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Susanna Moodie (Strickland)

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Bungay, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom
Death: April 8, 1885 (81)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Place of Burial: Ontario, Canada
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Thomas Strickland and Elizabeth Strickland
Wife of John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie
Mother of Catherine Mary Josephine Moodie; Agnes Dunbar FitzGibbon; Robert Baldwin Moodie; John Alexander Dunbar Moodie; John Strickland Moodie and 2 others
Sister of Catharine Parr Strickland; Samuel Strickland; Agnes Strickland; Elizabeth Strickland; Sarah Strickland and 2 others

Occupation: author
Managed by: Kris Stewart
Last Updated:

About Susanna Moodie

Susanna Moodie Biography


Born near Bungay, Suffolk, England, Susanna Strickland lived mostly at Reydon Hall, near Southwold, until her immigration to Canada in 1832. The last-born of the six Strickland daughters, five of whom became writers, she was educated by her parents and, as her father's health began to fail, by her elder sisters, notably Elizabeth, who, with Agnes, later gained fame and social status in England as authors of Lives of the Queens of England and other popular multi-volumed biographies of royalty and Anglican leaders. Like her sisters at isolated Reydon, Susanna began writing at an early age. She was especially attracted to heroic figures of history she judged to have been misunderstood. Her first narrative for young people, Spartacus: a Roman story (London, 1822), was published through the efforts of a family friend. It was followed by a number of didactic stories for children and adolescents, among them The little Quaker; or, The triumph of virtue (London, n.d.), The little prisoner; or, Passion and patience (London, n.d.), Hugh Latimer; or, The school-boy's friendship (London, 1828), Roland Massingham; or I will be my own master (London, n.d.), and Profession and principle; or, The vicar's tales (London, n.d.). Markets of a more diverse kind opened up for her when a family friend, Thomas Harral, moved from Suffolk to London to edit La Belle Assemblée, a fashionable court and literary magazine. From 1827 to 1830 Susanna contributed poems, sketches, and stories to Harral while also submitting her work to several of the then-popular annuals in London. By 1830 she was also writing occasionally for The Athenaeum and The Ecclesiastic, with which her friend the Scottish poet Thomas Pringle was involved, and The Lady's Magazine. Under Pringle's paternal direction and while a visitor in his London home, she was introduced to the injustices of slavery—Pringle had been in South Africa in the 1820s and was the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society in England—and wrote separate pamphlets describing the lives and sufferings of two Caribbean slaves, Mary Prince and Ashton Warner. In 1830 she also collaborated with her sister Agnes to write a slim volume called Patriotic songs and a year later, again with Pringle's help, she brought out by subscription her own collection of poetry, Enthusiasm, and other poems (London, 1831).

Susanna Strickland's life changed radically when, in 1830, she met Lt John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie at the Pringles'. An Orkney gentleman and half-pay military officer, he had come to London from his Groote Valley farm to write an account of his ten years in South Africa. They married in London in April 1831, and later moved to Southwold, where their first child was born. After weighing alternatives and carefully considering their options, they decided to immigrate to Canada in the spring of 1832. Arriving in Cobourg, Upper Canada (Ontario), in September, John Moodie chose not to take up their backwoods land-grant near Susanna's brother, Samuel Strickland; rather, he bought a partially cleared farm near Lake Ontario and ‘the Front’. ‘Melsetter’ (eight miles northwest of present-day Cobourg) is described in the first half (volume) of Roughing it in the bush. The problems of adjustment the Moodies faced there, compounded by a failed steamboat investment and the more encouraging prospects for a northern waterway (now the Trent-Severn system), prompted them to sell the farm and move in Feb. 1834 to their land-grant, north of what is now Lakefield in 1834. Here they would be close to both Sam and Susanna's sister Catharine Parr Traill. They remained on their 300-acre bush farm for nearly six years, including the fearful days of the Rebellion of 1837, struggling to make ends meet on a farm distinguished more by cedar forest and rock deposits than by arable land. Only with Moodie's appointment as sheriff of the newly established county of Hastings were Susanna and her five children finally able to leave the backwoods. They moved to the growing town of Belleville, where they lived until John Moodie's death in 1869.

Though she endured a great deal in her ‘bush’ experiences, Moodie never weakened in her literary aspirations. Initially few markets were available in Upper Canada. Only with the invitation of John Lovell to write for The Literary Garland (Montreal) did she at last find a sustained, paying outlet. During the life of that magazine (1838 – 51) she was its most prolific contributor, specializing in serialized fiction. As well, in 1847 – 8 Susanna and John Moodie jointly edited The Victoria Magazine in Belleville. The original sketches for Roughing it in the bush appeared in both The Literary Garland and The Victoria Magazine in 1847.

The high point of Moodie's literary career occurred during the 1850s when, through her husband's publisher Richard Bentley, her writing again found English publication. Her most enduring work is autobiographical in nature and includes her best-known book, Roughing it in the bush: or, Life in Canada (2 vols, London, 1852; ncl); its hastily put-together sequel, Life in the clearings versus the bush (London, 1853; ncl, with an Afterword by Carol Shields); and a fictionalized narrative, Flora Lyndsay; or, Passages in an eventful life (London, 1853). Together the three form a loose trilogy, Flora Lyndsay in fact recounting the events leading up to the Moodies' move to Canada and concluding with their journey up the St Lawrence River. Marked by humour and an unusual frankness concerning pioneering experience, Susanna Moodie's extended account of her difficult adaptation from England to Canada has a dramatic force as narrative and a perspicacity of observation rare in the literature of emigration and settlement.

In the 1850s Moodie wrote several long-winded novels for Bentley that drew heavily on Gothic and sentimental conventions. The first was Mark Hurdlestone; or, The gold worshipper (London, 1853). It had begun as a short tale in The Lady's Magazine (Nov. 1833) and grew first into a serialized novel in The Literary Garland, then into a two-volume Bentley novel. The three stories that make up Matrimonial speculations (London, 1854) and the narrative of Geoffrey Moncton; or, The faithless guardian (New York, 1855) also had previously appeared in the Garland. These elaborate and moralistic novels, marked by murder, intrigue, family tyranny, and mistaken identity, had less appeal for the English literary audience of the 1850s than Moodie and Bentley hoped. The fact that they were more successful when reprinted in the United States is evinced by the decision of the New York firm of Dewitt and Davenport to publish Geoffrey Moncton prior to its release by Bentley; the English edition thus appeared a year later as The Monctons (2 vols, 1856). Bentley also published Moodie's novel The world before them (3 vols, 1868), mostly as a gesture of friendship to his longstanding and now needy correspondent.

While the Belleville years appear to have been a generally stable and comfortable period for the Moodies, their finances were seldom secure and they were often the target of Tory lawyers who resented their reform (Baldwinite) politics and the advantages conferred upon them through John's appointment as Sheriff by Sir George Arthur. Moreover, they suffered great personal losses in Belleville, first in a house fire in 1840 and then as a result of the drowning death of their five-year-old son John in 1844. Late in the 1850s, those old political and personal grievances resurfaced in the form of a dubious charge against the ageing sheriff for the ‘farming’ of his office. After having exhausted much money and his legal recourses to appeal, John Moodie was at last forced to resign in 1863. After his death in 1869, Susanna outlived him by seventeen years, staying mostly with the families of her married children, though she often visited her sister Catharine Parr Traill in Lakefield.

She wrote little during these later years, turning increasingly to flower painting, a skill she had learned as a girl and had passed on to her daughter, Agnes (Moodie) Fitzgibbon (later Chamberlain), who illustrated Canadian wildflowers (1868), the text of which was written by Catharine Parr Traill. Moodie, however, made minor revisions to Roughing it in the bush for the first Canadian edition, brought out by Toronto publisher George Rose in 1871. During her last year she was bedridden, suffering in her final days from what her sister Catharine called brain-fever. She died in Toronto at the home of her eldest daughter, Katie Vickers.

Bibliography and More Information about Susanna Moodie

   * See Audrey Morris, The gentle pioneers: five nineteenth-century Canadians (1968);
   * Clara Thomas, ‘The Strickland sisters’ in The clear spirit (1966), edited by Mary Quayle Innis; Michael Peterman, ‘Susanna Moodie’ in Canadian writers and their works: fiction series: vol. 1 (1983), edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley; Marian Fowler, The embroidered tent: five gentlewomen in early Canada (1982); and John Thurston, The work of words (1996). Much valuable information about Moodie's life and writing can be found in two collections of letters edited by Carl Ballstadt, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Michael Peterman: Susanna Moodie: letters of a lifetime (1985) and Letters of love and duty: the correspondence of Susanna and John Moodie (1993).
   * See also the Moodie collections in both the National Library and the National Archives of Canada.

Michael Peterman

Susanna Strickland1 F, #63010, b. 6 December 1803, d. 8 April 1885

   Father*: Thomas Strickland1 b. 1758, d. 18 May 1818
   Mother*: Elizabeth Holmes1 b. 1772, d. 1864
   Birth*: 6 December 1803, Bungay, Suffolk, England, Date 1802 & location England per 1851 Census. Date Dec 6 1803 & location Bungay, Suffolk, England per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008.1,2
   Marriage*: 4 April 1831, England, per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008., Principal=John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie1
   Death*: 8 April 1885, Toronto, York Co., Ontario, Death Reg'n.#020353: Name: Susanna Moodie; Date: Apr 8 1885; Age: 81; Born: England; Status: widow; Cause: senile decay; Inf. & Phys.: Dr. W. B. Nicols, Toronto; Reg'd.: Apr 14 1885; Rel.: CE; Reg'r. :John Blevins (Ontario Death Registration, #020353-1885,
   Date Apr 8 1885 7 location Toronto per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008.1,3
   Married Name: 4 April 1831, Moodie1
   Immigration*: May 1832, Ontario, "They moved from England to Canada in 1832. They lived for 17 months on cleared farmland near Port Hope and then moved to Duoro township." per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008.1
   Census*: 1851, Belleville, Hastings Co., Ontario, Age 49 at 1851 Census: see John W. D. Moodie2
   Note*: 1852, Ontario, "She published in England in 1852 her experiences there in a book called "Roughing It In the Bush". Later it was published in an American Edition. The first English edition contained twenty-four chapter and an introduction by Susanna Moodie and four chapters by her husband John. The book also contained a number of poems, mostly by her but some from her husband and one by her brother Samuel Strickland. Later editions eliminated some of the husband's chapters." per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008.1

Family: John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie b. 1797, d. 22 Oct 1869

   Marriage*: 4 April 1831, England, per GEDCOM of Kaye, June 13, 2008., Principal=John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie1
   Agnes Dunbar Moodie+1 b. 4 Apr 1831, d. 1913
   Catherine Mary Josephine Moodie1 b. 14 Feb 1832, d. 1904
   John Alexander Dunbar Moodie1 b. a Mar 1834, d. 1927
   Donald Moodie1 b. 1836, d. 1893
   John Stickland Moodie1 b. 16 Oct 1838, d. 1844
   George Arthur Moodie1 b. 19 Jul 1840, d. c Sep 1840
   Robert Baldwin Moodie1 b. 1843, d. 1889


   [S22] Rootsweb, online unknown url.
   [S11] Unknown author, 1851 Canada Census, Record Type: microfilm.
   [S12] Unknown author, Ontario Death Registrations, Record Type: microfilm, Name Of Person: Ontario Archives, #020353-1885.

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Susanna Moodie's Timeline

December 6, 1803
Bungay, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom
Age 28
June 9, 1833
Age 29
Hamilton, Hamilton Division, Ontario, Canada
August 20, 1834
Age 30
Douro, Peterborough County, Ontario, Canada
May 21, 1836
Age 32
Douro, Peterborough County, Ontario, Canada
October 16, 1838
Age 34
Belleville, Hastings County, Ontario, Canada
July 19, 1840
Age 36
Belleville, Hastings County, Ontario, Canada
July 8, 1843
Age 39
Belleville, Hastings County, Ontario, Canada
April 8, 1885
Age 81
Toronto, Ontario, Canada