Daniel B. Royer Diaries
Over the last two weeks we have been examining the diaries if Daniel B. Royer (b.1834 d.1911) of Sumneytown.
In the introduction to The Journals and Papers of David Shultze translator and editor Andrew Berkey says, “Of the several primary source materials available to historians, none is more valuable than the diary. The diary connects the personality of the individual with the larger process of history as nothing else can. It humanizes the past, but what is perhaps more important, it provides us with a vivid reproduction of the atmosphere of the fleeting moment.”
Daniel Royer was doubtless a strong character, and these diaries are stamped with his indelible personality. After the Dec. 31st entry of each year he records a few pages of that year’s notable events, farm prices, weather highlights, his political views and a complete listing of the births and deaths in his village. Let’s take 1886 as typical and transcribe it: [spelling and grammar unedited]
“Thus another year has gone into the vast ocean of time never to return. One year after another is rolling along bringing us nearer home. It is only a short time it seems that I was a boy full of life and vigor, but I feel that I am growing old and infirm. How often in the dead of night do I let the visions of my youth pass through my mind the places that we lived that have gone to ruins or have vanished altogether.
“What a change in fifty years I can hardly believe my eyes. Thus time rolls on and I am getting old. I will soon be among those who wander no more [He was to live another twenty-five years]. This year we can put down as a bountiful one. The crops were all good with the exception of shellbarks [hickory nuts] and chestnuts they were a failure. Apples were abundant but they dropped badly before being ripe and afterwards rotted. Potatoes also a good crop, but rotted considerably because of the wet and hot weather. We had good luck with our potatoes we had planted on high ground behind the stables. Those planted in low places rotted badly.
“There was also some trouble in harvesting grain and hay on account of the wet weather. We had to open every sheave of our wheat to dry. Grain was also badly lodged [crop flattened to the ground by wind or rain] there was very little harvested with the machine. Corn was a good crop but most of it was planted late because of the wet weather in the Spring which then froze in the autumn before it was quite ripe. It was so very wet in the first part of the year and then in August September October a great drought. Farmers could not sow their grain [winter wheat planted in the fall] they sowed as late as November 4, 5, 6. Some of it has not sprouted yet. Do not see many fine grain fields.
“This year was generally healthy but it is strange that so many prominent men died this year. Ex president Chester A. Arthur, Gen. George B. Mccland, Y. Tilden, Y.A. Logan and others. These men live fast and they also die fast. The greatest earthquake ever experienced in this country occurred on the evening of August 31st. It was felt throughout the whole United States and its center seems to have been at Charleston S.C. which suffered heavily about 5,000,000 dollars damage was done. There were reports of 100 shocks since that fatal day not doing any damage of any account there was a shock felt as late as December.
“Storms and cyclones and hurricanes there were plenty doing much damage and killing many people. Strikes we had plenty it was quite a year for them. Anarchy also prevailing. There are several anarchists waiting now to have their necks stretched for throwing dynamite bombs killing people. Capital or monopoly and labor are arrayed against each other. Labor is forming into societies to protect themselves, but it is not worth much. Capital is king and will stay so all the time.
Rainfall for the year 43 and 1/4 inches Snowfall 42 and 3/8 inches. The coldest day January 14th nineteen degrees below zero. The warmest day August 28th 94 degrees. Days with no sunshine 47.
Deaths or those interred here at our church 14, viz. [There follows the list. Six were unnamed children].
There were ten births in the neighborhood.
I packed 469,700 cigars during the year which amounted to $298.03. Not a great sum but I am satisfied. I still laid a little by for a rainy day. Thus ends the year 1886 it was a good year. May the next be as good. Hoping the best, may God bless us All. DBRoyer.”
Part of Royer’s summary of the year 1895 makes this prescient observation:
“…The year of 1895 made great strides in electricity. This agent of nature will play the greatest role of any power in existence. I predict that it will replace steam in the near future. It will run our factories, steamboats, railroads and take the place of steam generally. It will light our homes, warm our houses cook and bake our bread, drive the fans to cool our houses in hot weather, plow our fields, thresh our grain. The coming generation will not be troubled to chop wood to heat the house or put in the black and dirty coal. O how nice and clean everything will be and so it will go on to the end of time which I think is not so far off as some people think. The people are getting wise. Thomas Edison the electrician is a most wonderful man. I believe that God has ordained him just for this kind of work. Everything he takes ahold of seems to succeed. He can just harness nature and hitch up and off it goes. How will it be one hundred years hence? [How indeed?]
I packed 653,950 cigars this year with the salary of 419.67 Pretty good for an old sickly man like me. Thanks be to God for his bountiful blessing. D. B. Royer
If any of our readers in the New Hanover area have diaries, life stories or reminiscences written by “old people” please share them with the historical society. It’s not necessarily the document itself that we want to preserve, but the information that it carries.
The “Historian” is produced by the New Hanover Township Historical Society. Call Robert Wood 610-326-4165 with comments.