A fictional account of a young woman’s life during the War of 1812.
Copyright 2012 Mollie Pearce McKibbon
Thistledown Farm, Grenville County
I barely have time to catch my breath. Pioneering is not for the frail of body. Evvy, Mother and I have been hard at it every day. Yesterday we made candles and they are stacked in bundles of ten in the root cellar as it is the coolest spot in which to keep them. Now we are in the midst of making bars of soap and that is hot work, so Mother told us to rest at noon when the sun is the highest.
We have just fed Father, William and Henry and have had our own lunch. We had slices of bread, some of our own new cheese and chunks of the venison from the stag Father killed last week. The poor thing had tried to jump the fence around our vegetable garden and somehow caught a hoof. I felt so badly for the poor creature, but he did make a delicious roast.
Last week Father drove the wagon to Prescott and I went with him to keep him company. The road isn’t much more than a trail worn down by many wagons that travel this way. We spent a good deal of the time pushing back encroaching tree branches and swatting the persistent mosquitos. It was a true relief to come to the better-traveled main thoroughfare.
Fort Wellington is in the process of being constructed. It doesn’t look like much presently, just two buildings around which the soldiers are erecting a stockade. The two buildings belong to Colonel Jessup who has given them to the army. The buildings are on the highest point of land here about, so Father tells me, so we can look across the St. Lawrence River and see Ogdensburg on the American side. It looks very near.
You wouldn’t consider Prescott much of a town, Janetta. At the moment it is mostly Col. Jessup’s home and orchard with one or two more cabins, but more and more people are arriving every day. The area has been surveyed for town lots. Prescott was named by Col. Jessup for General Robert Prescott, who was the colony’s General-in-chief until 1807. It is on the forwarding route for shipments from Montreal and New York state. There are dangerous rapids in the St. Lawrence and Prescott is at the head of the rapids. The dress material Mother ordered had arrived, having traveled twelve days by bateau from Montreal. Father had ordered some seed and William some nails and oiled cloth for the windows of the cabin. We will be returning home with a full wagon.
Father had arranged for us to stay overnight with Colonel and Mrs. Jessup. Col. Jessup knew Uncle Andrew as he was one of his rangers during the Revolutionary War in 1776. It was very kind of the Jessups and so I was introduced to their daughter, who proved to be a very amusing companion. She, in turn, introduced me to her brother, Edward, who was entertaining two of the soldiers from the fort.
One of the soldiers, Cpl. Houghton, was quick to make my acquaintance as he was from Buckinghamshire also. He asked Father about our relatives and we discovered we had a mutual friend in Mr. West, the vicar in Wendover. Cpl. Houghton asked Father if he could visit our family in the next week or two.
When we returned home, Mother was very interested to hear about our meeting with Cpl. Houghton, as she believes that she met his mother back in Wendover at one of the church socials. I suspect she is also speculating about the purpose of Cpl. Houghton’s visit and wants to see if he is a potential suitor for me. Perhaps he is interested in furthering our acquaintance. We shall see. In the meanwhile, I must see if the soap is ready to be cut into bars.
Your friend, Adeline
August 8, 1812
I am just writing a brief note to mention that Cpl. Houghton rode up from Ft. Wellington to visit us today. Henry spotted his red uniform coming through the woods and warned us just in time for us to take off our work pinafores and straighten our hair. Evvy kept elbowing me and giggling which was truly an embarrassment, while Cpl. Houghton introduced himself to Mother. Father was away helping William with pulling stumps.
We all sat outside in the shade on the log benches that Father and William had made. Evvy brought out a pot of blueberry tea and some biscuits . We talked about Buckinghamshire, Fort Wellington and the possibility of invasion. Cpl. Houghton addressed most of his conversation to Mother, but he kept glancing in my direction and smiling which made me blush and stammer. I was so nervous all I could think of was how dowdy I must look in my work dress. When Cpl. Houghton rose to leave, I jumped up also and we bumped heads. He apologized profusely, but I know he was just being a gentleman, because it was honestly my fault for being so skittish.
Cpl. Houghton, or Charles, as he insists we call him, asked Mother permission to return again at a future date. She agreed, but he couldn’t be specific as it entirely depended on the progress of the fort and the possibility of conflict. Oh, I do hope it is soon, although Evvy kept giggling every time she looked my way at supper.
Fondly yours, Adeline
Sept. 16, 1812
News comes to us slowly here in Upper Canada, but come it does. While we were all so safely content in our ignorance here in Grenville County, our fellow settlers were victims of invasion and raiding in the west. American soldiers under the command of a General Hull invaded Sandwich, a town across from Detroit on the St. Clair River. I only know this because Charles, Cpl. Houghton, drew a small sketch to show us, all the while apologizing for his lack of mapping skills. He said that the resident ought to have expected it as it is a very strategic area. This remark of his almost caused a rift between us, as I retorted angrily that the residents of Sandwich probably didn’t expect their good neighbours to turn against them, just as we don’t expect our neighbours in Ogdensburg to attack us. We have been trading with them for years and some of our friends have relatives in that town.
Charles was immediately sorry for being “so blunt”. He replied that he understood how we felt but we needed to be wary because we are at war.
The good news was that our soldiers under the command of Capt. Charles Roberts had taken over the American Fort Michillmackinac on Lake Huron. That all happened in July.
In August, Ft. Dearborn fell to the native warriors and our brave General Issaac Brock and Tecumseh had taken Detroit. Charles says that the army at Ft. Wellington is prepared to fight whatever threat may come next and they fully expect the American army to respond somewhere else soon. Of course, Arthur Randall, who seems to show up more often these days, boasts that he and the rest of the local militia don’t need help from “redcoats” to beat those “Yankees”. I believe he becomes more bombastic every time I see him, especially if Charles is here too. I don’t believe that he and Charles would ever come to blows, but he is surely trying my patience.
William’s cabin bee was on a wonderful sunny day two weeks ago. Fifteen men answered the call to help erecting the barn and the cabin and by the time we women arrived by cart with the food, they had made a table from a slab of wood across two stumps. We set up a campfire to warm the tea and set out a feast indeed. Thank goodness, I didn’t burn my bread this time, because Charles had come with his friend, John Thompson to lend a hand. I wouldn’t like to have him think I couldn’t even bake bread.
There were so many good things to eat, brought by our lady neighbours, that we all found spots in the shade to sit down and share a meal. Father said the blessing and Mother thanked everyone for coming. William was simply overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity of everyone towards Elizabeth and him.
Evvy and I were about to join Mother and Father when I spotted Arthur and Robert heading towards us. That very moment, Charles and John waved to us to join them under a large pine tree. They had set the food on a stump and provided their red jackets for us to sit upon. We had a lovely time admiring the view that Elizabeth and William would see from their front door and speculating about what was in the delicious food we were eating. Just as we were relaxing and laughing about the antics of the small children, Arthur intruded to tell me that Mother wanted my help in cleaning up. As I could see Mother was in no hurry to leave, I asked Evvy to find out what she wanted us to do. Arthur muttered,”So that’s what it’s like!”, turned red ands stalked away.
Evvy came back to say that Mother was just waiting for Father and William to wake up from their naps and hitch up our two old oxen to the cart. Charles and John offered to hitch up the cart for us and even escort us back to the house as they had to leave for the fort. Mother thanked them politely and told them to please go on ahead so that they would be back in Prescott before dark.
It was night time when Father and William returned from the building bee. William was excited to have a cabin with only the finishing touches to add and a barn that would only need a few more days work to complete. Father couldn’t stop exclaiming about all the wonderful help our friends had provided and Mother looked tired, but pleased. All our baking and cooking for that day was worth it.
The only disturbing moment of a pleasant day was when William took me aside and asked me what I had said to make Arthur so upset. I honestly replied that I didn’t know. William then warned me not to take Charles’ attention too seriously as he was only a corporal and might simply be flirting with a pretty girl.
So Janetta, perhaps that is all that it is.