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Joshua Hempstead Blog

3008, 2016

Holiday Schedule

By |August 30th, 2016|Hempstead Diary|0 Comments

The New London County Historical Society and Shaw Mansion will be CLOSED this Friday, September 2 in observance of Labor Day. We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend.

2203, 2011

Lisbon Earthquake 1755

By |March 22nd, 2011|Earthquake, Hempstead Diary|Comments Off on Lisbon Earthquake 1755

[December 1755] Saturd 27.  A Snowy day. I went into Town to see the Boston News Paper, which gives an account of the Terrable Efffects of a Great Earthquake in Spain & Portugail.  The famous City of Lisbourn Destroyed.  Ye Houes all Shaked down but 3.  & Thousands of Pple killed.  The fire on the hearths burnt all ye houses & Rubbish. & Some places Swallowed up &c. 

Here in 2011 we have all been horrified and transfixed by the pictures and videos of the “great earthquake” and Tsunami in Japan that also killed thousands and swallowed up whole towns.  Back in 1755 this kind of terrible news was not immediate, and not visual of course, but it still had the power to shake those far away who read about it, and Joshua, always a news hound, made a point of heading to town to get his news about the tragic earthquake in Lisbon, which destroyed the city by shaking, flooding and fire – very similar to the situation in the towns and cities along the coast of northeastern Japan.  Knowing as we do, the difficulties facing the population of Japan in 2011, we can only imagine the chaos and the […]

110, 2010


By |October 1st, 2010|Hempstead Diary, Thunderstorms|Comments Off on Thunderstorms


[Oct. 1754] Saturd 5  fair. I was about home all day fitting up Cask for Cyder.  I Rid out to Crossman Lot to water the Cattle.  Thundr & Lightning in the night & a Storm of wind & Rain.

“Thunder and lightning” are fairly common with rain storms in this part of New England all through the summer and into the fall, as they were in Hempstead’s time.  What has changed is our perception of them.

Well into the eighteenth century, it was the thunder that was assumed to be the dangerous part of the combination.  When you think about an age without our capabilities to measure the transmission of sound and light, this makes sense.  If you have ever had a tree or pole near your house struck by lightning, you know that the noise of the thunder accompanying it is impressive—and simultaneous.  Looked at objectively, it does appear that the thunder is more important, since no harm came earlier from clearly visible lightning.

In the earlier parts of the diary Hempstead refers a couple of times to damage done by thunder and lightning.  When the meetinghouse was struck on August 31, 1735, he records “a Terable Clap of Thunder & Lightning […]

1706, 2010

Mowing Down Assumptions

By |June 17th, 2010|Hempstead Diary|Comments Off on Mowing Down Assumptions

[July 1719] Thursd 16  fair & hot. . .I Stacked Some hay yt grew before ye door.  Thursd 22 [April 1725]  fair.  In ye morning I Sowed Some white Clover Seed betwixt ye Barberry Bush & Cherry trees. . . . Saturd 11 [August 1739] fair. . . Adam Mowed the Little pasture before the Door & Stacked the oats.

Wednsd 13 [March 1751] fair. . .& aftern I Set out for midletown [from Hartford] & bot 2 qrts of Clover Seed for 40s of one Curtiss near the South Side of Wethersfield. . . Tuesd .26 fair.  in the foren I Sowed the oats att home.  7 Bushells & in the aftern I followed the Harrow & Sowed 2 Quarts of hay seed that I bot of Mr Curtice of Weathersfield Near Midletown uper houses.  Tuesd 2d [July] fair.  I was att home foren & aftern I was out to the Cornfield &c.  Raked ye Clover ye most of itt.  Natt Way Mowed itt ys day.

One of the biggest problems in understanding life in times past is our assumptions.  We all carry around mental pictures of objects and activities based on our experiences, which can include reading and watching videos.  […]

803, 2010

March … brot home the mare & colt

By |March 8th, 2010|Hempstead Diary|0 Comments

Tuesd Mar .1. . . .wee got home [from his farm in Stonington] Sun about an hour high and wee buried the Child at Sun down. . . . Saturd 5. . . I was at home al Day. Josh brot home the mare & Colt & left the young Horses. . . Mond .7. fair & Cold & windy.  I went to Groton to John Averys to Assist in an arbitration . . . Tuesd 15 it Snowed & Rained most of the Day.  I was at home foren. afternoon helping measure 100 Rod of Land for Dea. fosdick Hills Lot Next Jno Plumb taken by Execution for Charlots Debt.  Wednsd 16 fair & warm.  I was at home al day. foren helping Adm draw S[t]ones. aftern pruning Appletrees.  Thursd 24. . . I was Laying out Commons . . . I am to Receive 7s 4d of Dea Fox.  the Rest are pd & I Recd 2s 6d for Abel Moors part of Dea Fosdick.

Something that fascinates a good many people about Joshua Hempstead’s life is its variety.  One day he’s at court acting as someone’s lawyer, the next he may be surveying or working on the highways.  […]

802, 2010

wee Run the Line & marked Trees

By |February 8th, 2010|Hempstead Diary|0 Comments

 [February 1738] Tuesd 6 fair. I went with Josh to Mr Wm Wheelers & he went with us & wee Run the Line & marked Trees & put heaps of Stones in Every 20 Rod from the Wallnut Tree by Stantons fence the N E Cornner of Fannings 100 Acres & a Side Line of Mr Wheelers (that was Robert Fannings 30 acres.) unto the great White oak on the Hill the S E. Cornner of fannings 100 acres. I sold my old ox to Mr Wheelar for £12 10s 0d & ye other to Stephen Bennet for £11 10s 0d. Wee Lodged at Stephen Bennets. I hear that my old uncle Greenfield Larabee aged 90 Last april Died on Saturday Night last & was buried a Monday.

Winter, of course, was the ideal time to do survey work in the field. With the leaves off the trees, one’s sight line could be much improved. How Hempstead learned the art of surveying is not mentioned in the diary, but he does make reference in 1722 to buying a needle for the compass and the wire to make the surveyor’s chain, these being the two most important pieces of equipment necessary for […]

2311, 2009

a publick Thanksgiving in this Colony

By |November 23rd, 2009|Hempstead Diary|0 Comments


[November 1756] Thursd 18 “fair. a publick Thanksgiving in this Colony.  I Set out in the morning with Joshua in order to go to Stonington purpusing to meeting att Groton but the ferry boat was gone over & Stayed there a great while and a small wind & Right against us that wee were Late & the ferrymans cellar being broke open ye last night & Sundrys Stole out I stopt to write a Warrant to Serch & by that means was too late for the meeting and wee went the Lower way to Stonington & Dined att Joshuas between 3 & 4. oe Clock & went to son miners & Lodged there.”

This Thanksgiving Day in Joshua’s 79th year gives a new meaning to “over the river and through the woods” to a holiday meal with family.  It also points up a difference between Thanksgiving then and now.  The Connecticut colony, according to Joshua’s Diary, as well as the colonies of New York and Massachusetts, usually held a day of Thanksgiving in early November.  These days were “publishd” at the local meetinghouse a week or so in advance and most of Joshua’s entries regarding these special days simply read something […]

2710, 2009

Helpt mend ye highway

By |October 27th, 2009|Hempstead Diary|Comments Off on Helpt mend ye highway

[October 1743] Saturd 8 fair & warm. I was at home all day. I finished Trimming Cask 5. hhds 1 Pipe 1 Terse 1. bb & wee gathred the Last Ld of apples in the orchard behind ye House. I helpt mend ye highway in Stephens Room in the foren. Brother Hartshorn gone to …. Ben went to Mohegan, to bring back the Horse. Sund 9h fair. Mr adams pr all Day. Mond 10. fair. a Trayning Day 1st & 2d Companys. I was at home. I mended ye Highway & adam Towards Mr Chapmans. we worked for Stephen 2 days.

Joshua writes quite frequently in his diary about the highways — there are more references to the highways then there are references to hay! Besides traveling on highways, amongst his jottings he describes laying out highways, measuring highways, the condition of highways, work at the highways and mending highways.  Of the 13 references to mending the highways more than half of them take place in October, so this too was a seasonal labor, an effort to fill in the ruts before the snows of winter began.

Those of us who live in New London today have been seeing a lot of […]

1209, 2009

Harvest Time

By |September 12th, 2009|Hempstead Diary|Comments Off on Harvest Time

 [Sept. 1724] Mond .7.  fair. I fetched a turn of aples fro Holmes’s Lot Ab & Moley. . .Saturd 12 fair. I was picking apples. wee Carted 1 Load to ye mill. . . .Tuesd 15 fair. I was at home all day. I finisht Riming my wheell. Jo Bent[Bennett] & Jno Mowed Rowin & Stackt Stalks. fryd 18 fair. I was about home. I mended highways for the Cart to go to fetch hay to the medows in the forn. aftern Raking hay at Mamacock 20 Cocks in R. Cs medow. Jo Bent & Jno Carted 1 Load from ye Medows & 1 from Mamacock. I help ye Latter my Steers & Horse. 
September meant preparations for winter were in full swing in New London. In 1724 Hempstead still had several of his children at home to help. Abigail was 12, Molly 8, and John 14. There were several other days that month of picking apples and taking them to the mill to be made into cider to store for the winter. Lacking modern refrigeration, the cider would go hard fairly quickly, and then eventually turn to vinegar. (There’s a reason besides efficacy for all those old household tips […]

2508, 2009

A Hurrycane

By |August 25th, 2009|Hempstead Diary|Comments Off on A Hurrycane

[August 1713] Wedensd 19 Rainy. I workt on bord Capt Hutton all day. itt Rained a Little in ye day & att night a violent Storm of Rain & wind. Robt Millers wife died Last night. was buried to day. Thursd 20. A Storm or Hurrycane. I was about home & in town all day. A Hurrycane which blew down Several Building and fruit trees Such as hath not been known. It blasted or withered ye leaves & Like a frost though warm weather.

Hurricane is a word that originated in the Caribbean in the 16th century as Spaniard and Portuguese explorers adopted the Taino word for a violent storm. It came to English directly from the Spanish. With the many connections between New London and the Caribbean it should not be surprising to see Joshua Hempstead using it to describe a violent storm with rain and wind. But he uses it here almost tentatively, perhaps just learning it himself. A couple of years later he actually uses the word hurricane incorrectly, on 12 March 1714/15, describing a storm with high winds and snow. With our modern weather forecasting those of us who live near the east coast are well aware of huricane season from June through November.

I have […]