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Article Number 22
Old Times in Windham 

by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout

Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 22 published on August 5, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library

Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

Could not something interesting be made of the study of provincialisms? Every neighborhood almost has its local peculiarities of phrase and manner, and these, especially in pioneer times, are often very curious, and have an emphatic sound. Witness the following, if it be not almost too trifling in tone. A dashing young man in military uniform somewhere during the War of 1812, accidentally encounters a father and his daughter as they were riding, With a soldier’s warmth of eloquence, guns and sieges were probably described, "Who is that? said the young lady as the soldier left them. Why that is Lomp Follick, said the father. Short for Lieutenant Van Valkenburgh."

Is the reader disposed to enter with me the pioneer’s cabin? Let him do it in reverent way, with bared head. The doorway is low and he must needs stoop. The door is made of split puncheons, hewn with the narrow ax of the settler, and hung on hinges of wood. Observe the floor; hewed and laid down deftly. Look up and see the split boards laid on poles, which form the roof, and other poles running across the building ready to receive the upper floor. See how the broad fireplace is arranged to take in large logs, and still leaves room for a seat in the corner; probably the chimney itself of wood lined at the bottom with stones for the fireplace. The table is hewn and stands in its place. The bedstead is made of two poles fastened each in a side of the wall toward a corner of the room, and both meeting in a post toward the center of the room, and then transverse poles laid on to sustain the straw. And near the center of the fireplace you may see what contains the house hold jewelry. It is a hollow log, sawed across at the ends, and a board at each end forming something like a half-cylinder. It is the family cradle. Let no false pride come in to mar the picture. In that cradle heroes have rocked, and heroine mothers rocked them.

Was there something magnetic in those rough floors to set people dancing in old times: It is curious, but true, that the matrons did dance in those days unquestionably. Matrons with their infants—the larger children left at home—went to social gatherings and held each other’s babies by turns, and danced by turns, till the morning sometimes lighted the way home. Said a sprightly girl, as she listened to her aged grandmother’s account of such things, and saw the sympathy and kindling enthusiasm of the equally aged friend, did you ever dance? Dear grandmother, do dance now and let me see you. But the floor of puncheons had been supplanted by a smoother one; and the good lady did not show her grandchild a specimen of her earlier grace of manner.

Uncle Ed Johnson was keen for music and dancing, and actually built a sort of addition to his house, A lean-to, probably, for a dancing room. But just as it was finished the first great revival broke out; if I may use the expressive phrase of my informant, and the room was devoted to prayer meetings.

The writer’s curiosity has been not a little gratified by discovering the true local history of three or four old acquaintances—some known personally and one by tradition. First, the numerous Tansy tribe, pungent to the smell when bruised, came with the Connecticut settlers, and tradition says was used to warm the stomach and make hot drinks hotter still. Tansy by the roadside and in the field; tansy in the garden, and marking the site of the old cabin. Tansy everywhere is a Connecticut emigrant.

Second, Elecampane is by no means indigenous, though now so commonly seen, and having an ineradicable hold of the soil. It was brought as one of the important articles of the emigrants medicine chest. Ed Parker came to Daniel Merwin’s shop to borrow a guineas hoe to dig some elecampane roots. On returning the hoe it was observed that he had a bag full of the roots. What are you going to do with that quantity of elecampane? "Oh, it’s for the baby." Said the lad, evidently going on the supposition that if a little did a little good, a great deal would do much more.

Third, life Everlasting "live forever," is evidently an exotic—a good thing for wounds and bruises—having a symbolic meaning in its indestructability; but having by that very quality the reputation of a nuisance among farmers. If it did not come when the emigrants from Connecticut came, when and how did it get here?

Fourth, "The stocks," a frame or platform having a seat on it, and a wooden clasp for the feet. Culprits were set on the bench and their feet thrust into holes, and fastened there, and this punishment was inflicted for certain offences. Between fifty and sixty years ago a machine of this kind was standing just back of the meeting house in Lexington. This was certainly a Yankee institution, but it is now happily abolished. Our ancestors seemed to forget that to destroy when little self-respect a poor culprit has is to make him more entirely worthless than ever. It would be interesting, to some at least, if our gentlemen of the legal profession would explain by what code of law such a punishment was inflicted, by what authority, and by what officers.

If the reader will pardon our abrupt transition, Cornelius Fuller, known as Major Fuller, emigrated from Dutchess County, probably as early as 1800. He lived first in Big Hollow, then at what is now Hensonville, on the farm owned by Linus Peck, then removed to his residence known as Fuller’s Tavern, where he lived about 50 years. His family consisted of eight sons and eight daughters, all of whom lived to be married. At one time he had a public office which caused him to travel over the whole county, and made him well known to the people, and his genial manner and kindness of heart, got him a wide reputation, and made his tavern a favorite resort. It was a period when the turnpike road was thronged with travelers, and Mr. Fuller reaped a rich harvest. Some of his early friends who knew of his poverty when he started in life, after some years, paid him a visit, and lest they should be hungry, brought along an abundant supply of provisions; but finding a large house will stocked with necessaries and luxuries, they could only acknowledge that they had made themselves ridiculous, and join in a good natured laugh at their own expense. Fuller’s Tavern was much resorted to by gay young folks for frolics, "honey scrapes," & c. The kindness, however, of the proprietor seems to have been very marked and genuine. A lad driving a team, got injured, and was laid up at his house with a broken leg. The poor boy expected to have to work a long time to get the means to pay for the nursing he had received. We may imagine his gratitude when told that he had nothing to pay for his board and nursing, and was dismissed to his home cured.

Religious services were held at a meeting house near Fuller’s Tavern by ministers of several names. The house has long since been demolished, and indeed was not quite finished inside. The pulpit was made elsewhere and imported. It was a round, high, huge affair, like a hogshead, painted white. The friend at whose house this pulpit was described was reminded by it an anecdote. A little girl in Old Times went to meeting, when the preacher, with great vehemence, shouting and pounding the high enclosure which contained him, she exclaimed to her mother if distressful agitation, "why don’t they let that man out of the box?"

The DeWitt family came for Marbletown, and lived where Linus Peck now lived, buying the place of Major Fuller. Two of the descendants have died, as I am informed, since the late war, and other members of the family are either dead or have moved.

The neighbors of Major Fuller were as follows: Captain Van Norden, two miles eastward Ehezer Miller, northward; Caleb Haight, Reuben Smith, parson, Newcomb, Dr. Jones and others whose names the writer does not known. We would consider it a favor if any of the descendants of these families would furnish reminiscences of the past in their ancestors’ history.

From the list of anecdotes of wolves, panthers and bears, he selects the two following. When the lady, my informant, was quite a little child, she was sent to the spring for some cool water. The path led along by the side of a fence—on the other side walked a wolf. It was day—time, and she stopped to look, and the wolf also stopped and seated himself on his haunches and gazed at her; when the child turned and ran to the house and said she had seen a deer.

A young woman was left alone, in a log cabin, in Big Hollow. Two panthers came and seized a pig, and taking him out of his pen, ate him, and then deliberately stretched themselves in the sun near the house. The young woman had drawn up the ladder after her, into the loft, and saw the performance, looking out through a crevice between the logs.

Postscript. Fore the present the writer of these sketches feels obliged to discontinue them, chiefly for lack of time to compile them. The labor of collecting and arranging the material has, so far, been interesting to himself, and he has assurances that others have been satisfied. If in any instance he has failed to discriminating properly, he can only express sincere regret. The task has been found to be one of much delicacy, and if it shall be thought that, in some instances that has been a discrepancy between the gay tone of the reminiscences, and the serious profession of the writer, he begs leave to ask that it be remembered that he does not invent the facts, and very often the more cheerful incidents are those which have been transmitted. It only remains that the writers return his sincere thanks to the descendants of the settlers of our portion of country for the kind interest they have expressed, and the assistance they have given in the undertaking.

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