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St. John’s New Brunswick, July 18th 1788

My Dearest Mother,

Here I am, after a very long and fatiguing journey. I had no idea of what it was: it was more like a campaign than anything else, except in one material point, that of having no danger. I should have enjoyed it most completely but for the musquitos, but they took off a great deal of my pleasure: the millions of them are dreadful. If it had not been for this inconvenience, my journey would have been delightful. The country is almost all in the state of nature, as well as its inhabitants. There are four sorts of these: the Indians, the French, the old English settlers, and now the refugees from other parts of America: the last seem the most civilized.

The old settlers are almost as wild as the Indians, but lead a very comfortable life: they are all farmers, and live entirely within themselves. They supply all their own wants by their contrivances, so that they seldom buy anything. They ought to be the happiest people in the world, but they do not seem to know it. They imagine themselves poor because they have no money, without considering they do not want it: everything is done by barter, and you will often find a farmer well supplied with everything, and yet not having a shilling in money. Any man that will work is sure, in a few years, to have a comfortable farm: the first eighteen months is the only hard time, and that in most places is avoided, particularly near the rivers, for in every one of them a man will catch in a day enough to feed him for the year. In the winter, with very little trouble, he supplies himself with meat by killing moose deer; and in summer with pigeons, of which the woods are full. These he must subsist on till he has cleared ground enough to raise a little grain, which a hard working man will do in the course of a few months. By selling his moose skins, making sugar out of the maple tree, and by a few days’ work for other people, for which he gets great wages, he soon acquires enough to purchase a cow. This, then, sets him up, and he is sure, in a few years, to have a comfortable supply of every necessary of life. I came through a whole tract of country peopled by Irish, who came out not worth a shilling, and have all now farms, worth (according to the value of money in this country) from £1000 to £3000.

The equality of everybody and of their manner of life I like very much. There are no gentlemen; everybody is on a footing, providing he works and wants nothing; every man is exactly what he can make of himself, or has made himself by industry. The more children a man has the better: his wife being brought to bed is as joyful news as his cow calving; the father has no uneasiness about providing for them, as this is done by the profit of their work. By the time they are fit to settle, he can always afford them two oxen, a cow, a gun, and an axe, and in a few years, if they work, they will thrive.

I came by a settlement along one of the rivers, which was all the work of one pair; the old man was seventy-two, the old lade seventy; they had been there thirty years; they came there with one cow, three children, and one servant; there was not a living being within sixty miles of them. The first year they lived mostly on milk and marsh leaves; the second year they contrived to purchase a bull, by the produce of their moose skins and fish: from this time they got on very well; and there are now five sons and a daughter all settled in different farms along the river for the space of twenty miles, and all living comfortably and at ease. The old pair live alone in the little log cabin they first settled in, two miles from any of their children; their little spot of ground is cultivated by these children, and they are supplied with so much butter, grain, meat, &c. from each child, according to the share he got of the land; so that the old folks have nothing but to mind their house, which is a kind of inn they keep, more for the sake of the company of the few travelers there are than for gain.

I was obliged to stay a day with the old people on account of the tides, which did not answer for going up the river till next morning; it was I think as odd and as pleasant a day (in its way) as ever I passed. I wish I could describe it to you, but I cannot, you must only help it out with your own imagination. Conceive, dearest mother, arriving about twelve o’clock in a hot day at a little cabin upon the side of a rapid river, the banks all covered with woods, not a house in sight—and there finding a little old clean tidy woman spinning, with an old man of the same appearance weeding salad. We had come for ten miles up the river without seeing anything but woods. The old pair, on our arrival, got as active as if only five-and-twenty, the gentleman getting wood and water, the lady frying bacon and eggs, both talking a great deal, telling their story, as I mentioned before, how they had been there thirty years, and how their children were settled, and when either’s back was turned remarking how old the other had grown; at the same time all kindness, cheerfulness, and love to each other.

The contrast of all this, which had passed during the day, with the quietness of the evening, when the spirits of the old people had a little subsided, and began to wear off with the day, and with the fatigue of their little work—sitting quietly at their door, on the same spot they had lived in thirty years together, the contented thoughtfulness of their countenances, which was increased by their age and the solitary life they had lived, the wild quietness of the place, not a living creature or habitation to be seen, and me, Tony, and our guide sitting with them, all on one log. The difference of the scene I had left—the immense way I had to get from this little corner of the world, to see anything I loved—the difference of the life I should lead from that of this old pair, perhaps at their age discontented, disappointed, and miserable, wishing for power, &c. &c, —my dearest mother, if it was not for you, I believe I never should go home, at least I thought so at the moment. . . .


Source:
From an article appearing in the Journal of Education, Province of Nova Scotia, Spring 1971, Vol.21, No.2, Winter 1971-2, pp.44-46, held at the Nova Scotia Archives (NSARM). The letter originated with Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798) son of an Irish peer who was serving the British Army in the American Revolution. He was a major in the 54th Regiment, stationed at Saint John, New Brunswick. His observations come from his journey from Halifax, through the Shubenacadie River, enroute to Saint John. His larger story may be found in The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, written by Irish nationalist Thomas Moore and published by Longmans of London in 1831. Shirley B. Elliott, Librarian of the Legislative Library of Province House, Halifax, contributed the letters to the Journal of Education.