An unassuming commonplace book leaves evidence of complex family relations
Massachusetts: 1850-1862. Black roan stamped in gilt and blind. Measuring 190 x 155mm and containing 29 manuscript entries in various hands, several examples of calligraphic illustration, and one lock of blonde hair. Occasional later annotations in green ink, seemingly from a descendant or amateur genealogist connecting the Plimpton, Amidon, and Welde families through their entries (suggesting that A. E. and Jane Plimpton were aunt and niece, with A. E. Plimpton being the mother of the three half-sisters Mary Amidon, and Sarah and Amy Welde all of whom make entries).
Presented to Mary when she was about eleven years old, the present commonplace book reflects the hopes and sentiments that older women have for the younger girls coming to adulthood behind them. The calligraphic dedication articulates this from the start: "Oo, herald of my fondest hopes, and call from every flower their sweetest odours." Most entries are from older women, and they encourage the girl to remember how friendship is "the guiding hand of all our hopes," to aspire for "future hours to be given to peace, to wisdom," and to maintain "purity and beauty" as the jewels of her womanhood. Underlying this are the familial relationships being traced by a later (c. 1950-1960s) genealogist who leaves her own annotations on some of the entries. She marks one entry from A. E. Plimpton with the question "her mother?" -- this, a poem with hopes that Mary focus not on the joys and sorrows of this world but instead on "A harvest wish beyond the tomb, A saint's reward, a saviour's love." Later, in an 1862 contribution from Sarah Weld titled Sister Mary, the genealogist notes that it's Mary's actual sister; the sentiments here echo those of A. E., urging Mary to focus on the afterlife "when friends who greet thee have faded and gone." Further into the book, dated 1850, Amy Welde leaves a poem to Mary which the genealogist notes is "sister." Here we see a shift. For while all three women have focus on friends, Amy alone focuses on the joys they bring to this life. "May you dear sister be ever blest, With friends selected from the best...May all your life be blest and free, May happiness still smile on thee..." This departure in tone is highlighted only pages later in Jane Plimpton's 1859 entry "To Cousin Mary" (which the annotator has marked, "Cousin of Sarah, Mary + Amy"): again, a focus on loss, defending one's heart, and not being afraid "when Death like slumber shall rest on thy brow."
While women's manuscripts of this period often focus on themes found in Mary's book, the distinction in tone and content of those marked as family members is noticeable -- those women who write from outside the family tend to take a lighter (albeit similarly conservative) approach to womanhood and their hopes for Mary's future. Further genealogical and social-historical study could be done to trace whether one of Mary, Sarah, and Amy's fathers died or abandoned the family, and whether their mixed family was a product of widowhood or infidelity. More broadly, the book could support or add nuance to research on the history of blended families and women's relationships within them; to community reactions to blended families; and attitudes toward women as wives and mothers in such circumstances. (Item #5670)