John and Mary Blackburn settled in former Chatham Twp. in 1796

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The settlement of the Blackburn family in Chatham Township will be celebrated this weekend with a new monument at a nearby cemetery.

John and Mary Blackburn settled in the area in 1796. John had lived in western Pennsylvania starting in the 1770s and decided to fight for the British in the Revolutionary War, according to the Blackburn Family Association.

Kevin Howley, John and Mary’s fifth-great-grandson, said John’s decision to enter the war is interesting because he and his family were Quakers, members of a religious group who usually tried to avoid the conflict.

“The British controlled Fort Pitt and that’s kind of where they were established. I don’t know for sure what drew him,” said Howley, who lives in Huntington Woods, Mich.

“He was the only one of all of his cousins, of which there were many, that joined the British. He had a few cousins that joined the American side, but they lived in a different part of Pennsylvania.”

As part of his service, John received the United Empire Loyalist and tracts of land in Ontario about 50 miles east of Detroit.

Howley said his ancestor’s decision to move to Chatham Township probably had to do with both land availability and wanting to start his own life away from his seven siblings.

“Most of these families, every generation, they kind of said, ‘Now where am I going to go to find my tract of land and build a future for my family?’” said Howley. “I think that was part it, trying to find a place to raise a family, and he had a big one.”

John and Mary had eight children. Howley said he sent invitations to 200 households in the Chatham-Kent area and there are more relatives who aren’t on the mailing list, but should be.

The Blackburn Family Association has previously installed markers in both Ireland and Pennsylvania.

The Chatham Township monument will be installed at Arnold Cemetery this Sunday at 2 p.m.

“Such a large contingent of descendants are buried in that cemetery,” said Howley. “I’ve been wanting to get it done and we’re ready.”

Howley comes from the line of the family with the last name French, of which the former French’s United Church was named. His family moved from the area to Montana in the 1890s.

The Blackburn family previously held a family reunion in Chatham Township in 1996 – two centuries after the first ancestors entered the region. Howley said over 300 people attended from across North America.

Although the invitations he sent out did not ask for an RSVP, Howley hopes about 150 people will show up to see the new monument on Sunday.




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