Born in New London in 1678, Joshua Hempstead lived a rather unremarkable life for a colonial freeman. He was one of nine children; being the only son, he inherited his father’s house and, after marrying in his early 20s, had nine children of his own with his wife before she passed away in 1716. Having never remarried, he raised his family with the help of hired servants and three slaves who lived with him in his New London home. While Hempstead was far from being one of New London’s wealthiest or most notable citizens, he was incredibly active in town affairs, serving as a selectman, an officer in the local militia company, and as a delegate to the Connecticut General Assembly. He took a number of jobs over the course of his lifetime to support his family, working as a carpenter, surveyor, lawyer, and farmer, among other sundry occupations.
However, while no one part of Joshua Hempstead’s life was especially exceptional, the fact that we know so much about him is — thanks to a detailed diary he kept faithfully for over 47 years, beginning on September 8, 1711. Filling over 700 pages, Hempstead’s diary is a treasure trove for historians of early America, providing a comprehensive account of everyday life in colonial Connecticut, with remarks on family issues, the weather, interactions with his slaves, business ventures, local politics, and more. On November 3, 1758, eighty-year-old Joshua wrote his final diary entry, bringing one of the most historically-significant documents in Connecticut history to a close. Six weeks later, he passed away at his New London home.
In 1901, thanks to the exhaustive work of local historian Frances Manwaring Caulkins, the New London Historical Society published the first full transcript of Joshua Hempstead’s diary, which has since been reprinted multiple times. In addition to his diary, Hempstead’s 17th century family homestead has also survived the ravages of time, and is open to the public as a historic house museum in New London. The final chapter in a remarkable chronicle of an ordinary life was written, with care, on this day in Connecticut history.
Patricia M. Schaefer, “The Joshua Hempstead Diary: A Window Into Colonial Connecticut,” connecticuthistory.org
“The Hempsted Houses,” Connecticut Landmarks