The arrival of the Haudenosaunee hastened settlement in the Grand River Valley of Upper Canada. Joseph Brant, travelling along the Detroit path, led his people to the Grand River Valley in the fall of 1784. Not only did Brant encourage his non-Native friends to the area, other non-Natives were attracted by the prospect of trade and barter with the sizeable Native population.
The first settlers that arrived found a land covered in a thick forest. The first order of business was to clear the land and build homesteads. The homes were small and simple, round logs caulked with woodchips and clay. There were no glass windows, rather openings covered with oiled paper to make them translucent. The earliest settler’s settled beside rivers and creeks and worked their way inland over time. The land was rich, providing an excellent yield for crops. This was a land where settlers could prosper. A productive farm could be established within six or seven years.
In 1793 Benaijah Mallory and his father-in-law Abraham Dayton claimed land in the Burford area. Dayton built the first house in what became Burford. Thomas Horner also arrived in 1793 and built the area’s first saw and grist mills. Whiteman’s (white man) Creek was named after him.
Of note, Joseph Brant moved to Burlington in 1798, building a fine home overlooking Lake Ontario on land granted to him for his loyal service to the King during the American Revolution. Brant passed away in Burlington in 1807. His remains are interred at the Mohawk Chapel.
The Ellis and Sturgis families accepted Brant’s offer of land in the Mount Pleasant area in 1799. The village of Mount Pleasant was the first trading centre in the area. It was named by Henry Ellis in 1800 because it reminded him of his home in Wales. There is no mount or high ground in Mount Pleasant, it is located on an unbroken plain.
The Mohawk Village that Brant started was still the principal and largest settlement in this area. The first inhabitant in what would become Brantford was John Statts. (Published histories of the area identify him as John Stalts but recent research suggests that the spelling of his last name may have been misinterpreted, the double t at the end of his name interpreted as l t because only one t was crossed. Reviewing settlement records indicates that the surname Stalts was unique whereas there is evidence of the Statts surname in Upper Canada.) John built a log hut in 1805 where the Boar War Memorial now stands in front of the Armoury. This location was near the ford, a shallow spot on the Grand River used as a crossing. Enos Bunnell built a cabin nears Statts’ two years later. This site was called Mississauga Hill, because it was a favourite camping ground of the Mississaugas.
The exact location of the ford has been debated for decades. Local historian, the late Robert Deboer, researched this extensively and through his efforts, the location was determined to be between the Lorne Bridge and the TH & B railway bridge connecting Brant’s Crossing with Fordview Park. A plaque in Lorne Park identifies the location of the crossing.
Jacob Langs settled in what would become Langford in Brantford Township in the earliest days of the 19th century. In 1806 John Oles Sr. and Issac Whiting settled along Fairchild’s Creek.
The opening of the London Road to the Grand River crossing from Hamilton in 1810 made the countryside more accessible The road was rough, little better than a path. By 1812 it became a corduroy road (logs laid side by side) to facilitate troop movements. In 1815 the road was planked, graded and levelled, but by no means was travel on this road quick or comfortable; a trip from the Grand River crossing to Hamilton, a distance of 23 miles, took seven hours.
Non-Native settlement at the Grand River crossing was slow. Thirteen years after Statts built his log hut, 1818, the population at the crossing consisted of 12 people. However things were about to soon change. Marshal Lewis arrived from New York in 1821 and built a grist mill. Lewis reportedly constructed the first bridge across the Grand River at the crossing. Consider H. Crandon, a carpenter from Massachusetts, arrived about the same time.
By 1823 the London Road was completed to London and the population at the crossing was about 100. The completion of the road and the potential of trade with the Natives attracted business and tradesmen to the crossing. Three trading stores were operating owned by John Aston Wilkes, S.V.R. Douglas, and Nathan Gage; two shoe shops owned by William Dutton and Arunah Huntington; and a blacksmith shop established by William Qua.
Wilkes store was opened and run by his sons, John and James. Wilkes Sr. joined them in 1825. Wilkes became a large landowner in the area. Huntington, who came here from Vermont, possessed keen business instincts and amassed a small fortune with his business and money lending enterprises.
Up until 1820 mail had to be collected in Ancaster, when a post office was established in Burford. A post office was opened at the crossing in 1825.
The community continued to grow slowly. A school was opened on what is now Market Square in 1826. By 1827 between two and three hundred non-Natives lived in the vicinity of the crossing. The settlement needed a name. Marshal Lewis suggested Lewisville; Robert Biggar of Mount Pleasant, who owned land at the crossing and built the second bridge across the Grand River, lobbied for Biggar’s Town; John Wilkes wanted Birmingham, his home town. Since the place was at the location were Joseph Brant forded the river, Brant’s ford, this name gained unanimous approval. The ‘s was quickly dropped and Brantford was born.
Since the settlement was located on Native territory the settlers were concerned with the legalities of their land transactions; they did not have clear title to the lands they acquired. This situation resulted in the slow growth of the settlement during the 1820‘s. In 1830 the Natives surrendered 807 acres to the Crown, for 5 shillings, as a town plot. The settlers could then obtain formal titles to their properties. The site of the village was the farm of Chief John Hill. Lewis Burwell, the deputy surveyor to Peter Robinson, Commissioner of Crown Lands, was tasked with preparing a survey of the area and a plan for the village. Lewis’ village plan consisted of eight streets running east / west and thirteen streets running north / south.