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Joseph Van Norman is a native of New Jersey, a son of John and Sarah (De Pue) Van Norman, and was born May 12, 1796. His mother was of Huguenot descent, her ancestors escaping from France at the time of the persecution of the Protestants. When he was a small boy the family emigrated to Canandaigua, in Western New York, where he received a moderate education, picked up some knowledge of the iron manufacturing business, and having a talent, as well as a natural taste, for mechanics, he built a small furnace, and operated it for two or three years; then went to Manchester, now Shortsville, in the same State, and worked as foreman in a foundry.
In 1821 Mr Van Norman came to Norfolk County, then a part of the London District, and made preparations for the erection of a blast furnace at Normandale, in the Township of Charlotteville. The next spring he was joined by Hiram Capron and George Tillson; the enterprise was completed, and proved a success. In a few years Mr. Van Norman bought out his partners, and subsequently, at different times, had for partners, his brother, Benjamin Van Norman, and his eldest son, Romaine. He gave employment to a great many men, and did much towards settling the country.
In 1847 our subject went to Marmora, bought out the iron manufactory of Hon. Peter McGill founded the Marmora Iron Works Company, and on account of the difficulty of making shipments, the company found the enterprise a losing concern, and abandoned it, Mr. Van Norman returning to Norfolk County, and building a blast furnace in the Township of Houghton. About that time occurred the great financial crash of 1857, and this undertaking also proved a failure.
Since 1863 Mr. Van Norman has resided at Tilsonburg, County of Oxford, and has been at times engaged in the manufacture of brick, lime and shingles. For the last few years he has assumed light responsibilities only, though still quite active and smart for a man who is older than this century. His memory is a thesaurus of old annals.
Mr. Van Norman was one of the first Councilmen for the County of Norfolk; has been a Councilman for the Town of Tilsonburg, and was magistrate for a long time. His political affiliations have always been with the Reform party, whose candidate he was at one time for the Parliament of Upper Canada, prior to the union of 1841.
He is a member of the Methodist Church of Canada; a good example of a steadfast Christian and one of the most hospitable men that ever lived in these parts, his door standing open for fifty years for the entrance of the weary traveler, or the agent of benevolent, religious, and other commendable enterprises. The hungry he never turned empty away, and probably a more generous heart rarely beats in any Christian land.
August 25, 1817, Mr. Van Norman married, at Pembroke, New York, Miss Roxilana Robinson, a native of Hertford, Vermont, and they have four children living, and have buried seven, three of them, Carolina, Susan Maria, and Roxilana, dying after having grown up; the last two mentioned after they were married. Romaine, their eldest child living, is at Beamsville; George Robinson is a Barrister and County Attorney for Brant, residing at Brantford; De Witt is an attorney-at-law at Palmerston; and Harriet Eliza is living with her parents. All the sons are married. Mrs. Van Norman, born in the last year of the last century, and at the time of writing this sketch just four-score years old, has the sprightliness of mind and vivacity of middle life, and has grown old with unusual gracefulness. The writer once heard her describe her first home at Normandale in 1822, it being one end of bellows house to the furnace, with a hole in the top to let the smoke out! ” But godliness with contentment is great gain; ” she preserved her cheerfulness, had a better house in a few weeks, with a chimney in it, and still laughs at the humble style in which she commenced house keeping in the wilds of Canada.