John Thomas Ingram Bryan was born at Albany, N.Y., 12 May 1868, the eldest of ten children born to Arthur and Amelia (Evans) Bryan. Arthur and Amelia emigrated first to New York State about 1867 from Garryhinch Estate [Cloneyquin], County Kings [Offaly], Ireland, and before long moved to Foxley River, Township (Lot) 11, Prince Edward Island, in the summer of 1869. Arthur wanted to be close to his older brother, John Bryan Jr., who had settled at Foxley River in the 1850s having been induced to emigrate by an elderly maternal aunt and uncle, John and Margaret (Bridges) Hughes, who had settled there during the 1820s.
John Thomas Ingram Bryan grew up in Lot 11 and later became an Anglican minister, scholar, poet, and writer. He ministered in Canada, United States, Japan, and in England where he died in 1953. At some point in his later life, probably during his retirement in England in the 1930s or 1940s, Rev. Mr. Bryan wrote a memoir of growing up in Township 11, Prince Edward Island. The unpublished manuscript, originally entitled “A Boy of Isle St. Jean – A Story of Canada,” was written in the third person singular – referring to himself throughout the MS as John Thomas.
Nearly thirty years ago the editor, J. Clinton Morrison, obtained a copy of John Thomas Ingram Bryan’s unpublished manuscript, only the second known to exist. The manuscript is a remarkable record of everyday life in Township 11, and is one of the few detailed first-hand accounts of social life on Prince Edward Island during the late Victorian period. A plethora of proverbs, expressions, words, and terminology no longer in use today has been preserved for posterity. The sheer scope of his topics is exceptional: customs, wakes and funerals, lumbering and rafting logs, shipbuilding, the Mi’kmaq, fishing and lobster factories, hunting, transportation, flora and fauna, tea parties, and education constitute a partial listing. Furthermore, the detail of his recollections provides a wonderful in-depth look at many pioneer skills and crafts such as hewing logs, felling trees, fishing eels, catching trout, and shooting lynx. His striking descriptions allow the reader to clearly visualize and mentally understand what he writes about. His powers of observation and minute attention to detail also provide wonderful descriptions of individuals – descriptions that focus not only on how individuals looked physically, but also on the nature of their personalities.
Although he left Prince Edward Island to advance his education and pursue what would become a remarkable career, John Thomas Ingram Bryan never forgot his happy, carefree boyhood days even though poverty and hard work had been ever present. In most instances his manuscript accentuates the positive elements of his upbringing: neighborliness, communal sharing, and the sacred values of honesty, respect, and a strong work ethic instilled in him in his youth. The hardship and material sacrifice he experienced served to mould a character and fire an ambition that would have a profound effect on his life’s work. Although his recollections primarily provide an invaluable look at rural social life on Prince Edward Island in the late 1800s, his manuscript also gives an exciting glimpse into the natural environment that influenced his development as a successful literary figure.