A Quaker in the militia? Pacificism is one of the basic tenets of the Quakers. Moreover, during the War of 1812 Quakers, Mennonites and Tunkers could be exempt from the usually compulsory military duty thanks to Sir John Graves Simcoe and the Militia Act of 1808. Yet Ira Bearss, 1789-1874, a Quaker, served with the 3rd Regiment Lincoln Militia during the War of 1812. Ira’s brother Daniel Bearss, 1788-1850, served in the same regiment as did a third brother, Josiah Bearss, 1791-1879. Josiah’s grave in Zion Cemetery, Ridgeway, Ontario, has already been commemorated with a War of 1812 veterans marker.
Why did three Quaker brothers join the militia? According to a local historian, Quakers who served in the military had to remove themselves from the Society of Friends to do so. After their term of military service was finished, they could re-apply to be admitted to the Society once more. It must have taken a strong conviction in the necessity of joining the militia for these men to leave their church, albeit temporarily.
In October 1812 Ira Bearss was twenty five years old with a wife and three small children at home on his farm in Humberstone Township. Yet from 25 October until 24 November he served in the 3rd Regiment Lincoln Militia as a private under Captain Hardy. The following spring in April 1813 Ira was at Fort Erie with Captain Henry Buchner. His brother Daniel was on duty at Fort Erie, Chippewa and elsewhere with Lieutenant-Colonel John Warren in June and July 1814 with the 3rd Regiment Lincoln Militia.
For the reasons why Ira and his brothers chose to serve their king, despite their “scruples of conscience” we can only guess. In times of war people do things for the common good, things which they would ordinarily never dream of doing.
His military duty over, Ira returned to his farm at Lot 10 Conc 1 Humberstone Township. (Public Archives of Canada RG1, L3, Vol.36, No 22) Here he lived the remainder of his long life, dying at home at age 87 years, 21 days on 7 April 1874. According to the 1861 Census, his farm comprised 90 acres, 66 of which were cultivated with crops of wheat, barley, peas, oats, buckwheat, Indian corn and potatoes as well as some orchard and pasture land. In every census Ira is identified as belonging to the Society of Friends.
Ira Bearss married Lydia Morningstar on 13 October 1808. Lydia, 1791-1871, was the daughter of Johannes Jacob Morgenstern and Sarah Mae Brunner. Together Ira and Lydia had twelve children:
- Jacob Bearss, 1810-1891
- Daniel Bearss, 1811-1906
- Joseph Bearss, 1812-1906
- David M. Bearss, 1814-1889
- Louisa “Lucy” Bearss Zavitz, 1816-
- Benjamin Bearss, 1817-1902
- Ira Bearss, 1819-1875
- Rebecca Bearss, 1820-1855
- Rachel Bearss Minor, 1825-1905
- Eliza Bearss Overholt, 1827-1857
- Isaac Bearss, 1829=1905
- Amos Bearss, 1830-1912
Ira Bearss, born 17 March 1787 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, was the son of David Bearss, 1761-1852, and Rhoda Richmond, 1758-1853, who had come from Connecticut in 1793 to Humberstone Township, Welland County, Canada. (Public Archives of Canada RG1, L3, Vol.30, No. 129)
The Bearss family had been in North America since 1638 when Augustine or Austin Bearss, 1618-1686, arrived in Massachusetts from England. The next two generations, Joseph Bearss, 1651-1728, and Josiah Bearss, 1690-1753, stayed in Barnstable, Massachusetts, but Josiah Bearss, 1721-1787, the fourth generation, moved to Connecticut. His son David Bearss, 1761-1852, moved from Connecticut to Pennsylvania where Ira was born in Susquehanna, then to New York, and at last to Canada. The Bearss family was part of that great migration of thousands of Quakers and Mennonites who left the newly formed United States for Canada after the American Revolution. Ira Bearss was the sixth generation of his family in North America.
Anger, Donald G. Scruples of Conscience: The War of 1812 in The Sugarloaf Settlement (Niagara District — Upper Canada), Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum, 2008.
Neff Genealogies. Wilson Archives, Port Colborne, Ontario.
Veteran SummaryIra Bearss
Private, 3rd Regiment Lincoln Militia
Place of Birth
Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, United States
Place of Death
Humberstone Township, Welland County, Ontario, CAN
Died on: 07 APR 1874
Reason: Died at home at age 87 years, 21 days of illness.
Location of Grave
Overholt Cemetery, 3rd Concession
Port Colborne, ON, CAN
Latitude: 42.92864N Longitude: -79.19967