Longwoods Barn Quilt Trail - Quilt Block Locations
Tales of war, struggle and triumph
From the first European settlers’ arrival in the late 1700s to the early 1800s, Middlesex County’s evolution was tied to military interests.
In 1793 Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe, proposed establishing a provincial capital at the forks of the Thames River and naming it London. Concerned tensions would erupt between the British colony and the new republic to the south, Simcoe recognized strategic advantages in the area’s river access to the western frontier. His proposal was rejected but in the meantime, United Empire Loyalists from the United States, drawn by rich soils and the promise of a new start, settled southwest of present day London at Delaware.
During those early years of settlement most people acquired it through grants from the British Crown or land agents like Colonel Thomas Talbot. Later on in the northern portion of the county, others would acquire it through the Canada Company, a private chartered British land development company. Many early settlers were Highland Scots and Gaelic was as commonly spoken as English in several communities.
When war broke out in 1812, Middlesex settlers became uneasy. Some with American ties returned across the border and were declared traitors by the British. In late 1813, Americans regained control of nearby Detroit and Tecumseh, leader of the First Nations coalition that fought with the British, died at the Battle of the Thames. The area west of the small British military outpost at Delaware became a no-mans’ land where soldiers from both sides confiscated settlers’ supplies.
Then, in 1814, British soldiers and American soldiers clashed on Middlesex soil. American soldiers had advanced along the Longwoods Road planning to raid the Delaware outpost. They fought briefly with a scouting party of British soldiers before occupying a hill overlooking the bridge at Twenty Mile Creek, near present day Wardsville. British soldiers, militia men and First Nations warriors attacked but were unsuccessful and retreated. The American soldiers, recognizing that they would be outnumbered if attacked again, fled to Detroit.
Settlers worked hard to rebuild once peace was formally restored in 1815. By mid-century and the arrival of railroads, European and First Nations communities peppered the area. Northwest of London, Quakers settled at Coldstream, building a grist mill and later a furniture factory and woollen mill. Near Lucan was the short-lived Wilberforce Colony, a refuge for former American slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad. It was in this area that the legendary Donnelly family settled in the 1840s. The family’s lawless activities provoked anger in the community and in 1880 vigilantes murdered them in their homes.
Today, Middlesex’s eventful history can be experienced in several local museums and the annual Doors Open Middlesex event. Or capture it live at the annual Battle of Longwoods re-enactment the first weekend in May or at the many history themed events at Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Search out Ailsa Craig, home of the renowned Quilt Festival. Explore the county’s natural heritage and Carolinian forest along trails in its parks and conservation areas. And while visiting, make sure to sample the local fare. From organic greens to specialty meats, Middlesex County’s culinary offerings treat you to unforgettable tastes.