The Diary of Nancy Holmes Corse
On March 27, 1858, her eighteenth birthday, Nancy Holmes Corse began keeping a diary and continued writing until May 4, 1859. During this thirteen month period, Nancy copes with the death of her father as well as family tension regarding the inheritance - specifically the way in which her older brother and her mother treat her.
The diary, therefore, not only serves as a record of the day, but as a forum for her feelings. Ultimately, the pages reveal more about the nature of the writer than the character of those in which she has written.
Nancy was born on March 27, 1840, in Enosburg Township, Vermont, the middle child and only daughter of John and Sara Holmes. She lived on her family’s farm in Franklin County, several miles south of East Enosburg, in an area known for its production of butter and maple sugar. In 1856, her father died – an event The Holmes family barn, Vermont asdf asdf asdf f asdfa sfthat set in motion the drama she would play out within the pages of her diary – and through primogeniture law of the time, the estate became the responsibility of the oldest son, Ephraim. Virtually overnight Nancy’s position shifted from that of daughter under a father’s economic protection to hired help at the mercy of an older brother.
Like many nineteenth-century diaries, the Corse diary also records details such as weather conditions, daily activities and household chores, including cleaning, ironing, sewing, and knitting. Seasonal duties are documented as well, including “shugaring [sic] off” (the term sugaring refers to making maple syrup or maple sugar), making butter and soap, and harvesting oats and corn. Her literary activities are mentioned, too, including books read and school attendance, which occurred from the first of September until the middle of November. The diary records many members of the community, most of whom appear later on 1860 Federal Census records for Franklin County. She records the names of the dead and dying, including local clergy and physicians. She also writes about the community of the Freewill Baptists in Enosburg that paints a picture of religious life in rural New England. She names members of the clergy and individuals that were baptized or married. She records virtually every meeting she attended, including Temperance Lectures, singing school, Sabbath School, and prayer meetings, and lists the Bible verses from many sermons.
In the last few months of the diary, Nancy married Malcolm Sears Corse, a direct descendant of survivors of the 1704 Deerfield Massacre during the French and Indian War. (During the Civil War, Malcolm fought with the first Calvary unit of Vermont, the same unit for which Nancy’s younger brother, John Silas, fought and died). The marriage to Malcolm, which brought four children between 1866 and 1875, offered newfound independence and financial security outside her immediate family and provides closure to the diary.
The Diary of Nancy Holmes Corse is housed in LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri-Kansas City. The project was initiated in 2004 by a UMKC student, Lauren Petrillo. The diary was discovered among the department’s holdings and used as the focal point of a research project. The diary was scanned, and a line-by-line typed transcription was created by Petrillo. Scanned pages and their corresponding transcribed parts were pasted side-by-side and saved as a single file, enabling users to view both the original handwritten page as well as a typed-text alternative.
Introduction text excerpted from I Suppose I Am My Own Girl Now and other supporting text researched and written by Lauren Petrillo. Photographs showing modern-day rural Vermont near where Nancy Holmes Corse lived and wrote about in her diary are courtesy of Janice Geraw, Enosburg Historical Society, Enosburg Falls, Vermont.