Melinda Ann Warren Weaver – Memories of Early Days: School and Grain

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“Memories of Early Days”


Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,

Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875

Transcribed and Edited by Michael R.Reilly

Last Revised 08/07/2009

School and Grain

       I see that my thoughts havewandered years away from this time and circumstances that I commenced to writeabout in this letter. What I have written concerning this one particular familyseems of right to belong to the narrative, inasmuch, as we were such intimatefriends at that particularly interesting time in our lives and experience. Itseems most natural for my thoughts to revert to them, to their hardships andtrials, which compared very well with our own and the rest of our neighbors atthe same time, although we knew of no other woman who had the courage to breakthree acres or even a garden patch, with a hand implement, and with the smallamount of help that Mrs. Elliott had, or under any other circumstances. Myhusband was away from home most of the time during the summer of 1838, exceptfrom Saturday night until Sunday night or Monday morning of each week, and hisevenings, or the avails(?) of what he earned was the means by which we wereprovided with all that we consumed in ourfamily, likewise the flour to bread his brother’s [James Weaver] family. Ourfamily numbered six, and his brother’s twelve. As one of them could manage theaffairs of both, after the sowing and planting was done (with the help of ourboy and his two boys), our brother stayed at home and attended to both places;instead of going to work with our men as he intended, andexpected to be obliged to; as the rest of the men, for each man in our sparselysettled neighborhood was at that time in about the same predicament, and feltthe necessity of earning something if possible, to help them to get through thesummer comfortably, hoping to be betterprovided for in the future, so as to able to spend more of their time inimproving their own home.

Those who had children old enough were very anxious to have aschool to send them to, but knew not how to get one started. But by inquiring,they heard of a young lady living in Milwaukee who would teach if she had anopportunity. So they immediately set about trying to secure the service of thisyoung lady, and if they could engage her, the next thing would be tobuild a school room. She would like to teach, but her wages must be four dollarsa week and her board, and they must find a boarding place near school, for shecould not go around to board with each family that sent children to school, aswas customary in the eastern states. She thought that there would be too muchwalking to suit her, consequently she was not hired
to teach. To build a schoolhouse and pay four dollars a week for teaching andfour more for the teacher’s board, was more than they dared engage or promise todo under the circumstances, as much as they felt the need of having a school.They were very unwilling to give up the idea of having a school, and soon afterthey had given up the idea of having the young lady teach, they came and triedto persuade me to teach.

I immediately pleaded incompetency, but the more I plead, themore they tried to coax and persuade. I had to do the work for my family, six innumber, and did not feel myself equal to the task or capable of teaching, as Ihad never taught school. By dint of persuasion, I at last consented, and taughtthe school in our own little cabin for two dollars a week and boardedmyself, and did all my own housework for my family. I had only twenty scholars,but that was quite enough for my small room. I had to be up and around early inthe morning, and get my work done so as to bring in benches from out doors, as Ihad to carry them out every day when I dismissed school. I had to make long daysand fill every moment of my time, and was
always very tired by four o’clock, when I dismissed my school, and often had torest before I could carry out my benches, and clean my room and prepare theevening meal for my family.

I undertook to do all my work, washing, ironing and sewing, besides my every daywork, taking care of my three children (the youngest then a year and a half old)[Note: Earlier Melinda mentions she had a family of six, could she be talking ofanother later child or was it the Elliott girl that made her family six?], andteaching three hours each half day, according to custom,and not take a day except each alternate Saturday. I soon found that I could notmanage both my school and my work without taking one day out of each week, so Iconcluded to take Monday of each week, do my washing and as much other necessarywork as I could do in a day, and teach the remaining five days of the week, andmake preparations in the best possible manner for theday of rest, which we usually spent at home.

We had no church to go to, nor any minister to preach to usand as yet had not had any religious meeting in our neighborhood. We read goodbooks and could spend our time very pleasantly and profitably, with reading andteaching our children. Not having a very strong constitution, my duties wererather severe on me during the week, for both body and mind, yet I enjoyed doingduty, although it was very wearisome for me, because I was anxious to play mypart well in doing what I hoped would be to the advantage of others as well asourselves.

My scholars learned exceedingly well, all but one, and thatwas a boy that was ten years old at that time, and he could not learn with allthe pains that could be taken with him, and yet he tried hard himself. Hisparents kept him in school until he was twenty-two years old, and then he couldneither read, write, or spell. It seemed strange that he could not learn to readand spell, for he was bright and intelligent in other respects. Could work aswell as the next one, and was always pleasant and ready and willing to do afavor or kindness for anyone. This was all the trouble I had with scholars thatwas worth naming. I was very sorry for the boy because hetried so hard, and was so anxious to learn and could not.

I suppose that many young mothers and housekeepers of thepresent time would marvel at the idea of a woman undertaking to do her own workfor a family of six, and at the same time teach a school of twenty scholars inthe same room, which was only twelve by fourteen feet in size. But as necessitywas then, and had been , and perhaps always will be the mother of manyinventions, we found that by patience and perseverance it could be done, atleast for a few months. At the end of four months I found it necessary to giveup my school, so as to take time to do my fall work and prepare my family forthe coming winter. We had no more school for a year except on Sundays. We openedagain after a short time the door of our little cabin for a Sunday school, inwhich little children were taught to read and spell, and older ones that couldread, learned testament lessons and repeated to teachers who gave theminstructions according to their ability. With the addition of prayers andsinging, the exercises from two to three hourspassed very pleasantly, and as we then thought, profitably to ourselves and ourchildren.

As soon as our corn was glazed and partially hardened, thatfall of 1838 so that we could finish drying it by laying it in the sun in theday time, and in our house at night, we picked off a little at a time and driedit in that way, and had some ground every day for two months, by hand, in acoffee mill, except Sunday. It was such slow work to grind by hand that we couldnot get any more ahead than would do for Sunday, and with the meal thusprepared, we made our bread (or Johnny cake to serve us instead of bread) fortwo or three weeks; then the buckwheat was ripened, so that some of it could bethreshed, and then we dried some of it in the same way as we did the corn, andhad it ground in the same way, and had to sift it instead of
having it bolted and with it we made something that we called buckwheat cakes.Although not as fine and nice as we had bee accustomed to using it yet made avery good change under the circumstances. We did not expect to have to do thegrinding of our flour and meal by hand as long as two months, when we commencedthe arduous task. There was a mill in process of building at the place now knownas Wauwatosa, and the proprietor of it had given outword that he expected to commence to grind by such a time he named and the taskof grinding by hand was commenced, with the expectation of not having to do itmore than two weeks. But as the mill was not completed and ready to commenceoperations by the expected time, and although the task of grinding by hand wasvery tedious, we concluded to persevere and not give up until the mill should bein working order, which was two months instead of two weeks. The cause was asufficient motive for patience and perseverance, and the reasons for which weadopted this plan was obvious. Our indignation had become so thoroughly aroused,in consequence of being obliged to pay such exorbitant prices for our breadmaterial as well as everything else that we had to buy of Milwaukee dealers,that we were not willing to humor them any more than we were really obliged to,but would curtail the expense of this one commodity, now that we began to feel alittle more independent, particularly on the bread stuff question.

Independent! That was a large word to use at that time, whenwe were too short of money to buy anything that we could do without, and nothingas yet to exchange for that valuable product except our work. We could not getmuch for that, for money was scarce and wages low. But the organ of hope waslarge, and we were hoping to have a little something to dispose of when ourlittle crops could be harvested and taken care of; Mr. George Elliott {Junior],of Lisbon, Waukesha, county, can testify to the above. Concerning the grindingby hand for two months, nearly all of our material which we used for bread andcakes, for he was our little faithful home miller for his father’s family, andMr. Smith’s young boys done the grinding for his family. One of them is stillliving and well remembers the time and circumstance; and well he remembers too,how sadly he was grieved and nearly heartbroken when in the time of severethunder storm and high wind, that first season of corn raising. When it was fromtwo to three feet high it was beaten nearly and some of it quite to the ground.He and his brother had worked so hard to get it forward and in such fine order,while their father was away from home at work, to earn money to supply the wantsof the family at home. He was thoroughly disheartened, and did not know how tobear the disappointment, for he really thought that the corn was ruined. Butwhen hewas assured by those who had seen the like before, that the corn would get up inits place again in short time, he cheered up and felt better about it. Sureenough in a few days it was all right again.

There were several of us neighbors that shared in the workand trial of grinding their own bread stuff by hand, I do not remember just howmany, but there were six of us, and that did do it for two months, and afterthat we could always get such work done, and all that we needed, by going a goodways to mill, (fourteen miles was about the distance), for a number of years,except feed for animals, and that we got done nearer after a short time.

When the grain was harvested that season, in ourneighborhood, they had no barns to store it in, nor floors to thresh it on, normachines to thresh it with. Machines were not considered indispensable in thosedays, as at this day and age of the world. Neither were they thought to be of somuch consequence then as in later days, because they were not much in use; andthe few threshing machines that were in use in other states at that time werevery inferior to those of the present day. Our men threshed their first crop onthe bare ground. They cleaned a piece of ground and made it as clean and bare asthey could, and as near to their stacks as possible, because their stacks andlog stables were all the protection they had when they wereobliged to thresh. Of course, they had to do the threshing with flails by hand,and if a storm came on they had to cover their work as well as they could withhay or straw, and leave it until it should be fair weather again. And when theywanted to clean the grain after threshing, in the place of a fanning mill, andfor want of one, they found it necessary to wait for thewind to blow sufficiently strong to blow out the dust and rubbish from thegrain.

There was not a fanning mill within the bounds of knowledge,or, at least, within the bounds of our knowledge at that time; nor even a handfan, the like of which we had seen used in our younger years. In the absence ofsuitable utensils for this kind of work, a man would stand on a high bench andpour the grain slowly to the ground from a tin pan, while another man or boy orperhaps the wife, would stand on the ground and hand it up to him. The processhad to be repeated two or three times, and sometimes more before it would beclean enough for market, or to use for ourselves. It was rather a tiresome wayof doing, or at least we should think so now, but we considered that it was tobe the means of bringing us some of the comforts, which we had necessarilyobliged to dispensed with for many months.

The Wooden Kettle and Religion

    We, the women of our little settlement, were notscrupulous against going out to assist in securing and taking care of what wehad raised. Neither did we allow false pride, or false delicacy of thought orfeeling to come between us and duty, but took pride and pleasure indoing whatever it was possible for us to do out doors as well as in whenever wecould leave the house and could see the necessity of it. That was often thecase, for there was not much help to be had at that time for out door any morethan for indoor work, except by changing work with our neighbors, which wasfrequently done. But it was not at all times and under all circumstances that aneighbor could leave his own work, but generally they were as accommodating toeach other as circumstances would allow. As we women were not afraid of soilingour hands or our hearts by laboring, we were ready to go out and assist whennecessity required it, and we were able to do it.

In harvest time we could and did carry sheaves together andshock them, and sometimes help load and stack, and pick up potatoes, husk corn,feed swine, and when we had to feed, and cook the food for them, such aspumpkins and turnips and potatoes, which we boiled in wooden kettles. It wasmade square, and with stout sheet iron bottoms, and were set over stonefireplace which were built outside for the purpose.

Perhaps some one who never saw a wooden kettle, and it may benever heard of one of that kind before, would like to know how it was made. Thename wooden kettle sounded strange to us when we first heard it, and we wonderedhow such an article could be constructed as to be used over a fire for cooking,even if it be only food for animals. But we found that there was a possibilityof not only for animals, but that it could be cleaned, and kept in good order,so that occasionally our own food could be cooked therein, which showed, as wehad often heard, that “necessity was the mother of invention”. Ourwooden kettle was eighteen inches wide and about three feet long. The wood partof it was made of plank and nailed together in the form of a box with largenails. This was bottomed with sheet iron wide and long enough to turn over onthe
ends and sides, so that fire should not touch the wood. Then it was set over astone fireplace, which was built sufficiently long and wide to allow the box tobe bedded all around with stone and mortar to protect the wood. A capaciousfireplace underneath with a chimney at theextremity, and a wooden cover to the kettle completed the outfit. Because it wasa rude, rustic looking article, it was the object and occasion of much laughterand merriment. The wooden kettle, nevertheless, was found to be so useful andconvenient under thecircumstances in which we were placed in those early days that it came to be anindispensable article until such time as we could afford to buy a cauldron,which was about three years. Then the wooden one was about worn out, and wegladly exchanged it for a heavy, substantial cauldron. I have often thought oflate that if a specimen of those homemade kettles should be sent to theCentennial, it might excite as much curiosity as many things that will be sentthere.

After we had the Sunday School established in our house, webegan to hold religious meetings, and although we had no minister to preach tous, we met once in two weeks, sometimes in the house of one neighbor andsometimes at another, for a few months. Then we got out of our small cabin intoa larger and rather more comfortable one, and as we happened to have morecommodious room, the meetings were held there until the district school housewas built, which was more than two years after, except on some particularoccasions, perhaps four or five times in a year, it would be held in aneighbor’s house about two miles from us, to accommodate some who lived a longerdistance from our place.

One of our neighbors, a well disposed and religious man, tookthe lead in our religious services, except occasionally some minister wouldchance to come into our neighborhood, or pass through the settlement, stoppingover night. As soon as it was known that there was a minister in the place whowould stay long enough for the people to get word of it, it mattered not whetherhe was a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist or Episcopalian,every one who could possibly leave home – even if they had to appear in theirevery day clothing, which was frequently the case – would lay aside their prideand come together and unite in the services and listen to the sermon, whether itwas Sunday or a week day, and all, or nearly all, seemed to enjoy it as a raretreat. When we had no minister our religious services were conducted in the samemanner as when we had one – by prayers, Bible reading, singing, and the readingof a sermon. We always had two sermons on Sunday, the first commencing at halfpast ten and the second at half past one, and sometimes two o’clock, and theSunday School between those two services, and a prayer meeting at five o’clock.

Thus our time was taken up on Sunday. It was all that I coulddo to get my necessary work done, myself and family in readiness to attendworship, and have seats placed before some of the people would begin to come in.and then every Wednesday evening at five o’clock we had a prayer meeting, exceptin the shortest days, when they met at seven.

It has been said, written and put in print that the firstsermon that was preached in Lisbon was by a Mr. Frink in 1838, but that was apure mistake, as well as the dates of some few other particulars that werenoticed in that article. But the writer of it was not to blame, (not living inthe new territory in those very early days), neither was this author to blame,for of course he was told as nearly as could be recollected. Mr. LuciusBottsford and Miss Lucinda Denny [Miss Denny was the daughter ofJoseph Addison Denny and Phebe Henshaw, born April 3, 1806. She was also astep-daughter Lucinda Henshaw Denny Daugherty] was the first couple that was married in Lisbon[the wedding that T. S. Redford refers to?]. The ceremony was performed by ElderGriffin [Griffing] at the residence of Mr. Jonathan Dougherty, Sr., on the 3rd of June,1839, after preaching the first sermon that was preached in the town of Lisbon.Thus it was that Elder Griffin (Baptist) preached the first sermon in our newsettlement, instead of Mr. Frink. In the month of August following, there wasanother sermon preached in the same house by the Rev. Mr. Audway,Congregationalist.

Then in the following winter, about middle of January, 1840,came the Rev. Mr. Frink, (Methodist), and preached his first sermon, or thefirst sermon that he preached in our place, in our house. He came on a very coldmorning and asked me if my home was the place where friends and neighborsusually met on the Sabbath for worship, and when I answered in the affirmativeand told him that we also had a meeting every Wednesday evening, he introducedhimself as Mr. Frink, a Methodist minister, and asked me if [he] could have theprivilege of preaching here on Wednesday evening, when I told him that our cabinwas at his service for that purpose. He asked me if I thought that it would meetthe minds of the people generally. I replied that I thought it would, and toldhim that in all probability there would be a general gathering to hear him andwith pleasure, as it was seldom that we had an opportunity of listening to asermon.

The appointment was made and announced, the news spreadingthrough our little settlement in a short time – only from Monday till Wednesday- so that when the evening came our cabin was filled with people that had comewith their oxen and sleds, some of them from five miles distant in differentdirections. It was good sleighing (or sledding, as they called it), but it wasvery cold and they had to sit down in the straw or marsh hay, which wasplentifully laid down in the sled box, and then wrap in blankets and quilts, orwhatever wrapping they happened to have that answered their purpose to keep themfrom freezing. They had no fine fleet horses and gay looking pleasure sleighsout in the country places in those days, but has to be contented and had to besatisfied to be drawn on the same sled and by the same horned horses, (oxen Imeant and should have said), that drew their wood, hay, grain, etc. There was noringing of the musical sleigh bells, such as we had been in the habit of hearingto cheer and enliven them on their long, slow, cold ride; yet they were verycheerful and sang hymns as they rode along, making the air and the woods ringwith the music of their voices and they seemed as anxious and eager to hear whatthe minister had to say to them as hungry people would be to go to a feast. Theyseemed to be satisfied and well pleased with the evening’s meeting. Mr. Frinkcame and preached once in two weeks, On Sundays for about two months. In themean time came the Rev. Mr. Hull, (Episcopalian), from Milwaukee, and he alsoheld service for a while in the evening of a week day. Occasionally ElderGriffin would come and preach to us. We always had a full house. It seemed tomake no difference of what denomination the preacher was, all united in theservice, although there were some of each of four denominations, until such timeas each of them could have a minister of their own order, and then, of course,each sect would naturally enough have the others to join and follow their ownorder.

In the month of March came Elder Wheelock, (or as he wascommonly called, Father Wheelock), a Methodist preacher. He came two or threeevenings for a time, and then he was engaged and hired to come and preach oncein two weeks, on Sunday, for a year. He was the first minister hired in Lisbon.He was more than sixty years of age, and he used to walk fourteen miles everyother Saturday, getting to our house in the afternoon, perform his duties onSunday, and walk home on Monday. Sometimes, however, he might get a ride a partof the way, but notfrequently, for he did not own a horse, neither was there one in our immediateneighborhood at that time. His salary was the small sum of eighty dollars -small enough, certainly. To some people at the present time it would not seemworth mentioning and that people were thought
less and penurious, not to allow him a larger sum for coming so far to servethem. Considering that he only received the same amount from people with whom helabored every other Sunday in turn, it would seem next to nothing in comparisonwith the salaries that ministers get at
the present time and those who are able expect to pay them. Yet that small sumwas all they were able to pay. The Reverend Father was satisfied, for he knewjust how we were all situated and that we had but just begun to live, as itwere, only affording ourselves the common necessaries of life, he was content tolive with his people that he labored with and to live as they had to, and didnot seem to have any desire to live above them.

There was an effort made to organize a Methodist church andsociety during his stay with us, but without success, there being at the time sofew in number of that order in the settlement. Consequently there was noMethodist society formed in the tow of Lisbon until a number of years afterward;but in the month of June, 1841, there was a Congregational church and societyorganized and the Rev. Mr. Curtis came from Prairie Village and assisted in theorganization, he being the minister in that place at that time. So theCongregational was the first organized church in the town of Lisbon.

That summer of 1841 the stone school-house was built inSchool District No. 1, the first school-house that was built in Lisbon. It was asmall structure when first built, but in later years it was remodeled and mademore commodious. Mr. Phineas Bissel was the first teacher in the newschool-house, and was succeeded by Miss Minerva Bissel. Previous to this therehad been several terms of school taught by Miss Anna Daugherty in the same smallcabin, in which the first school was taught by your correspondent, the cabinhaving been fitted up for a school room, after we moved into a more commodiousone in close proximity to it which was about the same thing or nearly so, ashaving it in our house. But we put up with it as good grace as we possiblycould, for the sake of having a school for our own and our neighbor’s children.

As soon as the school-house was finished it was consideredbest and most convenient to have our Sunday-school preaching and all otherreligious services held in that, at least for the time. Just at that time therecame a Congregational minister who was sent by the Missionary Board. He happenedto arrive just in time to attend and conduct the first religious services in theschool-house, and as the Congregational people had organized the first churchand religious society in the place about two months previous to this time werewanting a minister and anxiously waited for an opportunity to secure one, andbeing very well pleased with him, they concluded to hire him for one year, andhe finally stayed in the place three years. The Missionary Board allowed himthree hundred dollars each year, which together with what the people couldafford to give, in those early days and as yet rather hard times, was only justbarely sufficient to support him with a wife and family.

However, they were as comfortably provided for as the rest ofus were at the time, so that they could live with us but not above us if theywould, for which they seemed to have no desire, but put up with the hardshipsand inconveniences of a new country life with the best possible grace. This wasthe Rev. Mr. Spencer Baker. After staying with us three years he left and wentto Illinois. Since Rev. Mr. Hull hade made his advent in the neighborhood, theEpiscopalians had separated themselves from the dissenting part of the communityand held their services in their own houses. After a few months, however, theyclaimed right to and accordingly had the use of
the school-house every alternate Sunday as their place of worship until suchtime as they could afford to build a church, which was in the year 1844 asnearly as I recollect.

The school-house in District No. 1 was built in the year1841, when it became expedient for two different sects or denominations to useit for their religious services on each alternate Sunday. So accordingly onevery Sunday each denomination went back to their former
place of worship, the Congregationalists to our cabin and the Episcopalians totheir own houses. Until the first church was built the Congregationalists madeuse of the school-house for a number of years before they were able to build,the few Methodists that were in the place at the time uniting with them, andwhen they did build a house of worship it was used by both
denominations, each employing a minister of their own order, and each claimingthe house half of the time, although they both met for worship in the same houseeach Sunday. Each minister had another place and people to serve. After a fewyears the two denominations became one and took the name Bible Christians whichname still holds good with them.

There were many changes about that time. A number [of]families left the place and others came to fill their places, and there werenearly as many different opinions, in some respects as there were differentpeople to express them, particularly on church matters and religious subjects.The Congregationalists as a church and society became extinct, and quitenaturally the few remaining members united with another family, a Christianpeople, and allowed themselves to be called by a new name. What’s in a name? Ifonly the right feeling and spirit pervade, the name, merely is not of muchconsequence. Strife and controversy were not unusual in the early days. A sortof religious warfare) or more properly, irreligious) was waging to a greater orless extent for a number of years, which was a heavy trial to some of us beforethe clouds passed and the storm passed, and the people of different sentimentscould be reconciled to each other in respect to religious matters. TheEpiscopalians and the dissenters could not understand
each other, and all at the same time appeared to be trying to do their duty andto do right as near as they could. People understand each other better at thepresent day, and can, as a general thing, bear with each other’s failings andshort-comings better.

We had never seen nor known that there was or could be such adifference of opinion or feeling among Christian professors as we found; thereappeared to be with different denominations after they had separated themselvesfrom each other. We all read one Bible, and all believed, or professed tobelieve, in one Almighty and Supreme Being, and were all traveling, as wesupposed, to one eternal home and haven or rest. We could not understand why
people should differ so much in their religious views when most of them couldagree so well usually, and on almost every other subject. But we were so youngthen and inexperienced – had not seen much of the world, only a very smallportion of it, and of the people who lived in it, in comparison with what wehave seen since. We have since come to the conclusion that
different people take their views from different standpoints and perhaps it iswell that it should be so, at least in some respects, and we have long sinceceased to marvel at such things as seemed so marvelous at that time. After awhile people could understand themselves, as well as each other better.

Well, those times are past and gone, and we still live asspared monuments of God’s mercy. It was, perhaps well for us in many respectsthat we lived in those days, shared with our neighbors and friends the trialsand hardships of new country life, as well as the joys and pleasures, for therecertainly was enjoyment and pleasure even then. It was as much a pleasure tovisit our friends and neighbors who were not related to us, and to receivevisits from them, as it was to visit and receive visits from our own relativeswhen we had lived near and among them. Now that we had separated ourselves byhundreds of miles from our own relatives, it was natural to have feelings oflove and respect for others who were friendly and kind to
us. In the earliest part of our new country experience we did not invite largeparties for the want of sufficient room and other conveniences to make itpleasant and comfortable for a large party of friends. But whenever neighborscould make it convenient to visit each other, they were cordially welcomed,treated kindly, and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Suchtraits were characteristic of the people of our settlement. There was nodazzling splendor displayed in those early days, neither in the way offurniture, dress, ornaments or viands of the table. No one tried to outdoanother. They could not if they would, and they did not show any suchinclination.