Adventures in Research, Opus 3

Another mystery of authorship surrounds H. S. Caswell, author of three texts issued in the 1870s by John Lovell, the major Montreal publisher of the time: Stories and Sketches (1872); The Path of Duty and Other Stories (1874), also recorded as Clara Roscom; or, The Path of Duty, which contains the novel-length Clara Roscom, the full collection from Stories and Sketches, and another long story, Ernest Harwood; or, the Adopted Son; and Walter Harland; or, Memories of the Past (1874). Ernest Harwood is listed on the title pages of Caswell’s published works, and may have been released as a single title, but no copy has been located. Caswell’s books appear in Early Canadiana Online, suggesting Canadian authorship, but it is often assumed that this H. S. Caswell was the American missionary Harriet S. Caswell (1834-1909). Evidence for this association is, however, tenuous.

Caswell’s longest work, Walter Harland, is a rather Tom Brown’s Schooldays “autobiography” of a fatherless boy from Elmwood, Quebec, who leaves his home to live with his maternal uncle near Hamilton for school, and from there to work in Montreal where he grows into the man who narrates the tale. No Elmwood exists today, but Elmwood Cemetery in northern Sherbrooke (established 1890) suggests that perhaps a village of that name once did. While Clara Roscom is set in Philadelphia and New Hampshire, and Ernest Harwood near Concord, Massachusetts, a significant number of Caswell’s stories in The Path of Duty are again set in Canada.

Harriet Caswell (1834-1909), the American author, was born Harriet Sophia Clark in 1834; she married Lemuel Caswell in 1869, and as a widow married Lewis Payson Broad in 1900. In 1892, Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society in Boston, Massachusetts, published Our Life Among the Iroquois Indians (1892), the only book issued under the name of Harriet S. Caswell (rather than H. S. Caswell). Harriet Caswell-Broad’s life is recorded in a posthumous biography, “Blue Sky”: The Life of Harriet Caswell-Broad (Boston, MA: Pilgrim, 1911), written by her brother, Dr. Joseph Bourne Clark. A great deal more can be found online about Joseph Clark, a noted American missionary to the Iroquois of New York state in the mid-1800s. In his biography of his sister, Clark makes reference to “her book” (explicitly Our Life Among the Iroquois Indians) as if there she had only written one (20). He later mentions her work as editor of the Home Missionary in the period between 1885 and 1900, but makes no other reference to literary endeavours. During the years when H. S. Caswell was published in Montreal (1872-1874), Harriet Caswell was in Boston where she had started a school for disadvantaged women, as well as a Relief Agency, and contributed to an extensive number of other local social causes. Given Clark’s detailed account of Caswell’s activities during this period, it seems odd that he would omit the publication of a novel as well as a collection of short stories, later reissued with two novel-length additions. It seems more likely that Caswell, who apparently never visited Canada, was not the author of these works, many of which are set in Eastern Canada (as Quebec was then known), with themes that are more social than religious.

To date, no biographical records have been found to confirm the existence of a Canadian author H. S. Caswell during this period. Although a Hattie S. Caswell lived in Quebec at the time, she was born in 1862, too late to have authored the stories. A more likely prospect is Henry Sheldon Caswell, a schoolteacher who according to Canadian Census records lived in Sherbrooke, Quebec—the location of much of H. S. Caswell’s writing—continually from his birth in 1838 until his death in 1900.

~Karyn Huenemann, Project Manager, Canada’s Early Women Writers (SFU)