On the surface, writing by hand in a diary is a solitary experience…jotting down whatever is noteworthy from the day. If the entries are dated, a timeline emerges with days, weeks, seasons unfolding into a record of one’s personal living history. Upon closer inspection, a diary is more than a collection of musings, it is an intimate window into a life lived at a particular time. It becomes a document that future eyes can revisit.
Imagine finding the diary of a 15 year old boy in an old attic, complete with initialed ink pot and almanac dated: 1805. Eric Sloane, painter, author, and collector of Early American tools and artifacts found such a treasure- Noah Blake’s diary.
Mr. Sloane’s curiosity and reverence for Early American life was richly rewarded when he discovered young Noah Blake’s journal.
From that small leather bound volume came Eric Sloane’s best known book, Diary of an Early American Boy. As an author, Mr. Sloane took the liberty to flesh out the story in between Noah’s cursive entries. He enhanced the diary with his beautiful illustrations of tools and landscapes, giving the reader a very authentic feel for how a 15 year old boy spent his days in early rural America. Pitching in building barns, bridges, fireplaces, nail making, helping out his family and the community were all chores from the lad’s daily undertakings. Since these pioneers didn’t use money, they bartered services and everyone’s effort was valued.
12: Good Friday. It rained all day. Brook went up.
13: Bluebirds arrived. We finished the abutments…River lower.
14: Easter Sunday. A fine Service. Saw Sarah Trowbridge the new girl at the Adams. She is very pretty.
This little book is an opportunity to time travel. It offers an invitation to walk in the shoes of a young man in the beginning of 19th century America. All the tools from the time were well researched and generously illustrated. Everything was handmade. The cleverness of our ancestors can not be denied.
I especially enjoyed learning how ink was made. What an involved process. And then, one had to get the angle and the point on the quill just right to allow the ink to flow.
So Reader, picture this boy at the end of his day, say- after pounding out 900 iron nails (which was Noah’s average), young Noah Blake took time out before bedtime, to hand write a line or two about his day in the diary his parents gave him for his birthday.
Aren’t we glad he did?
Eric Sloane, Diary of an Early American Boy, Ballantine Books, New York. 1965