Barry, Death and Emotion

James Barry wrote a lot about death. The Presbyterian spoke confidently of the afterlife , yet there’s a perceptible fear – and something of an obsession – that’s evident throughout the diary. Though he lived to be 87, he several times predicted his early demise. “I am considerably damaged” he wrote 46 years before his death, “and will feel the effects of it as long as I live, and I am of opinion that will not be long” (20 January 1860). He was sick often, and also seemingly slow to recover. Colds lasted for weeks and he had endless complaints about his stomach (“skitter” in his “pudding”), with many too vivid descriptions of what was emerging from his “port-hole”. But if he seems obsessive, we can’t really say he was unduly fearful. Death was everywhere in 19th-century Six Mile Brook. Babies died soon after birth; people were killed by machinery (he reported several threshing machine deaths); people drowned swimming in summer and falling through the ice in winter; and there was an endless stream of mysterious purported causes. Six Mile Brook was not insulated from the major communicative diseases, especially in tuberculosis. His wife Bell died of TB in 1883, as did four of her sisters, at least one brother, and probably her parents. And just locally and within the family, there were many other deaths noted in the diary ranging from his parents, Bell’s parents, their siblings, neighbours, and local notables in the news.

Barry’s typical response was detached, often brutally cold. He was sometimes weirdly playful – “Old ‘Christy Gordon’ is Dead as a Herring – So be it, Amen” (2 January 1869) – and sometimes painfully detached – “Old Alexander McKay died last night. He was owing me 20s and will owe” (9 November 1849). He sometimes eulogized at length: “The Celebrated KENNETH MUNRO of this Brook DIED some time this morning. He was ailing this many a year, although going about and working some. He recently came from P.E. Island. He was a bad character, a thief and a liar and a quack doctor to the bargain and a real piss-the-bed”. (12 July 1854) He didn’t attend any of his siblings’ funerals, and it was his refusal to attend Bell’s mother’s funeral in the summer of 1867 that really marked the beginning of the slide in their relationship.

His responses to death were most often directly tied to his relationship with the deceased. That’s not surprising, of course, but the deaths provide interesting indicators of his emotional connections not just to individuals but also to people, their lives and life’s value. This is, I think, very much tied up with his spirituality – and the changing nature of his spirituality and his evolving position on Atonement – but I’ll leave that aside for today. What I will explore is his relationship to three deaths – Bell and two of her sisters – as a way of assessing how he thought about death and how emotion charged these thoughts in powerfully repressive ways.

Barry’s response to the death of Annabella in October 1878 illustrated his common detached position. In the months leading up to her death, he noted in passing her illness, occasionally commenting on her poor appearance, but the details were very scarce. When she died, the death simply was recorded, not unlike those of neighbours, often neighbours some distance away whom he barely knew. Annabella was his sister-in-law, a woman who probably held no great love for him but who visited regularly and cared for his children very often between 1868 and 1878. “Poor Annabella died this morning at 8 o’clock of consumption. Her troubles are over. I sold our cow to George McLaren from Pictou for $30”. The next day “they took Annabella away from here this morning to be buried”. If there was a hint of sorrow in acknowledging that her “troubles are over”, it was not enough to compel him to attend the funeral.

Barry had little good to say about any of the McLennans. Except Liza. It’s hard to know why precisely because he doesn’t say much, but her death certainly affected him in ways that few others did. Uncharacteristically, Barry offered numerous lamentations on her illness, and ultimately her death. He explicitly says she was the only one of the McLennans he liked. Indeed, he probably in some way loved her (though like his positive feelings for most other women, this too would surely have diminished with time) and expressed a genuine sense of loss. “Liza is getting still worse I understand. I do not see her, but it is not anything I have against her but the other curse [Bell] and the damned Rogers Hill Buggers [Bell’s family]. Poor Liza, if I could save her it would soon be done at any cost – even to the whole of my Kingdom.” (12/11/1868, emphasis in original)

This is a striking acknowledgement of loss and desire. Through most of Liza’s last months, Barry recorded occasional updates on her well-being. It was clear to him that she had TB – “Consumption is the complaint of their family” – and that she was dying. And yet there is not a single recording of an interaction with Liza, indeed with no one in the family except Josephine. “Liza is still here”, he reported on 3 November 1868, “but I do not see her. I hear that she is mending some”. Isolated in his own house, set apart from the McLennan sisters who came through the house in support of their eldest sister, Barry seems enamoured, perhaps yearning, but wholly aloof, his pride unremitting.

There are lots of other examples we could draw from. He was certainly saddened by the death of Finlay McIntyre, a fiddler and friend from Truro for whom he had a deep respect, though not so moved that he travelled to attend the funeral. Of course, he attended very few funerals, and rarely offered any kind of explanation. Even he must have seen how weak was his plea that distance – 12 miles, less than the distance to Pictou, a route he often walked – kept him from the funeral of his brother William (30 June 1884). Nor did he attend the 1859 funeral of his eldest sister Julia. He didn’t even name her, simply noting “Old Widow McDonald, my eldest sister, died yesterday night”.

Bell’s funeral in December of 1884 stands out as a moment of fuller emotional expression and yet still fits his pattern of detached observation and deeply repressed emotion. In the months leading up to her death, Barry betrayed no sense of emotional pain. Bell and he had had no real relationship since 1868. For most of the period between then and her death in 1884, what he tells us about Bell is usually appended with something like “so I’m told” – i.e. where others have informed him of what is underway in his own house. My chapter on emotion and Barry explores this prolonged estrangement in more detail, but we can simply note that while he expressed much anger and resentment, there were moments too when we see hints of sadness.  

Bell’s gravestone. The McLennan family plot in St. John’s Presbyterian Cemetery, Scotsburn, Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

She died on 4 December 1884. She was 58. Like her four sisters, a brother, and probably her parents, Bell died of tuberculosis. The symptoms began in the summer, and by early fall Barry knew the coughing indicated more than a persistent cold. But never did he drop the callous commentary on “the animal”, as he often termed her. And this continued even on the day of her death. “Poor ‘Crature’. She suffered greatly … and declined rapidly”.  Though here “Crature”, a derisive epithet he took from Walter Scott, sounds affectionate, he remained unable to even write her name, to properly acknowledge her as a person. Life went on. The next day he dressed the mill stones and dried 50 bushels of oats. Perhaps while he worked he contemplated his wife’s death and their long estrangement, but the man who often engaged himself through the diary offered us no sense of reflection.

Barry attended the funeral, though only “to keep people’s tongues quiet”. The procession began at the house and a “large number of people”, though not Barry, listened to their minister’s “loud Blather”. He then joined the procession, carrying Bell’s coffin 10 km on a neighbour’s sleigh to the McLennan family plot in Rogers Hill. We can only imagine Barry’s thoughts, but in his cynical asides on the Minister’s blather we can see the extremes of his critical free-thinking mind and a long-standing anger. That long walk, on a cold December morning, allowed him ample time to reflect on his life with Bell. At the graveside, Barry demonstrated that along with the anger there was also a profound sadness. Viewing the coffin being laid into the ground, his distanced resolve fell apart: “I broke down and had to retreat crying or sobbing in spite of all I could do”. And yet even here, in the midst of acknowledging his pain, he was unable to continue the story as one rooted in loss, but rather in his loss of control: “It was some time before I could regain my composure. Sad, sad, spectacle indeed”. For the only time in the 56-year-long diary, James Barry fully exposed a deep emotional pain. Though brief, it’s hard not to believe it exposed long-sheltered fears and desires.

Bell was not buried with Barry, but in the McLennan family plot. The distance from their home in Six Mile Brook to the cemetery aptly reflects the distance in their relationship. The blue line here shows the most likely route to St. John’s Cemetery in Rogers Hill (today Scotsburn). There were at least four Presbyterian cemeteries closer (Gunn, in Six Mile Brook, Stillman in Eight Mile Brook, Gladstone in Four Mile Brook, and Ebenezer in Saltsprings) . Google maps, taking a slightly more direct route over Fitzpatrick Mountain, measures this as 10.2 km. That’s a long walk on a cold December morning, providing ample time for Barry to have reflected on his life with Bell. Source: J.H. Meacham, Illustrated Historical Atlas Of Pictou County Nova Scotia (Philadelphia, 1879) David Rumsey Maps.

Some thoughts on teaching the colonial Canadian survey (from Borealia)

I contributed a post to Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History, offering some thoughts on how we frame the early Canadian survey course. Denis Kim of Borealia asked me to contribute something on teaching, prompted by a brief Twitter conversation I had had with Tom Peace of Huron University College this past spring. Tom, at the meeting of the Canadian Historical Association in Regina in June 2018, presented a piece discussing Huron’s decision to shift their Canadian survey to a broader transnational focussed course.  That work is outlined in a post for

Comparing the two, it’s clear that Tom and I are very much concerned with similar issues, and equally to break with a traditional nationalist view of colonial Canadian history. We differ on where our basic framing begins:  on the nation-state that defines us today or in a blurrier transnational context. Blurry, I think we agree, is good, but some of its assumptions demand different expression.

A taste:

In teaching about Canada, I want my students to see something that is both familiar and strange – something they recognise as their country, but often in ways that they had not previously imagined. In the colonial survey, I often begin with the map on our header, Nicolas Bellin’s 1744 map of Isle Royale (Cape Breton/U’nama’kik). It looks like Cape Breton, but it also introduces us to this strange island off the coast of Acadie/Mi’kmaki/Nova Scotia (in 1744, it was very much all three of these!). In this one image, we see the familiar (the simple outline of what is normally today called Cape Breton), places we’re coming to know (like that fortress along the coast named for the French king), and places we can’t see any more like Port Toulouse/Quescouminigan, Moulagash, and le grand lac Bideauboch “rectifee … sur l’orginal des sauvages.

Read the entire post here.

Community and History

This past September, for the first time in several years, I was able to spend an extended period of time in Nova Scotia doing some research. Most of that time I was working on the Colonial Library project that Keith Grant and I are working on. I tweeted a fair bit about that at the time, but I’ll note very briefly that I visited the rare books library at Acadia University, the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, and examined collections at Nova Scotia Museum sites: Haliburton House in Windsor, Prescott house near Port Williams, and the Museum of Industry in Stellarton. I also had a great afternoon playing miller at the Nova Scotia Museum’s Balmoral Grist Mill, a mill quite a bit larger than James Barry’s mill, but using similar technologies and built about the same time.

It was a great trip. Just from the standpoint of what I was hoping to achieve in terms of research I was very happy. Between what Keith was doing on his own, what we had done together earlier in the summer, and these visits, we now have a really solid foundation established upon which to start building our Colonial Library [a preliminary sandbox version can be see here].

I met a lot of wonderful people. Pat Townsend, the archivist at the Vaughan Library at Acadia, was an informative guide to the rare book collection. Martin Hubley at the Nova Scotia Museum, Karen Smith at the Dalhousie Special Collections, and others at Museums sites across the province were all really helpful, clearly going beyond normal front-desk efforts.

But I also found myself talking to a range of really interesting community people who shared some of my local passions. I spent an evening at the provincial archives talking with the incredibly knowledgeable David States about African-Nova Scotian history in Kings and Pictou Counties. I met with Debra McNabb, the curator of the Museum of Industry, who then invited me to a community archaeology dig at the foundry of the General Mining Association (the GMA, the company that initiated capital-intensive industrial development in Nova Scotia in the 1820s and which plays a central role in my 2008 book Industry and Improvement).  I’ve known Debra for many years and she’s done significant work on Nova Scotia industrial history. But there I also met provincial archaeologists (where I learned more about the precarious existence of academic archaeology in Nova Scotia) and several local historians. John Ashton, for example, is a local graphic designer, but active in local historical societies and publishes industrial history the New Glasgow News (in fact he’s presenting at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, this coming Monday November the 5th).  Hearing about my work on James Barry, he very generously took me to Springville (about 10 km up the East River) to show me the remains of the Grant mills which date from the 1790s.

Back wall of the Grant mill, Springville, Nova Scotia. The original mill was constructed in the 1790s, though this probably dates from mid-19th century.

I also met David Rollinson, the chair of the Nova Scotia Industrial Heritage Society. David and I had a long chat about lots of things, but my favourite detail was our convergence on a skilled worker from Staffordshire, Thomas Neville, who worked in the GMA foundry from 1827 to about 1842.  David mentioned that he knew where Neville was buried. At first, I wasn’t especially intrigued until he said in that the grave was in Middleton Corner, Colchester County – an agricultural area about 60 km away. I found the gravestone the next day (and that of many other later Nevilles born in Middleton Corner). And now I was able to identify him in the census of 1871. I’d looked for him before in the census (he has papers in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia), but had lost track of the foundryman; I hadn’t known I was looking for a farmer in the next county! But there he was, not an Old World skilled worker, but a relatively prosperous New World farmer. A man who had passed through my research orbit some years ago was given much fuller expression.

Buried at Holy Trinity Anglican in Middleton Corner, NS, Neville had travelled far from Litchfield, Staffordshire to Albion Mines, to Sydney Mines before settling down in his 50s as a cattle farmer.

None of these discoveries will change my work. But a few days of simply talking to local historians had taught me a great deal.  More significant, however, was the energising effect of simply being part of these conversations. I’ve always been an archive-based researcher. I say that with pride, of course, but there’s also a limitation. There’s so many people out there who know so much, and whose enthusiasm is so contagious. Talking to archaeologists, walking 200-year old spillways, touching the handiwork of skilled workers, seeing their paths extended beyond the archival trail: all of this reminded me of the tremendous value of being more fully a part of these communities. I don’t need to be in the communities I study; most of my historian friends live far from the places they study. But it was this kind of connectedness that first drew me to study Nova Scotia, to understand my own place, my own community. It was good to find that again.

Historical Geographies of Six Mile Brook

Trudging over broken brush and rotting timber brings the historical rural world to life. I recall Graeme Wynn talking about historical geographers requiring stout boots, and it’s an image that’s stayed with me for a long time.  Indeed, when one studies abandoned agricultural landscapes – think Nova Scotia, eastern Ontario, much of New England – walking these landscapes allows us to much better imagine the world they were shaping – and the ways the landscape was shaping their activities. I don’t think I ever “got” Minudie until I walked its dykes and stood at the head of its human-built promontory holding back the force of massive ocean tides. Nor did I really understand what it meant to farm backland settlements until I walked the roads above Mabou.

Last week, on a hot mid-August afternoon, I walked Six Mile Brook, and did so with a knowledgeable guide. Everett McCulloch, who in 1975 married Bessie Barry’s great-granddaughter, owns most of the land that was once James Barry’s mills and fields. Everett took me over the site of the mill, along the brook, and the freshet floodways; we walked over where the house once stood, avoided falling into the still-open well, and observed the changing forest composition – birch and maple pushing out the spruce that took over when the site was abandoned. All the while, Everett regaled me with stories, family lore, astute observations on the landscape, and a sharp awareness of the Barry’s place in this corner of the world. I take great delight that in working on a project that has spawned two digital projects I found a treasure trove of sources on a walk along a brook.

At the mill site, looking upstream

The most obvious feature is that Six Mile Brook is very much a brook. While this photo is from mid-August after a hot dry summer, it’s a pretty small stream and it’s very easy to see why in summer Barry so often lamented low water. This photo is exactly at the point of the mill pond.  There were two small pools in sight, one visible just up from where I stood, and one out of the picture to the left where Everett still catches trout.  But at no point is the brook deeper than 50-60 cm, and at no point was it more than 2 metres across. The floodway shoulder is much wider, however, and one can see that at some seasons the brook would be about 6 or 7 metres across.

Not so obvious from this photo is that this point on the brook forms a kind of bowl. No doubt this shape was augmented by Barry and his father, but it’s also clear that this was a very good location to form a mill pond. In the following photo, looking directly across the stream, one can see the bank which formed part of the pond wall. It’s a poor photo – the day was very bright and the forest shadows made photography difficult – but that dark stretch through the trees is a bank about 3 metres high. Adding that space to the widest point of the brook, I’d then estimate the mill pond was about 10 metres at its widest point.

At the mill site, looking across to the side of the mill pond.

When Everett bought the land in 1975, the house was abandoned but still standing,  and some of the mill remained. There were parts of machinery, some of the gears for the mill wheel, some grindstones (one of which Everett has in his workshop), and miscellaneous debris. Today, all that remains are the foundation of the mill, and some portions of the foundation of the house.

Mill foundation, north side

The mill foundation offers a kind of mystery. It was built on a forty-five degree angle to the stream. I’m no authority on mill construction, but I’ve never seen a mill which wasn’t built in line with the stream. I’ll need to do some research here.  Only two walls remain, and naturally these are the two away from the stream. Everett knows that people have pillaged a fair bit of stone from the site, but most of this appears to have come from the house.

All the while, Everett told stories. I knew some of it, but much was new.  Most striking was his knowledge of Bessie’s family, and Josephine’s life. Josephine, I had already surmised, died sadly, at the age of 77, alone working as a domestic for a Pictou family. Everett’s understanding, and this is certainly confirmed in the diary, is that after her mother died in 1883 Josephine spent her life caring for her father until he died in 1906. She never married, never left Six Mile Brook. I have nothing on her after 1906, but the family’s sense is of a sad life.  Bessie, on the other hand, led a full life, marrying young (at 17), and bearing seven children. One of whom, Maudie, was Everett’s wife’s grandmother. Everett knew Maudie; she recalled Bessie as a cheerful person, but told him very different stories about James Barry. The details are scant, but the impression was very clearly of an angry, unhappy man.

Everett also had a clear sense of Bell’s unhappiness, including the detail (that James Barry never really acknowledged) that Bell was buried in her parent’s grave at Scotsburn, not the Barry plot in Six Mile Brook. There can be no clearer sense of two lives apart.

Isabella McLennan, aka “Bell” Barry, was buried with her parents in St. John’s Cemetery, Scotsburn, NS (photo from Sept 2018).

Everett also knew that James and his brother Anthony had a poor relationship. But he had little sense that it related to the mill. The diary indicates that James had not inherited the mill when their father died, but had borrowed money to buy it from Anthony. That deal fell apart – the diary is not clear on this – and there was bad blood for the next thirty years. Everett’s understanding though is that somehow another local family, the Sutherlands – George and William both had land adjoining Barry – had either been a partner or an investor (which could include loaning Barry the money) in the early mill. There’s no indication of that in the diary and the only time I’ve seen Sutherlands mentioned is when they’re working for or buying from Barry. I’m not at this point sure how important these details are, but I’m certainly intrigued to hear their continued presence in Six Mile Brook.

Finally, before Everett came by, I wandered for a bit along the stream. I was really struck by the wildflowers and especially the profusion of wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. James Barry showed very few tender moments, but most of them were with Josephine. Many of these occasions were when they went for summer walks, picking berries, and sometimes wildflowers. Once, Barry waxed with a sweet delight about a bouquet of wildflowers Josephine had delivered to him earlier that day. Early in their relationship, Bell and Barry roamed up into the hills too, but as their marriage failed Bell’s walks were only with the girls as they escaped to her family’s house on Roger’s Hill. There was much pain in Six Mile Brook, much unhappiness. But that day as I wandered along the stream, I had a very real sense of the simple pleasures Six Mile Brook sometimes held.

Historical methodology and the McLennan sisters

It’s the morning of the final day of the Rural Women’s Studies Association conference in Athens, Ohio. It’s been a really engaging conference and the calibre of work has been very good. I attended several excellent historical sessions, as well as some really good contemporary sessions. The conference, organized around the theme of Thriving and Surviving, has offered many different dimensions of ordinary women’s struggles to be seen and heard.

Several of the panels also had me thinking about situating Bell’s story, of how women’s positions often articulate strength and resilience in ways that appear feminist and assertive.  We  would never categorise them this way, but we still need frameworks for articulating such activities.  For example, Linda Little, in her 2015 novel Grist, reimagines Bell as a kind of proto-feminist. Though never announcing her character explicitly in that way, she none the less tells a clear tale of a woman who was acting independently, deliberately taking on conventionally male roles and being facilitated in all this by other independent women.

A panel discussion on contemporary Appalachian feminisms  reminded me that Bell’s actions, like the actions these contemporary activist academics were describing, were not feminist actions, but quite ordinary forms of practice that embodied a combination of active resistance and the conventional common sense of women.

What occurred to me over the course of the conference is that Bell’s method, and her sisters’ methods in particular, facilitated my own. When Bell and James Barry’s marriage began to crumble after 1867, Bell’s sisters and supporters organized themselves effectively to allow Bell to retreat to her parent’s home. A steady stream of sisters and friends circulated through the local community and the Barry household providing cooking, cleaning, shopping and other basic domestic-material needs.

Their struggles, their efforts to carry Bell through her difficult and sometimes abusive marriage, give us a clear sense of a kind of feminist practice in a context few would imagine as feminist. Their actions were small, and utterly conventional in a 19th-century rural domestic setting, but they open a window on an effective network of women’s resistance in practice.

Every day that Barry grumbled about his wife’s absences, her actions were facilitated, quite deliberately, by conscious female mobilization. These instances are when I as an historian saw Bell: when she, or her sisters, either confronted or confounded her husband’s expectations and needs. These actions were rarely the centre of his diary, but they often merited mention. I can see Bell because of their concerted actions to offer their sister a place of refuge.

Their method enabled my method.














A new post on weather and emotion in The Otter/Acadiensis series, “Soundings”

I contributed a post on James Barry, emotion, and weather to NiCHE Canada’s The Otter/Le loutre/Acadiensis, special “Soundings” series that considers new approaches to environmental history in Atlantic Canada. I’m very honoured to be joining notable environmental historians Claire Campbell, Alan MacEachern,  Mark McLaughlin, Josh MacFadyen, and Tina Loo. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

This post focuses on weather and emotion, and I hope to soon have another post here on religion and emotion. These all will form some part of a chapter on Barry and emotion in his biography.

A taste:

I’m reading Barry to understand a rural 19th-century man’s life. Weather, and to some extent climate, have become important to me because it was important to him. I do hope to develop some sort of database on weather. But I’m really wondering what made Barry tick, and weather was part of that. Not only was it important in shaping his work-life, it was important in shaping his emotional well-being. Reading his diary, one is immediately struck by how curmudgeonly he was. Few things ameliorated his mood. While his marriage was not a happy one, his courtship with Bell McLennan in the spring of 1859 marked one of the few sustained periods of lightness in his tone. And his affection for their eldest daughter Josephine was always clear. Fine weather, too, could lighten his mood. Spring freshets and rain after a dry spell, particularly in summer, brought moments of relief, and occasionally elation.  And while he dreaded a dry spell, his language for sunny warm days, though not sunny hot days, usually elicited a brighter tone.

Read the rest here.




Thinking about Bell

I’ve been thinking about Bell. Isabel (“Bell”) McLennan (1826-1883) married James Barry (1818-1906) in the fall of 1859. They raised two girls, and operated a successful grist and sawmill in Six Mile Brook, Nova Scotia. Most of what we know about Bell is from her husband’s 56-year-long daily diary. Barry was a remarkable, complex, and thus interesting man. I wish I could say the same for Bell, but I can’t. I wish I could then tell you that James Barry offered lovely intimate details of their lives together, details that would allow us to offer something of a biography – perhaps not as detailed as his, but something. But I can’t because Barry’s diary is almost completely focused on his own world: the mill, his books, and the public world of rural men.

For all that Barry wrote, and for all the many times he mentioned her, he didn’t say a lot about her. There were a few exceptions, most notably their courtship in the spring of 1859, but for the most part she appears only in passing. Barry was seldom cheerful, but there was in those months of courting a lovely lightness to his writing. One can feel his excitement, a brightness and enthusiasm of speech that must have been equally evident in his step. They were, for that time, a couple; they attended sprees, travelled West River roads, and took the train to Truro for a night out. There was promise.

It’s hard to say when it began to unravel. There’s some hints fairly early, but nothing obvious. They produced a child in 1860, not long after marrying, indicating some level of intimate fulfillment. But a year after Josephine’s birth, they seem to be sleeping apart (perhaps even in separate rooms – again, hints, but not clear). What is clear is that from about 1864 on, Bell spent increasingly more time at her parents than with her husband; indeed, there are months from the mid-1860s to the early 70s when she might spend no more than two or three nights in their home. Numerous evenings (when Barry usually wrote), he professed to be ignorant of her whereabouts. They led almost completely separate lives, and by 1867 they were barely speaking. They were certainly speaking, angrily, in June of 1868 when in the midst of an argument about cattle gates Barry struck Bell. He defended himself at length in an entry he labelled the “History of the late Row”. In his account, there was no violence (except “a blow” to one of the cows). But the Sheriff’s issuing of a peace bond requiring Barry to be civil for two years indicates the evidence was clear. Given the state of protection for women in Nova Scotia at the time, there must have been a real threat.

There’s lots to be said about Barry’s attitudes to women, and something too on his sexuality. Or perhaps we should term it his sexual morality because while he wrote very little that was obviously sexual, there’s a fair bit pointing to his attitude on sexual matters. What’s most obvious is a kind of prurient titillation about women. There are numerous hints. He was fiercely critical of James Smith, one of his employees through the 1860s and 70s, for this “drinking and whoring”. And yet at times the criticism borders on envy for Smith’s freedom and apparently his happiness. In the months after the peace bond, Barry attended several male social events in Pictou where there was drinking and women – perhaps, though not clearly, prostitutes, and Barry seemed to enjoy the spectacle. He also went through many housekeepers, and there’s a clear pattern to their service: the initial meeting was typically positive, noting she was “smart” or “knew her duty”, and almost always included some kind of reference to her appearances. But within weeks, sometimes days, he would have soured on the young woman’s talents. Often within a month he was lamenting her poor work, calling her a “bitch”, or a “whore”, and planning to fire her. When he caught one of them in bed with one of his workers, he flew into a rage, and chased her out of the house. She was fired in that moment; the young man was chastised, but not fired. A double standard, to be sure, but a sense too that what the boy did was not just tolerable but good.

Barry loved women from afar, but seldom up close. A pretty face could charm him, but a spark of independence could enrage him. He was, in short, deeply insecure, and deeply misogynist. But that’s another chapter. Writing a chapter about Bell won’t be easy. It’s hard to see a person in her misogynistic, occasionally abusive, and always defensive husband’s diary. Can the subaltern speak? asks Gayatri Spivak. There are, as the subaltern writers insist, always traces of the colonized voice, even in the colonizers’ texts. How much of Bell can we find?

Broad strokes

I started this blog a year ago (almost to the day), and never pursued it. But I want to start using it as a way to muse on Barry and his diary. James Barry was a 19th-century miller, printer, and fiddler in a back-country settlement in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. I’ve been tweeting “on this day” style notes from his diary for almost two years and this year leaped ahead to 1867 just to catch the anti-Confederation tirades that were becoming evident. A short essay on Barry and Confederation will appear in the Spring 2017 volume of Acadiensis.

I also want to use this space to catalogue his quite extensive library. Barry didn’t identify every book he read, but many he did. The range is impressive, though there was certainly a core of 17th to 19th-century Presbyterian theological texts. Barry was a dissenting Presbyterian – indeed a Morisonian, a still more radical sect of dissenters – and most of his books reflect his interest in the evangelical (“antiburgher”) critique of “the Kirk” (the Church of Scotland). There’s more – smatterings of history, politics, poetry, and some humour – but his intellectual heart was clearly centred in dissent, and the evangelical emphasis on atonement and free will.

This carried over into his politics, and we can see how his radically de-centralised views on church governance and free will spilled into the secular realm. But Barry is a fascinating man whose dissenting views changed shape dramatically over his life. In the 1860s, his dissenting politics meant supporting Joseph Howe, the liberal reformers, and the battle against Nova Scotia joining the Canadian Confederation; by the 1890s he was reading and printing (i.e. stealing!) free-thought pamphlets from both secular libertarians and the Christian left. Six Mile Brook, Pictou County, it seems clear, was no isolated backwater, but a small node in the rich Atlantic network of ideas. And there is much more to explore: his domestic life is fascinating, his emergent sense of bourgeois acquisitiveness, his articulation of an autonomous self, his willingness to actively interrogate that self, and more all points to a thoroughly modern sensibility.  Indeed, I want to argue that this backwoods miller and fiddler – surely isolated, traditional, and simple – was worldly, progressive, and infinitely complex. He was a quintessentially modern man.

A catalogue of books noted in James Barry’s diaries (complete up to 1870)

James Barry’s Books

James Petit Andrews, The Inquisitor (London, Hatchard, 1798).

Alexander Archibald, Universalism False and Unscriptural: An Essay on the Duration and Intensity of Future Punishment (Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1851).

Chamber’s Encyclopaedia of Universal Knowledge for the PeopleLondon: W. and R. Chambers, 1860. Ten volumes (subscription)

Albert Barnes, Notes, explanatory and practical on the New Testament: designed for Sunday school teachers and Bible classes (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1840).

Eugene Becklard, Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship and Marriage: an infallible guide-book for married and single persons (New York, Holland & Glover, 1844).

John Bunyan (1628-1688), Entire Works of John Bunyan, edited with original introduction, notes and memoir by Henry Stebbing (London, J. First, 1862). [Barry, in a 24 January 1865 entry, wrote “Complete Works”, but nothing with that title published until 1872]

Robert Burns, Fac-Simile of Burns’ Celebrated Poem entitled The Jolly Beggars (Glasgow, James Lumsden & Son, 1823). [he doesn’t note this edition, but he quotes from the poem 10 July 1871]

Father Chiniquy [Charles Pascal Telesphore], The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional (Montreal, Grafton, 1875).

Robert Cooper, The Infidel’s Text-Book, being the Substance of Thirteen Lectures on the Bible (Boston, J.P. Mendum, 1859 [1843]).

Jonathan Dickenson, The true Scripture doctrine concerning some important points of Christian faith: particularly, eternal election, original sin, grace in conversion, justification by faith, and the saints’ perseverance (Chambersburg PA, Robert & George Harper, 1800 [ca. 1740]).  This is the British Library’s ed – has a later one)

George Dodd, Chambers History of the Revolt in India (London, W. & R. Chambers, 1859). [Barry called it Chambers History; Hathitrust page notes “On cover: Chamber’s History of the revolt in India]

James Durham, A commentarie upon the book of the Revelation: wherein the text is explained, the series of the several prophecies contained in that book, deduced (London, Company of Stationers, 1658).  [Barry described this book as “a great deal of nonsense” – 27/03/1853]

Jonathan Edwards, A careful and strict enquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will, which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame (Boston, Kneeland, 1754).

Jonathan Edwards, “On Baptism” – probably Jonathan Edwards [1740], The “Miscellanies,” 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20) , Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University

Robert Fleming, The Fulfilling of the Scripture in three parts, two volumes, (Glasgow, Stephen Young, 1801 [1671]). [449 pp.]

Robert Fleming, Apocalyptical Key: An Extraordinary Discourse on the Rise and Fall of Papacy (London, Baynes, 1809 [1701]).

*new* J.A, Froude, The English in Ireland in the 18th Century (New York, Scribner, 1873).

Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Sam Slick in England, or The Attaché (London, George Routledge and Co, 1858).

Thomas Chandler Haliburton, The Clockmaker, or the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville (London, R. Bentley, 1838).

John Angell James, The Young Man’s Friend and Guide through Life to Immortality (London, Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1852).

John R. Kelso, The Real Blasphemers (New York, Truth Seeker, 1883). [Sept 1883]

William Law, The Spirit of Love: Being an Appendix to the Spirit of Prayer, in a letter to a friend (London, W. Innys, 1752).

Phillipus van Limborch [1633-1712], The history of the inquisition, as it has subsisted in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Venice, Sicily, Sardinia, Milan, Poland, Flanders, &c. &c. With a particular description of its secret prisons, modes of torture, style of accusation, trial, &c. &c. Abridged from the elaborate work of Philip Limborch. Introduced by an historical survey of the Christian Church (London, W. Simpson & R. Marshall, 1816).

Thomas Babington Macaulay, History of England, (London, Longman, 1848) [first two volumes, purchases from James Dawson for 3s – later, in 1877, he binds 12 copies of all three volumes for Pictou bookseller, James McLean]

William McGavin, The Posthumous Works of the late William McGavin: Accompanied with a Memoir, including an autobiography, extracts from his correspondence, writings (Glasgow, Reid, 1834).

Maria Monk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, a Narrative of Her Suffering at the Hotel-Dieu Nunnery of Montreal (London, Hodson, 1837).

James Morison, An Exposition on the Ninth Chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Kilmarnock, John White, 1849). 569 pp.

“Kirwin” [pseud. Nicholas Murray, 1802-1861] Romanism at home: letters to the Hon. Roger B. Taney (New York, Harper, 1852).

Samuel Miller, An Essay, on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church (New York: Jonathan Leavitt; Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1831).

James Morison, Vindication of the Universality of the Atonement (Glasgow, A. Wallace & Co, 1861).

James Morison, The Nature of the Atonement, or the Answer to the Question, What is Atonement? Answered (Edinburgh, Paterson; and Kilmarnock, Muir & Davie, 1841).  [not specifically identified, but on 22/11/1853 he says he bought “6 Morisonian books”, and on 3/12/1853 he says he’s reading a book on atonement and he’s a Morisonian!]

John N. Norton, The Life of General Washington (New York, Church Book Society, 1864). [not clear which ed.]

Thomas Paine, The Works of Thomas Paine, A Hero in the American Revolution (Philadelphia, Haskell, 1854). [Possibly this edition – 13/5/1883]

Alexander Smith Paterson, A Concise System of Theology: On the Basis of the Shorter Catechism (Edinburgh, John Johnstone, 1848).

O.S. Pratt, The Horse’s Friend: The Only Practical Method of Educating the Horse (Buffalo, For the Author, 1876).

Leopold von Ranke, The ecclesiastical and political history of the popes of Rome during the sixteenth and seventeenth  centuries, Sarah Austin, trans., (London, John Murray, 1840).

Walter Scott, Sir. Tales of a Grandfather two volumes. (Edinburgh, Robert Cadell, 1836).

C. Smith, Geography on the Productive System (Philadelphia, 1836).

Louis Gaston Adrien de Ségur, Plain Talk of the Protestantism of To-Day, Translated from the French (Boston, Patrick Donahue, 1868).

H. Spurgeon, Sermons Delivered in Exeter Hall (London, Alexander & Passmore, 1855).

Charles Thompson, A View of the Holy Land, its present inhabitants, their manners, and customs, polity and religion (Loydsville Ohio, J. Russell, 1850) [1744]

Josiah Tyler, Livingstone’s life work; or, Africa and its explorers. A narrative of the life, travels, adventures, experiences, and achievements of Dr. David Livingstone (Hartford Conn, Columbian, 1875).

Henry Venn, The Complete Duty of Man, or, A System Doctrinal and Practical Christianity  (Glasgow, Collins, 1828 [1763]).

William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes, Contrasted with Real Christianity (Glasgow, Collins, 1837).

“A Modern Syntax” [William Combe], The adventures of Doctor Comicus or The frolicks of fortune (London, R. Blake, 1828).

Charles Watts, Science and the Bible Antagonistic (London, C. Watts, 1874).  [not clear that it’s this book 2 December 1883]

Thomas Whitmore, Memoir of the Rev. Walter Balfour (Boston, J.M. Usher, 1852).

John Mckay Wilson, Wilson’s tales of the borders, and of Scotland; historical, traditionary, and imaginative (Manchester, Ainsworth, 1857).

John Campbell [“Principal”] Shairp, Robert Burns (London, Macmillan, 1885 [1879]).

“book on midwifery” [loaned to Dr Sutherland]

“book on Mechanics” [loaned to “The Doctor”]

Baron Swedenborg “The True Christian Religion” [ca 1780](12 March 1865)


The Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow)

Pictou Standard (Pictou)

Halifax Citizen

British Colonist (Halifax)

Canada Evangelist (Hamilton, U.C.)

The Truth Seeker (New York). – June 1883 “a great paper it is – out and out infidels”.