The story of Edwin Trevail

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The Trevail lineage came from a long line of Trevails from Kestle, Cornwall, England growing food for their masters.

‘We had a lot of Phillips in the family – my uncle was Philip Tevail III. It didn’t really mean anything though as he wasn’t the eldest in the family of 15 children, nor was his twin, John. Aunts Jane and Maria were twins too, but women don’t count. My father was Charles Avery Trevail, who was born in 1829 on the farm as well. The farm was a good size but not big enough for the eight boys that lived, so my father and Philip III, decided to come to the New World where there were opportunities for everyone and you could own your own land. Uncle Philip was in his late 30s and Father about 20 years old. I am not sure of the date.’

‘Father wasn’t very interested in farming, especially up in Huron County, so he came to Bayham Township in Elgin County and was a labourer. It was a there he found and married Mother, about 1860, I think. Father was 31 and Mother, her name was Lizeanna Roc, was already 22 years old. That was old to get married, but they did well and had a one-storey framed house!’

‘Back then Father was a New Connection Methodist, I expect because of Mother. But they left all that to come to Tillsonburg! And why not? Mr. E.D. Tillson was hiring men for his mills, construction, his stores and so many other businesses! My brother David was born in 1862 in Tillsonburg and my Father was making more money. Good times… until 1871.’

‘I was nine years old then. David and I were going to school. Our sister, Mary, was 6 but she couldn’t go to school as Mom needed her at home to help tend little Amasey. He was sickly and didn’t even live four months. He was buried up on Graveyard Hill.’

‘I went to school until I was 14. That is when school was done and that’s when a boy became a man and were treated like one too. Father got me a job at Mr. Tillson’s brickyard! I was so proud. It was awful hard work but good money and I was treated well, by the other men.’

‘The brick yard was in the ravine east of downtown, where Stony Creek runs through. Well, it used to, I am told that the ravine was filled with garbage then covered over. The creek still runs through but it is underground.’

‘The brickyard was at the north end by the railroad tracks, but they are gone now too. You could stand at the back of the Presbyterian Church and look toward the Sinclair mansion on Lisgar Avenue and see all the drying racks for the bricks. I guess the only photograph taken of the brick yard was after a fire and then you could see the big furnaces that were inside. I didn’t work in the actual brick yard, I worked in the clay pits. To make bricks you had to have good clay and our area has it. When the clay got used up, Mr. Tillson would buy other land with the right kind of clay and buy that property. You all know it, just look for a yellow-brick building like downtown at the Tillson Block or the Methodist Manse.’

‘So, in the pit we carve clay from the banks of the pit. Some of the men pound wedges on the bank above with heavy sledges and other men with picks, undermine the bank of clay. We watch carefully for the cracks and when the clay starts to crumble or sag, the bottom men get out fast.’

‘June 7th, 1878, was a beautiful day, sun shining, and cool enough I didn’t get too warm swinging my pick axe. We were working as usual. I was down in the pit undermining the big clay section the men up above were driving the sledges into. No one saw a crack or anything. There was no warning! Several of us were down there when the bank above suddenly gave way! It happened so fast! Before I could do more than turn to run, several hundred pounds of clay struck me down and covered the small of my back and hips, crushing me to the ground.’

‘The pain was terrible. It took forever to get the clay off me. I know I was screaming and passed out a lot. My right thigh was broken. My left leg below the knee was splintered and too many of my organs were crushed. There was nothing the doctors could do and I passed on to glory, that evening in great agony.’

‘My name is Edwin Trevail and I died 142 years and three days ago, right here in Tillsonburg and was buried up Graveyard Hill with my sister.’

‘One day I am hoping that a young man about 16 years old, might want to tell my story… not just about the dying but what it was like to live in Tillsonburg back then. What it was like to be a grown up at that age, working for living and starting a family. I think it a story well worth telling.’

– Tillsonburg Pioneer Performing Troupe