My 4th great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth (Eve) Carmichael, kept a diary from 1837 to 1850 that was passed down and is now kept at the library at University of North Carolina. As a teenager, on one of our semiannual drives from Washington, DC to Clemson, South Carolina, to visit my grandmother, we stopped at UNC so my parents could look at the diary and the three other books in the family collection. I don’t recall if I chose not to go in or if I wasn’t allowed in, but my sister and I sat in the car for what felt like hours while my parents did their research.
In recent years, the diary and other books have been digitized and uploaded to the library website. This year, I have begun transcribing the diary. It’s mostly about the comings and goings of the family and their vast network of family and friends in and around Augusta, Georgia, but even in this minutia, I feel like I can hear Mary’s voice, her love for her family, and the concern she had for their community.
The following entry is from the first few pages of the diary. Anderson, the son mentioned in this entry, is my 3rd great-grandfather.
Monday 18 [September 1837]. Sun rose clear. My dear Anderson left his father’s house to go to his brother Robert’s at Bones & Carmichael’s store[.] I could not but feel much, but trust it was in thankfulness to my Almighty Father for his peculiar mercies to me and mine, that my son should get that situation which so many had been refused. Why oh why am I blessed more than others, but where much is given much is expected and oh what favor returns can I make I can only do as the poor publican did. Smote open my breast and say god be merciful to me a sinner. I pray my god will bless my dear boy, he has been to me a very pleasant child. (underlining added.)
Her expressions of gratitude reminds me of a letter Mary Adams Bones, my 6th great-grandmother, writes to her sister in 1822. She expresses similar language despite the recent death of her son.
My trials have been great but all I ever met with were only as a drop of water compared to the loss of my dear Thomas. I have many things I could wish to say but the subject is too painful to my feelings although my dear sister I should not mourn at the will of God, his blessings have been peculiarly great to me and mine. (underlining added.)
Both authors use the word peculiar to describe the blessings they and their families received from God. The wording feels unusual, yet poetic, capturing their deep faith and gratitude.
It seems the similarities of these phrases could hardly be accidental. The two women may have known each other as Mary Carmichael’s husband was in business with Mary Bones’ son, theirs being the store mentioned in the diary entry. Perhaps this descriptor was common at the time or in that area.
But I wonder if their language is more of a reflection of their shared faith. Both were Presbyterians, Mary Bones having brought her faith from Ireland and Mary Carmichael probably adopting the faith of her husband, who was also an Irish immigrant.
Regardless of where the shared language of gratitude found in these documents come from, these women are strong examples of offering gratitude in times of happiness and times of sorrow.