W3155 TO HENRY HART from Rev. Thomas Baker
Feb 19 1878
To: Henry Hart, Paris, Ontario
From: 3 Bold Street, Hamilton, Ontario
Henry Hart Esq.1
Permit me to state to you that last week my grandson J.P. [John Puckridge] Baker called on me and gave me a very ill report of affairs at Paris. He informed me that in consequence of male visitors to the residence of his stepmother,2 and their remaining undue lengths of time, suspicions had been exalted in the minds of the neighbours, that whisperings had followed and at length, the above had become so verily known and talked about as now to be a scandal. For confirmation of his statements he referred me to you, having conversed about it with you. You would do me a great favour by acquainting me with all you know concerning this to me very distressing affair. It haunts my day & disturbs
my rest at night. Of course all you may write is considered by me strictly confidential, and I hope all I may write to you will by you be so considered.
Should what I have heard be confirmed, I must withdraw the children from her care; but what to do with them I am greatly at loss to know [.] Were it not for Mrs. Baker's3 very feeble health I might bring them to our home; but were I to do it now it would be at the risk of her life, therefore I dare not do it.
If you in kind remembrance of their poor father would suggest any thing for my questions it should meet my grateful and careful consideration. With very kind regard to you & Mrs. Hart.
I am dear Sir, yours in deep affection
1 This document is a draft and partially difficult to read.
2 The "stepmother" is (Ann) Maria Mudge, James Alfred Baker's second wife and the stepmother to his seven children, John Puckridge, Harriett, Alice, Mary Maud, Minnie, Charlotte (Lottie) and William Baker. (Please note that John Puckridge Baker refers to James Alfred Baker's eldest son; John Puckridge refers to John P. Baker's uncle, his mother's brother.) It seems that the childrens' mother, Charlotte (Puckridge) Baker, had died in the mid to late 1860's (likely 1865 or later) and that James Alfred remarried to Maria in 1869. In 1876 after James Alfred's death (likely in early to mid-summer--see W3070), Maria took responsibility for the care of the children with the financial aid of her father-in-law, Reverend Thomas Baker.
However, it seems that John P. and Alice Baker did not have good relationships with their stepmother and John reported to his grandfather that Maria was keeping gentleman callers for longer periods than was considered appropriate. Rev. Baker wrote to Henry Hart for more information about the situation. Hart had heard the rumours and developed his own suspicions about her character he was reluctant to confirm the content of the gossip (W3156). Although Maria was strongly defended by her step-daughter Harriet, her brother-in-law Thomas Hampson Baker and, to some extent, by Mr. Hart, Rev. Baker decided to remove the children from her care and the family was split up. Mary Maud was sent to live with her grandmother Puckridge and her husband Mr. Fussell in England. William and Charlotte were originally sent to stay with their uncle John Puckridge although they later came to London Ontario to live with their siblings Minnie and John and John's son James Alfred, who had been named for his grandfather. Later on, Lottie, who had numerous surgeries to correct a cleft palate, stayed with her sister Alice and Alice's husband Edward Harbin. Harriett, who had been boarding in Paris Ontario and learning sewing as a trade with Mrs. Best, secretly married a Mr. Hicks (Jr.) on June 1, 1878.
For letters concerning Maria and her battle for custody of her stepchildren, see W3004, W3051, W3097, W3108, W3121, W3123, W3134, W3137, W3143, W3146, W3152, W3161, W3207, W3168, W3172, W3181, W3187, W3195, W3216, W3230, W3228, W3232, W3236, W3240, W3244, W3253.
Many of the letters concerning the children after they were removed from Maria's care have not been digitized at this time. For anyone interested in further research, they may be found between letters W3434 to W3797 inclusive. See W3328 now added about Maud's placement in England with her maternal grandmother and her husband Mr. Fussell
As an interesting aside, Mary Baker McQuesten sent her daughter (Margaret) Edna to stay with John P. Baker in 1905. However, instead of being a restful visit, John's terrible temperament and drinking upset Edna who already suffered from "nervous disorders." For more on John P. Baker's character see W3108, W3146, W3168, W3244. For Edna's visit with John and his family see W5406, W5398, W5382, W5371, W5367.
3 Mrs. Baker (Mary-Jane McIlwaine) suffered from diabetes and she died in 1882. There is no suggestion here that Rev. Baker's daughter by his second marriage, Mary Baker McQuesten, might take in some of these children; however, she had 3 children of her own by 1878, and likely felt that she could not take any of her father's grandchildren.