Robert Gordon Kilpatrick (1851-1929)

Robert Gordon Kilpatrick was born on the 23rd December 1851, at the town of Prescott in Grenville County, Ontario. Just four years before, his family had completed a harrowing sail across the Atlantic, fleeing the Irish famine and losing three family members en route. Robert was the seventh, and last, child of Samuel Kilpatrick (c1803-1894) and Jane McCay (c1806-1886). Robert was also the only child born to Samuel and Jane in Canada, his siblings having been born and raised in Lislea townland, parish of Kilrea, county Londonderry. Finally, Robert was the sole surviving son: his namesake, Robert, was born in Ireland in 1835, but had died at the age of five years. His two other brothers, Willie John and Adam, had perished as wee infants during the family's flight from Ireland.

We can only imagine Jane's and Samuel's feelings in early 1851 when it became evident that they could anticipate the arrival of the new wean by year's end. Jane was well into her mid-forties, and she'd lost two small children and her sister, Margaret McCay, on the voyage to Québec. They'd had four years to adjust to the new conditions of life in the northern reaches of Upper Canada, and were sensing that a state of equanimity was in the offing. Jane and Samuel probably felt disbelief, joy, anxiety, and a myriad of other, conflicting emotions. One wonders, also, whether a burden of great expectations might have been lurking, however unwittingly, to be visited upon the new child, the only surviving son.

When Robert Gordon was born, his father was forty-eight years old and working as a labourer. Three sisters still lived at home: Mary (1837-1887), Saragh Jane (1839-1901), and Margaret (1842-c1871). The family lived in a small, wood frame house on the north side of James Street in Prescott, halfway between Centre and Edward streets. Their next door neighbours were, to the west, William Robinson, a carpenter from England, and to the east, Mrs. (Ann) McDonell or McDonald.

The family lived around the corner from the church that they attended, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which stands at the intersection of Dibble and Centre streets. The church had just been rebuilt as a stone structure to replace the small, twenty-eight-year-old frame church. An elegant stone building with a large arched gateway, called Grenville College, graced the property across the street from the Kilpatricks' humble house.

In the late 1850s, young Robert would have received only an elementary education at one of the six Common Schools in the town: John Dempsey's school, Will Speller's, Joseph Dickey's, Richard Ballard's, Mary Kelly's, or Caroline Foster's. These schools probably taught only the rudimentary levels of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and children would have attended for just three to five years.

In 1858, Robert's sister, Mary, married a county Antrim man, Archibald McLister. Two sons were born in Canada, Robert and William John, before Archie and Mary removed to Summit County in Ohio in the early 1860s.

In 1866, his sister, Margaret, married a county Down man, David Ferguson, who was living in Augusta township. Sadly, Margaret had died by the time the 1871 census was enumerated, within five years of her marriage. As was the case for so many young women in the nineteenth century, complications of childbirth was the likely culprit (though, to date, no record has been found of a child born to the marriage).

The 1871 census recorded Robert as a Clerk which, in those days, meant working as a writer in a legal firm, a bookkeeper in accountancy, or a shop sales clerk. By 1881, Robert was recorded as a "taylor;" in fact, he was enumerated as a tailor's cutter in subsequent censuses. Other tailors in the town included Miles Burns, an Irishman aged sixty-five; Albert Davis, a 47-year-old merchant taylor from the States, and his brother, George; William H. Dunn, merchant taylor, a young man of Robert's age; John Smith, another American, of middle years; Gordon Allan, a Scotsman; David Barr; John Goligher, an older Irishman; and, Joseph Haynen, a merchant tailor from Ireland. George and Albert Davis were natives of Pelham, Massachusetts, and traded as clothing dealers in Prescott. Joseph Haynen, an Irishman from county Down, also ran an extensive tailoring business in Prescott. William H. Dunn had a workshop and retail outlet in a stone house in the midde of town, and even served as mayor of Prescott for a couple of years in the 1870s. Thus, there were several, good opportunities in Prescott where Robert might have learnt his trade.

tailor s tape for cutter a

Source: "Gradually marked tailor's measure," Government Printing Office, The Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1895). Courtesy the private collection of Roy Winkelman.
Online at (accessed 2014-09-13).

Sometime after 1881, Robert moved to Port Hope, Ontario. There, Robert Gordon Kilpatrick and Sarah Selina Huggins were married by the Rev. S.H. Eastman, Presbyterian minister of St. Andrew's Church in Oshawa, on the 30th August 1883. Witnesses included Thomas Wallace, of Oshawa, and Catherine Huggins, Sarah's sister.

From this point, Robert Gordon and Sarah Selina commenced a rather frenetic tour, consisting of one- to three-year sojourns in cities across central Canada and the western provinces. This can be demonstrated by showing the years and places of the births of their children, interleaved with other family events and census data:

  • 1884 - Port Hope, Ontario - Birth of Margaret Jane.
  • 1885 - Peterborough, Ontario - Birth of Albert Samuel.
  • 1886 - St Thomas, Ontario - Death of Robert Gordon's mother, recorded in the archives of St Thomas Cemetery Company as having occurred at Robert's house in that city.
  • 1887 - Winnipeg, Manitoba - Death of Albert Samuel, and birth of Robert Edwin.
  • 1890 - Brandon, Manitoba - Birth of Stephen Douglas.
  • 1891 - Victoria, British Columbia - 1891 census.
  • 1892 - Toronto, Ontario - Birth of John Stuart.
  • 1894 - Toronto? - Birth of Catheline (birth not registered).
  • 1896 - Toronto - Birth of Alfred William (registered by his older sister, Maggie, who was but twelve-years-old).

Whatever the reasons behind these moves, the course of the family's next few decades appears to have been more settled in Toronto. Whatever peace and quiet they enjoyed was marred, however, by three traumatic events, the second of which was shared with many other families, worldwide.

First was the death of their eldest daughter, Margaret Jane, in 1911. In November 1910, Margaret had gone to New York City to marry William Hughes Jones. While there, she bore their child, Sarah Bernice Jones, in January, 1911. In November 1911, the baby died of acute meningitis, and a scant seven weeks later, Margaret succumbed to tuberculosis. Both deaths occurred at the family home, at 269 Berkeley street in Toronto.

Next came the Great War. Two of Sarah Selina's three surviving sons enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force: John Stuart, and Alf. Understandably, their mother had fits over these enlistments, in particular, because Alf had signed up under age. Imagine her state of mind, then, when Alf was taken prisoner! To her great relief, both of Sarah's sons returned home, more or less intact.

By 1921, Robert Gordon was an inmate of the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. As to why, the reasons are lost to history. The family (unless there were a select few who knew otherwise) were told that Robert Gordon had died.

During the last few months of her life, Sarah Selina lived with her son, John Stuart, and his wife, May, at 103 Jones Avenue in Toronto. On the 28th February 1928, Sarah Selina Kilpatrick née Huggins died of a cerebral haemorrhage. She was buried in Mount Pleasant cemetery.

My mother remembered the day that word came by letter, about a year later, that Robert Gordon had died in the hospital at Whitby. She said that everyone was dumbstruck, as they'd all understood that the poor man had died nearly ten years earlier.

Whatever his travails, and because of them, may the soul of Robert Gordon Kilpatrick rest in peace.


  • Baptismal record in the church register of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Prescott, for the baptism of Robert Gordon Kilpatrick; source: B. Arnold, Archives Technician, Presbyterian Church in Canada (31 May 2011).
  • Canada 1851 census; Prescott, Grenville County, Ontario; enumeration district no. 12, sub-district no. 105; original records: Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, microfilm C-11724, page 37, line 18; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2011-05-25, by subscription).
  • Canada 1861 Census, Prescott, Grenville County, Canada West; Enumeration District no. 2, East Ward; original records: Canada, “Census returns for 1861,” LAC microfilm C-1026, page 30; records held by Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; digitised records held by (accessed 2011-05-25, by subscription).
  • Canada 1891 Census; Johnson Street Ward, District no. 4: Victoria City (British Columbia), family no. 30, schedule no. 1, pg. 5;  original records: Statistics Canada fonds, microfilm reels T-6920 to T-6427, held by Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2011-04-14, by subscription.)
  • Canada 1901 Census, ref. district 117, Toronto City East, sub-district B-25, ward 2; original records: National Archives of Canada, microfilm reel T-6498, pg. 8; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2003, by subscription).
  • Canada 1921 Census, Ontario East, district no. 109, sub-district no. 46, Whitby Town - Insane Asylum, page 15; original records: Statistics Canada, series RG 31, held by Library and Archives Canada, Sixth Census of Canada, 1921, Ottawa; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2013-12-22, by subscription).
  • Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, Attestation Paper no. 113340, dated 31 July 1915; original record: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5150-29, item no. 499174, held by Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; online at (accessed 2004-11-03).
  • Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, Attestation Paper for John Stuart Kilpatrick, no. 769998, dated 10 January 1916; original record: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5150-59, item no. 499204, held by Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; online at (accessed 2004-11-03).
  • Civil registration of death (Ontario), file no. 1929-05026/38, for Robert Kilpatrick, 30 January 1929, age 75 years, born at Prescott, occupation: Salesman, dry goods, name of parents not recorded, cause of death: broncho-pneumonia, father's birthplace and mother's birthplace not recorded, informant: Mrs. Sarah Kilpatrick*; cemetery: Necropic, Toronto; information extracted for genealogy, 6 July 1979, by N.A. Vetere, Deputy Registrar General, Office of the Registrar General, Toronto, to Ross Stuart Kilpatrick (1934-2012). *This is an odd feature of this death certificate, as Sarah had died the year before!  The actual certificate contains the following, additional information: male, Canadian, married, born in Canada [Prescott not mentioned] in 1853; length of residence: 9 yrs. 2 dys.; physician: Dr. W.D. Montgomery, Ontario Hospital, Whitby; name of informant: Mrs. Sarah Kilpatrick, 140 Leslie St., Toronto, wife; date of burial: Feb. 1, 1929; Mathews Burial Co., undertaker; physician attended from Nov. 1923 to Jan. 30/29; primary cause of death - senile changes; contributory: broncho-pneumonia.
  • Civil registration of death (Ontario), file no. 002239; death of Sarah Kilpatrick, 28 February 1928, at 103 Jones Ave., Toronto, County of York; informant: Robert Kilpatrick, son, 42 Haslett Ave.; cause of death: primary-cerebral haemorrhage, sudden; contributory-a previous haemorrhage, 3 mos.; physician, E.R. Hastings, 791 Queen E.; buried at Mount Pleasant cemetery, Washington & Johnston, undertakers; parents’ names given as Samuel Huggins, b. England, and -- McLister, b. England [sic]; original records: Ontario Archives, Toronto; transcript obtained from the Office of the Registrar General for Ontario by Kathryn Steel, Sutton, Ontario (1979-07-20); digitised records hosted by (accessed 2008-06-29, by subscription). Information extracted for genealogy, 20 July 1979, by N.A. Vetere, Deputy Registrar General, Office of the Registrar General, Toronto, to Kathryn Steel, Sutton, Ontario.
  • Civil registration of death, Ontario, file no. 096228; death of Sarah Bernice Jones, 8 November 1911, at 269 Berkeley street, Toronto, County of York; cause of death: primary-acute meningitis, 10 days; secondary-cardiac paralysis, 2 days; physician, R.C. Coatsworth, 296 Parliament street; original records: Archives of Ontario; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2008-06-23).
  • Civil registration of death, Ontario, file no. 096994; death registered under the name, Margaret Jane Jones; died on 23rd December 1911, at 269 Berkeley street, Toronto, County of York; cause of death: pulmonary tuberculosis, 4 months; physician, W.B. Thistle, 171 College street; original records: Archives of Ontario; digitised records hosted by (accessed 2008-06-23).
  • Civil registration of marriage (Ontario), file no. 008889; Robert Gordon Kilpatrick and Sarah Selina Huggins married 30th August 1883 by the Rev. S.H. Eastman in Oshawa, Ontario; witnesses: Thos. Wallace, of Oshawa, and Catharine Higgins [sic]; original records: Archives of Ontario; photocopy obtained from the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah (2004-02-12). Finding the marriage certificate for Robert Gordon Kilpatrick and Sarah Selina Huggins proved very difficult because his surname was registered as Kirkpatrick and hers, as Higgins.
  • County Marriage Registers of Ontario, Canada, compiled and edited by Elizabeth Hanocks, C.G. (Agincourt, Ontario: Generation Press, Inc., 1987), vol. xx, Leeds & Grenville.
  • Death indexes, Province of Manitoba, registration no. 1887,002310; online at (accessed 2004-03-16).
  • History of Pelham, Mass., from 1738 to 1898, by Charles Oscar Parmenter (Pelham: Press of Carpenter & Morehouse, 1898).
  • Interview with Dorothy May Causton née Kilpatrick (1922-2003) [2001].
  • Kilpatrick family bible, inscribed by Samuel and Jane Kilpatrick, recorded the deaths of their two young sons and of Jane's sister in the fall of 1847; bible held by the late Ross Stuart Kilpatrick (1934-2012).
  • Morrises' History of Prescott, 1800-2000, by John A.H. Morris (Prescott, Ontario: St. Lawrence Printing Company Ltd., 2001).
  • New York, NY, Marriage Indexes, 1866-1937; date of marriage for Margaret Jane Kilpatrick and William H Jones: 15 November 1910, place: Manhattan, New York, certificate no. 25764; original records: Index to New York City Marriages, 1866-1937, prepared by the Italian Group and the German Genealogy Group, and used with the permission of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives; digitised index hosted by (accessed 2014-09-10). Certificate ordered, 2014-09-10.
  • "Salvaging a piece of history," by Gillian Magnan, The Ottawa Citizen, 11 August 2011.
  • St. Paul's Presbyerian Church, Peterborough, Ontario; letter dated 29 February 1880, from C. James, church secretary, to Kathryn Steel, Sutton, Ontario.
  • St. Thomas Cemetery Company, e-mail from Lesley Cairns to A. Kilpatrick, 16 March 2004.
  • The Prescott Journal newspaper, 6 October 1927; Death notice for Joseph Haynen (1840-1927); transcribed by Phyllis Haynen, and posted to the HAYNEN-L mailing list 21 July 2005, online at (accessed 2014-09-10).
  • Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, history and description of the facility, online at Wikipedia. Though constructed between 1913-1916, the hospital was commandeered by the Canadian government for use as a military convalescent hospital during the Great War. The facility became available for civilian use in 1919.

If you have a family history connection to a Kilpatrick or Kirkpatrick family from the parish of Kilrea, county Derry—or if you have information to add to the biographical sketches presented here—please consider getting in touch via the contact page.

This web page was first published in December, 2014; it was edited on the 27th April and the 23rd November 2015.

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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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