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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Eighteenth-century diaries

Whilst browsing through the links on Early Modern Resources I came across the 1798-99 journal of a Royal Navy seaman in the Caribbean. Old diaries are always fascinating and this one is no exception. Consider this paragraph:

All Northen Physical* men say, that water, & water & Malt Liquiors, is
the best beverage for Youth. Our Doctor Fothergill when he was very young, and
just begun practize, recommended to his Patients Brandy & water, or Gin with
water or Rum. But this great man, when lying on his death bed, said he was very
sorry for his conduct in that particular, and considered it as the very worse
thing, he had done in all his practize; as by his own observation he had learned
unintentionally, many of his patients to be confirmed Drunkards.
I will definitely make time to read the whole journal more carefully in future. By just glancing through it I can see that there's a lot of material for historians of racial attitudes in the West Indies.

Early Modern Resources also links to the diary of Martha Ballard, an eighteenth-century Massachusetts midwife. You can read it both in her handwriting and in a typed transcription. Specific themes and events in the diary are grouped together so that you don't have to read the whole text to follow the story. This page is devoted to entries about the Purrington murders.
Clear and warm. my Husband & I were awake at 3h ys morn by mrss Heartwel and
Gillbard who brot us ye horrible tydings that Capt Purington had murdered all
his famely Except his Son James who must have Shared the Same fate had he not
been So fortunate as to make his Escape after an attempt was made to take his
life. he was wounded with an ax, he fled in his Shirt only and alarmd mr Wiman
of ye horrid Scein, who immediately ran to Son Jonas. they two went to hous
where the horrid Scein was perpetrated. my Son went in and found a Candle which
he lit and to his great Surprise Said Purington, his wife & Six Childn
Corpss and Martha, he perceived had life remaining, who was removd to his house.
Surgical aid was immediately Calld and Shee remains alive as yet. my husband
went and returnd before Sun rise, when after takeing a little food he and I went
on to the hous, there to behold ye most Shocking Scein thal was Ever Seen in
this part of ye world. may an infinitely good God grant that we may all take a
sutable notis of this horrid deed, tearn wisdom there from.
It's sometimes too easy to treat centuries old murders like some kind of historical entertainment. However I think you'll agree that Martha's words press through the reality that this was a horrible thing that happened to real people and not something that we should feel entertained by.



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