Formerly published by GlobalGazette.ca
The Story of Abraham Roberts, Moonshiner?
Published June 5, 2019
By Rick Roberts, GlobalGenealogy.com
This story illustrates the importance of not completely accepting nor discounting juicy family stories. Oftentimes there is some truth in them.
In the summer of 1980, my father and I embarked on a three day fishing trip that morphed into a tour of his childhood stomping grounds and a detailed account of his family history as he knew it. He never spoke openly about his family before that trip... it was an eye opener! This is one of those family legends, and what we discovered about it.
Dad planned the fishing trip to be a revisit to the lakes and rivers in North Hastings County, Ontario where he spent much of his youth. At least the part of his youth before he was 12 years old, when his father signed him up and shipped him off to be a labourer in a travelling road construction gang.
We met up on a Friday afternoon at a local roadside campsite with plans to begin fishing the next morning. The boat never made it into the water..... not a single fishing line was wetted during that long weekend. The first night, I asked Dad one open-ended question about his memories of the area. He began to reminisce, which was not his nature. Under the light of a gas-fired camp lantern, I wrote notes on every scrap of paper and bits of cardboard that I could find. About two o'clock in the morning, he got to the story of his uncle Abraham Roberts.
Abraham was born on October 28, 1891, probably in Ontario, to 'Captain' Thomas L. Roberts and Martha Beaumont-Roberts. I've never been able to locate a record of Abe's birth. Thomas was from a long line of Cornish and Welsh miners, sometimes prospecting, other times managing or owning a mine. That meant that each child was born somewhere different than the rest. It seems that civil registration of birth was a low priority.
According to the story my father had been told, Abraham lived a short, troubled, and 'entrepreneurial' life. My father had no first hand knowledge of Abe insofar as he was born in 1913, four years after Abraham died of typhoid fever on November 23, 1909. While relating the story, Dad was highly skeptical of it because of his grandmother's opinions on alcohol abuse and rowdy lifestyles. After all, Abe was just a boy.
The lore about Abraham Roberts was that he was producing moonshine that was especially popular in the area. When he died, it was said that his gravestone was cast of concrete with a bottle of his finest white lightning embedded in that monument. Dad believed the story to be the result of fertile imaginations. He had been told by Abraham's contemporaries that Abraham had a great fondness for alcohol from a young age, but doubted the rest of the often repeated story. We decided to drive to the family cemetery at Stoney Settlement, near Millbridge, Ontario, the next morning.
It was a beautiful clear summer morning when we arrived at the site. Other family lore claims that the then abandoned wooden church was built by Thomas Roberts at the direction of his wife Martha who wanted a non-denominational church that people of all faiths were encouraged to use. She knew religious bias -- her family was Huguenot. As we walked into the cemetery section, we noticed that the stone that stands beside Thomas and Martha's had been vandalized. That is the memorial stone of Abraham Roberts.
Dad joked "I guess the locals heard the story and were after a free bottle of hooch". Upon reaching the stone, and to our mutual amazement, the clear imprint of a bottle shape was exposed in the broken stone. As we were checking out the cornerstones of the old church building (there's more lore about a stash of gold in the cornerstone of the old church.... but that is a story for another time), I came across a pile of rubbish in which was a pair of empty wine bottles. I took one over to Abraham's memorial stone... it fit perfectly into the bottle impression. Here is a picture of the result, plus a closeup.
Abraham Roberts' memorial stone is on the right
This is an enlargement of Abraham Roberts' stone with the empty wine bottle I placed in the perfect impression of a bottle
So, what do we really know?
I have no real evidence that alcohol ever touched the lips of Abraham Roberts, nor do I have any documented evidence that he was a popular and prolific local moonshine maker. What I do know for sure is that there was an impression of a bottle of the same shape and size as a liquor bottle, cast into his memorial stone. The nagging question is why?
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