The Adam Francis Plummer Diary

After Adam Francis Plummer (1819-1905), an African American man enslaved on George Calvert’s Riversdale plantation, secretly learned to read, he began to keep a diary. He started writing the diary in 1841, the year that he married Emily Saunders, who was enslaved on a neighboring plantation in Maryland. Plummer maintained the diary until his death in 1905. The Plummer diary includes birthdates of babies born on and around the area of the Riversdale plantation, letters, receipts for purchase of land and tools, and inventory lists of household furnishings and provisions. It also has poignant stories of the sale and separation of family members and of the long struggle to reunite the family after the end of the Civil War. After Plummer’s death, his daughter Nellie Arnold Plummer began making entries in the diary. Nellie added additional information to some of her father’s entries and updated family events noted in the diary.
Nellie Arnold Plummer was born in slavery in 1860. In 1927 she wrote Out of the Depths, or The Triumph of the Cross, which documents the history of the Plummer family. This fascinating book has been digitized and is available on the Digital Public Library website.
In the following excerpt, Nellie describes how Adam Francis learned to read:
“As is well known, it was against the law for anyone to teach a slave to read and write. There was a colored preacher known as John Bowser, who in some way unknown to me, had learned to read and write. He taught Adam. So, instead of spending his time among idle gossipers, or with those who drank, Adam taught himself all he possibly could. This he kept up until the end. His rainy days were spent in mending chairs, etc., or in doing other lesser jobs. But for his improving that ONE opportunity, to learn how to read and write, we would know very little of our family history, not even the births and deaths.”
The Plummer Diary will be on exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum from Monday, Feb 23, 2015 to Sunday, December 27, 2015.

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