Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 2 published on February 25, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
Not to take too abrupt leave of the School House of primitive times, let us mention one or two recollections: on one of the slabs used for seats were three or four little boys whose feet dangled high up from the floor—beginners in literature. Doubtless each was a mother’s pride, each was "somebody’s darling." Amongst them was a peculiarly gentle boy, of almost feminine grace of features, and sweetness of voice. The writer can just remember him—it is one of his earliest recollections. The pupils of that class were all learning to put letters and syllables together so as to form words. The teacher was Hudson Kingsley, after ward for many years a physician in New York. The sweet toned, gentle-mannered boy was Washington Hunt, afterward Representative in Congress, and governor of the State of New York. He is rather recently dead; and it is not necessary here to say how well he lived, what were his deserved honors, or how calm and christian-like was his end. Suffice it now that his first mark of distinction in his class was a bright copper cent having a hole in it and worn home at night with a string around the neck, and worn back again in the morning. His father removed with his family to the western part of the state probably about 1816 or 1817 leaving behind them, as the writer can distinctly remember, many regrets for their departure. They were among the earliest settlers of Windham.
"Extremes meet." Among the pupils in the old school house was Jack, a negro boy, a stout, good-natured fellow, who was regularly sent to school by his mistress, Mrs. Ives. Jack was almost better than the best in running and jumping; but probably loved fun quite as much as his book. Without going into any of the vexed political questions of the day, it may be remarked that the school survived and even flourished a good while with Jack in it, and "nobody was hurt." Ethiopian and Caucasian breathed the same air, ran in the same race, laughed at the same joke, feared the same rod, and, so far as reported, nothing tragical came of it. The question of Jack’s human nature was not mooted in those primitive days. Ethnology was one of the hard words in the spelling book.
The old school house had its retainers far and near. There are probably two districts now in the territory then occupied by one. Very many families then in the district have now no representative left in this part of the country. The imagination in early life is like a garden in spring time, a flowery scene. But many a bud is nipped and decays, many a sweet blossom perishes; and the gardener, as autumn approaches, looks over the scene with a soberer eye and a sadder emotion. It would be hardly edifying to run over the names of all who were patrons of the school in the early time, or to say who remain out of the ardent and joyous throng then living and hopeful, and we there fore pass to something more specific.
Solomon Ormsbee, the son of Nathaniel, senior, was twenty years old when his father emigrated to Windham, and reckoning up to what would now be his age if living, and deducting that from the date of the present year, we conclude that the family settled here about 1787. It was a very long time ago—the recollection is dim—when an elderly lady went to meeting at the old meeting house, and held her ear-trumpet to her ear, sitting sometimes in the pulpit with the preacher that she might catch the sounds of his words. That lady was the wife of Nathaniel Ormsbee, one of the earlier settlers.
Caleb Hubbard came here at about the same time, and his wife’s sister, Sally Hull, became the wife of Solomon Ormsbee, and the honored mother of a family of children who are still living, themselves, in turn, heads of families. Nathaniel Ormsbee, junior, was sheriff of Greene Co. a few years since. The Ormsbee homestead, now occupied by Mr. Tompkins, was built in 1805. The first residence of the family was not on the site of this house, but a short distance from it.
Mrs. Merwin, a child of Solomon Ormsbee, remembers her grandfather, and how sitting as a child on his knee, she used to put her hand on the scarry ridge which ran across the old man’s head, just back of the forehead, caused by an attempt to take his scalp, in which the Indians did not quite succeed. She remembers, also, how it was said the farm cost twenty shillings per acre, and also that in the time of the early settlement, the grain used in the family was ground at Stryker’s mill, now probably Strykersville. The family was from Connecticut. The grandfather was a soldier all through the Revolution, and either in that or the French and Indian war, got his scar at the hands of savages.