Michigan/History/Daily Life in 1800s

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Michigan Life in the 1800s


Michigan Life in the 1800s[edit]

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Below is a primary source resource showing actual real life in in the Michigan from 1868-1902. This shows what this family did every day. Students cannot get a better source than the actual diary of a person living during that time.

Introduction[edit]

Daniel Stewart was a farmer who lived and kept a daily diary in California Michigan from 1868 to April 5 1889 and in the area just south of Fairgrove Michigan from 1889-1902.

These diaries have daily records of births, deaths with cause of deaths, marriages, accidents, weather and other daily happenings. The work is over 1000 pages long. Background Daniel J. Stewart was born October 6, 1839 in York (Livingston County) New York. He was the son of Angus Stewart (1805-1851) and Elvira Margaret Selfridge (1815-1900). His early childhood was spent on farms particularly the family farm in Covington (Wyoming County) New York. His father died when he was only 12. His brothers were Angus Stewart (1845-c1920); Archibald Stewart (1841-c1920), George Elliot Stewart (1843-1904), and Duncan (1847-?). His widowed mother bought an eighty acre farm near California in Branch County Michigan. You will need to know this when you read parts of the old diaries.

These diaries actually written by a person living in those times brings history to life. This is Not fiction, this is direct from the persons who lived it. This shows What daily life actually was like 150 years ago.

What did your great grand parents do every day?

Source: Daniel J. Stewart 1839-1902 is the the person who recorded these events by writing them in a journal ledger book. This has not been published except for photo copies to family members. Professor Wesley Arnold transcribed the often faded and difficult to read tiny handwriting. Since the source is from one person only living in that time it is mentioned here but not repeated through out the work.

Daniel Stewart was a farmer and laborer who lived and kept a daily diary in Michigan from 1868 to 1902. History students can see what life was really like on a daily basis.

Source 2: Anyone who reads these will be able to see common generalities which become apparent upon reading a few years of these diaries. Here are the ones named by the person who transcribed most of these diaries Wesley Arnold the grandson of Thurston who was raised by this Daniel J Stewart. And to whom his grandfather told him about these times. Immediately following are some of the common generalities listed by the transcriber Wesley Arnold.

And life was very different than it is today.

    After all there were no electric appliances, no televisions radios, no telephones or cell phones.  Almost everywhere were farmed fields and woods.

There was no big city with paved roads and street lights.

    If you wanted something to eat what did you do?  There were no fast food places, no restaurants, no grocery stores, no Krogers, Meijers, or KMarts.  There were no microwave ovens or prepackaged foods.  Answer was you prepared all of your own food yourself from the natural state.  Almost nothing from the store except salt and sugar.


Things were made of wood, metal, reed, cloth, glass, clay or leather as there were no plastic or paper products including toilet paper or paper napkins. If your family needed something chances were that they had to make it or grow it themselves.

The good of the Good Old Days[edit]

In general life was slower paced and less hectic than now. There was in many families (not all) Love and Kindness and cooperation. Most people had respect for each other. The Air and Water were Pure and you could actually see the Milky Way. People worked harder physically but were usually happier. Many people were happy. 

    There was singins and barn dances and preachins and barn raising Bees, and plowin and quilting Bees. If you read Daniel Stewart's Diary there was even a local farmers traveling band.

If you visited a neighbor you would most likely be invited for dinner.

Train trips on the old Steam trains Less pressure and stress. Few if any bills to pay No telemarketers Good Hunting and fishing with lots of wildlife

What was bad about the Old Days?[edit]

If you needed help there was no 911, no police departments, no fire departments or nearby hospitals. To get medical help a person would have to go on foot or by horse many miles to the doctor’s house. That doctor actually had little medical training and knowledge. The so called doctors of that day also had very few medicines. There were no drug stores. The doctor did not have the diagnostic tests that we have today. About all he could do is ask where it hurt.

   Many children died young of diseases we now have cures for.  And many women died from childbirth.

Prior to the revolution, people were ruled by brute force rather than by Laws. Weapons had to be kept nearby for protection.

There was a general lack of knowledge about health and many other important areas. There were few if any stores and little choice of things to buy. Most people were farmers and had to raise or make nearly everything themselves. They usually had very little money to buy things. There were few conveniences that we take for granted now. No electricity or electric appliances, No TV Radio or Internet No washing machines or dryers or electric irons or electric heaters.

    No toilet paper, No flush toilets.  One had to go outside to cold outhouse even in winter. But some people were rich enough to have a chamber pot which eliminated the trip outside at night. It was unwise to travel or go outside the safety of a cabin at night.  There were wild cats, wolves, bears etc. roaming around at night.  Our pioneers often reported howling at night from outside.

Most cabins were dark inside at night because people did not have candles or oil lamps or fireplaces. The best place to be at night was in your bed as primitive as it was.

If pioneers had domestic animals they had to build a barn as soon as they could to protect them. There were no cars, buses or airplanes

    No fast food places or restaurants.  No TV dinners, freezers, refrigerators or microwave ovens. No gas, oil or coal heating. You had to build the fire first to get warm.  And just how was that fire started without matches?

Cabins were drafty, and often did not have windows. Many did not have fireplaces so there was no heat or drying fire inside.

Cabins usually had dirt floors and were at ground level which meant that insects, spiders, mice, snakes and other vermin shared the living quarters.

Beds were primitive, small and in general not comfortable.  They often consisted of piles of grass or straw.  This may have been soft but it meant that you had to share your bed with various other creatures. Usually with four, six or eight legs.  Later a stuffed mattress was placed on top or a suspended lattice work of rope.  This meant a lot less sharing with other creatures. 

Beds often had canopies.  This was to prevent creatures who inhabited or traveled in the roof which may have been made of straw or wood from falling onto you during your sleep.  Both husband and wife slept on a twin size bed.  The man often insisted on "his" husbandly rights.  Women often had to bare and raise 8 to 15 children all without the help of a doctor.

Discipline in pioneer families was extremely strict.  Children did what they were told.  If they disobeyed they were severely punished.

    Roads were dusty or muddy trails navigated by foot, horse or wagon. In the spring or after a rain they were seas of mud and often impassable.

No movies or places of entertainment. They went to "Singins" and had a singing society.

No hamburgers, pizza, MacDonald’s, Taco Bell etc.

The average person owned two pairs of clothes one for Sunday. Underwear was generally non existent for men and no bras for women. Shoes were awful for the most part.  All were hand made. Most were home made.

There were no heated showers or baths.  If you were lucky to own a tub it was usually about three feet in diameter and the whole family took their baths in the same water with the father usually going first.

Newspapers were not home delivered and magazines for the most part did not exist. There were no libraries in the area and many people could not read or write.

There were few if any jobs available you worked your farm or starved and many people worked long hours and still had little food.

There was no welfare, food stamps or Medicaid. There ware no medications, painkillers, pills to relieve problems.

Typical entries[edit]

Will show you some of the more interesting ones later.

Frid 24 Cool and cloudy in the fore-n. Pleasant in the P.M. We were drawing manure on the garden and plowing a strip for potatoes. I called on Chas Adams this even-g.

John Paul and Barbey Duguid were married last evening.

Sat 25 Quite a strong chilly east wind. Com-ed raining quite hard this even-g. John was at several things in the fore-n. He helped Chas Holly cut wood in the after-n. I attended shearing at Hall's corners. My 2-yr old Buck sheared 21 lbs wool. 365 days growth. Weight of carcas with wool 116 lbs. Paid W. T. Ellis .75 for trade and and rec-d of him in trade for 7 doz eggs .70

I took Rbt. Logans wool home and I took supper with him. Left my sheep with him on account of rain. I left my wool with him to sell 20 1/2 lb of it.

Sab 26 Rained quite hard the most of the night. A pleasant day. We were out Preaching today.

Mon. 27. A pleasant day. We finished grubbing and I plowed the fence row for the hedge. Vi and I called at Mr Logans this even-g. Dr. Miner came to see George this A.M.

Tues. 28 Pleasant but quite cold. We were drawing stumps and stones off the oat ground this fore-n. We were mowing briers, taking up potatoes & plowing for oats in the P.M.


Not sure what this means drawed a jag of hay to the barn to feed the sheep helping Angus fit the ground and sow wheat taking care of garden truck [note this is before there were trucks as we know them] I was cleaning truck out of the cellar

Replanted corn Why was corn replanted?

Wens 13 JULY 1887 A very oppressive heat today. Ther stood at 96 on the N stood 108 on the west stoop & 11 6 in the sun between 2 [ What is a stoop ] Tues 27 Dec 1888 A cold cloudy day.

Rbt Logan & I were cuting & drawing a Gum log helped us cock hay in the after-n.

were cuting wheat & bunching hay shocking wheat for him 1897 apr 20 George was out selling press boards & carpet hoopers

He recd for 7 of them 1.75

Sat 24 Nov 1888 A fine day draw stalks I was gathering & burning smut cuting sorgum seed We were helping wash & puting chafe on bay [ CHAFE 6 SEPTEMBER 1895] from the barn floor Paid the druggist for swamp kit .50 [ 13 FEBRUARY 1896 ]

Jan 30 1897 I was fixing a dray for E B Jennings Paid Ed Otis for sugar buttons .55

    Wedn 30 Jun 1897Very warm I was shear-g making a whiffle tree hoeing in the garden 

Thurs 19 A fine day The boys went Black berrying Geting ready for Lycerum a bag of midlings .50 Tues 31 Dec 1901 A pleasant day but a strong N. west wind got quite frosty during the day.

George was confined to the house with a bilious turn.

Frid 14 Mar 1902 Him & Lu attended a Gleaner aid this eve

Questions Students and teachers may find this section useful. What do the following statements mean? What are Beggas? What are Mangels? We were underbrushing get the horse shod We drawed a small jag of straw Was flailing at our beans

Flailing  what is that?

Geo changed his corn for oats & shorts for cow feed at the Mill

    Took Billy to Town  & got his shoes sharpened & set
I paid the Bill .50 

Tues 2 Jun 1896 Paid Jos Wylie for a bag of shorts for pigs .50 [ What do pigs do with shorts? ] Grubed in the fallow helped make Cider & put up a shed over the Sorgum pan Paid Ed Ofis for 2 lamp chinms .10

    Apr 16 Rained the most of the fore-n. I made a buggy whiffletree 

We were skiding logs up to the house in the fore-n. I Set 3 hens is even-g1. [5 MAY 1897 ] The WCTU Convention met at Fairgrove this morng. I took Vi up to Town this fore-n. lst grist of wheat Wedns 2 Jun 1897 A fine day I sheared 18 sheep for Chas Sherman this fore-n marked & taged them, Castrated & dusted his lambs. Recd pay 1.25 Sat 17 Feb 1900 Thurston & I were in the woods in the after-n prying up logs & cut up timber for “draying” out

1885 APRIL 15 Drawed a load to depot I was helping Mr. Aultman pack up and load a car with goods. ( But wait there no automobiles in Michigan at this time) Thur 16 Cool & cloudy. John was sprouting and picking up Wm. Holly and wife called this after-n (But there were no phones at that time)

    The smoke was so dense this eve it was a heavy fog. [ September 1901 

We do not know what this was other than perhaps one of the big fires that swept the area in the 1800s There was a fire that burned entirely across the whole state of Michigan] Frid 17 paid John Grayles by a clothes wringer 6.00 Sat. 18 John was shelling cobs Mon 20 A fine day. We were clearing stone off the field Thurs 20 Jul 1899 A fine day. I helped E B Jennings harvest in the aftern &put tip hay for him in the cemetry in the after-n Dr to the same 1.25

    Tue 21 We were splitting and drawing rails in the fore-n.

Thurs 23 A very warm day. Drawed manure on the garden in the P.M.

Sat 25 My 2-yr old Buck sheared 21 lbs wool. 365 days growth.I was doing house work & churning

Mon. 27. A pleasant day. We finished grubbing and I plowed the fence row for the hedge.

Tues. 28 Pleasant but quite cold. We were drawing stumps and stones off the oat ground

We were mowing briers, taking up potatoes & plowing for oats in the P.M

    Thurs 30  I was dragging and John took up a pit of potatoes in the fore-n.  We were putting in drag teeth and irons in the P.M.

MAY 1885 Paid Philip Michael on store acct 10.00 He is Cr by Oil 4 tined fork hoe & knife 2.60

Sat 2 Cool but pleasant. We sowed about 4 acres of oats south of the Bear Swamp.

    Mon 4 We sowed about 1 1/2 acres of oats west of the Bear Swamp I plowed and dragged the shock rows in the 2nd field

We were shelling corn & tinkering in the fore-n. Drawed out manure in the afternoon.

Thursd 7 A cold cloudy windy day. John was cleaning up the yard & I was up to Hall's Corners in the fore-n.

 We picked   up a grist took it over to Angus

Tuesd 26 helping mark out & plant corn and potatoes today.

    Wend 27 A fine day. Quite cool this eve-g. We was helping Angus mark out and plant corn. The 3 yr old red heifer calved Bull calf

Thursd 28 A fine day but a cool air quite a breeze from the east. I picked up trash pulled stumps & started the plow

Frid 29 Showery in the fore-n pleasant in the after-n. We were sorting and sprouting potatoes in the A.M. Sat. 30 Sunshine and showers.

JUNE 1885 Wend 10 A fine day. There was a light frost Tued night. John was working on the road.

Rbt Logan and I com-ed shearing sheep 1.50

    Frid 26  John was underbrushing & I was washing wool 

JULY 1885 Sat 4 Warm and dry. John was off holding the 4th.

I was helping Angus haying. Gave Angus  1.75 to pay B. F. Isenhour for a Bell got May 14th

[bells were used to signal and to call workers to dinner. Often called the dinner bell ]

Sab 5 Warm day We were out to Sabbath School & Preaching [This meant that they went to Sunday School and church]

Mon 6 Cloudy and threatened rain in the fore-n with a heavy shower in the after-n.

John & I were helping Angus draw hay in the fore-n. I helped him mow

    Sat 11 A fine day.  raked up hay the rest of the fore-n. Angus and hand helped us 3/4 day drawing hay. We drawed 6 loads from Holcombs

Frid 17 A fine harvest day. Brought over the reaper and I com-ed [commenced] cutting rye in the after-n.

Sab 19 A very warm day. Ther 96 in the shade. Showers went around

AUGUST 1885 Tues 4 A heavy thunder storm last night. Pleasant today. We were fixing fence on the

east side of the wood lot in the fore-n.

Ground our scythes & mowed in the fence Corners around the rye field & drawed in the after-n. 

Wens 26 Quite cool John was plowing.

    There are many interesting and informative entrys in these 30 years of diaries several of which your history facilitator will place here. However this will take some time for me to search thru these diaries and put those interesting and informative ones up here. Many of us have busy lives and your history facilitator also teaches college classes for which he must put in preparation time.  So that those of you who are interested in seeing the transcripts of the 30 years of these original 1800 diaries I will put links to PDF files of my transcripts below.

Transcripts of 30 years of actual 1800 diaries of daily life in the 1800s[edit]

These are PDF files averaging 100 pages each containing a total of 30 years of daily life. These will enable you to see, save and print as little or as much as you desire.