Mary (Laughton) Webster of New York and Ontario, probably daughter of Sewell Laughton

Mary (Laughton) Webster was my great-great-grandmother, my mother's father's father's mother. When I first started working on my mother's Webster line, we knew very little about them and I didn't know of Mary's existence. Alan Lindsay of Brockville, Ontario, a relative of mine through our Landons, was a great help in getting me started on the Websters, and he was the one who first told me about her. Mary was mostly a mystery though. As time went on I found more information about her, but there are still many unanswered questions.

In the summer of 2000, some Webster cousins met in the Brockville area for a brief reunion. My husband and I and two other descendants of Mary spent part of a day in Willowbank Cemetery in nearby Gananoque, looking for her grave. The cemetery records told us that she was there, but it took us a long time to find her as her stone was in such poor shape. Here is what it looked like:

This is what the stone says:

Mary A. Laughton, wife of Asa Webster, died May 21, 1891, aged 68 yrs1

She is all alone there, though some of her daughters are buried elsewhere in Willowbank Cemetery. Her husband, Asa, lies in Brockville Cemetery next to his parents, Ephraim and Sally (Downs) Webster. Asa was their only child to survive beyond early childhood. Here is what Asa's stone says:

Asa Webster born Aug 19, 1816 died Oct 21, 18662

I was able to find Mary's death record in the Ontario death registrations.3 As indicated on her stone, she died on May 21, 1891. She was then living in Portland Township in Frontenac County, a little north of Kingston. The record states that she died of "congestion of the lungs". She was listed as a widow and her place of birth was "US". The informant was A. Orser, who was her son-in-law.

As a widow, Mary had to live with her children as she had no means of support. In the 1891 census, she was living with her daughter Emily and son-in-law Albert Orser in Portland Township, as noted above. This census was taken just a month or two before Mary's death. She listed her place of birth as the US, and her mother's as Ontario and father's as the US.4

In the 1881 and 1871 censuses, Mary was living with her daughter Mary and son-in-law Samuel Battams. In 1881 they were in Hungerford Township (in the Tweed area), in eastern Hastings County, Ontario.5 In 1871 they were in Gananoque.6

The mid 1860s must have been a difficult time for the family. Asa died on Oct. 21, 1866. He left no will. It wasn't until Nov. 7, 1868 that Mary applied for letters of adminstration for Asa's estate.7 Asa's father Ephraim died on Nov. 29 of that year. It's likely that he was not well for a time before his death, and this may be what prompted Mary to try to settle Asa's estate at that time. These records list Asa as a gentleman, but his estate was valued at only $50. Though the documents indicate that he was a resident of Gananoque and lawfully married to Mary, he died in Brockville, likely with his parents who lived there. One of the documents contained in Asa's estate file stated that, "...the family of the said deceased before, up to, and at the time of his death had their fixed place of abode at Gananoque aforesaid, but that the deceased for a period of several months before his death, spent the greater part of the time at the residence of his father Ephraim Webster in Brockville in the said County of Leeds". Asa was only 50 when he died, and may have been sick for a period before his death. Was he living with his parents so they could look after him? Or had he and Mary separated?

Asa's father Ephraim did leave a will dated Nov. 24, 1868, which was probated after his death on Nov. 29, 1868.8 His five grandchildren were all listed as heirs but the will did not mention their mother Mary at all.

At the time of the 1861 census, with Asa still alive, the family was living in the Front of Leeds Township, Leeds County, which is where Gananoque is located.9 Their children were all still at home at that point. An early 1860s map of Gananoque10 shows A. Webster living at the corner of King and Charles Streets. Unfortunately, the 1851 census for the Gananoque area has not survived.

I haven't been able to find a marriage record for Mary and Asa, but it must have taken place in the early 1840s. They had five known children, all born between about 1843 and 1852: Josephine Maria, Emily Ann, Francis Dudley, Mary Elizabeth, and Ephraim Osborne. (Francis Dudley, or Frank, was my great-grandfather.) Ephraim is a Webster name but the others are unfamiliar and may have come from Mary's family.

What do we know about Mary's background? The surname Laughton is not a common one at all in that area of Ontario. There is, however, a James Laughton buried in Willowbank Cemetery. His stone reads:

James Laughton, died Feb. 18, 1858 in the 32 year of his age11

Mary was 68 when she died in May, 1891, indicating a year of birth of 1822 or 1823. James must have been born in 1826 or 1827. They were of an age to be sister and brother, and in fact the records I found later fit with this assumption.

In the first half of the 1800s a number of head-of-household censuses and assessments were taken in that area. These listed only the head of the household by name, with typically a breakdown of the unnamed members by gender and age range. For just one year, 1839, Anne E. Laughton appeared as the head of a household in the Front of Leeds, where Gananoque is located.12 The household consisted of one male under 16 years of age and two females over 16 years of age. This had to be Mary, 16 or 17, and James, 12 or 13, with their mother, Anne. This is the only time that I have ever seen Anne's name listed in any record.

Going further back through these records, I found a single mention of a "Sewil Lotton" in the 1820 assessment and its accompanying census.13 His household consisted of one adult male and one adult female. This was one of those "lightbulb-going-off-over-the-head" moments, genealogically speaking. I had already encountered a Sewell Laughton, born to David and Ruth Laughton in Vermont in 1796. The name Sewell Laughton was uncommon enough that there was no doubt that it had to be the same man. Mary's 1891 census record stated that her father was born in the US, so that fit with Sewell Laughton of Vermont. I have not found a marriage record for Sewell and Anne, and so I don't know what Anne's maiden name was, but I think that they were married shortly before this 1820 record was taken. Mary (Laughton) Webster named a son Francis Dudley Webster. There was a Dudley family living in the same general area, and I have wondered if Anne might have come from that family. I haven't been able to find a connection, though.

Where were Sewell and Anne between 1820 and 1839? Just east of Gananoque and across the St. Lawrence River is St. Lawrence County, New York. Sewell Laughton headed a household there in the 1830 census.14 (The 1830 index on www.ancestry.com has him listed as Swal Santon, believe it or not, but the original record itself is clearly Sewal Lawton.) The household consisted of one male "of twenty and under thirty", a female "of fifteen and under twenty", a female "of five and under ten", and a male "of five and under ten". Aside from the age ranges being perhaps one column removed from the correct one for some of the inhabitants, this family fits to be Sewell, Anne, Mary and James.

By 1839, it appears that Sewell and Anne had separated, and Anne went home to Gananoque with their children. They may have divorced. Anne may have died or remarried soon after this. By 1840, Sewell was in Lenawee County, Michigan.15 He remarried there and had a number of other children.

Soon after our 2000 visit to Willowbank Cemetery, we decided to have Mary's stone repaired. Duane Esarey, another of Mary's descendants (through her son, Ephraim Osborne Webster), shared in the cost. This is the stone after the repair work was done:

The man who repaired the stone also gave it a power washing. This was not something we wanted done because of possible damage to the stone, but it did reveal some text on the stone. At the top are the words: "thy will be done". On the bottom left there is the following verse:

Joy after sorrow,
Calm after blast,
Rest after weariness,
Sweet rest at last.

This comes from a hymn called Light after Darkness by Frances Ridley Havergal. (See https://hymnary.org/text/light_after_darkness_gain_after_loss.)

I think this verse reflects some of the difficulties that her life held. Her parents appear to have had marriage problems, and she may have suffered the same. She also had a long widowhood in which she was dependent on her children.

1Ontario Genealogical Society, Leeds & Grenville Branch, publication 87-1: Willowbank Cemetery.

2Ontario Genealogical Society, Leeds & Grenville Branch, publication 97-7: Brockville Cemetery.

3Ontario Death Records 1869-1935, Registration number 004622, LDS film 1853536. (In www.ancestry.ca Ontario death index under Mary Wibster.)

4Ontario Census of 1891, Frontenac County, Portland Township, Division II, page 24.

5Ontario Census of 1881, Hastings County, Hungerford Township, Division 3, page 13.

6Ontario Census of 1871, Leeds County, Gananoque, page 72.

7Archives of Ontario, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville Surrogate Court Records, Estate Files, Microfilm reference GS 1, Reel 456.

8Archives of Ontario, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville Surrogate Court Records, Estate Files, Microfilm reference GS 1, Reel 456.

9Ontario Census of 1861, Leeds County, Front of Leeds Township, page 27.

10Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Canada West, 1861-2, Henry Francis Walling, Mika Pub., 1973.

11Ontario Genealogical Society, Leeds & Grenville Branch, publication 87-1: Willowbank Cemetery.

12Archives of Ontario, Municipal Records, Johnstown District, Leeds & Lansdowne (Front) Townships, 1839 census, Microfilm MS 2551.

13Archives of Ontario, Municipal Records, Johnstown District, Leeds & Lansdowne (Front) Townships, 1820 assessment and census, Microfilms MS 2551 and 2552.

141830 United States Federal Census, New York, St. Lawrence, Oswegatchie, Roll 107, page 235.

151840 United States Federal Census, Michigan, Lenawee, Blissfield, Roll 207, page 155.