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Bath, Ontario
"THE WHITE HOUSE" - 1793

An Interview with Alice Fairfield, 1923

From an unsourced clipping in the Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives.


On the shores of the Bay of Quinte, about ten miles from Kingston, stands "The White House", the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fairfield, and their daughter, Miss Alice Fairfield, who represents the fifth generation to live within these walls. This landmark was built in 1793 on land drawn from the crown and deeded by George III to William Fairfield, gentleman, for his services and those of his sons, with the British arms in the Revolutionary War.

The Fairfields, who came from England to Vermont, and settled near Salem in 1630, were wealthy landowners when the war of the Revolution broke out. When the American arms were victorious, they looked about them for a home elsewhere under the British flag. Capt. Michael Grass, who had been taken prisoner at Kingston during the French and Indian wars, had kindly memories of the great forests and fertile lands on the shores of Lake Ontario. He gathered a band of United Empire Loyalists, who with him as their leader, ventured forth from the rich farmlands of Vermont to the rigors and dangers of the Canadian forest.

Mr. and Mrs. William Fairfield and their sons were given most of the land along the shores of the Bay of Quinte from the site of "The White House" to Bath. They gave the land on which St. John's church, one of the oldest places of worship now standing in Ontario, was built in which three seats were reserved for the Fairfield family for all time.

For a few years after coming to Canada, Mr. Fairfield, with his six sons and his six daughters, and the Negro slaves who followed their beloved master into exile, lived in log huts built in a clearing near-the little bay below the present house. But used to every comfort in their New England home, these ambitious pioneers determined to build a more substantial dwelling place.

So great trees from the virgin forest were felled, a brick kiln (to be seen to-day) was built, nails were wrought by hand at the forge. A site chosen for the Canadian home where all day and all night through the centuries, the lake sings its song, where the sunlight plays on the dancing waves and the silver moon path comes to the very door.

Many months were spent in building this, the first two storey house in Ontario, which to-day stands in perfect order, admired by the passing motorist, its thick brick walls protected by wood painted white, its tall chimneys and its double balconies clad with the vines of the wild grape and bitter sweet, and its gay flower beds all adding their charm to the dear old Canadian home.

When at last in 1793 the house was completed from far and near the United Empire Loyalists came over corduroy roads, or blazing a trail through the unbroken forest, to the housewarming lasting for three days when wine flowed freely and the great roasts were cooked before the huge fire place in the present kitchen, which took an eight foot back log, placed there by a team of oxen outside the window, having the chain attached to the log near the door hitched to them, and being driven on while men guided the log across the floor to its place at the back of the fire. In the chimney corner sat an old Negro, crippled with rheumatism, but too dear a friend of the family to leave in the Vermont home.

Just how much Mr. Fairfield's Negroes loved him and his family is shown by a story told of Mott, a Negress (who must have come to Canada with them when a child) walking all the way to Toronto in the depth of winter to warn Hermon Fairfield, a grandson of William Fairfield of a supposed plot to take the property from him. Poor Mott, old by this time, arrived with frost bitten bleeding feet where Mrs. Fairfield and her son were living. To-day the oak beams form the ceiling of the great kitchen above which were the Negro quarters, now [1923] bedrooms and modern bathrooms.

In the living rooms are deep fire places reminiscent of the old clays and through the centre of the house runs a wide hall its wainscot and floor of hardwood gleaming in the sunlight falling from a west window set at the turn of the winding staircase, with its banisters of black walnut and mahogany. In one of the bedrooms is a black walnut four poster bed, with red damask set into the head and foot boards with brass nails and a canopy top. Miss Fairfield tells us that somewhere about are the steps on which the weary one would mount to the top of the feather beds piled on the mattress.

The cellar has a story all its own, for there under the great oak beams, a Thibado who was a friend of the loyal Fairfields, but with youthful hot headedness had become mixed up with the rebellion of '37 had hidden while the troops, who were searching for the rebel with 5OO on his head, dined royally in the room above.

In the drawing room, we were shown a curious foot warmer of wood and sheet iron, with a little dish in which hot coals were put, beautifully made and in a perfect state of preservation. This little comfort accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield when they went to Albany, N.Y. in 1817 to visit parents, taking the long drive in their own sleigh. Here too is a "Toby", a china dandy of a century ago, holding a pint of ale which was poured into the crown of his cocked hat. This keepsake of the Dickens era, was given to Herman Fairfield when as a child he accompanied his parents to Albany. Quaint furniture is about the charming rooms, a great desk of black walnut made for one of the family from a tree which grew in a square in the heart of Oswego, N.Y, reaching to the ceiling.

But the garret is the real treasure house where the story of pioneer life is told again, for here in the shadow of the great chimneys we find the cards used to card the wool by hand spun on the big spinning wheel, the smaller wheel on which the flax grown on the farm was spun for the family use, the spindle they wound the yarn ready for the hand loom brought from Holland and forming part of the dowry of a Mrs. Fairfield of Dutch ancestry, a Pruyn perhaps. The loom is still intact, and among the treasures of the attic. Here, too, is one of the three first stoves used in Ontario, brought from Montreal in a sleigh in 1812 by one of the Fairfields. The largest had a top oven that could roast a pig whole.

A spinnet, its yellow keys giving out faint sweet tones that tell 'a tale of the bygone years was brought from England for the children of "The White House" to learn the gentle arts in their home in the Canadian forest. The schools were not up to the standard required by the Fairfields for their sons and daughters, so a tutor also came from England and here is the desk which was used in the school room. Here are candle moulds of several kinds, a home-made rat trap, a large wooden affairs rush bottomed chairs, a huge lantern of old fashioned make and many another link with the past. Mrs. Fairfield remembers baking bread in the brick oven built outside the house which held thirty-six loaves and both she and her husband had stories to tell of the old days to the visitors as they drank tea on the vine clad verandah.

Mrs. Hermon Fairfield, who was a Miss Badgley, saw the York road built and they tell of the old apple trees that were grown from seeds brought from the New England home, of the shoe-maker, who came several times a year to make shoes for the family on the lasts still to be seen in the garret among the relics of the old days, and of the tailor who was sent from Boston to outfit the men of the family. The wolves-that howled around the house slunk back at daylight to their home in the forest and a tale is told of Mrs. Reinnon Fairfield's pet pussy scratching and mewing wildly for shelter in the house from these marauders. Mrs. Hermon Fairfield remembered, too, seeing Lord Selkirk's expedition leave Kingston by boat for their adventurous journey to the north. "The White House" has seen many changes, it was a stage road house at one time and a centre of life in the district. It has watched the wilderness converted into smiling farmlands, seen the Grand Trunk Railway built and the roads made on which the motors of the descendants of the men who blazed the first trail through the forest, carry them with swiftness and ease. It is the oldest house of its size in Ontario, which is still [1923] the home of the family by whom it was built.

March,1923.

The above article was published in a Belleville newspaper, and subsequently copied in the Toronto Star. It generated much interest. In September, 1924, the Lennox and Addington Historical Society was given a copy of a letter from a member of the Gallagher family who had seen the Fairfield story. Although genealogy was not then the popular hobby it is today, Mr. Gallagher had traced his connections to the Fairfields. He wrote:

"The Lockwoods came to Canada from Vermont in 1785. Their daughter Abigal Lockwood, married Benjamin Fairfield (son of William Fairfield) in 1797. Their children were Clara, William, David, Eliza, Rachel and Louisa. Eliza Fairfield married R.F. Hope and Louisa Fairfield married J.D. Roblin.

The Hopes had children Forsyth, Maggie, Louise, Libbie, Robert, William, Mortimer and Theodore.

The Roblin children were Annie, Clara, Fred, William, Harry, Minnie and Fanny. Louise (Fairfield) Roblin is still living. [1924]

Clara Roblin married J H. Gallagher in 1884."

Mr. Gallagher added that, for many years, his family had treasured heirlooms from the Fairfield and Lockwood families.


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