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Collection Number: 04670-z

Collection Title: Roswell Elmer Diary, 1829-1830

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Abstract Roswell Elmer was the editor of the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser, a weekly newspaper published in Rutherfordton, N.C., 1830-1835 or 1836. He moved to Rutherforton from Virginia in 1829. Manuscript diary, 178 p., kept by Elmer, 29 August 1829-7 February 1830, with almost daily entries varying in length from a few sentences to several pages. The diary begins on 29 August 1829 when Elmer left Charlottesville, Va., for Salisbury, N.C., where he hoped to earn a living gold mining. Diary entries document his frustrated mining efforts in the Morganton-Lincolnton-Rutherfordton area, near Salisbury, and his successful work recruiting subscribers to support a newspaper and printing office in Rutherfordton, which began operation 1 February 1830. Most early diary entries contain extensive descriptions of the lands he passed through and conversations he had with fellow travellers on the journey from Charlottesville. Entries written after his journey ended document his integration into town life. These include descriptions of hunting trips; excursions, often in the company of young ladies, to waterfalls and other scenic places; parties he attended; and activities in various towns where traveling courts were in session. He also described his service with the local militia, which seems to have consisted chiefly of his forgetting to attend drills. He also wrote of specific occurrences, including his meeting, on 25 November 1829, a group of slaves en route to Alabama where they were to be sold; on 27 November, the general disappointment in Rutherfordton when a slave, convicted of an unnamed crime, was ordered out of the area rather than hanged; and, on 9 December, a case of spouse abuse in which both husband and wife were alcoholics.
Creator Elmer, Roswell, b. 1808.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Roswell Elmer Diary #4670-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Purchased from Lowell S. Newman & Co., Auctioneers, Inc., of Weehawken, N.J., in June 1993 (Acc. 93101).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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Roswell Elmer was the editor of the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser, a weekly newspaper published in Rutherfordton, N.C., first on Fridays and later on Saturdays. It began publication in 1830, shortly after Elmer set up his press, and seems to have ceased in 1835 or 1836. Late in its run, the Spectator adopted the motto: "Cherish every measure which may foster our brotherly Union, and perpetuate a Constitution of Government destined to be the primitive and precious model of what is to change the condition of man over the globe" (Jefferson).

In a February 1835 issue, the following notice appeared. Among the signatories were men who were involved in underwriting the purchase of the press and the first order of printing supplies.

"To Printers: The publication of the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser and the printing business connected with it for some time under Editorial management of Mr. Roswell Elmer, Jr., being about to be relinquished by him, for some other pursuit, it becomes necessary to engage the service of another competent individual, to take charge of the concern. ... [The Spectator has now a quite respectable list of subscribers, and an extensive and profitable circle of job work. ... It may not be amiss to say that the political course and principles hitherto supported by the Spectator have been those of the "Jeffersonian school" and it is believed a majority of this community entertaining the same principles, would be more likely to patronize a continuance than a departure from them. G. Walton; Edm. Bryan; T. F. Birchett; Thos. Dews Jr.; J. M. D. Carson"

It is not known what "other pursuit" called Elmer or if he actually left the Rutherfordton area to pursue it. It may be that the search for a new editor was unsuccessful, since there is no evidence that the Spectator was published after 1835 or 1836.

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Manuscript diary, 178 p., kept by Elmer, 29 August 1829-7 February 1830, with almost daily entries varying in length from a few sentences to several pages. The diary begins on 29 August 1829 when Elmer left Charlottesville, Va., for Salisbury, N.C., where he hoped to earn a living gold mining. Diary entries document his frustrated mining efforts in the Morganton-Lincolnton-Rutherfordton area, near Salisbury, and his successful work recruiting subscribers to support a newspaper and printing office in Rutherfordton, which began operation 1 February 1830. Most early diary entries contain extensive descriptions of the lands he passed through and conversations he had with fellow travellers on the journey from Charlottesville. Entries written after his journey ended document his integration into town life. These include descriptions of hunting trips; excursions, often in the company of young ladies, to waterfalls and other scenic places; parties he attended; and activities in various towns where traveling courts were in session. He also described his service with the local militia, which seems to have consisted chiefly of his forgetting to attend drills. He also wrote of specific occurrences, including his meeting, on 25 November 1829, a group of slaves en route to Alabama where they were to be sold; on 27 November, the general disappointment in Rutherfordton when a slave, convicted of an unnamed crime, was ordered out of the area rather than hanged; and, on 9 December, a case of spouse abuse in which both husband and wife were alcoholics.

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Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Roswell Elmer Diary, 1829-1830.

Folder 1

Diary, 29 August 1829-7 February 1830 #04670-z, Series: "Roswell Elmer Diary, 1829-1830." Folder 1

Manuscript diary, 178 pps., kept by Roswell Elmer (b. 1808), 29 August 1829-7 February 1830. The almost daily entries vary in length from a few sentences to several pages. A few entries contain remarks written in a simple alphabet code; transliterations for most of the coded comments are included. It is possible that Elmer rewrote entries. Except for the last gathering of pages, the diary has a neat appearance and the writing is uniform and controlled within entries. It gives the impression of having been rewritten, perhaps daily, probably by Elmer himself, who may have been interested in preserving a clean copy of the record of his activities and thoughts. The diary is titled "A Journal of My Travels to N. Carolina in 1829," and entries until mid-September reflect the thoughts of a mind in transit. Elmer began his journey on 29 August 1829, a stormy day in Charlottesville, Va., with Salisbury, N.C., as his destination. On that day, he wrote, "I must aspire to something higher than a journeyman printer." His aspirations centered largely on gold mining, which he began investigating as soon as he reached the Morganton-Lincolnton-Rutherfordton area, not far from Salisbury. By 13 September, however, he was discouraged in his efforts because of difficulties, real or anticipated, with leasing land and equipment and his doubts about his own ability to manage the gangs of labor required for mining ventures to succeed. On 19 September, Elmer wrote that he was "...a poor luckless elf in pursuit of a phantom, vis, wealth or independence, by honest and honorable means!" At this time, he was in Rutherfordton where he became friendly with a Judge Forman, who seems to have been instrumental in persuading Elmer to return to his old profession. Starting with a small "committee" of investors, Elmer combed the region to recruit subscribers willing to support a local newspaper. By the end of November, Elmer had enough funds to order a press and supplies. On 15 November, he wrote of looking for suitable rooms to house the press, and, on 13 January 1830, of contracting for benches and tables to furnish the pressroom. The entry of 20 January documents his search for apprentices, and the entry of 26 January notes the long-awaited arrival of the press. On 1 February, Elmer wrote that he had "done the first printing in Rutherfordton." The diary ends on 7 February with a few short entries. Besides documenting the establishment of Rutherfordton's first press, Elmer's diary contains many detailed descriptions and observations. In most of the early entries, Elmer wrote extensive descriptions of the lands he passed through and their prominent inhabitants. He also described conversations he had with people he met along the way and things he learned about the world. On 3 September 1829, he wrote what he had heard about Moravians: "They allow no intercourse between the males and females ... much to the dissatisfaction of the young ladies." On the journey, he also tried to assess his own abilities and wrote of self-doubts, frequently mulling over whether he was too trusting of other people or not trusting enough. Entries written after his arrival in the Morganton-Lincolnton-Rutherfordton area show that he continued the painful process of evaluating his worth, often punctuating his prose with "Alas, poor Yorick" or complaining of having a case of the "blue devils." Although he wrote of feeling like a stranger in Rutherfordton, many entries document his integration into town life. These include descriptions of hunting trips; excursions, often in the company of young ladies, to waterfalls and other scenic places; parties he attended; and activities in various towns where traveling courts were in session. He also described his service with the local militia, which seems to have consisted chiefly of his forgetting to attend drills. He also wrote of specific occurrences, including his meeting, on 25 November 1829, a group of slaves en route to Alabama where they were to be sold; on 27 November, the general disappointment in Rutherfordton when a slave, convicted of an unnamed crime, was ordered out of the area rather than hanged; and, on 9 December, a case of spouse abuse in which both husband and wife were drunkards.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Roslyn Holdzkom, July 1993

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, January 2010

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