Benjamin Goddard's Diary

 Goddard House at 235 Goddard Ave in Brookline, MA. Courtesy Boston Public Library.  Download

Goddard House at 235 Goddard Ave in Brookline, MA. Courtesy Boston Public Library. Download

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society recently reprinted extracts from the 1812-54 diaries of our Brookline neighbor, Benjamin Goddard (1766-1861). He was one of the 15 children in the fourth generation of the family raised on the Goddard Farm, whose existence is commemorated by a plaque on the road that connects Jamaica Plain with West Roxbury and Newton. In keeping with the custom, when the older son was ready to take over the farm, in 1787 Benjamin’s parents retired to a house near the present Rt. 9. Benjamin had already started off on his own with an associate with a store in Boston and then with his brother Nathaniel, a shipping merchant.

With his share from just one voyage, Benjamin was able to build his own home near his father’s in 1811 just before the War of 1812. The war brought hard times to New England, as his diaries attest. He died in 1841 at the remarkable age of 95.

The house was later moved and still stands at 43 Summer St. The extracts show a gentlemen farmer and a pleasant person, whose eulogy sermon published the Sunday after his funeral mentioned his perseverance, loyalty, strong native sense, clear judgement, justice, and integrity and terms him a wise steward and benefactor with uniform cheerfulness and affection.

When his diaries were discovered after 1900 among family papers, they were first thought to be mere farm accounts. Fortunately, their true worth was discovered when they were presented to the Brookline Historical Society. Unfortunately, they have never been fully edited and published. It is not surprising that when J. G. Curtis published his town history in 1933 he chose the following from what had been published in the Society’s Proceedings in 1911.

In this harvest season Benjamin Goddard comes across the years vividly and merits more study for his picture of our area, which yet boasts of the only working farm in Boston of the many once here.

October 24, 1817: The autumn thus far has been remarkably favorable for the ingathering of the harvest. The ground (is) very dry and springs low. Most people are forward in their work. We finished digging potatoes and have now gathered nearly all the apples. Have barrelled 100 barrels; some more gathered but for want of barrels are in heaps. Have already made barrels of cider—mostly for vinegar. Gathered the garden vegetables excepting turnips, cabbages, parsnips, and celery. All these will yet improve. Have concluded to let the corn stand a while longer, the stalk not being sufficiently dry. The quality of the corn is extraordinarily fine and the quantity more abundant than usual. On the whole the harvest is great and good.

November 8, 1817: Took in cabbages, cauliflowers, cale and celery. These finish the harvesting for this season excepting three cheeses of cider to make. The corn all husked and housed. The potatoes in the cellar sold; apples in barrels and at least half sold and delivered. So we are nearly ready for winter. Soap and apple sauce made for season. Good luck attended both except the first kettle, which was drove with so much zeal as to get a little burned at the bottom. Like other misfortune it produced good, for the next was managed with caution and produced good.

December 12, 1817: Myself taking care of home; an employment very pleasant at this season as it required but little manual labor and is fraught with many delights. The barn, granary, and cellar are stored with the productions of the farm by the labor of man and beast. The most delightful part of the whole is dealing out daily portions as their necessities shall require and at the same time seeing them fatten upon the proceeds of their own.”

by W. H. Marx

This article appeared originally in the October 8, 1991 edition of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.

E. W. Baker, “Extracts from Benjamin Goddard’s Diary,” Brookline Historical Society Proceedings, 1911, 16-47
J. G. Curtis, History of the Town of Brookline, Boston, 1933, 117/8
N. F. Little, Some Old Brookline House, Brookline Historical Society, 1949