Jack Ellsworth & Noah Whidby
At one point or another in the lives of most people, they are asked the question, “If you could bring back someone from the dead and meet him/her, who would it be?” After a year of researching the history of Cornwall, these two men would be at the top of my list. They seemed to have had quite the reputations to say the least. Very little is known about their lives, perhaps this is why they are so intriguing to me. We’ll start with Noah Whidby.
The first time I came across Noah Whidby’s name was during my first week of research for this project. I was reading Frank MacArthur’s book, The Old Cornwall and the New 1799-1964, when I discovered that Noah Whidby owned a tavern in Cornwall. Right away I was intrigued, what kind of person would have operated a tavern in the mid nineteenth century? I am certain tavern owners would have had a “certain kind of reputation.” On top of that, his tavern was called, “Noah’s Ark:” I thought that was quite clever.
The second reference I found regarding Noah Whidby was a rather scandalous one. Noah Whidby had taken to a court one, Mr. James Kellow Junior. The Kellow family was a well-respected one in the community, and the reasons behind this court order are quite surprising. The following court case record can be located at the Island Register website as well as the Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island.
"Noah Whidby of Township Number Thirty two in Prince Edward Island, Farmer, and Clara Whidby spinster his daughter residing with him, aged nineteen years severally make oath and say; and first this deponent Noah Whidby for himself saith that his said daughter is now pregnant with child, and she states to deponent, and he believes the same to be true, that she expects to be delivered of the child early in the month of July next. And this deponent further saith that his said Daughter hath also informed him and he believes the same to be true, that one James Kellow the younger of the Township aforesaid is the Father of the said Child; and deponent saith that he has heard and believes that the said James Kellow is about to depart from this Island, and that he is a person of no visible Property, and that he intends to bring an action against the said James Kellow for so seducing and debauching this deponent's said daughter as aforesaid, if he shall be permitted to hold the said James Kellow to special Bail for damages in such action; and this deponent Clara Whidby for herself saith that the said James Kellow, Junior is the Father of the child wherewith she is now pregnant as aforesaid and that she is a single woman entirely depending on her Parents for her maintenance and support, and living with them.
Sworn by the said Deponents
Noah Whidby and Clara Whidby
this 22nd April 1843
T. H. Haviland
Noah Whidby his mark
Let the within named James Kellow junr. be held to Bail on the within Affadavit on an Action at the suit of Noah Whidby, a Deponent therein named, for the cause of action in the said Affadavit mentioned, in the sum of Twenty Pounds Currency. Given under my hand this 22nd April 1843.
T. H. Haviland"29
One can only imagine the controversy and scandal this allegation would have caused within the community. Unfortunately I was unable to locate any follow-up information regarding this court case, nor was I able to find any record of Clara Whidby or her child. There is also no record of any children of James Kellow other than those of he and his wife, Euphemia J. MacDonald.30
A land conveyance dating May 2, 1836, proves that Noah Whidby had acquired land in Cornwall. He had purchased a section of land from William Wilson, who owned 200 acres surrounding the area in the centre of the village where the Tryon Road meets the Ferry Road and the Cornwall Road. The large piece of land continued south until it hit the West River.31 From 1859-1861, Tavern, Store and Distiller’s License records indicate that Noah Whidby registered in Lot 31, West River.32 It is possible that Noah later moved to a neighboring community.
Later the same year he purchased land from William Wilson, Noah Whitdby was arrested on assault and battery. An article in the Royal Gazette dated September 13, 1836, stated the following:
Assault and Battery Court – The King v. Noah Whitby, of the Elliot River Road, for an assault on Thomas French of the same place – Defendant convicted and fined Ten Shillings, with costs; and in default of payment to be imprisoned fourteen days.33
Interestingly, Thomas French was married to a sister of James Kellow Jr.
What kind of man was Noah Whidby? Was his misfortune due to unforeseen circumstances? Bad luck? Bad timing? Or was Mr. Whidby simply a man of manipulation or deceit? Was he shunned by the rest of the community? By no means I do not reveal this information in order to defame one of the early settlers of our area, but to reveal how different life circumstances where one hundred and fifty years ago.
John (Jack) Ellsworth lived at later time. He was a life-long bachelor, and as Louis MacDonald put it, “was noted for miles about the tricks he did.”34 According to Louis, Jack lived to be 99 years old. The 1901 census recorded John Ellsworth as being 24 years of age. He was a Roman Catholic of Irish descent and worked as a cheese-maker. The census also lists his date of birth as October 14, 1876.35 The rest of the information I’ve accumulated about Jack Ellsworth has been through stories, mostly all from Louis MacDonald’s interviews with Dutch Thompson. Some of the senior residents have memories of Jack Ellsworth. Referred to as “comical” and “quite the character,36” Jack was known to be a cheat at cards, he always had the ace of hearts!37
The following stories have been taken from Dutch Thompson’s interviews with Louis MacDonald. (Abbreviations: DT = Dutch Thompson, LM = Louis MacDonald)
Introducing… Jack Ellsworth!
L.M. – “Jack Ellsworth, he drank more liquor than that float a boat, but was like a cat, oh! A legend and ah”
D.T. – “And he was from down here as well was he?”
LM – “Oh yeah, he was the cheese maker. He lived on the Ferry Road, he lived to be 99. And ah he was. Why they’d ever ask Jack Ellsworth with his reputation, but Harold or Gar one of the Dockendorff’s had a sore back and he asked Jack to rub turpentine on it and why he’d ever do that I don’t know, but he was lying on his belly and ah with his shirt up and ah, Jack of course pulled down the pants and poured the turpentine where he figured it would do the most good, and jumped, and Dockendorff jumped and they went down around the York Point school up the shore, Jack was running for his life.”
D.T. – “Because because he had poured the turpentine on the …
LM – “Oh the fella… every jump it was hurting more and Dockendorff was running, Jack could run like a fox, but he was running for his life”
D.T. – (Laughs) “Cause he poured the turpentine on the fella’s rear-end”
LM – “Yeah, well why that man’d ask Jack Ellsworth, because he was noted for miles about the tricks he did.”38
LM – “Jack was down swimming at York Point and ah you know just at secluded beach and he didn’t have a bathing suit so he went in and two girls came along and they knew that Jack didn’t have a bathing suit and they sat down by his clothes. Jack stayed so long and then he told them he said ‘I’m coming ashore’ (laughing) and he would you know! He said ‘please yourselves but I’m going in’”
DT – “And what happened?”
LM – “Oh I guess he went in.”39
LM – “Oh then there was Angus MacDonald down there, as a youngster, no relation but he had gangrene and I guess it wasn’t too pleasant he died I think in 1917 and I went down with my parents as a youngster and I remember him in bed. Well the uh a neighbors dressed, washed the body and dressed it up, all the undertaker did was put it in the coffin, so of course with a little fortification Jack could do anything, and he was the only one would prepare the body with gangrene”
DT – “And he was the cheese maker too”
LM – “Yeah and ah Angus was terribly crippled with rheumatism I guess so Jack had to tie his you know down to the board with cords the oh he was no-one had a good word for him see he’d tell ya well I”ll tell ya he used to take the milk up to the cheese factory and then go up and get the paper at the store and he met this great big fat man on the road he ‘and who are you’ he said ‘Oh I’m the new teacher sir’ you know very polite, ‘well’ he said ‘you gotta do one of three things’ ‘and what’s that sir?’ ‘eat less, shit more or die’ (Dutch laughs) so you know no-one had a good word for him but at the wake you know they were ‘oh he’s at rest’ the women, and Jack thought that was pretty phony, so he edged over to the casket and he cut the ropes and Jack told me himself there was a kind of a gush of air ‘ugh’ and the corpse sat up well the doors came off the hinge, they didn’t go in again.”
DT – “Everyone runnin’ out”
LM – “Of course Jack had to do the thing all over again, but it was worth it” (Dutch laughing)40
LM – “Then in at Brighton there my brother er.. built a house in there but theres the old armory but there was the poor house. Down near the shore, the poor house see and it was abandoned and there was kind of a renegades in York Point and Jack and this fella were coming out and they went into, at night, into the vacant poor house and this fella suggested they set fire to it, so Jack said ‘sure it’d be a great idea’ and he kinda sneaked away in the dark and then he came back moaning and groanin’ the other fella he didn’t stop to set fire to it he over the wall”
DT – “He thought it was a ghost”41