John Graves Simcoe

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John Graves Simcoe (February 25, 1752 – October 26, 1806) was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791-1796. Then frontier, this was modern-day southern Ontario and the watersheds of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. He founded York (now Toronto) and was instrumental in introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and in abolishing slavery. He ended slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole - by 1810 there were no slaves in Upper Canada, but the Crown did not abolish slavery throughout the Empire until 1834.

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Early life

John Graves Simcoe was the only surviving son of John and Katherine Simcoe; although his parents had four children, he was the only one to live past childhood. His father, a captain in the Royal Navy, commanded the 60-gun HMS Pembroke, with James Cook as his sailing master, during the 1758 siege of Louisbourg. When his father died of pneumonia a few months prior to the siege of Quebec, the family moved to his mother's parental home in Exeter. His paternal grandparents were William and Mary (née Hutchinson) Simcoe.

He was educated at Exeter Grammar School and Eton College. After a year at Merton College, Oxford, Simcoe was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, but then decided to follow the military career for which his father had intended him. He was initiated into Freemasonry in Union Lodge, Exeter on November 2, 1773.[1]

Marriage and family

Simcoe's godfather was British admiral Samuel Graves. Simcoe married Graves' ward, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim, in 1782. The Simcoes had five daughters prior to their posting in Canada. Son Francis was born in 1791. Their Canadian-born daughter, Katherine, died in infancy in York, Upper Canada. She is buried in the Victoria Square Memorial Park on Portland Avenue.

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