A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Christmas Cheer?

Diary Excerpts from the Rhode Island Historical Society collections.

Kalloch Family Collection, family Christmas photo, Graphics Lot 201

Kalloch Family Collection, Graphics Lot 201

While most diary entries about Christmas are happy remembrances like Sarah H. (Hawes) Harris’s of December 25, 1888: “Sophy and the children went about 5 o’clock to Jacob Martin’s. They had a fine party, a Christmas tree and Arthur Knight dressed up as Santa Claus and gave presents to the children.”

NOT EVERYONE WAS FEELING THE JOY…

Ann Carter (Brown) Francis 1795-1828
“The thought of death frequently engrosses me entirely. Am I prepared for this great & fearful change. One after another of those who had as good reason as I have to expect length of days as I have fall around me on every side. Will it not be my turn next?” [12/24/1824] “I have great reason to bless the Giver of all good for his tender mercies towards me, an ungrateful worm of the dust.” [1/1/1825]

Helen (Clarke) Grimes 1905-1989
“Henry D. Sharpe was not in a giving mood this year; but then, he never is. The was no sign of a bonus, no hint of a raise, no sprig of holly. They had Thursday afternoon and Christmas Day off – without pay, of course. All of which was about what I expected, but Dorrance who is inclined to be hopeful was rather blue.” [12/26/1936]

Captain John Remington Congdon 1820-1863
While serving as ship’s boy on the Oneid: “Think I should like to be home today to have a merry Christmas and instead of having salt Beef & Pork & potatoes for my dinner I think I would have something which would suit me better and I would have a merry time with the young folk.” [12/25/1837]

Samuel S. Whiting 1819-1863
“It was decided yesterday to kill our two pigs today that we might have fresh pork for our Christmas dinner tomorrow. . . We shall miss these domestic animals. They have behaved on the passage as well as many of us who are going to devour them.” [12/24/1849]

Albert Denia Cordner 1835-c.1910
Written while serving in the Civil War: “still sick abed, Doctor____ was here from the Rhode Island Cavalry, we never had no dinner for Christmas” [12/25/1862]

James Halsey Angell 1822-1890
“This Christmas day today but there is no meeting, about here the mills do not stop and business goes on the same as any other day.” [12/25/1863]

Nellie (Woolhouse) Whiting 1910-1996
“[My mother] went to work at 10 years old as a cooks helper for a rich family. Finally, after many years she became Head Cook at age 18. . . At Christmas when she came to the dining room door with a steaming plum pudding, she stood there until the Master of the house came and poured brandy over it and then lit the brandy. She had to walk the full length of the room to the head of the table and place it before the Master. She said her face flamed, too, as she listened to the family and guests as they clapped.” (Event c. 1888 in Sheffield, England)

Frederick Harcourt 1861-1917
“At dinner I had a new gastronomic experience for the first time I partook opossum and roast coon.”[12/25/1896]

Lucia Gray (Moses) Cook c.1857 – 1920
“Cousin Theodore was an unexpected but welcome guest… Cousin Theodore spent a week, and left us, as he always does, the richer for the visit, for his outlook on life is broad and uplifting.” [12/25/1898] “I sat before the blazing open fire and read a bundle of my mother’s letter, which Tom sent me. They were written fifty years ago, and I am selfish enough to wish they were going to be mine.” [1/1903] Trouble with mother-in-law: “Mrs. Cook came to make her home with us… Right after X-Mas we began doing over what was my maid’s room for a room for Mrs. Cook…. The winter from then on was hell, no less. My children will know this and if this record falls into other hands I do not care… Mrs. Cook never liked me, and it is the irony of fate that she should have to end her days with me – only I am convinced that I should go first. But one lives through a great deal!” [10/1909]

Edith Amelia Armington 1861-1937
“The Calverts came and we had a Christmas tree, mostly for the children.” [12/24/1926]

Adelyn Betsey (Pearce) Thurber 1899-
“Played fool games…& after hours & hours we had very punk supper… – nearly starved then played idiotic games until 11:30 & came home.” [12/25/1937]

Marion Knowlton 1906-2002
“Got Bosses who are tight and have no Christmas Spirit – Just wished us all a Merry Christmas” [12/23/1938]

EXCEPT….MAYBE LIEUTENANT SIMONDS’ MEN!

Lewis Edward Simonds 1790-1865
“It being Christmas gave the men an extra allowance of grog.” [12/25/1826]

For more information about the diaries in the R.I.H.S. collections, please see the Guide to Women’s Diaries or search our online catalog, NETOP. The Guide to Men’s Diaries is available in the reading room.

Happy Holidays!

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3 comments on “Christmas Cheer?

  1. Laura Sebastianelli
    24 December 2015

    Reblogged this on Duphiney's Faces of RI and commented:
    Ghosts of Christmas Past in RI

  2. Robin
    14 January 2016

    You found the one positive thing Sarah Harris wrote about! Helen Clarke Grimes was a treasure and Frederick Harcourt was often delightfully snobby.

  3. Terri Bellard Terrell
    18 January 2016

    When ever I see old pictures the people in them look so serious. However from the guy standing in the back with the top hat on it seems as though these people had quite a sense of humor.

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This entry was posted on 23 December 2015 by in Collection Notes and tagged , , , .

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