In Elizabeth's Words
Elizabeth Porter Phelps lived at Forty Acres from its construction in 1752 until her death in 1817. In that time, she met and married her husband Charles Phelps, endured multiple wars, and raised her two children Betsy and Porter, as well as her adopted daughter Thankful. From the age of sixteen, she kept a diary that she wrote in each Sunday that details daily life in Hadley—she describes church sermons, outings, tea and quilting parties, and the birth and death of many in the Connecticut River Valley. Her presence was integral to the Hadley community especially in the wake of her father’s death in 1755 and her mother’s depression and addiction. To combat such obstacles, she called continually upon her Calvinist faith, as is clear in her diary entries. She was an avid writer, and always made time to retreat to her study and complete and entry even under circumstances of hardship.
What was a summer like at Forty Acres 250 years ago? Reading through Elizabeth’s diaries, one can find similarities to present day despite grappling with different challenges and situations. In her diary, we see parts of New England history that are often forgotten—the burgeoning role of women, the presence of slavery, and the complicated relationship with the Church. Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle writes in her book, Earthbound and Heavenbent,
“Diaries and letters re-create the ordinary and the extraordinary; they make audible individual voices. They put flesh on the bones of history. Phelps’ papers create for us a vivid picture of a brief time when people were united by mutual needs, a common religion, and a belief in the existence of a promised land.”