LAWLESS Family of Haldimand Township:

Contributed by: Denis F. LAWLESS at

The original 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Durham and Northumberland Counties of Ontario, published by H. Beldon & Co.- Toronto contained a few errors. Under Early settlers it says "Thomas Lawless is the name of another old Irish settler. He came to Haldimand over 50 years ago, was long assessor of the Township, built the first store in Grafton and leaves surviving him, three sons engaged in business. " This error was partially copied, and made even more incorrect, by an article which appeared in the Cobourg newspaper by Harold R. Hare in December of 1964. I have done considerable research of the both the History of Haldimand Township and the Family History & Genealogy of the Lawless Families of Haldimand Twp.

The following article will correct any previous errors published about members of the LAWLESS Family.


The original store in Grafton, located at the south west corner of Highway No. 2 and the Danforth Road, was built about 1835 for JAMES LAWLESS (1805-1848) with lumber supplied by William Taylor from a mill in Eddystone. The building was an attempt at Greek Revival design. James, born in Ireland in 1805, was the son of Royal Irish Yeoman Major THOS. LAWLESS, who was the nephew of SIR NICHOLAS LAWLESS (Baron Cloncurry). After becoming a school teacher in Montreal, James aquired his knowledge of business while in the employ of the "Nichols & Cantwell" mercantile house located in south western Quebec in 1829 and 1830. His first store was set up in Matilda Twp., Dundas Co., Ontario in 1831. In 1834 James, his wife HARRIET AUGUSTA SMITH (1811- 1890) and their infant son, Thomas, moved on to Grafton. In 1835 James advertised his business in the "Cobourg Star". In 1837 he paid for a shopkeepers license in Grafton. Along with his duties as clerk of the Newcastle District Court, his wagon of supplies could be seen covering the country roads for several years. In 1848 James and 2 of his young sons died suddenly leaving his widow with 4 remaining sons and a daughter. His wife struggled along with the business until about 1860. The store was then lost to the young family, however, the mercantile business was not gone from the descendants of James Lawless forever. Three succeeding generations were shopkeepers in the village and eventually they bought back the old store.


THOMAS LAWLESS (1834-1900), oldest son of James, served for a time in the local Militia and later became a shopkeeper partner with Mr. Johnston. He later aquired a farm in Lot 24 Conc. "A" and his own store on the south east corner of No. 2 Highway and the Danforth Road. He was at times in partnership with his brothers, Henry and Reuben. In 1895 Thomas sold his store to George Hutchings.

WILLIAM LAWLESS (1840-1912), third son of James, was a tenant farmer in Lot 18 Conc. "A" and operated a butcher shop in Grafton on the North side of No. 2 Highway. His son, EDWARD LAWLESS, and eventually his widowed daughter in law, Mrs. CHARLES LAWLESS, operated a small general store on the site until the 1940's.

HENRY LAWLESS (1842-1893), fourth son of James, was a "Cockshutt Plow Company" farm machinery agent in Grafton. He was also Clerk for the 6th. Division Court of the United Counties of Northumberland & Durham, Haldimand Township Clerk, Grafton Public School Trustee and prominent member of the local Masonic Lodge. He purchased the "Immel Wing" of the Grafton Town Hall in 1882. It was occupied by him, his widowed mother and his unmarried sister, ROSE LAWLESS (1835-1912). The house remained in the Lawless family until sold by Henry's niece, OLIVE LAWLESS. It was later occupied by REUBEN LAWLESS 3rd and his family in the 1930's. Henry was appointed "Justice of The Peace" in March of 1893 a short time before his death.

REUBEN LAWLESS (1845-1903) fifth son of James, was in a meat market business partnership with John Webster until 1876. In June of that year he and his brother, Thomas, took over the store business of Josias Gillard. Reuben purchased a farm in lot 18 Conc. "A" in 1884 for the sum of $5,000. In 1899 the East block of the Grafton Town Hall was rented to Reuben and his son for a period of 10 years. In 1902 Reuben vacated his store in the Town Hall and purchased the business of "Noble & Son". He then moved to the Post Office location and died in 1903.


JAMES LAWLESS (1869-1947), oldest son of Reuben Lawless Sr., was for a short time in a store partnership with his brother Reuben Jr. under the name " J.&R. LAWLESS" after the death of their father, Reuben Sr. Following that time he became a mail driver and worked with his brother, Henry, hauling coal.

REUBEN LAWLESS Jr. (1872-1939), second son of Reuben Lawless Sr., operated a small farm, general store, slaughter house, butcher shop, post office, grain shed and ice house in the village of Grafton until 1939 with the help of his sons. In 1918 he purchased the main store originally built for his grandfather, James, in 1835.

HENRY LAWLESS (1882-1937), fourth son of Reuben Lawless Sr., operated a coal and coke business from a shed at the "Grand Trunk Railway" siding using a team of bay horses and a coal wagon to deliver the fuel to Grafton residents. In 1933 the horses and wagon were replaced by a Chevrolet motor truck. In 1930, Henry built a small farm machine shop on No. 2 Highway where he sold "McCORMICK-DEERING" farm machinery and dairy supplies. He died suddenly in 1937 before his sons JOHN, DAN and DENIS were old enough to carry on the business. John Lawless was ordained a Priest, June 6 1948. Both Dan and Denis Lawless spent their entire working careers employed by CN Rail.


ALPHONSUS LAWLESS (1897-1978), HAROLD LAWLESS (1899-1964), and REUBEN LAWLESS 3rd (1905-1974), sons of Reuben Lawless Jr., worked for their father on the family farm and in the store business until his death in 1939. Following his death they continued to operate the business until after 1964 when the old store was sold. It had been in the Lawless family for most of that time from 1835.

EDMOND LAWLESS (1909-1982), youngest son of Reuben Lawless Jr., operated a "BRITISH AMERICAN OIL CO." service station on No. 2 Highway in Grafton from about 1930 to 1950 along with his part time duties as an assistant to Grafton's local funeral director & furniture dealer, James Blacklock.

Contributed by: Denis Lawless, 508-641 Bathgate Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1K 3Y3

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