No. 6… Coming to Ohio

 

Instead of standing beside old hearthstones on the site of a cabin that was old and tumbledown fifty years ago, this time let us introduce you to one of the past winter evenings at "our house." They are common to us; so common that we will not know how to appreciate them until they are gone forever.

 

Imagine, then, a pleasant sitting-room, and the family busy with reading and writing; father sits on one side of the low desk, and I on the other, while May, a rosy girl in her latter teens, is sitting before us toeing a stocking. She works awkwardly,for she throws her hand up every time she makes a stitch.

 

Father grows weary of reading, and takes off his glasses, lays the paper on the desk, and draws nearer the glowing coal-fire, and, while warming his feet, looks over at May, and with a little laugh says: "Dolly, you can't knit like Granny Benjamin did."

 

Granny Benjamin! We'd never heard her name before, and I said: "Who was she, father, and how did she knit?"

 

"Well, it was just awhile after we came to Ohio. We landed at Newark, and stayed there until February, 1811. It was in December, 1810, I remember, that a man came to our house and told us that the oldest woman living in Newark was going to talk that night, and they wanted all the folks to turn out and hear her. I was born in 1801, and was a little shaver, but my daddy took Betsey and Patty and me with him and mamma.

 

"Granny Benjamin was the blacksmith's mother, and sat in a little old chair knitting. She knit while she talked, she rocked back and forth, and told the whole story of the Revolution. She spoke from experience — told what she had seen, and heard, and suffered, and of the woe it brought to her own family. I cannot remember any of the particulars, only that all the people in town were there and paid marked attention. I thought it a little strange that she did not lay aside her knitting, but my mother said that it helped her memory, and that she could converse better if her fingers were busy.

 

"The town was about eight years old at that time, but they had a jail even then. It was built of logs, heavy and rude, but looked very jail-y to me."

 

"That is very sad," I said, "to think that In those early days jails must put in an appearance; but I presume they only built it because it was a sign of civilization ;" and I laughed at father in a fun-making way.

 

"Oh, they needed it, or they would not have built it!" was his reply. "There was one prisoner in it, a man named Hough; his offence was shooting with intent to kill.

 

"Granny Benjamin talked all the evening; and she was a very graceful old knitter; she didn't throw her hand over every time she made a stitch. She wore a scant little poky gown with a pocket in each side, a dress handkerchief pinned smoothly across her bosom, and a white cambric cap with a high crown. She was called a very intelligent old lady. I remember of going home that night. We buried the fire before we left, but soon had a roaring good one after we got back. There were three families of us living in that one little log-house, Solomon Hill's, Moses Adsit's and my daddy's, but we got along as smoothly as though there was only one family."

 

"Your father was fond of reading — what did he do for his weekly paper?" I asked.

 

"Oh, he took a paper as soon as we entered our land and had an abiding place! He could have lived without bread easier than without his paper. He subscribed for the nearest one, the Muskingum Messenger, published at Zanesville, seventy miles away. Mails did not run regularly then; for awhile our nearest post-office was twenty miles away, then fourteen for a few years. We did not get letters very frequently. The postage on a letter was fifty cents, and money was very scarce, indeed sometimes there was hardly any in the country at all. You cannot imagine how a poor, half-starved man felt when he knew there was a letter for him in the office and he could not pay the fifty cents postage. He would take it in his hand and look at it, and feel of it, and shake it, and listen to its rattle with bright eyes, and he would smell of it, and gloat over the postmark that told him it was New England, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia, and then with a longing, loving, greedy look give it back into the hands of the waiting official, and turn away to try some means of raising the half-dollar of postage."

 

"I wonder how the money would come if a poor fellow knew no way of earning it?" said one of the girls, compassionately.

 

"Well, I hardly know, unless he would go to a man in good circumstances and get a half-dollar on any condition the man had a mind to propose,'' replied father.

 

I said: "When you were a young man, and in a pinch for money, how did you manage?"

 

"Well, I recall a good many times in which I needed money, and sometimes I made it come. But nineteen dollars and twenty cents was all I wanted to start with, and really, when I was a lad and in my teens, I almost agonized for that paltry sum. You see all the land about us in Ohio was called Virginia military school land; it was a grant for services rendered, and a man could enter a quarter section or more and live on it five years by paying the interest on the purchase-money.

 

The interest was nineteen dollars and twenty cents a year, and the purchase-money was three hundred and twenty dollars, to be paid at the end of five years. So that a man had the land five years for nothing. Not one man out of ten could hold what he entered; he could not, or did not, pay the nineteen dollars and twenty cents, and so he forfeited the land. Such cases were common all around us, and it used to make me shut my teeth and say: “Oh, if I were only a man!'"

 

One day in the spring, a dear little girl was leaving our village and going to Kansas., A good many of the neighbors went to the depot to see the child start and to bid her loving good-byes.

 

We were talking about it at the dinner-table and discussing the presents given to Mina, when father said, with a little sniff of a laugh: "How times have changed! Now, when we left the Falls in 1810, there was a great crowd of old neighbors came to see us off. We lived a mile or so away from the Falls, but we stopped two or three hours when we came down to the village."

 

"What Falls? I thought you came from Willsborough?" I asked.

 

"Well, yes; Willsborough, Essex County, New York; but when we spoke of it we called it ‘The Falls.' You see, the village is situate on Gilleland's Creek, where the falls are. Boats ran up as far as Willsborough then. Why, in time of the war, the British ran up the creek and burnt the mill at the Falls!

 

"Ha, ha! I remember at the time of my daddy's sale there were three pretty good old baskets that were either overlooked or couldn't be sold, and that 4th of September morning, when we left the old place, some one stuck the baskets up on the wagon. When we stopped at the Falls to bid the multitude good-bye, it seems that it was customary to treat, and the first thing I knew was hearing old Dannels crying a sale most vociferously. There he was selling those old baskets with a relish, and the money that paid for them went to buy liquor to treat the crowd. It was customary then to treat; really a man, if he considered himself a gentleman, could not get out of it. I suppose my daddy had little enough money, and old Dannels knew it, and did him a kindness by turning the baskets into grog. People made a great fuss over us when we started; there was a good deal of crying, and shaking hands, and bidding of long farewells. It was a great undertaking to move to Ohio in those days. Our friends supposed we were coming out here to be roasted and eaten by the Indians."

 

"Was it a wearisome journey?" I inquired.

 

"We were forty-nine days on the road; seven weeks. Yes, it was tiresome," he answered; "and there was such a prejudice against the Yankees in the State of Pennsylvania that we were made very uncomfortable sometimes. You can guess how we would feel if we could not reach a tavern at night, and wanted to stop at a private house, willing to pay them and cause them as little trouble and annoyance as possible, and instead of a cordial 'turn in! turn in!' the pursy, well-fed, old proprietor would say in a voice of thunder: 'Begone! you tam Yangee pack! I 'spises you!' or, the rosy matron would make up a compact fist, and squall out: 'Clear oud; I makes te pool tog pito 1 you cheetin' whelps wat would trive us out'n house an' home wiz your tsharp waysI Te tevil is so goot as you wile Yangees!'"

 

At this we all laughed, and I said: "Well, we paid the poor dears back, didn' t we father? ha, ha! 'The mills of God grind slowly, but with exactness,' you know. Myl what wonders time has wrought in fifty years. We're all a mixture of good old Pennsylvania red blood and old New England blue blood, and what a great crop the rich, new sod of wild Ohio did bring forth! The blood is so mixed, and the loves are so entangled, and the blessed ties so intertwined, and the hates so deeply buried, and the new likes so charming, that taking apart would be intricate, and ravelling impossible. We don't care what the sturdy Dutch fanners, long, long ago, snarled out at the poor wayside immigrants with their old rackety 'hossia' and their white, covered, rickety, rumbling 'waggins,' do we, father?"

 

And father laughed and said: "No, we don't care — these old memories are far away in the past, and I am glad that soon they will be forgotten."

 

Then I said: "Tell us about the journey, father."

 

"Well, I do' 'no' as I can tell much; I was such a little shaver, and had never studied geography, so that the main points of that long trip were not much to me but a jumbled together remembrance. I only know that my heart ached all the time for the little boys I had left behind. I did not like the looks of the new country at all. I remember going through Delaware County in York State; Bald Eagle Creek, near Delhi, New York, a stream that seems to me was about the size of the Muskingum; of crossing the Susquehanna in two places, once in a boat, and once on a toll-bridge; and we crossed the mountains near Blair's Gap, a little north of it; I remember Lock Haven, and I mind of Betsey falling into Pine Creek near its mouth, where it empties into the Lycoming River. We were crossing on a foot-bridge, Aaron Crosby was leading her and she got dizzy — like our mamma always did — and fell in and pulled Aaron in with her. 'Twa'n't dangerous; just came to Aaron's waist."

 

"I should think, from the name, that Pine Creek was a beautiful stream," I said; "that the banks were steep and rocky and green with pines."

 

"That's just what I thought and hoped for," said father, "when I heard my daddy say that we'd cross Pine Creek in a couple of hours. I thought I'd see some of the beautiful pines and hemlocks like we had left behind us in Essex County, but it was the loneliest, dreariest place I had ever seen, and I was glad to get away from it. I guess, though, further up the creek, it was, perhaps, very wild and beautiful.

 

"Then I remember Greensburg, Ebensburg, Washington — all lonely little places — yes, and Belfonte, in Centre County, Pennsylvania, and to this day I shudder when I recall that God-forsaken, lonely little hamlet. There were about a half dozen houses, the tavern was, oh, so lonely and gloomy! I could hardly stand it to stay there until the horses ate their feed. I wandered round aimlessly and found three or four poor little pet fawns shut up in a dirty pen at the back of the house. That made me feel worse than ever.

 

"We crossed the Ohio River at Wheeling. We landed on the island and walked across it, then went over the rest of the river. The island was very beautiful; I remember the silver-white sands, and the trees, and I thought then that during a time of high waters the magnificent island would be overflowed. Next I recall Cambridge in Guernsey County, Ohio. The county had only been organized a few months, but the village had been there, perhaps, a dozen years. Then we came to Zanesville. This village had been laid out in 1799, and called Westbourn, but when a post-office was established there, it bore the name of Zanesville, and soon the village took that name. It was a wild and pretty place. We forded the Muskingum River at Zanesville, below the mouth of the Licking, and made our way direct to Newark, and there the wagon-road stopped, and for four months we stayed there and in Clinton, a little village near Newark, that was supposed would one day be the seat of justice for Licking County.

 

"In February, 1811, we came further on and my daddy entered this farm. Before he entered it, however, we stopped a few weeks with one of the best men I ever knew. He lived with a son on the Billy Irvine farm. He was a widower, and the father and son kept house and had good times. We were poor enough by this time, but that good old man, John Davis, a sterling old soldier, one of General Washington's men, made us cordially welcome. My mamma's cooking pleased him, he said it was so good to see housework done by a woman, that it made everything seem so homelike and cheerful. It always makes me angry to hear any one speak lightly of the memory of Uncle Davis, for he was so perfectly unselfish and kind and tender. He had four dogs, and he loved them with a human love almost He was a great hunter — liked to kill wolves, and bears, and deers, and especially foxes. He had any amount of fox and coon-skins on hand."

 

"Were they worth anything? could he sell them?" I asked.

 

"Oh, yes, a fox-skin was worth right smart and coon-skins were a quarter of a dollar."

 

"Father, what were the names of his dogs? or can't you remember?" said the youngest listener.

 

"Oh, I'll never forget the names of Uncle Davis's dogs!" said he, in a 'shamed way, looking down and laughing. "The two hounds were called Music and Song; and the two brave, old, sturdy bull-dogs were Lion and Bull. When I look away back now, I wonder how the old man and his son managed to live so well, for uncle was too old to clear and till land, and David was too easy-like. Why, in the three years that they lived on that quarter, they only cleared and cultivated one acre; but he was a noble old man, and, really, I don't believe he had one single fault."

 

"What became of the poor old soldier, father, at last?" I inquired.

 

Here father sighed and said: "Well, his end was sad enough. After awhile the laws were made so that old soldiers drew pensions, and then he lived very comfortably and easy with Dave and his wife — Dave married a good girl, a daughter of old Peter Zimmerman's. One time, Uncle Davis had been down to Chillicothe — which was the temporary capital of the State for a few years —t o draw his pension, and on his way home died, fell off his horse, and his body was found at the wayside, cold and dead. His money was in his pocket, and his body showed no signs of violence. It was supposed that he died of apoplexy or heart disease. It is very pleasant for me to recall that old man. Just think! his cabin had one room, about fourteen by eighteen, and there were four families of us all in there together. Let me see: there was Uncle Davis and son Dave, were two; Uncle Solomon Hill, and Aunt Aby, and Harvey, and their granddaughter, Maria Pattee, that made six; then Uncle Moses Adsit, and Aunt Hannah, with their three children, Alva, Eliza and Phebe, that made eleven; then came my daddy and mamma, and five children, Betsey, Clark, Orson, Abbie and I —  we had left Patty down at Newark, at school — well that made just eighteen in the family, besides the two bull-dogs and the two hounds that required feeding as regularly as four boys would. I'd like to see a poor man now days who would swing open his door and bid welcome sixteen men, women, children and young babies," said father, with eyes aglow.

 

"That man has passed away and his like will be known no more forever," said one of the boys, solemnly.

 

"How did the women make arrangements for sleeping?" asked May.

 

"Oh, made beds all over the cabin floor! The men slept at one side of the house, and the women at the other, and Uncle Davis and Dave slept on a queer sort of a bedstead in one corner," was the reply.

 

"Where did they put the bedding in daytime, so that they could have the use of the cabin?" I asked.

 

"They piled it all up on the one bedstead, so it would be out of the way."

 

"Did it look cozy at night when the light was burning, and the curtains drawn, and the chairs all occupied, and the good stories floating about?" said May, with a bright eye and smiling face.

 

At this father laughed till he shook all over. "Why, bless you, child, what are you talking about? curtains, and lights, and chairs! There wa'n't a window in the cabin, nor a chair, nor even a tallow candle, nor lamp of any kind. These things you speak of are luxuries; we had only the bare necessities of life. Instead of a window, the light come down the low, wide stone chimney and in from the top of the door."

 

"Ah, a kind of a transom! Yes, I understand, said she.

 

"Transom! that is rich for 1811! transom! ha, ha!" and father laughed long and heartily.

 

"No, there were no boards in those days to make doors out of, and Uncle Davis had made his door in two parts, twice the lengths of clap-boards; it would open in the middle, and so when we wanted light we opened the upper hall as you would swing open a shutter. It was in the month of January, and a good bit of cold came in with the light, but we didn't mind that at all. But if a woman wanted to thread a needle or sew on a patch, she went close up to the fireplace and used the light that came down the chimney. For chairs, we used little stools or benches.

"Yes, we had pleasant times in tho evenings, sitting and listening to Uncle Davis toll good old Revolutionary stories. The old man used to fire up until it did one good just to look into his lace. He grew really handsome in those times in which he was fighting his battles over again."

 

"You must have been very poor, for in coming such a long journey with only one wagon, you could not bring much," said I; "bedding, and clothing, and a few books would be about all."

 

"Yes," said father, "we brought nothing with us. The churn was put in the back part of the wagon and packed full of things; and we brought the tea-kettle and a few dishes. I remember that my daddy stopped at an iron foundry, eight miles above Zanesville, and bought a big dinner-pot. My mamma was pretty apt and shrewd and could manage well.

"Money was very scarce, but, somehow, we lived through. I remember, one time, when I was a young married man, that I needed cash to make a payment, and all I had to sell that would bring money was four three-years-old steers, and I sold them for thirty-two dollars. Nowdays a man can sell a steer of that age for forty dollars."

 

"I do wonder what women did when they needed money in those times," said I.

 

"Well, they spun flax for seventy-five cents a week and boarded; or, one dollar and board themselves. Six dozen cuts was a week's work, but I never knew, even then, of their getting money for work," said father; "they thought they were doing well to be paid in flour, meal, corn, flax, linen, or a calf or pig. Indeed, money was out of the question, and in a case of this kind, of course they could get along without it if they only thought so.

 

"Why, I knew of a young woman, eighteen years old, coming to your mother, a couple of years after we were married, and with a very modest, downcast face, saying: 'I never yit had a caliker gown, an' I want fur to spin fur you, and fur you to git me one, so I kin go to meetin' an' hole my hed up with the best of 'em.'

 

"Your mother got her one immediately, and let her take her own time to pay for it. I think I never saw a woman feel richer or better than Anna did in her ' fust caliker gown.' There was nothing she liked better than to flirt round corners suddenly, and let the air lift it, it made her feel like flying or sailing airily. There never had been any flirt in the narrow, poky, scant linseys she had worn all her life."

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 marwelmer@aol.com