Diary of a Yaphank Teenager-1882-1883

Francis William Weeks

Richard C. Chapin

In a quiet country churchyard, located in the center of Suffolk County, lies the body of a 17 year old boy, next to the grave of his mother who died only months before. Francis William Weeks was laid to rest by a loving father, who had, with his devoted wife Mary, already buried three other children in the same consecrated place. Francis would have remained one more unknown teenager in our history, except for the fact that he decided to keep a diary, as his father had done for many years. This is his story.

The first entry in his diary for 1883 was short and to the point: “At midnight W.B. (Will Bishop) and I went to the church and rang the bell. Not a word about the startled community of those who slept. Nothing about the hasty retreat from the church. In fact, the morning brought the usual chores and some skating on the mill pond. In more innocent days, people used to say: “Boys will be boys!”, and leave it at that. The date was January 1, 1883, and Francis William Weeks was almost 16; he and his friend Will obviously greeted the new year with the enthusiasm of the young.

Francis was born the eleventh child of William Jones Weeks and Mary Croswell Weeks. His paternal grandparents were James Huggins Weeks and Susan Maria Jones Weeks, among the early settlers of Yaphank. James, a founder and fifth President of the Long Island Rail Road, was a native of Oyster Bay. Susan, a descendent of the Irish pirate Maj. Thomas Jones, after whom Jones Beach was named, was born in Cold Spring Harbor, in the home now occupied by the Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Many of her ancestors were settlers of Fort Neck, now Massapequa. Her sister, Eleanor, was the wife of William Sydney Smith, of Longwood.

Francis’ father, William, was educated at the Bellport Academy and Yale University. As a civil engineer, he surveyed the line that now divides Nassau and Suffolk, as well as many of the farms and roads of Long Island. At various times in his life, he was responsible for Suffolk schools and roads, as well as an officer in the agricultural society. As “Superintendent of the Poor”, he was responsible for the building of the first county homes for adults and for children. An inventor, scientist, horticulturalist, beekeeper, and taxidermist, William is said to have named Yaphank, which from the time of the first settlement and up until the arrival of the railroad had been called Millville.

“Our eleventh child was born this morning, Jany. 8th, 1867, at one o’clock, a well formed boy, full head of hair, and without apparent blemish. Weight 9 lbs.” He “was baptized this afternoon, July 7th, 1867,in St. Andrew’s Church, Yaphank, by the Rev’d William J. Seabury and named Francis William Weeks.” So wrote William Jones Weeks in his well kept diaries, as he had done for the birth of each child delivered by his wife, Mary, beginning with Little Susy. Seventeen years later he was to write that “Francis ... died this morning,

Feb. 13, 1884, twenty minutes before 5 o’clock. Brain affection.... We feel his loss to us. The funeral of Francis took place today, Feb. 16th, 1884, at 1 o’clock at St. Andrew’s Church, and he was interred in the family ground. In the bloom of his youth.”

We do not know if Francis kept a diary before 1882, except that he wrote

“No. 6” at the top of the first page of his 1982 diary, and on April 29, 1883 he wrote in large letters: “Begun abt. 1877” “Ended Apr. 30 ‘83” If he was referring to his diary it would indicate that he began at the age of ten. His last entry actually was Dec. 31, 1883. Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have his own account of the last two years of his life, and perhaps the answer to our questions about his untimely death. His days were filled with work, play, walking, exploration, hunting, reading, visiting, and, on the Lord's day, with attendance at Church for the worship of God. He boxed with Will Bishop, they gathered cocoons and butterflies, they skated on the millpond, swam and ran races. They made kites and flew them, they played ball and argued. They weighed themselves and kept a record of their height. We meet a young man who is accustomed to hard work, who enjoys a good time, and who reveals to us in these excerpts from his diary an eagerness for life. Even though his formal schooling appeared to be over, he records many self-study sessions of arithmetic and shorthand, as well as daily reading in various disciplines.

We note that, probably due to poor health (after giving birth to twelve children), Francis’ mother spent her winters in Brooklyn. The family business was headquartered in Brooklyn and a residence was maintained there. Whenever Francis visited he would take extensive walks around lower Manhattan. At one time, he worked for his older brother as a messenger for several weeks during the absence of the regular employee.

Apr. 22nd, Sat. Cut and covered potatoes. Greased the wagon. Harnessed a horse. Wrote. Aft. went to the 2nd lot above the Presbyterian church to play ball, all of the boys present: but, owing to some little dissension, we did not have as good a game as last Saturday. Did not get home to do my work until 9:30. Father, who had been to Wampmissic, did not return until about 10.

Apr. 29th, Sat. 7:00 Ploughed. Went to the station for a barrel of coal. Ploughed in the afternoon. Rubbed the sprouts off of potatoes. 9,000,000,000.

May 23rd, Tue. 6:00 Wet and rainy. Walked over to Grandmother’s for breakfast as usual, and wrote a little with a pencil and read. Helped Father take out Grandmother’s stove and put it in the tub-house. Bound oat straw. Harnessed Gypsy to the blue wagon and took it to Robbins’ shop; rode home on horseback. Harnessed to the other wagon and rode with Father to the station P.O. Harnessed one horse to the blue wagon and the other [“Mink”] to the brown wagon; the latter for Clara and Grandmother to go to Longwood. Drove around the lot while Father mended the fence and so on. Looked at the stars some in the evening; some of them looked as big as the moon.

Oct. 1st to 13th, Occupied with various things. Went to the [Suffolk Co.] Fair on the 6th with Frank Bishop and had a fine time. Father paid my fare. I took two cases of insects, but as there was a larger case there I did not get the premium, but only Honorable Mention. Weight, Oct 7th, 124.

Oct. 14th, Sat. Very heavy rain. Studied Arith. Will & I melted lead and made about 40 bullets in the workshop. Frank [Will’s younger brother] came and stayed an hour or two. He brought Will’s boots, which he wore over his shoes and we had a hard pull to get them off; finally Frank got down on the chopping block and held on to the bench with one hand and a heavy box with the other and I succeeded in pulling them off.

Francis records his sighting of the Great Comet of 1882, with an orbit of 760 years. It was the third and last comet in his father’s lifetime.

Oct. 15th, Sun. 4:30 Father woke us to see the comet in the South-east; it was quite bright and appeared to be about 20 feet long, but it was really 50,000,000 miles.

Dec. 21st, Thu. Skated and worked some. Got some greens for the church....

Dec. 22nd, Fri. Will, C.J.(?) & I trimmed the church all in one day and made it look very well. Walked to the store.

Dec. 24th, Sun. Read. Went to church in aft. Mr. Sharp preached a very short
sermon. Read.

Dec. 25th, Mon. Christmas. 7:00 Skated on our pond. Father gave me a gold pen & $3.00 & I received several other useful presents. Went to Grandmother’s to dinner, Sunday School children came in the aft. & were given gifts of
candy, etc.

Dec. 30th, Sat. Went up to the millpond and skated all of the morning. Aft. cut wood and about 4:00 went to the pond and skated some time until it got quite dark & most everyone had gone off. Waited for Frank & he finally came with a lantern & walked home with me. Stayed for some time to see if anyone would come to skate on our pond; but as they did not, we went to the millpond, where about 10 or 15 young men were skating around in the dark. After some trouble owing to the darkness, we succeeded in getting ashore in the bogs and collecting a large number of sticks & small logs, with which we soon had a large fire going. And when those were partly burnt, some of the boys got several big boxes filled with hay which they put on and lasted some time. But as it was so dark and the fire did not light up very much though it was quite large, we did not do much but stand around and talk. F.B, W.B. & I were the last to leave & we poured the box which had been used as a seat onto the fire which blazed up for some time. Reached home about 10.

Jan. 3rd, Wed. Rode to the station and to the store with father. Went to the woods near the river and cut considerable wood with Will. Edmund Howell also cutting for James Smith. In the afternoon went to the mill pond and skated. Went up to Davis’s and stayed a while. Read a book.

Jan. 4th, Thu. After breakfast I went over to the barn and harnessed Gypsy, shelled some corn and took Father to the station to go to Brooklyn. Unharnessed and cut wood at the woodpile. Wrote this. Went to the store in the afternoon and read a book in the evening.

When Francis writes about the “church”, he refers to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, built in 1853 by his grandparents in memory of his sister Susan Maria. “Little Susy” was buried on St. Andrew’s Day, 1850, seventeen years before Francis was born.

Jan. 7th, Sun. Read. Took a walk in the woods and had a small fire. Took Grandmother to church in the sleigh in the afternoon.

Jan. 8th, Mon. “16th Birthday” Wt. 135 Ht. 5’5” T.S. Homan came last night with a telegram from Father. Sad news, to meet him at station. Split wood. Went to the station and got Father, when he told me that Mother died Sunday at 6 o’clock.

Jan. 10th, Wed. A great snow storm. Cleared the snow from the barn, etc. and went to the station with Father to send a telegram.

Jan. 11th, Thu. Cleared snow from church paths, etc. to prepare for funeral. Went up and engaged Ed Hammond to toll the bell. Harnessed the horses to the sleigh and rode to the church.

Jan. 19th, Fri. Rode with Father and cut wood on a lot near the Pres. church. Read papers till evening. Julia (older, married sister) said there was a fire; we equipped ourselves as soon as possible, and ran to the place and found it to be Capt. Coomb’s store. Did all we could in all stages of the fire which lasted about 3 hours, till twelve.

Jan. 21st, Sun. Capt. Coomb’s store was all burned; some furniture was saved and four buildings, two barns, woodshed and ice house. Ins. about $8,000. Quite a large fire.

Feb. 14th, Wed. After breakfast we worked up trees in the swamp til 12 o’clock. Practiced writing and read. Went to the store with some letters and had an exciting snowball battle with the schoolboys, about 20, in company with Ben, G. Dew, F.B. Hulse. We finally won and drove them into the schoolhouse. Wt. 138. Read in the evening.

Francis accompanied his father to the Brookhaven Town meeting at the Davis homestead in Coram. The building still stands near the crossroads of Middle Country Road and Route 112.

Apr. 3rd, Tue. Started for Coram with Father about 7:30 o’clock. When I reached there I walked around and hunted for some cocoons, also watched some boys play ball. Numbers there; very pleasant. Saw much. Stayed from 7 to 5:30 in an upper room with the seven or nine Inspectors & 15 other men while the votes were counted.

Apr. 4th, Wed. As they did not finish till 5:30 we came home early this morning feeling rather sleepy, but not much worse otherwise. Unharnessed horse and practiced writing. Practiced shorthand & walked around the pond. N.B. I take care of the stock (two horses & two cows) three times each day, and do the work connected therewith.

Oct . 4th, Thu. Went to the Suffolk Co. fair and inspected the pumpkins, squashes, etc. Also walked around Riverhead some.

Nov. 26th, Mon. Went to Brooklyn on an excursion to the celebration of the evacuation of N. Y. by the British, Nov. 26, 1783. Saw the procession which was 8 miles long.... Heavy rain.

Francis kept a cash account record in the back of his diary. A sampling of one month gives us an idea of the meticulous care given to his finances and some idea of his expenditures. Note that although this month indicates that he received a regular allowance, many other months show that he earned odd amounts of cash for work, for barter, and for game sold. Besides candy, Francis often bought raisins, pies and cake. In summertime, he occasionally bought ice cream. On July 31st he wrote: “Father went to the city. Went to store in aft. & got ice cream at J. Whitbeck’s where Regie (younger brother) and I ate 3 plates apiece.”

Cash Account -- June
Received Paid
4 From Father .50
5 “ “ .50
For Candy .10
“ Hat 1.00 “ Suit from F. 9.75
“ Suit 9.75
6 Debts 1.26
9 Candy .10
Gourd seeds .10
Candy .10
10 From Father .50
15 Accordion Books .28
Stamps .06
Cuffs .05
17 Contributions .05
From Father .50
Unaccounted .71
18 Salt .08
24 From Father .50
25 Collars .20
W., C. R., etc. .36
26 Br’t over 6.88 4.48
27 Found in purse .01
30 Spent .89
Whole amt. 6.89 5.37

Dec. 29th, Sat. Cut wood a little while in the swamp. Went down in aft. to finish a tree and striking harder than was necessary to cut a stick, the axe cut my leg quite bad just above the ankle. Went up and fixed it.

Dec. 30th, Sun. Had to stay in all day on account of my foot. Read.

Dec. 31st, Mon. Read and looked over some Books.

This was Francis’ last entry. He died just 13 days later. The cause of death
was, according to his father’s account, “brain affection”; today we would probably call it infection and blood poisoning .

Sources include:
Chapin, Richard C., Little Susy’s Church,
A History of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1988
Hawkins, Benjamin, Francis’ Diaries, given to Enid Tooker for St. Andrew’s Church (copy to be deposited in Longwood Public Library)
Weeks, William Jones, Journals, Jamaica Public Library, Longwood Public Library
Weeks, William Jones, Memoranda (re. births, baptisms & deaths),complements of his granddaughter, Nathalie L. Dickieson, 1980.

The Rev. Richard C. Chapin, who has written articles for the Forum in the past, is retired, living in Montrose, PA. Vicar Emeritus of St. Andrew’s Church, Yaphank, he was also Chaplain of the Patchogue Fire Dept. and Ambulance Co. and teacher / coordinator of Eastern Suffolk B.O.C.E.S.
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