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Newmarket's Settlers

In December, 1801 there must have been a celebration at Joseph Hill’s mill in the little clearing in the forest that was to become Newmarket.

Just imagine it! After the long trek to this isolated frontier, settlers had to clear enough of the virgin forest to plant a small crop between the stumps, build cabins for the coming winter, bring in firewood, hunt for meat, and probably last thing in the fall, dam the river, clear a millsite and build the little mill.

That first bag of flour ground from wheat carefully harvested from between the stumps must have symbolized a hard-won victory over this forbidding forest.

Joseph Hill was Newmarket’s first settler and his mill –a small wooden building with two millstones between which he ground wheat –produced its first bushel of flour in the week before Christmas, 1801. The mill was situated on the west bank of the river just south of today’s Water St. James Kinsey was the miller who ground the wheat.

Hill had arrived with settlers from Vermont under the leadership of Timothy Rogers. Near his mill Joseph Hill built a store, and to the west of that, near the present location of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, a frame house.

Hill's Mill image
Original Hill's Mill, Main & Water St., 1801

An ambitious man who saw the commercial potential of this site where the river converged with two great Indian trails, Hill soon became a rival of another settler-entrepreneur who planned to control the “new market” and its crossroads. His name was Elisha Beman, and he too was an ambitious American. However, Beman had managed to get himself firmly connected by marriage to members of the powerful Family Compact ruling circle.

Shortly after his arrival in 1803, Beman purchased the mill, store and house from Hill. Hill retained a sawmill on the east side of the dam, and in 1804 built a tannery on a creek crossing today’s Gorham St., but neglected to get legal title to the land. Beman discovered this, acquired the site and evicted Hill.

Hill had more bad luck in store for him. He had taken a partner who had fled New York leaving debts behind. The claimants found him and sued both partners in Upper Canadian courts. Although the man was not a partner in the mill, his debtors won a judgment against it. In 1812 Hill’s property was seized and put up for auction. Peter Robinson, Elisha Beman's eldest step-son, acquired it.

Hill was a ruined man and ever after bitterly claimed he had been done in by an act of judicial robbery. When war broke out in 1812, he refused to take an Oath of Allegiance and Newmarket’s first settler left for Pennsylvania.

-- Terry Carter