Fonds AX2011.602 - John Spence family fonds

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Title proper

John Spence family fonds

General material designation

  • Textual record

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Reference code

CA ON00031 AX2011.602

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Statement of scale (cartographic)

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1875 - 1928 (Creation)
    Spence, John (family)

Physical description area

Physical description

7.5 cm of textual records

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Capt. John Spence (1814-1904) was born in the Orkney Islands, north of mainland Scotland. He served as boatbuilder with the Hudson's Bay Company in the Ungava District from 1838 to 1846. Upon retiring from the HBC, John Spence moved to Kingston, Ontario and joined another former Company employee, William Kennedy (1814-1890), in a plan to become traders and fishermen on Lake Huron.
In summer 1848 Spence and Kennedy built a log cabin at the mouth of the Saugeen River in Southampton, Ontario. Spence later built a frame house on Huron Street, Southampton.
The two men obtained a lease from the Saugeen Ojibway which allowed them to fish at the nearby Fishing Islands. Their fishing venture was unsuccessful and Capt. Spence instead made a living in the coastal trade, carrying cargo between Lake Huron ports and as far as Cleveland. Among the ships he owned and sailed were Sea Gull, Forrest, Nemesis, Wanderer and White Oak.

John Spence died Oct. 1, 1904 in Southampton, Bruce County, Ontario.

Captain John Spence married Jane Harold on January 17, 1850. Jane and John had 7 children born in Southampton, Ontario:

a) Margaret Spence (December 7, 1850 – September 27, 1851);

b) John Harold (“Jack”) Spence (October 19, 1852 – March 27, 1929) married Martha Rusk, of Southampton, in December 1878. He earned his master's (marine) certificate in 1874. In 1897, he moved to Wiarton, followed by a move to Owen Sound and finally, a move to Saskatchewan in or around 1905;

c) Mary E. Spence (May 23, 1855 – May 10, 1926), married John Harrison;

d) James Hendry (“Harry”) Spence (April 14, 1858 – November 1906) was married first to Margaret MacAulay and later to Jennie Byers, both of Southampton, Ontario;

e) David William (“Bill”) Spence (March 25, 1861 – 1935), married Mary Anne Harold of Kingston, owed the Schooner White Oak, and sailed for 35 years. They moved to Kingston in or around 1914;

f) Margaret Eleanor (“Nellie”) (b. Aug. 10, 1864), married George Edward Currie;

g) Alexander Peter (“Cappy”) Spence (November 23, 1867-August 23, 1895), married Mary E. Hilditch. Cappy died on Lake Huron after falling overboard from the family Schooner, Wanderer, during a gale. Their daughter, Alexandria, was born about three months after her father’s death at sea. She was also known as “Cappy”.

Captain John and his sons engaged in a coastal trading and lumber business businesses in the 1880s and 1890s. They also operated general stores in Pike Bay, Dyer’s Bay and Tobermory. The family schooners, including the Wanderer and the Nemesis, were used in the trade of Hemlock bark taken from Pike Bay to Southampton, Port Elgin or Goderich. The family also shipped Pike Bay cedar, some of which was used in paving the streets of Detroit, bringing a pay load of supplies upon return for their general stores.

Captain John Spence and his Schooner, Nemesis, launched in 1868, are known for the 1876 daring rescue of the steamer New York on the Michigan coast of Lake Huron during a vicious fall storm. Captain Spence was presented by the American Government with a gold watch as captain of the rescuing vessel. Jack Spence and George Currie received silver medals for their role. Captain John Spence was also presented with a silver tea service by the village of Southampton.

Custodial history

These records remained in the possession of members of the Spence family until a descendant of: Captain John Spence and Captain John Harold ("Jack") Spence provided the records to Marine Historian, John Weichel, to review and provide to the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.

Scope and content

This fonds consists of financial records, ships logs and Crown land patents created by and/or belonging to Captain John Spence and his sons, reflecting some of their personal and business dealings.

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Associated materials

The Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre holds artifacts concerning the Captain John Spence family.

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Description record identifier

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Bruce County Archives

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Created February 16, 2012

Language of description

  • English

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