This journal was written by Schenck in about 1905 (with a few later additions) as a memoir of his life, with emphasis on his years in Wilmington, N.C.
The initial section contains a detailed genealogy of the Fanning family, beginning with Edmund Fanning who immigrated into Connecticut from Limerick, Ireland in 1653 (pages 1-18). This line is carried through to Eliza Ann Fanning ancestral line. Other genealogical sections reflect the descendants of William McKenzie, who came to the United States from Scotland in 1746 (pages 1-18). This line is carried through to Eliza Ann Fanning Schenck with special emphasis being given to her direct Fanning ancestral line. Other genealogical sections reflect the descendants of William McKenzie, who came to the United States from Scotland in 1746 (pages 72-73); John Sharpless and Jane Moore, who came to Pennsylvania in 1682 (page 74); the Schenck family starting with Jan Schenck Van Ny Deck emigrating from Holland to Long Island in 1650 (pages 16-18, 78-82, 84-87, and 94-95); the Remseu family of New York (p. 18, 83); and the Mallett Family of North Carolina (p. 97-98). The Schenck genealogy contains family recollections of the British occupation of the western end of Long Island during the American Revolution (p. 83).
The second section of the journal contains an autobiographical sketch of Nicholas Schenck. He provides details of his early schooling in Wilmington which included Miss Laura Rankin's School for children and more advanced scholars, Jesse Mulock's School for Boys, andthe Classical Department of the Odd Fellows Society School. The description gives the location of the schools, evaluations of the teachers, names of the textbooks used, and the names of fellow pupils (p. 19-21).
Journal entries for Schenck as an adult include salaries as bookkeeper and clerk in Wilmington, 1853 (p. 23), 1860 (p.26), and in New York City (1866, p. 49) and as treasurer of the Virginia Realty and Insurance Co. in Charlottesville, Va. in 1904 (p. 64). House rental fees in the Wilmington area is provided for 1860 (p. 27), 1863 (p. 30), and 1864 (p. 31), in New York City for 1866 (p. 49), and in Brooklyn for 1886 (p. 58). Rental fees to the owner of two slaves employed as a wet nurse and a cook in 1859 are also recorded (p. 25).
Civil War entries are somewhat sporadic, beginning with a yellow fever epidemic which struck Wilmington in 1862. A passage explains how the fever was brought into the area and describes the panic and evacuation of Wilmington (p. 28-29). Subsequent entries describe a fire (Nov. 30, 1864) that destroyed his house and other houses in Wilmington (p. 32) and the exemption of a friend from Confederate Army service because he made salt (p. 30). Schenck makes little mention of his own war activities until Fort Fisher fell and Wilmington was evacuated in Jan-Feb., 1865. He then gives a detailed account of his life from the fall of Fort Fisher until he reaches home on parole, including the pursuit of Confederates by Union Negro forces (p. 34), retreat to Goldsboro (p. 34) and assignment to the Selma Railroad Depot to set up a supply center with stores provided by a 10% tax on farm goods (p. 35-36). Entries provide accounts of his train being blocked outside of Raleigh for three days, waste and mismanagement of food supplies that never reach the soldiers, the lice problems (p.39), a trip from Greensboro to Charlotte to pick up coffee for the soldiers, destruction of railroad tracks and bridges between Jamestown and High Point (p. 40), and the refusal of a Salisbury hotel owner to accept Confederate money (p. 41).
With General Johnston's surrender the war ended for Nicholas Schenck and he received his parole on May 1, 1865. The next segment of his journal describes his attempts to return to Wilmington and his family. He reports wild tales of Yankee terrorism in Chapel Hill, but sees no evidence of this. Commentaries while in the Chapel Hill area touch upon the lack of gold in the town and encounters with Union soldiers in the countryside (pp. 42-44). Subsequent entries tell of being on a train crowded with Yankee soldiers and Negroes (p. 45), the garrison of Negro troops at Goldsboro (p. 46), and the boarding of Union officers and clerks in Wilmington (p.46). Schenck also describes his effort to move his family to New York City by steamer which costs him $90 for a three berth stateroom (p.47).
Other aspects of his life that are of particular interest are the decoration in 1875 of the first Christmas tree in Hickory, N.C. (p. 51); a big fire at Cronly on Dec. 24, 1884, (p. 52) which destroyed Latimer's Fertilizer Mill; and the summer activities in 1897 of oyster collecting and crabbing at Masonboro Sound in New Hanover Co. (p.59).
Midway through the journal are passages covering topics that interested Schenck. He describes the use of charcoal as an antidote for internal poisoning (p. 66), medicinal uses of alcohol, the uses and abuses of coffee (p. 67), and medical prescription used to cure bilious fever in the 1840's and 1850's (p. 70-71). Other entries describe the custom at Christmas time whereby Negroes attempt to win free turkeys in a contest similar to the breaking of the pinata (p. 104), and the antebellum trial of a white man who was convicted of murdering a black man (p. 136).
In 1906 Nicholas Schenck wrote a memo on the Second Annual Cotton Convention at New Orleans in which he discusses the yield and price of cotton, and ways farmers could force up the price of cotton (p. 68). He also recommends that farmers become less dependent on a money crop such as cotton by growing their own food along with limited cotton acreage (p. 68). On page 96 is found excerpts from a letter by R.H. Edmonds, editor of the
Manufacturer Record, printed in the
Atlanta Constitution in 1905. In it Edmonds describes the rising industrial South using figures for pigiron, coal, cotton, lumber products, and railroad mileage production in 1905 with some comparison with the southern 1880 output.
Beginning on page 100 and continuing to the end of the journal is a description of several street blocks along the Cape Fear Riverfront in Wilmington primarily for the period between 1830 and 1860. The blocks discussed stretch from Chestnut Street, on the north proceeding south to Castle Street, and running from the river east to Fifth Street. Nicholas Schenck indicates the location of buildings and describes each building's use and occupants during the years he resided in Wilmington. He indicates buildings which were destroyed during the fires of 1840 and 1844. Some important places mentioned are his A.C.S. office during the Civil War (p. 105), the Clarendon Hotel where the stagecoach stopped in 1837-1839 (p. 108), the Log Cabin built for the Presidential campaign of Harrison and Tyler in 1840 (p.109), and the residence from which Henry Clay spoke during his tour (p. 116). Other interesting spots were the N.C. Confederate Department Headquarters (p.126), the hotel where Schenck saw Chang and Eng (Siamese Twins) in 1840 and which later became Hospital No. 5 during the Civil War (p. 126), and the residence from which ex-President Polk spoke in 1849 (p. 130).
The journal ends with a newspaper article from the
Charleston News and Courier (Feb., 1906) discussing the Negro population increase in the future in the U.S. (p. 138).