This collection consists of three hardbound, pre-dated diaries kept by John Ambrose Chalk from 1915 until the early days of 1918. The diaries are complimentary novelty items from the pharmaceutical company M. J. Breitenbach to promote their “gude” Pepto-Mangan elixir. In addition to John Ambrose Chalk’s daily notation, there are also medical advice and anecdotes at the top of each page. Also included in the collection are annotated transcripts of the diaries, done by John Chalk’s great granddaughter, Dorothy Chalk Nisbet. These transcripts have indexes of noteworthy events, locations, and some genealogical information on the Chalk family.
John Ambrose Chalk was a farmer who managed Mulberry Hill Farm for Henry Wood in Chowan County, North Carolina. As such, the diaries are a compilation of notes on weather, agricultural work, livestock health, and some social occasions as well as family concerns. The detailed crop information is heavily favored to peanuts, tobacco, cotton, and potatoes. He keeps accurate notes of planting and harvest times and market prices. His livestock concerns are primarily focused on the breeding and slaughter of hogs; although he does occasionally mention issues regarding his cattle, horses, and sheep. This is more apparent in late 1916 and early 1917 when the region was beset by an outbreak of hog cholera. In November of 1916 Chalk took part in the new vaccinations to try and save his herd. Though in the early months of 1917 he was still mentioning hog losses. In January of 1918, Chalk moved his family to Fleetwood Farm to manage it for Thomas Skinner White.
As a farmer, Chalk wrote more expressive and longer entries during the more leisurely winter months. He included more personal details compared to the rest of the year when agricultural work was of primary consideration. Chalk also recorded the weather and the disastrous effects it could have on crops and livestock. The summer and winter of 1917 were particularly harsh. The spring and summer were beset by heavy and continual rain, and the winter was so cold that in February of 1917, the sound froze over thick enough for people to ice-skate.
Though personal information is limited, the health of his family is of particular concern to Chalk. His adolescent daughter, Louisa, was continually ill, spending long periods of time in an Elizabeth City hospital and undergoing several operations. Additionally, Chalk undertook a notable amount of travel. Though it is almost exclusively within eastern North Carolina, he traveled multiple times a week to places such as: Edenton, Hertford, Elizabeth City, and on a few occasions Nags Head, Virginia Beach, and Raleigh. In a unique circumstance, on February 11, 1916, Chalk was subpoenaed as a witness in a case against Mr. Fleming for his unlawful transport of whiskey in Halifax County.
These diaries present a unique look into the perspectives and lifestyle of an eastern North Carolina farmer in the early twentieth century.