English Paupers Migrate to North America

(Sources on the origins of the CUTTING, WATTS, BRACKENBURY and MORTER families of Elgin County, Ontario, Canada)

By Jack Morter

Providing for the poor has long been a challenge in England of the 18th and 19th century. Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 emigration had become part of the culture, in a rural population that Britain no longer wanted. the steady stream of emigrants from Norfolk to Canada, Australia, The United States and New Zealand became a vast flood of hopeful humanity as Victoria’s reign progressed, fleeing a homeland without jobs or prospects. The collapse of the agricultural economy brought about by cheap imports was not compensated by a rise in industry. Below are two entries in the Vestry Minute Book of North Walsham, Norfolk, England, 1844-1863 on how the village of North Walsham went about helping their poor.

March 20th 1851 At a meeting to consider raising or borrowing money for the emigration of the poor. Meeting adjourned to Thursday 27th instant at 11 o’clock. R.S.Baker, Chairman.

March 27th. At a Vestry to choose Parish officers. John Wortley & R.S.Baker, Churchwardens. Messrs LeNeve, Thomas Burton, Robert Martin & Clipperton, Overseers. Messrs W.Sharpe & Charles Cubitt, Surveyors. John Davidson, Samuel Bailey, Thomas Self Buck & Edward Bailey, Constables. Messrs R.C.Lacey & Drake Sewell, Assessors & Collectors. Thomas Dry, Chairman. At the adjourned meeting to assist emigration of – Stephen Cutting, wife & Family, Christmas Watts ditto, James Brackenbury ditto, Mary Ann Morter & her family. Resolved to raise the sum of £120 as a fund for defraying the expenses of the emigration of Poor persons having settlements in this Parish and being willing to emigrate to be paid out of the Rates raised or to be raised for the relief of the poor in this parish and to be applied under such Rate orders and regulations as the Poor Law Commissioners shall on that behalf direct. signed by Thomas Dry, Minister, the Churchwardens and two Overseers, and witnessed by Mr M.J. Shepheard.


Extract from Vestry Meeting March 27 1851


At a meeting held pursuant the same day March 27 it was agreed to assist in Emigrating to New York the following families


Stephen Cutting, his Wife & Family

Christmas Watts, his Wife & Family

James Brakenbury, his Wife & Family

Mary Ann Morter & her Family


Emigration                             }

Copy of Resolution               }

Raising Money                      }

Extract from next page – same date

It was resolved

That the Churchwardens and Overseers shall and they are hereby directed to raise the sum of  £ 120 as a Fund for defraying the Expenses of the Emigration of Poor Persons having settlements in this Parish and being willing to emigrate to be paid out of the Rates raised or to be raised for the Relief of the Poor in this Parish and to be applied under such rules, Orders and Regulations, as the Poor Law Commissioners shall on their behalf direct.

All the  pauper families mentioned above were in the Mar 1851 English census, North Walsham, Norfolk.

Based on Canadian census records and Ohio baptism records it is known they migrated between Apr 1851-Dec 1851. Mary Morter and her family settled in South Salem, Ross County, Ohio.

Stephen CUTTING and family settled in Middleton, Norfolk North county, Ontario and are in the 1852 census.

WATTS and BRACKENBURY / BRAKENBURY and families settled in Bayham, Elgin County, Ontario.

An exact date as to when they left England

and sailing information is unknown.  A closing note on Mary Ann MORTER who died April 1852 in South Salem, Ohio. A family story stated she was the half sister to Queen Victoria and in the 1960s a number of US papers wrote articles on the subject

I would  be glad  to discuss any of these families with interested parties. [email protected] or J. Morter, 139 Nantucket Lndg, Centerville, OH 45458-4208, USA.


In the 1861 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Canada West (Div. 2, p. 7) James Brackenbury, 54 (sic should be about 44), Labourer, born England, Church of England with wife, Sarah, 52 (sic-should be about 42), born England and children James, 21, William, 19, Mathew, 18 all born England, and Thomas, 10, born Upper Canada.

In the 1861 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Canada West (Div. 2, p. 9) is James Watts, 46, Farmer born England, Church of England with wife, Mary, 42 and Children, William, 23, Robert, 16, Eliza, 14, James, 13, John, 7, and Anna, 5 all born England and Baby, 1, born Upper Canada.

In the 1871 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Ontario (Div. 2, p. 16) James Brackenbury, 65 (index gives in error, age 45) with wife, Sarah, 64, and children, James, 31, Mathew, 27 all born England and Thomas, 19 (given as born Ontario). Also with them is a girl, Jane, 5, born Ontario. At Div. 1, p. 56 is son William, 30, (given in error as born Ontario) with wife, Rachel. At p. 8 in Vienna, Bayham is James Brackenbury, 32, labourer, (double counted ?) with wife Elizabeth, 21 and children, Ellen, 4 and Sarah, 3.

In the 1871 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Ontario (Div. 2, p. 14) James C. Watts, 54, born England, Meth, farmer, with wife, Mary, 50, and children, James, 21, Eliza, 23, all born England and John, 16, Anne, 14 and Leola, 10 born Ontario. Nearby at Div. 2, p. 15 ais William Watts, 33, Brickmaker born England with wife, Elizabeth, 23 and children, Mary, 3 and Carrol, 2/12.

In the 1881 census for Bayham Twp, Elgin, Ontario, Div. 1, p. 4, James Brakenbury, 68, born England with wife, Sarah, 67 born England, Methodists. Son William and family are nearby at Vienna.

In the 1891 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Ontario, Div. 1, p. 32, James Brackenbury, 82, born England with wife, Sarah Brackenbury, 81, born England, Methodists. Nearby at p. 20 is son Thomas, age 40 and his family.

In the 1901 census for Bayham Twp., Elgin, Ontario, Div. 1, p. 8, Sarah Brackenbury, 91, born England, Meth (born 20 Dec 1809) living with son Thomas, 50 and his family, born Ontario.

At St. Luke’s Cemetery in Bayham Twp., Elgin, Ontario are the gravestones for James C. and Mary WATTS and Jas. BRACKENBURY of North Walsham, Norfolk, England.

Mary/ wife of/ James C. WATTS/ died/ March 22nd / 1899/ in her 79th year, general debility and old age. Informant: William Watts/ (right) – James C. WATTS/ died/ March 31st l890/ in his/ 73yr 3m 6d / (below) – Natives of North Walsham/ Norfolk County England/ At rest/ Thy will be done.

Jas. BRACKENBURY/ died/ Jan. 21, 1891/ aged/ 83 years/ Dearest father thou/ hast left us/ Here thy loss we deeply feel/ But tis God that has bereft us/ He can all our sorrows heal.