The Paterson Family

From Dumfriesshire, Scotland to Ontario, Canada


 History of Chatham

It appears that the family of James Paterson Jr. and Jane Irving were the first of the Patersons to immigrate to North America.  Their son, John, settled in Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1879.  James and Jane and their other children followed in 1880.

The city of Chatham began as a naval dockyard as it is adjacent to the River Thames.  The town was named after a similarly-named town in England, also built around a shipyard.  In Old English, the name Chatham means forest settlement.  In Canada, Chatham was located in the county of Kent in the province of Ontario.

During the early to mid 1800s, Chatham was part of the "Underground Railroad" which was a network of abolitionists who helped move slaves from southern states in the United States to Canada where they could live free.  This network involved men who belonged to the Antislavery Society of Canada, and women who belonged to the Toronto Ladies Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Refugees. 

As a result of this activity, by 1864 about one-fourth or more of the residents of Chatham were African Americans.  However, the town was not integrated.  Black people lived in one section of town and their children went to separate schools.  When the Civil War was over, most of the African Americans moved from the area.  Today, only about 2% of the population of Chatham is Black.

Of the current population of Chatham, the census shows the ethnic origins as follows: English (33%), French (22%), Scottish (20%), Irish (19%).

Chatham's economy has its base in the agricultural and automotive sectors.  The lower Thames River runs through Chatham (now known as Chatham-Kent) to Lake St. Clair.

From the 1840s to the 1940s, Chatham and Detroit had a connection via boat travel.  Excursion boats would travel down the Thames River to Lake St. Clair to the Detroit River, providing transportation from Chatham to Detroit and back.

For more information about the history of Chatham, click here and here.

Thames River

King Street

High Street, circa 1900

Residential area in 1910

Map showing Chatham and its proximity to Detroit