George Ham

George Ham was born in Lennox and Addington on Sept. 19, 1793 to John and Elizabeth Ham. John had been a member of various Loyalist Militia units during the American War of Independence. In 1913 Walter Herrington (1) wrote of John;

“at one time when in the firing line of the British forces he was struck by a bullet from the rebel army, which lodged in the calf of his leg. He limped away to the improvised field hospital and assisted the surgeon to remove it, and picking up the blood-stained missile he wiped it dry, and as a special favour requested a comrade to return it to the enemy in the same manner in which it had been forwarded to him.”

Military records show that George was a sergeant in the 1st Regiment of the Addington Militia from 1812 to 1814 and from his later trial he was a shoemaker by trade, also helping out at his father's farm.. On April 23, 1813 George married Hester Hawley. They had a son Norman George before the year was out. Hester and George were separated by the spring.

Figure 1. Separation Announcement. Kingston Gazette, June 2, 1814.

Following the War of 1812 George was a Justice of the Peace and a partner in the Farmer's Store from which he amicably resigned in the fall of 1816. Land registry records suggest he and his brother Peter purchased the Ham House lot in 1818. Certainly the advertisement for George Ham and Co makes it clear that despite being the younger of the two brothers, George was the predominate.

George and his brother continued in the militia and George was promoted from ensign to captain in 1822 while Peter was promoted to lieutenant.

In 1823 George ran in a by-election against Marshal Bidwell for the Lennox and Addington seat in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. George won by 13 votes, though the assembly was dissolved before he could take his seat. Bidwell later won the seat for Lennox and Addington and was the Speaker of the House in 1829 and 1835. Bidwell is credited with coining the term 'Family Compact' and it appears George was his primary model.

Figure 2. Election of George Ham to the 8th Parlaiment of Upper Canada. Kingston Chronicle, April 4, 1823.

In 1824 George bought Hamilton Mills south of King on Tremaine St - the largest gristmill in the Cobourg Area - and combined it with his own. In August 1825 George sold his share of Ham House to his brother Peter and bought the Stone House (W.H. Davy Store) in Bath. It seems George continued in business in the Davy Store separate from Peter. The in-laws must have noticed George's improved situation as in 1826 George's father-in-law brought a lawsuit against him for maintenance of his wife. Though George's defense team was the who's-who of Kingston, Marshal Bidwell was lodged solidly against him representing his wife and father-in-law. George lost and had to pay £2 10s.

On November 7, 1830, Hester Ham died.

Figure 3. Hester's Death. Kingston Chronicle November 13, 1830

George sold the Davy store on ??? and was certainly settled in Cobourg by the spring of 1832. In 1832 he married Affa Burnham - the youngest daughter of Zacheus Burnham. There he built a house on Factory Hill that was the talk of the town for a century. Known as 'Fox House', for William Fox purchased the property following George's death, this building is now gone.

Figure 4. Announcement from Cobourg. Kingston Chronicle April 14, 1832.

Around 1835 and repeatedly thereafter George Ham petitioned the Upper Canada Parliament not to include his lands in the incorporation of Cobourg. Despite this George was on the Cobourg Board of Police (apparently even president at one time), and the Cobourg Board of Trade. He was also a Justice of the Peace and rose in rank in the Northumberland Militia to Lt. Colonel by the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838.

On April 18, 1840, a large fire started in John Counter's warehouse on Front Street (now Ontario Street) in Kingston and eventually wiped out the blocks bound by Store (Princess), Brock, King and Front (Ontario) streets. The warehouse of McPherson and Crane was also destroyed by the fire and in it was a substantial amount of George Ham's flour. In 1841 George sued for the loss of his flour in the Newcastle Assizes under the argument that McPherson and Crane were carriers in that his flour was bound for Montreal. McPherson and Crane argued they were merely warehousemen and were not liable. George won his case and was awarded £800. In a repeat trial in 1842 the award was upheld. Of aside interest is that one of the attorneys representing McPherson and Crane was a J. A. McDonald of Kingston.

A curious entry is in Charles Dickens 'American Notes' from the section 'In Canada' where he traveled on a steamer from Toronto to Kingston in the first part of 1842;

"The time of leaving Toronto for Kingston is noon. By eight o'clock next morning the traveler is at the end of his journey, which is performed by steamboat on Lake Ontario, calling at Port Hope and Cobourg, the latter a cheerful, thriving little town. Vast quantities of flour form the chief item in the freight of these vessels. We had no fewer than one thousand and eighty barrels on board between Cobourg and Kingston."


By 1842, George controlled most of the grist mills in Cobourg. It seems he got a sideways mention by Charles Dickens.

George died suddenly on February 7, 1843. It is interesting that in his will George named Peter McGill (2nd mayor of Montreal, president of the Bank of Montreal, and member of the Legislative Councils of Lower Canada and the United Provinces), Zacheus Burnham and George's wife Affa as executors and executrix. He left his son Norman only £200. Yet it is Norman who apparently moved to Cobourg and succeeded in petitioning the court to be his executor. The courts required Norman to register the contents of George's estate as part of his duty as executor, yet unfortunately this doesn't seem to have happened. Perhaps George's wealth did not extend as far as it seemed?

There is a record of Norman Ham being granted Degree of Barrister at Law in June 1842, and could it be that Norman moved to Cobourg to attend Victoria College?


1. Walter S. Herrington, "History of the County of Lennox and "Addington", The Macmillan Company of Canada Ltd., 1913