Scope and Content Note
In his diaries, John Stephen Benezet gives brief descriptions of his daily activities and observations of life in antebellum Philadelphia from 1838 to 1850. [There are no entries for the years 1846 and 1847, which may have been part of a volume not included in this collection.] By the time he begins to keep these journals, Benezet is already a husband and father supporting a family of at least four children as a clerk in the United States Mint in Philadelphia. He gives no account of his own childhood and family history. His writing style suggests that Benezet was a man of measured precision and accounting. As in most personal journals of the 18th and 19th centuries, he begins each entry with a description of the day's weather conditions. Then he gives an accounting of his activities for the day, noting not only the names of individuals but also the time and address of each of his ventures and returns home. While his grief is evident as he records his wife's death on October 4, 1838, Benezet also notes that her illness lasted four months and three days, that she died at the age of 45 years, one month and nine days, and that they lived together for 21 years, five months and 24 days. On August 15, 1843, the day his daughter Catharine married William Gibbs Porter, Benezet focuses on the difficulty in securing a clergyman--they had applied to four, all of whom would be out of town that day before finding Rev. Spear of the Episcopal Church. He concludes with a list of all who attended the ceremony. While such an account may seem unsentimental, it implies the importance Benezet placed on church and a practice of faith. In many of his entries, some in great detail, Benezet writes of attending services and his pleasure in his children's formal declaration of their faith. Upon leaving his job at the Mint, Benezet apparently occupied his time not only stopping at church; he also regularly "assisted" at a school. Visits to lodges, tea and dinner with family and friends filled his days as well. Benezet's entries occasionally give a glimpse of contemporary social and political activities, such as his attendance of a meeting in 1838 to amend the state's constitution. The most recurring subject is cholera. During certain months, Benezet ends most of his entries with the number of cases and deaths reported by the Board of Health.
In addition to the bound volumes, stitched and loose pages of diary entries, the collection also consists of a few items belonging to Benezet's grandchildren and possibly great grandchildren, descending from the family of his daughter Catharine and her husband William G. Porter. According to a notation on the back inside cover of the second bound volume, Helen B. Porter read the diaries in 1937 and no doubt she was the person who took the notes inserted in the volume. There is a 1949 receipt from the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City made out to Catharine B. Porter of Fairfield, Connecticut. Also included is a reprint of an address given in 1892 by Dr. William G. Porter, a Philadelphia surgeon. He is probably the William Gibbs Porter who lived from 1846 to 1906, and would therefore have been the son of Catharine and William.