In the summer of 1833, John and Jean Hunter Hopkin and their three children, along with William and Margaret Gray Robertson and their two children, traveled directly from Scotland to the Scotch Settlement area in southeastern Almont Township. They were the first Scots to come directly from Scotland to Almont.
They came because of letters written to Jean Hopkin by her sister, Agness Hunter McKay. Agness was married to William McKay—McKay Road named for William and his brother Robert—whose homesteads were along McKay Road in Bruce Township. The McKays had settled along McKay Road in the late 1820s.
Also coming about the same time as the McKays was Robert Gray. How or if Robert was related to Margaret Gray Robertson is unknown.
On May 26, 1834, Janet Hopkin was born on the farm on Hough Road. She was the first of John and Jean Hopkin’s children to be born in Almont.
In 1841, William and Jean Downie Hamilton and their three children came to Berlin Township in St. Clair County. Their homestead was on Marr Road just to the west of the John Wilson farm.
In 1848, Jean Downie Hamilton’s parents, John Downie and Janet Sproul Downie, Jean’s six siblings, and their families came to New York.
While waiting to go up river to the Erie Canal, James Downie (age 21) was walking on the streets of New York. He ran into an old friend from Scotland, Thomas McIlrick. Together, James and Thomas had learned the cabinetmakers trade. Thomas decided to join the Downie’s and move to Almont.
The Downies traveled up the Hudson River and then across the Erie Canal to Buffalo. At Buffalo, three of the older, married children and their families split off and went to Canada. They established homesteads near Chatham, Ontario. The rest of the Downie family traveled on to Detroit and then to Almont. They established a homestead near the Hamiltons. Thomas McIlrick would eventually establish his farm in the northwest corner of Armada Township about a mile from the Downies.
In 1850, as Janet Hopkin approached her 16th birthday, her father, John Hopkin, made arrangements for her to marry Robert Gray, whose parents had become very wealthy. Janet did not love Robert and did not want to marry him. As the wedding day approached, it became common knowledge throughout the Scotch Settlement community that Janet did not want to marry Robert.
The day before the planned wedding, James Downie and Thomas McIlrick were in a cornfield hoeing out the weeds. They discussed Janet’s situation. James indicated that he would like to marry Janet, to which Thomas replied, “If you don’t want to marry Janet Hopkin, I will!” They looked at each other and then immediately dropped their hoes and began making arrangements.
They made arrangements with a Justice of the Peace, either from Berlin or Armada Townships, to meet the couple that night at a nearby farm. How they communicated with Janet and what was said is not known.
That night, James and Thomas placed a ladder to Janet’s second floor bedroom window and Janet climbed down. They went to the nearby farm and met the Justice of the Peace. The Justice of the Peace married James and Janet using a tree stump as an altar. James and Janet then went into hiding.
On the day of the planned wedding, the groom and guests arrived but the bride was nowhere to be found. Upon learning of Janet’s marriage, John Hopkin was furious. He refused to send Janet her trousseau and other belongs. Jean Hopkin, however, forgave her daughter and sent the trousseau and belongings to Janet.
Janet and James would have eight children—four who died very young. In 1864, the Downie clan—parents John and Janet Sproul Downie and sons James and John and their families—moved from Almont to the area of Chatham Ontario, Canada. Janet and James died young and their remaining children were raised by family members. Their two youngest, James Hunter Downie and Grace Darling Downie were raised by William and Jean Downie Hamilton.
It was James Hunter Downie who preserved this story.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.