A Pettitcoat on the Petitcodiac

All families have legends.  The Osborne family is no exception.  One of ours is how a woman and a man living many miles apart came to meet, to marry and to have 13 children.

It was the mid-1850s, and teenager Mina Graves lived on her parents’ farm bordering the Petitcodiac River near Moncton, NB, Canada.  Mina had reached an age where both she and her family thought it time for her to find a husband.

For Mina, life in a sparsely populated rural area offered few opportunities to meet prospective husbands.  One day she decided to do something about it.  She wrote a number of notes saying she wanted to meet a young man interested in marriage.  Mina told the hoped-for recipients she’d be working certain times in a church booth during the Moncton fair.  She put the notes in bottles, sealed them and then sent the bottles floating down the river.

Using the Petitcodiac for her mail service was risky.  The river flows into the Bay of Fundy, famous for its extremely high tides caused by the Atlantic Ocean where it empties.  In theory, her bottles could have been carried out into the mid-Atlantic.  Of more immediate concern, the river is nicknamed ‘Chocolate River’ for a reason.  Silt washed from adjacent farmlands by runoff turns the river a dark reddish brown obscuring everything except what’s on the surface.

Harding Osborne was a young man living on his parent’s farm also on the Petitcodiac River many miles downstream from where Mina lived. He had older brothers.  According to tradition, the eldest inherited the farm.  So, when old enough, he’d have to leave and fend for himself.  One day while working on the farm, Harding’s older married brother was at the river for water.  Along the shore, he found one of Mina’s notes.  He knew his brother Harding was interested in finding a wife so he showed him the note.  Harding followed the note’s instructions and showed up at the church booth.  There was Mina.

After observing the appropriate social conventions, the Harding and Mina were married.  They moved across the country to Calgary, Alberta, at a time when a trip like that took many days, even weeks.  There, the couple had 13 children.  Their first child Harry died at 18 months.  The other 12 children grew up and most became parents themselves.

The legend carried a few later surprises, too.  Many decades after Harding and Mina settled in Calgary, their descendants were holding the Osborne  family’s biannual reunion near Enderby, BC.  A brother and sister attending had gone for supplies to a general store in town.  There they overheard two other couples commented on a sign out front the store giving directions to the reunion.  The siblings introduced themselves.  The two couples were from Moncton, NB.  One couple was named Graves.  It turned out he was related to Mina.  The other couple was named Steves, the maiden name of Mina’s mother.  The two couples were invited to visit the reunion.

One of the siblings who’d invited the four to the reunion asked them about the bottle-in-the-river legend.  He had been skeptical about it for years.

“Oh, yes!” one of them replied, clearly surprised.  “Everyone (back home) knows about that.  Of course it’s true.”  The other three nodded in agreement.

To this day, most of those named Osborne living in Calgary, a city of 1.2 million people, can trace their history to the young couple Mina and Harding, who lived along the Petitcodiac River and met because of Mina’s creative and unconventional approach to communication.


Copyright 2012 James Osborne   All Rights Reserved

One thought on “A Pettitcoat on the Petitcodiac

  1. I just discovered this story during an afternoon of blog reading/hunting, Jim. Just love it! One of my favourite types of stories is how couples meet and what happens to them during their marriage. I also am interested in finding out unique things about ancestors. You have a hum-dinger of a story and have written it so well. An alternate title might have been: Invitation in a Bottle. Congratulations!
    Gayle Moore-Morrans


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