May 12, 2022

How a decorated veteran of the Napoleonic Wars was drawn to ‘The River of Destiny’

Few people choose where they will live by marking a location on a map, but Major William Kingdom Rains became so engrossed in the wonders of the St. Mary’s River that he was determined to make the area his home. This decision led him to create a life in the desert from which his descendants prospered, some of whom still reside today on Saint Joseph Island.

William Kingdom Rains was born in Milford Haven in 1789 at a naval base in Pembroke County, Wales, to Stephen Rains and the former Ann Kingdom.

His father was a captain in the British Navy and William dutifully followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the Royal Military College when he was just 14 years old. At 16, he was a second lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

The years 1807 to 1813 were spent under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley in the Peninsular War. Wellesley would go on to become the 1st Duke of Wellington and was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It would not be the first notable personality to cross paths with William Rains.

Also during the Napoleonic Wars, William Rains was loaned to the Austrian government, and for his exemplary military service, the Emperor of Austria conferred upon him the title of Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold.

Because of this honor, he was chosen in 1814 to be one of the army officers returning Pope Pius VII to the Vatican after four years of detention in France by order of Napoleon. He received a papal decoration for his efforts and his next assignment was to act as aide-de-camp (or confidential personal secretary) to Marshal Murat who had taken the throne in Naples and was Napoleon’s brother-in-law.

As peace descended on Britain, Rains decided to retire in 1817 on half pay. During this time he was involved in two interesting projects. He was tasked with investigating whether or not the witnesses who were to testify against the king’s wife were reliable.

George IV, the King of England at the time, filed for divorce from his wife Caroline and accused her of infidelity. Rains found the witnesses unreliable and believed the Queen to be a “virtuous woman, though more or less mad”. Around this time, Major Rains also began studying engineering through his uncle, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, who was best known for devising a method to build a tunnel under the River Thames, a groundbreaking feat in history. ‘era.

Finding the engineering unsatisfactory, William Rains returned to military life. In 1825 he attained the rank of major and it was while stationed in Malta that he first laid eyes on maps of North America and became obsessed with the St. Mary’s River. which he believed would become incredibly important in the future.

In 1828, Major Rains was back in England and experiencing marital discord with his wife Ann Williams, the mother of his six children. Divorce was not allowed at that time, but a legal separation was. Ann and William separated and he would soon strike up a relationship with a young woman named Miss Frances Doubleday who, along with her sister Eliza, had been placed in his care when her father died. According to Joseph and Estelle Bayliss (Estelle was the granddaughter of Major Rains and Frances Doubleday) in their book “Historic St. Joseph Island”, this arrangement was with the approval of their family and friends.

In June 1830, he sold his commission and began a new life in Canada. Traveling with him were Frances and their son Tudor, and Eliza Doubleday. They made their home on Lake Simcoe near Sutton, Ontario. The land and house built by Major Rains is now a museum and part of Sibbald Point Provincial Park.

Major Rains had built a two-story house there which he called Penrains and which was considered somewhat opulent in 1830s Canada. Poet Katherine Hale called the house “a venerable home on the shores of Lake Simcoe.” He had also chosen a magnificent location on a point. While living in Penrains, Rains was Peace Commissioner for the District of Home, which included the counties of Northumberland, York, Durham and Simcoe, as well as Peace Commissioner for the Association of Upper Canada.

In 1834, Major Rains asked the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada to colonize Île Saint-Joseph. The hope was to settle a hundred families. With the help of his business partners, they build a boat in 1835 and fill it with the necessary to build a sawmill and set up a store and embark with some settlers for the island. According to the Toronto Recorder, “the whole party speaks rapturously of the beauty of the scenery among the islands…which cannot be surpassed on the globe.”

They built the sawmill and the Major named the place Milford Haven after his birthplace in Wales.

The settlement did not prosper, however. Rains and his partner had hoped to attract settlers from England, but not enough could be compelled to venture into the wilderness. Major Rains also planned to finance the colonization program with the £30,000 he had acquired by selling his estate and military commission in Britain.

Unfortunately, he had been recklessly invested and his fortune was all but gone. As a result, his colonization attempts were unsuccessful. After a disagreement with one of his business partners, Rains moved 10 miles west to a place he called Hentlan, also known as Rains Point.

It was here in Hentlan that people started noticing Rains’ unconventional domestic situation. Due to the remoteness of their location, no other aristocratic families were nearby, therefore Frances’ sister Eliza could not find a suitable husband.

According to Joseph and Estelle Bayliss in their book “Historic St. Joseph Island,” “the three, isolated on this lonely frontier, solved the problem harmoniously. The Major formed an alliance with the two girls, providing a separate home for each. Unconventional and contrary to existing code? True. The two families grew up side by side, with the deepest respect and affection for each other. The Major gave his children his name and they were proud to wear it, respecting it and adoring their mothers.

Unsurprisingly, their domestic situation has been the subject of gossip and conjecture by visiting figures in the region such as writer and feminist Anna Jameson, James Logan, and American poet and New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant. In his book Letters from a travelerBryant had some particularly sarcastic remarks.

“We skirted Île Saint-Joseph on the wooded shores of which I was shown a solitary house. There, I was told, saw a long-nosed Englishman, an officer on half pay, with two wives, sisters, mothers each of numerous offspring. This English polygamist was more successful in seeking solitude than in avoiding notoriety. The very loneliness of his dwelling on the shore makes this remarkable, and there is not a passenger who makes the journey to the Sault, to whom his house is not shown, and its story told.

A much more positive account of Major Rains appeared in the book, lake superior by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz.

Agassiz had to take shelter from a storm during an expedition to survey Lake Superior. He chose to shelter his ship right next to Major Rains’ house, so the Major invited him to his home. Agassiz thought he looked a bit disheveled but was impressed with his collection of literary works and his familiarity with Agassiz’s scientific endeavors. He provided the professor with a preserved specimen of Lake Huron pike and would continue to send him other rarities over the years.

Similar to the experiences of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail, the Rains family was trying to build a life in a difficult environment.

Despite the many practical difficulties of the farm, Major Rains still manages to maintain his cosmopolitan interests. He was able to read and converse in French, Greek and Italian and had an oral knowledge of many others. He also had a valuable collection of books including famous authors such as Shakespeare, Scott, Lytton, Milton and Wordsworth. One of his particular favorites was the poetry of Lord Byron who had been acquainted with him while in Europe.

In October 1860, Major Rains moved to his sons’ farm called Westfield. It would be his home until his death on October 19, 1874.

In the book river of fate, Joseph and Estelle Bayliss explained that “his body, when he died, was transported by sailboat to Sault Ste. Marie for the burial. There was no hearse in the settlement, but a cart was ready, in which his coffin was transferred. Covered by the largest British flag that could be procured, and with his officer’s sword resting upon it, he was granted a military funeral. The funeral appears to be of the highest caliber possible in the remoteness of Northern Ontario and a fitting tribute to someone who has lived a far from ordinary life.