Thursday, June 23, 2011

Keeping Up With The Joneses: The Maxwell Settlement Part 2

I received some great feedback about my last blog, Lambton's Communal Experiment: The Maxwell Settlement. A lot of people are unaware of and fascinated by this pocket of Lambton County's history! I have been working closely with the Jones Diaries over the last few weeks, and I wanted to share some additional information about this amazing collection to flesh out the Maxwell story. So here is Keeping Up With The Joneses: The Maxwell Settlement Part 2!

I mentioned at the end of my last blog that the Lambton Room has some incredible material documenting the Maxwell settlement. I have been dusting off and properly arranging/storing the Jones diaries for several weeks now, and I have developed a much better understanding of the collection.

The collection contains diaries from three different Joneses: two diaries from Henry John Jones Sr., the master-mind and driving force behind Maxwell; a single diary from Julia Maria Jones, Henry John Sr.'s daughter; and a whopping thirty-four diaries from Henry John Jones Jr., Julia's brother.

Henry John Sr., September 28, 1832.
Henry John Jones Sr.'s diaries document between December 11, 1831 and September 22, 1833. His entries can be a bit formulaic; he tends to record weather readings, such as thermometer, barometer and wind speed. He records details about agricultural activities, farm accidents and visitors. For example, September 28, 1832 he noted, "Townsend arrived with workmen to finish bridge. 2 boys stopped in search of horses." (page 123) March 7, 1833 Jones recorded, "Sandy Hamilton came up again, being desirous of returning to the shores of the lake." (page 28) His diaries provide a great snapshot of activity at Maxwell during its heyday.

Henry John Sr., March 7, 1833.
Julia Maria Jones kept a diary from May 20, 1830 to August 28, 1830. It documents the journey from England to Canada, and through to the site for Maxwell. "Our view of Maxwell even at first was favourable..." Julia notes, commenting on the beauty of the landscape and the hard trek she endured to reach her destination.

Henry John Jones Jr. documented an extensive portion of his life with diaries. His first diary was "Remarks on the zoology of the neighbourhood of Maxwell," a summary of the animals around Maxwell without much detail about the activities of the humans. He kept regular diary entries until 1843, when our collection abruptly stops until 1852, when it picks up regularly again. It is possible that he quit writing for that period, or the diaries are in someone else's possession. The last diary we have ends in June, 1883.

Henry John Jones Jr., January 1, 1837.
Jones Jr. writes openly and honestly, for example on January 1, 1837 when he noted, "Looking back on my proceedings during the last year and my prospects at present, I must acknowledge that the view is anything but pleasing... The Land business is in a very unsettled state, indeed the chances are that my present employment cannot last much longer. A devil of an annoyance, after wasting three or four years of my life in it. My consolation is that though poorly, I have managed to maintain myself, and have acquired habits of business and a certain quantity of experience and information which will doubtless under any circumstances be useful to me hereafter."

It is a rare opportunity to have access to this type of material, diaries that document so regularly and carefully a notable period in county history. The Jones Diaries have been cleaned, inventoried, and archival-safe boxes have been individually prepared for each diary to ensure it remains protected under optimal conditions.

While the family's ambitious Maxwell failed, their dreams and experiences are recorded forever in the Jones Diaries.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lambton’s Communal Experiment: The Maxwell Settlement

One of the most interesting stories of European settlement in Lambton County comes from an ardent believer in socialist theory, a man named Henry Jones. He brought settlers from Scotland to Lambton County to establish a communal settlement in the late 1820s.
Jones was inspired by Robert Owen, a Welsh entrepreneur and social reformer. Owen was disheartened by the wretched working conditions that plagued Britain during the industrial revolution, and introduced socialist reforms in the mill he managed in New Lanark. He provided educational facilities for his workers; started a company store with lower prices and credit; and wrote essays about communes and social living.
 Owen delivered lectures on socialist living, and one of these lectures was heard by our Henry Jones. Jones was inspired to establish an Owenite colony populated with displaced British workers in the New World.  
Jones encountered some snags on his path to a Utopian commune. His initial petition for land was refused because he did not have enough settlers and demanded extensive government funding; his second petition requested to settle fewer families at his own expense. In late 1828, Jones received his grant, and his settlers set sail from Scotland. The party had approximately fifty men, women and children, including Jones.
Elizabeth (Jones) Faithorne Pencil Sketch, Maxwell.

The arduous journey across the ocean and through the wilderness took weeks, and the settlers eventually arrived in late April 1829. The settlement was dubbed Maxwell and embodied all the promises of contemporary social reform theory. Their communal home was “a large building of, not logs, but carefully whip-sawed boards. A two-storey central block contained the common dining room, kitchen and living rooms. Two single-storey wings contained private rooms for each family.” [Maxwell – and Henry Jones, Lambton’s Communal Settlement, Helen Burrowes, p. 20]. They had a storehouse for supplies and a blacksmith shop, and the promise of an existence free from the shackles of industrial labour that loomed in their native Scotland.
Unfortunately, Maxwell proved to be unsustainable. The women became disgruntled with the communal kitchen and dining room. There were whispers from some of the men about Jones, who saw himself as the group’s leader. Following the tenants of social theory, Jones believed human beings were inherently selfless, hard-working, and good intentioned. It turned out this was not the case.
Maxwell’s settlers did not live up to Jones’s ideal. The community began to crumble after less than a year with the departure of Henry Baird, the young blacksmith. More and more settlers would peel off, and Jones became distracted with legal troubles back in Britain.
Lambton’s experiment in communal living may have failed, but Jones left a legacy. He is credited with bringing an optimistic spirit of community and freedom to Lambton while the area was still wild and untamed. Additionally, the center street of a lot he owned was subdivided and named Maxwell Street after that fledgling communal settlement.
Henry John Jones (Jr) Journal, December 1860.
The Lambton Room is fortunate to contain some amazing documentation of the Maxwell settlement and the Jones family. We have two pencil sketches done by Elizabeth (Jones) Faithorne of the original communal settlement in the early 1830s. Additionally, we have a collection of nearly 30 volumes of journals kept by Henry Jones’s son, Henry John Jones. His journals begin in 1830 and keep diligent records of almost every day until 1883. The journals provide information about Henry John Jones and insight into what life would have been like in the 1800s. The collection is occasionally mundane (when discussing the weather); often informative (we learn about trips taken by Jones); and even funny (we sometimes hear Jones bemoan a night spent consuming too much gin). While the Maxwell settlement may have failed, it retains a remarkable and interesting foothold in Lambton County’s history, and has left us some fascinating historical documents.