Early Settlers

"Hunt" gravestones intriguing
St. Anne's Cemetery is an oasis of peace in the desert of our busy - sometimes hectic - modern-day lives. Yet how often do we hustle right by the cemetery, without even glancing in, because we have somewhere else to go and are already late? Too often, I suspect. In so doing, we miss out on the peace and tranquility provided there. And we deprive ourselves of the chance to read the gravestones, ponder on the people buried beneath, and perhaps imagine what their lives were like, many years ago.

Our cemetery contains lots of treasures. Two of the most intriguing treasures have to be the "Hunt" gravestones. They mark what we have believed are the earliest graves in our cemetery. They date back to 1832, which was more than 20 years before the property was purchased for an "English" church and burial ground. It seemed that the burial ground was already there.

The old white marble Hunt stones include one in memory of Fidelia Hunt (wife of Burleigh Hunt), who died May 23, 1832, at the age of 29 years. The other stone is in memory of Asenath Bordwell Hunt, who died August 12, 1832, at the age of three years, two months, and also an infant son (no name) who died May 20, 1832. These two boys were children of Burleigh and Fidelia Hunt. Fidelia and the unnamed infant probably died from complications from childbirth, since the mother died three days after the baby did - a tragic and common occurrence in pioneer days of the area. It must have been a difficult birth, to take the lives of both mother and infant. The three-year-old, Asenath, might have died of cholera, since a cholera epidemic spread through the vicinity in July and August of 1832.

One can imagine the depth of grief suffered by Burleigh after he lost his wife and two sons in under three months. In fact, he had the image of a weeping willow placed on the upper part of Fidelia's stone and a poem inscribed on the lower portion, which expresses some of his feelings.

The poem is carved in very small lettering, making it impossible to read with the naked eye. That is, "my" naked eye. But fortunately, the late Orlo Miller - Anglican priest/historian/author of many books - transcribed that stone (and four others in St. Anne's Cemetery), and put a record of the words with London Public Library. The record is kept in the London Room at Central Library.

Here is the poem from Fidelia's gravestone, as transcribed by Miller:
"When sorrow weeps o'er virtue's sacred dust,
Our tears become us, and our grief is just;
Which were the tears he shed, who grateful pays
This last sad tribute of his love and praise;
Who mourns the best of wives and friends combined
Where female softness meets a manly mind;
Mourns, but not murmurs, sighs, but not despairs,
Feels as a man, but as a Christian bears."

Fidelia was obviously dearly loved and was given a touching tribute by her husband.

Besides the Hunt stones, two other graves pre-date the 1853 purchase of property for our church and burial grounds. Both graves contain the remains of young children, namely, three-year-old Ann Eliza Montague, who died December 13, 1848, and one-year-old Thomas Dawson, who died September 9, 1850.

The question is, why were four children and one woman, who were unrelated to Archibald McMillan, buried on McMillan's land? Two London historians made "educated guesses" as to the reason. One suggested that the five were initially buried on their own home properties. Once nearby land was purchased for a church and burial ground, the remains were moved and reinterred on church land. The other historian believed the site was already a (McMillan) family burial ground, but without any tombstones. Even if only one family member was interred there, the rest of the family might then open it up to neighbours needing a place to bury a loved one. Which would explain why the three Hunts and the other two tots were buried there.

And so, the question above, can't be answered with certainty without documented evidence. As far as we know, there is no evidence, so we might as well let the matter drop, for the present.

After the deaths of his wife and sons, Burleigh Hunt - who probably came from the United States originally - stayed on in Westminster/Hall's Mills (now Byron) for a few more years. In 1833-1834, he built a grist mill at water's edge and a dam across the river. His was the first mill to use the Thames River for water power. The mill was sold to Cyrenius Hall in 1836.

Burleigh did a lot of buying and selling of property during his few years, first in London Township and then in Westminster Township. But after selling his grist mill, he seems to have dropped out of sight. We don't know where he went after that. A web search turned up a Burleigh Hunt in Belleville, Ontario, in the 1840's and 1850's but there is no conclusive evidence that he was the same Burleigh Hunt.

Background information on Fidelia is even more elusive - including her maiden name and her birthplace. Even the date of her marriage to Burleigh is unknown. One thing we can attest to - Fidelia Hunt and her young sons are a significant presence in St. Anne's Cemetery and are a blessing to us all. They rest in peace.

Submitted by Shirley Geigen-Miller
With special thanks to: London historians, Dan Brock and Guy St. Denis, for their direction and assistance; London Room librarian, Arthur McClelland and staff for all their help, photographer, Sylvia B.; and Susan G., for inspiring me to write this article.