This collection holds four of Sumner Burnham's diaries from 1853 through 1868. The diaries consist of brief daily entries with some sizable gaps between volumes. Before the war (volumes 1, 2, and part of 3), the majority of entries describe daily life around Portland, concentrating on the personal, rather than the public or political, spheres: he included news of friends and family, deaths and illnesses in the community, happenings in the local Baptist church, and local events. Burnham often interjected religious passages (references to or about scripture) into his diaries. Occasionally he discussed local crimes that had recently taken place. In a few entries, Burnham mentioned speaking with prisoners and being called to talk with the sheriff.
While in Boston in late May and early June 1854, Burnham witnessed a trial deciding the fate of a runaway slave, caught and tried under the Fugitive Slave Law. His entries for this period are somewhat longer than average and record the reaction of the anti-slavery "mob" to the trial. Burnham himself was deeply sympathetic to the anti-slavery movement.
Beginning with the election of 1860, and particularly after the outbreak of war (p. 137 in volume 3), Burnham began to include political commentary in his daily entries. He recorded the occurrence of major battles and major political events of the Civil War.
In the fourth volume, he continued to report news on the war and described his job as customs inspector and general detective in Portland. The longest entry in the diary -- more than 2 pages -- is an entry on Lincoln's assassination (page 39). Entries after the war are very similar to those written before the war.
Thirty five pages have been ripped from the back of the first volume and the first two pages are missing from the third volume.