We all love a mystery and this little story puzzled me for many years and finally has been solved.

Robert Hubbs Saylor (1827-1907), brother of my great grandfather, was a life-long resident of Bloomfield, ON, and a member of West Lake Meeting. In 10th month of 1876 Robert writes a letter home from Camden, NJ, where he is a guest of Richard Esterbrook (1812 – 1895)[i], Quaker and the wealthy owner of the Esterbrook Pen Company.

Robert joyfully describes eating his first banana and reports on the bustle of life in New Jersey. The mystery that stayed with me was – Why was he there? Were Robert and Richard friends from an earlier time? The letter is worthy of being presented here.

Camden [NJ]  Tenth Mo 1874
Samuel C Saylor & Rachel J Saylor

Dear Sun and Daughter[ii]
I am now in a land far from my home and family although not forgotten them my mind has been much occupied in the affairs that has placed me here this time and it has seemed to me to be wright to attend to my feellings i believe it will prove a blessing to me and to my Little family that has been left behind to care for thing at home
I have seen more than i could tell in three weeks if i were to doo nothing but tell about it the City of Philadelphia it would take Three weeks to go through it and get any idea of it there are houses that would take all day to bare look through
I am looking a round among friends but it would be no place for to more go out for a visit unless there was notice given before hand informing them of your coming
I have seen such friends [probably meaning Friends, ie. Quakers] as i never before see
I have visited the grounds that Wm Penn made the Treaty with the indians and his house he lived in while he lived here and see his likeness over the door of the house of the same
I see the old bell that was rang untill it was split to pieces the day of the declaration of independence; Philadelphia is a large citty and to such a vast amt of vegitable production its wonderful

I have eaten fruit called Beaunanna [banana] it is in the shape of a cucumber but equal to the best pear thee ever eat
more drive and hurry than can be imagined
Samuel i shall get something for the school and as I am the only friend that Ever has come from Canada here so as to be known hereafter it will be long to be remembered by friends here and a warm feeling felt towards me and my family will be likely to remain for time to come
I am now at my old friends house an old friend indeed he employs about 200 hands to the making of steel pens and sell about $9,000.00 per mo. i will will fetch a sample of each home
R Esterbrook keep a horse in the livery and carriage. it is fetched to his door when ordered and drive to the door nothing to doo but drive him i have had a number + of rides cross the delaware river and on street cars
I shall have much to tell thee when i come home

I hope I shall be home soon and if my stay should be longer than i expected it will be for more money that i am staying for, hoping I shall find all well when i come home which there is no doubt but i will; doo the very best the can to get along and write to me while i am here so if i get away from this before receiving thy letter it would be sent to me
Direct thy letter to me in the care of Richard Esterbrook, tell thy Mother to doo so to direct thy letter

Camden NJ
I remain thy Father and friend
in Love  Robert H Saylor
Rachel kiss that dear little RES for me one 100 times[iii]
Remember me to all Especially to Mother and David, and to friends in general RHS[iv]


About a year ago I was preparing, for transcription, a digital copy of the Norwich Monthly Meeting minute book for the years 1852-1866. I noticed the name Richard Esterbrook in a number of minutes. The first mention in 11mo 1859 was a removal certificate from the East Division of Cornwall “in favor of Richard Esterbrook and Mary his wife; he being certified as a minister in unity.” A little over a year later on 2mo 1861, Richard Esterbrook Jr resigns his membership and then later in 8mo asks for a removal certificate for himself, wife and daughter to Haddonfield Monthly Meeting of Friends in New Jersey. It is obvious from the minutes that Richard spent very little time in Norwich and was probably away in the US establishing his business.[v]

The Haddonfield minutes mention receiving the removal certificate from Norwich in 11mo 1861 for Richard Esterbrook, a minister in unity, his wife Mary and daughter Mary Ann.[vi]

This unexpected find rekindled my enthusiasm to dig a little deeper into why the letter came to be. The story of Richard Esterbrook (1812-1895) and the growth of his pen making company is easily found on the internet.[vii] By the time of Robert Saylor’s visit in 1876, Richard Esterbrook was well established as a successful business man and Robert’s letter gives us a small picture into the urban vitality of Camden. To Robert’s rural eyes, Camden was much different from Bloomfield.

Why did Robert make a visit to New Jersey and stay as a guest with Richard Esterbook? Eliza Varney was an active minister out of West Lake and travelled widely. It was custom to give her a minute permitting the travel and she would present this when visiting Meetings. The meeting would then record her visit in their minutes and also give her a minute confirming the visit. Upon return she would submit her minutes. Also, being female, “suitable company” would be chosen to accompany her. Could it be that Robert joined her on one of her travels?

Robert Saylor and his wife accompanied Eliza in January 1874 on a visit to Yonge St. [viii] Eliza received a minute in 5 mo 1874 to visit meetings in New England. Could it be that Robert accompanied her on this trip? However, six months later, Eliza returned the minute having not travelled to New England due to ill health.

No mention of a visit by Robert Saylor or Eliza Varney is found in the Haddonfield men’s and women’s minutes during the 1874 visit. Solving a mystery always includes blind alleys and the idea that Robert travelled with Eliza Varney did not solve the question.

As a last thought I searched Robert Saylor’s name in Ancestry’s Quaker holdings and was amazed that there were 111 references to his name in various Canadian minute books. Most of them deal with the Chancery Court case in 1883 dealing with the Orthodox and Conservative Quaker conflict over the ownership of the West Lake Meeting house. Luckily, some references were from 1874.

It did not take long to find this amazing statement in the Boarding School Committee minutes of 12mo 1874. “Robert H Saylor informs the Com that he raised in Philadelphia – New York etc and has in his possession subscription to the amount of about Five Thousand Dollars [$5000] American Currency. He is instructed to convert the amount into Canadian Currency when in his opinion is the best time and hand the proceeds to James Wetherald the Treasurer of the Boarding S[chool] Funds.”[ix]

That was a lot of money in 1874! Clearly Robert was visiting the eastern US meetings to raise money for the Boarding School. What role did Robert have in this venture?

West Lake was home to the West Lake Boarding School from the 1840s till 1865 when it was closed due to low enrolment. The Yearly Meeting proposed to build a new school at a more accessible location near Pickering.

In 1871 the Ontario legislature passed an act to incorporate the Trustees of the Friends Seminary which was to be built near the village of Duffins Creek in Pickering Township. In the minutes of the Pickering College Records dated 13 7mo 1873, Robert H Saylor is one of seven men appointed as “a Building Committee” for the new school. Robert H. Saylor “having offered his services to the Meeting to solicit subscriptions from all our members his services were accepted, and he encouraged to proceed …”[x]

In the Yearly Meeting minutes of the 7mo of 1876, the Boarding School Committee reported that the new Seminary was under construction and Robert Saylor is “released from the service of obtaining subscriptions” to pay for the new building. [xi] The new boarding school was a grand four storey building that had two wings that could accommodate 95 boarders.[xii] The school construction cost a little over $24 000 so the $5000 that Robert raised by subscription in 1874 was nearly 20% of the total. Robert Saylor made a significant “service” to the Society.

Pickering College postcard

Pickering College, built in 1877 in Pickering Village. The building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1905 and was later rebuilt in Newmarket.

In the Building Committee meeting of 29 6mo 1877, Robert H Saylor was instructed to “box up and send by express … the library and apparatus of the old Boarding School” from the West Lake Boarding School that had been closed in 1865 and send it to the new Pickering College. This underscores the connection between the earlier school and the new school at Pickering.[xiii]

Robert Saylor was quite involved in the Separation in 1881 between the Orthodox and Conservative parts of the West Lake Quaker community. On 11 mo 1881, Levi Varney, Gilbert Jones and others who were called “Separatists” were disowned by the West Lake Orthodox meeting.[xiv] John T. Dorland stated that Eliza Varney who had been a minister, was disowned “because she did not act up to the discipline she professed.”[xv]

For a time, the Orthodox and Separatist parts of the meeting shared the meeting house, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon and kept separate minute books.[xvi] The Separatists even held their own quarterly meeting which they called a Four Months meeting. This minute was presented at the following Yearly Meeting in conflict with the Quarterly meeting minutes of the Orthodox group. The Yearly meeting did not accept the Separatists minutes. This all came to a head in December 1881 when the Separatists broke in the door and window of the meeting house to lay claim to the building. The resulting law suit was heard in the Chancery High Court in Belleville and the decision in 10mo 1883 sided with the Separatists. Robert Hubbs was one of the major witnesses as he was present at the conflict.

In Robert’s cross examination at the trial he states that he travelled “to raise funds” at the direction of the Yearly Meeting. He did not need a minute as a minute “is only needed for religious exercises.”[xvii]

The Orthodox group started a new minute book and continued to meet[xviii]. They appealed the case to the Ontario Supreme Court which reversed the decision in 1886. The Separatists (Conservatives) appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada which dismissed the appeal in 1887.[xix] The West Lake meeting continued as an Orthodox meeting.

Robert Saylor was as a valued member of the West Lake Orthodox community and attended most Yearly meetings as a representative. John T. Dorland, minister, travelled widely and in 1882 Robert accompanied John to North Carolina and the Western Quarterly Meeting.[xx]

Robert died in 1907 and the Yearly Minutes record that “The decease of Robert H. Saylor was reported and there was a general expression of appreciation of his Christian character and the loss sustained by the church.”

It has been a pleasure to connect Robert’s letter from 1874 to the funding of the new Pickering College and to shed light on the fact that Richard Esterbrook was being generous to his Friend from Canada. It is very likely that Richard was himself a subscriber to the new College and perhaps he introduced Robert to individuals and meetings that might help in the subscription for the construction of Pickering College.  It seemed fitting to extend this story to include the separation in 1881 given Robert’s significant role in the proceedings.


[i] The Genealogy of the Estabrook Family, Ithaca NY, 1891, On line at Google books. See page 236. His children are listed on page 240.

[ii] Samuel Charles Saylor and his wife Rachel Jane Cronkhite – daughter in law to Robert.

[iii] Robert Ernest Saylor was born in 1874 and died young on 23 Jan 1875. RES was Robert’s first grandchild.

[iv] The letter is found in the Rachael Cronkite family Fonds, AO, F550, transcription on line Randy Saylor web site

[v] Norwich Monthly Meeting 1852-1866, AO, MS 303, reel 6, C-2-8, not yet transcribed by CFHA. The minute book is available on Ancestry.com at Canada, Quaker Meetings 1876 – 1988, Ontario, Oxford, Norwich MM 1852 – 1866, images 53, 61, 62, 63, 64, 67, 68.

[vi] Haddonfield MM Minutes 1831 – 1867, Online at Ancestry, US Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, New Jersey, Camden, Richard Esterbrook and family certify recd. p. 512, image 516.

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esterbrook

[viii] West Lake Monthly Mtg, 1849-76, O-10-2, 12mo 1873 and 1mo 1874, see image 260 of the transcription on line at cfha.info

[ix] Pickering College Records, (D-1-12) reel 50; Online at Ancestry, Canada Quaker Meeting Records, 1786-1988, Durham County, Pickering College Records, Minutes of Pickering Boarding School, p. 4, image 916. Not transcribed on CFHA.

[x] Pickering College Records, (D-1-12) reel 50; p. 3, image 915

[xi] Canadian Quaker Yearly Meeting Records, B-1-1; Reel Number: 12, Online at Ancestry.com, Canada Quaker Meeting Records, 1786-1988, Miscellaneous, Orthodox, CYM 1867-1885, p. 136, image 80

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickering_College

[xiii] Pickering College Records, (D-1-12) reel 50; p. 10, image 919

[xiv] West Lake MM 1876-1883, O-10-3, reel 24. Online at Ancestry.com, Canada Quaker Meeting Records, 1786-1988, Ontario, Prince Edward, West Lake Conservative, 11mo 1871, p. 76, image 47. This is an Orthodox minute book.

[xv] Appeal from the Chancery Court at Belleville, Jones vs Dorland, 1884, 2 Vols, 747 pages. This contains of all the evidence from witnesses and transcriptions of relevant minute books. On line at Ancestry.com. Canada Quaker Meeting Records 1786-1988, Ontario, Prince Edward, West Lake Conservative, Ontario Court of Appeal, Vols 1 and 2, image 459, p 434. See “Distinct separate meetings” on image 24, p. 22. See image 2 for the Index listing the names of all the witnesses called and the page number of their testimony. It is fascinating reading. The first three witnesses are: Robert Saylor starting on page 9; Eliza Varney on page 29 and John T Dorland on page 53. Volume 2 starts at image 453 and the index to Vol 2 is at image 455. Note that Robert Saylor and John Dorland are cross examined at length.

[xvi] West Lake MM 1881-1899, C-4-6, reel 9. Online at Ancestry.com, Canada Quaker Meeting Records, 1786-1988, Ontario, Prince Edward, West Lake Conservative. The minute book commences 2mo 1881 and in 7mo 1883 complaints for disownment are brought against Robert H. Saylor, John T. Dorland and numerous other Orthodox Quakers. Over the next few months they are disowned, p. 39.

[xvii] Appeal from the Chancery Court, p. 442/3.

[xviii] West Lake MM 1883-1903, O-10-4, reel 24. On line at Ancestry.com Canada Quaker Meeting Records 1786-1988, Ontario, Prince Edward, West Lake Conservative, WLMM 1883-1903. This Orthodox book is mistakenly catalogued by Ancestry as Conservative. In 5mo 1887 right after the Supreme Court dismissed the last appeal, the minute names those who have been absent for over three years with the exception of Levi and Eliza Varney. Robert Saylor is to inform them that they can return as members by “amendment of life”, p. 89.

[xix] Supreme Court Judgments, Vol 14, Jones vs Dorland, 1887, online at https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/3772/index.do

[xx] US Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935, North Carolina, Guilford, Western Quarterly Mtg, Minutes 1860-1900, 8th mo 12, 1882, p. 644, image 673, Ancestry. Also see Canada Quaker Meeting records 1786-1988, Ancestry.com, West Lake MM 1876-1883, 9th mo 21 1882, p. 89, image 55



1 Comment

Evelyn Schmitz-Hertzberg · March 3, 2021 at 2:36 pm

This is wonderful work. Stories with details such as tasting a banana for the first time and 19th century fundraising for a large project such as the building of a school in Pickering are of great interest!

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