Sunday, February 13, 2011

Silliker-McDowell Homestead, Knutsford, PEI

This old homestead was settled by Captain John Silliker (1811-1871), son of United Empire Loyalists Strang Silliker and Elizabeth Waugh - they were  my great-great-grandparents.  Capt. John was born in Bedeque.  He married Ellen Duggan (1811-1899) on February 5, 1833.  They moved to Knutsford in 1855 and settled a 600-acre block of land which extended from the O'Leary Road back to the Boulter Road.  John was amoung the first crew of men to cut the O'Leary Road through the wilderness.  John and Ellen had six sons and six daughters.  It was said the house before this one had split shingles and wooden pegs to hold together the roof rafters.  Recently my grandmother told me there was a saw pit where they hand sawed the boards for the first house - its location was were the present driveway is.  The Sillikers donated land and lumber for the Methodist Church in Knutsford (later moved to O'Leary to became the Catholic Mission Church and today is part of the O'Leary Potato Museum site) and also the first Knutsford school.  My grandmother also told of an old log cabin in the back field that had been occupied by the Mi'kmaq - there was also evidence of a camp in the front corner of the property close to the O'Leary Road - the details of this have been lost to history.
John and Ellen's youngest son William (1855-1922) married Clara U. Frost (1858-1945) and took over the homestead around 1871 following his fathers death and the 600-acre farm was divided into six farms each given to a son.  Clara said she was 18 years old when the house (above) was built - 1876.    William operated a sawmill at the back of the property.  Another brother, Patrick, lived next door - his son Erkton *Erk* and grandson Jimmy were building haulers.  William and Clara's daughter Lucetta married Daniel McDowell, when Lucetta was pregnant with her sixth child, Roy, she contracted TB and died 6 months later.   Roy was left to be raised by his Silliker grandparents on this farm while his father remarried and moved to Ayre, Mass, USA.  When Roy was 12-years-old his grandfather William died and left him, a boy, to care for his grandmother and the farm.  Roy married on March 2, 1936 to Empress MacNevin of Milo, they raised their three daughters on this farm. 

This center gable styled house had a simple floor plan.  To the left/east side was a large kitchen with a 5' pantry across the back, next to the porch - in the back corner of the kitchen, near the middle of the house, was a steep set of winding stairs going up - there were three steps in the kitchen then the door to the stairs.  On the left/west at the front, with the offset front door, was the parlour with a small bedroom behind (part of this space was occupied by the stairs going up from the kitchen).  There was no plaster on the main floor - the walls were covered with vertical wood wainscoting on the bottom and horizontal wainscoting on the top and the same wood on the ceiling.  When i was a child the walls were covered with wallpaper.  There was a back porch where the milk was separated, carried in from the barn, a great distance from the house.  The second floor plan had the stairs coming up in the middle of the house, there was a railing on three sides of the small stairwell opening, which measured near 44"x78".  The stair placement is non-typical for this style of house  but similar to earlier central chimney style houses, but in a different location.  When came to the top of the stairs you facing the back sloping wall of the house - there was no window.  To the right/west side of the house were two bedrooms and on the front a bedroom in the gable - this room was finished better than any other room in the house with a plaster ceiling medallion.  To the left/east was a large bedroom with a small room off towards the front of the house - when i was a child this space was called "the junk room" - there was a bed in there and boxes all over the place and the small room held all my grandmother's fabric - she was a sewer and quilter. 
Above: Daniel *Roy* McDowell with his team of horses.  c. 1926
The photo above of my mother Verna (right) and her two older sisters Millie and Elsie.  The view of the house is from the southeast corner - note all the wood shingles - walls and roof.  The second floor windows on the east/right were of the Junk Room and Fabric Room.

The Photo below is of my grandfather Daniel *Roy* McDowell on his tractor with my cousin Glenda Brown.  Note the barns in the background - we have very few photos of the barns on this homestead - they were arranged/built in a straight line from the house - starting at the house was a wood house, then a chicken house, a pig house, a machine barn, then the big L-shaped barn - it was quite a distance from the house - my grandmother use to say she didn't mind taking the milk to the house porch to be separated in winter as when you stopped for a break you didn't have as far to sit down the buckets of milk as you could rest them on the snow on each side of the path.  They gave up farming in 1967 following my grandfather's fall on the ice, breaking his shoulder.  They sold the farm to a neighbour cousin, keeping the house and lot.
Below: Summer 1976.  My grandparents Roy and Empress standing in front of their house.

In 1983 my brother Kerras bought the house - some of his renovations to the exterior walls revealed the house structure to be studded with 6"x6" posts.  Kerras sold the house in 1988 - it's changed hands twice since.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! Cpt. John Silliker was my paternal great-great-great-grandfather; his son Jacob (1836-1909), who emigrated with his kids to Massachusetts in 1888, is the Silliker branch I descend from. I hope to visit O'Leary this coming July and to (hopefully) see the homestead in person. :-)

    - Christian Wilson Silliker

    1. Thanks for your email. You might find the following interesting.
      Silliker Brothers Survive Shipwreck
      Journal-Pioneer: Letters to the Editor.
      Apparently, Mr. Jacob Silliker owned a schooner, called the Union and was taking a load of produce from Bedeque to Halifax. The vessel ran onto a reef, and the owner, captain and a passenger were swept overboard and drowned. On Tuesday, November 26, 1839, a short note in the Royal Gazette stated: “The Union, Silliker, from the port of Charlottetown hence to Halifax with produce, is reported to be lost with all the crew on Jeddore Ledges (Nova Scotia).”
      The following is an account, in the Royal Gazette, Tuesday, December 3, of how the men were almost miraculously saved to pioneer in West Prince, where they have made inestimable impact on the social and economic life of the area.
      “In our last issue, we alluded to a report of the loss of the schooner Union near Halifax in which it was stated that all the crew had perished. It appears however, that two brothers, John and Joseph Silliker who were below when the vessel struck, were saved.
      The remainder of the hands, Vig. David Linkletter, the Master; Jacob Silliker, the owner; and a man named William Allen, a passenger belonging to Horton, Nova Scotia were swept off the deck the moment she struck, and never seen afterwards.
      This melancholy event took place about 11pm on the night of Friday, the 15th on a reef off Delaney’s, about 60 miles to the eastward of Halifax. The survivor’s did not effect a landing until late the following day when they got upon an island which was uninhabited. Having been fortunately seem from the mainland, a boat was dispatched to their relief. Nothing belonging to the vessel was saved. She was from Bedeque, bound for Halifax with a cargo of oats and barley.”
      by Dr. L. George Dewar, O’Leary

      Postscript by Carter:
      Captain John Silliker (1811-1871) moved to Knutsford and bought 600 acres of land. He and his brother were amoung those who cut and cleared the land for the O’Leary Road. Capt. John was the great-grandfather of my grandfather Roy McDowell. Roy’s mother, Lucetta Silliker McDowell died when he was 6 months old, his grandparents William and Clara (Frost) Silliker raised him. His father remarried to Lillian MacQuarrie of Enmore and moved to Ayre, Massachusetts. When Roy was 12 years old his grandfather died and left him to look after his grandmother and work the farm. When Roy was 28 he married Empress MacNevin and farmed the old Silliker homestead till they sold it to Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence Harris in 1968 – Mrs. Harris is a Silliker cousin.

    2. William and Clara (Frost) Silliker are my great grandparents. Their daughter Bertha Jane is my grandmother. She married Herman Hazen Adams and they had 5 children. Thank you for this information regarding my Silliker family history and of the homestead. My sister and I visited the homestead and the school during our visit to the area in 2011. Another branch of the family to hear from.
      Sharon (Adams) Palmer

  2. Hi I just moved to O'Leary and have been told our house was once owned by a Silliker. Would you have any information on that, I'm on Gaspe Rd in an old farmhouse. Thanks, love your blog!