Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook Background Sheet
The following information relates to the Primary Source Activity: Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger
The Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook
You are about to examine the “Daybook and Ledger” kept by Richard Manning Bucktrout in Williamsburg, Virginia between 1850 and 1866. It consists of 277 pages (plus some loose sheets) recording the detailed invoices [bills] Bucktrout presented to those for whom he had performed a service and recorded money he paid to others for services.
Richard Manning Bucktrout (1805-1866) was an entrepreneur. He did just about anything that might bring in a buck or a shilling. He made keys, repaired furniture, mounted curtains, sold lumber and other goods, and rented out anything he owned, from land and houses to his carriage, his horses, and his slave. Bucktrout was also the town’s undertaker, responsible for providing coffins and burial for virtually everyone in Williamsburg and the surrounding countryside, rich and poor, white and black, free or slave.
Richard Manning Bucktrout’s meticulous entries in his Daybook and Ledger form a diary, a detailed account of daily life and death in a small but historically important Virginia town for sixteen years before, during, and, briefly, after the Civil War. Though weak on spelling (his accent can often be inferred from his spelling), Bucktrout commanded the precision not only of the businessman but of the writer. Perhaps most fascinating are the funeral records; here Bucktrout’s precision is especially captivating as he records services and costs and identifies the families involved, noting their race (if they are not white) and their status (if they are free blacks). In addition to mentions of disease, if there is anything unusual about a death, Bucktrout puts it down. As the Civil War engulfed Williamsburg, soldiers from all over the Confederacy died in the city’s many hospitals. Bucktrout’s invoices for the burials, each carefully addressed to the Confederate States of America, almost always records the name, rank, and military unit of the soldier and sometimes adds the circumstances of the man’s death. These burial invoices in some instances may be the only proof of the soldier’s service; the Confederacy had not yet fully organized its record keeping.
The Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger, offers a glimpse into the accounts of one very industrious man, but also reveals much about the community. As you examine the entries, try to think about the community as a whole. How can historians try to recreate the political, economic, social and cultural world that Bucktrout inhabited? How does the information you gain from analyzing these primary sources fit with what you have learned about the antebellum and Civil War periods, how do primary sources expand your understanding of this historical period and larger themes in American history?
(This background sheet is adapted from Terry L. Meyers "Preface" in the Bucktrout collection, here is a link to the original Primary Source Activity: Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger