March 27 1812: Martha Ballard, Birth and Anguish

On March 27, 1812, a Friday, Martha Moore Ballard writes in her diary as she has done since 1785 and as she will continue to do until her death. Martha was born in 1734 or 1735 in Oxford, Massachusetts to Dorothy and Elijah Moore. In 1754, she married Ephraim Ballard, a miller and surveyor, who appears to have had loyalist sympathies that caused him trouble after the American Revolution. They had nine children, three of whom died in 1769 from a diphtheria epidemic. 

Martha is now remembered because of the diary that she wrote about her life as a midwife and healer in Hallowell on the Kennebec River, District of Maine. She recorded very basic information in the diary which looked much like an almanac of the time. The diary is divided into three columns. In the first column she recorded the date and sometimes the main event of the day. The third column records  important information such as births, deaths or if she was paid for her services. The centre column has more details but even these are very brief, in point form, and usually start with a one or two word description of the weather. The entry for March 27 1812 can be seen here

Martha's main reason for having a diary was to keep track of her professional services as a midwife though it also details important family events. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in her very fine book A Midwife's Tale, has been able to chronicle Martha's life in great detail by using the diary. Ulrich notes that Martha was involved in 816 deliveries from 1785 to 1812, the last year of her life. That last fact adds a poignancy to each of the entries for 1812. As spring approaches, Martha increasingly notes that she is feeling "feeble". She is getting sicker as the months pass. What is remarkable is that she continues to go out and to care for those in her community.   

We should remember people like Martha Ballard in our exploration of the past. History is more than the remembrance of the clamour of war or the colour of great events. It is the story of women and men who went about their lives facing daily struggles, joys and trials. I sometimes think of Martha returning home after a long day of helping some family. Some days she is exhausted but content after safely delivering a baby. Other days she is tired and would like to forget the painful grief of the day when a baby has died. She will sometimes do some housework, churn some butter, cut some apples or do some knitting. On each day, without fail, she will sit down to write in her diary what would otherwise now be lost. Two hundred years later, because of her diary, we can have a sense of her life with all its chores and trials and perhaps we can hear the joyous cry of a new born or the grieving wail of a mother being comforted by Martha. March 27 was one of those good days when a new baby was born but it was also a day when Martha notes she "had an anguish turn in the night".

On March 27, 182, Martha Ballard wrote in her diary:
[Birth Edwd Savages Son].
Cloudy part of the day. I was Calld at 10h am by Edwd Savage to go and See his wife who was in Labour. I had a fall on my way but not much hurt. found the patiend had Calld 2 Mid wives & Doct Ellis before Shee Saw me. I found her mind was for Doct Cony. he was Calld and as Providence would have Shee Calld on me to assist her. I performd the Case. Shee was Deld at 8h 30m pm of a Son and is as wel as can be expected. I Slept at mr Jery Babcocks, had an aguish turn in the night.   at Edwd Savages. Birth 11th


The transcription of the diary entry above is taken form the indispensable website dohistory. The transcription of the diary is the work of Robert R. McCausland and Cynthia MacAlman McCausland. The information in this post is also based on  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812. (Vintage Books, Random House Publishers, 1991). The picture above is from a post card from 1905 of the town of Howell showing the town from London Hill looking down on the Kennebec River and can be found here

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