David Houston diary  1854-1858 (bulk 1854)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This diary (4.5"x7.5") consists of 57 pages of entries and notes composed by Scotland native David Houston, who emigrated to the United States with his wife and children in the summer of 1854. The first 41 pages (May 29, 1854-July 7, 1854) recount the Houstons' journey from Glasgow to New York onboard the President Fillmore . Later groups of entries report some of the family's expenses after arriving in North America (3 pages, May 24, 1855-September 28, 1855) and contain copied documents regarding Houston's religious affiliation, additional religious notes, and other brief entries about the family's lives in Philadelphia and New York City (13 pages, July 1854-January 4, 1858).

David Houston began his diary on May 29, 1854, after loading his family's trunks in a stateroom onboard the President Fillmore , an 870-ton sailing ship bound for the United States from Glasgow, Scotland. His wife, Margaret, and their three sons William, David, and Robert joined him soon thereafter, and the ship set sail on June 1. Houston described life onboard the ship in daily entries composed regularly until his arrival in New York on July 7, 1854 (pp. 1-41). He covered topics such as the distribution of sugar, tea, flour, oatmeal, beef, and other foodstuffs to passengers; his frequent attendance at, and leadership of, passenger-organized religious services; the ship's progress; and the weather, including a series of rough storms. Houston's diary also recounts the passengers' efforts to commend their captain, Peter Nelson, for his conduct during the voyage; after hearing several proposals, they wrote and orally presented a brief tribute, which Houston copied (pp. 34 verso-35 verso). Of note are entries describing the ship running aground (May 29, 1854, pp. 3-4), the effect of storms on the ship's sails and crew (June 8, 1854-June 12, 1854, pp. 12-15), a bird flying onto the boat (June 21, 1854-June 22, 1854, pp. 20-21), and the near death of an infant due to an accident (June 30, 1854, pp. 31-32). He also reported that he inserted a message in a bottle and dropped it in the ocean (June 24, 1854, p. 21 verso).

Though he stopped writing regularly upon his arrival in North America, Houston continued to record sporadic diary entries until January 4, 1858. These notes reflect several aspects of his life in Philadelphia and New York, such as the cost of rent, his regular correspondence with his father, who remained in Scotland, and his strong religious beliefs. On two occasions, he copied documents certifying his membership in the Presbyterian Church, and in one entry, dated June 3, 1856, he recalled his wife's delivery of a stillborn child.

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