Part 3 out of 6
accomplished a teacher.
There was an ornament on hand in the nunnery, of an extraordinary kind,
which was prized at ten pounds; but it had been made and exposed to view
so long, that it became damaged and quite unsaleable. We were one day
visited by an old priest from the country, who was evidently somewhat
intoxicated; and as he withdrew to go to his lodgings, in the Seminary,
where the country priests often stay, the Superior conceived a plan for
disposing of the old ornament. "Come," said she, "we will send it to the
old priest, and swear he has bought it!"
We all approved of the ingenious device, for it evidently might be
classed among the pious frauds we had so often had recommended to us
both by precept and example; and the ornament was sent to him the next
morning, as his property when paid for. He soon came to the Convent, and
expressed the greatest surprise that he had been charged with purchasing
such a thing, for which he had no need and no desire.
The Superior heard this declaration with patience, but politely insisted
that it was a fair bargain; and we then surrounded the old priest, with
the strongest assertions that such was the fact, and that nobody would
ever have thought of his purchasing it unless he had expressly engaged
to take it. The poor old man was entirely put down. He was certain of
the truth: but what could he do: resist or disprove a direct falsehood
pronounced by the Superior of a Convent, and sworn to by all her holy
nuns? He finally expressed his conviction that we were right: he was
compelled to pay his money.
Frequency of the Priests' Visits to the Nunnery--Their Freedom and
Crimes--Difficulty of learning their Names--Their Holy Retreat--
Objections in our minds--Means used to counteract Conscience--Ingenious
Some of the priests from the Seminary were in the nunnery every day and
night, and often several at a time. I have seen nearly all of them at
different times, though there are about one hundred and fifty in the
district of Montreal. There was a difference in their conduct; though I
believe every one of them was guilty of licentiousness; while not one
did I ever see who maintained a character any way becoming the
profession of a priest. Some were gross and degraded in a degree which
few of my readers can ever have imagined; and I should be unwilling to
offend the eye, and corrupt the heart of any one, by an account of their
words and actions. Few imaginations can conceive deeds so abominable as
they practised, and often required of some of the poor women, under the
fear of severe punishments, and even of death. I do not hesitate to say
with the strongest confidence, that although some of the nuns became
lost to every sentiment of virtue and honour, especially one from the
Congregational Nunnery whom I have before mentioned, Saint Patrick, the
greater part of them loathed the practices to which they were compelled
to submit by the Superior and priests, who kept them under so dreadful a
Some of the priests whom I saw I never knew by name, and the names of
others I did not learn for a time, and at last only by accident.
They were always called "Mon pere," my father; but sometimes, when they
had purchased something in the ornament-room, they would give their real
names, with directions where it should be sent. Many names, thus learnt,
and in other ways, were whispered about from nun to nun, and became
pretty generally known. Several of the priests, some of us had seen
before we entered the Convent.
Many things of which I speak, from the nature of the case, must
necessarily rest chiefly upon my own word, until further evidence can be
obtained: but there are some facts for which I can appeal to the
knowledge of others. It is commonly known in Montreal that some of the
priests occasionally withdraw from their customary employments, and are
not to be seen for some time, it being understood that they have retired
for religious study, meditation and devotion, for the improvement of
their hearts. Sometimes they are thus withdrawn from the world for
weeks: but there is no fixed period.
This was a fact I knew before I took the veil; for it is a frequent
subject of remark, that such or such a Father is on a "holy retreat."
This is a term which conveys the idea of a religious seclusion from the
world for sacred purposes. On the re-appearance of the priest after such
a period, in the church or the streets, it is natural to feel a peculiar
impression of his devout character--an impression very different from
that conveyed to the mind of one who knows matters as they really are.
Suspicions have been indulged by some in Canada on this subject, and
facts are known by at least a few. I am able to speak from personal
knowledge: for I have been a nun of Soeur Bourgeoise.
The priests are liable, by their dissolute habits, to occasional attacks
of disease, which render it necessary, or at least prudent, to submit to
In the Black Nunnery they find private accommodations, for they are free
to enter one of the private hospitals whenever they please; which is a
room set apart on purpose for the accommodation of the priests, and is
called a retreat-room. But an excuse is necessary to blind the public,
and this they find is the pretence that they make of being in a "Holy
Retreat." Many such cases I have known; and I can mention the names of
priests who have been confined in this Holy Retreat. They are very
carefully attended by the Superior and old nuns, and their diet mostly
consists of vegetable soups, &c., with but little meat, and that fresh.
I have seen an instrument of surgery laying upon the table in that holy
room, which is used only for particular purposes.
Father Tabeau, a Roman priest, was on one of his holy retreats about the
time when I left the nunnery. There are sometimes a number confined
there at the same time. The victims of these priests frequently share
the same fate.
I have often reflected how grievously I had been deceived in my opinion
of a nun's condition! All the holiness of their lives, I now saw, was
merely pretended. The appearance of sanctity and heavenly mindedness
which they had shown among us novices, I found was only a disguise to
conceal such practices as would not be tolerated in any decent society
in the world; and as for peace and joy like that of heaven, which I had
expected to find among them, I learnt too well that they did not exist
The only way in which such thoughts were counteracted, was by the
constant instructions given us by the Superior and priests, to regard
every doubt as a mortal sin. Other faults we might have, as we were told
over and over again, which, though worthy of penances, were far less
sinful than these. For a nun to doubt that she was doing her duty in
fulfilling her vows and oaths, was a heinous offence, and we were
exhorted always to suppress our doubts, to confess them without reserve,
and cheerfully to submit to severe penances on account of them, as the
only means of mortifying our evil dispositions, and resisting the
temptations of the devil. Thus we learnt in a good degree to resist our
minds and consciences, when we felt the first rising of a question about
the duty of doing any thing required of us.
To enforce this upon us, they employed various means. Some of the most
striking stories told us at catechism by the priests, were designed for
this end. One of these, I will repeat. One day, as a priest assured us
who was hearing us say the catechism on Saturday afternoon, as one
Monsieur ----, a well-known citizen of Montreal, was walking near the
cathedral, he saw Satan giving orders to numerous evil spirits who had
assembled around him. Being afraid of being seen, and yet wishing to
observe what was done, he hid himself where he could observe all that
passed. Satan despatched his devils to different parts of the city, with
directions to do their best for him; and they returned in a short time,
bringing in reports of their success in leading persons of different
classes to the commission of various sins, which they thought would be
agreeable to their master. Satan, however, expressed his
dissatisfaction, and ordered them out again; but just then a spirit from
the Black Nunnery came, who had not been seen before, and stated that he
had been trying for seven years to persuade one of the nuns to doubt,
and had just succeeded. Satan received the intelligence with the highest
pleasure; and turning to the spirits around him, said: "You have not
half done your work--he has done much more than all of you."
In spite, however, of our instructions and warnings, our fears and
penances, such doubts would intrude; and I have often indulged them for
a time, and at length, yielding to the belief that I was wrong in giving
place to them, would confess them, and undergo with cheerfulness such
new penances as I was loaded with. Others too would occasionally
entertain and privately express such doubts; though we all had been most
solemnly warned by the cruel murder of Saint Francis. Occasionally some
of the nuns would go further, and resist the restraints or punishments
imposed upon them; and it was not uncommon to hear screams, sometimes of
a most piercing and terrific kind, from nuns suffering under discipline.
Some of my readers may feel disposed to exclaim against me, for
believing things, which will strike them as so monstrous and abominable.
To such, I would say, without pretending to justify myself--You know
little of the position in which I was placed: in the first place,
ignorant of any other religions doctrines; and in the second, met at
every moment by some ingenious argument, and the example of a large
community, who received all the instructions of the priests as of
undoubted truth, and practised upon them. Of the variety and
speciousness of the arguments used, you cannot have any correct idea.
They were often so ready with replies, examples, anecdotes and
authorities, to enforce their doctrines, that it seemed to me they could
never have learnt it all from books, but must have been taught by wicked
spirits. Indeed, when I reflect upon their conversations, I am
astonished at their art and address, and find it difficult to account
for their subtlety and success in influencing my mind, and persuading me
to anything they pleased. It seems to me, that hardly anybody would be
safe in their hands. If you were to go to confession twice, I believe
you would feel very differently from what you do now. They have such a
way of avoiding one thing, and speaking of another, of affirming this,
and doubting or disputing that, of quoting authorities, and speaking of
wonders and miracles recently performed, in confirmation of what they
teach, as familiarly known to persons whom they call by name, and whom
they pretend to offer as witnesses, though they never give you an
opportunity to speak with them--these, and many other means, they use in
such away, that they always blinded my mind, and I should think, would
blind the minds of others.
Treatment of young Infants in the Convent--Talking in Sleep--Amusements
--Ceremonies at the public interment of deceased Nuns--Sudden
disappearance of the Old Superior--Introduction of the new one--
Superstition--Alarm of a Nun--Difficulty of Communication with other
It will be recollected, that I was informed immediately after receiving
the veil, that infants were occasionally murdered in the Convent. I was
one day in the nuns' private sick room, when I had an opportunity,
unsought for, of witnessing deeds of such a nature. It was, perhaps, a
month after the death of Saint Francis. Two little twin babes, the
children of Sainte Catharine, were brought to a priest, who was in the
room, for baptism. I was present while the ceremony was performed, with
the Superior and several of the old nuns, whose names I never knew, they
being called Ma tante, Aunt.
The priests took turns in attending to confession and catechism in the
Convent, usually three months at a time, though sometimes longer
periods. The priest then on duty was Father Larkin. He is a good-looking
European, and has a brother who is a professor in the college. He
baptized, and then put oil upon the heads of the infants, as is the
custom after baptism. They were then taken, one after another, by one of
the old nuns, in the presence of us all. She pressed her hand upon the
mouth and nose of the first, so tight that it could not breathe, and in
a few minutes, when the hand was removed, it was dead. She then took the
other, and treated it in the same way. No sound was heard, and both the
children were corpses. The greatest indifference was shown by all
present during this operation; for all, as I well knew, were long
accustomed to such scenes. The little bodies were then taken into the
cellar, thrown into the pit I have mentioned, and covered with a
quantity of lime.
I afterward saw another new-born infant treated in the same manner, in
the same place; but the actors in the scene I choose not to name, nor
the circumstances, as everything connected with it is of a peculiarly
trying and painful nature to my own feelings.
These were the only instances of infanticide I witnessed; and it seemed
to be merely owing to accident that I was then present. So far as I
know, there were no pains taken to preserve secrecy on this subject;
that is, I saw no attempt made to keep any of the inmates of the Convent
in ignorance of the murder of children. On the contrary, others were
told, as well as myself, on their first admission as veiled nuns, that
all infants born in the place were baptized and killed, without loss of
time; and I had been called to witness the murder of the three just
mentioned, only because I happened to be in the room at the time.
That others were killed in the same manner during my stay in the
nunnery, I am well assured.
How many there were I cannot tell, and having taken no account of those
I heard of, I cannot speak with precision; I believe, however, that I
learnt through nuns, that at least eighteen or twenty infants were
smothered, and secretly buried in the cellar, while I was a nun.
One of the effects of the weariness of our bodies and minds, was our
proneness to talk in our sleep. It was both ludicrous and painful to
hear the nuns repeat their prayers in the course of the night, as they
frequently did in their dreams. Required to keep our minds continually
on the stretch, both in watching our conduct, in remembering the rules
and our prayers, under the fear of the consequences of any neglect, when
we closed our eyes in sleep, we often went over again the scenes of the
day; and it was no uncommon thing for me to hear a nun repeat one or two
of our long exercises in the dead of night. Sometimes, by the time she
had finished, another, in a different part of the room, would happen to
take a similar turn, and commence a similar recitation; and I have known
cases in which several such unconscious exercises were performed, all
within an hour or two.
We had now and then a recreation day, when we were relieved from our
customary labor, and from all prayers except those for morning and
evening. The greater part of our time was then occupied with different
games, particularly backgammon and drafts, and in such conversation as
did not relate to our past lives, and the outside of the Convent.
Sometimes, however, our sports would be interrupted on such days by the
entrance of one of the priests, who would come in and propose that his
fete, the birth-day of his patron saint, should be kept by "the saints."
Several nuns died at different times while I was in the Convent; how
many I cannot say, but there was a considerable number: I might rather
say, many in proportion to the number in the nunnery. The proportion of
deaths I am sure was very large. There were always some in the nuns'
sick-rooms, and several interments took place in the chapel. When a
Black nun is dead, the corpse is dressed as if living, and placed in the
chapel in a sitting posture, within the railing round the altar, with a
book in the hand, as if reading. Persons are then freely admitted from
the street, and some of them kneel and pray before it. No particular
notoriety is given, I believe, to this exhibition out of the Convent;
but such a case usually excites some attention.
The living nuns are required to say prayers for the delivery of their
deceased sister from purgatory, being informed, as in all other such
cases, that if she is not there, and has no need of our intercession,
our prayers are in no danger of being thrown away, as they will be set
down to the account of some of our departed friends, or at least to that
of the souls which have no acquaintances to pray for them.
It was customary for us occasionally to kneel before a dead nun thus
seated in the chapel, and I have often performed that task. It was
always painful, for the ghastly countenance being seen whenever I raised
my eyes, and the feeling that the position and dress were entirely
opposed to every idea of propriety in such a case, always made me
The Superior sometimes left the Convent, and was absent for an hour, or
several hours, at a time, but we never knew of it until she had
returned, and were not informed where she had been. I one day had reason
to presume that she had recently paid a visit to the priests' farm,
though I had no direct evidence that such was the fact. The priests'
farm is a fine tract of land belonging to the Seminary, a little
distance from the city, near the Lachine road, with a large old-
fashioned edifice upon it. I happened to be in the Superior's room on
the day alluded to, when she made some remark on the plainness and
poverty of her furniture. I replied, that she was not proud, and could
not be dissatisfied on that account; she answered--
"No; but if I was, how much superior is the furniture at the priests'
farm! the poorest room there is furnished better than the best of mine."
I was one day mending the fire in the Superior's room, when a priest was
conversing with her on the scarcity of money; and I heard him say, that
very little money was received by the priests for prayers, but that the
principal part came with penances and absolutions.
One of the most remarkable and unaccountable things that happened in the
Convent, was the disappearance of the old Superior. She had performed
her customary part during the day, and had acted and appeared just as
usual. She had shown no symptoms of ill health, met with no particular
difficulty in conducting business, and no agitation, anxiety or gloom,
had been noticed in her conduct. We had no reason to suppose that during
that day she had expected anything particular to occur, any more than
the rest of us. After the close of our customary labours, and evening
lecture, she dismissed us to retire to bed, exactly in her usual manner.
The next morning the bell rung we sprang from our bed, hurried on our
clothes as usual, and proceeded to the community-room in double line, to
commence the morning exercises. There, to our surprise, we found Bishop
Lartigue; but the Superior was nowhere to be seen. The Bishop soon
addressed us, instead of her, and informed us, that a lady near him,
whom he presented to us, was now the Superior of the Convent, and
enjoined upon us the same respect and obedience which we had paid to her
The lady he introduced to us was one of our oldest nuns, Saint Du ----,
a very large, fleshy woman, with swelled limbs, which rendered her very
slow in walking, and often gave her great distress. Not a word was
dropped from which we could conjecture the cause of this change, nor of
the fate of the old Superior. I took the first opportunity to inquire of
one of the nuns, whom I dared talk to, what had become of her; but I
found them as ignorant as myself, though suspicious that she had been
murdered by the orders of the Bishop. Never did I obtain any light on
her mysterious disappearance. I am confident, however, that if the
Bishop wished to get rid of her privately and by foul means, he had
ample opportunities and power at his command. Jane Ray, as usual, could
not allow such an occurrence to pass by without intimating her own
suspicions more plainly than any other of the nuns would have dared to
do. She spoke out one day, in the community-room, and said, "I'm going
to have a hunt in the cellar for my old Superior."
"Hush, Jane Ray!" exclaimed some of the nuns, "you'll be punished."
"My mother used to tell me," replied Jane, "never to be afraid of the
face of a man."
It cannot be thought strange that we were superstitious. Some were more
easily terrified than others, by unaccountable sights and sounds; but
all of us believed in the power and occasional appearance of spirits,
and were ready to look for them at almost any time. I have seen several
instances of alarm caused by such superstition, and have experienced it
myself more than once. I was one day sitting mending aprons, beside one
of the old nuns, in a community-room, while the litanies were repeating;
as I was very easy to laugh, Saint Ignace or Agnes, came in, walked up
to her with much agitation, and began to whisper in her ear. She usually
talked but little, and that made me more curious to know what was the
matter with her. I overheard her say to the old nun, in much alarm, that
in the cellar from which she had just returned, she had heard the most
dreadful groans that ever came from any being. This was enough to give
me uneasiness. I could not account for the appearance of an evil spirit
in any part of the Convent, for I had been assured that the only one
ever known there, was that of the nun who had died with an unconfessed
sin, and that others were kept at a distance by the holy water that was
rather profusely used in different parts of the nunnery. Still, I
presumed that the sounds heard by Saint Ignace must have proceeded from
some devil, and I felt great dread at the thought of visiting the cellar
again. I determined to seek further information of the terrified nun;
but when I addressed her on the subject, at recreation-time, the first
opportunity I could find, she replied, that I was always trying to make
her break silence, and walked off to another group in the room, so that
I could obtain no satisfaction.
It is remarkable that in our nunnery, we were almost entirely cut off
from the means of knowing anything, even of each other. There were many
nuns whom I know nothing of to this day, after having been in the same
rooms with them every day and night for many months. There was a nun,
whom I supposed to be in the Convent, and whom I was anxious to learn
something about from the time of my entrance as a novice; but I never
was able to learn anything concerning her, not even whether she was in
the nunnery or not, whether alive or dead. She was the daughter of a
rich family, residing at Point aux Trembles, of whom I had heard my
mother speak before I entered the Convent. The name of her family I
think was Lafayette, and she was thought to be from Europe. She was
known to have taken the black veil; but as I was not acquainted with the
name of the Saint she had assumed, and I could not describe her in "the
world," all my inquiries and observations proved entirely in vain. I had
heard before my entrance into the Convent, that one of the nuns had made
her escape from it during the last war, and, once inquired about her of
the Superior. She admitted that such was the fact; but I was never able
to learn any particulars concerning her name, origin, or manner of
Disappearance of Nuns--St. Pierre--Gags--My temporary Confinement in a
Cell--The Cholera Season--How to avoid it--Occupation in the Convent
during the Pestilence--Manufacture of Wax Candles--The Election Riots--
Alarm among the Nuns--Preparations for defence--Penances.
I am unable to say how many nuns disappeared while I was in the Convent.
There were several. One was a young lady called St. Pierre, I think, but
am not certain of her name. There were two nuns by this name. I had
known her as a novice with me. She had been a novice about two years and
a half before I became one. She was rather large without being tall and
had rather dark hair and eyes. She disappeared unaccountably, and
nothing was said of her except what I heard in whispers from a few of
the nuns, as we found moments when we could speak unobserved.
Some told me they thought she must have left the Convent; and I might
have supposed so, had I not some time afterward found some of her things
lying about, which she would, in such a case, doubtless have taken with
her. I never had known any thing more of her than what I could observe
or conjecture. I had always, however, the idea that her parents or
friends were wealthy, for she sometimes received clothes and other
things, which were very rich.
Another nun, named Saint Paul, died suddenly; but as in other cases, we
knew so little, or rather were so entirely ignorant of the cause and
circumstances that we could only conjecture; and being forbidden to
converse freely on that or any other subject, thought but little about
it. I have mentioned that a number of veiled nuns thus mysteriously
disappeared during my residence among them. I cannot, perhaps, recall
them all, but I am confident there were as many as five, and I think
more. All that we knew in such cases was, that one of our number who had
appeared as usual when last observed, was nowhere to be seen, and never
was again. Mad Jane Ray, on several such occasions, would indulge in her
bold, and, as we thought, dangerous remarks. She had intimated that some
of those, who had been for a time in the Convent, were by some means
removed to make way for new ones; and it was generally the fact, that
the disappearance of one and the introduction of another into our
community, were nearly at the same time. I have repeatedly heard Jane
Ray say, with one of her significant looks, "When you appear, somebody
It is unpleasant enough to distress or torture one's self; but there is
something worse in being tormented by others, especially where they
resort to force, and show a pleasure in compelling you, and leave you no
hope of escape, or opportunity to resist. I had seen the gags repeatedly
in use, and sometimes applied with a roughness which seemed rather
inhuman; but it is one thing to see and another thing to feel. There
were some of the old nuns who seemed to take pleasure in oppressing
those who fell under their displeasure. They were ready to recommend or
resort to compulsory measures, and ever ready to run for the gags. These
were kept in one of the community-rooms, in a drawer between two
closets; and there a stock of about fifty of them was always in
deposite. Sometimes a number of nuns would prove refractory at a time;
and I have seen battles commenced in which several appeared on both
sides. The disobedient were, however, soon overpowered: and to prevent
their screams from being heard beyond the walls, gagging commenced
immediately. I have seen half a dozen lying, gagged and bound at once.
I have been subjected to the same state of involuntary silence more than
once; for sometimes I became excited to a state of desperation by the
measures used against me, and then conducted in a manner perhaps not
less violent than some others. My hands had been tied behind me, and a
gag put into my mouth, sometimes with such force and rudeness as to
lacerate my lips and cause the blood to flow freely.
Treatment of this kind is apt to teach submission, and many times I have
acquiesced under orders received, or wishes expressed, with a fear of a
recurrence to some severe measures.
One day I had incurred the anger of the Superior in a greater degree
than usual, and it was ordered that I should be taken to one of the
cells. I was taken by some of the nuns, bound and gagged, carried down
the stairs in the cellar, and laid upon the floor. Not long afterward I
induced one of the nuns to request the Superior to come down and see me;
and on making some acknowledgment I was released. I will, however,
relate this story rather more in detail.
On that day I had been engaged with Jane Ray, in carrying into effect a
plan of revenge upon another person, when I fell under the vindictive
spirit of some of the old nuns, and suffered severely. The Superior
ordered me to the cells, and a scene of violence commenced which I will
not attempt to describe, nor the precise circumstances which led to it.
Suffice it to say, that after exhausting my strength, by resisting as
long as I could against several nuns, I had my hands drawn behind my
back, a leathern band passed first round my thumbs, then round my hands,
and then round my waist, and fastened. This was drawn so tight that it
cut through the flesh of my thumbs, making wounds, the scars of which
still remain. A gag was then forced into my mouth, not indeed so
violently as it sometimes was, but roughly enough; after which I was
taken by main force, and carried down into the cellar, across it almost
to the opposite extremity, and brought to the last of the second range
of cells on the left hand. The door was opened, and I was thrown in with
violence, and left alone, the door being immediately closed and bolted
on the outside. The bare ground was under me, cold and hard as if it had
been beaten down even. I lay still, in the position in which I had
fallen, as it would have been difficult for me to move, confined as I
was, and exhausted by my exertions; and the shock of my fall, and my
wretched state of desperation and fear, disinclined me from any further
attempt. I was in almost total darkness, there being nothing perceptible
except a slight glimmer of light which came in through the little window
far above me.
How long I remained in that condition I can only conjecture. It seemed
to me a long time, and must have been two or three hours. I did not
move, expecting to die there, and in a state of distress which I cannot
describe, from the tight bandage about my hands, and the gag holding my
jaws apart at their greatest extension. I am confident I must have died
before morning, if, as I then expected, I had been left there all night.
By-and-by, however, the bolt was drawn, the door opened, and Jane Ray
spoke to me in a tone of kindness. She had taken an opportunity to slip
into the cellar unnoticed on purpose to see me. She unbound the gag, and
took it out of my mouth, and told me she would do any thing to get me
out of my dungeon. If she had had the bringing of me down, she would not
have thrust me so brutally, and she would be revenged on those who had.
She offered to throw herself upon her knees before the Superior and beg
her forgiveness. To this I would not consent; but told her to ask the
Superior to come to me, as I wished to speak to her. This I had no idea
she would condescend to do; but Jane had not been gone long before the
Superior came, and asked if I had repented in the sight of God for what
I had done. I replied in the affirmative; and after a lecture of some
length on the pain I had given the Virgin Mary by my conduct, she asked
whether I was willing to ask pardon of all the nuns for the scandal I
had caused them by my behaviour. To this I made no objection; and I was
then released from my prison and my bonds, went up to the community-
room, and kneeling before all the sisters in succession begged the
forgiveness and prayers of each.
Among the marks which I still bear of the wounds received from penances
and violence, are the scars left by the belt with which I repeatedly
tortured myself, for the mortification of my spirit. These are most
distinct on my side; for although the band, which was four or five
inches in breadth, and extended round the waist, was stuck full of sharp
iron points in all parts, it was sometimes crowded most against my side,
by rocking in my chair, and the wounds were usually deeper there than
My thumbs were several times cut severely by the tight drawing of the
band used to confine my arms, and the scars are still visible upon them.
The rough gagging which I several times endured wounded my lips very
much; for it was common, in that operation, to thrust the gag hard
against the teeth, and catch one or both the lips, which were sometimes
cut. The object was to stop the screams made by the offender as soon as
possible; and some of the old nuns delighted in tormenting us. A gag was
once forced into my mouth which had a large splinter upon it, and this
cut through my under lip, in front, leaving to this day a scar about
half an inch long. The same lip was several times wounded, as well as
the other; but one day worse than ever, when a narrow piece was cut off
from the left side of it, by being pinched between the gag and the under
fore-teeth; and this has left an inequality in it which is still very
One of the most shocking stories I heard of events that had occurred in
the nunnery before my acquaintance with it, was the following, which was
told me by Jane. What is uncommon, I can fix the date when I heard it.
It was on New-Year's day, 1834. The ceremonies, customary in the early
part of that day, had been performed; after mass, in the morning, the
Superior had shaken hands with all the nuns, and given us her blessing,
for she was said to have received power from heaven to do so only once a
year, and then on the first day of the year. Besides this, cakes,
raisins, &c. are distributed to the nuns on that day.
While in the community-room, I had taken a seat just within the
cupboard-door, where I often found a partial shelter from observation
with Jane, when a conversation incidentally began between us. Our
practice often was, to take places there beside one of the old nuns,
awaiting the time when she would go away for a little while and leave us
partially screened from the observation of others. On that occasion,
Jane and I were left for a time alone; when after some discourse on
suicide, she remarked, that three nuns once killed themselves in the
Convent. This happened, she said, not long after her reception, and I
knew, therefore, that it was several years before, for she had been
received a considerable time before I had become a novice. Three young
ladies, she informed me, took the veil together, or very near the same
time, I am not certain which. I know they have four robes in the
Convent, to be worn during the ceremony of taking the veil; but I have
never seen more than one of them used at a time.
Two of the new nuns were sisters, and the other their cousin. They had
been received but a few days, when information was given one morning
that they had been found dead in their beds, amid a profusion of blood.
Jane Ray said, she saw their corpses, and that they appeared to have
killed themselves, by opening veins in their arms with a knife they had
obtained, and all had bled to death together. What was extraordinary,
Jane Ray added, that she had heard no noise, and that she believed
nobody had suspected that any thing was wrong during the night. Saint
Hypolite, however, had stated, that she found them in the morning, after
the other nuns had gone to prayers, lying lifeless in their beds.
For some reason or other, their death was not made public; but their
bodies, instead of being exhibited in full dress in the chapel, and
afterward interred with solemnity beneath it, were taken unceremoniously
into the cellar, and thrown into the hole I have so often mentioned.
There were a few instances, and only a few, in which we knew any thing
that was happening in the world; and even then our knowledge did not
extend out of the city. I can recall but three occasions of this kind.
Two of them were when the cholera prevailed in Montreal; and the other
was the election riots. The appearance of the cholera, in both seasons
of its ravages, gave us abundance of occupation. Indeed, we were more
borne down by hard labor at those times, than ever before or afterward
during my stay. The Pope had given early notice that the burning of wax
candles would afford protection from the disease, because so long as any
person continued to burn one, the Virgin Mary would intercede for him.
No sooner, therefore, had the alarming disease made its appearance in
Montreal, than a long wax candle was lighted in the Convent for each of
the inmates, so that all parts of it in use were artificially
illuminated day and night. Thus a great many candles were kept
constantly burning, which were to be replaced from those manufactured by
the nuns. But this was a trifle. The Pope's message having been
promulgated in the Grey Nunnery, the Congregational Nunnery, and to
Catholics at large, through the pulpits, an extraordinary demand was
created for wax candles, to supply which we were principally depended
upon. All who could be employed in making them were therefore set at
work, and I among the rest, assisted in different departments, and
Numbers of the nuns had been long familiar with the business; for a very
considerable amount of wax had been annually manufactured in the
Convent; but now the works were much extended, and other occupations in
a great degree laid aside. Large quantities of wax were received in the
building, which was said to have been imported from England; kettles
were placed in some of the working-rooms, in which it was clarified by
heat over coal fires, and when prepared, the process of dipping
commenced. The wicks which were quite long, were placed hanging upon a
reel, taken up and dipped in succession, until, after many slow
revolutions of the reel, the candles were of the proper size. They were
then taken to a part of the room where tables were prepared for rolling
them smooth. This is done by passing a roller over them, until they
became even and polished, after which they are laid by for sale. These
processes caused a constant bustle in several of the rooms; and the
melancholy reports from without, of the ravages of the cholera, with the
uncertainty of what might be the result with us, notwithstanding the
promised intercession of the Virgin, and the brilliant lights constantly
burning in such numbers around us, impressed the scenes I used to
witness very deeply on my mind. I had very little doubt myself of the
strict truth of the story we had heard of the security conferred upon
those who burnt candles, and yet I sometimes had serious fears arise in
my mind. These thoughts, however, I did my utmost to regard as great
sins, and evidences of my own want of faith.
It was during that period that I formed a partial acquaintance with
several Grey nuns, who used to come frequently for supplies of candles
for their Convent. I had no opportunity to converse with them, except so
far as the purchase and sale of the articles they required. I became
familiar with their countenances and appearances, but was unable to
judge of their characters or feelings. Concerning the rules and habits
prevailing in the Grey Nunnery; I therefore remained as ignorant as if I
had been a thousand miles off; and they had no better opportunity to
learn anything of us beyond what they could see around them in the room
where the candles were sold.
We supplied the Congregational Nunnery also with wax candles, as I
before remarked; and in both those institutions, it was understood a
constant illumination was kept up. Citizens were also frequently running
in to buy candles, in great and small quantities, so that the business
of storekeeping was far more laborious than common.
We were confirmed in our faith in the intercession of the Virgin, when
we found that we remained safe from the cholera; and it is a remarkable
fact, that not one case of that disease existed in the nunnery, during
either of the seasons in which it proved so fatal in the city.
When the election riots prevailed in Montreal, the city was thrown into
general alarm; we heard some reports, from day to day, which made us
anxious for ourselves. Nothing, however, gave me any serious thoughts
until I saw uncommon movements in some parts of the nunnery, and
ascertained, to my own satisfaction, that there was a large quantity of
gunpowder stored in some secret place within the walls, and that some of
it was removed, or prepared for use, under the direction of the
I have mentioned several penances, in different parts of this narrative,
which we sometimes had to perform. There is a great variety of them;
and, while some, though trifling in appearance, became very painful, by
long endurance, or frequent repetition; others are severe in their
nature, and would never be submitted to unless through fear of something
worse, or a real belief in efficacy to remove guilt. I will mention here
such as I recollect, which can be named without offending a virtuous
ear; for some there were, which, although I have been compelled to
submit to, either by misled conscience, or the fear of severe
punishments, now that I am better able to judge of my duties, and at
liberty to act, I would not mention or describe.
Kissing the floor, is a very common penance; kneeling and kissing the
feet of the other nuns, is another: as are kneeling on hard peas, and
walking with them in the shoes. We had repeatedly to walk on our knees
through the subterranean passage, leading to the Congregational Nunnery;
and sometimes to eat our meals with a rope round our necks. Sometimes we
were fed only with such things as we most disliked. Garlic was given to
me on this account, because I had a strong antipathy against it. Eels
were repeatedly given to some of us, because we felt an unconquerable
repugnance to them, on account of reports we had heard of their feeding
on dead carcasses, in the river St. Lawrence. It was no uncommon thing
for us to be required to drink the water in which the Superior had
washed her feet. Sometimes we were required to brand ourselves with a
hot iron, so as to leave scars; at other times to whip our naked flesh
with several small rods, before a private altar, until we drew blood. I
can assert, with the perfect knowledge of the fact, that many of the
nuns bear the scars of these wounds.
One of our penances was to stand for a length of time, with our arms
extended, in imitation of the Saviour on the cross. The _Chemin de la
Croix_, or Road to the Cross, is, in fact, a penance, though it
consists of a variety of prostrations, with the repetition of many
prayers, occupying two or three hours. This we had to perform
frequently, going into the chapel, and falling before each chapelle in
succession, at each time commemorating some particular act or
circumstance reported of the Saviour's progress to the place of his
crucifixion. Sometimes we were obliged to sleep on the floor in the
winter, with nothing over us but a single sheet; and sometimes to chew a
piece of window-glass to a fine powder, in the presence of the Superior.
We had sometimes to wear leathern belts stuck full of sharp metallic
points round our waists, and the upper part of our arms, bound on so
tight that they penetrated the flesh, and drew blood.
Some of the penances was so severe, that they seemed too much to be
endured; and when they were imposed, the nuns who were to suffer them,
sometimes showed the most violent repugnance. They would often resist,
and still oftener express their opposition by exclamations and screams.
Never, however, was any noise heard from them, for a long time for there
was a remedy always ready to be applied in cases of the kind. The gag
which was put into the month of the unfortunate Saint Francis, had been
brought from a place where there were forty or fifty others, of
different shapes and sizes. These I have seen in their depository, which
is a drawer between two closets, in one of the community-rooms. Whenever
any loud noise was made, one of these instruments was demanded, and
gagging commenced at once. I have known many, many instances, and
sometimes five or six nuns gagged at once. Sometimes they would become
so much excited before they could be bound and gagged, that considerable
force was necessary to be exerted; and I have seen the blood flowing
from months into which the gag had been thrust with violence.
Indeed I ought to know something on this department of nunnery
discipline: I have had it tried upon myself, and I can bear witness that
it is not only most humiliating and oppressive, but often extremely
painful. The month is kept forced open, and the straining of the jaws at
their utmost stretch, for a considerable time, is very distressing.
One of the worst punishments which I ever saw inflicted, was that with a
cap; and yet some of the old nuns were permitted to inflict it at their
pleasure. I have repeatedly known them to go for a cap, when one of our
number had transgressed a rule, sometimes though it were a very
unimportant one. These caps were kept in a cupboard in the old nuns'
room, whence they were brought when wanted.
They were small, made of a reddish looking leather, fitted closely to
the head, and fastened under the chin with a kind of buckle. It was the
common practice to tie the nun's hands behind and gag her before the cap
was put on, to prevent noise and resistance. I never saw it worn by any
for one moment, without throwing them into severe sufferings. If
permitted, they would scream in a most shocking manner; and they always
writhed as much as their confinement would allow. I can speak from
personal knowledge of this punishment, as I have endured it more than
once; and yet I have no idea of the cause of the pain. I never examined
one of the caps, nor saw the inside, for they are always brought and
taken away quickly; but although the first sensation was that of
coolness, it was hardly put on my head before a violent and
indescribable sensation began, like that of a blister, only much more
insupportable; and this continued until it was removed. It would produce
such an acute pain as to throw us into convulsions, and I think no human
being could endure it for an hour. After this punishment we felt its
effects through the system for many days. Having once known what it was
by experience, I held the cap in dread, and whenever I was condemned to
suffer the punishment again, felt ready to do any thing to avoid it. But
when tied and gagged, with the cap on my head again, I could only sink
upon the floor, and roll about in anguish until it was taken off.
This was usually done in about ten minutes, sometimes less, but the pain
always continued in my head for several days. I thought that it might
take away a person's reason if kept on a much longer time. If I had not
been gagged, I am sure I should have uttered awful screams. I have felt
the effects for a week. Sometimes fresh cabbage leaves were applied to
my head to remove it. Having had no opportunity to examine my head, I
cannot say more.
This punishment was occasionally resorted to for very trifling offences,
such as washing the hands without permission; and it was generally
applied on the spot, and before the other nuns in the community-room.
The Priests of the District of Montreal have free access to the Black
Nunnery--Crimes committed and required by them--The Pope's command to
commit indecent Crimes--Characters of the Old and New Superiors--The
timidity of the latter--I began to be employed in the Hospitals--Some
account of them--Warning given me by a sick Nun--Penance by Hanging.
I have mentioned before, that the country, as far down as Three Rivers,
is furnished with priests by the Seminary of Montreal; and that these
hundred and fifty men are liable to be occasionally transferred from one
station to another. Numbers of them are often to be seen in the streets
of Montreal, as they may find a home in the Seminary.
They are considered as haying an equal right to enter the Black Nunnery
whenever they please; and then, according to our oaths, they have
complete control over the nuns. To name all the works of shame of which
they are guilty in that retreat, would require much time and space,
neither would it be necessary to the accomplishment of my object, which
is, the publication of but some of their criminality to the world, and
the development, in general terms, of scenes thus far carried on in
secret within the walls of that Convent, where I was so long an inmate.
Secure against detection by the world, they never believed that an
eyewitness would ever escape to tell of their crimes, and declare some
of their names before the world; but the time has come, and some of
their deeds of darkness must come to the day. I have seen in the
nunnery, the priests from more, I presume, than a hundred country
places, admitted for shameful and criminal purposes: from St. Charles,
St. Denis, St. Mark's St. Antoine, Chambly, Bertier, St. John's, &c. &c.
How unexpected to them will be the disclosures I make! Shut up in a
place from which there has been thought to be but one way of egress, and
that the passage to the grave, they considered themselves safe in
perpetrating crimes in our presence, and in making us share in their
criminality as often as they chose, and conducted more shamelessly than
even the brutes. These debauchees would come in without ceremony,
concealing their names, both by night and by day, where the cries and
pains of the injured innocence of their victims could never reach the
world, for relief or redress for their wrongs; without remorse or shame,
they would glory in torturing, in the most barbarous manner, the
feelings of those under their power; telling us, at the same time, that
this mortifying of the flesh was religion, and pleasing to God.
We were sometimes invited to put ourselves to voluntary sufferings in a
variety of ways, not for a penance, but to show our devotion to God. A
priest would sometimes say to us--
"Now, which of you have love enough for Jesus Christ to stick a pin
through your cheeks?"
Some of us would signify our readiness, and immediately thrust one
through up to the head. Sometimes he would propose that we should repeat
the operation several times on the spot; and the cheeks of a number of
nuns would be bloody.
There were other acts occasionally proposed and consented to, which I
cannot name in a book. Such the Superior would sometimes command us to
perform; many of them things not only useless, and unheard of, but
loathsome and indecent in the highest possible degree. How they could
ever have been invented I never could conceive. Things were done worse
than the entire exposure of the person, though this was occasionally
required of several at once, in the presence of priests.
The Superior of the Seminary would sometimes come and inform us, that he
had received orders from the Pope, to request that those nuns who
possessed the greatest devotion and faith, should be requested to
perform some particular deeds, which he named or described in our
presence, but of which no decent or moral person could ever endure to
speak. I cannot repeat what would injure any ear, not debased to the
lowest possible degree. I am bound by a regard to truth, however, to
confess, that deluded women were found among us, who would comply with
There was a great difference between the characters of our old and new
Superior, which soon became obvious. The former used to say she liked to
walk, because it would prevent her from becoming corpulent. She was,
therefore, very active, and constantly going about from one part of the
nunnery to another, overseeing us at our various employments. I never
saw in her any appearance of timidity: she seemed, on the contrary, bold
and masculine, and sometimes much more than that, cruel and cold-
blooded, in scenes calculated to overcome any common person. Such a
character she had exhibited at the murder of Saint Francis.
The new Superior, on the other hand, was so heavy and lame, that she
walked with much difficulty, and consequently exercised a less vigilant
oversight of the nuns. She was also of a timid disposition, or else had
been overcome by some great fright in her past life; for she was apt to
become alarmed in the night, and never liked to be alone in the dark.
She had long performed the part of an old nun, which is that of a spy
upon the younger ones, and was well known to us in that character, under
the name of Ste. Margarite. Soon after her promotion to the station of
Superior, she appointed me to sleep in her apartment, and assigned me a
sofa to lie upon. One night while, I was asleep, she suddenly threw
herself upon me, and exclaimed in great alarm, "Oh! mon Dieu! mon Dieu!
Qu'est que ca?" Oh, my God! my God! What is that? I jumped up and looked
about the room, but saw nothing, and endeavoured to convince her that
there was nothing extraordinary there. But she insisted that a ghost had
come and held her bed-curtain, so that she could not draw it. I examined
it, and found that the curtain had been caught by a pin in the valance,
which had held it back; but it was impossible to tranquillize her for
some time. She insisted on my sleeping with her the rest of the night,
and I stretched myself across the foot of her bed, and slept there till
During the last part of my stay in the Convent, I was often employed in
attending in the hospitals. There are, as I have before mentioned,
several apartments devoted to the sick, and there is a physician of
Montreal, who attends as physician to the Convent. It must not be
supposed, however, that he knows anything concerning the private
hospitals. It is a fact of great importance to be distinctly understood,
and constantly borne in mind, that he is never, under any circumstances,
admitted into the private hospital-rooms. Of those he sees nothing more
than any stranger whatever. He is limited to the care of those patients
who are admitted from the city into the public hospital, and one of the
nuns' hospitals, and these he visits every day. Sick poor are received
for charity by the institution, attended by some of the nuns, and often
go away with the highest ideas of their charitable characters and holy
lives. The physician himself might perhaps in some cases share in the
I frequently followed Dr. Nelson through the public hospital, at the
direction of the Superior, with pen, ink, and paper in my hands, and
wrote down the prescriptions which he ordered for the different
patients. These were afterwards prepared and administered by the
attendants. About a year before I left the Convent, I was first
appointed to attend the private sick-rooms, and was frequently employed
in that duty up to the day of my departure. Of course, I had
opportunities to observe the number and classes of patients treated
there; and in what I am to say on the subject, I appeal with perfect
confidence to any true and competent witness to confirm, my words,
whenever such a witness may appear.
It would be vain for any body who has merely visited the Convent from
curiosity, or resided in it as a novice, to question my declarations.
Such a person must necessarily be ignorant of even the existence of the
private rooms, unless informed by some one else. Such rooms however,
there are, and I could relate many things which have passed there during
the hours I was employed in them, as I have stated.
One night I was called to sit up with an old nun, named Saint Clare,
who, in going down-stairs, had dislocated a limb, and lay in a sick-room
adjoining an hospital. She seemed to be a little out of her head a part
of the time, but appeared to be quite in possession of her reason most
of the night. It was easy to pretend that she was delirious; but I
considered her as speaking the truth, though I felt reluctant to repeat
what I heard her say, and excused myself from mentioning it even at
confession, on the ground that the Superior thought her deranged.
What led her to some of the most remarkable parts of her conversation,
was a motion I made, in the course of the night, to take the light out
of her little room into the adjoining apartment, to look once more at
the sick persons there. She begged me not to leave her a moment in the
dark, for she could not bear it. "I have witnessed so many horrid
scenes," said she, "in this Convent, that I want somebody near me
constantly, and must always have a light burning in my room. I cannot
tell you," she added, "what things I remember, for they would frighten
you too much. What you have seen are nothing to them. Many a murder have
I witnessed; many a nice young creature has been killed in this nunnery.
I advise you to be very cautions--keep everything to yourself--there are
many here ready to betray you."
What it was that induced the old nun to express so much kindness to me I
could not tell, unless she was frightened at the recollection of her own
crimes, and those of others, and felt grateful for the care I took of
her. She had been one of the night-watches, and never before showed me
any particular kindness. She did not indeed go into detail concerning
the transactions to which she alluded, but told me that some nuns had
been murdered under great aggravations of cruelty, by being gagged, and
left to starve in the cells, or having their flesh burnt off their bones
with red-hot irons.
It was uncommon to find compunction expressed by any of the nuns. Habit
renders us insensible to the sufferings of others, and careless about
our own sins. I had become so hardened myself, that I find it difficult
to rid myself of many of my former false principles and views of right
I was one day set to wash some of the empty bottles from the cellar,
which had contained the liquid that was poured into the cemetery there.
A number of these had been brought from the corner where so many of them
were always to be seen, and placed at the head of the cellar stairs, and
there we were required to take them and wash them out. We poured in
water and rinsed them; a few drops, which got upon our clothes, soon
made holes in them. I think the liquid was called vitriol, or some such
name; and I heard some persons say, that it would soon destroy the
flesh, and even the bones of the dead. At another time, we were
furnished with a little of the liquid, which was mixed with a quantity
of water, and used in dying some cloth black, which was wanted at
funerals in the chapels. Our hands were turned very black by being
dipped in it, but a few drops of some other liquid were mixed with fresh
water and given us to wash in, which left our skin of a bright red.
The bottles of which I spoke were made of very thick, dark-coloured
glass, large at the bottom, and, from recollection, I should say held
something less than a gallon.
I was once much shocked, on entering the room for the examination of
conscience, at seeing a nun hanging by a cord from a ring in the
ceiling, with her head downward. Her clothes had been tied round with a
leathern strap, to keep them in their place, and then she had been
fastened in that situation, with her head at some distance from the
floor. Her face had a very unpleasant appearance, being dark-coloured
and swollen by the rushing in of the blood; her hands were tied and her
mouth stopped with a large gag. This nun proved to be no other than Jane
Ray, who for some fault had been condemned to this punishment.
This was not, however, a solitary case; I heard of numbers who were
"hung," as it was called, at different times; and I saw Saint Hypolite
and Saint Luke undergoing it. This was considered a most distressing
punishment; and it was the only one which Jane Ray could not endure, of
all she had tried.
Some of the nuns would allude to it in her presence, but it usually made
her angry. It was probably practised in the same place while I was a
novice; but I never heard or thought of such a thing in those days.
Whenever we wished to enter the room for examination of conscience, we
had to ask leave; and after some delay were permitted to go, but always
under a strict charge to bend the head forward, and keep the eyes fixed
upon the floor.
More visits to the imprisoned Nuns--Their fears--Others temporarily put
into the Cells--Reliques--The Agnus Dei--The Priests' private Hospital,
or Holy Retreat--Secret Rooms in the Eastern Wing--Reports of Murders in
the Convent--The Superior's private Records--Number of Nuns in the
Convent--Desire of Escape--Urgent reason for it--Plan--Deliberation--
I often seized an opportunity, when I safely could, to speak a cheering
or friendly word to one of the poor prisoners, in passing their cells,
on my errands in the cellars. For a time I supposed them to be sisters;
but I afterward discovered that this was not the case. I found that they
were always under the fear of suffering some punishment, in case they
should be found talking with a person not commissioned to attend them.
They would often ask, "Is not somebody coming?"
I could easily believe what I heard affirmed by others, that fear was
the severest of their sufferings. Confined in the dark, in so gloomy a
place, with the long and spacious arched cellar stretching off this way
and that, visited now and then by a solitary nun, with whom they were
afraid to speak their feelings, and with only the miserable society of
each other; how gloomy thus to spend day after day, months, and even
years, without any prospect of liberation, and liable every moment to
any other fate to which the Bishop or Superior might condemn them! But
these poor creatures must have known something of the horrors
perpetrated in other parts of the building, and could not have been
ignorant of the hole in the cellar, which was not far from their cells,
and the use to which it was devoted. One of them told me, in confidence,
she wished they could get out. They must also have been often disturbed
in their sleep, if they ever did sleep, by the numerous priests who
passed through the trapdoor at no great distance. To be subject to such
trials for a single day would be dreadful; but these nuns had them to
endure for years.
I often felt much compassion for them, and wished to see them released;
but at other times, yielding to the doctrine perpetually taught us in
the Convent, that our future happiness would be proportioned to the
sufferings we had to undergo in this world, I would rest satisfied that
their imprisonment was a real blessing to them. Others, I presume,
participated with me in such feelings. One Sunday afternoon, after we
had performed all our ceremonies, and were engaged as usual, at that
time, with backgammon and other amusements, one of the young nuns
exclaimed, "Oh, how headstrong are those wretches in the cells--they are
as bad as the day they were first put in!"
This exclamation was made, as I supposed, in consequence of some recent
conversation with them, as I knew her to be particularly acquainted with
the older one.
Some of the vacant cells were occasionally used for temporary
imprisonment. Three nuns were confined in them, to my knowledge, for
disobedience to the Superior, as she called it. They did not join the
rest in singing in the evening, being exhausted by the various exertions
of the day. The Superior ordered them to sing, and as they did not
comply, after her command had been twice repeated, she ordered them away
to the cells.
They were immediately taken down into the cellar, placed in separate
dungeons, and the doors shut and barred upon them. There they remained
through that night, the following day, and second night, but were
released in time to attend mass on the second morning.
The Superior used occasionally to show something in a glass box, which
we were required to regard with the highest degree of reverence. It was
made of wax, and called an Agnus Dei. She used to exhibit it to us when
we were in a state of grace; that is, after confession and before
sacrament. She said it had been blessed _in the very dish in which our
Saviour had eaten_. It was brought from Rome. Every time we kissed
it, or even looked at it, we were told it gave a hundred days release
from purgatory to ourselves, or if we did not need it, to our next of
kin in purgatory, if not a Protestant. If we had no such kinsman, the
benefit was to go to the souls in purgatory not prayed for.
Jane Ray would sometimes say to me, "Let's kiss it--some of our friends
will thank us for it."
I have been repeatedly employed in carrying dainties of different kinds
to the little private room I have mentioned, next beyond the Superior's
sitting-room, in the second story, which the priests made their "_Holy
Retreat_." That room I never was allowed to enter. I could only go to
the door with a waiter of refreshments, set it down upon a little stand
near it, give three raps on the door, and then retire to a distance to
await orders. When any thing was to be taken away, it was placed on the
stand by the Superior, who then gave three raps for me, and closed the
The Bishop I saw at least once when he appeared worse for wine, or
something of the kind. After partaking of some refreshments in the
Convent, he sent for all the nuns, and, on our appearance, gave us his
blessing, and put a piece of poundcake on the shoulder of each of us, in
a manner which appeared singular and foolish.
There are three rooms in the Black Nunnery which I never entered. I had
enjoyed much liberty, and had seen, as I supposed, all parts of the
building, when one day I observed an old nun go to a corner of an
apartment near the northern end of the western wing, push the end of her
scissors into a crack in the panelled wall, and pull out a door. I was
much surprised, because I had never conjectured that any door was there;
and it appeared when I afterward examined the place, that no indication
of it could be discovered on the closest scrutiny. I stepped forward to
see what was within, and saw three rooms opening into each other; but
the nun refused to admit me within the door, which she said led to rooms
kept as depositories.
She herself entered and closed the door, so that I could not satisfy my
curiosity; and no occasion presented itself. I always had a strong
desire to know the use of these apartments: for I am sure they must have
been designed for some purpose of which I was intentionally kept
ignorant, otherwise they would never have remained unknown to me so
long. Besides, the old nun evidently had some strong reasons for denying
me admission, though she endeavoured to quiet my curiosity.
The Superior, after my admission into the Convent, had told me that I
had access to every room in the building; and I had seen places which
bore witness to the cruelties and the crimes committed under her
commands or sanction; but here was a succession of rooms which had been
concealed from me, and so constructed as if designed to be unknown to
all but a few. I am sure that any person, who might be able to examine
the wall in that place, would pronounce that secret door a surprising
piece of work. I never saw any thing of the kind which appeared to me so
ingenious and skilfully made. I told Jane Ray what I had seen, and she
said, at once, "We will get in and see what is in there." But I suppose
she never found an opportunity.
I naturally felt a good deal of curiosity to learn whether such scenes,
as I had witnessed in the death of Saint Francis, were common or rare,
and took an opportunity to inquire of Jane Ray. Her reply was--
"Oh, yes; and there were many murdered while you was a novice, whom you
heard nothing about."
This was all I ever learnt on the subject; but although I was told
nothing of the manner in which they were killed, I supposed it to be the
same which I had seen practised, viz. by smothering.
I went into the Superior's parlour one day for something, and found Jane
Ray there alone, looking into a book with an appearance of interest. I
asked her what it was, but she made some trifling answer, and laid it
by, as if unwilling to let me take it. There are two bookcases in the
room; one on the right as you enter the door, and the other opposite,
near the window and sofa. The former contains the lecture-books and
other printed volumes, the latter seemed to be filled with note and
account books. I have often seen the keys in the bookcases while I have
been dusting the furniture, and sometimes observed letters stuck up in
the room; although I never looked into one, or thought of doing so, as
we were under strict orders not to touch any of them, and the idea of
sins and penances was always present with me.
Some time after the occasion mentioned, I was sent into the Superior's
room, with Jane, to arrange it; and as the same book was lying out of
the case, she said "Come, let us look into it." I immediately consented,
and we opened it, and turned over several leaves. It was about a foot
and a half long, as nearly as I can remember, a foot wide, and about two
inches thick, though I cannot speak with particular precision, as Jane
frightened me almost as soon as I touched it, by exclaiming, "There you
have looked into it, and if you tell of me, I will of you."
The thought of being subjected to a severe penance, which I had reason
to apprehend, fluttered me very much; and although I tried to overcome
my fears, I did not succeed very well. I reflected, however, that the
sin was already committed, and that it would not be increased if I
examined the book. I, therefore, looked a little at several pages,
though I still felt a good deal of agitation. I saw, at once, that the
volume was the record of the entrance of nuns and novices into the
Convent, and of the births that had taken place in the Convent. Entries
of the last description were made in a brief manner, on the following
plan: I do not give the names or dates as real, but only to show the
form of entering them.
Saint Mary delivered of a son, March 16,1834.
Saint Clarice "daughter, April 2,"
Saint Matilda "daughter, April, 80,"
No mention was made in the book of the death of the children, though I
well knew not one of them could be living at that time. Now I presume
that the period the book embraced, was about two years, as several names
near the beginning I knew; but I can form only a rough conjecture of the
number of infants born, and murdered of course, records of which it
contained. I suppose the book contained at least one hundred pages, that
one fourth were written upon, and that each page contained fifteen
distinct records. Several pages were devoted to the list of births. On
this supposition there must have been a large number, which I can easily
believe to have been born there in the course of two years.
What were the contents of the other books belonging to the same case
with that which I looked into, I have no idea, having never dared to
touch one of them; I believe, however, that Jane Ray was well acquainted
with them, knowing, as I do, her intelligence and prying disposition. If
she could be brought to give her testimony, she would doubtless unfold
many curious particulars now unknown.
I am able, in consequence of a circumstance which appeared accidental,
to state with confidence the exact number of persons in the Convent one
day of the week in which I left it. This may be a point of some
interest, as several secret deaths had occurred since my taking the
veil, and many burials had been openly made in the chapel.
I was appointed, at the time mentioned, to lay out the covers for all
the inmates of the Convent, including the nuns in the cells. These
covers, as I have said before, were linen bands, to be bound around the
knives, forks, spoons, and napkins, for eating. These were for all the
nuns and novices, and amounted to two hundred and ten. As the number of
novices was then about thirty, I know that there must have been at that
time about one hundred and eighty veiled nuns.
I was occasionally troubled with a desire of escaping from the nunnery,
and was much distressed whenever I felt so evil an imagination rise in
my mind. I believed that it was a sin, and did not fail to confess at
every opportunity, that I felt discontent. My confessors informed me
that I was beset by an evil spirit, and urged me to pray against it.
Still, however, every now and then, I would think, "Oh, if I could get
At length one of the priests, to whom I had confessed this sin, informed
me, for my comfort, that he had begun to pray to Saint Anthony, and
hoped his intercession would, by-and-by, drive away the evil spirit. My
desire of escape was partly excited by the fear of bringing an infant to
the murderous hands of my companions, or of taking a potion whose
violent effects I too well knew.
One evening, however, I found myself more filled with the desire of
escape than ever; and what exertions I made to dismiss the thought,
proved entirely unavailing. During evening prayers, I became quite
occupied with it; and when the time for meditation arrived, instead of
falling into a doze as I often did, although I was a good deal fatigued,
I found no difficulty in keeping awake. When this exercise was over, and
the other nuns were about to retire to the sleeping-room, my station
being in the private sickroom for the night, I withdrew to my post,
which was the little sitting-room adjoining it.
Here, then, I threw myself upon the sofa, and, being alone, reflected a
few moments on the manner of escaping which had occurred to me. The
physician had arrived a little before, at half-past eight; and I had now
to accompany him, as usual, from bed to bed, with pen, ink, and paper,
to write down his prescriptions for the direction of the old nun, who
was to see them administered. What I wrote that evening, I cannot now
recollect, as my mind was uncommonly agitated; but my customary way was
to note down briefly his orders in this manner:
1 d salts, St. Matilde.
1 blister, St. Geneviere, &c. &c.
I remember that I wrote three such orders that evening, and then, having
finished the rounds, I returned for a few minutes to the sitting-room.
There were two ways of access to the street from those rooms: first, the
more direct, from the passage adjoining the sick-room, down stairs,
through a door, into the nunnery-yard, and through a wicket-gate; that
is the way by which the physician usually enters at night, and he is
provided with a key for that purpose.
It would have been unsafe, however, for me to pass out that way, because
a man is kept continually in the yard, near the gate, who sleeps at
night in a small hut near the door, to escape whose observation would be
impossible. My only hope, therefore, was, that I might gain my passage
through the other way, to do which I must pass through the sick-room,
then through a passage, or small room, usually occupied by an old nun;
another passage and staircase leading down to the yard, and a large gate
opening into the cross street. I had no liberty ever to go beyond the
sick-room, and knew that several of the doors might be fastened. Still,
I determined to try; although I have often since been astonished at my
boldness in undertaking what would expose me to so many hazards of
failure, and to severe punishment if found out.
It seemed as if I acted under some extraordinary impulse, which
encouraged me to do what I should hardly at any other moment have
thought of undertaking. I had sat but a short time upon the sofa,
however, before I rose, with a desperate determination to make the
experiment. I therefore walked hastily across the sick-room, passed into
the nun's room, walked by her in a great hurry, and almost without
giving her time to speak or think, said--"A message!" and in an instant
was through the door and in the next passage. I think there was another
nun with her at the moment; and it is probable that my hurried manner,
and prompt intimation that I was sent on a pressing mission, to the
Superior, prevented them from entertaining any suspicion of my
intention. Besides, I had the written orders of the physician in my
hand, which may have tended to mislead them; and it was well known to
some of the nuns, that I had twice left the Convent and returned from
choice; so that I was probably more likely to be trusted to remain than
many of the others.
The passage which I had now reached had several doors, with all which I
was acquainted; that on the opposite side opened into a community-room,
where I should probably have found some of the old inns at that hour,
and they would certainly have stopped me. On the left, however, was a
large door, both locked and barred; but I gave the door a sudden swing,
that it might creak as little as possible, being of iron. Down the
stairs I hurried, and making my way through the door into the yard,
stepped across it unbarred the great gate, and was at liberty!
At liberty--Doubtful what to do--Found refuge for the night--
Disappointment--My first day opt of the Convent--Solitude--
Recollections, fears, and plans.
I have but a confused idea of the manner in which I got through some of
the doors; several of them, I am confident, were fastened, and one or
two I fastened behind me. [Footnote: Before leaving the nunnery grounds,
I ran round the end of the building, stood a moment in hesitation
whether I had not better return, then hastening back to the other side,
ran to the gate, opened it, and went out.] But I was now in the street,
and what was to be done next? I had got my liberty; but where should I
go? It was dark, I was in great danger, go which way I would: and for a
moment, I thought I had been unwise to leave the Convent. If I could
return unobserved, would it not be better? But summoning resolution, I
turned to the left, and ran some distance up the street; then reflecting
that I had better take the opposite direction, I returned under the same
Convent walls, and ran as fast down to St. Paul's street, and turning up
towards the north, exerted all my strength, and fled for my life. It was
a cold evening, but I stopped for nothing, having recollected the house
where I had been put to board for a short time, by the priest Roque,
when prepared to enter the Convent as a novice, and resolved to seek a
lodging there for the night. Thither I went. It seemed as if I flew
rather than ran. It was by that time so dark, that I was able to see
distinctly through the low windows by the light within; and had the
pleasure to find that she was alone with her children. I therefore went
boldly to the door, was received with readiness, and entered to take up
my lodging there once more.
Here I changed my nun's dress for one less likely to excite observation;
and having received a few dollars in addition to make up the difference,
I retired to rest, determined to rise early and take the morning
steamboat for Quebec. I knew that my hostess was a friend of the
Superior, as I have mentioned before, and presumed that it would not be
long before she would give information against me. I knew, however, that
she could not gain admittance to the Convent very early, and felt safe
in remaining in the house through the night.
But after I had retired I found it impossible to sleep, and the night
appeared very long. In the morning early, I requested that a son of the
woman might accompany me to the steamboat, but learnt to my regret that
it would not go before night. Fearing that I might fall into the hands
of the priests, and be carried back to the nunnery, and not knowing
where to go, I turned away, and determined to seek some retired spot
immediately. I walked through a part of the city, and some distance on
the Lachine road, when finding a solitary place, I seated myself in much
distress of mind, fearful and anxious, beyond my power, of description.
I could not think myself safe anywhere in the neighbourhood of Montreal;
for the priests were numerous, and almost all the people were entirely
devoted to them. They would be very desirous of finding me, and, as I
believed, would make great exertions to get me again in their hands.
It was a pleasant spot where I now found myself; and as the weather was
not uncomfortable in the daytime, I had nothing to trouble me except my
recollections and fears. As for the want of food, that gave me not the
slightest uneasiness, as I felt no inclination whatever to eat. The
uncertainty and doubts I continually felt, kept me in a state of
irresolution the whole day. What should I do? Where should I go? I had
not a friend in the world to whom I could go with confidence; while my
enemies were numerous, and, it seemed to me, all around me, and ready to
seize me. I thought of my uncle, who lived at the distance of five
miles; and sometimes I almost determined to set off immediately for his
house. I had visited it often when a child, and had been received with
the utmost kindness. I remembered that I had been a great favourite of
his; but some considerations would arise which discouraged me from
looking for safety in that direction. The steamboat was to depart in a
few hours. I could venture to pass through the city once more by
twilight; and if once arrived at Quebec, I should be at a great distance
from the nunnery, in a large city, and among a larger proportion of
Protestant inhabitants. Among them I might find friends, or, at least,
some sort of protection; and I had no doubt that I could support myself
Then I thought again of the place I had left; the kindness and sympathy,
small though they were, which I had found in some of my late companions
in the Convent; the awful mortal sin I had committed in breaking my
vows; and the terrible punishment I should receive if taken as a
fugitive and carried back. If I should return voluntarily, and ask to be
admitted again: what would the Superior say, how would she treat me?
Should I be condemned to any very severe penance? Might I not, at least,
escape death? But then there was one consideration that would now and
then occur to me, which excited the strongest determination never to
return. I was to become a mother, and the thought of witnessing the
murder of my own child was more than I could bear.
Purgatory was doubtless my portion; and perhaps hell for ever--such a
purgatory and hell as are painted in the Convent: but there was one hope
for me yet.
I might confess all my deadly sins sometime before I died, and a Bishop
could pardon the worst of them.
This was good Catholic doctrine, and I rested upon it with so much hope,
that I was not quite driven to despair.
In reflections like these, I spent the whole day, afraid to stray from
the secluded spot to which I had retreated, though at different times
forming momentary plans to leave it, and go in various directions. I ate
not a morsel of food, and yet felt no hunger. Had I been well provided,
I could have tasted nothing in such a state of mind. The afternoon
wasted away, the sun set, and darkness began to come on: I rose and set
off again for the city. I passed along the streets unmolested by any
one; and reached it a short time before the boat was ready to start.
Start for Quebec--Recognised--Disappointed again--Not permitted to land
--Return to Montreal--Landed and passed through the city before day--
Lachine Canal--Intended close of my life.
Soon after we left the shore, the captain, whom I had previously seen,
appeared to recognise me.
He came up and inquired if I was not the daughter of my mother,
mentioning her name. I had long been taught and accustomed to deceive;
and it may be supposed that in such a case I did not hesitate to deny
the truth, hoping that I might avoid being known, and fearing to be
defeated in my object. He however persisted that he knew me, and said he
must insist on my returning with him to Montreal, adding that I must not
leave his boat to land at Quebec. I said but little to him, but intended
to get on shore if possible, at the end of our journey--a thing I had
no doubt I might effect.
When we reached Quebec, however I found, to my chagrin, that the ladies'
maid carefully locked the cabin-door while I was in, after the ladies
had left it, who were six or eight in number.
I said little, and made no attempts to resist the restriction put upon
me; but secretly cherished the hope of being able, by watching an
opportunity, to slip on shore at tea-time, and lose myself among the
streets of the city. Although a total stranger to Quebec, I longed to be
at liberty there, as I thought I could soon place myself among persons
who would secure me from the Catholics, each of whom I now looked upon
as an enemy.
But I soon found that my last hopes were blighted: the maid, having
received, as I presumed, strict orders from the captain, kept me closely
confined, so that escape was impossible. I was distressed, it is true,
to find myself in this condition; but I had already become accustomed to
disappointments, and therefore perhaps sunk less under this new one,
than I might otherwise have done. When the hour for departure arrived, I
was therefore still confined in the steamboat, and it was not until we
had left the shore that I was allowed to leave the cabin. The captain
and others treated me with kindness in every respect, except that of
permitting me to do what I most desired. I have sometimes suspected,
that he had received notice of my escape from some of the priests, with
a request to stop my flight, if I should go on board his boat. His wife
is a Catholic, and this is the only way in which I can account for his
conduct: still I have not sufficient knowledge of his motives and
intentions to speak with entire confidence on the subject.
My time passed heavily on board of the steamboat, particularly on my
passage up the river towards Montreal. My mind was too much agitated to
allow me to sleep, for I was continually meditating on the scenes I had
witnessed in the Convent, and anticipating with dread such as I had
reason to think I might soon be called to pass through. I bought for a
trifle while on board, I hardly know why, a small medallion with a head
upon it, and the name of Robertson, which I hung on my neck. As I sat by
day with nothing to do, I occasionally sunk into a doze for a few
minutes, when I usually waked with a start from some frightful dream.
Sometimes I thought I was running away from the priests, and closely
pursued, and sometimes had no hope of escape. But the most distressing
of my feelings were those I suffered in the course of the night. We
stopped some time at Berthier, where a number of prisoners were taken on
board, to be carried up the river; and this caused much confusion, and
added to my painful reflections.
My mind became much agitated, worse than it had been before; and what
between waking fears, and sleeping visions, I spent a most wretched
night. Sometimes I thought the priests and nuns had me shut up in a
dungeon; sometimes they were about to make away with me in a most cruel
manner. Once I dreamed that I was in some house, and a coach came up to
the door, into which I was to be put by force; and the man who seized
me, and was putting me in, had no head.
When we reached Montreal on Saturday morning, it was not daylight; and
the captain, landing, set off as I understood, to give my mother
information that I was in his boat. He was gone a long time, which led
me to conjecture that he might have found difficulty in speaking with
her; but the delay proved very favourable to me, for perceiving that I
was neither locked up nor watched, I hastened on shore, and pursued my
way into the city. I felt happy at my escape: but what was I then to do?
Whither could I go? Not to my mother: I was certain I could not remain
long with her, without being known to the priests.
My friendlessness and utter helplessness, with the dread of being
murdered in the Convent, added to thoughts of the shame which must await
me if I lived a few months, made me take a desperate resolution, and I
hurried to put it into effect.
My object was to reach the head of the Lachine Canal, which is near the
St. Lawrence, beyond the extremity of the southern suburbs. I walked
hastily along St. Paul's street, and found all the houses still shut;
then turning to the old Recollet Church, I reached Notre-Dame street,
which I followed in the direction I wished to go.
The morning was chilly, as the season was somewhat advanced: but that
was of no importance to me. Day had appeared, and I desired to
accomplish the object on which I was now bent, before the light should
much increase. I walked on, therefore, but the morning had broken bright
before I arrived at the Canal; and then I found to my disappointment
that two Canadians were at work on the hank, getting water, or doing
I was by the great basin where the boats start, and near the large canal
storehouse. I have not said what was my design; it was to drown myself.
Fearing the men would rescue me, I hesitated for some time, hoping they
would retire: but finding that they did not, I grew impatient. I stood
looking on the water; it was nearly on a level with the banks, which
shelved away, as I could perceive, for some distance, there being no
wind to disturb the surface. There was nothing in the sight which seemed
frightful or even forbidding to me; I looked upon it as the means of the
easiest death, and longed to be buried below. At length finding that the
men were not likely to leave the place, I sprung from the bank, and was
in an instant in the cold water. The shock was very severe. I felt a
sharp freezing sensation run through me, which almost immediately
rendered me insensible; and the last thing I can recollect was, that I
was sinking in the midst of water almost as cold as ice, which wet my
clothes, and covered me all over.
Awake among strangers--Dr. Robertson--Imprisoned as a vagrant--
Introduction to my mother--Stay in her house--Removal from it to Mrs.
McDonald's--Return to my mother's--Desire to get to New York--
Arrangements for going.
How long I remained in the canal I knew not; but in about three minutes,
as I conjectured, I felt a severe blow on my right side; and opening my
eyes I saw myself surrounded by men, who talked a great deal, and
expressed much anxiety and curiosity about me. They enquired of me my
name, where I lived, and why I had thrown myself into the water: but I
would not answer a word. The blow which I had felt, and which was
probably the cause of bringing me for a few moments to my senses, I
presume was caused by my falling, after I was rescued, upon the stones,
which lay thickly scattered near the water. I remember that the persons
around me continued to press me with questions, and that I still
remained silent. Some of them having observed the little medallion on my
neck, and being able to read, declared I was probably the daughter of
Dr. Robertson, as it bore the name; but to this, I also gave no answer,
and sunk again into a state of unconsciousness.
When my senses once more returned, I found myself lying in a bed covered
up warm, in a house, and heard several persons talking of the mass, from
which they had just returned. I could not imagine where I was, for my
thoughts were not easily collected, and every thing seemed strange
around me. Some of them, on account of the name on the little medallion,
had sent to Dr. Robertson, to inform him that a young woman had been
prevented from drowning herself in the basin, who had a portrait on her
neck, with his family name stamped upon it; and he had sent word, that
although she could be no relation of his, they had better bring her to
his house, as he possibly might be able to learn who she was.
Preparations were therefore made to conduct me thither; and I was soon
in his house. This was about midday, or a little later.
The doctor endeavored to draw from me some confession of my family: but
I refused; my feelings would not permit me to give him any satisfaction.
He offered to send me to my home if I would tell him where I lived; but
at length, thinking me unreasonable and obstinate, began to threaten to
send me to jail.
In a short time I found that the latter measure was determined on, and I
was soon put into the hands of the jailer, Captain Holland, and placed
in a private room in his house.
I had formerly been acquainted with his children, but had such strong
reasons for remaining unknown, that I hoped they would not recognise me;
and, as we had not met for several years I flattered myself that such
would be the case. It was, at first, as I had hoped; they saw me in the
evening, but did not appear to suspect who I was. The next morning,
however, one of them asked me if I were not sister of my brother,
mentioning his name; and though I denied it, they all insisted that I
must be, for the likeness, they said, was surprisingly strong. I still
would not admit the truth; but requested they would send for the Rev.
Mr. Esson, a Presbyterian clergyman in Montreal, saying I had something
to say to him. He soon made his appearance and I gave him some account
of myself and requested him to procure my release from confinement, as I
thought there was no reason why I should be deprived of my liberty.
Contrary to my wishes, however, he went and informed my mother. An
unhappy difference had existed between us for many years concerning
which I would not speak, were it not necessary to allude to it to render
some things intelligible which are important to my narrative. I am
willing to bear much of the blame: for my drawing part of her pension
had justly irritated her. I shall not attempt to justify or explain my
own feelings with respect to my mother, whom I still regard at least in
some degree as I ought. I will merely say, that I thought she indulged
in partialities and antipathies in her family during my childhood; and
that I attribute my entrance into the nunnery, and the misfortunes I
have suffered, to my early estrangement from home, and my separation
from the family. I had neither, seen her nor heard from her in several
years; and I knew not whether she had even known of my entrance into the
Convent, although I now learnt, that she still resided where she
It was therefore with regret that I heard that my mother had been
informed of my condition; and that I saw an Irishwoman, an acquaintance
of hers, come to take me to the house. I had no doubt that she would
think I had disgraced her, by being imprisoned, as well as by my attempt
to drown myself; and what would be her feelings towards me, I could only
I accompanied the woman to my mother's, and found nearly such a
reception as I had expected. Notwithstanding our mutual feelings were
much as they had been, she wished me to stay with her, and kept me in
one of her rooms for several weeks, and with the utmost privacy, fearing
that my appearance would lead to questions, and that my imprisonment
would become known. I soon satisfied myself that she knew little of what
I had passed through, within the few past years; and did not think it
prudent to inform her, for that would greatly have increased the risk of
my being discovered by the priests. We were surrounded by those who went
frequently to confession, and would have thought me a monster of
wickedness, guilty of breaking the most solemn vows, and a fugitive from
a retreat which is generally regarded there as a place of great
sanctity, and almost like a gate to heaven. I well knew the ignorance
and prejudices of the poor Canadians, and understood how such a person
as myself must appear in their eyes. They felt as I formerly had, and
would think it a service to religion, and to God, to betray the place of
my concealment if by chance they should find, or even suspect it. As I
had become in the eyes of Catholics, "a spouse of Jesus Christ," by
taking the veil, my leaving the Convent must appear to them a forsaking
of the Saviour.
As things were, however, I remained for some time undisturbed. My
brother, though he lived in the house, did not know of my being there
for a fortnight.
When he learnt it, and came to see me, he expressed much kindness
towards me: but I had not seen him for several years, and had seen so
much evil, that I knew not what secret motives he might have, and
thought it prudent to be reserved. I, therefore, communicated to him
nothing of my history or intentions, and rather repulsed his advances.
The truth is, I had been so long among nuns and priests, that I thought
there was no sincerity or virtue on earth.
What were my mother's wishes or intentions towards me, I was not
informed: but I found afterwards, that she must have made arrangements
to have me removed from her house, for one day a woman came to the door
with a cariole, and on being admitted to see me, expressed herself in a
friendly manner, spoke of the necessity of air and exercise for my
health, and invited me to take a ride. I consented, supposing we should
soon return: but when we reached St. Antoine suburbs, she drove up to a
house which I had formerly heard to be some kind of refuge, stopped, and
requested me to alight. My first thought was, that I should be exposed
to certain detection, by some of the priests whom I presumed officiated
there; as they had all known me in the nunnery. I could not avoid
entering; but I resolved to feign sickness, hoping thus to be placed out
of sight of the priests.
The result was according to my wishes: for I was taken to an upper room,
which was used as an infirmary, and there permitted to remain. There
were a large number of women in the house; and a Mrs. M'Donald, who has
the management of it, had her daughters in the Ursuline Nunnery at
Quebec, and her son in the college. The nature of the establishment I
could not fully understand: but it seemed to me designed to become a
nunnery at some future time.
I felt pretty safe in the house; so long as I was certain of remaining
in the infirmary; for there was nobody there who had ever seen me
before. But I resolved to avoid, if possible, ever making my appearance
below, for I felt that I could not do it without hazard of discovery.
Among other appendages of a Convent which I observed in that place, was
a confessional within the building, and I soon learnt, to my dismay,
that Father Bonin, one of the murderers of Saint Francis, was in the
habit of constant attendance as priest and confessor. The recollections
which I often indulged in of scenes in the Hotel Dieu, gave me
uneasiness and distress: but not knowing where to go to seek greater
seclusion, I remained in the infirmary week after week, still affecting
illness in the best manner I could. At length I found that I was
suspected of playing off a deception with regard to the state of my
health; and at the close of a few weeks, I became satisfied that I could
not remain longer without making my appearance below stairs. I at length
complied with the wishes I heard expressed, that I would go into the
community-room, where those in health were accustomed to assemble to
work, and then some of the women began to talk of my going to
confession. I merely expressed unwillingness at first; but when they
pressed the point, and began to insist, my fear of detection overcame
every other feeling, and I plainly declared that I would not go. This
led to an altercation, when the mistress of the house pronounced me
incorrigible, and said she would not keep me for a hundred pounds a
year. She, in fact, became so weary of having me there, that she sent to
my mother to take me away.
My mother, in consequence, sent a cariole for me, and took me again into
her house; but I became so unhappy in a place where I was secluded and
destitute of all agreeable society, that I earnestly requested her to
allow me to leave Canada. I believe she felt ready to have me removed to
a distance, that she might not be in danger of having my attempt at
self-destruction, and my confinement in prison made public.
There was a fact which I had not disclosed, and of which all were
ignorant: viz., that which had so much influence in exciting me to leave
the Convent, and to reject every idea of returning to it.
When conversing with my mother about leaving Canada, I proposed to go to
New York. She inquired why I wished to go there. I made no answer to
that question: for, though I had never been there, and knew scarcely
anything about the place, I presumed that I should find protection from
my enemies, as I knew it was in a Protestant country. I had not thought
of going to the United States before, because I had no one to go with
me, nor money enough to pay my expenses; but then a plan presented
itself to my mind, by which I thought I might proceed to New York in
There was a man who I presumed would wish to have me leave Canada, on
his own account; and that was the man I had so precipitately married
while residing at St. Denis. He must have had motives, as I thought, for
wishing me at a distance. I proposed therefore that he should be
informed that I was in Montreal, and anxious to go to the States; and
such a message was sent to him by a woman whom my mother knew.
[Footnote: Mrs. Tarbert, or M'Gan. See her affidavit. What house she
refers to I cannot conjecture.] She had a little stand for the sale of
some articles, and had a husband who carried on some similar kind of
business at the Scotch mountain. Through her husband, as I suppose, she
had my message conveyed, and soon informed me that arrangements were
made for my commencing my journey, under the care of the person to whom
it had been sent.
Singular concurrence of circumstances, which enabled me to get to the
United States--Intentions in going there--Commence my journey--Fears of
my companion--Stop at Whitehall--Injury received in a canal boat--
Arrival at New York--A solitary retreat.
It is remarkable that I was able to stay so long in the midst of
Catholics without discovery, and at last obtain the aid of some of them
in effecting my flight. There is probably not a person in Montreal, who
would sooner have betrayed me into the power of priests than that woman,
if she had known my history.
She was a frequent visitor at the Convent and the Seminary, and had a
ticket which entitled her every Monday to the gift of a loaf of bread
from the former. She had an unbounded respect for the Superior and the
priests, and seized every opportunity to please them. Now the fact that
she was willing to take measures to facilitate my departure from
Montreal, afforded sufficient evidence to me of her entire ignorance of
myself, in all respects in which I could wish her to be ignorant; and I
confided in her, because I perceived that she felt no stronger motive,
than a disposition to oblige my mother.
Should any thing occur to let her into the secret of my being a fugitive
from the Black Nunnery, I knew that I could not trust to her kindness
for an instant. The discovery of that fact would transform her into a
bitter and deadly enemy. She would at once regard me as guilty of mortal
sin, an apostate, and a proper object of persecution. And this was a
reflection I had often reason to make, when thinking of the numerous
Catholics around me. How important, then, the keeping of my secret, and
my escape before the truth should become known, even to a single person
I could realize, from the dangers through which I was brought by the
hand of God, how difficult it must be, in most cases, for a fugitive
from a nunnery to obtain her final freedom from the power of her
enemies. Even if escaped from a Convent, so long as she remains among
Catholics, she is in constant exposure to be informed against;
especially if the news of her escape is made public, which fortunately
was not the fact in my case.
If a Catholic comes to the knowledge of any fact calculated to expose
such a person, he will think it his duty to disclose it at confession;
and then the whole fraternity will be in motion to seize her.
How happy for me that not a suspicion was entertained concerning me, and
that not a whisper against me was breathed into the ear of a single
priest at confession!
Notwithstanding my frequent appearance in the street, my removals from
place to place, and the various exposures I had to discovery, contrary
to my fears, which haunted me even in my dreams, I was preserved; and as
I have often thought, for the purpose of making the disclosures which I
have made in this volume. No power but that of God, as I have frequently
thought, could ever have led me in safety through so many dangers.
I would not have my readers imagine, however, that I had at that period
any thought of making known my history to the world. I wished to plunge
into the deepest possible obscurity; and next to the fear of falling
again into the hands of the priests and Superior, I shrunk most from the
idea of having others acquainted with the scenes I had passed through.
Such a thought as publishing never entered my mind till months after
that time. My desire was, that I might meet a speedy death in obscurity,
and that my name and my shame might perish on earth together. As for my
future doom, I still looked forward to it with gloomy apprehensions: for
I considered myself as almost, if not quite, removed beyond the reach of
mercy. During all the time which had elapsed since I left the Convent, I
had received no religious instruction, nor even read a word in the
scriptures; and, therefore, it is not wonderful that I should still have
remained under the delusions in which I had been educated.
The plan arranged for the commencement of my journey was this: I was to
cross the St. Lawrence to Longueil, to meet the man who was to accompany
me. The woman who had sent my message into the country, went with me to
the ferry, and crossed the river, where, according to the appointment,
we found my companion. He willingly undertook to accompany me to the
place of my destination, and at his own expense; but declared, that he
was apprehensive we should be pursued. To avoid the priests, who he
supposed would follow us, he took an indirect route, and during about
twelve days, or nearly that, which we spent on the way, passed over a
much greater distance than was necessary. It would be needless, if it
were possible, to mention all the places we visited. We crossed
Carpenter's ferry, and were at Scotch-mountain and St. Alban's; arrived
at Champlain by land, and there took the steamboat, leaving it again at
As we were riding towards Charlotte, my companion entertained fears,
which, to me, appeared ridiculous; but it was impossible for me to
reason him out of them, or to hasten our journey. Circumstances which
appeared to me of no moment whatever, would influence, and sometimes
would make him change his whole plan and direction. As we were one day
approaching Charlotte, for instance, on inquiring of a person on the
way, whether there were any Canadians there, and being informed there
were not a few, and that there was a Roman Catholic priest residing
there, he immediately determined to avoid the place, and turned back,
although we were then only nine miles distant from it.
During several of the first nights after leaving Montreal, he suffered
greatly from fear; and on meeting me in the morning, repeatedly said:
"Well, thank God, we are safe so far!" When we arrived at Whitehall, he
had an idea we should run a risk of meeting priests, who he thought,
were in search of us, if we went immediately on; and insisted that we
had better stay there a little time, until they should have passed. In
spite of my anxiety to proceed, we accordingly remained there about a
week; when we entered a canal-boat to proceed to Troy.
An unfortunate accident happened to me while on our way. I was in the
cabin, when a gun, which had been placed near me, was started from its
place by the motion of the boat, caused by another boat running against
it, and striking me on my left side, threw me some distance. The shock
was violent, and I thought myself injured, but hoped the effects would
soon pass off. I was afterwards taken with vomiting blood; and this
alarming symptom several times returned; but I was able to keep up.
We came without any unnecessary delay from Troy to New York, where we
arrived in the morning, either on Thursday or Friday, as I believe: but
my companion there disappeared without informing me where he was going,
and I saw him no more. Being now, as I presumed, beyond the reach of my
enemies, I felt relief from the fear of being carried back to the
nunnery, and sentenced to death or the cells: but I was in a large city
where I had not a friend. Feeling overwhelmed with my miserable
condition, I longed for death; and yet I felt no desire to make another
attempt to destroy myself.
On the contrary, I determined to seek some solitary retreat, and await
God's time to remove me from a world in which I had found so much
trouble, hoping and believing that it would not be long.
Not knowing which way to go to find solitude, I spoke to a little boy,
whom I saw on the wharf, and told, him I would give him some money if he
would lead me into the "_bush_". (This is the common word by which,
in Canada, we speak of the woods or forests.) When he understood what I
meant, he told me that there was no _bush_ about New York; but
consented to lead me to the most lonely place he knew of. He accordingly
set off, and I followed him, on a long walk to the upper part of the
city, and beyond, until we reached the outskirts of it. Turning off from
the road, we gained a little hollow, where were a few trees and bushes,
a considerable distance from any house; and there, he told me, was the
loneliest place with which he was acquainted. I paid him for his trouble
out of the small stock of money I had in my possession, and let him go
home, desiring him to come the next day, and bring me something to eat,
with a few pennies which I gave him.
Reflections and sorrow in solitude--Night--Fears--Exposure to rain--
Discovered by strangers--Their unwelcome kindness--Taken to the Bellevue
There I found myself once more alone, and truly it was a great relief to
sit down and feel that I was out of the reach of priests and nuns, and
in a spot where I could patiently wait for death, when God might please
to send it, instead of being abused and tormented according to the
caprices and passions of my persecutors.
But then again returned most bitter anticipations of the future. Life
had no attractions for me, for it must be connected with shame; but
death under any circumstances, could not be divested of horrors, so long
as I believed in the doctrines relating to it which had been inculcated
The place where I had taken up, as I supposed, my last earthly abode,
was pleasant in clear and mild weather; and I spent most of my time in
as much peace as the state of my mind would permit. I saw houses, but no
human beings, except on the side of a little hill near by, where were
some men at work, making sounds like those made in hammering stone. The
shade around me was so thick that I felt assured of being sufficiently
protected from observation if I kept still; and a cluster of bushes
offered me shelter for the night. As evening approached, I was somewhat
alarmed by the sound of voices near me, and I found that a number of
labourers were passing that way from their work. I went in a fright to
the thickest of the bushes, and lay down, until all again was still, and
then ventured out to take my seat again on the turf.
Darkness now came gradually on; and with it fears of another
description. The thought struck me that there might be wild beasts in
that neighborhood, ignorant as I then was of the country; and the more I
thought of it, the more I became alarmed. I heard no alarming sound, it
is true; but I knew not how soon some prowling and ferocious beast might
come upon me in my defenceless condition, and tear me in pieces. I
retired to my bushes, and stretched myself under them upon the ground:
but I found it impossible to sleep; and my mind was almost continually
agitated by thoughts on the future or the past.
In the morning the little boy made his appearance again, and brought me
a few cakes which he had purchased for me. He showed much interest in
me, inquired why I did not live in a house; and it was with difficulty
that I could satisfy him to let me remain in my solitary and exposed
condition. Understanding that I wished to continue unknown, he assured
me that he had not told even his mother about me; and I had reason to
believe that he faithfully kept my secret to the last. Though he lived a
considerable distance from my hiding-place, and, as I supposed, far down
in the city, he visited me almost every day, even when I had not desired
him to bring me any thing. Several times I received from him some small
supplies of food for the money I had given him. I once gave him a half-
dollar to get changed; and he brought me back every penny of it, at his
As I had got my drink from a brook or pool, which was at no great
distance, he brought me a little cup one day to drink out of; but this I
was not allowed to keep long, for he soon after told me that his mother
wanted it, and he must return it. He several times arrived quite out of
breath, and when I inquired the reason, calling him as I usually did,
"Little Tommy" he said it was necessary for him to run, and to stay but
a short time, that he might be at school in good season. Thus he
continued to serve me, and keep my secret, at great inconvenience to
himself, up to the last day of my stay in that retreat; and I believe he
would have done so for three months if I had remained there. I should
like to see him again and hear his broken English.
I had now abundance of time to reflect on my lost condition; and many a
bitter thought passed through my mind, as I sat on the ground, or
strolled about by day, and lay under the bushes at night.
Sometimes I reflected on the doctrines I had heard at the nunnery,
concerning sins and penances, Purgatory and Hell; and sometimes on my
late companions, and the crimes I had witnessed in the Convent.
Sometimes I would sit and seriously consider how I might best destroy my
life; and sometimes would sing a few of the hymns with which I was
familiar; but I never felt willing or disposed to pray, as I supposed
there was no hope of mercy for me.
One of the first nights I spent in that houseless condition was stormy;
and though I crept under the thickest of the bushes, and had more
protection against the rain than one might have expected, I was almost
entirely wet before morning; and, it may be supposed, passed a more
uncomfortable night than usual. The next day I was happy to find the
weather clear, and was able to dry my garments by taking off one at a
time, and spreading them on the bushes. A night or two after, however, I
was again exposed to a heavy rain, and had the same process afterward to
go through with: but what is remarkable, I took no cold on either
occasion; nor did I suffer any lasting injury from all the exposures I
underwent in that place. The inconveniences I had to encounter, also,
appeared to me of little importance, not being sufficient to draw off my
mind from its own troubles; and I had no intention of seeking a more
comfortable abode, still looking forward only to dying as soon as God
would permit, alone and in that spot.
One day, however, when I had been there about ten days, I was alarmed at
seeing four men approaching me. All of them had guns, as if out on a
shooting excursion. They expressed much surprise and pity on finding me
there, and pressed me with questions. I would not give them any
satisfactory account of myself, my wants, or intentions, being only
anxious that they might withdraw. I found them, however, too much
interested to render me some service to be easily sent away; and after