One of the oldest families in the County of Lanark, Ontario, is that of the Bells, the first settler here of that name of any prominence being the Rev. William Bell, a native of Leith, near Edinburgh, Scotland, his father, Andrew Bell, owning at one time most of the present site of the city of Airdrie. William Bell prepared himself for a missionary and was about to start for the Isle of Ceylon, when, at the suggestion of Lord Bathurst, then Colonial Secretary, Mr. Bell changed his mind, and came to Canada, in 1817, settled at Perth, and was forty years pastor of the first Presbyterian church. He came out in a semi-official capacity, as chaplain to the disbanded soldiers, who had settled in and near Perth. He died about twenty-two years ago, much lamented by a very wide circle of warm friends. His son, the subject of this sketch has the copy of his Bible which the old gentleman used in his pulpit for forty years. He was the author of “Hints to Emigrants,” a volume published in Edinburgh, in 1824, and which was of great use to hundreds of emigrants who came to this Province about that period.
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William Bell married Mary Black, a descendant of the Huguenots. She was the mother of nine children, eight sons and one daughter, all born in the old country, but the two youngest. She died a few years after her husband. Both are buried at Perth.
Robert Bell, fourth son and fourth child, was born in London, England, March 16, 1808. He received a limited education, such as the school at Perth could furnish fifty and sixty years ago; learned the mercantile trade at Perth, with two older brothers, William and John Bell and about 1830 settled in Carleton Place, and had a mercantile establishment here thirty years being successful in business.
In 1866 Mr. Bell was appointed inspector of canals, and held that office till a few weeks ago, having the whole Dominion for his field. He was postmaster of Carleton Place for twenty years; was in the old district council, and subsequently in the county council, and was warden for two or three years; went into the Canadian Parliament in 1847, representing the united counties of Lanark and Renfrew, one term, when the counties were separated; and with the exception of one term he represented the north riding of Lanark until 1866, when he resigned. He has always been a Liberal, and a free trader.
Mr. Bell has been connected for a long time with the militia; was Major of a battalion at one time, and for some years has held the rank of Lieut.-Colonel of reserve militia. He has always been quite active in local enterprises and improvements, and was one of the first men to move for a railroad, since completed and connecting Carleton Place with Brockville in the south, and Pembroke on the north. He was a director of the road, now known as the Canada Central railway for some years. He has been a magistrate between forty and fifty years, and has done and is doing most of the business in that line. He was chairman of the board of education for twenty-seven years, until 1878.
Col. Bell is a member of the Presbyterian church; has been an elder for about a third of a century, and has served for several years as a delegate to the presbytery, synod and general assembly. The solidity of his christian character is undoubted.
In 1839 he married Miss Emmeline S. Jones, daughter of Josiah Jones, of Brockville. She died in 1858, leaving three children, all yet living. Josiah Jones, the elder son publishes the Picton Times; Robert William is a physician at Peterboro’, and Isabella is living with her father. The sons are both married, and all three children have a first-class education. The colonel has a large and well selected library the largest private collection of books in this vicinity, and has made the best use of them possible, being like his father when alive, an extensive reader and a man of much general knowledge. He has a taste for horticulture, and gratifies it to a liberal degree in the cultivation of flowers. He also keeps well posted in the progress of the younger physical sciences.