New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Too-Easy Life of Nova Scotians Disproved

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From the blog at

Sally Port

Sally Port at Fort Anne, Annapolis Royal, N.S.

From Dalhousie University

As with last week’s blog, this story is from the anonymous book Letters from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Illustrative of Their Moral, Religious, and Physical Circumstances During the Years 1826, 1827, and 1828, Edinburgh, 1829.

This fictional story (in the form of a letter) recounts events at a dance party Annapolis, Nova Scotia, in 1826. In it, an old Scottish veteran disrespects Nova Scotia men, and especially women, for their too-easy lives. The story then passes to an old lady, whose life has been anything but easy. The old veteran is on the ‘lees of his life,’ and both characters have faced difficulties enough.

The Too-Easy Life of Nova Scotians Disproved

May 2, 1826

My Dear Sir,

I have had the honour of attending one of the Annapolis assemblies. These are held in the mess-room in the barracks. The apartment is exceedingly low in the roof, but large, and admirably adapted for country dances. The whole arrangements are made by three gentlemen, of whom my friend the Doctor is one, who have been chosen to conduct them for the season by the subscribers. They do credit to their taste and assiduity.

The company consisted of twenty or thirty ladies and twelve or fourteen gentlemen, and as scarcely the half of these last condescended “to trip it on the light fantastic toe,” most of the first seemed to be without the pale of the night’s amusements, and at shivering on their seats along the wall. Six of the males were employed at card-tables, and one or two sat wholly aloof from all engagements whatsoever.

Few of the ladies were taught dancers, but still they appeared to me to trip it gracefully. “What a beautiful sight,” said I to a Scotch officer who happened at the moment to walk unto the room. “It is indeed. I did not think that there had been so many bonny lasses in Nova Scotia. But, my dear Sir, Scotland after all is the land of beauty. These girls may all be called pretty; but then they have not the red cheeks or the light step of the ‘land of cakes.’ That girl, (he pointed without observation except by myself to a young lady amongst the dancers,) might be considered exceedingly handsome, if she had not such a mass of flesh upon her bones.” “I see,” said I, “you are a true Scotchman; but do you not think they dance beautifully?” “Oh, if you make abatement for their heaviness, and their ignorance of the scientific part of the matter, I grant you that they perform admirably. But, after all, in strict propriety of language, there are only two dancers amongst the ladies, and one amongst the gentlemen, and these are not natives of Nova Scotia.” “I bow, Sir, with all humility to your judgment in these matters, for I myself am profoundly ignorant of them. The generality of the ladies, indeed, appear to be pale and corpulent. What can be the cause of it?” “Oh, it is obvious. They do not walk a tithe of our British ladies. Beauty, Sir, I admit, depends greatly upon the natural conformation of the features and the limbs. Art has its virtues also in this respect. But exercising the body in the open fields, and breathing wholesome air, are far the most efficient methods of improving the shape or the aspect. What makes our Scottish peasant girls so pretty but their active habits, and the ‘caller healthy breezes of Caledonia.’ But, Sir, the men of Nova Scotia have these defects still more conspicuously than the females. The militia, where is to be seen the strength of the nation, all from sixteen to forty-five, is a proof it. They are excellent, marksmen; but then they have not the symmetry or agility of the British yeomen. The reason is just because they do not half the work of the farmers and farmers’ sons in England and Scotland. The whole winter they while away in idleness, and a small quantity of labour in the summer months is sufficient to afford them the necessaries of life. In this country, where there are no direct taxes, all have their gigs or chairs, as they call them. If they have half a mile to travel, they must ride on horseback, or journey in carriages. But who is that young lady at the fire? She seems cold. She looks like a Scottish lassie, and, therefore, though in the yellow leaf, though I have seen sixty summers and winters, yet, on that account I must do myself the honour of asking her for the next set, if she be not engaged.” With this observation he left me.

“You do not dance, Ma’am,” said I, to an old lady who could scarcely walk for the burden of a load of years.” “No, Sir. I’m too old. Forty or fifty years ago, however, I was exceedingly fond of it. I recollect of a ball at -— before the American rebellion, where I was present, and danced with General —, who told me that I astonished him, as he had not previously believed that there had been so graceful a dancer in America. Indeed, General —, Sir, was a perfect gentleman, of the finest accomplishments, and of the nicest taste. He was of the old school. The manners of the times are totally different from those of my youth. There are not many such men as General — at present. The American rebellion banished them all from this side of the Atlantic, and the French one, I am told, has driven them out of Europe. Indeed, Sir, I can believe it. I have abundant proofs of it. The only polite men amongst us are the English officers, and even these are not what they were. The old ones, those who have been in the army twenty or thirty years, remind one of the days of General —, but the young ones are perfect boors, who have not the manners of genteel persons. Oh, Sir, the American rebellion was an awful event. It set the father against the son, and the son against the father.” “Civil wars, Ma’am,” said I, “are always attended with that result.” “You have never felt the ills of civil war. But I, Sir, I have been the victim of them. They deprived me of my father, and banished me from my country. Before the commencement of hostilities I had a happy home. I was my father’s only child. My mother was in her grave. I was the heir of a large property in —. I was betrothed to a young gentleman, to whom I had given all my young affections, and in whose society I expected to have whiled away years of happiness. But, Sir, the war broke out with all its fury, and my father, a violent loyalist fell at —. My lover, Sir, was in the army with my father, and survived the carnage of that disastrous day. The moment he ascertained the death of my parent, he left the camp. He presented himself in my father’s parlour next morning. Eagerly I asked him for news from the army. I saw the tear in his eyes. He spoke not a word. I began to suspect that he was the messenger of bad tidings. I was impatient to know the whole truth. My father, said I, how left you my father? Is he wounded? Is he dead?” “Your father, my dear —, is dead, I have the fondest hope, with the spirits of the just. I fainted.”

“I was an orphan, Sir, a friendless orphan. I had not time to lament over my father’s death. We were married, by special license, that afternoon. I attended my husband throughout the whole war. My father-in-law was a violent revolutionist, and disinherited his son. Therefore we accepted of the offer of this British government, and emigrated to Nova Scotia.” “Your life, Ma’am,” said I, “has been a most eventful one. Is your, husband dead?” “Yes. He died a few years ago. He could not bear to see, or hear of a Yankee till the day of his death.” “But, Ma’am, that sentiment was not a Christian one.” “Christian one, Sir! — My husband was as meek a man as any who lives. But, withal, he had strong feelings, and he expressed them in all their strength. Think of his sufferings; of his loss of property; of his banishment from his country, only because he was loyal to his king and to his lawful government, and then say if you believe that flesh and blood could have brooked such treatment patiently. I confess that I did sometimes think that he felt too keenly; but then if I mentioned this thought to him, he would stamp upon the floor, and mutter his curses deeply and fervently against all rebels, from the days of Cain, (whom he maintained always to have been the first of them, who had appeared on earth,) to those of General Washington.”

“But, Ma’am,” said I, “now that the American revolution or rebellion, or by whatsoever name you designate it, is a matter of history, I trust that you have kindly feelings towards the Yankees, as towards all the other members of the family of mankind.” “I think that I forgive them, and though I should not consent to dwell among them if I had fifty years of life before me, for they are a boorish and an ill bred people, yet, I should be glad to meet them all in heaven; and, if it were in my power to effect this object, I am positive that all of them, even the murderers of my father, should have settlements there.”

This old lady’s conversation delighted me greatly. Just as we finished our téte-a- téte, up came the veteran, whom I mentioned at the commencement of my letter, and exclaimed, “Oh, Mr —, while I have been dancing with the grand-daughter, you have been conversing with the grandmother.” “Oh. then,” said I, “your Scottish lassie, is Mrs. —‘s grand-daughter.” “So says Mr. —, But oh, how weary I am; my life appears to be on its lees. I have seen the last of my campaigns.


Written by johnwood1946

July 13, 2016 at 8:46 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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