The Accounts of Ardelia E. Ripley Hall

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley's Practice Account Book, 1856.

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley’s Practice Account Book, 1856.

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In 1856 seventeen-year-old Ardelia E.Ripley (1839-1899), the daughter of Samuel E. Ripley and Sarah Cushman[1], was a student at Partridge Academy in Duxbury. Her Common School Book-Keeping Being a Practical System by Single Entry; Designed for the use of Public Schools by Charles Northend (1853) can be found at the Drew Archives. It is a wonderful example of how students learned the art of basic accounting. While we have numerous day-books and journals used by adults of the period, it is unusual to see one that demonstrates the learning process. Practice books are often thrown away long before they make it into an archival collection.

What I find fascinating about the book is what it tells us about society in the 1850’s. Here, in neat script, is a full listing of all the items a person might consider purchasing along with their cost. Duxbury was no longer the prosperous shipbuilding mecca it had once been, but that did not mean its inhabitants didn’t still pine for kid gloves and cashmere. Using her classmates and relations as fictitious “customers” Ardelia itemized a veritable Ante-bellum wish-list. Classmate Frederick Bryant, for example, lavishly spent $6.00 on “1 pair of pantaloons for my hired man” but also more sensibly required coarse salt at 1 ¾ per pound, and even a “white wash brush” for $.63. Girlfriends like Josephine Thomas bought “muslin de laine ($.31 per yard), 2 skeins of silk ($.08).” Ardelia’s young cousin, Walter F. Cushman, required a “silk handkerchief ($.50) and a cravat ($1.50).” Older family acquaintances also made it into her accounts, Capt. George P. Richardson was a regular customer, buying “kid gloves ($.75), 29 yards of carpeting ($21.00), a satin vest ($3.25), 1 yard cambric ($.10) and ½ dozen buttons ($.03)” all in one day. In total Ardelia kept her account book for four months, had eleven customers and over 150 entries with hundreds of line-items. While I have not vetted the prices she ascribed to them, the items themselves are a boon to any researcher interested in knowing what was available to purchase in America at that time.

Ardelia E. Ripley (1839-1899)

Ardelia E. Ripley Hall (1839-1899)

Almost equally as fascinating to me are the people Ardelia Ripley chose to include in her assignment and how they fit into Duxbury history. For example, friend Joseph E. Simmons, who’s name is one of the most prominent in the accounts, would one day die in the Civil War at the Second Battle of Bull Run (see the Duxbury in the Civil War article). Captains George P. Richardson and Daniel L. Winsor were prominent civic leaders. Walter F. Cushman grew up to marry Ardelia’s daughter, Lucie. In 1860, Ardelia herself would marry the keeper of the Gurnet Light House, George H. Hall, and have six children. Her son, Captain Parker J. Hall, was one of the most colorful people to ever live in Duxbury (more on him in a future post).

[1] The home of Samuel E. and Sarah Ripley was described in a 1925 The House Beautiful article entitled “The Little Gray House with the Pale-Green Door: One of the Aristocrats of the Cape Cod House.” Ardelia inherited this house and passed it on to her youngest daughter, Lura Cushman Hall.

Journal of Adeline Baker now online

The journal of Adeline Baker has been transcribed and is now available under our Journals tab.  

Adeline Baker (1829-1856) grew up in the Crooked Lane neighborhood in North Duxbury, near the Marshfield line.  As a neighbor of Daniel Webster, the great statesman’s death shook her community.  She picked the day of Webster’s funeral to begin her diary: 

October 29th 1852

A more beautiful morn than this could not be desired even by the most fastidious.  And a great event has this day taken place in our own quiet county of Plymouth in our own sister town, Marshfield.  And event which will not only be pondered upon in its minutest details by our whole Nation, but the World will hear of it.

This day, this twenty-ninth of October Eighteen Hundred & Fifty-two, the mortal remains of Daniel Webster have been committed to the silent tomb…”

After such a lofty start, Adeline’s diary settles in to a more simplified tone.  She records her visits, chores and family events. Perhaps the most significant event in her own life came on January 6, 1853, the day she married William N. Jameson.  Weddings were not the extravagant affairs they are today.  Adeline’s entry of that day is rather matter of fact,  “This day has been rather a hurrying time. Jameson came over this afternoon. Daniel and Edward came home tonight. Father and Mother, Daniel, his wife, Edward, Levi, Wallace and Amanda all went to Mrs. Alden’s to see me married.”  The couple moved to Plymouth where Jameson owned a store and Adeline kept up her journal until April, 1854.

Unfortunately, any happiness she had as the wife of a young merchant was short-lived. Jameson died of consumption in 1855 and Adeline returned to her parent’s house. She died the following year at the age of 27.

Adeline Baker’s journal is part of the Capt. Edward Baker Collection (you can read Edward’s Civil War diary on his Facebook page ). Her journal spans almost two years and is wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day life of a young, 19th century woman.

“My Conscience!” The Journal of Amherst A. Alden

First page of Amherst A. Alden’s journal, 1847.

September 28, 1847,

Left Duxbury at 10 o’clock AM.  My birthplace; the town where I have always resided, left all friends, acquaintances, my home, to make my abode in the far West.  There is a feeling upon leaving home which no pen can describe, “there is no place like home.”

Thus begins the journal of 15 year-old Duxbury native Amherst A. Alden (1832-1909) as he embarked on his journey to Illinois.  At the time Amherst left Duxbury there was little to keep an educated young man at home. The decline of the town’s great shipbuilding era left scant employment other than the ill-paid and laborious work of shoemaking. Luckily the United States was full of places a man of ambition could make his mark.  Many moved to Boston (see previous blog post about Eugene Sampson), some went to sea and others followed the country’s manifest destiny and went west.

Prior to leaving Duxbury in the fall of 1847, Amherst was presented a journal by his neighbor, Ann Thomas Porter, the wife of the local doctor, John Porter. His travels to the “far west” took him through western New England, down the Erie Canal, and eventually to Pekin, Illinois where he became employed as a teacher.  He diligently recorded his day’s activities every evening until the book was complete on April 19, 1848.  It is a wonderful look into daily life in Illinois during this period – names, places and events are recorded that would be of interest to anyone whose ancestors founded the towns of Pekin or Tremont.  Also fascinating are his use of exclamations such as “Oh Scissors” and “My Conscience.”

After only a year in Illinois Amherst made his way back to Massachusetts.  He became the private secretary to Daniel Webster and then a clerk in the Boston Post Office.  In 1853 he married Georgina Cook, the daughter of a shipwright. They had one child, Jennie. The family split their time between Duxbury (366 Washington Street) and Boston.  Amherst A. Alden died in 1909 and is buried in Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury.

The journal is currently being transcribed by a Duxbury High School intern, Gaby Davis.