Daniel Shipman

He started it all.

From the Almonte Gazette, July 30, 1970

The Founder of Our Town (By Hal Kirkland)

Shipman's lumber yard, circa 1860

Shipman’s lumber yard, circa 1860

In some communities there may be conflicting opinions as to who should deserve the distinction of being called the founder of that village or city. Almonte is not one of them. We know that Mr. Daniel Shipman was the founder of our town.

Who was Daniel Shipman or Dan Shipman as he was then called, and what sort of man was he? It is customary in biographies to first state the years of birth and death: Daniel Shipman was born in 1791 in the United States and died in 1853 in Almonte, and he was buried in the Methodist cemetery here.

But what is important is that he was the man who got the settlement moving. He built the first saw mill in 1821 and the first grist mill in 1822. True, a man named David Shepherd might have been entitled to the distinction  – if he had stayed. He got the original patent from the Crown in 1820 for the east half of Lot 16 (land on which the Town Hall and Post-office now stand) started building a mill but never got around to finishing  it. The writer is of the opinion that he went to the United States and the parcel of  land was deeded from Shepherd to Daniel Shipman.

For the record, there was one other man who might be called, quite correctly, of the town. He was John Gemmill, who was a farmer, and shortly after Shipman built his mills,  Mr. Gemmill built the first store in Almonte. In 1822 there were two cows in the township of Ramsay, and one of them belonged to Mr. Gemmill.

Now to tell something of Daniel Shipman. He was the youngest of three sons of Samuel Shipman by a first marriage. His second wife bore him ten children. The three sons by the first marriage, John, Joel and Daniel, came to Canada and settled around Lynn, in the Brockville district. The Shipman family in Canada always referred to themselves as United Empire Loyalists. Daniel, the youngest, left Lynn and came to Almonte.

One, can surmise that, either from an acquaintance or via the grapevine, he had learned of the difficulties the discouraged David Shepherd was encountering and recognized an opportunity up there on the Mississippi. In fact,  the small settlement was known locally as Shipman’s Mills until Mr. Shipman himself suggested that it be named Ramsayville.

The late Dr. W. B. Munro, who had been Professor of American History at Harvard University, in his story on Almonte writes: “A map in the Canadian Archives at Ottawa, dated 1855, gives the name as Ramsayville, but the Post Office continued as Ramsay.”

Dan Shipman was not the only Shipman involved in the growing hamlet as he brought in relatives to share in the management of his enterprises – and, we can assume, the profits. Mr. Boyce, a brother-in-law (Daniel Shipman had married Prudence Boyce) came along with Dan, or shortly afterwards, and was associated with him in the operations of the saw mill and the grist mill. Also, he brought over a half brother, Stephen Shipman, one of the second family of ten. In a genealogy of the Shipmans it is recorded concerning Stephen: “Moved to the township of Ramsay where he was engaged in business at a small village then called Shipman’s Mills, now the flourishing town of Almonte.”

In the very brief biography of Stephen, there is an item, not pertinent to this chronicle, but perhaps interesting to some. Stephen Shipman had married Charlotte Arnold, grand-daughter of Benedict Arnold, a Major General in the United States Army, a traitor, and later became a Brigadier-General in the British Army. But back to Daniel Shipman and his relatives who were all so involved in the life of our town. Norman and Sylvanus were Daniel’s sons and carried on business after their father’s death in 1853. In the Canada Directory of 1857-8, Norman Shipman’s business was listed as grist mill and Stephen’s as saw mill. There were other ventures. Back in 1851 Daniel Shipman, S. K. Shipman (probably Sylvanus) and Norman Shipman were shareholders in the Ramsay Woollen Cloth Mfg. Co.

In a letter to the writer’s father, Col. Gemmill, then living in London, England, wrote: “One day in the spring of 1851 Mr. Haskins and Mr. ———- (late in the employ of the Rosamond Woollen Co. of Carleton Place, called on my father,  John Gemmill who died the following year on the subject of establishing a mill at Almonte. This project was looked on favorably by Mr. Shipman. Mr. John Scott and Mr. Hugh Rae also favored it. The result was that a company was formed called “The Ramsay Woollen Cloth Manufacturing Company.” It ran a short time and was burned. This was the beginning of the industry in Almonte. Mr. John Gemmill was chairman of the Board in this firm. Shortly after the fire Mr. James Rosamond moved his machinery from Carleton Place to Almonte and launched the Rosamond Woollen Company which was for many years to enjoy an enviable prestige for turning out cloth of the highest quality.

Mr. Shipman was active also in matters affecting the whole township. As early as 1830 he attended a meeting in Ramsay “To protest against the way they had been treated by the Board of Magistrates.” With him at the meeting were John Gemmill, Robert Carswell, Michael Corkery and others from Bathurst District. The Board of Magistrates were invariably tools of the Family Compact, the “Establishment” of that day in Upper Canada. In this connection there is an interesting side-light. The Hon. Senator Andrew Haydon in his book “Pioneer Sketches of the District of Bathurst” wrote “In Ramsay the Irish Settlers were more scattered. No church (Roman Catholic) was erected here until 1842, in the village of Ramsayville, or Almonte as it is today, and on land presented by Daniel Shipman, a Methodist and an Orangeman.” It would be nice to think that this was an early manifestation of the ecumenical spirit, but that would be too naive.

Daniel’s grandson, “Mr. L. W. Shipman, always contended that his grandfather had set aside this lot for “The first church.” Daniel was a man of his word. It should be mentioned here that there were Presbyterian churches on the 8th line, outside of Ramsayville.  On this note we leave Mr. Daniel Shipman, except to repeat that he was buried in the old Methodist cemetery which can be attested by visiting the cemetery. There may be some who are unaware of the existence of this old cemetery. It is situated about a mile southeast of Almonte on Highway 29. Indeed one might pass it without noticing that there was a cemetery in the field along the roadside. Many of the headstones are broken off and lying on the ground; a green moss has grown on some of the slabs thus obliterating the lettering. A thicket of lilac and other small trees as are found growing along old log fences has hidden many of the slab headstones that are still standing. The Shipman stones are among those broken but at sometime in the past the fragments have been moved and leaned against the the low iron railing that encloses the Shipman burial plot.   It is interesting that members of the Teskey family, who were the founders of the Village of Appleton are also buried in this old cemetery. Robert Teskey, in 1832, received a Crown Grant of the S.W. 1/2 of Lot No. 2 in the 11th concession of Ramsay, which was originally called Appletree Falls, and is now the beautiful village of Appleton. Robert built the saw mill, his brother Joseph the grist mill and another brother, Albert, had the general store and post-office.

The writer is pleased to acknowledge his debt to Mrs. H. D. Gilmour of Carleton Place for making available to him much of the information concerning the Shipman family. Mrs. Gilmour is a niece of the late Mr. and Mrs. L. W. Shipman, with whom she spent her early years. Mr.  L. W. Shipman was a grandson of Daniel Shipman and the last of the Shipmans to live in Almonte. He lived to be quite an age, and many will remember him riding his bicycle or driving his car around town when he was in his eighties. Over the years he could be seen bicycling, or in later years driving his car, out to the old cemetery, there to work cutting the grass and weeds and brush – trying to keep the resting place of his ancestors in a decent appearance. He had evidently been obliged to constitute himself a one-man cemetery committee, custodian and caretaker for the upkeep of the cemetery. Since then there has been no one.