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KETCHUM, SENECA, tanner, Anglican lay preacher, and philanthropist; b. 17 Aug. 1772 at Spencertown, N.Y., eldest son of Jesse Ketchum and Mary (Mollie) Robbins; m. Ann Mercer, daughter of Thomas Mercer, a pioneer settler in York Township; they had no children; d. 2 June 1850 in York Mills (Toronto).

Following a common pattern of the period, several members of the Ketchum family in succession settled in Upper Canada. Seneca Ketchum is said to have arrived in Kingston in 1792 and spent several years there. His uncle Joseph obtained a land grant in Scarborough Township in 1795. Seneca may have moved with him and can have reached York (Toronto) no later than 1797, when he and his younger brother Jesse* were listed as inhabitants of Yonge Street. Ketchum quickly entered with zest into the life of his adopted community, becoming briefly secretary of Rawdon Masonic Lodge in that year. He began to buy up land, his holdings eventually embracing what are now the Bedford Park and Teddington Park areas of north Toronto, and he established a tanning and shoemaking business that also involved much general trade. Other members of his family, including his father, joined him in 1802.

Whether through the burden of settling the family or – according to one story – an unsuccessful drawing of lots with Jesse for the hand of their attractive young housekeeper, Ann Love, Ketchum suffered a mental breakdown in 1803. Despite this setback, he was active before long in the educational and religious affairs of the community. A devout Anglican, he helped to purchase a site for St John’s Church, York Mills, and contributed much of the labour for the erection of the first building in 1817. He soon extended the range of his activities, organizing Sunday school classes and conducting informal services in outlying settlements.

In 1820 Ketchum secured a land grant in Mono Township, near the present Orangeville, and over the years he added considerably to his holdings there. He was still living on Yonge St in 1830, when he signed a petition to incorporate a turnpike company, and in 1831 was still buying land there. In 1835, however, Anglican missionary Adam Elliot* found him at Mono, noting that he had already “formed several Sunday Schools, and instructed above a hundred persons in the Church catechism.” In his new home, indeed, Ketchum soon outdid his previous efforts in church extension. In 1837 he built a log church on his own land that was the precursor of St Mark’s, Orangeville, and local tradition credits him with the foundation of at least half a dozen Anglican churches in the area. He also made several large gifts of land to the church, for purposes ranging from the support of theological students to the foundation of a “Sailors’ Home.”

Unhappily Ketchum’s zeal eventually led him into conflict with church authorities. During his last few years he pressed so vigorously the claims of his neighbourhood to be the residence of a permanent minister that Bishop John Strachan* had to warn others against his exuberance. Having given so much to the church, Ketchum bitterly accused Strachan of ingratitude. In the midst of the controversy he died while staying with his nephew by marriage, Presbyterian clergyman James Harris, and was buried with Anglican rites at St John’s on 4 June 1850.

Ketchum seems never to have recovered completely from the effects of his early mental illness, being described after his death by Archdeacon Alexander Neil Bethune* as “an earnest-minded but not very sane individual.” No one ever doubted his loyalty to the church, his special concern for young people, or his generosity to his neighbours, however, and his ecumenical spirit was demonstrated by his willingness to operate an undenominational Sunday school out of a Methodist meeting house or to use a Presbyterian catechism where it seemed appropriate. “Very few had as much of the milk of the human kindness as he had, and few had less tears shed over his grave,” was the pithy if ungrammatical comment of his nephew Jesse Ketchum, who proceeded to contest his will.

John Webster Grant

Seneca Ketchum’s contributions are recognized by a memorial window at St John’s, York Mills (Toronto), and a plaque at St Mark’s (Orangeville, Ont.). Both churches acknowledge him as their chief founder. A portrait of him is held by St John’s.

ACC, Diocese of Toronto Arch., R. W. Allen papers, 34, R. W. Allen, “Notes on the county of Simcoe” (typescript, 1945); Church Soc. of the Diocese of Toronto, land reg., 1802–59. AO, Land record index, Joseph Ketchum, Seneca Ketchum; MS 35, letter-book, 1844–49; MU 597, no.17. MTRL, E. J. Hathaway papers. PAC, RG 1, E3, 100: 153–63. St John’s, York Mills, Indentures, 1817; Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials. UCC-C, Perkins Bull coll. The Stewart missions; a series of letters and journals, calculated to exhibit to British Christians, the spiritual destitution of the emigrants settled in the remote parts of Upper Canada . . . , ed. W. J. D. Waddilove (London, 1838), 37, 94. York, Upper Canada: minutes of town meetings and lists of inhabitants, 1797–1823, ed. Christine Mosser (Toronto, 1984). Christian Guardian, 14 April 1841. Globe, 4 June 1850. Helen Ketchum, “A resume of the ancestry of Seneca Ketchum and his brother Jesse Ketchum II . . .” (typescript, 1959; copy at St John’s). Marriage bonds of Ont. (T. B. Wilson). W. P. Bull, From Strachan to Owen: how the Church of England was planted and tended in British North America (Toronto, 1937). M. A. Graham, 150 years at St. John’s, York Mills (Toronto, 1966). E. J. Hathaway, Jesse Ketchum and his times . . . (Toronto, 1929).

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John Webster Grant, “KETCHUM, SENECA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ketchum_seneca_7E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ketchum_seneca_7E.html
Author of Article:   John Webster Grant
Title of Article:   KETCHUM, SENECA
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   April 18, 2024