Today, April 1st, 2011, eight Whitall House volunteers met in the first History Book Readers Club session at the James & Ann Whitall house. Some of the books brought were: Washington's Crossing, author David Hackett Fischer, Irish in Philadelphia, Dennis Clark, Old Gloucester County and the American Revolution, Robert Harper, and several issues of Patriots of the American Revolution Magazine, which I'll be glad to check out, as I've been looking for a good history magazine for a couple of years. ALso, I'd like to find a useful genealogy magazine.
My offering today was a selection of diaries from Job Whitall, Joseph Plumb Martin, a Farmer's Wife 1796/7, A Hessian Soldier, Elizabeth Drinker, and Phllip Vickers Fithian. It's amazing to me how different diaries reflect the world. Several of us have picked up and put down Phillip Vickers Fithian's diary of life on the Cohansie River in the 1770's. We all got tired of "Cold and wet. I reaped rye today." Pages and pages of plowing and sowing and reaping and threshing. Weeks and months of it. I would have left it at that but a volunteer at the Salem County Historical Society Library told me, about a month ago, that after Phillip went to Princeton, (in the first graduating class there), one of his teachers talked to him about the importance of details in everyday life. So, I'm back to the plowing and reaping and waiting for the diary to get a little color and life beyond the fenced fields.
As a mother, I must say I'm hurt that in all of Job Whitall's diary, his mother, Ann Whitall, is mentioned about three times (I'm exaggerating but I'm not far off.) Once again, we have the taking of cart loads of lumber to the mill, and cattle going here and there, lots of reaping and processing of flax, but not much human interest. In these diaries friends and relatives die and are buried in less than ten words. These fellows definitely are proponants of the "just the facts" style of writing, although, even in a farm day in Colonial times, there must have been more facts than 'reaped the rye.'
As for Mother Ann Whitall, I've only read excerpts from her diary but I plan to read more starting next week at Gloucester County Historical Society Library. Her diary runs toward lamentation over the ingratitude of her children and the unwillingness of them and their father to turn their thoughts to their imminent death and damnation for sinfulness. I would have spent the day out in the rye, too, if that's what I was getting at home.
The best diary I've read, to date, at least in this historic period frame, is the Diary of a Farmer's Wife, 1796-1797. This woman cooks, laughs, her husband falls over in the pig pen and is "wrothful" but can be mollified with his favorite pie and some brandy. People get married, robbers raid the pantry, and when someone dies, we find out what happened to the wife, husband, household goods, and what the funeral was like. This woman LIVES in her diary. She enjoys it and so do her readers.
In the next blog entry, I'll be writing from my work of the past several weeks on Betsy Ross, Elizabeth Haddon, and Ann Whitall, preparation for a presentation I'll be giving in April. For today, I stopped on my way home from Red Bank Battlefield and took photographs of the probable location of the original Griscom farm where Betsy was born, the site of the old Hugg's Tavern where she was married, and the historic marker which gives some information about the history of Hugg's Tavern before it was torn down.
Tune in next week for Betsy Ross! Jo Ann