Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

“a thorough repair for our occupation”

ELIZABETH POSTHUMA GWILLIM SIMCOE and her husband, John Graves Simcoe, were, like so many others, on the move—to a new home. They had been married less than ten years when they departed from Weymouth, England in late September 1791 for Canada, John having been the newly appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. With them sailed two of their six children: Sophia aged two, and Francis, three months. The voyagers reached Quebec in early November, spent a sociable winter there before moving on, via Montreal, to the temporary capital of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Governor Simcoe described the new living quarters to his second oldest daughter Charlotte, “here I am & Mamma sitting in a very large bower, fronting upon a fine River, & as high above it, as the said cliff above the shrubbery, with Sophia sitting upon the Table, little Francis with his bald Pole [poll, human head] laughing & eating Bilberries.” To a friend Simcoe was more truthful about their living quarters: “I am fitting up an old hovel that will look exactly like a carrier’s ale-house in England. . . .” In fact, the Simcoe family was living in a marquee [large tent] that they had brought with them. “It is a room twenty-two feet by fifteen, with a floor, windows, and doors, and warmed with a stove. It is papered and painted and you would suppose you were in a common house.”

Born into wealth, Elizabeth Simcoe (1762-1850) was certainly accustomed to more luxury than she found in Canada, but she was quite content in her canvas house with bower of branches for a dining room. She entertained guests there, and gave birth to her daughter Katherine there. Following are excerpts from the diary she kept.

T[hursday] 26th [1792] At 9 this morning we anchored at Navy Hall, opposite the Garrison of Niagara which commands the mouth of the river. Navy Hall is a House built by the Naval Commanders on this Lake for their reception when here. It is now undergoing a thorough repair for our occupation but is still so unfinished that the Gov. ordered 3 Marquees to be pitched for us on the Hill above the House which is very dry ground rises beautifully, in parts covered with oak bushes.

A fine Turf leads on to the Woods through which runs a very good Road leading to the [Niagara] Falls. The side of our Hill is terminated by a very steep Bank covered with wood a hundred feet in height in some places; at the bottom of which runs the Niagara River. Our Marquees command a beautiful view of the River & the Garrison on the opposite side, which from its being situated on the Point has a fine effect & the poorness of the Building is not remarked at this distance from whence a fine picture might be made. . . .

17th of August I desired to drive out last Evening tho every body foretold an approaching Thunder Storm, which indeed came on with great violence when we were half way to the Landing. I feared that the Lightning would make the Horse run away but he only started at every flash of lightning. The recollection that it was my own determination brought us into danger was very unpleasant. However we got back safe, & in time to save the Marquees from being blown down . . . the Gov. preserved ours by having the Cords held untill the violence of the Storm was over. The Tents were so near the River that we were afraid they would be blown into it.

We were so cold & wet we were glad to drink tea. It was quite dark & too windy to allow of our burning candles & when the forked flashes of lightning enlightened the air I was able to drink tea. I wrapped myself up in 2 or 3 Great Coats & intended if the Tent was blown down to take shelter under the great dinner table. The Rain & Wind did not cease for two hours, & we had no means of drying our Clothes & were obliged to sleep in a wet Tent. However we have not caught cold.

28th Nov. Went to the F[or]t. this Morning. Mrs. [Elizabeth Tuck Hayter] Macaulay drank tea with me & I had a party at Whist in the evening. The partition was put in the Canvas House today by which means I have a bedroom as well as a sitting room. These Houses are very comfortable about 30 feet long. The grates did not answer for burning wood & I have had a Stove placed instead tho as yet a fire has not been wanted. The weather is so mild that we have walked in the Garden from 8 till 9 in the Moon light these two last Evenings. . . .

Navy Hall, Feby. 1793 . . . . I was, the greatest part of the winter, in daily expectation of being confined [giving birth]. I have taken the Canvas House we brought from England for my own apartment; it makes two very comfortable & remarkable warm private rooms; it is boarded outside to prevent snow lying on it. The comfort I derived from these apartments was extremely great when I lay in, because being in a manner separate from the rest of the House it was so very quiet. . . .

Elizabeth Simcoe, a petite woman who spoke with a slight stutter, seemed to adapt well to the primitive living conditions first in Newark, and then in York (now Toronto), Canada. She loved the out-of-doors, was an excellent horsewoman, and enjoyed entertaining. A talented artist, she created many wonderful watercolors as well as maps during her stay. Her marriage was a happy one. John Simcoe as lieutenant-governor founded the city of York, introduced trial by jury and English common law, and signed the act abolishing slavery in Canada in 1793. He was granted a leave of absence in 1796; the Simcoe family sailed from Quebec 10 September 1796 but never returned to Canada.

Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary, Mary Quayle Innis, editor (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1965), pp. 7, 75, 79, 82, 87. Mrs. Simcoe’s 1790 miniature is by Mary Anne Burges (1763-1813) and is at the Library & Archives Canada. Camps on the heights about Queenstown (July 9, 1793), wash/paper, Archives of Ontario.

posted July 2nd, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Simcoe, Elizabeth,Simcoe, John

“New York all lighted up”

In New York in 1780, BARONESS FREDERIKA VON RIEDESEL gave birth to a girl. She and her husband had hoped for a boy “but the little one was so pretty we were reconciled over its not having been a boy.” They named her America. In the fall of that year General von Riedesel was finally exchanged and placed on active duty on Long Island. His wife and family settled there and the Baroness described the prospect from their house.

We had magnificent view from our house. Every evening I saw from my window New York all lighted up and the reflection in the river, since the city is built right on its bank, We heard also the beating of drums, and if all were quite still, even the challenges of the sentries. We had our own boat, in which we could reach New York in a quarter hour or so.

The next year General von Riedesel was reassigned to Canada where part of his corps had remained. The ship on which they took passage was one of the worst in the fleet and the voyage was most unpleasant. “On one occasion a ship swept us with its stern, tearing away our lavatory, and it was only good fortune that no one was using it at the time.”

They arrived in the fall, traveled to Upper Canada and took up residence in a house built for them in Sorel. Read this post about the holiday entertainment the Baroness provided for English and Hessian friends. She is credited with having introduced the traditional German Christmas tree, a decorated fir, to Canada.

The Baroness gave birth to another child in 1782. A girl, whom they named Canada, sadly did not survive. When news of the death of the Baron’s father and the signing of the peace treaty in Paris in 1783 reached the Riedesels they decided it was time to return to their home in Germany. They arrived in Portsmouth in September and went to London where they were presented to the British royal family. Shortly thereafter they departed for the Continent and upon arrival the Baroness returned to the family mansion in Wolfenbuttel. A week later her husband passed through the city at the head of his troops. She wrote:

. . . [I]t is beyond my power to describe my emotions, at beholding my beloved, upright husband, who, the whole time had lived solely for his duty, and who had constantly been so unwearied in helping and assisting, as far as possible those who had been entrusted to him—standing, with tears of joy in his eyes, in the midst of his soldiers, who in turn were surrounded by a joyous and sorrowful crowd of
sisters and friends—all pressing round him to see again their loved ones.

Baron von Riedesel continued service in the military and died in 1800. In the same year the Baroness published her journals. She died in 1808 at the age of 62. The Riedesels had nine children, of whom six survived beyond the age of one, including, finally, a boy.

As for the so-called CONVENTION ARMY, when the British became active in Virginia the prisoners were marched north, eventually to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At that time (the fall of 1781) British prisoners numbered approximately 1,200 and German officers and men 1,450, less than half of those who had surrendered at Saratoga. The British prisoners were moved to purpose-built Camp Security in York County and the Hessians to Reading. They were held there until the end of the war when those remaining were marched to the nearest ports and sent home. Their number was much depleted by desertions, especially among the Hessians, the rigors of the marches, lack of adequate food and shelter, and widespread illness.

Additional information about the Riedesels can be found HERE—the passage quoted is on page 406—and in this source: Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783, A Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965). For documentation on the Convention Army and additional information read this excellent ARTICLE by Thomas Fleming. The portrait of Baroness Riedesel, c. 1795, by Johann Heinrich Schröder (1757–1812), pastel on paper, is at the National Museum in Warsaw.

posted June 5th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Convention Army,Hessians,New York,Pennsylvania,von Riedesel, Baroness Frederika,von Riedesel, Lieutenant General Friedrich

“I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old”

At the end of Black History month it seems appropriate to draw attention to the plight of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada or were taken there as slaves. In 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada was published. Compiled by Benjamin Drew, whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it included material Drew had gathered from former slaves. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. Here is the account of one Sophia Pooley who was a slave in Canada but eventually gained her freedom.

I was born in Fishkill, New York State, twelve miles from North River. My father’s name was Oliver Burthen, my mother’s Dinah.  I am now more than ninety years old. I was stolen from my parents when I was seven years old, and brought to Canada; that was long before the American Revolution. There were hardly any white people in Canada then—nothing here but Indians and wild beasts. . . . I was a woman grown when the first governor of Canada came from England: that was Governor Simcoe.

My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law, Daniel Outwaters and Simon Knox, came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long—it was dark there all the time. Then we came by land. I remember when we came to Genesee—there were Indian settlements there—Onondagas, Senecas, and Oneidas. . . . The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king [Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant, a leader within the Iroquois Confederacy and an ally of the British during the Revolutionary War]. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . . While I lived with old Brant we caught the deer. . . . We would let the hounds loose, and when we heard them bark we would run for the canoe—Peggy, and Mary, and Katy, Brant’s daughters and I. Brant’s sons, Joseph and Jacob, would wait on the shore to kill the deer when we fetched him in. I had a tomahawk, and would hit the deer on the head—then the squaws would take it by the horns and paddle ashore. The boys would bleed and skin the deer and take the meat to the house. . . .

Brant’s third wife, my mistress, was a barbarous creature. She could talk English, but she would not. She would tell me in Indian to do things, and then hit me with anything that came to hand, because I did not understand her. I have a scar on my head from a wound she gave me with a hatchet; and this long scar over my eye, is where she cut me with a knife. . . . .

At twelve years old, I was sold by Brant to an Englishman in Ancaster, for one hundred dollars—his name was Samuel Hatt, and I lived with him seven years: then the white people said I was free, and put me up to running away. He did not stop me—he said he could not take the law into his own hands. Then I lived in what is now Waterloo. I married Robert Pooley, a black man. He ran away with a white woman: he is dead. . . .

I am now unable to work, and am entirely dependent on others for subsistance: but I find plenty of people in the bush to help me a good deal.

Other narratives from Drew’s book can be read HERE. The image of Brant is by Ezra Ames.

posted February 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Pooley, Sophia,Slaves/slavery

“I grew up like a neglected weed . . .”

It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:

When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.

Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.

I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.

You can read other narratives from Drew’s book HERE. The Tubman sculpture is by Jane DeDecker.

posted January 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Slaves/slavery,Tubman, Harriet

” I was in raptures all the way”

Niagara Falls was known to Indians, explorers, missionaries, and fur traders in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century it became a waystop for settlers and government officials as Upper Canada was developed, as well as a familiar landmark to loyalist refugees who migrated to the area from the warring colonies. Several visitors, including women, recorded their observations and impressions of the “Cataract” in diaries or journals. Reading what these various observers wrote gives a sense of the wonder and awe with which this extraordinary phenomenon of nature was viewed and goes far in explaining why the Falls became a popular tourist destination in the nineteenth century.
Ann Powell (1769-1792) was a Bostonian by birth. Of distinguished lineage, her well-to-do family left Boston at the start of the American Revolution. When her older brother, William Dummer Powell, was appointed superior court judge in Detroit—one of the forts still in British possession in 1789—Ann made the journey from Montreal to Detroit with him and his family. She kept a journal recounting her experience, to which she added and amended from memory.

We left Montreal on the 11th of May, 1789. . . . [and] went to our boats; one was fitted up with an awning to protect us from the weather, and held the family and bedding. It was well filled, eighteen persons in all, so you may suppose we had not much room; as it happened that was of no consequence, it was cold on the water, and we were glad to sit close.
This mode of traveling is very tedious; we are obliged to keep along shore and go on very slowly. . . . This part of the country has been settled since the Peace, and it was granted to the troops raised in America during the war. We went from a Colonel to a Captain, and from a Captain to a Major. They have most of them built good houses, and with the assistance of their half pay, live very comfortably.
[At the landing, eight miles from Fort Erie] the Niagara river becomes impassable, and all the luggage was drawn up a steep hill in a cradle, a machine I never saw before. . . .
After dinner we went on . . . to Fort Schlosher. . . . All our party collected half a mile above the Falls, and walked down to them. I was in raptures all the way. The Falls I had heard of forever, but no one had mentioned the Rapids!
For half a mile the river comes foaming down immense rocks, some of them forming cascades 30 or 40 feet high! The banks are covered with woods, as are a number of Islands. . . . One in the centre of the river, runs out into a point, and seems to divide the Falls, which would otherwise be quite across the river, into the form of a crescent.
I believe no mind can form an idea of the immensity of the body of water, or the rapidity with which it hurries down. The height is 180 feet, and long before it reaches the bottom, it loses all appearance of a liquid. The spray rises like light summer clouds. . . .
I was never before sensible of the power of scenery, nor did I suppose the eye could carry to the mind such strange emotions of pleasure, wonder and solemnity.
For a time every other impression was erased from my memory! Had I been left to myself, I am convinced I should not have thought of moving whilst there was light to distinguish objects.
With reluctance I at length attended to the proposal of going, determining in my own mind, that when I returned, I would be mistress of my own time, and stay a day or two at least. . . .

Sadly, Ann Powell had a short life. She married Isaac Winslow Clark, a fellow loyalist who had also fled Boston—his family firm had owned the tea that was thrown into Boston Harbor in 1773—and moved to Montreal where she died in childbirth in 1792.

Ann Powell, Journal of Miss Powell of a Tour from Montreal to Detroit, ed. Eliza Susan Quincy (New York, NY: A.S Barnes & Company, 1880), pages 39, 42, 43. See also In the Words of Women, pages 255-56.

posted November 16th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Loyalists,Niagara Falls,Powell, Ann,Travel

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