1819–1850 Commonplace book includes annotations by her husband John Worth Edmonds, lawyer, jurist, reformer, and spiritualist
Commonplace book of Sarah Barker Edmonds (c.1798–1850) of Hudson, New York, given to her by her husband, Judge John Worth Edmonds (1799–1874) before their marriage. John Worth Edmonds, a native of Hudson, New York, was a noted lawyer, jurist, politician, newspaper editor, Indian commissioner, spiritualist, reformer, and author.
The volume contains handwritten poems copied from literary sources as well as some original content by Sarah, her husband John, and various family members. The entries mainly appear to date from 1819 to 1825; a few outlying entries date from the 1840s. Annotations in red ink made throughout the commonplace book were added by Judge Edmonds in 1850 after the death of his wife on November 12 of that year at the age of 52.
Judge Edmonds’ inscriptions transform Sarah’s favorite, gathered and preserved poems into a memorial of her personality and character. Judge Edmonds writes on the front endpaper:
I gave this book to my dear S. before we were married. I had written some in it, & she has since filled it & preserved it with care. How perfectly it preserves her character! I have to day, for the first time since her death, looked into it & preserved the fugitive papers I found she had taken care of, & I have made in red ink remarks as to each. JWE Decr. 22, 1850 She died November 12, 1850
A silhouette laid into the volume, almost certainly depicting the likeness of Sarah Barker Edmonds, also “preserves her character.” An inscription on the back of the paper silhouette alludes to the birth of the Edmonds’ daughter Lydia [Lydia Worth Edmonds Leake (1821–1878)]: “Taken when Lid was a Baby in Philadelphia.” The silhouette is blindstamped “Peale’s Museum,” a reference to artist Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia museum of natural history and other curiosities. The silhouette appears to retain its original, loose black silk backing.
The commonplace book contains a few original poems by Sarah and John Edmonds; they are signed “J.W.E.” and “S.E.” Above one poignant poem by Judge Edmonds, “I saw an infant health & joy & light…,” is the newspaper death notice of the Edmonds’ son Samuel. Immediately following after this is Sarah’s own lament, “‘Let me go for the day breakest’…, ” itself, in turn, followed by another newspaper death notice for baby Samuel. Sadly, just three pages later is the death notice for another of the Edmonds’ children, 2-year-old Sarah Cornelis Edmonds, followed by Judge Edmonds poem “The Children’s Grief” and an unsigned poem, “To our Little Sarah!”
Other poetical selections were inscribed by relatives and friends or copied out from the works of such poets as Thomas Campbell, the “Boston Bard” (Robert Stevenson Coffin), Mrs. Hemans, Thomas Moore, Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron.
Poems clipped from newspapers are also tipped into the album as are other notices of family deaths and newspaper accounts of the judge’s various appointments and honors. One clipping describes the erection of a memorial shaft for Sarah B. Edmonds and another reports the death of the judge’s brother, Samuel H. Edmonds. Also laid in is an Autograph Note Signed by “Sally B.” to “J.W. Edmonds.” It is dated May 26, 1820, just a few months before their marriage on August 7.
John Worth Edmonds graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1816 and subsequently read for the law before entering the office of Martin Van Buren where he completed his studies. After his admission to the bar in 1819 he practiced in Hudson and married Sarah Barker. He entered state politics and, in 1836 was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as commissioner to carry out the provisions of a U.S. treaty with the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes of Native Americans. Interestingly, Edmonds’ poem “Indian girl’s song,” is copied out in Sarah’s commonplace book. The poem may have been composed during this 1836–1837 commission; a note at its conclusion reads: “Oct 1st letter from J.W. Edmonds to Lydia.”
Edmonds was appointed judge of the first New York circuit and in 1847 was elected a justice of the state supreme court. In 1852 he became a judge of the New York court of appeals, but resigned from the bench in 1853. He compiled the five-volume Statutes at Large of the State of New York (1863) and Reports of Select Cases Decided in the Courts of New York(1868) and was a frequent contributor to the Albany Law Journal. In the 1840s, Edmonds became involved with prison reform efforts at Sing Sing prison and in the 1850s became a founder of the House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents. Edmonds was a spiritualist and in 1853–1855 published the two-volume work Spiritualism.
An interesting and deeply-personal “dialogue” with the inner thoughts of a 19th-century American woman and the “conversation” then had between her inner thoughts, and those of her grieving husband, upon her passing.
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