Formerly published by GlobalGazette.ca
Published Feb. 24, 1999
Journals & Diaries - Part III
By Sandra Devlin
This column is a continuation of a discussion of diaries and journals. (Part I)(Part II)
This the third in a series of columns about extant historic Maritime journals and diaries. ( Part I, Part II ).
Again, before I proceed to detail some of the examples, I want to stay in the present for a moment to express a concern about the loss of valuable documents of our present age.
When death visits our families -- parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and God forbid, our own children -- we are caught in a whirlwind of emotions coupled with an urgent need to settle the final affairs. Far from our minds is the realization that in calmer moments ahead we will want the reminders which during the first stages of grief are too painful to sift through one by one.
I would encourage all to give some forethought to these inevitable eventualities, with the thought of preserving the loved one’s special place in your genealogy. Plan to keep everything until you can sort through them with a less hurried, less emotional sense of priority.
Save those shoe boxes full of papers, don’t throw away that trunk. Save the recipes torn from magazines and newspapers. Save the hastily scrawled lists and address books. Even the old Christmas cards! Some often have notes about family, some have photos enclosed. Don’t forget to check the books for clippings and photos before selling them cheaply at a yard sale.
If you are not the survivor designated to tend to these matters, ask respectfully for the opportunity to sort through what others might consider junk.
As if to underscore the eagerness with which many family researchers view this subject, while I was in the process of writing this column a message was posted to one of the many Internet lists I monitor (in this case, the Eastern Townships of Quebec). The writer referred to a few shoe boxes of yellowed newspaper clippings found while cleaning out her recently departed mother-in-law’s belonging. Within minutes a thread of messages appeared on the list encouraging (very strongly in some cases) the writer to save, donate or organize the clippings in a scrapbook. One person even offered to organize them herself, “just please don’t throw them out!”
In my opinion, there is no nicer memorial act to a departed loved one than to organize their photos, papers, clippings and trinkets into an order which chronicles their life.
The ordinary lives are the ones too often forgotten by history. Even living memory has a tendency to fade without the assistance of objects to trigger the senses.
In short, always remember that we are the guardians of the genealogy and the history of this age.
Now, on to the ages past preserved in diaries and journals.
Simeon Perkins, a Planter merchant in Nova Scotia, wrote private journals between 1766 and 1812, the year he died. Perkins migrated from Connecticut in May 1762 and at his death he was known as the father of Liverpool on Nova Scotia’s south shore. Historical novelist Thomas Raddall based one of his best known works, His Majesty’s Yankees on the Perkins diaries, of which there are five volumes. Some have been published: The Diary of Simeon Perkins 1780-1789 edited by D. C. Harvey, published Toronto 1958 and The Diary of Simeon Perkins 1804-1812, edited by C. B Fergusson, published in Toronto 1979.
Another Planter diary written by Rev. John Seccombe was published in Report of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia in Halifax, 1959.
For a scholarly analysis read Gwendolyn Davies’ contribution Persona in Planter Journals in They Planted Well, edited by Margaret Conrad, number one in the Planters Studies Series (Acadiensis Press, Fredericton, N.B 1988).
Gubbins Journals are often cited in history books which describe the life, times and environment of the common pioneer of New Brunswick. Travelling the province on an inspection tour (1811-1813), Gubbins wrote daily detailed accounts of his journeys, noting the people, lifestyles, food and accommodations. Often mentioned, too, are the pesky mosquitoes.
Any temptation to romanticise the pioneer life and the pioneers themselves is dispelled by reading the Gubbins entry of July 16, 1811: “I inspected the 1st Battalion of the Westmorland County militia commanded by Major Gay an active and intelligent person. Ruben Steves of this corps was ordered to be fined by his captain according to law on the 11 of last month, for gross misbehaviour in the ranks. This he resisted, and he endeavoured to stab several individuals who helped to take him into custody. In the presence of Justice of the Peace Sinton a few days afterwards wrote to Justice Kieler a paper purporting to be a copy of Steve’s commitment, but in fact representing the man’s crime to be only a trifling misdemanor and adding a strong recommendation that he should be set at liberty, which accordingly took place upon his giving security for his good manner that the laws are enforced in these out of the way parts, and for the like motive I shall notice any facts of the same tendency that may come within my observation.
“In the afternoon I crossed the Memramcoke. The road I travelled ran nearly parrallel with the Petitcodiac, the marsh lands in the neighbourhood of which are very rich and extensive...
“On my way, wishing to be well informed of the circumstance relative to Steves’s release I called at the country goal where I learnt another instance of laxity in the jurisprudence of this province. A young woman named Sarah Blue of Westcock had sworn a rape against I. Smith of Sackville. The man was apprehended but let out on bail. He found means to get the evidence against him put out of the way when the trial was to have taken place, after which she returned to her usual residence, but was taken up and retained in the felons appartment to secure her evidence, whilst the accused was permitted to remain at large on bail...
“Many other proofs of the wants of moral were related to me: but it is not to be wondered at.”
Annie T. Johnston’s married life was frightening and abusive and her diaries held at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John tell the story. The three journals cover a period from 1869 to 1881. Several pages are missing from the 1881 journal, but we learn why from her entry of July 10: “He (her husband Waltham) took this book out of my room unknown to me and tore out all my diary. His conscience made him so. He knew how there was a memo of many of his evil deeds, his threats to murder me...”
From sinners to saint, no account of the Maritimes would be complete without reference to the evangelicals and the acknowledged patriarch of the Baptist Church, Elder Joseph Crandall ( c1772-1858). He wrote his memoirs when elderly. Copies of these memoirs are held at the recently established Crandall room at the Atlantic Baptist University, Moncton.
Crandall’s memoirs are largely self serving and religion-based, but provide an invaluable insight into the religious fervour and the revivalist meetings of the era complete with hell, fire and brimstone.
One such meeting described by Crandall illustrates: “ There (in Pollet River, N.B. about 1799) the cloud of darkness that had for so long obscured my mind disappeared and the Lord so blessed my speaking that a number of the people were brought to cry to the Lord for mercy and the meetings continued for several days. Oh it was wonderful to see groups of people at the midnight hour returning home from the meetings with their torchlights, and making the wilderness echo with the praises of God.”
At the Atlantic School of Theology library in Halifax I am told there is a memoir of another man of the cloth, Rev. John Sproutt. The collection includes detailed genealogy from early times, as well as a daily diary, some letters and sermons. Memoir, 1780-1869
Rev. Sproutt (1780- 1869) was a Presbyterian minister who served in many Nova Scotia charges, including Windsor, Sheet Harbour and Musquodoboit and travelled widely throughout the province.
One entry: Feb. 24, 1822 reads: “Visited Cheverie, attended a funeral, and preached. While thus employed the flooring of the house on which we stood gave way, and precipitated the whole company to the bottom of a deep cellar. No lives were lost.“
High society lived comparatively carefree lives in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1794 according to the jottings of Lady Jane Hunter, wife of the Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. Visiting over the Christmas season, Lady Jane reported everybody “flying about in sleighs in the morning and going to Gregorys and dances in the evenings.” Gregorys she explained were “stupid card parties where you are crammed with tea, coffee, cakes, and then in an hour or two, cold turkey, ham and a profusion of tarts, pies and sweet meats; punch, wine, port, liqueurs and all sort of drink.”
More memoirs. From time to time at his leisure, Lieut. Col. William T. Baird of Fredericton, N.B. wrote down highlights of his life “for perusal by my children, friends or others who, in later years, might have a desire to learn something of pioneer life in New Brunswick.” By 1890, his jottings had grown enough to warrant publishing a book entitled Seventy Years of New Brunswick Life.
While not really a journal or diary, this rambling chronicle is worth its weight in anecdotes and perspective on everything from moose hunting and odd characters to trapping a horse thief and personal views on Confederation.
Yet another memoir of interest is The Master’s Wife by Sir Andrew Macphail (1864-1938) which chronicle his strict Presbyterian upbringing in Orwell, Prince Edward Island. Macphail began adult life teaching school and went on to be a noted medical doctor, scholar, war hero and journalist. Living many of his later years in Montreal, he was a personal confidant of Rudyard Kipling.
Another school teacher was John Little, whose diary covering several months when he was teaching on the North West Miramichi in 1875 is housed at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
The diary is almost entirely his observations of people and places in Red Bank and along the North West Miramichi.
More diaries and journals exist than space warrants in this series. Following is a listing of others, although not by any means intended to be all encompassing:
At the Mount Allison University Archives, Sackville, N.B.:
No Place Like Home - Diaries and Letters of Nova Scotia Women 1771-1938; Conrad, Laidlaw and Smyth (1988).
The Diary of Deacon Elihu Woodworth 1835-1836 published by Wolfville (N.S.) Historical Society, 1972.
Benjamin Marston’s diary (source of information about early Shelburne, N.S.) published Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, No. 8.
Feminist Voices, Cartographies of Silence, an annotated bibliography of English Language Diaries and Reminiscences of New Brunswick Women 1783-1980 by Joanne Ritchie (1997).
In closing, thanks for your thoughts on Journals & Diaries
Freelance writing is a lonely job. Sometimes it feels like I am whistling into the wind and the only one who hears is this lonely whistler and maybe whistler’s mother (could not resist this terrible pun, but it does relate to the genealogists’ interest in preceding generations!)
It is, therefore, with gratitude and much humility that I acknowledge that I am neither alone nor whistling in the wind.
Many of you took the time 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.”
I thank one and all. I am encouraged that interest in journal writing is alive and well across North America.
As promised, here are some of the highlights:
“ I took a slightly different approach in that I name names, places and times and tell it exactly as it happened. I have left out some items that would have been of a more embarrassing personal nature to some as these tidbits would not add anything significant to the stories.
“ I have traced my ancestors back to 1595 (I am of the eleventh generation in Canada and my great-grandchildren are the fourteenth) and as I have said before while I cannot tell them where they are going I can certainly tell them where they came from.
Bev Hayden in Ontario writes: “As President of the Kindred Spirits Society in Hamilton, a literary society specializing in the life and work of Lucy Maud Montgomery, I cannot endorse daily journals highly enough. Unlike LMM whose published Journals carry of wealth of early 20th century social history of both P.E.I. and Ontario, many of ours will be of little commercial interest to others.
“However, comparing the reactions of several diarists of the time will give an accurate overview to life as it was experienced by people. Montgomery's journals are used today as a source book for historians, genealogists, literary students and feminists alike. We now have a wealth of information about villages in which she lived, numerous photos of buildings no longer in existence and one woman's reaction to First World War from the standpoint of families separated, loved ones lost and the women who were left at home to cope.
“ I have learned so much about southern Ont history from the Journals, including the Radial Railway system, mental illness in families and its (non) treatment; feminist issues and also lack of confidentiality among the medical and legal communities.”
In a follow-up note Bev adds: “ I have made a written list of whom I would like to have some of my material possessions that I value, such as book collections, jewellery etc. but this in no way will convey the reason to the recipient of why these items are dear to my heart. I have always been an avid photographer and mark, date and put the photos immediately into albums which over the years have grown to nearly 30 in number. I would hope my adult children will value this chronological pictorial of their lives and that of their parents but perhaps not.
“But my thoughts now are to expand into fiction and perhaps through it, write out some of my life's stories, philosophies and folklore on my forebears.
Personal friend Judi Berry Steeves in Moncton teased: “Gee, Sandra, I'll never get to read your diaries if they can't be opened until you are 100 and not published for another 100! Bet they would make good reading.
“When I started my two years as New Brunswick Genealogical Society president I started keeping a journal off and on. Guess in 100 years from now, if anyone reads it, they will know what life was like during my life time.
“It is not just journals which come back to `haunt us' but it is also the letters we write. For several years I wrote to a distant cousin/friend about life on the home front, news about his friends at South Eastern, etc. THEN I discovered he had kept all those letters in the filing cabinet and when he felt lonely,depressed,etc. he took them out and read them as he knew that someone cared enough to write."
Cindy in Northern Ontario advised me to grab a coffee because her reply was long. Long perhaps, but interesting: “ I really enjoyed your feature on Journals and Diaries. I am a self-professed journal-a-holic. Oddly enough, I really don't maintain a daily diary but rather a selection of journals on different subjects - dated, of course. If a future generation wanted to take the time to assemble these journals into one publication, they would be able to get a snapshot into my lifetime. “
For example, I keep a journal pertaining to nature... this includes weather, animals and plants.....when seasons changed, unusual weather occurrences, an abundance of certain birds or animals in one season, when the sandhill cranes came and left (a personal favorite) etc. I'll also jot down new plants in the garden, if I dug a new bed, what seeds I saved etc. I live outside of a rural community so I have plenty of opportunities to observe and take note. ”
I also keep a house journal. Our tiny home is 102 years old and, when we bought it seven years ago, barely habitable. We've delved into its past, the state it was in upon purchase and the subsequent improvements (or historic under coverings) that have since taken place. I've managed to acquire some old photos to round out the text as well as information on the families who have resided here. Our home was once part of a tiny hamlet (that no longer exists in the postal system) and this journal has enabled me to understand the role of that community.
”My daughter turned four years old recently and I have a very detailed journal about her from confirmation of pregnancy upwards. My hopes, fears, pains and pleasure are all laid bare. Gifts she received, names we pondered and why, milestones etc. are all there. I've started to include short passages on prominent ladies of our family who have since passed away...great grandma and her red painted kitchen cupboards (why I chose to paint mine red, too)....aunt Grace and her yellow hat....etc. ”
I work as a freelance writer and, during the summer, I am the curator at a local museum. One day I envision donating my nature journal to them so that it will serve as a reference book. I can't imagine ever selling this house so the house journal is a keeper. The child journal will eventually be passed down to my daughter. I believe I'll wait until she's expecting her first child. I'd probably encourage her to read it from back to front so that she realizes the trials of pregnancy come with many tribulations!
”By the way, I also own several journals or scrapbooks penned by persons never known by me. In addition, I've managed to acquire over 100 letters written by a First World War soldier and they, too, act as a journal of his training and service to his country. To top it off, I'm working on a book on an American woman courtesy of interviews with those who knew her and, what else, her journals.
“Why do I do this? I think it is a combination of being nosy by nature, a sentimental fool and a true believer that EVERYONE has a story. “
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