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General Almonte

From the Almonte Gazette, July 30, 1970

The Naming of Almonte

Written in 1920 by William Bennett Moore, Professor of Government at Harvard University

Juan Almonte

The municipality now known as the Town of Almonte was originally called Shepherd’s Falls because Mr. Shepherd received from the Crown the tract on which the town now stands. The place appears as Shepherd’s Falls on the map which accompanies Scobies Canadian Almanac for 1854; but the post-office is given in the text as Ramsay with James Wylie as postmaster. Mr. Shepherd was unable to fulfill the conditions imposed in the original patent from the Crown; accordingly his grant revoked and a re-grant made Mr. Shipman and others. There was some discussion about calling the place Shipman’s Falls and it was so called locally for a very short time; but the name Ramsayville was finally selected by the owners and the settlement (which was not yet a village) appears on the map of Scobies Canadian Almanac for 1855 as Ramsayville. The Post-office continued, however as Ramsay.

The site of this “Ramsay” post-office was on the south side of the river; but about this time the land on the northerly side of the river was surveyed into building lots and the plan of this survey was registered under the name of “Victoriaville,” This situation resulted in some confusion. Ramsay was the name of the township and the post-office. Ramsayville was the name of the settlement on the south side of the river and Victoriaville was the local name for the area north of the river. Accordingly a meeting was held (probably in 1854 but the exact date of which I have been unable to determine), and the settlers on both sides of the river agreed that the whole place should be called Waterford.

In the Canadian Almanac for 1855 the officials of the Township of Ramsay are listed as follows: Reeve John Scott; Treasurer: John Wylie, Waterford; Clerk: David Campbell, Waterford.

Request Refused

But when application was made to the post-office department to change the name of the local post-office from Ramsay to Waterford the request was refused on the ground that there was already a post-office of the latter name in “Norfolk County Canada West.” So the settlers cast about for another name and although many names were suggested, all of them encountered opposition. Finally Mr. John M. Haskin, a leading villager who owned a planning mill which stood below the Stone Bridge across the river from where the Almonte Knitting Company’s mill now stands, suggested that the place be called Almonte after a Mexican general whose name was then familiar to all readers of the newspapers. In default of any better suggestion this proposal was adopted at another meeting. This was probably in 1856, for the Canada Directory (1857) lists the place as Almonte; but the name of the post-office was not changed from Ramsay to Almonte, according to the post-office records, until 1859.

Now it may appear curious that a village in Canada should adopt the name of a Mexican general who had never had the remotest connection with Canadian affairs, but the explanation is simple enough. General Almonte, who was a man of great distinction in his own country, served from 1853 1856 as Mexican ambassador al Washington. During this period which immediately followed the Gadsden Purchase, there was considerable friction between the United States and Mexico, so that Ambassador Almonte had an ample chance to get his name into the newspaper headlines.

Admired By Canadians

As he was a man of uncommon frankness and had plenty of courage, he stood up for the rights of his country in stalwart fashion and gave Uncle Sam enough vigorous back-chat to make things interesting. This quite naturally, gained him a good many admirers among Canadians who had misgivings over the rapid expansion of the United States to the southwest and west, or who on general principles were distrustful of American motives during these antebellum days.

The name of Almonte at any rate, figured prominently in the Canadian newspapers during these years and was as well known throughout the American continent as the names of Carranza, or Venezelos, or Clemenceau have been in more recent times. It was a good enough name in its way, relatively short, easy to pronounce, and with no local associations to excite neighborhood jealousy. So it was adopted. Gen. Almonte’s career was exceedingly interesting. He was born at Valladolid, Mexico, in 1804, the natural son of Jose Morelos, the patriot priest of Neoupetaro. Morelos headed one of the early uprisings against Spanish rule in Mexico and although successful for a while he was ultimately captured by the Spaniards and executed in 1815.

There was a current tradition that his son, young Almonte, derived his name from the fact his father, Morelos, whenever a skirmish with the Spaniards was at hand, would shout to the mother and child “Almonte” (to the hills), that is to a place of safety. But in his trial before the Inquisition, immediately preceding his execution, Morelos testified that the child’s mother was an Indian girl named Brigida Almonte, and that … the child was given his mother’s and not his father’s name.

On his execution of his father the boy, whose full name was Juan Nepomucene Almonte, was sent to New Orleans to be educated. Here he remained for several years and acquired ability to speak both French and English, an accomplishment which stood him in good stead later when he rose to prominence in his own country and was appointed to serve as Mexican ambassador, first to Washington, then to England, and later to France. Almonte, on his return to Mexico from New Orleans in 1822, entered the Mexican army and steadily rose in rank. In the War between Mexico and Texas he served as Colonel on the staff of General Santa Anna and was with the latter when the Texans defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto in 1836. In 1839 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and in 1840 became Mexican Minister of war under president Bustament.

Ambassador to Great Britain

After finishing his term as ambassador at Washington in 1856 he was sent in the same capacity to Great Britain and then to Paris where he figured prominently at the court of Napoleon III. There he became involved in the diplomatic manoeuvres which resulted in the sending of the French military expedition to Mexico in 1862 and was in high favor with Maximilian and the authorities of the ill-starred Mexican Empire during the brief period of its existence. From 1863 to 1865 he served as president of the Mexican Junta or Cabinet. When the Empire was overthrown by Juarez in 1867 Maximilian was executed and a republic re-established. Gen. Almonte then went back to Paris where he died in 1869.

Almonte was a cultivated, highly educated man, intelligent, courageous, and more honest than the other Mexican leaders of his age. He was persevering and resourceful, a veritable Tallyrand in keeping favor with whatever government happened to be in power. Born under Spanish rule, he lived through a half-dozen revolutions and gained high appointments from the authorities of republics and empire alike. That he managed throughout these fifty years of intrigue and plots and complots to keep the breath of life in his body is a considerable tribute to his own skill and resourcefulness. He was one of the few great Mexicans of his generation who lived to die an honest and natural death.

Accomplished Gentleman

The London “Daily Telegraph” in announcing General Almonte’s death in 1869, spoke of him as a “soldier, statesman and diplomist,” as well as “a kindly, courteous and accomplished gentleman.” He had many warm friends in England among them Lord Palmerston, whom Almonte greatly admired. “He never cut anybody’s throat,” says the Daily Telegraph, “never squeezed gold-dust out of a foreign merchant, and never robbed a stage-coach,” which is saying a good deal for anyone who held a position of power among the Mexicans for nearly forty years. His picture shows a firm, well-set face, with a strongly-marked Indian cast; but with a noticeable touch of Spanish hauteur and eyes that bespeak intelligence.

Almonte’s only daughter, who married Colonel Jose Herran was still living in Mexico City two or three years ago a very old lady, half-blind, but mentally alert and with a keen memory. She gave me considerable data concerning her father and was much interested in knowing that a Canadian town was named in his honor. She still had his general’s uniform, his sword, and an oil portrait which was presented to him by Maximilian, his commissions of appointment as ambassador. etc. I am not sure that she is still alive. Her address was: Senora Guadaloupe Almonte de Herran, 3 Calle Liverpool, 26, Mexico City. A grand-daughter, Senorita Clothilde Almonte de Herran was then living with her at the same address.

The above interesting and informative sketch of General Almonte was presented to the then editor of The Gazette, Mr. James Muir by Major J. MacIntosh Bell on July 31, 1920, just prior to the 100th anniversary of settlement in the district and the town’s first Old Boys Reunion. The composer was a personal friend of the Bell family and a native of Almonte.