A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Sanford Ross, pt. 1

The previous post offered a note on the Thanksgiving celebrations of 1812 in Rhode Island*. That it turns up in the pages of an almanac is not particularly unusual—almanacs were frequently used for that purpose, which is only natural, considering that almanacs are arranged chronologically. Nor is the customized interleaving done by this owner unusual. What makes this case particularly useful is that the almanac-diaries of a single person over the course of a fairly lengthy period of time (roughly 1806-22) are brought together in one place  and that their author signs his name (Sanford Ross).

A genealogical account** lists a Sanford Ross born on 22 March 1752 and who died on 22 April 1831. He had 11 children with his first wife, Hannah Briggs, and after her death in January of 1809, Sanford married Lydia Peck in November of the same year. Both events are recorded tersely in the diaries: January of 1809: “Hannah Ross died 4th of January half past Seven of the Clock evening” and then in November: “Married 6th November” in the margin beside the calendar. Among his 11 children with Hannah is one named William, who appears in the almanac entry for 9 January 1811:

William’s date of death is not recorded in the family Bible that lists the births and deaths of his siblings. The genealogical account does, however, mention a death notice of a William Sanford who died on a gunboat in 1813, within a year or two of  the night his father dreamed he was at home.

The image above offers a taste of the most typical concerns of the diary: Weather is far and away the most popular topic, but there are also references to things like “uncommond noises”, family members getting or leaving jobs, births, deaths, comings and goings of ships, openings of new shops, and always more weather. (The entry for 4 January will be the topic of a future blog post.)

Over the course of such entries, brief as they are, it’s possible to assemble a picture of their author. Weather, for instance, is only the beginning of Sanford’s interest in nature. The following selection hints at his interest in wildlife, as he notes  the arrival of swallows in April of 1812 not once, but twice:

(Hint: the second reference to the swallows is written vertically in the margin.)

And the bottom of the facing page is an example of the religious, political and financial issues that are frequent as well, as Sanford notes the passing of the Embargo act in April and the fact that he managed to rent half of his church pew for 7 shillings and 6 pence for the year (more information about the practice of buying pews and an example of a particularly nice pew at the website of the Old North Church in Boston). One of the entries below (6 January 1817) provides evidence that Ross was a shop owner of some kind, and the 1824 directory of Providence lists him as a grocer at 228 South Main.

A few more selections:

  • Creative Spelling: 5 September 1813: “the Younited States Brigg Enterprize of 14 gun took the Brittish Brigg Boxer of 18 heavy guns”
  • The 1814 almanac begins with a full-page tally of the ships of the British and American navies on Lake Ontario.
  • 15 December 1814: [In large script] “This Day the Hartford Convention Meets In Hartford…Never forgit the mischef that was Intended by them”.
  • 6 April 1815: “Horrid Masscre” followed by a description of the English murder of 7 American prisoners of war after the Treaty of Ghent ended the war. As an example of how importantly the War of 1812 figured into Sanford Ross’s life, the first interleaved leaf of the 1817 almanac opens by noting the beginning of the war in 1812 and its end in 1815.
  • 6 January 1817: “This Day the Sun has Rose to clear the Ruff of the widdow Sheldons house & Shines in my Shop all Day.”
  • 14 January 1817: “This Day and Night being the coldest that we have had for Several years this Evening a teamster froze to Death a going home from town to Smithfield, by Name James Mitchal Lindsey. Found the Next morning on the Road two miles from home…”
  • 6 June 1817: “Mr Peleg Peckhams foot taken off.”
  • 28 October 1817: Commenting on the repeal of an act sponsored by James B. Mason, which presumably was burdensome to retailers: “And Maide More Milde that Retailors may try to Live. Fair ye Well James. You have had them Under the hammer Long a Nuff.”
  • At the end of the 1817 almanac: “A Receipt to make Spruce Beer”: “6 Gallons of warter and 2 qt of molasses put togeather & Stand in the Sun which will warm it a Nuff then Shake them well — then Put in 1 gill Essence of Spruce & Mix them well togeather — then put in 1 Large tea Spoonfull of Perlash and 1 cup full of Ginger Stir them well togeather when Setteld Put in 1/2 pint of Emptious[?] which wen Setteld will be fitt for Youse.”
  • 18 January 1819: “this Day their was 4 Pirats hanged in Boston on Thirsday.”
  • 5 July 1819: “A Commet maid its appearence about Nor. Nor West out of site a bout at 11 Clock in Evening and Rises a bout Day light. It plays Round the North Star.”
  • 15 August 1819: “heard a Sermand prechd by a woman Mrs. Clarrissa Danforth. in the town house. Preachd from Ezeakel [33] chapter 11 Verse. Veary Good Discorse and Veary full.”
  • 18 October 1822: “Whipping Day in town and cutting of Ears and Branding with the letter C as a Counterfitter of money.”

*Thanksgiving was a sporadic holiday at the time: http://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/thanksgiving/

** Reading Room: CS 71 R825 1938. Ross Family: Sanford Ross Descendants. Copy of manuscript.

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3 comments on “Sanford Ross, pt. 1

  1. Pingback: The King is Dead! (Oh, wait…) Long Live the King! (Sanford Ross, pt. 2) « A Lively Experiment

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    24 April 2010

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    4 November 2012

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This entry was posted on 8 December 2009 by in Collection Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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