In 1988, a small leather-bound diary was bequeathed to Schoharie Crossing State Historic site by Clarke Blair, who received it from Gertrude Ruck – a descendent of Michael Brown. Brown was one of the brothers that owned and operated the Brown Cash Store located at Lock 30 in Fort Hunter, NY from the mid-19th to early 20th century.
The diarist is unknown – nonetheless, it is obviously a personal journal of a Fort Hunter resident, and references to notable local families, places and events of 1869 fill its yellowed pages.
Almost without fail, each entry relates the daily weather. While that can seem humdrum to today’s readers, 150 years ago weather had a much greater bearing on peoples’ lives – and livelihoods. Most entries report it was “pleasant,” but notes on rainfall and snowfall show their impact on daily life and hint at the overall climate. Researchers can use countless daily records like this to contribute to historical climate data. References in the autumn detail the downturn in average temperatures, along with snow and the development of ice on the river, but also quite importantly on the canal. As the months move toward winter, there are several references to slow moving boats and the build-up of ice – all in anticipation of the end of canal season.
Through these mentions of daily events one can begin to create a social-network around the diarist. With names such as Ebenezer Howard, Amos Davis, Jim and John Voorhees heavily sprinkled throughout the pages (the latter two quite frequently), one can imagine the greater Fort Hunter community.
The unknown hand that wrote the diary was often employed at various jobs around the area such as shingling a roof, drawing hay, cutting oats or firewood, making fences, working on the road, boarding cattle or butchering – the writer left record of his daily work as well as accounts of payments. It’s clear that this ‘Jack of all Trades’ did not rely on a single source of income. We can see how it was advantageous to the community to work in such an interconnected environment. Earning an honest days’ wage for an honest days’ work with and for neighbors was important to mutual success.
The diary doesn’t stop at work and weather. There are several references to social gatherings, and even the marriage of Jim Voorhees. Mr. Voorhees married on a Thursday, which would seem strange compared to most nuptials today. Interspersed with comments on Sunday services and church meetings there is a mention of traveling to the Lutheran Church across the river with someone only noted as “Boat Boy”.
The unknown hand also wrote of disease and death; perhaps a more common experience in that era. Mentions of funerals such as “John Sweet and child” (Thursday, April 18th) honored, and now carry on, the life of friends lost.
Among the “pleasant” references to trips to Amsterdam or to “hughes” for “a 1lbl. of salt”, are bits of intrigue. After one a trip back from Amsterdam with John Putman and Enders Voorhees it was reported that “by Yankey hill they was looking for McClumpha they found him Drownded in a well”.
Another entry from Friday, September 10, 1869 leaves the reader beyond curious: “It has Rained all day today and I helped…Eb. Howards…and the … Websters also[.] I shall never forget while I live let it Be long or short what I herd this Day.”
No further mention appears, but why should it? The journal offers a sense of the mystery that comes with history.
Photos: The book itself was “printed for the trade” as a Diary of 1868, but the owner used it the following year, from March 13th to December 31st, 1869.
A version of the essay first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the Friends of Schoharie Crossing newsletter.