In the fall of 1864, Canada’s Fathers of Confederation took along their unmarried daughters and sisters to the Quebec conference and tour to promote Confederation to, well, to promote union of a different sort. Mercy Ann Coles, the charming, beautiful, and intelligent twenty-six year old unmarried daughter of the Prince Edward Island Father of Confederation George Coles, kept a diary of her travels and the events, balls, banquets, people, and whirlwind of social happenings and political manoeuvrings as they impacted her and her desires.
The Coles family travelled back to PEI through the United States at an important time in American history too – the Presidential re-election of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, people fleeing the South, and the oil boom and oil speculation in the Northern States.
The diary is everything one is supposed to be: part gossip, part travelogue, part social commentary. No diary by any of the other women is known to exist and Mercy’s one gives us new insight into this seminal time period in Canadian – and American history.
I used Mercy Coles’ diary to help me create Mercy’s character and structure my novel To the Edge of the Sea. You can read more of that here and more on the United States here
On Election Day Mercy and her family were in the United States visiting with her mother’s relatives. Mercy writes:
“Tuesday, Nov 8th, 1864
We drove to Uncle William’s yesterday [Bloomfield, Ohio] and arrived just in time for dinner. [Many people came over, there was singing and a fun time it sounds like.] Uncle took us to his mill where he grinds corn and wheat. Ma and I were weighed. Ma [unclear]. Mine 138. Aunt Elizabeth 194. Aunt Sarah is as stout as Ma but she does not weigh as much. The Presidential Election came off to day. Uncle William and Pa went to the Poll. I think they were pretty much all the same way, very few seats for Mr. [George B.] McClellan. We left Uncle Williams ... ” [Emphasis mine. Abraham Lincoln was re-elected, getting 212 of the 233 seats.]
Mercy and her family travelled from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, on to Cleaveland, to Warren, Ohio and from there the 16 ½ miles north to Bloomfield. From Bloomfield they travelled to New York City to start their return to Prince Edward Island. On their way they passed through the cities and towns that were booming with oil.
She writes: “We are now at Corry Pennsylvania the great city for oil. They are building everywhere. ... Such a splendid lot of oil they [run?] 1500 barrels of oil a day. Making money as fast as they do in California.”