The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 10, 2005


From Emeline Parker Taylor's diary: "I am alone on this hill. . . ."

Emeline Parker Taylor in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Carlisle Historical Society)
Emeline Parker Taylor was an accomplished woman. Born in Carlisle in 1812, she was a schoolteacher, a farm wife, mother of four sons, a poet, gardener, avid church-goer, caretaker of three orphaned grandchildren — and a diarist. She poured her thoughts, fears, joys, expectations and disappointments into her diary, while describing quotidian life in Carlisle during the Civil War and after. One hundred and seven years after her death, Mrs. Taylor's words still have the power to touch us and teach us about life, faith and acceptance.

The diary — a ledger-sized, worn leather volume — belongs to Emeline's great-granddaughter, Frances Lapham, a Carlisle native now living in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. There are later diaries, but they are currently inaccessible, awaiting a family member's move. After reading the diary entries from 1864 to 1881, I felt that I knew Emeline and fully expected to see her walking down South Street near her farmhouse.

Emeline was born on January 16, 1812, the second child of Colonel Jonas Parker and Olive Bailey Parker. At the age of 16, she was hired to teach school in the new North School (now headquarters of Great Brook Farm State Park) for a term; she then taught in Concord until she married Stephen Taylor on April 26, 1838. The Taylors farmed on Wormwood Hill on Cross Street in a farmstead that no longer exists. There they raised four sons — Nathan, Artemas, Stephen and George.

Artemas was the only son who settled in Carlisle. He and his wife Frances had three children — Charles, and twin girls Emma and Mary. (Emma was the grandmother of Fran Lapham). Both Artemas and Frances died in 1892, leaving their three young teenagers in the care of Emeline, their grandmother. The twin sisters married brothers from Carlisle: Mary married Edward E. Lapham, Jr., and Emma married Arthur T. Lapham.

The diary

Throughout the diary, Emeline records the births, marriages and deaths of her family, friends and neighbors. Her first entry, on January 1, 1864, describes the weather, social activities, and the great losses suffered in one year by their friends, the Calvin Healds. Throughout the diary, Emeline refers to her husband as "Mr. Taylor."

It has been a very rainy day, rather lonesome for new years day. Cleared off in the afternoon. Mr. Taylor and I went down to Esq. Calvin Healds and spent the evening. Had a very pleasant time (but sad). To think that their three daughters that were all with them last year happy and comfortable are now all laid in their long last sleep. Mrs. Hannah G. Hodgman Died May 12

Illness is a frequent theme in the diary. Emeline, then well into middle age, suffered from a variety of ills, and complained frequently of "sick headaches" that Fran Lapham believes were migraines. Many pages have been ripped or cut out of the diary by Emeline herself, because, Fran said, "they dealt too much with illness."

January 8, 1864. Two hours I have been alone on this hill today. Mr. Taylor went to mill, Cephos [probably a farm hand] to town. George to school. . . . I am not able to go out anywhere so I stay alone or with the menfolks just as suits their convenience. I have been sick more than five weeks. I have had the asthma and lung complaint. I have had a bad cough ever since I was taken and it grows worse all the time instead of better. I have no woman in the house to cook or do anything else. It appears to me that the people about here think if they go to church Sundays and to all the sewing circles, donation parties etc. that they have performed all their religious obligations. They have no time or disposition to lend a helping hand to the mother of a family who has nobody to cook but menfolks.

It seems that then, as now, diaries served as psychological releases for their writer. It is likely that Emeline had no one to share her problems with and poured out her misery to her diary. When she felt better, she recorded details about her day: "I feel a little better. Can sit up some. Sucked a little beef-steak which we paid thirty cents a pound for. It ought to do some good I think." The next month, she reported this achievement: "I made and baked 12 pies, 5 berry 5 squash 2 apple pies." On another good day: "I canned Strawberries, Raspberries, Huckleberries, Blueberries, Tomatoes, Rhubarb, Boiled Applesauce. We made Cranberry and Bayberry sauce and have what Cranberries we want to use besides giving Nathan and George some."

But on another bad day she complained bitterly about her son George:

I am alone on this hill. Mr. Taylor has gone to a parish meeting. George has been persuaded by better friends to him than his Mother to go spearing fish. He has not been able to fetch me a pail of water or handfull of wood for a week. They have left me alone with the sick headache, not a neighbor within half a mile.

The Taylor boys

Her grown children were often a source of worry, especially Artemas who left for California in 1862 and was heard from only infrequently. Emeline wrote, "I have been writing to Arte today. He has been sick in Nevada Territory Virginia City California ever since last fall. Oh, how sad we cannot get to him nor he to us." On February 19, 1868, she noted, "It is just 6 years ago today that our beloved Artemas left home for California. It was a great trial to me but thus far by the mercifull providence of heaven I have been supported; separations of one kind or another are the greatest afflictions to which affectionate hearts are exposed." And finally, on September 20, 1871, Artemas Taylor came home. "He had been gone almost ten years and his health is not very good."

Tragedy struck the Taylor family in 1860 when their 16-year-old son Stephen, Jr. was killed in a brawl. There are no details of his death and Emeline's diary began four years after her son's death. Six years after the tragedy, Emeline wrote this poem that strongly affirmed her faith:

On the Death of Stephen Parker Taylor
Who died Sept. 16
Why Droops this lovely flower
The light and joy of home,
Our hopes, they perish in an hour
And wither in the tomb.
Do not weep for me
Your child he now would say
I've soared above the silent tomb
Beyond that mouldering clay.
Dear parents dry your tears
And weep no more for me
I would not change my mansion fair
Could I come back to thee
My Saviour is my all
I love him, more and more,
And soon we all shall meet again
We'll meet to part no more.

The Civil War

Only a few entries touch on the Civil War, which impacted every citizen, even those in tiny Carlisle:

April 18, 1864. Ever memorable day! Three years ago the first Martyrs of this cruel and unjust war yielded up their lives a ransom for the Country. Since then our brave boys have poured out their blood like water, and our civillians their treasures like sand.

July 6, 1864. Nathan is called to go to War. They have gone to Lowell this afternoon.

July 13, 1864. Sidney A. Parker, Hervey Bingham, John Prescott and Augustus Bingham have been called to go to war. They left Lowell for Camp at Readville today. God only knows the sacrifices Fathers Mothers Brothers and Sisters Husbands and Wives are making for this unjust and unholy war forced upon us as a nation. Lord bless our enemies and teach them submission to the best Government the light of heaven ever shone upon.

Weather in the mid-1800s played a huge role in Carlisleans' lives, just as it does now. We might believe that today we endure the worst weather ever, but Emeline lived through huge snowstorms, howling winds, blisteringly hot summers, and waited for springs that seemed never to come:

Jan. 23, 1867. The stage [stagecoach from Lowell] has been through today, but men are still shovelling snow and breaking path. Mr. Prescott Nickles was here to dinner. Mr. Taylor is out shovelling snow on the back road with Mr. Nickles.

April 28,

April 30, 1874. A very cold windy day. I brought in my flannel wrapper between twelve and one o'clock today frozen quite stiff where it hadn't dried. It has been so uncomfortable our folks haven't pretended to work outdoors and so windy we have not had our week's washing done. . . We have been expecting P.W. Heald to do our ploughing but there has not been a day all the week that he could work. Mr. Taylor is gone up to Ambrose Heald's tonight to see if he can get some seed oats.

May 1, 1874. I went through the snow and picked some ferns instead of May flowers, with Waterproof rubbers and mittens on.

Summer brought thunderstorms and lightning, and with it the fear of every farm family — fire. In the following entry, Emeline drew a lesson from the devastation:

June 1, 1867. Esq. Calvin Heald's house was struck by lightning about seven o'clock evening. It struck the southeast corner of the top of the chimney and passed down into the vinegar barrell letting out its contents which stood in the attick near the chimney, then into every closet and chamber, thence into every room in their large house, which contains six rooms on the lower floor all damaged considerably. Pictures blackened and frames defaced and everything in general hurled in a moment from its long resting place and strewn over the room. We see our household goods taken from us in one instant. Let us lay hold on something more enduring. Here we see God's power. Let us learn wisdom not to think of such things more highly than we ought to think.

When Emeline's health and the weather permitted it, she and her husband socialized with their neighbors and friends. The diary is filled with visits to and from relatives, neighbors and friends. A visit to Lowell by stagecoach often required an overnight stay. Emeline's one close friend was Mrs. Calvin Heald, who one day "walked up and spent the afternoon with me. I have no better female friend in the world. She has always supplyed the place of Mother to me, as much as in her power, poor dear good woman. She wants sympathy. We all have petty troubles, but it seems to me she has more than often falls to the lot of mortal beings to bear."

Birthdays, anniversaries and deaths

Emeline was sentimental about family milestones and marked them in her diary. Especially poignant is her entry for April 17, 1875: "Anniversary of Stevie's birthday" and on January 20, 1867, she noted, "Nathan Taylor is twenty-eight years old today; may heaven's choicest blessings rest upon him and his family is his Mother's desire." On her 36

Stephen Taylor and Emeline Parker were married thirty-six years ago today by Geo. W. Stacy. We came to this place to live the same day we were married and have lived here all these years. This is our home and home of our children. It is the only home I have ever known and don't wish any other in this world.

Stephen Taylor, Emeline's husband for 41 years, died in 1879 at the age of 73:

April 26, 1880. The anniversary of our marriage. The first time in forty two years that my husband has not been with me. God help me to bear this great trial. My friends and neighbors that began life with me or those near my age have almost every one passed on, to that bourne from which no traveller returns.

May 27, 1880. Of May the saddest of days, the last day of the Death of my best beloved husband, the companion of my youth, and my best earthly friend. One year

ago today he breathed his last without a murmur. He was patient, forbearing and forgiving, even to his enemies. He lived beloved and died lamented.

The final entry is on Christmas Day, 1881: "I have been sick about four weeks. I have not rode out since Thanksgiving Day. My head feels very bad. Indeed I have taken medicine of Dr. Marsh but it don't seem to do me much good. I am very weak and tired all the time and suffer dreadfully with cold feet."

In her later years, Emeline Parker Taylor was cared for by her granddaughters, Mary and Emma, who "loved her dearly," according to Fran Lapham. Emeline died on September 3, 1898, at the age of 86. Her obituary characterized her as "a woman of keen intellect, with a retentive memory, a great reader . . . She was an active member of the Unitarian Society of a generous disposition. She was always a great lover of flowers, cultivating them for the love and good cheer they afforded to all, they were generously distributed without money or price."

Emeline left Wormwood Hill for the last time "under a canopy of heaven's own blue, the shading branches of a great elm, and a carpet of green fronting her home." She is buried in Green Cemetery.

Note: A quilt made by Emeline Parker Taylor in 1885, when she was 73, will be displayed at the Gleason Public Library as part of the "Glimpses into Our Past" exhibit. The quilt, a vibrant "crazy quilt" bearing her initials and dates, has been generously loaned to the town by Frances Lapham. The exhibit opens on June 24.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito