Tag Archives: diaries

Christmas on Isle Royale, Diary entries of a frontier woman

The ever-white winters of the Keweenaw are beautiful, but the intense snowfall can also leave residents feeling isolated. Both of these sentiments become even more true on Isle Royale.

The following set of diary entries were written by Lydia Smith Douglass in 1848 during the first year of her marriage to Columbus C. Douglass. During the winter of this year, the couple lived on Isle Royale while Columbus worked for the Ohio and Isle Royale Mining Company.

These entries were written around the time of Christmas.

 

Isle Royale in Winter. (Photo courtesy of the Keweenaw Digital Archives.)
Isle Royale in Winter. (Photo courtesy of the Keweenaw Digital Archives).

 

 

December 23, 1848

It was eleven o’clock before I retired last night. I said some time before night that I would finish the piece of work I was engaged with before I slept. Consequently, I had to sit up later than usual. Mr. Douglass returned home a little after six this evening, having walked from Epidote to Datholite and from thence home today on snow shoes. He was so fatigued as to be hardly able to stand up, when he came in, and so completely drenched with perspirations, one might have thought he had been in the water. Such overexertion must certainly be very injurious to one’s health.

December 25, 1848

Christmas has come with pleasant weather, and snow sufficient for good sleighing, but unfortunately for us we have neither roads nor teams. The contrast in the manner of our spending the day is quite different from last Christmas Day, then among our friends at Ann Arbor. Now, on a remote and lonely island, but I forbear to repine. We are happy here, even in this solitude, but would still be happier if we could communicate with our friends. We have as many of comforts of life here, as we should enjoy in almost any place. Many more than one would suppose that had no experience in this new country. We have as yet a plenty of fresh meats such as, beef, fish, fowls, rabbits, etc. etc., together with as good vegetables as one would wish to find in any place, also a sufficiency of nick-nacks. In short, everything for our health and comfort.

December 26, 1848

The morning was rather snowy, but cleared away about noon and remained pleasant during the rest of the day. The day passed off in the usual routine of sewing, reading, writing, eating, etc., etc., etc. We brought with us a choice library, with which to employ our leisure moments, and it is a source of amusement and profit to us. We are now reading the Life and Voyages of Columbus, written by Washington Irving, which is very interesting. It seems strange to us of the present day that a civilized people should have thrown so many obstacles in the way of this great discoverer.

 

These diary entries are held by the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections as a part of the Lydia Smith Douglass Diary Collection.

What’s cookin’ today in the reading room.

I worked with a researcher in the Archives today who was interested in any records or documentation of foodways. What are “foodways,” you may ask. Well, that’s academe-speak for what people eat, the social implications of what, how, and with whom they eat; basically, how people interact with food. Food is love, right?

The researcher, Casey Rudkin, an RTC doctoral student, was looking for things like cookbooks and any records that might contain recipes. She was particularly interested in the Brockway Diaries Collection (MS-010), thinking that perhaps Lucena Brockway had noted “receipts,” as recipes were sometimes referred to in the early 19th century and prior. Lucena kept a pretty terse journal, but there are plenty of details to be gleaned of early life on the Keweenaw by the dedicated researcher.

Casey did the hard work, but occasionally we puzzled together over the meaning of some of the text in the diaries; Lucena was not the most legible scribe. We struggled over an entry that recorded the canning of a bushel of cherries, and eventually learned that on one autumn afternoon she and two other women put up 13 cans of cherries by 7 o’clock! No mean feat even on a modern gas range. I can only imagine what that was like on a wood stove in a kitchen without electricity or running water.

Kitchen, circa 1913
This is the kitchen of the Putrich residence in Seeberville (Painesdale), Michigan. It dates to about 40 years later than Lucena Brockway's day of canning. The merchant family Brockway's kitchen may have been a bit larger than the working class Putriches, but the appliances and equipment were quite likely similar.

Lucena seemed to have been ill frequently. Many of her recipes deal with home remedies. One entry notes a “cure for small pox.”

Casey shared her notes with me from the final page of Lucena Brockway’s 1869 diary, written opposite the back cover page (Coll. #MS-010, The Brockway Diary Collection, Box 1, Folder 5). I’m posting it here with a disclaimer that the excerpt is intended for informational purposes only.

Cure for Small Pox

Sulphate of zinc one grain;
Foxglove (digitalis) one grain;
half a teaspoonful of sugar;
mix with two tablespoonfuls of water.

When thoroughly mixed add—
four ounces of water.
Take a spoonful every
hour. Either disease
will disappear in twelve
hours. For a child smaller
doses according to age.
If counties would com
pel Physicians to use
this there would be no
need of Pest houses.

Lucena notes that the remedy worked for Scarlet fever too.

As work continues on our NHPRC-funded project to create collection level descriptions for all of our manuscript collections, we are truly “revealing hidden collections.” Cataloging archivist Beth Russell was able to suggest another source that contained recipes or descriptions of food. In the collection of Perkins Burnham Correspondence (Acc. # 01-103A), a healthy young clerk in the Eagle Harbor general store describes meals at his boarding house with great gusto.

Mmmm, I’m getting hungry….