Diaries. Morning Pages. Journals. Ever since I read Julia Cameron’s book, Vein of Gold, I am a convert to her system of writing ‘morning pages’. She recommends writing three pages, first thing in the morning, by hand. Her theory is that we mine our subconscious, the place where our truth lies, in our early waking minutes. I have a favorite Pentel mechanical pencil and it is a ritual I value, and serves as a sort of meditative time. The thought of my descendants reading unedited journals, however, is not exactly the plan.
But I absolutely love this precious journal that belonged to my ‘aunt’ Charlotte Hay, who was born in 1807. She is the first family Charlotte. What a delight it is to have some evidence of what her life was like, which is ultimately the goal I think, for those of us who poke around in family history research. We are always looking for glimpses of who they really were. There are drawings, and verse, penned by friends, in this quite handsome volume, engraved with her name, in gold lettering and “Sold by W.B.Gilley, 92 Broadway, New York.” Charlotte was born in Haverstraw, New York, and moved South when her younger sister, Martha Louisa Hay, married Thomas Woodward Hutson Sr. in 1829. They had old ties to Charleston, Beaufort and the Lowcountry. Her great grandfather was John Gordon, a Scots highlander who arrived early at the settlement at Darien, Georgia, and stayed in South Carolina until the Revolution. He was a merchant, with ships that sailed from the Charleston and Beaufort harbors; his schooner was named “Tybee”. He amassed land from Charleston to Florida. I am intriqued by his story and think about those tall ships sailing the waters off Edisto Island, which they surely did, every time I walk that beach. I wonder exactly where his plantation was, near Charleston, named Belvedere (SCHGM, vol.3,1902, pg 177).
The first entry in Charlotte’s book, from South Carolina, was written from Mt. Pleasant in 1830. Can you imagine what Mt. Pleasant looked like then? It was penned, in the finest hand, by a gentleman friend, signed, Edward, and dated Aug 5. It is a poem to her called A Morning Walk. She never married, and was buried in Boiling Springs, near Barnwell. She still had a Scottish accent, and her sister, Martha, with whom she joined the Stony Creek Presbyterian Church in Pocotaligo, died at just twenty-six, a young mother of three. Charlotte’s friends wrote poetry about the moon, and love, in a calligraphic hand that is slow and careful.
This little book makes me think about the purpose of diaries. Recently, someone published the great writer, Susan Sontag’s, personal journal, after her death. Some of my personal penciled writing is processing stuff, just plain old angst at times. I am not sure Susan Sontag would have been happy about this diary being published. But historically, I am really grateful for the diary writers, that I can read them and get a glimpse of who they were. Maybe even the unedited versions would tell me about how they processed their own joys and sorrows. Recently I was able to find a copy of the diary of my grandmother Mary Woodward Hutson, who died in 1757, at a little bookshop in London, where it was printed, after she died, by her husband, Rev. William Hutson (yay for abebooks.com) She was amazingly devout, and surely her entries were edited. But to hear her voice is really important to me. She is more than a name and a date to me now, and I can hear what she’d say in a way. (She admonished her children, in the mid 1700’s, to “read only good books” making me wonder what bad books were then.) The South Carolina Historical Association, here, on Meeting Street, has the diary of her husband, the Reverend William Hutson, too, which was written while he was minister of the Circular Church. It’s discovery by my cousin, Mike Hutson, years ago in McPhersonville, SC is worth telling. One of the elderly aunts simply handed him a paper bag, and in it was the hand written diary. It had been ‘borrowed’ by the Rev. George Howe for his renowned History of the Presbyterian Church so some of it had been recorded. But now it has been transcribed and studied, and serves to give us insight into Charleston in the middle of the 18th century.
Diaries, Journals, Morning pages. I am still a believer. What do you think?