A tale of love: Fredericton historian shares romantic letters from War of 1812

John Jenkins and Penelope Winslow grew up as neighbours in Kingsclear, 24 kilometres southwest of Fredericton, until they were separated by the War of 1812. In that time, they were brought closer together through hundreds of letters that she wrote.

This love knew no bounds during war

Bob Dallison will give a lecture called 'A War of 1812 Love Story,' on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Government House in Fredericton. (Fredericton Region Museum)

It's a love story that has stood the test of time.

John Jenkins and Penelope Winslow grew up as neighbours in Kingsclear, 24 kilometres southwest of Fredericton, until they were separated by the War of 1812.

Despite the distance, they were brought closer together through hundreds of letters that she wrote to her beloved soldier, who played a key role in the Battle of Ogdensburg in Prescott, Ont., on the St. Lawrence River, and the British victory.

Jenkins returned home 18 months after the couple's parting and with terrible wounds from the battle.

"You have this man with one arm and the other arm useless," said Lt.-Col. Bob Dallison, a historian in Fredericton. "He couldn't feed himself, he was in continuous pain and the wounds never really healed."

Although describing him as "tall and fine looking" in her letters, Penelope's didn't falter when Jenkins returned home.

"To me, in my little romantic mind, the love still bloomed," Dallison said. "It just touched me."

Dallison spent time sifting through the letters, also known as the Winslow Papers, at the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. He wanted to rekindle a two-century-old love story and to know what was going through Penelope's mind when she first saw her soldier back from war.

You get the feeling that love does shine through again.-Bob  Dallison

"The question that I think of is, what did Penelope think of this man? … What passed through her mind when she first saw him? Was love still there? 

"Did she have second thoughts?"

The couple got married in January 1814, when Penelope was 31 and Jenkins 28.

He suffered physical pain throughout the few years of their marriage.

Penelope kept writing letters, especially to her brother Edward Winslow, who was serving on a ship in the Indian Ocean at the time.

"They were great letter writers," Dallison said.

Through those letters, he got to know Penelope in a different light.

Not always a fairytale ending 

Some of the letters revealed the struggles of being a new bride and moving from country life to the big city.

Penelope's big family, with seven children, had been at the centre of social activity, and now she was living in a small house in downtown Fredericton, with only one other person.

"We are getting on very smugly," she wrote in one letter to her brother.

"The change from a large family to a very small one made me feel a little dismal for some time, particularly as his military affairs kept him a great deal about the barracks. But I'm becoming used to it now and don't mind it much."

Soldier John Jenkins was wounded during the War of 1812 and died in Fredericton at 32. (Facebook)

The couple had one daughter, Mary Caroline Jenkins, but John Jenkins died when he was only 32.

A few years later, Penelope married Capt. John Winterbottom, and they were together 14 years.

The couple travelled across Atlantic Canada, In 1838, Winterbottom's regiment was posted to Barbados, which was hit with yellow fever, a disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. 

Penelope and the captain died of the disease, and Mary Caroline moved back to Fredericton, where she, too, married an officer.

"You get the feeling that love does shine through again," Dallison said.