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Joseph Acheson

Joseph ACHESON; born 1815 in Ireland and died 1901 in Ontario. Joseph married Isabella McKennit and they raised six children in the new territory of Canada West, in Perth county, Ontario.

Family reference: 11

Born Born 10 Nov 1815 Lower Langfield, County Tyrone, Ireland
Married Married 29 Dec 1845 Isabella McKennit at parish Longfield West, County Tyrone, Ireland
Died Died 28 Dec 1901 Donegal, Perth co., Ontario
Buried   Greenwood Cemetery, Milverton, Ontario

Photo Album - Family album of photos and documents.



  1. Alexander Acheson; b. 1848; d. 1897
  2. Weir Acheson; b. 1850; d. 1920
  3. Ellen Acheson; b. 1852; d. 186?
  4. Samuel James Acheson; b. 1853; d. 1926
  5. Elizabeth Acheson; b. 1854; d. unknown
  6. Arabella Bell Acheson; b. 1857; d. 1923

The Parents of Joseph

Joseph's mother is unknown at this time, his father was Weir Acheson, a tenant on 34 acres of farm land in the parish of Lower Langfield, or Longfield West in county Tyrone.

At the start of the 17th century, Hugh O'Neill of Ireland attempted to oust the cursed English from his Irish soil, with the help of the king of Spain. Hugh lost the fight against an army of 20,000 soldiers sent there by Queeen Elzabeth. As retribution, the English destroyed nearly all the homes, food and livestock of the inhabitants.

Elizabeth's nephew, King James I had plans to permanently colonize Ireland by placing English and loyal Scottish nobility as planted landowners, thus called the "Great Plantation" of 1610. As a result, Sir Archibald Acheson of Scotland came to possess a goodly portion of Ulster land in County Tyrone.

Over one hundred and seventy-five years after the first placement of Achesons into Ulster Ireland, our Great Great Great Grandfather Joseph Acheson was born in Tyrone County, in 1815. The Scottish roots still ran strong, with Joseph naming his children along the old family ties of Alexander, Weir and Elizabeth.

Joseph’s Early Years

Little is known about Joseph's early life. The family may have been relatively well-off compared to others, using the family name and connections. However, County Tyrone is a rural area of North Ireland, landlocked away fron sea harvests and very dependant on cattle, sheep and potato harvests.

Not much else is known of Joseph and the family holdings at that time. The Griffith's Land Valuation mentions several Achesons in the parish of West Longfield. Carried out between 1848 and 1864 under the direction of Sir Richard Griffith, this survey of Ireland was intended to determine the amount of tax each person should pay towards the support of the poor within their poor law union.

In the townland of Collow in the parish of West Longfield, where his father Weir had lived, Joseph and his brother Alexander were land renters from Thomas Auchinleck, a landowner. There was a Thomas Auchinleck of Tyrone county who was the High Sherriff of County Tyrone in 1872 and was a captain of the Tyrone Fusiliers. He lived at Crevenagh House in County Omagh.

Together, the two brothers leased 98 acres of land with a dwelling and likely a stable and their own tenant. That amount of land was sizable back then and the two brothers would have been considered 'large farmers', each paying some £13 annually. A Bernard McAree also rented a house and garden plot from them for ten shillings, it covering only 30 perches in area, or about 900 square yards.

During the Griffith Valuation, there were other Achesons living in the same parish: Sarah and Jane Acheson in townland Lackagh, George Acheson in townland Drumscra (laso renting from Thomas Auchinleck), Charles Acheson in townland Drumowen and William Acheson in townland Clunahill Glebe.

Joseph and Isabella

Starting in Ireland

Joseph Acheson

Both Joseph and Isabella were born and raised in County Tyrone over in Ireland in the early 1800's. She was six years the younger, having been born in 1821, and passed away in Donegal, Perth county in Ontario at the age of 66, in 18871.

They married in late 1845 and presumably set up a homestead in Tyrone county with Joseph likely as a tenant farmer raising what he could: potatos, cattle or sheep.

That autumn was the start of a major disaster for the Irish island. A blight on the potato crops, lasting for three years, caused widespread starvation of families, loses of farmland and rising desertion of the countryside. Those that could, would emmigrate across the Atlantic to save their families.

Off to the Big Apple

first night The Achesons had emigrated from Ireland to the United States by 1848, since their first (known) child, Alexander, was born in New York City in November of that year.

The incoming Irish arrivals faced a gauntlet of con men upon disembarkation. Immediately upon arrival in New York harbour, they were met by Irishmen known as 'runners' speaking in Gaelic and promising to 'help' their fellow countrymen. Many of the new arrivals, quite frightened at the mere prospect of America, gladly accepted. Those who hesitated were usually bullied into submission. The runner's first con was to suggest a good place to stay in New York; a boarding house operated by a friend, supposedly with good meals and comfortable rooms at very affordable rates, including free storage of any luggage.

The boarding houses were actually filthy hell-holes in lower Manhattan. Instead of comfortable rooms, the confused arrivals were shoved into vermin-infested hovels with eight or ten other unfortunate souls, at prices three or four times higher than what they had been told. They remained as 'boarders' until their money ran out at which time their luggage was confiscated for back-rent and they were tossed out into the streets, homeless and penniless.

Irish dwelling in NYC The penniless Irish who remained in Manhattan stayed crowded together close to the docks where they sought work as unskilled dock workers. They found cheap housing wherever they could, with many families living in musty cellars. Abandoned houses near the waterfront that once belonged to wealthy merchants were converted into crowded tenements. Shoddy wooded tenements also sprang up overnight in yards and back alleys to be rented out room by room at high prices. Similar to Boston, New York experienced a high rate of infant mortality and a dramatic rise in crime as men and boys cooped-up in squalid shanties let off steam by drinking and getting in fights.

The number in Joseph and Isabella's family went up and down with their moves to various areas. As bride and groom they had emigrated to New York after their marriage in Ireland in 1845, carrying the Family Bible presented to Isabella (McKennit) as a prenuptial gift from a Mary T. Miller on January 1, 1844. By the time the young couple left New York, their first son's birth was recorded in that Bible: Alexander in 18481.

Return to the Irish Homestead

Why Joseph Acheson returned to his home parish, Lower Langfield, in northern Ireland is not known; perhaps for an inheritance as the Achesons always seemed to have money for education (Alexander, when married with two tots, went back to school for at least three years). He may have been summoned home; his father Weir died two years later in 1854. More likely, the farmer Joseph Acheson from rural Tyrone County was disillusioned with the hustle of the big American city.

While back in Ireland, the couple had one another son, Weir and three daughters, Ellen, Elizabeth and Arabella, and one more son, Samuel; and that was the last time all the family was together.

Final Voyage to Canada

By the time the Achesons left for Canada in 1863 Ellen had died and Elizabeth, only nine, for some strange reason, possibly concern for her health on such a voyage, was left in Ireland. Elizabeth married Thomas Phillips in 1878, a widower and innkeeper. Her marriage registry image is in the family photo album. So our great grandperents arrived in Canada with only four of their six children1.

By the mid-1800's, Canada was promoting the immigration of farming families from overseas, particularly from the British Iles. Even the Irish were welcomed to help open up new farming communities in central Ontario.

For the first winter the Achesons lived with the Buchanans who had come to Canada in 1847. Tombstones in Donegal cemetery show inter-marriages between these two prominent Ontario families.

When the Achesons moved from the Buchanan home, it was to a rented farm (Joseph first rented Con. 7, Lot 29; then Con. 10, Lot 28, both in Elma township), but Perth county census indicates that sometime in the later 1870's, Joseph Acheson went from a tenant to being a freeholder, having purchased a one-hundred acre farm near Donegal, on Con. 9, Lot 35, Elma township.

He moved no more, but now his children, except his youngest son Samuel, were restless and on the move1.

The Final Years for Joseph

Joseph passed away at the age of 85. He and Isabella are buried together at the Greenwood cemetery in Milverton, Perth county in Ontario1.


Notes on the Children 1

  • Alexander Acheson; b. 1848 at New York
  • Weir Acheson; b. 1850 at Lower Langfield, Ireland.
  • Ellen; b. 4 March 1852 at Lower Langfield, Ireland; baptized 27 June 1852 at Lower Langfield, Ireland; d. 23 Jan 1861 in Ireland, at the age of eight1, before her parents left for Canada
  • Elizabeth; b. 28 April 1854 at Lower Langfield, Ireland; baptized 30 July 1854 at Lower Langfield, Ireland; married Thomas Phillips in 1878, a widower and innkeeper
  • Samuel James Acheson; b. Ireland
  • Arabella; b. 5 August 1857 at Lower Langfield, Ireland; d. Sept 1923 at Redlands, California; m. 23 Jan 1883 to John McKennit at Manitoba. xc No children.

Notes from the Ulster Historical Society (Ireland), obtained by Gert [Webber] Lawrie about 1986-88:

We began our search with a check for the name of Acheson in the Tithe Applotment Book for the parish of Lower Longfield (sic), also known as Longfield West, in County Tyrone. The Tithe Applotment Books for each parish recorded the names of each occupier of a holding and the titheable value of that holding.

A check of the Griffiths Valuation of 1860 which recorded occupiers in the parish in that year showed the only entries in the townland of Collow (sic) as being for Joseph Acheson and Alexander Acheson (sic) who lived in separate dwellings on one property. The third part of the property was leased by Joseph and Alexander Acheson to a Bernard McAree. With the knowledge of the death of Wier Acheson in 1854 it was assumed that the two occupants Joseph and Alexander Acheson were the sons of Wier.

Our assumption was confirmed when a search was made of the available baptismal and marriage records of the Presbyterian meeting house in the parish of Lower Longfield, namely Drumquin Presbyterian Church. The marriage was recorded, 5 June 1860, of Alexander Atcheson (sic) of Collaugh (sic) and Anne Atcheson (sic), also of Collaugh. Alexander was recorded as being a farmer. His father was given as Weir (sic) Atcheson of Collaugh, also a farmer, and her father was Samuel Atcheson who was a farmer from Lackaugh (sic).

It cannot be overlooked here that Alexander and Anne were possibly cousins due to their respective fathers Wier and Samuel being possibly brothers. The marriage certificate showed that both spouses signed their own names "Acheson" (sic).

The Griffiths Valuation of 1860 had no entry for Samuel Atcheson and the only two entries for that particular townland were Sarah Acheson and Jane Acheson, one of them most likely being his widow, or possibly an unmarried daughter.

... missing paragraphs ...

... full age, therefore they were over 21 years old at the time of marriage.

There were several other Achesons recorded in the parish of Lower Longfield in the Griffiths Valuation of 1860 including Charles Acheson of the townland of Drumowen, William Acheson of Clunahill Glebe and George Acheson of Drumscra.

The name Buchanan appeared several times in the Tithe Applotment Book for the parish of Lower Longfield in 1826. There were Buchanans who lived in the same town lands as Achesons; Lackagh in 1826 and Drumowen and Lackagh in the Griffiths Valuation of 1860. It was noticed that one of the two commissioners for the composition of tithes within the parish in 1826 was a James Buchanan, possibly the one recorded in the townland of Lackagh. One can only speculate as to whether or not he was the James Buchanan who was living in New York at the time Joseph and Isabella journeyed there 20 years later.

The fate of the mysterious Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph and Isabella, who apparently never left Ireland proved to be the most puzzling aspect of this search. At our request our Dublin-based searcher checked the civil marriage records in Dublin for female Acheson marriages in the 1870s. We received the enclosed copy of the marriage record for Elizabeth Atcheson (sic) of Lackaugh (sic), parish of Longfield, Co. Tyrone. On 22 January 1878 she married a widower, Thomas Phillips son of Samuel Phillips of Drumquin in the Meeting House of Drumquin. However she was the daughter of Weir (sic) Atcheson according to the record and not Joseph. We cannot be sure if the Weir Atcheson recorded here as her father is the Weir Acheson, father of Joseph, Alexander and Margaret.

It is quite possible also that this Weir Atcheson is a previously unknown brother to Joseph Acheson and Margaret, therefore another son of Weir Acheson. The fact that this marriage took place nearly 20 years after the last known marriage of a child of Weir Atcheson might lend more credence to the latter theory.

However, more confusion is added by the fact that the Elizabeth recorded here married an innkeeper and according to family belief Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph and Isabella was said to have run a hotel. Could this Elizabeth, therefore, actually be the daughter of Joseph, notwithstanding that her father is given as Weir Atcheson in the marriage record or is she indeed the daughter of Weir Atcheson, senior or junior? One can only speculate but perhaps this additional information might correlate with some other piece of family legend previously believed to have no relevance.

We were unable to go any further back than our 1826 entry for Weir Acheson and thus no connection could be made with the Achesons, Earls of Gosford. Time has prevented us from making an in-depth search into that particular line of the family but if you feel you would like us to continue our search with regard to a possible link with the Earls of Gosford we would be happy to do so.

Canada Census of 1861

The Acheson family does not appear in Elma twp., Perth co. for the 1861 census.

Canada Census of 1871 2

Name Status Gender Ethnic Origin Age Occupation Religion
ACHESON Joseph married male Irish 55 Farmer C. Presbyterian
Isabella married female Irish 50   C. Presbyterian
Alexander single male Irish 22   C. Presbyterian
Weir single male Irish 20   C. Presbyterian
Samuel single male Irish 14   C. Presbyterian
Anabelle single female Irish 13   C. Presbyterian
- Canada 1871 Census for Elma, County Perth North, Ontario, District 030, Subdistrict e; microfilm #C-9941.

Canada Census of 1881 2

Name Status Gender Ethnic Origin Age Birthplace Occupation Religion
ACHESON Joseph married male Irish 60 Ireland farmer C. Presbyterian
Isabella married female Irish 55 Ireland   C. Presbyterian
Samuel single male Irish 22 Ireland farmer C. Presbyterian
Isabella single female Irish 21 Ireland   C. Presbyterian
- Canada 1881 Census for Elma, County Perth North, Ontario, District 172, Subdistrict E, Division 2, LDS Family History Library film #1375907.

Canada Census of 1891 2

Name Gender Age Status Relation Born Fathers Birth Mothers Birth Religion Occupation
ACHESON Samuel male 34 married head Ire Ire Ire Pres Farmer
Ellen E. female 27 married wife US Eng Eng Pres  
Samuel G. male 6 single son Ont Ire US Pres  
Lucy A. female   single daughter Ont Ire US Pres  
Wm. J. male 11 m single son Ont Ire US Pres  
Joseph male 70 widowed father Ire Ire Ire Pres  
- Canada 1891 Census for Elma, County Perth North, Ontario, District 107, Subdistrict b, Division 2, microfilm T-6362, LDS Family History Library film #1465787.

Noted: in the next household lived John (26) and Sarah (22) Acheson, likely a grandson of the elder Joseph Acheson.

Canada Census of 1901 2

Name Gender Age Status Relation Born Birthdate Naturalized Religion Occupation
ATCHESON James male 45 married head Ire 9 Aug 1853 1860 Pres farmer
Ellen E. female 38 married wife US 21 May 1862 1882 Pres  
George male 16 single son US 11 July 1884   Pres farmer's son
Norman male 12 single son US 16 Apr 1888   Pres  
Joseph male 10 single son US 16 Jan 1890   Pres  
Weir male 5 single son US 31 May 1895   Pres  
Winnie female 3 single daughter US 26 May 1897   Pres  
Joseph male 85 widowed father Ire 10 Nov 1815 1860 Pres  
- Canada 1901 Census for Elma, County Perth North, Ontario, District 104, Subdistrict b, microfilm T-6490, LDS Family History Library film #1843572.

Noted: The census uses the 'Atcheson' surname spelling. Also, the head of the household is 'James' and not 'Samuel'. Since the other family names and the dates are a reasonable match, this is the correct family.


  1. "Who's That Sitting in our Family Tree?", by Gert [Webber] Lawrie; private publication 1988; history and stories of Canadian families of Webber, Acheson, Miller and Henry
  2. The Ontario GenWeb Project; for the 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 Ontario census records; with access to original images

Family Outline

Descendancy Chart for JosephAcheson1815
0 JosephAcheson1815
1 AlexanderAcheson1848
1 RosenfeldHamlet
2 SarahAcheson1879
2 ArabellaAcheson1857
3 SamuelAcheson1853
1 GeorgeAcheson1884
2 JosephAcheson1890
3 NormanAcheson1888
4 WeirAcheson1850

-- JimBenedict - 30 Mar 2006
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I Attachment sort Action Size Date Who Comment
Joseph.gif manage 21.3 K 25 Dec 2006 - 01:55 JimBenedict Joseph Acheson
first_night.gif manage 82.2 K 25 Dec 2006 - 00:14 JimBenedict First night in NYC
dwellingNYC.gif manage 71.2 K 25 Dec 2006 - 00:15 JimBenedict Irish dwelling in NYC

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