I wanted to find a way to recount the facts about the War of 1812 without just writing down the facts. I thought it might be fun to write a fictional diary from the point of view of a young woman of that era. The story was included in s.m.i.l.e. Magazine, a magazine put together for the entertainment of nursing home, senior’s residences and hospice patients. This is the first installment.
(Copyright 2012 by Mollie Pearce McKibbon)
May 20, 1812, Thistledown Farm in Grenville County
Mother says that I should write “dear journal” but it seems stranger to write to an object than to my dear friend, so I have named you Janetta after my best friend back in England. Janetta is a very pretty girl with long black ringlets that she never has to wrap in rags like I do, and large lovely eyes as blue as the cornflowers here in our meadows. She and I were inseparable back in Wendover and I cried a great deal when I learned we were going to pioneer here in Upper Canada.
Father wanted me to stat writing my journal the day we left England, but my heart was to sore to put my mind to it. Now he insists that I record my experiences and adventures to improve my penmanship and composition. Frankly, this quill is much in need of repair or replacement and makes big blotches no matter how often I use the blotting paper. Whenever I write a letter I am left with spots of india ink all over my hands and even on my pinafore.
We came over from Brighton on the “Merry Gale” in 1805. I was only nine years old and very seasick. There were 212 of us on board, all from Buckinghamshire and only 203 arrived in Montreal. Sadly, nine people died on the voyage, mostly babies and small children, but two of them were elderly, a maiden aunt of mine and an old gentleman who was coming to join his son and daughter-in-law on their new farm. Aunt Cicely was sixty-two and suffered greatly from gout, so at least she is no longer in pain. She never would have stood the trip to Bytown from Montreal. From Bytown we traveled by horse and cart over the most treacherous route ( I wouldn’t call it a road by any means) until we reached our destination north of the St. Lawrence River. Father’s older brother had received 100 acres for military service during the American Rebellion. When Uncle Andrew died of yellow fever in 1802, my father inherited it because Uncle Andrew had no immediate heirs. Father came here a hear before Mother, my brothers William and Henry, Evvy and I, to ready the house – actually build a proper house, as Uncle Andrew had been living in a very small log cabin.
When we arrived, Father and a neighbour had just finished the roof of our cabin. We lived in that cabin for four years and then Father and William built us the lovely stone house we have now. It doesn’t have thatch on the roof like our home in England, the wooden roof is tarred and shingled and keeps us dry.
William is the oldest of our family. I am sixteen and he is three years older. He is courting a young woman on a farm north of here in the next township. Her name is Elizabeth and she is somewhat plain, but she sews and knits wonderfully. Mother says that her conversation is very genteel and she has a sweet disposition.
My sister, Evaline, is twelve and my brother, Henry eight (almost nine). Sadly, our little sister Virginia, was just three years old when she caught whooping cough in 1809. She was the first burial in our cemetery near the apple orchard.
There is a great deal to do on our farm. It is mostly forested. It takes Father and William days to clear one field of trees and stumps and our two horses can only plow when the field has been somewhat cleared of rocks. Of course, things go much more quickly when our neighbour’s two oldest sons come to help. We have to help each other or no one would be able to plant a crop.
Robert and Arthur Randall are helpful, but they both think ,because I am the nearest girl of marriageable age that they are both courting me as well as helping Father. Nothing could be further from my mind. They are strong, but roughly mannered. Father tells me to take my time getting engaged, but Mother thinks I am too particular.
Evaline makes fun of Robert and Arthur, especially when they both come calling at the same time, because of course, they have just the one farm cart to share. They always come calling on the Sabbath which interrupts our quiet afternoon and it sets my teeth on edge the way they jostle each other to sit near me on the settle.
It is difficult to meet good prospective husbands when we are so far from polite society. Mother says that if we were still in Wendover there would be fairs and market days that would bring suitable young men into town, but out here we have to rely on our neighbours and their kin for prospective husbands. I just dread the thought that I might be fated to marry Robert or Arthur. William teases me constantly by calling me “Mistress Randall”. Unfortunately, his sweetheart, Elizabeth, has only two sisters, no brothers, or I would perhaps have more choice.
In the meantime, I am sewing whatever I can whenever I can for my bridal trunk. I have made two sets of sheets, four pillow cases and I am starting to work on patches for a quilt. Mother says that Father will set up a quilt frame in our parlour when all the blocks are ready and we will invite tour lady neighbours in for a quilting bee.
Father says that there are rumours of unrest along the border with the United States . The natives have been complaining about the numbers of settlers moving into their territory around Lake Michigan. He speaks about a leader called Tecumseh, who is trying to unite the tribes there. There have been raids on the settlements.
Evidently, the army is planning to add more soldiers to Fort Wellington so we will be seeing more of our countrymen in the area in the days to come. Mother doesn’t like to hear Father speaking of border problems. She is worried that William would be eager to enlist. She remembers the anguish that Grandma went through when both my maternal uncles were pressed into the navy. Well, Old Boney is causing trouble again and Father thinks the Old Country is too busy with him to bother much about what is happening over here. I hope he is wrong.
In the meantime, Spring is here and we are swatting mosquitoes and black flies again. They do make our nights miserable. The only thing we can do is swat as many as we can after the door is closed and before our candle is blown out. Then Evvy and I jump under the covers on our bed for protection.
Father, William and Henry are planting cereal crops of oats and barley. When the hay is high enough we will all be needed to cut it and stook it. Father says we may even get enough good weather this summer to take off two lots of hay. Evvy and I are busy helping Mother clean out the house, wash the winter laundry, clean the chicken coop, make tallow candles, and do the mending. We are also planting the kitchen garden with carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, onions and beans. Life is so full of chores we hardly have time for lessons, but every night, Mother gets us to read from the Bible and write paragraphs from the book she has on home remedies. Her father taught her to read and write and she wants to make sure that her children are not ignorant. She says it will improve our penmanship, spelling and teach us how to treat illnesses at the same time. I now know how to make about ten different poultices for every kind of injury and illness, but baking a good loaf of bread without burning it seems beyond my powers.
So you see, Janetta, I had better take my leisure choosing a suitor because I will need all the time I can to learn what a bride must know about caring for a household.
Farewell for now, Janetta. Mother is calling Evvy and me to go fetch Molly, our milk cow.