Chattie’s Diary

Her name was Cynthia Melissa Fuller and she was born on March 1, 1850 in Ridgebury Township, Bradford County, in rural northern Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of William James Fuller and Cynthia M. Graves. Everyone knew her as “Chattie,” a nickname that was no doubt bestowed upon her with a certain amount of justification.

Chattie was descended from Abigail Titus (born 1652), and her husband, John Fuller. Not only was she my tenth cousin thrice removed, but she was one of those folks that researchers just love to hear about. This is because Chattie wrote a diary.

The diary was transcribed and transmitted by Lee Freeman to the Tri-Counties website, which covers the Pennsylvania counties of Bradford and Tioga, and Chemung County, New York. She has transcribed the words as she saw them, and they are passed on as such to the reader, complete with the lack of punctuation, erratic spelling and abbreviations contained in the original. The diary was published by Joyce M. Tice in her Tri-Counties Genealogy & History web page about 2005. The period covered in Chattie’s entries is from January, 1, 1870, when she was about to turn 19, until December 31, 1871, just about two years later.

The personalities that emerge from the pages are generally limited to those of herself and her immediate family. These include her parents, “Ma” and “Pa”. There is also her elder sister, Triphene Jane, (“Phine” in the diary), and Phine’s husband, Burge Wans, the villain in the story, who is disliked so much after Phine’s death that Chattie can hardly bring herself to put his name on paper.

Also prominent is Chattie’s younger brother, Parmenous Armind Fuller, identified as “P. A” in her account and not to be confused with “Pa,” her father. Although he is only 17 when the diary gets underway, he is a tower of strength to her, especially when her sister, Phine becomes ill and dies midway through Chattie’s account.

Finally, there is Chattie’s sister, Julia Augusta Fuller, “Gusta” in the diary, the youngest of the family, who is only 14 in the diary’s first pages and plays but a minor role in the story. She does for a time, however, add her daily comments to Chattie’s diary. These have not been included in this outline.

One aspect that especially stands out in Chattie’s life was the incredible amount and variety of labour that she performed. Life on a farm is never easy on family members, but in this case it appears that her work never ended. The following quotations outline her daily workload:

  • Sep. 19, 1870. “This morning, rose early and After breakfast Gusta and I help Ma and Phine and Eda off to go to Aunt Sarah’s, after they went off we washed the dishes made the beds. swept six rooms and paired the peaches to dry got the apples out drying, cleaned the cellar floor and cleaned all of the wood-work in the kitchen except the window casings. Got supper milked one cow Burge milked the other. Our folks reached home just dark P.A. went to Elmira and has not reached home yet.”
  • Sep. 27, 1870. “We went to cleaning house today, cleaned the front-room and bed-room all but  papering and painting and rinsed our carpet and clothes besides the other work in the house and taking care of Edith. To day the boys caught a string of fish Gusta and I cleaned them.”
  • Oct. 15, 1870. “Rose early. made two beds. Help get breakfast and washed up the dishes, fed the pigs, and did the churning. Took up the shingles off the back stoop and swept up the dirt. Help get supper and wash up the dishes, had the teeth-ache all day long til evening I made a black bow.”
  • Oct. 19, 1870. “Had the teeth-ache again Rose early. Went down and after breakfast I help wash the dishes. Made two beds and the Hall and bed-room, stair steps and kitchen Help clean the wood-House and kitchen chamber. Got dinner and swept also got supper, washed dishes, mixed bread and biscuit Wrote this rocking Edith.”
  • Oct. 26, 1870. “Rose at day-break. Went down stairs and help get breakfast. My face was all swollen up so that I could hardly see and real painful all day. I washed dishes, swept the kitchen, Hall, and Bed-room above made two beds. Cut out two pairs of drawers and one Chemise. Got supper and washed dishes.”

Education, in those days and in that farming environment, was usually a fragile thing, quite often limited to eight weeks or so a year, with availability depending upon whether or not a teacher was accessible, and upon when the young children could spare time away from their work in the family homes, barns and fields. Chattie had obviously taken advantage of all the opportunities for education that she could get, all of it squeezed on top of and around her daily workload. It must also be remembered that any reading had to be done in the evenings by the eyestraining light of a flickering candle or fireplace.

Missing from this account of her daily life, however, are events taking place outside the County in which she lives, or, for that matter, outside her own Ridgebury Township. For instance, references to events such as the Civil War, which ended just five years before, or to the Abraham Lincoln assassination, are simply missing. There are a couple of references to a newspaper called The Reporter, but no indication of its frequency of publication or of her having actually read it.

Nevertheless, by the time her diary commences she is already advanced, compared to her peers, with both her education and her motivation towards learning. Her schooling is mentioned early in her narrative as the following quotations illustrate:

  • Jan 3, 1870. “Went to School and got along with my lessons first rate, except my Written Arithmetic, that is hard for me to understand, I learned today that the Moon is 240,000 miles from the earth. Came home, help get supper washed the dishes & sewed the Buttons on my Calico Dress & did part of the ironing.”
  • Jan. 10, 1870. “Went to School again ciphered some recited in Mental Arithmetic read in Government Class Book spelt in the Union Speller, recited in Geography and Grammar came home and after supper finished my Dress at last so that I can wear it.”
  • Jan. 18, 1870. “At School all day again this evening I heard that Aaron’s little child is dead how sad he and Nan must feel, helped wash dishes did up a lot of ironing. crocheted some and studied my Geography lesson and tried to cipher some.”
  • Jan. 28, 1870. “Went to school, at noon heard that Uncle Henry Havens was dead he died in a fit, Mr.Halstead had a spelling school this evening and we all went up, Nora Hammond spelt us all down the first time and second time I spelt them down, came home and went to bed after 10 oclock
  • Mar. 7, 1870: “After breakfast Pa took P.A. Gusta and I up to school, there were 20 scholars and no teachers, we waited until nearly eleven and then rode home with Mr.Woodruff, I went to work and did the washing for Ma, and then worked on my chemise in the afternoon and evening. Retired at 9.”

Evidently the reason that there was no school on March 7th was that the wife and child of Mr. Halstead, the teacher, had both become ill. However, there may have been another problem lurking in the background. As Chattie had noted on Feb. 16, “Today the public money runs out, but the district hires Mr. Halstead another month.” That month was coming to a close and for a time we hear no more of Mr. Halstead. However, Chattie’s life was about to change a little. She had just become the school teacher.

  • Mar. 21, 1870. “Today was my first day in school of teaching in the Dewey school, Pa took me to school, and came for me at night. Ma was very sick yet but I was obliged to go against my will. I had six scholars on account of the weather. Found Grandma at our house when I reached home. Pa sent after the Doctor but he did not come.”
  • Mar. 23, 1870. “This is the third day of my school. I had two new scholars today. I have nine now. After school went down to Hiram Dewey’s to stay all night, I am boarding there this week when I went in Adeline was quilting on a Quilt they had put on while I was at school. Retired at nine.”
  • Mar. 24, 1870. “Taught school again today. Had nine scholars. Crotched on my Tidy at noon. After school went to Mr. H. Dewey’s again. Worked on my Tidy in the evening. Adaline wished my ring on and I wished hers on. We went to bed at eight oclock.”
  • Mar. 30, 1870. “Have been teaching again today. I get twenty dollars a month. walked to school this morning and built a fire. After school was over Mr.& Mrs.Covell came down after us When we got as far as Mr.Cooper’s the drifts were so bad we got stuck and had to get out of the wagon. Retired at eight.”
  • May 16, 1870. “This morning I got ready to go to my school for the last time up to Dewey District. After breakfast P.A. took me up and Gusta went with us as far as Aunt Lib’s to pick out a dress. At noon I commenced a Tidy for myself. I stopped and got some and then started for the school-house. Primmers for my scholars at Uncle Henry’s store. Staid at Mr.McAfee’s tonight.”

The word “Tidy” in the entries above is probably used to mean a container for sewing utensils, and, intending to make another one, she has bought the materials.

To earn her $20.00 per month salary, she was responsible for, in addition to her teaching duties, the opening of the school in the morning, lighting the fire, and sweeping out the schoolroom when classes were over. It also appears that she had to supply the “primmers,” or primary textbooks for the students. Nevertheless, as the next entry shows, she is rehired, this time with a 25% decrease in salary.

  • Jun. 3, 1870. “This morning rose quite early, and after breakfast made my bed combed my hair and went to work again on my Chemise Ate dinner and read a little while. I am and have felt better all day to-day. I have hired out for ($15,00) dollars a month to teach again in our District.”
  • Jun. 6, 1870. “I shall wear my red calico dress this week It is raining quite hard this morning when I arose and continued until school time. I commenced my school to-day with seventeen scholars. But I did not feel much like teaching. Oh how can I endure this all summer. It has been real warm all day. Another shower after school.”

It appears that her teaching career had been interrupted in December, 1870 when Mr. Halstead, the previous teacher, reappears on the scene. Chattie is ready to reassume a role as a pupil. This lasts for a few months until she gets an offer to resume teaching.

  • Dec. 6, 1870. “We found our folks well. Rose early. Made two beds, and after breakfast washed the dishes, swept, then Phine and I did the washing. Our school commenced yesterday. Mr. Halstead teaches for us again. I can not go to school until next Tuesday. I have so much to do. Washed the supper dishes.”
  • Mar. 18, 1871. “Rose late. Got breakfast and did up the work. Swept. Blacked the stove in the front-room. Mr. & Mrs. Ferris Mrs Hall and Mrs. Robbins were here this afternoon. Mr. Aber was here to engage me to teach their school, but have not fairly made up my mine to go Got a letter from Phine and Aunt. They all wish me to go. Phine and I got supper. Heard that Mrs. Hanmer’s boy is dead. She left the children alone and went off and he got burnt so that he died.”
  • Apr. 25, 1871. “Rose early. Milked and washed up the Pails and Pans Went down and eat breakfast, and then we moved up in the lighthouse. Worked hard all day. Engaged to teach school on North Dirgie, am to commence next Monday. I perfectly detest it I am to have fifteen dollars a month. Mr. & Mrs. Ferris took tea with us to night.”
  • May 1, 1871. “Rose early. got ready to go to my sixth term of school teaching. Pa took me to my school. Had ten scholars. There was but few who knew of it so there were few who came. Went to Mr Squire’s to night. Swept the floor after school.”
  • Jun. 22, 1871. “Rose early. Staid to Mrs. Webb’s with Oscelia last night and came back again to night. Had to whip a little boy to day for swearing and also for running away. It has been quite pleasant to day.”
  • Jun. 23, 1871. “Rose early. Made a bed went to school. Mr. Catchpole has taken his boys out of school because I whipped one of them for swearing for which he justly deserved. Staid at Sates’ and got supper Met P.A. below Mr. Green’s.”

In Chattie’s time the concept of hospital care was confined to the large cities and medical treatment, rudimentary by our current standards, depended upon the availability of a doctor who could manage to get to the rural site of any problem, and, when arriving, to provide adequate knowledge and treatment. This situation is illistrated in her diary when Chattie’s sister becomes ill. We are never given the cause of Phine’s illness.

  • Jul. 2, 1871. “This morning about two oclock we were awakened by Burge who came after our folks and said Phine was very sick. Was taken Thursday. Ma was unable to go so Pa and I went over. Found her very low. I staid and Pa went back home.”
  • Jul. 6, 1871. “Laid down a few minutes through the night. Had to bake bread today. Pa came over towards night and staid awhile. I was up with Phine again to night. The Dr. has been here but once since I came here. It is Dr. Clark.”
  • Jul. 11, 1871. “Lay down awhile to rest but soon Burge called me. Phine is worse and he is going over to have P.A. go after Dr. Goodman. I staid alone with Phine until he got back. At night he went to the store.”
  • Jul. 14, 1871. “Was up again last night I am so worn out I scarcely know which way to turn or what to do. Dr. Goodman came on the cars. Was here to supper. He went away about nine oclock to take the cars but soon after came back and said the train had left him. How glad I was. I look at it as the hand of God.”
  • Jul. 18, 1871. “Was up alone to night with Phine. Burge laid in the log part and slept. I could scarcely pacify Phine all night last night she was bound and determined to go home. The Doctor promised to come to day or tomorrow he has not been here to day but I hope he will come tomorrow, for she is much worse now.”
  • Jul. 21, 1871. “Mrs Woodard and Miss Smith were there but they would not lift a finger to help us. She took two naps coming over ate some and took her medicine. It was about two when we reached home. She died last night about twenty minutes past twelve. I believe she is now at rest with God in whom she trusted and in who’s care she entrusted her babe.”

Here is where Burge’s character, or lack of it, starts to emerge. The baby mentioned is Edith (Eda) Wans, Phine’s one and one half year-old daughter. As mentioned above, Chattie is so distraught with the situation with Phine’s death and the conduct of Phine’s husband that she finds it difficult to even write his name in her diary.

  • Jul. 23, 1871. “This day we buried our loved sister. He got a horse and Buggy and took the Baby away from us and went alone. How awful it did look. He said he would not bring her back to our house and he ordered me to pack up her things before the funeral so he could take them with him but I would not do it. He kept her away until almost dark and then brought her back God have mercy on his poor soul.”
  • Aug. 14, 1871. “Rose and got ready for school. Burge had to play up nuisance and take Eda off. He took every-thing even to a rag. He told me he would rather be in his place than mine if called upon to leave this world May God have mercy on me.”
  • Aug. 18, 1871. “Went over to prayer meeting and after it was over had an invitation to go to their Sabbath school Picnic next Thursday Went home and found Edith there. He had brought her back.”
  • Aug. 21, 1871. “Rose early and prepared for my last week of school. HE went off to South Creek this morning, but said not a word about taking Edith with him. P.A. brought me up. Pa is so lame he can hardly get up or down. Went to Mrs. Green’s to night.”
  • Sep. 3, 1871. “Rose and help milk. After breakfast put the house in order and got ready and went to church. Burge came to take Eda off. When I went out to milk he took her up to Mr. Hall’s kept her to after dark then told them he had made me cry long enough so he would bring her back.”

So went two years from Chattie’s life. Within the next twenty years most of the family had gone. Her brother, Parmenous Armind (P.A.) Fuller, died on Oct. 5, 1880. His last appearance on stage is in the 1880 census where he is living next door with his wife, Margaret, and is listed as a broom maker; a trade that one is tempted to guess that he took up to supply Chattie’s seemingly endless requirement for that particular utensil.

Chattie’s father, William James Fuller, died on May 21, 1885. Her mother, Cynthia, died on Jul. 18, 1889. We have no record of the fate of little Ada Wans except that she is listed in the 1880 census at age 10, living with Chattie and her parents. Again, we have little information on Julia Augusta (Gusta) Fuller, except for the fact that she married a Mr. Ferris. However, as it turned out, Chattie lived a relatively long life for that era, passing away on March 20th, 1923, having just turned 73. To her we give heartfelt thanks for the work she diligently performed for her family, and especially for giving us this wonderful record of two years in her early life.

By Bill Arthurs

Note: Access to the full texts of the diaries will be found on the website listed below. Just scroll down to the years 1870 and 1871:



Comments are closed.