John Case’s Daybook

Daybook once belonging to tanner John S. Case, used primarily from 1836 to 1838. Private collection. Photo by author.

Daybook once belonging to tanner John S. Case, used primarily from 1836 to 1838. Private collection. Photo by author.

I had the totally unexpected pleasure of handling this little gem over the weekend. I was asked whether I could determine its original owner, and what its purpose might have been. The volume is about six inches wide by seven-and-a-quarter inches long. It is bound in a style called “quarter binding,” meaning that only its spine is enclosed in leather; the rest of the book is covered in decorative marbled paper.

The contents of the volume reveal it to be a daybook, a type of accounting ledger. An artisan or merchant shop owner would often record day-to-day business transactions in a daybook, and then later post them to a (more formal) business ledger. This particular daybook has entries relating primarily to the manufacturing of footwear in Wellington from 1836 to 1838.

The owner’s name was hiding in plain sight, upside down on the pastedown of the back cover. The endpapers apparently served the double purpose of testing the author’s pen flow, as they are entirely saturated in inkblots. (The first American patent for a steel-nibbed dip pen was issued in 1810 but they were not widely used until at least the mid-1840s; this volume was likely written with some type of quill pen.) But the name is still legible and denotes the book as belonging to “John S. Case / Wellington / Lorain C. / Ohio.”

Inverted view of back flyleaf, John S. Case daybook. Private collection. Photo by author.

Detail of back pastedown (inverted), John S. Case daybook. Private collection. Photo by author.

I was familiar with Case’s name, because he sold land to Noah Huckins and Charles Horr on which they erected an ice house and ice harvesting pond in 1881. I wrote a post about that back in November, which featured a map detail showing Case’s property in the 1870s. The lot north of the road includes a structure labelled, “Tannery.” Case’s entry in Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio (1894) confirms his occupation: “In November, 1829, he came to Lorain county, and commenced the tanning business, in 1830, in the town of Wellington, opposite where the ice house now stands, and successfully operated the same until some twelve or fifteen years ago, when he retired from business” (pg. 897).

John S. Case. "Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio" (1894), pg. 895.

John Seward Case. “Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio” (1894), pg. 895.

Case situated his tannery on Liberty Street (now West Herrick Avenue)  for the same reason that Huckins and Horr later wanted to locate there: access to the creek that ran across the west side of town. Tanning, which is treating animal skins to create leather, is a very labor-intensive process that uses huge quantities of water. It is also a very smelly process, which explains why tanneries are usually found well away from populated areas.

The daybook is a “who’s who” of early Wellington. Couches, Wadsworths, Lovelands, Manleys, Herricks, Footes, Wilcoxes and deWolfs fill the pages. Dr. Daniel Johns was a regular customer. Case performed services including making and mending shoes and boots–also called “brogans”–for men, women and children. He replaced soles and heels, and most frequently described his own creations as “thick” and “heavy.” This was not delicate or sophisticated cobbling; Case was making rugged items for a village that had been unpopulated wilderness less than twenty years before. He also fashioned and fixed leather articles including animal harnesses, bridles, and even fire bellows.

Interior view of daybook owned by John S. Case, showing entries for July 1837. Private collection. Photo by author.

Interior view of daybook owned by John S. Case, showing entries for July 1837. Private collection. Photo by author.

The entries in the daybook follow a regular structure. They are recorded chronologically by the date the request for work was received. The client name comes first, followed by a description of the service (e. g. “1 pr shoes for girl” or “soleing + heeling your wifes boots”). The majority of entries are followed by the notation “Dr,” which in this context does not mean doctor, but rather “debitor.” The fee assessed for the work is listed in the right column; once payment in cash or kind was received–which could sometimes occur long after completion of the job–the left column was marked “Paid” or “X.”

Since specie was comparatively scarce in Ohio in the 1830s, it was not at all unusual for customers to settle their accounts with goods, instead of or in conjunction with cash. On May 1st, 1838, for example, David Howk discharged $0.94 of his debt “By five pts molasses.” His entry was duly marked “Cr” for “creditor.” There is at least one example (June 16, 1838) of Case accepting a “palm leaf hat + ribband” as partial payment. Palm leaf hat manufacture is often cited as a primary example of “outwork” widely engaged in by early nineteenth-century women and girls in their homes, so this hat might represent a Wellington woman’s contribution to her household economy through her own labor.

At some point after the daybook was full, it began a kind of second life as a mini-scrapbook. Someone pasted newspaper clippings, mainly poems and amusing anecdotes, over many of the pages in the first half of the volume. I attempted to trace the source(s) of the clippings, but without much success. Most do not look to me like the fonts and layout styles used in The Wellington Enterprise. One clipping had a mention on its reverse of “Dr. Field” taking over as editor of the newspaper, The Evangelist; Henry Martyn Field assumed that role in 1854. Two of the pastings are poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, both of which were first published in 1866. A receipt lodged in the binding from Runnels & Manchester Insurance of Cleveland is dated July 26, 1881. I have a strong suspicion that it was Case himself, or at least someone in his family, who reused the precious paper of the no-longer needed accounts. The one clipping in the volume that does seem to come from the Enterprise–a portion of an advertisement for A.G. Couch’s cabinet factory is visible on its reverse–is an undated mention of “Lieut. F. S. Case [1838-1887], son of J. S. Case of this place.” While it is unfortunate that these pastings cover some of the earliest pages of the daybook, one could argue that being repurposed as a scrapbook quite possibly saved this historical document for posterity.

Interior view of daybook owned by John S. Case, showing entries for December 15, 1836. Note that the right leaf is completely covered in newsprint. The darkening of the leaf on the left was caused by the acidic newsprint and the glue used to adhere it, which was probably animal-based. Private collection. Photo by author.

Interior view of daybook owned by John S. Case, showing entries for December 15, 1836. Note that the right leaf is completely covered in newsprint. The darkening of both leaves was caused by a combination of acidic newsprint, animal-based hide glue, and subsequent molding. Private collection. Photo by author.

John Seward Case died in late 1896, aged 88 years, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery with his second wife, Lucinda A. Ely Case. The present owner of the daybook is not sure how he came to acquire it, and there is no obvious clue within the volume, beyond the later newspaper clippings I have already described. However this little time capsule managed to survive the past eighteen decades, I am glad I got to make its acquaintance.

Headstone of John S. and Lucinda E. Case, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of John S. and Lucinda E. Case, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.


8 thoughts on “John Case’s Daybook

  1. Joshua

    Very cool find! I’m not familiar with him, but can imagine how he rubbed elbows with all of the interesting people in town.

    Something that has been mentioned to me before is to track how this impacts American religion. I haven’t done it due to a lack of time/resources, but I wonder how and if these connections can be tracked (or perhaps over-thought?) when it comes to religion and politics in the region.

    Anyway, great post as always!


  2. Armchair Historian Post author

    Hi Josh! I think about that, as well. Case, for example, was a deacon of the Congregational Church for fifty years. It is fascinating to study the ways in which faith intersects with a person’s politics, and even his or her financial interests, and to wonder what motivates an individual to join (or not join, or leave) a particular congregation. And how are such decisions impacted when one is in a new settlement, where access to ministry–and even one’s neighbors for assembly–is limited in ways beyond one’s own control.

    I have often thought it would be interesting to plot on a map people’s residences in relationship to their churches. I wonder if (especially later in the century, when there were more houses of worship to choose from) proximity played any role in attendance, particularly in outlying areas of the village.

    I don’t want to overstate it by suggesting that there were clear divisions within Wellington in the 19th century, but I will say that often, those who were strongly allied politically and were business associates were also members of the same church. Obviously in such a small population that was not always the case.

    1. Joshua

      Just did some quick searching through the records, 1824-1846.

      – Examined for membership to the church on Dec. 26, 1829 (along with some Wadsworths, DeWolfs, and Talcotts), accepted on Jan. 10, 1830.

      – Voted “Yea” to table the antislavery discussion indefinitely (telling me he was antislavery, but not radically so) in 1836.

      – Was on a committee to examine a Timothy Smith for “absenting himself” from the church in 1839.

      – In 1839 also, did not vote in some sort of turmoil over backtalking and some kind of drama I didn’t take the time to read/understand (I can send it). Pretty minor stuff here.

      – “Infant son” named Franklin Seward is recorded July 5, 1839 for his baptism, along with the presence of Diantha B Case, his wife (she was also admitted to teh church around the time of J. S. Case) – note she is not on the headstone above.

      – Dec. 1841: on a committee to consider H. A. Taylor as pastor of the church.

      – Voted “Yea” in Jan, 1842 to excommunicate a Brother Foote. (woah) – 7-6 vote which won.

      – INTERESTING BIT FOR ME HERE: voted to expunge on Feb. 25, ’42 a statement made by John Reed, which sent the church into turmoil shortly after – this is big!

      …and I’m going to stop mentioning him after that because it’s mostly relating to the schism. He seems to have been in the minority that sided with Presbytery and which (in VERY GENERAL TERMS) I would label as “more conservative.”

      Fun stuff.

  3. Joshua

    From the second book:

    – Became deacon in 1847 under pastor Ansel R. Clark (who was minister at both Wellington churches)

    – Shows up as “J. S. Case” as a delegate to multiple meetings throughout NE Ohio

    He shows up in the awesome membership records of the second book. Here it is:
    Name When Rec’d [received] How From what Church
    John S. Case Jan 10-1930 Letter Presb Church Franklin O

    In 1836, he may have gone to Brighton, but it obviously seems this wasn’t permanent – in another ledger for members:

    John S. Case Jany 10 Letter Pres Ch Franklin O July 1836 Cong Ch in Brighton Ohio
    [these entries are crossed out]

    – One last bit (seriously this time): He was on a committee which may have destroyed our records of the Independent Congregational Church. Note Dr. Wells’ comments below:

    The Committee appointed at the annaul Meeting Dec 30. 1864 to procure a book and Copy certain reccords, [sic] have procured this book + Copyed such portion of the reccords [sic] as they judged necessary to give a proper history of the Church, omitting the portions respecting the arrangements between this Church and the Independant + Free Cong Churchs in this place, [at this point the editor cannot refrain from a cry of anguish.] The Records Copied are from pages One to fifty one inclusive, also the list of Members from the organization of the Church and the baptisms, and the Rules + bylaws of the Church
    Feb 10, 1864 F.M. Hamlin }
    J. S. Case } Committee
    H Wadsworth}

  4. Armchair Historian Post author

    Really great information, Thank you for posting! RE: John Case’s first wife…as I suspected based on her early death date, Diantha B. Case (died 1848) is buried in the West Herrick “Pioneer” Cemetery. I can’t add an active link here, but she can be found in the “Find a Grave” entries with a picture of her headstone.

  5. Armchair Historian Post author

    It’s too bad his daybook doesn’t date to a later period, so you could compare and see if any of his customers stopped patronizing his tannery after controversial votes in the congregation, like the schism. Perhaps the village was at a stage in its development when that sort of politicking simply wasn’t possible. I may not like you, but my kids need shoes, and you are the only game in town, lol!

  6. Armchair Historian Post author

    Joshua, I was examining the volume again in preparation for returning it to its owner. I hadn’t really been paying too close attention to the contents of the clippings pasted over the accounts. After our exchange about Case losing his first wife in 1848, I looked with, you might say, a slightly different set of eyes.

    I noticed that a number of the poems pasted into the volume are about lost love. Here’s one example: “TRIBUTE TO THE DEPARTED./Heart and harp are shrouded,/Sorrow sweeps the strings;/Death hath hurled an altar,/Where affection clings./Holiest ties are riven,/Fondest hopes are crushed;/Earth holds now our treasure,/Mingling with its dust…” You get the idea.

    Another more melodramatic piece is called “The Two Bridegrooms,” attributed to H.E.G. The first groom is the human husband, the second is Death. There is the obligatory visual comparison between the wedding gown and the “snowy” burial shroud.

    Some items you would likely find more interesting are a piece of a page torn from a small Bible and a long story that ends in a drunkard father volunteering to take the temperance pledge.

    What I find most interesting about the clippings is that they suggest the volume was retained over a long period of time. The original ink entries are from the late 1830s; at least one poem is dated 1848; the two Longfellow poems first appeared in the 1860s; the insurance receipt is from the 1880s. It would seem as though Case retained the little book for most of his life.


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