Return to Ruby Cusack dot com Home Page

Ruby M. Cusack

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 family.

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 Kingston Peninsula.

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 tombstone.

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 others.

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.

Query 1835
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 John Matthews?
Please reply to PMatth9878@AOL.Com

New and Used Genealogical and Historical books of
New Brunswick for sale.

Back to Home of  rubycusack dot com