I recently finished “Village Life in America 1852-1872, Including the Period of the American Civil” By Caroline Cowles Richards. This is the published diary of a school girl growing up in Canandaigua, New York. She was raised in a Puritan household though it seems that she attended many different denominational services. I have included some selections below that I found interesting. Certainly the perspective of a schoolgirl starting at 10 years old isn’t the most deep perspective but I think this book gives some color to the American Puritans. Caroline’s family is quite pious and seem like nice enough people. Keep in mind these are selections I found worth noting and not necessarily representative of most of the book.
What is interesting about this quote was the title of the book given to Caroline: “Noble Deeds of American Women”. There is probably nothing to this but it strikes me none-the-less as interesting.
It is telling but unsurprising that the persecuted Puritans would celebrate another persecuted heretic. From La Wik
” On 28 and 29 January [ 1555] he came before the commission appointed by Cardinal Pole, and was sentenced to death by Gardiner for heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the real presence in the sacrament.”
Caroline’s grandmother had a saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This probably isn’t too far off from most Christian theology but the saying still strikes me as odd. The focus on martyrs being the seed of the church certainly would ring true for a Puritan. Though to me it sounds vaguely like the focus on the oppressed of the modern Cathedral.
Keep in mind this is coming from a 10 year old school girl. The family is quite well off, but even for a rich or pious family this would be unusual in this day and age. The idea of everyman a priest was clearly practiced in Caroline’s household.
Caroline rarely notes news or events, so it is surprising that the Missouri Compromise made it into her diary. Especially since she didn’t understand it’s significance. Was this event significant to her grandfather? Or was he simply interested in hearing about the presidents speech?
Caroline and her sister do quite a lot of sewing. It is a common subject in her diary. It is clear girls in her town were quite handy at fashioning and modifying clothing. I can understand why this skill went out of fashion a long time ago, but it is a telling generational divide.
When Caroline’s grandmother tells Caroline that she is inviting a slave to dinner Caroline and her sister bluntly tell their Grandmother that they “would rather invite white ladies.” It is not surprising but nice to see children be a little more thedish than the modern standard. Children are pretty racist when they are not conditioned not to be. In addition a old slave would certainly be odd company compared to the highly literate and educated white townsfolk. But what was is really interesting is the Grandmother’s response “…God made of one blood all the people on the face of the earth….” which seems to be a reference to Acts 17:26 “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (KJV) This seems to be a predecessor of the denial of race. Though worth noting is that the Grandmother does not seem to pay attention to “the bounds of their habitation.” Certainly just as a modern progressive might claim we all bleed red, or something of the sort, being genetically related does not infer there are not valid differences or distinctions.
“Heathen” well you don’t hear that word often nowadays. This is the first of many diary entries that mention various charity or conversion missions. It seems like representatives would travel between churches to ask for donations and volunteers.
Hmmmm this sounds very familiar. Just replace a picture of a ship with a picture of a starving african child. Though it is interesting to note they were giving a picture of the ship itself. Not to read too much in to this, but a picture of the ship clearly draws the focus to supporting the missionaries not on the salvation of the heathens. This could be read as status signalling for holiness or a practical measure for people more concerned with their White Christian peers. Or it could simply be no one wanted to lug a camera across an ocean and the only picture they could take was at port in America.
“Know–Nothing party, byname of American Party, U.S. political party that flourished in the 1850s. The Know–Nothing party was an outgrowth of the strong anti-immigrant and especially anti-Roman Catholic sentiment that started to manifest itself during the 1840s.”-Encyclopedia Britannica
“Members, when asked about their nativist organizations, were supposed to reply that they knew nothing, hence the name. As its membership and importance grew in the 1850s, the group slowly shed its clandestine character and took the official name American Party. As a national political entity, it called for restrictions on immigration, the exclusion of the foreign-born from voting or holding public office in the United States, and for a 21-year residency requirement for citizenship.”-Encyclopedia Britannica
Note here “Native Americans” is not referring to Indians but naturalized Americans.
We see here that one of the hired help is Irish. It is interesting that Caroline knows who about the Know Nothings at all. While it might seem strange today to talk about problems with white immigrants, many were in fact a threat to the homogeneity of the country. They were orders of magnitude more similar than today’s immigrants but none-the-less they were not of the original WASP stock. The discussion of problems of white diversity are beyond the scope of this post.
Wow! This is quite a telling difference on the conceptions of love and marriage. Today’s equivalent of this game would probably be he loves me he loves me not. That clearly focuses on romantic love. In this version “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief,” the focus is on the occupation, status, wealth and character of the girls future husband. Not only is love not even mentioned in this version the focus is all on marriage and the quality of the husband.
This selection is interesting both on the subjects the girls were studying and that it notes that education tends distract women from men. Although in this case it is probably for the best that young girls are not focussed on men. The school was a girls only school fyi.
I chose this section simply because it is something you wouldn’t see today. At least not being done by the natives ( outside of Maine maybe ).