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To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810-1811

To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810-1811

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To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810-1811

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Aug 19, 2015


"The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke," a compelling primary document previously unpublished, offers insights into the life and mind of a seventeen-year-old young woman, while also providing a fascinating window into the cultural and social landscape of the early national period. Rachel was a thoughtful, intelligent, observer, and her journal is an important account of upper- and middle-class life in the growing city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her entries reveal her remarkably studied views on social customs, marriage, gender roles, friendship, and religion.

The journal is dominated by two interrelated themes: Rachel's desire to broaden her knowledge and her friendship with her teacher, Ebenezer Grosvenor. Since Ebenezer was both her teacher and her romantic interest, it is impossible to distinguish between the themes of education and romance that dominate her writings. On several occasions, Rachel and Ebenezer exchanged their private journals with each other. During these exchanges, Ebenezer added comments in the margins of Rachel's journal, producing areas of written "conversation" between them. The marginalia adds to the complexity of the journal and provides evidence of and insight into Rachel's romantic and intellectual relationship with him. The written interactions between Rachel and Ebenezer, together with discussions of friendship and courtship rituals provided throughout the journal, enrich our understanding of social life during the early national period.

To Read My Heart will be of interest to students of American history, women's studies, and nineteenth-century literature; all readers will be captivated by the rich expression and emotional experience of the journal. Whether she is relating the story of a young friend's wedding, the death of a small boy, or the capture of a slave in Guinea, Rachel's pages have universal appeal as she seeks to understand her own role as an emerging adult.

Aug 19, 2015

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To Read My Heart - University of Pennsylvania Press

To Read My Heart

To Read My Heart

The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810–1811

Edited by

Lucia McMahon and Deborah Schriver

Copyright © 2000 University of Pennsylvania Press

All rights reserved

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Published by

University of Pennsylvania Press

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Van Dyke, Rachel, b. 1793.

To read my heart : the journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810–1811 / edited by Lucia McMahon and Deborah Schriver.

   p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8122-3549-5 (acid-free paper)

1. Van Dyke, Rachel, b. 1793—Diaries. 2. New Brunswick (N.J.)—Biography. 3. Young women—New Jersey—New Brunswick—Diaries. 4. Young women—New Jersey—New Brunswick—Social life and customs—19th century. 5. New Brunswick (N.J.)—Social life and customs—19th century. 6. New Brunswick (N.J.)—Intellectual life—19th century. I. McMahon, Lucia. II. Schriver, Deborah. III. Title.

F144.N5   V36   2000




Frontispiece: June 20, 1810, journal entry with marginal notes written by Ebenezer Grosvenor to Rachel Van Dyke. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.


Editorial Note


Deborah Schriver

The Journal

Book 2. May 20–June 9, 1810

Book 3. June 10–23, 1810

Book 4. June 24–July 12, 1810

Book 5. July 13–30, 1810

Book 6. July 31–August 10, 1810

Book 7. August 12–25, 1810

Book 8. August 26–September 6, 1810

Book 9. September 7–20, 1810

Book 10. September 21–October 2, 1810

Book 11. October 3–23, 1810

Book 12. October 24–November 9, 1810

Book 13. November 10–24, 1810

Book 14. November 25–December 22, 1810

Book 15. December 23, 1810–January 12, 1811

Book 16. January 13–31, 1811

Book 17. February 1–22, 1811

Book 18. February 23–March 14, 1811

Book 19. March 15–April 5, 1811

Book 20. April 6–30, 1811

Book 21. May 1–21, 1811

Book 22. May 22–June 13, 1811

Book 23. June 14–July 21, 1811

Epilogue: Rachel Van Dyke’s Life After 1811

We Would Share Equally: Gender, Education, and Romance in the Journal of Rachel Van Dyke

Lucia McMahon

Appendix A: Dates of Journal Exchanges Between Rachel Van Dyke and Ebenezer Grosvenor

Appendix B: Rachel Van Dyke’s Reading List

Appendix C: Ebenezer Grosvenor’s Code and Translation

Appendix D: Excerpts from the Rural Visiter

Appendix E: The Journal of Ebenezer Grosvenor (April 20–May 31, 1808)

Appendix F: Genealogy of Rachel Van Dyke, 1580–1709, and Genealogy of Rachel Van Dyke, 1709–1891

Friends and Family Mentioned in Rachel Van Dyke’s Journal


Bibliography of Secondary Sources



Editorial Note

The original journal of Rachel Van Dyke is held at Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries. It consists of twenty-three numbered fascicles, each approximately 4 X 6 inches in size and approximately 40 to 48 pages in length. Each book has a front and back cover, which is numbered and dated. The first of these books has not been located, and thus our transcription of the journal begins with Rachel’s book 2. We have retained Rachel’s numbering of the journal books.

The journal presented a number of editing challenges: spelling and punctuation were at times irregular and inconsistent; many persons were referred to by initials or first names only; in several places, text has been crossed or cut from the manuscript. In addition, several fascicles contain the handwriting and marginalia of Ebenezer Grosvenor, Rachel’s teacher and friend, with whom she exchanged journals on several occasions.

In preparing the manuscript for publication, the editors have presented the journal as closely as possible to the original, with a few exceptions designed to assist the reader. Rachel frequently used dashes rather than periods at the end of sentences, and we have replaced these dashes with periods, except when the dashes seem critical to the tone of the text. We have corrected Rachel’s inconsistencies of spelling for certain words (e.g. stoping to stopping; tryed to tried), except in instances where Ebenezer Grosvenor read and marked the misspelling in Rachel’s journal (his marks are retained in the transcription). At moments that appear to be slips of the pen, we have silently corrected spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Words that seem to have been left out or that appear partially written have been inserted in square brackets for clarity.

Whenever possible, we have identified in brackets the full names of persons that Rachel mentioned by initials or first name. There is, however, one notable exception. Throughout her journal, Rachel consistently referred to Ebenezer Grosvenor as Mr. G- and we have not altered this reference. After careful review, the editors feel this reference retains Rachel’s voice and is essential to preserving the tone and nature of the journal. While to some readers it may suggest an inequity in their relationship, the editors believe that Rachel used the designation with a mixture of respect and affection, to indicate that Mr. G- was both her teacher and friend.

Where the original manuscript contains crossed-out text or torn pages, we have indicated the break in the text flow with bracketed ellipses [ . . . ] and provided a note explaining the interruption.

For the presence of marginalia, written by both Rachel and Mr. G-, the editors have designed a set of editorial guides and references to assist the reader in following the conversations that took place between the lines and across the pages of the journal. For each journal book that was read by Mr. G-, we have provided a note at the beginning of the chapter indicating the date(s) of the exchange, indicating the date Mr. G-’s marginalia were added. Mr. G-’s marginal notes are transcribed as closely to their original location as possible and are indicated by bold italics type and identified by [G]. Notes that were added by Rachel at a later date, often in direct response to Mr. G-’s comments, are in bold type and identified by [R]. Where appropriate, the editors have also provided notes to indicate marginalia that were difficult to transcribe, including the use of wavy lines, bracketed text, and the like. Text underlined by Rachel in the original manuscript appears in italics here. Underlining in this volume signifies Mr. G-’s marks. Strikethrough appears in the text as found in the original manuscript, and is usually followed by an explanatory note.

We have identified as many of Rachel’s literary references as possible, and full citations appear in the notes. If no note follows a literary work, we have not been able to determine its full reference.


Deborah Schriver

To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810–1811 offers a daily journal written by a seventeen-year-old student and resident of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Two significant events in Rachel’s life, her final day at a female academy in May 1810 and the death of her father in June 1811, frame the journal. Entries reveal views of early nineteenth-century New Jersey life and opinions on social customs, marriage, gender roles, friendship, and religion. An avid reader and dedicated student, Rachel discusses her insights into literature, Biblical teachings, poetry, science, and philosophy. Her commentaries reflect the culture of the time and have special value as the expression of a nineteenth-century young woman seeking to understand her own role as an emerging adult. The significant outcome is a first-person narrative rich in emotionality, offering a young woman’s view of historical and cultural development of the early nineteenth century.

Though Rachel’s own intention was to improve myself in composition—to practise expressing my sentiments through daily practice, her journal serves a greater purpose as a valuable historical, cultural, and literary document (May 21, 1810). Historically, Rachel’s journal provides a special perspective on New Brunswick during the years of growth for Rutgers University (Queen’s College) and the Dutch Reformed Church. A number of well-known figures are mentioned throughout the journal, including Dr. Ira Condict, the Frelinghuysen family, Dr. John H. Livingston, and Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rachel’s daily accounts provide a valuable picture of social customs, daily hardships, and current events of early nineteenth-century life in New Brunswick. The journal presents the rare opportunity to experience this period through the personal perspective of a young woman as she contemplates her own significant place in society.

Rachel offers the compelling voice of a young woman eager to acquire knowledge and intellect while especially drawn to a friendship with her teacher, Ebenezer Grosvenor (1788–1817), referred to by Rachel as Mr. G-.¹ Particularly unique is a conversation in the margins of the journal itself between Rachel and Mr. G-, recorded on the several occasions when they exchanged journals.² Before giving her pages to Mr. G-, Rachel reviewed her entries and wrote editorial comments and notes to him in the margins. Likewise, Mr. G- responded by recording his responses and thoughts to Rachel in the margins. Additionally, although Mr. G- did not alter Rachel’s text, in the true fashion of her teacher, he occasionally underlined her misspelled words. The result is an overlay of Rachel’s critical comments on her original entries and a running dialogue between Rachel and Mr. G- that reveals additional dimensions of her personality, a rich relationship between teacher and student, and a developing romantic friendship.

Mrs. Frederick Frelinghuysen donated the original manuscript of the journal to Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1977, and it is kept there today.³ Of the twenty-three numbered fascicles, the first, for May 7–19, 1810, is missing. The final fascicle ends with the entry written on the fifth Sunday after the death of Rachel’s father (July 21, 1811) followed by four and a half blank pages. The pages are paper, bound by a cover and back of heavier paper. The writing is clear and legible, except at the extreme edges, where the paper has sometimes worn or disintegrated. In some sections the text is marked through, presumably by Rachel, and marginal notes challenge readability at times. Occasional tears eliminate some of the text, and in parts of the journal sections of pages appear to have been cut.

Rachel Van Dyke’s Family

Rachel Van Dyke’s ancestors can be traced to Amsterdam, Holland, and to the family of Thomasse Janse Van Duych (1580?-1665?) and Sytie Dirks, whose sons brought the Van Dyke family to America in 1652.⁴ Rachel’s family settled in New Jersey in 1720 when her great-grandparents, Jan Van Dyke and his wife, Annetje Verkirk Van Buren, moved from a settlement on the Island of Nassau (Long Island) to Middlesex County.⁵ Jan and Annetje’s son, Jan Van Dyke, fathered three children in his first marriage and after the death of his first wife, married Garritie Bergen. Together they had ten children, including Frederick, Rachel’s father. Rachel’s grandfather, Jan Van Dyke, died as an American patriot on the battlefield at Monmouth in 1778, fifteen years before she was born. (See appendix F for genealogical charts.)

Rachel’s parents, Frederick Van Dyke (1751–1811) and Lydia Cole (1760–1823), married in December 1778 at the Dutch Reformed Church at Six Mile Run. Lydia was the daughter of James Cole of New Germantown.⁶ Rachel’s parents provided her with an upper-middle-class home, supported by her father’s dry goods store, nearby farm, and a household that included enslaved African Americans.⁷

Rachel Van Dyke was born on February 28, 1793. The youngest of six children, Rachel had three brothers and two sisters: Hannah, John, James, Lydia, and Frederick Augustus. As there is no known record or mention of Hannah beyond her birth, it is likely that she died in infancy. At the time of her journal in 1810, Rachel was living with her family in New Brunswick, New Jersey. John was twenty-eight years old, James was twenty-six, Lydia was twenty-three, and Frederick Augustus was twenty-two (all unmarried).

Rachel’s favorite brother was Frederick Augustus Van Dyke (1788–1867). Referred to by Rachel as Augustus, he had a great influence on her, and of all her family members, he receives the most mention in her journal. Augustus earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1807, entered the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania in October 1808, and graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in July 1810. During the time of Rachel’s journal Augustus was just beginning to practice medicine as a physician. Augustus studied with the Philadelphia physician Dr. Benjamin Rush.⁸ He later married Eliza Anderson, daughter of Thomas Anderson of Connecticut, and made his residence in a suburb of Philadelphia. Augustus and Eliza raised a large family, including eight children who survived to adulthood: Rush, James Cole, Henry Jackson, Mary Augusta, Frederick Augustus, Jr., Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth, and Margaret.

Augustus is mentioned frequently in Rachel’s journal as the one who encouraged her independent study of chemistry, botany, biology, and Latin. Her high regard for him is evident in her May 27, 1810, journal entry where she responded to Augustus’s caution against studying so late into the night by writing: He is a good affectionate brother but certainly I know best on this subject. Genuine love, concern, and even playfulness characterized Augustus and Rachel’s relationship. On June 10, 1810, Rachel humorously described an incident when Augustus stole her journal:

He held the forbidden fruit in his hand out of my reach, and declared that he would not relinquish it until he had tasted it—or in his own words Be off, Rachel, let me alone. I am determined to read them and you can’t hinder me. At last he ran off to the stable, and even there I followed him though in great danger of spoiling my shoes and soiling my frock. To the door I followed him but dared not go any farther. I was afraid of the horses.

Tickled with his situation, and laughing at mine—he there bid me defiance. . . . Even when I returned to the house, I frequently heard him ha! ha! he! ha! ha! at some of my nonsense which seemed to please him mightily. . . . After dinner I kept close to him, determining that he should remain unmolested nowhere else except in his old asylum the horse stable. Accordingly I teased him so—that unable to read near me—he had to take refuge there. I then went upstairs in his room found his trunk unlocked and rummaged amongst his papers—. . . . I found a copybook full of his composition. . . . I went to the window—called to him, told him what revenge I had taken and showed him my spoils. (June 10, 1810)

Although Augustus lived in Philadelphia at the time of her journal, his influence in Rachel’s life was evident.

Rachel and her sister Lydia were the only Van Dyke children living at home at the time of Rachel’s journal, although Augustus and James made frequent visits to the family home in New Brunswick. Rachel described Lydia as a fun companion for obligatory social events and outings: "This afternoon Lydia wanted to take a walk and asked me to go over to Mr. Smith’s with her. . . . The attentions of a sister or brother is to me far more flattering than those of a stranger, and I may say that I have passed this afternoon happily. . . . I don’t know when I have had such a fit of laughter as I had this evening—at least a few hours ago—when we were talking about our walk" (October 20, 1810). Never marrying, Lydia spent her adult years as the head of the household after her mother’s death in 1823. Until her own death on October 11, 1865, Lydia maintained the family home and store in New Brunswick. In a eulogy for Lydia, Augustus described his sister as a steady, unifying member of the family, filling their mother’s place by caring for her brothers and sister and as a person who in later years became very devout.

James (1784–1843?) resided in New York during the journal period and later became the agent for a line of steamboats, the Brunswick and the Trenton, which made daily trips between New York and New Brunswick. Unmarried throughout his life, he served as a major in the militia (1814) and reportedly died suddenly on the road between Princeton and the railroad station while rushing to reach a train.¹⁰ Rachel’s journal references to James occur most in connection with her New York friend and artist, John J. Barker. She wrote of letters from James, of the mention of him in letters to her from Barker, and she described periodic visits that James made to New Brunswick.

Little is said about John (1782–1837), Rachel’s other brother. He resided in Monmouth, just south of New Brunswick, during the time of her journal. John suffered from what was probably a mental illness.¹¹ Rachel referred to him with compassion and called him my unfortunate brother John in at least two accounts (June 7, 1810, and June 13, 1811).

Rachel’s extended family played a significant role in her life. Rachel had many aunts, uncles, and cousins who are mentioned throughout her journal. It was not uncommon for Rachel to share her room with a cousin or to entertain an aunt or uncle as a visiting houseguest. Rachel recounted numerous such times, including a memorable trip to New York where she visited aunts, uncles, and cousins of the Cole family (March 23–27, 1811). Rachel’s family was also present in times of sorrow. In one of the more poignant sections of the journal Rachel wrote of maintaining a family vigil at the bedside of her dying grandfather, James Cole (August 10, 1810). Throughout her journal Rachel wrote of family members who came to lend support during difficult times. Rachel’s final journal entry describes Aunt Rachel Cole as a presence who helped the family through the death of Rachel’s father.

The Frederick Van Dyke family graves are found at the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church in New Brunswick. Buried there are Rachel’s father (Frederick) and mother (Lydia), and siblings John, James, and Lydia. Rachel’s grave is not located at this cemetery with the rest of her immediate family. (See Epilogue: Rachel Van Dyke’s Life After 1811.)

Rachel Van Dyke’s Interests

Rachel Van Dyke enjoyed the comforts of a white, upper-middle-class family. Significantly, she had access to educational opportunities that were emerging in the early national period.¹² Rachel attended Miss Sophia Hay’s Young Ladies’ School, an elite local girls’ school, and then until May 24, 1810, a more advanced school where she was taught first by a Mr. Preston and then later by Ebenezer Grosvenor (Mr. G-).

Rachel’s typical day began sometimes as early as 5:00 A.M. with private study in her room. After breakfast, she sometimes studied again before attending church on Sundays or parsing with a small group of female students led by Mr. G- on weekday mornings. During the day Rachel enjoyed walking with friends, going on outings to her father’s fruit orchard, visiting neighbors, or pursuing her interests in chemistry and botany by conducting experiments and gardening. Rachel frequently returned to school in the evening for a second Latin lesson with Mr. G-, and she often spent evenings with friends in lively philosophical discussions, playing competitive games of backgammon, or enjoying piano and singing. She typically stayed awake until nearly midnight to write in her journal or to study.

Rachel’s daily household activities included sewing and other needlework and cleaning her room. Domestic servants provided labor for the major chores, giving Rachel the freedom to pursue her intellectual interests. Rachel frequently went on walks, especially to the Mile Run, a rural area along the brook that she and Mr. G- called Vaucluse after the solitary retreat of the Italian philosopher Petrarch. Their favorite tree at Vaucluse, or the Mile Run, was Rachel’s special destination; for, on this tree she and Mr. G- carved poetry and messages to each other.


Ebenezer Grosvenor’s presence as an instructor and devoted friend was a dominant feature in Rachel’s life and thoughts, and it is evident that their mutual attraction extended beyond the teacher-student relationship, although restrained on both sides.¹³ She frequently recorded their flirtatious encounters at school, evenings spent socializing in her family’s parlor, and their shared interest in literature and romantic poetry. In addition, Rachel and Mr. G- exchanged journals on many occasions, each eagerly reading the comments about the other. After his departure, Rachel wrote and received anxiously awaited letters. While journals written by Mr. G- for the 1810–1811 period have not been recovered, his journal dated April 20–May 31, 1808, is kept in Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries. (See appendix E.) A later journal written in 1812 is held in the collections of Yale University.¹⁴

Mr. G-’s residence in New Brunswick represented a common stage in the life cycle of young men in the early national period.¹⁵ After completing his studies at Yale University at the age of twenty, Mr. G- arrived in New Brunswick in April 1808, where he commenced the instruction of a school of young misses in this place to teach for a few years before returning home to study and practice law: [Y]oung as I am it will be of no disadvantage I hope if I spend one or even two years in teaching or in some other employment, before I finish my professional studies. Whether I shall remain here any length of time or not I am unable to say. I intend returning to Pomfret and finishing my studies with Esquire Backus.¹⁶

While in New Brunswick, Mr. G- boarded with Dr. Ira Condict and his family. He had been teaching in New Brunswick for a full two years by May 1810 when Rachel’s journal began. In addition to his regular class at the female academy, from June 25 until early December 1810 (when ill health forced his return to Connecticut), Mr. G- conducted a daily one-hour Latin class for Rachel and several other young women.


Driven by her desire for education and encouraged by Mr. G- and her brother Augustus, Rachel continued on her own to study botany, chemistry, biology, history, and Latin. An avid reader, she pursued poetry, philosophy, and classical literature, and she regularly studied the Bible. Rachel read works by Virgil, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Montgomery, Cowper, Thomson, Young, and Zimmerman (see Appendix B: Rachel Van Dyke’s Reading List). In her June 15, 1810, journal entry, Rachel declared her love for reading: I never am too lazy to read. Reading is my favorite employment, and I don’t think I ever have tired myself with it yet. She made frequent visits to the circulating library and scolded herself whenever she used her time to read a novel rather than a more substantive work. For some months Rachel also found pleasure in tutoring a younger cousin, Betsy Cole.

Rachel loved the solitude of her own little room, and it is here where she wrote her journal entries each night by candlelight. Rachel found comfort in her room as the place where she felt free to express her emotions:

I love to be alone—especially in the silence of the Night. Night is the Noon of my soul. Then my thoughts range unrestrained—unlimited—and then they meet with no interruption. Indeed at any time I love to have a room to myself. It is such a satisfaction to have one little place sacred to yourself. To be able to say—This is my own—here can I muse—here I can weep—or laugh and no one will observe me—except He who knows my thoughts. (July 28, 1810)


Rachel had numerous associations with members of prosperous families and relatives, usually in New Brunswick, but with New York and Burlington, New Jersey, connections as well. While she attended social functions when necessary, balls and parties were not her favorite pastimes: "But a fig for balls—when I am rich and have nothing else to do with my time or my money—then I will think about balls. I know greater pleasures than balls" (June 23, 1810).

Rachel’s real enjoyment came from time spent with friends who like her, enjoyed reading and educational pursuits. Within her close circle of friends Rachel played backgammon and discussed poetry, philosophy, and theological questions. Her journal reports many visits to friends’ homes and short trips to those living in nearby towns. Rachel’s female friendships, especially those based on shared intellectual interests, were particularly important to her. Jane Dumont and Maria Smith were friends frequently noted by Rachel for their common intellectual interests and shared values. Her descriptions of mutual affection and admiration of Jane Dumont define her expectations and standards of friendship: I think her an amiable accomplished girl, and love her very much. She appeared to converse with me unreservedly, Saturday night and she possesses a fine understanding, and a heart generous, noble, and tender. I was not only charmed with her language but also with her ideas and knowledge (September 16, 1810).


A focal point of Rachel’s life was the church. Rachel was devoted to her belief in a higher being and well disciplined in her study of the Bible. A member of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rachel rarely missed a Sunday service and usually attended Sunday evening prayer services as well. An intelligent parishioner, Rachel offered critical reactions to sermons in her journal:

I went to church this morning and heard a stranger preach. . . . I listened with as much attention as ever I could but his sermon did not benefit me much. I was not pleased with him—his person is bad—his voice is bad and there was nothing very good in his sermon to compensate for these disadvantages. He certainly can’t be called a good preacher. I know I had much rather listen to our good Mr. Condict. (July 15, 1810)

The pastors who were effective in their delivery and had insightful messages based on wisdom derived from scripture especially moved Rachel. Her favorite pastor, Dr. Ira Condict (1764–1811), served as president pro tem (1794–1810) of Queen’s College (Rutgers University), a faculty member (1794–95 and 1807–11), and a trustee (1794–1811) (fig. 1).¹⁷ She spoke of Dr. Condict with deep admiration, anticipating her grief just before he died in June 1811: Oh! no one knows how I love Mr. Condict—I dread the loss of him—I weep, whenever I think of it. Mr. G- loves him too—but Alas! I fear he’ll never see him more (May 31, 1811).

Rachel also enjoyed opportunities to hear Dr. John H. Livingston (1746–1825). Dr. Livingston was appointed by the general synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in America as a professor of theology at Queen’s College and elected to the presidency of Queen’s College in 1810. Rachel also occasionally attended services at other churches and in her journal referred to Reverend John Croes of the Episcopal Church and Dr. Joseph Clark, who was pastor at the Presbyterian Church from 1797 until 1813.

Rachel Van Dyke’s New Brunswick

New Brunswick, New Jersey, commonly referred to as Brunswick in 1810, is situated on the western bank of the Raritan River, approximately twenty-nine miles from New York and twenty-six miles from Trenton.¹⁸ The city was incorporated in 1784 and lies partly in Middlesex County and partly in Somerset County, with Albany Street forming the dividing line (figs. 2, 3, 4). At the foot of Albany Street a toll bridge, first built in 1794, provided crossing of the Raritan River. This bridge was rebuilt in 1811. The streets immediately on the river were narrow, and the ground was low. The ground rose rapidly to wide streets in the upper part of the city. The city contained a courthouse, jail, and numerous churches including the Dutch Reformed Church, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic. In 1810 the population of New Brunswick was approximately 4,000.¹⁹

1. Reverend Ira Condict (1764–1811), influential pastor at the Dutch Reformed Church in New Brunswick and educator at Queen’s College (Rutgers University). Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

2. Artist’s rendering of Rachel Van Dyke’s New Brunswick in 1810. Illustration by James Davis.

Queen’s College, founded in 1766 and today known as Rutgers University, was a stimulating presence in Rachel’s New Brunswick (fig. 5). Located on the western fringe of the old downtown area of New Brunswick, the college experienced growth and changes that fluctuated with the course of political events affected by the Revolutionary War. In 1810 a union formed between the trustees of the college and the general synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Dr. John H. Livingston, professor in the Theological Seminary, was appointed president of the college. Dr. Ira Condict, Rachel’s beloved pastor, was appointed vice-president. In her journal, Rachel made references to Drs. Condict and Livingston and the seminary bells calling students to class.

3. Early Map of New Brunswick, 1800. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutaers University Libraries.

4. Map and directory of the city of New Brunswick, 1829. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

5. Old Queen’s College (Rutgers University). Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

New Brunswick was generally organized around the river. The aristocratic families lived on Little Burnet Street. The dry goods district was on Burnet Street, and the general stores were located on Church Street. Warehouses were located on Water Street.


Albany Street, graded in 1811, was a hill, the north side being several feet above the south side. Proceeding away from the river on Albany Street, Bell Tavern was located on the right (figs. 6, 7, 8). Next to Bell Tavern was the Fredçrick Van Dyke home, where Rachel lived. The Van Dyke home served as a family residence and as a store for dry goods, groceries, and other supplies. In front of their residence was an old pump in the street, known as the Tea-Water Pump.²⁰ A few doors west of Rachel’s home was White Hall. In her journal Rachel wrote of hearing the strains of a violin outside her window (June 1, 1810). One supposes that such music might frequently have found its way to her window from these establishments. Further west on Albany Street was a small frame house that was occupied by James Ryno, a barber.

6. View of Albany Street from across the bridge in the mid-nineteenth century. Bell Tavern is the first building on the right, and the Frederick Van Dyke family home was located next door. Originally a two-story building, a third story was added to Bell Tavern sometime during the nineteenth century. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.


North of Albany Street, Neilson Street was called King Street, and the part south of Albany Street was called Queen Street. In this area were a newspaper printing office, a bookstore and the City Hotel, kept by George Follett. Many residents and travelers considered this inn to be the best in town. Opposite the City Hotel was a mansion occupied by Dr. Moses Scott, his wife Anna, and their two daughters. The law office of Lewis D. Hardenbergh occupied a portion of this home. Then followed several brick and frame residences.

7. Bell Tavern, Albany Street. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.


The First Dutch Reformed Church, where Rachel Van Dyke was a member, was located on the corner of Neilson and Prince Streets. This church was founded in 1703. The original structure was destroyed in 1811, and in 1812 the sanctuary that is present today was built. Directly across the street was the Episcopal Church.


The outer limits of the building line of the city could have been defined by a segment of a circle starting on the north from the river and extending west to Miss Sophia Hay’s Young Ladies’ School on the Easton Turnpike, southwest to the home of Harry Quick, and south to a cluster of small houses or huts at the head of Albany, French, and Somerset Streets. Continuing south, the home of Billy Wyckoff, the Clam Man, was found at the head of Church Street. Further south was the home of Dr. John H. Livingston at the corner of the Trenton Turnpike and George Street. A few scattered buildings were east and south of this point on Town Lane between George and Burnet Streets, and a continuous row of dwellings and storehouses framed both sides of Burnet Street from its intersection with Town Lane down to the old Steamboat Landing, just below the foot of Sonman’s Hill.

8. Albany Street Bridge crossing the Raritan River, circa 1830. Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Large gaps of unoccupied property existed between the home structures and the most closely built parts of the town. These sections were called the Commons. The entire portion of the city from the Livingston home to Burnet Street, with the exception of a few houses, was either open woods or meadows. These fields were popularly known as the Goose Pasture.


A collection of cabins and dwellings extended from the riverbank to midway between the intersection of George and Hamilton Streets and the south end of Neilson Street. This section was known as the Mines and Halfpenny Town. It was occupied almost entirely by fishermen, boatmen, and their families—residents viewed by the middle- and upper-class townspeople as a rough, vagabond group who had squatted on this spot and derived an undependable livelihood from the shad, herring, and other fish in the river.


Proceeding from this point down the river road, one entered Water Street, one of the earliest settled parts of the town. The first house on this street was the old distillery, operated at that time by John Robinson. Next to this on the right was a tavern, and then above the corner of Washington and Water Streets were the homes of Rutsen Hardenbergh and Dr. Ira Condict.

Continuing southwest to the corner of Washington Street fronting on Water Street was the home and store of Samuel Holcombe. A number of buildings, stores, and inns followed. The east or river side of the street was lined with three-story frame warehouses and one or two private dwellings. The last house on that side of the street was a large three-story double brick house occupied by the Ayres and Freeman families as their family residences and store for the purchase and sale of grain, produce, and general merchandise. Between this house and a slip, which ran to the river, was a wharf that was often used as a circus ground.²¹


Albany Street extended from the toll bridge at the Raritan River to the west. Located at the foot of Albany Street was Little Burnet Street, the oldest street in New Brunswick. Originally Water Street, Little Burnet Street and Burnet Street were all grouped under one general name: the Street. Little Burnet Street and Burnet Street were lined with residences of the local people of wealth and stature. The first structure on the Albany Street corner nearest the bridge was Drake’s Tavern. Past Drake’s Tavern were two houses and a number of docks and storehouses lining the river. Because of its proximity to the river, New Brunswick had flourishing shipyard businesses. Dunham’s Slip was located here, and a nearby shipyard provided the headquarters for the steamboats Brunswick and Trenton run by Major James Cole Van Dyke, Rachel’s brother. On the corner of the alley running from Little Burnet Street to Dunham’s Slip was the brick mansion of John Dunham. Adjoining it on the east side of the river was Dunham’s hat factory.


The area surrounding New Brunswick was largely agricultural. In her journal Rachel wrote of her father’s nearby farm and orchards. Fruit was a large industry—peaches, apples, strawberries, pears, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, currants, cherries, gooseberries, quinces, and plums. Somerset Street was a frequently used route from New Brunswick to outlying rural areas. Traveling to the southwest, Somerset Street provided direct passage to Six Mile Run (six miles from New Brunswick), the location of the Dutch Reformed Church where Rachel’s parents were married, and to Princeton, approximately twenty-five miles from New Brunswick.

Winter often caused great hardships for the people of New Brunswick. Heavy rains, high winds, and frequent flooding were constant concerns. In her journal Rachel recounted the frightening devastation of a flood (November 10–14, 1810). Throughout the winter months she wrote of hardships caused by cold temperatures and snow.


Slavery was practiced in New Brunswick, and it is likely that the household help mentioned in Rachel’s journal were enslaved African Americans. The 1790 census reports that enslaved African Americans made up one-twelfth of the population in Middlesex County. The census of New Jersey for 1810 noted that there were 10,851 enslaved African Americans in New Jersey (out of a total state population listed as 245,562). Of this number, 1,298 enslaved African Americans resided in Middlesex County (out of a total population of 20,381). Figures for New Brunswick listed 203 enslaved African Americans in a population of 3,980. Advertisements promoting slave trade were commonly seen in the New Brunswick Times, the Guardian and other New Jersey newspapers in 1810.²² When writing about her grandfather’s death, Rachel suggested the existence of enslaved African Americans in the Van Dyke household: Uncle has taken Edward home with him. I could not see him go without feeling sincere sorrow. He is the finest black boy I ever saw. . . . Grandpapa purchased him when he was almost an infant—and has always been more like a father to him than a master (August 12, 1810) .²³

Further evidence indicating the presence of enslaved African Americans in Rachel’s family is found in a journal entry where Rachel provided a rare account of the capture of an African in Guinea and that individual’s attitude:

At Halfpenny town the negroes were all assembled in their Sunday clothes, as happy and as merry as Lords and Ladies. Some were gambling with Cents, some dancing to the violin others talking and laughing—and all appeared to be without care—only regardful how they might enjoy the passing moment. Unfortunate creatures! What a pity it is that any of your race ever left your native country. There you would have been innocent as well as ignorant—but here—you are—Slaves. You may be merry but you cannot be happy. Our old woman who came from Africa sometimes says, I worked, Miss Achel dis thirty years—worked hard—and see now, what better are I—I old and stiff—and I poor slave yet. I pity her when she talks about her youthful days. She says when they first set her to work in this country—it blistered her hands they were so tender—Yes when I put my hands in hot water, took all the skin off—but now—look at ’em now. I love to get her talking about Guinea and she loves it too. She can only remember that the people were all fighting and the town was on fire when she was carried away. One black man she will never forget. He tore all her gold ornaments from her, and when she cried boxed her ears. Miss Achel, she will say, I never forgive that man. Great ugly fellow! If I see him on the day of Judgement I’ll know him. I’ll mark him down—I never forget him— (June 11, 1810)

While Rachel’s sentiments about the practice of slavery cannot be fully determined from this passage alone, she did indicate sensitivity and growing awareness of the injustices of slavery.²⁴

Rachel Van Dyke’s Literary Style

Rachel Van Dyke’s journal is written in the voice of a young girl coming of age. Her writing style is descriptive and straightforward as she records her views of people, events, and educational endeavors. While Rachel presented maturity in her language and ideas, her emotional journey is perhaps typical of a seventeen-year-old woman who was struggling to make sense of her own identity against dominant ideas about gender roles and relations.

Her writing was influenced by romanticism and had her audience, Mr. G-, clearly in mind. Until Mr. G-’s departure in December 1810, Rachel’s journal is filled with evidence of her careful preparations before exchanging journals with Mr. G. Marked-through lines, cut sections, and additional explanatory comments directed to her reader indicate her definite awareness of Mr. G- as her audience.

Rachel’s journal is fluid and filled with emotional imagery. She was attuned to her natural surroundings and often used nature to describe her moods:

It has been a beautiful evening—when we were going the sky attracted our attention and when we returned the rising moon. The various coloured clouds—the streaks of gold—and in other parts the clear blue sky—was truly sublime—and as Augustus said, such as bade defiance to the pencil. We walked along the bank, the water was clear and calm, and like a large mirror reflected the beauty of the clouds and sky above. On our return we saw the moon slowly making her appearance as if she was rising out of the trees which half hid her glory. The grandeur of this scene I think can scarcely be equalled by any other. The rising of the sun is magnificent and commands admiration—but the moon steals it. Her sober beauty and majestic movements always inspires a pleasing wonder—a calm contented joy—a something—I can’t tell what—which is indescribable. (June 17, 1810)

Comparing her journal to Mr. G-’s, Rachel criticized his formulaic style and took pride in her own emotion-filled, descriptive style: Why positively it is nothing more than an Almanac. To read my journal I may almost say that with a few exceptions you read my heart—but his is merely a register of time (July 9, 1810).

One of the most notable features of the journal is the changing tone as life events affected Rachel. Her writing moves from energetically reporting her thoughts about the world around her to deeper introspection and sadness. In the earlier entries Rachel’s descriptions are light, revealing a happy young woman with a great curiosity to learn, study, and analyze her world. From May through October 1810, this tone prevails even through the unhappy tragedies of the deaths of young Robert Agnue and her grandfather.

A pivotal change occurs in November 1810 when it is clear that Mr. G- will leave New Brunswick. The weather becomes a dramatic focus of Rachel’s thoughts with the flood of November 11, and from then on, stormy weather is emblematic of her gloomy thoughts and emotions. While Rachel attributed her low spirits to the weather, clearly her sharp mood shift also related to her concern for Mr. G-’s health and anticipation of his departure: This gloomy weather, this everlasting rain is enough to make me cry. . . . I have not yet seen nor heard anything about . . . Mr. G- (November 14, 1810). May He to whom I address my daily prayers restore him to health and grant that he may live many years to enjoy it. May blessings attend him wherever he goes, and wherever he may go, he will never find a friend more true—more sincere—than she who now weeps for his sufferings. He knows it not—nor shall he ever know it (November 21, 1810).

After Mr. G-’s departure from New Brunswick, Rachel’s thoughts centered upon anticipation of letters and then disappointment when they failed to arrive regularly. While her room provided a cozy retreat from the world in the early part of her journal, the solitude it offered carried an added tone of isolation in these later days:

I received a letter from Mr. G- a few minutes ago, and tho’ it is written in the liveliest strains, even this has not been able to cheer me. I have read it over and over again, and yet since reading it, I have been writing all this doleful stuff. He tells me that judging by my letters, he thinks I have grown much livelier than formerly. Oh Yes! to be sure, I am very lively. My heart is gaiety itself.

Why do I listen with so much pleasure to the pattering rain drops? Why does my ear catch the music of the soft-sighing winds? It is because they are sounds that sympathize with the gloom of my soul—I have none but the clouds to weep with me—none but the winds to answer my sighs.

Perchance, my best, my truest friend, you are at this moment thinking of your lively Rachel. You derive a double pleasure from thinking of her, because you suppose she is thinking of you—you suppose she is reading your letter. But no; it is too late—you are not thinking of her, you are enjoying rest and the sweet slumbers of happiness and content, while she is moping beside her midnight lamp. (March 30, 1811)

Rachel’s journal entries at times are short and express weariness and physical and emotional pain: I scarcely ever feel in a humour to write anything in my journals anymore. I believe some that I used to write were a little entertaining, but now they are more dull than a tale twice told. I can’t help it. I suppose it is because I am dull myself (June 5, 1811).

As Rachel turned more and more toward spiritual introspection, she found comfort through her religious faith: . . . all this evening I have spent in my room in gloomy meditation. My heavenly Father hath been kind unto me this day, my thoughts seem to have soared higher than usual, new thoughts new ideas presented themselves. I sat here in the dark. I gazed on the spangled sky, silent tears overflowed my cheeks. At such moments my soul expands. I feel that Religion is lovely before all things upon earth (December 25, 1810).

Rachel’s journal comes to an emotional end with the death of her father. The last entry provides closure with her final statement: This short effusion of my soul, is what I have thought due to the memory of a lamented parent— (July 21, 1811).

Although Rachel’s short effusion of [her] soul specifically refers to this journal entry, her words provide a summary statement for the entire journal. What began at a significant turning point in Rachel’s life, the end of formal schooling, has moved to a natural conclusion with the single defining moment of the death of her father. Rachel’s emotional journey as depicted in her journal of 1810–11 has come to a close.


Book 2



This morning as I was rubbing my eyes trying to rouse myself from sleep I heard the clock striking. I counted nine—A fine time to be sure—thought I to open my pretty grey eyes and I wonder how I shall go to church.² However I will see if I have not time. I was pretty expeditious—for by ten o’clock I had breakfasted—was dressed and ready to answer the summons of the bell. The church was uncommonly crowded—as there was no service in either of the others. The purport of the sermon was necessity of constant and fervent prayer. I love to listen to Mr. [Ira] Condict. If he does not preach so elegantly—so correct—as some others what he says appears to come from the heart. He appears to preach more for the good of his congregation—than to gain himself credit. I would not exchange him for any other that I know. I hope he may remain our good pastor until he is called to another and better world.

F[rances] Deare was in the next pew to me. She looked even prettier than usual. C. Richmond too sat opposite me. These two girls are both pretty—the former I believe is generally thought superior in beauty—the latter in accomplishments. I don’t know which the most affected—I think I do. I love to gaze at beauty. I should like to possess it!! But if heaven was to bless me with beauty and with it I must take vanity—I would forfeit it all for a few grains of wisdom—a little plain good sense.

I returned home from church well pleased with what I had heard.

The afternoon I have passed in my room—and now I will welcome sleep for I have so many little trifling things to do tomorrow morning before I go to school—that I must get up very early if possible.

May 21st, 1810—Monday

I was up this morning at five, and I feel none the worse for it now. I wish I could rise every morning before the sun. I should feel so much happier and have so much more time. Considering that I have every inclination to be an early riser it is strange to me that I cannot succeed. I would any time do without a night’s rest to be at the theatre—and what scenery there can equal a fine morning and rising sun—or what play—what sentiments inspire such a pleasing tranquility as spreads through my soul when enjoying it listening to the joyful notes of the feathered songsters. I sometimes wake early—feel glad that I have awaked so soon—[think] what I will do through the course of the day—and dream with my eyes open until I insensibly fall asleep again.

I have passed the day at school as usual. Mr. G-³ this evening said he expected to have the privilege of perusing one of my journals. I don’t think you will Sir. I flatter myself that it will never be in the power of anyone to laugh at this nonsense. It is not because I have anything worth remembering to relate that I write this journal or because my thoughts and actions here set down will hereafter be of any service to myself or to others. No: it is merely to improve myself in composition—to practise expressing my sentiments without difficulty in easy familiar language. I hope I may improve—and if I continue as punctual as I have been this fortnight passed—I see no reason why I should not. But mama calls to me and says it is time for me to be asleep. I believe it is. So in Dr. V[er] M[uile]’s style, I rub my hands and say the privilege you claim Mr. G- requires some consideration. Therefore I will now defer giving an answer and if you please will think on the matter at my leisure.

Tuesday—May 22, 1810

When I awoke this morning, I could scarcely tell where I was. I had been all the night dreaming of examination—of my school—of Mr. G- and my little companion Ruth [Condict].

But it is weak—it is foolish to repeat dreams—to remember them, to think of them is sufficient. I went to school rather early, found no one there—walked round the room and saw in M[aria] P[arker]’s seat some poetical, no, some rhyming nonsense addressed to Mr. G-. Poor silly girl she is—I have read of pretty simpletons, but never met with such a complete one before. She provokes me fifty times in the day by her foolish impudent behavior. It is impossible to govern or to lead her. I am sure that Mr. G- has done everything that could be done which could induce her to reflect and reform. If she has a soul that can be touched, she must feel his kindness to her and be sensible of her own unworthiness. If she has no feelings—why let her go——

After school was out this morning—as I was putting on my hat, Mr. G- said to me, Is it then irrevocably fixed? Are you not coming to school any longer than this week?

I believe it is, I answered. I believe this week will be the last.

I am very sorry for it, said he looking down and playing with his penknife.

I walked to the door and said I am sorry too. These were the very words which passed between us—I shall not forget them. His conveyed to my mind a mixture of sorrow and pleasure. They awakened my sorrow by reminding me how soon I was to leave school, and I felt pleased perhaps I ought to say vain, that he so sincerely regretted it. I regret it no less than he does, yet I feel a pleasing satisfaction in reflecting that since I have been under his tuition, I have gained his esteem, and that he now wishes to retain me as his pupil. And I will be his pupil, though I should leave his school, I will never disdain to receive instructions from him. He shall still point out my faults. He shall still be my tutor. Ah well, it is late now and I must go to rest. But first I ought to give some account of the rest of the day. After school this evening I took a walk with R[uth] C[ondict]—read some lines after tea, and being alone sung and played two of my favorite songs. I have been ever since in my room and now I feel serious and weary, but not sleepy———

Wednesday—May 23, 1810

I really do not feel in a humour tonight even to write my journal. Yet against my inclination I will perform the task I have set myself. This morning after breakfast, I read a little in my geography and went to school. School affairs went on as usual. At one I returned home, eat my dinner, finished Manoeuvering in the Fashionable Tales,⁴ and have been in my room hard at work all the afternoon. Besides my other work, I marked three cravats.⁵ And twelve letters and three figures on fine cambric muslin to those who have tried it, is no such easy matter to do without resting. At tea time went downstairs. After tea returned and wrote till it was so dark I could see no longer.

I then went for a candle, finding all still in the parlour, and dark excepting the reflection of Mr. Ayres’⁶ lamp which as bright as the rays of the moon, shone full in the window. I seated myself at the piano, and amused myself by playing and singing some of the most doleful ditties that I knew. I have not felt as lively today as usual, before I go to sleep I believe I will read a little in Zimmerman.⁷

Thursday—May 24th, 1810

I rose early this morning and went to school before nine. Yes, I have passed the day at school, but shall I ever be able to say the same again? No; It is the last day. Last night when I only thought of it, my tears convinced me that I had reason to dread the danger of betraying my sorrow. I disguised it better than I expected, and appeared as lively as usual, until the afternoon when Mr. G- gave me back my Latin book after he had been hearing me parse. Shall I ever forget his look? No I think I can see him now. Stretching out his hand with the book, and gazing in my face as if to read my very thoughts, he seemed to say, And is it then Rachel the last time—is this lesson the last I shall ever hear you recite? I felt cold and then warm in a moment—my heart seemed to spring to my throat—my eyes felt as if they would burst, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I prevented my tears from flowing. Thank Fortune, no one observed my emotion. I stooped down to fix my books under the form, and in some degree conquered my feelings. When I went out of school my heart was again powerfully touched by the thoughts that I was leaving the place where I had passed many happy hours. If I had looked one way or the other, or if anyone had spoken to me all my fortitude would have fled, and I should have appeared like a mere baby———But again I conquered, I went straight forward, found myself at home and in my room, scarcely knowing how I got here.

There was no longer any need of constraint, and I gave vent to my feelings——After tea I took a walk with M[aria] L. P[arker] though I felt gloomy and in

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