William Hanington comes to Canada

William Hanington comes to Canada

By Lucy Hanington Anglin

The property was described as “a commodious estate upon the outskirts of the thriving town of Halifax, in the Colony of Nova Scotia”.  Imagine William’s surprise to arrive in Halifax to discover that “outskirts” meant a 200-mile hike through thick forest and deep snow!

My great-great-great grandfather, William Hanington, was born in London, England, in 1759.  He was the son of a fish dealer, trained as an apprentice to the Fishmonger’s Company and became a freeman in 1782.  In 1784, this adventurous young man purchased land in Nova Scotia from an army officer, Joseph Williams, who had been given a 5,000 acre grant as a reward for services.

After the initial shock upon arrival, he and his friend, Mr. Roberts, found an Indian guide, loaded all their worldly belongings onto a hand sled, trudged through the snow, slept in the open and finally arrived in bitterly cold Shediac in March 1785.  Mr. Roberts was so discouraged that he immediately returned to Halifax and sailed back to England on the first available ship!

William, however, was made of sturdier stuff and was delighted with it all.  There was a good size stream flowing into the bay and he had never seen such giant trees!  He was astute enough to see the lucrative possibilities for trade in lumber, fish, and furs.

Seven years after his arrival, at the age of 33, he hired a couple of Indian guides to paddle a canoe over to Ile St. Jean (now known as Prince Edward Island) where he heard there were other English settlers.  While riding along in an oxcart through St. Eleanor’s (now known as Summerside), he spotted a young lady (age 18) named Mary Darby, feeding chickens in her father’s yard.  It was love at first sight, he proposed to her on the spot and she accepted.  They married and paddled back to Shediac where they raised a large family of 13 children.  Three years later, missing the companionship of another woman, she persuaded her sister Elizabeth and husband John Welling to come over from Ile St. Jean and settle on their land – becoming the second English family in Shediac.

Within the next five years, William had eight families on his property of about one hundred acres of cleared land.  He opened a general store and dealt in fish, fur and lumber.  The furs and timber he shipped to England and the fish to Halifax and the West Indies.  He imported English goods from Halifax and West Indies products, mainly sugar, molasses and rum from St. Pierre. He also bartered with the friendly Indians for furs and helped them clear land.  Before long, a considerable village clustered about the Hanington Store – including a post office and a tavern.  William remained the leading light of the community and acted as the Collector of Customs of the port, supervisor of roads and as Justice of the Quorum (magistrate) in which capacity he married many couples.  To top it all off, in 1800, just fifteen years after his arrival from England, this remarkable young man opened a shipyard at Cocagne and built several vessels there.

Until 1823, there was no church, and William being a religious man, conducted service in his home every Sunday.  So William donated land and lumber, and oversaw the completion of St Martin-in-the-Wood, the first Protestant church.  In 1838, age 79, it only seemed fitting that William was buried in the cemetery there in the shadow of the church he founded.  A huge memorial of native freestone, complete with a secret compartment, still stands.




12 thoughts on “William Hanington comes to Canada”

    1. My name is Luke G Smith I’m originally from Collingwood Ontario my mom and my aunt are telling me that my ancestors had built the first church in Newbrunswick so I looked up hanington church of Newbrunswick and I found this article anymore information on the Hanington,Smith or Wood families would be wonderful thanks in advance


      1. Hello “cousin” – there are tons of descendants of William Hanington. I research and write about my ancestors but am not an expert. This summer, the 200th anniversary of the church he built: St Martin’s in the Woods, will be celebrated. I think there will be many Haningtons at the Sept 16-17 weekend celebration at the church. Just an idea.


  1. Hello – I am interested in tracking my genealogy and I recall, as a young girl, seeing a book that had all of the Haningtons who were descended from William and Mary in it, with a numbering system to keep track of who was descended from who. Do you know the book I am talking about? I would love hear from you. My grandfather was Daniel Lionel (Born Charles Lionel) Hanington, the rear admiral, and his father was Charles Lionel, and Charles’ father was the premier of New Brunswick (briefly), Daniel Lionel – I believe I have that right (trying to do this all from memory!)


    1. I think I have that book! My grandmother is a Hanington and I took some pictures from the book today as a matter of fact


    2. Hi Kyla, not sure if you ever received a response to your query. William and Mary Hannington were my third great grandparents. I’m familiar with the book you mention, it was put together by Lilian Hannington who lives in Shediac Cape. I live not far from there, I also have a copy of the book. If by changc, even five years after your query, if you get this message you can contact me at debbybrownwarren@gmail.com


  2. Hello,
    Thank you so much for your answer. Very honoured to be able to communicate with a descendant of Mr. Hanington. I continued by search and found new and interesting information. My ancestors Etienne and Amable Léger (Lezere) did indeed purchase their land from Mr. Hanington in 1806 as you can see here http://archives.gnb.ca/Search/RS686/Details.aspx?culture=en-CA&Key=7380

    Also, Mr Hanington filed a petition for his land in 1789 as you can see here
    I will ask the archives for a copy of that petition because ” The settler who wished to obtain a grant of Crown land submitted a petition to the Lieutenant Governor (later to the Crown Land Office) describing his or her circumstances, need, family, and any service (usually military) rendered the Crown, which would attest to the petitioner being deserving of the land and whose settlement would be beneficial to the community and province. “.
    There should be very interesting information there. I can forward it to you if you want.

    Also, my ancestor Amable Léger built a house on his land in 1810 or 1811 and it is still standing, and still belongs to a Leger descendant. I was born and raised in that house, so was my mother, grandfather, great great grandfather and his father who was Amable.

    Have a nice day


    1. Good morning Gisele,
      Thank you again for your interest in our mutual history. I would be delighted to keep in touch and share in any documents that you can find concerning the Hanington land.
      I visited Shediac in 2015 with my sister (and wrote the story “Sister Pilgrimage”). We went to the church William Hanington built (St Martin’s-in-the-Woods) and met up with distant cousins!. Then we visited my grandmother’s cottage which is no longer in the family but nevertheless invoked fond memories on our part.
      I do hope that you still visit your family home that Amable Leger built in 1810.
      Have a great day,


  3. Thank you for reading my story! And thank you for the link to that wonderful map. I don’t have much experience researching land sales. Most of my material was handed down to me in a box filled with old photos, newspaper clippings, and some family-compiled historical records. Please
    keep in touch with any new findings.


    1. I am also a Hanington descendant, through Daniel, I believe. My grandmother was Edna Alice Hanington (Barrett).
      My son has found a map of where the London Haningtons lived at King’s Cross, right where the tube and railway stations are now. It was across from a fever hospital and a smallpox hospital. He also found the contract which apprenticed William Hanington ( I’m not certain which one ) to a fishmonger in England. I thought I had saved the photo of the document , but I can’t find it. My son is retesting it to me.


  4. Hello,
    I read with great interest your article about W. Hanington. I believe my ancestors bought land from this person around 1808 east of the town of Shediac. Do you know where I could find written records of land sales? Here is a map showing land east of Shediac. You can see in the top right corner the name of W. Hanington . My ancestors are E. Lezere and A. Lezere (should be written Léger )

    Gisèle Cormier


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