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A New England Prison Diary

Slander, Religion, and Markets in Early America

Martin J. Hershock

Publication Year: 2012

In 1812, New Hampshire shopkeeper Timothy M. Joy abandoned his young family, fleeing the creditors who threatened to imprison him. Within days, he found himself in a Massachusetts jailhouse, charged with defamation of a prominent politician. During the months of his incarceration, Joy kept a remarkable journal that recounts his personal, anguished path toward spiritual redemption. Martin J. Hershock situates Joy's account in the context of the pugnacious politics of the early republic, giving context to a common citizen's perspective on partisanship and the fate of an unfortunate shopkeeper swept along in the transition to market capitalism. In addition to this close-up view of an ordinary person's experience of a transformative period, Hershock reflects on his own work as a historian. In the final chapter, he discusses the value of diaries as historical sources, the choices he made in telling Joy's story, alternative interpretations of the diary, and other contexts in which he might have placed Joy's experiences. The appendix reproduces Joy's original journal so that readers can develop their own skills using a primary source.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

The amount of time that has passed between the moment that I ‹rst conceived of this project and its culmination ensures that I have a great many people to thank for helping me at various stages along the way. Most obviously, I am grateful to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan for permission to reprint Timothy Joy’s prison...

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pp. 1-9

In late March of 1812, an obscure, indebted, twenty-two-year-old trader by the name of Timothy Meader Joy found himself suddenly and unexpectedly, if only momentarily, thrust into the national limelight. Hard pressed by his creditors and thrown into a heightened state...

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Chapter 1. “A Stranger of Good Address and Personal Appearance”

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pp. 11-34

On a spring day in late April of 1806, the Reverend Curtis Coe, minister of the Congregational Church in Durham, New Hampshire, took to the pulpit to deliver his valedictory address. Among those who undoubtedly assembled to bid farewell to their pastor were church deacon Samuel Joy (elected to his post in 1791, though he did not accept it until...

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Chapter 2. “The Distracted State of My Affairs”

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pp. 35-56

The dawn broke cold and gray in the village of Middleton on Tuesday, March 17, 1812. Timothy Joy and his wife, Mary, rose as normal and busily went about the numerous daily chores necessary for the operation of their small general goods store. Mary, who was in the early stages of her third pregnancy (though unbeknownst to her...

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Chapter 3. “If I Spend My Days in Prison I Still Will Be a Democrat”

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pp. 57-83

As March gave way to April, Timothy Joy’s journal began to document a steady stream of new inmates arriving in Ipswich Prison. Like Joy, these men were debtors. Their particular fault, though, as Joy viewed the situation, was that they owed money to Federalist creditors. With the Massachusetts gubernatorial election between incumbent...

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Chapter 4. “Having God for My Friend What More Do I Want?”

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pp. 85-107

May 10, 1812, was the Sabbath. Timothy Joy, however, still lingered in his Ipswich Prison cell after ‹fty-two days of con‹nement. Just six days prior, he had pled guilty in the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to his libel against Timothy Pickering and had been ‹ned for his transgression, as well as being sentenced...

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Chapter 5. “Adieu Ye Damp Solitary Walls”

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pp. 109-123

Sleep likely came sparingly for Timothy Meader Joy on the night of June 1–2, 1812. Tormented by the “little black Gentry” who had “taken up their abodes in [his] straw,” and with his mind swimming in thoughts of home and family, the restless Joy ‹tfully tossed and turned in his cool, dark cell, anxiously awaiting the ‹rst glimpse of the morning...

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Chapter 6. Diaries, Dead Ends, and Discoveries

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pp. 125-134

I became familiar with Timothy Meader Joy entirely by accident and was moved to write about his life and times through sheer coincidence and good fortune. In the process of conducting research for my dissertation at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, I was drawn to the correspondence of James F. Joy, a Michigan railroad...

Appendix. Diary of Timothy M. Joy

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pp. 135-184


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pp. 185-216


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pp. 217-226


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pp. 227-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028528
E-ISBN-10: 0472028529
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051816
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071815

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 10 halftones, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 802049345
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A New England Prison Diary

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Subject Headings

  • Joy, Timothy Meander, 1789-1813.
  • Joy, Timothy Meander, 1789-1813 -- Diaries.
  • Prisoners -- Massachusetts -- Biography.
  • Prisoners -- Massachusetts -- Diaries.
  • Massachusetts -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Libel and slander -- Massachusetts -- History -- 19th century.
  • Pickering, Timothy, 1745-1829 -- Adversaries.
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