My dear sons, learn eloquence.
March 4, 2015 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Beginning in 1808, a young man begins keeping a secret, ciphered journal of his life with terse detail of his days. Astronomical observations, interpersonal relationships (to put it mildly), weather notes, and the minutiae of a planter's life in 19th Century North Carolina were collected into these volumes that were nearly lost, decoded in 1979 and mostly forgotten again. The Coded Life of William Thomas Prestwood.
posted by 1f2frfbf (19 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Plow’d. Night. Wife.

This is a great read, thanks for posting.
posted by chavenet at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Great read. I love how taciturn the diary writing is. "Met CR in Field. She hug good." Also how everyday. One wonders whether his string of sexual encounters was particularly unusual for his time, or if many men had this going on and just didn't write it down or speak of it. Certainly the man seems not unusual in any other way.

See also My Secret Life, another diary of a randy man's vigorous sex life. That one is rather more florid, being intended for publication and somewhere between memoir and pornography. It's charming and hilarious and also quite awful in places, many women exploited.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2015

This is awesome.
posted by Melismata at 8:40 AM on March 4, 2015

the man seems not unusual in any other way

What? Yeah, except for the crypto-journal.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:50 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

That was fascinating! Thanks for posting this.
posted by mosk at 8:55 AM on March 4, 2015

Absolutely fascinating — I wish I had the coded diary of one of my early-19th-century ancestors!
posted by languagehat at 9:00 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

and mailed them off to a retired NSA analyst holed up in the Smoky Mountains.

It took less than forty minutes and a magnifying glass for cryptanalyst Nathaniel Browder to crack the code

I love people.
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

It's rather amusing to me that the author of the article never seems to consider the idea that he's NOT descended from the cipher writer.

I mean if William was enjoying the company of so many married ladies, what was Celia up to when he was away? Embroidery?
posted by BlueJae at 9:05 AM on March 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

January 1, 1823: Above all things, my sons, do not seduce innocent girls.

January 4, 1823: In retrospect, I feel I should clarify that last thought. Surely my sons, you should never seduce innocent girls. But rest assured that through God's providence there is no shortage of less innocent ones out there who are perfectly seduceable. No shortage whatsoever. Trust me on this, my sons.

This is really an awesome post!
posted by Naberius at 9:16 AM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

July 7: Fuss.

Nice find.
posted by clavdivs at 9:21 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Very cool story and a fun read! As if Don Draper was a farmer.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Christ, what an asshole
posted by thelonius at 9:37 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I believe this time period was known as "The Era of Good Feelings".
posted by telstar at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Totally crazy: a Samuel Peppys of north Carolina.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:44 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I’ve just had a son, and when he refuses to sleep at night, I look into his eyes, pull at his toes, check behind his ears, searching for traces of me. How did my rib or essence or ichor serve as the material that fashioned this sturdy, sleepless, wholly himself boy?

How little things have changed.

I know Fruitland and some people there who are on land their families have had since before these diaries were written. Heirloom apple orchards and horses and the very best BBQ.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:33 PM on March 4, 2015

this is cool. Can anyone find anything about the code he used? I'd love to know more
posted by rebent at 5:49 PM on March 4, 2015

Finding a document like this about an ancestor is something every amateur genealogist or family historian dreams of...very cool!
posted by UhOhChongo! at 5:52 PM on March 4, 2015

Does funning mean the same as fucking?
posted by anothermug at 7:17 PM on March 4, 2015

Mary Norwood made a wise choice.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:26 PM on March 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

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