Miss Confederation

The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

January 18, 2018

Author Anne McDonald was intrigued when she heard of the September 1864 Charlottetown Conference. After learning that twenty-six-year-old Mercy Anne Coles of Charlottetown had accompanied her mother and father to the Confederation Conference in Quebec City the following month — and kept a diary to boot — she saw a story that begged to be told.

Coles was one of nine unmarried daughters of Maritime delegates to go to Quebec. While her father, George Coles, and his colleagues were wooed by the Canadians (from present-day Quebec and Ontario), the women helped to keep the tone congenial.

McDonald notes their “unofficial role in the negotiations” and says Coles’ diary “is the only full account of these events from a woman’s perspective.” A transcription of the full diary, including the family’s return trip through the northern United States during the U.S. Civil War, is published here for the first time in its entirety.

The journal is a who’s who of the future Fathers of Confederation and explains the conditions surrounding their negotiations. Although Coles became bedridden with diphtheria, she managed to write about both the inclement weather and the various goings-on that were relayed to her by numerous visitors — all of them blithely unaware of how the disease is transmitted.

Miss Confederation is not just a record of historic people and events told from a young woman’s perspective. In this book, McDonald and Coles take readers along on the “Confederation ride” — a fascinating and revealing tour of eastern Canada in 1864.

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