August 17, 1788

“Let us not Love in word and tongue but in Truth. A violent storm of wind from the southward. We did not suffer so much as some — many buildings blown to pieces— some persons we have heard were killed, others much hurt. Thanks to God we were so far preserved.”

Above, Elizabeth describes the torment of harsh weather as it was in 1788.

With the extreme heat and humid weather that occurred this summer of 2018, anyone from the Connecticut River Valley can relate. Back then, travel was by horse and carriage, or by foot. The area has seen a lot of harsh weather, such as the Great Flood of 1936. A downpour lasting 14 days straight that impacted nearly 14,000 people. Experiencing harsh weather in the 18th century is unimaginable in comparison to the current age.

Sources:

[1] http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/great-new-england-flood-1936/

[2] The Diary of Elizabeth (Porter) Phelps, edited by Thomas Eliot Andrews with an introduction by James Lincoln Huntington in The New England Historical Genealogical Register. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, Jan. 1964

[3] Diary of Elizabeth Porter Phelps, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, Box 14 on deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

July 17, 1768

“Heard Mr. Hop from John, 5 and 6. Gideon Smith a child baptized June Irene. Tuesday Miss Nabby and Miss Polly came here and in the after-noon Miss Penn and Miss Patty came here returned at night. Polly and Nabby tarried till Wednesday. This morning a child of Ben Smiths at the Mill was taken with the Throat Distemper. Thursday Miss Pen (Living now at Mr Warners while he and his wife are gone a Journey for her health) sent up one Aaron Bag an apprentice to have me Ride down with him and spend the day with her which I did – at night Rode home with Charles Phelps he being agoing to Hatfield. Satterday Rebeckah Dickingson came here and made me a dark calico Gown.” – Elizabeth Porter Phelps, July 17th, 1768 [1]

As always, Elizabeth begins her entry by recording the passages Mr. Hop (Hopkins)  spoke of in his sermon—on July 17th it was John 5 and 6, which included a portion on Jesus healing the sick at a pool in Jerusalem. Elizabeth would often elaborate on the sicknesses that afflicted the people of Hadley, whether the invalids be family members, servants, or slaves. This particular week, a child Ben Smith had taken with the “throat distemper,” now recognized as diphtheria. The throat distemper had raged through New England and 1735-40 and continued to strike throughout the 18th century. It most often affected children, and according to Ernest Caulfield, “tradition says that many died within twelve hours and that others, while sitting up at play, would fall and expire with their playthings in their hands.” [2] With the prevalence of quack doctors and the lack of modern medicine, death, especially among children, was tragic yet commonplace in colonial Massachusetts.

However, the child’s illness does not seem to faze her, as she is still able to work on her quilting. Elizabeth and Rebeckah Dickingson had together completed a calico gown, a common project for young women at the time. Quilting bees, with far more than just two women participating, would be hosted in the Long Room from time to time.

Elizabeth continues to mention a carriage ride with Charles Phelps, her soon-to-be fiancé, yet withholds any details regarding her personal feelings for him. Their marriage was a love match, as the Phelps family did not possess the same prestigious reputation as the River God Porter family—in fact, Phelps was working for the family as a farm manager. Two years later she would be “published” (engaged) to him and he would begin his project of revitalizing the farmstead by accumulating more acreage and updating and expanding the architectural structure. However, it would always be Elizabeth who truly held the power in the household, having grown up at Forty Acres as a descendant of the founder of the town of Hadley.

Notes:

1.     Phelps and Andrews 21

2.     Caulfield 231

Sources:

Bridenbaugh, Carl, and Ernest Caulfield. “A True History of the Terrible Epidemic Vulgarly Called the Throat Distemper, Which Occurred in His Majesty's New England Colonies between the Years 1735 and 1740.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 2, 1949

The Diary of Elizabeth (Porter) Phelps, edited by Thomas Eliot Andrews with an introduction by James Lincoln Huntington in The New England Historical Genealogical Register. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, Jan. 1964

Diary of Elizabeth Porter Phelps, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, Box 14 on deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

July 4, 1802

 “Sun: Mr. Hop 1st Tim. 6&5 — afternoon I stayed with the babe — Mr. Hop: 2nd Chronicles 15&4. Tuesday Mitty & I at Concert of prayer — Mr. John Smith from Matt. 6&6. Wednesday Mrs. Hop & Mrs. Austin of Worcester here. Mr. Huntington & wife & son arrived in safety by the kindness of heaven. Thursday all at brother Warners. Jest at night my son from Boston & his father came and drank tea with us — my son is come to carry home his wife & son — he got here after we went to brothers — came by Brimfield & brought Mrs. Hitchcock thus we are favoured with all our children & grand children meeting here except Mr. Hitchcock & his son Charles. Lord bless us in the redeemer. Fryday Mr. Partons & wife visit here. Satt: Sister Dickinson & Polly visit here, Susan Cutler, Lucy Barron, Sister Warner & her daughter Dickinson. The two sons at Northampton by Hatfield forenoon.” – Elizabeth Porter Phelps, Diary Entry, July 4 1802

The fourth of July did not become a national holiday until June 28, 1870, when Congress passed a law to decree Independence Day a national holiday. It was first celebrated spontaneously in Philadelphia in 1777, as described by John Adams. However, the fourth was still often celebrated after the War of 1812 to further celebrate important moments in history on the fourth, such as the Erie Canal and emergence of railroad systems.

 

Sources:

Diary of Elizabeth Porter Phelps, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers [Box 8, folder 1]. On deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

Phelps, Elizabeth Porter. The Diary of Elizabeth (Porter) Phelps, edited by Thomas Eliot Andrews with an introduction by James Lincoln Huntington in The New England Historical Genealogical Register. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, Jan. 1964, p. 6, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers [Box 9]. On deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

June 26, 1768

 “Mr. Strong from Matthew 7, 21. Mr. Hopkins absent. Monday Mrs. Crouch made us a visit. Tuesday Morning I went to quilt on a quilt for my aunt Porter—we finished the quilt before 11. On Wednesday in the after-noon a Number of us went out to Belchertown a strawberrying. Charles Phelps carried Esq. Porters wife in a chaise Lawyer Porter carried his wife, Pen and Patty, Nabby and Polly and me. Thursday my Mother spent the day at the Docters. Fryday Oliver Warners wife sent up for me to help her quilt returned at Satterday near night.” Elizabeth Porter Phelps, Diary Entry, June 26 1768

Elizabeth wrote in her diary religiously every Sunday, always making note of the sermons she would hear in church. On this particular week, the beloved Reverend Hopkins was absent. In his wake, Mr. Strong had spoken about Matthew 7:21 - "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Mrs. Crouch, who paid Elizabeth Porter and her mother Elizabeth Pitkin a visit on that Monday, was the widow of the family’s doctor who cared for the elder Elizabeth who had numerous health complications. Later in the week Elizabeth Pitkin Porter spent the day at her new doctor’s -- it is possible that complications could have arisen in her condition, or that she was fairing poorly. Elizabeth, suffering from severe depression, was prescribed laudanum, a liquid tincture of opium. The side effects of laudanum included “muscular weakness, impaired memory, apathy, and melancholia” (Carlisle 20). Thus, Elizabeth’s mother’s health became a constant obstacle in running the household.

“Aunt Porter,” as Elizabeth calls her, was Susannah Porter, née Edwards, daughter of famed Northampton preacher Jonathan Edwards. His son Jonathan Edwards Jr, was also married to Elizabeth’s friend and cousin Polly, who joined her “a strawberrying” in Belchertown. The close ties with the Edwards family reflects the Porters’ deep Calvinist faith.

Though the strawberry picking adventure seems a success in Elizabeth’s eyes, rides in chaises could result in fatal accidents. Five years later, Polly, who rode with Elizabeth in Lawyer Porter’s chaise, died in a carriage accident. While her horse was drinking from a river, she was pulled into the water and drowned. Elizabeth mourns the loss of her friend in her diary: “Oh Lord God Almighty: Holy and Righteous—thou hast taken away my dear friend, the companion of my Childhood and Youth…may this perfect a good work in me if any is begun and if I am still in the Gall of Bitterness.” (1783)

The Wednesday afternoon outing Elizabeth describes is of particular interest because it is one of the first mentions of Charles Phelps within her diary. Charles Phelps was hired by the Porters as a farm manager, and went on to marry Elizabeth two years later in 1770. The marriage was a love match: Elizabeth, hailing from a “River God” society, was expected to marry into another prominent Connecticut River Valley family, and Charles was the son of a bricklayer who had a tricky reputation in the town of Hadley and had run into issues with Elizabeth’s father. Though the chaise Charles drove in the June 1768 was not his own, he went on to buy himself one in Boston a few years later, becoming the first man in Hadley to own a one-horse carriage. Perhaps this outing to go strawberrying could be the start of their courtship.

 

Sources:

Carlisle, Elizabeth. Earthbound and Heavenbent: Elizabeth Porter Phelps and Life at Forty Acres. New York: Scribner. 2004.

Diary of Elizabeth Porter Phelps, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers [Box 8, folder 1]. On deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

Phelps, Elizabeth Porter. The Diary of Elizabeth (Porter) Phelps, edited by Thomas Eliot Andrews with an introduction by James Lincoln Huntington in The New England Historical Genealogical Register. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, Jan. 1964, p. 6, in Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers [Box 9]. On deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.