Excerpts from and commentary on the diary of Joseph D. Alexander, 1859-1864

Sunday, May 15, 1859: Fair. Planted 900 hills of potatoes.

Monday, May 16, 1859: Pleasant. Planted 1,400 hills of potatoes.

Tuesday, May 17, 1859: Thick. Launched the wherry. Father and Mother went to Brunswick.

We see from the foregoing entries that our boy Joe is no stranger to long, hard work. In my prime, I don’t think I could have planted 2,300 hills of potatoes in four days, let alone two days. This feat is even more remarkable when we realize Joseph is 15 years old.

On Tuesday morning Joseph launches the wherry, a light rowing craft which he had built himself to hunt waterfowl, go fishing, and simply for transportation. We also can see that Joseph is an accomplished woodworker, having built the wherry previously; later on we will find him making wheels for carriages and ox carts.

We may assume that the idea of launching the wherry came from Father and Mother as a way to allow Joseph some recreation and diversion from his prodigious planting and as a way of thanking him for all his hard work before they left for Brunswick.

Joseph Dunning Alexander was the second child of William and Betsy Dunning Alexander. He was born Oct. 7, 1844 and died Sept. 8, 1865 at the age of 20 years and 11 months. Joseph was a cousin and good friend of Benjamin Dunning and their letters to each other during the Civil War are remarkable. Tragically, Joseph and his brother George, three years younger, died within one day of each other in 1865. More about Joseph, Benjamin and their families in later writings.

Born nearly a century later in 1943, my childhood at Sunset Hill Farm in Harpswell with my brother David was similar to Joseph’s, although we certainly didn’t work as hard. We had no electricity until 1952. We heated with wood. We milked cows and kept livestock. My brother and I helped our father cut and stack 10 or 12 cords of pulp wood each winter to sell to Pejepscot Paper Co. and then used the proceeds to pay the farm taxes.

Summers were spent hoeing the garden, haying, swimming at the shore, roaming around on bikes, and playing baseball.

We pursued an active and rigorous life. One hundred years earlier, Joseph had set the ultimate “work ethic” standard.

Sam W. Alexander is Joseph D. Alexander’s great-nephew. He lives on Harpswell Neck.