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Interesting Facts & Folklore

• John Edison fought for His Majesty's colony in what is now the United States of America during the colonial War of Independence. His wife's family, the patriot Ogden's, saved John from execution when the war ended. However, his lands were confiscated, his house burned, the family fled to Nova Scotia, where they lived for 28 years before moving to Vienna in 1811.

• Colonel Talbot deemed that within 3 years, settlers were to: Clear & sow 10 acres of land, build a house, and open ½ of the road in front of their land. If these conditions were met, they were given 50 acres of land, and could purchase an additional 150 acres for $3 an acre. If not completed, the claim was forfeited – and since Colonel Talbot wrote the claims in pencil, he simply erased their name from the lot book.

• Captain Edison Sr. suggested "Vienna" instead of the original "Shrewsbury" because of its hilly countryside and after an ancestor who lived in Austria.

• In 1851 Plank Road was completed and was wide enough for 2 horse teams to pass. It originally had 8 different tollgates.

• Tragedies in the area:
  • 1832   Cholera Epidemic
  • 1855   Fire:  wiped out virtually every building on one side of the principal street
  • 1859   Fire:  almost whole business section and several houses
  • 1866   Fire:  Foul Play suspected when the body of Robert H. McKay was found in his ruined apartment above Mr. Brasher's tailor shop where the fire was believed to have started. He was known to be carrying $800 the night of the fire, but the money was missing when the body was found.
  • 1868   Flood:  carried away 2 wooden bridges over the Otter Creek.

• In 1871, Port Burwell produced what was said to have been one of the fastest and handsomest schooners that ever journeyed the waterways named the "Vienna". It was very fast but had a tendency to tip over when not loaded.   Locals were known to say, "the Vienna's the girl to go!"

• Nancy Elliott, Thomas Edison's mother, was the teacher in the first school established in Vienna in 1828. Women weren't admitted to school until 1850.

• The Vienna Town Hall was built in 1862. It was originally also used as a theatre, complete with curtain, sloped seating and backstage change room. Medicine Shows including "The Most Popular Girl in Town"  Contest were held there. With each bottle of medicine bought, a gentleman was given a coupon, which he could give to any girl he wished. Girls vying for the title would ask all their friends for their medicine coupons – and at the end of the show, the girl with the most coupons became "The Most Popular Girl in Town".

• 1863 – a notice was issued by Vienna Council  stating that "anyone serving certain habitual drunkards any alcoholic beverages in the village would be fined".

• Bands of gypsies would sometimes camp in the bush just outside Vienna.

• Grain fields were often victim to wild turkeys or the millions of passenger pigeons. Flocks sometimes numbered 2000 and some of the turkeys were 22 lbs.

• Talbot's authority to grant lands was transferred to York (Toronto) in 1839 – but he refused to give up his records. The records were finally turned over to the government in 1853 when he died. Some land titles weren't made legal until then.

• Sam Edison Senior joined the Middlesex Militia in 1812 and was promptly promoted to Captain. It is said he fought with General Brock's army at Queenston Heights, where Brock lost his life. Another report claims he served under Colonel Talbot.

• Captain Sam Edison had 7 sons and 1 daughter with wife, Nancy, who died on September  26, 1824. Soon after he married Elizabeth Cook. Although records for that time aren't an exact science, it is shown that an Elizabeth Jane was born to Captain Sam Edison and Elizabeth in 1823 and one year before his first wife died. Together, they had another 4 sons and 1 daughter.

• In direct opposition to his loyalist ancestors, Sam Edison Jr. became a Reformer in defiance of the Tory Family Compact. Local folklore claims Sam Edison Jr., trained by his father, secretly trained Rebel Reformers in the Vienna Woods and held meetings at his Inn. Sam Jr. was listed on the Tory Blacklist as a rebel.

• In 1837, Sam Edison Jr. and other local rebels planned to join a march led by Dr. Charles Duncombe to York.   News reached them the rebellion, led by William Lyon MacKenzie had already failed, and that a militia of 600 men was on their way to arrest them. The rebels scattered and many were captured at Richmond.   Nine of his compatriots were hanged in the London Middlesex jail.

• A price of $500.00 was put on Sam Edison's head and the militia searched the old Edison family homestead. As a delay tactic, Elizabeth Cook Edison, pretended to be very nervous by flitting to the root cellar and back to give the impression Sam might be hiding there. While Sam Edison Jr. was actually well on his way to the United States, the militia raided the Edison Homestead after nightfall, hoping to surprise him. Captain Samuel Edison is reported to have commented   "Only Sammy's long legs saved his hide that time!"

• Like his Grandfather, Sam Edison Jr's home and lands were seized, this time by the Canadian government. He was later granted a full pardon.

• Nancy suffered from symptoms of mental illness late in life and died in 1871. Three weeks after her death, Sam Edison Jr. started a new relationship with his 16-year-old housekeeper, Mary Sharlow.

• Samuel Edison Jr. died in 1896 at the age of 92. In his own words, Samuel Jr. claimed,  "I am a master of smoking, drinking and gambling, I have smoked and drank whisky moderately when I needed it, and have known to let it alone."


That’s the Way it Was – A Tribute to Vienna, Sally Seghers, Sandra Seghers, Nancy Christo
Port Stanley Musings and Memories, Frank and Nancy Prothero
The Edisons of Vienna, Lyal Tait

The Bayham Lambs

During the time when lumbering was at its peak with a sawmill on every major creek and ship building was a strong industry, there was a great influx of young, unmarried men living in boarding houses and hotels.  There were plenty of drinking establishments in Vienna and Port Burwell. At the close of the American Civil War in 1865, large numbers of young men returned home with no jobs to go to and adventure still in their blood.  During the period from about 1859 to nearly 1890, several small gangs of young men developed into regular robber bands.

They were locally referred to as the "Bayham Lambs".

One story of them comes from Nora Edison Coombs, the last of Vienna Edison's.  The "Lambs" robbed her aunt, Mrs. Fordice Warner Edison, who lived three miles northwest of Vienna, in an isolated area.  The house was still there in 1973.  They tied up Mrs. Edison in her old rocking chair and proceeded to ransack the house.  She also recognized one of them as a reputed member of the "Bayham Lambs".  She pleaded with them not to take her silverware as it was a cherished heirloom from her mother.  The robbers left it.

Today the rocking chair and the silver can be seen in the Edison Museum of Vienna.
                                                                      by Paul Brackenbury -  from stories by Lyall Tait

Bayham Area Newspapers
In the library of the University of Western Ontario at London there is a preserved copy of Phoenix and Elgin County Conservator a weekly paper.  This paper was published June 1853 going on to tell that the Village of Vienna was the centre of many business enterprises.  One of the advertisers announced that he had a stage Line running three times a day from Vienna to Port Burwell, W. J. Hayward Company, and he begs to intimate that they are prepared to carry passengers in one of its most commodious carriages in Canada, being built expressly for this route.

From the Tilsonburg Newspaper, when Tillsonburg was spelled with only one "L".  The date of this paper was September 21, 1899.  It tells about Bayham Central Fair.  The writer started out his story that "all roads lead to Straffordville".  He told that the attendance was almost up to average and that the gate receipts were $110.00.   There were horse racing and a splendid showing of horses and cattle, sheep and swine.  The purse for the horse races $25.00 for all trot or pace, and $10.00 for two year old colt in harness race.

The St. Thomas Weekly Times report in its issue of May 19, 1904, the death of a former well known resident of Corinth in the person of Captain John Borbridge.  He was one of the pioneer residents of Bayham.

The St. Thomas Times Journal of Saturday, November 2, 1940, gives an excellent account of the 90th Anniversary of the Richmond Church.  It showed pictures of Thomas Godwin and William Hatch, pioneer residents of Richmond district, who were members of the Board of Trustees of the Church, which received the original deed of the property from Caleb Cook.  Mr. Hiram Morse, then aged 87, told how in the early days of the Church that the women sat on the south side and the men on the north side of the Church.  He also told about Mrs. Laing paying the melodeon.

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