Susanna Moodie

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Susanna Moodie
BornSusannah Strickland
(1803-12-06)6 December 1803
Bungay, River Waveney, Suffolk
Died8 April 1885(1885-04-08) (aged 81)
Toronto, Ontario
SpouseJohn Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie (m. 1831)
Children7 (2 of whom died in childhood)[1]

Susanna Moodie (née Strickland; 6 December 1803 – 8 April 1885) was an English-born Canadian author who wrote about her experiences as a settler in Canada,[2] which was a British colony at the time.[3]


Susanna Moodie was born in Bungay, on the River Waveney in Suffolk. She was the youngest sister in a family of writers, including Agnes Strickland, Jane Margaret Strickland and Catharine Parr Traill.[4]

Early career[edit]

She wrote her first children's book in 1822 and published other children's stories in London, including books about Spartacus and Jugurtha. In London she was also involved in the abolitionist organization Anti-Slavery Society, transcribing the narrative of the former Caribbean slave Mary Prince.[5]

Marriage and move to Upper Canada[edit]

On 4 April 1831, she married John Moodie, a retired officer who had served in the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1832, with her husband, a British Army officer,[6] and daughter, Moodie immigrated to Upper Canada. The family settled on a farm in Douro township, near Lakefield, north of Peterborough, where her brother Samuel Strickland (1804–1867) worked as a surveyor, and where artifacts are housed in a museum. Founded by Samuel, the museum was formerly an Anglican church and overlooks the Otonabee River where Susanna once canoed. It also displays artifacts concerning Samuel, as well as her elder sister and fellow writer Catharine, who married a friend of John Moodie's and immigrated to the same area a few weeks before Susanna and John.

Moodie continued to write in Canada, and her letters and journals contain valuable information about life in the colony. She observed life in what was then the backwoods of Ontario, including native customs, the climate, the wildlife, relations between the Canadian population and recent American settlers, and the strong sense of community and the communal work, known as "bees" (which she, incidentally, hated). She suffered through the economic depression in 1836, and her husband served in the militia against William Lyon Mackenzie in the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837.

As a middle-class Englishwoman, Moodie did not particularly enjoy "the bush", as she called it. In 1840, she and her husband moved to Belleville, which she referred to as "the clearings." She studied the Family Compact and became sympathetic to the moderate reformers led by Robert Baldwin, while remaining critical of radical reformers such as William Lyon Mackenzie. This caused problems for her husband, who shared her views, but, as sheriff of Belleville, had to work with members and supporters of the Family Compact.


In 1852, she published the memoir Roughing it in the Bush, detailing her experiences on the farm in the 1830s. In 1853, she published her second memoir, Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush, about her time in Belleville. She remained in Belleville, living with various family members (particularly her son Robert) after her husband's death, and lived to see Canadian Confederation. She died in Toronto, Ontario on 8 April 1885 and is buried in Belleville Cemetery.

Her greatest literary success was Roughing it in the Bush. The inspiration for the memoir came from a suggestion by her editor that she write an "emigrant's guide" for British people looking to move to Canada. Moodie wrote of the trials and tribulations she found as a "New Canadian", rather than the advantages to be had in the colony. She claimed that her intention was not to discourage immigrants but to prepare people like herself, raised in relative wealth and with no prior experience as farmers, for what life in Canada would be like.

Family legacy in illustration[edit]

Moodie taught her daughter Agnes how to paint flowers and Agnes later illustrated Canadian Wild Flowers, published in 1868.[7]


Moodie's books and poetry inspired Margaret Atwood's collection of poetry, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, published in 1970. It was also an important influence on one of Atwood's later novels, Alias Grace, based on an account of murder convict Grace Marks which appeared in Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush. She has also been a source of inspiration for Carol Shields, who published a critical analysis of Moodie's work, Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision. Additionally, the central character of Shields' novel, Small Ceremonies, is working on a biography of Moodie.

Commemorative postage stamp[edit]

On 8 September 2003, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Library of Canada, Canada Post released a special commemorative series, "The Writers of Canada", with a design by Katalina Kovats, featuring two English-Canadian and two French-Canadian stamps. Three million stamps were issued. Moodie and her sister Catherine Parr Traill were featured on one of the English-Canadian stamps.[8]


The sailor brother


  • Mark Hurdlestone – 1853
  • Flora Lyndsay – 1854
  • Matrimonial Speculations – 1854
  • Geoffrey Moncton – 1855
  • The World Before Them – 1868


  • Patriotic Songs – 1830 (with Agnes Strickland)
  • Enthusiasm and Other Poems – 1831

Children's books[edit]

  • Spartacus – 1822
  • The Little Quaker
  • The Sailor Brother
  • The Little Prisoner
  • Hugh Latimer – 1828
  • Rowland Massingham
  • Profession and Principle
  • George Leatrim – 1875


  • Roughing it in the Bush – 1852
  • Life in the Backwoods; A Sequel to Roughing It in the Bush
  • Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush – 1853


  • Letters of a Lifetime – 1985 (edited by Carl Ballstadt, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Michael Peterman)


  1. ^ Biography, Accessed 13 January 2023.
  2. ^ "CBC Archives".
  3. ^ Ballstadt, Carl; et al. (1993). Letters of a Lifetime. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 257. ISBN 0-8020-2580-3.
  4. ^ Rosemary Mitchell, 'Strickland, Agnes (1796–1874)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 26 May 2015
  5. ^ Davies, Carole (2008). Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture. N-Z, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 770.
  6. ^ "Susanna Strickland Moodie".
  7. ^ "Fitzgibbon, Agnes Dunbar Moodie". Canadian Women Artists History Initiative.
  8. ^ "50th Anniversary of the National Library / Canadian Authors Archived 23 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine," Canada Post, Web, 28 March 2011.

External links[edit]