Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James A. Marshall Diary, 1853

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, April 2010

Summary Information
Title: James A. Marshall diary
Creator: Marshall, James Ayrault, 1833-1853
Inclusive dates: 1853
Extent: 1 volume
Diary by a 20-year-old teacher from New York, containing observations made during an 1853 stay in Mississippi, including thoughts on slavery, African American churches, Southern culture, and the outbreak of a yellow fever epidemic from which he died. The volume also contains a eulogy in a different hand for Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

2005. M-4469.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

James A. Marshall Diary, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


James Ayrault Marshall was born in 1833 and baptized in Colebrook, Connecticut, on May 1, 1835. He was the son of Raphael and Mary Ann (Ayrault) Marshall. His mother died March 31, 1833, possibly in childbirth. Marshall taught school in Athens, New York, before embarking on a trip around Mississippi in 1853, during which he gave sporadic temperance lectures and considered taking work as a teacher of bookkeeping. During an epidemic of yellow fever, Marshall died of the disease on September 5, 1853, near Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • African Americans--Mississippi.
    • African Americans--Religion.
    • African Methodist Episcopal Church.
    • Athens (N.Y.)
    • Auctions--Mississippi.
    • Butler, Zebulon, 1803-1860.
    • Church attendance.
    • Education--History--19th century.
    • Lyon, Mary, 1797-1849.
    • Memphis (Tenn.)
    • Mississippi—Description and travel.
    • Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
    • Music--United States--19th century.
    • Natchez (Miss.)
    • New Orleans (La.)
    • Slave-trade--Mississippi.
    • Slavery--United States.
    • Temperance.
    • Vicksburg (Miss.)
    • Voyages and travels.
    • Yellow fever.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    James A. Marshall diary,  1853 [series]