Jacobina Campbell’s Diary

Note: The following is the preface to the latest book from Acadiensis Press, A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth, New Brunswick, 1825-1843. The book includes editorial and biographical notes as well as an introductory essay by D. Murray Young, one of the pioneers of New Brunswick history at the University of New Brunswick. He was assisted in the completion of the project by Gail G. Campbell, whose monograph on New Brunswick women’s diaries is forthcoming from University of Toronto Press.

By Gail G. Campbell

Anyone who has read even one of his many articles in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography will be aware of the British Imperial historian D.M. Young’s invaluable contribution to the history of his home province. His finely honed biographies are models of the genre, exhaustively researched and both subtle and analytical in approach.[1] Dr Murray Young has also long been engaged in the practice of local and public history, and his work on the history of the pre-Loyalist planters along the St John River and the Loyalist settlements on the Nashwaak are well known.[2] But until now, few would identify him with the analysis of women’s diaries.


A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth,
New Brunswick, 1825-1843
(Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2015).

Diaries, which can offer unique insight into the history of communities as well as of families, are rarely transparent documents. Any researcher who has spent time reading 19th-century diaries soon discovers that reading and interpreting them is something of an art. One scholar has claimed that “learning how to read manuscript diaries is complicated detective work, a labor of frustration and love, which allows us much latitude for interpretation yet often gives us few clues.”[3] Situating an apparently unforthcoming diary and its author within both a broad general and a specific local context requires infinite patience. It is often only possible to reconstruct a life by piecing together the connections between the clues in the diary and a range of other primary sources. This is what Dr Young has achieved in his nuanced analysis of Jacobina Campbell’s diary.

Himself born on a farm in Taymouth, New Brunswick, Murray Young has a personal as well as an academic interest in the diary he chose to analyse. He is a descendant of the Youngs so often referred to in Jacobina Campbell’s diary. But his ancestors, unlike the Campbells, persisted at the mouth of the Tay River, farming the land successfully, although, even before Murray’s generation, successive generations of children found it necessary to seek careers well beyond the home farm. Murray himself entered the Provincial Normal School in 1939 and, following graduation, taught school in Rusagonis and Millville. In 1942, he enlisted in the Air Force. He then received training as a radar technician, and soon found himself working as a member of an air force ground crew in England, servicing the radar devices used to track both enemy and friendly planes. Returning home following the War, he, like many other young veterans, enrolled in the Freshman Class at the University of New Brunswick, graduating in 1949 with an Honours degree in English and History.

He then pursued History at the graduate level. Awarded the Alexander Mackenzie Scholarship by the University of Toronto, he headed to Ontario, with the intention of earning an MA in History under the supervision of Chester Martin and Frank Underhill. Diverted in his trajectory when Lord Beaverbrook, in Toronto on business, met with him to offer him a Beaverbrook Scholarship, Murray, with his interest in Empire and Colonial History, abandoned Toronto in favour of the University of London, where, for his doctoral dissertation, he undertook an administrative study of the Colonial Office in the period 1795 to 1830.

When Dr Young embarked on his career as a university professor, historians were required to be generalists in their teaching if not in their research. This suited Murray – a colonial trained at the University of London as an Imperial historian – just fine. After teaching at Memorial University for four years, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue African Studies at Boston University, adding a further dimension to his expertise in the field of Imperial History. Taking up a position at the University of New Brunswick in 1959, he brought to the history of Britain the perspective of an urbane colonial. He engaged his students in a challenging intellectual enterprise, for he viewed England and the British Isles, British North America and British Africa from a variety of angles, and in this way contributed to the emergence, decades later, of ‘the Atlantic World’ as a vibrant new field of research. But that was not his sole focus.

Murray’s father had always been interested in family and local history, and, following in the footsteps of Alfred Bailey, founder of the Department of History, who had introduced New Brunswick history into the curriculum, Murray, too, turned to the study of his home province and his own community. By bringing his training and broad intellectual perspective to bear on all that he studied, he invariably situated the local within the larger historical context. This has been true of his research and writing no less than of his teaching.

In A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth, New Brunswick, 1825-1843, Young provides a remarkable introduction both to the diary and to the possibilities for historical analysis it offers. With its terse entries and oblique references to people and events, the diary is not readily accessible to the lay reader. Based on exhaustive research coupled with his extensive general knowledge of the history of the settlement of the Nashwaak and its tributaries, in three concise, but discrete essays, Young situates the diary firmly within both a broad general and a specific local historical context. Explaining the provenance of the diary, an extended editorial note deals with the difficulties of identifying the authorship of the document. The second essay is a lively and engaging introduction to and analysis of the diary itself. In this essay, Murray deftly integrates information gleaned from the diary entries with corresponding land, church, school, marriage and court records, among other documents, to suggest how the diary can be used to develop a portrait of pioneer family and community life in Taymouth, New Brunswick. A third essay situates the author within her family, and provides a brief history of that family.

With the help of Young’s introduction, the diarist and her spare entries come alive for readers, who are then prepared to embark on their own journeys through the seasons of Jacobina Campbell’s life. An Afterword, in the form of a fourth essay, which focuses on the history of another local family – Young’s own ancestors – provides yet another perspective on the diary, further illustrating the range of information a subtle and careful analysis of a single diary may yield. Here Dr Young effectively demonstrates how a careful reader can use the diary to gain insights into the lives of other families, such as the Youngs, who settled along the Tay and Nashwaak rivers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And so the reader follows him back into the diary, a rich historical source that has been overlooked for too long, for yet another read.

Gail G. Campbell is Professor Emerita in the Department of History at the University of New Brunswick.


[1] Among them are the biographies of “Dugald Campbell”, father of the diarist, Dictionary of Canadian Biography [DCB], Vol. V (1801-1820) (1983), 135-8; and “Archibald McLean”, uncle of the diarist, DCB, Vol. VI (1821-1835) (1987), 473-5.

[2] Of particular relevance to this volume, see “The Nashwaak Settlements during the Lifetimes of the First Settlers,” in And the River Rolled on…. Two Hundred years on the Nashwaak, 1784-1984 (Nashwaak Bridge, NB: The Nashwaak Bicentennial Association, 1984) and “When the Methodists Stole the Church,” The Officers’ Quarterly, vol. 15, Nos 1 and 2 (1999).

[3] Cynthia A. Huff, “Reading as Re-Vision: Approaches to Reading Manuscript Diaries,” Biography, 23, 3 (Summer 2000), 506.

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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