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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Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Taste of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary

Here’s another nifty new online resource on eighteenth-century New England: the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman (1703-1782) of Westboro, Massachusetts.

It’s part of a larger Westborough Public Library project to make Parkman’s church and family papers available. The diary, which covers sixty-five years, was transcribed by Holy Cross professor Ross W. Beales, Jr., who’s written many papers on it. (Versions have also been published by the Westborough Historical Society and in the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings.)

The other members of the project team include James Cooper of New England’s Hidden Histories and Anthony T. Vaver of the Westborough Library and Executed Today (not that Parkman ever was).

The diary website appears to be built on a blogging platform, with a day for each entry and its footnotes. That allows one to search for names and to look at an entire month of entries at once.

I went to find the month of August 1752, which I’d read about in one of Ross Beales’s articles for the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife.

That was a bad month for the Rev. Mr. Parkman because he was ill. “I had an exceeding poor Night. Feverish, profusely Sweating, and extreme faint,” reads the first diary entry he managed to write that month, on 16 August. Indeed, Parkman felt so sick that he wasn’t able to preach that Sunday or the next (and the replacement he had lined up finked out on him).

On 22 August Parkman wrote:
A pritty good Night for Sleep, and yet this morning full of pain chiefly in my left Hip, Shoulder and Foot. Great Frost last Night. Dr. [Samuel] Scammell came while I was at Dinner.

P.M. pains increase exceedingly especially in my left Shoulder. May God almighty sustain me and prepare me for his sovereign Will. My little Samuel a Twelve Month old. May he be born again in the Blessed Spirit of God!

The Evening and night were most distressing with pain that ceased not, no not in any Situation whatever, a Circumstance which I have not, I think, at any Time had till now. I put on a Blister upon the upper part of my arm
Parkman’s doctor diagnosed both rheumatism and gout. Aside from the blisters he applied, the minister reported taking “A portion of Rhubarb,” which seemed to do some good. Later, he wrote, “My wife stills a miscellany of Meat, Herbs, Roots, seeds etc. by the Doctor’s Direction.” A fellow minister sent an unnamed “remedy,” and a neighbor brought “some bak’d Bear with Sauce which I could Eat of.”

There was another remedy as well. Remember “little Samuel,” who turned one year old on 22 August? Two days later, his father wrote, “Child carry’d away to be wean’d at t’other House.” New England families often physically separated a mother and child to make weaning easier, or at least more certain. The Parkman family tended to wean babies between twelve and eighteen months, so this was a little on the early side.

Hannah Parkman, the minister’s second wife, stayed home to treat her husband. In addition to distilling that mix the doctor prescribed, on 26 August Ebenezer wrote: “My wife tends me o’nights and supply’s me with Breast-Milk.” So that was why they had to send the baby away.

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