Research Notes: New Brunswick correspondence on birch bark (early 20th century)

Back in early June, I published a research note on a poem written on birch bark. In an update to that note, I indicated that Peter Larocque at the New Brunswick Museum had e-mailed to suggest that the poem’s author, “Argole,” was probably Arthur Gordon Leavitt, one of the founders of Camp Nature in Nerepis — “ARGOLE is most likely an acronym using the first two letters of each of his names.” I agree that this seems likely, and I was very grateful to receive Peter’s message. I sincerely appreciated all of the information that was sent to me after that note was published.

Because I am currently interested in any and all regional writings on birch bark, I returned yesterday to Loyalist City Coin and asked Donnie, Ross, and Doreen at the counter if they were aware of any other such writings in the store. A binder of novelty postcards contained the following items:

Document 1 (3 images)

Three pages of bark are bound with two pieces of string. “Canada Post Card” is written at the top of the first page in pencil beside a sketched postage stamp. The document is addressed to “Miss M. Lizzie Muir, Hatfield’s Point, Kings Co., N.B.” The second page includes sketched flowers, a bird carrying a note, and the words “A Message With best Wishes for Many Happy Birthdays” written inside overlapping hearts. The final page is dated “Feb. 15th 1907.” A poem reads:

Dear Lizzie,

May you be happy,

Of sin be afraid,

But for “gracious sake” Lizzie,

Don’t be an “old maid.”

Mrs. M.P. Ogilvie


Document 2 (2 images)

One sheet of bark; on the front, “Canadian Post Card” is written in blue ink beside a 1 cent postage stamp. The bark has been damaged, so the addressee is unclear, but quite possibly it is the same as above, since “Hatfield’s Point, Kings Co., N.B.” is legible. A postmark appears to date this document March 23, 07 and shows the word “Ogilvie,” which matches the surname of the author from Document 1. The back of the postcard features a sketched flower and text that, save a few scattered words, is very difficult to read. The black ink text includes the words “you send me a mag-nifying glass in the mail.” In blue ink, the words at the very bottom of the page read, “Later accounts. Please send a Hindoo Interpreter.”


Document 3 (2 images)

A poem addressed to “Miss Bertie J. Darrah” of “Chipman, Queen’s Co. N.B.”:

“Well is the man who has old clothes

And has a wife to mend them

But better still he has old “doughs”

And has a heart to spend them.”


Document 4 (2 images)

Numerous thin sheets of bark are adhered together. One side reads, “Souvenir of Rattlesnake Lake Winnipesaukee New Hampshire;” the other begins,

August 20th 1913

90 Sheridan St

Lakeport NH

Dear Lizzie,

I am sending you a souvenir, taken from Rattel Snake Island on the wonderfull Lake Winnipesaukee that which has as many islands as their are days in the year & this one is uninhabited [?] of the Rattle Snaks so I [?] curious to go on it & Brother took us to see it, he also took us to see the great wreck on the shore of the Lake & I walked through 2 of the cars and sat down on the 2nd one so got a piece of the splintered car for [?] . . .


I found record of a Mary Elizabeth Muir, born in 1894, in the Provincial Archives’ Vital Statistics database, and I believe this is likely the “Lizzie” addressed in these notes. My best guess is that the author, “Mrs. M.P. Ogilvie,” is Lucy Anne King, who married Malcolm Peter Ogilvie in Kings County in 1901. Malcolm died of “Consumption” in 1908 at the age of 32 — after Documents 1 & 2 but before Document 4. They had four children.

Another postcard that I came across, featuring imagery from the 1904 “Champlain Celebration” in Saint John, might suggest that dropping pieces of birch bark into the mail was more commonplace than we remember.

Research Notes: Thomas Carleton, Charter of the City of Saint John (1785)

This evening I read the Charter of the City of Saint John (1785; reprint 1811) for the first time. Its author, Thomas Carleton, was the first Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, and he oversaw the arrival of the Loyalists in the final decades of the eighteenth century. If you live in New Brunswick, you’ve seen his name everywhere — on school buildings, towns, and counties. The tallest mountain in the province is named after him.

But until tonight, I don’t think I’d ever actually read something that he authored. Two sections of this document jumped out at me. The first, from the preamble, articulates Carleton’s desire to unite “the inhabitants of the Town or District of Parr, lying on the east side of the River Saint John” with those “of Carleton on the west side thereof, at the entrance of the River Saint John aforesaid, both which Districts are in our Province of New Brunswick, in America.” He describes a people who “have, by their exertions, conquered many of the difficulties attending the settlement of a new country” and who are now “anxious to remove the remaining evils they at present labor under.” Those who know me will understand why I find this combination of language — America, evil, conquest — very compelling; but also, this does not strike me as Loyalist sentiment.

And then, much later, there’s this:

. . . for us, our heirs and successors, we do will and hereby declare, that although the people of colour are black persons now residing in our said City, and hereafter to come and reside therein, are by these presents excluded the privilege of being or becoming free citizens thereof, yet it is not our pleasure that those who should be found good, discreet and honest persons of that description, should be wholly deprived of the means of getting and having a comfortable support for themselves and their families; and therefore we do will and grant, that the Mayor of the said City, for the time being, may from time to time, as he shall think proper, by warrant under his hand and seal, license any of the said people of colour to reside in the said City, and to carry on any business or occupation which he shall think fit, and express in such license; and the same license and licenses at his pleasure to suppress, any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding.

Some might argue that this kind of language and policy in a document from this era isn’t surprising — since, around the same time, U.S. officials drafted a Constitution that ascribed a value of “3/5 a person” to each black slave within its borders. But I can’t recall having read anything in the historiography of this region about municipal governments using licence systems to control the presence, movements, and actions of black people within or around major settlements, and I could not find similar sections in the town charters for Shelburne or Halifax. I have read work on “black codes” in both southern and northern states in the nineteenth century but nothing on similar laws in British America in the eighteenth century. I’d be happy to hear from any of my colleagues on this point.

An Act in further amendment to the Charter of the City of Saint John, passed in 1849, contains a section titled “Coloured persons may be made free.” That amendment reads, “Notwithstanding any thing in the said Charter to the contrary contained, any black person or person of colour may become a free citizen of, and be admitted to the freedom of the said City.”

Update: Zoe Jackson wrote a fabulous blog post on this topic last year that contains much more context and information. She writes, “the 1785 document can be considered one of earliest acts of institutional discrimination against Black individuals in Atlantic Canada. The Saint John Charter was based upon the 1686 Dongan Charter of the Province of New York, which officially incorporated New York as a city.”