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People: Scots of Windsor's Past

John McLeod (1816-1887):

John McLeod was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Ann Gordon and John McLeod, Sr., the senior foreman of a local foundry. McLeod was sixteen when his parents decided to seek out better opportunities in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where he completed high school. He continued his education in law and headed to New York City with the intent of establishing himself in the legal profession. McLeod, however, found himself unsuited to the field and clerked in a dry goods store instead. Taking a liking to business, he traveled to Detroit in the mid 1830s to dabble in the mercantile trade. There he met an Englishwoman named Mary Kenyon, whom he married in 1838.

McLeod settled in Amherstburg after taking a wife and began operating the settlement's first saw mill. By 1845 this operation had grown to include fulling and grist mills, smut and shearing machines, a napping gig, and a merchant bolt. Within another four years McLeod's ventures included distilling and ship-building. The alarmingly fast-paced growth of his Amherstburg operations, a result of his industrious nature and enterprising attitude, made him the community's leading businessman. His shipyard built both steamboats and sailing vessels, one of which was the first ship that ever sailed from Chicago to Liverpool. 1 The Thomas F. Park delivered a load of square timber and brought back a cargo of merchandise that McLeod distributed among his stores at Goderich, Wallaceburg, Windsor, Amherstburg. His vessels were mostly used to freight wheat from his northern stores and ship back various kinds of merchandise. His distillery also proved to be popular and profitable: by 1861 McLeod was amassing 12,000 rye and corn bushels to make 1,000 barrels of Scotch whisky per year. In 1874 he sold the plant to Windsor's famous distiller, Hiram Walker, and retired on his small fortune.

The residents of Amherstburg elected McLeod reeve in 1846; between then and 1849 he also represented Malden in the Western District Council of Reeves. He moved into federal politics in 1857, being elected to represent Essex as a Conservative in the Legislative Assembly in the 6th Parliament of the Province of Canada. The election, which was contested with Liberal candidate Colonel Arthur Rankin, remains one of the most memorable elections in the history of the County of Essex. Local tradition relates one particularly interesting anecdote that says Rankin's supporters, rightly suspecting that their candidate had been defeated, locked Sheriff John McEwan in the Sandwich jail to prevent him from announcing the election results. McLeod marched to Sandwich with a few hundred of his own supporters and demanded that the Rankin mob release the McEwan, who declared McLeod the winner of the election after a long controversy of contested results.

One year after he sold his distillery to Hiram Walker, McLeod purchased the Old Fort Malden property and made his residence in the house formerly occupied by the physicians to the Asylum, which the local paper trumpeted as "the loveliest site for a residence on the Detroit River." McLeod's obituary, which appeared in the Amherstburg Echo on 8 July 1887, described the property in great detail:

"The house stands within one hundred feet of the river, facing the West, with a sixteen-mile view up the stream at the right, and, to the left, Lake Erie, spreading out as far as the eye can see with the whole navigation of the western world passing right in front. One may travel many a hundred miles in the valley of the great lakes without finding a prospect to match this in picturesque beauty. At the rear end of the house as you step out of doors in the second story, you are in the grounds of old Fort Malden, teeming with historical reminiscences, with the stump of the flag staff still standing where it was erected "long, long ago." On that spot, said to be the highest ground in Essex, cast up as a defense against the threatening foe, stand huge poplars, black walnuts, maples, and the handsomest English lime the writer ever saw. Beautiful shade trees in the front as well as in the rear, add very much to the loveliness of the place - a rural retreat which a poet might covet, and a prince be proud to own."

McLeod was an avid reader since his boyhood days, and at the time of his death owned a personal library of about 3,000 volumes that spanned the canon of Western literature, including the works of Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and many, many others. His library also contained a great number of European and American history books, and thirty-two years' worth of issues of the London Illustrated News.

  1. Amberstburg Echo, 8 July 1887
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