By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern
Well, another Friday has come and it’s hard to believe that I have just finished my fourth week as an intern at the Oshawa Community Museum. I am at the museum until early August, completing my final semester in the Museum Management and Curatorship program offered by Fleming College.
One of the focuses for my internship is to research the recently acquired collection of letters and documents related to Thomas Henry for a publication that will be written over the next year or so. This project has allowed me to pursue my interest in research associated with museum and archival collections, but has also served as an enlightening introduction to the Henry family, who I knew nothing about before I came to the museum.
Many of the letters in this collection are from Thomas’ son Ebenezer Elijah (often written as E. E.) Henry. Ebenezer was the fifth and last child of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth Davis. I have found the exchanges between Thomas and Ebenezer to be the most intriguing ones in the collection. Ebenezer’s letters reveal an interesting relationship between himself and his father that is reflective of many familial relationships today.
The problems between Ebenezer and his father seem to revolve around Ebenezer’s interest in spiritualism, his father’s disagreement with this religious trend, and their misunderstandings of each other’s intentions. However, Ebenezer’s letters reveal the existence of deeper issues beyond those religious differences.
In a letter from September 1, 1878, Ebenezer writes to his father, “I have always thought that if there was a prodigal son you certainly looked on me as the one in your family.” His father had apparently written that he was the favourite of the family. Ebenezer begins an emotional response arguing that he has been treated unfairly. In particular, he complains that he (unlike his brothers) has never been given any property by his father, and he notes, “I have had to paddle my own canoe for myself.” It is likely that all of us can relate on some level to Ebenezer’s feelings of envy and unworthiness.
Based on the letters, it is clear that Ebenezer feels that he has been a great disappointment to his father, and his deep desire for his father’s approval and love is apparent. At one point, he is so desperate to prove his worth that he describes all of the attributes that make him a good person. He defensively writes to his father, “I am a Temperate man in all things. I have always tried to shun low bad company I don’t use tobacco I don’t swear nor use bad language. I try to avoid Evil I love the company of the good and I love to help the poor.”
After reading such passages, it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Ebenezer. It is these passages that humanize him and make his experiences relatable to our everyday life. I think this is why his letters to his father are among my favourites in the collection.
Unfortunately, the letters in this collection only offer a small glimpse into the lives of the Henry family. Many questions I have about the relationship between Thomas and Ebenezer, as well as the relationship between Ebenezer and his siblings, must remain unanswered – at least until another collection is discovered.