by Scott Farb
Editor’s note: The last week of each month, Museum of the Waxhaws director Scott Farb will highlight one moment in the county’s history.
Recently, my friend Mark Hernig, proprietor of the Kick n’ Stitch Broom Shop in Waxhaw, gave me a copy of a fascinating document. The Diary of John Osborne is a record of daily life in the Waxhaws from 1800 to 1803. Osborne was a young man who recorded many daily events, some of them quite mundane and others quite amazing. Yet there are four things young John seems to engage in on a regular basis: distilling whiskey for his uncle, traveling to Lancaster and Charleston to buy stills and distilling equipment, visiting with many young women, and listening to sermons. This was quite an adventurous life for a young man on the outskirts of Charlotte, and one where his activities are probably not what would normally come to mind when we think of the post-Revolutionary South.
For instance, on Jan. 18, 1800, he describes his day in this manner: “Last night vast high wind, this day cool – I doubled a run for myself, made 11-1/2 gallons – a number of people was drinking whiskey – Late in the evening I went up to Hugh Rodgers for past time, not with any other intent.” Rodgers apparently had a daughter John Osborne was fond of, so he wants to be clear by saying here he did not go up to visit with the daughter, but rather the whole family.)
On Feb. 2, he records that he visited Andrew McCain, then went to visit Andrew’s relative Jonathan and “had a whiles discoursing of Elizabeth his daughter – from that to Wm. Gault’s – I made but a short stay – till I went to Wm. McCain’s, that was the place that I went for to lodge at that night when I left home & I staid all night. Ah, and how kindly I was entertained (Golly Moses).”
He writes well enough that the modern historian can get a clear picture of his daily life, even though his writing lacks punctuation, which is common of documents of the period, and the spelling of names is inconsistent.
His travels took him not only to visit local friends and relations but also to Lancaster and Charleston, where he would engage in a bit of a shopping spree for folks back home. He describes how he bought calico and linen for the girls back in the Waxhaws and other items as well. His notation of the pricing gives us an idea of the economy in the region at a time when the young nation was struggling financially.
In the coming weeks I will be going through more of the details in the diary and hope to share not only his record with you, but the records of others he mentions.
Putting records together, we may build a more complete history of the Waxhaws, a bustling center of commerce in Jeffersonian America.