Article Number 16
Old Times in Windham 

by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout

Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 16 published on February 18, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library


Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


It is only just that the writer should express his sincere thanks to Mrs. Steele for the last two number of these sketches. He can only repeat his wish that others would imitate the example, and aid him in collecting and arranging facts in reference to the past. This would tend to diversify these sketches, and make them more agreeable to the reader, as well as more full and complete in themselves. Again—let none fail to communicate facts, and traditions, the knowledge of which still linger amongst us.

Nicholas Martin removed from Dutchess county to Windham, about 1795, and purchased from Stephen Symmons, the farm now in part owned by Miss Stimson, and remained a short time when, getting discouraged, he returned to Dutchess county, but after a little over a year, came back again. Soon afterward, he went to Lower Canada because it was so cold here in Windham, but seems to have satisfied himself, returned here, and soon afterward died, and his grave is now distinguished in the old burying-ground. He had twelve children, all of them grew up and were married. His son, Peter Martin, now 82 years old, remembers well the first coming of the family to Windham. Above them, on the Batavia creek, was first the house of Stephen Symmons; next, Jedeiah Hubbard; next, John Tuttle. Below was first, Zachariah Cargill; second, Dr. Benham; third, Caleb Hubbard, then the only family in what is now Ashland; fourth, Elisha Strong, whose house was on the farm now owned by Mr. Martin; and fifth, Nathaniel Ormsbee. The climate was excessively cold, and it was difficult to raise provisions, and many were glad to solace themselves with potatoes. Cattle and sheep if not safely penned at night, were destroyed by wolves. As the shades of night settled over the forest, and obscured the lofty mountains their howl was heard, first, from one deep glen or high summit. Then from another, and then, as if in reply, from another, till the wild was filled with harsh echoes, and for the time, the whole region seemed in possession of the savage creatures. The settler’s cabin was close shut, and the mother tightened the grasp around her babe, and the larger children crowded near the blazing fire and listened. Such was the discipline and such were the influences under which grew up the brave men and women, of whom only a few remain amongst us.

The Martin farm seems to have included what is now the farms of Mr. Nichols, Mr. Snow, Miss Stimson and was paid for in sheep, driven from over the river, and in silver—the price not recollected. Wild pigeons were abundant; large flocks obscured the sky and made it look cloudy at times, and often furnished an acceptable and dainty feast. The woods were stocked with deer, and that was the ordinary resource of the wolves, who lived by running them down; and many a skeleton bleached on the ground, a token of the savage rapacity of these native blood-hounds.

On the farther bank of the Batavia creek, then swollen by spring freshets, Mrs. Martin saw opposite her house, a small boy wandering just before night. He seemed ready to step into the stream, in his childish ignorance of its power. The forest was unbroken around him and his child figure was shadowed by its lofty arches. What should one so young and helpless be doing in such loneliness—nothing behind but miles of mountains forest—nothing before him but the cold rushing stream. It only remained to mount one of her sons and send him round by the bridge, which crossed the stream above. Peter Martin remembers being sent on horseback, and how the tributary streams were over-flowing their banks so that he could scarcely follow the main stream down; but at length he reached the spot, and took up the boy, scarcely able to speak plain, and wholly unable to give an intelligent account of himself, and brought him to a neighbor’s house, where someone who had previously seen the child, identified him as belonging to the family of John Ives, then living in what is now Jewett. He had wandered away from home in the morning, had crossed the mountain through the unbroken woods, was barefooted, and his child innocence had passed safely through the haunts of wolves and bears, until he came where he was providentially discovered. That same night a young women led him home through rain and melting snow, and presented him to his anxious mother and other friends. This child was afterward known as Chauncey Clark, a worthy and industrious man, who, after a useful life, died a few years since, and whose son, Hiram Clark, now lives near his father’s former residence. Chauncey Clark’s father had died a few years before, and his mother was then the wife of John Ives. In his last sickness, this Mr. Clark had been visited by the Rev. Mr. Chase, afterward Bishop Chase, of Ohio, according to a very direct tradition in the Merwin family. Mr. Chase was here only once, so far as is known, and that was at the organization of Trinity Church, in 1799.

Jacob Teil removed to this county from Rhinebeck, Dutchess county, about 1799, with two sons and two daughters, and lived in the valley below the village of Ashland. One daughter married Mr. Weirs, and lived in West Settlement. Mr. Weirs was a soldier in the war of 1812.

The Indians had their representatives here—a migratory family, consisting of six or more persons, whose wigwam of logs, eight feet square, covered with bark and brush, was near the road leading to the West Settlement, and a mile or so from Batavia creek. This was their residence in the colder season of the year, at other times they went where were found the best hunting and fishing. By making and selling brooms and baskets, they got the material for bread and porridge which they cooked over a fire kindled in the center of the wigwam. Stones placed round the fire afforded seats, and straw spread next the outside wall was for resting and sleeping upon. Mary Tiel, now Mrs. Weirs, and Hannah Ormsbee, now Mrs. Martin, were then children whose parents lived not very far from the hut of these children of the forest, and have been kind enough to inform the writer about them, as has also Peter Martin. Their cooking was done in a kettle lent them. Liquid food, such as soup and porridge, was poured into a small wooden trough, then a piece of meat broiled on a forked stick was held over it, and as fast as the drippings fell into the porridge it was eaten with a spoon or ladle of wood. Venison was thrown on top of the wigwam, and piece by piece it was cut up and cooked as occasion required. Hannah Merwin knit for one of the Indians a pair of mittens, for which a basket was given; but the basket, though like Joseph’s coat of diver colors, yet had not the pictures of flowers on it which were desired, so she took it to the wigwam, and explaining her wish, Ben, the head man, searched among the straw and found his colors and pencils, and made the basket fine and flowery. A house with a cellar under it entered by a trap door, through the floor, was evidently an invention of Yankees, and beyond the wit of Indians. Paul, one of the Indian boys, went to a neighbor’s for potatoes. On someone’s opening the trap door to get them, Paul took but one look down into the darkness; the next moment he was gone, and never stopped his rapid flight, till the puncheon door of the wigwam had closed behind him. Blankets and moccasins were their only clothing. As a race these poor creatures are honest and kind, but everywhere drunkenness is their besetting sin. Solomon Ormsbee kept a public house, and was often importuned for whiskey; and on one occasion refused, when the Indian fired a ball through his sign, and the hole was shown till a late day. Their degradation by means of whiskey seems to have been pitiable. How mysterious is the fate of the Indian! How strong and fierce in fight! How weak in temptation! Yet it is good to remember that he is our Brother, the child of "Our Father."

Among the scarred veterans of old times, was Old Sorrel, a well known horse in his day honored among pioneers. When very young, following his dam, Sorrel was attacked by wolves and terribly torn, but by rushing home to his master, Solomon Ormsbee’s his life was preserved. It was a hair breadth escape. However his wounds were attended to, and healed up, but left deep scars. Sorrel did all manner of service in his life, and even in old age, regularly bore his mistress, the elder Mrs. Ormsbee, and her grandchild, Hannah Ormsbee, to meeting and waited while the good woman, with her ear trumpet, stood in or near the pulpit, and heard the service and preaching, as conducted by the Rev. Mr. Stimson. On week days his back was used instead of a bridge across the creek. Crossing and recrossing with the bridle thrown over his neck he would transfer a whole company over the water. This was his habit. Old Sorrel was a horse of mark, well known and widely respected as an early pioneer, who had known what peril and hardship were, till at the ripe old age of thirty-four years, his work well done, he walked out of the barnyard to a quiet spot, and calmly lying down, rose up again no more.

Mrs. Grant was a venerable lady, an inmate of Sanford Hunt’s family. On a certain occasion Hannah Ormsbee was at Mr. Hunt’s house, near where now stands the Methodist parsonage in Ashland, whence Mr. Hunt soon afterward removed to Western New York. What do they call the baby at your house? Said Mr. Grant with very excusable and very kind interest, Nathaniel, said Hannah, Well then, said he, Nathaniel, you’ve got a good scripture name; but here we’ve got a George Washington; with an air of supreme contempt, for the weakness of those who had the naming of the future estimable Governor of the State.

The Merwins and Benajah Rice were contemporaries in this land when it was in the process of clearing. Not liking to work alone, Benajah would go to the Merwins and work two days with his ox and then Daniel and Samuel would chop for him a day, and so each cheered the other as the days wore on; when night came there was further cheer, for Daniel was a fiddler, and after supper was over he must take his instrument and play while Sam and Najah danced; only as the floor of the cabin was unfinished they were obliged no to step too near the end of the puncheons of which it was made, lest they should tilt up with them. O fortunatos si sua bona norint! Happy! Had they only understood their bliss.


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