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The Descendants of Robert Nugent Watts and Charlotte Sheppard

After their marriage in 1839, Robert and Charlotte settled down and eventually had five girls and one boy, as well as parenting a niece that they adopted as their own around 1840. Their eldest child, Laigh Elizabeth Sarah Watts, was born on October 8, 1840. According to her grandfather William Sheppard, she was a bright and vivacious girl. She grew up to marry Alexander Johnson, a Scot who had been a professor of mathematics and natural sciences at McGill University since 1857. The couple were married on May 7, 1862, at St. George’s Anglican Church in Drummondville, and moved into a stylish home in Montreal near the university. They had 11 children. Laigh died in 1914, one year after her husband.

Black and white photograph of a woman and a young girl, both standing, dressed in long ribbon-adorned dresses with a brooch at the neck. The child is standing on a chair to be at the same level as her mother.

Laigh Elizabeth Sarah Watts and her daughter Sybil Johnson, Montreal, circa 1880. Photograph by the Field Studio.

Black and white photograph of a man dressed in a robe and wearing a mortarboard, standing and leaning on a chair.

Alexander Johnson, unknown date.

Sarah Watts was born in Brussels in 1837, the child of Robert Nugent Watts’ brother, Gordon. Charlotte and Robert adopted Sarah after she was orphaned at 3 years old, following the death of both her parents by suicide. She was described as a graceful and attractive child, but died in 1859 when she was only 21 years old.

[Extract] Listen to the audio recording of a letter from Charlotte Watts dated April 24, 1847, with transcript.

Harriet Heriot Watts’ path was similar to her older sister Laigh’s. Born on March 29, 1843, she grew up to marry Alexander Johnson’s brother John, who was a classics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, a post he had held since 1863. After an illustrious career, John Johnson retired in 1894 and the couple moved to Drummondville, where they had a lovely home built around 1890. They called it Comfort Cottage, and it was located on the current site of the long-term care home named after Frederick George Heriot. Harriet died in 1906, and her husband John passed away in 1914.

Black and white photograph of a woman standing behind the chair of a carved wooden desk, wearing a long dress with puffy sleeves and a net in her hair.

Harriet Heriot Watts, Montreal, unknown date. Photograph by William Notman.

Black and white photograph of a man wearing a jacket and a polka-dot tie.

John Johnson, Montreal, unknown date. Photograph by William Notman.

Black and white photograph of a large two-storey wooden house, decorated along the windows and surrounded by a fence. A barn is visible behind the house.

Comfort Cottage, Drummondville, around 1895. Photograph by Charles Howard Millar.

Charlotte and Robert’s only son, William John Watts, came into the world on May 1, 1846. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was admitted to the bar after studying law at McGill, and opened a law office in Drummondville shortly after. He then entered politics in 1874, when he was 28 years old, and was elected to Québec’s Legislative Assembly, representing the riding of Drummond-Arthabaska. He held the seat until 1885 when he resigned after the controversial Louis Riel affair. As well as being a significant land owner, he was mayor of Drummondville from 1875 to 1885. He had a home built on the corner of Heriot and Loring streets in 1881, then married Mary Louisa Millar on January 25, 1882, at St. George’s Anglican Church. He was appointed Registrar of Montreal West in 1901, and died six years later in 1907, followed by his wife in 1915. The couple are buried in St. George’s Anglican Cemetery in Drummondville.

Black and white photograph of a man posing in profile, wearing a jacket and a scarf.

William John Watts, Quebec, around 1890. Photograph by J. Jones.

Black and white photograph of a seated woman posing, leaning on a cushion, wearing a long dress with sleeves decorated with buttons.

Mary Louisa Millar, Quebec City, unknown date. Photograph by the Livernois Studio.

Black and white photograph of a Quebec-style house with shutters around the windows and a cast iron railing around the porch.

Watts house located at 123 Heriot Street, around 1970.

Charlotte and Robert’s third daughter was born on July 29, 1848, and christened Charlotte Mary Ann Watts. She later married George McDougall in Acton Vale on October 18, 1888. George McDougall was the manager of the John McDougall & Company ironworks in Drummondville from 1886 to 1906. George was also a town alderman, and since the business that he managed was the region’s main employer, he was often accused of conflicts of interest. George and Charlotte Mary Ann lived in a house called Riverview at the end of Des Forges Street, close to the river and adjacent to the ironworks. The couple remained childless, with George dying in 1906 and Charlotte Mary Ann passing away over twenty years later, in 1928.

Black and white photograph of a woman wearing a coat, a knitted scarf, and a fur hat.

Charlotte Mary Ann Watts, Drummondville, unknown date. Photograph by P. D. Bergeron.

Black and white photograph of a man with a long beard wearing a jacket.

George McDougall, Montreal, between 1883 and 1905. Photograph by Hellie & Co.

The fourth child, Susannah Elizabeth Henrietta Watts, was born on August 1, 1850, only to die one year later, on September 18, 1851. It was several years after Susannah’s death that Charlotte Sheppard gave birth to one last child, a daughter, Margaret Ann Nugent Watts, born on March 25, 1857. The youngest of the family became known as a skilled horsewoman, still riding into her 80s. On March 1, 1881, Margaret Ann married Samuel Newton, a shareholder and manager of the Drummond County Railway who was also a town alderman at the beginning of the 1900s. Newton was closely involved in Grantham Hall affairs until his early death in 1905. In 1907, two years after the death of her husband, Margaret Ann sold the luxurious manor house and most of its surrounding grounds to Montreal Notary Herbert Meredith Marler. The one exception was the small piece of land upon which Robert Nugent Watts had built a family burial vault in 1851, following a dispute with the Reverend George McLeod Ross of St. George’s Anglican Church. The private cemetery was consecrated by Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain in 1852, and holds the remains of nine family members. In chronological order of their passing, their names are: Susannah Elizabeth Henrietta Watts, Harriet Campbell Sheppard, Sarah Watts, Robert Nugent Watts, William Sheppard, Margaret Sheppard, Charlotte Sheppard, Samuel Newton, and Margaret Ann Nugent Watts, the last to be buried there after her death in 1937.

Black and white photograph of a woman and a man wearing coats and fur hats.

Margaret Ann Nugent Watts and Samuel Newton, Quebec, unknown date. Photograph by J. L. Jones.

Colour photograph of a rectangular tombstone between two shrubs. Five names are inscribed on it, including Robert Nugent Watts, Charlotte Sheppard, William Sheppard, and Harriet Campbell.

Watts family gravestone located on the grounds of the Drummondville Golf Club, Drummondville, 2001.