John Howcutt – from Scotland to Canada


The ship “Silas Richards”, captained by Edward Rossiter, arrived from Liverpool at New York on 25 May 1835. It carried over 350 passengers, the vast majority travelling in the tight confines of steerage. Amongst the seven 1st class cabin passengers were Alexander Jack, a gentleman aged 50; John Howcutt, a gentleman aged 40 and Margaret Howcutt, aged 40, all three recorded as travelling from Scotland to Canada. “Registers of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Parts, 1789-1919” adds that “Master Howcutt” also arrived at New York on that voyage.


In Volume 1 of his book “Four Years in Great Britain, 1831-1835”, Calvin Colton describes the same vessel, on which he took a 19-day journey from New York to Liverpool in 1831, in these terms:

“A New-York and Liverpool packet, as all know who have sailed in them, is a very commodious and perfect thing of the kind. No expense is spared in their building, in the finishing of the cabins, in their furniture or provisions. Every new ship put upon the line is in some sort and particulars an improvement on every former one…………… The Silas Richards was a ship of excellent proof, though not the most elegant on the line in her workmanship and furniture of her cabins.”


More gloomy thoughts may have entered the passengers’ minds as they crossed the Atlantic in May 1835. Only about a couple of months had elapsed since 2 March when the “Silas Richards” collided with the “Sarah” – a British ship travelling from Liverpool to Charleston, South Carolina. As a result, the “Sarah” sank with the loss of seven of the 17 people on board. [1]


John Howcutt’s origins are obscure. No record has been found of the exact date of his birth, but it took place in England about 1795-1800. [2] The earliest reference to him that has been discovered dates from 3 July 1822, when he graduated as a veterinary surgeon after study at Camden, which was then on the outskirts of London (illustrated). [3] The Veterinary College of London had been established there in 1791 and initially focussed on the treatment of horses. It had the use of a paddock on the opposite side of Royal College Street to its main building, which had been constructed specifically for its use.


There is no evidence of John’s parentage. Only about 32 people with the Howcutt surname lived in England around 1800, belonging to three groups, which were based at Birmingham, Bitteswell and Brixworth. The families living at or who during the latter part of the 18th century had migrated from Bitteswell were the most likely to be have been able to afford to pay for veterinary training. The only christening so far identified anywhere in England that may have been of him is “John, son of Joseph and Mary Howcut”, whose baptism took place at Bitteswell on 27 January 1793; no later reference has been found that definitely relates to this child. The baptism date is a little early to match the ages of John Howcutt that appear in North American records. Another possibility is that John might have been born out of wedlock to an unmarried Howcutt woman and encouraged to distance himself from his family; but no evidence has emerged to support that hypothesis.


Portsoy Old Harbour

John did not remain in England for long after he qualified, as by 1825-6 he was based several hundred miles north of London at High Street, Portsoy, Banffshire, which is located on the Moray Firth coast of the north east of Scotland. [4] The parish of Fordyce, which included Portsoy and other settlements in an area extending to 28 square miles, had a total population of 3,364 at the time of the 1831 census. John’s business included arranging horse stud services, as can be seen in an advertisement published in the “Aberdeen Journal” of 26 March 1826, which advised those interested in the introduction of their mares to the attentions of stallions such as “Young Warter” and “Young Achilles” to contact John Howcutt at Portsoy.


John’s first known child is recorded as follows in the Old Parochial Register for Fordyce, Banff:

“1826 September 12. John Howcutt veterinary surgeon Inverness had a child by Mary Watson baptised and named John. Witness Henry Watson (shipmaster) & John Watson (Mercht. and Shoemaker both in Portsoy).”


Other entries on the same page named mothers with a different surname to the relevant father but qualified this as “his wife”, so the Howcutt entry probably records a birth out of wedlock. Nothing more has been found about the history of the child.


On 6 February 1828, John Howcutt, a farmer of Diakies and Margaret Jack of the parish of St Nicholas, Aberdeen, were married at Inverness. Margaret was a daughter of the late Mr Hewt. Jack merchant in (Pattery?). The ceremony was performed by Rev. John Bryce, minister of St Nicholas, Aberdeen.


John does not seem to have stayed in New York City for long after his arrival in America. In 1836, he purchased land at the town of Lancaster, which is about 11 miles east of the centre of Buffalo NY, from the Holland Land Company – the area being section 6, lot 8. [5] It may be because of this purchase that on 16 January 1837, John Howcutt, a British subject of Buffalo, Erie county made a deposition that he intended always to reside in the United States and to become a citizen as soon as he could become naturalised. The advantage of making this declaration was that it authorised the person concerned to acquire, hold, sell, inherit and bequeath land in the State of New York. [6]


A copy of the American constitution, found in a house at Bristol. Rhode Island, has on its inside cover the signature of John Howcutt (illustrated). No evidence has emerged of a connection between the Howcutts and the house in question, but the book was definitely published between 1813 and 1865, as it contains the text of a 13th Amendment that was proposed in 1813 but not ratified and does not include the wording of the 13th Amendment that was ratified in 1865. The book was no doubt used by John Howcutt soon after his arrival in the United States as he would need to have known the contents in order to become a citizen of the United States. [7]


Buffalo is at the north-west end of New York State, close to the border with Canada. The 363 mile long Erie Canal had been opened in 1825, connecting Albany on the Hudson River with Lake Erie at Buffalo. This enormously boosted the importance of that locality in the transportation of goods and people between the eastern part of the United States, Canada and the West. In 1840, the population of Buffalo population amounted to a little over 18,000. This was followed by extremely rapid expansion – the number of its inhabitants soared to over 81,000 in 1860; 155,000 in 1880 and 352,000 in 1900.


By 1842, John had found his way to Toronto, where the census of Upper Canada of that year lists him as a veterinary surgeon at King Street, St George’s sub-district. He was a tenant of the premises and entitled to vote. He stated that the five members of the household were all members of the Church of Scotland, one having been born in England and the others in Scotland. There were two males in the 30/59 age group (one married and one single) and three females in the 14/44 age group (one married and two single). One member of the household was temporarily absent and there was one female servant. In answer to a census question about how many years each person has been in the Province when not natives, he gave the answer “7”. As John had spent some of this time in the United States, it seems he took the word “Province” to mean North America rather than just Upper Canada.


Francis Lewis’ “Toronto Directory and Street Guide for 1843-4” includes John as running a veterinary surgery and livery stables at Yonge Street, near Front Street. Brown’s “Toronto City & Home District Directory, 1846-7” records him at “Brock, near Adelaide Street”. John Howcutt was listed as Treasurer of “the Club” associated with the Toronto Races in 1847. [8] On 15 May 1848, “Mr Howcutt” became a member of Toronto Municipal Council, following the resignation of Mr Sliaw. [9]


Unlike most 19th century emigrants to America, John and Margaret Howcutt returned to England for a visit. On 30 September 1851, the New York Daily Tribune reported the arrival of the packet ship “Waterloo” from Liverpool, carrying passengers that included “Mr Jack, Mr Howcut and lady, of Canada”.


John Howcutt was a director of the Western Assurance Company, which was established in 1851. An advertisement placed in 1856 offered cover for fire and marine risks and described the company as chartered by an Act of Parliament, with capital of £100,000 and its main office at Toronto. [10]


In 1861, the Canadian census recorded John and Margaret at Trafalgar (now part of Oakville) in Hulton county, Ontario. John was described as aged 62 and born in England; Margaret as aged 58 and born in Scotland.


John was presumably the “venerable Mr Howcutt”, who pronounced the final benediction at the dedication service for the newly built Lafayette Street Presbyterian Church at Buffalo on 15 October 1863. [11]


Lovell’s Canadian Dominion Directory for 1871 lists John Howcutt at Marmora Street, Trenton. At that time, the port of Trenton was a major timber rafting centre and the city accommodated about 2,000 inhabitants. The census taken in the same year described “John Howcut” as a gentleman aged 70, born in England. With him were Margaret, aged 60 and born in Scotland and Alexander Jack, aged 70 who had also been born in Scotland. All three were recorded as Presbyterians. [12]


“Directory of the County of Hastings 1879-1880” was published in 1879 and lists “Mrs Howcutt, widow” at North Marmora, Trenton.


1881 census of Trenton, Hastings West county includes “Margurite Howcotte”, who had been born in Scotland and was described as a widow aged 75. The census schedule gives her religion as Presbyterian.


Margaret Howcutt died on 28 August 1882 at Trenton. Her age was given as 84 and her rank or profession as “Widow Lady”. The cause of death was recorded as inability to retain food the result of old age, a condition that had lasted for 20 days. [13] Her will was proved in the same year at the Surrogate Court for Hastings county. [14]


Archives of Ontario holds a collection of papers assembled by Andrew Shurie of Trenton; amongst these are the “papers of John Howcutt and his wife, 1859-1882”. [15] This source has not yet been consulted.


John had evidently not kept in close contact with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, as his name was not removed from its register until 1889.




[1]      "Ship News" The Times (London). Monday, 9 March 1835, col D, p.3.

[2]      Indications of the year of John Howcutt’s birth are as follows:



Age stated

Birth year indicated

1835 passenger list



1861 census



1871 census




[3]      Register of Veterinary Surgeons, 1889. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has confirmed that he graduated from Camden.

[4]      Pigot & Co.’s New Commercial Directory for Scotland for 1825-6.        

[5]      List of first land owners, town of Lancaster, Erie County New York, compiled by Dr Harley E Scott (accessed 22 August 2016).

[6]      New York Alien Residents, 1825-1848, compiled by Kenneth Scott & Rosanne Conway (Baltimore, 1978).

[7]      Information and picture kindly supplied by Timothy J Moran.

[8]      “The Spirit of the Times”, 7 October 1848, page 390.

[9]      From “By-laws of the City of Toronto … 1834 to 1890 …” (The Municipal Council, Toronto, 1890).

[10]    The Daily News (Kingston, Canada), 18 August 1856, page 1, column 3.

[11]    Buffalo Daily Courier, 16 October 1863, page 3.

[12]    1871 census of Canada, FamilySearch film 0349182.

[13]    Hastings county death registrations FamilySearch film 1853236.

[14]    Margaret Howcutt, Trenton, No. 752, 1882. Archives of Ontario microfilm GSI, reel 1187.

[15]    Details of the Andrew Shurie Collection can be seen at: (accessed 22 August 2016).