WILLIAM DUFFUS 1762-1845
William Duffus was born in Banff, Scotland, in 1762, the son of "poor but honest parents". His father died young and left his widow, in a very bad way financially. (It is believed that William's mother was a niece of the Cruden who wrote Cruden's Concordance.) William, therefore, had to learn a trade and, of all things, took up tailoring. He served his apprenticeship in Scotland and then moved to London where he worked in a tailor's shop for some time.
William had a sister, Elspeth Duffus, who married a Mr. Wiseman and their grand-daughter, Margaret Wiseman married William Stairs of Halifax, so that when William's boys married the Morrow girls it was a case of second cousins once removed marrying each other. This introduces a little in-breeding in the Stairs strain which, from the standpoint of eugenics, is a very fine thing and may explain the brilliance, and/or wackiness of some of the descendants.
During William's stay in London he witnessed the "No Popery" riots of 1780 led by Lord George Gordon who had the zany idea that he could, by public rioting, compel the House of Commons to repeal the bill passed in 1778 for the relief of Roman Catholics from some of the burdensome restrictions that had been resting on them since the early days of the Reformation. Gordon was of unsound mind, according to medical opinion of the day, and died in 1793, He was a proselyte to Judaism, possibly influenced by the theory, so ably, expounded by Mrs. Henry at the first of this book, that he was a direct descendant of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
The riots caused great damage throughout London and William Duffus was an eye-witness. He was standing in the Square when the mob destroyed the home of Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice of England. Lord Mansfield was a Scot and William's interest in a fellow-countryman may have led him to help the authorities in quelling the disturbances. Even at 18 William was a huge man, light on his feet and a terror in a fight, so we can well imagine that the authorities welcomed his assistance. He must have been unusually helpful because he received the Freedom of the City of London as a reward for his services.
While the origin of the Duffus family appears to be lowly, they must have been well connected. Otherwise, how can one explain how in 1784 a young tailor in London was able to arrange a passage to Halifax aboard the flagship of Admiral Sir Charles Douglas. It is known that William was a first cousin of General Ogilvie, whose name has been given to the fort in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax.
The fleet voyaged in leisurely fashion to Halifax via the West Indies and stopped at a number of islands enroute. Susan says that her grand- father told her of one island which had no water and had to be supplied with this essential commodity by boat, and continues "he often told me many things (about the trip) that I have now forgotten". What a help that is to the diligent historian!! Susan also neglects to mention, possibly because she thought it indelicate, that William had the distinction of being one of those who sailed into Halifax between the lighthouse keeper's legs. It appears that the keeper of a light on MacNab's Island had a leg severely injured while working on the western side of the harbour and had to have it amputated. When he returned to the island, he left the severed limb buried behind him on the mainland. So It is that Halifax is the only port in the world where ships entering and leaving the harbour pass between the lighthouse keeper's legs. Some advantageous publicity for the port resulted from the story because it eventually was published in one of Ripley's "Believe It or Not" cartoons.
There were a number of deaths during William's voyage and, as was customary in such cases, the deceased's effects were sold off immediately after the burial at sea. William bought most of the linen and, when he arrived in Halifax, he had dozens and dozens of white linen shirts which lasted him for years. As soon as he landed he set up in business as a merchant, possibly with some of the linen as stock, and in a remarkably short time made a fortune of upwards of L30,000.
During this period of prosperity he married, but lost his wife early. The strain of bearing five children in quick succession was too much for her. The eldest child by this marriage, James, lived to become a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, saw service at sea during the Napoleonic Wars and was present at the Battle of Copenhagen. He was retired on half pay and died in Halifax where he was buried in St. Paul's Cemetery. All of his brothers and sisters died in infancy.
William then wooed and won Susannah Murdoch, daughter for the Rev. James Murdoch, after a tough battle in which he was aided and abetted by her grand- mother, old Mrs. Malachi Salter. Susannah or Susan as she was more commonly known, when 16 years old, had been sent by her parents to look after the old lady after Malachi's death in 1781. Susan had been in love with an impecunious Army doctor of "noble character and very handsome and she loved him dearly" - and what a story she made of it fifty years later! He wanted to marry her but his regiment was transferred to Martinique before he could raise sufficient cash so he left Susan sitting on the banks of the harbour at Point Pleasant Park shedding buckets of tears while she watched her true love sail away. She said that "happiness for her was gone forever". The bitterness of death came over her then, and when in three months time she heard that her friend had died of yellow fever soon after his arrival in Martinique, she hardly felt the blow". She told William "she had no love to give a husband but had no energy to oppose her grandmother".
Fortunately, hearts of personable young females seem to be singularly imperishable, and William's tall, noble and commanding presence, together with his taciturn habits of speech, for he never spoke if a gesture would do, implied such a reserve of latent strength and integrity that they finally carried the day and Susan married him in 1794.
William Duffus often took Susan riding, or driving in a gig. she used to dress in a scarlet habit with a white beaver hat and feather and people would run to the window to see them as they were considered the handsomest couple in town. Both of them kept their looks until they died. Aunt Susan ruefully remarks that none of their descendants could compare with them in appearance. William Duffus took a great interest in agriculture and bought a tract of land at the north west corner of the Common which he cultivated intensively. The land was cold and wet and he had poor luck with it in spite of all kinds of experiments. His wife used to complain that the farm was paved with gold. While in pursuit of his hobby he became interested in the use of marsh mud as a fertilizer as recommended in the farming papers published by Sir John Sinclair. He interested his wife's brother-in-law, a Mr. Sangster of Windsor, in the idea and the two of them promoted it so success- fully that its use became general throughout the Province.
During this period of prosperity William Duffus paid for the education of his brother-in-law, William Murdoch, and obtained a commission for him in the Navy, where the boy eventually became a Lieutenant.
Duffus ran into financial trouble when his London agent absconded, reducing William to poverty. In a few years he was back on his feet again so that he was able to go surety for L2,000 on No. 1 Granville St. But the ink on the documents was hardly dry when the building burned down, with no insurance, during a great fire that wiped out the heart of the city from Barrington St. to Hollis St., and he was reduced to poverty once more. This time his financial circumstances were so bad that his wife had to take in boarders and run a school. His daughter, Maryanne, helped in the teaching and, when she was eighteen years old, earned L120 by this means, all of which she turned back into the family's coffers.
The boarders never saw the four girls of the family and lived for years in the house before they even knew that there were any children. There were two doors to the house. The children used one while the paying guests used the other so that they never met.
William died impoverished and his wife continued to operate the boarding house until her son, John, who by this time had become quite prosperous, and her son-in-law, Samuel Cunard, who was wealthy jointly settled L300 per year on her for life, which at least enabled her to take a rest. She died in 1858 at the age of eighty-six.
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