Abiathar Millard Harris: Itinerant Printer & Diarist

Rush Rhees Library, Univ. of Rochester River Campus

Rush Rhees Library, Univ. of Rochester River Campus

In the fall of 2014, while visiting family in Rochester, NY, I made a visit to the Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus of the University of Rochester to view a diary held in the library’s Rare Books department which was written by my 3rd great grand uncle, Abiather Millard Harris (1802-1844).

It was only by chance that I knew of the diary’s existence. I was researching the Harris family (my paternal great-grandmother’s line) and read that Abiathar was a printer by trade and I wanted to know more about him. I searched the web and in scrolling through the search results, the diary held at the Rush Rhees Library came up. How exciting! A near 200-year-old diary written in the hand of one of my ancestors! Pretty exciting stuff for a family researcher.

Diary of Abiathar Millard Harris, 1821-1827

Diary of Abiathar Millard Harris, 1821-1827

The diary was donated to the University of Rochester by George H. Harris (1843-1893), the nephew of Abiathar M. Harris. George H. Harris was an amateur anthropologist, historian and naturalist who wrote several volumes about the history of Rochester.

The diary is 64 pages and has been well preserved; the original binding having been carefully replaced by a leather and cloth one. Sadly, it appears that many pages have been torn out. The first entry is March 21, 1821. The final entry is November 3, 1827.

On July 21, 1940, a Rochester, NY, newspaper published an article by W. D. Manning about the Harris diary. Manning provides the following introduction:

Probably you have always assumed — without stopping to think about it — that things must have been pretty dull around here 119 years ago.

Well, they were NOT.

View of the Upper Falls circa 1820s

View of the Upper Falls circa 1820s

To prove it, here is a small part of a story of a Rochesterian who, in 1821, began to roam about this immediate countryside, and who was (among other things) nearly drowned and nearly arrested for counterfeiting before he returned home.

Things were none too brisk in the printing trade back in the spring of 1821 in the booming frontier of village of Rochester, at the falls of the Genesee. Or perhaps it was youth and the spring weather . . .

Out of a leather-bound, carefully-preserved diary, written in a painstaking hand, comes the day-by-day story of the adventures, mishaps, successes and disappointments in the years which followed Harris’ departure from Rochester in quest of employment. The diary has never been made public.

Subsequent posts on this blog will feature excerpts from the diary and map his travels, along with background information on the historical people, places and events he describes in his journeys.

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