J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Life in Boylston at Turn of the Nineteenth Century

I wanted to note an article from a regional edition of the Boston Globe last month, about a project at the Boylston Historical Society transcribing the diary of Simon Davis from 1796 to 1810.

Most of the journal entries on specific dates record whimsical observations about the weather, as well as casual remarks about the writer’s moods and work. Many of the entries are short and not well punctuated, as if Davis didn’t have much time to write:
“Tuesday 24th. Warm drying day. J.P. returned safe. Nothing special from Paxton, only it seems if sister Patty is on the verge of matrimony.”

“Tuesday 31st. Fair day — Deeply engaged painting of my shop. My paint consists of Cod oil, Spanish brown, Rosin of brimstone — Much of the smell of brimstone. Newton arrived from Brattleboro.”
In other entries, Davis reveals his political inclinations, such as in a diatribe against the town’s decision to purchase a bell for the local church in 1796. Few in his part of town supported the idea, according to Davis, and, akin to many of today’s debates about special interests in government, he rails at the group he believes snuck the purchase through Town Hall.

“Have paid towards it about 2 dollars. I suppose the town of Boylston granted a sum of money to purchase the bell! Another instance of a small or even larger Country Town furnishing themselves with a bell by a tax on its inhabitants at large. . . At this juncture, it seemed that certain designing individuals conceived it good policy in Town to pick the pockets of those who had no part or lot with them while it was in their power.”
In 1808 Simon Davis’s section of town broke away as West Boylston. That showed them.

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