Proposed Town of Newcastle

In the first half of the 18th century, North America included British colonies along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, as well as the French colony, New France. A war broke out between Britain and France in 1755. The British general, Wolfe, defeated, the French general Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham located outside Quebec City on September 13, 1759. The Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the war and recognized British control of the colony of Canada. The colony consisted of New France (Quebec) and the current area of Ontario, composed mainly of a few trading posts at that time.

In 1774, the Revolutionary War broke out as the British colonies along the Atlantic coast fought for their independence. Many of the residents remained loyal to the British and fought against the revolutionary army. However, the Americans won their independence. The treaty signed between Britain and America in 1783, also called the Treaty of Paris, established the boundary between Canada and the United States as being the centre of the Great Lakes and connecting rivers.

Some 35,000 to 40,000 Loyalists came to Canada after the war. Most of these Loyalists immigrated to the Maritimes or to the eastern townships of Quebec. However, some came to Ontario and by 1791, there were some 15,000 Loyalists in Ontario.

The Constitution Act of 1791 divided the British colony, Canada, into two provinces, Lower Canada, now Quebec, and Upper Canada, now Ontario. Additional settlers came from Britain and the United States, until by 1812, there were about 80,000 people in Upper Canada. John Graves Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Its capital, initially at Niagara-on-the-Lake, was moved in 1794 to York, now Toronto.

In 1796, it was decided that Upper Canada be divided into districts. York was to be the capital of the Home District, which included York, Peel, Simcoe, Durham and Northumberland counties. An Act of Parliament indicated that when the counties of Durham and Northumberland contained 1000 residents, those counties would be made into a separate district named Newcastle. The district capital, also to be named Newcastle, was to be located on the Presqu'ile peninsula, which had the first natural harbour on Lake Ontario east of York. In 1797, the Deputy Surveyor General, Alexander Aitkin, completed the survey of Newcastle and laid out the lots and roads as shown on the plan.

Plan of Newcastle

Proposed plan of Newcastle (Includes current landmarks)
Click on map for larger image

In 1802, the District of Newcastle was officially approved and a courthouse and jail were built. Both facilities were housed in a large frame building about 50 feet long, 30 feet wide and three stories high. It was placed in the care of a Captain Selleck, who moved in with his family. One-acre lots were also granted to Timothy Thompson, Thomas Ward, Joseph Gibson, and David Rogers.

The first trial in the courthouse was scheduled for 1804. A native man charged with the murder of a trading post operator on Lake Scugog, was to be the first person tried in this court. He was being transported from York to Newcastle with a number of prominent citizens aboard the Speedy. On the night of Oct. 8, 1804, the ship was lost with all aboard, just off Presqu'ile.

Due to the seemingly "inconvenient" location of the town of Newcastle and the pleas of its residents, an Act of Parliament passed on March 2, 1805 transferred the district capital to another location. A new courthouse was built in Hamilton Township and the settlement that grew around it was called Amherst (now Cobourg.)

The Newcastle courthouse was sold to Captain Selleck. The third floor was removed and the building was used as the family home for many years. The home has been gone for more than a century, and, though efforts have been made to find it, the original location is still unknown today. It was probably built in the area designated 'prison' on the town plan. Further efforts will be made to find the location of this home, the only government building ever completed in the original town of Newcastle.

By Harold Atkins

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