The 79-page James A. Marshall diary covers July 5-August 27, 1853, during which time Marshall traveled around Mississippi before falling ill with yellow fever and dying on September 5. An unknown person removed 54 pages of writing preceding the July 5 entry. Marshall’s diary contains lengthy and opinionated daily entries, many of which probe Southern society, which, as a New Yorker, he found quite foreign. In one entry, Marshall criticized Southern women: “indulgence certainly is a distinguishing characteristic of the southern lady. Physical exercise they all are averse to and if they even drop their handkerchief upon the floor at their feet, if no servant or gallant is near to pick it up…it must lie there until one comes to restore it” (p. 73). In another entry, Marshall expressed surprise that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was available in Mississippi, writing, “it seems the people here are not ‘afraid’ of reading such books, or having them circulated” (p. 75).
Marshall had an interest in African Americans, and on several occasions, visited a “Colored People’s Church, Methodist I inferred,” but criticized the service for its loudness, comparing it to a “meeting of the shaking Quakers” (p. 85). On July 23, he gave details of a slave auction that he attended: “One girl was sold for eight hundred and eighty dollars, only 16 years old and quite good looking. The man who bought her made no scruple of telling his object in buying her” (p. 98). Despite his special interest in African Americans, his opinions were paternalistic, and he expressed support for slavery, even speculating about owning a plantation himself: “It really would be very interesting it seems to me to have, as all the large planters have, a family of several hundred at ones control: not because of the power allowed, but to feel the satisfaction of being a tender Master to them, and to feel that all their interest were united and to enjoy the pleasure of giving them pleasure” (p. 117).
At the end of the diary, Marshall mentioned the yellow fever epidemic that would kill him within weeks, writing, “I shall not stop at Natchez on account of the Quarantine which has been established both at N. and Vicksburg on account of the prevalence of yellow fever… I am convinced that there is little if any danger to any one who uses due caution in diet” (103).
The volume also contains a 7-page eulogy on Mary Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke College, seemingly written by someone who knew her personally. The essay describes Lyon’s personality, manner of dress, and recounts things she said to her students. Also laid into the volume is a religious meditation.