Henry CLIMENHAGEN: Journey to Upper Canada

prairie_schooner_by_PSFHenry Climenhagen and his family lived in Pennsylvania for a time before journeying to Upper Canada in 1797. The trek from Pennsylvania—likely Lancaster County—to what would become Ontario took approximately two months to complete. Accordingly, if Henry and his family arrived at the end of June, as stated in his land grant petition, they would have set out on their North-East journey sometime around April of 1797. Other Pennsylvania families, mainly Mennonites, such as Byer, Shoup, and Hershey applied for land grants in Willoughby Township about the same time as Henry, suggesting that these families may have made the long trek together. One such travelling companion may have been John Beyer (a possible cousin of Henry’s wife Barbary). In Henry’s land grant petition dated July 14th 1797 he states that he “came into this Province about three weeks ago.” Similarly, the land grant of John Beyers, dated July 12th 1797, states he “came into the Province about a month since from Pennsylvania.”[1]

The Conestoga Wagon

As stated in his land grant petition Henry arrived with cattle—likely oxen that could be used to pull a Conestoga wagon. These wagons were commonly used by early settlers to carry supplies and any keepsakes from the homes they left behind. Oxen are very strong animals. Once Henry and his family were settled these creatures would be essential in helping to clear the land and till the fields for planting. The Conestoga wagon, introduced by the Mennonite settlers in Lancaster Pennsylvania, was different than most covered wagons in that it was primarily built as a work vehicle for the tough hilly landscape of Pennsylvania.

A wagon jack possibly owned by Henry Climenhagen
A wagon jack possibly owned by Henry Climenhagen
Photo: Trevor Climenhage

A typical Conestoga wagon was 18 feet long, 11 feet high and 4 feet wide and weighed upwards of 1200 pounds. It could carry 1 ton and had a curved floor like a boat hull to keep the weight in the center which also aided in preventing the contents from shifting or tipping when travelling up and down hills. Stretched across the top of the wagon on spindles was a white durable canvas cover. As a work vehicle, the wagon was equipped with large sturdy wheels to keep the contents of the wagon dry during stream crossings. These large wheels also aided in passing over large rocks and stumps. Often the cracks in the wagon’s body were filled with tar to prevent leaking during stream crossings or from bad weather—this however did not make the wagon waterproof enough to float. The large wheels were usually painted red while the body was painted Prussian blue. Conestoga wagons were typically equipped with an axe to clear fallen trees and brush from the wagon trail, a tool box for making small repairs, and a wheel jack (Pennsylvania’s Conestoga Wagon, 2009). A wheel jack from a Conestoga wagon thought to have belonged to Henry (or possibly Abraham Beam; shown right)[2] has been passed down throughout the generations and is owned by Trevor Climenhage. The wheel jack is decorated and stamped with the year 1792.

The condition of the roads in early spring would have been terrible—especially treacherous since the thawing rivers could not be used and the roads were morasses of mud. Spring was one of the best times of the year to travel as it was late enough that the ice had broken up aiding in stream crossing, but early enough to avoid the flies and mosquitoes and heat of the summer months (Burghardt, 1969; Wallace, 1952).

The distance from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to Upper Canada was approximately 370 miles (600 km). Typically a wagon could travel ten to twelve miles per day with a team of six to eight horses or oxen. To drive his team Henry walked along the left side of the wagon as they made their way along the wagon trail. Although there were no seats on these wagons the driver often stood atop a ‘lazy’ board—a pullout oak plank in front of the left rear wheel which was next to the brake lever. The brake lever was attached to a chain that would lock the back wheels to slow the wagon down when on a downward slope.

Musket Ball Kit
Kit for making musket balls believed to once belong to Henry Climenhagen. The kit consisted of a ladle for melting the lead and the mold for fashioning the musket balls
Photo: Trevor Climenhage

Each night they would make camp. A feed box that hung from the back of the wagon would be filled with grain for the oxen and water barrels would be set out for these animals. In traditional German manner the family would have eaten a lot of salt pork along the way. Even if they ran low on food and supplies there were many small villages and Indian cabins along the way. However, a minimal skill with a musket would guarantee other catches along the wilderness trails especially geese, wild pigeons, turkeys, bear, and even rattlesnake, which, when boiled had one observer to state “I can say with the greatest Candor I never ate better Meat” (Kirtland, 1903). A musket ball ‘kit’ once thought to belong to Henry is shown right.

After a fire had been raised and dinner completed Henry and family would be content to sleep on the ground beside a spring under a clear sky with boughs of hemlock and balsam making for a comfortable mattress. If the weather was bad there were a system of shelters used by the Pennsylvania Indians that could be found every ten or twelve miles along the major trails. Often these shelters, with names such as “Cock Eye’s Cabin,” and the “Warriors Spring,” were indicated on old maps, journals or surveys, while many others were nameless (Wallace, 1952).

Many of the Mennonites who left Pennsylvania for Upper Canada followed the Trail of the Conestoga which linked up with the Mohawk Trail, from Albany NY to Lake Erie. This was the most common route used by Loyalists into Upper Canada in Henry’s day (Suderman, 1998; Witaker, 2002).

Crossing the Niagara

In June of 1797 Henry and his family finally crossed the Niagara River at Chippewa to Upper Canada. The Niagara Peninsula, about 50 miles long and 40 miles wide, is bordered by Lake Ontario to the north, Lake Erie to the south, and by the Niagara River—the international boundary between the United States and Canada—on the east. The peninsula was devoid of settlement before 1780, and even absent of native villages due to the decimation of the Neutral tribe by the Iroquois in the mid 1600s.[3] Although the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, officially ended the American War of Independence against Britain, the Niagara Region did not see many settlers until the paramilitary companies were disbanded from Fort Niagara in 1795, and the soldiers awarded tracts of land. Settlement of the region proceeded westward and south-westward from the north-eastern corner of the peninsula.

Although the most important entry point was in Queenston where the Niagara River emerged from the gorge, the second most important at this time was the mouth of the Welland River, or Chippewa Creek, entering the Niagara River just above the falls. The Niagara River was just over a mile wide and the crossing at Chippewa—at Navy Island—was the only crossing between Queenston and Fort Erie as, to the north, the falls rapids began, and south, the large Grand Island made any crossing of the river there impossible. At Chippewa long Indian trails extended along the Welland River into the interior—a semi-circular route led from the river to Point Abino all the way to the limestone quarry. Although Fort Erie would soon become a major entry point into Upper Canada, its importance in this fashion in 1797 was minimal (Burghardt, 1969).

It is often stated in other publications that these pioneers would be ferried across the Niagara river while their wagon would be floated across. As mentioned previously, these wagons weighed upwards of 1200 pounds empty. Although tar was used to help keep the contents of the wagon dry during rainy weather or stream crossings these wagons were not water proof. The wagon and its contents, along with horses and oxen would have been ferried across the Niagara River. According to Dollarhide (1997), “…boats could be used to ferry wagons and families [from New York] to Upper Canada.” Once safely across the river, as a common practice the household goods were poled up the river or close to the lake shore while the family members and livestock walked or rode on the accompanying trails.

Willoughby Township

King George III wax seal. Photo: Trevor Climenhage
Wax seal attached to the original deed granted by King George III to Henry in 1797.
Photo: Trevor Climenhage

Henry applied for a land grant from King George III three weeks after his arrival. Although he was awarded two-hundred acres in Willoughby Township, cross concession, lots 6 and 7,  he did not receive the receipt for this grant until February of 1805; the wax seal from this deed is shown left.

Shortly after their arrival, Henry made a paste board box, commonly used to hold letters, inscribed with his son Martin’s name. The clasp (shown below) is made of a King George III penny.

Although their long journey from Lancaster County to Willoughby was a long and arduous one, the hard work was only just beginning as the land needed to be cleared and crops planted.

Paste board box inscribed with son Martin’s name 1797 and a date that looks like June 29. This box may have signified the date of their arrival in Upper Canada. The clasp on the front is made from a King George III penny
Photo: Trevor Climenhage

Henry and his family settled on their land–wooded with deciduous trees. The streams flowed and turned power for many of the mills along their banks. During this time period there was a tendency toward drought in the summer months. Black Creek was likely low and Henry and his family may have encountered a hot summer.

Henry’s 200 acres in Willoughby can be found today on Baker road just west of Sodom road. At the time of his settlement his lands were bordered to the North by brothers Christian and Martin Shoup. Christian Shoup was married to Eve Beyer/Byers. Christian’s neighbour to the East was his mother-in-law Anna (Beam) Beyer. Next to her was Anna’s brother Abraham Beam. As stated in previous posts Henry may have been related to the Beyer/Byers family through marriage.

In 1799 Henry purchased three-hundred additional acres of land in Bertie Township from Parshall Terry.[4] Bertie Township is where Henry raised his family, and where his descendants stayed for well over one-hundred years. This land is currently owned by the International Country Club of Niagara.


Burghardt, A. The origin and development of the road network of the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, 1770-1851. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 59, 1969.

Dollarhide, W. Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815. Precision Indexing, 1997.

Kirtland, T. Diary of Turhand Kirtland from 1798-1800. While surveying and laying out the Western Reserve for the Connecticut Land Company. (M. L. Morse, Ed.) Poland, Ohio, 1903.

Lund, T. Parshall Terry Family History. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1963.

Pennsylvania’s Conestoga Wagon. American History, 43, 2009.

Suderman, D. Coming to Canada. Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, 1998. Found online at http://www.mhsc.ca.

Wallace, P. Historic Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 76, 1952.

Whitaker, B. Early American Roads and Trails. Kansas City, Missouri, 2002. Found online at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com

Footnotes    ((↵) returns to text)

  1. Upper Canada Land Petitions LAC “B” Bundle “Miscellaneous.” Petition Number 17(↵)
  2. Trevor Climenhage, the owner of the wagon jack, is uncertain who the wagon jack belonged to–Henry Climenhagen or Abraham Beam–as he is a descendant of both men. However, the ‘1792’ stamp found on the jack is significant for Henry as this is the year we assume that his indenture ended [based on family folklore]. Abraham Beam, on the other hand, arrived in Upper Canada in 1789, and it is unlikely he would have built such a heavy duty wagon for use in Willoughby. So, if our choice is limited to these two men it makes more sense that the wagon jack belonged to Henry.(↵)
  3. The Neutral band was wiped out by the Iroquois about 1665 and no new native settlements were settled along the Niagara(↵)
  4. Parshall Terry, born February 22nd 1756, was the son of Parshall Terry and Deborah Clark. He was a member of the First Westmoreland Independent Company in 1776, and served with Washington’s army, but deserted January 11th, 1777. Later he joined the British Army and became a Lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers, Royal Greens at Fort Niagara. At the close of the Revolutionary War Parshall Terry was given large holdings by the Crown in Bertie Township. He sold these lands and then settled at Kingston, Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), and then York (Toronto) where he was elected to the 1st Parliament of Upper Canada in the riding of Lincoln and Norfolk (Lund, 1963). However, it is unclear at this time if it was Parshall Terry, or his son Parshall Terry (III) junior that sold the land to Henry(↵)
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