A Diary for 1849 by Barrett Beard

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MWSA Review

Diarist Elihu Burritt Beard takes the reader back in time to the 1849, a little more than a decade before the Civil War. Having lived in Ohio and Indiana, he captures his everyday activities as a twenty-four-year-old college student within the context of the main American societal issues of his time and the expansion of “America” westward.

A 21st century reader is faced with the realities of illnesses rarely experienced today as the author weaves widespread cholera into the account of 1849. Its cause was unknown. His string of respiratory ailments throughout the year makes us appreciate we now know about bronchitis, and don’t particularly fear tuberculosis. Medicine at the time was primitive compared to today, and makes the reader appreciate the extent to which medical knowledge has advanced since Mr. Beard wrote his diary.

Most interesting is his mention of a new transcontinental railroad that was being discussed as a proposed infrastructure project, although it was not constructed until the 1860s. He attends church services regularly and supports temperance. Religion plays a significant role in his life and his love of poetry comes through as he captures poems of Pope, Longfellow, and others in his diary. He also writes a few poems himself. The social gatherings of this young man also give him pleasure. Although he vacillates between loving and hating his academic life, he knows he must attain an education.

Elihu left us his thoughts about slavery and the subjugation of women, and made it known he did not understand how anyone could be kept in a subservient position in society. His anti-slavery beliefs were honed by his activities assisting his father, who shielded and helped runaway slaves. In this diary, Elihu strongly censures the evil of man’s inhumanity, including any law he considers unjust.

This diary provides a view to the past that lets us relive the excitement of the coming railroad, the changes brought by increasing industrialization, and the adventure of a land that had seemingly endless horizons—all on the threshold of monumental social changes.

Barrett Thomas Beard, Elihu’s great-great-grandson, brought this diary to us. We should thank him.

Review by Patricia Walkow (March 2018)

Author's Synopsis

A Diary for 1849, written by Elihu Burritt Beard and edited with revealing evidence by great-great-grandson, Barrett Thomas Beard, reveals the story of the American frontier's middle road--Indiana and Ohio--in the great Manifest Destiny. These contemporary, personal observations of a 24-year-old student completing college open a small window through which the modern reader views thoughts about the state, slavery, church, health, education, and social intercourse in mid-nineteenth century America. The practice of medicine teeters between sophistry and learned inquiry. Cholera reaps a broad swath of death in the frontier civilizations. Robust evangelism blends established religious orders. Emancipation is a wound on the nation festering without cure. The loom of war creeps up on the political horizon. The young man, Elihu, sees it all, records it and reacts. Elihu, in private thoughts, condemns man's evil to man. Civil War more than a decade away is already an issue blisteringly debated. Through the teachings of Friends Church, Elihu develops a deep conviction for rights of individuals. With boldness, he embraces equal rights for all, including women and slaves. He abhors demeaning of mankind with punitive laws or liquor--both made by men. This is the attitude he took west to California with the Gold Rush, there to become an influence on a new frontier in the last great leap in America's destiny.

ISBN/ASIN: ASIN: BOOGNIJB94  ISBN: 0-7392-0178-6
Book Format(s): Kindle
Genre(s): Nonfiction, History, Memoir
Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography
Number of Pages: 114