A Civil War Boy’s Diary

Source: Am. Agriculturalist March 1860
Source: Am. Agriculturalist March 1860

In my last post I referred to the diary of Lucy James Stoughton of Castle Creek. I came across another local diary in my files. This one by a boy of about the same age as Lucy. Diary of a Binghamton Boy of the 1860s was edited and explained by Marjory Barnun Hinman and published in 1982 by the Union Press, Endicott, NY. The year covered is 1860-1861 and the boy, Norris Treadwell, lived in Conklin, New York just outside of the city of Binghamton. To give the flavor of this diary I have selected a few of the spring entries to share here. I will post others during the appropriate season. [Note: F.N. means forenoon and A.N. means afternoon].

The diary begins on May 1, 1860:

I now commence a journal which I expect to continue for many years if I should live. I have kept one for sometime past, but not in a suitable form for connecting with this one.  I was 12 years of age on the 14th of last December. My father is 43 and my mother is 38.  I have 2 sisters and 1 brother. Ellen is 14, Verna is 8, and Marvin 3 years old.  We all enjoy pretty good health only my parents are sometimes lame with rheumatism. Pa has a farm of 90 acres on Pleasant Hill, 4 miles southeast of Binghamton. Pa keeps 13 cows this summer and sells the butter for 20 cents a pound, in jars. The farm is mostly a gentle slope facing the south, except 20 acres of woods across the creek which face north.

May 1 A warm day. Pa sowed oats and I dragged some of them in. Mr. Ayers sowed oats and dragged them in on a piece of land he has taken on shares. I helped Ma make soap. School began yesterday by Miss Marcy. I do not think of going this summer.

May 2 Quite pleasant. Mr. Ayers’ son dragged oats. I helped Pa draw roots off the oat field. We drawed and spread manure.

May 3 I dragged oat ground beyond the shop with Kate in the forenoon. In the A.N. Pa sowed oars and I finished dragging them in. Little Marvin likes to sow oats.

May 4 Warm and pleasant. We went to the village. Pa sowed grass seed and I turned over turf on the oat ground below the Barn. Strawberries are blooming and many other wildflowers.

May 5 Pa finished seeding the oat ground. We let the 4 calves out in the lot. They skip and play very lovely. Grass is starting very thick and nice. The cows are doing well.

May 12 We planted in the garden onions, beets, beans, etc. A balloon ascension at Binghamton. Ellen visited at Mr. Lamaros. Miss Mowry teaches a good school. [Note: Professor Brooks launched his balloon Comet at 2:30 and landed in Cortland at 4:30]

June 2 Pleasant. Pa went to Binghamton in the A.N.. I churned and set out honeysuckle bushes in the yard.

From just these few entries we can see that by age 12 farmers’ boys were participating fully in the daily work of the farm. Sowing and planting occupied the spring with little time for recreation. It is interesting to compare this diary to that of Isaac Hurlburt, a farmer who lived not too far away to the  northeast of Binghamton and which covered the same years.

Why do you think a farm boy like Norris might want to keep a diary?


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