Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ink in the Civil War

I went to the Virginia Historical Society library today to look at a fragmentary diary kept by Betty Herndon Maury's sister-in-law, Susan Crutchfield Maury. The library's record for this diary says it was written in 1864. By chance, I had read the following extract from Virginia Clay-Clopton's memoirs, A Belle of the Fifties, where she describes how women in the south during the American Civil War had to make their own ink. Reading that was fortuitous, for when I saw Susan's diary, the "ink" was so faded that I could not read the words. The kind reference librarians at the Virginia Historical Society copied the diary pages for me on a copy machine which darkened the letters somewhat. I am going to scan the copied pages and see if I can darken the written words even more so that I can transcribe Susan's diary. I don't know what Susan used to make the "ink" she used to write the diary. What is left of it is a light brown color.

A Belle of the Fifties
Virginia Clay-Clopton
London, Wm. Heinemann, 1905

Page 227: "We made our own writing fluids, our commonest resource being the oak ball, a parasite, which, next to the walnut burr, is the blackest thing in the vegetable world. Or, this failing us, soot was scooped from the chimney, and, after a careful sifting, was mixed with water and 'fixed' with a few drops of vinegar. Sometimes we used poke-berries, manufacturing a kind of red ink, or, made thin with water, some bit of miraculously saved shoe polish provided us with an adhesive black fluid."

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