Diary of Abigail Hackett
Abigail Hackett lived on a farm in the Town of Canisteo, Steuben County,
New York, in the mid-eighteen hundreds. During the period from January,
1865, to June, 1867, she kept a diary of her daily trials and tribulations.
At the start of her diary she is 39 years old and has been married for
20 years. The family consists of her husband Charles who is a farmer and
blacksmith, her three sons, and two daughters. Charles Jr. or Charley,
age 19, is away in the army fighting in the Civil War. He is in the 189th
New York Infantry. At home are Eddy who is 10 years old and Willie the
baby of the family who is one. There are also two daughters, Lucina, age
17, and Attalia, age 13. Lucina is the teacher at the local school.
Mrs. Hackett's diary is a record of the hard life of the people trying
to make a living on sub marginal farms of the plateau country of southwestern
New York. The area where she lives is called "The Swale. " This is an
old English word referring to an area characterized by small swampy depressions.
Population of the area is at a maximum, in a few years many of her neighbors
will start to abandon their farms to go in search of better land in the
west, or move to jobs in the new factories in towns. In many cases the
children will move away and the farms will be abandoned when the parents
die or go to spend their declining years with their children.
In the diary we see Mrs. Hackett a lonely tired woman, depressed by her
troubles, illness, the loss of livestock important to making the farm
pay, and accidents to her children. Eddy, her middle son, loses one of
his legs in an accident. Two of her children marry during the period of
the diaries and she does not attend either wedding, as if she does not
want to let them go. She says very little about either wedding in her
diary, spending more time on the deaths of neighbors.
As the diary opens she is anticipating a trip home to see her family
who live near Corning. Her husband has only recently bought the farm on
The Swale, and this is her first trip home since moving away. To go there
means a trip by horse and wagon to Cameron, where she will take the train
(the cars) to Big Flats.
Saturday 21st. Quite cold today. Patched and sewed and knitted. Oh how
dismal and lonesome it is today. Did not get a letter from Charley.
Sunday 22nd. Quite pleasant today, got quite homesick. Have thought about
home a good deal today. Charles says I may go home tomorrow. Won't that
be real nice. Eddy has the promise of going too.
Monday 23rd. Got up and flew around. Started for Cameron at 12—took
the cars, ate, arrived at Big Flats at 3 o'clock—found them all
well. Snowed some.
Tuesday 24th. Andrew carried me to Horseheads and I got several rides
and called on John Humphrey's a spell. Arrived at fathers at supper time.
Found them all well and very busy. House full of hands. It is very cold
today. Eddy feels fine to be at grandpa's with Henry.
Thursday 26th. Still at Fathers. Silas came home this afternoon and George
Grange was here. Wants me to go home with him but it is so cold I can't
Friday 27th. Very cold indeed—thought to start for home today but
father says it must not be it is so cold. Wrote to brother Ed today.
Saturday 28th. Mother, Henry, Eddy and I started for Big Flats. Called
to G. Humphrey and warmed—he had been down to city. Stopped to Horseheads
again—traded some, bought me a new dress. Arrived at Big Flats a
few minutes too late for the car today. Shall have to wait till Monday.
Wish I could see Anelira tomorrow seeing I can't go home today.
Sunday 29th. Stayed to Sarah's—eat apples and butternuts and had
a good time.
Monday 30th. Started this morning for home—found Charles waiting
to Cameron for me. Got home all right, found Willie well and our folks
all right side up.
Tuesday 31st. This morning got up and Lucina and I was going to wash
but had to lay it bye for company. We had a house full Mrs. D. , Mrs.
P. , Mrs. T. , Mrs. W. We had a fine visit. Some warmer than last week.
This is a good place to introduce Mrs. Hackett's neighbors. The Swale
road runs east and west along the ridge above the Canisteo River. To the
west of the Hackett farm, along this road are the farms of the Turners
and Whites, Mrs. T. and Mrs. W. Across the road is the home of widow Elisa
Downs, her son Sanford Jr. is in the army. Also living with Elisa is her
mother Granny Creasy. Farther along the road to the west at the top of
a steep hill sits the school house and the farms of the Frisbees, the
Kents, Warren Downs, the Saxtons and along a road to the north the Converses
and Diamonds. To the east of the Hackett farm, along the Swale road, are
the farms of Miles Powell and my great-great grandparents Samuel and Rebecca
Dickey, Mrs. P. and Mrs. D. Next comes the cemetery and across the road
from it another of Miles Powell's farms currently the home of his son-in-law
Newton Howe. Next on either side of the road to Adrian are the farms of
Andrew and Levi Creasy, the brothers of Elisa Downs, and across the road
from them the Asa Downs farm, which is occupied by a family named Hall,
as Asa is living with his son Warren. Further along the road on the flat
at the foot of a steep pitch in the road are the farms of Isaac Jones
Jr. , Mark Jones and across the road his brother-in-law, Samuel Drake,
then the farm of Isaac Jones Sr. , and across the road his brother Israel
Wednesday 1st. We washed today. Mrs. E. Downs was here. Mr. Diamond called—had
a good chat about the war. He thinks the war will soon be over. Oh, that
it may be. Feel anxious about Charley. Quite pleasant weather.
Thursday 2nd. Have not done much to show. Promised to go to school but
Levi Creasy came after our team to go to his house to draw wood and he
invited me to go home with him so I went—took the baby. He was very
troublesome. Came home at 4 o'cock. Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Downs called
this evening. Been a pleasant day. Sun shone all day.
Friday 3rd. Have been busy all day with odds and ends. Charles went to
Bath—we got a letter from Charley. William Cady came over here a
visiting. Heard of Scheurs death—makes me feel still more anxious
about my boy. Been cold stormy day, wind in the south.
Saturday 4th. Got up this morning very early, flew around, got breakfast,
went to Miles Powell's a few minutes, had company—W. Downs and wife
was here to dinner—several entertaining chats. Baked bread, pies,
cookies and visited Narcess School. Called on Granny Creasy. Read the
war news to her, then came home. Lucina had supper ready. Eat, washed
dishes. Played with baby. Knitted some. Then scribbled away at this. Now
no more work for the week. Saturday night. Rather blustery day, rained
Sunday 5th. This being the Sabbath day and a very blustery day there
was no prospect of meeting. We done our chores, took our books and read
some. Mr. Frisbee and wife came down and made a visit—read some,
talked, and so forth. It snowed and blowed a perfect gale all day. Just
snow enough to fly and it has improved its opportunity.
Monday 6th. Done house work, very cold, did not wash—waiting for
a better day. Doubled yarn and so forth. Went over to Libs after school,
read war news. Very lonesome times. Lucina went back to her school this
morning. May Dickey called. Charles drawed wood from corner, it is better
weather than yesterday.
Tuesday 7th. Washed and so forth. Baked bread and pie. Elisa Downs was
here this afternoon. Lucina came home tonight. Charles worked for Hays
and Hallett and drawed one load of wood. It makes a grand fire. Weather
more moderate. Read General Butlers speech at Lowell—thought it
Wednesday 8th. When we got up this morning found snow very deep. Snowed
all day, the prospects rather dubious if the wind blows—what a time
we should have. The children feel very happy tonight—singing and
telling stoies. Oh, if we could know where Charley is and know that he
is well how glad I should be. Finished with red dress today.
Thursday 9th. Willie has been quite sick today. The snow began to blow
last night and oh, how it did blow. The worst drifts I ever saw. Charles
took the horses and bobsled and went up to M. P's. after Tess and Lina.
The horses went in over their backs. We have had a time getting around.
The girls went home afoot over the drifts. Very cold indeed.
Friday 10th. The weather is colder than yesterday and the wind has blown
a perfect gale and oh how the snow flew around all day. Willie has been
very sick all day. Have had to watch him very close. Charles has done
chores and built fires and helped take care of baby. No mail has come.
The children could not get to school. Lucina is embroidering, Tallie knitting
her hood. Eddy is busy as ever. He has rare sport tumbling around in the
snow. I with the mail would come then we could know what is going on in
the world. Oh, how lonesome it is on this hill in a drifting time.
Saturday 11th. It has been rather more mild today. The men turned out
and broke roads and we got our mail. 2 letters from Charley. One from
Lib Tracy. Charley was all ready to march to a fight when he wrote. Oh,
I pray God to keep him safe. The papers think we have to fight for peace.
Lina came in this evening and worked on my dress. The news of a battle
has left us all anxious. Hope to hear more news soon. Willie seems better
Charley was with Co. A, 189th N. Y. Vol Infantry. The regiment was with
Grant's Army at Petersburg. The battle was probably the foraging raid
of 11 January, 1865.
Sunday 12th. Another cold, very cold day. Have tried to get some comfort
reading war news. Narcess called and we had the satisfaction of talking
over the war news. Sam Dickey called, also. Those two are the living beings
besides our own family I have seen today. The wind is still roaring—it
seems as if it would never be good weather again. Snowed a little last
night, soon got to cold to snow. Tried to get down to Elisa's today. Went
as far as the shop, came back contented. Willie is better.
Monday 13th. Today has been a pleasant day. The sun came out and it thawed
a little at the south door. Charles tried to get a load of wood but it
was so drifted he could not get it. I went up to M. P. 's a few hours.
Twisted yarn. Had quite a house full tonight. It seems quite good to see
our neighbors able to get out again. If we could only hear from Charley
we could stand it better.
Tuesday 14th. Has been a very pleasant day. I have been all alone with
Willie today. The children went to school. Charles went to meeting. Lucina
went to Charles Olmsteads. I done my work around the house this forenoon.
Patched some, knit some, read some, churned and so forth. Lina and Tess
called. Got a letter from Charley written 3 weeks ago.
Wednesday 15th. Washed and baked bread today. Mr. Hatch and wife called
this forenoon. Charles went to Cameron—traded horses. I don't like
it very well but he does. A very stormy day. May and Lina called today.
I read some stories for Tally tonight. Had hasty pudding for dinner today.
All well tonight. Looks like a storm again.
Thursday 16th. I have been very busy today with odds and ends. Charles
drawed load of hay from Whites and a load of wood for Elisa. Corked his
new horse today bad. I went over to Libs. Found her in trouble. She was
most sick and lost her cow too, and she feels dishearten about it. Called
on Granny Creasy tonight. Quite warm and thawed some today.
"Corked his new horse"—during the winter horse shoes with sharp
points, called caulks or corks, were used to give the horses better traction
on ice. Charles's horse must have raked one of his own legs with the corks
on one of his shoes. My grandfather used to have a term for a horse that
had a tendency to hit the back of his front legs with the back hoof, but
I have forgotten it.
Friday 17th. Tonight I ironed and went up to school, heard the children
declaim several poems, were spoken well for little folks. They sing well,
also. Quite a house full of visitors there today. It was mail day but
no news from my soldier boy. Been quite a pleasant day. Called to Sam
Dickey's tonight—heard from Charley's regiment. Hope it may be well
Saturday 18th. Been quite busy today. Baking, cleaning etc. This afternoon
called to M. P. 's. Waited till W. came from Cameron without the mail.
Came home feeling very sad but Abel White brought us a letter written
2nd of February and Lina got one of a latter date. C. has been in a fight
and is safe. I feel very thankful. It has been a colder day.
Sunday 19th. Cold and windy. S. Olmstead and Mr. Faber came here and
spent the day. E. Helmer, Mahaley Jones also. I have written a letter
to Charley tonight. The roads are so bad I shall not try to go to meeting
tonight. We gather around our repast to share. A something is wanting—our
Charley is not here.
Monday 20th. Did not wash today. Tallie and I commenced cutting carpet
rags, made quite a start. Lucina went over [to] help Lib prepare Sam's
hose. Charles went to Adrian for a load of straw. I called on Granny Creasy
this evening. A pleasant day. No mail yet. Can we wait much longer.
"Cutting carpet rags"—cutting up old cloth into strips to weave
Tuesday 21st. Today I got already to wash and Charles invited me to go
riding. So I left the girls to the washing and went up to see Abigail
Converse. She is poorly. Mrs. P. came up and we had a good time. Helpt
Abigail sew. Eddy came after us. A very cold morning but a pleasant day.
Wednesday 22nd. This has been quite a warm day, thawed all day. This
morning the roads were all drifted full again. The men have been busy
shoveling snow. White boys had a hard time with their horses. Elisa came
up to stay all night. Rosey's house burned down Monday night. One child
burnt up in it. S. D. folks went to the funeral. Charles and Eddy done
Thursday 23rd. Thawed all night, quite warm this forenoon. Heard today
that the Stars and Stripes float over Fort Sumpter [Sumter]. Charles fired
off the anvil on the strength of it. I could not stay home so went over
to Lib's and took dinner. Read Sam's letter. E. D. was there we had a
good visit. Mary Lockery was there to see Lucina. Charles tried to get
to the woods today but had to give it up. He has shoveled all the afternoon.
"Fired off the anvil"—set off a black powder charge between two
anvils to make a big noise—their equivalent to setting off fireworks.
Friday 24th. This has been quite a pleasant day. Charles drawed wood
on his new road. I rode down and saw his road he made yesterday. It was
very hard going the first trip. Tallia had company today. Nana and -------.
We got the last weeks mail today and I have had a good time reading the
news. The Tribune talks cheering of our prospects, thinks we shall conquer
the rebellion soon. Mrs. Turner went to Uncle Isaac's a visiting, invited
me to go but could not leave home very well. Lina brought us a letter
from cousin Albert R. Elisa stayed with us. Can I cease to forget one
that is far away, no I miss thee each moment and each passing day.
Saturday 25th. This morning was pleasant but very cold. There was a large
cubicle around the sun. Charles and ----- went to Cameron to town meeting.
It began to storm about three o'clock and it snowed and rained, froze
as fast as it fell. Charles brought me a letter from Charley and one from
brother Ed. I feel very thankful indeed. Mrs. Powell visiting today. Lucina
has gone to W. Downs' a visiting.
Sunday 26th. Sunday, quite warm, windy, blowed hard from south thawed
all last night. Today the water runs lively in the yard. Several calls.
Heard of the fall of Wilmington. Read some, wrote to Deal and Edward and
retired. How different to what it use to be when we could go to church
but after all god is here and will protect us as well as in church.
Monday 27th. Froze hard last night again. Today Charles drawed hay from
----. Silas Hatch was here and Mrs. Hatch came a visiting. Mrs. Turner,
and Granny. Sam Dickey helped Charles draw hay. Heard that Grant said
in one month he will end this war if he has 10,000 more men. Oh, that
they may be sent fast and that this bloody strife may soon be over.
Tuesday 28th. This has been another cold blustery day. It snowed some
last night and then the wind took it and this morning the roads are full
again. Elisa and Mrs. Frisbee came up through the snow. Levi took our
team and took them down to S. C. I have busied myself as usual today—some
house work same as every day. Lina and Rita called this evening. Charles
has gone up to settle with Miles Powell tonight. Cold and blustery. Good-bye