of the marshes and in great abundance in Rice Lake.  This was first parched and afterwards pounded, and either made into cakes or boiled, and acted as a healthful absorbent when taken with animal food.

Mr. Timothy SOPER was another of the very early settlers in the township of Darlington.  His father, Mr. Leonard SOPER, WAS BORN IN 1762, AND EMIGRATED TO Canada in 1788.  The following year his son, Timothy, was born in the township of Sydney, near the head of the Bay of Quinte, and was the first white child born in that township.  At that time there was no white settlement in this portion of Canada, and only one vessel, the Mohawk, a schooner employed in the interests of the North West Fur Company, on lake Ontario.  Mr. SOPER, who in 1795 removed to the township of Hope, says,    “There was no mill at Smith’s Creek (Port Hope).  My father went once to Kingston, and several times to Napanee, taking his grist in a canoe.”.

Mr. Leonard SOPER moved to Darlington in 1805, and erected the first saw mill built in the township.  It was burned down the following year.  Another was put up near the same place.  About this time Mr. John BURKE built a saw mill on Barber’s Creek, from which time the place was known as Darlington Mills until 1823, when it was changed to its present name, Bowmanville, after the family of BOWMAN.

In 1806, Mr. SOPER purchased from Augustus BARBER (after whom the Bowmanville Creek was named) the present Soper Mill property.  Mr. Timothy SOPER relates an incident which occurred to him some time after his father had built the mill.  While engaged in cleaning some fish one morning, a bear came up and commenced feeding on the offals.  Not content with this, she began to feed upon the fish.  Mr. Soper called for some one to bring him a gun.  One was soon brought, which was discharged at the bear, but being only loaded with light shot, did not kill but severely wounded her, whereupon she climbed a tree.   A heavier charge dispatched her.

Looking over the marriage record of this early period, we find the following:

Third March, 1807, married, Thomas CONAT of Darlington, to Hannah STONER.  Present, Peter STONER, her father; Abel CONAT, Polly his wife, and Phoebe LIGHTHEART

Twenty-first April, 1807, married John CARR of Darlington, to Betsy WOODRUFF, of Pickering;  with the written consent of her father.  Present Norris CARR and wife, James BURKE and wife, and Mr. WOODRUFF’s son.

Twenty-eighth December, 1807, married, John BURK Jr. Of Darlington, to Jane BRISBIN of Whitby, with the consent of her sister and brother-in-law. Present John BURK Sr., David STEVENS and David BURK.

Third October, 1811, married William PICKEL, of Darlington, to Nancy WILSON of Whitby, being first duly published in presence of William SMITH and Waterman A. SPENCER, &c., &c.

Twenty-eighth October, 1811, married James BATES of Clarke, to Elizabeth BURK of Darlington, in presence of John BURKE Sr., her father; David STEVENS, Jessia BURK, Adna BATES and Stoddard BATES.

Sixteenth of June, 1815, married Luke BURK, of Darlington, to Nancy MCBAIN, present, James BURK, John HARTRODE, Francis LIGHTHEART, and Rachael LIGHTHEART.

Fourth of March, 1817, married, Ichabod HODGE to Elizabeth COOLEY both of the township of Whitby, being first published by Alexander FLETCHER, Esq., in the presence of Francis LIGHTHEART, of Darlington, William MASSON and John STEPHENS of Whitby.

The land known as the late Bowman estate, and which comprises the principal site of the town of Bowmanville, was first drawn from Government by Mr. John BURK, who, after having built a grist mill and saw mill upon it, sold it to a Mr. PURDY , but after a time it again came into the possession of Mr. BURK, who sold it to Mr. Lewis LEWIS, who , in connection with the milling business, opened a store.  This was the first store opened in Darlington.  Mr. LEWIS remained in business four years, and sold out to Mr. Charles BOWMAN.  This appears to have been about 1824.  The post office was located at Black’s Hill (the late Youal homestead) Col. James BLACK, postmaster.  It was opened soon after the war of 1812.  The mail was brought from Kingston to York once a week on muleback, or when travelling was good, during winter, in a sleigh.  William McMULLEN  was the mail carrier.  His mule, it is said on good authority, died about twelve years ago in Markham [today that would be 1866].

A post office was established at Bowmanville in 1829, the late Mr. Robert FAIRBAIRN then in charge of the Bowman business, was appointed post master.  His house was situated on the est bank of the mill pond, where an old orchard may now be seen.  This orchard he planted soon after his arrival in Darlington.  The first mail came to this place was opened by the Hon. Senator Simpson, then a young man, clerk for Mr. Fairbairn.  The mail was carried in an open waggon, with passengers, the passengers usually sitting in the waggon while the mail was changed, it being passed through an open window for that purpose.  The first person who contracted to deliver the mails at Darlington Mills was a Mr. OGDEN, of Clarke.  About this time Mr. SIMPSON took the census of Darlington which amounted to 118 persons, only one house was then erected north of the main road.

Mr. FAIRBAIRN after retiring from the Bowman  business, was succeeded by Mr. John LESTER  who conducted the affairs of the firm for five or six years, and then went into business for himself, on the hill west of the creek.

Bowmanville was incorporated as a village in 1853, and as a town on 1st January, 1858.  Mr. James McFEETERS was the first mayor.  Present population, about 3,500.  The town is divided into wards - West, South, and North.  The Council is composed of a mayor, reeve, deputy-reeve, and three councillors from each ward.  The town has a police magistrate, Mr. George HAINES being the incumbent, salary, $250 per annum.  The assessed value for 1877 is nearly one million dollars.

The town hall was built in 1855 at a cost of £4,467 2s 6d.  Mr. R. WINDATT is town clerk, having filled the office from the incorporation of the place.  The same gentleman is also Township clerk of Darlington.

There are some well built church edifices, including Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, congregational, Bible Christian, Disciple and Baptist churches. Also, good school buildings and substantial brick stores.  Bowmanville has three newspapers - The Canadian Statesman, Observer, and West Durham News.  The first paper published was the Messenger, in 1850, by Messrs. McMILLAN and HOAG    .

The preceding information comes from the history section of Henry Belden’s Atlas of  Northumberland and Durham, 1878.  Included in The First 200 Years, are over 50 drawings, maps and photographs, some of which are from private collections and have never before been published.

The contents of The First 200 Years, are as follows:

PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS   Police, Firefighting
ALONG THE KINGSTON ROAD:  Courtice, Prestonvale,  Maple Grove                         
UNDER THE 'B' :  Burketon Station, Bethesda,  Bradley's Corner
DOTS ON DARLINGTON'S MAP  Shaw's, Salem, Stephens' Gulch, Providence, Mitchell's        Corners, Taunton.                                            
THE EXCELLENT VILLAGES OF  Enniskillen, Enfield,  Solina
THE MILLTOWNS  Hampton, Haydon, Tyrone/Buffalo
THE DARLINGTONS  Port Darlington, Darlington Station
EPILOGUE   The Commemoration of the first settlers
Other Work by This Author

Bibliographical references have been found in many places, and include:

A Place Called Solina, Marguerite Fraser, 1975
The Townships of Darlington and Clarke, John Squair, 1927
History of the Early Settlement of Bowmanville and Vicinity, J.T. Coleman, 1875
Heritage Buildings of Darlington Township, Clarington LACAC, 1986
History and Reminiscences of Bowmanville, J.B. Fairbairn, 1906
Bowmanville, A Retrospect, Hamlyn, Lunney, Morrison, 1958
The Rickards of Shaw's, Marion Rickard Farr, 1990
Laugh Along With Longboat, Ralph Tooley
Historical Sketch of Tyrone, Nancy V. Lambert, 1968
This Green and Pleasant Land, Millbrook and Cavan Historical Society, 1990
The Northwest Rebellion of 1885, Charles Pelham Mulvaney, A.M., M.D.   1885 (reprint  ed.   1971)
Tavern in the Town, Margaret McBurney, Mary Byers, 1987
Pioneer Inns and Taverns, Vol. 3, Edwin C. Guillet, 1956
The Story of Tyrone, Ethel Goodman, 1948, (from the collection of   Clifford Byam, Tyrone)
This Was Us, Florence 'Babe' Brown, (memoirs) 1976    
The Courtice - Everson History and Genealogies, T.S. Courtice, T. H. Everson, 1968
The Courtice Family Tree, Cyril Courtice Jeffery, 1952
The People of the Many Small Communities of Darlington as noted in the text.
Archives of Bowmanville Museum, Charles Taws, curator
Archives of Clarke Museum and Archives, Mark Jackman, curator
Clarington Public Library, Reference Archives, Census Records, etc.