Trafalgar Township Historical Society Digital Collections
William Lyon Mackenzie Chair and Jacquard Quilt, 2017


Description
Media Type:
Image
Text
Item Type:
Photographs
Description:
Family descendent Ruth I. Taylor has written the essay included here to document this historic chair and quilt.
Inscriptions:
The ‘Mackenzie Chair’ Adventure
Background Information:
December 8, 1837 the Absalom Smith Family of Palermo assisted William Lyon Mackenzie ”The Little Rebel” in his flight out of the country. It was the evening of December 8, 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie and Allan Wilcox, travelling west on foot north of the Dundas Highway, pursued by government forces, approached the Sixteen Mile Creek, running deep and fast, and icy cold. Attempting to cross, they carried their clothes above their heads as they waded into the icy cold water. Mackenzie slipped and fell into the creek, scrambling out on the west side, but with clothes thoroughly soaked. After travelling on foot across recently cleared fields, they came to the Absalom Smith Farm, known as Lot 27, Con 1 North, Trafalgar Township.

Hiding first in the barn, they waited for a group of visitors, loyal to the government, who had been visiting the Smiths to leave. On entering the Absalom Smith home, Mackenzie and Wilcox shed their wet clothes, were outfitted with warm and “dry flannels”. Both men warmed themselves in front of the fire in their now warm and cozy clothes, Mackenzie in the subject chair, before retiring for an hour’s sleep. Mrs. Anna Mary (Beamer) Smith, a weaver of note, along with her daughters, were well known for their weaving and construction of quilts/tapestries. It was under one of these jacquard woven quilts that Mackenzie slept for an hour before a search party entered the house –on a corner of the quilt is woven “Ana M S 1836”. It is still a proud possession of the descendants of the Smith Family, along with the “Mackenzie Chair”.

Both the chair and the woven quilt were handed down through the family – Anna Catherine Smith (eldest daughter of Absalom and Anna Mary (Beamer) Smith) married Thomas Ebenezer Pickett, nephew of Laura Secord and lived in Lowville. The chair and woven quilt were handed down to William and Barbara Pickett, then to their eldest daughter, Anna Catherine (Pickett) Prudham. After she cared for, and proudly displayed the two items at family gatherings through the years, the chair and woven quilt became the possession of Laura Barbara (Prudham) Dixon. In those years, the items again were a focal point at family reunions, their story told and retold again.

During the 1960’s, the Dixon family moved from their farm, Limestone Hall, to 350 Main Street E in Milton, the chair always sitting near a fireplace. In the mid 1960’s, Laura decided give the chair to a member of the Pickett Family of Grimsby, Professor Bethel Pickett, Pomologist. He had an exceptional interest in Pickett artifacts, and felt he would like to care for the ‘Mackenzie chair’. The 1963 Pickett Family Reunion was held at the Pickett home in Grimsby, known as “Westwood”, the 1965 Pickett Reunion was held in Lowville, again arranged by Professor Pickett, and attended by family from all over North America and beyond.

After Professor Pickett passed away in 1975, our family tried to track down the “Mackenzie chair”, but to no avail. After contacting many family members over time, it was determined the chair must have been sold at a farm auction in Grimsby, prior to the sale of “Westwood”, the Pickett farm, which was originally part of the Beamer property at the top of the Escarpment in Grimsby. By the end of the 1990’s, I had pretty much given up on ever finding the “Mackenzie Chair”.

It wasn’t until November of 2017 that I was contacted by a person from the Metcalfe Family, related to the Pickett family of Grimsby through the Beamer family. Right away, I pursued the possibility she might have known of the “Mackenzie Chair” – and yes, she remembered the story from the time she was a small child. She in turn put me in touch with another Metcalfe cousin, who had cared for the “Mackenzie Chair” for the past 30 years. She was entrusted with its care by her Aunt Margaret, daughter of her grandmother, Cynthia Gertrude (Beamer) Metcalfe, sister of Professor Pickett’s wife, Bertha Gay (Beamer) - its’ care entrusted to her by Professor Pickett – his children all lived in the US, and it must have been his wish that the historical artifact stay in Canada.

We needed a way of positively identifying the chair. That, as it turned out, was not hard to do. Professor Pickett must have arranged to have a cover, appropriately and professionally placed and secured onto the chair seat. When the chair was cared for by the Picketts in the octagon house in Lowville, the much loved family historian, always called Aunt Maggie, now quite an age, needed a more convenient way to answer the call of nature. The chair, heaven forbid, was turned into a commode by one of the carpenters in the family. When the vinyl seat was placed on the chair seat, it covered not only the hole but a nicely carved lid. No one knew what was under that seat, or why a piece of linoleum that had been secured to the underside of the chair. When the last custodian turned over the chair, removed the linoleum, there it was – the hole - positive proof the chair was indeed the “Mackenzie Chair”. The chair was now on its way back to Halton County – with the assurance it would never again be used as a commode!

The date was December 7, 2017 when my husband and I travelled to Vinemount, met the lady and gentleman who had cared for the chair for over 30 years. The chair was returned to the Smith/Pickett family descendants and travelled once again across Burlington Bay, the Dundas Highway, and back to Halton County, 180 years less one day from the night William Lyon Mackenzie rested in the chair beside the fire in the Smith farmhouse in Palermo. The 1836 woven quilt was once again draped over the arm – it took over half a century to reunite the two beloved family artifacts!

Moral of the story – never give up the search to find a much loved family artifact – somewhere out there, it is just waiting to be found.

Ruth Taylor February 2018
Date Of Event:
December 7, 2017
Subject(s):
Personal Name(s):
Absalom Smith, b. February 3, 1788, d. February 5, 1861, aged 73. Anna Mary (Beamer) Smith, called Polly, b. January 13, 1785 d. August 31, 1870 in Palermo. William Lyon Mackenzie, March 12, 1795 – August 28, 1861. Allan Wilcox, son of Absalom Wilcox, of Peel County.
Local identifier:
TTRIT000711
Collection:
Trafalgar Township Historical Society
Language of Item:
English
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.4473075491063 Longitude: -79.7656780316162
Recommended Citation:
William Lyon Mackenzie Chair and Jacquard Quilt, 2017
Contact
Trafalgar Township Historical Society
Email
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Trafalgar Township Historical Society Sponsor: Jeff Knoll, Local & Regional Councillor for Oakville Ward 5 – Town of Oakville/Regional Municipality of Halton
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William Lyon Mackenzie Chair and Jacquard Quilt, 2017


Family descendent Ruth I. Taylor has written the essay included here to document this historic chair and quilt.