Maritime History of the Great Lakes
The Thimble: Schooner Days MCXXV (1125) Happier Bride's Diary - 22
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 3 Oct 1953
Full Text
The Thimble
Schooner Days MCXXV (1125)
Happier Bride's Diary - 22

By C.H.J. Snider

A GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER'S pleasant modern home in Welland, Ont., with a modest sun-dial on the front lawn and the century-old canal in parklike background, enshrines remembrances of Anne Valentine Smith, bride of the first High Sheriff of Upper Canada.

Here are three of her fans. This dainty ivory one perhaps she used so effectively in the theatre box in New York, when Sir Alexander Mackenzie and General Van Cortland - each "one of our greatest men in Canada and in the United States" - were dancing attendance upon her in that memorable visit home in 1805. And these are her small silver spoons with "AV" engraved, heirlooms from her mother.

And here is the sampler she worked, in red, green, blue and yellow wool of various shades, neat, well preserved, invaluable for what she tells about herself in it. How she first spelled her name - "ANNA SMITH HER SAMPLER AGED 12 YEARS," "ANNA SMITH BORN THE 7 OF APRIL 1776" - and how she hurdled typographical conventions, a life-long practice, evident in her diary. In the sampler she works a verse after this fashion:

A hymn, ye sons of men with joy record

The various wonders of the Lord and

Let his power and goodness sound through

all your tribes this world around. Let -

and so on.

Here, too, are her prized Paisley shawl of later years, and (or elsewhere) part of her round-ended mahogany table, saved from the fire which destroyed "the John street house" in Toronto, the family mansion, before the MacDonells moved west towards the since swallowed suburb of Seaton Village. (St. Anne's Church, Gladstone avenue, in that vicinity, commemorates Anne MacDonell, and St. Helen's, Dundas street, nearby, her eldest daughter).

And here are a few carefully written loving letters, to her husband and to one of her sons, lonesome in Quebec, and having trouble over his French. These letters were sealed missives, delivered by the kindness of friends before the post office was perfected. In them she writes the family name "McDonell" as was then customary, and signs herself "Anne" instead of the childhood Anna.

But chief of all the mementoes is The Diary, through whose pages we have been voyaging so long.

It is a tiny volume, 5 inches long, 3 1/2 inches wide and less than an inch thick; foolscap folded many times to form about a hundred small sheets. It is cased in cardboard, veined or "marbled" in mottled brown, reinforced by plain brown backing. It has neither fly-leaf nor title page. It begins at "May 30th left Etobicoke with much regret" and runs for six months "to Buffalow, where we arrived on the 27th after suffering all the fatigue that was . . ."

She reached Buffalo, N.Y., Nov. 27, 1805, and wrote no more in this book ever.

DEAR, cheerful, careful, courageous young Anne!

A hundred and fifty years after she methodically noted "one thimble, 4 shillings" in the back of her diary, it gives one a catch of the breath to read on black-bordered paper a reference to this very same thimble or one of his brothers. Anne bought four altogether during her New York hegira.

It was a full grown man "on the farther slope of life's hill," her fourth son, Alexander, named after his father, who penned this reference and it was found folded in the little diary by Maj. Gen. Archibald MacDonell, one of Anne's distinguished grandsons. (Senator Claude MacDonell was another).

This is the black-edged letter:

"Wednesday, 30th March

"My dear Emma -

"Do not think me ungrateful for not having been to thank you for sending me my poor dear Mother's thimble. I prize it as a memorial of the many acts of devotion and labor, in which I have witnessed her use of it, night and day, for my own and other's benefit more than of herself.

"Sam and I apportioned to the best of our judgment the few little relics she had preserved with care for years. The Bible that we brought from Long Island in 1851 belonging to your and our grandfather we thought should properly go to your family. I have for some time intended taking it over to you, but think it best to send it with this explanation.

"The little book - a diary of poor Mother, when on a visit to New York sometime about 1806, I send to you, as it may afford you a slight reminiscence of what I believe was a happy period of Mother's life. The kind and earnest solicitude you have at all times shown on behalf of my most excellent Mother assures me that you will esteem any property of hers especially so old a record as this of a memorable occurrence in her life.

"There may be something of hers that I don't know of that you might desire to have. If so, I hope you'll mention it as I feel so thankful for your sending me the thimble - old and worn in services of kindness wrought for me and others - that I would willingly substitute anything else in my power for it.

"Feeling that my Mother was the link that favorably connected me to her many kind friends.

"Believe me,

"Your affecte Cousin,


"GOLDEN lads and girls all must," like the lilies and the chimney sweepers, "come to dust," Commemorative marble insists that our dear loving, vibrant Anne of the Diary died in 1858, and that is the probable year of the undated letter edged in black. [Note: The correct date of the letter is Wednesday, March 30, 1859, according to perpetual calendar.]

She would be white haired then, with sons growing gray and grandchildren grown up, and herself a widow. She had lived even longer than her distinguished husband, Col. the Hon. Alexander MacDonell. He had died 16 years before, at the age of 80. But with the warm bright life of her pulsing yet in her diary pages she can never be anything but young to those whose privilege it is to read them.

One tragedy in Anne's life is recorded by a marble tablet on the west wall of St. James Cathedral.

In Memory of
Wife of
Captain in the
93rd Sutherland Highlanders
And Daughter of
Born 13th May, 1817
Married 13th September 1841
Died 3rd March 1844

"In remembrance of her guileless heart, her kind and gentle disposition and her many estimable and enduring qualities as a daughter, sister, wife and mother this tablet is erected by her husband."

Anne had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Henrietta was the youngest. In the bloom of young matronhood, she was killed by her saddlehorse falling, Her distraught husband shot the unfortunate beast and destroyed his wife's costumes and mementoes in the bitterness of his grief. He disposed of all his belongings and took his baby daughters away to England, where he recovered his peace of soul.

Schooner Days would like to borrow the epitaph of the daughter for her mother. And to apply Alexander the Younger's tribute to Anne - "My most Excellent Mother was the link which favorably connected me with her many and kind friends" - to the little diary which she never finished.

In its twenty-odd installments published for the first time this year, The Diary has favorably connected the toilsome annotator with so many new friends, Anne's descendants, without whose co-operation and encouragement this picture of old York and young Toronto might have faded into oblivion.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
3 Oct 1953
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.66865 Longitude: -79.41669
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.98342 Longitude: -79.24958
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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The Thimble: Schooner Days MCXXV (1125) Happier Bride's Diary - 22