There were not less than forty pupils congregated in this new school-house in the wildwood, fifty years ago. There were the Bailys, and Halls, and Henrys, and Wilsons, and Carnahans, all from Pennsylvania; the Bennetts, and Stewarts, and Moultons, and Whipples, from Maryland; the Cliffs, and Patties, and Harmons, and Kellars, and Holts, from Virginia; and more than a half dozen families represented from the State of NewYork ; while all the dear old New England States, in the far-distant East, were well and creditably represented.
A practised eye could detect, in less than one day's time, the native Stale of nearly every one of these rosy, hardy young pioneers. The young men who hailed from Virginia, wore, almost universally, red linsey hunting-shirts trimmed with blue fringe; or, blue linsey, trimmed with red, or red and green mixed, fringe. And our grandparents tell us that, after one became accustomed to the garment, it really looked pretty, and jaunty, and becoming. But we cannot be made to believe this when we think of the little clinging tails, short, and adorned with narrow fringe, and the broad cape that extended even over the shoulders.
The young Virginian's vernacular betrayed his nativity; for "poor" he said "pore," for "ear" he said "year" and other words indicative of whence he came. There was a cordial heartiness in the greeting of the buxom lads and lasses from Pennsylvania, with their "tuck" for "took," "shuck" for "shook," "bar'l" for "barrel," "marred" for the softer pronunciation of married, that gave unmistakable proof of the royal old State from whence they immigrated. Those who came from "my Maryland" told the (act even when they pronounced the name of their dear native State, "Murryland." The pupils from "York State" were very different from the rest They brought with them more refinement than any of the others — more cute ways; they knew different plays and kinds of amusement that the rest had never heard of. Those from the three States above named rather sniffed at what they considered an innovation, some things rather weak and feminine, not brave and manly enough to please them.
But, if there was any aristocracy at all, I must confess, even though it comes home to myself, that I believe the New Englanders brought it with them. I think their noses turned up one degree higher than their neighbors' noses. My old aunt will say to me, with sundry smirks of satisfaction: "My best dress in those early days was made of one of my mother's, a pongee, or a crimson camlet, or a plaid merino. My grandfather brought it home from a sea-faring trip."
But all this amounts to nothing; what good did their pongee or camlet dresses do them when the greased paper windows of the school-house were badly torn, and they were appointed a committee to repair them, and could not possibly do it because they had no wheat flour to make paste. Who ever heard of yellow meal paste, and especially when the coarse meal was made from corn pounded in a mortar, at home, and that mortar one of the hollowed-out stumps that stood in the front door-yard.
No one State furnished pupils who were any apter than another. Massachusetts, the mother State, had done generously by her children, perhaps she had given them more polish than the sterling States of Virginia and Pennsylvania had bestowed upon theirs, but not an iota more of native talent, integrity and good sense.
How the pioneer boys from New England were laughed at when they had to hurry home in the evenings to "pail the keows," or to "help sis do a churnin'," before they could go to the jolly spelling-school. None but Yankee boys ever did this until — well — well — when they intermarried, and love, that mighty potentate, made all burdens turn to pleasures — transformed all those old, old habits over into a perfect newness and delight.
A motley assemblage were convened inside the walls of that log-cabin school-house. Here was a boy wearing a roundabout made by cutting the skirts off from his father's high-collared, shortwaisted, well-kept wedding coat. The skirts were still doing valiant service made over into a vest. Here were two boys in buckskin pantaloons that had been wet and dried on thorn, and fitted to the skin; here one with a gay coat made of some queer material, adorned with dabs of bright paint of different colors — it was a coat bought from the Indians, and they had got it of some French traders; here a couple of young men in white linsey wamusses, made in a hurry and not yet dipped into a dye of butternut bark, for the plucky little mother was determined that they should not miss one day of school; two little boys in tight little trousers, made out of their grandmother's fine woollen shawl with the fringe running down the outside seams in the legs. This last rare bit of adornment was duly appreciated, and the lads felt of, and caressed their fringe, even as quite young men of now-a-days pet a feeble moustache. Here was a girl clad in a scant dress of coarse cotton and wool, a home-made fabric that had been honestly dipped in a dye made of the yellow flowers of the golden rod; another girl wore a brown linsey, made too big in the clumsily-fitting waist, but lapped over behind, and pinned with thorns. Her hair was likewise braided into six tight, snug braids, which were then done up into six little bobs and fastened in place with thorns, instead of pins. Another girl wore a linen dress, and a woolen apron, and a dress-handkerchief pinned closely about her neck. Yellow horn combs were very common among those who were well-to-do and could afford them. Cowhide shoes that came not quite up to the ankle, tied with wide,stout, white buckskin thongs, were a luxury among the young women. It was no new thing for a family of four or five women to own but two pairs of shoes among them.
At noon the boys and girls would all play ball, and "prisoner's base," and "black man," with a freedom and a hilarity that was good for health and for sociability. The little ones played "tag" and "toss," and those of the girls who had exalted notions of what belonged to young womanhood, stayed in the house and knit mittens with " herring bone" about the wrists, and fringed them with thrums of various colors; or they knit stockings with fancy open work about the tops, and toed them off with white yarn. Some of the smart ones know how to knit double heels, and clocks to decorate the ankles. This latter work was, I believe, generally, or more specially adapted to hose knit of cotton or snow-white, bleached, flaxen thread. Pretty little accomplishments like these were reckoned as something very nice in those early days.
As the years went on, Aaron Crosby continued making bowls, and baskets, and brooms, and his little chippy of a wife chirped to the new babies, and improvised songs for them, as she banged the loom and sent the shuttle a-flying, and laid out on the grassplot her honest webs of linen. Her little wheel buzzed long after the babies were tucked away in the trundle beds that Aaron had made out of dogwood poles and elm bark. Sometimes she sang hymns as the flaxen thread glided through her deft fingers; and sometimes, when weary with her many burdens, and bowed down under the trials that beset the wife of a poor pioneer, why then the poor dear scolded. She was a noble woman, and deserved to wear a crown — noble because of the beautiful and sensible aspirations she cherished for her children.
"Vagabone" was the worst word she ever used. We suppose vagabond was her very lowest conception of worthlessness and meanness. She kept her boys at school all the time; no privation could hinder her from this; and when fortune smiled sweetly on Aaron, as it really did in the years to come, then the Crosbys removed to another home, where golden opportunities were theirs, and where the best of educational advantages mot them.
William became a printer, then an editor in a city, where he had hosts of friends; and it gives us immense satisfaction to say that a good many years ago we read in the papers the name of the little boy Billy as the Hon. William Crosby. And later, we read of the appointment of this son of that plucky little mother as minister to some foreign country; and then, years after, there was a hail of good cheer among the leading papers of one of the States of the old-time West when the Hon. William Crosby returned to his native land crowned with honors.
In my quiet home I rubbed my hands gleefully, and my eyes were misty with joy over this poor boy, the pride of a true mother — the lad who had climbed the dizzy heights, who stood a victor over poverty and adversity — one who had "stripped off his ragged coat, and made men clothe him with their praise."
One day last fall my father laid down the papers containing the results of the election, and as he wiped his glasses he chuckled and said: "Blood will tell. Now here's Mr. , the congressman elect from the the district, he is related to Aaron Crosby's wife. It does beat all! I am so glad to see the honors gathering about that little, wideawake woman. I tell you it's a fine thing to have good blood and a pure line of ancestry! I'd rather have it than to inherit a kingdom and a throne."
I felt my eyes snap as I responded: "Aye, aye, father."
50 YEARS AGO OR, THE CABINS OF THE WEST
A series of articles that appeared
in 1875 in Arthur’s Home Magazine
© 2011 Peggy Mershon Contact at email@example.com
No. 3 … First Day of School … Page 2 Back to Page 1