Diann Benti, former AAS assistant reference librarian, was captivated by the blacksmith diary when she first saw it. Able to see beyond its seemingly monotonous daily entries–“Blacksmithing…”, “Blacksmithing again…”, “Blacksmithing again…”–Diann allowed us 21st-century readers a window into a 19th-century life by showcasing the diary in blog form.
Faithful readers of the diary-blog likewise could start to see a more complex historical figure as they read the diary. They learned that the blacksmith’s letters to Sara, friends, and other family members, now lost, lent consistency to his evening hours. Trips to the lodge, where he was installed WCT in 1869, added variety to his life, as did evening dances, parties, rehearsals for the opera, sleigh rides, choir and church meetings, evening lectures, games with friends, fife-playing, and, of course, reading of popular nineteenth-century fiction.
The blacksmith remained unidentified until Diann carefully researched the diary-writer’s family and life. Aware that the blacksmith was from Stow, MA, Diann combed census records for a blacksmith from Stow with siblings Lydia and Simon, information that was evident to careful readers of the diary. She uncovered the identity of the blacksmith, and he is now known to us as Albert M. Stone, born in 1849 in Stow, MA.
Further searching in the federal census has revealed some potentially disappointing news for readers of “A Day in the Life of….” While Stone expressed deep excitement over a possible marriage to his dear Sara throughout the year of his apprenticeship, the blacksmith and Sara never wed. Stone’s letters to Sara have been lost, so we do not know how or why the relationship disintegrated. By 1880, though, Stone had moved to Lemoore, CA, and married another woman.
Census records reveal that Stone was living in Lemoore with Adeliza, or Addie, his 26-year-old wife, Laurena, his 3-year-old daughter, three of his in-laws, Addie’s parents and sister, and Simon. By 1900, Albert and Addie were still living in California, but had moved to Lucerne and added two more sons to the family: Cedric, 9, and Douglas , 6. Laurena had either died or moved away from the family farm, as had Simon and the in-laws.
By 1900, the apprentice blacksmith had become farmer. Perhaps he migrated to work on the new California railroads. Perhaps he wished to take advantage of the inexpensive western homesteads. Perhaps he was taken with Elijah Kellogg’s vision of the agrarian ideal in The Boy Farmers of Elm Island (see May 18, 1870). And perhaps Sara couldn’t understand why he wanted to leave Massachusetts for a California farm. We may never know why Stone migrated or the details of his personal life, and the year-long apprenticeship that has been such an integral part of PastisPresent may seem like a tiny piece of a much larger and more complex American life—and one that will never completely be understood.