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Thomas S. Shenston, registrar of the county of Brant, and son of Benjamin and Mary (Strahan) Shenston, was born in London, England, June 25,1822. Two uncles on his father’s side were clergymen: Rev. William Shenston, twenty-five years pastor of a Baptist church at Little Aile St., Whitechapel Road, London, and Rev. John B. Shenston, a Sabbatarian Baptist, Shoreditch, London. His maternal grandfather was a Congregational minister. This branch of the Shenston family is remotely related to the poet Shenstone.
When our subject was about nine years of age, the family emigrated to Upper Canada, and after halting one year near the town of Dundas, county of Wentworth, went to the township of Woolwich, county of Waterloo, ten miles north of the town of Guelph, being two and a half days in making that distance with two yoke of oxen. There, Thomas had ample opportunities for exercise in swinging the axe in a Compact woodland, and no opportunity to hunt up a school house, the nearest being at Guelph. Two years later the family removed to the township of Thorold, in the Niagara district, near the ” Decew falls,” on a 100 acre farm, purchased from Nicholas Smith. This farm proved to be a heavy clay, unproductive one, and Mr. Shenston became discouraged, and prevailed on his father, in 1837, to allow him to go to St. Catharines and learn the saddle and harness trade, and while there became a volunteer during 1838, to fight the rebels, being in Capt. Mittleberger’s company, under Col. Clark.
In 1841, Mr. Shenston went to Chatham to locate and start in business for himself, but theclimate not agreeing with him, he settled in East Woodstock, where he did an extensive business at his trade, and built, among other buildings, the east half of the three story brick block known as the “Elgin Block.” In 1848 he had his dwelling house, shop and the Elgin Block destroyed by fire while uninsured. During 1846, 1847 and 1848, he was a member of the council of the District of Brock as the representative of the township of East Oxford. For several years he was school trustee for the town of Woodstock.
September 3, 1849 when 27 years of age Mr. Shenston was appointed magistrate, and the Return of Convictions showed that during the last two years of his residence in that county, he did more magisterial business than all the other seventy-five magistrates in the county. In 1851 he published the “County Warden and Municipal Officers’ Assistant,” which had a considerable circulation in every county of the Province. In 1852 he published the “Oxford Gazetteer,” a volume of 216 pages, containing a neat map of the county, drawn by himself.
In 1849 Mr. Shenston sold out his premises and business. For a year or two before he left that county, he was secretary-treasurer of the Woodstock and Norwich Road Company; county clerk of Oxford, and secretary of the board of education for that county, and a school trustee for the town of Woodstock. In 1852 he was census commissioner for the county, and received a notification from the Statistical Department that his return was the best that had been received.
While in that county he was somewhat active in politics, being a zealous and influential Reformer, being for some years the medium of communication between the electors of that county and their member the Hon. (now Sir) Francis Hincks, who never resided in the county.
On January 21, 1853, when the county of Brant was formed, he was appointed Registrar, and has held that office ever since. This appointment necessitated his removal to Brantford, the county town. In 1853 he was appointed a magistrate for the county of Brant and commissioner in Queen’s Bench. In consequence of some most unexpected turn in some business matter, it become necessary for him to assume the responsibilities of the editorship of the Tri-Weekly Herald for eight months, during the year 1857.
From January 1, 1869, in a house furnished rent free by Ignatius Cockshutt, he sustained an orphans’ home for twenty to twenty-two orphan girls, being, however, aided to the extent of one-half by Mr. Cockshutt for the last five years.
In 1864 he set up the type and printed, entirely with his own hands, a small work of 135 pages on the subject of Baptism. He is senior deacon of the first Baptist church, and with trifling exceptions, has been superintendent of the Sunday school of that church for nearly twenty five years; he is president of the Baptist Foreign Missionary Society of Ontario and Quebec; and of the Religious Tract Society for the city of Brantford, and has been secretary of the Brantford Bible Society for several years; is local director for the Bank of Commerce; president of the Royal Loan and Savings Company, and one of the largest land owners in the city.
Mr. Shenston is emphatically a self educated man, and ever busy with his pen. He has just published a volume of 256 pages, called The Sinner and the Saviour,”which doubtless will find its way into many a Sunday school and family. He worked out most ingenious perpetual calendar, by which, without any movable figures, the day of the week on which any day of the month will fall for hundreds of years past or to come, can be ascertained.
December 30, 1843, Miss Mary Lazenby, of East Oxford, was married to Mr. Shenston, and they have four children, and buried two in infancy. Naomi Ann is the wife of Richard R. Donnelley, an extensive publisher, Chicago; Reuben Strahan learned the drug business, but it did not agree with him, and he is a printer in Chicago; Joseph Newton is deputy registrar, for his father, and Ruth Davidson is the wife of Rev. Elmore Harris, pastor of the Baptist church, at St. Thomas, Ont.