- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

Evolves as bookon St. Michaels

TRAPPE, Md. — Jim Dawson considers himself lucky to have learned about the lore of country life from Dr. John Barnett, a dead man.

In 1805, the doctor began a “diurnal,” or daily journal, of life in and around St. Michaels and Easton.

In tobacco-colored ink and quill pen, he wrote about routine life, scratching beautiful script over now-yellowed and tattered pages.

Though the journal, for whatever reasons, covered just 18 months, page after page is filled with such sweet tidbits of life here two centuries ago that Mr. Dawson was able to meet people from the past, attend teas and social events, even learn details of crimes, births, deaths and medical treatments.

He was so moved by what he read in the rare document, he purchased the three-booklet journal and had it published.

Now, for the first time in Talbot County history, a voice of centuries past speaks again.

“A relative of mine, Delores DuPont, is also the great-great-granddaughter of Dr. Barnett,” Mr. Dawson said. “She is very interested in genealogy and local history. … One day, out of the blue, she asked me if I wanted to buy the journal. I was delighted. It is a one-of-a-kind manuscript.”

For 50 years, Barnett practiced medicine in the area and lived in St. Michaels, renting lodging from a Capt. Greenbury Griffin at the modern address of 410 Water St.

He paid $8 a month in rent and much of that was taken off for medical care given to his landlord and his family. The first people he inoculated for smallpox were the landlord, his wife and their children in 1803. Barnett died in 1858.

Through the journal’s pages, Mr. Dawson discovered the demand for fine food and spirits is not a new preoccupation.

Barnett was a frequent guest at teas, birthdays and dinner parties — even quilting parties.

He commented on meeting attractive, young and eligible ladies and gave details of weddings, deaths and funerals.

A journal entry for May 12, 1805: “Went to Church today, then went out and dined at Mrs. Goldsborough’s on soft crabs. We had two dozen fried.”

Mr. Dawson said the journal is a valuable tool to help students realize history is made by real people, like themselves, and the writing brings people of the past to life again.

The social history even reached close to home for Mr. Dawson.

“I found that a great-great-uncle of mine, Peter Caulk, was sort of a, well, ‘rake’ and he got two women (both who worked for him as housekeepers) pregnant within the 18 months of the journal. He got in a knife fight with Wrightson Jones, a brother of one of the pregnant women. They fought aboard a schooner owned by Dr. Barnett’s landlord in St. Michaels harbor. Jones was cut and required nine stitches. Dr. Barnett charged him $1 a stitch to fix him up,” Mr. Dawson said.

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