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Judith Simpson (1774-?)
United Empire Loyalist
Judith Simpson
Judith Simpson
(Reproduced with permission of George Pek)

Judith Simpson was probably the child of a Loyalist family. Thousands of people supported Britian during the American Revolution (1775-83) and later settled in what is now called Canada. Several thousand Loyalists moved to the area now known as the province of Quebec, and it is believed that Judith Simpson was among them. As most of the United Empire Loyalists arrived in 1783-4, Judith would have been a child at the time.

But who was Judith Simpson? Her photo was sent to heroines.ca by George Pek of Hamilton, Ontario. George provided the following information about the image and the research he conducted to learn about Judith Simpson:

"It is an early photograph portrait of a American Loyalist from the Eastern Townships of Quebec. There are no other known paper photographs from Canada or America from the 1840s. This 1848 photo is the earliest known extant Canadian female portrait, extremely rare North American original paper photograph from the late 1840s. Paper prints were rare stateside(USA) in the 1840s, but very common in England. Photography was invented in 1839, but, paper photography was introduced in 1841.

THE STORY: I've had this photograph in my possession since I was 12 years old in 1981. Five years ago I found an Indenture (land deed), watermarked 1846, from Hamilton. The Indenture was printed by Henry Rowsell, printer, bookseller, and stationer, Toronto, 184_, with a watermark crest and watermark. When I held the paper to the light I discovered it has the same watermark crest as my photograph paper mount. The watermark has three fleur des lis on top of a crown, and another one on the bottom of the crest upside down. This could be the clue to the mystery of this photograph?

The watermark used by Henry Rowsell (1807-1890) might mean that the paper was made in what is now Quebec. Roswell was active in his own name from 1834-64. Many of the immigrant photographers working in Montreal or Quebec City between 1840 and 1860 had come from England and Scotland.

The photograph is a portrait of "Judith Simpson Aged 74 A.D. 1848 (written in brown ink on paper mount)" and image measures 11.5 cm. by 16 cm. in very fine condition, paper mount measures 17.8 cm. by 22.3 cm. Photographer unknown, but records in Canadian journals identify 2 Americans, Halsey & Sadd who set up studios in Montreal and Quecbec City late 1840, and a Mrs. Fletcher in Montreal in 1841, probably the first woman photographer in Canada. It has a warm brown and grayish-green hue, and slightly tinted red cheeks, with a blindstamp on the paper mount which is a fleur des lis in a circle. It has a rough surface with wrinkling and unequal texture. It is among the earliest examples on paper, and are extremely rare and valuable, for a North American example.

In Robert Pols book: Dating Old Photographs, it mentions "Calotype portraits are most likely to measure between 4" and 5" inches one way and 6" and 7" the other. The surface is matte, with a very faint sheen." My photo measures 4 1/2" by 6 1/4" inches and has a faint sheen. I have read that during the years following its invention (1841), many improvements were made to this process. Calotypes prints are capable of showing quite fine detail. Other photograph examples on paper, which this 1848 photo could be, from the 1840's are experimental salt print, even rarer, chrysotype or argentotype. It cannot by a cannotype because they were blue. The task was arduous: long exposure times, erratic temperatures and difficult working conditions contributed to the low success rate of the early photographers. Very few identified images have survived.

The question? Was this lady living in Canada?

Then the Genelogical Research Library mentioned there was a SIMPSON, JUDITH land record index, living in 1807 in Quebec, Canada. She is probably a American Loyalist civilian that came to live in the Eastern Townships of English speaking Quebec. The director of the library said "the photograph of the person gave him some strength to believe that she is highly likely from a Loyalist family".

Finally, the Eastern Townships Research Centre researcher, provided the documents "S volume of the Crown's land grantees, is the name Judith Simpson. She was in Wolfe County and given 400 acres in the Township of Ham on July 29, 1807 (today known as Ham-Nord, Quebec). It was registered as a C grant on pg. 161. Page 1082 of the printed list. She was most likely the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, and married to (widow of Andrew) from 1802 to probably his death in 1825 in Lower Canada (now Quebec) for 23 years.

Checked the Upper Canada (now Ontario) records there was no Judith Simpson. Also, in a book titled "Ham-Nord d'hier a aujourd'hui" on page 18, Judith Simpson is mentioned "Les autres concessionnaires de l'annee 1807 furent". One of the first 13 settlers to this region. She would have been born circa 1773-74, and possibly the oldest identified person, and earliest Loyalist portrait known in a paper photographic image in Canada. She is wearing her decade-old best dress and day cap. Her indoor bonnet and dress with full sleeves date from the 1830's."

By George Pek
Note: heroines.ca does not endorse and is not responsible for content provided by its contributors, but posts this content as a public service and to encourage research.

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