• Clan Joyce of Ulster

Clan Joyce of Ulster Memorable Biographies: William Joyce (1814-1898)

Among the early pioneers of Canada is a less well-known person of courage and resolve. Originating from Knock, County Armagh, the eventful journey of William Joyce (1814-1898) from Ireland to North Fredericksburg, Canada is a well-documented one. Within the annuals of Clan Joyce of Ulster, he is considered to be part of the Sept of the Joyces of Ontario, Canada, and by the time of his death in 1898, he had established much. But what is this history? And under what circumstances did he leave Ireland?


The son of George Joyce (1769-1862) of Knock, County Armagh, William was born into a royalist, Ulster-Scots family. Raised within the Church of Ireland, his father served “his king in the Yeomanry (sic) during the rebellion of Ireland in 1798.” Documented in “An Octogenarian” written on March 21, 1897, William Joyce and his family emigrated in the year 1840 to Canada. Five years later from 1845-51, the Great Potato Famine of Ireland occurred which killed over 1 million people, driving thousands of Irish to emigrate. But despite departing before the potato blight worsened and starvation became a common occurrence, William knew his life would never be the same.


Sailing from Belfast on May 19, 1840, their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean took seven weeks. His first experience in the New World was when his ship reached the coast of Newfoundland among “mountain-like waves.” Forced to take cover below deck with 212 other passengers, it was unsure if he would survive. After finally arriving in Quebec, he took another boat toward Montreal which later sank when its steam boiler burst. Soon they were rescued by Capt. Neilson who was approaching with another steam boat.



Upon William’s arrival in North Fredericksburg, Irish immigrants were originally welcomed by the general public. One reason was they could help settle the Canadian frontier. However, between 1845-1851, the tide of public opinion toward Irish Canadians became negative. With thousands of Irish arriving in Canada, it tested the social institutions, alarming many nativists. For William who had escaped poverty in Ireland, he was only placed in another bad situation.


During these early years, William found success as a farmer and Sunday school teacher. When he wasn’t taking his yoke of oxen to market in Napanee, he was active in his local Methodist Church. Known as the primary teacher, the Methodist school in which he was taught was in the wild frontier. One can imagine him teaching children in the township during a time when “wolves were still plentiful and were frequently seen.” Because of his successes, when the Octogenarian was written in 1897, he was recorded as being well-respected in the community


Today his distant relatives live throughout Canada. From Hastings, Montreal, North Fredericksburg, and Prince Edward County, that part of the world is considered a heartland of the Joyces of Ballydonaghy, Armagh. Even though William Joyce never had any children, his brothers and sisters started families which have contributed to Canadian history. All things considered, the region of North Fredericksburg is now considered a Joyce Country for future generations.

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