Books in Niagara in 1813
- Thanks to to the War Losses Claims and the fact that the Town of
Niagara was burned, the belongings of civilians from all classes were
detailed in many of these claims. Some had massive collections of over
40 volumes while others had one or two books in the house. One I
remember was a local gent who was not able to read yet had two books,
a Bible and a Cook Book. Brock's library was well documented as it was
auctioned off after his death.
Niagara established the first lending library in Upper Canada and while
there was a subscription fee, some of the less well-to-do could borrow
a book rather than go through the great expense of buying one. Some
regiments kept regimental libraries to improve the minds of the men.
As for a common soldier with a book in his pack or a sailor with one in
his ditty bag, I would imagine that some would have them. While the
cost of a volume in relationship to a soldier's pay would be
prohibitive, there is always looting. The value of reading material has
to be weighed against the practicality of hauling it along on
campaign. In barracks, perhaps, but stretching out round the ole cook
fire after a 25 mile march sounds rather unlikely.
It might make an interesting "story" for a soldier or sailor at an
encampment to be perusing a volume that he happened to "find" in an
abandoned farmhouse on the march--or taken from the pack of an enemy
who had done so. The act of reading, then, can lead to a discussion
wiht the public on looting, the penalties for looting, and (read the
War Losses Claims) the frequency of it.