Thursday, August 6, 2015

My Canadian Branches ~ Jane Soley Hamilton's 776 Babies

When Jane Soley married Robert Hamilton (my 3rd great grand uncle) in Lower Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1825, she never envisioned the local legend she would become. The daughter of  William and Mary Soley, she and Squire Robert, welcomed seven children into the world. Two of these children died in infancy, but it wasn't until her youngest, Baxter, was in his 10th year, and she in her 42nd, that her life would take on an expanded role in her community, and future generations still honor her selfless fortitude and courage.

It wasn't until July of 1851 that Jane was called upon to help a woman deliver a child. The mother was Elizabeth Hamilton (probably a relative) and she bore a son. Jane's presence and assistance as a midwife began a long and remarkable career.

In a small, care-worn, "birth book," Jane recorded every birth she attended, with the date, name of mother, and sex of the child. In 1852, she delivered 8 babies, and her path was determined. She averaged 20 entries each year for the next few years, with her busiest year being 1867, when she helped deliver 32 infants. There is no recording on any compensation for her work, although she may have received some small change that the family could spare.

Jane delivered many babies in Brookfield, where she lived, but also attended at births in Hilden, Pleasant Valley, Alton, and even as far away as Middle Stewiacke.

The surrounding cemeteries and graveyards contain many small unmarked stones in family plots, standing sentinel to the early deaths of children who perished too young. Brookfield and Pleasant Valley cemeteries hold at least nineteen of Jane's babies, documenting the epidemics and hardships families faced in those days. Scarlet fever, cholera, croup, dysentery, whooping cough, and diphtheria all took their toll.

"Aunt Jennie's" midwifery career spanned 42 years, and brought 776 children into the world, including 4 sets of twins. By the age of 80, she slackened her practice considerably. Several of her last patients were Hamiltons, probably related to her. In 1893, at the age of 88, Jane delivered Mrs. Sinclair Hamilton of a daughter. The little girl, named Mabel, who only lived four years, was Jane's great granddaughter.

Jane retired from this life's work at 88. Her career spanned 42 years and brought 776 children in this world. She passed away on October 2, 1897, aged 92 years and 8 months. Obituaries appeared in four newspapers,* but perhaps this unidentified newspaper clipping says it best:

"This venerable lady was one of the best known and most respected women in the place .... Ever ready to respond to the call of duty, she faced the most inclement weather at all hours and braved dangers that well might have tried the courage of strong men .... wherever sickness and trouble were, she was ever ready to lend a helping hand and in her quiet, cheerful way, did all that lay in her power to soothe the suffering. Hers was a truly unselfish, Christian life, entirely devoted to the welfare of other." **

Jane is buried next to her husband, Robert, in Brookfield Eastside Cemetery, in Colchester County, Nova Scotia.

*Colchester Sun (Truro), 6 October 1897
  Novascotian and Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 16 October 1897
  Presbyterian Witness (Halifax), 9 October 1897, p.328
  Truro Daily News (Truro), 6 October 1897

** This obituary was found in an unidentified newspaper clipping in a scrapbook belonging to Mrs. Prudence Parker, North River, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. As of 1982, the scrapbook was still in her possession.

Photo Credit:

"Public Member Trees," database,, "MacIntosh," for Jane Soley (d.. 2  Oct 1897), with linked images.


"Colchester Women" by the Colchester Historical Society.

"Jane Soley Hamilton, Midwife," by Joan E. Kennedy, Nova Scotia Historical Review, Vol. 2, #1 (1982), pp.6-29. [Contains Record of Children Delivered by Jane Soley Hamilton, 1851-1893]

Miller, Thomas, Historical and genealogical record of the first settlers of Colchester county (Halifax, 1873), pp.357-358.