Saturday, July 25, 2009

Peter Butchart and the La Guayran Settlers

My gr. gr. greatgrandparents were married on the third day of May, 1821, by the Rev. Mr. John Leslie, Minister of the Parish of Fintray, Aberdeen, Scotland. Peter Butchart was a tailor when he married Elspet Livie, the daughter of Donald Livie, a deceased labourer.

Four and one half years later Peter, Elspeth and children left Scotland forever. They first traveled to South America, then eventually settled in Guelph, Ontario. The following gives some of the details of their adventures:

The La Guayran Settlers

In 1825 the Columbian Agricultural Association was organized in London to take out emigrants from Scotland to Venezuela. A Canadian historian, C.C. James, wrote:

"A London sailing vessel of 600 tons called the Planet was chartered to take out the settlers. The boat left the Thames with a few English emigrants and then picked up the rest of her passengers, 250 in all, in the Bay of Cromarty. This was in 1825. They sailed for La Guayra, calling at Madeira on the way to take on a cargo of wine. Twelve weeks out of Cromarty Bay, the party landed at La Guayra. Disappointment met them from the first. The country was in disorder, life and property were insecure, the climate was unsuited to the Scotsmen of the north, the estate that had been purchased by the company was composed partly of barren mountains and partly of valleys that required irrigation. Transportation had been provided and land allotted by the company to the settlers who were bound by written contract to locate upon the land and to repay their debt in ten years. The poor, deluded people were thus left in a most pitiable condition. After vain efforts to make a living and reconcile themselves to their inhospitable surroundings, they were gradually forced to abandon their lots and soon found themselves gathered together in temporary quarters at Caracas."

The experiment was foredoomed to failure if we are to believe the report of an eyewitness to the arrival of the immigrants in Venezuela. The following is written in the diary of the unknown witness:

"On the second of December arrived here the ship Planet of London bringing upwars of 200 Emigrants sent out by the Colombian Agricultural Association....From the first sight I had of the Settlers I pronounced them unfit for the employment they undertook--they consisted chiefly of tradesmen from Aberdeenshire and Highlands from Inverness shire neither of whom knew how to cultivate land at home, far less how to produce the fruits of this country. The selection made by Mr. Ross could not have been worse than the specimen he now produced. Being quite intimate with the agents of the Association here I communicated my sentiments freely to them, and told them as my opinion that the plans of the Association would never be brought about if they did not get people of more skill and capital to emigrate--they differed in opinion with me; but events have shown that I was right. Of Mr. Ross I knew nothing formerly--I thought he was too fond of rum, and in this I found I was not mistaken. The Gibbses were my lodgers for 10 days. I accompanied Miss Gibbs to Topo, the place allotted for the Settlers.

On our arrival at Topo (10 o'clock a.m.) we found numbers, indeed almost all the settlers, perfectly drunk. Their Parson and Superintendent, with his Privy Councill, being the drunkest of the drunk. An invitation to dine with such a set was of course refused and I set off for La Guayra so early as 2 o'clock. If any proof were wanting to confirm the opinion I first formed of this set of men what I saw at Topo was quite convincing. On Sunday so early as 11 o'clock there were not thirty sober men among the settlers!! From such a exhibition as this it was easy to foresee the downfall of this Colony--no order--no subordination--no obedience to Superiors was observed--How could there when the Parson & Superintendent at Topo for the Colombian Agricultural Association--in whatever place a drop of spirits of whatsoever kind, was to be found there was also to be found the Rev. John Ross. His conduct was so notorious that the Common black negro labourers did not pay him the least respect--on contrary they imitated or mimicked him in his drunken frolics and nicknamed him el Padre Chupon, or the Sucking Priest."

But the story did not end in Venezuela. Conditions evidently got so bad that the emigrants sought some escape. In the words of C. C. James:

"They laid their case before the British consul, and with the help of Mr. Lancaster, the Quaker educationist, who happened to be there at the time, they sent home an appeal for help. This did not fail. A British frigate was dispatched to their assistance. The captain in charge was a brother of Sir Peregrine Maitland, then Governor of Upper Canada. After consultation, they decided to accept the offer of transportation to Canada. They were taken north and landed at New York, where they were met by Mr. Buchanan, the British consul, who also acted as agent of the Canada Company."

The Gore Gazette of August 7, 1827 reported: "Eight families of British Emigrants consisting of 57 persons, arrived at Dundas today from South America, via New York; and proceeded immediately to Guelph"

An address from the immigrants to the king, dated Guelph, Upper Canada, January 25, 1828, gives a full account of the proceedings of the settlers and also provides a list of the heads of families involved.

"To the Kings Most Excellent Majesty:


May it please your Majesty, we the subscribers natives of your ancient and loyal kingdom of Scotland beg leave to approach the throne with sentiments of special thankfulness and gratitude for the great favor shewn to us by Your Majesty's Paternal Government in removing us from the barren territory of Venezuela in the State of Columbia and in bringing us into your Majesty's Province of Upper Canada.

In the year 1825 we were led to embark for Columbia to become Settlers under the patronage of a Company of Merchants in London called the Columbia Agricultural Association, on our arrival in the Province of Venezuela we discovered that the Association whose good intention towards us we had no reason to doubt had been deceived in regard to the Soil and climate by their Agents and we had cause great cause to rue and repent of ever having emigrated to that inhospitable region.

Finding all our hopes frustrated and our means consumed we applied to Your Majesty's Consul General Sir Robt. Kerr Porter for relief and received from him by direction of his Excellency Mr. Alex. Cockburn, Your Majesty's Ambassador to Columbia the means of Subsistance for some time. They afterwards sent us to the United States to be forwarded to Your Majesty's American Dominions and on our arrival at New York we were advised by Mr. Buchanan, Your Majesty's Consul to proceed to Upper Canada where he informed us the Canada Company was forming a settlement. On reaching the Province we delivered to Mr. Galt, the Superintendt of the Canada Company, the letter we had brought but he having no instructions to receive us could only advise us to go to this Place where such as were able to work would find employment until some better arrangement would be made. We accordingly came in with our families amounting to 135 souls of whom 58 were children under 13 years of age--but many of us were in bad health, and all in need of the very necessaries of life, so that we became a burden on the Canada Company--Nevertheless we were treated with kindness and provided with clothes cordials and medical assistance.

It was sometime after explained to us by the Superintendent of the Company that we might become Settlers on the Company's land on undertaking to pay in time by labor or otherwise, the value of the land and the debt incurred for our maintenance. To this we were happy to accede and we are now living on the lands and inhabiting the houses provided for us by the liberality of the Canada Company thankful to God for having permitted us to be brought again under the beneficient protection of Your Majesty's Government.

But in the enjoyment of this great blessing--we are still much depressed in mind when we reflect on the debts we owe to the Company for our support as well as for our land, and on the long time that must elapse before we can receive assistance in labour from many of our children. We have therefore ventured to beseech Your Majesty to be graciously pleased to take our misfortunes into consideration for we have seen better days and hope that the severe trials and afflictions we have endured will be mercifully regarded as sufficient punishment for our error in believing we could improve our condition by passing into the dominions of any other State.

Guelph 25 January 1828"

Among the twenty-six signatures to the above letter were those of Peter Butchart and Alexander Butchart.

When they arrived in Guelph, the La Guayrans presented a pitiful spectacle. Because of their poverty, the unhealthy climate of their Latin American residences, and the long and difficult journey, several of the men and many of the women and children were in a weak and unhealthy condition. What was Galt to do when faced by this ragged and emaciated group? Clearly the La Guayrans ought to have been the responsibility of the British government, and Galt had neither the spare funds nor the authority of the Canada Company to spend money on their behalf.

Galt's decision was typically decisive. He made the assumption that government authorities would accept responsibility for the La Guayrans, and witheld a portion of the government funds in his hands to pay for their care. Those capable of labour, he put to work clearing the Elora Road. The government, however, refused to accept responsibility for the La Guayrans, and ordered Galt to immediately forward the money that he had held back to pay their expenses.

In the meantime, the La Guayrans had recovered their health and strength, and by their industry and thrift had demonstrated to Galt that they were likely to become desirable settlers. Galt, therefore, allotted each of them fifty acres of land, at the usual price, but allowed them to defer the down payment, with the understanding that they were not only to pay for their land and supplies, but also the cost of their upkeep during their illness, all at six percent per annum interest.

From Galt's point of view, the affair, while provoking, turned out well in the end. The La Guayrans, to their credit, fulfilled their obligations to the Canada Company to the penny. But many and bitter were the memories retained by them and their descendants of the interest charged and the high prices exacted for goods bought on credit at the Canada Company store. The settlers were better fitted to face the climate of Canada than that of Venezuela.

There is some confusion about the names and ages of Peter Butchart's children; he was married twice, to his first wife Anne Webster in 1810 and to Elspit Livie in 1821 as noted in the first paragraph. There is some assumption that Peter Butchart (sometimes spelled Butchard) and Alexander Butchart who were both La Guayran settlers were brothers but I have found no proof of a relationship. It seems that the more information I get the more unanswered questions I have.


  1. Hi Joan,
    Rev. John ROSS was from Scotland, He died at sea aboard the ship,Planet. He had 2 brothers, a doctor in Guyana, Walter ROSS, and Charles G. ROSS, Chief Factor for the HBC, at Fort Victoria, B.C., Canada. Thank you for the Blog, it was very helpful to me. Charles G. ROSS had a sister he wrote to in Guelph, ont, canada. I am trying to find out if she was in the group that ended up there from Columbia. David Ross, Bremerton, Wa

    1. Charles Ross's sister Elizabeth married Joseph McDonald and was part of the group that left Scotland for La Guayra, with their children. They then arrived in Guelph. I have more info if interested.

  2. Wow what a great post! My 3rd Great Grandmother was "Helen Peter" whose father was Robert Peter and had come from Scotland to La Guaria then to Canada. This was so helpful and exciting thank you!
    Joshua (

  3. Quite fascinating! I have been trying to find out more information on my G-G-G-G-Grandfather is George Wallace who was traveling with his wife and four sons (his son Donald is my GGGGrandfather who ended up emigrating to California) I am now trying to find out more about the family in Scotland and how they ended up going to Columbia. Thanks for posting this information! cheers

  4. Hey
    Wasn't the stop over in Philadelphia not NYC? Or did the original group get separated?