Royer Diaries - Part 1

Robert Wood


Daniel B. Royer (b.1836 d.1911)  lived just to the northeast of New Hanover in Sumneytown, farmed a little,  worked in local cigar factories as a packer, and was a compulsive diarist. The entry for Wed. May 4, 1887, reads (unedited, with material in brackets [ ] added by this author):

           “Partly cloudy in the morning then clear it is smokey and hacy. Easterly to  South westerly winds. Fah 60.88.74 [temperature recorded at 6:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 6:00 p.m.] it was intense hot it is going to extremes all at once. One peal of thunder in the morning. Calvin’s [one of his four sons] wife was delivered of a little girl last Monday. I wrote a letter to Calvin this evening. Samuel Weaver was buried here today age 81 y. 7 mo. 26 days. He died in the Alms house it is a Shame for his children. O fie the main spring on the clock broke last night. Waking me out of my sleep.”

Calvin lived in Pottstown. The daughter mentioned here was named Katie. She married Robert Diener;  they had a son, Stanley Diener, who had a daughter, Loretta Diener,  who is married to my brother, Max Wood. Robert Diener started Diener’s Bicycle Shop in Pottstown which existed for three generations.

 At the end of every single day of Daniel Royer’s life he noted in a diary the daily events  that took his interest. Each diary covers one year. My sister in law, Loretta, has possession of about twenty of these, generally covering the years 1883 to his death in 1911.  We suspect he kept diaries all his life, but the whereabouts of the early ones are unknown.

They are small books measuring about three by five inches and written with a very sharp pen in a fine hand. They are valuable because, as the spring 1995 Journal of the Montgomery County Historical Society notes: “From the diaries comes a picture of Daniel Royer as an avid reader of books and newspapers, a lifelong Democrat, and a man fully involved in church and community. The diaries also give a fascinating look at the texture of everyday life--weather, farm prices, working conditions, illness and death in a small rural town.”

 From these tiny books we can get a feel for the fabric and texture of  local nineteenth century village life. What was Daniel Royer’s mindset? What did he think?  What did he work? What was his worldview?  

Let’s stay with the year 1887 and transcribe [unedited] the week of July 22; we’ll see what was going on this week 118 years ago in Sumneytown.

“Friday, July 22, 1887: Cloudy with a drizzling fog. Clearing weather at noon. Easterly to southerly winds Fah 76.90.82. It was sultry almost to suffocating in the forenoon. The air is so humid that it is almost unbearable, heavy clouds with thunder showers surrounding us. Rainfall these several days 1/8 inch. Wrote a letter to Horace,  Shook the apples and took one bushel to the store at 80 cts. Per Bushel

Sat. July 23: Cloudy partly clear at noon and then increase clouds again. Wind south then veering around to west to North then East Fah 76.88.76.A thunder storm started from the South at noon then rallied and came back and kept on all afternoon from West to south and East. It is still raining at 9 o’clock this evening. We only got the ends of the showers. George Steltz left for Samuel Geists this Evening

Sun. July 24: Cloudy in the morning. Partly cloudy the rest of the day. Easterly to southerly winds fah 74.84.82 thunder showers from 11 o’clock a.m. to 3 o’clock p.m. From south around East to North a light rain here in the afternoon ¾ inch rainfall here yesterday and last night. C.F. Shively[,] Benjamin  Royer and their wives were here on a visit this afternoon. Warren and Alice and George Steltz were also here and took supper with us. Services by Rev. A. L. DeChant.

Mon. July 25: Fair weather southerly to easterly winds fah 78.88.82 We had no thunder showers today. But still heavy clouds it is lightening in the distant West this evening. Farmers have been drying their oats today. It is high time to get it dried and housed. It has been cut over a week with rain nearly every day, and sultry hot weather. George Steltz left for Samuel Geists at noon.

Tues. July 26: Fair weather wind East to South and West Fah 76.88.80. Still hot and sultry. The cigar makers can work only half time on account of the tobacco not drying. Houses become moldy and disagreeable. Thunder showers surrounding us from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock. The last was very heavy from west to North a rainfall 1/8 inch. Farmers got some of their oats housed.

Wed. July 27: Fair weather easterly winds Fah 76.90.82. The wind is at its old stand again. Heavy clouds with a light rain at noon. A heavy thunderstorm is raging at 9 o’clock this evening from west all around to north. The thunderstorm last evening did great damage along the east Penn Rail Road there was a cloud burst travel was suspended. Lightning struck a barn and set it on fire.

Thurs. July 28: Cloudy with a light fog clearing weather at noon Easterly to southerly winds fah 78.88.80. Still sultry but the first day for a long time without rain or thunder and lightning if not here it was at a distance or surrounding us. A beautiful moon light evening. The Katydid has made its appearance. Paris-greened [insecticide] our potatoes this evening may it be the last time. [He farmed a three acre field near his house].”

And so on they go. Never missing a day, fifty-two weeks a year for twenty five years: 9,125 entries, often more interesting than these, but always in exactly the same format. What do they tell us?

The first thing he  notes is the weather:  wind direction, sky conditions,  rain and snow measured to the one-eighth inch and temperature noted three times a day. Most of his ink went to weather and crops. People around here farmed, full or part time. Income depended on the weather.  Food production was local. If a late frost nipped the fruit tree buds, there was no fruit. Period.  No New-Zealand apples or Chilean grapes in those days. Royer was a cigar packer; if the tobacco crop failed, he had no work.  Weather was king.

The second most important thing to Royer was the comings and goings of his family.  Usually he mentions his wife “mother” and his four sons and their families. His children visited frequently.

 Most Sundays he notes who preached at Frieden’s Union Church,  the offering,  often the “slim attendance” at his Sunday school class, and he rails against the service when it was in English instead of German.

He was a reader. One winter (Was it ‘88?) a blizzard prevented the mail train from getting through from Thursday until the following Tuesday; and he  wrote that  he had such a mountain of reading matter that he could hardly get through it.

Finally, he includes a sentence or two about the town gossip, working conditions, prices, notable happenings, illness, injury, deaths.

Continued next week

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