The following article was written by Sharon Starkey, the 4th great-granddaughter of Susanna Bucklin. Sharon has written the sort of article that everyone should write about their grandparents. 100 years after any of us have passed from the scene, our descendents want to know the details of lives that were lived in times and places unknown to us.
This is the story of a Revolutionary War victim, the result of loyalties that tore families apart. Here is a story that tells of the way it was for a woman who left comfort to be with her husband and then had the problems of a young widow with a family of young children and only Canadian wilderness farm lands to support them in the winter.
We place Susanna Bucklin and her husband Solomon Johns an officer and intelligence service agent for the English, in our Revolutionary War Bucklin listings and discussions, because we include spouses of Bucklins in our base of information. We suggest you will be fascinated by reading what Sharon Starkey wrote about Solomon Johns
By Sharon Starkey
When Susanna Bucklin was growing up in the comfortable security of her family’s Rhode Island home she could not have imagined the path that she would walk during her adult years. Her parents, David Bucklin and Abigail Waldo, were affluent landowners, according to real estate conveyances. After their marriage in 1749 they resided in Pomfret, Windham County, Connecticut, where Susanna and three of her siblings were born. By August of 1760 the family had moved to Coventry, Kent County, Rhode Island. David’s ancestors were Rhode Island settlers, from as early as 1630. In 1732 his father, Joseph Bucklin Jr., purchased land on a river near Coventry, where he built a gristmill and machine shop as well as a textile mill for the manufacture of linen and wool(1) .
Named for her paternal grandmother, Susanna Annie Jencks, Susanna Bucklin was a descendant of the predominant industrialist family in Rhode Island history. Her great grandfather, Judge William Jencks, had been a member of the Rhode Island legislature. One of his ancestors, Joseph Jencks, Jr., was the first permanent settler in Pawtucket Falls, Rhode Island(2), who started the Jencks’ empire with first water powered machinery to manufacture cloth and later the forge and water powered machinery to manufacture tools.
It is possible that David Bucklin was a business associate of Benjamin Johns and through their acquaintance his daughter, Susanna, met the gallant young Solomon Johns. After their wedding in 1775 the newlywed couple traveled to Solomon’s property near the Green Mountains in Clarendon Township, Rutland County, Vermont. At that time this area was known as the New Hampshire frontier. Here the young bride found herself adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle. Their home would likely have been of a more rustic style than that of her parents. Visitors would be few; neighbors far away. And, although Solomon’s father and stepmother lived in the area, there would not likely have been the large family gatherings similar to those held at the Bucklin home in Rhode Island.
Susanna now had the job of being mistress of her husband’s household. However, as Solomon probably had helpers to assist him to work his farm, it is possible that there was a house servant to help Susanna. Many of the Vermont settlers were New Englanders who kept slaves. It is most likely that their first son, David Bucklin Johns, was born in this remote location about 1776.
In 1777 Solomon Johns joined the Loyalist cause in the Revolutionary War and was a member of the Provincial Corps attached to the British army. One wonders if this choice caused some difficulty for Susanna. It was a well kept Bucklin family secret that her cousin, Joseph Bucklin, was the person who was the subject of an English Parliament’s offer of 1000 English pounds for information leading to his identification. Joseph had shot and wounded a British officer aboard the Gaspee, a British revenue cutter that had gone aground on the Pawtucket River near Providence, Rhode Island in 1772. The English did not know the identity of the person and had called his shot an act of treason. What a temptation to someone loyal to the crown that reward would have been!
[Ed. note: Susanna Bucklin’s siblings and parental siblings must have been distressed with Susanna’s husband’s wartime activities as a English commander and heroic English spy.
- Susanna’s brother John Bucklin was a Captain in the Revolutionary Army.
- Susanna’s brother Benjamin Bucklin fought in the Revolutionary Army at the battle of Bunker Hill.
- Susanna’s uncle Capt. Joseph Bucklin was engaged in projects such as fortifying Providence against the English.
- Her cousin (Capt. Joseph Bucklin’s son, another Joseph Bucklin) had shot the English captain of the Gaspee and had a 1000 pound reward on his head if Susanna turned informer!
- Susanna’s uncle Capt. John Bucklin was a captain of the Rehoboth militia, fighting against the English.
- Susanna’s aunt Sarah Waldo was married to Gen. Israel Putnam of the Revolutionary Army.
- Susanna’s uncle Albigence Waldo was the Surgeon General of the Revolutionary Army at Valley Forge.
Poor Susanna! If her husband was successful in his job as a fighter and spy for the English army, her siblings, cousins, and uncles might die.]
Susanna and her infant son would almost certainly have left Clarendon with Solomon when he first joined the King’s troops, but later on she might have stayed at the home of his brother Daniel in Manchester, Vermont. Sometime during the next few years Susanna and her son traveled to Canada, like many other wives and families of the Loyalists. There are written accounts of the grave difficulties of this journey which tell a story of hunger, extreme physical endurance on the long walk to Lake Champlain, plus the danger of discovery by the rebels while they waited for water transport to one of the British outposts. Many did not survive the difficult trek north, while others were extremely ill when they finally arrived in Quebec(3). We do not know how or when Susanna made this lengthy journey, only that at the end of the revolution she was at the refugee camp at Machiche with Solomon and their children. She may have remained there while Solomon returned to Vermont in 1784 to settle his affairs.
Life for the exiled Loyalists did not become any easier in the aftermath of the war. However, the mood of the settlers was generally one of optimism as they set forth to establish their farms in the townships west of Montreal. For Solomon and Susanna, the work of establishing their new home at Elizabethtown Township, on the St. Lawrence River, was coupled with a shortage of proper food and the hard labor necessary for mere subsistence. Their struggle for survival during those early days was in vivid contrast to Susanna’s carefree youth in Rhode Island, and the lifestyle she and her husband would have enjoyed in their early years in Vermont.
After Solomon’s unfortunate death in the spring of 1786 his widow and children were destitute. Until then their only means of support was the bounty of their farm and Solomon’s half-pay pension as a disbanded officer of the provincial corps. Thanks to the incredibly rich soil in the “wilds” of Ontario Solomon had already done wonders with his farm(4). However, it required both a man and his wife to work the land, and to attend to the animals and domestic chores, in order to provide for themselves and their family. For a woman alone these tasks would have been impossible. Although there was a general feeling of sympathy toward Susanna’s plight the other families had enough work to provide for themselves, and they would not likely have been able to help her.
Susanna appealed to Lord Dorchester (formerly Sir Guy Carleton), who was Governor of Canada from 1786-1790, and she was eventually given a compassionate grant of 400 acres of land. She should have received a widow’s pension as well – one-half an officer’s half-pay. After Solomon’s death his brother Daniel came from Vermont to help the fatherless family, later becoming guardian of his nephews, David and Solomon Jr(5).
Susanna’s third son, Daniel, appears to have died as an infant. It is possible that he was born about the time of Solomon’s untimely death, in 1786, and Susanna may have named the infant Daniel after her brother-in-law, as a gesture of gratitude for his help. It is also conceivable that the child died during the historical “hungry year” in 1788 when there was a grave shortage of food due to poor crops. Many did not survive, and small children were particularly susceptible to the lack of nutrition.
There were no formal records of births, marriages and deaths during the revolutionary war, or in the early years of the settlements in Upper Canada. We have had to rely on other documents such as land petitions, ration lists, early census, and military muster rolls to estimate the birth dates of the known three male children of Solomon and Susanna. There is some evidence that they may have had two daughters as well as their three sons. The ration list drawn up sometime between September 1783 and May or June of 1784, at the end of the war, lists the family of Solomon Johns as including “2 female children under 6”. We have not been able to find the identity of these two daughters, and it is possible that one of them had died as an infant.
After experiencing many deprivations as a refugee during the revolutionary war, as well as coping with the hard work of settling in the Royal Townships, Susanna Johns then mourned the tragic deaths of her husband and her infant son. It would be understandable if this resulted in a period of depression. She returned to Vermont for a few years in order to settle her husband’s estate. We assume that she left Ontario after she filed a petition in 1790 regarding the grants of crown land due to her husband for his service. In that year Susanna is recorded as a witness at a wedding in Fredericksburgh Township(6). Daniel Johns had the guardianship of his nephews David and Solomon Jr. by 1791 and they stayed with him when their mother went to Vermont. The brothers are listed as living with Daniel in the 1797 census of Elizabethtown Township. Daniel’s four daughters had all moved there, either with their husbands or before marriage, so probably he had some female help with the care of the two boys. David was about 13 when his mother left Ontario. It would seem likely that she would take her daughter, or daughters, if they indeed existed, with her.
Where Susanna stayed in Vermont is not known. It is possible that as a widow of a Loyalist she would not be welcomed in the home of her parents because, even in families, feelings were very strong on the opposing sides both during and after the revolution. David Bucklin fought on the Patriot side in the Revolutionary Army(7). Susanna’s uncle, Capt. Joseph Bucklin, was credited with firing the first shot of the revolution and the King had placed a bounty on his head(8). Susanna’s uncle Albigence Waldo (her mother’s brother), was the personal physician of George Washington, the Surgeon General for the American Army, and the resident surgeon for the American troops at Valley Forge.
Susanna eventually came back to Ontario, unsuccessful in her petitions in Vermont regarding her husband’s confiscated estates. [Ed. note: see article on Lt. Solomon Johns.]
According to a land petition in 1820 Susanna was residing at that time in Ernestown Township on the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario (near Kingston) and possibly living with her son, Solomon Jr. On the census of Murray Township, from 1820 to 1822, the family of David Johns shows an additional female. Susanna may have been living with David’s family from then on, as Solomon Jr. returned to the U.S. about that time. Her last documented land transaction is recorded in 1836; her residence stated as Murray, also on the Bay of Quinte and now the city of Trenton, Northumberland County, Ontario. She would have been 84 that year.
About 1835 the entire family of David Johns moved to Marmora Township, Hastings County, Ontario, north of Trenton. It is unknown whether Susanna later moved to live with them, or stayed with family members in Trenton. We have no record of the death or burial of Susanna (Bucklin) Johns.
1. Joseph Bucklin Society Website, 2002, Notes on Joseph Bucklin, Jr.
2. Joseph Bucklin Society Website, 2002, Notes on David Bucklin
3. “While the Women Only Wept”, Janice Potter-McKinnon
4. “King’s Men, the Soldiers Founders of Ontario”, Mary Beacock Fryer, pg. 333
5. Public Archives of Canada, RG1, L-3 vol.266; File I-J Misc; Reel C-2115; 1791 District of Lunenburg; Petition of Daniel Johns, guardian to David and Solomon Johns, the only surviving heirs of the late Lt. Solomon Johns. Prays for their father’s portion of 400 acres of land to be put on footing with the rest of the 84th regiment… Matilda Twp., May 1791.
6.Marriage Record of Rev. Langhorn at St. Paul’s, Fredericksburgh
7. Bucklin Society Website, 2002, Notes on David Bucklin, DAR Index of Patriots
8. Bucklin Society Website, notes regarding Capt. Joseph Bucklin and the shooting of the Gaspee