In the details accumulated in his brief entries, Albert H. Shaw paints a picture of hard work and rural life in Upstate New York in the period 1835-1838, beginning when he is nineteen years old. Shaw records the weather, lists income and expenses for various goods, and writes of the unending work of running a family farm. Crops on the Shaw farm include apples, wheat, rye, flax, beets, potatoes, peas, carrots, oats, corn, and beans. The Shaws also raise sheep, cattle, and pigs, and mill and sell timber from their land. Among other tasks, Albert’s days are filled with sowing, harvesting, swingling flax, and sawing lumber. Bartering for goods is common, and Albert brings in extra income repairing clocks for neighbors.
Despite his arduous work days, Albert manages to maintain a social life consisting of local visits, attendance at prayer meetings twice on Sundays, an occasional game of chess or checkers, and impromptu musical gatherings. He and his friends build and launch a boat, take long walks, go “whortleberrying,” and Albert takes a five-day sightseeing trip to Fort Covington, New York. He mentions reading several books -- popular romances as well as Robinson Crusoe -- and subscribes to the Weekly Messenger, a Philadelphia newspaper.
Politics and economics rarely intrude, although Albert does remark on the hardships caused by the Panic of 1837. On May 8, 1838, he writes (in his single-breath, unpunctuated style), “…stay around home all day give up going to Rochester tomorrow hard hard times can’t get money terrible times all over the world banks closing no money to be had.” He is also briefly drawn into events in Canada during the winter of 1838, when the French farming community rebels against pro-business British rule. In February 1838, Albert travels to Champlain, New York, with the local militia to provide support for the rebels, but returns home after several days of parade and examination. In June 1838, another movement is made to send troops to the Canadian border, but Albert obtains a doctor’s certificate attesting to lameness in his arm and general illness, and is exempted from service.
In an 11-page section in the middle of the journal, entitled “Of Events, etc.,” Albert records and briefly comments on births, marriages, illnesses, accidents and deaths in the community. In the formulaic sentimentality of the times, he describes the death of his Aunt Huldah Beckwith: "...death entered her vitals cut asunder her heart strings in a moment she has gone to seek a resting place far from trouble, pain or sickness where she will no more be racked with pain, no more sorrowing or sighing but where she will enjoy peace and happiness that knows no end...". (p.3)
On the last written page of the journal, there is brief entry written by E. E. Shaw, noting the death of David D. Brown in a Civil War battle in Fairmont, Virginia, on May 29, 1863.