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May 15, 2017

Lizzie the Black Sheep of the Vollick Family

Lizzie, the blacksheep of the Vollick family, was known as rebellious and stubborn. Her birth in 1863 was uneventful. There was no indication that her nature would prove to be much less compliant than her ten brothers and sisters.

Baptised as Mary Elizabeth to parents Isaac and Lydia Vollick, little Lizzie grew up in a bit of a rough and tumble, yet loving, family. What led her on her path to her eventual death of starvation at the age of 51 with only her 17 year old son at her side?

We might look at her involvement at the age of 15 with Stephen Peer who was a drifter some 10 years her senior. Stephen was considered a no-good drifter by Lizzie's parents and they did their best to keep the two apart. It did no good and a few months after her 16th birthday she eloped with Stephen. That was the start of Lizzie's downfall. Her family disowned her and her parents never spoke to her again.

June 5, 1895
Stephen couldn't hold a job and over the next several years he and Lizzie moved from town to town. By the time Lizzie hit her 33rd birthday, she had brought 9 children into the world. Stephen took whatever work he could find but the family lived in poverty. Not many details are known of their life for the first 17 years of their marriage but in June 1895 Lizzie's husband Stephen was attacked by a neighbour and the neighbour's son, struck repeatedly in the head with an axe and ended up in the local hospital with a serious skull fracture. He was not expected to live but managed to pull through.

A court case followed but Stephen could not attend due to his injuries. As it turned out, the attack began over an ongoing argument over the use of a water pump on the property where Stephen rented a small house. When the neighbour, a Mr. Hyde, tried to get water that hot summer day, Stephen attacked and punched him. At that point Hyde's son ran out of his house with an axe and the two men beat Stephen using the axe and their fists.

Two years later, Stephen died of Typhoid Fever, leaving 34 year old Lizzie an impoverished widow with 9 children between the ages of 1 and 11 years old. The family was so poor that Lizzie could not afford to bury Stephen so the city stepped in to assist her financially.

The brief notice in the local newspaper stated
Oct. 28, 1897
        Levi [sic] Peer died at General Hospital on Wednesday afternoon from typhoid fever.  Leaves a wife and nine children in destitute circumstances.  City relief officer made arrangements for burial and attended to needs of family.  Trinity Baptist church also assisting.  (article from Guelph Herald.)
Besides the tragedy of losing her husband and being left in such destitute circumstances, what has always struck me is how the newspaper did not even get her husband's name right. We know this is the correct death notice for Stephen as his death certificate confirms the dates. It may be that his middle name was Levi in honour of his father, and perhaps he was known by that name.

My grandmother was the oldest child when her father died - being just 11 years of age. I knew her quite well, as she lived until I was 15 years old. She never spoke of her parents, nor of the hardships she undoubtedly suffered after her father's death.

Mary Elizabeth Peer's grave
But back to Lizzie. One by one her children married and moved away. Eventually she was left with only her youngest boy Philip Edgar. When he was just 17, Lizzie died, leaving him an orphan. She was just 51 and died of starvation.

Shortly after her death in May 1914, young Philip Edgar joined his older brothers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, fighting overseas in World War 1. He was killed in France shortly before his 21st birthday, bringing to an end the story of Lizzie and her life. I am glad she didn't live to see her boy die. But she certainly had a traumatic ride through life.


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