24 December 2008

Chaplin journal entries about Christmas Day, 1845 - 1853

Primary sources are created by individuals who participated in or witnessed an event and recorded that event during or immediately after the event. Examples of primary sources include speeches, memoirs, diaries, letters, telegrams, and much more. Thomas B. Chaplin kept a journal, a primary source for the antebellum period here in Beaufort County, which was published as part of Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter by Theodore Rosengarten in 1986. From Chaplin's entries, it appears that he did not enjoy the holidays very much.

In 1845, he wrote: "Dec. 25th. Thursday, Christmas Day. Dull. Dull. Dull. No rain but very thick & foggy, do not think we will be able to go down to the Island. Capt. & J.L. Chaplin came over in the morning to go -- the latter pretty well corned. [i.e, drunk]. Very sorry for it, but do not know what to do with him. If we go will have to take him down with us. Killed 2 beefs for the Negroes this morning. Looks a little like clearing -- wind NW. Got a very early dinner & started for the Island. Got down & pitched our tent by dark. Cloudy all night, but we slept very comfortably. Not very cold."
Two years later, he noted that "So far Merry Christmas is rather on the other extreme. But there is a party tonight at Pope's, I expect some amusement. Once upon a time, Christmas was to me a very jolly time, fun & frolic for a week, but times & disposition have both greatly changed." Unfortunately, his subsequent entries do not mention whether or not he enjoyed Pope's party. Odds are, he did not since he sent Isaac [his slave] to town for liquor on the 26th. Chaplin wrote that he had a hangover on New Year's Eve "from too much liquor yesterday."
His disposition was even more glum, two years after that. In 1850 he wrote: "Dec. 25th. Wednesday -- Christmas. Merry Christmas, yes, merry to all the world but me. Here I sit moping at home all day, no pleasure, & I care for none but to see the children enjoy themselves, which they appear to do every other day as well. I will try and amuse them by setting off a few little fireworks Webb sent up tonight. I only wish the Negroes were at work. I had nothing to give them but a few turnips, but they are satisfied and I suppose will enjoy themselves, though I don't.
The dull theme arises again in 1851: "Dec. 25th. Thursday. Christmas Day, clear, and devilish dull."
But, in 1853, the White Christmas seemed to distract him a bit from his customary grumping: "Dec. 25th. Sunday. Christmas Day. The ground is covered with snow this morning but not thick, trees covered icicles. Clear but bitter cold. Saxby & I rode up to Farmer's. Took him up & went on to Minott's. We all returned & dined with Mother. She had a very fine dinner, too much in fact. (I hear that the snow or sleet & cold weather extended to the Island.)"

We are reading Tombee as the Beaufort Branch Adult Book Club selection for February 2009. Why don't you check out one of the copies from the BCL? We have it on audio cassettes, and both soft and hard printed editions. The call number is B CHAPLIN.

We'd love to have you participate in the discussion about this book set for February 19th at 5:30pm in the Beaufort Branch's Children's Programming Room. Grace Cordial will be the presenter. -- gmc

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