Who is Alicia Colden Napier?

I believe that Alicia Colden Napier was my 4th great grandmother.  But Alicia Colden Napier died in Scotland in 1816 or 1818 at the age of about 20 years, so how can that be?  This is the most interesting mystery that I have uncovered in my family tree so I will try my best to explain!

My 3x great grandfather, Duncan McTavish, met and married Elizabeth Husband in Nassagaweya Township, Halton County, Ontario in about 1838.  They were neighbours – Elizabeth’s father, John Husband has the farm kitty corner to Duncan’s brother Dugald.  Elizabeth’s brother George laboured on the farm for Dugald.  The McTavish family did a family history and tree in 1952.  There is mention in the book that there was “some talk about grandmother’s (Elizabeth) aristocratic background” and that her mother “had once lived in a castle but she ran away with the coachman”.   Interesting story indeed.  Elizabeth’s birth is shrouded in mystery – it is unclear what year she was actually born and whether she was the first child, the second or the twin of George.  The Husband family has also written two volumes about the Husband’s and their history in “The Husbands of Halton” by Valerie Husband Brook and its addendum “More Husbands of Halton” by Max Husband.  The first book is a family history is based largely on the diary of Henry Price Husband, Elizabeth’s youngest brother.   The addendum provides more information and attempts to make connection with the Napier family.  My own genealogical research has found John Husband’s military records showing that he was pressed into service by the British Navy in 1812 when they boarded a ship where he was a passenger bound for the USA for work as a weaver.  A native of Ireland, he was released from service and returned home in 1816.  John can be found in Nassagaweya Township, Halton County, Ontario in 1823 when he is granted 100 acres of land (lot 25 in concession 4) for his service in the British Navy.  He and his growing family can be found in the censuses from 1842 and 1861 but unfortunately the 1852 census from the area has been destroyed.  John passed away in 1864 and in his will, several of his children are named.

Interestingly in the 1842 census, although his wife is not named, there is a female between the ages of 30-60 years listed as “insane”.  The family story is that in 1836, Alice (as she was called) was tending to her youngest child Henry, when toddler Charles fell into the fire and was burned to death.  She subsequently, became “soft in the brain” and while the family tried to take care of her at home, by 1855 this proved too difficult and she was committed to the Toronto Asylum for the Insane.  She is not listed with the family in the 1861 census.  Alice Husband can be found as an inmate in Toronto in 1861 and 1871.  After contacting the Asylum in recent years, Bill Taylor (son in law of Max Husband), was told of her un-marked burial in St. John’s cemetery after her death in August of 1873.  The headstone for John Husband at St. Jude’s in Oakville also includes her name as Alecia Napier (1795-1873).  In addition to Henry’s diary – he also kept a family bible which lists keys dates for his marriages and births of his children.  In it, he has a page for “My Parent’s Births”.  He says “Alicia Napier (my mother) daughter of William Napier and…born in the year 1795 in the Town of Clonmel, Ireland”.  In his diary he mentions his mother as “the only daughter of a descendent of Sir Charles Napier” and “Alicia and her brothers were tall and muscular, and as brave as they were strong”.  There is also mention through family tales and the inscription on a headstone that the family was a cousin to Lord Napier and that their ancestors had conquered the Sindh.  He also mentions his parent’s marriage in 1810 when his mother was “15 years old”.  He later talks about the struggle of farming in the early years in Ontario and that “her reason left her” which had a devastating effect on the family, scattering them far and wide.  He also makes mention of his brother Charles who “was burnt to death when he was about two.”  Between Henry’s diary and bible, he did a fantastic job of recording what he knew to be true.

alicia headstone st judes

But, what is true and what is a story?  We know that some of his knowledge was incorrect.  His parents could not have married in 1810 in Ireland – he was en route to America in 1812 when he was pressed into duty during the War of 1812.  He did not return to Ireland until August of 1816.  Henry lists a William Napier as Alicia’s father and also says that they were descendants of Sir Charles Napier.  A search for Sir Charles Napier yielded two results: 1)  Sir Charles James Napier (b 1782) and 2)  Sir Charles John Napier (b 1785).  Sir Charles James Napier was born in 1782 in London, England to parents George Napier (1751-1804) and Lady Sarah Lennox (1745-1825).  He was a noted man in Military history, and along with two of his brothers who also served in the Royal Navy – they were known as Wellington’s Men. Sir Charles James was also known to have battled during the War of 1812 and to have been the Conquerer of the Sindh in India.   The second Sir Charles, was Sir Charles John Napier who was born in 1786 and was also a Royal Navy Officer.  He was the son of Charles Napier (1731-1807) who was not knighted but served in the Royal Navy and Christian Gabriel.  He fought in many conflicts, including the War of 1812 but no mention of India.  He did fight in Portugal with his cousins “Wellington’s Colonels”.  There is no mention of him every being in Ireland.  Both of these men, knighted to be called Sir, were grandsons of the 6th Lord Napier – Francis Napier (1702-1773) and called half blood cousins, since although they shared a grandfather, their grandmothers were different women.

Digging into the life of Sir Charles James Napier – he was the eldest son of George Napier and Lady Sarah Lennox.  George (1751-1804) was born and died in England but spent the years 1785- 1804 in Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland.  He was the son of Francis Napier (1702-1773), 6th Lord Napier and his second wife Henrietta Maria Johnston.  Lady Sarah Lennox was at one point almost betrothed to the King of England but then he chose another and she served as a bridal attendant at the royal wedding.  After that, she refused a marriage proposal, married another, ran off with still another and had a child, was left behind and then divorced.  All of this was very risque for the time.  She married George Napier in 1781 and on top of her first “illegitimate” daughter (Louisa Bunbury Napier) and Sir Charles James,  she also had the following children with George:  Sir George Thomas (b 1784), Richard (b 1787), Captain Henry Edward (b 1789), Emily Louisa Augusta (b 1785), Caroline (b 1790) and Cecilia (b 1791).  There is no record of an Alicia being born to this couple.  Naturally, it is possible that Alicia could have been the daughter of  one of the older sons – perhaps Sir Charles James but this would mean that he fathered her when he was 13 years old.  Could it have been William as indicated in Henry’s bible – he would have been 10 years old so this is not plausible.  George was made Comptroller of Army Accounts in Ireland from 1799 until his death in 1804. After her husbands death, Lady Sarah established a home on the property for wayward young women, those who were pregnant and alone.  By reading her letters in the Aristocrats, we hear some of the details of her life during that time.

A search for any Alicia Napier (or any name variation) born in the 1790’s anywhere, yielded no results.  I was however able to find an Alicia Colden Napier linked to parents Francis Napier (1770-1818) and Margaret Elizabeth Jane Douglas Hamilton (1770-1838).  They were married in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1796 and had five children:  Alicia Colden Napier (b 1797), Mark (b 1798), Margaret Symson (b 1800), twin Jane Hamilton (b 1800) and then Archibald (b 1803).  The last three children all died in 1806 with details included on their gravestone as well as printed in the Scots Magazine.  Interestingly, Alicia Colden is also listed on the headstone but only a year is etched into the stone, unlike the other deaths.  The year etched in is 1817.  A notice of her death also appeared in the Scots Magazine in January of 1815.  Contact was made with the St. Cuthbert’s Cemetery where a trio of family headstones is located and there was confirmation given that Alicia is not buried in the crypt with the family.  Furthermore, Francis died in 1818 with no mention of Alicia, not surprising if she has in fact died.  But, in a peerage report his children are listed as Mark and Alicia Colden.  The children that died in 1806 are not included but Alicia still is.  So, where did she go and did she die as was reported?

death announcementalicia headstone in edinburgh

Scottish naming patterns are often used as clues to helping to determine parents.  The first born son is often named after the father’s father.  The first daughter after the mother’s mother and so on.  In this case, the first daughter was named Alicia suggesting that her mother’s mother was called Alice.  And, the first son was named Mark, which could be the name of the father’s father.  Francis’ father was named Mark Napier (1738-1809) and he was also a son of Francis Napier, 6th Lord Napier and full blood brother to Charles Napier (1731-1807), and half blood brother to George Napier (1751-1804).  Upon the marriage of Francis, his wife’s father is noted as Archibald Hamilton.  Research into this line points to his wife having been Alice Colden, an American.  After the Revolutionary War, Archibald took a wife but she died at a young age.  So, the naming pattern is intact.  Francis Napier was a Writer to the Signet and lived in a large home in Edinburgh, quite a prominent position in the early 1800’s.  And, being a descendent of the Lord Napier is quite notable.  The family was most definitely “well to do”.

Thinking about the story of grandmother running away with the Coachman…is it possible that Alicia Colden Napier, fell in love or ran off with someone lower than her “station”?  Would the family disown her?  Perhaps to avoid social embarrassment and isolation, they shipped her off to “Aunt Sarah Lennox” in Ireland and her house of refuge for young unwed mothers?  They announced her death to avoid a social scandal?  They added her death to the family headstone upon her father’s death but didn’t get the dates detailed or even consistent.  It is also plausible that when John Husband was released from the Royal Navy in 1816, he passed through Dublin and maybe even knew the Napier’s from his years in the Royal Navy.  Perhaps he met Alicia, either pregnant with Elizabeth or having already had her and they married.  Having been cut off from her family and beginning her own – she must have told her “story” to her children, not giving them the full information to save any future contact or embarrassment.

This is a fantastical story that I have researched at length but have no real proof.  Apparently some of my Husband relatives tried to make contact with the Napier’s many years back, just to see if there was any documentation or proof.  They were turned away and told not to make contact again.  Maybe one day, the communication lines will open and we will get some answers.  Until then, I will claim Alicia Colden Napier as my 4th great grandmother and try to understand and appreciate her life’s story.




2 thoughts on “Who is Alicia Colden Napier?

  1. Hi, I have Alice Napier marrried to John Husband as my 3d great Grandmother.
    My Grandfather was Gordon Husband, son of John Franklin Husband.
    I’m very interested in your findings of John and Alice.


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