November 1859

November 1, 1859

Studying law. About half past ten, George S. Beach from Hartford came into the office & enquired for me. He hired a horse & buggy & we drove over & up to Glen Mary. Staid here to dinner till about half past three, thence [back] to Owego, around the streets & to the livery stable. [As there was ] no one there, we had to hitch & come again. Went to Aunt Lucy [Fiddis’] & staid there to tea. Went with him to the depot at half past 11. Then he went to Binghamton on his way to Connecticut. He is quite a pleasant man. Think I have not learned much law. I have derived much pleasure& learned something else — that is manners. Today has been a lesson to me. I never will be polite inless I begin to cultivate the spirit. Only do as you would wish to be done by & you will get along & do it sincerely & with kind motives

November 2, 1859

Cold. [Cousins] Lucy & Anna [Fiddis] came to the [law] office and said they were going to Ithaca in the morning. Got a letter from [Ex- Governor Thomas] Brown in Florida. Wants me to go there & teach.

November 3, 1859

Beautiful day. The sun shines & the sky is clear. Johnson & I went up to the cemetery. The solemn thoughts arose arose in my heart. There was a sadness which brooks resolution. Feel much better today, but not well. Did not study much. Saw [cousin] George Stratton for a few moments.

November 4, 1859

Pleasant day. Got a letter from [my sister] Augusta. [She] was in Leavenworth & well [arriving there] the same week Saturday. Mrs. George [Gray?] Davis’ niece died this morning at Smithboro. Gone to attend the funeral. Mr. & Mrs. Fitch here. Went on the river with Johnson in a sail boat. When we came back, Mrs. Babcock was in the [law] office & wanted to go the next time we went.

November 5, 1859

Warm but smoky. L. Rice in town. [My sister] Mary went to Newfield [NY] with Fitch. Afternoon, L. Rice came over. Did not do much in [law] office. Lee here & went up to Farnham’s with him. Pa quite sick. Expecting [cousin] George Stratton here but it is so late I think he is not coming.

November 6, 1859

Went to church. Communion service. Stayed. L. Rice went over to Owego.

November 7, 1859

Warm & pleasant. Reading law with little earnestness. Saw J. Curtis & Craft who used to go to the [Owego] Academy.  Evening, read.

November 8, 1859

Election. Went to Owego forenoon. In afternoon went with Pa to schoolhouse. Came back with him & went back again. Got a letter from [cousin] Lucy Stratton.

November 9, 1859

Pleasant day. Got new pair of boots. Studied a little. Afternoon, called on [cousin] George Stratton. Election gone Republican. [Nathaniel] Davis said to me that the masons offered to take [him] in the lodge, nominate him & elect him to the office of Judge. He said that if Strong had declined & the Democrats had not nominated anyone, he could have beaten [the Republican candidate, [Thomas] Farrington… He advised me to become a mason.

November 10, 1859

Cloudy. Called to see Dr. Phelps.  Charged me $2.00 for advice. Did not do much today. Papers full of dissolution of the Union. Been expecting [sister] Mary. Don’t see why she doesn’t come.

November 11, 1859

Change of weather. Got a letter from [cousin] Lucy Stratton. Mr. Smyth came to see if I would not teach in Academy Seminary about 2 hours in pay for my board. I told him it was too cheap… Col. Davis told us how a lawyer in Connecticut got his first suit. He picked a quarrel with a man, was sued & defended himself & beat, upon which he turned around & sued him for malicious prosecution & in time he got famous.

November 12, 1859

Went up to Aunt Lucy [Fiddis’]. The girls at home. Had a short talk with them. They had a good time in Ithaca…

November 13, 1859

Sunday. Dark cloudy day. Did not go to church. I thought about my inefficient action [and that] my judgment is not very quick nor sound. Always remember that persons in such situations are there for no good purpose and their act should be seen to deceive. Been snowing. Wrote to [my former Hobart classmate [Lewis Moss] and the Bishop of Kentucky.

November 14, 1859

Cold day. Got a recommendation from [Abner] Jackson, [President of Hobart College]. [My cousins] Lucy & Anna [Fiddis], Ward, & [cousin] George Stratton were here in the evening. Johnson started for Ithaca.

November 15, 1859

Warm. Got a recommendation from [Nathaniel] Davis. Fixing to go to Ithaca tomorrow [to take the bar examination]. Hoping & doubting considerably.

November 16, 1859

Got up about 5 [o’clock], had breakfast, & started for Ithaca. Got there about eight. Went to the Clinton House & saw C______. Walked around with him & he told me it was too late to go to Kentucky to teach. Went to F. Brown’s to dinner. Charlotte Warner was there. After dinner, went with her to call on her cousin Seely, thence up to Warner’s. [My cousin] Ed Stratton had been there enquiring for me. Hunted him up & went with him to Clinton. Read an examination before a lawyer. He said the whole class would pass. Took tea with [cousin] Ed at Warner’s. Then went to the court house. Seventeen were in the class & nearly all had been studying [law] between 2 & 3 & 4 years. The examining committee were [Douglass] Boardman [4] from Ithaca, Johnson from Delaware, & [Henry R.] Mygatt from Oxford. We were examined from 7 till 12 through a very strict & hard one. Thence I went to [Charlotte] Warner’s. They had a small party. Staid a short time & Ed, Jo. Johnson, & I went to [James] Stansbury’s [to visit Carrie] and staid there all night..

November 17, 1859

Took breakfast there, then took a walk with them. Went to court house. Heard that only 3 were admitted [to the bar and I did not pass]. Called on Whitney. Found Ed & went to Stansbury’s & staid till 4 in the afternoon & then we started home. Got there just before dark, Nancy [Van Kirk] was there & Lucy [Fiddis] went to bed early. They showed a good deal of sympathy for me & tried to make it pleasant.

November 18, 1859

Rainy. Ed [Stratton] & I went out hunting & shot a crow. Forenoon, read out loud for them. Afternoon, the old folks & Nancy [Van Kirk] went away. We had a great time. I baked pancakes for supper. We danced & Wilber fiddled. Lucy looked really beautiful one time when her cheeks had suffused with crimson at one of the jokes. Sometimes I felt happy & then very sad.

November 19, 1859

Got up rather late. They got started for Owego. [My cousins] Dave & Lucy & I went. Rainy and awful muddy. Got to the depot just at half past 9 in time for the train. When they left me, my heart finally sunk. The pain of ill-success came like a load upon me. Got home to dinner. Went [again] to Owego, saw Yange, gave him the bundle. saw [Nathanial W.] Davis…  I hardly know what to do but I am resolved to go through [with the study of law] now. This defeat is too much & too provoking. It is a disgrace and I want to get away as soon as possible. It’s my ill luck and can’t now be helped. There is no use to cry, but I must work the harder. I must expect to meet some disappointments [bigger than] this in life & I will put my trust in God.

November 20, 1859

Cold. [My cousin] George Stratton over. Went up to Glen Mary, over to the bridge with him.

November 21, 1859

Cold. went up in the woods to get out timber with Pa. Afternoon, went down to the graveyard with [my brother] Steve & fix the stone. Charles Goodrich helped us. Cold.

November 22, 1859

Commenced to paint the house with lime & other stuff. Quite a good paint. Got boards planed for steps.

November 23, 1859

Painting all day. Cold work. Afternoon, Tiffany came and make the steps. Lee [Goodrich] came down to ask us [for a carriage] to go to a ball up to Hull’s. [His father,] Aner wouldn’t let him have it. [Cousin] Anna [Fiddis] came over just before supper to ask our folks there to “Thanksgiving dinner.” Pa says he guesses he won’t go. Ma wants to go & get me a coat. Evening, talked about the Strattons. They are all wild, & especially Lucy. She is exceedingly wild & rough. Her wildness is a healthy kind & I like to see it. It shows her mind is active & spirits moral, but I am sorry that she is often vulgar. Ed & Jo. Johnson went into the girls room after they were in bed & before they were in, after they put on their night clothes & she would go into the back room when Johnson was there in her night dress. Anna says that she talks sometimes very roughly. I want to observe her to learn her completely. I know that she can attain a high place in lady accomplishments and lady like manners if she only will. She has not the opportunities at school. She can by going into the society she does, but that makes her worse than she really is naturally.

[My brother] Steve is over to Mort Lewis’ to a party, as Hull’s adjoins to that place. I am thinking about going South but as each day passes, my hopes are darkening. I know not what to do. But I shall put my trust in God & do as He directs. I am only a tool in His hands. I shall endeavor to do my utmost & leave the result to Him. That I may not fail is my sincere desire.

November 24, 1859

Thanksgiving. Went to Owego with Ma. Got cloth for coat. Went up to Aunt Lucy [Fiddis’] to dinner. Afternoon, painted. Very cold day. Evening, went over for Ma. Got a letter from Bishop [Benjamin B.] Smith of Kentucky. Says it is rather late to go there for a school. Evening, read & wrote on Superstition.

November 25, 1859

Not very cold. Still painting. Tiffany finished making the stoop. Put & Hull came to thrash. Mother Miller came here in afternoon. Staid all night. Evening, read some & slept.

November 26, 1859

Rather pleasant & warm. The rain last night washed the paint considerably. Commenced painting all the forenoon. Afternoon, went to Owego. Called at Pecks. Son at home. Advised me not to go to Virginia for the times were bad. Wanted me to go with him as an agent for the sale of sewing machines. Said we could make money at it. I said I would go with him. I went to post office and the barbers with George Stratton. He wanted to take me home. He went to get his horse. I went to Davis’ office. Saw [Willoughby] Babcock & [Nathaniel] Davis. Babcock advised me to get my life insured & borrow $300 & go to Albany Law School for a term. The cost would be about one hundred. Got a letter from [cousin] Fanny Rockwood & one from [my sister] Augusta. Peck brought me home. Told the folks about the agency [to sell sewing machines]. [They] thought it not best to go into it. Read some in evening.

November 27, 1859

Went to church. Wrote a letter to [cousin] Lucy Stratton. Read some.

November 28, 1859

Rather pleasant day. Painted in the forenoon. Afternoon, Peck drove over & staid the afternoon talking about selling sewing machines. Went to Owego with him after supper, went to [Ahwaga] Hall & heard Craine lecture on temperance.

November 29, 1859

Pleasant day. Painting. Afternoon, Peck came over. [Cousins] Lucy & Anna [Fiddis] staid till after tea & we all rode over to Aunt Lucy’s & spent the evening. [My cousin] George Stratton came up. Had quite a pleasant time. Heard that Johnson had got back from Ithaca and had gone to Williamsport [PA] to see if he could get into business there.

November 30, 1859

Very pleasant day. Painted as usual. My hands are very sore and finger especially. Aunt Lucy [Fiddis] and Mrs. Fitch came here. I feel sick & can’t do much.


Thomas Farrington of Owego, Tioga County, New York served as the New York State Treasurer from 1842-45 and from 1846-1847, being appointed by the Governor both times.

This is the first reference Ralph makes in his diary or letters concerning the Masons and the possible social and political advantages he imagined were possible by being a member. Perhaps Nathaniel Davis planted the seed during this particular conversation.

A number of Northern state elections went Republican in 1859 which cast an ominous and foreboding pall upon the horizon of the Southern states.

Douglass Boardman was a judge in Ithaca in 1859 but would later become the first dean of the Cornell Law School when that institution was established in 1866.

Henry R. Mygatt (1810-1875) graduated from Union College and became a prominent layer with an office on Albany Street in his hometown of Oxford, New York. His father-in-law, John Tracy (1783-1864) was the former Lieutenant Governor under Governor Marcy from 1833-1838.

The Right Reverend Benjamin B. Smith was the first Bishop of Kentucky, serving from 1832-1884. Since the Episcopalians were strong proponents of education, Ralph reasoned that he could obtain teaching “situations” through his affiliation with the Episcopal church and his degree from Hobart, an Episcopal-sponsored college.

Possibly Spencer Peck, born about 1836.

Given that Peck had been recently in Virginia, there is a good chance that the sewing machines he thought would be easy to sell were those manufactured by the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. This firm was based in Virginia, started selling sewing machines in 1857, and marketed them as a cheap alternative to the Singer sewing machine. The Willcox & Gibbs machine sold for as little as $50 while the Singer model sold for over $100.

Fanny Rockwood was the daughter of Samuel Rockwood and Augusta Goodrich (1811-1839). Augusta was a younger sister of Ralph’s mother, making Ralph and Fanny first cousins.

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