University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

William Clapp Papers

1843 - 1884
(bulk dates 1850 - 1864)

Manuscript Collection Number: 389
Accessioned: 1983
Extent: 1.5 linear feet
Content: Diaries, account books, ledgers
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: May 1999 by Anne E. Krulikowski.

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Table of Contents

Introductory Note

The diaries, farm registers, and account books of William Clapp and other members of the Clapp family, who had a thriving fruit orchard in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in the mid-nineteenth century, span the years 1843 to 1884. The Clapp family orchards were a large enterprise producing a wide variety of fruits: apples, pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, currants, and many types of berries, as well as tomatoes and other vegetables. The account books list "Clapp Favorite Pears" as one of the fruits grown by the family.

The entire collection appears to have been the personal property of William Clapp, although a few account books record information about the finances of other family members. William Clapp lived either with or near his parents and brothers, who are mentioned almost every day in the diaries and farm registers; other relatives are also regularly mentioned in the diaries and ledgers. Some family names that appear in these volumes include Willie Clapp, George Clapp, Jason Clapp, Catharine Clapp, Rebecca Clapp, Lemuel Clapp, and Frederick Clapp. William's father died in 1860 (the funeral expenses are recorded in the ledger for family expenses) and William seems to have been completely in charge of the orchard after that time. The focus of all three types of record books--diaries, farm registers, and ledgers--is the nursery business. William's diaries and farm registers indicate that he supervised the activity of the family orchard, hired necessary workers (most of whom appear to have been hired by the job or crop), and made arrangements for paying workers, purchasing supplies, and selling the produce. The account books provide detailed information about the number of laborers necessary for various jobs in the orchard and around the property, laborer wages, and the prices for which the Clapps sold their produce. William also recorded the specific varieties of each fruit grown in the orchard; the family also purchased and maintained ornamental trees and shrubs, which were listed with their price at the time of purchase.

While William's focus was the work of the family orchard, his daily notations also included the family, social, intellectual, and cultural scope of his life. William noted in his diaries and farm journals that he was an avid reader of agricultural papers and subscribed to the New England Farmer and The Horticulturist, both of which he had bound each year and kept for reference. He kept up with current titles in horticulture. For instance, in 1848, William noted that he was reading Andrew Jackson Downing's Treastise on The Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening.

William was a young man with a wide variety of interests and activities. He often attended cultural events such as concerts, exhibits, and lectures in Boston. After attending a lecture or sermon, William usually noted the topic in his diary. In the early 1850s, William was attending French classes; periodically, his daily entry notes that he has devoted a day to his French exercises. William had great interest in the scholarly and academic world, and he and his father attended both the general and the divinity school commencements of Harvard University. Judging by the book titles William noted, he was particularly interested in history, philosophy, and theology. Unfortunately, William never wrote down his thoughts about the books he read or the lectures and concerts he attended, activities that clearly occupied an important place in his life. He, like his father, was also a great reader of contemporary newspapers and sometimes commented on national events.

William was very involved in local civic affairs. He regularly attended the town meeting, for which he usually noted the purpose in the diaries and farm registers. An 1864 announcement for an annual town meeting is tipped into one of the farm registers (F15). William was also active in overseeing public school affairs and providing for the care of the poor in the local parish.

The significance of this collection lays in the complete record of one mid-nineteenth century New England family's management of an orchard business. Together, the diaries, farm registers, and ledgers provide detailed lists of the fruit varieties grown along with the quantities raised and prices for which the produce sold. Lists of laborers and their wages provide some insight about the number of workers necessary to such a large operation. Workers represented both sexes: most of the currant pickers were women. Day-to-day recounting of the numerous tasks undertaken by the family and hired laborers to successfully maintain the orchard and farm property is quite detailed. Just how much their success depended on the uncontrollable vagaries of the weather can be found in William's careful noting of weather conditions as part of every single entry in the diaries and farm registers.

Another significant aspect of this collection lays in the interests and activities of William Clapp himself. Though William did not use his diaries to express feelings, emotions, and opinions, and though he noted his activities and current events with only brief factual statements, the record he left of his interests and activities depicts a man who combined practical business activity with intellectual and cultural interests. In many ways, William was an example of the American yeoman farmer as idealized by Thomas Jefferson: independent, enterprising, well-informed, and civic-minded. William's regular attendence at the town meeting and his conscientious notations of the topics of discussion at those meetings provide some insight into the role of the New England town meeting in the mid-nineteenth century. The participation of William and his friends in the cultural activities of nineteenth-century Boston depict a less well- known side of that cultural life. The diaries and farm registers also provide a look at the way in which an ordinary citizen busy with his own life noted and responded to national events such as elections and the battles of the Civil War.

Arrangement Note

This collection is arranged in three series. The first series contains the diaries of William Clapp. The next series is the group of farm registers, which contain similar information to that of the diaries, but are more detailed and factual where the diaries are more descriptive. The third series of the collection consists of the various account books and financial ledgers of the Clapp family.

Series Outline

     I.   Diaries
     II.  Farm Registers
     III. Orchard Books (Account Books and Financial Ledgers)

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

1         Series I. Diaries, 1848-1854
               William Clapp's daily entries record weather conditions and focus
               primarily on the many activities of the orchard and farm.  He also noted
               his own cultural, social, and civic activities.  Most of the books in this and
               the other two series have tipped in pages; almost all the loose papers are
               calculations of prices or wages. 

     F1   May 19, 1848 - December 31, 1848

     F2   January 1, 1849 - March 31, 1850 

     F3   April 1, 1850 - August 16, 1850

     F4   August 16, 1850 - January 23, 1851

     F5   January 24, 1851 - August 5, 1851

     F6   August 6, 1851 - December 31, 1851

     F7   January 1, 1852 - December 31, 1852

     F8   January 1, 1853 - January 15, 1854

          Series II.     Farm Registers, 1851-1863
               Generally, William used the farm registers to record the same information
               that he recorded in the diaries.  As the dates indicate, William appears to
               have intended to keep two separate series of records.  During the time the
               diaries and farm registers overlapped, the diaries continued to focus on
               orchard concerns, with the addition of other activities; the farm registers
               contain very detailed daily information about the activities around the
               nursery.  Since both contained much of the same information, recording in
               both books must have been burdensome, and William soon discarded the
               diaries and kept on with the books he labelled "farm registers."  The farm
               registers were used exactly as the diaries had been earlier.  The focus
               remained on the business, but William's other interests and activities are
               also duly noted.  Possibly he decided to use the designation "farm register"
               because most entries focused on the orchard; except for the brief period
               from 1851-1854, there was no reason to designate the books by different

     F9   January 15, 1851 - October 22, 1852

     F10  October 23, 1852 - April 5, 1854

     F11  April 6, 1854 - July 13, 1855

     F12  July 14, 1855 - August 16, 1856

     F13  January 3, 1858 - March 11, 1859

     F14  March 12, 1859 - January 27, 1860

     F15  September 17, 1860 - December 31, 1863

          Series III.    Orchard Books, 1851-1884
     F16  Account Book, 1843-1859
          (Sales;  Worker Wages)

     F17  Fruit Book, 1846-1854
          (Sales; Itemized Expenses; Peach Orchard; Trees Purchased)

     F18  Account Book, 1846-1864
          (Wages for Currant Pickers)

     F19  Fruit Book, 1847-1849
          (Record of Currant Sales)

2    F20  Account Book, 1849-1864
          (Wages; Sales)

     F21  Fruit Book, 1850-1852
          (Currant Picking; Fruit Sales)

     F22  Account Book, 1851-1884

     F23  Currant Book, 1856
          (Work and Wages of Currant Pickers)

     F24  Account Book, 1857-1865
          (Family Expenses; Orchard Receipts)

3    F25  Common Fruit Book, 1858

     F26  Account Book, 1860-1868
          Personal Expenses; Currant and Gooseberry Picking Records
          (calling card of George S. Farwell tipped in)

     F27  Account Book, 1860-1869
          (Family Expenses; Sales Records)
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