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Manuscripts of Early National and Antebellum America
Diaires and Journals

What follows is a descriptive list of collections of manuscript diaries and journals of the Early National and Antebellum eras, located among the North American manuscript holdings in the Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame. Diaries and diary groups included here date wholly or primarily from the years 1788 to 1860. Users searching for diaries of this period should also browse the manuscript collections listed under Personal Papers, on this Web site.

Some of the descriptions that follow are linked to finding aids, which will provide readers with fuller information on that particular collection.

  • SAMUEL PRESTON JOURNAL. 1788. 1 vol., 16 cm., 42 leaves, with 80 pages of manuscript in two hands; 1 additional document. A volume containing two separate travel narratives, authored by individuals acting as debt-collecting agents for the Philadelphia merchant and landowner John Field. The first and more substantial of the narratives was written by the Pennsylvania Quaker Samuel Preston (b. 1756) during a 19-day trip on horseback through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, 11 February to 1 March 1788. Preston's journey took him from Philadelphia west to Lancaster, Middletown, Carlisle, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania; across "Mason and Dixon's Line" to Hagerstown and Williamsport in Maryland; over the Potomac to Martinsburg and Winchester in Virginia; and back to Philadelphia via Frederick, York, and Lancaster. Preston's journal runs to some 7500 words, with entries for each day of the trip. The narrative recounts his immediate business—i.e., seeking to resolve debts held by Field, ideally by collecting money from the debtors—but it also contains extended and engaging descriptions of the land, settlements, and commerce of the regions visited. The volume also contains a second, abbreviated journal by an anonymous writer, also a debt-collection agent for Field; this contains entries from 24 to 28 June 1788, and sees its author as far as Carlisle. MSN/EA 8012-1-B to MSN/EA 8012-2-F1. [Finding Aid]

  • JOHN NICHOLS JOURNAL. 1808-1817. 1 vol., 29 cm., with 89 pages of manuscript. A manuscript volume maintained by the Rhode Island commercial seaman John Nichols, touching on at least four voyages made to the Caribbean, South America, and Europe, 1808-1817. Content includes personal diary entries, descriptions of ports of call, logbook data, navigational computations, and information on a "sidereal dial" supposedly invented by Nichols. There are many maps, coastal profiles, and other nautical drawings. MSN/EA 10003.

  • ISAAC F. WATEROUS JOURNAL. 1808-1809. 1 vol., 20 cm., 18 leaves, with 33 pages of manuscript in the author's hand. A journal kept by Isaac F. Waterous (b. ca. 1787) during a trip up the Savannah River in 1808-09. On 2 December 1808 Waterous left Providence, Rhode Island aboard the Sally, overseeing a cargo of salt and other goods meant to be sold in Georgia. In Savannah the goods were loaded on a "float" or flatboat, and a party of around 14 men, including the black slaves who did the rowing and poling, set off on the arduous journey upriver to Augusta. Journal entries begin with Sally's departure from Providence, but most of the content relates to the 200-mile river voyage, which took more than a month to complete (27 December 1808 to 3 February 1809). Of particular interest are Waterous's many observations on the black people he encountered—in Savannah, at plantations along the river, and on the float. Some of the entries describing the trip upriver run to more than 200 words. MSN/EA 8010-1.

  • THEOPHILUS PARSONS JOURNAL. 1819-1823. 2 vols., 20 cm., 99, 99 leaves, with 190, 106 pages of manuscript entries. Theophilus Parsons (1797-1882), a son of the noted Massachusetts jurist of the same name, was a Boston lawyer best remembered for the legal texts he authored during his long tenure as Dane Professor of Law at Harvard. He was also a man of literary, philosophical, and religious interests, editing several journals and writing on a variety of topics (including Swedenborgianism, a preoccupation he shared with the Transcendentalists). The two-volume journal dates from Parsons' early professional years, with entries running from January 1819 (when he opened his Boston law practice) to March 1823. Entries are irregular but often lengthy; the volumes total perhaps 60,000 words. The journals discuss aspects of Parsons' personal, professional, and intellectual/spiritual life with what appears to be a high degree of candor. Topics include the courtship of his future wife, Catherine Amory Chandler; detailed accounts of his extensive and eclectic reading; literary efforts; and a budding legal career, including work on an early fugitive slave case. There is also a great deal on Boston and Cambridge intellectual life generally. MSN/EA 8011-1-B to MSN/EA 8011-2-B. [Finding Aid & Images]

  • DAVID LACY JOURNAL. 1830. 1 vol., 15 cm., 84 leaves, with 162 pages of manuscript in the author's hand; 1 ink drawing. A journal recounting the transatlantic voyage, Liverpool to Montreal, of the young Englishman David Lacy (b. 1808), sailing as a passenger on the British bark Archer. The book contains daily entries running from 7 August to 22 September 1830, totaling perhaps 18,000 words. Lacy is a curious and literate observer of the routines of ocean travel; the narrative tends to benefit from its author's inexperience of the sea. A good part of the journal is given over to the ascent of the St. Lawrence River, including visits to the island of New Orleans and to Quebec City. MSN/EA 8009-1-B.

  • WILLIAM KING JOURNAL. 1831-1842. 1 vol., 19 cm., 71 leaves, with 130 pages of manuscript in King's hand. A devotional journal kept by the young evangelical William King (1812-1881), of Franklin County, Ohio, between 1831 and 1842. The latter part of the book consists of journal entries, largely dedicated to King's experiences as a Methodist "exhorter" or lay preacher, dating from 1838 to 1842. The volume also includes some 38 verse compositions of King's, poems and lyrics, expressive of his evangelical beliefs. MSN/EA 8007-1-B. [Finding Aid]

  • CORKINS FAMILY MANUSCRIPTS. 1824-1885 (bulk 1824-1856). 4 vols., with insertions. Three manuscript journals and albums kept by female members of the Corkins family of southern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts. Included is a personal journal of some 50,000 words describing the adolescence and early adulthood of Sarah Corkins Towslee (1833-1898), including her years as a worker in the mills and factories of Colrain and Easthampton, Massachusetts. MSN/EA 8013-1 to MSN/EA 8013-6. [Finding Aid]

  • ELIZABETH MYGATT MILLER JOURNAL. 1836-1855. 1 vol., 16 cm., 99 leaves, with 194 pages of manuscript; 5 enclosures. A journal maintained by Elizabeth Mygatt Miller (1817-1890) of Oxford, Chenango County, New York, between 1836 and 1855. The journal opens with an account of the Mygatt family's removal to Oxford from their native Connecticut in August 1836. Elizabeth attended Oxford Academy and in 1839 was accepted into the Congregational church; later that year she married Henry L. Miller (1815-1886), a local dry goods merchant. Journal entries are typically sporadic, especially after Elizabeth's marriage, but are on occasion substantial. MSN/EA 8015-1-B to MSN/EA 8015-4.

  • SODUS (NEW YORK) JOURNAL AND SERMON LOG. 1839-1856. 1 vol., 21 cm., 168 leaves, with 277 pages of manuscript; 15 enclosures. The personal and professional journal of an unidentified Baptist preacher of Wayne County, New York. Entries run from 1844 to 1856; one enclosure contains a list of sermons attended dating back to 1839. For much of this period the journal's owner was minister at the First Baptist Church at Sodus. Content consists mostly of 1) daily journal entries, collectively titled "Sketch of my feelings" and pertaining almost exclusively to religious sentiments and activities, and 2) lists of sermons attended. MSN/EA 8018-1-B to MSN/EA 8018-2.

  • U.S.S. BONITA MEXICAN WAR JOURNAL. 1846-1847. 1 vol., 32 cm., 84 leaves, with 147 pages of entries in the author's hand; 2 hand-drawn maps laid in. A personal journal kept by the (unidentified) purser of U.S.S. Bonita during the U.S.-Mexican War. Bonita, built in 1846, was a 59-foot schooner-gunboat with one 32-pound carronade and a crew of forty; she saw very active service along the Gulf coast of Mexico in 1846-47, as a member of the light-draft "mosquito fleet" attached to the Navy's Home Squadron. The journal contains daily entries running from 25 June 1846 (when the author came on board the Bonita at New York) to 25 July 1847 (when he returned home). The author was a young Brooklynite, educated and with literary tastes; as purser, he was responsible for maintaining the ship's stores, and for keeping her books. The journal is first and foremost a narrative of personal experience; the length of its entries varies substantially, with the perceived eventfulness of the day (the average length is perhaps 100 words, but there are entries of 500 words and more). The military content of the journal is significant. Most of the actions in which the Bonita participated were attacks on the cities of the Mexican Gulf coast. Among those described are: the second attack on Alvarado (15 October 1846); the first Tabasco expedition (16-27 October 1846); the capture of Tampico (14 November 1846); the capture of Laguna del Carmen (20 December 1846); the landings at Veracruz (9 March 1847); the bombardment of Veracruz (22-23 March 1847); the capture of Alvarado and the Alvarado River expedition (1-2 April 1847); the capture of Tuxpan (18 April 1847); and the second Tabasco expedition (14-22 June 1847). In May 1847 the author transferred to the frigate U.S.S. Raritan for the voyage home; before leaving, he served during the second Tabasco expedition as "acting volunteer Lieutenant" in the army. In addition to the journal entries, the volume contains two pages of poetry and a three-page "List and description of places visited." There are also two untitled (and unattributed) maps, drawn in ink and loosely inserted in the volume. The larger of these was probably copied by the author on 27 January 1847, and shows the Mexican coast around Tabasco. The second appears to be the plan of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa at Veracruz. MSN/EA 8006-1-B to MSN/EA 8006-2-F3. [Finding Aid & Images]

  • JAMES C. DONNELL DIARY. 1846-1848. 3 vols., 15, 19, and 19 cm., 67, 68, and 67 leaves, with 109, 130, and 133 pages of manuscript. Volumes 9, 10, and 12 of the manuscript diary of a Philadelphia gentleman of means, James C. Donnell (b. 1818), with entries running from 1 January 1846 to 31 October 1848 (volume 11, covering May to December 1847, is lacking). Until September 1846 Donnell sought to write on a daily basis, but thereafter adopted a system that allowed for longer, if more occasional, entries. The narrative as a whole is quite dense, running to some 80,000 words. Donnell was a lawyer by training but scarcely practiced, devoting much of his time to the advancement of the Episcopal church; to social causes (the Philadelphia public schools, the Union Benevolent Society, and the Pennsylvania Seamen's Friend Society); and to the life of the mind. He writes extensively, and critically, of his reading, of attendance at cultural events, of scientific interests, of national and international politics (he was a Whig), and (in particular detail) of his travels, to Washington and elsewhere. MSN/EA 8017-1 to MSN/EA 8017-3.

  • ELISUR H. ROGERS JOURNAL. 1849. 1 vol., 26 cm., 57 leaves, with 113 pages of manuscript entries in Rogers' hand. A journal recording the gold rush experiences of Elisur (or Elizur) H. Rogers (1825-1849) of North Bristol, Hartford County, Connecticut. Rogers traveled to California as a member of a joint-stock company called the Montague Mining and Trading Association. His journal covers just under nine months, from the group's departure from New Haven aboard the schooner G. H. Montague (23 January 1849) to the apparent disbanding of the company the following October. About three-quarters of the content is dedicated to the five-month sea voyage to San Francisco, via Cape Horn. The venture proved a failure, as many of the company's members (including Rogers) contracted dysentery after ascending the Sacramento River. The journal ends abruptly with the entry for 15 October; Rogers died a month later. MSN/EA 8001-1-B. [Finding Aid]

  • CALIFORNIA-OREGON TRAIL DIARY. 1850. 1 vol., 11 cm., 54 leaves, with 104 pages of manuscript in a single hand. This 1850 overland diary is entitled: "A Driscription / of the Rout to / California and & / By / A Company of four / Jas. W. Simmons / Geo. W. Stout / A. Baker / Mat. Peck / from Clanton [Clinton] County / Iowa Who Started / on the 25th of March / 1850 / With 2 Waggins and / Seven horses". The author cannot be identified with certainty, but was likely either Simmons or Peck. The narrative runs to around 6000 words, with regular entries from 25 March (and the emigrants' departure from Dubuque, on the Mississippi) to 19 July (when the volume concludes with the party at the northern end of the Salt Lake Cutoff, on the present-day Utah-Idaho border). No subsequent volume is present. The emigrants' route took them across Iowa to Council Bluffs on the Missouri, and thence along the Platte and North Platte Rivers to the Sweetwater River and South Pass (reached on 24 June). At South Pass the party followed the trail's southern fork to Salt Lake City, and the Salt Lake Cutoff. The narrative provides ample description of the trail and conditions thereon, as well as many other circumstances of the journey. The volume also includes six sketched maps and other non-narrative material. MSN/EA 8014-1. [Finding Aid]

  • WILLIAM H. ZERBE DIARY. 1850-1852. 1 vol., 13 cm., 62 leaves, with 88 pages of manuscript entries in Zerbe's hand. A diary recording the experiences during the California gold rush of William H. Zerbe (1824-1894) of Berks County, Pennsylvania. At the time of the diary's first entry (1 July 1850) Zerbe was working a claim near Rough & Ready, California, in what is now Nevada County. By mid-August he had given up mining; he subsequently worked a host of odd jobs, mostly in San Francisco, until he was able to embark for home (2 November 1850). Entries for 1 July through 16 November 1850 are regular and often extended. Entries made thereafter, covering most of Zerbe's sea voyages home, are very sketchy. MSN/EA 8000-1. [Finding Aid]

  • WILLIAM SHEPHERD DIARIES. 1851-1862. 4 vols., 24, 75, 72, and 201 leaves, with 40, 132, 131, and 367 pages of manuscript entries in Shepherd's hand, and numerous newspaper clippings tipped or laid in. Three of the four items in this group are pocket diaries of the daily calendar type, kept for the years 1854, 1855, and 1859 by William Shepherd (b. 1794) of Blackstone, Worcester County, Massachusetts. From 1851 Shepherd was employed at the Millville, Massachusetts textile factory of E. S. Hall & Co, a maker of fancy cassimeres; the 1860 Census identifies him as a wool sorter. Shepherd maintained his diary quite faithfully; taken together, the three volumes bear entries for all but 23 days. Individual entries typically run from 25 to 40 words, though many are shorter and a few longer. The writing is literate, opinionated, and deeply colored by the author's Episcopal faith. Many of the entries treat the immediate events of Shepherd's life: his health, work, and occasional trips to Boston; news of his grown children and other acquaintances; memorable local events; the weather and other aspects of nature. There are also a good many observations on state and national politics, informed as a rule by Shepherd's own sympathies (he aligned himself with the Know Nothings and later with the Republicans, and was an ardent Abolitionist). Much of this commentary is supplemented by clippings pasted or inserted into the volumes. Finally, the diaries contain a good deal that is essentially introspective; most of this content is of a religious nature, bearing on themes of sin, salvation, and death. The diaries were also used for accounts and other personal financial data. The fourth volume in the group (1851-56) seems to be a kind of mourning notebook, with entries and clippings on the deaths of local and national figures. MSN/EA 8005-1 to MSN/EA 8005-4. [Finding Aid]

  • JANE ELWELL GREGORY DIARY. 1852-1858. 1 vol., 20 cm., 91 leaves, with 141 pages of manuscript entries in Gregory's hand. A diary kept by Jane Elwell Gregory (1836-1912) of Shelby, Orleans County, New York, with dated entries ranging from 24 December 1852 to 31 December 1858. The diary commences with the author yet in school, and continues following her marriage, on 31 May 1854, to Sylvester Gregory of Shelby. Individual entries are brief, seldom exceeding 25 words in length, and typically confine themselves to enumerating particulars of the day's activities: chores, social visits, church events, and the like. The only appreciable chronological gaps occur in the summers of 1854 and 1855. MSN/EA 8002-1-B.

  • LUKE TEEPLE OVERLAND DIARY. 1852-1899 (bulk 1852). 1 vol., 13 cm., 62 leaves, with 117 pages of manuscript; 1 photograph. The overland diary of Luke Teeple (1827-1923), an Illinois blacksmith who in the summer of 1852 followed the Oregon-California Trail to the gold fields. The volume contains daily entries of varying length, from Teeple's departure on 12 April to his arrival at Hangtown (Placerville) in late August. The party proceeded across Iowa to the Platte River Road and South Pass, thereafter taking the Sublette Cutoff to the Humboldt River and California. Entries are written in pencil in an uneducated hand; typical information includes daily mileage totals, descriptions of terrain, availability of water and forage, ferry fees, and notable sights and encounters. Also in the volume are scattered entries and accounts dating from Teeple's first year in California, to August 1853. In addition, there is a copy of a fourteen-stanza Gold Rush ballad ("Come all you Californians, I pray open your ears") written in a second hand. MSN/EA 8016-1-B to MSN/EA 8016-2.

  • LOUIS J. SANDS JOURNAL. 1856-1857, circa 1897. 1 vol., 29 cm., 151 leaves, with 304 pages of entries in the author's hand; 1 tintype, 3 ink drawings, 3 pencil drawings, and 2 prints bound or tipped in; 1 newspaper clipping laid in. A personal journal recording the experiences of Captain's Secretary Louis J. Sands of the U. S. steam frigate Susquehanna, on a two-year voyage to the Caribbean Basin, the Mediterranean, and Great Britain. Sands (b. 1836), a New Yorker of notable family, gained his post when a cousin, Joshua Rattoon Sands, was made Susquehanna's captain. After a "special service" to Nicaragua (then controlled by the American William Walker) in May-June 1856, Susquehanna crossed the Atlantic and, for ten months, toured the Mediterranean as flagship of the Navy's Mediterranean Squadron. She then made for the British Isles (May-September 1857), where she was attached to the "cable fleet" seeking to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable. After a second stay in the Mediterranean Susquehanna re-crossed the Atlantic and returned to Nicaragua, where her crew engaged in a successful up-river expedition against Walker and his "filibusters". Sands' journal totals around 90,000 words, and includes regular entries ranging from 10 April 1856 (before Susquehanna embarked) to 29 October 1857 (when she was about to re-cross the Atlantic). Most of the entries date from the ship's time on the Mediterranean station, and in Britain. Sands writes extensively of his experiences in Susquehanna's ports of call (Gibraltar, Mahon, Naples, Spezzia, Marseilles, Genoa, Liverpool, Plymouth, and Algiers, among others); of his encounters with American diplomats, European aristocrats, and other notables; and of socializing at the balls, picnics, and soirées he attended in the company of the captain. Around 1897 Sands revisited the journal to make annotations, additions, and corrections, in an easily distinguishable later hand. These include a three-page appendix recounting the end of the voyage (October 1857 to April 1858), including the action against Walker. MSN/EA 8008-1-B.

  • JACOB P. RUSSEL DIARY. 1857-1859. 1 vol., 18 cm., 190 leaves, with 233 pages of manuscript entries in Russel's hand and 29 newspaper clippings tipped or laid in. Jacob Pyle Russel was born on 29 October 1836 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His father, Alexander Russel, worked at various times as a farmer and blacksmith. From 1853 the younger Russel was apprenticed to or employed by a number of different urban tradesmen, before finding work with G. T. Shoemaker, a Philadelphia druggist; this was his situation at the beginning of the period chronicled by the diary. The volume contains regular daily entries running from 29 October 1857 (Russel's 21st birthday) to 7 February 1859. Entries range from fewer than 20 to more than 100 words; the most typical are 40 or 50 words. The diary is first and foremost a chronicle of Russel's leisure activities and social life; among the most frequently mentioned are churchgoing, attending lectures and other public events, visiting (and carousing) with friends, and courting his future wife, Anna Emery. Nor is the diary without its confessional aspects, especially with regard to Russel's sexual activities. There is less content relating to Russel's work life, and only occasionally does he comment on events in the world at large. Russel enjoyed (and wrote) verse, and clippings of popular verse from Philadelphia newspapers are pasted into the diary. MSN/EA 8003-1-B. [Finding Aid]

  • OSTROM STEPHEN LONT DIARY. 1860. 1 vol., 14 cm., 88 leaves, with 172 pages of manuscript entries in Lont's hand. Associated with the diary are two Lont family bibles and 43 unidentified photographs. Ostrom Stephen Lont, M.D., was born in Lebanon, Madison County, New York in 1821. He was not college educated, having earned his medical license following two years' study with a Madison County doctor. In 1856 Lont moved west, to the prairie town of Mazeppa in Wabasha County, Minnesota, where he provided medical services to the surrounding population. Lont's diary contains regular daily entries running from 1 January to 31 December 1860. Individual entries are brief, seldom exceeding 50 words and sometimes consisting of fewer than ten. Lont writes of the weather and other natural phenomena, of patients treated, of social activities and work around his property. In September Lont travelled to Madison and Otsego counties, New York, where he spent the remainder of the year. MSN/EA 8004-1-B to MSN 8004-3-B; MSN/EA 8004-4-P. [Finding Aid]

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