Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Porter's Book on the Pearce Letters

Here is what Dr. Colin Read, Prof. of History, Huron University College, London, Ontario has to say about David Porter's new book From Almondsbury to Aylmer: The Pearce Letters.

History is about the great, the good, and the not-so-good: kings and queens, prime ministers, prelates, merchant princes, and the like. David Porter's From Almondsbury to Aylmer: The Pearce Letters provides yet another powerful antidote to this tired and tiresome argument and hence should be read widely, especially by the historical illiterate, too many of whom occupy positions of power. Those who would argue, for example, that Sir John A. "built" the Canadian Pacific Railway, even though he worked not at all on it, not even swinging the sledge hammer that drove the last spike, would benefit mightily from immersing themselves in this well-produced, well-written, well-illustrated, well-mapped volume about "ordinary folk" on either side of the Atlantic who, like unrecorded multitudes, led lives of consequence. The ordinary is ever significant.

The principals of Porter's piece are, in the first instance, William and Emma Pearce who left the southwest of England in 1852, settling, first, in Malahide in Elgin County, where they joined, according to the 1851-2 census, 176 others from England and Wales then in that township. Chain migration had played its part in their coming, as friends had preceded them and made them aware of the possibilities inherent in the new land. Pushed by the prospect of landlessness in Almondsbury and attracted by the pull of real property, William and Emma struck deep roots in Elgin, eventually acquiring a farm in the west part of Yarmouth, not far from Aylmer. With deft strokes, author/editor Porter sets the scene, establishes needed context, tells the tale, and provides genealogical data. The key part of his book, however, consists of the twenty-five letters discovered in the 1960s between the Pearces and their English relatives, especially William Pearce senior. Though nibbled by mice, these letters provide a rich banquet for those interested in real people who populated a world that is receding in time and memory yet connected still to the present.

On the latter score, does any of this sound familiar?: the call of greener pastures with its promise of land and prosperity, the heartbreak involved in family members leaving for distant places, the fragility of life, the search for solace in the face of death through the promise of life eternal in heaven in company with the newly-departed. All this and more, as the author/editor points out, is to be found in these letters. Particularly poignant is the family falling-out that developed over a small bequest left to William by his departed father, despite the elder William's having done all he could to assure that his three sons would be treated fairly. The journey to this particular family hell was clearly paved with good intentions.

From Almonsbury to Aylmer provides the stuff of lives lived, far more than do many accounts that have those deemed "historically important" swaggering upon the world's stage.

For an index of names in the book see the Elgin OGS web site page on the book.

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