Three diaries of John W. Simpson have been transcribed. The diaries covered the periods:
Home Credits John W's family & Glossary of terms and notations
John W. Simpson was born in 1843. When his parents retired from farming, he took over the homestead farm in Mosa Township in Middlesex County, Ontario. In 1882, together with his second wife Maggie (Margaret Cook) and their four, young children (George, Isaac, Ella and John) he moved to a farm in Howard Township, Kent County. The farm was on the south side of Talbot Street (Hwy 3), a mile and a half east of Morpeth, six miles south of Ridgetown and two and a half miles from the Morpeth Docks on Lake Erie. This farm was named the Diamond Farm and was the birth place of their last five children - Mary, Cecil, Willard, Mabel and Irene.
John W's daughter, B. Irene (Simpson) Brien, recalled that her father was meticulous about his diaries and cash books. He faithfully recorded the events of the day. In the ten and one half years covered by these three diaries, there was not a single day for which an entry was missing. In fact, on a number of occasions when he was away from home, the entries reflect the activities both where he was and at home.
The entries were consistent and simple. For each entry, the day of the month was followed by the weather and then the activities or observations for the day. If there were sundry expenses, the total of those expenses was recorded for the day. Sundays were always explicitly identified as "Sunday".
The diaries present a spartan record of each day's activities and accomplishments - the planting or harvesting of crops, the sales of produce or the purchase of livestock, the identities of hired trades people, the comings and goings of family and visitors and sometimes community events that caught his attention - funerals, marriages, fires and community gatherings or events. The entries almost never provided anything other than the fact of the event. On those rare occasions when he provided additional commentary for an event, perhaps it was a subtle reflection of the significance of the event to him personally. For instance, of all the funerals mentioned in the three diaries, it was only the funeral of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Thomas (Katie) Simpson that he mentioned the number of rigs in attendance at the funeral.
Personal events, like birthdays and anniversaries were seldom mentioned, but if recorded were brief. The entry for the day on which his seventh child was born read: "rain last night and this morning. fine and warm. Baby born - Willard. Mrs Taylor, Mrs Mason and Mrs Walters here." Through out much of the first diary, little was mentioned of the children except for the occasional outing to purchase clothing or footwear. In the nearly four years covered by the first diary, only Ella's birthday was noted more than once. In a rare elaboration, his January 31, 1891 entry read "birthday party for Johney and Mary. 16 little fellows here." Towards the end of the first diary he began to mention the occasional job performed by George and Isaac - usually involving being sent somewhere to take, or fetch, something. Perhaps it signified the first occasions that they were given responsibilities off the farm. As the years progressed, the children attended more and more social events that were often identified as being for the "young people".
Christmas was seldom identified as "Christmas". One year the entry for December 25th consisted of only "fine and verry warm", however, that seemed to belie that Christmas was a day for family and turkey dinner. Although there was never a mention of the exchange of gifts, for most years there was a notation as to whether the day was suitable for sleighing and it is presumed that they had a tradition of going for a sleigh ride on Christmas..
The diaries also reflected a certain formality of the times. Except for family, workmen and people that he visited often, most were referred to as Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so.
Sundays were reserved for church and socializing. On numerous Sundays, he attended church twice. Although he was a Methodist, he also attended services and social events at some of the other churches. The area churches were obviously important social, as well as spiritual, centers of the community and his children attended numerous church sponsored events. He once mentioned going to special religious gathering of Negroes that was held at the fairgrounds in Ridgetown.
Throughout the period covered by the diaries, roads were obviously crude affairs. Numerous entries referred to the muddy condition of the roads and warm spells during the winter seemed to cause as much trouble with mud as did the spring and fall weather. During the winter it seemed that the lack of snow for sleighing was mentioned more often than the overabundance of snow. It also appeared that part of a rural citizen's duty was to set aside at least one day a year to perform some sort of work to help maintain the roads. Nevertheless, it came as a surprize that shopping and socializing trips of six and ten miles were quite routine, often occurring two or three tmes a week.
The diaries eluded to the sense of community where neighbours would gather to help. In the last diary he spoke of one such affair at which 50 men and 40 women and children had gathered for a barn raising.
It was in 1909 that a telephone was first installed in his home. The first mention of an automobile occurred in 1911. Throughout all of the diaries, the Simpson family seemed to rely on coal oil lamps. In the country, they used wood for heating and cooking, but after John retired to a house in the town of Ridgetown, he mentioned the use of coal for the first time in 1911. Natural gas was available in some parts of the community, however, it appeared that only his youngest son had a gas cook stove. Still, the times did have some of their unique problems. Most of the wells were hand dug wells and would be normally several feet in diameter. In one of his entries, John related that one of his horses fell into the well and it took 22 of his neighbouring men to pull the horse out of the well. The condition of the horse afterwards was not mentioned.
The diaries reveal that John W. Simpson was an industrious man. During the years covered by the diaries he undertook numerous major projects to improve his properties - renovating and moving buildings, replacing wooden foundations with more durable concrete foundations, constructing a new workshop and building and expanding the family homes. It appeared that he helped four of his sons to acquire their own farms and then helped them as they embarked upon improving their newly acquired properties. Throughout the diaries, there is much evidence of mutual assistance among the family.
During the time covered by the last diary, John W. sold his farm and retired to a house on Main Street in Ridgetown. During the transition he took an excursion trip to the Pacific coast and helped his youngest son acquire a farm. He remained active, helping his sons, and particularly the youngest son, with their daily chores and activities.
The transcription of the 1905 diary was made from a copy of the diary that had been given to Ella (Simpson) Marn, John Simpson's eldest daughter. It eventually passed onto Glen Simpson who loaned it to Dennis Simpson who subsequently scanned it and posted it on the Internet on his website at www.zonzorp.net/dennis /familytree
The transcriptions of the 1887 and 1909 diaries were made from the original diaries that had come into the possession of Earle W. Brien (grandson of John W. Simpson) via John W's youngest daughter B. Irene (Simpson) Brien. Earle in turn loaned the books to his son Edward (Tedd) Brien who scanned the two diaries.
The transcriptions were made by Tedd Brien during the summer and fall of 2002. No attempt was made to correct any of the spelling that appeared in the diaries, although some punctuation was added and the format of the entry dates was changed. The transcriptions were crudely proofread and are, hopefully, relatively accurate.
Edward (Tedd) Brien 2003/02/12