Looking for Info about the Law in Essex County 1855-65

Those of you from Windsor will recognize that picture. For those of you who don’t know what that picture is, what you’re looking at is (what is now) MacKenzie Hall. It was formerly the Sandwich Courthouse, built in 1855-56 by Alexander MacKenzie who became Canada`s second prime minister in 1858.

My great great grandmother Mary Fenner made an appearance in this courthouse in 1858, charged with “procuring goods under false pretences”. She was in the gaol next door for two whole months and was acquitted. She made two returns to the jail — a few months later she was convicted in MacKenzie Hall. She was sent to the Toronto Lunatic Asylum.

So many questions about that .. I`m writing a play based on Mary’s life and am now needing to try to figure out what the circumstances of her arrest and conviction might have been. So I’m trying to figure out what the legal system in Essex County would have been.

Specifically, I`m looking for these bits of info:

a) which branch of the law would have arrested her? .. the justice of the peace in Woodslee or Belle River? Or was there a policeman? Was there a jail nearby?

b) how would Mary have been transported to Windsor? .. she was living in Ruscomb. Since the train started going through Belle River a few years earlier, I’m thinking she must have been on the train. How did they transport prisoners in those days? Would she have been in chains? Or would she have gone on the stagecoach? It would have been a rough journey either way. From what I’ve read, the roads were paths in the woods. So even if she was taken by road only as far as Belle River, it would have been a two hour journey (at the time, a trip by stage coach 53 kms from Kingsville to Sandwich took 13 hours. So from Ruscomb it would have been at least 8).

I’ve got the name of the Sheriff who committed her (John McEwan, who was one of Sandwich/Windsor’s notable forefathers). And I have the names of the doctors who committed her to the Toronto Asylum (Drs. Casgrain and Dewson, again pretty big names in society at the time).

Many more questions remain. What was it like in jail? What and who was behind the charges? Interesting that on her admission papers to the asylum, it was the court that committed her. Not Great Great Grandpa. So I’m writing the story on the premise that the charges came from a neighbour. (I think I’ll make up the name of that neighbour. Since the descendents of all those neighbours were our neighbours when I was a kid. I don’t want to go accusing anybody that their GG Grandfather did in poor Mary … as Grandma Wallace would say “We don’t tell that story. Their families are still alive”)

So if anybody out there knows about how the law enforcers did their business between 1855 and 1865, I really want to hear from you.


Posted on March 8, 2012, in Essex County Families, towns and villages and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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