From 1860 to Today
THE DIARY depicts the everyday life of a prominent widow, with daily visits from family and friends. It is rich in information about the weather, agriculture, and life in Loudoun County during and after the Civil War. Most notably, the journal contains numerous references to people who were enslaved by the Carters and those who remained in Loudoun after freedom came and worked for Elizabeth as employees. The diary served as the foundation for expanded interpretation of Black history at Oatlands.
From July 1, 1860, through December 31, 1872, Elizabeth O. Carter kept a record of her daily activities. There are gaps in the diary but otherwise she wrote an entry each day, noting the day and date and usually the temperature, wind direction and a word or two about the weather. Each entry was written across two pages of the book and typically constrained to one line. Most of the diary was written from Elizabeth’s western Loudoun plantation, Bellefield, near Upperville.
Every enslaved and freed person written about in the diary was entered into a database and made available to the public. It was later expanded to include names from other sources during the time of slavery. The names were used to document people after freedom came and to provide genealogical information to descendants trying to locate ancestors. That work continues today.
In 2019, Oatlands received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to digitize archival documents related to women’s history. The highlight of the collection was the diary. Although in good condition considering its age, it had to be handled with special care during the digitization process. It was securely boxed and transported to the scanning facility, and it never left the sight of an Oatlands employee. A high-end scanner was used to create the images, with each page turned carefully by the employee. A special cradle supported the spine and covers to prevent separation from the pages.
An old, typed transcription was also digitized and partially converted to a Word document. Errors were corrected, and it was proofed line by line against the digital images. The grant funded research to add annotations to the text, thus explaining the abbreviations used by Elizabeth and identifying the many people and places she wrote about. The digitized and annotated document is now in Oatlands’ archives and was made available to the public as a book.
The importance of the diary to understanding Oatlands’ history cannot be overstated, particularly related to Black history. Oatlands is able to tell a fuller and more accurate story by interpreting the information contained in the diary. It is not data from the 19th century gathering dust in the archives. It is the names of people who lived and labored here, whose stories continue to be uncovered and told in the 21st century.