Thursday, June 30, 2011

Norwich Archives #2 - Throckmorton Diary 1817-1862

Mar 1817 - first entry
The unassuming small town Ontario Norwich and District Museum & Archives holds a collection of local diaries stretching into the late 20th century, providing an overview of the settled history of the township. Over the next several of months I will highlight some of these diaries in the collection and hope to attract attention and researchers to the invaluable resources housed there.
I’ve just finished reading the diary of Joseph H. Throckmorton, written between 1817 until his death in 1862. Throckmorton was born in 1788 in New Jersey and settled in the Norwich area with his father’s (John Throckmorton) family between 1810 and 1817. John, a Loyalist in the American Revolution, had his New Jersey land confiscated in 1779 and then moved to PEI cir. 1782 or 1787 on half-pay. In 1820 the Throckmorton’s owned lots 10, 22, and 23 in Concession 3 (Quaker St.) in Norwich Township. In 1853 Joseph Throckmorton is noted as owning lot 10, Concession 3 and Lot 2, Concession 11 in South Norwich (Otterville). Joseph was a farmer, landowner and miller but also held the rank of Captain in the Oxford Militia. He is buried in the Norwich Village Cemetery along with his wife, Adeline.
Throckmorton & Wife Adeline - Norwich Cemetery

crops, livestock, militia 1825

Tannery shipmets
His diary is an amalgam of weather, farming, politics, births, deaths, marriages, business and a source of local news. Each entry, usually only a line per day, contains the wind direction and weather conditions.  His meticulous recording of arrivals, departures, births, deaths and marriages make the diary a Rosetta Stone of local genealogy. One can see the evolution of his enterprise as he diversified and increased his crops and livestock. He often gives sowing and yield numbers by the bushell and the pounds of extracted livestock meat. He sheds light on the religious culture of Norwich Township. While Henry was either Anglican or Methodist, he noted attending Camp Meetings and Quarterly Meetings of a number of denominations including Episcopal, Quaker and Methodist. This perhaps provides insight into the social and relgious culture of the township. At times he only notes meetings and others he specifically mentions his attendance. He also mentions a Black congreation meeting. Norwich's abolitionist Quaker population provided a haven area for Black settlers.
 The diary presents several mysteries. Throckmorton noted events often without detail. He reserved detail for his everyday focus; his land, crops and livestock. He recorded deaths, but unless they were unnatural he rarely record the reason. Even when he documented a person as sick he did not often identity the illness or symptoms. His meticulous recording of deaths reveals some troubling times in Norwich history. For example, while 1824 saw only three deaths, the figure spiked to twenty-three between August and December 1825. Another nine died between February and August of 1826 after a prolonged community wide struggle with disease. Both Throckmorton and his wife Adeline (Delong) became sick during the 1826 incident. Quoting his entry from Feb. 1826, “I was taken very sick” and from May, “My wife very sick with intermittent fever.” It is a mystery as to which disease struck the community or whether the cause was the same for both years.

Aug 1825 - deaths

Sept 1825 - deaths



Throckmorton made note of the Norwich connection to the Rebellion of 1837-1838 (the Duncombe Uprising). Though no evidence in the diary connects him directly to the rebellion, he was aware of the events and conveniently travelled to the American side of the border as the rebellion took its course. Also, the entries from 1838 to 1840 are missing. The follow is taken from his December 1837 entry:
Dec. 6 – Charles Duncombe raising a rebellion in Norwich
Dec. 7: Radical Meeting
Dec. 8: Started for Lewiston [New York – across the river from Queenston]
Dec. 14: …near Lewiston. Duncombe’s army dispersed
Dec. 27: Cannon firing on Navy Island [William Lyon McKenzie attempted invasion of Upper Canada)
Dec. 29: Cannon firing, steam boat sent down falls
Rebellion - Dec1837
Occasionally, amidst the reams of paper and books usually piled around one's head, one is reminded that history is human. People from the past can sometimes seem to almost jump from the page. Such occurrences, experienced at least twice while reading the Throckmorton diary, are often subtle but contain significant depth.

1859 finger print
For example, within the diary there are at least two clear ink fingerprints, assumingly belonging to Throckmorton as he wrote. This is insignificant perhaps, but they stood for me as a reminder that this collection of papers was more than dull ink and dead wood. It suddenly humanized it and made it tangible, as a part of the person himself seemed to still remain.
I was reminded again of the writer’s humanity. In the May 1 of 1860 he wrote, “I was taken sick.” One can see beginning in April 30 through to his last entry in 1862 that the quality of his penmanship declined significantly, becoming unsteady, as if he had developed a shaky hand. This subtle transformation and impact of his sickness brought out to me the human presence in the paper. It perhaps provides evidence of a slight stroke, hindered eyesight or the onset of some weakness in his hand.
This is just one example of primary sources available through the Norwich Archives. The diary itself provides fodder for a myriad of research field: weather, agriculture, religious, political are just a few overarching examples. He provides the daily wind direction, temperature information, snow depth, frost, etc.The diary is littered with secondary aspects such as bee keeping, railroad construction, road construction, local, national and international travel, the planting and yield bushell numbers, the amount of pounds extracted from livestock, home construction, agricultural construction (specfically mentioning types of community Bee's in some cases and other community farm and construction work), prices are at times given for land transactions, court cases are noted, local elections, dances, suicides, crimes and the list goes on. I don't pretend that this diary is unique among other 19th century Upper Canadian examples, but my purpose here is to note an intact and available source for academic research. If there's time this summer I hope to be able to digitize the diary and put it in the Our Ontario database.
Jordan Kerr
Norwich and District Museum & Archives
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