Bidwell Lore – Barnabas’ Time In Canada

Welcome to week 32 of Bidwell Lore! This week we begin wrapping up Barnabas’ incredible story with two pieces written by Barnabas himself. Last week we shared the shocking story of Barnabas Bidwell’s political downfall.  It was a scandalous story in its day and resulted in Barnabas moving to Kingston, Ontario, where he lived until his death in 1833. This week we are sharing a poem and two letters, written by Barnabas, that give you a deeper glimpse into his character.

The below poem is titled A Rainy Day and was written after Barnabas fled to Canada. The poem eloquently expresses his pain at the loss of Mary in 1808 after only 15 years of marriage and reinforces the ongoing tragedy of Barnabas’ life.

A Rainy Day
The rain now patters on the roof,
And from the eaves descends;
The storm keeps visitants aloof,
And even shuts out friends.
The howling wind our senses chills,
And drives the falling flood,
Which soon streets of Kingston fills
With mortar form’d of mud.
From writs and clients, suits and strife,
I hail a short retreat,
And Home, the happiest & scene of life,
Receives my willing feats.
Here Sarah, in these leisure hours,
Her parent’s care beguiles,
With all a daughter’s winning powers
Of mirth & chat & smiles.
Here Marshall’s bosom friend; a book,
Assists to banish pain;
I read & talk and write & look
Abroad to view the rain.
As objects in the room recall
My careless, rambling sight,
The angel form, on yonder wall,
Seems smiling with delight.*
A rainy day to Mary’s mind,
Was wont to prove a feast,
And such domestic secrets I find,
From office toils released.
Yet man in Paradise enjoyed
But partial bliss at best;
He felt a cheerless, craving void
Within his lonesome breast;
Till Heav’n, with kind creative powers,
Provided him a wife,
Companion of his private hours,
And partner of his life.
With her, to share those blissful seats
Of innocence and rest,
Ev’n Eden bloom’d with fresher sweets,
And he was doubly blest.
So sweetly all my moments flew,
When Mary was my bride –
How oft do I those scenes revive-
With Mary by my side!
A favorite name ‘twill always be,
Till life itself be over;
I love it still, although for me
A Mary lives no more.

Written on the reverse:
 “A Rainy Day-“
Lines by Grandpa
(Barnabas Bidwell)

*Mary’s portrait, below right, was hanging on the wall of the room where theses lines were written.

The letters [1] below were written from Barnabas (above left) to the Kingston [Ontario] Presbyterian Church in 1817 and in his words explain what happened during his scandal in 1810.  He takes full responsibility but also notes the political tensions that may have inflated the situation.

To the subscribers to the Kingston Presbyterian Church
Gentlemen: –
                     The Trustees appointed by you at your first meeting have,
in the exercise of the discretion vested in them, signed two petitions
to the Government for a church lot. The first was forwarded by Mr. Washburn,
as their agent who brought it back, and reported that he conversed on
the subject with several members of the Executive Council, one of whom
suggested that he thought, before the petition was presented, it ought
to be modified in two particulars, to render it unexceptionable. Upon
that report, the petition was redraughted, with modifications sug-
gested. I acceded to them without opposition, not because they appeared
to me in themselves necessary, but upon a principle of conformity, and
for the purpose of removing a supposed obstacle to the grant.
                 The petition, thus modified, was communicated by one of the
Trustees, who was informed by the same member of the Council, that he
should object to me as a Trustee, and advised that my name should be
erased from the Petition: which was accordingly done.
                To remove that objection, when it was stated to me, although
I was not then appraised of the erasure of my name, I proposed, in a
written communication to the Trustees, to resign my situation of a Trustee,
that some other person might be chosen in my place if that should be judged
likely to facilitate the grant. The Trustees did not think it proper to call
a meeting of the society for that purpose. But, as a meeting is now to be
holden, and as the circumstances of my removal from the United States and
my former concern in a public trust there, have been made an objection again
granting a lot to the board of Trustees, of which I happen to be a member,
I must, in order to avoid the possibility of being, in any manner or degree
the occasion of not obtaining what may be thought desirable, and perhaps
otherwise obtainable, request you to accept this my Resignation, and appoint
another Trustee to succeed me.
                            With unfeigned wishes for the success of your association, I
am respectfully, Gentlemen,
                                Your friend and humble servant,
                                                                           B. Bidwell

Kingston, August 14th, 1817
                     As I shall not be present at your meeting, I beg leave to add
by way of explanation, that the “Public Trust” referred to in the objection
I suppose to be that of a County Treasurer; for although while I resided
in the States, I held several trusts of higher importance, I do not recall
that I had difficulty or dispute in relation to any other. Relative to
that, indeed, there was a controversy which terminated in a law suit.
                 A County Treasurer is there elected annually, by the people of
the County. By successive elections, I was Treasurer of the County in
which I resided, eighteen years; but during the last half of that period,
was engaged in public employment which occupied so much of my time and
attention, that I was little more than nominally the Treasurer, the business
being done principally in my absence, by clerks in my name and at my
responsibility. Four years of the time I was State Senator, and was 
obligated to attend two sessions of the Legislature a year, at a
distance of a hundred and fifty miles from my office. After I
declined a reelection of the Senate, I was a Representative in
Congress two years, at a distance of four hundred miles; and
was elected for another biennial term, but resigned my seat.
Afterwards I held the office of Attorney General three years,
and attended six semi-annual circuits through the extensive State
of Massachusetts. The labor proved greater than a feeble constitu-
tion could bear. My health declined until I became too infirm for
active exertions, and resigned. My family being broken up by the
death of my wife, and the establishment of my two children at places
of education, I relinquished business altogether, and spent some time
in traveling for the recovery of my health.
         Notwithstanding my necessary distance for so large a portion of
nine years, on more important public business, I still continued to
lend my name to the minor office of County Treasurer, from this political
consideration, that the party with whom I was connected found they
could reelect me, but apprehended they could not elect a new candidate
of their politics; and therefore they insisted upon my continuing to
serve. It was an error, for which afterwards I suffered severely.
The business being, in my absence, transacted, the money received and
paid out, and the amounts kept, by several clerks in succession, the
principal of whom died suddenly without having closed his concerns,
some omissions and irregularities occurred, for which of course, I was
responsible, and of which in the struggle of parties, advantage was
taken to my prejudice.
         There has been every year a partial settlement of accounts.
When I called for a final settlement, to ascertain the amount of money
remaining in my hands, that it might be paid over to my successor, a
controversy arose. Claims were brought forward, which I thought un-
reasonable and refused to allow. Some warmth of altercation ensued;
and the spark was soon blown into a flame. Proceedings were at-
tempted which would not have been resorted to in tranquil times. A
prosecution was commenced : my property was attached; and it was repre-
sented, and the representation was circulated in certain newspapers,
that I had defrauded the County, and was in arrears, to the amount of
all I was worth and even more.
       Sensible that popular passions, when once excited must have
time to cool; and conscious that a fair investigation would eventually
refute such charges, I assigned my estate, according to law, to trustees
for the benefit of all my creditors, and contested the County Treasurer
suit, as to some of the items of charge. It was at length decided, by
a tribune of my political opponents, while party excitement, although
not at its high point, was still high; so that if there was no
prejudice against me intermingled in the decision, there was certainly
no partiality for me. The sum for which I was holden accountable was
much smaller than had been claimed, although larger, by one or two
items, than I thought, and still think, it ought to have been. It was,
however, paid to the satisfaction, I believe, of everybody;
as were all my debts; and a handsome balance of the property, which
had been under attachment, and assigned in trust for the security
of my creditors, was found to remain in my favour.
                    When I was in the states a year ago last spring, I took,
for another purpose, certificates on the subject from the Assignees,
the Clerk of Court, and the County Treasurer, who was then in the
office, which I had formerly held. Those certificates, which together
with other documents, are herewith submitted to your inspection, will
show the result of a final settlement of all my accounts and concerns
public and private, so far as relates to the trust which has been made
a subject of objections against me.
                   Please to excuse the egotism of this explanatory state-
ment, which is extorted from me by the occasion, and believe me, with
sentiments of esteem, Gentlemen.
                                        Your humble servant,
                                              B. Bidwell

Recorded in the Register Book of the Kingston Presbyterian Church

Next week we will share one final article about Barnabas, written by local historian Bernard Drew, which recounts his trip to Kingston and his search to locate Barnabas’s grave.

[1] The letter was transcribed from a typescript of the original letter and the original typescript was probably done by Mrs. Charles A. Bidwell of Monterey.