Joshua Hampstead throughout his long life in colonial New England pursued many business activities, some of which carried perils almost unimaginable today. He was a surveyor, carpenter, gravestone carver, lawyer, local official and — always — a farmer. At the age of 46 he decided to travel from his home in New London, Conn., to Stonington, Conn., to deliver gravestones and pick up some cider. Today the trip is a 20-minute drive. In 1724, it took quite a bit longer.
Joshua Hempstead was born Sept. 1, 1678 in New London. Around 1698 he married Abigail Bailey of Long Island. They had nine children. Abigail died a few days after giving birth to their last child, and five days later their oldest son died at age 17. Joshua Hempstead never remarried, but reared the children with the help of relatives and women hired to help with the housework.
Later in life, he lived in the house with Adam Jackson, a slave, some of Jackson’s children and two grandsons. He built an addition for his son Nathaniel and his family. His descendants lived in that house until 1937.
Hempstead maintained a diary for 47 years to keep track of his many business and civic activities. He noted the weather, baptisms, engagements, deaths, military trainings, court sessions, ship traffic, town meetings, thanksgivings, fasts, feasts and his travels. The Connecticut Historical Society views his diary as an important source about colonial life in Connecticut.
On Nov. 12, 1724, Joshua Hempstead set out for Stonington with his son Stephen. He reported in his diary, as usual, on the weather. It started out fair, but didn’t stay that way.
I Set out for Stonington in Jos Coits Longboat with Stephen in order to fetch Cyder. I carried 10 pr gravestones. 7 for Wm Wheeler, 1 for Ebe Wms & 2 pr Not Sold. ye Wind was high about W S W & a great Sea that I dare not venture Round Long point. I put in for Mumford’s. But got on the flatts was forced to put most of the Stones overboard & yt got a Shore. Lay out al night under a Hay Stack.
The weather improved the next day, and Hempstead and his son visited the famously hospitable George Mumford. Wrote Hempstead:
In ye Morn wee went up to Mumfords on Mr Winthrops farm Stayed for the Tide to Rise got ye Stones in about 2 Clock & got up with them about 6. I Lodged at Mr Wms & Stephen at Bennats with John.
The next day he helped press cider, finishing at 11 and staying at Samuel Williams’ house. On Sunday, Nov. 15, the weather was again fair and he returned home. On foot.