The 1839 to 1843 Diary & Commonplace Book of Agnes Y. McAllister
A 19th-Century Diary & Commonplace Book: Agnes McAllister and family have things to write, and to remember
Agnes Y[oung]. McAllister (1817–1879) of Philadelphia lived at home with her parents, having never married. The family were financially comfortable and settled.
As may be expected of a woman of a certain class and status, Agnes led an active social life.
In her manuscript notebook, 21 of 83 pages were used as a handwritten diary. These 21-pages show the annual resolve of diarist Agnes Young McAllister to record details of her social and interior life between the years 1839 and 1843.
Unusually, Agnes only makes her handwritten diary entries primarily in the days of January only, between 1839 to 1843. She explains:
Again on the first day of the year I commence my journal humbly hoping I may succeed better than I did last year. I frequently regret I did not persevere longer than one month for many occasions of this year I wish were wrote down… [She then appends:] The Philadelphians are endeavoring to introduce the N. Y. fashion of the gentleman calling on New Year’s Day… [ January 1st, 1840]
The entries within Agnes’ diary are written in a small confident hand. They reveal the social network and intellectual interests of Agnes was the daughter of Philadelphian, John McAllister, Jr. (1786–1877) and the maternal grand- daughter of printer and bookseller William Young (1755–1829).
Between 1839 and 1843, at ages 22 through 26, McAllister also developed a self-described “saucy” tongue, some of which is sampled in this diary. Of her aunt, McAllister noted: “Aunt Jane returned from Wilmington after having her head examined and is now a firm believer in phrenology.”
McAllister combined her social with her charitable calls, bringing into her orbit a long list of individuals of various classes. During a short interval, she called on Mary Caufman, Ann Brookes, Sarah Buzly, Caroline Brown, Thomas and Ellen Glasgow, Mary Anna Frost, Matilda MacFarland, Sarah Hansel, Maurice Wickersham, and Mary Gosman, “who had a drunken husband who really needed assistance.”
Agnes, in turn, is visited by Betsy Hazelhurst, Caroline Galleger, Cousin John Auchincloss, Cousin John Warner and Weir Workman.
With her family, McAllister enjoyed excursions on the “ice on the Schuykill [River];” spending time in the library; and reading aloud to each other.
When indisposed or kept indoors by the weather, McAllister read McCrie’s Life of John Knox, Pepy’s Diary, works by Lady Marguerite Blessington, religious tracts such as Personal Resolutions and Falsehood and Truth. At one point, she took up “the practical study of nomenclature.”
Within the rest of her notebook, Agnes McAllister copied out excerpts from textbooks and other published historical and biographical works.
Later entries in the notebook of like kind were made by Agnes’ niece, Eliza Young McAllister (1845–1932), the daughter of William Young McAllister (1812–1896).
Eliza copied out excerpts from Deborah Logan’s book, The Norris House (1867) as well as, it appears, “A copy of the notes father sent to the Historical Society with the ‘Plan of the English Lines near Philadelphia 1777’,” drawn by Colonel Lewis Nicola. Eliza has also copied out excerpts from James Mease’s Picture of Philadelphia and Childs’ Views in Philadelphia.
[Manuscript Notebook containing Observations and Notes kept by Agnes Young McAllister of Philadelphia, principally in 1839–1843 with additional excerpts from historical writings by her niece, Eliza Young McAllister, 1900]. [Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. 1835; January 1, 1839–January 22, 1843; 1900. Approx.  pp. 4pp. excised, remaining leaves unused. 73⁄4 x 61⁄2 inches. Notebook. Quarter sheep and marbled boards; ruled and lined unnumbered pages. A vermillion-colored ticket affixed to the front pastedown identifies stationer T. A. Ronalds at 203 Pearl Street, New York City.