in Upper and Lower Canada, 1780-1870

A view from Diaries and Family Correspondence by Francoise Noel
McGill-Queen's University Press 2005
ISBN 0-8835-2445-2


Family papers contain many different types of correspondence, with examples of letters to and for every possible family relationship. ... I have also used the letters of William Douglas, a lawyer establishing a new practice in Chatham, and Jane Hudson of Toronto, the daughter of Captain Richard H. Hudson, a marine architect, and Julie Connor.

Not every courtship followed the established rules, however, and there was still room for love at first sight, as the case of William Douglas shows.

There is perhaps no greater testimonial to the ongoing relationship between parents and children well after the children leave home than in the care of elderly parents; the Douglas correspondence provides us with a poignant example of this.

Chapter 1: Courtship and Engagement

William Douglas and Jane Hudson, p.48-51

In the early nineteenth century gentlemen did not socialize with young ladies without first having been introduced to them, usually through a relative or common family friend. Entry into middle class and elite social circles was thereby regulated, and only those who had someone who could vouch for their good reputation were allowed to enter. Courtship would be impossible without first having gained entry into that group. The situation for a young man who fell in love from a distance with someone with whom he had no friends in common was therefore quite hopeless.

This, however, is exactly the situation that William Douglas found himself in. He met Jane Emily Hudson in Toronto in the summer of 1861, in an unexplained incident that was somewhat embarrassing to her. After that chance meeting she still did not know who he was, and as "My Dear Miss," he asked if it would be permissible for him to be introduced to her, making the excuse that gentlemen are ignorant of rules or cordiality. He was clearly well aware that he was breaking those rules.

When she replied to his note, he wrote to her from Chatham, explaining that he wanted to be admitted to her circle of friends because he thought that her opinions and ideas would not be very different from his. He seldom made friends, he said, because he found it unpleasant to have his ideas treated rudely. He also disliked having to repress his views to avoid wounding others. On what basis he believed she would be different is hard to imagine, but his letter suggests that he had observed her for some time, without having made her acquaintance. Following her suggestion, he let her know when he was next in Toronto, and asked where he could call on her. Having met her at the end of August, he wrote again, fully aware that he was taking a great liberty in doing so but encouraged by the cordiality with which he had been received. He should have asked her mother's permission he admitted, but felt embarrassed to do so. Their first chaperoned walk had been cut short, and he had not had the chance to explain fully. Writing to a friend was second only to seeing a friend, he added, and Toronto had taken on more interest to him and Chatham lost proportionately since he had seen her. He hoped that she would write.

Jane Hudson's mother, who had known William for years by sight, possibly through the church, decided to allow this correspondence despite the rather unusual circumstances. She admitted that "such attachments do occur sometimes."

William moved to greater familiarity immediately. His early letters were addressed to "Miss Hudson." Now he addressed Jane as "dearest Jeannie" and signed himself: "I remain Dearest Jeannie Ever yours Wm Douglas." He felt that formalities and proprieties were no longer necessary between them in their correspondence. She could call him whatever she preferred, William or Willie. He hoped that she would say or ask anything she thought, since he could no consider a friend anyone who had reserve with him. Laughing at himself a little for being so struck with this "malady" [love], he admitted that this was especially so in his case because he and the reputation of being a "woman hater." From the end of September their correspondence proceeded on that basis. They obviously still had much to learn about one another, but there was no doubt in William's mind as to the reasons for this correspondence. Jane maintained that she needed time to see if she could reciprocate his feelings but entered into the correspondence willingly.

In the months that followed, their correspondence continued, punctuated by occasional visits when William went to Toronto. He got to know her family and began including greetings to them in his letters. They exchanged photographs, which gave them both pleasure. "Isn't it very strange that one whose very image & almost every look & feature(?) is engraved in one mind so perfectly can be brought up before the mind in a different way by a (?) picture," he wrote. She began to miss him when he was not there, shedding a tear when he left and wanting to avoid social occasions unless he was there as her escort. William disagreed with her on this, pointing out that his own social life was not reduced by her absence. As they found it more difficult to be apart, he expressed his philosophy on the subject: "[P]leasure in this world, is ever purchased at great trouble & vexation & we must expect our share of it & our future pleasure must be purchased it seems by our separation now - at all events the separation will add to it."

When they were together, they must have talked of many things, but if his letters are any indication of the subjects they touched upon, religion was a central one. She was very devout in her religious practices whereas he was a Christian in name but without any real commitment to formal religious practices, especially keeping the Sabbath. He usually attended the Presbyterian Church but admitted that he did so out of duty and got very little from it. He did not like any of the three Presbyterian ministers, and on occasion he simply did not bother to go to church at all. He might also go for a walk in the country on a Sunday afternoon, or write to her, despite his sense that this was not quite appropriate. She was concerned that he did not partake in the sacraments. He replied that as long as the little good in him was smothered by his wicked companions, it would be impossible to change. He hoped it would be different when he led a different kind of life.

His sensibilities were definitely Protestant, however, and his reaction to the Roman Catholic practices witnessed at a funeral was one of disgust. He also demonstrated racist ideas as evidenced by his lack of sympathy for the activism in favor of blacks which the church engaged in, and a conversation with the house-servant at the boarding house where he lived.

They wrote of Toronto and Chatham. William found people in Chatham less cold than in Toronto, and found that many of the inhabitants who were of American origin had what he thought of as eccentric habits. Many Scots had settled in the area, and he wished he could speak Gaelic to them. he liked the bagpipes, not because of the music, which he said was "rough," but because of their association with home, where he had sometimes heard them in the hills.

Generally he found that there were few events in Chatham worth mentioning. He described for Jane the various social functions he attended, and while claiming not to enjoy these much, he seldom refused an invitation. In November 1861 he was involved in the organization of a great ball for St. Andrew's Day. She wrote to him about her dreams, and he tried to interpret them for her. They seldom wrote of politics or current events. He referred to the talk of war, however, and told her that he himself had volunteered for drilling, four hours a week. he said little about his law practice except to mention any trips that he undertook because of it. Through this correspondence and his visits to Toronto, they learned more about each other. Both seemed satisfied with what they learned, and the courtship progressed rapidly.

Before the year was out, William sought Jane's father's permission to marry her. In January he was very pleased to hear that her "papa [had] so kindly consented to [their] union." Their situation continued much as before, however, and the correspondence between them did not change as a result of their engagement. That summer William planned a trip out West to visit his brother George, and was gone for almost three weeks at the beginning of August. It was no until December that they began to make plans to marry.

William Douglas's chance meeting of Jane Hudson did not in and of itself provide him with an opportunity to get to know her. He needed an introduction and permission to become part of her social circle. It might seem surprising that her mother was open to this possibility, but it must be remembered that she had known him by sight for many years. His dress and appearance must have met with her approval, identifying him as respectable. Although she does not explain where she had seen him, it is possible that they had been members of the same congregation in Toronto. If that was the case, her willingness to accommodate him would take on a slightly different perspective. She may also have made enquiries about him that she does not mention. If he had not met with her approval, the door to her daughter's affection would have remained closed. That was only the first step. Once that door was opened, he would still have to earn Jane's love based on his own merits before he could hope for more. That she accepted to be courted by someone she barely knew must mean that she too had been favorably impressed with what she saw when she first met him. Though not quite love at first sight, it was perhaps as close to it as one was likely to get in middle-class circles of nineteenth-century Canada.

Chapter 2: Marriage

The Wedding, p.71

Although brides seem to also have had the final say on the date of their marriage, this was subject to a number of constraints, as is evident in the case of William Douglas and Jane Hudson. Having decided to marry early in their courtship, they had to wait until he was more established. She would get to set the date for their marriage, but only once he was ready for her to do so. First there were delays because of his financial situation:

I have to express to you my love my regret that I fear I shall not be able to get my affairs arranged so that we can be married this month. I am exceedingly sorrowful that I have not been more successful in doing so, but it seems almost impossible ... I have a large amount standing out due to me payment of which was promised me early this fall - & on which I relied. Well I have hitherto been deceived but I trust only for a short time ... I owe a few small debts - & I want to settle all these, and begin a new. When we are married cutting all my old bad practices - of course you will see the propriety of this darling - I trust now that in a few weeks at farthest I shall ask you to fix a time for our marriage.

Difficulty in finding a house meant they again had to push the date onward. Then, as final plans were being made, William received work that his niece Isabella was very ill. She died in March. Having by this time settled on a May wedding, they had to decide if this would still be acceptable.

William wrote: "This sad death would have been the means of postponing it for some time had it been fixed sooner - This will allow plenty of time for everything & for some a little of the heavy grief that is felt by us all to pass off - I do not suppose they will deem that too soon." Jane pointed out that Wednesday was the best day for getting married, and proposed the 6th or the 13th of May, the earlier the better. Although she worried that his "friends and father" might find it too soon after Isabella's death, she also pointed out that it would be a very quiet occasion, neither of them wanting it otherwise. Looking forward five weeks into the future she wrote: "wont it be a happy day darling, the day on which the greatest event of our life is to happen." But at the end of April, it looked like their house would still not be ready on time if they married on the 6th. This may be when they decided to take a wedding trip, as this would get them out of Chatham until the house was ready.

William Douglas married Jane Hudson on Wednesday, 6 May 1863, in a ceremony performed in Toronto by the Reverend William Gregg. Things did not go quite as planned, however, because the minister arrived late. Jane handled herself well under these trying circumstances, showing some emotion but not falling apart.

It is from those who could not attend a wedding and sent their congratulations in writing, and from family letters immediately after a wedding, that we can occasionally find an expression of the feelings of family members and their good wishes for the couple. Jane Hudson's father, for example, could not attend her wedding but wrote her a brief note thereafter wishing her well:

"I received you welcome letter, and am glad to find by it that you are so happy, may God bless you and William is my prayer for without it all earthly riches and honors is but poverty and empty sound, you will no doubt know by this that I have left the highland trade ...

"It cheers me to hear that you are well altho I have no hope of ever seeing you in this life but we must look forward to a better, where we shall meet to part no more. I know my darling Jane will follow the example that her loving mother has given her and be a good dutiful wife and love her husband and try in every way to make him happy ...

"[N]ow my own darling you must no forget me, try and remember you have a pa still that loves you and that always remembers you in his prayers, write to me and let me know how you like the part of the country where you live, give my best love to William and accept the same from you affectionate father."

William and Jane Douglas received a congratulatory letter from William's brother George in Iowa addressed "Dear brother & sister." George was glad William had married because he would be "more comfortable." He can't resist a bit of teasing, however, and says that if his wife is as good and as good looking as he thinks, she got cheated in getting him. He also refers to their wedding trip and is glad that they enjoyed themselves. he wishes them a long "Honeymoon" which he explains lasts until the first quarrel. He was therefore still in his honeymoon, and sets that up a challenge to William, who was always considered a better boy than George when at home. He wishes them "many long days together in happiness and plenty" before going on to news and other matters. William's brother John also wrote to congratulate him on "the great event in your life." He added he did not think it necessary to tell him that they all wished him happiness. He also sent his "kindest love" to William's wife but did not know her name. He added: "Come down soon as we want to see our Sister."

The Wedding Trip, p.75

After their wedding William Douglas and his bride traveled to Boston where they stayed four days at the Parker House. Their stay there cost them $24.15 for a room, meals, and a carriage. This trip would probably qualify as a honeymoon. it was definitely a departure from what was expected of them, at least by William's family. His brother Donald expressed his disappointment at their not arriving as expected for a visit after the wedding. In June John wrote, regretting that a later visit had not materialized. Jane was able to smooth things over with them, and received a very nice letter from William's father for her efforts. With regards to their trip, he wrote:

"The tour you had must I am sure been pleasing & useful to you both. And I am sure you must feel thankful that you have both arrived home in safety for when we leave home we cannot tell what accident may befall any of us. But it is [a] pleasing as well as a comforting & consoling thought that we are always safe if we will only seek earnestly & sincerely that protecting care which our Kind Preserver has promised to exercise over all who ask it alright. And I do most sincerely hope my dear children that you are daily in the habit of devoutly supplicating that Blessing which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow."

Setting Up A Home, p.79

Both in law and in practice, it was the husband who decided where the new couple would live. Jane Hudson would join William Douglas in Chatham where he had established his law practice. The winter before they married he began searching for a "cottage" for Jane and himself, but with little success. In February he told her that several houses would be available after April 1st. Only one turned out to be really suitable, however, and it would not be vacated before the middle of the month He wrote, frustrated: "I can get no other place here where I could take you to well - I would not let you board at the hotel here - and really I do not know what to do - I am desirous we should if possible be married before that time - if you are agreeable I have furniture and all ready to furnish a house with." It is interesting to note that he also made the arrangements regarding furniture, giving her little choice in the matter. When they returned from their wedding trip, Jane settled into Chatham with William and began her duties as a wife and housekeeper. A neat page listing items and their prices remains as the only indication of her role in this area.

Chapter 4: Married Life


After their marriage, William and Jane Douglas, for example, seldom has reason to write to each other. A few letters were exchanged between them again when Jane went back to Toronto to spend time with her family. While in Toronto in 1864 she wrote that this was the longest they had been separated since they were married. Although she was enjoying her visit, she added, "and I beg never to be left behind you again." Some of these later letters are undated and so the length of timing of her visits cannot be reconstructed from them. William missed Jane and the children when she was not there, and at times had problems with the servants. At one point Jane expressed her fear that he had lost interest in her, but this seems to have been a panic reaction of not having received a letter when she expected one. The tone of the letters from William addressed to his "Dearest Jeannie" or to "My Darling pet" suggest that they continued to be as much in love after marriage as before. We know much less about their married life that we do about their courtship, however, even thought the family papers extend well beyond their marriage.

Chapter 5: Childbirth and Infancy

Miscarriages, p.134

Husbands also had to live with fears around childbearing. We hear from John Douglas's perspective of his wife's brush with death after a miscarriage: "I feel deeply when I tell you that Mary is very low she is so much so that she is Dangerous," he wrote;. She had been sick for three weeks and then seemed better. She then worsened and had reached a critical low point that left her husband tortured with fear: "I cannot endure the thought of being left alone fore for alone it would be me & the children God for Bid it I still cling to the hope that she will be restored to health I have Just sent for another Doctor (You will be wondering what is the matter I may say that she had a Miscarriage other things has set in she is very weak." Although Mary did survive this short passage is nonetheless the emotional outpouring of a husband who fears the death of his spouse. To him in contrast to the enormity of that possible loss the miscarriage seems incidental.

Chapter 6: Childhood


Divided opinion as to the use of violence against children surfaced as a difficult issue in the Douglas family. Alexander Douglas's housekeeper, Mrs. Bain, had been seen hitting one of the boys for being a few minutes late from school, to the point of drawing blood. She was suspected of being abusive on a frequent basis. When confronted on this issue by his brothers, Alex replied that she had done nothing wrong. Even when his brothers and father said they could not visit him as long as the woman retained her position, he remained unconvinced of the need to send her away. After careful consideration, brother Donald decided to raise the matter with a third brother, William, hoping that he could help them resolve the issue. The intervention of family members in this case is of interest because it suggests that they placed the well-being of their nieces and nephews above the privacy of the nuclear family. This may have been easier because the violence originated from someone who was hired to look after the children, not a parent. The inaction on the part of the father is harder to understand, but his situation (his wife was in an asylum in Toronto) - may have restricted his options.

Chapter 7: Childhood Accidents, Illness, and Death

The Douglas Family, p.166

Although not life-threatening, teething could be a trying phase for o\both parents and children because there was little that could be done to relieve the pain. When Georgie Douglas was cutting his second eyetooth, he screamed constantly, keeping his mother awake at night but unable to help him.

Scarlet fever was one of the most feared of childhood diseases because it was so often fatal. Alexander Douglas lost his son George Henry to scarlet fever in 1857, but in this case, it had been preceded by whooping cough and complicated by mumps. Scarlet fever would strike Alexander's family at least twice more in the following year. In a letter to William and Jane in 1863, John Douglas thought that perhaps there were avoiding a visit because of the illness. He did not blame them, because it was such a dreadful disease for children, but he assureed them that it was all over. However, in 1853 his children were again sick with it, and little Johnny would die from it after much suffering. There has been two other deaths in the area as well, as Donald reported to William.

Measles, another common childhood disease, was also known to be contagious and that exposure to children with it should be avoided. However, when houses were small and children slept in the same room if not the same bed, that must have been difficult to achieve. When John Douglas's children got "that despret desese," he had four children ill with it at once: one very sick, one almost over it, and two just starting. The fifth child was not showing the disease, but he assumed that he would get it too. When little Walter Douglas became ill with measles on the way home to Iowa after a visit to his cousins in Percy Township, his uncle was a little surprised to hear of it, because none of the children in the area had it.

Donald Douglas's daughter Isabelle fell victim to a rarer illness. Having survived early childhood diseases, she had always been in delicate health, but in May 1862, at age fourteen, she became seriously ill with what was called "Belles Intermiting Fever." She could not stand unassisted and the doctor consulted thought she had "enflamatory rumatism." She regained her health a little, but in December she and the other children in the family got the measles, and she recovered only slowly. By February she was sick again and down in spirits. She wanted to write to her Uncle William to send the knife he had promised, but couldn't. She continued to decline despite a special trip to bring her to a doctor in Cobourg who said that she was in "Consinition." She could no longer get out of bed and could scarcely eat anything. She looked forward to a visit from her uncle, however, and asked for a new dress for when he came.

Her parents were aware that Isabelle was dying, although she herself seemed not to know it. Trying to satisfy his dying daughter's wishes, her father added a note to his letter to William the following day: "this morning Isy is very low her bowel complaint is very bad write her at once." Isabelle's father's letters do not mention the extra work or problems caused by having a fifteen-year-old daughter bedridden and ill rather than helping with family chores. They express only his concern and fear for her life. It is from his brother John that we learn that Donald provided much of her care, since when she was at her worst, she would not allow him out of the room. Despite running sores on her neck and being unable to eat anything but a little milk, she clung to life. She died a short time later.

Her death took a heavy toll on her father. It led to health problems sounding like depression, which he sought help for in Kingston from Dr. Dixen, a professor of Queen's College, and from several other doctors. They agreed that he should keep quiet and not work, and should keep his mind at ease, choosing cheerful company. Donald tried to follow their advice but as he wrote to his brother, "sometimes the thought of my dear Isabelle comes into my mind and I feel it very hard."

Chapter 8: Parent-Child Relationships


Those without property, however, would not have this option and might be forced to turn to their children for assistance and in some cases to go to live with them. As long as the parents remained healthy they might have been only a moderate burden, but if they became ill, this would add considerable work to families already caring for several of their own children. In spite of this, we find examples of children accepting such a burden, ungrudgingly even. George Douglas seems to have been particularly fortunate in that regard, as several of his children and even his grandchildren shared the duties associated with this care as he got older. This example, revealed in their correspondence, offers insights into what caring for a parent in this period entailed. There appear to be similarities with the care of patients with Alzheimer disease today.

A widower of seventy-seven in 1861, George Douglas lived with his son Donald. Both his son John and his son Alexander lived nearby, and he would spend time with them as well when he wanted to. In the Douglas correspondence, we can trace the progress of his aging and its attendant illnesses prior to his death in 1865.

In 1862 he was still quite healthy but "failing fast." In May of that year, he was becoming feeble, but he remained much the same until the spring of the following year. He then seems to have suffered a heart attack that left him partly paralyzed ("parlitick"); he went out one day in his usual health but his knees or legs failed him and he had to be carried home. He was not able to help himself, but he could still make use of his "vitills," Although he sometimes rallied, his sons had no illusions and wrote to their brother William: "[T]he fact is you need not be surprised to hear of his Death at any time he is an old man now and we can not expect him to live long indeed such old age is but grief & labour." He remained in this situation for some time, which meant that he spent some time in bed and some in a chair but had to be helped from one to the other. By May he had recovered somewhat and was described as "quite smart." He was well enough to go to Alex's to spend some time in June. That caused problems, however, because of his conflicts with Mrs. Bain. Donald wrote to William at the end June saying that their father had lost his faculties and had to be watched like a child but that he was difficult to manage especially around Mrs. Bain when he went to Alex's: "what a curse that woman has been amongst us." Still, they had made up their minds to do the best they could with him. By September he was a little better, and spending a lot of time at Alex's. Somehow, this was no longer a problem, "as he thinks a good dale of Mrs. Bain now."

That winter he was worse again, as John reported: "Father is quite poorly he is with us he is not able to help himself he cannot walk or stand alone more than a child it is quite a Job to move him in or out of bed for he is very heavy and helpless but his health doe not seem bad for he sleeps sound his faculties is leaving him But I cant say that I see any Death signs about him of course he is an old man & may drop of at any time."

He remained weak that Christmas and was disappointed not to have William's visit. Although he was barely able to walk about, he was able to spend a week with John's family and a few days at Alex's before going home to Donald's.

George Douglas Sr. remained fairly well through the following winter and summer. In the fall of 1864, just as Donald and John were making plans to go to the exhibition in Hamilton and visit William in Chatham, he became ill again ("his water cant be got from him"). That meant they had to hire a man to look after him when they left for even a few days, so the trip to Chatham had to be cancelled. He got through this crisis and they were able to get something to relieve him, but the illness left him prostrate and they did not expect him to be able to move about again. He remained bedridden for the next six weeks and a watch had to be kept on him day and night. When Alexander wrote this, he added that he was pretty well worn out and had not had his clothes off in eight days, so his father must have been at his place during this time. The old man was doing a little better and would not need to be operated on as had been anticipated, but he remained very weak and helpless. He was able to sit up a little every day but not to help himself. At one point he fell and cut his brow, though not seriously, but he was "wonderful fretful" at times. This situation remained much the same through Christmas, but in February he was sick again. He was still staying at Alex's, who therefore had the bulk of the work associated with his illness, but his two brothers helped with the expense of getting a man to help out:

"he is very bad with graval again as well as his bowels Alex has a hard case of it with him he has a man to attend to him of course we have to pay the man but you have no Idea of the job it is we must pay him I have been doing something in that way of cours I have not don nere what I think he deservs Donald has don some think." Added later - been to see Father - no better - but see no signs of Death as far as I can see.

This time John was wrong, and death came shortly after. William may have made it home to Percy before his father died, because the next letter from George mentions his getting a letter from Alex with a few words from William about the death. William's reactions went unrecorded, since in May he still had not replied to Alex or John's letters after his father's funeral.

A period of two years had elapsed between George Douglas's first serious attack, which left him partly paralyzed, and his death, During that time he spend several months completely helpless and bedridden able to leave his bed only when carried. But he was fortunate in having three grown sons with whom he could live, and who shared the task of looking after him, even watching him night and day for six weeks when he was seriously ill. The kind of care he needed required physical effort, and his sons, not their wives, had to provide it. This does not mean that he did not create extra work for his daughters-in-law, but we do not know how they perceived this situation. When his sons could not be with him all the time, they hired a man to help out. In his better periods, when he was able to get around bit did not have all his "faculties," other family members including the children had to keep an eye on him and prevent him from wandering or hurting himself. This constant care must have taken a toll on those providing it. It is a tribute to George Douglas that none of his sons ever expressed resentment at having to care for him, and that John would be able to say "I have not done here what I think he deserves."

Although the sons of George Douglas were close to their father and did the best they could for him while he was alive, they were not unduly upset at his death. George, who lived the furthest distance away, was philosophical about it. He was sorry for it, but his father had lived to a good old age and was prepared for death, having lived a pious life. His death was therefore readily accepted. For the brothers who had cared for him through his long illness, it must have come as a relief.

Chapter 9: Domestic Rituals and Celebrations

Birthdays, p.195

Although birthdays were not ignored completely, there was often no special celebration to mark them. William Douglas's correspondence with his fiancee, Jane Hudson, mentioned both of their birthdays but only in passing. He wrote to wish her many happy returns, having forgotten to mention it when he saw her. She would get the letter on the actual day. On his own birthday, he wrote: "You know this is my birthday. So congratulate me - nobody knows it here."

Christmas Celebrations, p.197

Before he was married, William Douglas, whose family had emigrated to Upper Canada from Scotland, went home for Christmas as a matter of course. The Christmas that he was courting Jane Hudson he hoped to spend a few days with her before going to Percy. In the end he was prevented from going home, and although his brothers were sorry not to have him there, they accepted his absence without much comment. They continued at Christmas to expect to see him as well as their brother George, who lived in Iowa, if at all possible. When William did not visit after his marriage, they hoped that they would at least see him at Christmas. He planned to go, but when his wife gave birth early, they were forced to cancel the trip. His family continued to hope that they would come the following Christmas. The idea that family should get together at Christmas was evident here, but in reality William and George were seldom able to do so.

Funerals, p.204

Funeral customs were readily accepted by those who belonged to the group involved, but Catholic practices especially were not always viewed with approval by Protestants. When William Douglas attended a Catholic funeral mass for a young girl whose father was a Protest and (hence many of those present were Protestants), he felt revolted by it and left the priest gave them a double dose for their sins (of being Protestant). "[T]he coffin was taken into the church (sprinkled with holy water before being admitted) then it was covered with about three dozen of candles which were lighted & the greatest quantity of the worst foolish nonsense gave this I ever saw."

Occupational solidarity was an important aspect of many funeral rituals. William Douglas made a trip to the country to attend the funeral of a young lawyer friend who had died of consumption. He felt sad and melancholy because this young man had been cut off in the prime of life and had been a good fellow: "[W]e shall miss him exceedingly - There is much more feeling & sympathy expressed for one in the country than in a city."

Some groups such as the Masons had special funeral rituals. William Douglas, unlike his reaction to the Catholic ceremony, found the Masonic burial service at the grave imposing. A "beautiful & eloquent service" was read, after which each member threw a branch of evergreen into the grave as an emblem of lasting affection. Masonic regalia was then deposited on the coffin, and they all made some sort of march around the grave followed by a closing reading.

Chapter 10: Family Sociability

New Year's and Other Calls, p.215

William Douglas had difficulty with the practice in 1863, the year he was courting Jane Hudson. He wrote that he made about a dozen calls New Year's Day, then stopped because there was no fun in it. He had promised to go to four places the following day, however. It is not clear why he did not enjoy himself that year, but it may simply be because he would have preferred Jane's company to that of the people he had to visit.

Private Entertainment and Parties, p.221

William Douglas described a sleighing party on Lake Erie in 1861, followed by a supper and dance in Chatham, involving twenty or more couples. As a young lawyer just establishing his practice, William felt that he had to attend such functions and pay due court to other local ladies. He claimed, however, that he despised parties, never danced, and would have preferred to stay home and write to his fiancee in Toronto.

Extended Visits, p.242

Before he was married, William Douglas went for several short visits home when he could spare the time from work, and in 1862 also made the journey to Iowa to visit his brother George. His family expected him to visit for several days after his marriage, looking forward to meeting his new bride. They were disappointed, however, when William instead took Jane on a tour to the United States, spending a few days in Boston. His visit home with his new bride was delayed several times, and his family did not actually meet her for over a year after the wedding. Every year his family also hoped brother George would be able to come from Iowa for a visit but were again disappointed. George's brothers planned to visit him, but were not always able to do so. Responsibilities and the difficulties of travel could make it difficult for families to take the time to visit as much as they would have liked.

Chapter 12: Family Correspondence

The Douglas Brothers, p.266

The correspondence between William Douglas and his four brothers presents a considerable contrast as an example of sibling correspondence That they could visit as well as write added a different dimension to their writing. William was the youngest and considerably younger than his elder brothers. In 1856 when he was only eighteen years of age, Donald was forty-three, John was forty-two, George was forty, and Alexander was thirty-five. George had moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where he was a contractor for railroad construction. His father, George Senior, and William's other brothers lived east of Toronto in Percy, Warkworth Township, and Narham.

In 1861 Donald Douglas, then forty-seven, lived in a one story frame house with his wife Elizabeth, forty-three, their three children, all born in Upper Canada - George (fourteen), Isabella (thirteen), and John (ten) - and George Douglas Senior, now seventy-seven and a widower. Donald farmed 395 acres of land, of which 126 were cultivated, valued at $8,000. Both he and his wife had been born in Scotland and were members of the Free Church. John Douglas, a blacksmith, lived in a two-story stone house with his wife, Mary, and their five children aged nine to one year. They too were members of the Free Church, and all the children were born in Upper Canada. Four other persons lived with them, including two hands, one male and one female, employed in the blacksmith shop. John held only fifteen acres of land and kept a horse, four cows and seven pigs.

In 1854 sixteen-year-old William was sent to Toronto to attend Friends Seminary, and in 1857 he was apprenticed to a Toronto lawyer, George A. Phillpots. After receiving his law degree from the University of Toronto in 181, he established his law practice in Chatham. Prior to leaving Toronto, however, he had made the acquaintance of Jane Emily Hudson. His courtship of her through letters and visits to Toronto took priority over his visits home. The courtship progressed, and on 6 May 1863 they were married. Their first child "came earlier than expected" around Christmas that year and a second child was born in 1865. They would have nine children.

Travel by train made contact between all of the Douglas family possible, but as the letters between them show, business and domestic preoccupations could often make visiting difficult. At first, it was William who was expected to visit, and early letters make no mention of his brothers coming to see him unless they were in Toronto on business. William was also expected to come "home" in the case of serious illness. Just prior to his marriage, his niece Isabella became seriously ill, and he received a letter asking him to come up right away if he could, as she wanted to see him, and at least to write to her. After William married, his visits became less frequent, but at first his brothers continued to expect him to be the one to visit. They expected him to bring his new bride home after their marriage, for example, but instead he took her to Boston. Since he also failed to write to tell them this, his brothers became very upset, thinking that something had happened to him. They kept up the pressure for him to come as soon as possible, with the children adding their claims, saying through their father that they wanted to see their new aunt. A much-anticipated visit at Christmas after the marriage had to be put off when William's wife delivered her baby prematurely at seven months, and neither could be expected to travel for some time.

As time went on, William's brothers got more used to the fact that he too had responsibilities that kept him from visiting as often as they would have liked, and eventually they even arrived at the conclusion that they might have to come to see him. When George Senior took ill and they feared he would die, William received two letters, one from John and another from Alexander, informing him of this so that he could come home. When Alexander's young son died in 1857, however, William was sent the sad news but was not expected to attend the funeral. The same was true when John's son died of scarlet fever.

The situation with George was somewhat different because he was so far away. George himself wanted to come for a visit to see his father who was getting old and could not be expected to live much longer. At most, the family hoped for one visit a year from George but were realistic enough to know that it might not be possible. In November 1863, however, they decided it was worth trying to pressure him on the subject. John asked William to write to insist that he come for Christmas, suggesting that if he added his voice, George would not be able to withstand them all.

Not surprisingly, much of the correspondence between William and his brothers in Percy (especially John, who wrote somewhat more frequently), consisted of short notes focusing directly on the issue of an impending visit or the desire for one. Alexander's letters, which were less frequent, were somewhat more philosophical or religious in tone. Early letters also touched on practical issues such as whether William had enough money or whether he needed more shirts made up. Most letters gave basic news as to the health of the various members of the family and mentioned important local events such as births, deaths, and marriages, fires, and departures. Once William was practicing law, his advice on business matters was sometimes consulted, and he in turn was sometimes given advice about his plans. Only rarely did the writers discuss issues such as politics, and often references to such matters were cut short and left for when they would next see each other.

Although most of these letters were not emotional in tone, these brothers were able to express some of their deeper feelings to each other and discuss sensitive issues when necessary, including the difficult matter of Alexander's housekeeper Mrs. Bain. Donald wrote candidly of his distress as his daughter Isabelle was dying: "Oh William how I feel and how her mother feels I cannot tell you[.] may the all wise disposer of all things strengthen us to stand what ... he is likely to do very soon to take our Dear little girl from us we have don all we can but it is of not avail how we feel her pain is not so much as it was she lies at ease by times she has not come to realize yet what in likely soon to come to pass." Several months after Isabella's death, Donald still felt the pain of this loss: "I have had no letter from you since we lost My Dear Isabelle how I feel it her Death appears to be as new to me as when it happened last March I often think it would be well if I could forget it but I cannot how I miss her when I come in she is not and when I go out she is not how pleasant she was."

The correspondence between George and William was somewhat different, but unfortunately only those from George have been preserved. Since there was no real likelihood of visits most of the time, that there were no recriminations on that score but there were complaints about the length of time between letters. Since their letters were often several months apart, they tended to catch each other up on family news, but then went on to discuss more general matters such as politics, business, and the Civil War. George's letters contained some detail about his work in railroad construction and the difficulties he faced with payments or with finding adequate numbers of men. He and William evidently disagreed on a number of issues, including the Civil War, but they did so in a good-natured way. That these two brothers were particularly fond of each other is evident from the jocular tone in many of their letters. In one, George acknowledged receipt of William's "likeness" and told him that he was much older than when he last saw him. He then added that if William was going to get a wife, he had better do so soon, or he would not be able to get a young one, as he himself had. In trying to describe George to his fiancee, William wrote: "I thought I told you I had a brother out in Iowa who has not been over here for some years. His name is George - He's such a fine jolly fellow - I'm a little boy by his side - and he's so amusing - always joking & laughing with every one he sees, or can come within shouting distance of - and fancy his hair is as gray as can be - almost white."

William's brothers were all married, and their wives usually sent their best wishes or added a few lines to a letter. They also carried on a separate correspondence with each other, none of which has survived. One of the brothers added a separate letter to Jane in with his letter to William, to acknowledge the receipt of her letter thanking him for his hospitality when they visited. A letter from Jane was not considered a substitute for one fro William, however. George addressed this directly: "I hope you are all well altho I have not hard from you in a dogs age what is the matter Wm you dont write I wrote you 5 or 6 months ago and got no answer as yet Margret says she had a letter from Jane and you was well that was Consolation but I thought you that could do it so quick [and might] write your self if you was as Poor a pen man as me you would not write at all. But I suppose the Oile fever has Turned your head. Details of family life might be left to their wives to cover if they were writing at the same time, but generally that was not the case. Letterwriting was a personal responsibility, therefore, and the relationships that emerged between the sisters-in-law - and were maintained through frequent contact, as in the case of Donald and John's wives, or through correspondence, as with Jane and George's wife - were separate from those that existed between the brothers.

In this family of brothers, then, the task of writing was not assumed by women. The Douglas brothers were very close to one another, and looked forward to seeing each other and having "proper visits" with time to discuss politics and business. When William did not write for a time, they were quick to assume that something was wrong or that they had offended him. They confronted these fears openly, however, and kept the lines of communication open. William's older brothers slowly adjusted to his new circumstances and began to visit him in Chatham, while they continued to expect his visits home to Percy.


Both mothers and fathers formed strong bonds with their children. Nowhere was this more evident than when a child died: Donald Douglas's poignant description of his daughter Isabella's death and his illness thereafter, attested to the closeness between them.