Eighty years of 19th-century life

Dear ‘Diaries’

By Dagney C. Ernest | Oct 10, 2018
Photo by: Dagney C. Ernest The last entry of the original diaries was written 150 years ago. The handwritten books have been passed down for six generations.

Rockland — A shoebox handed down through the years, and transported between homes, has revealed itself to be a treasure chest of 19th-century local history — but it took Eleanor and the Rev. Peter Richardson 10 years to make that revelation accessible to all.

They will share “The Ingraham Diaries, Rockland, Maine 1795-1875” Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Friends Community Room of Rockland Public Library, 80 Union St. Local Civil War reenactor David Sulin will give dramatic readings from the new publication, and Eleanor Richardson will narrate a slide show of photographs and maps.

The couple is publishing “The Ingraham Diaries” through Maine Authors Publishing. It has 1,169 pages and includes 116 pictures.

“The first proof was seven pounds … historical society members said, ‘You need to publish it with wheels and a handle!’ So we redid it on thinner paper, and this one is only five,” Eleanor said, paging through the final proof in late September.

The diaries offer a wealth of first-person documentation of the Midcoast’s early days. During the 80 years covered, Maine became a state; Knox became a county; and Rockland became a town, then a city and then the county seat. The diaries begin as accounting books, but go on to cover agricultural practices, weather observations, local ecclesiastical history, war-time (Rockland Harbor was attacked during the War of 1812, as were Camden and Northport), politics, ship-building/sailing, quarrying and the lime industry and a lot more.

“We've got the goods on all the old families of Rockland,” Peter said.

He is the keeper of the shoebox, well, now a small plastic storage bin, having inherited its contents from his mother. The diaries have been passed down for six generations.

“He kept them in an L.L. Bean shoebox, which I thought was cute,” said Eleanor, a retired church musician and organ builder whose work as a local historian led to the couple’s transcription of the small, handwritten volumes.

While working on “Mechanic Street,” a MAP-published history of the South End street the couple lives on, Eleanor became frustrated with the dryness of her source materials — census and tax records, registry of deeds information and such. Important documentation, yes, but “I kept wanting to be a kind of eyewitness to the evolution of the street and it was not happening. I just was not seeing it.” Peter suggested looking into the diaries in addition to official records.

“So I looked up the dates from the registry of deeds and it said, ‘Joseph Kalloch raised his house today, Glover did the building, and it was cold and cloudy.’ So we not only have the date the house was built, but who built it and what the weather was,” she said.

Eleanor was fascinated and started reading about other houses on the street, but found the handwriting “slow sledding” — so slow she could type it as fast as she could read it.

“I said, I might as well be typing this while I read it. Then Peter kind of caught the bug and he started typing. I was typing from 1846 on and Peter started typing in 1795,” Eleanor said, adding that she was glad Peter did the earlier diaries, which are better described as account books.

The diary keepers were Joseph Ingraham and his youngest son, Henry. Joseph went to sea at age 14 and became captain of the Lincoln Galley, a row galley — i.e., a vessel with both sails and oars — that served as a courier of information between the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Battle of Castine.

Unlike most of the American boats in the battle, Ingraham’s vessel was not beached and burned to keep it out of the hands of the British. But the battle may have burned Ingraham himself; he refers over the years to his “old troubles” and meeting “Satan on the road,” and Eleanor wonders if he might not have had what is now termed post-traumatic stress disorder.

When Joseph Ingraham returned to Rockland after the war, his brothers had already staked out adjoining strips of land that ran from the South End waterfront to halfway down Thomaston Street.

“It gave them ocean frontage and lots of trees; and over on the other end, where that brook is, they got some nice salt hay, which is ideal for cattle,” said Peter.

Brother Job’s land comprised what is still known as Ingraham’s Hill; Josiah made good use of his land’s waterfront, building the first ship launched in Rockland, the Dolphin. Joseph, leaving the sea behind, began farming his 200-acre strip.

Joseph built his house, which still stands, in 1781; and married the oldest daughter of Jacob Keen, one of the earliest settlers of Rockland and with whom he had walked back from Castine. Joseph farmed the land, sold wood, worked the waterfront, burned lime and even did some quarrying.

“He had a quarry section in what we call the dump quarry and he sold it to Cobb and to Lucy Farnsworth in equal shares,” said Eleanor.

But 16 years in, Joseph, like many a Midcoast settler, found himself having to pay Lucy Knox for his land — at $2 an acre. Lucy (Fluker), wife of Gen. Henry Knox, was the granddaughter of Samuel Waldo, he of the 576,000-acre Waldo Patent.

“They thought that by fighting a revolution they would rid themselves of these royal grants, which gave huge tracts of land to people. But Boston lawyers finagled it around. Certainly Henry Knox did,” Eleanor said.

But the Knoxes had a way of sweetening the deal that the Richardsons suspect happened in this case.

“They would take somebody in leadership like Joseph Ingraham and say, 'If you will go ahead and buy your land and set an example to the others, we will make you a justice of the peace, which will give you some advantage of earning money',” said Eleanor.

There is a pile of diary-corroborating documents, including the post-$400 payment deed signed by Henry and Lucy Knox; and, shortly thereafter, a list of a number of law books from Boston. As a justice of the peace, Joseph presided over more than 3,000 trials, including boundary disputes and both civil and criminal cases, since the closest courthouse was in Wiscasset. All are duly recorded in the diaries.

Along the way, Joseph had four children. The youngest, Henry, was quite a bit younger than the rest and “I think he kind of tagged around after his dad,” said Eleanor. When Henry was 13, Joseph gave him the task of keeping the diaries. Their primary function was to keep records of who worked on the farm and how many hours, as well as the same for those who occasionally came into the household to do weaving, soap- and candlemaking, although Joseph’s wife, Bradbury (yes, there’s a story there), did a lot of that herself.

“But every now and then, a shoemaker would come, take care of the family shoes. A cloth maker would come and make coats for them. They'd put them up in the house and feed them,” Peter said.

Henry kept the diaries for about seven years, until he got married; he went on, among other accomplishments, to build the Atlantic Wharf, still in use today. Joseph took over again and kept writing the diaries until two years before his death, when Henry resumed the task.

“So it's 80 years, and if you multiply that by 365 days, it's 29,000 days, which is quite something,” said Eleanor.

The Richardsons transcribed all the diaries they have, but some are missing. Peter’s great-aunt may have loaned them out to other families — or may even have discarded ones with “incriminating” information.

“I don't think she would do that, but it’s hard to know. She was a Calvinist Baptist and quite severe,” said Peter, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister who also has written and published a number of books. “She was a loving aunt, but had this side of her; every family has an aunt or uncle quite different from the rest.”

It took the Richardsons seven years to type out the diaries, and Eleanor spent another eight months creating the index. Since spelling was not as standardized in the diaries’ days, this was a real challenge. Take the local family name Hall, for instance.

“When they hauled water, hauled dung, they spelled it 'hall.' So use the computer to find ‘Hall,’ it's on every page! I had to go through page by page and underline it,” Eleanor said.

Other family names that figure in the diaries — and whose descendants could possibly have a missing diary or two — include Lindsey, Perry, Hix and Kalloch; the diaries include the Boston trial of Isaac Kalloch, a preacher known for his “golden voice” who was accused of inappropriate behavior in a carriage with a female parishioner. Peter’s great-aunt thought it was a ploy by the liquor interests because “he was a temperance man.”

As juicy as some of these stories sound, the diaries are primarily day-to-day documentation. As Eleanor was typing in her entries, she placed asterisks beside the more interesting parts, meaning later to delete them. But she decided they served a good purpose.

“If you just read from asterisk to asterisk, you'll skip all the hauling dung stuff. So I left them in, because it sort of leads you through the highlights,” she said.

The couple is printing 100 copies of the book. They should be available at the library event, which is co-sponsored by the Rockland Historical Society. The hardcover book, plus a searchable CD of the text, is priced at $90; the CD alone will be available for $20.

Those interested in purchasing “Ingraham Diaries 1795-1875” — for a personal collection or to donate as a local reference book to a library or historical society collection — are encouraged to contact Eleanor by email to grandmoot@aol.com.

“It's so hard to wrap your mind around the information that's contained in them,” said Eleanor. “It's like opening a treasure chest to find this amazing amount of stuff that's lasted all these years.”

The couple expressed warm appreciation for Maine Authors Publishing, located in Thomaston.

“There were five or six times we had to go back and forth. I would do PDFs of each section, they would make a PDF of the whole thing and I would just drive over and pick it up,” she said.

The new book about the 19th century is truly made possible by modern-day word and image processing — “I did the design of the whole thing; Microsoft Word has amazing capabilities,” said Eleanor. But its wilderness tale offers the 21st century some perspective.

“We're worried about attacking the grid and going back to a world without electricity. I found it very interesting to see that they, who had never heard of electricity, had perfectly good lives,” Eleanor said.

For more information about both Richardsons’ books, visit redbarnrockland.com.

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