The Woolsey Family of Catlin
WOOLSEYS OF CHEMUNG CO., NY
These family stories were typed about 1931 by Cora "Code" Woolsey on onion skin paper in multiple carbons on both sides of the pages and were retyped in 1999 by Barbara Parsons. The main characters by generation are:
Little Dorothy came out into the patio of the cool California home near the foothills. She had just come to live with Grandpa, and she was thrilled with his stories. He is her great grandpa and is a marvel to her.
"Grandpa, you said you’d tell me about your grandpa!"
"Yes, Dorothy, I can tell you a little about him. You see I never saw my grandpa like you are doing; he died before I saw him, but my father used to tell me about him. It was a long time ago."
"Tell me about the long time ago," said Dorothy.
"Well, it was a long way from here. My grandpa was a Baptist preacher in Bedford, N.Y. He was a farmer, too, and worked his farm during the week and preached Sundays as many rural preachers did then.
His name was Richard; he was born in 1772. His wife’s name was Sarah. I do not know her maiden name, but her name was Gregory when they were married. There were stepchildren by the name of Gregory. There was a large family and my father, second son, named John was born in 1802. In his teens he went away from home to find work to do and did many different things. I used to hear him talk about it in my childhood."
"Tell me about it, Grandpa."
"Several miles from where they lived there was the beginning of a large river, the Delaware. Great forests of tall trees were nearby. These trees were useful for building ships and for making lumber for houses. But the shipyards and lumber mills were mostly in the cities nearer the mouth of the river, so they cut the logs and floated them down the river to the mills. Father and a group of other young men went far into this timber region and selected great trees to cut and send or take to the mills. They took teams of horses, logging chains, ropes, saws and other equipment. They cut the great tall trees. Then they trimmed off the side branches so they had long smooth logs. The next job was to drag, roll or shoot these down to the river.
"How did they shoot them, Grandpa, with a gun?" asked Dorothy.
"Oh, no," laughed Grandpa, "I do not mean that kind of shoot. They built a chute to slide them down. We used to do the same in old Catlin where I grew up."
"Where is old Catlin?" asked Dorothy.
"Oh, that is in York State where I lived when I was a boy, another part of the state. I will tell you about that some other time. I was telling about the chutes. We would dig a V-shaped trench all the way down the hill slope to the river, then we packed smaller logs into it, close together all the way down, putting them end to end till they reached the foot. The slope was steep enough so that when a big log got started it would slide easily all the way down. If is did happen to lodge somewhere along the way, someone would go with his sharp stick and pry it loose to go on its way. That is the way we made them in Catlin and father with his men did the same way here in their camp. Some of the trees were down nearer the river and did not need a chute, they just rolled them down. But where there were many way up on the hillside, they just cut a lot of them together and then built their chute. Then they rolled or dragged the big logs in, one at a time, to shoot them down this chute into the river below. Logs float, you know, and this way they got a great many together floating in the river. They fastened many of these together into a raft. When they had cut all the big ones that were available in the locality, they let the raft drift down to another place where there were more big trees. There they added to their load till they had enough to make the trip all the way down the river. Sometimes they got enough in one place for the trip. They would have fifty to a hundred big logs fastened together into one raft for the long journey. Then two men, or maybe three, packed their food ready and got their guns in preparation for the long trip with the raft. They each made a long strong pointed pole out of a tall slim tree, and these were used to guide the raft."
Dorothy listened with open eyes. "What made it go, Grandpa?" she asked.
"It just moved slowly along with the current in the river. You know the water in the river is moving always toward the ocean. Where the river is narrow it moves faster; in wide places it goes slowly. There are sometimes eddies or whirling places in the river, and there are rocks sometimes near the surface or sharp curves. All these have to be watched so the poles were very useful. If the raft came too near the shore, or near a rock, they reached out with the pole and pushed farther from it. They had to keep near the shore sometimes when there were eddies to avoid. If, when nightfall came, the places ahead were dangerous, they tied the raft to a tree near the shore, so they could wait for better light. If all was smooth ahead, they kept on in the dark."
"Did they not have any lights?" asked Dorothy.
"Oh no, only some tallow candles for emergencies. They were not enough to guide the raft by, and they could not use them up too fast, for there was no chance to get more. When it was moonlight things were easier. When they reached the city and delivered the logs to the mill or shipyard, to which they were going, the next question was how to get back. What do you suppose they did?"
"I don’t know," Said Dorothy. "It was a long way, wasn’t it?"
Yes, it was maybe a hundred miles but they just walked back, because that was all there was to do. If they hired someone to take them back, it took all the profit from the trip, and, of course, there was no safe way to take horses on the raft. A man gets to be a pretty good walker when he is out of doors so much."
"My, he had a hard time, didn’t he?" exclaimed Dorothy.
"Yes, it was hard work, my girl, but he was happy and that is the main thing. He loved the out of doors. He knew many psalms by heart, and he with his companion would sing psalms or have long talks together as they drifted down on the raft. I have heard him tell, too, of having his grammar and arithmetic in his pocket and of studying while on his trip. He has told me of a very narrow escape he had on one of these trips. They were going through a rough dangerous place and in trying to steer the raft away from the rock just ahead, he lost his balance and fell into the water. When he came up his head struck the lower side of the raft, so he knew he was under it. He was a good swimmer, but it is hard to swim in heavy clothes. He managed to swim while beneath the raft till he reached the shore and clambered up just as the raft passed him, barely missing him. It struck a rock just below and went to pieces. Father was always a deeply religious man, in his youth as well as in older years. He did not forget to be thankful for his escape. Then he and his companion speedily set about to recover what they could of the broken raft. The rear end on which his companion was standing had not all separated; they steered it past the eddy and fastened it to the shore. Then with their poles and ropes, they succeeded in recovering some of the logs which had lodged against the rocks. These they bound again to the raft. Many of the logs floated singly on down the stream and were lost to them. Some of the stray logs went on down and were captured at the mill, but the men never got their pay for them, it was only for the ones they brought in. I think he said they lost about one-third of their load by that mishap."
"Is that all of that story, Grandpa? Tell me another!"
"Wait till after dinner," said Grandpa, "Then I will tell you about the canal."
So later the story was resumed. "You see, I told you my father helped build the Erie Canal. Way back in about 1817 DeWitt Clinton was elected Governor of New York. He thought such a canal should be built and the people agreed with him, so they elected him. It would be a big thing to connect the waters of Lake Erie with those of the Hudson River and thus with the Atlantic. People now do not realize what a big thing that was, because we are so accustomed to the railroads we forget they were not always here. Father saw there a chance to get a good job at something that was a big piece of work and interesting and to see a lot of new country besides. To go out battling with the wilderness and dig through a way for civilization to pass where it had not passed with ease before. To picture in his mind the finished work of his hands together with the hands of his fellow workers, to feel a mighty and useful project being completed by the work of his hands together with the hands of his fellow workers, that was father’s thrill, that was his keen love of life and work.
"Father was along in his early twenties when he worked there. Let’s see, he was born in 1802 and the Canal, I believe, was finished about 1825 so that all that logging on the Delaware River I told you about must have been done when he was in his teens. I never thought so much about it. I just used to hear him tell it when we sat around the fire on the long winter nights. I never put any particular dates in, but that is the way it seems to figure out. You see father was just a boy during the war of 1812 that you read about in your history and it was then that people began to think so much more about getting good roads into the country father west. But everything took more time to be done, for it was hand labor, and there were woods and mountains between the East Coast where most of the people lived, and the great Western prairies which then had few people on them. Yes, the Purchase of Louisiana was just the year after my father was born, and it seems to me that when I look back over what I have heard my father tell, and then follow that up with what I myself have seen and done, that we are covering a pretty wide stretch of United States history. There are big things being done now, my girl, all this radio and aeroplanes, that old fellows like me do not know so much about. But I want you to know that there were some big things done then; too, there were big things to do and the people went to work with their hands and heads and did them. You do not understand all that so well, because you are little but building the Cumberland National Road through Maryland and the Erie Canal through New York were bigger in proportion in that time than the establishing of the Transcontinental Air Way is now. They were needed worse.
"Father’s work on the canal was just ordinary work. I did not mean that he was foreman or manager. He got a thrill out of the work, as I have heard him say, and he learned all about how to make locks so a boat could sail upstream. Many a time I have heard him explain how the gates worked. He said it was like making a boat step up a stairstep. You sail the boat into the lock and shut the gate behind it. Then the water pours slowly in, till the boat is raised to the level of the high end of the lock. See, that has made the boat step up a step as high as the height of the lock. Then they open the upper end of the lock, or the upper gate, and away goes the boat. It has sailed up stream! Of course, they do that on all locks nowadays and think of it as commonplace, but it was very much talked about then for people wondered if it would work right.
So, as a boy, I used to sit and listen to father tell all about how they built them. Years later they built one nearer home, near Elmira, and we saw boats on it sailing upstream.
That is how it came that years later in Iowa when I was at the Bradford Academy with Lex Hart and all the rest that I could tell the philosophy class all about how a lock works. I was quite proud of that. I will tell you about the Academy some other time.
"Grandpa, I wonder if you want to tell me more stories about the woods and things," said Dorothy wistfully the next day as Grandpa sat under the great live oak in the shade.
"Well, yes, Dorothy, you and Johnnie bring your little chairs and sit here in front of me. I was just thinking about how they cleared up those old hills and made farms out of them."
"How did they clear them up?" asked Johnnie.
You see they were all covered with great trees and in order to raise any crops they had to get the trees off first.
"We want to hear about it."
"I told you about my father cutting down the trees to take to the mills and shipyards in the cities. That was before he was married. He married my mother. She was born somewhere in Connecticut, I do not know where. Her people, the Sherwoods, and father all came west together."
"Do you mean California?" asked Johnnie thinking of the West.
"Oh, no, they did not go so far as that, the western part of New York was still called west," laughed grandpa. "It was hard work to go a short distance when the country was new, especially if they did not follow the watercourses. You see while father was working on the Erie Canal, he learned a great deal about the country around the Finger Lakes region; some of it had been settled mostly by following the rivers. There were settlements and fair-sized cities along the lakes, but farther in the interior there was new country. The country lies in great wide hills, tree covered except where cleared for farms, and father and the Sherwoods planned to go out between the lakes, Seneca and Cayuga. I cannot tell you much about the trip, only the little I recall hearing him tell. They all went together. People had to travel together to be safe from wild animals and from some Indians, and also to help each other over the hard places in getting through the woods. In many places they had to cut trees ahead and make a road to get their wagons through. Just what route they went over I do not know, but it was from somewhere in the head waters of the Delaware to the region around the foot of Lake Seneca and from there up between the lakes."
"Were there a good many together, Grandpa?" asked Dorothy.
"Let’s see, I do not know exactly; there was Grandfather Sherwood with his wife and family. The boys were Montgomery, Morgan and Harrison, and the girls Fellita and Clarissa. Clarissa had married my father and Felitta married a Mr. Crisfield. Some of their people came to Kansas and years later we met the, but that is getting ahead of my story. So I knew my mother’s people for we saw them occasionally, but my father’s people were a long way off, that is why I never knew them. I heard him speak of his brother, Josiah, Richard and Daniel and his sisters Electa, Lucinda, Clarinda and Belinda. The first two married men named Todd [or maybe Tidd], the last two married men named Ellis. Rather unusual, that was. I guess they were brothers."
"What funny names they had," said Dorothy.
"Yes, those are old-fashioned names for girls, you never hear them these days; women seem to change the styles in names as well as in clothes more that men do," laughed grandpa.
"They all settled near where Ovid is now; it may have been there then, I do not know. That country had been settled for some time. Father stayed there awhile before he went on over to Catlin.
"But I was going to tell you about Morgan. Grandfather Sherwood was clearing land too, and getting up wood for fuel, so he was often working at felling timber. One day he was out cutting trees and Morgan was helping him. In cutting a tree a man usually studies which way it is most likely to fall, then he cuts so it will fall that way and plans for it. He had it partly cut, and Morgan was some distance from him in the direction the tree seemed tottering. Grandpa called to him, ‘Run, Morgan, the tree is going to fall’ and Morgan ran but he ran the wrong direction and right in the path of the tree so it struck him. Poor Grandpa could never get over his grief at the loss of his boy and his part in it. He never could satisfactorily explain to himself how it was, whether he misjudged the probable fall or cut different from what he aimed to do, or whether suddenly seeing the boy’s apparent danger, he did not see that he was really out of the line of danger. The whole incident was such a shock to him that he could not bear to think of it or to talk of it. He could only grieve."
"Oh, I am sorry for poor grandpa but he could not help it, said Dorothy. "I suppose you had look out for trees then as you do for automobiles now."
"Yes, that was about it, Dorothy. Well, I was going to tell you about my father clearing up the land on old Catlin Hill. As I said the land around Ovid was bought up, but farther down the lakes there were new surveys that could be bought cheaper. The title to the land was in the state here, not like it was in the Middle West, there it was in the U.S. Gov’t. But you will learn all about that in your History some day. Father wanted to get some cheaper land and there was a survey offered for sale in Chemung Co. so he went there. I remember father’s old deed described the land somewhat like this, ‘Beginning at a certain tree, marked thus and so.’ I do not recall it now, ‘and going so far,’ and so on, that was the way the surveys were made and marked. It had 106 acres in it; they were in tracts of about 100 acres, more or less. The deed ended with the words ‘according to the survey of one Peter Pompelly.’ So I suppose he was the man who did the surveying for the state."
"Surveying was what George Washington did, wasn’t it, Grandpa?"
"Yes, his surveying was some seventy years ahead of this, I suppose. He was born about 1732, wasn’t he, and probably did his surveying some twenty years later. You see that would be quite awhile before our Peter Pompelly did his.
"So father bought the old farm as I was saying. I do not know how much he paid for it but he was thirteen years getting it paid for. I’ve heard him say that many times. When he first went there, he left mother and the two older children, Felitta and Philander, with her people till he got a little clearing and the first cabin built. I’ve heard him tell how he used to do in clearing. He would cut great trees so they would fall across each other, several of them crisscross, and then he piled the brush around the center. This would make a partly cleared place with the pile of trees in the center. That way he burned the trees in two, then he would pull the ends around with his logging chains, get them into the fire and finally get them all burned. He cleared off several acres that way."
"But, Grandpa, why did he burn the trees?" asked Johnnie.
"Well you see, my boy, there was not any place to put them. They wanted the land to raise crops to have something to eat. The trees were too far from any river to float them down for lumber like I told you about before. So all there was to do was to get rid of them by burning.
"Yes, if we had those trees now, they would be worth a great deal of money, but times were different then, people had to have farms to raise food. We go the grocery store and buy our food now, but they were too far from a store and money was scarce, too. Well, anyway that is the way this country was built up, people moving farther and farther into the new land, following the streams when they could or going whatever way they could to get to the new land. You see railroads hadn’t come yet or did not for some twenty years and roads are hard to build. People in a new country just make the best use they can of whatever there is at hand to work with; they find some way to manage. Some people just have that spirit; they like to go into a new country and develop it. That is the force that made America, the desire to find out the big unknown that lies beyond, and to get up and do something even if it is hard. That is largely what brought Columbus here in the first place."
"Our teacher told us about him on Columbus Day. She gave us a part of a poem that said, ‘Sail on and on’ only your father did not sail through the woods," Dorothy laughed. "He had to go slower than sailing."
"Yes, he chopped his way through. Then after he had cleared a few acres and done some planting, he built a log cabin; then he went back between the lakes after his family. The rest of us children, Harrison, myself and John were born there on the farm. Father kept on clearing more land, that was the way he sailed on. But there was more to do than clearing off the trees, there were many stones on the land. These were gathered up and used to build fences.
As you go through that country now you will see that it is full of stone fences. Everybody’s farm had a stone fence around it and one around many of the fields. We needed some fences, of course, but we needed to get rid of the stones more than we needed the fences so that was one way to get rid of them. We could not burn them like we did the trees.
"Many other people came into this country about the same time my father did and bought and cleared the land up as he did, in tracts of about a hundred acres. Father worked hard clearing and developing his farm and he took great pride in it. He loved to see the results of his hands. As I told you he was a deeply religious man, he took his work as his mission. I’ve heard him say often, ‘The Lord made me to clear up this stony ridge and make a home of it.’ And if that was his mission, he did it well.
"He loved the old place. Years afterward when we children had all grown up and gone west, he did not want to sell it. Philander came back from Iowa on account of his wife wanting to be near her people, and he bought part of the place from father but he would not sell it all. He kept part because he wanted it for his.
"I told you how he studied sometimes when on his long trips. Well he was pretty well grounded in the elementary subjects as needed in the schools there and he could explain things well, so he was thorough. The old Culver Schoolhouse, that is where he taught. He was a good singer, too, and sometimes he taught singing school in the winter evenings. That was when they used to teach people to sing do-re-mi; he used a tuning fork to pitch the tune right. Nobody had an organ till years later w/hen a few parlor organs came in. They had fiddles, mouth organs and Jew’s harps. I used to play a Jew’s harp; you never see them these days.
"Oh, I remember how father used to drill us at home on the rules of grammar and arithmetic. He always made us give the rule and explain the reason for correct usage. He used to say, ‘If you cannot give the rule, you do not know your grammar; you are just talking like a parrot does.’
"Well, well, those were great days. I started to tell you about the stones. We cleared off the largest of the stones and made fences but there were many smaller ones; we just plowed around them, the plowshare knocked them here and there as we plowed. Every winter the freezing and thawing of the ground brought up more stones, so we would pick up some more big ones every spring and haul them away. I remember helping with it as a little boy and doing part of the hauling when I grew bigger.
"Then we had to plow around the tree stumps, too. Some of the stumps were too big to grub out, so they had to be left till they rotted out. Clearing off the trees by cutting them was the first step and grubbing out the stumps with the next, but that took so much time that the crops were planted around the stumps for several years till we could find time to get after them and get them out. By that time some of them had rotted out. You see he could not do it all at first, for he had to put in crops and tend them. It was a big job for one man and he must do it a little at a time. As we children grew bigger we helped."
"What did you raise, Grandpa?" Johnnie asked.
"Oh, we raised beans, white navy beans, lots of them. They grow pretty well even on stony soil and they are good food and keep in the winter, so they were a staple crop and a usual food. Buckwheat too did well there and we had lots of buckwheat pancakes in our diet. Mother set them with yeast and kept a ‘starter’ like people do for homemade bread. If she used the starter nearly every day, the cakes got better and better but they did not taste quite so good when the starter was new. It would sour if it stood too long without using. I remember being sent over to a neighbor’s to borrow some starter when ours ran out. Neighbors always borrowed from each other, that was a part of life. To be neighborly meant to borrow and lend with your neighbors and to help each other.
"Yes, those buckwheat cakes were good eating; we ate them with maple syrup. It is hard to get genuine old-fashioned buckwheat flour and real maple syrup these days. We made our own; we youngsters enjoyed the maple sugar making days."
"We want to hear about that, Grandpa, we like maple sugar," exclaimed Dorothy, drawing her chair nearer.
"But I had not finished telling you about the crops. I started to say we had fruit, too, for father put out many kinds, blackberries, raspberries and other small fruit, and an orchard with apples, plums and cherries, no peaches, it was too cold for them in winter. Then we raised cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys and chickens. Mother had her hands full with the milk and butter and the chickens, beside she had her other work, for she made most of our clothes and she was always mending to keep them in repair so they would last longer.
"Father and the older boys were kept busy about the farm. Father often said, ‘I have many strings to my fiddle.’ He meant to do all the things he could think of to get along and keep things going. What with milking cows, making butter and cheese, shearing sheep and making maple sugar besides raising his crop, there was not time going to waste around the place.
"And the maple sugar, well, let’s see, there were 20 or 30 acres of trees that he did not clear off. He left those for maple sugar and for fuel. Those great hard-maple trees were the ones from which we made the syrup. Father drove a sharp spike into each tree, and we hung a wooden bucket beneath each spike and let it stand overnight. By morning the bucket was about half full. We took each and poured the sap into a big kettle. We never took too much sap from any one tree for it would hurt, and father was very careful not to hurt the trees. So when we had enough to begin with, we started the fire and hung kettles over it. We put a crotch at each end and a long pole across it. Then five or six kettles were hung over and a slow fire kept under each so the sap boiled slowly, getting thicker and thicker. Then we put the thicker sap into one kettle and started some new at the far end of the pole. So at one end of the pole the sap was just starting and at the other it was nearly done. When the syrup was done to just the right thickness -- mother knew when it was just right -- it was poured into the wooden kegs and stored away for future use. Then a great deal more of it was cooked down till it was ready to put into pans and molds for maple sugar. It was poured out into a flat pan, and the thin wooden slats were put in to partition it off into the bars the right size for market. Everything wood, wooden pans, wooden kegs, wooden paddles to stir it."
"Didn’t you have any tins?" asked Dorothy.
"No, you see there was plenty of wood but if we had tin we must buy it, and as I have told you before, everybody used what they had. It was a lot of work to make the wooden ones but father knew just how they should be made to be strong and tight. Hours at a time I’ve seen him sitting by the kitchen fire winter evenings working at making tubs or firkins or other such things. He cut the staves to they would fit in with each other, a groove on one side for a ridge on the other to fit into. He had his grooving tool that he used for all these and they just fit. Then he made the hoops out of split strips of young hickory that bend easily and he cut a jog in one end to fit into a notch in the other, so that when they were driven on they would fit tight. He grooved out a place for the wooden top, or head, to fit into and then it was put on last. After the keg was full of syrup, then the last wooden hoop was driven on to the top and was all air tight and was stored away in the cellar ready to take to market when there were enough for a load. Some of the kegs he fixed a spigot into one end but that was not necessary for all, for we could pour it into a keg that had a spigot when we began on a new one. The wooden spigot made it handy to get the syrup out."
"Did you have the kegs to play with when they were empty? I think they would be fun," said Johnnie.
"Oh goodness, no, they were too hard to make for us to spoil like that. They were all carefully cleaned and put away into the cellar for future use. Father made firkins too, for storing the butter. A firkin is a small wooden vessel or cask for butter, lard, etc; it is about one-fourth part of a barrel. They were made in the same general way. Mother had a wooden churn, too, that father had made. I used to help make the butter. Have you ever seen a wooden churn? They are made smaller at the top so there will be less of the cream spill out of in the churning."
"I saw a glass churn with something like an eggbeater on the inside."
"No, it was not like that, the top had a round hole in it so the dasher could go up and down in it; the dasher was like a broomstick with a round flat piece at the end that beat the cream as it moved and made the butter come. I used to watch mother get the cream ready. We kept the milk down in the cellar in stone jars. When it was all turned to clabber, the cream would be on top in a thick layer. I have seen mother roll that layer up and lift it all off in one piece with her skimmer. There was the nice thick cool clabber underneath. We children liked to eat the clabber. It is good just as it is or sometimes we put some into a saucer and ate it with sugar. Mother used some in cooking, made some into clabber cheese and the rest was fed to the pigs. It was good for us both, the children and the pigs, too.
"It was often my job to do the churning. You see the older boys helped father about the farm and it was a good place for me inside for mother needed help, especially after my sister was married. I was small then. With the churn about one-third full of cream, I kept the dasher going up and down till the butter began to form thick little rolls around the handle of the dasher. Then I had to turn it as I churned so the butter would gather into large rolls down inside the churn. About that time mother took charge. She took her wooden ladle and gathered it out into a wooden butter bowl. Then she worked it will the paddle till the buttermilk was all out of it, washing it out with cool water. She then salted it well and packed it away in the wooden firkins in the cellar where it kept nice and cool. And the buttermilk? We drank some of it; it is a nice cool drink when it is thinned out with about half water. I like it that way to drink to drink in the middle of a hot afternoon. Or at meals we drank it just as it came from the churn. What we could not use for household uses was fed to the pigs.
"We kept the butter till there was enough to take to market or till the price was good. A neighbor of ours who had many cows used to hold great tubs of his for better prices. The firkins were clean and the cellar was cool. The butter was well chilled so it was as good as the day it was made. The buyer at the market had a tester he used to try the butter with. It was a hollow tube and rod that he pierced the pack clear to the bottom of the firkin, then he turned the rod thereby closing the bottom of the tube and pulled it out. He thus had a sample of the butter all the way down; he could test it and see if it was all sweet. When he was satisfied, he put that tube back, turned the rod and thus restored the sample to its original place. He never found any rancid butter in my mother’s firkins. She knew how to make it so it would keep."
"Oh, dear, I’d like to help make butter and maple sugar and things. Is there any more to the story?" asked Dorothy
"Well, I think that is enough for this time. Run along now and I will tell you some more some other time."
BUILDING THE LOG CABIN
"Grandpa, did you say you lived in a log cabin?"
"Yes, my girl, we did at first but father built a better house later. Remember the ‘house raising’ we had when I was a little chap."
"What is a house raising, Grandpa?"
"That is the way people in that new country got their houses built. You see there was plenty of timber but it had to be put into form to build into houses, and it was a great deal of work. Father worked for months getting the big timbers ready for the framework. But first there was the foundation to make. Before he was ready to begin building the house he staked off the space it was to occupy, dug and walled up the cellar, made the foundation. You know there were plenty of stones close by. He took big ones for the foundation. Then he laid the first heavy beams on the foundation and staked them firmly down. A good solid foundation is important in a house as well as in an education. You know grandpa tells you to learn your early lessons well so you’ll have a good foundation."
"Yes, I know," said Dorothy smiling.
"Then when the foundation was built there would come the house raising. Father told all the neighbors about it and mother fixed up a good dinner. We had chickens, potatoes and beans, which we raised. We had apples and Mother made pies. Some of the neighbor women came to help mother cook and the whole thing made sort of a party. Did you ever suppose people would come to a party to build a house?"
"No," laughed Dorothy. "That sounds funny. I go to a party to play."
"Well, we had fun working, I guess. Anyhow people enjoyed a house raising and we all liked to go when someone had one. That’s the way people helped each other in those early days. Besides house raisings, we had husking bees. I’ll tell you about them some other time. You see father had it all planned out how it was to be; oh, no, he did not have a blueprint like your Father works over in his studies at night but he had all the different parts ready.
"Great hemlock trees were cut and hewn into shape for the heavy timber. He hewed out the sills to form the part next to the foundation. Then about two feet apart he bored the holes that the posts were to fit into the sills. The plate came at the top of these posts. So he made braces to put slanting to strengthen each place where the posts joined to the sills or plate. That all took a great deal of boring and hewing, but father knew just how to do it. He figured it all out how they would all fit each other when they were put together. Nowadays you see carpenters nail the parts together, but then they made holes in one part for the other part to fit into. Father had these all cut before the house raising. The parts all had to fit exactly. When the gang arrived they began fitting the parts together so that the sidewalls were fitted together while lying on the ground. The tenons had been cut in the end of each brace to slide thru the hole in the post. Then the pins had been cut to go into the holes in the tenons so they clamped them tight. When they had driven all these tight together there lay the side of the house flat on the ground, ready to be hoisted into place. The men had brought their ‘pike-poles,’ which were long strong poles with pointed ends. It was all hands together to erect each side for that was the heaviest part of the work. One man took charge and gave the signals so they all moved together. Twenty men on a side, each with his pike-pole, beginning first with the poles pushed under, then at the boss’s order, ‘Yo-o-o heave!’ they would all work together on the ‘Heave’ and raise a bit at a time, with some blocking put under to hold the frame from going back. Then as it rose higher they put the poles against the under side, and all together again on the ‘Yo-o-o heave’ they raised it higher and higher. And one man must be at each hole in the sill where the posts are to fit in, so he pry it with his pike pole and get it exactly in the hole. When all are ready, with last ‘Heave,’ it drops kerplunk into the deep holes made in each post. Then comes more fitting of braces and driving of the pins into place till the whole thing is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. The four sides are raised the same way and solidly pinned together with heavy wooden pegs made for that purpose.
"Then the beams for the floor were laid, or sometimes they laid them first, I do not just recall. I think some of the men were putting them in while others were joining the frame together. These timbers for the floor were logs split and left rough on the under side. It was not necessary to hew both sides. I remember going down into our cellar and looking up at the rough logs that formed the under side of the floor. Father had cut places in the sills for each beam to fit into and hewed off the end of the beams to fit the place. He had done all this with his hewing ax before the day of the raising.
"When all the timbers were cut and matched properly the house raising was a day’s work for the neighbors. You may be sure father’s were all true. I remember some neighbors later coming to him to get him to help them figure how they should cut theirs to get ready for the raising they were planning. They knew he could do it right.
"All this I have been telling you was the framework. After that, the siding and shingling had to be done. Father did that himself as he had time with the older boys helping him. For the flooring he used milled lumber, that is, he hauled his hard pine timber to the nearest sawmill and had it sawed into smooth boards. He hewed off most of the bark first to save labor and time at the mill. He hewed out his shingles by hand.
"About a mile or two to the south of our place, at the foot of a hill, Lote Smith had a shingle mill some year later, and people began to use the milled shingles. They kept out the storms better, besides, it was a job to hew shingles. But father made his well for our roof did not leak. Some of the neighbors had worse luck, and sometimes had to caulk their roofs in spots. They used mud and tar. Years later my brother Harrison bought this mill; he ran it for some time and did pretty well with it. I used to help him, sometimes he would leave me in charge and I was only ten or twelve then; it seems funny for a youngster like that to be boss of the gang. It was my job to keep the saw sharp. I remember one day I was filing the saw while the men were getting more logs. Dave Halford came along and he stopped and watched me a minute. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You must be an ingenious sort of a cuss.’ ‘Why so?’ said I. ‘Can you file a saw?’ said he. ‘I’m doing it ain’t I?’ said I. ‘Will it saw when you get it done?’ said he. ‘I’ve done all the filing that has been done for a month,’ said I, ‘And we’ve been turning out shingles right along.’"
Dorothy laughed, "Well, I guess he must have decided you knew how."
"That was another place where we used to cut the large trees and roll or shoot the logs down to the shingle mill. The hill was steep and the mill stood at the foot of it on the creek. You know I told you how the chutes were built. Well it was fun to see the big logs go sliding down that chute and then to see the saw mill grind away at them and watch the pile of shingles grow high and higher. The shingle mill was run by a ‘horse power.’ That was a contrivance that you hitch a team of horses to and they would go round and round in a circle, each time stepping over the revolving rod that connected the mill and the power. They turned the wheel round and round and the rod carried the motion to the mill. Many old-time machines ran that way, sawmills, grinders and later threshing machines.
"One incident I have often thought of, for it impressed me so much at the time, youngster as I was. We were sawing away to beat the band and Bill Platt began to get fidgety. He asked some of the rest of the crowd for a ‘chaw of tobaccer.’ Nobody had any and Bill was getting bad off. He said he couldn’t stand it. He wasn’t able to keep going without it. So what did we have to do but stop the saw while he walked nearly a mile to Bill Bailey’s at the crossroads to get a plug. While he was gone, the bunch rested and I filed the saw, thinking all the time to myself, ‘Well, if that is the way tobacco treats a person, I do not want any of it.’"
THE HUSKING BEE
"Grandpa, you said you’d tell us sometime about the husking bee."
"Yes, well, sit down here in the shade and I’ll tell you some of the fun we used to have. You know you can have fun husking corn if a bunch of people get together to do it while one man working alone might not call it fun. So when a neighbor was going to have a husking bee, he would get his corn cut and the stalks piled in long ricks near the barn. Then he got his crib ready to hold the husked corn and he set a date and invited in the neighbors. They all came in and worked usually in groups of two, putting the corn into the crib and stacking the stalks back in long ricks for feed for the stock in the winter.
I remember a husking bee my father had one late fall when I was a young chap. The men were in groups of two and they were running races to see which group could do the most. Father took the baskets as fast as they were filled and emptied them into the crib. Frank Bump and Chauncey Robinson were working together and there was a close race between them and the Johnson boys. There were laughing remarks made that Chauncey was stretching some of his baskets, or seeing double, for both these couples were ahead of the rest.
"Frank Bump was a sober deacon. I remember how he used to sing bass at our meetings in the old Catlin Schoolhouse and keep time with the tap of his boot. Did I ever sing you his old song?"
"No," said Dorothy. "Sing it."
"Well, I can just see him now as he sat in his favorite corner of the meeting house and rolled out the deep bass notes of his favorite song. His boot came down harder on the accented beats of the music. There weren’t any fancy notes and folderols in those old tunes; there was a rhythm and a roll in them that made them majestic. They seemed to suit the religion and lives of the people. He’d sing with an accent on every other syllable,
‘A few more rolling suns at most
Shall land me safe on Canaan’s coast,
For I’m happy, and I shall be there,
And I’m happy on my journey home.’
"And we’d all join in till the room was full of the song. He had a way of holding his hand over his jaw while he sang, and us youngsters used to say he did that to keep his jaw from cracking. Good old Frank Bump was a good neighbor. Well, his grandchildren own the old place now. He figures in many of the old scenes as I think about them.
"But I was telling you about the husking bee. They accused Chauncey of stretching it on the baskets so they referred it to Frank Bump for they knew he wouldn’t tell a lie. He was a good deacon and had a conscience but he had a sense of humor, too. So he just replied soberly in his slow droll way, ‘Well, Chauncey says there were 14 baskets, I never kept count.’ That was all the answer he would make. But later in the evening when the cider and doughnuts were being passed around, he said he did not think there were over 13. We always had a lot of fun over that remark of his."
"Yes, we had lots of neighbors when
I was a boy. I like to sit and think where they all lived and how the country
looked. The neighbors who came to the husking bee, those who were at the
house raising, and the young people who went to the dances and spelling
schools in our locality.
"We used to have 4th of July celebrations in the open space at the foot of Watkins Glen. Then we youngsters spent the afternoon climbing all around through the Glen. There were a few wooden ladders put up and some stone steps cut out but nothing like it is now.
"We were about eight miles south and west of Watkins. Going from our place north toward Watkins, the road went to Moreland and then turned off. On that road we passed many neighbors, just across the road on the east was the old Isaac Robinson place which Riley Johnson later owned. And we passed Doc Johnson, his name was John but we always called him Doc. They were our neighbors on the north and across from them was his father, Cornelius. Then a road led off to the right down into Johnson Hollow. Way beyond that one could see Buck Mountain. But straight on our road we passed Lanson Owen's and a little farther on the left-turning road led off to the Stuyvesant Schoolhouse. This is at the foot of a long hill where we boys used to coast down in the winter. We had great times coasting on that hill. We used to make us a ‘bump place’ by piling up a great pile of snow at the foot of the slide, packing it so it would be hard by morning. When the sleds came lickety split down the hill and struck that place they would go up and through the air for some space before they struck the snow again. I do not know where we got the idea, may have made it up, but they have a similar idea at work at many of the winter resorts where people go to spend their time and money doing the same thing we did as kids back there on that old hill.
"Before we reached the hill, the road passed the homes of Charley and Nick Sturdevant on the left and way to the right were Eden and Jesse Sturdevant. But let’s see, we were headed north toward Moreland, so go up a little hill to where we pass Dave Halford’s on the right, Then Gaylord’s on the left and Carpenter’s to the right. Then we go down Wakeman’s Hill and at the foot of it lived old Bill Wakeman. I do not know, maybe he wasn’t so old but I am talking like we used to talk and that is what we called him. People have that fool idea in their heads now adays that you must not call anybody old. But we did not worry about that, lots of folk we just called old man so and so and nobody thought anything about it.
"There was a cemetery, too, at the foot of Wakeman’s Hill. From there on they were not quite so many neighbors for they lived farther away but I can tell you just about who they all were. There is a crossroad at the foot of the road beyond Moreland where there was a store and a blacksmith shop. The road to the left led to the old Baptist Church and way beyond there on the creek was a gristmill. The road to the right from that crossroad leads way off toward Lyman Herwin’s place. I stayed with him and went to the Culver School when I was about 14 and at Buck Mountain School the next year. He lived between the two places. Culver was south of him and Buck Mt. was north. Beyond the Culver School the road leads off to Havana or Montour Falls. It is east of Watkins. But straight ahead north of Moreland was the school where father taught some. Green Bennett lived in that neighborhood.
"But our nearer neighbors were those on the south. They were in our district so we knew them better. On our south was Dan’l Johnson. Across the road from him and a little nearer was James Johnson, his father. The Johnson ancestor, Ezekial L. Johnson (we used to think it was smart to call him Zeek el Johnson) lived over in Johnson Hollow; that is where it got its name. Going on south the road led to Catlin Schoolhouse where I went most of the time. After the Johnson’s we passed Frank Bump’s east of the road. Near here a road turned west and led past Freeman Robinson’s to the left and John Bedford’s to the right. Then David Upson and Oliver Mosier again on the left as you go down a hill that leads toward Post Creek off to the west. Caleb Upson and Lote Smith lived on the far slope of this hill, too, but back from the road; Lote was nearer the foot of the hill. He had the shingle mill that I told you about Harrison buying later and it was half a mile from here to Bill Bailey’s where I told you about Bill Platt walking for his plug of tobacco.
"And Caleb Upson, we had a good one about him. It was like this -- about this time when I was a young man there were some Seventh Day Adventist preachers that went through the country. A lot of people turned to their way of thinking and began to keep Saturday instead of Sunday. So there was a lot of controversy about which day one should keep. David Upson was a great Adventist. They used to hold meetings in his house. So Caleb used to say, "I keep rainy days." He thought that was a good scheme to get his work done.
"But here we have branched off; we started to go straight south from the schoolhouse. Still a little farther beyond Frank Bumps’s there was a big cherry tree in the corner where the road had an east branch that curved down a long hill into Johnson Hollow, passing Joseph Johnson’s place on the way. But the straight road kept on past Milo P. King’s place, crossed a little stream which flows into Sing Sing Creek, then past Chauncey Robinson’s on the west where another road runs toward Post Creek, then past Amos Jlavus Curry’s and Joseph Cooper’s to the Catlin Center Schoolhouse. It was about a mile and a quarter from our house to the schoolhouse, and I passed about eight houses that stood by the road as I have mentioned. So you see a good many people lived there. The schoolhouse stood at a main crossroad. The road leading east was down a hill and crossed the same little stream we had crossed before for the stream curved a little. Then up the next hill lived Jim Perry. He had some daughters I used to go to see. Then on past Louis Hornbeck and Nate Thompson and up a steep hill where the Sabin family lived, and beyond them down the hill was Austin. Then we are getting out of our district.
"Just across the road, south from the school was Welcome Parmer and on the west of him was the Colgrove farm. Across the road north from there and way back from the road was Kimble’s where my chum Jimmy lived. We used to have lots of good times together. Farther on, on this main road was John Fere (Pore?) then the road turned, and on the left was John Perrigo with John Phillips on the right with big timber on the down slope of the hill back of his place. Francis Hicks was farther on. That road runs on toward Post Creek.
"Oh, there is a lot to tell about the things that happened in Catlin Center and the people there.
"Before we get to Pere’s a road turns south toward the Edminster Schoolhouse where I taught my first term of school on Martin’s Hill. When I taught there I walked from home. Along this road I passed Amos Johnson, then Horace Burns, John Spencer and the House place. Here is where my brother Harrison found his wife, Emma House; there was one boy and four girls. Here the road turns to the right and leads to another Martin’s Hill Schoolhouse about two miles away. Martin’s Hill is a big hill. Later we came to Levi Edminster’s then to the school. It was about a four-mile walk from home. There is a cemetery back of the schoolhouse. Just beyond the schoolhouse were the homes of other Edminsters, Morris and the old man, then a Mr. Lewis. Off to the west were the Patchens and Jay Gould and Mr. Masters. From the schoolhouse off to the east, you look down a long hill to Thompkins Corners which is about where Sing Sing Creek heads from two small streams. It flows on south into the Chemung River on which Elmira located. The country on south from Martin’s Hill is called the "Big Flats" and is fairly level on to Elmira.
"But let’s see, I turned off the main road. Suppose at Catlin Center we did not make a turn but kept on south on one main road, then we would pass some more neighbors. This road led to Thompkins Corners, too. The road curved around a hill after we passed Welcome Parmer’s and there was Joseph Fere and two other houses. I do not recall the names. Between them came Henry Backer. He had a daughter, Anna, smart as lighting. They both taught school. One year he taught at Catlin Center and Anna taught at the Stuyvesant School. I belonged in Catlin Center, of course, and he used to get me to help show the class how to do the hard problems. I was quite a boy by that time. And father said, "he’s not teaching you; you are teaching him.’ Well, I quit after a while and went over to the Stuyvesant School where Anna taught. She knew more than her old dad did and I learned a lot that year.
"On beyond Henry Backus was where Ras Dayton lived and beyond that a farm that he owned and rented. He married my sister Net, Felitta Antoinette, and we called her Net. From there the road angled on to where it crossed Sing Sing Creek at Thompkins Corners.
"Well, I have covered a lot of territory telling where everybody lived within 3 or 4 miles from home. They were in several different school districts, mostly the ones I named. Let’s see I did not mention our neighbor, John Demund. We looked across the hollow to the west and saw their house on the slope of the next hill with two farms in between."
"When I recall now how that country was, I cannot help but think how many more people there were living there then than now. Everybody wanted to get a farm for himself, so they went where land could be gotten cheaper. The rush to the Middle West was not so well under way yet; it was too far. Many people had gone there, too, to the places nearer to the rivers. Between 1835 and 1840 when my father went to Chemung County, a lot of others were there too; they knew little about the land off in the Mississippi Valley and thought little of it on account of the distance. They all wanted their parcels of land to make a living on, and they did it, too.
"As I said, I do not know how much my father paid the State of New York for that land. He said he was 13 years getting it paid for. In my childhood days we called it worth $40 an acre. Years later when people went farther west because the railroads made it possible, that land was worth less because better land could be had so easily farther away. It seemed that after we got it worked up to where it was worth more to live on, it went down in price. Well, well, that is the way it goes. I told you that when we children all grew up and went west, father sold the place to P.G. (that is what we always called my oldest brother (Philander Gillette). But he kept 30 acres, he loved the old place and did not want to part with it. Later though it went out of the family; I do not know to whom it was sold. Father came west and was with us in Iowa for awhile, later he went back. Then he decided to go into the "Old Folks" Home in Elmira. I wrote him to come to Kansas to make his home with me but I was pioneering then, too, living in a log cabin. He could have come later when I was better settled but he did not want to. He wrote that he wanted to stay in his old locality. He was near his old hills even if he was not on his old farm."
Here are some extracts from the last letter I ever received from him."
‘Home for the Aged,
Elmira, New York, Nov. 3, 1886
E. W, Woolsey, my beloved,
I am happy to say that your favor of the 14th Ult. (last month) is before me. I have been some despondent for some time because I could not hear from thee or John, as I have written thee and twice to John and there is no answer from either and I thought something must be the matter, and as I was getting news in the paper from Kansas and Iowa and all parts and could not hear from Burden or New Hampton. I sent a card to the bank, asked them if John was there doing business and they said yes doing fine and John will write as soon as he had time.
John said last fall the company was worth $ [?] the 300 that the woods sold for don’t belong to the company. It is my individual property. All that I brought here to this home is $50 and it all belongs to the home. That is more than any other had put in and makes me a home for life, yet I have to pay $30 a year as long as I have property. I cannot find a better place in the world.
I do not think anyone can be happy without religion. I would like to hear a word from you on that subject, unless you are an infidel or an atheist or a Sadusee (sic), and if you don’t know what that means look in the dictionary. I am 83 years old and I have lived longer than I ever expected to. I think I should not have lived another winter had I not come here. I have gained much by it. I am treated as tender and careful as though I was a babe. Have a room all to myself all set out, all things necessary, kept clean and in good order. I go every morning after prayers about 100 rods and get the daily paper and read till 9 or 10 o’clock, have all the papers and books and kinds of music books and an organ to play on and to cheer up my spirits. I have a fine place to go to church with Baptist, which is my favorite. I vote the temperance ticket, which I have always, in favor of for 60 years. I joined the Baptist Church when I was 18 years of age & repented because I did not stay with them.
There are over 100 charitable ladies that have charge of this home and many of them come to see us every Tuesday P.M. and once a month a picnic dinner.
And now I have written a long message. I want you and lady to standby the door of your little home with your children and have the picture of the house and family and send one to me and tell me what you mean by Burdentown Company and how much a share is worth.
I have always had enough.
Remember me in your prayers, and I will you.
I am your old father
"That reference to the Company was that he and John were in a partnership awhile after the old place was sold. I do not know the details. As to what he says about the Baptists, well, when the Adventists came through our country, father believed them for awhile, several years he was with them, till after I left home.
"I do not know who lived on the old farm or what happened to it during all the years that followed, except that much later somewhere about 1895 or 1900 someone bought it. Then before he had it paid for he cut and sold off all the big timber that was left. He took the house down and moved it away and sold it. He would have been in trouble for this dishonesty but that he died soon afterward. It goes to show how the standing timber was increasing in value. There was left only the small young timber and the walled up cellar of the house. I saw it in 1922 when I was there. I remember watching father build that wall. For some years the land had lain idle and had grown up to wild brambles and was all full of rocks that had worked up in the winters’ freezing and thawing. It was sad to see it and think of a happy home where happiness and sufficiency, if not abundance, had been found. But now as I told you, the grandson of old Frank Bump owns the place and the land is properly worked, though there is no home there. The man who moved the house away told the neighbors that it was so well built he could hardly get it taken apart. He said it would have stood another hundred years.
"When the land lay idle and grown up to brambles, about 1919 it could have been bought for $200 a neighbor said. And I think of my father’s words, "The Lord made me to clear up this old ridge and make a home of it." And I think how well he did his work. But economic and social changes came and the work of his hands no longer stands there as a monument to the staunch, dauntless, untiring pioneer.
"But the human race has memory and vision. The work of the pioneer, the steadfast character, the fearless determination that pushed forward his work in spite of obstacles and hardships, these are things that have erected for themselves in the heart of America a lasting monument to those pioneers whose happiness was found in labor and worship. It is an epic worthy of a Homer. What was a Trojan War or the wanderings of Ulysses compared with the American pioneer? Will there arise no American Homer to fitly glorify their work?"
"Well, I have told you all about how we did in old York State but when I grew up I went west. And so did others.
"I told you how we used to have 4th of July celebrations in Watkins Glen and speeches, songs and reading of the Declaration of Independence, flags waving and bands playing. Public men and politicians of more or less rank came sometimes and made speeches. One year Horace Greeley came. I was very much interested in his speech; one particular remark that he made was much quoted in the newspaper. It was, ‘Go west, young man, and grow up with your country.’ Father was a great admirer of Horace Greeley and we had his paper, The New York Tribune, regularly in the house. No, I do not mean a daily paper like we have now, once a week it came and it was a week old maybe when it came at first, later it came more on time. Things kept improving. When I heard that speech I made up my mind that was what I would do.
"So I taught my first term of school
at the Edminster Schoolhouse on Martin’s Hill. I got $20 a month and walked
from home four miles, so I saved up all my money. Oh, we did not need a
lot of fine clothes; people dressed plain and made their clothes last.
They were just as happy as folks are now with more. I remember I bought
a new heavy overcoat and it cost $20. But I saved the most of the rest
of it. When spring came I bought a railroad ticket over the Michigan Central
and went out to Northern Iowa. Brother P.G. and his wife had already gone;
they went during the Civil War. I went out where he was and stayed with
him awhile. It was in the spring of 1869 that I landed in Chickasaw County
at North Washington. I was 21 the following July the 24th.
And so fate took Elijah Washington Woolsey west to Iowa, where he farmed, taught school, went into the farm machinery business, went broke and married. A few years later he removed to southern Kansas. He owned a drug store in Burden (referred to in his father’s letter above). Some time later he went west to California, where his great grandchildren joined him to hear his stories. He also had a drug store in California. Among the items at his drugstore were caskets. There was such a demand for caskets that he went into the funeral parlor business. This memoir was submitted by Virginia Buchanan mailto:Vbuchanan@aol.com
Subj: My File
Date: 5/6/2001 1:48:16 PM Eastern Daylight Time
File: Woolseys of Chemung Co., KY.doc (97280 bytes)
DL Time (32000 bps): < 1 minute
Attached is my family history of the Woolseys in Chemung Co., NY. You suggested that this might be included in the website. I have edited the original to explain the main family members and to end where Elijah Washington Woolsey goes to Iowa. If this need further modifications, please let me know. I'd be happy to have my email address included in case a reader has further questions.
Thanks for your numerous hours working on such a wonderful site.