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The Breakeys of Wolfe Island, Canada

            Wolfe Island, the largest of the famed Thousand Islands, lies on the international border of Canada and the United States. Located where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River, Wolfe Island on the south is bordered by the American channel, and on the north by the Canal channel.  The island may be reached by automobile and passenger ferry from the thriving metropolis of Kingston on the Canadian shore or from the historical town of Cape Vincent in the United States.  Measuring some twenty miles in length, and at times some one to seven miles from channel to channel,[1] this island became home for a family of Breakeys about which is little known.

            Having been alerted to the existence of ‘Brakey Bay’ on a Wolfe Island map, a very dear friend and I ventured north one lovely fall day in 1982.  Arriving nearly at the northeast tip of the island we approached a turn off  for ‘Breaky’s Bay Road,’ and it was at the end of this road that we met our most gracious host and hostess, John and Flora Devlin.  More than pleased to visit with a Breakey descendant, Mr. Devlin himself being from County Galway in Ireland, they assured me ‘Breakey’ was the name on their deed.

            In was while discussing the history of their homestead that Mrs. Devlin readily supplied me with deed information she had obtained while in Kingston, plus a narrative she had written.  The following entries are, with her permission, taken from her notes.

Lot 6, Con. 19 S.B.  48 acres

Granted by the Crown to Colonel Leslie; leased by Col. Leslie heirs in the early 1800s to J.D. Breakey.[2]

1886: J. D. Breakey to Margaret Dignem. It is unknown when the lease expired.

1925: Margaret Dignem to Thomas Dignem, her son.

1937: Thomas Dignem to James Farrell, lawyer.

1944: James Farrell to John and Flora Devlin

1948: John and Flora finished paying for it; received deed.

Mrs. Devlin’s narrative continued:

            “This farm was used for mixed farming, beef, dairy products, grains, honey, maple syrup and some small fruits.  In late 1800 lumber was a lucrative business, 50 acres of now meadow land was a standing pine forest.  The trees were cut and drawn to the St. Lawrence River at Breakey’s Bay, then floated down to the sawmill at Clayton, NY, thence to British market.  For many years the successive ferries that served the people of Wolfe Island stopped at his farm on Breakeys Bay.  The boat would come down on Wednesday evening, stay the night, and at 7 am Thursday would make the trip to Kingston with passengers and freight.  The return trip was made on Thursday evening.  The deck hands on the ferry worked hard, loading and unloading freight in their two wheeled barrows and also throwing sacks of grain on their shoulders to carry them.  Many tons of grain in 100# heavy freight were transported, also cleaning up after cattle and horses tied or roped in an area for the trip.  Hay was transported on horse drawn wagons.  In 1938-1940 this ferry service discontinued with improved roads and the common use of motor vehicles.”

            Mr. Devlin pointed out that as we looked across the bay from their homestead, we were looking at the homestead site of another Breakey, the lots originally adjoining each other.  He thought the two Breakeys were brothers.

            As our visit was drawing to a close, Mrs. Devlin shared with us the book Wolfe Island Cemeteries (1976) authored by Fern Small and Ken Collins.  Under lot 15 of the St. Lawrence United Cemetery there was an entry for Breakey:

Eliza Ann Hodges

John Devereaux

John R.

Orletta B. Arnold

Wellington B.

            After expressing our appreciation for their assistance, taking numerous photographs of the bay, and getting directions for the cemetery, we took our leave hoping to learn more about the Breakeys of Wolfe Island. 

            After a drive of only a few miles we located the cemetery at the end of the 17th Line Road, just 100 feet off Rt. 96.  For the most part, the lawn was well moved; overgrown lilac bushes abounded; there were numerous weathered headstones.

            The Breakey headstone was located in the first row at the very left as one stands facing the cemetery.  A bramble bush of undetermined origin wound its way up the stone and had to be nudged aside in order to photograph the names. The inscriptions read as follows:

John R. Breakey 1808-1894

His Wife

Orletta B. Arnold 1818-1881

Their Son

Wellington B.

1847-1876

The inscription on the reverse side reads:

Erected in Memory of

John Devereaux

Sept. 1845

Jan. 1901

His Wife

Eliza Ann Hodges

1854-

            It was with some still small hope of providing a link to these Breakeys that on our return to the Cape Vincent ferry we stopped on the island in Marysville, at Mrs. Devlin’s suggestion, and visited with Miss Marie Baker, granddaughter of one of the first settlers.  She shared with us the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Counties, Ontario (1878, Meachem & Co.). On page 103 was the following entry:  J. G. Breakey Conc. 19, Lot 7 of Wolfe Island; Nativity, Canada; farmer, date of settlement 1850.

            It was with some disappointment that I left Wolfe Island knowing that in none of my records were there any names providing a link to the Breakeys of Wolfe Island.

            Based upon my findings I propose the following lineage:

John R. Breakey (1801-1894) married Orletta B. Arnold (1808-1881) and had issue –

1. John Devereaux Breakey (1845-1901) who married Eliza Ann Hodges (1854 -)

2. Wellington B. Breakey (1847-1876)

Addenda

            Upon returning home, with hope that I might still resolve the origin of the ‘Brakey Bay’ name, I contacted the Archives Branch in Ottawa, Public Archives Canada.  Mrs. J. Roy, Genealogical Research Specialist, Research & Inquiries Services, Manuscript Division (personal communication, 27 Sept. 1982) replied: “…I regret to inform you that a search of various reference works in our custody and in the Toponymy Division of Energy, Mines and Resources has failed to locate a reference to the reason for the name of Brakey Bay, Frontenac County.”

            Further information about the Breakeys of Wolfe island was ascertained when, in 1988, Dr. John Hall[3] sent me a copy of an article from the then current issue of Families.[4]  Included among the names for the winter roll call of 1890-91 for Canada’s Gallant Volunteers of 1837-38 was this entry: Breakey, J. R. [age] (83) Wolfe Island. 

            Broughton’s introductory comments state that the previously mentioned lists were first “published by the British Whig, Kingston, in 1891; …Without this list, many of these names of gallant Canadians would have gone down to oblivion unrecognized; now their families are at least able to preserve a record of their service” (1988, p. 26).

            In late June 1988 further Breakey/Wolfe Island data was forthcoming when I heard from an old high school friend who had been researching his ancestors on Wolfe Island (Calvin Fenton, personal communication, 26 June 1988).  By coincidence, the property of Mr. Fenton’s ‘Joy’ ancestors was a stone’s throw from that of J. R. Breakey on Brakey Bay. 

            The following information received from Mr. Fenton was taken from the 1891 census of Canada for the Province of Ontario, District No. 64 Frontenac, S. District, and Township of Wolfe Island:

Families: 1 (under which are listed): 

Name: Breakey, John D.

Sex: M

Age: 45

Married or widowed: M

Relation to head of family: -

Country or Province of birth: Ontario

Place of birth of father: Ireland

Place of birth of mother: U.S.

Religion: Ch. of Eng.

Profession, occupation or trade: Farmer

Employers: 1

Employer to state average number of hands employed during year: 1

Instruction:

            Read: 1

            Write: 1

  

Name: Breakey, Eliza

Sex: F

Age: 36

Married or widowed: M

Relation to head of family: W

Country or Province of birth: Ontario

Place of birth of father: England

Place of birth of mother: Ireland

Religion: Ch. of Eng.

Profession, occupation or trade: -

Instruction:

            Read: 1

            Write: 1

  

Name: Breakey, John R.

Sex: M

Age: 83

Married or widowed: W

Relation to head of family: father

Country or Province of birth: Ireland

Place of birth of father: Ireland

Place of birth of mother: Ireland

Religion: Unitarian

Profession, occupation or trade: -

Instruction:

            Read: 1

            Write: 1


 

[1] Hawkins, Mrs. James. (1967) History of Wolfe Island.

[2] Irish ‘Valuations of Tenements’ records indicate that John and Samuel Breakey of County Monaghan, Ireland, leased a total of 70 acres in the townland of Balladian, including houses, lands, & offices from one Emily Leslie.  Is it a coincidence that we find another link between the family of Leslie and Breakey?

[3] Dr. Hall is a descendant of James and Jane Breakey Hall of Cavan Township in Ontario, Canada.

[4] Broughton, D. (1988, February). Canada’s Gallant Volunteers of 1837-38: Roll Call, Winter of 1890-91. Families, 27, 26-41.