In the fall of 1987, Alan Borer, a recent college graduate with an interest in rural history, was browsing at a flea market in southeastern Ohio. At one table, he picked up a small, leather-bound volume. It was a diary kept by Knox County farmer Harvey Devoe (1828-1914) in 1861.
The handwritten text consisted of daily entries, most about farming, some about daily life, and even a few about the Civil War erupting nationally.
The vendor wanted $35 for the book, but Borer haggled her down to $25, and headed out with his treasure. He dreamed of taking the diary, researching its entries and someday publishing an annotated version.
He did, but it ended up taking him a lot longer than he ever expected. “A Farmer's World: The 1861 Diary of Harvey Devoe, Knox County, Ohio” was published in 2015, and is available at www.Xlibris.com (and I do recommend Borer's work highly for a more complete picture).
As the diary is a remarkable view of the daily life of a rural farmer in 1861 in central Ohio, we're going to feature the highlights of Harvey's year throughout the year 2020 here at History Knox in a monthly column.
This month, we'll see January 1861 through Harvey Devoe's eyes, keeping his spelling and grammar just as he wrote it.
In 1861, Harvey was just getting his start in life, having married Martha Hanastafiel in 1856. He was sharing duties farming his father Samuel's property, which was just a couple miles south of Ankenytown.
The farm touched what is now Ohio 95 just across the street from the northern entrance to Shipley Road.
On the first day of his diary, Harvey noted that he had spent the day at Elijah Wheeler's to “help demolish a Turky.” The hearty meal was shared with his wife's relatives Elijah and Sarah Ann Wheeler, who lived in Ankenytown in Berlin Township. Sarah Ann was a Hanastafiel like Harvey's wife, so the women were either sisters or cousins, and the couples frequently visited each other.
That evening, Harvey prepared his wagon for a business trip. The following day, he got two new shoes put on his horse Doll in Ankenytown, then proceeded to head northwest over the next few days, through “Wood Berry” (North Woodbury), “Johns Ville” (Johnsville), “Gallion” (Galion), “Buckyrus” (Bucyrus), and Oceola (he got that one right) on his way to Upper Sandusky.
Along the way, he stopped and hunted “pheasants,” which annotator Borer points out would not be the ring-necked pheasant we know today (which was only introduced into the United States around 1890), but rather what we now call the ruffed grouse. Harvey notes he flushed some of the birds out, but his shots all missed.
Though he never mentions in the diary what his business appointment in Upper Sandusky was, it was apparently a rather laid-back excursion, for he notes that on the evening of Jan. 8, for entertainment he and his host “went to Spelling School in the evening had some declamations spok by a few of the small schollars.”
Evidently he didn't pick up any new spelling skills himself that evening, perhaps because he was distracted: “saw some very good looking Girls.” (And that's Harvey's underlining, not mine.)
Business complete, Harvey started home the next day, arriving on Jan. 10. The following day he helped his father kill and butcher “a beef” as the weather turned snowy. “Snowed a bout two inches deep and still asnowing.”
The day after that was Saturday, and saw Harvey making a trip in Fredericktown, where there was “quite and excitement” with people talking about “S.C” (South Carolina) and the brewing secession movement that would soon erupt in Civil War. Harvey says people were talking excitedly about the issue and the government generally that day.
Tensions rose and the farmer said it “finally ended in a little row.” “Row” is an old-fashioned English word for argument or fight. He offers no further details.
The following week, Harvey notes the foggy and rainy weather and mentions that it turned to snow on the afternoon of the 16th as he slogged up to Ankenytown through two inches of mud. There he heard people “cussing and discussing old Bucks Administration and south Carolina.”
Old Buck referred to outgoing president James Buchanan (because in those days, the new president was not sworn in until March). Buchanan didn't want Civil War to break out on his watch, so he refused to do anything as Southern states began the process of secession from the United States, dumping the mess in the lap of his successor, Abraham Lincoln.
After a few more days of rain and sleet, the weather turned warm around Jan. 21, the day that Harvey had a chat with a nearby farmer about renting some fields so Harvey could get his own farm started, independent of his father's.
Now that Harvey was married, he no doubt wanted to create his own living arrangement. According to Borer, the spelling of the landlord is almost illegible, but might be Comings, the name of the farmer on the other side of Fredericktown Road.
The following day, Harvey trekked into Fredericktown to buy some dry goods and dishes (which suggests that perhaps he rented a house from Comings, too, for him and his wife). Since people were just as forgetful then as we are today, he had to run back into town the next day to grab the things he forgot to buy on the first trip.
The weather turned cold the last week of January, 1861.
“At home Keen air this morning done upte the choars this choped wood today.”
After finishing with chores, Harvey spent Friday evening visiting his brother-in-law David Dickey, and his sister Emmeline. He didn't get home until 2:00 am. No word about his wife Martha's opinion of his late return!
The following week Harvey chopped wood, looked at some hogs for potential purchase, and prepared another “beef.” He closed the month by visiting with friends in Bellville, and managed to lose his buggy whip somewhere along the road between Palmyra and Ankenytown as he returned home.
It was a quiet start to what would prove a momentous year in U. S. history.