The 12th in a series of posts about my family tree
Inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
Prompt: Joined Together
It was the beginning of a 60-year love match when, in June 1870, 24-year-old Henry Belton (1846-1931) of London, Ontario, wed his sweetheart, Mary-Jane Crouse (1850-1932), the 20-year-old daughter of William D. Crouse and Ruth Sumner of Delaware, Ontario.
While much of the family’s history is unknown, it’s believed they were farmers in this area originally pioneered by United Empire Loyalists following the American Revolution. In fact, Mary-Jane’s maternal grandparents, Lt. Col. Daniel Springer (Butler’s Rangers) and Ruth (Fairchild) Springer, were among the first settlers in Delaware, Ontario (ca 1794).
At present little is known of the Belton/Crouse lineage. It is one of many ongoing family inquiries. Though yet to be confirmed we believe Henry descended from of a family of Beltons who originated in Co. Wicklow, Ireland in the late 1700s and settled for a while in Pratt’s Hollow, NY. Around 1820 some of this family migrated to Middlesex Co. Ontario, around the time Rev. Samuel Belton (possibly Henry’s uncle), a key Methodist circuit preacher, began travelling the south-western Ontario circuit. The Crouses also pose many a genealogical quandary, however we believe they were part of the Dutch community of Bucks Co., Pennsylvania, before travelling north to Ontario. By contrast, Mary-Jane’s mother Ruth Sumner has a well-researched lineage going back to colonial America and beyond to deep European roots, including royalty.
With respect to Henry and Mary-Jane much of their life remains a mystery. Within the family however, it is generally believed that theirs was a loving, happy marriage that prevailed in the face of much adversity.
Above images (left to right): Henry Belton and Mary-Jane (Crouse) Belton with youngest daughter, Margaret and son, Frank; (middle) Mary Lewis Belton (my great grandmother who married Steve McDonall); (right) George and Harry Belton. Eldest son, William D. Belton, not shown.
All images: ca 1902, Escanaba, Michigan. Source: Family Archives
For the first nine years the young couple resided in Delaware. Their first child, Ann, was born April, 1871, followed by a boy, William, in 1872. Sadly, in January 1876, Ann died from severe burns at age four, just a few months before a brother, George, was born. Another boy, Nelson, joined the family in February 1878. Later that year the family, like many in their community, migrated to Michigan to build a new life. They landed at Fremont, Sanilac Co. and sadly, soon thereafter, baby Nelson died just shy of his first birthday. In 1881, Mary (my great grandmother) was born, followed by three more children: Frank (1883,) Margaret (1887,) and Harry (1889.) The family lived in Michigan for 27 years before migrating again, this time across the northern plains while participating in the construction of the Great Northern Railway. By 1913 the family had arrived in Montana and began going their separate ways. Mary and Steve McDonall moved up to Youngstown, Alberta, and that’s how we became Canadian again. Henry and Mary-Jane resided in Havre, Montana until, in 1927 and well into their 70s, they made a final move to Great Falls.
Henry and Mary Jane endured many hardships, however as people of faith they met their challenges with dignity and a quiet strength, qualities that have extended through the generations. In 1930 they celebrated their 60-year love match in Great Falls. Henry died in 1931 at age 85. Mary Jane followed him a year later, aged 82.
While Henry and Mary Jane died long before my time I’m aware of their legacy of a solid work ethic, faith, love and creativity. In his heyday Henry was an able farmer and craftsman, traits demonstrated in the lives of his sons as they too worked the farm and then helped build the Great Northern Railway.
Like most women of her time Mary-Jane was adept at needlework, a skill shared with her daughters Mary and Margaret who also proved themselves able seamstresses. Both were talented artists in other ways as well ~ Mary through music, though her opportunities to pursue these gifts, particularly the piano and organ, were somewhat curtailed by challenging life circumstances. Margaret’s artistry was evident through her natural sculptures, including apple-face dolls and a built-to-scale model wagon train which was always proudly on display and is still in the family’s possession. She sold some of her sculptures, though reluctantly because they were not made for sale, to eager buyers who saw them on display in the restaurants and lunch counters she owned and managed with her husband, Orlie Cox. Later in life she tried her hand at painting and even studied with celebrated American Western artist, Charles Russell.
A final legacy is a beautiful hand-hewn butter bowl given to Henry and Mary-Jane as a wedding gift. This humble treasure has been in the family for more than 150 years, travelling with the Beltons from Ontario to Michigan and through the northern plains to Montana. It came back to Ontario in 1987 after I inherited it from grandpa Stan’s estate. My intention is to ensure this remains with the family for generations to come.
And finally, in the spirit of joining together, I would like to acknowledge with love and gratitude the contributions of my mother, Lois Jeanette McDonall, and our cousin, Kelly McDonall, to the research behind these posts. Their willingness to join me in shedding light on the family tree makes the climb all the more enjoyable and meaningful. ❦
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