Gamsby Manuscript

An amazing find! Given to my gran by a relation in the United States.  This is a re-telling of stories told by Dorothea Gamsby in her life during the American Revolution and life in Lower Canada.


Dear reader.  The world is well spplyed(sic) with works of fiction.  I am about to ofer(sic) it a simple truthfur (sic) narrative.  I write it for my own amusement.  I give it you for yours.  I have written it in the language of her whose life it describes, as far as my memory serves, giving the identical phrases to which I loved so well to listen and which were repeated often, at different periods during the last years of her stay with us.  Her story presents another picture of womens (sic) energy and heroism, and by showing what has been done, shows us what may be accomplished by earnest and persevering effort.

If you find in this story  a lack of incident ; of the thrilling scenes of romance, remember it is an account of facts you are reading and allow its truthfulness to make amends, for its lack of excitement.

Yours truly, Belle Thorn


Chapter 1

My Grandmother’s story

The Voyage

George, the king of England, the 4th of that name, was born Aug 12, 1765 (really 1762) , and so was I.  A very untoward prognostic it must have been, for all the rejoycing (sic) on that day made and provided, always seemed to me fate.  Not that any connection or affinity  existed , on the contrary, fate could not have exhibited a wider contrast , than that which existed between my young Prince and my obscure self.  Yet  somehow I was always a little proud of the circumstance, for having loved my King from my earlyest (sic) years, and alway(s) taught to reverence the crown, the birthday festivals seemed partially to honour me.  I have but dim and dreamy recollection of Newcastle upon Tyne  my birth place, or of our little company leaving our old home; but I remember my mother’s tears, and how she and my aunt, my father and uncle, made signals to those left on shore, as the tall ships moved slowly from the dock.  I was too young to understand the emigration fever then raging or why we must leave our snug home, when everybody seemed so sorry, but I suppose the fever was like what you call the western fever; its symptoms being discontent with the present and irrepressible desire to be somewhere else; to become richer and of course happier in some far off land.

I remember the long tiresome  voyage and the petting of the merry sailors, for a little miss of seven (sic) years old is almost always sure to become a favourite of the hardy sons of Neptune

My little brothers, I had two and a baby sister, where uneasy and fretful, and quite to (sic)  small to be trusted out of our mother’s care, and kept my aunt who had no children, almost as busy as they did our mother.  I think I must have been a fearless and impulsive child, for I romped at will on the deck scrambled  into all sorts of places where I should not have gone; incurring refroof from my father, frightening my mother, and aunt, and delighting the old Scipper (sic) , who meeting me in the gangway or elsewhere out of bounds, often tossed me above his head, large as I was, or into the arms of the nearest sailor, laughing and squabbling with unbounded glee.

But of all the friends I recollect on board, i remember the most distinctly, the old weatherbeaten graybearded  boatswain, John McNear.  Seated on a coil of ropes he would hold me for hours swinging on his knee, my eyes fixed on his, listening to tales of mermaid and sea monsters, pearl islands and coral caves; entranced by his descriptions of the wonderful beauty of the homes of the water sprites, fully believing that just  now we should see a mermaid with her mirror, or maybe the phantom ship of the Flying Dutchman.  There must have been poetry as well as  superstition in the garrulous old tar, for his weird tales haunt my memory still, and his fancyed (sic) presence cheers me in my blindness.

My aunt commenced my education about this time, and the bribe used to induce me to exert myself to remember the letters of the alphabet, as the ability to read all about the wonders McNear had told me of.  We had stormy weather too, when I was ordered to keep below, although I beged (sic) hard to be allowed to remain on deck, that I might watch the huge seas as the sailrs called them, rising and rolling almost over  us; imagining that by some special good luck, I should get a peep at a mermaids bower, when the vessel slid into the trough of the sea.  But we somehow droped (sic) into Boston harbour without any such sights, tho (sic)  I dare say if I could remember them, we saw things as really wonderful as any the good old boatswain described in his land of ‘yarns’.  How I wondered at the sadness of my mother, and aunt while gazing at the glitter of the foliage presented by an American autumn the strange coast, the bustling harbour and the clean new city of Boston.  No coal boats coal dust or smoke presented a familiar scene, but a new world in its every aspect, and though all was pleasing neat and comfortable, they gave a tear to Newcastle, to the memory of dear old England, and the friends forsaken forever.

Chapter 2

Sir George Nutting my uncle was an English gentleman of the old school, rich generous and childless.  My father was but a well to do mechanic with four children in a strange land.  Yet though so differently situated, the two sisters, my aunt and mother, were tenderly attached to each other and I know learned, that for the present I was to remain with my aunt.  My uncle took a beautiful house in one of the pleasantest streets in Boston, my father went into business in Lynn a town not far off.  I never visited the place but once or twice and recollected very little about it, for the country my uncle said, had gone mad, and we had better stay at home.  In fact, it was on the eve of revolution, and we were visited by noble looking gentlemen  without number, who talked all dinnertime of the rebelious (sic) whigs, and what the parliament had done and would do.  To be sure they “toasted” King George and the British nation, the King’s troops and English Ladies, in many a deep bottle of good old wine, but my uncle was a true and Loyal subject and hated the rebels as much as he loved his own government, so he pledged his countrymen again and again till the talk became a roar, and my aunt sent her maid to put me to bed in a far off chamber out of hearing of the din.

This maid was quite a character in her way and served very well for my governess, tho (sic) she could scarcely read her prayer book, but in those days English ladies in America did not get the best kind of education for their daughters and I was only a niece you know, besides I had no fortune in prospect and must learn to take care of myself, so said the maid and forthwith set me heming (sic) and stitching , and employment.  I by no means liked for beside being near or shortsighted, I did love a fairy tale, and had learned and in an incredible  short time to get at the meaning of some of the many Miss Abby kept hid in her box (always an English servants receptacle for her wardrobe) Miss Abby read very ill herself.  I could not very well learn to read correctly without consulting aunt, and to do that would have been to have  had the dear story of Cinderella or some equally interesting old time rag of a book, smuggled across the water by the maid, prohibited.  So I blundered on by dint of spelling and guessing , and teasing Abby for a rehearsal ; alternately coaxing and fighting in a childish fashion, till my curiosity was, for the time satisfied.  But there were subjects of interest discussed in the parlour and at dinner, which awoke wonder and fear, and but for Abby I should have been none the wise for all the conversation I listened to.  She had already secured a sweetheart who gave her very clever accounts of what was going on: and many a time when we should have kept to our rooms of an evening, we were trolling with Jack Smith, through the busy streets nothing but lamplight the hury (sic)and the bustle about us.

Aunt did not know it, but I did not like the constraint of the parlour and ‘drawing room, so she in her indulgent kindness allowed me to stay in the housekeepers room with Aby, and Abby took me with her into the streets to ‘ look, as she said, but  really to bribe me to silence on her conduct.  Well, one night Jack came in haste, and appeared very much excited “Abby” said he “there is to be a show down by the merchants wharf will you not go and see it”

“I can’t now  really, I’ve got Dollie on my hand, and it is late and cold”

“No, its not cold, I exclaimed eagerly, and if it is late we can sleep in the morning, let us go, let me go.”   “ But if your aunt should find out I should lose my place, away off here in America.”

“Let me go then, and I wont say a word, not one I insisted.”

“But there will be wonderful things little one,”  said Jack Smith, “ and then its so cold, may be (sic) you will freeze, or get frightened and scream, and that wont do, for one of the actors just told me where to go to get a good view of what is going on.

But I am to be very whist and so must you.  Abby wont she tell?”  “Not she,” and “not I ,”  we at once promised and Abby added, “ If she tells she will not get any more walks with us, will she now”

The matter was very soon settled for child like I  I was to (sic) eager and to (sic) positive  to be put off, and go I would, and go I did.

Chapter 3: The Tea Party

Jack Smith was a short stout broad shouldered porter   with a good  humoured countenance, and so accustomed to carrying heavy burdens that my weight seemed no impediment, so he no sooner gained the street than I was hoisted on his shoulder, a seat to which I was somewhat accustomed, and with a light and hasty step the pair sought the wharf.

The streets we passed seemed nearly deserted, the shops closed, and men passed with eager hurried tread.  The windows of Fanuil Hall  however blazed with light, and the hum of many voices came from the crowd continually passing in and out of it.  Jack said, “there was a mass meeting  there about the merchant  cargoes of tea

The yankeys don’t intend to let them land the tea, because it is taxed, and we wont pay the tax,” said he “ We wont cried Abagail, I wonder who we are?   You are not one of the rebels I hope.”  “O no not that,” said Jack “ but I don’t drink tea.  Mother says she will not pay a tax on tea, because she is out here in the colony  She is a real English born subject and  the larger and richer the colony becomes, the better for King George, and she thinks her seven sons and six daughters go a good way toward its increase, and father says he has enough to do to rear so many good subjects, so he wont pay the tax and we don’t buy tea or drink it now.”

“Well I wonder how long my Lady Maria will do without tea, said Abby.  I am sure I shall not give it up while it is to be had.  I do not believe the Governor will let it be sent away either.  He dined, and took his tea with Sir George and my Lady yesterday did he not Dollie?”  “That he did, and he did , and he took, and held me on his knee, and he said I was to be called miss Dorothea, and aunt promised I should,  Miss Abby,” I tartly replied. “Little aristocracy , you shall  be called,” retorted the maid; “but about the tea Jack, wont it be landed tomorrow!”  “the housekeeper said today, , that we ware almost out and there is little at the shops, fit for our folks.”  “Dont know,” said Jack, placing  me on the ground “ We must come up into this warehouse I know a good place to look out on the shipping where no one will see us.”  “But  what is it” I enquired impatiently, for spite of furs and wraps I began to be very cold.  “Come!”  and we followed our guides up a rough flight  of steps, and into a large chamber where we found a half dozen young people, hudling (sic) together among bales and boxes of merchandise, intently watching from two large windows

“Any body come on board yet?” asked Jack

“Yes, twenty or thirty Indians!”

I was warm in an instant.  Indians!  How  the name sent the blood, to the chilled  extremities

Indians!  I repeated, where, and what are they doing, will they catch us? And I crouded (?)through to the window, with so much energy that Abby, began to speak louder and was instantly greeted with a “hush!  Hush!” and I, raised again to my seat on Jack’s shoulder.

There was not light enough to   distinguish features or costume very distinctly, but as we looked down on the docks of three vessels lying close in, by the building we occupied, dark forms moved quietly in and out of sight, and very soon we were able to see that that they were emptying  boxes or chests; pouring the contents into the dock: silently at first but soon stern voices rose at intervals, and then lights apeared (sic), and wild strange looking men in long blankets, with hideously painted faces, seemed searching every nook of the three devoted, famous tea ships  “Dear, dear! Exclaimed Abby what is it what can it be?   The tea! Said Jack Smith solumly (sic) the tea O Jack!  You don’t say so, you don’t believe it.”

“What shall we do, away out here in America, and no tea.  Give the alarm Jack!  Dear Jack go down and cry up the police !  Let me go, I’ll get some of that tea out of the dock  I’ll run and tell Sir George Nutting, I will; “ but Jack stood still and looked out of the window.
The alarm was given somehow, lights moved in every direction, shouts proclaimed the approach of a crowd, The Indians had disappeared as if by magick (sic) and we huried  (sic) into the street.  Jack said we must get into his father’s place before the mob gained the wharf, or freeze or be jostled nobody could know where and maybe crushed inder (sic) foot.  No sooner said than done, for I scarcely remember anything but a rush, a shout from the approaching people and a door opened and shut, and we were in a cheerful little kitchen surrounded by a whole swarm of Smith’s.

There was  noise, running and stomping and bustle out side; but Mrs. Smith and her daughters presented a perfect picture of contented quiet industry.  We were welcomed, warmed cherished and attended with a very cordial but homely friendlyness (sic) . Abby began to worry about getting home “the streets were impassable, and if my aunt missed us she would be so terrified  about Miss Dollie, and so angry with her, that she would dismiss her at once, and then what was to become of her in a strange land?”  She ran on in this way never hearing my reiterated calls for an explanation till Jack whispered something which tickled my fancy, tho (sic) he did not mean  me to hear it ; and you may be sure it pleased the maid and reconciled her to all the terrible disasters she so pathetically lamented.

Jack Smith went into the street, we watched the moving map of heads from a window; gradually melt away, and soon by some curious un-remembered transition I was in my bedroom  Abby trying to make me believe I had been dreaming, adding many injunctions” to be silent if I ever wished to go with her again.”

I suppose I slept.  I expect Smith in his strong arms brought me through the crowd, but if I had believed Abby’s declaration that I had been dreaming, the conversation at the breakfast table would have taught me the contrary, “ for tea!  Tea!  Was the whole subject, but how they settled it I was to (sic) young to remember.  You must read Bancroft’s history to learn that happened in the course of the next year  I remember the Sabbath days, passed partly at the old south church, and some trips into the country, and a small genteel young person, who made some effort to improve my reading.  But the display of the troops , in the gay uniforms of that period, the graceful bearing of the officers at my aunts table, and the conversations at which I listened were things of so common occurrence that  they are mixed up in my recollections with dolls and sweetmeats lessons an dress and through all there runs a memory of privation rebellion and war.

Chapter 5: The Battle

Months passed like the dreams of childhood, while the colonies were ripening to rebellion bloodshed and civil war.  They sent a host of troops from home.  Boston was full of them, and they seemed to be there only to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, but one day there was more than usual commotion, uncle said there had been an outbreak in the country; and then came a night when there was bastle, anxiety, and watching.  Aunt and her maid, walked from room to room sometimes weeping.  I crept after them trying to understand the cause of their uneasiness, full of curiosity, and unable to sleep when everybody seemed wide awake, and the streets full of people.  It was scarcely daylight when the booming of the cannon on board the ships in the harbour shook every house in the city.  My uncle had been much abroad lately  and had only sought the pillow within the hour but he came immediately to my aunts room saying he would go and learn the cause of the firing and come again to inform us.  He had not left the house when a servant in livery called to say that the nobles had collected in force on Breeds hill, were getting up fortifications, and that Governor Gage requested his presence. “There must be a brush?”he said for General Howe had ordered out the troops to dislodge them.”  We were by this time thoroughly frightened, but uncle bade  “Keep quiet” said “there was no danger” and left us.  You may depend, we sought the highest wisdom we had, as soon as the light of advancing day gave us reason to hope for a sight of the expected contest.  There they were, the audacious rebels! Hard at work, making what seemed to me a monstrous fence.

“What is it they are going to do aunt, and what are they making that big fence for?”

“They mean to shoot our King’s soldiers I suppose” she said “ and probably the firing is intended to drive them away”

“But Aunt the cannon balls will kill some of them, see see! The soldiers, and the banners, O aunt they will be killed, why can’t they stay out of the way?”

The glittering host, the crashing music, all the pomp and brilliance of war, moved on up toward that band of rebels, but they still laboured at their entrenchment, they seemed to take no heed- the bullets from the ships, the advancing column of British warriors, were alike unnoticed, “I should think they would begin to get out of (the) way “ said my aunt.

Every available window and roof was filled with anxious spectators, watching the advancing regulars, every heart I dare say throbbed as mine did, and we held our breath or rather it seemed to stop and oppress the labouring chest of its own accord so intensely we awaited the expected attack, but the troops drew nearer and the rebels toiled on.

At length one who stood conspicuously above the rest waved his bright weapon, the explosion came attended by the crash of music(?), the shrieks of the wounded the groans of the dying.  My aunt fainted.  Poor Abby looked on like one distracted.  I screamed with all my might.  The roar of artillery continued, but the smoke hid the havoc of war from our view.  The housekeeper attended to my aunt, and begged for somebody to go for Dr. Warren, but everybody was too much engaged with watching the smoking battlefield.  O how wild and terrific was that long day. Old as I am, the memory of that fearful contest will sometimes come over my spirit as if it had been but yesterday.

Men say it was no much of a fight, but to me it seems terrible.  Charleston was in flames; women and children flying from their burning homes sought refuge in the city.  Dismay and terror assailing and distraction impressed their picture on my memory, never to be effaced.

By and by, drays, carts and every description of vehicle that could be obtained were seen nearing the scene of conflict, and the roar of artillery ceased.   Uncle came home and said the rebels had retreated.  Dr, Warren was the first to fall that day. Then came the loads of wounded men attended by long lines of soldiers, the gay banners torn and soiled, a sight to be remembered of lifetime.

I have read many times, and much of the glory of war, but this one battle taught me that however it be painted by poet or novelist, there is nothing but woe and sorrow and shame to be found in the reality.

Want, utter destitution to many followed, and when the 12 of August came around and the British troops with the loyal citizens of Boston attempted to celebrate the birthday of their young Prince, scant and course was the cheer, their stories afforded.

They were temperance people then, from sheer necessity.  The winter passed I cannot tell how, but when spring came everybody went on board the shipping in the harbour, at least so it seemed to me, for the officers and soldiers went, and everybody that I knew or cared for, except my father’s family seemed huddled together in the vessel so small that no room was left for comfort.

Coming to Canada

Entering the drawing room, we were presented to General and Mrs. Murray  and Miss Murray, with quite a courtly air, by uncle who seemed to have recovered all the dignity, which the nobels (sic) and the protracted voyage had deprived him.  And well he might, for our visitors were real English people, and our next door neighbours, who had in their earnest wish  for the society of their countrymen, laid off their national reserve, and introduced themselves.  Gen, Murray appeared to me at that first interview the very achme (sp?) of high born elegance, his lady the perfection of womanly lovelyness (sic) , and the daughter! Ah me, it was so delightful to meet  a person not too much taller than myself.  I am sure that I forgot in a moment the annoyance I had felt at entering the presence of strangers and (..dled?) up to the little lady , shyly eying the elders and fancying I blushed all over.

I was very small, in fact decidedly undersized and lean, and angular to a degree of plainnys (sic) very heartyly (sic) regreted  (sic), for I just now began to realize the fact, and would have kept out of sight till I grew taller and handsomer, as I was sure I should do, but this was a person- almost as diminsterive  (sp?) as myself, and not much prettyer (sic), as I discovered the next moment; which discovery measured me amazingly, notwithstanding the tasteful attire which adorned my visitor.

Sir George noticed a look of enquiry in the eyes of his guests, as he presented his lady so after the compliments and formalities of the introduction were over, he invited them to remain to dinner and console his family, declaring that his wife and niece were so lonely and home sick that they were almost blind with weeping. O dear!  Now I was sure again that I was quite spoiled in the estimation of all, and the idea of my red nose and watery eyes added to a painful consciousness of inferiority, destroyed at once the delightful assurance which had so lately and so suddenly promised happiness in the society of a child  like myself, a pleasure I had never known.  I could have wasted a few more tears, of bashfulness and vexation, and probably should done so , had not Miss Murray come to the rescue by asking one where I came from, how old I was, and one question following another, till fairly at my wits end I  forgot that it was unbecoming in one of my age to cry, and laughed very heartily at my new friends questions, and tryed (sic) to rival what I thought was smartness by (ey..?) by smart replys (sic).  Childlike we were fast friends in half an hour, and so were our elders, aye, and so we remained till fate separated us, placing us so far asunder that we were as dead to each other.

A ride was proposed, and as the Gen’s carriage was large and comfortable, we enjoyed the drive through the streets, past the Cathedral, the Jesuits barracks, and the Ursuline convent, out into the tall old forest, as people who have been long shut up in a narrow sloop can only know how.  Cordelia Murray and myself were turned out to run among the trees and gather shrubs and wild flowers, and as this was my first experience of life in the woods, you very well suppose we improved the opportunity thoroughly.  Cordelia had often visited this place, it being within reach of the girls who were day pupils at the convent. “Papa likes it” said she as we sat together on a moss covered stone, and he brings me here of a morning before the bell rings, and the girls, the little ones mind you, come out at noon, yonder is our dining room”  pointing to a pretty spot, surrounded by evergreens whose thick branches formed an impenetrable roof, the lower ones adorned with dried spring flowers which the children had hung in clusters among them, and hear (sic) and there paper flowers were added by way of ornament.  (Mopes- moss?) were piled up for seats and lounges in a manner too artistic for little hands, you are very cunning artist  said I for once jumping at a correct word, which I was very proud of doing. “Mr. Montmollin the rector comes and helps us, you will know him soon, for he likes us children better I think than he does our fathers and mothers. Oh he is such a good playfellow, and then he teaches us English children, to read our own language he will want to know how much you have learned”

‘I can read and spell and sew but I can’t knit the needles get so near my eyes’ I said

“Don’t you say the catechism and collects” asked Cordelia

“No indeed aunt says I am too little.”

You are as tall as I nearly; oh I do so hate to grow tall!  I have to be precise and demure and then be obliged to stay in the schoolroom or garden with them great girls; some of them are cross and most of them French, oh dear I wish I could always be little.  But I have to learn the catechism and read english (sic) books.  I have been one term at the nuns school to learn French and needle work”

Now let us up and be doing while we have the opportunity” and the romp started away, bounding off among the old grants of the forest trees like one of the fairies I loved so well.

Was she not a good fairy? I quarried, and  should not I  be as happy with her as  fairy could make me, and would the kind Rector teach me too?  As to the play, I was not quite sure about that, my motions of dignity stood in the way, and then the Rector must be a curious sort of somebody to play with his pupils.  I had played with Abby and Jack Smith, but that was long ago.

“I am almost ten years” said I to Cordelia when I overtook her “if I am little”

“Well so am I, what then?”

“You said the Rector was such a good playfellow”

“That he is, and you will like him I know, I will show you his church, it is not far off and may be we shall see him.  Don’t you like to play?”

I was not quite sure I did not, or that after all I ought to be ashamed to do what Miss. Cordelia Murray liked so I asked “do you?”

What a gleeful silvery laugh rang out as she stopped to look into my eyes, play indeed! I guess we will learn you to play if you don’t know how, and like it too.

We (chated?) on filling our hands with mosses and shrubs till the carriage returned, but I had not yet decided whether I should like to make a playfellow of Monsieur David Francis De Mont Mollin .  I was afraid of his name, how should I deal with the man the terible (sic) Rector who would doubtless set me to learn the catechism and collects.

Cordelia had told me, that three weeks vacation yet remained before the commencement of the next term and now attached my uncle with almost French volubility “Dear Sir George, you will let your petite fills go to school!  Go to school with me.” My what young Lady”  “Why your little girl; she wants to speak French, cut  (agnans?), embroider and make roses, and the nuns want pupils.  They are very clever, and kind too and did not set me hard tasks as M Montmollin does.”

“Very desirable acquisitions I dare say, but my little girl is short sighted and it may be difficult for her to learn to do all that.”

“ I no (sic); one of our best teachers is short sighted, and yet she can do everything.”

Cordelia is quite right said Mrs. Murray, Miss. Dorothea must learn to speak French if you remain in Quebec; the nuns give young girls the best advantages to be had in this region but there will be three weeks to rest and think of it.

1 Response to Gamsby Manuscript

  1. Joanne Gamsby says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am descended from Dorothea’s brother George. Reading this means a lot to me and has helped me fill-in some of the gaps of missing information in my genealogy research — points me in directions to go that now make better sense.
    Joanne Gamsby Potanovic

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