Letters for Elly
Aunt Sadie was one of those
people who was always doing for others. When she asked Cliff and me if
we would take the grass clippers and rake and go to the top of the hill
in the cemetery that was almost beside our house, and clip her
grandparents lot, we said, “Yes”.
But I really did not see much point in doing it, as that part of the
cemetery was overgrown with wild rose bushes, thorn bushes, hard tack
and weeds, with only a few graves kept clipped by family members.
As the sun beamed down on us, we stopped to rest. We sat on the piping
that surrounded the lot and looked at the writing on this very large
tombstone. Cliff asked me if I knew how many children were in the
I had heard Gramp say his mother gave birth to eight children within 12
years. The oldest being twin boys then two years later a baby girl,
Lelia, was born but she died when she was 14.
If only the letters or journals those eight children might have written
had been preserved, it would have been a great way for us to learn about
family life in a farming and lumbering community in the 1880s.
To get teens interested in genealogy, Stephen Eric Davidson wrote a novel, Letters for Elly.
The heroine is Elly Kent, who due to some unforeseen circumstances in
Sierra Leone in 1991, is sent to spend the summer with her great-aunt
and uncle who live in Saint John, New Brunswick. But they spend most of
their summer on the Kingston Peninsula searching through graveyards to
find epitaphs that might make connections to the Prince family.
Elly’s father knew she would miss her friends so he let her borrow his laptop to keep in contact with them.
Misfortune seemed to be hanging out with Elly, first she fell down the
steps of one of the research institutions and broke her leg and had to
use crutches for the summer. Then to top it off there is no land phone
at her relative’s camp so she can’t send and receive messages from her
friends except when they come back to Saint John on the weekends.
Elly’s idea of summer fun was to be active in the water, not sitting
with a plaster cast on her leg in just about every graveyard on the
Her Aunt Clara is determined to accomplish her mission of finding
related ancestors, so Elly decides if you can’t beat them - join them,
thus she offers to take her computer to the cemeteries and type the
names, such as Flewelling, Bates, and Perry etc. that her Aunt and Uncle
more or less yell to her.
Elly finds a soft mound of grass to sit on and leans against the
tombstone of Captain John Lyon and his wife, Hepzibeth that says “In
Memory of Capt. John Lyon who departed this life Dec. 13th, 1818, Aged
79 years and Hepzibeth, his wife who died Sept. 25th, 1817. Aged 77
years.” Carved on the stone is an Urn and a Weeping Willow.
After supper, Elly fires up the computer so the names she had typed can
be reviewed by Aunt Clara but a surprise is waiting for her. At the
bottom of the list, a weird document appears. It is someone’s letter
about a family and all their turmoil. It is dated June 14, 1776 and
signed by Abigail Lyon. Her father had been the first to sign the
Redding Resolutions along with one hundred forty-one others to show
their loyalty to King George III.
Abigail wrote of the night the Republicans surrounded the house and
roughed up her father, threw him into the stall with the cows, stole
tools and sheep and left. Even a squad of soldiers burst in to the
church and pointed their muskets at the minister, the Rev. Beach. In the
midst of another service, seven men opened the door and fired a shot
over the minister’s head.
Over the course of the summer, six more letters pop up on Elly's
computer screen. Each one is written by one of seven Lyon siblings and
each one appears on her laptop after Elly touches the Captain Lyon
Reuben Lyon’s letter was dated May 15, 1779, Redding, Connecticut.
Reuben starts off by saying he is using his Father’s quill and ink and
is sitting in the parlour. He writes of the imprisonment and execution
that is taking place in the area.
Sabra Lyon’s letter of August 2, 1780, Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island, New
York, is written on her twelfth birthday. It takes the reader on the
escape of the family to where the Seelys, Ketchums and others are living
and feeling safe.
John Lyon, Jr. wrote on Saturday, May 24, 1783, Mouth of the Saint John
River, Nova Scotia in which he mentions Walter Bates, the schoolmaster
from Eaton’s Neck. It seems there were two hundred and nine souls aboard
the sailing ship when they set sail, including Hester Burlock, the
widow of a loyalist soldier who was shot on his doorstep, David Pickett -
a Connecticut weaver, Joseph Caswell a Massachusetts blacksmith and
In the letters there is talk of war, persecution, refugee camps, the
attack of a fort by French ships, and the first encounter with New
Brunswick's Native People.
While reading the seven letters, Elly discovers what it was like for a loyalist family to live through the American Revolution.
By the way, the correspondence she receives is based on the true stories
of the children of John and Hepzibeth Lyon, from Redding, Connecticut.
As Elly’s relatives attempt to unravel the mystery of the letters, they
use the tools and techniques that genealogists employ as they try to
piece together their family trees.
Hopefully young genealogists will be inspired by this mystery novel or
better still, it will also help readers of any age to learn more about
the loyalist experience in our New Brunswick history.
Letters for Elly illustrates the many amazing stories that could be told if only tombstones could talk.
Copies of Letters for Elly by Stephen Eric Davidson
was published in 2007 by the Kingston Peninsula Heritage Inc. It can be
purchased from the Carter House Tea Room in Kingston or the New
Brunswick Museum Gift Shop in Saint John.
Matthews - McFarland - Grant - Cahill - McKinley - Downey - Carnwarth - Cooper - Armstrong:
My Great great grandfather was James Matthews born 15 July 1806,
married to Elizabeth McFarland. James had a brother named John Matthews
born in 1802 and died circa 1861, who married Elizabeth’s sister Nancy
for his second wife. His first wife was Martha Grant. James worked in
the sawmill in Pointe Wolfe and John was a farmer. In the census of 1851
and following census, these men stated they were born in New Brunswick.
The descendants of these people went to Curryville, NB, Anoka,
Minnesota, Westbrook, Maine, Fredericton, N.B., and Nova
Scotia. Families in the Alma area who the Matthews married into were:
Cahill, McKinley, Carleton, Downey, Carnwarth, Cooper and Armstrong. A
Matthews Bible existed one time and viewed by a man named Norman
Dixon of Alma. I would love to know the whereabouts of the Bible
and be able to look at it. Who were the parents and origin of James and
Please reply to PMatth9878@AOL.Com