Monday, February 22, 2016

The 1884 Diary of David Fletcher Hoy of Bovina, New York

John W. Hoy, my fifth cousin, has very graciously given me permission to place on my blog a transcript he has done of David Fletcher Hoy's 1884 diary. D.F. Hoy, John's great grandfather, provided crucial information about the history and genealogy of Bovina, without which I would find my work as town historian much more challenging. Davy Hoy grew up in Bovina but would spend most of his life in Ithaca. (For more information about Davy's life in Ithaca, visit this blog at for an entry from October 2014.)

I will be sharing the diary in monthly installments through the rest of this year, starting in March with the January entries. Given that Davy did not write in the diary at all in October and barely any time after that, the monthly entries will not line up with the month of the blog entries.

This month's blog entry is John's 'discussion' about his great grandfather. I did some editing to reduce the size a bit, but John provides very interesting information about David F. Hoy's ancestral background, as well as a good summary of what the diary will say, so I left most of it in.
David F. Hoy in 1887, courtesy of David F. Hoy III and John W. Hoy
Transcription and discussion of the 1884 Diary of David Fletcher Hoy by John W. Hoy (January 2016)

David F. Hoy (1863-1930) was known for his enthusiasm for baseball, Cornell University, stamps, genealogy and his native Bovina. He was sociable and cared for friends and family. In 1887 he would graduate from the Delaware Literary Institute; in 1891 he would earn both his BS and MS from Cornell. After receiving his degrees, he headed the registrar's office until his retirement in 1930. He married Silence Burr Howard (1872-1952) on August 8, 1895. Early in the 20th century, he contracted for and helped design their house at 225 Fall Creek Drive in Ithaca (just across the gorge from the Cornell art museum). Ultimately, the Cornell baseball field and Hoy Road on the campus were named for him.

The 1884 diary reflects that he was detail-oriented and regular in his habits at 20 years old. Late spring he finished "14 weeks" as a local teacher in "my school," as he describes it (February 15) "This is the last day of my school I have taught 14 weeks at $5 per week and board." D. F. Hoy may have worked with another teacher, traveling with another to and from the school, without that specific individual identified. Speculating from the family names mentioned, "his school" was likely one of the Bovina District schools in the northwest part of town, corresponding to schools 2 (in District 2, etc.), 4, 5 or 6. Davy also worked for neighbors and family members, generally mixed carpentry attached to his father's business in local construction, but he also did farm work in the area, particularly during the harvest season—mowing, thrashing, cutting oats and driving wagons. Diary entries provided one way he could document the number of days he taught or just how many days he was working at a particular site. In one entry he describes posting what might be a business proposal, a natural extension of work for his father, John Robertson Hoy (1831-1901). The family house is identified on the Beers 1869 map of Bovina (available at along the Little Delaware River, at the main road above the "Bovina Valley" label. This map indicates two structures "J. R. Hoy"; the one along the main road is likely the storage and work structure J. R. Hoy mentioned in his diary in earlier years.

  During his stint teaching, Davy stayed with neighbors and friends in the evenings, presumably to allow more space at the house for other family members in their house, but it was also a way local families could help pay for the school; he might stay a week with any one family. After he finished teaching that spring, he continued the practice of staying with others in the community for some days of nearly every week. As a young man essentially out in the working world earning his keep, he was trusted to look after himself.

He no doubt felt quite comfortable within the quiet village. It is easy to imagine that he listened to many stories and much lore about heritage and background while playing dominoes or walking in company. Many of his neighbors and cousins descended from Lowlands Scotland, primarily Roxburghshire, and he would have heard Scots flavors every day. His great grandfather James Hoy, a founder of the Coila church in Cambridge, New York, had emigrated in 1783 across the Atlantic from Jedburgh, Scotland, but he originally traced to Ettrick Forest and to a family mentioned specifically by James Hogg in his 1818 novel The Brownie of Bodsbeck; Hogg was in fact a distant cousin to the Bovina Hoy family, by marriage—the emigrant James Hoy (Davy's great grandfather) was brother-in-law to the sister of James Hogg's mother. David Fletcher's mother's uncle John Miller (1797-1874) had been a forester and factor for the Earl of Traquair in Innerleithen, Scotland, identified today as the "oldest continuously occupied house in Scotland"; John Miller had retired from the Traquair House staff in 1871. Through the Millers, David Fletcher belonged to the Laidlaw clan of Hawick and to a plausible great-great grandfather David Laidlaw mentioned by James Hogg in his printed notes to his most popular work, The Queen's Wake (first published 1813). According to Scots naming patterns, Davy's grandfather David Miller as second son would have been named for his mother's (Agnes Laidlaw's) father, very likely Hogg's specific David Laidlaw, and, following the same practice, David Fletcher himself as second son would have been named for his mother's father David Miller. The blood link would also give him distant cousinship with the famous Dr. John Leyden—also a descendent of this Laidlaw group.

In later years, David Fletcher exchanged letters with enthusiasts worldwide tracing genealogical nuance. He made a set of trips to Scotland very early in the 20th century, but closer to home he also documented family histories of Bovina families in a more general sense. He may well have kept a puritan streak about a number of social fascinations, including alcohol. Generally Bovina was inclined toward temperance, and there is no mention of alcohol of any kind in the diary.

Davy also did chores around the family homestead in Bovina. His older sister Jennette Ellen Hoy (b. 1859) may have been at home or working in the area, and she would be one of the Jennies mentioned in the diary. His younger siblings Margaret Jane (b. 1866) Milton Robertson (b. 1870) and William Wilson (b. 1872) may have been at home but are not mentioned in the diary except in passing. Milton Robertson Hoy would in a few years also assist John Robertson Hoy with construction of houses (the Dario and Briana Riera home, formerly owned by Russ and Dorothy Ryder, was built by Milton and his father, ca. 1887). David Fletcher Hoy had favorite friends whose names appear often in the diary. There is no mention of his missing the thumb of his left hand, following an accident with a shotgun at some uncertain date before or after these 1884 entries. According to family lore, reported by Davy's grandson D. F. Hoy, III, his father J. R. Hoy laconically recommended he find another profession that did not require that thumb.

John Robertson Hoy, a veteran of the Civil War with the NY 144th Volunteers (1864-65), was a carpenter, woodsman and sugar maker, tapping trees and boiling sap in the winter. Prior to the 1860s, J. R. Hoy served seven years with the local N.Y. State militia. The family had been stressed in 1883 by a set of deaths close to the Bovina family. David's older brother James Thomas died January 30, 1883, of unknown cause. David Fletcher's grandmother Isabella Turnbull died May 13, perhaps cared for by her two daughters, Isabella Wilson Miller (1831-1905, David Fletcher's mother), and Jennette Elliott Miller (1841-1925), who may have lived with her parents. David Fletcher's grandfather David Miller died July 2, mere weeks after the passing of his wife. Finally, David's oldest sister Mary Isabella and her infant died during childbirth three weeks later on July 22. Her husband Douglas(s) Davidson is mentioned often in the diary, and clearly, David Fletcher saw him as a friend as well as brother-in-law needing support with chores on his own place, though Davy apparently was paid for some, if not all, work he did. D. F. Hoy comes across as mature, straightforward and businesslike and simply does not make many personal remarks about others.

Once his teaching was done in the spring, D.F. Hoy's time shifted to house and barn building and general work on local farmsteads, with some hint in the diary of how the business relationship with his father was organized. David Fletcher may well have been part of a team working on its own while his father J. R. Hoy was working at a different job site. Davy often mentions working with Tom Clark (1858-1943) and David Hoy (b. 1848, son of J.R.'s oldest sibling James Hoy and who had married Josephine Clark in 1873). Barn raising or other large tasks required community participation, one frame needing "50 men," for example. Skilled carpenters would be necessary to prepare for the new raising, to have primary timbers cut and assembled in a preliminary fashion. The frame members would then be raised and pinned by a large working party on a Saturday. The structure would be enclosed and finished by carpenters such as J.R. Hoy and his crew. References in the diary to quarrying, working at the river and "the bridge" suggest that during 1884 J. R. Hoy may have been working on the Stone Bridge in Bovina (photographed in 1941, still picturesque at that time, visible in the published calendar Our Town, Bovina 2000). It appears a set of major jobs were in process during the year, including the bridge, barns, a "wagon house", some site grading and at least one residential house.

The brown, leather-bound, stitched Excelsior Diary booklet, of 3" x 5" pages, was a quality product, printed for just such purpose as it was used, and D. F. Hoy may well have felt encouraged to keep and maintain it, for most of the year, anyway. The booklet is cupped in a way that suggests it was often carried in a back pocket. David Fletcher's handwriting could be tiny but clear, implying many hours practicing penmanship, in pencil, primarily, and a good knife for keeping the point sharp. Perhaps typical for such notebooks in the day, they functioned as comprehensive personal organizers, and the very last pages of this notebook provide a set of bookkeeping pages. Binding end papers reveal informal arithmetic computations in pencil.

At no point does David Fletcher write his own name in the diary [Note from Ray: this is incredibly common, making it hard or impossible to know who wrote a particular diary]. Only handwriting provides a way to make the identification certain, but even that presents challenges: his handwriting varied, and at times seems quite formal—not all that surprising, since he was often practicing the same skills he was probably teaching in his school. In the entries, D.F. Hoy was generally regular with his spelling, and he made some erasures to rewrite words. Our spelling of "today" is almost always separated into two words: "to day." He would not just visit, he or someone else might go "a visiting." On the other hand, he was irregular with his punctuation, often not marking possessives, though possessive noun forms here are generally unambiguous. Perhaps for a small diary, punctuation would be the first to be dropped. However, Davy usually identified individuals with middle initials in order to make clear just who it was, incredibly helpful for a later transcriber! It is very likely that he was clarifying for hypothetical later checking for a set of reasons: because he wanted make sure he could report precisely what he had accomplished in order to receive fair payment, because he was naturally devoted to his community, and because his nature led him to be exact with details, all of which might require and encourage good habits.

Some entries in the monthly account details at the back of the diary suggest he was occasionally lending small sums to family members and neighbors. The listing of money paid out also provides a picture of his interests, both casual and serious. He entered amounts spent "For Candy" or "For Cigar." He occasionally purchased a meal out, and toll charges on the road are also listed.

Davy regularly visited with others in the Bovina area socially, sometimes traveling substantial distances, such as to Walton or Delhi, for business or personal reasons. He seems to have walked a great deal, but occasionally he mentions getting rides—in wagons, presumably. He reports hearing of two instances of horse theft. David Fletcher was at least checking on the feasibility of purchasing a bicycle, given that he entered the address of the Pope Manufacturing Company, which had only a few years before begun making bicycles in Boston. For some carpentry jobs, he stayed nights with the house or barn owner.

  D.F. Hoy attended church, sometimes twice on Sunday—church service in the morning and prayer meeting or Sunday school later on. He occasionally traveled to other churches to hear named visiting preachers, and on one occasion he noted the text on which the sermon was based. He also attended fund-raising "socials," recording the amounts of money raised though usually not the causes—with one exception: he paid .20 for a concert to benefit the "Fresh Air" children at the Methodist Church. He was diligent about listing money for church collections, but Davy may have been a communicant in the United Presbyterian Church—though the figures for collections dropped to a penny per week later in the year. He also mentions the Reformed Presbyterian Church (The "Covenanter Church") and the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Gaining sight of the many names referenced as well as trying to understand relationships means I have accessed much data and description prepared by others. D. F. Hoy himself championed preservation of family history, he researched and organized arcane details quickly and efficiently, and he preserved papers and some artifacts including his own diary from early years. The diary, along with other family documents, was preserved in turn by David's son David Fletcher Hoy, II and his grandson David Fletcher Hoy, III. Using family information, Bovina Burial Information (compiled heroically by Ed and Richard Davidson, grandsons of Douglass Davidson, finalized in 2007), as well as genealogical data originally organized and preserved by D. F. Hoy, then scanned by Richard Davidson, I have attempted to identify some of the names. The Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site (, created by Joyce Riedinger, continues to make the data available to others; that site is linked through the Delaware County Historical Association ( and the H. Fletcher Davidson Library. Currently, the diary is in the possession of David Fletcher Hoy, III and his son John W. Hoy.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.