Swan family journal
Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267
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Overview and metadata sections
George Washington Jonson (spelled “Johnson” elsewhere) was born in Enfield, New Hampshire, in 1801 and attended Dartmouth College. Jonson was a prolific writer, keeping diaries for most of his adult life. By the early 1830s, he had moved to Buffalo, New York, where he studied law with Millard Fillmore. Following a two-year trip to Europe in the mid-1830s, Jonson traveled to Easton, Massachusetts, to visit his younger sister and her family. Louisa Sophia Johnson Swan lived with her husband, Dr. Caleb Swan, and their two young children, Louisa and George Washington Jonson Swan. Also residing in the household were Dr. Swan’s two children from a previous marriage, Ruth Barrell Swan and James Caleb Swan. The family kept this journal as a writing exercise and form of entertainment between September 1, 1838 and January 31, 1839. Jonson made several additional entries in the journal during return visits in the early 1840s. Following his return to Buffalo, Jonson practiced law and became an agent for the Holland Land Company. He was also an active abolitionist, first joining the Free Soil Party and later the Republican Party. In 1851, Ruth Barrell Swan married Justin Smith Morrill, who later became a Congressman and Senator from Vermont. Jonson named Morrill as the executor of his estate in his will and entrusted him to pass down his diaries in the family line. George Washington Jonson died in Royalton, New York, in 1880.
University of Delaware Library. Self works : diaries, scrapbooks, and other autobiographical efforts : catalog of an exhibition, August 19, 1997-December 18, 1997 : guide to selected sources. Newark, Del.: Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library, University of Delaware Library, 1997.Walworth, Reuben Hyde. Hyde Genealogy: Or, the Descendants, in the Female as Well as in the Male Lines, from William Hyde, of Norwich, with Their Places of Residence, and Dates of Births, Marriages, &c., and Other Particulars of Them and Their Families and Ancestry, Volume 1. Albany: J. Munsell, 1864. George Washington Jonson Diaries, 1848, 1857, MS 38, University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo The Papers of the Johnson Family of Enfield, New Hampshire, 1761-1880, ML-20, Dartmouth CollegeGeorge Washington Jonson (1801-1880) Diaries, Mss. W-51, The Buffalo History Museum Research LibraryThe Buffalonian, “Excerpts from George Washington Jonson’s Diary”, http://www.buffalonian.com/diaries/jonsondex.html (accessed April 3, 2017)Information derived from the collection.
This manuscript volume is a family journal kept by George Washington Jonson and members of the Swan Family of Easton, Massachusetts, between September 1838 and January 1839. Also included are nine letters from Louisa Sophia Johnson Swan, Jr., to Jonson, her uncle.
Jonson began the journal on September 1, 1838, the day after he arrived at the Swan household. At the front of the journal, Jonson recorded the current household inhabitants, which, in addition to the immediate family, included two nieces, two young servants, and a medical student studying with Dr. Swan. The family made daily entries, sometimes with two or more members contributing in a single day. Jonson’s sister, Louisa Sophia Swan, and seventeen-year-old niece, Ruth Barrell Swan, were the most active participants in the journal-keeping other than Jonson, but Dr. Caleb Swan added occasional entries about his medical cases.
The journal captures the rhythms of family life, including Ruth’s work as a schoolteacher, visits from family and friends, French lessons, endless chores, and numerous games of backgammon. Jonson frequently recorded poems he had composed and teased his other family members for not writing often enough. The journal also references a number of heated political discussions, including an argument between Jonson and Caleb Swan over slavery. Jonson celebrated Whig electoral victories in New York and described his sister as a Loco Foco, referring to a short-lived branch of the Democratic Party. During an 1840 visit to the Swan household, Jonson noted that the family had “sat down to an excellent dinner, all in good spirits, having talked down the subject of Abolition for the hundredth time.”
Included with the family journal are nine letters from Louisa Sophia Johnson Swan, Jr., to her uncle dating to late 1856 and early 1857. Swan traveled to Washington, DC, with her half-sister Ruth and her husband, Justin Smith Morrill, for a session of the 34th United States Congress. In describing the politicians’ families sharing their lodgings, Swan related to Jonson that “all are Republicans I know, and from their appearance I judge a good share if not all are Unitarians.” Swan also wrote about the social season in the capital and her return to Easton in March 1857.
The family journal is bound with brown marbled paper over boards, a leather spine, and leather over the corners of the front and back covers. The front cover bears the faint inscription “Family Journal.” A pencil inscription on the inside of the front cover reads “Dr. Caleb Swan born Sept. 2, 1793 @ Charleston, MA son of Caleb and Sarah Semple Swan. Harvard Class of 1814. Settled in Easton 1816, died March 18, 1870. For sketch of career see Wm. L. Chaffin’s History of Easton. 1886, pp. 733-35.” An inscription on the first page reads “Swan family journal.” This volume contains 239 pages of faintly-lined wove paper with handwritten text in black and blue ink.
Item 0072: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097
Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, July 2017.
- Jonson, George W. (George Washington), 1801-1880
- Swan, Caleb, 1793-1870
- Swan, Louisa Sophia Johnson, Sr., 1809-1860
- Morrill, Ruth Barrell Swan, 1821-1898
- Swan, Louisa Sophia Johnson, Jr., 1834-1919
- Poetry--19th century
- Education--United States--History--19th century
- Women--Education--United States--History--19th century
- University of Delaware Library Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 July 10
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, https://library.udel.edu/spec/askspec/