Ebenezer Parkman’s World

    Ebenezer Parkman’s World


    Colonial New Englanders have long been recognized as among the most carefully studied people in the history of the world. The scholarly and popular attention to the region is due in no small measure to the staggering array of primary sources that survive from the colonial era. While a complete list of the kinds of records that survive would be exhaustive, historians have especially benefited from documents that record the proceedings of local government, including tax and valuation lists; wills and other probate documents; deeds; births, marriages, and deaths; church records; sermons, both printed and manuscript; diaries; and correspondence. These manuscript sources, which produced a wealth of community studies in the 1960s and 1970s, continue to produce new research and scholarly debate.

    One town stands out as perhaps the most extensively documented community in eighteenth-century New England: Westborough, Massachusetts. What distinguishes Westborough are the writings of Ebenezer Parkman (1703–1782), Westborough’s first minister, who left behind an astonishing collection of documents. Foremost is his 4,000-page diary, a document unrivaled in eighteenth-century New England for its breadth and depth. As historian Clifford K. Shipton observes, the diary provides “a record of the social history of Massachusetts provincial life nowhere equaled for length, for completeness, or for sustained interest.” Indeed, writes Shipton, “I have read all of the available diaries, which number in the hundreds, and have come to the conclusion that by far the most interesting and important is the journal which Ebenezer Parkman kept for sixty-two years.”1

    Parkman produced a huge number of documents beyond his diary: an extraordinary set of church records; ministerial association records; hundreds of sermons; records of ecclesiastical councils; correspondence; and many miscellaneous documents concerning a remarkable range of topics. An abundance of other documents survives, including Westborough’s town records, tax lists, and Worcester County’s probate records and deeds. Few of Westborough’s records have been previously published. These documents, considered both in their totality and in conjunction with colonial New England’s most extensive diary, will help historians uncover new layers of understanding about New England life and culture.


    Editorial Policies

    In transcribing Parkman’s diary, the Westborough church records, and the relations of faith and confessions of sin, the overarching goals have been to make the documents readable and searchable. With these goals in mind, transcriptions have followed the so-called “expanded method.” For example, abbreviations have been expanded unless commonly used today (e.g., Chh becomes Church); superscript letters have been brought down to the line and the words expanded (e.g., wth becomes with, Sacramt becomes Sacrament); additions that appear in the margins or at the bottom of a page have been silently inserted where Parkman placed a caret (^); crossed-out words are omitted unless the words suggest something of the writers’ intentions (surely a subjective judgment); punctuation, particularly commas and semicolons, has been added—or omitted—to make reading the document easier. Spelling is unchanged, and, in a few instances, [sic] is inserted to reassure the reader that what appears in the transcription is what was written in the original document. Parkman liberally used dashes (—); for the most part, this transcription changes the dashes to periods or other punctuation, leaving some dashes where the context seems to warrant their use (again, a subjective judgment). Ampersands are changed to “and” (with &c. changed to etc.). The thorn y has been rendered as “th” (e.g., ye, yt, ys become the, that, and this).

    A few editorial decisions may seem arbitrary, but one hopes that such decisions are consistently used. Dates are uniform, with the months spelled out: for example, September 3, 1762 rather than Sept 3. 1762. Parkman used several versions of “baptized”: baptized, baptiz’d, baptizd, bapt., and bapd; in this transcription, bapt. and bapd become baptized. Parkman also used various spellings for Westborough and other “borough” towns; the names are fully spelled out.

    There are some minor variations in the use of the expanded method, reflecting, for example, the differences between those portions of the diary that were transcribed by Francis Walett and those transcribed by Ross Beales. Minor differences aside, one hopes that these transcriptions will be clear, readable, and searchable.

    About the Project

    Ebenezer Parkman’s World is a unique collaborative effort on the part of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Westborough Public Library. It seeks, over time, to make available to scholars and the general public all of Westborough’s enormous body of primary source material. The Project is heavily based on the work of Professor Ross W. Beales, Jr., who has devoted much of his academic career to studying Parkman, writing about him, and transcribing his manuscripts. Currently, this project makes available a complete transcription of Ebenezer Parkman’s diary, formally published in its entirety for the first time, in addition to Westborough’s eighteenth-century church records, and a growing collection of invaluable relations of faith and disciplinary confessions. New documents will be added in the future.

    Ebenezer Parkman’s World is jointly directed by Dr. Ross W. Beales, Jr. (Professor Emeritus, College of the Holy Cross), Dr. James F. Cooper, Jr. (Regents Distinguished Research Professor, Emeritus, Oklahoma State University), and Dr. Anthony T. Vaver (Local History Librarian, The Westborough Center for History and Culture, Westborough Public Library).

    1 Clifford K. Shipton, “Foreword,” in Francis G. Walett, ed., The Diary of Ebenezer Parkman, 1703–1782: First Part, Three Volumes in One, 1719–1755 (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1974), [vii].