Monthly Archives: April 2014

Excerpts from my ancestor’s journal (April 1889)

It’s been a few months since I posted from my ancestor’s journal, mostly because I had fallen off in my transcription project. But! I worked on it last night, and have some fun excerpts to share.

March 1889 was a rough month for Emma as her eight-year-old daughter, Mattie, became very ill from pneumonia. A few entries were simply variations of: “Mattie very sick.” Finally, Mattie did pull through. In early April, calamity fell again to the household when Emma’s mother-in-law, who lived with them, fainted dead away and hit her head. Days later, her head still ached. From about this time, Emma wrote the following entry:

[Friday, April 12, 1889]

Shower during the night – sunshine, clouds and showers today. Men have been grafting and trimming the trees in the “clover lot” this week. Frank went from there to the depot soon after 4 o’c., and as he has not returned yet think he has gone out of town. Mother has made ginger-bread and doughnuts. I swept and cleaned the west chamber etc. Did mending this P.M. and evening. Henry was happy as possible this morning when he found that he was not to have to have on skirts any more – he looks nicely now his hair is cut. Heard thunder in the distance – we have had two thundershowers this spring – one in the night and one at noon.

The following is something that came to me in good time.

“Do thou thy work; it shall succeed

In thine, or in another’s day,

And if denied the victor’s meed

Thou shalt not miss the toiler’s pay.”

(Robert Moffat)

I like reading about the orchard work, especially as I’m reading about it in the springtime. Four-year-old Henry’s transition out of skirts is amusing, especially as the Victorian practice of dressing little boys in skirts is something I’ve wondered at before.

The quote, which initially struck me as so very New England Puritan, was actually written by a Scottish Congregationalist missionary. Robert Moffat (1795 – 1883) was a missionary to South Africa and was the father-in-law of the more famous missionary David Livingstone.

Another excerpt:

[Sunday, April 21, 1889]

Pleasant but very windy this P.M.

Grandpa, Prescott and Henry walked down to church. The meetings today had special reference to “The Constitutional Amendment.” Shall we vote Yes or No?

[Monday, April 22, 1889]

A beautiful morn – but wind clouds blew over and was so windy we could hardly get clothes on to the line.

Grass is up two inches high and is very green, and fresh.

The vote for the Amendment came in 11 or 13 ahead in this town. School did not keep – children all went after checker-berries.

Grandpa carried Mr. Wheeler down to vote.

Pease came home tonight.

The Constitutional Amendment was for state Prohibition. This did not pass in 1889. I know from later entries that Emma was at some point a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union but I’m not sure she was active in it in 1889.

I had never heard of checkerberries, but the plant also goes by the name American wintergreen or eastern teaberry.

Mr. Wheeler was a neighbor of the Richards family, and was mentioned quite often in Emma’s journal. As he was older and ailing, members of the family would frequently go down to his house and check on him. He died five days after the day Emma’s father-in-law carried him down to the vote.

J. Howard Pease was a hired hand who had started working for the family in December 1888. I loved this little bit from the end of January 1889:

Frank, Pease and I went down to the vestry to a sociable and chicken pie supper. We had a fine time. The young people went to the Town Hall afterward to a select dance. Frank went over and introduced Pease to the co. before we came home.

His presence around the household allows for a peek into Williamsburg’s more social scene, since Frank was often traveling for work and Emma was constrained by caring for her children and by housework. In April 1889, Pease went to see Comical Brown, an entertainer hailing from Maine, and he also attended a lecture given by a M. Kimball of Chicago.

I was able to find the table of contents for a songbook written by Comical Brown (whose real name was William B. Brown) through William & Mary’s library website:

Table of Contents:

  • The strong minded female. Words by Wm. B. Brown (first line: I’m a strong-minded female, from Boston)
  • The kiss at the door. Music by Wm. B. Brown (first line: We were sitting in the doorway)
  • William Henry White. Pathetic ballad, composed by Wm. B. Brown (first line: Come all ye people high and low)
  • Shun the broad road (first line: The happy home circle is breaking, my boy)
  • The Irish wedding (first line: Now won’t you hear what roaring cheer was had at Paddy’s wedding)
  • Pat Murphy’s employment. Words and music by Wm. B. Brown (first line: Pat Murphy’s my name, I’m a broth of a boy)
  • The wife-hunter. Written and composed by Wm. B. Brown (first line: I married a wife, a loving wife)
  • The ‘orrible tale. Composed and sung by W.B. Brown (first line: It’s an ‘orrible tale I’m a goin’ for to tell)
  • The little boy that died. Poetry by Dr. Chalmers. Music by Wm. B. Brown (first line: I am all alone in my chamber now)
  • Werry Mysterious. As sung by Wm. B. Brown (first line: O dear! what a world of misfortune and care).

I’m going to assume based on the titles that Mr. Brown wasn’t “comical” all the time. “The little boy that died” sounds like something out of Dickensian sentiment. Also, I am very curious to know the rest of the lyrics to “The strong minded female”!

My working theory for the identity of M. Kimball is that Emma had the first initial incorrect, and that the speaker was actually Edward A. Kimball, a Chicagoan who studied Christian Science under the movement’s founder Mary Baker Eddy in early 1889 at her Massachusetts Metaphysical College (located in Boston).

I love how transcribing this journal has turned into a portal for all sorts of great 19th century trivia. As I make more progress, I will be sure to post more excerpts.



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Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954 – 63 by Taylor Branch

Parting the Waters

1988. Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. 924 pages (1064 pages including notes and index)

From: Borrowed from a friend


Parting the Waters is the first of a trilogy covering the Civil Rights era in the United States. After a couple of biographical chapters about Martin Luther King Jr.’s early life and influences, the book really kicks into gear with a vivid description of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Later chapters cover the Freedom Rides, the sit-ins, and the voter registration campaigns. The book concludes with the famous March on Washington, followed by the bomb at Birmingham 16th Street Baptist that killed four young girls, and the assassination of JFK.

In an earlier post on this book, I wrote that this book has helped me better understand my own country. Echoing others’ reviews that I’ve read on Goodreads, I feel like my understanding of the Civil Rights era had been shallow until I read this book. In my previous understanding, the Civil Rights revolution had the air of inevitability. After reading Parting the Waters, I am stunned by what the Civil Rights activists were able to achieve. Many people told these activists that they were trying to enact change too fast, or that there could never be a desegregated America. I’m so glad they didn’t listen; I’m so glad people like Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Moses, Septima Clark, Diane Nash, John Lewis, John Doar, Bayard Rustin, and countless others persevered. They were ignored or misunderstood by the media; they faced internal divisons; they were persecuted financially and legally; some were beaten and some were killed.

Branch won the Pulitzer prize for History with this book. It’s indeed a marvelous work. Thanks to his extensive research and interviews, Branch is able to provide tremendous detail to this historical narrative. What people said and how they felt is recounted, and I was towed along emotionally through all of the outrage and discouragement, as well as the joy and the inspiration.

Some moments that flash to mind from this book that I did not include in my earlier posts:

Group of student strikers

Students named in the initial suit. Photo taken for Life by Hank Walker in 1953.

– At a school assembly in 1951 Virginia, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led her fellow students to walk out of their school to protest of its poor condition,  contacted NAACP lawyers, and shamed the adults into their cause. “When the skeptical lawyers said that the NAACP could not sue for better Negro schools – only for completely integrated ones – the students paused but briefly over this dizzying prospect before shouting their approval” (p. 20). Their case would eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court as part of Brown v. Board of Education.

William Lewis Moore holding a sign that says "End Segregation in America. Black or White Eat at Joe's"

William Lewis Moore

– In 1963, a white postal worker named William Lewis Moore decided to walk from Chattanooga to Mississippi wearing signboards calling for an end to segregation. He was later found dead on the side of U.S. Highway 11 near Attala, Mississippi, with two gunshots to the head. There was “press discussion about whether the childlike postman had been crazier or saner than the accepted world” (p. 750). Several protest marches were undertaken in his name.

– During the Birmingham movement of 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed Reverend A.D. King’s home (younger brother of MLK) and the A.G. Gaston Motel where many civil rights leaders had rooms. A riot ensued in the aftermath. As leaders preached nonviolence and the police attempted to assert control, radio reporters captured a black man’s voice shouting, “How come we have to go home every time they start violence?” (p. 795).

– Similar theme: a week after the Birmingham church bombing that killed the four young girls, author James Baldwin expressed his impatience with nonviolence, saying that in all American history, “the only time that nonviolence has been admired is when the Negroes practice it” (p. 896).

Later in 1963, Assistant Director William Sullivan reported to J. Edgar Hoover that there was little or no Communist involvement in the March on Washington. Hoover refused to accept the report as true and Sullivan consequently scrambled to save his career by reversing that assessment. A short time later, Robert Kennedy approved the FBI’s request to set a wiretap on Martin Luther King Jr.’s home.


I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a deeper insight into American history. If the size proves too daunting, you may want to consider Taylor Branch’s recently issued book The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement which is a compilation of excerpts from the America in the King Years trilogy but also apparently includes new passages. From reviews on Goodreads, it sounds like it is a decent book; at 224 pages, it constitutes a small taste of Branch’s epic history.

Links to my earlier posts:

Things I Didn’t Know about the Mongtomery Bus Boycott

“Baptism on Wheels” – reading about the Freedom Rides

The Albany Movement 1962: Much struggle, little justice


Excerpts from others’ reviews of Parting the Waters:

Alison from Goodreads – “ At times it feels overdone, until you’re recounting stories from the era like you were there.”

Clif from Goodreads – “From any perspective, Parting of the Waters is a masterpiece. Branch doesn’t let a person come into the story without a lively introduction including the character traits that will help the reader keep track of one person among so many that stand out during the years described.

David of Goodreads – “Branch also narrates events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Freedom Rides with the you-are-there immediacy of an eyewitness reporter and the eye for detail of a novelist.


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April update: TBR challenge, bad books, inspirational people, and movie talk

The Triple Dog Dare TBR Challenge finished in March. Readers committing to the challenge are supposed to only read books from their own shelves for three months. Although I was perhaps not faithful to the letter of the rules, I do consider the challenge a success for me. My personal goal had been to keep the library books out of my house so I could focus on my own books, and more importantly, focus on the interesting but hefty history book I had borrowed from a friend. Hefty book is now 96% done (thanks Goodreads for the stat), so success! I did read a few of my own books as well – finally getting around to Into Thin Air, for example. I hope to be more moderate in my library borrowing this year, so I can read even more books from my own shelves.

Bad Books

The one exception to my hiatus from library books was to enable a joint reading experience with my friend/co-worker Kim. Inspired by The Millions post, “”Dumbest Thing Ever”: Scribbling in the Margins of Dan Brown’s Inferno”, we decided to take a similar approach to Becca Fitzpatrick’s YA paranormal book, Hush Hush. This book has an average 4-star rating on Goodreads, but has also been spectacularly panned by such bloggers as Raych at books i done read, who read it on a dare, and Ana at Book Smugglers. Since we borrowed our copies from the library, we couldn’t write on the pages like the author of the Millions post. So we armed ourselves with post-its and went to town.

Book text: [We] parked alongside the historic Topsham paper mill sitting on the bank of the Androscoggin River." Post-it: "Somebody was paging through the Maine Gazetteer." Scribbled above first post-it comment: "HA!"

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From book: "I went upstairs and pulled on a snug white cashmere sweater, dark jeans, and navy blue driving moccasins." First post-it: "What are driving moccasins??" Second post-it: "Schmidt on New Girl has had to put $ in the d-bag jar for wearing driving moccasins."

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From book: "I looked from the can to Patch. Just because my blood warmed at the thought of putting my mouth where his had been didn't mean I had to tell him." First post-it: "Who gets turned on by drinking from the same soda can? ew gross." Second post-it: "I have not been 16 in a few years, but I'm certain this is not a common blood warmer."

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Book text: "I was sixteen and could decide when and why I left the house." Post-it on book: "16!? Oh no she better don't!" - Rupaul

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Since we explicitly picked up the book to hate-read it, I’m not going to give it a real review. Judging from a few of the comments on The Millions post, not everyone understands the pleasure of being snarky with a bad book, but we had a great time with it. Our next book will actually be a sincere choice: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, but I would be totally game for a another future snarkfest, so feel free to throw any suggestions of suitable bad books in the comments.

Inspirational People

To get a little more serious, I had the pleasure of hearing two inspirational authors speak last week. The first, David Weinberger, is the author of the books Everything is Miscellaneous and Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room. I am in the middle of Too Big to Know, and it’s doing a good job of getting the wheels turning in my mind as far as professional implications.

The second author I heard speak last week was Matthew Vines, author of the upcoming book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines spoke at my church about his journey, and about the goal of his book and of The Reformation Project, the non-profit he founded in the last couple years. I had the privilege of participating in a study with one of the Reformation Project leaders last fall, so I was very excited to meet Vines. Only 24 years old, he impressed me with his vision and his compassionate heart for all people. Although I am not a LGBT person, much of what Vines said resonated with me, as I also grew up in a non-affirming evangelical church community. I also was struck by how careful he was with Biblical interpretation. For example, a teenager in the audience asked him if there were any pro-homosexual verses in the Bible, and Vines said no there wasn’t, and it would be a mistake to try to claim that it did. Rather, to put it very very simply, the Bible is silent on committed same-sex relationships because that concept and the concept of sexual orientation just didn’t exist at the time the Biblical texts were written. So we must take our response to same-sex relationships from the Biblical values of love and equality. I’m really looking forward to reading Vines’ book, which will be released by Random House on April 22nd.

Movie Talk

In other news, I went to the movies three times in March, which was unusual for me. I saw and loved the Veronica Mars movie (with my friend and fellow Kickstarter contributer, Darcy). I highly enjoyed and was touched by Wes Andersen’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. One of the narrating characters is an author, and the movie struck a note of familiarity, as if I’d previously read a book in the same genre as the central tale of the film. The other movie I saw was Divergent and it was better than I expected it would be (I was a so-so fan of the book.) I wasn’t surprised by Shailene Woodley’s ability to carry the film, as she was wonderful in the Descendants and The Spectacular Now. Poor Kate Winslet got the worst of the dialogue, all expository and no fun. The soundtrack was very heavy on Ellie Goulding, who I generally enjoy, though I find it jarring to have familiar songs scoring a future dystopia. That said, the filmmakers’ were savvy to use Woodkid’s “Run Boy Run,” one of the most naturally cinematic pop songs I’ve ever come across. Since I’m not among the book’s biggest fans, I had few bones to pick with the film adaptation. I will say, however, that I wondered at the movie’s downplaying the deadly nature of the Dauntless initiation. I’m pretty sure that in the book a kid died trying to make that jump from the train to the roof. Also someone in the book got stabbed in the eye during the training section of the story.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully April and May will see some more book reviews from me. Until then, happy reading!



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