Business and Labor

Joshua Hempstead of New London Keeps A Diary … And Keeps It … And Keeps It

New London, Conn., resident Joshua Hempstead made an entry in his diary on April 9, 1715, as he did nearly every day for 47 years. Born Sept. 1, 1678, he was a man of affairs who pursued several professions: surveyor, carpenter, gravestone carver, lawyer, local official and — always — a farmer.  His diary is an important source of information about colonial life, according to the Connecticut Historical Society. He maintained it to keep track of his many business activities, but he also took note of the weather, baptisms, engagements, deaths, military trainings, court sessions, ship traffic, town meetings, thanksgivings, fasts, feasts and his travels.

Joshua Hempstead's house

Joshua Hempstead’s house

Joshua Hempstead lived all his life at 11 Hempstead Street, in a house his father built the year he was born. His father, Joshua, was a wheelwright; his mother was named Elizabeth Larrabee. Around 1698 he married Abigail Bailey of Long Island. They had nine children. Abigail died a few days after the birth of 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.

For many years he worked as a business agent for the Winthrops, a family that owned vast tracts of land. (They were descended from the John WinthropJohn Winthrop the Younger was his son and a governor of Connecticut; he died two years before Hempstead was born.) Hempstead also traveled widely: to Hartford, New Haven, Boston, New York City, and the eastern end of Long Island. He even traveled to New Jersey in 1749 on business for the Winthrops and visited a sister in Maryland.

On April 9, 1715, Joshua Hempstead was a prosperous 36-year-old New London farmer with a wife and eight children. What did he write about that day?

Saturd 9th. I was at home pt of ye day & in aftern in Town. Jno Cheapells Daughter Christian a young woman Died Last night. Buried today.  She had ye measles & died Suddenly. Storm.

His house is still standing. It is New London’s oldest surviving house, having been occupied by his descendants until 1937. Today, along with the adjacent house next door of his nephew, Nathaniel Hempstead, the Hempsted Houses are a Connecticut Landmarks site open to the public.

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