In continuing my investigations into the life of Rebecca Gibbs, one of Canada’s first Black poets, I have run across a little volume, Sawney’s Letters and Cariboo Rhymes (Toronto: W.S. Johnson & Co., 1895), that Early Canadiana Online (ECO) has digitized. Although the collection is “by James Anderson,” it includes the works of other poets as well; the final poem in the collection is “The Old Red Shirt,” by Rebecca Gibbs.
ECO also posts an earlier version (possibly 1869), in which the author of “The Old Red Shirt” is identified merely as “Rebecca.” The poem (in fact work by any other authors) is not included in the earliest version that ECO has posted, Sawney’s Letters or Cariboo Rhymes from 1864 to 1868. The title of this collection suggests that James Anderson may have published other collections of Sawney’s Letters, in other years. Also of note is that this edition appears to be printed much later than 1868: the paper it is printed on is embossed with “Victoria, BC ………… 191…” in the same way that official forms leave a space for the final digit of the year (thus allowing the same forms to be used for a full decade). Curiouser and curiouser.
In terms of Rebecca Gibbs’s biography, though, the text adds very little to our knowledge. I’m still hunting. Meanwhile, I will share with you this poem.