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CASEY, THOMAS WILLET, farmer, temperance advocate, journalist, publisher, and historian; b. 25 Oct. 1834 in Adolphustown Township, Upper Canada, only child of Willet W. Casey and Sarah Melissa Farley; m. 4 March 1857 Anne Empey, and they had five daughters and a son; d. 10 April 1903 in Napanee, Ont.

Thomas Willet Casey was born on the family farm at Casey Point, now Shermans Point, at the entrance to Hay Bay. From his early days he was imbued with his family’s loyalist heritage on the Bay of Quinte. His grandfather William Casey had fled Rhode Island during the American revolution and settled with a brother and sister at Adolphustown in 1786. Although there were Quakers in the family, William became a trustee of the Methodist Hay Bay chapel [see William Losee*].

Thomas’s father died in 1846 and his mother later married Frederick Keller, an American-born farmer living in Ernestown Township. In 1851–52, at the age of 17, Thomas was enrolled in the fall and spring terms at Victoria College, Cobourg, but he did not continue his education. Evidently he returned to the farm in Adolphustown. In 1867 he carried the Liberal banner in Lennox in the first general election for the Ontario legislature. Described in the Napanee Standard as “a successful lecturer in temperance matters, hard of hearing, of no regular business habits, a good and well-meaning man, but ill suited to be your representative,” he was soundly defeated by John Stevenson*. He lost again in 1875.

Casey was best known for his compulsive, lifelong crusade for temperance. He entered the movement at the age of 18. As early as 1856 he was an agent and the treasurer of the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Union Temperance Association. An eloquent speaker and an easy writer, he used the newspaper and the lecture stand as his media. Working as a journalist specializing in temperance matters for the Napanee Standard, he was invited in 1870 by its owners to co-edit a new publication, the Canada Casket, with the Reverend William Scott, past editor of the Canada Temperance Advocate. The Canada Casket was the official paper of the Sons of Temperance and of the Independent Order of Good Templars of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. From at least 1874 until its demise in the mid 1880s, it was edited solely by Casey.

In 1874 Casey had sold the family farm and become publisher and editor of the Napanee Express, a Reform newspaper which he sold two years later, perhaps as a result of financial difficulties. In 1889 and perhaps later he was publisher in Halifax of the Canadian Voice, founded by John Thomas Bulmer and the organ of the prohibition movement in the Maritimes. When he was not writing about temperance, he travelled widely from Nova Scotia to the American Midwest, lecturing as a “Great Secretary” of the Templars. He found practical application for his ideals as an inspector under federal liquor-licensing legislation. Even his devotion to the cause could not, however, stem the decline of temperance lodges after 1890.

Casey made a lasting contribution to the study of local history in Ontario by collecting early records and documenting details of pioneer life. His interest had been stimulated by William Canniff’s History of the settlement of Upper Canada . . . (Toronto, 1869) and the Adolphustown centennial celebrations of 1884, to which he contributed. He was contemporary with several other antiquarians and historians who were looking into pioneering on the Bay of Quinte, among them Canniff Haight, Charles Canniff James, and James Henry Coyne*.

Dedicated to his homeland and devoted to both his church and temperance, Casey was a farmer with a proud family tradition, a little education, a skilled pen and tongue, an interest in politics, and a zeal for ideals. When Walter Stevens Herrington was editing Casey’s voluminous scrapbooks for the Lennox and Addington Historical Society in 1911, he remembered Casey’s latter years and his hobby: “He loved to linger about the old grave-yards and ruminate on the experiences, the joys and sorrows of his ancestors whose ashes lay mouldering there.”

Larry Turner

Thomas Willet Casey’s papers, comprising his correspondence, notebooks, and scrapbooks, and his collection of historical records, are preserved in the Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. Coll. at the Lennox and Addington County Museum Library and Arch. (Napanee, Ont.). There are also Casey files in the H. C. Burleigh papers at the QUA.

Casey published numerous documents and articles relating to the history of the Bay of Quinte region in the latter years of his life. These include “Old-time records relating to the early days of this province” (a series of articles printed in the Napanee Beaver between 1899 and 1901), and various church records in the Papers and Records of the Ont. Hist. Soc., Toronto (later OH): 1 (1899): 13–112, and 6 (1905): 136–67, as well as an article there, “Napanee’s first mills and their builder,” 6: 50–54. A manuscript volume of early Adolphustown Township documents discovered by Casey was edited by Charles Canniff James and published in Ont., Bureau of Industries, App. to the report (Toronto), 1897: 1–54. Casey prepared most of the accompanying biographies of Adolphustown settlers (pp.58–69), which appear under the title “Personal notes.”

Two volumes of selections from the “Old-time records” preserved in Casey’s scrapbooks of clippings were edited by Walter Stevens Herrington and issued posthumously as “The Casey scrapbooks,” Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records (Napanee), 3 (1911)–4 (1912). A third volume, “The Casey scrapbooks: part iii,” [ed. I. E. Wilson and J. A. Eadie], was published as vol. 14 (1972).

A photograph of Casey from his papers at the Lennox and Addington Museum appears as the frontispiece to the first volume of “The Casey scrapbooks.”

Lennox and Addington County Museum Library and Arch., Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. papers, L/A 988.185 (Larry Turner, “The Frederick Keller family of Ernestown, Upper Canada”). Lennox Land Registry Office (Napanee), Adolphustown Township, abstract index to deeds, concession 4, lots 24–26; deeds, book 2, no.209; wills, book E, no.1625. Napanee cemetery, Tombstone inscriptions. UCC-C, Victoria Univ. Arch., 87.143V, no.3. Express (Napanee), 17 April 1903. Napanee Beaver, 17 April 1903. Standard (Napanee), 18 July, 22 Aug. 1867. The centennial of the settlement of Upper Canada by the United Empire Loyalists, 1784–1884 . . . (Toronto, 1885). Death notices from theChristian Guardian” . . . , comp. D. A. McKenzie (3v., Lambertville, N.J., 1982–88), 1: 59. W. S. Herrington, History of the county of Lennox and Addington (Toronto, 1913; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). Legislators and legislatures of Ont. (Forman), vol.2. “The newspapers of the county: a historical survey of the newspapers of Lennox and Addington, presented in the form of extracts from the old files,” ed. W. S. Herrington, Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records, 10 (1919). Ont. marriage notices (Wilson), 196. Pioneer life on the Bay of Quinte . . . (Toronto, 1904; repr. Belleville, 1972). The prohibition leaders of America, ed. [B.] F. Austin (St Thomas, Ont., [1895]).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Larry Turner, “CASEY, THOMAS WILLET,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/casey_thomas_willet_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/casey_thomas_willet_13E.html
Author of Article: Larry Turner
Title of Article: CASEY, THOMAS WILLET
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: August 1, 2014