Born in 1838, Emilie Davis was a free African American woman who lived and worked as a seamstress in the city of Philadelphia. It was in 1863, aged 24, that Davis began to keep a written record of life during the Civil War in the first of three pocket diaries to have survived, each filled with brief accounts of days and events that range from the mundane to the historically invaluable (4 Dec 1863: “In the evening, we went to hear Fred Duglass. Yesterday, I paid a visit to the White house”; 22 Apr 1865, days after Lincoln’s assassination: “It was the grandest funeral I ever saw. The coffin and hearse was beautiful.”). This particular entry is the first Davis wrote. It came on 1st January of that initial year, a momentous day on which millions of African American slaves in Confederate states were officially granted their freedom as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Diary Entry
THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, 1863.
To day has bin a memorable day and i thank god i have bin sperd to see it the day was religiously observed all the churches were open we had quite a Jubilee in the evens i went to Joness to a Party, had a very Pleasent time.
The original diaries have been held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania since 1999 and can be viewed online. The above image, featuring the first few days of 1863, is reproduced with their permission. In 2014, Davis’ diaries featured in two books: Emilie Davis’s Civil War: The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863–1865, edited by Judith Giesberg; and Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis, by Karsonya Wise Whitehead.
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