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Subject: Re: Can't find this name anywhere
Author: Kim   (guest,
Date: March 30, 2004 at 6:33:09 PM
Reply to: Re: Can't find this name anywhere by Greg
Hi, everyone at,

My ancestor's name was Raftan Canning, born around 1832, either in England or France. The spelling with the -an ending, not -on, is clearly on his marriage record in 1862, but by later that year, it was being spelled Rafton. He was married in Paris, to Mary Anne O'Connor, teacher, who was somehow affiliated with the court of Napoleon III. I've always wondered how he "scored" such a well-connected bride.

There is quite a mystery about Rafton Canning. No one EVER mentioned his name in the family, even among his children and grandchildren. He had 3 sons, all born in Paris during the years of the American Civil War. All 3 sons became distinguished: one a Canadian mounted policeman and internationally-acclaimed photographer of the wilds of Canada; one the Secretary of Cleveland Iron and Forge; one a notary and accountant. Yet none of Rafton's sons saw to it that the name Rafton, as being their father, was put on their own death records. One said, "Father: Unknown." One said, "Father: George Canning." One said, "Father: Davidson" (his mother's second husband). The last son even changed his name away from Canning, to "Rafton-Canning."

The middle son, my great grandfather, George Canning of Cleveland, had no photo of his father, but did have a photo of a serious young man wearing a sort of bow tie, on the back of which George wrote: "One of my uncles, who my mother often said looks so much like my father that this photo could be taken as a photo of my father Rafton Canning."

I think it is possible that Rafton Canning did not exist, that he was actually the same man as his brother, Botrinne Canning. Botrinne was involved in what I think was an elaborate plan during the American Civil War, a plan to destroy the whaling industry. I expect this plan was not so much to hurt the U.S., but rather, to make way for the newly-discovered petroleum industry. Without whale oil, governments would be forced to finance the drilling of petroleum, which had been first accomplished in the late 1850's, in Ontario, Canada. (The Civil War started in 1861, but it had been fomenting hotly for 30 years prior to that.)

It was England and France who stood to benefit from this new industry --- the businessmen of England and France. It seems believable to me (but perhaps this is solely my fictional mind), that a plan to build one superlative ship, equipped with superlative, unapproachable guns, a ship whose sole purpose would be to destroy the Yankee whaling ships, might have been devised by England and France. This ship, the CSS Shenandoah, was the fastest ship in the world. The Whitworth guns on board were 50 years ahead of their time, firing conical, rotating, exploding shells. The one man who knew these guns was "George P. Canning," actually our Botrinne Canning.

During his career in the Civil War, Botrinne used several first names, including H.D. Canning, H. C. Canning, and Henry Canning, or so it seems from various historical records describing the activities of these men. If he used so many first names, what would have stopped him from using yet another name: "Rafton"?

Botrinne adopts the first name George in 1860, we see in the birth record of his son, whom he names Rafton Botrinne Canning. He never intended this record to be found by the British Consul in Paris, because this son was born 3 days' travel east of Paris, in a small town. Evidently Botrinne and his wife (Margarette Phillipsis Hook Canning) were travelling when the child was born, because the babe was born in the "residence of the shire officer," i.e., in the county seat! The record is in French, and was found through the best of luck by a distant cousin who went to that town, Arcis-sur-Aube. So, Botrinne was known as George B. Canning among the French, and was living in Paris.

Botrinne then gets shot somehow in the right lung, a wound that does not heal and finally causes his death on the CSS Shenandoah 3 years later. His wife Margaret disappears about the same time. Their two young sons are taken to Botrinne's sister Louise Pierrot in Luzarches, north of Paris.

I think that sometime between the late 1850s, and 1862, Botrinne is approached by the French and/or English government, and offered the daring job of instructing the Confederates on the Shenandoah in the use of the totally-new Whitworth guns. It is a plan that is just starting to be put into action, now that war is finally erupting. But it is a plan that has been in some people's minds for a few years. Sympathizers of the plan are all European businessmen, who resent being shut out of the wealth of the Americas.

Botrinne is perfect for the job: he was born in Rotherhithe, port of London, and certainly knows how to secretly get on and off ships, among other skills. His father is an engineer, so Botrinne can well understand, and explain, how the new guns work.

Botrinne's contact person is to be Mary Anne O'Connor, intimate of the Court. In the process, he and Mary Anne fall in love and get married. They've known each other for years, because Mary Anne and Louise were adopted together into the care of a French noblewoman, and raised and educated together privately in Paris --- they are intimate friends, as close as sisters.

Botrinne's close male friend is his brother-in-law, John O'Connor, also probably closely connected to the Court. John probably helped direct the Emperor's utterly astounding royal entertainments that changed weekly if not daily, by which he impressed upon the world that he was truly an emperor. John also may have been the "English?" riding instructor of the friends of the Prince Imperial, who taught them daredevil riding, of which the Prince was quite jealous, as he was not allowed to do the same stunts as his friends --- John was a "theatrical equestrian agent" among his other offices.

I think Botrinne went as Rafton in the inner circles of the French aristocracy. His title was "Gentleman" which denoted that he made money from his investments, and it would be known that he imported wine, beer and spirits in London. Actually, the beer business was John O'Connor's.

I think John, Mary Anne, Louise, and her husband Louis Pierrot, were the insiders in this plan.

Look what happens:

The Civil War, fomenting for 30 years, is believed to be starting in the late 1850's. At the same time, the first successful oil well is dug in 1858, in Ontario, Canada. An oil rush quickly follows.

Botrinne marries a supposedly southern woman, Margaret Phillips Hook (Hucks), sometime around 1857 or -58. Their first son, Alfred Canning, is born in November, 1858, in Paris. They are living in Paris, north of the Field of Mars, Napoleon the Great's military ceremonial field, where the St. Germain military academy is, as well as the Faubourg St. Germain, residence area of the old French nobility.

By 1860, Botrinne comes up with the name George for himself, and the name Rafton for his son. Perhaps he has already planned to change his own name to Rafton, also. Though his wife is due to have a child, they travel several days' journey east of Paris, and have the child in the residence of the shire officer of Aube.

"Raftan" is married to Mary Anne in January, 1862. Botrinne is shot in mid-1862 (we can infer). Margaret disappears somehow, and Aunt Louise raises her and Botrinne's two young sons.

Rafton and Mary Ann have their first son, Achilles Botriune Canning, born August, 1862. Rafton registers his son's birth with the British Consul in Paris, December 1862. Rafton and Mary Anne are living a few blocks from Botrinne's old place in Paris.

The CSS Shenandoah has not yet been built, but it is certainly being planned and designed.

Rafton and Mary Anne's second son, George Canning, is born supposedly in 1863. There is no birth record for him. What was so difficult about registering their son's birth? What would make them want to stay out of the government's, and history's, eye?

In March, 1864, Botrinne Canning, going by the name H.D. Canning, deserts the Louisiana Militia, and is found in historical record in Havana, on his way to Europe.

Rafton and Mary Anne's third son, Arthur, is conceived around August, 1864, and born around May, 1865, also in Paris. His birth is not recorded with the Consul until December, 1866, months after Rafton's death. A Louisa Butler, dressmaker, records the birth. She does not live at either known Paris address.

By late 1864, Botrinne is on his way to Australia, where he is finally to meet up with the CSS Shenandoah. There, his (proposed) brother, Marinus Francis "Alfred" Canning, meets him. They tell MFA's family that Botrinne is from England (technically true), and the family knows he is wounded. They hear later that he returned to England and died. The Shenandoah crew know that Canning has a brother in Australia, but they do not know any of Canning's family's names or addresses.

The Shenandoah's story is online. Suffice it to say that once the ship finally gets under way into the Pacific with Botrinne on board and made an officer in charge of the guns, within less than 2 weeks of that sailing, a certain Eugene Hilary Davidson, military career man in Bombay, India, and son of a well-to-do Calcutta merchant family, applies for an unusual early termination of his term of duty. He later (1869) marries Rafton's widow, Mary Anne O'Connor Canning, in London, as soon as she flees the destruction of the Second Empire.

Botrinne dies on board, during the Shenandoah's epic-making voyage from the Bering Sea to Liverpool. His cause of death is "Phthisis" --- decay of the lung. He dies October 30, 1865. He has never revealed his family's name. The crew know only that he has a wife in Paris, and a brother in Australia. The ship's officers advertise in the papers to try to find Canning's unnamed relatives. A letter arrives from a "Rafton Canning," but it is so outlandishly written, in both content and handwriting, that the officers think it is a con job, and say so in their journals. This Rafton Canning mentions Canning's mother and wife, which would fit with Rafton's family --- mother Anne Powell Canning was living in Paris, and wife, too (name still not mentioned!). Their journals stop abruptly after this entry.

In April, 1866, John O'Connor of Islington (whose wife Maria is from a beer-making family) records the death of Rafton Canning, age "about 34," cause of death "Phithisis, Certified. [sic]" John himself is the one who was with Rafton when he died, no one else. John could well have written the letter to the Shenandoah, and recorded the death of "Rafton." So far, no grave for Rafton Canning has been found. John had really flamboyant handwriting --- I have several of his letters.

The Shenandoah, by destroying the US whaling fleet, has brought the wrath of the US upon officers and crew, but they are given safe haven in Liverpool, and go free. In 1871, there is an international tribunal in Washington DC that investigates the Shenandoah's and other Confederate activities, and fines England and France $18,000,000! In this tribunal, the name George Canning does not appear; rather, there is an "H. C. Canning," who died Oct. 30, 1865. Canning even gets his name changed after he is 6 years dead!

Sometime after the tribunals end, Mary Anne and Eugene H. Davidson move to Ontario, Canada.

Louise Canning raises not only Botrinne's sons, but Rafton's as well. In 1877, she writes to Mary Anne (who now has her 2 oldest sons with her in Canada --- Arthur is still living with Uncle Jack in London). The letter praises Mary Anne's 3 boys to the skies, while blasting Botrinne's 2 sons to the netherworld. I have this letter. Louise names the boys --- all except Rafton, whom she calls "Paul." The name Rafton has been eradicated from the French branch of the family, as it certainly has been from the North American branch.

I have a list of people who have the first name of Rafton in the US --- they are nearly all from the Southern states:

Rafton Davis, Alabama
Rafton L. Davis, 62, Florida
Rafton L. Evans, 53, South Carolina
(with Bertha H. Evans)
Rafton G. Evans, 88, Texas
Raften G. Evans, Texas
(with Faye F. Evans)
Rafton W. Baker, 71, Tennessee
(with Willard Baker and John C. Baker)
Rafton Hart, Kansas
Rafton Lefort, Louisiana
(with Charles Lefort and Beverly R. Lefort, 58)
Rafton L. Hodges, 48, Massachusetts
Rafton M. Hodges, 48, Massachusetts
(with RoseMarie Hodges)

This list was from, May, 2003

I think it is likely that Botrinne Canning changed his name to Rafton while on assignment for the American Civil War, married Mary Anne O'Connor, was found out (if not shot) by his wife Margaret, who left him then and there in 1862. John O'Connor, writing as Rafton Canning, contacted the Shenandoah's officers, and further notation of that contact was edited out of the journals. To "finish off" Rafton Canning, a simple slip of paper, from a "doctor," was presented to the record office in London by John O'Connor. It would not be unusual for both men to die of "phthisis" which meant internal decay, and was a designation for the rampant tuberculosis, as well as any infection.

So that the children of the family would not spill the beans, the name Rafton was simply not mentioned in their presence until they were older, long after the investigative tribunals were a thing of the past. As adults, the three sons were astute enough to put 2 and 2 together, if they didn't actually get told directly by their mother. George of Cleveland learns about George Canning of the Shenandoah, and finally puts down the name George Canning as his father's name, at the end of his life. The picture "One of my uncles..." may actually be a picture of his father, Botrinne Canning, complete with "Bo" tie.

Did Botrinne use the name Rafton in the Confederacy? How is it that so many Rafton names cluster there?

Aside story:
George Canning of the Shenandoah had a Negro servant whom he loved, died in the arms of, and insisted on equal pay for, named Edward Weeks. In Massachusetts, there was a 19th-century orator named Edward Weeks Balders Canning. Too close to be coincidence, in my book. The one Yankee with Rafton as a first name is in Massachusetts. Hmm.

Kim Salisbury

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