Letitia F. Simson

When Cliff and I arrived home from school, we found Mum dressed in her Sunday clothes, sitting in the rocking chair with her feet on the oven door and her coat wrapped tightly around her. She had walked to the church to a funeral and then to the committal service in the cemetery near our home. She said she was chilled to the bone.

In December of 1846 Letitia Pickett made two trips within a few days to the cemetery at Kingston to bury her husband and nineteen month old son. Two years earlier she had buried her first born child of five months.

From an article written by Eldon Hay and from Doris Calder’s book, “All Our Born Days”, I learned that Letitia Agnew was born in Ireland about 1825, and came with her parents, James and Eliza Agnew, to Saint John in 1833. Her father, James Agnew was a watchmaker and jeweller, and was a ruling elder in the Reformed Presbyterian congregation. In 1843, at age eighteen, Letitia married Seymour Pickett of Golden Vale, near Kingston. They moved into a part of the family home where her husband’s mother and siblings resided. After his father’s death, Seymour had been left in charge of the family business until his younger brother, Munson would reach the age of twenty-one. Problems arose when Munson grew older and desired his rightful share. On Dec. 26, 1846, Letitia, her husband and young son arrived home after spending Christmas in Saint John with her family. A dispute erupted between the two brothers. Seymour was shot by Munson and died within a few hours. On the day of his funeral some neighbours gathered to scrub the house. Somehow, Letitia's 19-month-old son, Henry Bernard, fell into a pot of scalding water and death claimed him the following day. Shortly afterwards, Letitia moved to Saint John where a few months later, her son Seymour Pickett was born.

Letitia remarried on 31 December 1855 to David Simson, of Fife, Scotland, a Reformed Presbyterian layman. In 1864, their 18-month-old son died.

Other tragedies happened to her family as one brother was accidentally shot by a friend at Red Head, another brother was drowned at sea and her father disappeared while boarding a schooner at Eastport.

Through all the difficulties that Letitia faced she remained strong in her faith and through her poetry penned her thoughts and beliefs of a better world after death. Many of her poems were published in the local newspapers and in magazines in Scotland and Ireland.

In 1869, a book of her poems titled, “Flowers of the Year and Other Poems” was published. The names of ninety-seven of the influential men who were the patrons for sponsoring her publication are listed in the back of the book.

One very touching poem is titled, “On Visiting Golden Vale (Kingston) After A Long Absence” which was written on July of 1866, twenty years after the tragic death of her first husband, Seymour Pickett.
   “As I tread the empty chambers,
    Once the scenes of busy life,
    Memory points, with tearful sorrow
    To the consequence of strife

In 1867, she wrote of the death of her brother, James W. Agnew who was washed overboard from the ship ‘Herald’ of Boston at the age of 29 years.
   “Farewell! Till the hour when thy form shall rise
    From its briny bed to the starry skies;
    We know thou art sleeping as sound and well,
    As if laid in some sweet and shady dell

The topics of her poems were varied:
    * To the Rev. Alexander Clarke when his eye sight was damaged.
    * To Miss Mary Clark, on her approaching marriage.
    * The Confederation Song of 1867.
    * Lines in 1847  to the St. Patrick’s Society in commendation of their charitable endeavours to assist fellow countrymen during the Famine.
    * Lines on the death of a brother who was accidently shot by a companion at Red Head.
    * In 1847 on the Death of Henry B. S. Pickett. [Her infant son]
    * Lines written while walking through the Old Burying Ground in St. John.

In all probability her, “Song to the Skaters of the St. John Skating Rink” painted a picture of her observations at the Victoria Skating Rink of February 17, 1866.
  “What a picture of beauty before my sight,
    Like a vision of fancy, so fair and bright;
    Beautiful faces, and costumes rare,
    Gliding like meteors through the air;
    Merrily round the Rink they fly,
    Happiness beaming in every eye

The final stanza of “Is There A Better World” written in 1850:
   “What matter if the sky of all our life
    Be shadowed o'er with clouds of care and sorrow,
    If we but rest from all its toil and strife;
    If we but wake, to rise upon a brighter morrow.

Flowers Of The Year and Other Poems” by Letitia F. Simson can be accessed at the Early Canadiana online digital library at

Letitia’s great great-nephew, Doug Agnew of Porirua, New Zealand has created a  website with many of her poems, the names of the patrons of her book and some biographical information that was compiled by Eldon Hay of Sackville, New Brunswick. The site is

Eldon Hay’s article, “Letitia Simson: Covenanter Private and Public Person” can be viewed at

The publication, “Flowers Of The Year and Other Poems” by Letitia F. Simson published in 1869 is available for viewing at the Saint John Free Public Library, Archives & Research Library of the New Brunswick Museum and the Legislative Library in Fredericton.

If anyone has information to share on Letitia F. Agnew Pickett Simson, her siblings and her descendants, I would be pleased to hear from them. Contact 
Since the publication of this article, I have been made aware that Letitia Simson (Simpson) is in the 1880 census of Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts living in the household of her aunt - Harriet Reid. In the same household are her children: James K. Simson (Simpson) attending Dental College and Agnes Simson (Simpson) attending school.

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