Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Plague Astern Hardships Ahead: Schooner Days MCXXII (1122) Happier Bride’s Diary - 19
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 12 Sep 1953
Full Text
Plague Astern Hardships Ahead
Schooner Days MCXXII (1122)
Happier Bride’s Diary - 19

By C.H.J. Snider

PESTILENCE was raging in New York when Anne Smith MacDonell of Toronto was visiting her Long Island parents. The plague was not McCarthyism, for this was 148 years ago, but yellow fever, Yellow Jack as it is still called in the West Indies. In New York it slew its hundreds, a ghastly toll in a city smaller than Toronto was when it got its name, or than Belleville or Kingston are today. As late as 1813 there were only 17,000 persons listed in the New York directory.

Mrs. MacDonell’s diary of 1805, while full of sympathy for the fever sufferers, shows no signs of panic. Her joy, however, when her big brother, Col. Samuel Boise Smith, laird of Etobicoke in Canada, earlier lieutenant in Simcoe’s Rangers, appeared for her rescue, is understandable.

Anne had been pouting prettily into her little book, over no news from Canada, neither from her dear MacDonell, as she called her husband, the High Sheriff of the Home District - nor her adored brother. Only a "no good" letter from her brother-in-law. Repentantly, she acknowledged that this letter really was good, for it gave her an opportunity to get her own missives to Canada delivered speedily by her favorite Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer who had been knighted for reaching the Pacific by land, across Canada. And then -

Says the diary: -

“Oct. 18th - A gloomy unpleasant day, tho’ I walked in the afternoon to Mr. Platt’s and was just saying that if my Brother did not arrive in two days I should give up his coming - when he rode up to the door. I ran out to meet him & was quite happy & we walked home together & met our aged Parents seated by the fire alone - my Brother appeared quite affected - I also felt so.”

Gone was gloomy October, all was sunshine. Relayed letters from the faithful High Sheriff (not yet was there a postal service between Canada ad the United States) rejoiced the happy bride. Brother and sister wandered hand in hand through their old haunts and through the American metropolis - “not without feeling a little alarmed with respect to the fever as it is said there were 15 (new) cases yesterday.”


On the 4th of November they began the long journey back to Canada. They began by packet sloop, the way Anne had come to New York after reaching Albany. As already mentioned, hundreds of sailing packet then carried passengers between New York and surrounding ports, particularly on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. This was two years before Fulton invented the first American steamboat, the Clermont. John Molson built Canada’s first passenger steamer, the 81-ft. Accommodation, at Montreal in 1808.

Anne and her brother started home in the packet sloop Samson, one of those broad, shoal, high-sided liners with lofty mainsails, protruding jibs, and “elegant” cabin accommodation, which then throve in the river trade.

“We had a fair wind & with some pain I took a farewell view of the City. Heaven knows when I may see it again.

Nov. 5, the wind not fair & we lay at anchor most of the day.

6th. A fair wind, we got thro’ the Highlands and sailed charmingly. I was indeed delighted as we sailed past the City of Hudson. The country is delightful around, and nothing can surpass the beauty of the North River, tho’ at this late season it is rather cold to be much on deck - We arrived at Albany at 3 o’clock, a fine passage of only two days, 160 miles. We went to Lewis’ City Tavern.”

Little did the gentle Anne dream that in 150 years, not two days passage from New York to Albany, but two hours from New York to her home in Toronto would not be considered an impossibility.’

From Albany onwards Anne’s return journey was by land, for the difficulties of navigating Lake Ontario in winter were enough to daunt even her spirit. Hearken to the Niagara Constellation of December 7, 1799:


“On Thursday last a boat arrived here from Schenectady, which place she left on the 22nd ult. She passed the (Duchess of) York, sticking on a rock off the Devil’s Nose; no prospect of getting her off. A small deck-boat also she reports lately sprung a leak twelve miles distant from Oswego. The people on board, many of whom were passengers, were taken off by a vessel passing when she instantly sank; cargo is all lost. A vessel supposed to be the Genesee schooner has been two days endeavoring to come in (against the Niagara current.) It is a singular misfortune that this vessel, which sailed more than a month ago from Oswego, laden for this place (Niagara) has been several times in sight, and driven back by heavy gales.”

Confronted by such contingencies Samuel Smith and his sister chose what they considered the lesser evils of American roads at the beginning of the winter, purposing to cross the Niagara River at Buffalo or Lewiston, which were then small American villages.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
12 Sep 1953
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.65258 Longitude: -73.75623
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.36867 Longitude: -77.9764
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 40.71427 Longitude: -74.00597
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.25012 Longitude: -79.06627
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Plague Astern Hardships Ahead: Schooner Days MCXXII (1122) Happier Bride’s Diary - 19