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Article Published January 18, 1999



Sandra Devlin EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles


Journals & Diaries - Part I

Do you keep a journal? I have written about my everyday life sporadically ever since I was a child. But because lots of it is highly opinionated, some entries are very personal and other parts are potentially embarrassing to others, I had considered destroying my journals along with some letters and keepsakes. But I had second thoughts after I came across a handful of letters that my grandmother wrote shortly before her death. As thrilled as I am to have these, I so very much wish I had more of her personal writings.

I want my granddaughters and great-granddaughters to have the opportunity to know me intimately. So now I think I will seal my private diaries, letters and any incriminating memorabilia with specific instructions to my survivors that the container not be opened until my 100th birthday and that they remain unpublished until 100 years after my death.

Readers, what do you think of this idea? I encouraged you to share your thoughts with me about how you intend to treat your own personal belongings -- those things which will be referred to by your descendants as "artifacts" and "primary sources" of information about you, your family and the world in which you lived. If there is sufficient response, your comments may be included in a future column.

Thankfully not everyone threw out their diaries. We learn a great deal about our Maritime heritage from the diaries of bygone days which have survived. Some of these journals are the topic of this new series of columns.

Sarah (Scofield) Frost’s surviving diary of her Loyalist family’s exile aboard the ship Two Sisters from New York in the spring of 1783 to what is now New Brunswick is probably one of the best known. Sarah opened her diary 216 years ago on May 25, with these words:
    "I left Lloyd’s Neck (New York) with my family and went on board the Two Sisters, commanded by Capt. Brown, for a voyage to Nova Scotia with the rest of the Loyalist sufferers. This evening the captain drank tea with us. He appears to be a very clever gentleman. We expect to sail soon as the wind shall favour. We have very fair accommodation in the cabin, although it contains six families, besides our own. There are two hundred and fifty passengers on board."
The stage is set for detailing 32 more days in the life of Sarah, her husband William and their children.

The contents are invaluable to her direct descendants, it goes without saying. But the insights of life aboard ship and the feelings of displacement and wariness are relevant to all United Empire Loyalist descendants. That’s pretty much everyone in the Maritimes.

The final entry on Sunday June 29 reads:
    "This morning it looks very pleasant on the shore. I am just going ashore with my children to see how I like it. {Later} - It is now afternoon and I have been ashore. It is, I think, the roughest land I ever saw. It beat Short Rocks, indeed, I think, that is nothing in comparison; but this is to be the city, they say! We are to settle here, but are to have our land sixty miles father up the river. We are all ordered to land to-morrow, and not a shelter to go under."
A modest woman, Sarah never gets around to mentioning in her diary that she is seven and eight months pregnant at the time. Baby Hannah was born July 30.

Sarah’s diary is reprinted in a booklet, which every United Empire Loyalist descendant should own, entitled Kingston and the Loyalists of the Spring Fleet of 1783.

Men’s journals tend to detail facts, more than emotions -- but even dry facts are often revealing.

At the Fort Beausejour museum in Aulac, New Brunswick the notebook of Yorkshire immigrant William Chapman breaths life into the hurried repairs to Fort Cumberland during the summer of 1776 made necessary by the anticipated attack by Rebels led by Jonathan Eddy. Chapman was the carpenter in charge of the repairs so he kept track of the weekly wages of one pound to workers under his supervision named Anderson, Wood, Brown and Besto.

Chapman’s notebook was started in the Old Country in 1764. Its a handbook of everyday details: recipes, money loaned and repaid, the cost of mending a plow and accounting of the cost of firkins of butter. Another very early diary was written by Rev. William Drummond's from April 5, 1770 to May 12, 1771. Rev. Drummond sailed aboard the Falmouth from Scotland to Prince Edward Island (then St. John's Island ). The whereabouts of the original journal is unknown, but a typewritten copy is on file at the National Archives, Ottawa, reference number MG 23J1 Volume 1.The reverend’s first impressions of his new homeland are recorded for posterity:
    "June 1st. (1770) Proceeded at 9 to launch the yawl. Capt. David, Will and Bell Lawson went on shore at St. Peters Bay which is with 10 miles of Stanhope Cove. At 4 P.M. came of board and wind fair set off towards the Cove. Night coning on and a strong current, not knowing the particular place of landing passed it and next day arrived at Richmond Bay."

    "June 2nd. At 1 o'clock a Pilot came on board who took us into the harbour. About 2 P.M. we came to anchor. Most of our company were sent ashore, about 11 the ship ran aground. We went out to see them where they were accommodated in Princetown where are a great many Scotch, Irish and French families."

    "June 3rd. Sunday. Being still at anchor at 1 P.M. the Capt. and the rest of us went ashore, and being convened in a house we performed divine service in Princetown."

    "June 4th. Stayed on board until after dinner then went ashore where we saw a great number of French people who were very kind. Spent this afternoon sauntering about till about 7 when I baptized a child of 2 years old. At 9 went to another house where the French were convened, had a dance and spent the evening in jollity."
More than 40 years later and a province away, teenager Louisa Collins put quill to parchment in late evenings or in the early morning hours in 1815 and 1816.

There are so many delightful entries in Louisa’s diary, it is difficult to cite only a few. I have settled first on the evidence of young love (I am, after all, a hopeless romantic); second and third on illustrations of the endless round of daily chores, the abundance of sociability and the weather -- the three staples uppermost in the daily lives of the pioneers at Colin Grove, on eastern outskirts of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
    Sunday Aug. 27, 1815: "I was quite alone, till Mr. Beamish came. We went to the orchard and picked some currants and then we took a walk to Mr. Russell’s Lake. When we returned, tea was ready. The fog came in very thick, and Mr. Beamish stayed all night.... Mr. B (and another Sunday visitor, George Coleman) has taken my bed -- I hear them snoring famously, and I shall follow their example."

    Then the following day, Monday, Aug. 28, 1815, Louisa writes: "I have been picking currants from nine this morning till four this afternoon. We have got a large washing-tub full for wine. -- Since (then) I have been raking hay till nearly night. -- Mr. Beamish and George left here very early this morning. I did not see them. -- While I was picking currants, my thoughts were employed with where I should be and what I should be doing this day twelve months."
This entry was written a little more than a year before Louisa’s marriage to her Mr. Beamish, Thomas Ott Beamish. One can read between the lines the almost palpable, unrecorded conversation between the young lovers Louisa, 18, and Thomas, 34, as they strolled through the orchard and down to the lake on that summer Sunday discussing their plans to marry.

But, back to the more practical. Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1815: "After I had finished making butter this morning, I went to spinning. Mrs. Brinley sent for some of us to go to Miss Farquharson. I declined going and none went but Betsy. In the afternoon, Mama and the girls went to pick berries and I was left alone, except little Joanna who was asleep. -- Last night the frost was so great as to kill all the cucumber, and it has been very cold all day. Sunday, Dec. 31, 1815:
    "This is a very unpleasant day. Uncle Brown came up to dinner with us. In the afternoon, we had lots of young beaus to see us. Allens, Stayners and Colemans came to inquire after the ladies’ health. Sally came over for all of us to go over there. Betsy and Charlotte went but I declined going. Mr. Allen came over to tea with us. The girls had not been able to git home tonight - it is so bad a storm. Uncle has not been able to get home."
What Louisa referred to simply as "writing" is published under the title The 1815 Diary of a Nova Scotia Farm Girl. But it so much more than a mere reprint of Louisa’s words or a chronicle of the life of a young farm girl, her seven sisters, her parents, their neighbours and their relatives. Edited and extensively annotated by Dale McClare, this charming book is jam-packed with fascinating substantiating details and is almost impossible to put down. More next time on journals and diaries.

Footnote:

Bill Norin, who has published the quarterly MacDonald Family newsletter for 11 years shares this story after reading the column about Maritimers going to the Boston States.
    "My favourite story (all we genealogists go on for hours with our family tales) was about J.J. Mac Donald who married a Protestant girl on Prince Edward Island. Her father disowned her and so they moved to Boston. Caught up in the fervour of a group of Irish Patriots who wanted to fight the Rebs, J.J. enlisted in the Massachusetts Volunteers. He wrote home and to the newspapers about his valiant fellow Yankees. Unfortunately, as an unarmed colour guard he was slain in his first battle.His widow and two small daughters returned to P.E.I. J.J's letters which I still have were very moving."
Visit Bill’s webpages for an eyeful of MacDonald stuff:



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