RHODES: Family firm’s silent partner helped build Chatham

Walter Eberts and wife, possibly Maggie, previous to 1856. John Rhodes photo

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With the advent of 2019 I have now written this column for 13 years; nearly 700 stories, and it is as much fun today as it was in 2006 when I made arrangements with Peter Epp to make a weekly contribution.

Subject matter has never been a problem as there is always something new to write about something old.

The Eberts-Robertson-Waddell families have been among my favourite pioneers to research as they contributed greatly to Chatham and left so much material for historians to investigate.

The business firm, Eberts Brothers and their partners, Nancy Almira Eberts and her husband John Waddell Sr., is one that I have reported on countless times including individual biographies on William, Nancy and John Waddell.

In this story I will tell you about the silent partner in the firm, William and Nancy’s brother, Walter Eberts.

Joseph Walter Eberts was born at Windsor on Aug. 12, 1813. Just a babe in his mother’s arms, the family was forced into the streets by General William Henry Harrison’s (president of the United States in 1841, dying about a month after his inauguration) invasion force. Their home was then looted and burned.

In the 1830s, the family came to Chatham to take up the property that had been granted to their grandfather, Captain William Baker who founded Chatham in the early 1790s.

The land grant, for the most part, included the Grand Avenue East Conservation area and the Water Commission Grounds. Ownership of the property remained within the family until the mid-1880s.

The family business partnership grew in a rapid fashion and was to include merchandising, stagecoach routes, hotel keeping and steam boat operation. It was this latter service that Walter devoted most of his activity while his brother, William, delved into all aspects of the business.

There was a brief period in the 1850s when the business began to teeter with the loss of one of their ships and the dissolvement of their partnership with the Waddells, but the firm survived.

Walter was married twice, with both women passing away at early ages.

His first wife, I think, was Mary Van Early of Detroit, and with her he had one son, Joseph Melchoir Eberts, who was born on Aug. 21, 1840. Mary died at Chatham on Dec. 21, 1847 (Chatham Journal). His second wife, I believe, was known as Maggie, who passed away in September 1856 (Chatham Weekly Planet).

On Walter’s death the Planet published the following record of his life:

“It is noteworthy that during his long career, from 1834 to 1857, as Master of various steamers, plying the most dangerous routes, no accident ever befell either boat or passenger, a tribute to his skills and foresight more elegant than words.”

Unfortunately the same story also made another observation which reads as follows:

“In 1857 he was attacked by a malady which finally unsettled his reason, from which he never recovered, living since that time, in his own house, under the care of relatives.”

This illness takes on the appearance of some sort of dementia, but apparently one of a slow degenerative nature.

Walter Eberts died at Chatham on Dec. 2, 1875 and most likely reposes in the Eberts family plot at Maple Leaf Cemetery. In spite of the efforts of my friend, Dr. Bruce Warwick, I have not, as yet, been able to confirm the exact location of his grave.

Got an old photo you’d like to share? Send it to me at johnrhodes2@hotmail.com