Thomas Talbot, Irish-born Canadian soldier and politician, is born at Malahide Castle near Dublin on July 19, 1771. He is the fourth son of Richard Talbot and his wife Margaret Talbot, 1st Baroness Talbot of Malahide. Richard Talbot, 2nd Baron Talbot of Malahide and Sir John Talbot are his elder brothers.
Talbot receives a commission in the army as ensign before he is twelve years old, and is appointed at sixteen to aid his relative, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He sees active service in Holland and at Gibraltar.
Talbot immigrates to Canada in 1791, where he becomes personal secretary to John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. After returning to England, Talbot convinces the government to allow him to implement a land settlement scheme along the shore of Lake Erie. His petition for 5,000 acres is granted in 1803. On May 21, 1803 he lands at a spot which has since been called Port Talbot and builds a log cabin. Nearby, he adds a sawmill, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a poultry house along with a barn. When settlers begin to arrive in 1809, Talbot adds a gristmill as well.
Here Talbot rules as an absolute, if erratic, potentate, doling out strips of land to people of his choosing, a group that emphatically does not include supporters of the American Revolution, liberals or anyone insufficiently respectful. For every settler he places on 50 acres of land, he receives an additional 200 acres for himself. One of the conditions attached to the free grant of 50 acres is the right to purchase an additional 150 acres at $3 each, and the promise of a road in front of each farm within three and a half years. The other condition is the building of a small house and the clearing and sowing of 10 acres of land.
The result of the road-making provision is that the settlement becomes noted for its good roads, especially for that named Talbot Road. By the late 1820s Talbot has organized the construction of a 300 mile long road linking the Detroit River and Lake Ontario as part of grand settlement enterprise in the south western peninsula. By 1820, all of the land originally allotted to Talbot has been taken up. From 1814 to 1837 he settles 50,000 people on 650,000 acres of land in the Thames River area. Many, if not most of the settlers, are American. He places about 20,000 immigrants on the Talbot settlement by 1826.
Because Talbot has done his work so well, the government places the southwestern part of the province under his charge. This affords him the opportunity of extending the Talbot road from the Long Point region to the Detroit River. In 1823, he decides to name the port after his friend Baron Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, whose son, Frederick Arthur Stanley eventually becomes Governor General of Canada and donates to the hockey world the elusive trophy, which still bears his name.
Talbot’s administration is regarded as despotic. He is infamous for registering settlers’ names on the local settlement map in pencil and if displeased is alleged to erase their entry. However, his insistence on provision of good roads, maintenance of the roads by the settlers, and the removal of Crown and clergy reserves from main roads quickly results in the Talbot Settlement becoming the most prosperous part of the province. Eventually, however, he begins to make political demands on the settlers, after which his power is reduced by the provincial government. His abuse of power is a contributing factor in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.
Talbot dies in the home of George Macbeth at London, Ontario on February 5, 1853 and is interred in the cemetery of St. Peters Anglican Church near Tyrconnell, Ontario in Elgin County. Talbot’s home in Port Talbot, called Malahide, is demolished in 1997 generating much public outcry from heritage preservationists. Talbotville, a community in Southwold, Ontario, and the city of St. Thomas, Ontario are named after him, as well as Colonel Talbot Road and Talbot Street in both London and St. Thomas.