Beacon Street Diary blog
by Jules Thomson, Assistant Archivist / NEHH Publication
Appropriately enough for a blog called "Beacon Street Diary", today I've compiled a list of diaries and journals within our current New England's Hidden Histories collections. The materials listed below (in alphabetical order by surname) are digitized and made available online via NEHH and our project partners.
All of these diaries are sourced from the rich seam of personal documents which comprise Series 2, and perhaps represent the most intimate voices available within the digitized records. More so even than "relation of faith" documents, diaries provide a relatively unfiltered glimpse into the minds of people living in the 17-19th centuries. That is not to say, however, that they are homogenous in tone or breadth. The writers themselves run the gamut in terms of livelihoods, community standing, and even gender; Mary Cleaveland's diary provides a rare 18th-century women's perspective. Other diarists include farmers, the proprieter of a forge, clergymen, missionaries, and even Cotton Mather himself. The content of the diaries, too, is as diverse as the authors, dealing variously with agricultural concerns, child-rearing, business and finance, churchgoing, and personal spirituality.
It is my opinion that these records constitute one of the most valuable facets of NEHH overall, and are certainly unparalleled as a source of qualitative data about daily life in Colonial New England.
Mary Cleaveland (nee Dodge) was the wife of Rev. John Cleveland, minister to Ipswich Second (Chebacco) Church and wartime chaplain. Her sporatic diary entries detail the birth of her children and the death of relatives and prominent acquaintances, as well as notable events about town.
The diary of this Lynn, Mass., man details a 43-year period of daily life, including agricultural tasks, notations on attendance at religious meetings, visits from his friends, and observations about the weather. The diary is contained within two bound volumes, the first comprising the years 1726-1750, and the second 1750-1769.
Rev. Joseph Green was a celebrated minister of the First Church of Salem. Ordained in 1698, he inherited a divided and traumatized congregation after the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. He replaced the controversial Rev. Samuel Parris, reuniting the church and facilitating reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the witchcraft hysteria. His diary of 1700-1715 deals mainly with day-to-day concerns such as religious study, errands and meetings, though it also touches on more monumental events such as Ann Putnam’s public admission that she had falsely accused others of witchcraft.
Rev. Gideon Hawley, a noted missionary, worked for the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians under the supervision of Jonathan Edwards. Hawley accepted a position from the Society to establish a mission among the Six Nations on the Susquehanna; he was ordained in Old South Church, Boston, July 31, 1754 for this position and left for the site, near the contemporary town of Windsor, New York. With the arrival of the French and Indian War, Hawley returned to Boston and accepted a commission as chaplain to Colonel Richard Gridley's regiment. He was later appointed as minister to the Mashpee living in Mashpee, Massachusetts. The NEHH digital collections consist of four consecutive journal volumes spanning 1754-1806. These cover Rev. Hawley's time as a missionary traveling through "the Country of the Six Nations" and his experiences durig the Seven Years War. Also of note are records relating to Hawley’s long-time translator, Rebecca Kellogg Ashley.
Thomas Josselyn of Hanover and Hingham, Mass. was deacon of Hingham First Church and proprietor of a forge. On the first page of his diary, he describes his intent "to keep an account of the affairs of Divine providence, concerning myself and my family and the Church of God…". The volume consists of daily entries in which Josselyn usually devotes a sentence or two to details of his work, meetings, church attendance, visits with friends and family, and travel to Boston and other locales.
Rev. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), one of the most influential Puritan ministers of Colonial America, needs little introduction. Rev. Mather was ordained in 1684 at Second Church in Boston, also known as "Old North" Church or "the Church of the Mathers". He was a prolific author, publishing some 280 distinct items. He is perhaps best remembered today for his endorsement of inoculation as a means of fighting smallpox, and for his persecutory role in the Salem witchcraft trials. NEHH's digitized material includes a portion of one of his diaries, containing entries starting in February of 1715/16 (Mather uses dual Julian/Gregorian calendar dating) and ending December 1716.
Ebenezer Storer was a Harvard and Yale-educated lay person who went on to become Treasurer of Harvard College in 1777. He was deacon of the Congregational Church in Brattle Square, Cambridge, as well as an early member of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in North America, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and several other organizations. He updated his journal intermittently, with long form entries detailing deaths in his family, spiritual reflections and prayers, and segments of poetry. He also includes occasional genealogical or family information, as well as passing observations on current events. The entry for March 11, 1764, mentions the spread of smallpox and Storer's decision to have his children inoculated.
This collection consists of handwritten journal entries, memoranda, and sermon notes kept occasionally by Rev. Stephen Williams from 1716 to his death in 1782. Rev. Williams’s early life was remarkable; he grew up in Deerfield, Massachusetts and was captured by French and Indigenous allies during their raid on the town in 1704 when he was eleven years old. He was liberated after almost two years in captivity, going on to graduate from Yale College in 1713 and subsequently ministering to the Congregational Church of Longmeadow, Mass. He also served as a chaplain during the French and Indian War. Rev. Williams focuses heavily on ecclesiastical matters in his journal entries. Many entries consist of written prayers and brief meditations on bible verses.