[Mercersburg, PA-native James W. Houpt, Jr., has produced his first work of historical fiction based on the Diary of James McCullough, an early Scots-Irish colonist on the Conococheague Settlement. Spanning the years 1747 through 1760, the diary chronicles the life of a farm family living along the Conococheague Creek in an era that included wartime attacks of Native Americans against the settlers during the French and Indian War and Chief Pontiac’s War. Mr. Houpt, who served as a pastor for thirty years, sought to evoke the “deep spiritual life of James McCullough” in his book. With thanks to Mr. Houpt for allowing us to reproduce an excerpt from his book, please enjoy “Introduction: the Diary,” (pages xi-xiii).]
The leather-bound book which would become the diary of James McCullough was purchased on April 27, 1747, the day the ship carrying him and his wife departed Ireland for the New World. It withstood the years from 1747 until 2012 when it was carefully digitized and returned to its darkened bank vault for safekeeping.
As this story is being written in 2013, the diary is now approximately 266 years of age. Its history of survival includes not only the 3,200-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean, but also 123 miles by horseback from Newcastle, Delaware to Hunterstown, Pennsylvania, and then to Franklin County, Pennsylvania. From its new home it traveled 25 miles under great duress back to Hunterstown and then approximately 30 miles into Maryland, while being kept hidden from Indian attacks.
The Diary contains a number of pages that are nothing more than the scribbling and musings of a man who is busy thinking. There are pages where Mr. McCullough practiced writing his name, ranging from McCullough to McCullgh.
The Diary was used to record some events which were important to Mr. McCullough and the history of the region:
- The date of the ship’s departure and purchase of the diary, along with the price of the voyage and the ship’s captain’s name,
- The birth of a son,
- A variety of attacks by the Indians in the French and Indian War,
- Verse references of favorite scripture passages and many names from the Holy Scripture, and,
- Various changes in the calendar and seasons.
While some entries in the diary appear to be trivial, many seemingly important facts are missing. The diary does not record his wife’s name, the date of their marriage, or the dates of the birth of some of their children. He does note the capture of his sons by the Indians, but doesn’t record any additional information on that subject after their capture.
The things Mr. McCullough chose to record reveal a farmer’s closeness to the land, the influence of weather, and the interdependence of neighbors within a small, somewhat secluded community. He notes the coming of a thunder storm and a snow storm, lists farm products from honey to flax, and the process of clearing the land and planting the corn, wheat, rye. His notes about agriculture and tools – including entries regarding plowing, planting, and harvesting – are among the most plentiful in the diary.
He also discusses his relationship with many of his neighbors and names them as his friends. He records several occasions on which he loaned them money, purchased their products, and worked their fields to help them.
For reasons that are not clear, Mr. McCullough developed a code for discussing some of the events and facts recorded in the diary. The code is listed on page three of the diary, indicating that it was developed shortly after boarding the ship for the New World.
His code was a simple one. The vowels A, E, I, O, and U were substituted for numbers one through five. He then added the letters L, M, N, and R. For these letters he used the numbers six through nine.
His unique mixture of numbers and letters was only used on some occasions, as he felt he needed or wanted to. There does not seem to be any apparent or valid reason. He used it on several occasions when writing about his livestock.
The McCullough Diary was mostly written between 1747, when he notes the purchase of the book, and 1758. Some of the events of greatest historic value are the battles fought during the French and Indian War. Among the sixty-nine recorded events, he documents fifty-three battles with brief descriptions. Many of his neighbors were slaughtered during these terrible massacres and battles. He records the numerous trips his own family made back to Hunterstown or south to the Antietam, Maryland area for safety.
[Those seeking to purchase a copy of In His Words: The Diary of James McCullough, 1722-1781 – One Man’s Chronicle of Colonial History, may do so through the Xulon Press on-line catalog: http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781626976245. A copy of James McCullough’s original diary is available for research at the Conococheague Institute’s Library, M-F, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. or by special appointment. Contact our staff at 717-328-3467 or firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.]