The Barons of Dallas
By Fred Blair, OMAH History Committee member and Family Historian
In 1835, James Dallas and his family sailed from Scotland to New York City, travelled up the Erie Canal, and made their way to Orillia. In September he purchased 100 acres between Mississaga Street and Barrie Road, bounded on the east by Dunedin Street and on the west by Westmount Drive. He built a house and stable on Barrie Road at the top of the hill above Westmount. The hill was later known as Mount Dallas and Dallas Street now passes there between Barrie Road and Mississaga Street.
James, a former alderman in Edinburgh, Scotland, made an impact on our community. The first school house was in his stable, he lent books from his collection to neighbours and helped create the first library. He was a merchant and was elected the second warden of the county. However, James was not the first or last community leader in his family history.
In 1921, a cousin, also named James Dallas, wrote, “The History of the Family of Dallas” that contained the story of the origin of the Dallas surname. In 1198, William of Ripley, an Englishman, obtained a 17,000-acre estate from King William the Lion of Scotland. With the estate, about 150 miles due north of Edinburgh, he acquired the title of Baron of Dallas and descendants were known by the surname Dallas.
James Dallas of Orillia was a descendant of William of Ripley. If the Dallas surname was unique to the family, what is the connection to Dallas, Texas? The city was a trading post in 1841, Joseph Dallas settled in the area in 1843 and the County of Dallas was formed in 1846.
The official Dallas City History recorded that the city was named after George Mifflin Dallas of Philadelphia, the Vice President of the United States from 1845-1849. The Barony of Dallas land in Scotland had been sold off over a number of years and George’s father mortgaged the last of the family’s land to pay off debts. His father had been the Secretary of the Treasury under President Madison and owned a plantation in Jamaica.
Fort Dallas, Florida was named after George’s brother, Commodore Alexander James Dallas, who commanded the United States navy forces, based in Pensacola, Florida, that patrolled the Caribbean in the mid 1800s. The fort’s location is now part of downtown Miami. Some historians believe that Dallas, Texas was named after Alexander rather than George or Joseph.
In Scotland, the Village of Dallas, Dallas Moor, Loch Dallas, and the ruins of the 15th century Dallas Castle are reminders of the former estate of the Barony of Dallas.
You can read more about the Dallas family in James’ 1921 family history online HERE.