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OPINION: Old letter to city bigwig surfaces

Published on

George Mathewson

Journal reader Robin Jewell made a surprising discovery recently while leafing through a box of old papers he bought online.

Beneath a pile of stamps he found a letter addressed to one James Flintoft, Esq. with a postmark of Port Sarnia.

It’s dated February 26, 1852.

“I was blown away. It seemed to be an important historical document but I don’t really know the local history,” said Jewell, a steel plant retiree who moved to Sarnia just last year.

“I didn’t know the name Flintoft. I didn’t know he was the first sheriff of Sarnia.”

James Flintoft Sr. was an Englishman who had moved to Port Sarnia in 1844 at the urging of Malcolm Cameron, one of the community’s founders.

Cameron had arrived from Perth, Ont., liked what he saw, and persuaded Flintoft and dozens of others back in Lanark County to relocated to the hamlet of about 700 people on the St. Clair River.

Flintoft prospered. He managed Cameron’s lumber and milling business and built a flourmill on the west side of Front Street. He was an early president of the Lambton Loan Company and a justice of the peace.

So, by 1852, James Flintoft Sr. was a local bigwig when a letter arrived in the post from Desdemonia Flintoft in Perth.

It begins “Dear Brother” and deals chiefly with the disposition of “the farm” and it “being let out on shares” along with various family salutations and health reports.

She expresses regret for causing James “trouble” and gratitude for some unnamed assistance. Because she signed the outside “Widow Flintoft” she might have been a sister-in-law.

“… you will receive your reward in heaven …” she writes.

Postmarks show the letter travelled to Brockville and London before reaching Port Sarnia, presumably by stagecoach on the swampy and often impassable road.

It’s written in ink on a sheet of lined blue paper and folded numerous times, but in otherwise good condition for a 163-years-old document.

The next year, James Flintoft was appointed the first sheriff of the newly incorporated County of Lambton, making him responsible for enforcing court orders and overseeing elections.

Jewell discovered the old letter in a box he bought from an online estate auction in June. He was eyeing a scroll saw when he noticed a “stamp collection” with a $5 bid on it.

“So I put in a bid for $7.50,” he said.

The beer case-sized box contains other boxes filled with stamps, envelopes and letters haphazardly jumbled together.

“I still haven’t had a chance to go through it all yet,” he said. “Who knows, I might still unearth something else.”













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