Searching for Annie Gratto
Ann Gratto was a descendant of Jean George Gretteaux (b. 1717)of the Principaute de Montbeliard, an independent principality situated northwest of Switzerland. Before it became a province of France in 1793 it was the only francophone Lutheran country in the world. In Europe these Protestants were known as Huguenots. They were persecuted by the Catholics in neighbouring countries and many left the principality for other lands. In the mid 18th century, the Government of Nova Scotia invited thousands of these "Foreign Protestants" to settle in the province. George Gratteaux, his wife and 3 children were among the hundreds from Montbeliard who traveled down the Rhine to Rotterdam where they boarded ships for Nova Scotia in 1752. They sailed on the "Sally" bound for Lunenburg.
The voyage was long and arduous. George's wife died at sea. He married shortly after landing in Nova Scotia and fathered at least 4 more children, including James. In time the family name was changed to Gratto. The family spoke French with a German brogue and early censuses list them as being of Swiss origin. Today, the Grattos are honoured among the founding settlers of Lunenburg.
The community of River John on the north shore of Nova Scotia traces its beginnings to 1785 when James Gratto (son of George), John Frederic Patriquin, and George Frederic Langille took up land on the Deception River. They were soon followed by the Tatteries, Perins, Bigneys, Mattatalls, Joudreys, Gammons, and Hines. By 1800 the area was known as River John and the farming-fishing-lumbering community was firmly established. By the middle of the century the village was also the centre of shipbuilding on the north shore.
James was married to Mary Langille (possibly the sister of George Frederic Langille). Together they had four children including a son James (Jr.).
Records show that Ann Gratto (daugther of James Jr.) married Robert Beer in Tatamagouche at the Church of England in July of 1865. Both were listed as being from River John. Robert's dates are b.1836 - d.1917; Ann's are b.1846 - d.1935. Their offspring included Cedric who died in infancy (1888), Henry and Robert.
Zilla Beer was born in River John, the daughter of Robert and Annie (Gratto) Beer in 1867, just one month after Nova Scotia joined Canada. She had two brothers and three sisters: Henry, Robert, Bessie, Lavinia, and Gouldy,
Zilla married Will Heighton on April 5, 1888 at River John. Will's full name was William Beer Heighton. Ironically, he was named after Zilla's grandfather, William Beer. Will had come from a long line of seafarers and like his father and brothers he went to sea at an early age. By the time he was 32 years old he was serving as chief mate on board the Sir Hibbert, a 300 ton schooner built in River John at the MacLennan shipyard in 1792.
In August of 1894, while en route from Demerara, British Guinea to Halifax, Nova Scotia Will died of a shipboard fever and was buried at sea. Zilla and Will had three children, the youngest being born after Will's death: Henry Edric, Robert Stanley and Anna Beatrice.
Zilla Ada Heighton died at the age of 77, having outlived her husband by a full half century. A plaque in their memory has been installed in the Anglican Church in River John.