The diaries of William and Elizabeth Peters
Elizabeth Blake was born in Plymouth, Devonshire, England, on 07 September 1801. She married William Peters on 27 November 1820. They emigrated, with three children, to Canada in 1830. William passed away in 1859 and Elizabeth died in Port Hope on 04 June 1894. They had two sons and two daughters.
Port Hope Weekly Guide, 08 June 1894
William, baptised 30 March 1791, was a Methodist lay minister and was part of the group who built the first church building at Canton, which is now used as the church hall. There is a commemorative window to William and Elizabeth in the church. It is located behind the choir, on the right when looking at them from inside the church.
Patricia F. Davidson
The following diaries, the first by William Peters and the second by his wife, Elizabeth - who wrote hers on scraps of paper - chronicle the daily life aboard ship as the family sailed from Plymouth, England to Canada in the spring of 1830. We thank Pauline and her daughter, Patricia, for sharing them with us and giving permission for their on-line publication.
Journal of a voyage from England to America kept by W. Peters (1830)
April 26th, 1830
Went on board the Brig Friends. Captain Butters, Commander, and while lying off Stonehouse Pool to take water before the voyage, the Brunswick steam packet ran foul of the Brig and injured the captain's mate who was obliged to be taken on shore, which delayed the ship another day, but blessed by God, I felt him to be my support and was of a truth with us in the evening at our prayer meeting on board the vessel.
This day very busy getting things for the voyage.
On shore to see the captain's mate who is confined on bed and pronounced unfit for the voyage. This day also a day of rich mercy to my soul, an experience of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Praise the Lord, Oh! my soul.
Held a prayer meeting on board this morning on deck. 2 o'clock, preached on deck to the passengers and crew from 22c, Job, 21 v., and the Lord was with us of a truth. Sister Henwood spoke in the evening from "There remaineth a rest for the people of God," and after service, closed the day with prayer. My faith is in full strength and lively exercise.
May 3d, 1830
About 4 o'clock this morn weighed anchor, soon got underway with a fair wind down channel where we soon, almost all passengers on board, got very sick.
Lost sight of English land this day, which perhaps I shall see no more.
Very sick and unfit to note.
Sickness continues, and so does fair wind that by this night we were supposed to be 500 miles from Plymouth.
A squally day, and the vessel rolled much, which made the sickness intolerable but blessed be God, he is still my support.
A dreary day, and almost all the passengers ill.
The wind continued to blow and the sea running mountains, but thanks be to him who ruleth over all, he gave me the victory over tormenting fear.
Sunday morning. The wind continuing, but a prospect of alteration which took place about noon, and behold, there was a calm. The sickness is not so violent, but still it is felt. The children are best of all. One week at sea, and yet I find I can praise him though weak in body.
Here's a case in consequence of sea sickness having reduced us all, — very weak, and for my part no inclination to write nor read, for all I ate for nearly 3 weeks was nearly all thrown up again. Nothing particular can I relate until the 22d except the sight of some of the great inhabitants of the sea. We saw the grampus fish spouting water and sporting in the sea, the devil fish with 2 heads, and some porpoises. On Sunday morn, an American schooner came by and spoke with our ship, very friendly, a little before we were about to commence divine service on board, which brought almost all the passengers and crew on deck. When the Captain ordered one of the sailors to ring the large bell to announce the time of service, Brother Hoskin[g] preached from "Say unto the righteous, it shall be well with him," etc. A good feeling and very good attention. In the evening, Bro. Henwood from "God so loved the world," etc. A little before our evening service, a Spanish man-of-war brig bore alongside and somewhat alarmed the Captain, and some of the passengers were attacked with fear.
But, blessed be God, my confidence was in the Captain of my salvation, who conquers all. We exchanged a few words, and she then left us. This circumstance brought the people again on deck and prepared them to hear attentively. This I believe was the Lord's doing , and it was marvellous in my eyes. Retired to rest happy in God and getting over sea sickness.
Monday, 23d [In 1830, Monday was actually the 24th]
2 whales and a shark have been seen today, and I should have remarked that we have been sailing under contrary winds except the first 4 days of our voyage, but this afternoon the wind changed in our favor, and we are now sailing after the rate of 7 knots an hour. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
A gale of wind came on to blow and continued 24 hours when almost all the canvas was under reef and the vessel hove to. The vessel was nearly on her beam ends several times and the sea washing over the decks in torrents, but the Lord was our helper and heard our prayers, and there was calm.
This day saw the inhabitants of the great deep sporting in the water, the whales spouting water to the heighth of, I suppose, 20 feet. We this day entered upon the Banks of Newfoundland about 1100 miles from Quebec where we saw many vessels employed in the cod fishery.
A fair wind, and carried us through the day, an average of 7 miles an hour.
Fine weather but very cold, accounted for by the Captain and sailors from the ice floating on the sea northward of us. I preached this morning after the Captain had ordered the great bell to be rung, when almost all on board, cabin as well as steerage passengers and sailors, attended, when I spoke from "I thought on my ways," etc. Great attention prevailed, and we have reason to hope that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. This evening a young man passenger on board, by name John Cornish, a Bryan preacher, addressed the people, but not a very able preacher, and he did not appear to have liberty, but from his conduct he appears to be a man of God.
1st of June
And from the coldness of the air we should have thought in England it was the commencement of March. Got over the fishing banks, which was more than 200 miles over where we crossed, and a fog commenced when we could not see a mile ahead.
The wind blew fresh but fair, and by Wednesday morning, 3d of June, we again saw land. [Here again the diarist is mixed on his days. The 3d of June in 1830 was Thursday.] Newfoundland on the north and Cape Breton on the south, 31 days after losing sight of Old England. All hearts were cheered and our spirits enlivened, but we did not get up to land in the evening as we expected in the morning on account of a calm. Blessed be God, we are all well, and they that love God are happy. 10 o'clock, and now going to bed. Glory be to God.
By this morning we had passed the land we saw last evening and hove in sight of other islands. All day lay under a calm, and the Captain hove to, and about 11 o'clock we began fishing, when one of the passengers soon hooked a very large fish which the mariners called Hollowbut. Weighted upwards of 60 lbs., a flat fish of very good flavor. Many other of the passengers caught cod fish and I was one of the successful fishers. Caught one about 10 lbs.; so that we have once more fresh meat to feed upon, and yet I feel a heart tuned to praise God and can say
Surrounded by thy power I stand;
On every side I feel thy hand.
I won thy goodness, I feel thy power,
Thy hand sustains me every hour.
By this morning we were just up with one of the Magdalene Islands to the north of Cape Breton, but so becalmed throughout that we were not this evening more than ten miles farther on than we were yesterday morning. About six o'clock this evening I spoke with an American brig bound for Aberdeen in Scotland, who told us that all the vessels that had arrived this spring had experienced rough weather. The health of all on board is much recovered since we began to breath the land air, and we are now very hearty to our meals, the children in particular. By the mercy of God we are spared to see another Saturday evening. Glory be to God. I forgot to mention the large whale that sported around us this afternoon about half a mile off. Supposed to be as long as our brig which measures on deck upwards of 100 feet. While I surveyed this monarch and saw it rolling and tumbling in the deep, I was struck with the power of the Author of its being and feel that this Being is
The God that rules on high,
That all the earth surveys,
That rides upon the stormy sky
And calms the roaring seas.
And by happy experience can say
This awful God is ours,
Our savior and our love;
He will send down his heavenly power
And carry us above.
A fine morning, and the greatest part prepared for services, and the Captain ordered the bell to be rung at the hours appointed, then Thos. Hosking took his stand and preached from "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Very good attention, and we are sowers (?) in hope that it may be as bread cast on the waters to be found after many days. Half past 2, C. Henwood took the stand and preached from "Unto you is the word of Salvation," etc., and in the evening we held a prayer meeting in the forecastle among the sailors. All were attentive. Although some of them are very sinful in their words and ways, they appeared to feel the force of truth while I exhorted on the necessity of preparing for Eternity. To God be all the praise for the mercies of this day.
A very rainy day and a brisk gale, but the wind in favor by Tuesday morning.
We were in the mouth of the River St. Lawrence where it is nearly 200 miles broad. Toward the close of the day we could see land on both sides, and it appeared very mountainous.
Wednesday morning we could so far see land as to discover the trees and shrubs. Very different to what it is in England, for the trees appear to grow even to the water's edge. We did not make much ahead this day. Wind contrary, and we were oblige to move west up the river by tacks, and towards the evening we ran the vessel on a sand bank, and there stuck fast — from which spot I now sit in my berth on the little barrel for a seat and my lap for a writing table, and here we must stay before the tide again flows, but we hope all will be well and are now going to lie down for a few hours to refresh our bodies.
Elizabeth Peters' diary [title supplied]
Came on board on Monday but returned to Aunt Denham's for the night. [In 1830, the last Monday before May was April 26.] Felt peculiarly tired getting up by the side of the vessel and on Tuesday also, determined not to leave again on that account.
Our close habitations make it trying for all, the children in particular, though I think they are as well or better than we could expect. So far they are able to eat or drink. 29th William was rather unwell, but today, the 30th, is as well as before. In the day we are subject to much noise, but our nights are as well as comfortable as when on shore. As yet we have no cause to complain, but on the contrary, much to be thankful for.
There are 23 on one side of the vessel and many more the other side. The mate of the ship met with a sad accident on Wednesday which has delayed us a few days. All feel anxious to be off. We have a doctor and his family on board, in the cabin, of four children.
With the motion of the vessel I feel at times indisposed, but have not been quite sick. We cook just as at home. We have nothing to do with the fire. The cook keeps the fire and does it well.
My sister Mary here had fried beef for dinner. I fear we shall be deprived of good water. The coffee tastes well, but the tea I cannot relish. All of us like the cider and find it quite an indulgence.
This day being Sunday, we had prayer meeting on board. The ship's company were all very attentive. For dinner we had fig [?] pudding and a part of a ham. We have been in full expectation of sailing. I hope it will not be long. Having parted from our friends, we feel anxious to get on. There is one child, six weeks old, and one couple lately married. I feel God to be my only friend and sure defense from the face of my enemy in whom I hope I shall more than ever trust.
My time seems just as much taken up as on shore. The children must be taken care of, or they are much in danger. One child belonging to Mr. Roseven[?] was just [nearly] killed by climbing up the forecastle, is now recovered.
We had preaching on board in the afternoon by W. Peters, and in the evening E. Henwood spoke from "There remaineth, therefore, a test to the people of God." After the preaching, William, Mrs. Henwood, and Maria went on shore with the Captain's lady, who took her leave of us. William went to see the mate who is so much recovered as to be able to eat a hearty meal. I went to bed before he returned.
This being the 3d of May, the Captain came on board and had all things set in order for the vessel to sail, and we are now under way. The sea is as calm as it could possibly be. All appears hurry and bustle on deck, the chains rattling and the ropes drawing sales, hoisting the pilot, etc. Captain and seamen all appear engaged. We have great difficult in keeping the children below. The crew all appear to be anxious to know how far they are got on. We are now passing the breakwater. The sea is as smooth as glass.
I have neglected writing for some time, owing to the sickness on board. William has been very sick almost all the time, at least when it is at all rough. Maria and Thomas Hosking really ill. They could not help themselves. Maria soon got the better of it, but Thomas is much worse than William.
We have had a gale of wind twice since we have been here. It lasted the both times rather more than a day and night during which time we could scarcely stand to dress or undress, and it was really dangerous for a female to walk the deck, and the children require all the attention it was possible to give them.
We have many times said to each other how little did we know about our voyage. Our friends thought we should have nothing to do but to make observations and write them, but I assure you so far the contrary that we have as much as we can well do, all of us, even those who have no children.
For my own part, I am as well as when on shore. I have felt a little uneasiness at times, and my appetite is sometimes delicate owing to the inconveniences we are subject to, having to dine and sleep so may of us in so small a space. However, we have the deck for a drawing room, and thither we repair to dine or tea in fine weather.
The Captain could not be a more pleasant or kind man. We have had the bell rung on Sundays for divine service. The cabin passengers and Captain, the sailors and steerage passengers have all assembled to hear the preachers and have all been very attentive, more so than some English congregations. Our services have been 11 o'clock forenoon and half past five in the evening. The first service we had, every soul was on deck and so attentive — there being none then otherwise engaged. William preached the 1st, 2d; Betsy Henwood, 3d; Thomas Hosking,4th; Charlie Henwood, 5th; William again 2 Sundays. One Sunday it was wet, and the other Sunday the people were all too unwell to hold the service.
The Sunday before Whit Sunday, we spoke with two vessels, one going to America and the other from Avanna going to Spain. They accosted us in a different language and could scarcely understand our Captain when he spoke. They however made the inquiry whether we wanted anything on board. We did not want anything as much as fresh water, and that they wanted most likely as much as ourselves.
The tea I cannot let down, nor coffee. I've had a little dried herbs of Sarah Dumble, who followed Doctor Stevens' advice in bringing it. It was a mixture of herbs: agrimony and sage, thyme, balm, peppermint, rosemary, and pennyroyal, all chipped up and dried together. It was so good that I could drink it in preference to any other, and now it is all done, I am obliged to have recourse to gruel. We can have oatmeal of the Captain. Pease we like much. We did not bring any ourselves, but have been able to exchange 2 lbs. of flour for pease from those that were tired of them. Our appetites are such that most of us are longing for what others have got, and what we have of our own, we cannot touch. Many things that I had I've been able to sell on account of the length of our voyage, such as butter, and broad (?) figs, sugar, etc.
We have been becalmed much of our way. Sometimes the sea has been so smooth that to look over it, it has looked like so many diamonds against the sun. Our children have been so well and enjoy themselves as much as when on shore, there being so many boys to play with on deck that their cry is, after their meals, "shall I go upon deck?" and the answer is "Yes, go out of my way," while the next meal is preparing. William is just as he used to be, generally in want. He has never been without a meal, nor has Thomas but Thomas has thrown up more than William but has always been able to eat the moment after.
There have been seen by some 2 large whales, several sharks, and grampuses, birds and porps, and a fish called the bennetto, a beautiful fish much like a salmon, also a little bird called the diving bird which goes under water for a considerable time and up again.
Whit Sunday the Captain sounded and found there were but 28 fathoms of water and pronounced us on the Banks of Newfoundland. We are all anticipating a meal of fresh fish. It will be good indeed. We have seen ships without number at a distance, but not one to send home by.
I have frequently thought of my friends and have fancied them in great suspense on account of our voyage. Generally we have been comfortable, and as we have been able, have everything we wished except water, which seems to us bad, but the sailors say it is very good, and I suppose it may be, as it tastes very well in broth or gruel. We have a variety of things. Sometimes we have ham and water for tea and potato cakes, etc. Puddings we make, as we like it much better than the ship biscuit. We have stews and pasties, pies, and baked puddings. It is generally done well. We have eaten more ham rasher than we ever did before. We like nothing better than fried potatoes. We can have raw potatoes, at times fried,and pancakes we have had for several meals. Since we have been on board ship, have all our things at hand. We have not the trouble to run for milk or butter to the dairy or to the parlor for our best things, but we have it all common.
We should be glad to have fair wind now to hasten us on. We were glad to hear today the sound of being on the Banks. I saw a quantity of sea fowl today. It was a species of duck. It looked as much like our young ducks sailing on with their heads up. It looked so much like home that I [blot] to be able [blot,blot] before me.
We saw at a distance a ship, as the Captain thought, dismasted behind us, accordingly as the few days before we had a gale. It was thought advisable to seek after it, but on coming nearer, found it well rigged.
The last of May we passed the Banks of Newfoundland and was surrounded by the fishermen and their craft. We saw them pulling in their fish as fast as they possibly could, but what was worse, we could not get at them, not having a boat in readiness to go to them. Our ship's crew went fishing, but did not catch any fish. One was pulled up but lost before got in the ship. This day, passengers saw a whale, and a shark was seen the other side of the ship just at the same time.
We have only had 6 days fair wind since we left Stonehouse Pool, and those few days we have made 9 miles an hour.
Our sewing has been little. I have made a new hat for Nicholas with cloth, and am now making a cloak for Thomas with my cloth shawl. Have knit a pair of stockings and fitted up a few things. Besides, nothing worth mentioning.
This day has been quite calm, and the crew have been trying to fish but have caught none. The wind is now fair. Hope we shall proceed on again tonight.
I am now so well accustomed to the ship that if we could get fresh water, I should not at any time dislike a sea voyage. It is not so bad to be in it as it was in anticipation.
I will give you this day's fare. In the morning we had fried rasher and pudding. For dinner we had roast potatoes and meat and baked pudding, and for tea we had gruel and potatoe cake.
This day there was so great a fog that we could not see our way. The Captain really feared as we lay off Newfoundland that we might strike on a sand bank and thereby be in great danger, I was not on deck for the day.
The next, the 3d day of June, we saw land, which was to us an agreeable sight, it being exactly a month since we left. In the evening, it being calm the crew all went fishing, but caught nothing.
This day many have been caught and several lost in bringing up the side of the vessel. William caught a cod today. We are in sight of Prince Edward's Island, where the Captain intends to stop, and shall likely be able to go to church. [Here, written between the lines, is the notation, "Did not stop."] One of our neighbors caught a fish called the hollowbut. It was fifty weight after being cleaned, and all of us had a bit for a taste. It is the exact shape of the plaice. The head, the mate says, is as good as turtle, and many others have caught Newfoundland cod. All appear to be satisfied with regard to the longing after fish.
This day, have been very busy washing, as we are now allowed to use some fresh water. Have not washed any changes that were lying dirty for the children to appear tidy to go on shore, of which we were in great anticipation of.
We had our bellies filled with fish. It was so delicious, better than whiten pullet. The children could hardly be satisfied; they ate so heartily.
We are now in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in sight of land, the Magdalene Islands, several of them. On one there appeared the governor's house, very plain.
We have met with some losses since we have been here. The cider, as we were told, was robbed, and wine, a bottle or two, was missed. There is no trust to the sailors, and the forecastle passengers are not all honest. There are some that make but a mean appearance. There is one man sent by the parish, a young man who was not very much preferred[?].
Should any young man come, he would be much better off in the cabin in every respect. He would have a plenty of attendance, get a plenty of provisions and very good. They live very well. Mrs. Baily, who has been very communicative, tells me they are supplied with everything except their bedding, and of course are furnished with a great deal of information.
It is astonishing to what expense the Captain is to on account of his men. They will not eat or drink any but what is extravagantly good. They have strong tea and coffee with rum in it. Nice potatoes swim in fat, and their puddings are generally filled with suet and butter and sugar. They are allowed besides 2 pds of beef a day per man.
This day we have passed an immense tract of land uninhabited. The tops of the fir appear quite plain to our view. We have seen also large flocks of wild duck and geese. Some seal have been seen, such as our hats are made of. It is an amphibious animal. They are quite harmless. If they are struck on the nose, they are dead in a moment.
Since I have begun writing, the vessel has struck on a sand bank. Here we must stay until the tide turns. It is now about half past 7 o'clock, and will change by 9.
William has been these two days past very poorly with the headache and a disordered stomach. Baked for him a few pasties with preserved plums in them of which he ate with tolerable appetite. Nicholas has had a run on his bowels, but is now very well. I wish he was weaned. The milk does him no good, nor me either, but nothing can be done now. I must keep him until the Lord is so well pleased to let us land, and I trust ere long we may set our foot on land. I've had much to do to walk the decks, and I've no doubt we shall find at first a little difficulty in walking the land. Thomas says, "I could keep on eating all day," and the crew say he is getting fat. They both look remarkably well, Thomas and William.
Nicholas says almost anything after another. He says "Upon deck," and is so delighted to go when I've been called to see any wonder, of which there have been many.
Even a bird or a fly has been an object of surprise or wonder and a welcome also, except a small bird which they call Mother Carey's chicken, for they betoken a storm. They do not appear to be much larger than our large blew flies. About the middle of our voyage we had a visit from a swallow or two in the rigging and a bird called the boson with a forked tail.
Since making a few remarks to you in which I feel a pleasure, I have been on deck to see a seal. It looks so much like a little pup, and barks much like it. It was swimming along the side of the ship, looking above the water like a dog or cat drowning. It has a web foot. They are now catching fish. A Mr. Burny has fired at a seal in the water and killed it. It bled profusely. They put out the boat after, but could not catch it. It sank immediately after being dead.
I've been thinking today I should be thankful if our friends had not thought more of our voyage than we have ourselves. I have many times wished my brother Philip here or Thomas because we might have lodged him with our boys and have fed him with very little more expense than we ourselves. Having Thomas and Maria so near, it makes it quite comfortable. The cabin people take notice of us and sometimes almost wish they were like us, as we are able to get anything our appetites are to when we like.
I feel thankful to the All-Wise Disposer of Events that I have felt as happy on the sea as ever I have on land, and I trust that God, who has brought us so far across the sea, will settle us on that part of land which may mostly advance his cause and glory and our interest.
I've been preparing the frills for my children and a cap for myself, and hope to be in readiness as soon as the call comes to land. (10 o'clock, crossed out). At Penquite 3 o'clock in the morning. Every 500 miles make half an hour difference in the time. The vessel cleared the bank two o'clock in the morning. All appeared thankful. The pilot came on board to conduct us to the shore. We have just seen some cultivated land. The houses look so neat and clean. They are white-washed on the outside.
The Peters family acquired "Maple Grove Farm" on Lot 13, Concession 4 of Hope Township, west of the village of Canton, in 1830 and owned and operated it for nearly one hundred years.
Peter and Barbara Bolton - Port Hope, Ontario