A fine day
March 29, 2016 12:58 PM   Subscribe

The New York Public Library has digitized the diary of one Elizabeth De Hart Bleecker as part of their Early American Manuscripts Project. Bleecker wrote about her life in New York City for seven years, beginning in 1799 when she was eighteen years old and ending in 1806.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (22 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
This is so cool, but I wish there was an accompanying transcript. Her handwriting is clearer than most documents of the same age, but old-timey cursive is virtually indecipherable to me.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 1:06 PM on March 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

One of my favorite books is a Midwife's Tale.

(For those who haven't read it a midwife's journal passages are analyzed, illuminating her life and the history of about 1800).

I would love to see this diary get the same treatment.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:22 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

old-timey cursive is virtually indecipherable to me.

Yeah, handwriting is tough. I'm studying epigraphy right now, which is a fancy way of saying that I'm in the middle of transcribing hundreds of pages of handwritten documents from the 19th century for my university (in fact, that's what I was doing when I took a break to read Metafilter). It takes a lot of patience, especially when it comes to stuff like names. I'm quickly learning that even official transcriptions can have mistakes because of how highly subjective the work is. I think it's mostly just a matter of picking up on each writer's little quirks. Maybe you eventually (hopefully) just learn to trust your instincts.

I looked over this document, and while the lettering itself could be better, it helps that she repeats a lot of the harder things a bunch of times. She records a lot of visitors she had, and it seems like a lot of the same people stopped by (Mr. MacDonald sure seems to like them), so the harder names are at least written out for you a bunch of times.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I really love deciphering old script, and I would absolutely love to help transcribe stuff if someone's curious to read more. Not to sound all authoritative - I'm still relatively new to this, and I'm offering as much for a chance to practice (and a chance to show off my skills to someone besides historical archaeology faculty) as for anything else. But I would love to transcribe whatever, and the only real limitation is the fact that I need to stay on track with the stuff I'm doing for my project. But I could seriously do this all day.
posted by teponaztli at 2:33 PM on March 29, 2016 [17 favorites]

THANK GOODNESS schools are no longer teaching cursive, so future generations will have no chance of deciphering my teenage journal.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:24 PM on March 29, 2016 [13 favorites]

I would love to see this transcribed. Holding a physical manuscript with original handwriting gives a powerful feeling of connection to the past, but squinting at your screen to try to decipher ancient cursive in pdf just gives you a powerful feeling of irritation.
posted by zipadee at 4:39 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also seem to have a knack for reading this stuff and totally enjoy doing it. I occasionally do it for fun for a couple of university crowd-sourced projects. I wonder if it's partly because I was taught to write in very fancy cursive as a small child in French schools. One of these days I might even sign up for a course, a quick google search for paleography courses yields several, some are free, just in case anyone else is interested.

One of the problems with actually touching old manuscripts is that you have to be very careful, but yeah, it's an amazing connection to the past.
posted by mareli at 5:29 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

OK, I don't know if it's been transcribed elsewhere (and I hope not, so any errors I may have made aren't obvious), but here's my own transcription of a handful of entries from August of 1803. According to the NYPL's item description, these were written during an outbreak of yellow fever.
Monday 1st
A pleasant morning - about seven there came up a little shower of rains - in the afternoon Mrs Dury took James and I out to Mr Keese’s to tea - clear’d off a very pleasant evening - Mr Mcdonald and I went to Mama’s - several cases of the fever now exist - it seems however confin’d to the lower part of the town between Murry’s Wharf, and the old slip - I believe it has been thought that almost every one that has died, has had some connection with the vessel from the West Indies -
Mr Abraham Ogden was marri’d to Mrs. Mary Barewall -

Sunday 7th
A fine morning - warm - Peter Stuyvesant was here - Mr McDonald and I went to church- after church we went to Mama’s - it clouded up - about noon it rain’d - in the afternoon it rain’d a little - Mr M and I went to church - after church we went to Mama’s - came home and return’d to Mama’s to tea - I came home soon after tea - four new cases of the fever were reported - Dr Nielson was call’d to three on board a vessel lying at the end of Governor’s Alley -

Monday 8th
A cloudy day - the accounts of the fever were very allarming - the number of new cases have increas’d - Mr Baldwin and Peter Stuyvesant were here - I took James out to Mama’s - left him there and came home - went to Mr Bunn’s where I bought a pair of black bather slippers - price 9 [ohs?] - we pack’d up our clothes, and in the afternoon Mr McDonald, Anthony, Mrs Dury, James and I went to Mama’s, where we staid and slept, as we were afraid to stay much longer in William Street; having one or two cases of the fever near us - Henry staid and slept at the house -
I'll transcribe more later when I have the time.
posted by teponaztli at 6:55 PM on March 29, 2016 [16 favorites]

One of her relatives just showed up in the book I'm reading about the murder case that Hamilton and Burr worked on together. Yellow fever is a big part of that book, too.
posted by Biblio at 7:24 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

A couple more entries before I go to bed. Some of these names, and a couple words, were tricky because I hadn't seen them before. With more time I'd look for them elsewhere, but I'm tired (words I guessed I put in brackets). Also, I figured out that the slippers she bought on the 8th probably cost "9 shs," although I don't know if shillings were used in New York at that time.
Thursday 9th [August, 1803]
A cloudy day - drizzl'd part of the day - [can't read] and I went [out] - I made several purchases - I went to Mrs Neilson's - a great many people are moving out of town - the [whole] of new cases to day was not as great as yesterday - Mary and I went to Neilson's - after dinner [Clay] and I went out - Mrs A [can't read] drank tea at Mama's - in the evening William and his Wife, Jack and his Wife, and Dr Neilson and his Wife were at Mama's - Mr M and I went to Dr Neilson's -

Wednesday 10th
A cloudy drizzly morning early - Mr McDonald, Mrs Dury, James and I were up between three and four o'clock, and between four and five we set off in the stage for Bedford - we rode two and twenty miles before we sat breakfasted - it clear'd away - had a little shower on the road, and then clear'd away again - we reach'd Bedford about four o'clock - found the family all well - we were pretty much fatigued and went to bed earlier than common - there came up a shower of rain, thunder, and lightning -
I'm pretty much fatigued and going to bed earlier than common, too. More later if people are interested.
posted by teponaztli at 11:59 PM on March 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

at one point when i was young i had to read lots of handwriting, and found print harder to read: your eyes do adjust, i argue (nowadays, they get no chance to of course)
posted by maiamaia at 2:16 PM on March 31, 2016

I had to take a break from this for a few days to keep up with deadlines, but if anyone is still interested, I thought I'd transcribe some of the specific dates mentioned in the NYPL's catalog description of the diary:
The Elizabeth De Hart Bleecker diary (1 volume) documents her daily life in New York City from 1799 January 1 to 1806 January 11, marking her engagement (1800 March 23), marriage (1800 April 8), and the birth of her children James (1801 August 5) and Mary (1804 July 22). Entries mention the weather, health, social calls and entertainment, attendance at Trinity Church, shopping, household matters and servants, walks to the Battery, and favorite confections such as cake and ice cream. Noted local and current events include frequent alarms of fire; yellow fever epidemics; crimes and public disturbances; the death of George Washington (1799 December); shipping news and a visit to the U.S.S. President (1800 July 9); the laying of the cornerstone at City Hall (1803 May 26); the Burr-Hamilton duel (1804 July 11-13); and other matters. The diary also records an extended stay in Bedford (1803 August-November) to escape an outbreak of yellow fever in Manhattan.
I'm also transcribing interesting passages I come across, but there's quite a lot to comb through and (sadly) I don't have too much time to spend on this.
posted by teponaztli at 1:57 PM on April 2, 2016

From 1800, here's a roughly two week period that starts with her engagement to Mr. McDonald on March 23rd and ends with their marriage on April 8th. I ended up transcribing every entry because there are some interesting events, and besides that, seeing every entry gives you a better sense of what her life was like on the whole. I was very entertained that she knew a George Clinton. As always, not 100% sure about some of the names, but most of them are good. Also, the "Anacreontic Concert" was probably a performance by the Anacreontic society, which I guess must have had a chapter in New York.
Sunday 23rd
A cloudy day - it snow’d & rain’d a little in the morning - I did not go to church all day - P. Stuyvesant came here, & took Alexander out to the Bowery to dinner - Mr MacDonald din’d with us - also William’s Anthony - William & Betsy & MacDonald drank tea here - in the evening P. Stuyvesant was here - Mr MacDonald “ask’d consent, and obtain’d it - - - - - -

Monday 24th
A very fine morning early, but clouded up about eleven o’ clock -
Captain Miller was here at Breakfast time - Papa [written twice] & Mama drank tea at William’s - his little girl was christen’d Mary [Celra] -
Arent DePeyster was here - Elsy drank tea with Miss Lenox -
Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - in the evening, Mr Baldwin and Mr Miller (the Parson) were here - Some prints were sent here to be sold at [Vendue] -

Wednesday 25th
A very fine day - Peggy Miller here at work - Mary and I went up in William Street to look for Hats - we went to Mr Broomes - Mrs Broome was very poorly -
we went to see Helen Bache - she was out - from there we went to Mr Cole’s - saw only Mrs Neilson - we went to Garret’s - Jane was out - Mr M. Mumford join’d us in the street and came home with us - Mr MacDonald, Miss Peggy Robinson, Mrs Snowden, Miss Nancy Malcom and Miss Morton call’d here - I went to Trivet’s and bought a pair of tea colour’d [kid] slippers price one dollar - in the afternoon Mrs Ben Winthrop & Eliza call’d here - Mr MacDonald drank tea here - in the evening Peter Stuyvesant Mr Kane, Mrs J. R. Smith, Nancy Smith, and Maria Caldwell were here -

Thursday 26th
A very delightful day - Peggy Miller was here at work - Mrs Ellison and Mary went out a walking - Mr G. Clinton, Miss Constable and Mr Osborne were here - after Dinner the Miss Templetons call’d here - I went round to Miss Snowden’s - Mary, Elsy, Jack, P. Stuyvesant, Mr MacDonald and I went to Mrs Constables to tea - after tea Mrs Constable, the Miss Constables, Mrs Osborne, Miss Jay, Mr Clemont Moore, Mr Jay, Mr Osborne, and the rest of us went to the Theatre to see perform’d Pizarro, for the first time - it afforded me great satisfaction - the after piece was the Oracle - a simple little piece - - P. Stuyvesant & MacDonald came home with us to supper

Wednesday 27th
A very fine day - P. Miller did not come to work - Mrs McKnight and Mrs Crane were here - Mary went out - Mr G. Clinton was here - Maria Caldwell din’d with us - in the afternoon a Mrs King, a Jew woman that buys old cloathes and furniture was here - - - Mrs J. R. Smith, Mrs McDougall, Mrs Wycoff, Nancy Smith, Sally Caldwell, Mr Wycoff, Maria Caldwell, Mr P. Stuyvesant, and Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - Mr Baldwin was here after tea - also Mr Smith - Mr MacDonald went away after tea & did not return till near ten o’clock - his [unclear] prevented him - there was a chimney on fire - Mr Hunter died -

Friday 28th
A cloudy morning till about twelve o’clock when it clear’d off very warm and pleasant - P. Miller was here at work - Hannah Benjamin and Josephine [Youle] were here - Miss Rivington, Mr MacDonald & P. Stuyvesant were here - after dinner Mrs Ellison and Mary went a shopping - Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - Mr [illeg] Baldwin was here in the evening -

Saturday 29th
A cloudy morning - began to rain about eleven o’clock, and continu’d the rest of the day - Peggy Miller was here at work - Mr MacDonald & P. Stuyvesant drank tea with us - Mr Charles Baldwin was here in the evening - Mr Robert Hunter was buri’d - Papa was one of the Paul Bearers -

Sunday 30th
A very fine day - I attended church [overwritten] afternoon - after morning church Mary, Elsy and I went to Williams’s - from there round to James’s - Maria Hazard was here - William Cork was here - Mr MacDonald and Arent DePeyster din’d with us - MacDonald went to church with us in the afternoon - after church Mrs [Browning] and little Henry were here - Garrit, Jane and Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - in the evening Miss Constable, Mr George Clinton, Mr Kane, & Mr Stuyvesant were here -

Monday 31st
A fine clear day, but very blustering - Peggy Robinson call’d to bid us - Mr Roe was here - Mr [Lerner] call’d to see us - Larry VanKluck call’d here - he had just come - in the afternoon Mrs G Bleecker call’d here, & she, Mrs Ellison, Mary & I went to drink tea with Mrs James Bleecker - Mr MacDonald & P. Stuyvesant were here in the evening
The trial of Levi Weeks for the murder of Miss Sands came on this morning - scarcely any thing else is spoken of -

Tuesday 1st
A very fine day - rather cold - Mama went out - Mrs William Bleecker, Anthony and Maria Caldwell were here - Mr MacDonald was here in the evening - in the night there was a cry of fire - a false alarm - Levi Weeks was acquitted -

Wednesday 2nd
A cloudy morning till about eleven o’ clock when it clear’d away very warm - I made some jambles - Mr MacDonald and Mr Stuyvesant were here - Mama drank tea at James’s - Mrs Snowden, the Miss Malcoms, the Miss Martins, the MacDonald, Captain Stilles, and Mr Blackburn Miller drank tea with us - in the evening Mr Baldwin and Mr Roe were here - also Mr Stuyvesant -
about 2 o’ clock [she] were awaken’d by a delightful Serenade -

Thursday 3rd
A cloudy warm day - Mrs Dauberry call’d here - Mary, Josepha & I went to the State Prison Work House where we each got a pair of slippers - we went up in Broad Way - Mr G. Clinton was here - also Mrs William Bleecker & Anthony, Helen & Mary - Mr MacDonald was here - Dr Neilson and Mr Mercer came from New Ark - they din’d with us - - I had my hair cut -
Mrs Snowden & Mr MacDonald & L. Van Kleeche drank tea here -
in the evening Mr Snowden came here & he, Mrs I, Mary, Elsy and I call’d to Mrs Smith & we all went to the Anacreontic Concert - I was very much pleas’d - MacDonald & P. Stuyvesant came home with us -

Friday 4th
A cloudy day - rain’d the greater part of the day - Mrs Hazard (who came from Jamaica yesterday) was here - also Mr MacDonald - Mr MacDonald and Mr Stuyvesant drank tea here - old Mr Basset was buri’d - - -

Satuday 5th
A rainy day - Mr MacDonald was here - - Mr & Mrs Leonard Bleecker and Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - the Miss Stuyvesants stop’t here a few minutes on their way out to the Bowery - in the night there was some very severe thunder and lightning -

Saturday 6th
A cloudy day - I did not go to Church in the morning - - - -
Mr MacDonald and Mr Stuyvesant din’d with us - Mary Mac [or Mae] & I went to Church in the afternoon - the sun came out - Alexander din’d over [the East Berry River] - a Mr Arthur preach’d for us - gave an indifferent sermon, of an hour and ten minutes in length - Mary drank tea with Mrs Garret Bleecker - Mr Larry Stevens was here - Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - Alexander took Walter Monteath to drink tea at Mr Snowdens - in the evening Miss Constable & Mr Cooper were here - Mr Stuyvesant was here, also Mr & Mrs William Bleecker -

Wednesday 7th
A very fine day - Maria Hallet and Charlotte Gault call’d here - Mr MacDonald and Mr Stuyvesant were here - Alexander carried Walter Monteath to Brunswick - Mary and Jack went to drink at Mrs Constables and went with Mrs & Miss Constable and Miss Jay to the Theatre to see the play of the Robbers perform’d - Mr MacDonald drank tea with us - Cornelia Herring was here - in the evening Mr Kane was here - it rain’d - Peter Stuyvesant came home with Mary and Jack from the Theatre -

Tuesday 8th
A very fine morning - Mr McDonald din’d with us - at three o’ clock Dr. Rogers came here and married us - Mary, Jack and Elsy together with Miss Constable and Miss Tay walk’d out to Mr Stuyvesants to tea - it clouded up - clear’d off in the evening very windy - there was an alarm of fire, [said] to be an Office in Maiden Lane which took fire through to carelessness, but being timely discovered was extinguished without much damage - Peter Stuyvesant came home with the Girls -
posted by teponaztli at 3:15 PM on April 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here's one from December 31st, 1800, the most animatedly I've seen her write:
A very fine day - Mrs Waddell call’d to see me - Anthony and Alex were here - Mrs Shaw sent her Child to see me - a very lovely Boy - I went up in John Street where I bought some Cake - after dinner Alex was here - in the afternoon Mr Ward brought home my Shoes - Mr MacDonald and I went to Mama’s to tea - P. Stuyvesant came there and in the evening we play’d Lao - I was not a little vex’d with myself for suffering my ill luck in the game to rustle my temper a little - gaming is a thing I detest - it is seldom I have ever been engaged in it, and even then very contrary to my inclination, and when I could not well avoid it - it is true, I never never play’d for more than a few [paltry] shillings, but then, whether favour’d by fortune or not, it was equally abhorrent - - -
Mr McDonald and I staid to Papa’s to Supper -
posted by teponaztli at 1:33 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

A suicide, August 2, 1801:
A cloudy day - Mr McDonald Mary and I went to Trinity Church - an account arrived in town of the unhappy death of Charles Brigen, who put an end to his existence yesterday at Manaroneck by taking a large quantity of Laudanum - the embarrass’d state of his affairs was the cause of this desperate act — —
it rain’d - Mary, Papa, Mr McDonald and I went to the Neilson’s - in the afternoon it held up raining and Mr M and I went to the Presbyterian Church — it rain’d very hard again- after Church Mr M. and I went to Papa’s to tea - Mama and Papa drank tea at William’s — I went to see Mrs Butter —
Mr M. and I staid to supper at Papa’s —
posted by teponaztli at 4:12 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm amused at how casual she is about the marriage. I know marriage was much more an economic arrangement at the time, but still, you'd think it would get more than a line! You'd think she'd at least have a little bit about plans for changing domiciles.
posted by tavella at 4:59 PM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

One thing I've noticed from, er, obsessively transcribing these is that she rarely devotes much space to important events. I was planning on transcribing a couple more things before calling it quits (on account of not many people seeing these and my having other stuff to do). These include the birth of her children and her return to New York after the yellow fever outbreak. None of them gets much of a mention. I don't know how much marriage meant to people back then, but so far I've only seen a single line about her son (although that line is written in glowing terms). The most I've seen her write about anything was how much she hates games, which I love for its being an angry rant from 200+ years ago.

One thing I couldn't transcribe was what she wrote about the death of George Washington: it's not long, but she clearly meant to write about it with great seriousness, and she even starts over. But it's hard to transcribe because the seriousness is in how it sits on the page. You have to see it. It's worth looking for, and I'll post the exact page number when I get the chance.
posted by teponaztli at 5:08 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm very much enjoying your transcriptions, teponaztli, since I haven't said. It's a pity there's not some sort of communal transcription project for you to contribute them to.
posted by tavella at 8:25 PM on April 3, 2016

Hey, thanks! I really appreciate that. I'd love to contribute to something like that, but anyway it's nice to do it bit by bit here in my spare time.
posted by teponaztli at 12:02 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's a few days around the birth of her son in August of 1801. I was hoping to see if she ever mentions being pregnant beforehand, but I haven't seen anything so far.
Monday 3rd
A very fine day - Miss [Rammage] was here at work — I went to Mama’s — Mary went with me up in Elm Street - I bought some thread - we went to see Mrs Cook - she was not well, and we did not see her — Mary came home with me - Peter Stuyvesant was here - in the afternoon [Eliza] Stuyvesant and Mr Mastons were by the door — in the evening Mr McDonald and took a little walk down Broadway - in returning I found a bundle containing three pieces of Tape, and two ounces of Thread —

Tuesday 4th
A very pleasant day — Mama was here — Miss [Rammage] was here at work half a day - as she has finish’d - P. Fleming din’d with us - it clouded up - in the evening Mary, Peter Stuyvesant and Pierre Fleming supped here — P. F. slept here - it rain’d — I was taken poorly about ten o’clock — Mr McDonald went and brought Mrs [Harter], my Nurse here —

Wednesday 5th
A stormy morning - about four o’clock in the morning Mr McDonald went for Mrs McLean, and a little after twelve through the goodness of Providence I was safely deliver’d of a lovely little Son — — — —
Mary, Elsy and Josepha came to see me — Pierre Fleming came up to see me after dinner — Mama came in the afternoon — towards evening Papa call’d — I had a bad Headach in the evening —

Thursday 6th
A fine day - rather warm — I slept very well last night, and awoke this morning uncommonly well - say up a little while — Mrs Ellison, Mrs Neilson and Mrs James Bleecker were here — in the afternoon Janet and Jane, and Papa were here —
posted by teponaztli at 12:08 AM on April 5, 2016

I wonder what the internal rules on names were. Mary, Elsy, and Josepha were probably her sisters (at least, she had sisters named Mary, Elizabeth, and Josepha), but why is her eventual husband always Mr. McDonald and yet Peter Stuyvesant and Pierre Fleming get first names?
posted by tavella at 2:05 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm not sure why that is. The catalog mentions that her husband's name is Alexander, so it must be mentioned somewhere. It probably helps to know more about early American social customs, which, to be honest, I know very little about.
posted by teponaztli at 11:04 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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