Luke Scott Bonner was born in 1776 to Giselle Somerville, the daughter of Lord Bainbridge, lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, at her home in Montreal. Because she was not married, her father took the infant away to be raised by Giselle’s mother. Wee Iona, once a cloistered nun, was unknown to Giselle. She raised her grandson Luke in a modest setting not far from the house where his mother lived.
Luke’s father, Nathaniel Bonner, knew nothing of his existence until 1802 when he came to Montreal to resolve some difficulty of his own father’s. A close connection was established between all three generations, and Luke quickly became acquainted with family in Paradise and, later, in Scotland when he was sent to the family seat in Annandale where he spent ten years under the tutelage of his grand-uncle Alasdair, Earl of Carryck, who had no heir. This was where Luke first met Jennet Scott, the Earl’s illegitimate daughter. In time he returned to Canada to take up the family’s business interests in Montreal. Jennet married Ewan Huntar, one of her father’s men, at his insistence.
In 1813, after her first husband’s death, Jennet left Scotland for Canada with the express purpose of marrying Luke. Their plans were disrupted by the War of 1812, but not ended. Later Luke moved his business to New York City, so that he could spend more time in Paradise with Jennet and their children: Nathan, Adam, the twins Mariah and Isabel, and Alastair.
In July 1830 Jennet died in childbirth, a victim of a typhoid epidemic. Luke soon returned to the city where continued as representative for his brother-in-law, the Earl of Carryck’s business interests. The children stayed in Paradise first with their grandparents Nathaniel and Elizabeth and then with Ethan and Callie Middleton, at Ivy House. Their father visited them often, and with the help of the Bonner clan, they overcame the loss of their mother.
Luke concentrated on business matters exclusively until 1833, when his sons Nathan and Adam and his nephew Henry Savard moved to Manhattan to attend college. Having young men in the house forced him back out into company, where he soon became involved in the abolitionist movement. He had a twenty-year correspondence with William Lloyd Garrison and contributed time and considerable resources to the publication of The Liberator. In May of 1837 he opened his home to four ladies who came to the city to participate in the first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women. Three of his house guests were strangers, and the fourth was a distant relative, sister-in-law to his own half-sister Birdie. Luke and Jennet, traveling with Luke’s half-sister Hannah, first made the acquaintance of Rachel Livingston in New Orleans in the last months of the War of 1812. In 1815 Rachel married Charles Wells, a prominent Quaker merchant of Boston. She was widowed in 1835 and gave her time over to the abolitionist and suffrage movements.
Despite the fifteen year difference in age, Luke and Rachel were drawn together by their common history and devotion to worthy causes. They married in the fall of 1837 and often hosted family members for long stays. The family still speaks of a dinner given for no less than fifty-five of the wider Bonner clan on the occasion of the youngest of his children’s graduation from law school.
At age 83 he died of heart failure.