Primary Source: Diary of Joshua Hempstead

Joshua Hempstead was born in 1678 in New London, Connecticut. He kept a diary from 1711 until shortly before his death in 1758. He was a farmer, surveyor, justice of the peace, and a town selectman.

Adam Jackson was enslaved to Hempstead. Hempstead mentions Adam frequently, telling us what work he did.

This excerpt from January 1750 reveals something of the daily life in a colonial town–including a mysterious tragedy for a young girl named Zeno.

[Spelling has been standardized to make it easier to read.]

Monday, January 7, 1750. Stormy last night and most of the day. I was at home all day removing the boards, clapboards, and shingles out of the back lean-to and at night at Capt. Bradick’s with the Civil authority Selectmen etc. choosing Taverners and Jurymen.

Tuesday, January 8. Fair and cold. I was at home in the morning and toward night I went with Parden Taber to the Court of Probate to prove his father’s will.

Wednesday, January 9. Fair. I was at home all day. I made a flail. Adam and Ben thrashed oats in the afternoon.

Friday, January 11. Fair. I was with William Manwaring & Simon Smith appraising Mr. Taber’s household goods.

Monday, January 14. Misty and drizzling. I was out to Mr. Taber’s land and at Parden Taber’s appraising. (Grandson) Hempsted Minor came and lodged here.

Tuesday, January 15. Misty and drizzling …. In the afternoon I was at Captain Daniel Coits to hear the examination of Mr. Nicholas Letchmere and his wife upon account of the sudden death of their slave Zeno, a female about 6 or 7 years old who died on Sunday night at about 2 in the morning. Upon a complaint made to Capt. Coit, he sent a jury and they reported that she was wounded in her head and body and they judged the wounds to be the cause of her death. They had Dr. Palmes and Capt. Coit to view the corpse and then buried her in the evening.

Wednesday, January 16. Cloudy dirty weather. I was at home most of the day. Towards night I went out to [where] Adam is cleaning oats.

Thursday, January 17. Misty in the morning and in the afternoon cloudy. I was at home in the morning, in the afternoon I was assisting William Holt and Adam trucking stones and mending the bank that was broken down.

Tuesday, January 22. A violent storm of rain all the morning and very fierce wind and a very high tide did much damage at New London and Groton. The wharfs are carried away and the bridge by Daniel Starr’s, too. We came home by the ferry.

Friday, January 25. Fair. I was at home most of the morning and then went to Capt. Daniel Coit’s and then farther to the courthouse to hear the examination of witnesses concerning the cruel whipping of Zeno, a slave to Mr. Nicholas Letchmer. A very great crowd of people gathered and the court chamber could not hold them all.

Saturday, January 26. Fair. I was at home most of the day. Joseph Rogers helped Adam thresh oats.

Note: Joshua Hempstead makes no further mention in his diary about whether Nicholas Letchmere and his wife were found responsible for or were punished for Zeno’s death.

The Diary of Joshua Hempstead, A Daily Record of Life in Colonial New London, Connecticut, 1711 – 1758. New London County Historical Society

 

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