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Viewing History on a Micro and Macro Level

Recently while working with the diary of Rev. Clinton Clark, the settled pastor at First Congregational Church in Ridgefield, Connecticut (1850-1864), I noted this brief entry:

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"486","attributes":{"alt":"Clark's diary entry from 27 May 1861","class":"media-image","style":"width: 500px; height: 248px;","title":"Clark's diary entry from 27 May 1861","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

May 27th, 1861. My fourth child — a daughter — was born this day under circumstances calling for devout thanksgiving to the God of all mercy; namely Sarah Spencer.

A violent civil war is now raging between our government and a rebellion of a number of the slave holding states of the Union.

I find this short passage deeply profound. It is a reminder of the ways in which we view and record life on both small and large scales. This passage was written less than a month after the firing on Fort Sumter, marking the beginning of the American Civil War. Yet, while this information is important enough to note in Clark's diary, it comes after the birth of his daughter demonstrating how life is often viewed through a personal filter, this being the difficult labor and birth of a new child. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"487","attributes":{"alt":"Bombardment of Fort Sumter","class":"media-image","style":"width: 250px; height: 182px; float: right; margin: 5px 0px 5px 10px;","title":"Bombardment of Fort Sumter","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]It's also interesting that it appears Sarah Spencer's name was added at a later date, not surprisingly perhaps given the rate of child mortality in the mid-19th century.

While there was no way, at that time, for Rev. Clark to know the full magnitude of the Civil War, he clearly thought the event important enough to mark down for posterity. Beyond reading about the Civil War in historical or contemporary non-fiction texts, it is sobering to read about it through someone who bore witness to the events. Interestingly, there are no other entries regarding the Civil War in Clark's diary. In fact, the next entry is not until 1864 when Clark was dismissed at his own request from the First Congregational Church in Ridgefield, later becoming the pastor at Middlebury, Connecticut where he stayed until his death, at the age of 59, in 1871.



image of Fort Sumter courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; originally published by Currier & Ives, ca. 1861 [public domain]