Seaton House, 57 King Street East, Colborne

Roll No. 1411-012-020-07500 – Cramahe Township Ontario

Italianate – Designated

57 King Street East in the village of Colborne is a “designated” property. The house is Italianate in style and the original one and one half story was constructed entirely of 9”x 9” hand hewn beams and it is clad in the ubiquitous red brick found throughout Northumberland County.

It has a hip roof which is asphalt shingle today but there is evidence of an original shake shingle roof present.

The house has the tall, narrow round head sash windows common to Italianate design and they are two over two panes, perhaps original to the house. It also has the offset front door with the two story three pane bay window often related to that style of architecture.

At one time there were 21 decorative “S” brackets under the eaves, but they have been removed and lost.

There is a reproduction of the original distinctive square picket fence across the front of the property which certainly harks back to the 1800s.

The interiors speak to another era as well. The ceilings are 12’, baseboard or skirting boards are 15”, the floors are wide plank pine. There is a sweeping staircase and the wood trim throughout is pine which has been faux painted to emulate graining. There are pocket doors on the main floor into the parlour and the foyer is large and impressive, complete with paned french doors. There is a large “snug” at the top of the stairs and a step down to the third bedroom in the original story and a half section of the house.

The exterior grounds have many mature specimen trees and a wide variety of foundation plantings (yew, juniper, lilac, mock orange etc.) and in the last few years, a knot garden has been added.

There is an charming two story carriage house in the North East corner of the property which, today, is a thriving retail store. The property is a handsome addition to a row of lovely old Victorian houses on Colborne’s main street.

History or Associative Value

57 King Street East in the village of Colborne is named Seaton House after Sir John Colborne, first Earl of Seaton. George and Hannah Palmer from Rutland Vermont were among the original 40 families to pioneer Cramahe township. They were granted 200 acres of land and by 1799, had cleared 10 acres along the Kingston/York Road. Joseph A. Keeler, founder of Colborne, probably built the house for his daughter’s marriage. She tragically died at the age of 20 as did her sister Emily Anne. See the Spilsbury connection.

Additional Historical and Genealogical Information

57 King Street, Colborne, Ontario
Cramahe Township, Concession 2, Lot 31, Reid Lot 168
The Seaton House

Lot 31, Concession 2 was first settled by George (1761-1833) and Hannah (1765-1832) Palmer, who arrived with Joseph Keeler (1763-1839) in 1793 or shortly thereafter (LINK). George Palmer was officially granted the 200 acres comprising Lot 31 on 15 July 1802 and he sold them to Joseph Keeler on 18 January 1812 (LINK). On 15 January 1824, Joseph Keeler transferred the southern 100 acres of Lot 31 to his son Joseph Abbott Keeler (1788-1855) (LINK).

On acquiring the land from his father, Joseph A. Keeler proceeded to subdivide it, selling, among other properties, “2 roods and 30 perches” to Burrage Yale McKyes (1810-1847) on 6 May 1837. “Rood” and “perch” are archaic forms of land measurement. A rood is a tenth of an acre. A perch is a 40th of a rood. “2 roods and 30 perches” is therefore 0.275 acres.

Burrage McKyes was the son of another early Cramahe immigrant, Barnabas McKyes (1765-1835). Barnabas McKyes appears in Cramahe records only in the 1797 census. He is gone by 1799, and spent his later life in the Cobourg area. Interestingly, it has recently been discovered that he composed some fairly well-regarded religious music which up until now was thought to have been written by unknown person named “M. Keyes”. Burrage McKyes married Mary Anne Keeler (1817-1837) in 1834. Mary Anne was the daughter of Joseph A. Keeler. She died on 27 January 1837, so the sale of our property in May of the same year was made by Keeler to the husband of his recently deceased daughter. It is unknown where Burrage McKyes lived after buying the property from his father-in-law. His only child had died in 1836 and that he was in the Canadian militia in 1838. He doesn’t appear in any Cramahe census, but the early censuses included only major landholders. He was gone by the first complete census in 1851. He died in Peterborough and was buried in Cobourg. In any case, he sold the property of interest here to Stephen Niles Casey (1820-1861) and Ann Casey on 1 April 1846.

Stephen and “Ann” Casey were married in 1843. Ann was the former Emma Anne Keeler (1827-1850), another daughter of Joseph A. Keeler, and a sister of Mary Anne McKyes. Burrage McKyes therefore sold the Seaton House property in 1846 to his brother- and sister-in-law. Stephen Casey was from Adolphustown, near Napanee, where his family had been since the 1790’s. Anne died in 1850, and in the 1851 census Stephen, occupation “speculator”, was listed as living with his parents in Cramahe Township. Stephen died in 1861.

Stephen and Anne Casey sold the Seaton House property to Thomas Wilson on 18 October 1847. Thomas Wilson (1805-?) was a resident of Kingston. He was married to Stephen Casey’s sister Sarah Eliza (1810-1892).

Thomas Wilson sold the property to John Bennet (or Bennett) Marks on 28 February 1866. Marks is discussed in more detail below. This transaction took place in Kingston, where Marks, like Wilson, was a resident.

Previously written notes on the Seaton House suggest that John Bennet Marks died in there on 28 February 1866 and willed the property to Emily Spilsbury. However, Marks died in 1872, never lived in Colborne, and 28 February 1866 is the date he purchased the house, not the date he died. Marks did, in fact, will the property to Emily, but it would have been in 1872, not 1866.

Who built Seaton House? Tradition has it that the house dates to the mid-1830s. If this date is accurate, then the owner of the property when the house was built would have been Joseph A. Keeler or Burrage McKyes. McKyes acquired the property after his wife and child died, and, though the date of his departure from Colborne is unclear, it looks like he didn’t stay around very long. It seems unlikely that he would have built the house just for himself. It seems more likely that Keeler had it built for his daughter and son-in-law sometime before 1837. Possibly in 1834, when they were married.

Why “Seaton House”? Who was Seaton? No one by that name owned the house, at least before 1947 when Emily Spilsbury died. No one by that name appears in Cramahe Township censuses. When Colborne incorporated in 1858, it was named after Sir John Colborne, a previous Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Sir John Colborne was named Lord Seaton in 1839. Keeler was impressed enough with Lord Seaton to name a town after him. Apparently he named the house after him as well.

Who lived on the property? There isn’t much solid evidence, but the following seems likely. Between their arrival in 1793(?) and the sale of their land in 1812, the Palmers must have lived on or near the property, though there was no Seaton House at the time. They had 12 children presumably living there with them. Elijah (1789), Joshua (1789), Charity (1790), and Rebecca (1793) were born in the United States and moved to Cramahe with their parents. George (1795), Phebe (1797), Elisha (1799), William (1801), Wilkinson (1803), Isaac (1806), David (1807), and Annys (1809) were born in Cramahe, presumably on the Palmer property there. As already stated, Joseph Abbott Keeler probably built the house for his daughter and son-in-law Mary Anne and Burrage McKyes, probably in about 1834. They may have been the first inhabitants, living there until her death in 1837. They had one child there, who died in infancy. Burrage bought the property from his father-in-law later in 1837. How long he remained after that is unclear. Perhaps until 1846, when he sold the house to his brother- and sister-in-law Stephen and Anne Casey. Presumably they lived there until they sold it to their brother-in-law Thomas Wilson a year and a half later in 1847. Wilson was not a resident of Cramahe, so he didn’t live in the house, even though he owned it until 1866, when he sold it to John Bennet Marks. Marks also didn’t live there. He passed it on to Emily Spilsbury in 1872, who lived there for many years, though it is not certain when she moved in. She was only 14 when she inherited the property and, according to Cramahe censuses, lived with her parents in Salem until they died in 1901 and 1914. Perhaps that is when she moved into Seaton House? Alternatively, the only solid evidence for an occupant in Seaton House before Emily Spilsbury comes from the 1911 census. In that year the house was occupied by merchant Robert Coxall (1877-1916), his wife Emma (b. 1878), and her father Vincent Cornwall (b. 1851). Coxall died in Colborne five years later, and might have been a resident of Seaton House at the time. In any case, the inhabitants of the house don’t appear to have been the owners at least from 1847 until 1914.

Why did John Bennet Marks leave Seaton House to Emily Spilsbury? The traditional story has it that Emily cared for Marks, a friend and war comrade of her grandfather’s, until his death. In his will Marks is supposed to have left her his home, Seaton House, in Colborne. Emily is also supposed to have married a Naval Captain who unfortunately lost his life at sea. Subsequent owners have claimed that the ghost of the Captain still searches the property to this day for Emily. This is inaccurate in a variety of ways, as outlined in the following paragraphs. In short, however: 1) the connection between the Spilsburys and Marks was not that he was a “war comrade of her grandfather’s”, 2) there is no evidence that Emily, age 14, cared for him while he was dying, 3) he lived and died in Kingston, not Colborne, and, 4) there is no evidence that Emily ever married anyone, let alone a naval captain lost at sea.

Emily Spilsbury (1858-1947) was one of the three children (all daughters) of Francis Brockell Spilsbury (1818-1901). Her father’s name is a bit confusing, because there were men in four generations of Spilsburys who used it. The first Francis Brockell Spilsbury (1761-1823) was a surgeon in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era in Europe and in the War of 1812 on the Great Lakes. He set up a medical practice in Kingston, Canada West, in 1819. His son (1784-1830) also served in the Royal Navy during Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812, rising to the rank of commander. He was the first Spilsbury to live in Cramahe Township, where he became important in the early history of the Salem area. The third Francis Brockell Spilsbury, son of the second, was 4 years old when the Spilsbury family arrived in Cramahe Township in 1822. He also was in the Royal Navy: he appears on muster roles for 1829 and 1830 as a “mid” (midshipman?). These were the great-grandfather, grandfather, and father of Emily Spilsbury. The fourth Francis Brockell Spilsbury was Francis III’s grandson who died in Sarnia in 1916.

Like the first two Francis Brockell Spilsburys, John Bennet (or Bennett) Marks (1777-1872) was in the Royal Navy and served in the Napoleonic wars in Europe and the War of 1812 on the Great Lakes. He remained in the Kingston area after the war and became important in various naval and public offices there. He also became a successful farmer in the area.

The connection between Emily Spilsbury and John Bennet Marks was through Emily’s mother, Martha Selena Marks (1829-1914), who married Emily’s father in 1853. Most references to her use the given name “Selena”.

There are a number of genealogies on that suggest that John Bennet Marks was Selena Marks’ father, and hence Emily Spilsbury’s grandfather. This relationship doesn’t fly, however, because:

1. Selena had six siblings: Mary Rendle (1825-1907), John Rendle (1827-1904), William (1830-?), Jane Emma (1834-1899), Jeremy James (1836-1836), and Clarissa Elizabeth (1838-1905). All seven Marks siblings were born in England between 1827 and 1838, long after John Bennet Marks had emigrated to Canada in 1813.

2. Selena’s mother, according to all Marks available genealogies was Mary Beal Rendle (1796-1858). All references to the wife of John Bennet Marks, other than those that suggest he was Selena’s father, state that he was married to Ann Button (?-1871), not Mary Rendle.

3. All of Selena’s surviving and as yet unmarried brothers and sisters (John, Emma, and Clarissa) appear in the 1861 and 1871 Cramahe Township censuses as residents of Concession 5, Lot 11. These are the first censuses after their sister married Francis Brockell Spilsbury. Along with the Marks siblings in the censuses is an older John Marks, presumably their father. However, this John Marks is listed as being only 62 years old in 1861 and 72 years old in 1871. John Bennet Marks was 84 in 1861 and 94 in 1871. According to his obituary in the Kingston Daily News, John Bennet Marks died in 1872 as “Kingston’s oldest inhabitant” at “the advanced age of 95”.

4. John Bennet Marks was a resident of the Kingston area. He never lived in Cramahe Township, so he couldn’t have been the John Marks in the 1861 and 1871 censuses. In fact, he appears in the 1861 census for Frontenac County, Ontario, at the same time the other John Marks is listed for Cramahe Township.

It turns out that Selena’s father was John Marks (1798-1874). He was John Bennet Marks’ cousin, both men sharing the same grandparents, William Marks (b. 1722) and Mary Stevens (b. 1725). This makes John Bennet Marks and Emily Spilsbury first cousins, twice removed.

There is even more confusion involving John Marks. The date most often cited for the death of John Marks, Emily Spilsbury’s grandfather, is 3 October 1874. This is actually the date on the death certificate of yet another John Marks, this one a Wesleyan Methodist who was born in 1795 and died in Percy Township. The Cramahe Marks’s were Church of England. The correct date for Emily’s grandfather’s death was apparently 17 October 1874, two weeks later, in Cramahe Township.

It is not at all surprising that John Bennet Marks would have included Emily Spilsbury in his will. Mark apparently had no children, and, as far as can be determined, was himself an only child. Among the descendants of his numerous aunts and uncles, only his cousin John Marks (Selena’s father) immigrated to Canada. Unless he visited England later in life, by the time of his death Marks hadn’t seen any of his other relatives in almost 60 years. John Marks, his children, and grandchildren therefore were effectively the only family John Bennet Marks had. Marks bought Seaton House in 1866 at the age of 89. He probably did so with the express purpose of leaving it to his then eight year old “cousin”. He also bought land in Cramahe Township in 1865 and 1870 (when he was 88 and 93 years old) that he ended up willing to other members of the Marks/Spilsbury family. Selena, who had worked for him back in the 1850s, received 94 acres in Concession 1, Lot 21, near the land owned by her husband. Marks’ cousin John received 20 acres in Concession 3, Lot 24. John Marks’ other surviving children (Jane, Clarissa, and John) jointly received 120 acres adjacent to their father’s new property. Why would John Bennet Marks have bought all this property at such an advanced age if he hadn’t done so intending to will it to his family?

The Spilsbury and Marks families were clearly well acquainted with each other long before Francis Spilsbury met Selena Marks, probably through the naval connections of the heads of each household. A letter exists from Francis to his parents in England in 1830, when Francis and his brother Henry were going to school in Kingston and living with “Mr. Marks”. Francis would have been 12 at the time.

One reference suggested that it “seems clear from this that Francis Brockell Spilsbury came to Canada with John Bennett Marks and lived with them at Kingston, going to school there – per this letter. He then went back to England in 1853 to marry John Bennett’s daughter, Martha Selena Marks. After that, he moved to Colborne.” Yet we know that Francis came to Cramahe with his father in 1822, not with Marks in 1813 (before Francis was born). He must have been staying with the Marks’ in Kingston in 1830 while his parents were visiting England.

As a side note, several references have Francis Brockell Spilsbury marrying Selena Marks in England in 1853. However, the 1851 census has her and her brother William in Frontenac County working for their father’s cousin John Bennet Marks as “farm servants”. We know that Francis Spilsbury at least occasionally visited the Marks residence where Selena lived for a while. Surely they met there. At the same time (1851), Selena’s parents were living in Quebec, where her father worked as a shipwright. How did the wedding end up back in England? It turns out it probably didn’t. Examination of the document cited as evidence for this marriage, shows that it is actually a record of the marriage of Francis Spilsbury II and Fanny Bayly (Francis III’s parents) in 1815, not of Francis Spilsbury III and Selena Marks in 1853.

What about the ghost that is supposed to be haunting Seaton House? Emily never married a sea captain, so the ghost can’t be her husband. Another version of the story, on the Cramahe Township brochure, has Emily betrothed to the captain rather than married. This possibility can’t be ruled out. On the other hand, there is no reason to invoke some unknown sea captain as the ghost. There are three other perfectly good candidates. Joseph Keeler probably built the house for his daughter Mary Anne when she married in 1834. She had a son who died in infancy in 1836. She herself died at the age of 20 in 1837. The house was passed on to her sister Anne in 1846. Anne died at the age of 23 in 1850. The first two of these tragic deaths likely took place in Seaton House and the other one might have, if Ann Casey continued to live there for three years after the Caseys sold the house. If there is a ghost, why couldn’t it be one of these people? Even if it is a male ghost, we have almost no information about any of the inhabitants of the house for the entire second half of the 19th Century. Maybe the ghost has something to do with one of them. It looks like Robert Coxall may have died there in 1916…


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