Keep all your blushes for me
Love letters on the frontier
Here’s a charmingly nonsensical love letter written in 1853 by my great-great-grandfather Daniel Abiel McCall to his sweetie, Ann McInnes. I have a partial set of these letters, all addressed to “My Dearest Annie,” but this is the best. My grandfather called himself Abiel to differentiate himself from his father who was also Daniel McCall. In the letter, he refers to his father as the Captain, in which capacity he had served in the War of 1812.
Ann McInnes was born in Scotland on November 28, 1834, at Auchteraw Farm near Inverness. So she was just turning 19 when Abiel wrote this letter. Her family had come to Canada in 1837 or 38, when she was perhaps four. At first they lived in a frame house in the village of Vittoria near the shore of Lake Erie, but after her father came into an inheritance in 1845, they moved to a larger place about a mile west of town. They called this house Aberfoyle, and in later times it was notable for the grand piano in the large central hallway. The farms around them were owned by McCalls and Dawsons, and the McInnes daughters married into the neighbourhood.
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Abiel McCall was born on December 9, 1831, in his family’s homestead (so he is being a bit cheeky playing the old man to his little girl Annie, being less than three years older). He was descended from a Scottish soldier who fought with James Wolfe at the capture of Quebec, was subsequently demobilized, married (in Philadelphia), and settled in a Scottish community in New Jersey. During the American Revolution, he took the British side, as you might expect from an old soldier, and he and his sons and families left for Canada as refugees. They received extensive land grants in Charlotteville Township (around Vittoria) and prospered and took up arms again against the Americans in the War of 1812. Abiel, born into a more peaceable generation, apprenticed himself to a storekeeper in Vittoria, then branched out on his own, building a store in St. Williams. The carpenters are, in fact, finishing up his store as he writes to Annie.
A note as to direction. Abiel uses “up” and “down” to indicate direction in his letter. It took me a dog’s age to realize that, living by the lake, these people used a kind of nautical language to locate themselves, either up or down the lake. Up the lake is west, towards Windsor and Detroit. Down the lake, is east, toward Buffalo and Niagara. So when Abiel says he is going “down” to see Ann, he means traveling east from St. Williams. (At least I think I got this right.)
Abiel is a bit loose with his periods and capitalizations. Apparently, he had no conception of the paragraph. But his flirty posturing is quite sweet. He went on to become one of those 19th century self-made entrepreneurs, branching out into the timber business, then setting up a planing mill and furniture factory in St. Williams. He would make buying trips to New York and Montreal from time to time. He even owned a share in a lake boat called the Bay Trader. But things began to go south during the Depression of 1873. The factory burned down and was rebuilt. Then burned again (and was rebuilt). He died in 1893 of diabetes at the young age of 61. Ann died in 1900 at the age of 65. The house they built in St. Williams in 1867 remained the center of family life well into the 20th century. My mother had fond memories of spending her summers there with her grandmother and great-aunts.
St. Williams November 3, 1853
don’t be angry at this from you — Abiel
My Dearest Annie,
I received your kind letter today and am very much pleased to think that you had a little spare time to think on a poor fellow like me that has no person to care for him except it is you. You say you hope I had a pleasant ride home on Monday morning well I had for I took it on foot & alone as the girl went to get married. I got up in the morning before five o’clock & walked over to Vittoria before daylight and went to work for an hour when the Captain [Captain Daniel McCall, Daniel’s father] come and I helped load him up with goods and we started but he went so slow that I started on foot and walked all the way home before ten o’clock beating the Captain nearly an hour. I don’t know as I can tell you anything that will interest you as it is out of your Latitude way up here in the woods. I cannot tell yet whether I will be down on Sunday or not if I get a chance you may be sure I will improve it but you must not be disappointed if you do not see me as I have no horse up here and don’t know where to get one. And if I should come down I don’t know as I would dare come to see you for I have been there so much lately I am afraid it will make a talk. but I think I will try it once more and see how it will do and if the folks talk much I will try it again. Dear Annie you must think I am a fool to be writing such nonsense for to take up your valuable time trying to make [out?] but it is your own fault for you said I must write so I thought there was no use writing without I said something and as I never talk a great deal but nonsense I have to put a little in my letter You say that I must burn your letters but I will have to disobey you in that but I will be careful that no person sees them. You can either keep mine or burn them or make curl papers of them just as you think propper [sic] my dear little girl I don’t know how to tease you as I have not got you here to tickle you so I must bother you some other way. I guess I will write you such a long letter that it will make you as mad as you can be before you get halfway through reading it. If Mrs Mc [I think this means his mother, Mrs. McCall, but this is only conjecture] and the intended Mrs D F should come up tomorrow I will send this down with them if not I will send it by the Post on Saturday or Monday. I will save you some tisue [sic] paper if I can find any if I had known it a month ago I could have had a good lot by this time as I have used up a lot for wrapping paper. I have been inquiring for beeswax but I have not got any yet but am in hopes that I can before Mrs. Mc Comes up. Well I guess my yarn is pretty well spun out but if there is anything more comes in my noddle before I send it I will leave a little room for it. I hope you are well for I am as well as can be expected for a man of my years as I am getting old now I can’t expect to feel as well as I used to when I was young like you. If I do not get down on Sunday you can tell Miss [Bell? possibly a sister, Isabella] goodbye for me if you like don’t do it if it will make you blush for I want you to keep all your blushes for me it makes you look very pretty as it is getting late I will wish you good night perhaps I will be wiser in the morning to finish this little note. You sent such an awful long letter that it took me nearly one minute to read you must have used nearly a Quire of paper a bottle of ink & a dozen pens. I must stop soon or I will have to take another piece of paper to sign my name on I have said good night once and then something come in my head and run out at the point of my pen but I will stop soon or else I will not be up before breakfast and if I should lose that I would be cross all day well I must stop and say good night once more before if I don’t you will never get done reading I don’t know what the reason is but I have got a going writing to night [sic] and don’t know when to Stop just the same as when I get down to your place [I] don’t know when to go home but I have got on the last page and will have to go to bed so I will say good I was going to say night but thought I would not just yet as I am not very sleepy but I know you will be before you cipher all this out unless you commence early in the morning and keep at it all day and then you may get done by night. I received a paper from some of the good folks they will please receive my thanks as it is the first paper I have had in months or more. I shall have to got to Hamilton in about a week or ten days for to get some more goods but I am in hopes I will see you before I go if I do not something very extraordinary must happen so I will day good night X I put a full stop there and commenced again I thought I had something to say but have forgotten it again good night. Friday morning as it looks like a fine day I expect Mrs. Mc will be up so I thought I would write a few more lines to let you know that I am alive yet but can’t think of half as much as I could last night the carpenters make such a noise over my head that I cannot think much but I am in hope they will soon be done and then somebody else will have a chance to make a noise but I hope it will not be quite as loud as the carpenters make. I think that I had better stop as my paper is getting pretty near used up and I will either have to take another sheet or begin and cross it. If I don’t come down on Sunday you must write next week about Thursday or Friday if you have time if you have not time why I suppose you cannot. Well I persume [sic] I have bothered you as much as if I had been with you half an hour writing so much nonsense but I know my dear little girl will consider where it come from and forgive me if I will promise not to do it again. I have not been to any more huskings this week I have not been out of sight of the [store?] since Monday morning so you see I as great a runabout as you are I think that I will draw my observations to a close as I am [not?] very good at writing crossways be sure and write if I don’t come down I will answer it that is if you want me to I will now say goodbye until I hear from you or see you and believe me ever yours until death does us part
D A McCall
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