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McQueen Family Letters

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The McQueens

The McQueen family whose letters are posted on this site lived on a farm in Sutherland's River, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Daniel McQueen (1818-1894), the father of this Presbyterian family, was descended from Alexander McQueen, an illiterate labourer from the Isle of Skye. In 1778 Alexander enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Foot raised in Scotland to fight for the British in the American Revolutionary War. When the war ended in 1783, his regiment was disbanded at Halifax and the soldiers were offered land in what would become Pictou County, where Scots had already begun to sink down roots. The early settlers in Pictou would be joined by more Scottish immigrants, most of them, like Alexander, Presbyterian by faith. Alexander's son Angus had 12 children, one of whom was Daniel.

On 31 March 1849, Daniel McQueen married Catherine (Kate) Olding (1823-1916), the daughter of one of Pictou County's leading families. Catherine's Oxford-educated grandfather, Nicolas Purdue Olding, was from Kent, England. He emigrated to America and was practising law in New York when the American Revolutionary War was declared in 1775. He supported the British cause and moved to Nova Scotia as one of over 35,000 Loyalists who settled in the colony when the war ended. He became the first practising lawyer in the Pictou area and shrewdly changed his faith from Anglican to Presbyterian to conform to the beliefs of the majority of his potential clients.

In taking Daniel as her life partner, Catherine was "marrying beneath her," but as his surviving letters attest, he was a persistent and persuasive suitor. Daniel was a carpenter by trade and was determined to have Catherine live in the style to which she was accustomed. In 1852 he bought a farm for £260 near the mouth of the Sutherland River and built a fine new house for his already expanding family. Daniel's business ventures ended in bankruptcy in 1878 and thereafter the family increasingly depended on the produce of their farm and the wages of their children for survival.

Between 1850 and 1865, Catherine gave birth to eight children, all but one of whom survived to adulthood. Their first daughter Jane Olding (1850-1934) fell from a wagon in the early 1860s and thereafter suffered bouts of mental illness. A son, Daniel Forrester, died within a few months of his birth in 1864. Five daughters - Mary Isabel (Mary Bell) (1851-1928); Elizabeth Davidson (Eliza) (1854-1912); Susan Dove (1856-1941); Margaret Janet (Jessie) (1860-1933) and Annie Lowden (1865-1941) became school teachers. In pursuing their teaching careers, they worked in various communities in Nova Scotia and, in the case of the two youngest, in British Columbia. The only son to survive, George William (1858-1899), attended Dalhousie University and briefly taught school in Nova Scotia. In 1879 he moved to New York City, where he found employment in a number of companies. He married briefly and unsuccessfully and died alone in a rooming house in 1899 at the age of 41.

Four of the daughters - Mary Bell, Eliza, Dove and Annie - married and raised families of there own. Mary Bell's husband, Freeman Wisdom, was a businessman in Saint John, New Brunswick. Eliza's husband, Norman Cunningham, became a beloved doctor in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Dove's husband, Edwin Crowell, was a well-known Baptist minister from Barrington, Nova Scotia. While teaching in British Columbia, Annie married businessman James Gordon. Jessie remained single and made a career in teaching, principally in British Columbia. In 1900 she returned to Sutherland's River to care for her aging, widowed mother. Jane, the eldest child, remained at home for most of her life and, like Jessie, did not marry. She was periodically hospitalized for mental illness.