Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 19 published on July 1, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
The writer is indebted to Mrs. Steele, relict of Col. Stephen Steele, for the following interesting sketch.
This is a subject which requires a good deal of thought and attention to wake up to the idea of Old Times in Windham. True, there are many lives here at the present time, that we cannot expect to feel that interest in the subject like those who are descendants of the first generation in this country. And why not venerate the names of our fathers, and mothers—noble mothers, fitted for their condition—our grandfathers, and even now and then one of our great grandfathers, with their snowy locks, walking feebly around, encouraging their sons to battle with the wildness. And why not commemorate and mourn over the graves of those dear to us, even without flowers. People at the present day can spend time and money in commemorating the soldier’s death, and decorating their graves with flowers, the most costly and beautiful; no doubt a great comfort to the friends. Very few families, during the Civil War, but what had someone taken out, and are now in the grave. True, our forefathers did not die suddenly by the sword to save the country for their descendants; but those that did not lose their lives by the fall of a tree, while they were slaying them down, wore out their lives, toiling and laboring to make a new country comfortable for their descendants. They were a healthy, merry set of people in a healthy country. There were but a few deaths among them for a long time. It required more courage and strength, in those days, to come in to this mountain wilderness, than it does now to go out on the western prairies, where there is but little wood land to contend with. The Lord made the mountains, and man to inhabit them. If he suffered the wild beasts to destroy their food, he provided manna in the wilderness, in the way of wild game, and nice trout in the streams, if they were smart enough to catch them. When they got their food they had to eat it the best way they could.
Some of the mothers brought their pewter with them from Conn. Pewter platters of different sizes; pewter basins and plates. When their tables were set with them, all shining bright, the bales looked almost as if it was set with silver.
In 1798 there was very little crockery made in this country, and what was made was very poor. They had not got the art at that time.
Following the Eastkill stream down from Buell’s Mills, there was an industrious set of inhabitants—beginning—Israel Thompson, Isaac Johnson (who made the most maple sugar of any man in town at that time), Carman, Baily, Showers, Towner, Miles (the weaver, wove flowered blankets and all sorts of double work), Chelsey, Goodsell, Fords, Winters and Woodworth; fathers and grandfathers of the present generation now residing there.
In 1810, after the Buell’s bought the mill of Abner Hammond, in the town now called Jewett, they put in two card machines in the upper story of the mill, where they carded the wool for the inhabitants for many miles around. Before that, the women carded their wool with hand cards, the same as they did tow. Sometimes the women would come on horseback with a bundle of wool, tied to the saddle behind, get it carded into rolls and carry it back in the same way. Shortly after, they built clothing works, where they dressed the cloth, also a blacksmith shop with a trip-hammer, that went by water, so heavy that it could be heard a great distance, as the sound vibrated over the mountains; all together, drew a great deal of custom to the mills. The writer can just remember seeing the strips or long bars of iron, as they came out red with heat, from under the heavy hammer.
Wagons were very scarce in those days. Mr. Pratt, father of Col. Pratt, had the first one-horse wagon brought into the town, now called Jewett.
We have told of the first death by the fell of a tree, perhaps we may as well tell of the first wedding. The bride’s suit green saloon skirt, a chintz sack, or short gown, so called at that time. Her hair combed smoothly to the end, and fastened with a silver clasp in the neck; white silk fur hat; morocco shoes, with sharp toes.
There was not scarcely any cotton to be seen in those days, and what there was, was course, uneven cloth, called hum but bleached—cotton wasn’t king in those days. They wore woolen in the winter, and linen in summer, made with their own hands. When there was a woman that could not spin on account of ill-health, the neighbors would make a spinning bee for her, any one that could spin, or get a run of yarn, 20 knots, could go to the bee. They had a merry time, old and young, with their thick pumpkin pies, sweetened with maple sugar, all spiced up. They said, how good! just as happy as they are now with their fruit cake, & c.
They had no fine salt in those days. They pounded the coarse, as they used it, in a mortar which they made themselves.
Seldom a clock was to be seen among the inhabitants at that time. Laban Andrews brought a brass clock and sun dial, from Conn. The dial governed the time. From that the neighbors made noon-marks in their windows, by the shade of the sun, also in school houses. The clock was large, without a case, propped up against the side of the house, with large weights which ran almost to the floor before it had to be wound up.