July 1859

July 21, 1859

Jim Mersereau staid with me & early in the morning before we had sat down to breakfast, [my sister] Augusta came in & took us by surprise. She carried her little son [Johnny Griffing] on her arms. Attended court; Special term, but they examine witnesses. To study character the position of a lawyer is a good one if he uses his opportunities well & judiciously. Those characters were a strange mixture. Some that could lie with a boldness unabashed, & others that could not conceal their proclivity. One was a Scot & he said that should his son do so & so, he should “ne’re come to want.”  Read a piece in the [New York] Tribune on the “Babes of the Alma Mater” which treated them severely & perhaps justly in the selection of subjects, with an attempt to treat them philosophically, when they could neither reown, when their thoughts & language were but the echo of what they had read, & especially the treating of their questions metaphysically, when any philosopher would front the truth. Read some on Saxon history.

July 22, 1859

In court pretty much all day. Col. W. Ransom was tried to be impeached. It was shown that he is a rascal & inclined to cheat anyone whom he could get advantage of. The judge (Ransom Balcom) is a good man & a gentleman but he is not a deep or profound man. He has hesitancy in his speech which is quite disagreeable. [Benjamin F.] Tracy is sharp – a little more than ordinary people. He is neither learned or deep [but] he has the faculty of presenting a case to the jury in such a way that they believe that is the truth.

I am fully determined to improve my mind so far as it is in my power. I made the resolution today & have made a plan of study. I shall first improve my judgment, for on that rests a man’s knowledge & improvement, his power to rise. Austin introduced to me a young friend of his from Kansas [Territory] by the name of Smith. He possessed a singular [unusual] head. The more I see of Johnson, the more pusillanimous he is.

July 23, 1859

Very cool day. Helped kill a small pig. The little fellow was determined not to die. Struggling sometime to gain his feet, he made one harder struggle in which he spent his surviving force, while the big bubbles of purple clots oozed in throbs from his neck. With a groan more of intense pain than that of the death struggle, he died.

Went to the office. Studied a little law, and Austin studying law in Davis’ office. Austin & I went & took a boat ride. Studied at home in the afternoon. Austin is very dogmatic. He clings to what he believes [while] disregarding wholly the words of others. In his own words, “I know but little, and what I do know I know as well as a preacher.” He is confident in his own word. He has modesty but he likes praise.

Evening, wrote until ten o’clock. Add something to your stock of knowledge each day is my motto. Took memorandum of Harold by [Edward] Bulwer. [Cousin] Anna Fiddis at home. Saw her today.

July 24, 1859

Done some writing. Attended church. [James] Rankine is a good preacher but he has too much of a monotonous force about him that becomes wearisome. Afternoon, wrote some. Anna [Fiddis] and Jim [Mersereau] here awhile. Went down to the school house to meeting. Trumans there. Tom Nichols spoke. He made quite a logical sermon. He holds that if Christ was not there would be only 3 ways by which a man could save himself – by his own power, by deceit, & by his own merits. For example, a criminal is doomed to death. By the first he [can] break [from] jail; the second, he will escape; the third, by doing something for the ruler by which he is released. “Our lives are like an account & when we become righteous, it does not conceal the old indebtedness.”

Saw T. H.  He is a mean fellow. His animal faculties are largely developed & his intellect is small. He is deceitful & wily, nor has he any honor. His hair is cropped short behind, which clings to a long & peaked back head. His forehead is low & narrow, his eye a wicked gray & bloodshot, a narrow face & withal a guilt & a lamb-like expression combined. Tall & ugly formed, his legs appear the greater part of him. E. T______ has a narrow top forehead which, as Phrenologists say, is not a good indication of a good wife.

In returning from church, I was meditating upon the process of thought. When one turns his attention to a subject which he understands, the thought long dwelling on this subject calls up all that it has known of it. With activity, these arise in the mind in images & are presented to others by the words of the mouth. By as much more forcible & powerful one presents these images to the mind of others so much more is he their superior. To do this, you must have deep thought, understanding of a subject, & powers of expression.

July 25, 1859

Went over rather earlier than usual to [Owego] to take Latin Reader to Anna [Fiddis] who went to Addison [New York] this morning. Annette Brister was on the [railroad] cars to go to Smithboro [New York] today. She is quite a pretty girl but not as fair as she used to be. She is rather intelligent but soft (with all the force of the modern meaning). Called at [my] Aunt Lucy Fiddis’.  She read a letter from [her daughter] Lucy saying that she was coming home soon. Very warm walking on the railroad. [My nephew] Johnny Griffing is a smart little fellow – continually tromping.

Read in the afternoon some on Philology. That is an interesting subject & if I ever can, shall study it thoroughly. Just after supper, Aunt Ruth came down. She tries to be a good woman but at the same time she wishes to make money. She is superb on English. She says Charley is the “Umpeer” of the boys. Evening [spent] writing. Commenced reading Watt’s on the Mind.  There is no doubt much food for thought & reflection within the lids, & if improvement is to be had, I shall try to get it.

Quite a pleasant day. There was a cool breeze from the southwest which bore on its wings refreshing slumbers at the noontide heat. A glorious sunset, which the amber & tinted hills renders more majestic closed the day. Purple clouds rolled in wreaths & fantastic shapes around the course of the sinking sun, & night spread his mantle in the heavens moonless & almost starless.

July 26, 1859

Rather cool & quite a strong breeze blowing. Heavy fog in the morning. Pitched off a load of wheat in the morning. Went to the office, at law. Col. [Nathaniel W.] Davis & Austin [are both] sick with the diarrhea. I do not feel well today. A deep depression of spirits which has almost become chronic. Austin is expert at cheating in Euchre, & Johnson is the sufferer.

Willoughby M. Babcock

Read a little in Atlantic Monthly. Oliver Wendell Holmes derides Phrenology & calls it pseudo-science. He says few lawyers, less doctors, & no jockey believe in it. Willoughby Babcock, the law partner of [Nathaniel] Davis, possesses a large stock of general information & has generally a most correct judgment. He has the heart of fun under a most sober exterior.

In the afternoon, remained at home & studied. An agent of the Bible society here to dinner. [My nephew] Johnny [Griffing] is playing with all the joyousness & thoughtlessness of babyhood. Ellis thinks Austin is a thinker. Evening, went down to Lee Goodrich’s.  All gone to bed. [My sister] Mary & Ruth Ann went with me, then went to Eph’s. His wife has not sown her wild oats yet, & her daughter is the wildest of the wild, yet meek & lamb-like. Came home about half past ten. [My sister] Augusta had quite a hard time coming here [from Kansas Territory].

July 27, 1859

My brother Steven possesses a good deal of obstinacy about him. If he knows by doing a favor he will oblige a brother or sister, he is sure not to do it. He has determination enough if only directed in the right channel to do something, but he is fickle & easily changed.

Wrote nearly all day in the office. Austin read to me while I copied. Knocked Johnson higher than a kite playing euchre. Cheat him before his face & he would suspect by the twinkle of the eye that something was up but what he could not see.

Went up to Aunt Lucy Fiddis’. Met G. Beebe – she cut Austin. Evening, Stebbins & wife here a short time. Read & wrote. [My sister] Molly out riding with Gurdon Horton. Lost her breast pin. Sardee’s & Pumpelly’s rode by at evening. They flirt too much & are too boisterous to be much of ladies

If ever I was angry, I am this evening. I am not pleased with myself or anyone. After dinner, rode to town with [my brother] Steve. Typo day in wagon. Read that Prince Poniatowski, the last of the royal house of Poland, had gone west to hunt up a farm.

July 28, 1859

Cold day. Talked severely to [sister] Mary about going around. She seemed to feel bad & will do better. Had a spat with Johnson which showed his unreasonableness & folly. Saw John Hay, a smart looking boy.

I read today that [Daniel] Webster said he had joined a suit once on account of his intimate knowledge of onion seed, thus showing that a lawyer cannot know too much outside the law books. [Note: Samuel P. Lyman’s book on the “Life and Memorials of Daniel Webster”, published in 1853, says on page 105 that Webster admired Sir Robert Peel’s intimate knowledge on the subject of onion seeds, not his.]

Did not read much law today. In the evening, went down to Lee Goodrich’s. Gone to bed. [My brother] Steve gone to Put’s to stay with a boy.

July 29, 1859

Another cold day. Austin agreed to go in partnership [with me] if we went west. He & I went over the river to see Georgia Archibald [but she] was not home. Went to the park to see them play ball. Lucia Broadhead [was] there.

Read in the [New York] Tribune of the Yale & Harvard regatta & Yale Commencement. It said that there was a decided improvement in the graduates – a better choice of Saxon works, & less of scholastic subjects. Read some in Sear’s England. The girls got a letter from Louisa Rice. She said she was going down East to the land of “Chowders, apple sass & greens.” Saw the Geneva Ledger, a libel by W. Manning on Caleb Chaffer & D. Taylor.

July 30, 1859

Last night by some legerdemain, I turned in bed end for end. By what provocation I did it, I don’t know. Had an animated blackguard discussion with Johnson – Austin & I against him. He has no feeling & is no gentleman. Some expected Georgia Archibald over [to visit] but was sadly disappointed.

Chauncey Hill here in the morning. He wanted me to pull out a tooth. I got the large pinchers, but he backed out. He is a singular character. He has no palate – so the saying is – and he talks most horribly through his nose. He has an eccentricity which borders on insanity.

Col. [Nathaniel] Davis told some very ugly stories and some where he had some of his deviltries. Read by Oliver Wendell Holmes that few read for the first time correctly the verses of Judges XV.16. Saw it was a singular passage. Few men use correct English, or such English as expresses their ideas correctly or plainly. Even the Queen’s message, written by the greatest literary men of the age, is found to contain many inaccuracies.

Had a lecture from [my sister] Augusta on my bawdy expressions. I must improve. It is easier to joke in such a way than to talk the wild gossip of old maids. Got my shoes mended. Paid 18 cents. The temperature is somewhat higher today than it has been for a few days past, but not uncomfortably warm. [My brother] Steve got a felon coming.

July 31, 1859

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning – the East all covered with purple & golden clouds. As the sun came up, these faded into a cold leaden color & the damping fogs began to gather. The day was beautiful & pleasant, its repose intensified by the chime of the church bells. Attended church at Baptist house. They have a good organ, the deep roll of the notes sent a thrill through my frame.

Wrote letters to [Henry E.] Handerson & [John] Fulton.

Henry Ebenezer Handerson, Hobart Free College, 1858

Austin here in the afternoon & [my cousin] Jim Fiddis. Felt unwell in the morning. A long & dull conversation with Austin. In some measure, his idea of woman is formed from what she reads & delights in perusing. This is not a good rule generally. It is fallacious reasoning yet it will show her strength or weakness of mind. Harvey Smith called & took [my sister] Mary riding. The evening is calm & beautiful – such evenings as frequently visit us. I shall examine closely the characteristics of person whom I cross & note them for after thinking, their differences, &c.


James Mersereau, born about 1835, in New York. Residing with father Joshua Mersereau, a farmer, in Union, Broome County, New York. Source: US Census 1860.

Jemima Augusta [Goodrich] Griffing, born 26 January 1829. She married James Sayre Griffing in September 1855 and resided in Kansas Territory in 1859.  She returned to her hometown, Owego, New York, in the summer of 1859, leaving Kansas Territory about July 12 and arriving in Owego on July 21, after visiting her husband’s cousins in northern Illinois enroute.

John Silas Griffing, born 26 August 1857, the eldest child of Augusta and James Griffing.

The identity of Col. W. Ransom has not been confirmed. There is a William Ranson residing in Sherburne, Chenango County, New York. Source: US Census 1860

Ransom Balcom, born about 1819 in New York. A circuit court judge residing in the 2d Ward, Village of Binghamton, Broome County, New York. Source: US Census 1860.

Benjamin F. Tracy, 1830-1915, American lawyer, cabinet member, and soldier, b. Owego, N.Y. He was admitted to the bar in 1851 and later served (1853-59) as district attorney of Tioga County, N.Y. He helped organize (1854) the Republican Party in his county and served (1862) in the state assembly. In the Civil War he recruited volunteers for the Union army, was wounded in battle, and was mustered out as brigadier general. Tracy served as U.S. district attorney (1866-73) for the eastern district of New York and was defense counsel to Henry Ward Beecher in the adultery suit brought against him by Theodore Tilton. He was (1881-82) judge of the New York court of appeals before becoming Secretary of the Navy (1889-93) under President Benjamin Harrison. Tracy was (1896) chairman of the commission that drafted the charter for Greater New York and served (1899) as counsel for Venezuela in the arbitration of the boundary dispute with Great Britain. Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2007.

William A. Austin, born 18 February 1832, in New York. His parents were Daniel Austin (1805-1891) and Abigail (1802-1890). William Austin was admitted to the bar in 1860. In 1870, he resided in Trumansburgh, Tompkins County, New York with his wife Mary and infant daughter Mary. Source: US Census 1870.

Johnson’s identity has not yet been confirmed. He supposedly graduated from the Albany Law School in 1866 though that institution has no record of him. It is obvious from the diary entries that Austin, Johnson, and Goodrich were all studying law in the law office of Nathaniel W. Davis during the summer and fall of 1859. Johnson was living in Davenport, Iowa in 1860.

Col. Nathaniel W. Davis, born 10 May 1807 in Weston, Connecticut. He studied law at Ithaca and came to Owego to practice in 1832. He was surrogate of Tioga County from 1840-1844, and member of assembly in 1844 and 1863. He was also a village trustee in 1839, 1842, and 1847, and president of the village in 1859 and 1860. He was much interested in military affairs and was for several years colonel of the 53d and 54th regiments of the New York State militia. He died in Owego, 31 July 1874. Source: Historical Gazetteer & Directory of Tioga County, New York, 1887.

Nathaniel W. Davis was an officer in the Independent Order of Good Templar’s, a Temperate Society. The following description of Davis appears on page 59 in the 1868 publication of the history of that Order by Peirce and Thompson: “Nathaniel W. Davis, the newly-elected G.W.C.T., was then, and is still (1868) residing in his own house… [on Main] Street, Owego, N.Y., on the north branch of the Susquehanna river.  He is a lawyer by profession, and his office contains a well-stored library of law literature. He was then [1854] forty-seven years of age, and though slender in appearance, is muscular and strong, being six feet three inches in height; pleasant in conversation, and quite jovial in manner. He has been a member of the Lodge in Owego ever since its organization; and still retains a great interest in the Order. He has always been a strict temperance man, never but once in his life having drunk any intoxicating drink, and this was when he was twenty-one years of age, while studying law in Ithaca. He was afterwards a member of the Legislature at Albany [1863].”

Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-1873) was an English novelist, playwright, and politician. Lord Lytton was a florid, popular writer of his day, who coined such phrases as “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and the infamous incipit “It was a dark and stormy night.” Despite his popularity in his heyday, today his name is known as a byword for bad writing.

Anna Augusta Fiddis, born 26 July 1842. Her parents were Robert B. Fiddis and Lucy Tryon Goodrich – the sister of Mary Ann Goodrich (Ralph’s mother). Anna married Rev. John H. Griffith on 30 June 1863.

James Rankine, born 5 November 1827 in Ayrshire, Scotland. He came to the U.S. in 1835 and settled in Canandaigua, New York. A graduate of Union College in 1846, Rankine prepared for the Episcopal ministry and became connected with the faculty at Trinity College at Hartford, Connecticut where he remained six years. In 1854, Rankine became the Rector at St. Paul’s Church in Owego where he remained until 1861. He then took charge of the Theological Training School in Geneva, New York and became a trustee of Hobart College. Following the death of Bishop DeLancey in 1865, Rankine took charge of St. Peter’s mission in Geneva and later became President of Hobart College (1869-1871). He died in 1896.

Trumans – probably the family of Lyman Truman, a resident of Owego, New York.

Tom Nichols, born about 1837, son of Thomas M. and Susan B. Nichols of Owego, New York. Tom’s father was a “Miller.”  Source: US Census 1860.

Phrenology is a theory that claims to be able to determine character, personality traits and criminality on the basis of the shape of the head (i.e., by reading “bumps” and “fissures”). Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall around 1800, the discipline was very popular in the 19th century. Source: Wikipedia.

Annette Brister, born about 1839 in Connecticut. In the U.S. Census of 1860, she is shown living in the Owego household of her grandparents, Gordon Bliss (1790-1884) and his wife Luna Phelps (1791-   ). She was the daughter of Eveline E. Bliss and Linus Brister. She appears in the catalogue of members of the Independent Congregational Church of Owego in 1857.

Lucy Tryon [Goodrich] Fiddis was a younger sister of Ralph’s mother, Mary Ann [Goodrich] Goodrich. Lucy married Robert B. Fiddis in 1836 and had three children before her husband died about 1850. The three children were Lucy, James, and Anna – Ralph Goodrich’s cousins and frequent correspondents. “Aunt Lucy” kept a boarding house in Owego during the 1850’s and 1860’s.

Lucy Augusta Fiddis, born 17 July 1839. She was the daughter of Robert B. Fiddis and Lucy Tryon Goodrich. Lucy and her siblings Anna and James Fiddis were cousins and correspondents of Ralph Goodrich. Because it is easy to confuse Lucy Fiddis with her mother, who had the same name, I precede references to Lucy A. Fiddis with [Cousin] Lucy Fiddis and references to her mother as [Aunt] Lucy Fiddis. Cousin Lucy corresponded with Ralph’s sister, Augusta [Goodrich] Griffing as well.

Probably Ruth [Stratton] Goodrich, the 61 year-old wife of Aner Goodrich – a farmer in Tioga, Tioga County, New York.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote several articles for the Atlantic Monthly Magazine during this period of time, one of which debunked phrenology.

Lt. Col. Willoughby Babcock (standing)

Willoughby Babcock was born in Scott, Cortland County, New York on 12 January 1832, the eldest son of Samuel Babcock and Louisa Atwater. “He graduated from the New York Central College in McGrawville, Cortland County, and attended the Albany Law School. In March 1858 he opened a law office over Burnham’s bookstore in Homer, but two months later he accepted the offer to join the established law office of Nathaniel W. Davis in Owego, Tioga County, New York. On 14 October 1858 he married a fellow New York Central College student, Helen E. ‘Nellie’ Maynard of Williamson, Wayne County, New York.” During the Civil War, Babcock enlisted as First Lieutenant in Company H of the 3d New York Regiment. While serving as Major of the 75th New York Regiment, he was appointed Provost Marshal and Military Governor of Pensacola, Florida when that city surrendered during the summer of 1862. He was wounded in battle during the summer of 1863 at Port Hudson, Louisiana and recovered in New Orleans where he was subsequently named Provost Judge. He was court-martialed in the fall of 1863 for his criticism of General Banks, but reinstated in 1864 and eventually rejoined his command at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. As Lieut. Col., he was mortally wounded in September 1864 at the Battle of Winchester. He is buried in his hometown of Homer, Cortland County, New York. [Source: Where Duty Called Them, The Story of the Samuel Babcock Family of Homer, New York in the Civil War, by Edmund Raus, 2001]

Possibly William H. Ellis, a 22 year-old clerk residing with his parents in Owego, New York.

Lee Goodrich was born about 1836 – a cousin of Ralph Goodrich’s who was a farmer in Tioga, Tioga County, New York.

Mary [“Molly”] Clarissa Goodrich, born 20 February 1839, was a younger sister of Ralph Goodrich’s. She married Gurd H. Horton in 1863.

Ruth Ann Goodrich, born 22 May 1844, was the daughter of Ephraim and Hannah [Horton] Goodrich.

Ephraim Goodrich was born in 1815 – a cousin of Ralph Goodrich’s father – who farmed in Tioga, Tioga County, New York. Ephraim was married to Hannah Horton.

Stephen Silas Goodrich, born 16 June 1842, was a younger brother of Ralph Goodrich’s.Georgia Beebe was the 20 year-old daughter of Hiram A. Beebe and his wife Mary. Ralph would eventually take Georgia’s younger sister Dora as his second wife. Hiram Beebe was a printer and published the Owego Gazette for a number of years.

Barney M. Stebbins (born about 1822) and his father (born about 1801), both formerly of Massachusetts, worked as grocers in Owego in 1859.

Gurdon [“Gurd”] Horton, born 4 December 1833 in Tioga, Tioga County, New York. He was the son of George Horton and Hannah Cortright. “Gurd” married Ralph’s sister, Mary in March, 1863.

Sardee or Sardy. Ralph is probably referring to the two Sardy girls, Josephine, age 18, and Mary Ann, age 14, in 1859. They were the daughters of John B. Sardy, age 42, and his wife Hannah, age forty.  John Sardy was a corn merchant residing in Tioga, Tioga County, New York who had been born in the West Indies.

Pumpelly. Ralph is probably referring to Mary Pumpelly, the 15 year-old daughter of George P. Pumpelly of Owego, New York.

The Poniatowski family ruled Poland from 1764 to 1795.

The identity of John Hay cannot be confirmed.

Georgia Archibald, born about 1840, was the oldest daughter of Samuel Archibald, a Tioga County farmer, and his wife Adaline.  Georgia married Asa N. Potter on 27 May 1863.

Lucia Broadhead. Identify not yet confirmed.

Probably Robert Sears’ History of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales & the British, published in 1847

Chauncey Hill. There were two Chauncey Hill’s living in Owego, Tioga County, New York in 1860. Ralph is probably referring to the one that was born about 1815 in Vermont who was a farmer near Owego in 1859.

Henry Ebenezer Handerson, born 21 March 1837; graduated from Hobart College in the Class of 1858 with Ralph Goodrich. He worked as a surveyor in Tennessee before moving to Louisiana where he tutored the children of a planter. In 1860, he began studying medicine at the University of Louisiana (Tulane). At the outbreak of the Civil War, he tutored the family of General G. Mason Graham while also joining a company of homeguards. While his allegiance was with the Union, he nevertheless became a Confederate soldier in Stafford’s Guards (Company B) of the 9th Louisiana Infantry, rising to the rank of Major and Adjutant-General.  Wounded in battle, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864 and remained a prisoner until June 1865. He resumed medical study and graduated from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of New York in 1867 and practiced there until he came to Cleveland in 1885. A successful practitioner and earnest scholar, he left a deep impression upon cultural medicine in Cleveland.  A tall, slender man, Handerson became totally blind near the end of his life and died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 23 April, 1918.  He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. Handerson’s personal memoirs, Yankee in Gray, give a lucid, though somewhat embellished account of his wartime experiences.

James [“Jim”] Robert Fiddis, born 27 July 1837, was the son of Robert B. Fiddis and Lucy Tryon Goodrich. He married Olivia Martinez 23 August 1879 in Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

Harvey Smith. There were two Harvey Smith’s living in Tioga County in 1860. Both lived at home with their parents. Harvey L. Smith lived in Owego and kept a saloon. Harvey R. Smith lived in Nichols and worked on his father’s farm. Mary’s caller was probably the latter.

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