Often when we think of the war years of 1812 through 1814 we think of the adults; the men, the women; the soldiers and the campfollowers, but what of the children? I thought I would briefly explore "childhood" for you from a documentary point of view.
The following information comes to us from the Public Archives of Canada, MG23H13, volume 2, the Jarvis-Peters Correspondence, (Hannah Jarvis to William Birdseye Peters and to the Rev. Samuel Peters), December 5, 1792 and June 17, 1793 and November 13, 1793.
Hannah Jarvis wrote the following about her daughter, Augusta, when she corresponded with her brother William Peters and with her father the Rev. Samuel Peters:
"She has an old Wooden Doll cut out of the chunk of wood--she takes it up after being absent 10 minutes, cries to it, â€˜ O! you Pretty little soulâ€™ --and struts about the house with it under her arm like an old Woman."
In November of 1792 Hannah Jarvis gave birth to a son and "At seven months of age he had three teeth and was cutting a fourth."
Mrs. Jarvis wrote to her own father a few days before her son turned one and told him that "The Boy is a fine tall child of his age, and walks four and five steps himself. He trots on his hands and feet -- and is very anxious to be on his feet and I think he will in two or three Days without fear,â€¦"
Mrs. Simcoe's Diary (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1965. Pg. 86.) tells us in a letter that she wrote to a Mrs. Hunt in February of 1793 about â€˜wet-nursingâ€™: ",â€¦ was common practice when the mother's supply of milk, or her willingness to nurse, was insufficient." Apparently it was common for the upper classes to place advertisements for wet nurses and this practice concerned many medical attendants and physicians about the suitability of some wet- nursing women. A letter, dated March 22, 1803, from a Mr. George Longmore to a Major Green (Public Archives of Canada, RG 81, volume 287, P.218) explains such concern: ",â€¦ from the symptoms under which her nurse labours at present, there is much reason to think that she is in a state of pregnancy. I have therefore thought it prudent to advise Mrs. Green to immediately wean the child rather than to run the risk of giving her bad milk.â€
Most mothers nursed their own babies and did so usually for the first-year and depending upon their own personal health did so sometimes for longer periods. Longer periods of nursing seem to be very common among the working class of women who seemed to have a more common knowledge that it meant a lesser chance of becoming pregnant again and for some is allowed them to become wet nurses themselves and, therefore, earn a bit of an income. The fact of the matter was that once a baby no longer nursed it was expected to eat almost the same texture of foods and certainly the same kinds of foods and that their parents ate. No pabulum or specialized baby foods existed back then, but I'm sure that people (mostly women) existed who thought of ways to process foods for infants who had just been weaned,â€¦.common sense most certainly must have prevailed in most households.