Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“a tongue for the dumb”

In 1856, Benjamin Drew, a Boston abolitionist, published a book called The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves In Canada. He had made a trip through Canada in the early 1850s, sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to interview slaves from the United States who had fled to Canada as fugitives or were kidnapped and sold there. It has been estimated that there were about 30,000 such persons in Canada in 1852. As stated in the Preface: “While his informants talked, the author wrote: nor are there in the whole volume a dozen verbal alterations which were not made at the moment of writing, while in haste to make the pen become a tongue for the dumb.” However, the usual cautions about oral history apply. Presented here is the account by Sophia Pooley, who had been a slave of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk military and civilian leader who supported the British during the American Revolution.

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. . . .

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. I guess I was the first coloured girl brought into Canada. The white men sold us at Niagara to old Indian Brant, the king. I lived with old Brant about twelve or thirteen years as nigh as I can tell. . . .

Canada was then filling up with white people. And after Brant went to England, and kissed the queen’s hand, he was made a colonel. Then there began to be laws in Canada. Brant was only half Indian: his mother was a squaw—I saw her when I came to this country. She was an old body; her hair was quite white. Brant was a good-looking man—quite portly. . . . He lived in an Indian village—white men came among them and they intermarried. . . . When Brant went among the English, he wore the English dress—when he was among the Indians, he wore the Indian dress—broadcloth leggings, blanket, moccasins, fur cap. He had his ears slit with a long loop at the edge, and in these he hung long silver ornaments. reason of his going about so much. I used to talk Indian better than I could English. I have forgotten some of it—there are none to talk it with now.

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. . . . Brant was very angry, when he came home, at what she had done, and punished her as if she had been a child. Said he, “you know I adopted her as one of the family, and now you are trying to put all the work on her.”


posted August 19th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Indians,Slaves/slavery

Oh Tannenbaum

The Haldimand County Museum and Archives in Cayuga is presenting an exhibit this December titled “Early Settlers Christmas.” This area of Canada was the destination for Loyalists who had fled from the United States after the Revolution. Many were British but there were also Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, African Americans, and Native Americans who brought with them the customs and traditions of their home countries. Those of German descent, from Pennsylvania and the Mohawk Valley, celebrated with Christmas trees. The first Christmas tree is said to have been lit in the Governor’s Residence at Sorel, Québec, in 1781 by Baroness Frederika von Riedesel, the wife of the commander of the Brunswick troops who had fought with the British in the Revolutionary War and surrendered with them at Saratoga. The general was eventually exchanged and assigned to duty in Upper Canada. There, to celebrate Christmas, the Baroness, known affectionately as Lady Fritz, hosted a party for British and German officers with the traditional roast beef and plum pudding. But it was the fir tree decorated with fruits and berries and lit with candles that elicited oohs and aahs. The Canadian government in 1981 issued a stamp commemorating the Baroness’s Christmas tree.

Information about Frederika von Riedesel and the Christmas tree can be found here.

posted December 24th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Entertainments,Hessians,Loyalists

“the grandest sight imaginable”

Elizabeth Posthuma Guillim, an English heiress, married John Graves Simcoe when she was sixteen and he was thirty. When Simcoe, who had served the British in the American Revolution, was named lieutenant governor of Upper, or western, Canada in 1790, he sailed to take up his post, accompanied by his wife and two of the youngest of their six children. Adventurous and curious about people, places, and things, Mrs. Simcoe relished the strangeness of her new environment. In her diary, she recorded details of the flora and fauna she encountered. A gifted artist, never without her watercolors and pens, she also produced drawings and paintings of scenes she wanted to remember.
The Simcoes crossed Lake Ontario and arrived at the garrison of Niagara on July 26th, 1792. Because Navy Hall, the building being renovated for them, was not finished, tents called Marquees or Canvas Houses were pitched to accommodate them.

One of the first sights the Simcoes went to see was Niagara Falls.

M. 30th—At 8 this morning we set off in Calashes [a kind of carriage] to go to the Falls, 16 miles from hence. … We had a delightful drive thro the woods on the bank of the River which is excessively high the whole way. … we ascended an exceeding steep road to the top of the Mountain, which commands a fine view of the Country, as far as the Garrison of Niagara & across the lake. From hence the road is entirely flat to the Falls, of which I did not hear the sound until within a mile of them. … The fall is said to be but 170 feet in height. The River previously rushes in the most rapid manner on a declivity for 3 miles, & those rapids are a fine sight. The fall itself is the grandest sight imaginable from the immense width of waters & the circular form of the grand fall; to the left of which is an Island. … A few Rocks separate this from Ft. Schlosser Fall, on the American side of the river, which, passing over a straight ledge of rock, has not the beauty of the circular form or its green colour, the whole centre of the circular fall being of the brightest green, & below it is frequently seen a Rainbow.
I descended an exceeding steep hill to get to the table Rock, from whence the view of the falls is tremendously fine. Men sometimes descend the Rocks below this projecting point, but it is attended with great danger & perhaps little picturesque advantage.

The prodigious Spray which arises from the foam at the bottom of the fall adds grandeur to the scene, which is wonderfully fine & after the eye becomes more familiar to the objects I think the pleasure will be greater in dwelling upon them.

“In Camp near Queenstown, 1793” is from a drawing by Mrs. Simcoe. The watercolor rendering of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, 1792, is also by her. The excerpt and illustrations are from The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-96, with Notes and a Biography by J. Ross Robertson (Toronto: William Briggs, 1911), pages 76-77.

posted September 24th, 2012 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Canada,Niagara Falls

previous page

   Copyright © 2020 In the Words of Women.