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People: Scots of Windsor's Past

Lambie Family:

Mary Hamilton Lambie
Mary Hamilton Lambie

The Lambie family had its roots in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Francis L. Lambie was born in 1794 in Avondale, and his wife, Mary Hamilton, was born in 1796 in Strathaven. Of their nine children - all of which were born in Strathaven, where the family settled - only five survived to maturity. Like many other Lowlanders of the time, the Lambies found it impossible to subsist in the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, and chose to start anew in a country where land was plentiful and cheap. They immigrated to Superior Township, Michigan, in 1839, traveling on a boat with thirty-five total passengers, bringing with them dishes, furniture, and more.

Francis, a British subject through and through, never adapted to the United States; all throughout the eighteen years that they lived in that country, he kept saying that he "wanted to die under the Crown." The family, therefore, moved to Windsor in 1857, and became members of the local elite. Not only did the Lambies own extensive pieces of property, "but moved in the most prestigious social circles with Essex County's most illustrious citizens." 1

On 20 March 1870, the F. Lambie & Bro. Grain, Flour, Money & Real Estate Factors took out an advertisement in the Detroit and Windsor newspapers for the sale of the Old Lambie Homestead on the Niagara South Shore Rail line, four miles south of Windsor and a half-mile from the Sandwich Sulphur Springs. The homestead, claimed the ad, was over ninety acres with "500 of Adair's best fruit and ornamental trees in two spring orchards, an avenue of evergreens, and Lombardy poplars in front of the house, and a grapery in the rear, between the house and barn .... would make the finest rural retreat or suburban residence in this region, the fishery alone frequently yielding $1,000 per annum." This write-up illustrates the estate that Francis and Mary built for themselves from their pioneer beginnings in Michigan.

William Lambie was the first child of Francis and Mary. Born in 1821, he was eighteen at the time of immigration and kept a detailed record of his family's travels. "We felt a thrill of gladness and keen delight in our first impressions of the new world," he wrote about their arrival in New York City before dolefully noting, "that Michigan has never equaled." They sailed up the Hudson River on a "delightful" steamer and then traveled the "rough" passage across the Great Lakes from Buffalo to Detroit. "We saw this was a great and goodly land," William penned. "It is better than Scotland in two ways: there is more land and less whisky." 2

William & Mary Lambie
William & Mary Lambie

Although the Lambies already knew friends who had settled in Ypsilanti, they were the first members of their family to immigrate to the area. Francis and Mary bought the "Old Moon Farm," an eighty-acre tract of land on the south side of Geddes Road between Prospect and Leforge Roads. William and his wife Mary Campbell, whom he wed in 1840, bought the south half of the farm on Clark Road in 1844. All members of the Lambie family worked as farmers, selling their crops and wool. "In those brave days of old," William wrote with a hint of nostalgia, "we sold Butter for 8 cents a pound and eggs for 6 cents a dozen."

Francis kept a waste (or record) book for ten years between 1858 and 1868. His short daily entries chronicled everything from the weather to town developments and incidents to his visitors to the American Civil War. Available in the Windsor Public Library archives, this diary provides an invaluable glimpse into the daily activities of the region's early settlers.

Francis Lambie fell ill in 1868 after falling into a creek in late November. "Could hardly get home," he scrawled in his waste book. On December 9, William took over record-keeping for his father: "Two Doctors & I write these lines at Father's request. It is with sad conviction sadly settling over all our hearts, that he will write these daily records no more." The next day's entry was filled with the somberness of approaching death, which was, for a believer like Francis Lambie, not an end but a new beginning:

"James & I stayed with Father," William wrote. "He suffers very little and says he is quite willing to die - told the Minister last evening that his trust was in his Saviour - and he receives every attention gratefully - & seems only to care that others should get rest and be well looked after. After a noble life his and & peace in believing that blessed Saviour of whom he has said little and served well."

Francis lingered two more weeks, finally passing away on Christmas day. "A sad Christmas," William lamented, "the last of earth!" Perhaps because conventional prose could not adequately capture his sentiments, he composed a verse in his father's honour and set it down as the last entry of the record book:

"The bloom of earth has faded
Death's stream appears less wide
Faith sees these saints regathering
Now on the other side."

William, like his father, kept a diary for thirty-five years, and expressed his grief in its pages. 3 On New Year's Day, 1869, he noted that he was invited to a party but "felt too sad to go." "The world seems less after Father's death," he wrote on 6 January. The next day, however, opened with "a glorious morning - looks like spring." The sunshine proved good for William's spirit: "I think it will be an eternal spring to my departed father."

William Lambie’s Diar
William Lambie’s Diar

Unlike his father's waste book, which was little more than a record covering everyday routines and occurrences, William's diary reveals his hopes and his fears, his jubilations and his sorrow. It is a moving encounter with a real person who would other wise lie statically beneath the pages of history. What does it say about William Lambie that he opened his diary with death? On 1 May 1864, he wrote, "Helped dig a grave forenoon - went to Mr. Casey's funeral."

What followed was a detailed chronicle of farm-work, funerals, sales and business, weather, daily events, illnesses (in early January 1871, for instance, his son Frank got the mumps just as his daughter Mary was recovering from it), church, and more, including a vacation to Niagara Falls with his wife and daughter in August 1886. The trip from Windsor to Niagara took nine hours but was well worth it: William found the falls to be "soul-inspiring," and the family enjoyed riding the Maid of the Mist a great deal.

Birthdays seemed to be more occasions for sorrow than celebration: on his forty-forth birthday, for example - 15 April 1865 - he heard the news that President Lincoln was shot. Seven years later his attitude revealed an intense and sober self-awareness: "My birthday. Another year gone. Job wished he had never seen the light. With all my sadness, I look on life as a blessing." For his fifty-third birthday in 1874 he "planted ever green trees that may remind my friends of me when I am gone. I can hardly realize I am old."

William's carefully-composed entries reveal a tender soul with the inclinations of a poet. On 17 May 1886, he noted, for example, that "the first song sparrow sung at dawn to usher in St. Patrick's Day." As he aged, drawing ever closer to death, he seemed to find a kind of quiet contentedness free of the sorrow that had permeated his younger days. On the anniversary of his brother Robert's death in 1899, the aging William (who was nearly eighty years old) reflected upon his own mortality: "If a man dies," he asked, "will he live again?" His last diary entry, dated 6 April 1899, seems to suggest that he believed he would. "Fine morning. Rested in the sunshine."

James Lambie
James Lambie

William's younger brother James, born in 1830, also became an important local figure. In 1855 he built a small frame structure on Ferry Street that doubled as his general store and Windsor's first Congregational Church. As Lambie Hall became a popular venue for other organizations, James decided to relocate his store to 32 Sandwich Street West in 1876. and in 1894 Lambie's Hall was transformed into Windsor's first free public library. Patrons paid five cents a year for a library card which granted them access to the library's collection of 5,254 books and sixty periodicals. Windsor had outgrown Lambie's Hall by the turn of the century, however, and the old building was demolished in 1914, eleven years after the city got a Carnegie Library.

As the owner of a successful general store in the West End, James led the fight for the survival of Sandwich businesses in the 1870s when the town council decided to move the ferry dock. This movement would have been detrimental to West End merchants, as it would have terrifically damaged the ease with which they could trade with the Americans. As a result of James' dogged efforts, the town council relented and allowed the Ferry Street dock to re-open. James was also an advocate of the temperance movement, founding the Band Hope Society, a temperance youth group, in 1873, and organizing meetings for the cause in the 1880s. He passed away in 1890 as one of Sandwich's most respected and beloved businessmen. His mother, Mary Hamilton, survived him by two years, living to the age of ninety-six. She is buried in Windsor Grove Cemetery.

James Lambie’s Store
James Lambie’s Store
J. Lambie's Store
J. Lambie's Store
  1. Biographical sketch in the Lambie Family Collection, 1852-1905, MS39, Windsor Public Library Archives.
  2. Lambie, William, Chronicle of the Journey to Ypsilanti, 1870. Windsor Public Library Archives: Lambie Family Collection: 1852-1905, MS39.
  3. William Lambie's dairies were transcribed by Billie Zolkosky and published over two decades (1970s and 1980s) in Ypsilanti Gleanings, the journal of the Ypsilanti Historical Society. They are currently archived in the Ann Arbor District Library.
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