The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Voices from the Past: 1-2 November

A new month, something new and different here at The Beehive. Since there are a tremendous number of diaries in the MHS collections, I thought it would be neat to pick out some "voices from the past" and highlight a few of these. I'm going to try this in various different ways, the first of which is to look at some anniversary posts ("this day in history", if you will). You can search our online catalog (ABIGAIL) for diaries by year (just use "Diaries Year", i.e. "Diaries 1709" in the subject box), so I've taken a look at diaries from 1709 onward, every hundred years and picked out some interesting entries from 1-2 November. Following the year I've listed the number of manuscript diaries from our collections that cover the period. A link at the end of each person's entry will take you to the ABIGAIL record for their collection.

1709 (8 Diaries)

- Thomas Prince (1687-1758), newly-minted minister. Later pastor of the Old South Church, Boston (and a great book collector). He kept a fascinating (and quite beautiful) journal while travelling on the ship Thomas and Elizabeth as part of a fleet on several journeys: Boston to Barbados, 29 March - 4 September 1709; Barbados to London, 5 September 1709 - 16 March 1710; London to Madeira, 17 March - 29 April 1710; Madeira to Barbados, 30 April - 2 August 1710; Barbados to Great Britain, 3 August - 17 October 1710. The entries contain geographic coordinates, wind direction and speed, and weather, as well as descriptions of daily occurrences including incidents between the fleet and other ships, poetry, and ballads.  On 1-2 November 1709 (days 58 and 59 of his trip) he carefully records in small hourly tables the wind direction and speed, weather conditions (breezy at 6 a.m., smooth sea at 6 p.m., cloudy at 10 p.m. on 1 November; the following day they had fair weather at 2 a.m., rain at 8 a.m., faint wind at 2 p.m., and clear skies at 6 p.m.), the speed of the ship, miles travelled, &c. On 2 November he records their latitude as 49 degrees, 43 minutes.

Prince's journal also contains some fascinating ballads and poetry. On his page for 1 November are written the 12th and 13th stanzas of a ballad he began recording back on 28 August, "On y'e Battle of Oudenard, June 30 1708. Jack Frenchman's Lamentation. An excell't New Song: to y'e Tune of I'll tell Thee Dick, &c." Below this, he's copied another few lines of verse (not part of the ballad):

"Unhappy news! again without success!
Alass who can my sorrows now express?
Oh Thou unhappy continent of Spain!
Oceans of Blood for Thee are spillt in vain!
Routed again! again my army broke!
This is a fatal, mortifying stroke!
Alas what shall I do? I fear they'l force
Me at y'e last to take Benhadad's course!
Since Israel's Kings so mercifull have been;
Mercy I hope to find from Britain's Queen:
I'll stay a while & see how matters go,
My spirit cant yet bare to stoop so low:
But if it must be so, it must be so."

In the upper right corner of the page Prince records his "remarks" for the day. On 1 November he writes (slightly expanded based on his handy list of abbreviations at the front of the journal): "At 10 y'e morn: we sounded 61 Fath: Grainy [?] cs: sand [coarse sand], white & yellow; w'th [bits of] scallop shells, some of [which were] small & [word unclear]. By [which] we Judg ours: on y'e coast of France; [which] is generally such sort of Ground & about y'e same Depth of Water: [which] grows deeper towards y'e Brittish shoars; [where] y'e Ground is much finer & whiter. At y'e same time, y'e [wind] [weaving?] to y'e NE, we kept on our Larb: [tack] till 12, [when] we stood to y'e Nor-ward."

For 2 November, Prince remarks "About midnight, we fell in [with] a strange Fleet, [which] put us in a great confusion, but wasnt [thoroughly] discerned till about 2, a Gun was fired [that] alarmed us. At y'e same time we saw 2 Top-Lights, & several ships [that were] larger [than] any of our Fleet. At [daybreak], we Discover'd our Comma[nders] Ensign flying, & we Reckon about 50 [sails]. But as it grew Lighter we can count 54, and y'e 14 or 15 [sail that were] strangers, appear'd [very] Large, on our Larb: Bow, to [the Leeward], & y'r Ensign seem'd to [be White which made] us afraid [they were] French Men of War. But we [were] presently undeceiv'd, [when] at [sunrise] we saw [the] Red-cross; upon we concluding [them] to [be the] Brittish Squadron of y'e White, we bore down to [them]; & by 10, [the] Men [of] War saluted each other. Below the remarks, Prince outlines the "Plimouth-Squadron of Cruisers" in a table, listing eight third-rate and eight fourth-rate ships with the number of guns on each (the Russel, Royal-Oak, and Newark with 80 guns; the Kent and Restoration with 70; the Plimouth, Medway, and Montague with 64; the Monk, August, and St. Albans with 60; and the Depforth, Romney, Falmouth, Salisbury, and Winchester with 54 guns apiece).

His remarks continue next to the table: "My [Lord] Dursley, [Vice] Admiral of y'e White, in y'e Kent, lets fly a White Flag w'th St. Georges Cross, at y'e [foretop masthead]. Y'e Medway & Falmouth [are] sent on a seperate Cruize. My [Lord a Day] or 2 ago Gave [DuGuay with] 5 or 6 [Men of War] a chase, till [they] rais'd [their] Hulls, but y'e Night Parted [them]. Y'e Lost-Light of Scilly Lights last night, at 10. & [they] Judge, we are 15 or 20 Leag[ues] to [the] NbE. Having steer'd SbW, till they fell in [with] us." (Thomas Prince journal)

1809 (26 Diaries)

- John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), American minister to Russia. St. Petersburg, Russia. Line-a-day diary for 1 November: "Wednesday. Looking out for lodgings, first alone. Then with Harris, who called on us again in the Evening." Long diary for 1 November: "I was engaged all this morning after breakfast, in visiting houses and apartments to be let. First going out alone; and afterwards in Company with Mr. Harris who called upon me for that purpose. I have an length seen two places, either of which will supply us with better accommodations than any that we have hiterto seen. Mr. Harris called upon us again in the Evening. I read and wrote very little this day."

Line-a-day diary for 2 November:"Still in search of lodgings with my wife. Visits from Harris and Mr. Meyer. Harris sent a Russian Dict'ry & Grammar." Long diary for 2 November: "Went out this morning with Mrs. Adams and looked over two or three houses, and lots of apartments which we have not yet engaged. Met Mr. Harris and Mr. Meyer, who called and paid us a visit. I delivered him a letter of credit from Mr. Grey. Mr. Harris called again and passed a couple of hours with us in the Evening. He sent me also a Russian and French Dictionary and Grammar, from which I began the attempt to learn the character of the Russian Alphabet. Among the peculiarities of this Country with which is will be proper to become more conversant, are the stoves, the kitchens, the double windows, the construction of the houses generally and the drojky's - These and other things will be the subjects of more particular future observation. I tried this day two of their most ordinary liquors. The quas, at two kopoeks the bottle and the chitslisky at five. They have a taste of small beer; with an acid not unpalatable to me, though much so to all the rest of the family." (John Quincy Adams diaries)

- Alexander Hill Everett (1790-1847), secretary to John Quincy Adams. St. Petersburg, Russia. Writing on 1 November: "Our first care has been to equip ourselves under the direction of a tailor, till which time we were unable to stir out and indeed have as yet seen nothing of the curiosities of the place. The weather has as yet been uncommonly mild, today Nov. 1 is the coldest and the temperature is at 6 [degrees] Keau, the air very clear & bracing. ...

One of the first things that at once delights and surprises an American traveller here is the great respect entertained by the Emperor and Court for the national character. Mr. Harris, our agent has received most marked [favor] from his Imperial Majesty and the Court and all distinguished persons here and the reception Mr. Adams has received is thus far equally flattering. We found a few of our countrymen that expect to pass the winter among them was Mr. Fisher, with whom I had contracted an acquaintance at Christiansand and in whose company I expect much satisfaction. Besides him are Mr. Osgood, the brother of my classmate Osgood, Capt. Shreve of Salem, Mr. Waters of Boston and several others.

The effect of Petersburg when it first strikes the eye is very great. It is the most beautiful city in Europe, though inferiour in size to Constantinople, London, Paris, Vienna, Naples, Berlin & Moscow. The publick buildings are in a style of wonderful magnificence. I have not yet had an opportunity to examine any of them, but as I do, I shall note my observations. The granite embankments of the Neva and of the canals, surrounded with railings of iron are most stupendous and admirable, whether we consider the immense labor, bestowed upon them or their incalculable utility. The famous status of Peter the Great is one of the most striking monuments in the place and one that first meets the eye on landing. It stands in the middle of a square in the first Admiralty Quarter which you pass through as you enter the town from the quay. He is on horseback in the attitude of gaining the summit of a rough rock, an allegorical representation of his victory over the savage state of his country. ..." (Alexander Hill Everett diaries)

1909 (23 diaries)

- Robert James Streeter (1889-1951), student at Clark College, Worcester. Later a history teacher. On 1 November 1909 he records the temperature (50) and the weather (Clear, calm) before recording the events of the day. "That story about Cross was not so. I played tennis with Woodbury & gave him a hard rub on teh second set. After Glee Club Fletcher & I went down to Porter's house after some dress suits. LeSure [?] was up here raising cain when we got back. He threw a pillow at me, bending my glasses, & I broke them trying to fix them."

The following day, 2 November, Streeter notes that the temperature was 60 and the weather "Cloudy, some showers." "We had a quiz in logic & one in Biol. I cut Biol. Lab this afternoon & went downtown to see an occulist, but did not get there till after office hours. This eve Parris, Oberg & another fellow was up here this eve. Today the state election takes place. The first of the Ellis Concerto is given this eve.

Streeter also kept an expense book, in which he records that he spent 10 cents on ice cream on 1 November, and 5 cents for carfare and 5 cents on ice cream on 2 November [a fellow after my own heart, eating ice cream well into November!] (Robert James Streeter diaries)

- William Lawrence (1850-1941), Epsicopal Bishop of Massachusetts (1893-1927). On 1 November 1909, he records "Home before breakfast. Wrote. Met Rose of Nashville at Mr. [Oliver's?] office & work on statement of history of Geo. Peabody College for two hours. Rose & I lunch at Union Club." He goes on to describe several church services that afternoon and evening. On 2 November, he writes "Office hours: 1 1/2 hours with Rose & Oliver[?] finishing statement. Lunch. [Word unclear] with Julie to Salem ... funeral of __ Endicott Peabody. Rain. Brght Edith Wolcott back. Wrote in Ev'g. (William Lawrence diaries)

- William Cameron Forbes (1870-1959), Secretary of Commerce and Police for the Philippines (he would be named Governor-General later in November). On 2 November he writes: "I must have got a sunstroke in a little way on Sunday as I went out to inaugurate the new [polo] field and see how much a pony cut it up, and that night had a fierce headache. So in all day yesterday, only getting up enough energy to lunch with my bureau chiefs. If I am to become Governor at the end of this week it may be that a new Secretary of Commerce and Police will be appointed, and that I shall step out of the office I've held now for nearly six years.

So old Strong came round, tenderly looking after me. He looks worn and dragged, poor fellow. His wife has blood poisoning and has been very ill, but is recovering slowly.

No polo on Monday, and today being election day I have taken it generally easy, only going to a Carnival directors' meeting, as I am still President of the Association, and having to walk part way home as Cootes, headless and heedless as a boy of four, had run off with my machine and forgotten to order it back for me.

A few days ago I made my return call on Admiral Sebree when he had all his captains and coadjutors, by whatever rank distinguished, collected on the flagship; - and all this to save me the trouble of going to each of his eight ships, and Uncle Sam the cost of eight times seventeen guns, which would have been indeed a bombardment and taken all the morning. We drank champagne in the Admiral's cabin. I sat at a table with three admirals, as Nazro had turned up, and we were indeed ranky." (W. Cameron Forbes journals)

I hope these are of interest, and look forward to more of these "voices from the past" in future posts.

permalink | Published: Monday, 2 November, 2009, 8:00 AM


Commenting has closed for this post. Thank you for participating.