Celebrating New Years in 1880

In 2013, the Oshawa Museum received a phenomenal collection of letters and papers from the Henry Family.  In February 1880, George Henry wrote to his mother Lurenda, the first letter may have sent since the passing of his father Thomas in September 1879.  Within this long letter, he tells his mother how he spent the new year, saying,

We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. (all spelling as originally written).

Not many letters touch on the holiday season, but this letter provides a small glimpse at how one Henry child marked the beginning of 1880.

Image177 - Polly Ann & George Henry
Polly Ann and George Henry

A013.4.2

Letter Transcription (all spelling and punctuation as written)

Harrow Feb 3.rd/80

Dear Mother

While in these parts the last few years I have been in the habit of writing to Father and you both but now must write to you alone. The change is so great that I scarcely know what to say. I know you have many sad lonely hours, your feeble state of health with so much suffering from your sore leg makes the days and nights drag heavily, I often dream of seeing Dear Father and rember with much pleasure the plesant visit I had with him at Orono a few days before I went to Montreal but no one can miss Father as much as yourself. I have often thought to loose a good faithful Husband or Wife must be like looseing a part of ones self, but such is life, and we have to bear it. We are all upon the great train mooveing, rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. we follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or pasanger to report. all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the Saviour’s strong arm to lean upon, I was glad to hear your health is improving and hope you will be very careful of yourself. P. A. writes that she has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you. she had an answer from the Publishing house in Dayton Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging she would like that the boys would invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the rest as she fears it will be a looseing matter. If you think favourable of it- you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once, I have a letter from Ebben they are all well he says you are to keep the oil painting of Father as long as you want it with you, P.A and I had a very plesant visit in Michigan we first visited Dr. Hayward & family found him quite comfortable in health but cant stand but very little fatigue, I gave him and wife your kind regards also Elder Sherman who is preaching there and they all wished to be kindly remembered to you assuring you their sympathy, and hope to see you again they talked much of the general loss and loneliness felt in Fathers death. We then visited Dr. Younghusband found them well and had a good visit with him and his good second Wife she apperes to be a splendid woman, I think, I never saw a man more if as well pleased to see a woman that was no kin to them as the Dr. was to see P.A. it was eighteen years since he saw her. he talked over his sojourn in Oshawa while she was editing the paper and how often he had become discoraged and felt he could not accomplish the task before him and of his often visits to our house and the good advice P.A always gave him with good encouraging words, and the written recommend when he left Oshawa, he said he owed more to her for his success in life from that time than to any being living. We also visited a family by the name of Fowler in Detroit a very fine family. our first acquaintance with them was at our place at home a relative of theirs at Bowmanville brought them to visit us. they are called one of the upper tens of Detroit, and generally travel and board during hot summer weather we had a fine visit with them. We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. from Mr.. Edgars P.A. went home and I came here and the second morning I started out on buisines I sprained my knee very bad & was laid up some time it is still weak and a part of last week and so far this week I have been very sick and confined to the bed most of the time until yesterday, to day I hope to be up all day and am able to write this letter. my sickness has been of the stomach. with fever and pain of body from head to foot. and I tell you I have been loansome. The lamenes-sicknes, and mud has not alowed me to do much I have not got to Cliffords yet but hope to soon. Hoping you are all well, with much love to you all. I remain as ever your son George

Publishing the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

By Caitlan M., Research & Publication Co-ordinator

In 2013 the museum received a box of jumbled up letters, receipts, and other pieces of papers which turned out to be a truly amazing donation as these papers were either written by or sent to a Henry family member. This became known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection. Since receiving this collection, the idea of using the collection to help further understand the lives of the Henry family was always there but the time and resources were not available then.

Jump forward to a few months ago, a grant was received to hire a person to go through and create an annotated book. However, this book will only focus on the letters from a family member to family member. The idea is to go through and give the letters context; explaining the other names throughout the letter, the location from where it was sent from, any business ventures and all the other details.

a983415
Thomas Simon (TS) Henry (A983.41.5)

For example there is a letter written from Thomas Simon (T.S.) and John Henry to their father, Thomas Henry. It was written in September of 1879, the sons mention they were not able to attend the Toronto Exhibition and later in the letter make a point of saying Thomas was there “to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab.” This is all really interesting as the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE was originally called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and its opening year was in 1879. Although his sons mention that Thomas was only at the exhibition to enjoy a conversation with the York Pioneers; a group of men formed to preserve York County’s early history, a history Thomas would have been a part of since he was a substitute in the War of 1812. The York Pioneers were at the Toronto Exhibition as they were moving a log cabin – the Scadding Cabin (originally known as Simcoe Cabin,) to its now permanent home.

A001_7_6a
A001.7.6; letter to Thomas Henry from his sons George and TS.

I have also been making a point at looking at census records to see how the family continued to move around. Take George Guy, grandson to Thomas Henry, we have two letters written by him – from 1878 and 1879, both are written from Winnipeg. George was born in East Whitby, he headed west to find work sometime around 1878 and was able to purchase land in Morris, Manitoba. What’s interesting about him is two things happen in most of the census records; his location changes and his occupation changes.

  • 1881 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Cultivator
  • 1891 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Gram Buyer
  • 1905 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 25, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Carpenter
  • 1910 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 17, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Watchman – public school
  • 1920 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Engineer – public school
  • 1925 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Janitor
  • 1935 George dies, buried in Buffalo.

Although I am unsure why George moved around so much, I can’t help but wonder if it was to move closer to his new occupations.

The book will be published sometime in 2018 with the transcriptions of each of the letters and all of the annotations.


Transcription of above letter:

A001.7.6

Postcard sent to Thomas Henry from T.S.  and J. Henry (punctuation added during transcription)

Georgetown Sept. 8th 79

Dear Father

I am here today with Thomas. We are both well and healthy. We hope you are awe well as could be expected considering your age. I did attend the Toronto exhibition but expected to go to Ottawa the week after next. No doubt you was at Toronto to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab to see Lawrence and the Princess and you could look ? on the Bay and imaginette great chougesuce(?) 1812 when you was a big boy in tall muddy York as you called it an you have a log cabin in the ? city. Did you see it?  I understood it is well put ?

 

*If you can add to this transcription or note any corrections, please leave a comment.

More Musings from an Intern

By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern

While reading letters written by the family and friends of Thomas Henry, I have frequently come across discussions of death. This preoccupation with death is not surprising, given the fact that many of Thomas’ family and friends were devoted Christians. Therefore, they would have been concerned with living good lives and being prepared for death so that they could go to heaven. Also, mortality rates were higher in Thomas’ day, and people usually died in their homes, not a hospital.

George Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives
George Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives

I have found the most interesting discussions of death in the letters from Thomas’ sons. For instance, one son George uses metaphors to talk about death. The following is an excerpt of a letter from George to his mother Lurenda. It was written shortly after Thomas died. George writes:

We are all upon the great train…[moving] rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. We follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or passenger to report.

George’s comments reveal an anxiety about death. He sees life as a journey moving too quickly towards an inevitable end. He is also unnerved by the fact that no one really knows what life after death is like.

Thomas’ son Ebenezer writes about death very differently. For him, death sometimes seems to be the solution to his problems. He believes that life after death will lead to better relationships with his family. For instance, he writes to his father, “Believe me to be your Prodigal Son till we meet on the other shore then all misunderstandings will be…[righted] and I shall be properly understood.” In the same letter, he mentions that death will allow him to be reunited with his mother and her love. This last statement sums up Ebenezer’s feelings on the subject: “I would love to exchange this cold hearted world for the flowers that are waiting for us to gather in those bright fields that we have never trod.

A013.4.1 - Funeral notice for Lurenda Henry, from the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection
A013.4.1 – Funeral notice for Lurenda Henry, from the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

There is one more mention of death in the letters that I find particularly interesting. This occurs in a letter from Thomas’ son Albert to Lurenda. What strikes me is Albert’s very frank discussion with his mother about her impending death.  While on a trip to London, he writes, “If I don’t find you in your accustomed place when I return, I shall be very sorry that I came away.” He then goes on to say, “I certainly hope to be with you when you close your eyes for the last time. This as you well know cannot be far away.” I am sure that Albert had good intentions when he wrote this last sentence, but I find it slightly disturbing that he is reminding his mother that she is going to die soon.

Thomas’ sons discuss death very differently. Probably most of us do not share Ebenezer’s desire to move on from this life. More likely, the vast majority of us are like George, still struggling with the mystery of our fate.