A History of Nova Scotia Page


Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
(1815-1867)
Chapter 5, The Family

"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is the very being or existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything."1 In return, the husband was responsible for his wife's legal debts and her torts (wrongs done to another). If the husband left the marriage, then he was liable to pay maintenance, but not if she had been unfaithful. She could not contract. Indeed she could not own property in her own right.2 This state of affairs for women was patiently accepted as part of the Godly order; and, everyone went to church.3

As of 1827, Captain W. Moorsom observed at Halifax the lot of the housewife.

"The mistress of the house is the greatest slave in it; and a respite from drudgery within doors is but an opportunity for engaging in the same without. Her young family are drilled upon her own practice; and no sooner can the boy lift an axe, and his sister a kettle, than both of them are made useful in sundry avocations."4
George Sand (1804-1876), a French writer, famous for her "unfeminine" independence, wrote in her diary: "[Women] are mistreated, reproached for their stupidity imposed on them, scorned as ignorant, their wisdom mocked. In love they are treated like courtesans, in conjugal friendship like servants. They are not loved, they are used, they are exploited."5

As for children: families had large numbers, many of whom died before they were able to assist the family.

"Half the population were aged 15 or under. There had been, by the 1820s, a revolution in infant mortality of a kind never before experienced by any society. In 1730 three out of four children born in London failed to reach their fifth birthday. By 1830 the proportion had been reversed. But married couples were still philoprogenitive as ever - more so, indeed, since fewer women died in childbirth."6
It is to be remembered that in those days there was no such thing as ready-to-wear clothing. The rich might have turned to tailors, but most people stitched up their clothing at home. Bolts of textiles came in from Great Britain just as did all manufactured goods. The families were always on the lookout for new goods freshly arrived and transported from the Halifax docks to the local merchants.
"Course cloths or Homespuns woven by the wives and daughters of the peasantry, are made in all the settlements and are generally woven by that class, the more affluent dressing in English broadcloth only on the Sabbath ... sheep are kept on every farm and supply the raw material, coarse flannels for under garments, bed linen, woolen blankets and carpets are also made."7
Again we turn to the contemporaneous writings of Captain Moorsom:
"The arrival of the English packet is always a little event in Halifax. The moment that the signal is made for a packet in the Offing, half the town is on the alert; speculations and rumours fly about in all directions ... all on board, objects of interest, and to make her commander a personage of great demand, during the few hours she remains in port."8

NEXT: [Chapter 6, The Police]

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2011

Peter Landry