MHS Purchase Leads to Gift of Parker Family Diaries

Historical Article Series April 19, 2020 > MHS Purchase Leads to Gift of Parker Family Diaries

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 44, No. 1, February 2008

Last summer we acquired an important journal for our archives collection, paid for through generous donations from our members.  The first half of the journal is an account book from the store in Eagleville, dating from 1854-1859.  It belonged to Eliphaz Bolles Hibbard (1808-1880) who was the shopkeeper, postmaster and stationmaster.  The second half of the journal contains an unpublished manuscript written by his daughter, Almira Stanley Hibbard (1843-1907).  The nearly 100 pages of narrative describe her early life from age nine through age sixteen.  It tells of her school days in Eagleville, activities at the Methodist Church in South Coventry, her first teaching experiences at age 16, and the beginning of her romance with her future husband, Martin Parker.  The manuscript ended abruptly with the conclusion of her first teaching job, leaving us wanting to know more.  Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long!  

During the fall Rudy Favretti visited a long-time friend who was descendant of the Parker family.  In the course of casual conversation, he mentioned our exciting purchase.   Imagine his surprise to find that she was in possession of 70 diaries written by Almira Hibbard Parker and Martin Parker, spanning from 1862 through 1907!  The family desired to have them preserved and in December they generously donated them to our archives.  The diaries are a gift from the family of E. Elizabeth (Parker) Avery, the eldest daughter of Martin and Almira’s eldest son, Martin Hibbard Parker. 

Martin Parker
Martin Parker
Almira Hibbard Parker
Almira Hibbard Parker

Ann Galonska and Lisa Ferriere have begun transcribing the diaries, with the goal of eventually having typescripts of all 70 diaries.  So far they have transcribed both Almira’s and Martin’s diaries from 1862 through 1866.  The diary entries consist of a few sentences recording the weather and activities of each day and in the back of the diaries there are additional memoranda and an account page for each month.  Although the entries are brief, when taken as a whole, the diaries are a treasure trove of information.  The following is a brief synopsis of what we have learned so far.

Almira Hibbard wrote her first diary in 1862 when she was 16 years old.  She was living at home with her parents at this time and dutifully recorded her daily chores and social visits. She earned some money by making coats (6 for $4.32) and by sewing hooks and eyes on hundreds of cards.  She and Martin Parker saw each other often – their romance was budding.  On May 5 Almira began her first teaching job at Horn Hill School in Mansfield.  The school, now gone, was located on Baxter Road.  She described it thus in the manuscript we purchased:  “It is about eight o’clock as we reach a dilapidated brown building on a hill.  I am certain a mistake has been made for no barn in our village is so poor in appearance as this low building…  There are six dirty windows which have the appearance of never having been washed, more than a bushel of wood ashes are on the floor; the benches are over turned and some of them are broken.”  It was an inauspicious beginning to Almira’s teaching career.  She had 14 students ranging in age from 5 to 16 (her own age!).  She quickly became homesick and hated having to “board around” at the homes of her pupils.  On the third day of school she fled, traveling the four miles home alone in one hour and 12 minutes.  Her brother Eliphaz brought her back the next day.  At the end of the first week she wrote in her diary, “This boarding around is not what it is cracked up to be.” Eventually she adjusted and successfully completed her term on July 25, earning a grand total of $18.  When asked to teach a second term, with a salary increase to $2 a week, she emphatically turned down the offer.  In October, however, she attempted teaching again, this time in Andover.  It was an even more unpleasant experience for her.  She was further from home and had a larger class – 21 students, ages 6 to 18.  After only one month she resigned.

Martin Parker began his first diary, which was a gift from Almira, in 1863.  He was 24 years old that year and, when he wasn’t boarding around, he lived with his parents in South Coventry.    He taught the winter term at the Pond Hill School in North Coventry, earning $87.85 (almost 5 times more than Almira made).  The school still stands at the corner of North River Road and Route 31.  During the spring and summer months he worked as a hired hand for various local farmers, helping with planting, haying, and harvesting.  He also did some carpentry and masonry work.  In September Martin was drafted but he paid $300 “cheerfully” to avoid his military obligation.  He commenced teaching again in November, this time at the school on Columbia Green.

That same year, Almira taught both the summer and winter terms at Horn Hill School and found it to be a happier experience this time.  During the months that she wasn’t teaching, she tended her father’s store in Eagleville and helped to process the mail.  She continually sewed hooks and eyes onto cards but wasn’t paid much for her efforts.  In January she received $1.01 for sewing 261 cards full of hooks and eyes.  The romance with Martin obviously continued although little is written about it.  Both mention a special night in August when they witnessed a meteor shower together.  The next day Martin wrote in his diary, “Thought of Almira a great many times.”

In March of 1864, Almira went to Webster, Massachusetts to work in the textile mill of Samuel Slater & Sons, as had her brother and sister-in-law, Eliphaz and Louisa, the previous year.  With a little bit of research we discovered that from 1862 through 1868, Royal Otis Storrs of Mansfield was the general agent of the business and probably did some recruiting in his hometown.  Almira started out “papering rolls” of fabric and then graduated to tending various machines in the factory.  She was lonely, exhausted, and lived for letters from home and from Martin.  On April 25th, R. O. Storrs pulled her from the factory and asked her to teach “the Intermediate Department.”  She commenced her school the next day and taught through mid-July when she returned home.  She earned a grand total of $97.58 during her four months in Webster, less $20 for her board.

Martin’s 1864 diary shows that he continued to work as a hired hand – chopping wood, doing farm work and carpentry jobs, building stonewalls, and working on roads for the Town of Coventry.   

He went to visit Almira in Webster on May 23 and she returned home for a brief visit on June 1.  Nothing is ever stated but clues suggest that Martin may have proposed during this time.  Slipped between the pages of his diary in mid-June is this short poem: “Do you long for matrimony’s state / And all the pleasure which on it await?”  Purchases made during the following months reveal that they are preparing for their marriage and future home together.  They were married on November 23 and then left on a brief trip to Thompson and Webster to visit with relatives.  It’s not clear where the couple lived during their first months of married life, but they probably resided in Eagleville. Martin taught in Columbia through February, boarding there during the week and returning home to Almira on the weekends.  

During 1865, Almira taught school in Eagleville for the summer term, May through July, and Martin again worked as a hired hand.  Among his many jobs, he cut stone for the Hop River Bridge and worked for the Town of Coventry cutting and laying stone by Boynton’s store.  In September, the couple purchased George Dunham’s farm for $700.  The house still stands at 986 Mansfield City Road. Martin spent the next three months working on the house when he wasn’t working for others.  He mentions re-pointing masonry, re-plastering walls, painting the house, and building a cupboard in the buttery.  Work on the house slowed when Martin began teaching again in November, this time in Coventry Center.  Nevertheless, by the end of December, the house was finally ready and Martin and Almira moved in. 

Almira’s 1866 diary is missing but Martin’s diary records the major events of the year. Martin taught in Coventry through the end of February.  In the spring he planted his first crops on his new farm.  He also worked as usual for local families – chopping wood, haying, and doing other manual labor. According to his accounts, he was paid 20 cents an hour. He also worked for the Town of Coventry cutting stone for “the bridge by the mill,” earning $9.00.  Almira was busy setting up their home and planning for a new arrival.  Their son was born on August 6 but, sadly, did not live. Martin wrote in his diary, “Our baby born at half past 3 & buried before light.” 

Peeking ahead into the 1867 diaries, we find that Martin and Almira sold their farm in Mansfield that year and moved to Coventry.  If you would like to help with this fascinating transcription project, please contact Ann Galonska at (860) 429-6575 or mansfield.historical@snet.net

NOTE:  The transcription project was completed in 2014 and resulted in an exhibition the following year.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira © Mansfield Historical Society
Storrs Connecticut