The village of St. Davids, Ontario was originally known as Four Mile Mills. See the map of the historic mill sites along Four-Mile Creek:
The St. Davids Ratepayers Association works closely with the Niagara Historical Society & Museum, located at 43 Castlereagh Street, PO Box 208, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0. Phone: 905-468-3912.
St. Davids is a fascinating village with a fascinating history. In this section of our website, we plan to publish as much information as we can find about it. What you see here has not been thoroughly tested for accuracy. It might include controversial information. As time goes on, we will continually update the information to make it as historically correct as possible. We will welcome our readers’ help to correct errors!
The following text is an extract from “A Brief Chronological History of St. Davids” compiled by the late Ed Wilkinson. Part 1 covers the period from Pre-1652 to the infamous burning of St. Davids in July 1814. In addition, in order to provide context, reference is made to a number of developments after this period. The text is as written by the original compiler. References and notes will be added later:
Part I: Early People and Events
First Nations people inhabited the St. Davids area before the arrival of United Empire Loyalist settlers who left the United States to remain loyal to Britain 8. The area was named after Major David Secord (King David, King being a term given to leading business men) who was a sergeant in the Butler’s Rangers, Major in the Lincoln Militia, Magistrate, 1796, and member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, 1811-1844. He died in 1844. The more settled community was founded by Richard Woodruff (King Dick) 11, veteran of the War of 1812 (who was granted 200 acres for his service), a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, 1837. He died in 1872.
Pre 1652. Two important trails intersect at St. Davids, the north-south trail from Lake Ontario to the top of the Escarpment (Creek Road) and the east-west trail along the ledge below the Escarpment (current York and Queenston Roads) that extended from what is currently New York State to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula.
The Neutral Indian community located here was called Onyahrah. The historical book Niagara Township, Centennial History describes the word “Onyahrah” as being from the Iroquois and meaning neck, or the strip of land between the two lakes. The Neutral Indians were skilled flint knappers and the first farmers in this area.
The largest First Nations Ossuary (mortuary or place for bones) in Ontario was discovered in 1828 west of the stone cairn on St. Paul Ave on the top of the Escarpment.
- The Neutral Indians of St. Davids were annihilated by the Seneca Tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy.
- A trading post was established at St. Davids because of its strategic location at the intersection of the two major trails.
This settlement pattern makes St. Davids amongst the oldest remaining settled communities in Ontario.
1780 (August). Peter Secord, aged 53, his wife Abigail, three sons and two daughters with five horses commenced farming on lot 90 in St. Davids 1, 2. He is credited as the first non-First Nations farmer in Ontario and was officially recognized with an additional land grant 5, 8, 10.
The Niagara Peninsula was purchased by the British from the Mississauga First Nations and divided into 100-acre lots to be granted to the United Empire Loyalists. These lots are still used today to identify property location. Land grants in St. Davids are shown in Figure I 2.
- Peter and James Secord, with government approval, first built a sawmill just south of York Road and then a gristmill at what is currently 137 Creek Road 4, 10.
- Secord’s saw and gristmills were completed in 1783. These mills were built with Government financing and operated by the Secords. This was the second gristmill in Upper Canada (now Ontario). The sawmill burned down in 1814. The gristmill survived the war and is currently a private house at 137 Creek Rd.
Name of the community. At that time this community was called Four Mile Mills.
1776-86. Peter Secord built a larger house to accommodate his family (46 Paxton Lane). Joseph Clement and his wife Margaret Duffett acquired Lots 88 & 89 and built their house at what is now 290 Creek Road.
- The first St. Davids School (a private school), built around 1790, was a stone structure in the area of the present school. Francis Goring, who was also the first teacher, donated land for this school. Mr. Goring taught from texts he wrote himself. Mr. Goring was knighted later in life for his role in education. This school remained in use until 1871, when a two-room school was built.
- Major David Secord purchased Peter Secord’s property in St. Davids. Peter moved to the Long Point Settlement on Lake Erie 6.
- The Warner Meeting House at the Warner Burying Grounds on Warner Road was build by Christian Warner and was the first Methodist Chapel west of Kingston.
1782-1812. St. Davids grew to become an important milling centre using waters from Four Mile Creek. There were four gristmills, a sawmill, a tannery, shoe, soap, candle and barrel factories, as well as two churches, a school and thirty to forty homes. It was larger than either Niagara Falls or St. Catharines.
1800-1820. A Negro community consisting of small farms was located at the south end of Tanbark Road in the current area of Highway 405. Following 1815, these farms were gradually bought out and made up of the Hanniwell Farm. One family, named Graham, refused to sell. Their descendant by the name of Hedgeman was the last resident of this group in St. Davids. The Baptist church was located on Tanbark Road. This road was named after the elm bark used at the tannery and it was laid on the road for a base.
- The First Regiment of Lincoln Militia was formed in St. Davids and vicinity. This Regiment was involved in more engagements than any other militia unit during the war of 1812-14.
1812. June 18th the United States declared war against Great Britain.
1812. (October) General Shaeffe, with six companies of Lincoln Militia, British Regulars and First Nation warriors scaled the escarpment east of the village (see stone marker on York Road) and defeated the U.S. Army at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Major General Sir Isaac Brock had been killed earlier in the day on Queenston Heights.
1813-1814. During this period, after the burning of York (now Toronto), St. Davids was the Capital of Upper Canada as well as at various times headquarters for the British army in Upper Canada and all of Canada. The stone monument in front of the St. Davids Presbyterian Church on York Road states “Headquarters of DeRottenburg 1812” commemorating that St. Davids was the capital and military headquarters of Upper Canada for a period in 1812.
St. Davids was mentioned in dispatches seventy-nine times and was occupied by U.S. Forces six times. At other times it was a no-man’s land held by one side or the other’s cavalry patrols.
1813. David Secord donated land in the area of the present United Church Cemetery on York Road for a church, school and cemetery.
1813. Orders were issued from Solomon Quick’s Tavern (on what is now Paxton Lane, across from the golf course) for the capture of Fort Niagara and the destruction of the American Frontier from lake to lake (Ontario to Erie) in retaliation for the burning of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). Troops departed from St. Davids to successfully execute this order. Solomon Quick’s Tavern was demolished in 1932.
We frequently read of invading armies abusing women and children. We seldom read of women and children abusing invaders. However, deprived of its male inhabitants of military age, the actively hostile attitudes of the females, boys and men of St. Davids and vicinity eventually became so objectionable that part of the village was burned in retaliation for injuries inflicted on occupying forces 8. A letter from Major Daniel McFarland, 23 U.S. Infantry at Queenston, to his wife, dated July 1814, stated “the whole population is against us, not encamped a foraging party but is fired on and not infrequently returns with missing numbers. The militia have burnt several private dwellings and on the 19th (July) burnt in St. Davids 30-40 homes” 7.
A picket of Canadian volunteers under Cornet (equivalent to a Second Lieutenant) Henry Woodruff surprised some American scouts west of the village. In the skirmish the horse of U.S. Commanding Officer Colonel Isaac Stone was killed. He swore revenge. His revenge came two days later on July 19 with the burning of St. Davids 9.