Photo of Cottage near Belleville

Cottage near Belleville

Belleville, Ontario

Due in no small part to stress generated from political antagonisms between Tories and Reformers that plagued him for 23 years as Sheriff, John suffered a stroke in 1861 leaving him partially paralyzed and he was forced to retire in 1863. Never a wise investor, he remained consistent in this regard by relinquishing control of their finances to eldest son Dunbar, with the understanding that he would be responsible for their care in their declining years. Unfortunately, after the change of control of the property, relations with Dunbar’s wife grew so bad that the young couple took the money from the sale of the Moodie’s home on Bridge Street West and used it to buy a farm in Delaware, leaving the elder Moodies in a rented house on the edge of town with no regular income. Susanna started new writing projects but her prime years as an author were past. Her main source of income was painting floral watercolours, many of which survive to this day and the aged pair lived happily together until John’s death at age seventy-one in 1869 (see below).

Excerpt of Letter from Susanna Moodie to Daniel Ricketson:

Seaforth Station
G.T.R. [Grand Trunk Railway]
Nov 11, 1869

My Dear Kind Friend,

I could not write to you while the arrow was in my heart, and the desolation of bereavement left my mind blank and useless, but I have had so much to attend to, since he left me, that I can only indulge the luxuy of grief during the solemn night, when my spirit is alone with his and God. It was so hard to part with him at a moment’s notice and to find myself alone and bereft of his dear companionship…

But I did bless God, even then and there, that he had granted him his own earnest desire, a speady [sic] and painless exit from this beautiful but mournful world-

He had been so well lately, that I did not apprehend by any physical token, the near approach of the death angel. How delighted too, was he with your last letter, announcing the safe arrival of the music, and he felt too proud of your appreciation of his talents as a poet. How from my very heart, I thank the merciful Father, for your friendship from which he derived such pleasure, which has cheered us in our lonely hours. God bless you dear friend and yours. I owe you a great debt, which I can only repay with tears. But you will wish to hear something about the last hours of the dear old Norseman –

On the 7th of October, he completed his 72nd year. It was a glorious fall day and when I kissed him and wished him joy, hoping that he might live to see another October. He shook his head, ‘Don’t flatter yourself Auld wife. I shall never see another birthday. I shall not be here long.’ And I chide him, as love will chide any one who checks the joy of hope – Robert, Agnes and Dunbar, always wrote to him on his birthday, and he sent me down after breakfast for his letters. But, alas, none were there. He sighed deeply but bore the disappointment better than I expected. R and A were very busy and not well and had forgotten the day. Dunbar did write, but owing to the floods in Delaware we did not get the letter for some days after. Dunbar did not tell us that he was ill, but his wife put in a postscript. That he was ill with the Delaware fever, and that he was threatened with consumption. Had heavy night sweats and hemmorage of the lungs.

This I am sure had a deep effect upon his mind. All day he could talk about nothing else. What if that strong man should die before his old father – My poor Dunbar –

He then wrote him a letter with his own hand, the last time he ever put pen to paper. In which he cancelled the obligation which he lay to keep us in our old age, and sent him his blessing. This was on Wednesday. He seemed quite happy after writing that letter, especially when I said ‘Johnnie, this has made me very happy. You have forgiven poor Dun all his past faults?” – ‘Yes all’ – I went down and posted the letter early in the morning. When I came back he was sitting on a chair cutting wood with his right hand, in the verandah, in front of the kitchen. Passing in that way, I put my hand on his shoulder – ‘You naughty creature.’ – I said, ‘Did you take the opportunity of my being out, to kill yourself?’ He laughed – ‘I feel quite well and strong, today. I mean to cut all the wood for the parlor stove, it will give me a good appetite for dinner.’ ‘You will do no such thing,’ I replied, ‘while I can earn money to pay for having it cut.’ ‘Well,’ he returned with one of his brightest smiles, ‘I believe old woman you are right, for I can’t split it. Have you any letters?-‘

The day passed pleasantly away as it ever did. He read aloud to me while I knitted new socks for him, that he was never to wear. And he looked so beautiful. The silky snow white hair waving on his shoulders. The noble face illumined by the lamp and the pure fair complexion just tinged with a bright glow, that gave to lip and cheek almost the bloom of youth. I often looked up at him that night and thought what a picture he would make, and he, generally stern, was as sweet and as gentle as a little child.

At nine, I brought him the only stimulant in which he indulged, a pretty large tumbler of new milk and a bun. ‘It is time,’ I said ‘for respectable old people, like you and I to be in bed.’ ‘I was thinking so,’ and he rose without my help, and walked quite steady into his bedroom. While undressing him, he remarked ‘Dear Susy I give you a great deal of trouble.’ ‘It is no trouble,’ I said, ‘I always bless God, that I am here to help you.’

These were the last words of love and tenderness, he was ever to say to me. For though I was with him to the last, during the awful death struggle, and held the white hand in mind, long after it was cold, he had no power to give utterance to his thoughts, after the first apparently slight indisposition, had assumed a dangerous character, and he must himself have recognized his approaching change.

I had slept on a low couch near him for the last 16 years, and being a poor sleeper was always within call to attend uopn, or help him in and out of bed during the night. He slept very tranquilly, and though I awoke at the usual hours, he did not awake. It was just before 5 o clock when the dark curtain of night was hardly withdrawn from the earth when I was suddenly roused from sleep by a loud voice calling upon me – ‘Mother!’ – A term he often used when he wanted me. I was at his side in a moment trembling from head to foot. ‘Dear Johnnie. Are you ill. What is the matter?’ He seemed to awake, and said, very calmly, ‘What is the matter? Mother I did not call you. But I am very thirsty. Have you any drink here?’ I got him some cold spring water, that I never failed to bring up at night for fear that it might be wanted and I always had my lamp and matches at hand.

I lighted the lamp, and brought him the water but he did not drink it but asked what a clock it was? A question that he had asked of me at intervals during the whole of the past day. I went into the next room to see for he had forgotten to wind up his watch. – ‘Just five.’ – ‘I dont know,’ he said, ‘what ails me. I find such difficulty in swallowing and my breath comes up as hot as flame.’ ‘let me send for Dr. Hope.’ ‘Doctors can do me no good, they kill more than they cure. Get me over the bed and open the window, I want more air.’ I put my cloak around him, for the early dawn was cold with a hard frost, and privately went up stairs and told an old woman whom I had taken in on charity to get up and get our neighbour Wilkinson to go for Dr. Hope or any medical man he could find. I still did not apprehend any danger as he looked as well as usual and for the last twelve months had been subject to fits of weakness. He complained of being very sick at stomach and threw up a quantity of slimy foam, that I had wipe out of his mouth and began to breathe very heavily. Alas, I knew it all then. He was dying. I laid him down on his pillows and half dressed as I was ran for our neighbor next door, Mr. Lane, a good pious mechanic, who promised to come directly. I was not gone a minute but I saw a change he was pale and shivering. I said, ‘Let me shut the window,’ and he answered quite loudly and firmly ‘No!’ – and motioned for me to get him to the window again.

I raised him with great difficulty, and he stood quite firmly for a moment on his feet, leaning upon me. Mr. Lane came in and helped me to place him in his bed.

Death was evidently very near. I asked him to speak to me once more. To send some message of love to his children before he left us for ever. He waved his hand, the other was already cold in mine. Gave two deep inspirations, and closing his eyes passed through the dark river as peacefully as a child going to sleep.