This is the sixth blog on our excavations of farmsteads in Volume 2 of Our Lands Speak series entitled The Archaeology of Five Queensville Farmsteads: a 19th Century Crossroads Community in the Township of East Gwillimbury, Ontario.
In two previous blogs, I described our work at the Queensville Doan site occupied by Ira Doan and his family. Ira farmed Lot 18 on a shared basis with his son, Ezra, who owned a 10-acre parcel severed from the northeast corner of the lot. In 1871, Ezra kept a very detailed diary of his life and that of his family. I dedicated a chapter to this diary in Volume 2 since it portrays a very different picture of life in Queensville in 1871 than we are able to reconstruct from our archaeological excavations.
Erza was in many ways typical of farmers in 19th century rural Ontario. His primary interests were his family and his farm.
The diary that Ezra kept in 1871 has been published in The History of East Gwillimbury (1866) and was transcribed by Jean McFall. Unfortunately, Ezra was fatally injured in a farm accident in died in 1872, thus depriving us of further insights into his life.
Ezra’s diary documents the purchase of 3,000 cedar rails at one cent each and their use to fence one of the bush-lots on his property to allow him to place cattle within the bush and keep them away from his farm fields.
Also, documented is the production of maple sugar. During the spring of 1871 over 300 maple trees were tapped and 600 pounds of maple sugar produced. There was no mention made of selling this product.
Numerous accounts are presented on farming activities. Potatoes were planted in a 1.5-acre field. In the fall, Ezra harvested 30 bushels and 52 baskets of potatoes for himself and an additional 22 bushels and 52 baskets for his father.
Personally, I also found it intriguing that Ezra spent five days fighting fires, something that I never contemplated as being an issue in this part of southern Ontario.
Ezra’s charitable activities are documented as well. He donated $1.50 to the Sharon Church for purchase on an organ, and in February of 1871 gave 10 cents to a poor man for a room in a local hotel.
Some of the purchases made by Ezra are also described. He purchased glass chimneys for his coal oil lanterns for five cents, paid 12 cents for three pounds of nails, and 30 cents for a pair of hinges. It is only items such as these which may have ended up in refuse left behind by Ezra to be found should the site of his house be found and excavated. Current evidence suggests that his house was destroyed by the construction of a house on his 10-acre lot in more recent times.
There is no doubt that Ezra’s diary provides a full account of life in 1871 by Ezra and his father, Ira. At the same time, our excavations of the Queensville Doan site provided a much more detailed record of the everyday items used and discarded by Ira and his family. The use of both sources of information complement each other in providing a much more complete picture of life in the 19th century. We could only wish for more such diaries to supplement our understanding of life at the sites we excavate.
Thanks for following along,
William D. Finlayson, Midland, Ontario
Ontario’s Leading and Senior-Most Archaeologist and Author