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Fleming, Ann Cuthbert Rae Knight

Main entryFleming, Ann Cuthbert Rae Knight
Birth placeFootdee, Aberdeen, Scotland
Birth date1788
Death placeAbbotsford, Quebec
Death date15 March 1860
Birth nameAnn Cuthbert Rae
Married nameKnight; Fleming
Marital statusmarried
Religious affiliationPresbyterian
Paid workteacher (school)
Other workFounded Ladies' school; worked to change format of teaching of small children
BiographyAnn Cuthbert Rae (1788-1860) was likely born in Footdee, Aberdeen, Scotland, to a family that would grow to include three brothers, one of whom was renowned economist and author John Rae (1796-1872). While John Rae Sr. had himself been raised in a peasant family, he was able to elevate his own family's wealth and status as a merchant in the shipping industries to the extent that his daughter Ann could be privately educated. In 1810, she married a fellow Scot, merchant James Innes Knight (c1791-1816); a year later, the couple and their six-week old baby, Robert, landed in Montreal, where they would stay for only a year before returning to Scotland. In 1815, leaving their infant daughter Jessie to be raised with the Rae family, Ann and James, along with Robert, returned to Montreal where Ann worked in public education in a number of capacities. She founded a girls' boarding school with a curriculum typical of the times: needlework, writing, arithmetic, geography and drawing. The school, alongside her first poetry publications, supported her and her young son when James died in 1816. After her 1820 marriage to James Fleming (c1778-1855), a wealthy drygoods merchant and brother of successful businessman John Fleming (1786-1832), Ann closed her school and continued to expand her family. In 1821, she was joined by her brother John Rae in Montreal, thus beginning a fruitful period of correspondence between the siblings while the latter traveled around the continent. Childless himself, John took a special interest in the education of Ann's eldest, Robert, who spent the majority of his childhood and youth at the boarding school John had set up in Williamstown, Ontario. The letters between the three were first brought to light by Ann's great-granddaughter, Dorothea Wolters Knight* (1881-1913), who had received "181 old letters" from her "father's cousin." Dorothy evidently struggled to sort the contents of the letters, but did her best in sending the most important details to John Rae's biographer, economist Charles Whitney Mixter. It appears that most of the letters were between Ann and John (at least one of the other two brothers would perish at sea alongside their father). They describe important family events in Ann's life, including the loss of an infant daughter in 1832 during the same Montreal cholera plague that killed Ann's brother-in-law, John Fleming. During this time, Ann seems to have removed to different cottages perhaps in an attempt to protect the other Fleming children from contamination. Of the Rae letters, 43 were reportedly donated to the University of Hawaii, and for the last several decades have been listed as "misplaced"—microfilm copies may or may not be extant. During the 1830s, Ann returned once again to her educational pursuits. She opened another seminary and eventually published four texts designed to make learning more interesting for young children. She demonstrated her methods in Hamilton, Ontario and spoke to various educators about her ideas, made additionally available through some of her educational works, which also included her FIRST BOOK FOR CANADIAN CHILDREN. Ann died in 1860 in Abbotsford, Quebec just outside Montreal.
Other notesJohn Rae has often been mistakenly confused with Dr. John Rae, Scottish explorer of the Arctic. The archives at University of Hawaii reportedly holds a set of letters, between Ann and various family members; attempts to locate the letters have not been successful.
ResidencesFootdee, Aberdeen, Scotland; Montreal (Statehouse Cottage and St. Antoine's Cottage in 1832) (1811-); Abbotsford, Quebec (-1860)
Geographic regionsQuebec
Primary genrespoetry
Other publicationsAnthologized in: Whyte-Edgar, WREATH OF CANADIAN SONG (1910)
Father's nameJohn Rae
Life dates of father- after 1820
Father's noteshipbuilding or ship broker merchant; son of a peasant; fifteen years older than wife; went bankrupt after her death, and was lost at sea with another son, Alexander
Mother's nameMargaret Cuthbert
Life dates of mother- c1815-1820
Spouse 1James Innes Knight
Life dates of spouse 1c1791, Portsoy, Banffshire, Scotland - 18 June 1816, Montreal
Spouse 1 notemerchant
Marriage 1 date3 July 1810
Marriage 1 placeScotland
Spouse 2James Fleming
Life dates of spouse 2c1778, Aberdeenshire, Scotland - 4 October 1855, Quebec
Spouse 2 noteprominent drygoods merchant; brother of John Fleming (1786-1832), prominent businessman and author of POLITICAL ANNALS OF LOWER CANADA
Marriage 2 date8 May 1820
Marriage 2 placeMontreal, Quebec
Children number6
Children's names and datesRobert Knight (1811 - after 1850), m. to Sarah Phipps; Jessie Johnston Knight (14 October 1814 - 16 April 1854), m. to William Thurburn; daughter Fleming (1821 - ); John Ramsay Fleming (22 September 1823 - 6 February 1901), m. to Catherine Jane Hickey; Ann Fleming (9 August 1832 - 23 August 1832) James Fleming
Biographical referencesTrofimenkoff, "Rae, Ann Cuthbert" on DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN BIOGRAPHY VIII, University of Toronto/Université Laval (Web, 2000); James, "John Rae: The Lost Letters" in JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT 23.3 (2001): 343-52; Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967
Bibliographic referencesWatters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), p. 69; Dictionary of Canadian Biography VIII
Research referencescomplete
Archival referencescollection of 43 Rae family letters (misplaced), at University of Hawaii archives
Image creditsLine drawing by Una Vernelli (Vancouver, British Columbia).
CopyrightThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) at Please cite Canada's Early Women Writers. SFU Library Digital Collections. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. 1980-2014.