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Mary Elizabeth Pearson Boyce diary

Manuscript volume, 1854-1855, of Mary Elizabeth Pearson Boyce (1820-1908) contains a record of fourteen months in the life of a prominent Fairfield County woman. The daughter of Dr. George Butler and Elizabeth Alston Pearson, Mary was married to attorney William Waters Boyce, who served South Carolina as state legislator and U.S. Congressman. The Boyces and their children lived until after the Civil War with Mrs. Boyce's parents in their plantation home known as Fonti Flora.

Mrs. Boyce's concise diary entries record daily events in her life. Many identify visitors to Fonti Flora; others record illnesses in the family and neighborhood, weather conditions, births and deaths, sewing completed, church services attended, and family travels—at first by carriage but later by rail. Still a young woman at the time the diary was written, Mrs. Boyce made the following notation on 24 October 1855: "This is Mr. Boyce's & my birthday, he is 37 & I 35 years of age." Only a week earlier, they had celebrated their seventeenth wedding anniversary. The diary evidences the high standard of living enjoyed by members of the Fonti Flora household, with references to ornamental trees and game fowl purchased from nurseryman William Summer and frequent calls by Mr. Hiller, a gardener employed to maintain the formal gardens.

Mrs. Boyce anxiously followed her husband's political career. Eager to share in his successes, she was quick to defend him against his detractors. Writing on 28 November 1854, she reacted to criticism leveled at her husband: "I saw in the Charleston Standard a pretty severe peice against one of Mr. B's speeches. I do not like it. If I could I would reply to it." She appears to have been an educated and voracious reader. Her reading list during the course of the diary included, among others, Ann S. Stephens' Fashion and Famine, Ballou's History of Cuba, Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, James O. Andrews' Family Government, Alphonse de Lamartine's History of the Girondists, and Henkle's Life of Henry Bidleman Bascom. Other entries picture Mrs. Boyce as an intensely religious woman and a mother who feared that the idleness of her children's plantation life was not good for them and wished instead that they were enrolled in school. She was an accomplished seamstress too and spent much time manufacturing clothing for herself, her children, and the family's servants.

Throughout the diary Mrs. Boyce also chronicles activities in the slave quarters, noting sicknesses, births, deaths, and celebrations. Her 21 July 1855 entry relates one such event: "Old Maum Diannah's [fu]neral sermon was preached today in the yard by two black preachers. They did remarkably well, a large congregation of coloured people attended & behaved exceedingly well." The young plantation mistress appears to have enjoyed close relations with the slave community, as evidenced in part by her attention to them at times of need and also by her assistance in attempts to save slave woman Addy's house from burning to the ground, 5 March 1855. Though the diary provides little in the way of personal reflection, it furnishes a revealing glimpse into the life of a well-to-do plantation woman in antebellum upstate South Carolina.

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