Local elopement in the 1870s read like a romance novel

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A number of years ago, I was skimming through the Chatham Tri Weekly Planet editions from the late 1870s and a rather odd headline captured my attention. Although I used this story for a Valentine’s Day column or two a number of years ago, I have been asked by a number of readers to once again reprise it. After all, can we ever revisit stories of love and romance too often?

The headline screamed out: “Local Society Shaken To Its Very Foundation By Reports of An Elopement In High Life.”

How could anyone not be intrigued by this? Especially once I found out that the female part of this story was a Chatham girl.

Apparently, a young man by the name of Pascal McLeod, co–proprietor of the Great Western Hotel at the corner of Sandwich and Goyeau streets in Windsor, and a young 18-year-old Chatham lass by the name of “Ms. Fraser” crossed the Detroit River by ferry and visited “Justice Alley” in Detroit, where the two were married by an American justice of the peace.

Why were the two young lovers forced to take such drastic actions? Well, it seems Ms. Fraser’s father was the locally famous Capt. Fraser, who was a well-known and popular ship’s captain on the Great Lakes and a longtime resident of Chatham. Capt. Fraser, although responsible for introducing the young couple, did not want the relationship to proceed down the marital path.

According to the Tri Weekly Planet, Capt. Fraser was a “Romanist” (Roman Catholic) and did not want his Ursuline College-educated daughter “to marry a Protestant”.

According to the newspaper, the relationship started out as “a friendship and then a strong feeling of love sprang up in the heart of young McLeod and he wooed the idol of his being with all persistence imaginable” (I kid you not, that’s exactly what the newspaper reported).

On the side of Ms. Fraser, it was reported by the 1879 thrice-weekly paper that “she gradually succumbed and a short while ago, upon graduating from Ursuline College in Chatham, consented to become his wife.” I mean how could anyone refuse after being wooed as “the idol of someone’s being”?

Although the gentleman’s father approved of the union, the old captain steadfastly refused. So desperate were the young lovers that they boldly approached Justice Batlett’s office in the local Sandwich Town Hall and sought a marriage licence. But once Barlett determined the father of the bride had not given his consent, the judge refused to marry the couple and they were sent away in much despair.

According to the Planet, the two upon walking away from Justice Bartlett’s office began a spate of “hasty whispering between the wretched pair until suddenly their countenances lighted up simultaneously and as they passed through the open door each looked at the other and smiled.”

About 20 minutes later, a buggy containing the two was seen driving onto the ferry headed for Detroit. Three hours later, the two returned to Canada and walked up Sandwich Street as “Mr. and Mrs. McLeod having been united in the bonds of holy wedlock by an American justice of the peace.”

The paper went on to say that “Mr. McLeod is a steady, industrious and highly respected young man and much thought of in the society in which he moves.”

His bride was described as “a handsome brunette, highly educated and endowed with many excellent qualities.

A modern-day reaction to such newspaper reporting is one of almost shock and disbelief. After all, how could any newspaper worth its salt waste valuable editorial space with such mindless, inconsequential local gossip?

But then again, is it any worse than the large amount of ink wasted on the daily reporting of the silly romantic dalliances of today’s movie stars and pop idols that we have never met, probably will never meet and care very little about?

Upon some reflection, I thought the story – although totally bizarre in today’s world – was rather charming and more than a little romantic. The Chatham Tri-Weekly Planet, whether they meant to or not, had created a local love story that rivalled any number of romantic novels written at this time in history.

I thought of researching the new “Mr. and Mrs. McLeod” a bit more and seeing what the future had in store for them but, upon sober second thought, decided to leave them frozen in time. I left them wistfully walking hand in hand up Sandwich Street and allowed them to disappear into the mists of time unpursued.

In this hearts and flowers month of February, where love abounds and romance is in the very air that we breathe, I think I will leave our two lovestruck characters permanently ensconced in that blissful state of young love.

An unreal world where looks never fade, love never dies, no one grows old, money is never a problem, children never cry in the middle of the night and …  oh yes … before I forget … Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Gilberts are award-winning historians with a passion for telling the stories of C-K’s fascinating past.