“The massacre of the Donnelly family, in the township of Biddulph, by an armed mob, is a crime which has no parallel in the history of Canada,” proclaimed the Listowel newspaper in February 1880. The notorious Donnellys emigrated from Ireland in the 1840s with the hope of finding success in what would later become Canada. James and Johannah became squatters who eventually settled on contested land near London, Ontario. Before long, conflict characterized their relationship with many of their neighbours and the community as a whole.
While James Sr. spent time at the Kingston Penitentiary for the crime, his seven sons grew into manhood. They eventually earned a sullied reputation of their own. Accused of many crimes including arson and assault, the Donnelly name became synonymous with trouble. The Donnellys (and their children James Jr., William, John, Patrick, Michael, Robert, Thomas and Jenny) were always ready and willing to go to battle whether it was over their stagecoach line or a young woman. Not surprisingly then, some residents of Lucan and Biddulph Township held the Donnellys responsible for almost every ill that befell the community. One day, James Donnelly complained to a local magistrate, “we are blamed for everything.” The next day he was dead.
On February 4, 1880 the Donnelly farm was burned to the ground. The bodies of James, his beloved Johannah, son Tom and niece Bridget were in the ashes, the victims of a cruel and vicious mob. Another son lay dead in a separate murder the same night. To this day, despite a great deal of evidence (including an eye witness), no one has been found guilty of the crime. Many had no doubt “who done it”, but in two trials the jury would not deliver a guilty verdict.
- 1 The Donnelly family
- 2 Timeline
- 3 History
- 4 Massacre
- 5 The First Trial
- 6 The Second Trial
- 7 The Donnelly myth today
- 8 The Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum
- 9 Cultural references
- 10 References in books and plays
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The Donnelly family
- James Donnelly - patriarch (March 7, 1816–February 4, 1880)
- Johannah Donnelly - (née Magee, or MacGee) his wife, and mother of all the children (September 22, 1823–February 4, 1880)
- James Donnelly Jr. - son, (1842–1877) died of an illness or possibly shot
- William Donnelly - son, born with a clubfoot (1845–1897)
- John Donnelly - son, the first child born in Canada (September 16, 1847–February 4, 1880)
- Patrick Donnelly - son (1849–1914)
- Michael Donnelly - son (1850–1879) killed in a barroom brawl
- Robert Donnelly - son (1853–1911)
- Thomas Donnelly - youngest son (August 30, 1854–February 4, 1880)
- Jenny (Jane) Donnelly - the last child, and the only daughter (1857–1917)
- Bridget Donnelly - Patriarch James' niece from Ireland (May 1, 1858–February 4, 1880)
(Dates in bold mark those killed in the massacre)
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2014)|
- 1840: James Donnelly marries Johannah Magee in Ireland.
- 1841: James and Johannah Donnelly have their first son James Jr. in Ireland.
- 1842: James and Johannah move to Upper Canada. James may have arrived first and Johannah followed.
- 1844: Son William is born in Upper Canada.
- 1845: The family builds a home on Lot 18, Concession 6 in Biddulph. The lot was owned by John Grace at the time; they may have had an arrangement because the Donnellys did not own Lot 18.
- 1847: Son John Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1849: Son Patrick Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1850: Son Michael Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1853: Son Robert Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1854: Son Thomas Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1855: John Grace sells the southern 50 acres of Lot 18, Concession 6 to Michael Maher for £200. However, the Donnelly family was still living on the land.
- 1855: Not long after the sale of the land that the Donnelly family lives on James Donnelly is charged with shooting at Patrick Farrell, likely over some sort of dispute over land.
- 1856: John Grace applies to eject the Donnelly family from the northern half of Lot 18, Concession 6. Michael Maher does the same for the southern half of the property. In the end, however, Grace sells James Donnelly the southern half of the property for £50, far less than the £200 paid by Maher due to Donnelly's improvements on the land.
- 1857: During a logging bee at a neighbour’s farm James Donnelly Sr. kills Patrick Farrell with a handspike. Donnelly goes into hiding and a $400 reward is offered for his capture.
- 1858: Daughter Jennie Donnelly is born in Upper Canada.
- 1858: James Donnelly Sr. turns himself in to authorities. He is convicted of the murder of Patrick Farrell and is sentenced to be executed. However, his wife Johannah and others in the community gather petitions asking that James Donnelly’s sentence be commuted. They are successful and James Donnelly’s sentence is reduced to 7 years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
- 1858: Johannah Donnelly takes out mortgages on the farm, but manages to keep the property. Part of the land is sold for a small fee so that a schoolhouse for the children of Biddulph can be constructed.
- 1865: James Donnelly Sr. returns from Kingston Penitentiary.
- 1869: William Donnelly is charged with larceny by John Graham, however he is acquitted.
- 1869: James Jr. and William Donnelly are charged with robbing the post office in Granton. They are acquitted.
- 1870s: The Donnelly boys establish themselves in careers. James Jr. moves to Michigan. Patrick trains in wagon/carriage making and marries Mary Ryan. John manages a saloon in Lucan and elopes, but the marriage lasts only a few months. Robert, Michael and Thomas farm on another property in Biddulph. William continues to help out on the Donnelly farm.
- 1871: The Donnelly boys begin to work for the stage line owned by McPhee and Keefe. The opposition stage line is managed by John Hawkshaw.
- 1873: William Donnelly decides to open his own stage line when McPhee folds. Brothers Michael, Robert and Thomas Donnelly also drive stages. They join forces with the Calder stage line. There are reports of sabotage of stages.
- 1873: William Donnelly asks Margaret Thompson to marry him. Her father, William Thompson, sends her away so that the marriage does not take place.
- 1874: After a series of letters from Margaret in which she asks William to come and get her, William Donnelly and friends search the Thompson household for Margaret. They also search the homes of neighbour Ellen Fogarty and William Thompson Jr. The group is charged with trespassing, but are acquitted.
- 1874: Patrick Flanagan opens a rival stage line.
- 1874: Michael, James Jr. and Robert Donnelly are ejected from Lot 26, Concession 11. Joseph Carswell is granted the land, but once he takes possession, the land experiences fires and several of his animals die.
- 1875: William Donnelly marries Nora Kennedy. The marriage angers members of the Kennedy family, such as brothers-in-law Rhody and John Kennedy.
- 1875: James Donnelly Jr. is charged with stealing from and assaulting Thomas Gibbs, who is a fruit vender. He is convicted of the assault charge, but not the theft charge.
- 1875: One of Flanagan’s stages is destroyed when William Brooks, stage driver for Flanagan, is killed when a wheel falls off of his coach. Many suspect the damage to the stage is caused by sabotage. Robert McLeod, who works for Flanagan, cuts off the Donnelly stage, causing passengers to fall out of the carriage; Donnelly charges him and receives damages. Louisa and Martha Lindsay charge the Donnellys for dumping them out of the stage and the Donnellys end up paying damages.
- 1875: Joseph Berryhill challenges James Keefe and the Donnellys to a fight. Keefe and the Donnellys end up being charged with assault, and Thomas Donnelly is convicted.
- 1875: James Curry claims that Keefe, James Jr. and Thomas Donnelly attack and rob him. Nothing comes of the charge.
- 1875: Flanagan and Crawley’s stables are burned. Late in the year Flanagan is beaten and another of his stages is burned. The Donnellys also fight with Rhody Kennedy, who blames the Donnellys for the fire. The Donnellys are acquitted and Kennedy is charged with perjury.
- 1876: Peter McKeller has an altercation with the Donnellys. Michael Donnelly is convicted of threatening the life of McKellar. William Donnelly then charges McKellar with threatening him. Rhody Kennedy is sent to arrest Robert Donnelly and another fight ensues. McKellar charges William Donnelly with perjury.
- 1876: Hugh McKinnon, a private detective, arrives in Lucan. He goes to work with Constables John Bawden, John Coursey and John Reid. The constables go to Thomas Ryder’s wedding to arrest the Donnellys for a variety of crimes. A riot ensues and shots are fired. The Donnellys escape and a group of townspeople go in search of them. Many come forward to pursue old charges against the Donnellys. Constable Bawden captures Michael Donnelly and holds him in a Lucan hotel, but Michael manages to escape.
- 1876: Most of the charges against the Donnellys with regards to McKellar, Kennedy, and Esdale lead to no convictions. However, William and John Donnelly are convicted of the assault of constable Bawden. William Donnelly is discharged from prison due to illness.
- 1877: Violence in Lucan increases; there are a number of fires. The Donnellys’ stables and stages are burned, as is Michael Donnelly’s home. The Donnellys are often blamed for crimes, but there is seldom proof that they are the culprits.
- 1877: James Donnelly Jr. dies of illness. Some suggest he might have been shot.
- 1878: The stage lines close due to the creation of the London, Huron and Bruce Railway.
- 1878: Troubles between James Carroll and the Donnelly family begin. Carroll charges them with assault and he charges Johannah Donnelly with using abusive language. The Donnellys charge him with threatening to shoot.
- 1878: Constable Samuel Everett claims someone fires a shot at him. He says the guilty party is Robert Donnelly and Robert is sentenced to two years in the Kingston Penitentiary.
- 1879: Constable Everett is convicted of assaulting William Hodgins, another constable. Everett also confesses that he is not certain that it was Robert Donnelly who shot him.
- 1879: Father John Connolly arrives at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Biddulph. He hears stories about the troublesome Donnelly family and forms a negative judgement before meeting them. William Donnelly writes him a letter complaining that the he is unfair to the Donnelly family.
- 1879: In June Father Connolly creates a Peace Society/Association. He asks people in the community to pledge their support. In doing so, people agree to have their homes searched for stolen property. The Donnellys do not sign the pledge.
- 1879: In August a splinter group of the Peace Society begins meeting at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse in Biddulph. James Carroll is part of the group, as are many of the neighbours of the Donnellys. This group becomes known as the Vigilance Society.
- 1879: Not long after the creation of the Vigilance Society, a cow disappears from Mary and William Thompson’s farm. The Vigilance Society, including James Carroll, decides to search the Donnelly farm for the cow. The cow is later found at home. It is likely this is a set-up, and the Donnellys charge the group with trespassing.
- 1879: James Carroll is made a constable. He promises to rid the township of the Donnellys. Carroll decides to go in search of Thomas Donnelly to arrest him for old charges. Carroll goes to William Donnelly’s home to look for Thomas, but Thomas is at his parents’ home. William goes quickly to warn Thomas and John helps Thomas escape. The Vigilance Society helps Carroll search for Thomas. John is charged with aiding Thomas’ escape and he is also later charged with perjury; however, he is acquitted.
- 1879: Carroll and the Vigilance Society encourage townsfolk to loathe the Donnellys. Some neighbours become nervous over associating with the Donnellys.
- 1879: Michael Donnelly, who has moved to St. Thomas to work for the railway, goes to Waterford as part of his employment duties. While there, he gets in a quarrel with William Lewis who stabs and kills Michael. Lewis is convicted of manslaughter and his sent to the Kingston Penitentiary.
- 1880: Robert Donnelly returns from serving his sentence for allegedly shooting at Constable Everett.
- 1880: On January 15 the barns of Patrick Ryder are burned down. That night, Thomas, John and William Donnelly are at a wedding, so the Vigilance Society blames James Sr. and Johannah Donnelly for the fire.
- 1880: James Donnelly complains that the Donnellys are unfairly blamed for everything.
- February 3, 1880: The Vigilance Society holds a meeting in the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse. They speak to James Feeheley and ask him to spy on the Donnellys later that night.
- February 3, 1880: The Donnelly family prepare themselves to attend their trial for the burning of the Ryder barn to be held in Granton the next day.
- February 3, 1880: John Donnelly leaves the family homestead and goes to William Donnelly’s home in Whalen’s Corners to borrow a sleigh to take the family to court the next day. He decides to spend the night at William’s home, friend Martin Hogan Sr. also spends the night at William’s. Back at the Donnelly homestead, Thomas, Johannah, James Sr. Donnelly, Johnny O’Connor, and niece Bridget from Ireland are present.
- February 3, 1880: James Sr. decides to go to bed and he takes Johnny O’Connor with him where they retire to the bedroom at the front of the house. James Feeheley arrives and talks with Thomas, Bridget and Johannah. Feeheley leaves and Thomas retires to the bedroom off of the back kitchen. Bridget and Johannah sleep together in the room next to the bedroom of James Sr. at the front of the house.
- Shortly before midnight, February 3, 1880: The Vigilance Society gathers at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse. They proceed to one of the farms owned by Patrick Ryder.
- Shortly after midnight, February 4, 1880: John and William Donnelly and Martin Hogan go to bed at William’s place. Nora Donnelly is already asleep. John and Hogan share one room, and William and Nora another.
- Shortly after 1:00 a.m., February 4, 1880: The Vigilance Society proceeds to the Donnelly homestead. Carroll allegedly enters the home first via the back kitchen door where he handcuffs Thomas Donnelly. Bridget and Johannah awake and start a fire. Carroll proceeds to the front room and awakens James Sr. where Johnny passes James Sr. his coat. The mob quickly enters the home and attacks James Sr. and Johannah Donnelly. Johnny takes cover under the bed and watches the violent scene. Johnny then follows Bridget who runs upstairs, but she shuts the door so Johnny is unable to follow her. Johnny returns to his hiding spot under the bed. Johnny claims he sees Thomas run outside, but Thomas is dragged back into the house. Johnny then says that he sees some of the mob go upstairs to kill Bridget. The mob then spreads coal oil and sets fire to the cabin.
- 1:30 a.m., February 4, 1880: Johnny O’Connor flees out the back door and goes to the home of Patrick Whalen. Johnny tells them about the murders and the fire and after some time they go back to the Donnelly cabin. The house burns and the Bridget’s body falls through to the main level of the house. It snows for most of the night which covers the scene of the murders.
- 2:00 a.m., February 4, 1880: After killing Bridget, Thomas, Johannah and James Sr. Donnelly, the Vigilance Society travels to William Donnelly’s house at Whalen’s Corners. The mob separates and surrounds the house. Members of the mob shout “fire”, hoping to awaken William Donnelly. Instead, John Donnelly awakes and goes to the door to see what is happening. He is mistaken for William and is shot, allegedly by Martin McLaughlin and James Ryder. Hogan, Nora and William hide inside and watch John die.
- Early Morning of February 4, 1880: People come to view the burned Donnelly home and the remains of the murdered victims; some scavenge for souvenirs. The police arrive and put what remains of the bodies into one casket.
- Afternoon of February 4, 1880: Coroner Thomas Hossack gathers a jury to start hearing testimony at the coroner’s inquest.
- February 5, 1880: James Carroll is arrested, as are 12 others, for the murders of the Donnelly family.
- February 6, 1880: A funeral is held for James Sr., Johannah, Bridget, Thomas and John Donnelly. Father Connolly delivers a controversial funeral address and it is clear that the community is split over whether the death of the Donnellys is to be celebrated or mourned.
- February 11, 1880: The coroner’s inquest is readjourned. They meet again on February 18 and March 2. They decide that the Donnellys were murdered by “persons unknown.”
- February 21, 1880: The Preliminary Hearing is held from February 21 to March 13. Six prisoners (James Carroll, John Kennedy, Martin McLaughlin, Thomas Ryder, James Ryder and John Purtell) are committed for trial at the Spring Assizes. Two others, Patrick Ryder Jr. and William Carroll are allowed out on bail.
- April to May, 1880: Prosecutors, aware of the bias against the Donnellys, ask for a change of venue, but the judge refuses. In May, prosecutors appeal to the superior courts for a change of venue, but they also refuse to move the trial from London. Newspapers take sides in the conflict and the case is held over until the Fall Assizes.
- Summer of 1880: William Donnelly works tirelessly to gather evidence for the trial. There is trouble gathering a jury.
- October 4–9, 1880: The trial begins October 4 under Justice Armour. First on trial is James Carroll who is charged with the murder of Johannah Donnelly. The testimony heard is much the same as that at the inquest and Preliminary Hearing. Justice Armour issues a strong charge to the jury, but they cannot reach a verdict. Four want to convict, 7 want to acquit and 1 jury member is undecided.
- November to December, 1880: Attorney General Mowat decides not to wait until spring for another trial to be held so he orders a special commission to oversee an earlier trial. He appoints two justices: Matthew Crooks Cameron and Featherstone Osler.
- January 24, 1881 to February 2, 1881: The second trial takes place. The jury finds Carroll not guilty of the murder. The rest of the prisoners are granted bail and are never tried for the Donnelly murders.
- February, 1881: The Donnellys befriend James and Michael Feeheley despite the actions of the Feeheleys on the night of the murders. James Feeheley confesses to Patrick Donnelly about the night of the Donnelly family murders, but he is afraid of the Vigilance Society.
- April, 1881: James and Michael Feeheley flee to Michigan.
- September, 1881: The Feeheleys, after being extradited to Canada, are charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Thomas Donnelly. The Crown agrees to set them free on bail, and the Vigilance Society pays the bail money. The Feeheleys refuse to testify against anyone so the chance of a third trial is diminished.
Life After the Massacre
- 1882: William Donnelly goes to Ohio to work in the coal mines. Patrick Donnelly remains in the wagon making business. Robert and Jennie Donnelly move to Glencoe where Robert owns a hauling business and Jennie is married to Constable James Currie.
- 1883: William Donnelly returns to Canada and joins Jennie and Robert in Glencoe. William decides to become a constable.
- 1885: The Salvation Army comes to Glencoe but Robert Donnelly does not like their methods of worship and behaviour. The barracks of the Salvation Army are burned and Robert is implicated.
- 1886: Robert Donnelly continues to harass the Salvation Army.
- 1888: William resigns as constable and moves to Appin to open a hotel.
- 1889: A large monument to commemorate the Donnellys is raised in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
- 1897: William Donnelly dies of natural causes.
- 1908: Robert Donnelly is admitted to the London Psychiatric Hospital.
- 1911: Robert Donnelly dies of natural causes.
- 1914: Patrick Donnelly dies of natural causes.
- 1916: Jennie Donnelly, the last member of the immediate Donnelly family, is laid to rest in Wardsville.
- 1964: Unwanted attention in the St. Patrick’s Cemetery where the Donnellys were laid to rest causes the large monument with the word “Murdered” to be replaced with a smaller tombstone.
- 2009: The Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum is established.
The Biddulph feud preceded the emigration of the Donnelly family from Ireland and continued for some 17 years after their deaths. However, from about 1857, the Donnelly family was inextricably bound up with the feud. The Biddulph feud had its origins in Ireland, and had begun almost two centuries before the elder James Donnelly's birth. It so happened through an accident of history, that Biddulph Township collected just the right concentration and distribution of Whiteboys, Blackfeet and Orangemen, to cause the Old Country feud to be rekindled.
While perhaps the best-known troublemakers in Biddulph and Lucan, the Donnelly clan were clearly not the only characters “up to no good.” Like many communities in Ontario in the nineteenth century Biddulph and Lucan commonly dealt with numerous crimes ranging from the somewhat frivolous (using abusive language), to the more serious (robbery, assault), to the most grave crime of all—murder. But bringing criminals to justice was not easy. The majority of constables were untrained and others were, quite simply, criminals themselves. Likewise, for a variety of reasons, the courts did not always hand out reasonable punishments.
James (Jim) and Johannah (or Judith/Judy as she was also known) married in Ireland in 1840. Not long after their union, James Jr. was born. The Donnellys hoped to establish a prosperous homestead for themselves and the additional seven children who were born in Canada. The problem, however, was that the property they chose to settle on did not legally belong to James who had simply “squatted” on the land. In fact, it was originally owned by the Canada Company, and granted to another settler by the name of James Grace. A number of squabbles ensued in which other settlers such as Michael Maher and Patrick Farrell became embroiled. This quarrel culminated at a neighbourhood logging bee in 1857, when Donnelly, fuelled by liquor, killed Farrell during a brawl. James would pay for the crime by spending seven years in the Kingston Penitentiary. More importantly, his family would pay by having their reputation forever sullied amongst many in their rural community.
There was an attempt to remove the Donnellys through the legal system:
[Court of Common Pleas, Ejectment Notice for James Donnelly from John Grace, 1856]
In the Court of Common Pleas
County of Huron
The Twenty Sixth day of May A D 1856
A Writ of Summons in Ejectment for John Grace of the city Township of London in the County of Middlesex against James Donnelly of the Township of Biddulph in the County of Huron to recover Possession of the North half of Lot number Eighteen in the sixth concession of the Township of Biddulph in the County of Huron one of the United Counties of Huron and Bruce
J.W. Nilsen Plffs atty
The Death of Patrick Farrell
In the spring of 1847, new Canadian immigrant James Donnelly ended up squatting on the southeastern quarter of Lot 18, Concession 6 (also known as the Roman Line), Biddulph Township, Canada West (which would become Ontario at Canadian Confederation in 1867). He did not have the money to actually purchase the land from its absentee landlord (who had originally bought the land from the Canada Company), apparently hoping no one would ever come by to claim it. It is unknown whether or not James Donnelly actually knew the piece of wilderness he had decided upon was owned by anyone. Squatting was a very common North American frontier practice and one often supported by the courts of the land in the establishment of common law property rights.
In 1856 or 1857, Patrick Farrell purchased land containing the quarter James Donnelly had squatted upon, and was surprised to discover Donnelly's occupation once he arrived from Ireland to take possession of his land. The matter went to court in 1857, with Farrell wishing to evict Donnelly. The disputants eventually agreed to allow Donnelly to keep and reside on 50 acres (200,000 m2) of the land, which was somewhat less than what Donnelly had actually cleared over the ten years he had occupied it.
Farrell, in spite of his agreement in court, was bitter about having had to give up some of the area for which he had paid, and vocally lambasted the Donnellys in public for it. During a barn raising bee on Saturday, June 27, 1857, James Donnelly became engaged in a drunken brawl with Farrell. Farrell suffered a blow to the head from a handspike thrown by Donnelly. It is this incident that is generally considered to have drawn the Donnelly family into the feud. Pat Farrell died on June 29, and James Donnelly then became a wanted man. (Interestingly, Farrell's young son was adopted by the Donnellys, and was brought up by them until adulthood.) By the time police arrived to arrest James, however, he had seemingly disappeared and his wife Johannah refused to speak on the subject. It was later discovered he had been staying in the barn and working the fields while dressed in his wife's clothing. Almost two years later, James turned himself in to Jim Hodgins, a sympathetic Justice of the Peace.
James was sentenced to be hanged on September 17, 1859. A petition for clemency started by his wife Johannah saw his sentence reduced to seven years in Kingston Penitentiary.
The Donnelly Stagecoach Line
The Donnelly Stagecoach Line is believed to have been started May 24, 1873 by William Donnelly and was a huge success. The line of stages, which ran between London, Lucan and Exeter, was operated by William and his brothers Michael, John, and Thomas, even rivaling the official mail stage that had been in business since 1838.
The Hawkshaw stage line soon felt the pressure of competition from the Donnellys. In October 1873, Hawkshaw sold his stage to Patrick Flanagan, a husky Irishman, who was determined to drive Donnellys out of business.
This set the stage for the feud between the Donnelly Stagecoach and the Flanagan & Crawly Stage — the Stagecoach Feud, as it came to be known. Stages were either smashed or burned, horses were savagely beaten or killed, and stables burned to the ground.
The violence that erupted as a result of the Stagecoach Feud was mostly blamed on the Donnellys and gave the family a bad reputation. From that time on, almost every crime committed was blamed on the family, but although they were charged with numerous crimes, "few convictions were secured against them".
Familiarity with the law
In the buildup towards the murder of the family, the Donnellys became well acquainted with local law enforcement. There are various accounts of assault, arson, trespassing, verbal assault, attempted murder, murder of Patrick Farrell, theft, robbery, assaulting a police officer, as well as various altercations with many residents of the Biddulph Township. The Donnellys were not found guilty of everything of which they were accused but through their actions they made many enemies within the township. This all sounds like the Donnellys were a constant source of strife and destruction in their community, but these types of crimes were common for the county in which they lived. It was not just the men of the family who would get into altercations with the law as Johannah was noted to swear at officers quite often, specifically Constable Carroll.
The Biddulph Peace Society vigilantes
In June 1879 Father John Connolly created a Peace Society/Association in Biddulph. He asked people who attended St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church to pledge their support. Members of the society agreed to have their homes searched for stolen property. The Donnellys did not sign the pledge. The Vigilance Committee formed out of the Peace Society. Evidence indicates that The Biddulph Peace Society or some of its individual members may have been responsible for some of the arson, property damage and physical violence cases in Biddulph.
The Peace Society's role was to uphold its Code, something the Donnellys were never shy about ignoring. James Donnelly was liberal enough that at one point he even donated money to the building of an Anglican church, outraging the Biddulph Peace Society in the process. In August 1879 a splinter group of the Peace Society began meeting at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse in Biddulph. James Carroll was part of the group, as were many of the neighbours of the Donnellys. This group became known as the Vigilance Committee/Society. The Committee was blamed for the murders of the Donnellys.
Members of the Vigilance Committee allegedly gathered at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse late in the evening of February 3, 1880, before proceeding to the Donnelly homestead. William Donnelly survived and was listed as the informant on the death certificates for all five, dated April 1 and 2, 1880, with the cause of death listed as "supposed to be murdered."
The Feud: Cause for Attack
There were many feuds associated with the reason behind the death of the Donnelly’s, however what was considered to be the “final straw” is the accusation against the Donnelly’s of the burning down of Patrick Ryder’s barn. After these accusations were created, the community had “enough” of the Donnelly’s and decided to take the law into their own hands once they heard that there was no supporting evidence linking the Donnelly’s to the burning of the barn. This news reached the congregation of St. Patrick’s Church and the priest addressed that an “evil had fallen among the community” and that there would be a reward of five hundred dollars for the “detection of the wicked persons” and he vowed that the “guilty party” would be punished for their sins. There were many considerations as to what was the right form of punishments; some believed fines and jail time would be deemed acceptable, however others believed that their heads would be the perfect form of punishment.
Big Jack Kennedy, William Feeheley, Pat Dawan, Dennis, Anthony and Michael Heenan, John Lanphier, James Harrigan, Ryders (Mr. Ryder, Jim, Patrick, Jr., "Sideroad"Jim, Thomas and Daniel), Martin and John McLaughlin, Ted Toohey, John Cain, James Mahers, John and Patrick Quigley, Patrick Breen, James McGrath, John Purtell, Michael Blake, John, Ned and Johnny Ryan, William Thompson, John Darsey, John Bruin, Michael Madigan, James Kenny and finally James Carroll
The Original Plan
The original plan that was generated by the Peace Society was to visit the Donnelly’s family home on the night of February 3rd. The plan was to handcuff the Donnelly men and then escort them from the home, where they would be hung from a tree by their neck until they confessed their crimes against the community. However one of the problems with their plan was that no one really understood how this would be properly executed, therefore this allowed for the plan to be change or challenged when they arrived on the Donnelly property. In the beginning their original intent was to only “hurt” the Donnelly’s and to “bring them as near the dissolution point as possible.”  The Peace Society did set up a surveillance of the Donnelly property as a form of preparation in order to determine who was in the home at what times and how they would enter the property in the dark; Jim Feeheley was considered to be one of the spies. Jim Feeheley would visit the Donnelley house earlier in the night as a distraction and to get an understanding on the type of situation they would be encountering that night. There were some more problems associated with these plan such as, the society did not plan on Jon Donnelly leaving the Donnelly home and taking his horse to Big Jim Keefe, the society thought Big Jim Keefe was spying for them and finally they did not plan for Johnny O’Connor to be in the house during the attack.
The Day of the Massacre
It can be said that the day of February 3, began like any other day in the Donnelly household. In the morning, James Donnelly sat down at the kitchen table with his son Tom Donnelly and asked him to write a letter to Alderman Edmund Meredith; the London lawyer that was going to be handling the Donnelly's case against Patrick Ryder. It wrote;
" Mr. Meredeth,
SIR- On the fifteenth of last month Pat Ryder's barn were burned. All the vigilance committee at one pointed to my family as the once that did it. Ryder found out that all my boys were at a wedding that night . He at once arrested me on suspicion, an also sent a constable after my wife to St. Thomas. The trial has been postponed four different times, although we are ready for our trial at any time. They examined a lot of witnesses but can't find anything against us. Ryder swore that we lived neighbours to each other for thirty years and never had any differences, and had no reason for arresting us only we are blamed for everything... The presiding Magistrates are old Grant and newly made one, Casey. They are using us work that mad dogs. Mr. McDermid is attending on our behalf... they has the first trial in Lucan, and tomorrow again, and I am informed they are going to send us for trial without a tittle of evidence. If so I will telegraph you when we start for London to meet us at the City Hotel, and get us bailed to take our trail before the judge, and I want you to handle the case in our behalf. There is not the slightest case for our arrest, it seems hard to see a man and women over sixty years of age dragged around as laughing stock.
Yours truly, James Donnelly, SEN 2 
Once the letter was delivered, the day carried on as it normally would; at roughly 4 o'clock Johnny, James and Jim returned to their house on Roman Line. This time frame was giving by William Casey because he stated that he remember the sound of the Donnelly's speeding down Roman Line and that they were being "reckless." Casey stopped what he was doing in the front yard, to bare witness to this recklessness at was occurring as well as it was at this point were he notice the time stamp in which they passed by his home. They had pick up Johnny O'Connor from town, because James Donnelly needed assistance on the farm; this was a normal occurrence. When the chores where completed it was Mr. Donnelly that insisted that Johnny O'Connor stay the night and to sleep in Mr. Donnellys bed as a form of protection as well as the bed was extremely big. As the Donnelly's were getting ready for bed, Feeheley stopped by to say "hello" before returning home from Whalen's. Feeheley did not stay long; he was just there to observe the property for the Peace Society; however he did not notice that the John Donnelly voice he thought he heard coming from Mr. Donnelly's bedroom was actually Johnny O'Connor voice. However, John Donnelly had gone to Big Jim Keefe to pick up the vehicle in order to travel to their trail in London, Ontario in the morning; he stayed there over night. Once goodbyes, were said the family returned to their bed and fell asleep.
The First Massacre
Once the decision to attack the Donnelly’s was made, the Peace Society got together at roughly one o’clock in the morning to drink before they mounted the attack on this family; this is referred to as the “water of life.” The men used the liquor as a way to numb their senses as well as use it as a way to enhance their encourage and their motivation. Once the men had enough alcohol in their system, they began to walk in the direction of the Donnelly’s home; there were also many witnesses that stated they could hear the group of men coming down Roman Line that night. When the group of men finally arrived at the house, they surrounded the perimeter of the property and James Carroll took the first step inside the house, which was considered to be the first attack of the massacre; creating an element of surprise. Carroll walked into the room and slowly took the handcuffs out of his pocket (these were given to him by the Constable Hodgins) and handcuffed Tom Donnelly while we was still asleep. Once Tom Donnelly was handcuffed, Carroll did proclaim that “he was under arrest,” and at that moment Tom sat up in bed as well as Ms. Donnelly and Bridget Donnelly due to all the commotion. Carroll slowly moved from Tom’s bedroom into Mr. Donnelly’s bedroom, where he noticed that John Donnelly was no where to be found; their plan was to kill all the Donnelly’s in a single location. This commotion woke up Mr. Donnelly and he noticed that his son was handcuffed and proclaimed “what have you got against us now?” Carroll responded that they were being charged with another crime. At that moment in time, Tom requested that Carroll read the warrant; since there was no warrant involved, Carroll let out a signal for the men to come storming into the house with their clubs. At this point, the men were beginning to beat Mr. Donnelly, Ms. Donnelly and Tom Donnelly; Bridget Donnelly was able to escape and race up the stairs in order to hide from her attackers. Johnny was so terrified that he hid underneath of Mr. Donnelly’s bed; since the men were not expecting him to be there that night, they did not know to look for him as a witness. The first one to fall to the ground was Mr. Donnelly; he was beaten rapidly and James Maher hit his skull repeatedly causing brain damage; Mrs. Donnelly on the other hand, fought hard against her attackers. However she was eventually beaten to the ground by Carroll and Tom Donnelly was fighting extremely hard to protect his family as well as himself; he broke free from the attacks and ran towards the front door, as he was running, Tom Ryder was waiting for him with a pitchfork and thrust the sharp points into Tom multiple times. Once Tom was limp on the ground, James Maher, Timothy Toohey and Patrick Quigley carried his body back into the house and placed it in the kitchen with his parents as well as Carroll removed his handcuffs from his wrist.
Once Mr. Donnelly, Ms. Donnelly and Tom Donnelly were all laying on the ground, the men realized that Bridget Donnelly was no where to be found. A group of men went up stairs and found Bridget hiding and they began to beat her to the point where they were able to bring her limp body down the stairs to where the rest of her family was located. To increased the amount of blood that was shed in a single household, one of the men bashed in the dog’s head with a shovel because it would not stop barking. After the group realized that they were missing John Donnelly, they decided to create another plan for that night to rid their community of the Donnelly’s; they lit the house of fire with the bodies still inside and went hunting for John.
Guns, pitchfork (Tom Ryder), axe (Purtell), shovel (Pat Quigley and Tim Toohey), clubs and shortened woken stake made of cordwood 
Originally the massacre was not intended to have any witnesses, however the Peace Society did not intend for Johnny O’Connor to be at the Donnelly’s farmhouse and for him to escape the fire. Johnny O’Connor was a young farm boy that had gone to the Donnelly’s house to assist them with farm work; it wasn’t until later in the night when Mr. Donnelly had encouraged Johnny to spend the night and assist them with the livestock in the morning. The O’Connors were considered to be good friends of the Donnellys and assisted them regularly with chores around their farm; the mob did not take this into consideration when planning their attack.
The Second Massacre
At roughly two in the morning, the Peace Society arrived at the Whalen’s corner; they surrounded the house, in a similar way as they did to the Donnelly’s house. However, the difference was the men were not as relaxed as they were in the beginning and they decided to try to get Will Donnelly to come out of the house, instead of storming into the house; they beat his prized stallion in order to lure him out of house from his dying horse's screams. The problem was that the stables were far from the home and no one inside was able to hear what was going on outside, Jim Ryder called for “Will!” while carrying a shotgun to the side door of the house. Will Donnelly woke up from the calling for his name, however it was John at opened the door to Will’s house and was greeted by gun shots to the chest and groin; thirty holes were placed in his chest that pierced his lung, broke his collarbone and several ribs. John dropped to the ground; McLaughlin and Ryder walked up to the body and placed seven more shots into John as a form of punishment for his action against the community. Norah Donnelly (Will Donnelly’s wife) heard the commotion as well as saw John’s body on the ground, he tried to pull his body to safety but it was too heavy to move. Will Donnelly hid in the bedroom and was able to peer through a window in order to get a glimpse of the individuals who were attacking the house; John Kennedy and Carroll were only a few feet away from the bed where he was hiding with his wife. He could also place the faces of, Big Mike Heenan, William Carroll and Patrick Ryder; the others faces were blurred by darkness. Since, Norah could not pulled John into safety; Hogan got down on his knees and snuck out to where John was located and pulled him into the bedroom, which left a bloody trail behind him (John Donnelly died five minutes after). The men of the Peace Society were so worn out from their previous attacks that they decided to just survey the perimeter until someone showed their face inside; the members of the household hid in the house for almost three hours before the group decided to leave the property.
“There’s been enough bloodshed tonight boys. Let’s go home.” 
These words spoken by Jim Feeheley ended the massacre, which would have continued to Big Jim Keefe house.
The First Trial
There were two trials in London, Ontario, at the courthouse on Ridout Street.
The preliminary hearings started on February 4, 1880 at McLean’s Hotel in Lucan, Ontario. There were three preliminary hearings leading up to the first trail in October 1880. The second hearing was February 11, 1880, and the third was on March 2, 1880. In between the preliminary hearings and the trial, there was a change of venue request, and was ultimately rejected. The crown felt that Middlesex County was too bias towards the hatred of the Donnelly’s. He felt that a fair trial could not be obtained in Middlesex County. One of the key witnesses for the prosecution was Johnny O’Conner, who had witnessed the whole massacre take place. The vigilante did everything in their power to try and keep Johnny from testifying. Michael O’Conner, Johnny’s father, owned two houses on Francis Street, in Lucan. One of the houses was known to have ran a bootlegging operation at times, the other house he rented to Bob Donnelly. During the late hours of the evening of April 13, the vigilantes burnt the house of O’Conner to the ground. The vigilantes didn’t stop at just harassing the father. Johnny’s mother, Mary. While she was in London, she passed Patrick “Grouchy” Ryder on the street. He threatened and insulted her. She laid a charge of using abusive language on him. At his court appearance, fellow vigilantes swore that he was in Biddulph at the time of the alleged infraction and lead to his discharge.5 Nothing the group did, deterred young Johnny from testifying.
The trial took place on Monday, October 4, 1880 in London, Ontario, with James Carrol being charged with the murder of Johannah Donnelly. The crown prosecutor was Aemilius Irving assisted by James MaGee; the defense consisted of Hugh MacMahon, William Meredith and John Blake. The witness list for the prosecution was as follows; William Donnelly, Nora Donnelly, Martian Hogan, William Blackwell Hock M.D., William Williams, Enoch Murphy, James Feeley, Robert Rojs, John O’Conner, Patrick Whelan, Anne Whelan, Mary Hastings O’Conner, Michael O’Conner, Charles Pope, William Hodge, Henry Phair, and Martin Hogan Jr. The two key witness’ were Johnny O’Conner and William Donnelly. The following is what Johnny O’Conner saw on that night and is from his testimony in court. “Tom told him to read the warrant: Carrol said there was lots of time for that: then in a few minutes a whole crowd jumped in and commenced hammering them with sticks and spade; then Tom ran out into the front room and outside: I saw him run out and Bridget ran upstairs and I ran after her and she shut the door and I ran back again in the room and got under the bed behind the clothes basket: then they started hammering Tom outside: the bed was about two feet and an inch high from the floor and no curtains about the bottom of the bed: they carried Tom in the house again: I heard them throw him down on the floor, and heard the handcuffs rattling or whatever they had on his hand: then someone said, “Hit that fellow with a spade and break his skull open.” Then the fellow hit his three or four whacks with the spade: when Tom was outside I heard him say, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” I did not see them hit Tom with the spade, but heard them; then some of them told the fellow that had the light to bring it here to where Tom was: he brought the light and they were doing something to Tom: they were standing round him: I saw the standing round him: then I saw Thomas Ryder and John Purtell standing near the room door, the bedroom door; then some of them asked where was the girl; another one answered, “Look upstairs”; then they went upstairs and saw some of them too, but did not know any of them; then they came down: I heard nothing going on upstairs, and poured coal oil on the bed and set it on fire; it was the bed I was under; I heard someone say that oil would burn off the blanket, and wouldn’t burn at all; then they all run out when they set fire to it; then I got out from under the bed and put on my pants and tried to quench the fire with my coat; I hit the fire with my coat: I then heard Tom breathing, then I went out to the front room and saw Tom dead on the floor; then I ran out to the kitchen and tramped on the old women; there was a light from the fire in my bed, also from Tom’s bed: the door of Tom’s room was open, and the door from the front room into the kitchen: the old women was lying between the door from the front room into the kitchen and the kitchen door going outside; I then ran out and went over to Whalen’s, Pat Whalen, and rapped at Whalen’s door.” He then went to explain what each of James Carrol, Thomas Ryder and John Purtell were wearing that night. “Purtell had dark clothes, Ryder a peaked cap, and Carrol had grey pants; their faces were not blackened: I saw one man with is face blackened, and a long coat on, a middling sized man; Carrol saw me in bed, he looked right at me, and I saw him looking right at me for a while; he did not speak to me: I did not see anyone strike the Donnelly’s, I only heard them.”
William Donnelly was another key witness for the prosecution. Here is his testimony. “I was disturbed about half past two by John coming out of his room through my room to the kitchen; he couldn’t go to the kitchen without going through my room; I didn’t speak to John, he said I wonder whose hollering fire and rapping the door, he kept right on and opened the door; when John opened the door going into the kitchen from my room, I heard them holler, “Fire! Fire! Open the door Will!” I heard them shouting as soon as I was thoroughly awakened; I heard the door opened; I then heard two shots in rapid succession almost together; John fell back against the door from my bedroom to the kitchen; the distance between the kitchen door and my bedroom is about six or seven feet; his head came down to the jam of the door; I was lying next to the door with the glass top: my wife was sleeping on the outside: there is a stove close to the bed: I turned the side of the blind and looked out: I saw John Kennedy, James Carroll and James Ryder: they were partly in front of the glass window: Kennedy was standing where his name is now marked on the plan about three feet from the door: James Carroll and James Ryder were standing where their names are written on the plan about nine feet from my window: I saw three others outside of the fence, near to the little gate: I calculated that they were Wm. Carroll, Patrick Ryder Jr., and Michael Heenan: I couldn’t swear positively to them; I don’t speak positively as to them; I speak positively as to John Kennedy, James Carroll and James Ryder; these persons are well known to me.”
Just like in any trial, the defence also had witnesses. These witnesses were friends and family of the vigilante community, and backed the stories and alibis of each of the members that stood trial. John Purtell, one of the prisoners stated that he wasn’t a member of the committee and had never attended any of the meetings. Instead he was a hired man of James McGrath’s and lived with him and never left the house that night. James and his father Matthew backed his story. Prisoner Thomas Ryder said he was a brother of Patrick “Grouchy” Ryder and that he spent the night at home playing cards with his brother-in-law, Valentine Mackey, his brother James Ryder Sr. and James Toohey. Those names agreed that they played cards and went home to their own places. Prisoner James Ryder Jr., said that himself and his five brothers: William, Michael, Patrick Jr., John and Maurice, all spent the night at their Father’s house . Vigilante Michael Blake spent the night too, and said so. Prisoner Martin McLaughlin’s daughter, Temperance, backed her father’s story that he never left the house.15 Prisoner John Kennedy said he went to Denis Carty’s, along with William Hodgins and James Brien for a game of cards. They all left together about 9:15 p.m. Each testified to the same account, with Brien adding that he visited Kennedy at 2:00 a.m., the same night to borrow medicine for a sick family member.
After a four and a half hour parley, the foreman of the jury proclaimed that there was no change of an agreement on a final verdict. So unsympathetic were part of the jury that one man declared he wouldn’t have convicted Carroll even if he had seen the killings himself. Another said he didn’t want to convict Carroll on Johnny O’Conner’s word alone, the rest voted for acquittal out of fear for the dozens of others involved.17 In the end, one jury member was undecided, seven wanted to acquit, and four wanted to convict, ultimately ending in a hung jury.
The Second Trial
The second trial of James Carroll was overseen by Justice Matthew Crook Cameron who was described as an “old Tory mugwump” and past leader of the Ontario Conservative Party. He like Justice J.W. Meredith steered the trial to ensure an acquittal of Carroll of February 2, 1881. James Reaney compares the two trials, noting how much smaller the second one seemed and without all the legal conjecture and maneuvering that the first trial had.
Before the trial the lawyers for both sides Irving and Hutchinson agreed to keep the trial date close to the New Year so that the jury pool would not have time to be tainted by either side. Regardless, it still ended up being a jury of all Protestants ruling on an Irish Catholic defendant. The lawyers also agreed to drop William Donnelly’s testimony about the death at Whalen’s Corners as it was decided it would not be necessary until the potential trials of five other defendants, which would only happen with a conviction of James Carroll.
Reaney comes to the conclusion that the Prosecution was hampered throughout the trial as they only had the young O’Conner boy and his testimony as any kind of hard evidence. While the boy did an admirable job of recollecting the events in a clear manner, Justice Cameron’s continuing sustaining of the defense’s objections hindered the Prosecution. This is where Reaney and others have come to the conclusion that Cameron was steering the trial in the defense’s favor. As a result much of the evidence that the prosecution presented to help the boy’s account was shut down. Cameron even came to the conclusion that he decided to accept the defense’s assertion that the testimony from the O’Conner boy was unreliable and instructed the jury as such, thus giving the prosecution little chance of securing a guilty verdict. This was true largely because the importance of the valences on the bed and the question of what Johnny O’Conner could see if they were on. His declaration that they had been removed became a point of debate within the trial as the London Advertiser recalls. With Justice Cameron’s decision to instruct the jury that Johnny’s testimony was unreliable, it eliminated the hard evidence the prosecution needed.
In the cross examination of the boy they tried to get him to trip up on his answers but the jury and those present in the court room seem to believe him. As the Toronto Globe accounts, “His answers were, as a rule, given very promptly and with a fearlessness that did him credit…looking straight into the face of the Crown counsel, seldom looking elsewhere.” Hugh McMahon questioned Johnny next, first about the gold watch that he was wearing and secondly about the fact that his christened name was Jeremiah and was actually 15 years old as records in St. Patrick’s parish had indicated. This was to try and discredit the boy’s testimony and bring the jury to doubt the reliability of the other testimony. Johnny’s godmother came to the rescue regarding his name as he was christened both Johnny and Jeremiah at birth. Trying to get the courtroom to doubt the boy’s testimony never worked for the defense, as everyone knew he was telling the truth.
What did the prosecution in was the testimony of his mother. The defense succeeded in getting Justice Cameron to believe that the boy’s testimony was obtained in fearful circumstances as a result of his mother wanting more money. Justice Armour rejected this notion in the first trial, but Cameron’s decision to accept it hindered any chance the prosecution had. Mrs. O’Conner’s testimony fell apart when she failed to accurately tell her boy’s correct age and was also unable to give a clear explanation for her recent trip to Toronto to visit with the Deputy Attorney General. McMahon used this to show the jury that she was trying to receive more money for the boy’s testimony because her family was struggling to survive after their house had been burnt down. This made her lose her temper and she arrived on the stand already upset after a dispute with fellow witness Mrs. Pat Whalen. All she needed to do was clearly explain her family did need more money and that the provincial bureaucrats were unwilling to provide this and that this had nothing to do with the Crown prosecution. Reaney speculates that it is perhaps because the bureaucrats did not want to aid a friend of the Donnellys. Regardless Mrs. O’Conner’s testimony did not go over well and ended any chances the prosecution might have had in a trial with judge, jury and public opinion already at least leaning if not outright against them.
From here the second trial recycled much of the evidence the first had gone through with the same results, with Michael Donnelly maintaining the valances on the bed had been removed by the time he woke. At the conclusion of the trial the jury convened for 3 hours before unsurprisingly coming back with a verdict of not guilty. Irving recalled jurors before their final meeting asking if there was any way Carroll would not be hanged if found guilty and he had responded, “No.” This seems to be the final nail in the coffin as it were for the prosecution and thus ensured a not guilty verdict.
The reporters description of the various witnesses showed that they believed the Donnelly brothers, William and Patrick, to be intelligent, well spoken individuals and the press had a hard time believing their family were the ruffians the evidence made them out to be. In contrast the press had the overall generalization that Carroll and the others were a “bunch of envious, dangerous, backwoodsmen” and had a sinister appearance to them. This characterization by the press and their account ensured that while the Donnellys would not get justice in the courtroom, their story would eventually win out in how this event would be recalled.
The fact that the community and trial were strongly polarized along religious lines had a factor in the outcome and the decisions of the judges and lawyers throughout the case. Orlo Miller in his book goes on to implicate the Biddulph Peace Society and members of other societies like the Whiteboys and the influence they had on the decisions of those in the courtroom. This combined with the lack of hard evidence left the prosecution with no chance of securing a guilty verdict, and possibly not wanting one because of the backlash that could have taken place. Even the crown attorney Charles Hutchinson had wrote to Aemilius Irving that trying to secure a guilty verdict was a "waste of time and money," because of the negative feelings toward the Donnellys in the Middlesex county.
The Donnelly myth today
The publication of Thomas Kelley's The Black Donnellys in 1954 generated much interest in the case. The family tombstone, with the inscription "murdered" was the focus of curiosity and vandalism. Public access to the St. Patrick's Cemetery was denied. Remaining descendants of Donnelly family eventually chose to have the original tombstone replaced.
Today the Donnellys are widely known in Canadian folklore, and the story of their murder is told throughout Canadian and American farming communities. However, despite the popularity of the Donnelly story throughout North America, the inhabitants of Lucan and Biddulph Township have tried to suppress the subject. Up until recently, even among those who were born and raised in the Lucan area, many had never heard the story of the Donnelly massacre until they were adults. Oral accounts of the murders were purportedly suppressed locally due to the number of residents who had ancestors who were directly involved in the circumstances.
In recent years, several newcomers to the area have started businesses centred on the Donnelly story, creating tourism venues for visitors fascinated by the events surrounding their deaths, much to the dismay of older inhabitants. One of the more well known of these myths is that of the Midnight Lady who supposedly rides up and down the Roman Line every February 4. Another is that the ghosts of the murdered family members can be seen floating in the fields near the murder site and that horses will not ride past the former Donnelly homestead after midnight.
Ray Fazakas best illustrates the situation in his book, when he states that despite the fact that the Donnellys have been removed from Biddulph, they have managed to remain alive thanks to Canadian folklore.
The Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum
While for many years the story of the Donnelly massacre was suppressed in the town of Lucan, in 1995 the Lucan and Area Heritage Society formed to celebrate the heritage of the Lucan area by gathering local, historical artifacts. Over the next few years, interest in the area's heritage increased within the community, and so the collection continued to grow. In 1999, the museum acquired an 1850s log cabin with a very similar floor plan to that of the Donnelly homestead, making it a dramatic setting for visitors to hear the retelling of the Donnelly story, and visualize the tragic events that occurred in the early morning hours of February 4, 1880.
The Lucan Area Heritage Society, District Lion's Club, and Township of Lucan Biddulph raised over $600,000 for the construction of a new museum building after the University of Western Ontario identified the need for a new museum to spur economic growth in the community. This building reached completion in 2008, and opened to the public in 2009. The new Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum now highlights the Ray Fazakas Donnelly Collection, rotating exhibits, the "Donnelly Log Cabin", and the Hearn barn, which displays a variety of artifacts relating to agriculture in Biddulph in the past 150 years.
Now that the story of the Black Donnellys is being retold in the town where it all began, the Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum has visitors from all over the country come to learn about the area's history, and the events that occurred on February 4, 1880.
Stompin' Tom Connors wrote two songs in reference to the Donnelly family: "The Black Donnellys' Massacre" and "Jenny Donnelly", the latter of which was covered by Chantal Vitalis.
Gene MacLellan sings a song called "Death of the Black Donnellys" on his album "Lonesome River", which refers to the Donnellys as Satan's spawn and their killers "...send them back to Hell".
In the 1980s, the London, Ontario punk band The Black Donnellys formed, taking their name from this infamous feud.
In 2005, Chris Doty wrote The Donnelly Trials, a play he based on the court script where twelve members of the audience become the jury deciding the fate of the defendants with the script providing two separate endings for either a "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" verdict. The play was performed in the same courtroom in which the actual trial took place.
In 2007, an NBC television series entitled The Black Donnellys followed the lives of four Irish brothers and their entrance into organized crime in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. The title is a homage to the infamous family, though the show is otherwise not related to the historical Donnellys.
In 2012, on October 26 and 27, the Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum hosted Moonlight & Mayhem ~ The Murder of Michael Donnelly (www.waterfordmuseum.ca). This was a unique, outdoor, after dark, theatrical production recreating the gruesome murder of Michael Donnelly which happened at the Commercial Hotel in Waterford. It was a guided walking tour presented twice nightly.
In 2013, running from April 11 until April 20, The Donnellys. Presented by the Owen Sound Little Theatre at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound, Ontario. It is a Drama with Music by Peter Colley and Directed by Corry Lapointe.
References in books and plays
- The Black Donnellys: The True Story of Canada's Most Barbaric Feud by Thomas P. Kelley, 1954.
- The Donnellys Must Die, by Orlo Miller, Macmillan paperbacks, 1962.
- The Donnelly Album, by Ray Fazakas, Macmillan of Canada, 1977.
- Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys, Peter Edwards, Key Porter Books 2005.
- In Search of The Donnellys, by Hamilton, Ontario, lawyer Ray Fazakas, self-published, 2001.
- The Donnellys by Peter Colley, stage play, Playwrights Guild of Canada, 1976.
- The Death of the Donnellys by Ted Johns. stage play, Playwrights Guild of Canada, 1980.
- The Donnelly Trilogy, by James Reaney, 1974-1975.
- Vengeance of The Black Donnellys: Canada's Most Feared Family Strikes Back from The Grave by Thomas P. Kelley, 1962
- The Donnelly Murders by William Critchton, 1977
- You Are Never Alone: Our Life on the Donnelly Homestead by J.Robert Salts, 1996.
- The Black Donnellys: The Outrageous Tale of Canada's Deadliest Feud by Nate Hendley, 2011 'Amazing Stories', Lorimer & Publishers LTD, Toronto, ON
- Vigilante by Jonathan Christensen, 2015.
- "Canadian Mysteries, the Massacre of the Black Donnellys". Retrieved January 30, 2012.
- Pettit, Jennifer, Dr, and Kori Street, Dr. "Disorderly Conduct." Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of The"Black Donnellys" Mount Royal College, 2006. Web. 9 November. 2014.
- Pettit, Jennifer, Dr, and Kori Street, Dr. "Settling In and Early Troubles." Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of The"Black Donnellys" Mount Royal College, 2006. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Reaney Papers, Box 23 (B1309), File 7B, Unknown, Court of Common Pleas, Ejectment Notice for James Donnelly from John Grace, May 26, 1856.
- Miller, Orlo (1962). The Donnellys Must Die. Prospero Books, a division of Chapters,under license from CDG Books Canada. ISBN 1-55267-155-0.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 9, Unknown, Queen vs. James Donnelly et al., Assault and Wounding Joseph Berryhill, September 20, 1875.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 14, Unknown, Queen vs. Thomas Donnelly et al., Arson, Patrick Flanagan's Stables, March 11, 1876.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 29, Unknown, "John Donnelly Complaint, Trespass on His Land," September 10, 1879.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 25, Unknown, John Donnelly vs. James Carroll, Threats to Shoot, October 14, 1878.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 3, John Hyndman, Information of Witnesses and Inquisition, Queen vs. James Donnelly, Murder of Patrick Farrell, June 28, 1857.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 8, Unknown, Queen vs. James Donnelly Jr., Complaint of Thomas Gibbs, Theft, April 11, 1875.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 11, Unknown, Queen vs. Thomas Donnelly et al, Assault and Robbery Against James Curry, December 14, 1875.
- J.J. Talman Regional Collection, University of Western Ontario Archives, Donnelly Family Papers, B4877, File 26, Unknown, James Carroll vs. Donnellys, Assault, October 16, 1878.
- Pettit, Jennifer, Dr, and Kori Street, Dr. "Peace Society/Association." Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of The"Black Donnellys Mount Royal College, 2006. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
- Pettit, Jennifer, Dr, and Kori Street, Dr. "Vigilance Committee." Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of The"Black Donnellys Mount Royal College, 2006. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
- "Canadian Mysteries, The Massacre of the "Black" Donnellys". Retrieved January 30, 2012.
- Archives of Ontario - Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Registrations of Deaths, 1869-1934. MS 935, 496 reels. Roll: MS935_25. Middlesex County, Ontario, Canada.
- Ray Fazakes, The Donnelly Album: The Complete and Authentic Account (Toronto: The Macmillian Company, 1997), 238.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 238.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 244-245.
- Ray Fazakes, The Donnelly Album: The Complete and Authentic Account (Toronto: The Macmillian Company, 1997), 237
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 237
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 238
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 241
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album,239.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album,245.
- Norman Feltes, This Side of Heaven:Determining the Donnelly Murder, 1880 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999)
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 240-241.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album,240-241.
- Peter Edwards, Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys (Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 2004), 16.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 244.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 245.
- Edwards, Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys, 16.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 246.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 247.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 248.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 249.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 240.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 250.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 251.
- Fazakes, The Donnelly Album, 252.
- Reaney, James. "The First Trial," The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Toronto: The Champlain Society. 2004. Pg. cxii
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.82
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.85
- Reaney, James. "The First Trial," The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Toronto: The Champlain Society. 2004. Pg. cxxii
- archives at the Lucan Heritage/Donnelly Museum
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.20
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg. 21
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.38-39
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.86
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.87
- Mckeown, Peter. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. 2004 pg.87-88
- James Reaney, “The Second Trial,” The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 2004. pg. cxxxii-cxxxvii.
- Miller, Orlo (1962). The Donnellys Must Die. Prospero Books, a division of Chapters,under license from CDG Books Canada.
- Canadian Mysteries. “Trial Two,” The Massacre of the “Black Donnellys.” Retrieved October 25, 2014. http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/donnellys/massacre/trialtwo/indexen.html
- "Find A Grave St Patrick's Lucan". Retrieved January 30, 2012.
- "Canadian Mysteries, The Massacre of the Black Donnellys". Retrieved January 30, 2012.
- Fazakas, Ray (1995). The Donnelly Album.
- You Are Never Alone:Our Life on the Donnelly Homestead by J.Robert Salts,1996
- "Vigilante at Citadel Theatre". Retrieved March 8, 2015.
- The Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum
- The Official Donnelly Home Page
- Donnelly Homestead Site Tours
- Lucan Area Heritage web site
- The Black Donnelleys at findagrave.com
- Cover of The Black Donnellys showing the tombstone
- Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the "Black Donnellys" - Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian
- The Donnellys at Owen Sound Little Theatre