The earliest pieces of correspondence in the collection are between Barrie and his mother, Dorothea (Dolly) Barrie (née Gardner). In a letter dated 29 March 1798, Barrie writes of building unrest in Ireland (with the Irish Rebellion, of course, sparking later that same year). He writes: "I have so long procrastinated writing to my dear mother that I am almost asham'd to take up my pen—however I hope she will think it better late than never— I could make several excuses for my silence but as none of them are very good I'll not attempt them— There is little news stirring except the affairs in Ireland which alarm everyone here." In general these early letter illuminate the sentiments of a young, ambitious naval officer, eager to advance his career, and also those of a dutiful son. Again writing to his mother on 9 March 1799, Barrie laments: "I have seen so little of my nearest and dearest relations that I shall hardly know them."
In 1800 Barrie served in the West Indies, under Thomas Manby, and in 1801 received a promotion to commander of the sloop Calypso. "I am as well as ever I was in my life, and I think this Climate agrees with me," Barrie begins in a letter written to his mother, dated 5 November 1801. "I got my appointment from Admiral Montague as Commander of the Calypso sloop...The Calpyso is out at sea, but I shall go out in a day or two to join her."
Barrie's exchanges with his sister, Fannie Clayton, are perhaps less formal, as he outlines his plans to annoy the enemy, the prize money associated with various ships, and the recommendation of his friends that he pursue matrimony. In a letter to Fannie dated 27 July 1807, Barrie hints at the possibility of "a war with the Yankees," noting "it has put us all in good spirits for we of the sea hate the Americans and I shall take great pleasure in growing rich at their expense."
Given the span of dates, the letters offer a rather thorough account of Barrie's considerable naval career. Writing to his mother from Malta on 27 August 1810, Barrie explains that he recently "caught the American ship Hercules she had on board Lucien Bonaparte and his family."
In addition to the letters from Barrie to his family, there are approximately 20 pieces of correspondence to Barrie from William Drayton, Sir George Cockburn, Henry Bayfield, and others. The majority of these date from the 1820s and 30s—the post-war years which Barrie spent in Canada and England. The latest piece of correspondence is from Cockburn, and is decidedly nostalgic in its tone, signalling the end of a historical moment. "The Newspapers by your last Packet will have given you the account of the Tory Government," he writes to Barrie, "which for so large a portion of our lives has carried our country with a tolerably steady rein through very difficult times and trials."
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