Know Your Neighbours Special Edition Pt 2: The Merritt Family

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Major Thomas Merritt, U.E.L. (centre)

Major Thomas Merritt, U.E.L.

Thomas Merritt V was born at a family homestead named Mile Square located in Westchester County, New York, in 1759 to parents Thomas Merritt IV (1729-1821) and Amy Purdy (1736-1783).

Thomas obtained an educated at Harvard with a goal of becoming a physician. However in 1778 he began military service during the American Revolutionary War. He was appointed a Cornet in Emmerick’s Dragoons on May 1st, 1778. In 1780 he was transferred to the mounted corps of the Queen’s Rangers infantry. Merritt had been recommended for a promotion in honour of his noteworthy services performed in South Carolina in 1781. With this promotion there would be a transfer to another Regiment, so Merritt declined the offer. In 1782 he was promoted to Lieutenant.

In 1783 Merritt went to New Brunswick with the Regiment where he stayed for a short time, however was only receiving half of his normal wages. In 1785 he returned to South Carolina but moved to Bedford in 1790 to be closer to his family and to start a business.

In 1794 Merritt got word that John Graves Simcoe was the Governor of Upper Canada. Merritt made the journey to visit Simcoe where he received such encouragement that he chose to move and settle in St. Catharines in 1796. Merritt held the offices of Sheriff of the District of Niagara and Surveyor of Woods and Forests.

From 1803-1820 he was Sherriff of Lincoln County. During the War of 1812 Thomas Merritt V raised and commanded the Niagara Dragoons. He fought in the Battle of Queenston Heights.

In his personal life, Thomas Merritt married Mary Hamilton of South Carolina in 1781, with whom he had two sons and five daughters: Thomas VI (died in infancy), Amy, Phoebe, Caroline Matilda, William Hamilton Merritt, Anna Maria and Susan.

One of his sons was the Honourable William Hamilton Merritt who was a well-known public figure and was among the entrepreneurs that financed the building of the Welland Canal.

Thomas Merritt died in St. Catharines, May 12, 1842.

This series is written and compiled by Alicia Floyd, Collections Technician – Archival at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre

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