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.


1.     Phelps and Andrews 21

2.     Caulfield 231


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.