Barker, Mary Elizabeth Swain
Manuscript Diary of Mary Elizabeth (Swain) Barker, of Nunda, Livingston County, New York, wife of Orlando Barker, a farmer, 1860

12mo pocket diary, 111 manuscript pages, bound in original flexible leather backed wraps, entries dated January 1 to November 28, 1860, entries written in pencil, three days per page format, the entries are in a legible hand, despite some minor fading. Also included are two contemporary photographs, one a tintype studio portrait of a man and woman, “dressed up” for the occasion, and an albumen carte-de-visite of two young girls, these are presumably family members, although they are unidentified.

$ 125.00 | Contact Us >

Mary Elizabeth Swain Barker (1835-1903)

    While the diary is not signed, there is enough internal evidence to pinpoint the diarist’s name and where she lived. The diarist is Mary Elizabeth Swain, of Nunda, Livingston County, New York. She was born on 10 February 1835 and has a daughter by the name of Nellie who was born on 30 November 1859. Mary was married to a man by the name of Orlando W. Barker, whose family were pioneers of Nunda.

     Mary E. Barker is found in the 1900 Census as a widow and was born in February 1835, which matches what the diary tells us, that Mary’s birthday was on 10 February and that in 1860 she was 25 years old, which matches this 1900 Census record for Nunda, Livingston Co., New York. There are also plenty of mentions in the diary of her husband Orlando and her daughter Nellie.

      Mary died on 4 January 1903 in Nunda, New York. Her maiden name appears to have been Swain. Mary E. Swain was born 10 February 1835. She was the daughter of Alfred Swain and his wife Gertrude Pittinger. Mary was one of nine children born to Alfred Swain and his wife. Her siblings were: Harriet, Sophia, Susan, Cornelia, Jane, Samuel, W. Edward, and Fred F.

      Seth Barker, Mary’s father-in-law, was a pioneer of the town of Nunda, New York. He had three sons: Munson, Orlando (who married Mary E. Swain), and Justus.

     Munson Barker was born 29 October 1822 and is said to have been the first white child born in the town of Nunda. Munson died on 13 Sept 1922 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.  He was married in 1851 to Adaline Rawson (1828-1916). Munson is mentioned throughout the diary as Orlando often goes to work for him.

    Justus Barker, Orlando’s other brother, married Olive L. Bowen, daughter of Richard Bowen. A dozen farms in Nunda were owned by various members of the Barker family by the time Seth Barker (1801-1893) died.

     Orlando and Mary had two daughters: S. Inelle (Nellie) Barker who married Ray Durfee, and Ethel, who married Prof. C.T. Hood, M.D., of the Homoeopathic Hospital, Chicago, Illinois. Their daughter S. Inelle Barker was called “Nellie” and her birth date details match those of Nellie in the diary.

       Sample Quotes from the Diary:

      The diary entries are filled with entries about the everyday domestic life off a farmer’s wife and her nonstop workload: sewing, cooking, making butter, taking care of her young daughter, cleaning the house, washing, helping out with some aspects of farming, etc. She also has time to attend sermons of visiting preachers and ministers, go to meetings, attend sewing circles, visit friends and family, as well as attend the funerals of those who died and help with her sick relatives. Overall the diary offers an interesting look at the domestic life of a farmer’s wife in 1860 New York State.

“January 1, 1860

Cold, very cold. Expected Pa over for me but the cold was too severe. Father & mother were up & spent 3 or 4 hours – do not find as much time to read as I need too. I find myself standing still as it were, not progressing, finding time for nothing but house work, which needs to be done.”


“January 2, 1860

Very very cold indeed. Had my mornings work done up & was ready for washing when cousin Mary [Poon] & husband with her two children came. They were on their way home. Sofia was with them, going home with them to Mendon to say awhile.”


“January 3, 1860

Done my Washington the first since I was sick. Father came up for me to go down there as Adeline was up there but I could not leave my washing, is still very cold.”


“January 4, 1860

Is much warmer, very severed snow squalls, Pa came for us & I came up home with him. Have not been at home before since last June, we called at Uncle Samuel’s, saw Henry probably for the last time, he fails very fast, all make a great fuss over Nellie.”


“January 5, 1860

It has grown cold again very fast. Have not done much today but to take care of baby. Began to cut a dress for Ma, but baby took my attention so much I could not accomplish much, slept a part of the evening.”


“January 6, 1860

Helped Ma about [string] her carpet rags, yellow, orange, blue & green. The Minister Depew’s wife called, visited here today. A load of young folks came [also] from short track this eve, & staid until two o’clock., had a nap this eve before they came.”


“January 7, 1860

It is so much warmer, some rain. Read a part of the day, The Earl’s Daughter. Also knit…I am having a first-rate visit after waiting so long.”


“January 8, 1860

Finished reading the book, Orlando came for me & we reached home at four p.m., found things in very good order after having Orlando for housekeeper so long, as he is quite particular, a pleasant day sleighing is nearly gone.”


“January 9, 1860

I have been down to fathers to do my washing, mother took care of Nellie, it is quite warm, it seems really good after having had over four weeks of such severe cold weather. Made pies this evening.”


“January 10, 1860

Done my last week’s ironing regulated & cleaned the pantry some, worked our butter, &c., mother has done my ironing for this week, she is very kind doing something for us continually.”


“January 11, 1860

Rain nearly all night last but it is turned to snow today. Attended the sewing circle at Philip Grimes but few present on account of weather. They all make a great time over Nellie.”


“January 12, 1860

Cleaned floors &c., Mother & Lavinia spent an hour or two this afternoon with me. I mended some & partly make the hood to the baby’s cloak. Mended Orlando’s mittens this eve & he churned for me.”


“January 13, 1860

Worked over butter & mended some besides doing my normal house work. Some colder, do not find much time for sewing or reading now a days.”


“January 14, 1860

Finished the baby’s cloak hood and fixed my velvet hat a little, in order to attend the funeral of Henry Swain who breathed his last at twelve last night. [Perry] here awhile last eve.”