December, 2012 · ISSN 1913-4134
In this issue, we (via Eugene Goodrich) bring you a very different approach to local history. Ancient (read historical!) friendly correspondence between citizens always brings about interesting details and insights about an area’s past, its people and customs. But in this case, it’s not just “friendly” correspondence that we refer to here. Herein, we present you with the love letters written in the late 1780s and early 1790s between a young man in Westcock and the woman he loves on Dorchester Island and later Sackville. Look closely at the family names referred to throughout the letters and read carefully Eugene’s fascinating additions/interpretations throughout the many footnotes provided at the bottom of each page. To simplify the process, Eugene’s commentary is in plain type while all the letters are presented in bold. We were unable to fit all the correspondence in this issue of the newsletter and so the remaining letters will be added onto the next issue. There is little more that I can add except to ask that you open your hearts to this young couple, often separated by long distances, and to the many other people of the time that they represent, in similar situations, throughout our long history. I was quite captivated by this historic relationship so vividly brought to life for us via Eugene Goodrich and I use this moment to remind all our readers that any historical correspondence they may have stowed away in their attics, desks and cupboards is just begging to see the light of day through the pages of this newsletter. Just let me know via
firstname.lastname@example.org or through the website of the Tantramar Heritage Trust or by electronic mail (
email@example.com) and we can let these voices be heard. There is so much that they want to tell us.
Letters to Sally — An Early Sackville Love Story
By W. Eugene Goodrich
While searching for information on a prominent early Sackville resident, Stephen Millidge, in connection with a study I recently completed on local government in early Westmorland County, I found among the voluminous papers of W. C. Milner preserved in the New Brunswick Museum, six letters Stephen wrote to his wife, Sarah Botsford Millidge, eldest daughter of Amos Botsford, between 1789 and ca. 1795. Of a personal and intimate nature, they should be of interest to readers of The White Fence as they offer a glimpse not only into the intellectual culture and family relations of this elite Loyalist couple, but also into some of the conditions of life in the Sackville area during the late 18th century. However, in order to fully understand these rather charming epistles, we must first meet Stephen and Sarah.
Stephen Millidge (1761–1803) was a son of Major Thomas Millidge, a prominent New Jersey Loyalist who settled in Digby where he received a large land grant, thanks in part to the efforts of his friend and fellow Loyalist, lawyer Amos Botsford, one of the agents appointed to seek out lands for the Loyalist refugees in that part of Nova Scotia. Thomas did very well for himself in his new home. Not only a substantial landowner, he was also a highly respected deputy crown surveyor, a leading justice of the peace and a member of the legislative assembly. However, with much of the best agricultural land long since taken by the Planter predecessors of the Loyalists and opportunities for public office (a constant quest of the Loyalist elite) increasingly limited, the prospects in the Annapolis Valley were not as bright for his talented and ambitious sons. All of them ended up in New Brunswick, newly created as a land of milk and honey for elite Loyalist office-seekers. I don’t know when Stephen moved here but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it was around the same time as Amos Botsford, and possibly together with him. Amos came in 1784 hoping for a high provincial office such as Solicitor General. In this he was disappointed, but consoled himself with appointments to most of the important county offices in Westmorland. He also won one of the county’s four seats in the provincial legislature and was soon afterwards elected Speaker, a position he held until his death in 1812.
Stephen’s connections with the Botsfords, as well as his own family connections, no doubt played an important role in his becoming High Sheriff of Westmorland County in 1787 at the impressively young age of twenty-seven. Appointed by the Lt. Governor on recommendation of the Chief Justice, with probable input from the county’s representatives, the High Sheriff enjoyed a de facto lifetime sinecure barring incapacity or egregious misbehaviour. However, he received no salary but only modest fees for his services, which were many and often onerous. Besides leading the posse that pursued fugitive criminals, he summoned juries to the General Sessions of the Peace and the Inferior Court of Common Pleas (the county courts presided over by the justices of the peace) and executed all their judicial decisions. He collected the fines they imposed, ensured the safe custody of all felons and debtors committed to prison and presided over any hangings that were carried out in the county (there were none during Stephen’s tenure). He also exercised general supervision over the county jail, supervised elections to the provincial legislature, served writs on the owners of forfeited property, and did much else besides. About the same time that he became High Sheriff, Stephen was also appointed one of the province’s deputy crown surveyors, an office that was probably even more burdensome. As readers of Amy Fox and Paul Bogaard’s recent study The Struggle for Sackville will know, about 1791, he drew up a beautiful detailed plan of Sackville Township, a copy of which, thanks to the efforts of these authors, has now become a precious record of its early settlement history. Three years before that, he completed an even more comprehensive survey for Moncton Township which included mapping and the history of land transactions that is similarly valuable to local historians. As if that wasn’t enough, he was appointed to a similar task in Northumberland County in the same year. And those are just the records of his surveying activity that survive.
Something more than his father’s undoubted skills in the surveyor’s art must have qualified him for this office and indeed the letters reveal that he was fairly well educated. Since he was already twenty-two or twenty-three when he came to Nova Scotia with his family (who were among the elite of New Jersey), he could well have attended college in his homeland. Besides his work as High Sheriff and deputy crown surveyor, Stephen also kept a store at Westcock in partnership with his father-in-law, which, according to W. C. Milner, was the first one in Sackville Township (before the creation of New Brunswick in 1784, all the stores in this area were in Cumberland Township, near the fort). The late Jake Fisher always maintained that it was located just below his house (the former Blair Botsford house) and Paul Bogaard says that other research seems to bear this out. We also know from the letters to Sarah that he farmed but they don’t suggest that it was on any large scale.
Given his and his father’s close relationship with Amos Botsford, it was probably inevitable that Stephen should court Sarah, whom he called ‘Sally’ in the letters — presumably the name she usually went by and the one I will use here. They were married on January 10, 1790. Following a common pattern of the time, the Millidge and Botsford families were further bonded seven years later with the marriage of Sally’s younger sister, Ann, to one of Stephen’s younger brothers, Rev. John Millidge, the first rector of St. Mark’s Anglican Church at Mount Whatley. Born in 1771, Sally spent her childhood years and received her early education in New Haven, Connecticut, where her father had been a wealthy lawyer and office-holder before losing everything in the King’s cause during the American Revolution. However, in spite of his exile as a Loyalist, Amos maintained cordial relations with family and friends in his homeland and, once the dust had settled, had no difficulty sending his children back to New Haven to finish their education. His only son, William, who was three years younger than Sally, completed a Master of Arts degree as well as some legal studies at Yale University and came home to a very successful career in law, government and, after his father’s death, gentleman-farming at Westcock. To his great credit, Amos was also determined to give his daughters a good education, although, of course, college was out of the question for girls in those days. Sally and Ann appear to have attended a school for young ladies in New Haven; Sally was back in her hometown before William came down for college. She probably returned to New Brunswick in the spring of 1788 with her father who himself went to New Haven in 1787 to visit family and settle some business affairs.
There is some hint in the letters that Sally was not altogether thrilled at the prospect. Rural New Brunswick must have seemed a pretty bleak place to a refined young lady of sixteen recently re-accustomed to the lively social round, elegant homes (her family had owned one of the best of them) and other amenities of New Haven, a fine example of a charming New England town. The new Loyalist Promised Land also had associations of family tragedy. In March of 1787, her maternal grandfather, the once very wealthy New Haven Loyalist, Joshua Chandler, together with an uncle and an aunt, died very unpleasant deaths as the result of a shipwreck near Saint John. They were coming from Annapolis to deliver documents proving their claims to compensation from the British government for losses suffered as a result of their loyalty to the King. To make matters worse, there was a domestic crisis in the Botsford household. Just before he left for New Haven, her father kicked her mother out of the house for adultery. She admitted to the transgression and was thoroughly repentant, but in spite of all her tearful entreaties, he refused to reconcile. So Sally returned to live with her sire in what must have been a tense and gloomy atmosphere in the Botsford house, located in splendid isolation on what was later called Dorchester Island, but at the time was known as Botsford’s Island. The family, or what was left of it, did not move to the impressive new brick mansion ‘Westcock House’ until the spring of 1790, shortly after Sally and Stephen were married.
Given these circumstances, we can imagine that Sally might have entered marriage with some trepidation, and, to judge by the tone of his letters, Stephen seems to have been sensitive to this. The red thread running throughout them is his wish to assure her of his love and devotion to her and their children, and his anxious desire (at times bordering on uxoriousness) to see her happy and confident of his fidelity. It also seems that he was trying to impress her with his writing style and command of the language. The complicated syntax, the use of ‘big words’ where simple ones would do, indeed the sheer verbosity of some passages, especially those expressing his tender feelings for her and the children, are an obvious straining for effect — and the literary results are not always happy ones. But we can forgive Stephen. He was still caught up in a young man’s ardour, and, anyway, it was a compliment to Sally that he assumed enough literacy on her part to appreciate his efforts. Most importantly of all, his feelings were sincere, and altogether worthy of a good man, a good husband and a good father.
B. The Letters
Written in a clear and obviously well-practised hand, the letters are easy to read, or at least those parts of them that survive intact. Unfortunately, two of them have gaps that reduce them to gibberish (albeit very legible gibberish) with occasional flashes of meaning if read as received. However, in one case the size and shape of the missing pieces is easy to discern from the surviving fragments, allowing the number and length of the missing words on each line to be estimated and the words themselves guessed at with varying degrees of confidence. Even where a full reconstruction of the text proved impossible, at least for my limited skills at ‘hangman’, I was able to make out the general sense once I had filled in the background of biographical information and tracked down some of the people and places mentioned therein. Readers may wish to amuse themselves by supplying some of the missing words that I could not, or replacing my conjectures with others of their own devising. Three of the letters are undated, but I was able to establish the approximate time of their composition from internal evidence. Internal evidence also allowed me to put the undated letters in chronological order with reasonable confidence, both in relation to each other and to the three that are dated. I will present the arguments when we come to the letters in question.
1. Fragmentary but dated December 24th 1789.
Readers may convince themselves (or not) of the general plausibility of my reconstruction by comparing it with the photocopy of the original two pages. My interpolations are italicized in square brackets. Where I was unable to come up with anything sensible, I just inserted the brackets.
Regardless of the accuracy of the reconstruction, it is clear that this is a Christmas love letter, written less than three weeks before the wedding. On the first page, which seems relatively easy to figure out, Stephen tells Sally that he is looking forward with the greatest imaginable pleasure to a long and happy marriage. He then semi-apologizes for possibly distracting her from more important things than reading his letter, thus striking the first note of a deferent, solicitous anxiety audible throughout the letters. The second page is more difficult to reconstruct, and in the end I couldn’t make complete sense of it. However, if read in the context of Sally’s general situation at the time, the gist of it comes through. The first three lines complete the thoughts of the first page and express the hope that Sally will welcome his letter. In the second paragraph Stephen seems to speak to her dissatisfaction with her isolated life on Dorchester Island after experiencing the ‘bright lights’ of New Haven and to promise that he will make things better for her in the future. As he will do repeatedly in subsequent letters, he ends with a declaration of his entire devotion to her (“I could talk of you incessantly”). The postscript is too fragmented to discern any meaning except a repetition of his sentiments.
Dec. 24, 1789
The greatest pleasure I can po[ssibly] anticipate is the happiness I now think I [have the] certainty of enjoying, in a long continuatio[n of your] indulgent and affectionate society — convince[d that this] kind of intercourse bears a strong affinity [to the most] superlative comfort, I do not hesitate to [impose] myself, even at the hazard of detaining you[, albeit for a] short time, from your more necessary and w[omanly] avocations. Any thing from those we esteem [worthy as a] consequence of honorable motives — a strict [adherence] to truth, and conveying sentiments of respect [love and] regard, is generally acceptable — On this pr[esumption] (you see I am a little vain) I trust my Le[tter will] [deserve to] meet that welcome, which the exertions of a [hand obe]dient to the dictates of a Heart most [sincerely] devoted to you may convey.
In a place like this, where home [inte]rests are the only variety, and where even (part of line crossed out)… ty when a person is [only par]tly satisfied with his situation, you must [not expec]t anything gay or novel — indeed, whenever I […]re the importance of the Cause is so [indeli]bly established in my mind that I cannot [turn] my fancy to any other object — had I one […]t, I could talk of you incessantly — as [it stands] my only pleasure arises from a conviction, [that so]me future period will attone (God knows when) [allo]wing me to talk with you.
I have inclosed […] to your Father, a […] hand, which can […] health and happiness […] estimation of yo[…]
2. Intact and dated November 6, 1791.
Stephen is away in Hillsborough on some protracted business that seems to be associated with surveying — although I would not have guessed this had I not learned from Paul Bogaard’s work that he was a deputy crown surveyor. That would certainly explain “the several applications for my services.” Most of the letter is straightforward enough, but I can’t resist making a few comments. Given what we know of the socio-economic status of the Millidges and Botsfords, Stephen’s intimation that he really needs this work “as an alleviation to our minds” comes as a real surprise. Surprising too, is the small number of sheep and cattle he appears to own. At first glance, Fanny and Mrs. Taylor appear to be milk cows, simply because they have names, but a closer reading suggests that they are being fed outside and are not even at home. Thus — unless they are dry cows waiting to calve — they could be beef cattle, in which case their having names would be another indication among many that Stephen was a sentimental man. Notice also his empathy for the sheep that will “meet the common fate of us all tomorrow.” Again, he assures Sally of his undying devotion and makes veiled reference to her “difficulties.”
This letter also sheds some interesting light on how private letters traveled in the days before postal service. Mr. Lane of Hillsborough — whom I was unable to identify — was going to Westcock on some business and he carried Stephen’s letter to Sally and (hopefully) her reply back to him.
Hillsbro Sunday Nov. 6 1791
I shall ever, my dearest Sally, while the power of recollection remains, and your merit appears on its present view, hold you uppermost in my mind — in the evening when I go to rest and before I rise in the morning, you and our little Ann are the subjects of my most fervent ejaculations. The late Storm on Friday last rendered my business here more perplexing, tedious and laborious than it would otherwise have been, and the several applications for my services will oblige me to be absent from my dearest girl longer than I first expected. I am however convinced that this necessity of my being constantly, honestly and honorably employed, will operate as an alleviation to our minds and finally render us independent of the demands & superior to the insolence of rapacity or longer suffering. Was I not certain that you or your neighbours would be a little attentive to the cattle, I should feel very anxious on their account, for this merciful man is merciful to his beasts. Before I left home, Mr. Burnham1 promised to give Fanny the same allowance of Hay that he served out to his own cattle, she therefore cannot suffer; but I am most at a loss to know how Mrs. Taylor is provided for — a fat cow without particular care will greatly fall off in one or two storms — will my dear Sally ask her father to let Sam2 stable her with his Hay and Barn until my return? The expense cannot be much and that added to the trouble shall be paid. When I left you I had two sheep. One, I suppose, will meet the common fate of us all tomorrow for the maintainance (sic) of my dearest Facino3 the other I offered to Michael Pen4 should he want it. Isaac5 will shew him which to kill and we can agree on the Price when I return.
If your uncle Tom6 comes over, be so good as to know whether he takes the mare, and when, as it is quite time some provision was made for her winter sustenance and payment. I write this at the House of Mr. Lane, the Bearer, with whose repeated solicitations to spend a little time I last night complied. He will return from Westmorland in a day or two and I shall call at this place on my way homeward about the same time, where I hope to meet an account of your health and Ann’s. You know my dearest Sally, that my usual stile (sic) of writing is more to convey my real sentiments than from a wish to flatter; believe me then, when with the most unequivocal sincerity and strictest truth, I declare I prize you above all women, that I sympathise in all your difficulties and rejoice when you are happy and have no doubt but those feelings are reciprocal toward your sincerely affectionate.
(Signature and part of a post script missing)
Should the W [ ] meet your kind and [ ] Saturday at first [ ]
- Probably Jonathan Burnham, another prominent Sackville citizen. He was a justice of the peace and, according to W.C. Milner, “settled with Stephen Millidge who lived near the Botsford place in West Sackville.” I recently found some evidence that he lived at Westcock Landing, near the store.
- Obviously difficult to identify, but possibly Samuel Gay, another justice of the peace as well as a member of the legislative assembly and a man whom, as High Sheriff, Stephen would have known well, as would his father-in-law. One problem with this guess is that Gay was a resident of Westmorland Parish, but he could have had some marshland near Westcock.
- I have no idea who this was. It seems like some kind of a nickname, but for whom? Sally herself might be a logical choice, but Stephen uses it nowhere else in the letters.
- I was unable to find any trace of him in the records available to me.
- Probably a hired man, but possibly a slave. A number of prominent families in this area had a few slaves at this time. We will see later that the Millidges were among them.
- Thomas Chandler, one of the four children of Joshua Chandler who did not die in the 1787 tragedy. Thomas was a prominent lawyer who also occasionally deputized for his brother-in-law, Amos Botsford, as Clerk of the General Sessions of the Peace. It appears that he and Amos were on good terms in spite of what had happened to his sister, also called Sarah, who seems to have been shunned by all the family. His brother, Charles H. Chandler, was for many years the High Sheriff of Cumberland County. More famously, he was also the father of Edward Barron Chandler, Dorchester’s Father of Confederation. We will briefly meet Joshua’s other surviving daughter, Mary, in Letter 6.
3. Intact but undated.
However, this letter can be dated from internal evidence together with some other information I found on genealogical websites, as well as from my above-mentioned study on local government. It is known that Stephen and Sally produced seven children and that the eldest, Ann, was born in 1791. This is clearly the Ann that Stephen asks Sally to kiss for him, but the important point here is that she is the only child so far. We also know that Ann was followed by Mary and later by Jane. From the next letter (number 4), which is fragmentary but dated, we can deduce that Jane was born about six months before May of 1795, meaning that Mary, the second child, who was already talking by that date, must have been born in 1793 or sometime in 1792 after this letter was written — otherwise she would have been mentioned. From the addendum to the present letter (number 3) we learn that Stephen is attending a General Sessions of the Peace at Westmorland Point (Green Hill) where the county courthouse was located until 1800 when it burned down and the shiretown was moved to Dorchester. We also learn that the Sessions will end in one more day, and that there is a lot of snow on the ground. The General Sessions met twice a year and during the years we are concerned with here, it always began on the third Tuesday in January and June. Obviously, Stephen was attending the January Sessions. The third Tuesday in January of 1792 fell on the 17th, and in 1793 on the 15th. Now, by law, the General Sessions was required to finish its business in five days. From this we can conclude with reasonable confidence that the letter was written either on January 20th 1792 (and this would be my guess) or on January 18th, 1793. If it were written on the former date, it would be a response to Sally’s reply to Letter 2. Again we learn that the letters were carried opportunistically by friends or trusted acquaintances that happened to be going in the right direction, this time by Captain Eddy. The close relationship between Stephen and his father-in-law is particularly evident in this letter. It’s rather pleasant to observe them taking time off from their busy affairs for an occasional ‘night on the town’. We mustn’t be too shocked at the dancing in the courthouse. I don’t know about the one at Westmorland Point, but its replacement in Dorchester hosted a full-time tavern, and quite a lively one it was, too, so I understand. Stephen’s letter follows:
I did not till this instant know that I should have an opportunity so shortly to answer my dear Sally’s letter but Capt. Eddy1 has informed me that he is resolved to see the metropolis of Sackville if possible this night. We called at Mr. Kinnear’s2 on our way over and bought from his house about two Bottles of Port each, which rendered us in fine order for any event that might happen. On our way towards Green Hill3, observing an uncommon light in the Court House, we agreed to stop and know the cause. We found a number of People collected to dance at the invitation of a Mr. Goliden4, on whose salutation we staid till about three o’clock this morning. I drove off to Wethereds5 where I slept and your Father remained at Green Hills. Allan6 is better & likely to recover. Since my arrival here I have received a piece of information which is that Phebe7 is married to a Mr. Wheaton or Whidden of Cornwallis — a steady, active [smart?] fellow and of some property. How true it may be I know not, but suppose such a story could not have made itself. Poor girl, don’t you pity her!8 Kiss Ann for me and I wish I could kiss her mother for myself. Don’t, my dearest best of girls, be afraid that anything in this or any other place can make me forget your industry and attachment. The Court is now closing and everything in a Bustle. Believe me most sincerely and affectionately your
Wednesday: The Court has this moment finished all Business that requires the attendance of a Jury and we have only one Day more to attend the Business of the Sessions, when I hope to pay my respects to my dearest girl at Westcock. Should your father’s engagements prove as numerous as I am at present induced to apprehend, I think I shall leave him and march over on snowshoes. I have some accounts to settle and other matters, which done, expect your Steph.
- Probably Jonathan Eddy, son of the leader of the Eddy Rebellion. Alone of the Eddy sons, Jonathan Jr. continued to reside in Sackville after the Rebellion ended in collapse. He appears several times in the record of the Westmorland County Generals Sessions of the Peace as a juror and was even appointed to a couple of parish offices.
- Most likely Andrew Kinnear, a justice of the peace and, along with Amos Botsford, Charles Dixon and Samuel Gay, one of the four original members of the legislative assembly for Westmorland. As a Loyalist he would have been a good friend of Amos and Stephen. For what it is worth, he does not appear in the lists of those licensed to sell liquor by the General Sessions of the Peace, but apparently that didn’t stop him from doing so to the High Sheriff and the leading justice of the county (Amos). I suppose rank had its privileges, then as now.
- Paul Bogaard learned from members of the Martin family, who lived there for years, that Green Hill(s) was on the south side of Mount Whatley, now cut through by the Trans Canada Highway.
- I have no idea who he was, or what his authority was for using the courthouse. Certainly, he held no county or parish office at this time, and I have never run across the name in any of my researches. It was also unknown to W. C. Milner and Howard Trueman.
- Joshua Wethered, Deputy Sheriff for the county. He succeeded Stephen as High Sheriff.
- Very likely William Allan, another justice of the peace and sometime Deputy Clerk of the General Sessions of the Peace. Allan was on close terms with the Botsfords and Millidges. Milner tells us that it was he who, in his capacity as a justice of the peace, married Rev. John Millidge to Botsford’s youngest daughter, Ann, in the Botsford home at Westcock. Interestingly enough, he was the father of John Allan, one of the original fomenters of the Eddy Rebellion (although John distanced himself from Eddy when he saw how little chance his rag tag force had of succeeding.) William and the rest of his family remained loyal to the crown and were duly rewarded. Was Allan seriously ill, or was Stephen making a joking reference to a hangover?
- Again, I was unable to identify her. Obviously, she was familiar to both Stephen and Sally and, since she was living in the Annapolis Valley, she might well have been a Millidge relative.
- I wonder whether this was meant ironically. It’s hard to see why Sally would pity a girl who had snagged such a good catch.
TO BE CONTINUED
All the best for new year!