by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 25 published on September 9, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
The following sketch, contributed by Mrs. Peck, a daughter of Samuel Merwin, will be read with interest. The mention of Samuel Merwin and Mrs. Merwin recalls the memory person of primitive Christian simplicity, unaffectedly devout, kind and cordial in manners, and very cheerfully loyal to the truth. The peculiar beauty of such examples is a child-like unconsciousness of excellence. This artless humility and quiet goodness, is the meekness which has a special benediction, and is like a modest flower which hides itself, and is revealed only by its fragrance. "A meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price."
Rev’d. Sir: Having read with much interest the communications furnished by different persons, containing their reminiscences of Olden Times in Windham, and having heard my parents relate some things, and knowing others of my own observation, I offer you this brief and imperfect sketch. My grandparent, Thomas and Esther Merwin, together with seven children-three sons and four daughters, for the most part grown up, emigrated about 1793, from Wallingford, Conn., to what is now the Towns of Jewett. My grandfather purchased a tract of land, enough for a farm apiece for his three sons, Daniel, Solomon, and Thomas. The country was a wilderness with the exception of a few clearings made by pioneers, mostly from the same town. They began clearing land with stout hearts and nerves, experiencing all the hardships and privations which are attendant on people in a wilderness home, and with great difficulty erected their dwelling, which consisted of hewn logs, called a block house. Having made a beginning, my father, Samuel Merwin, then a young man about to commence life, went back to Wallingford, and was married to Thankful Parker, but soon after, left his wife at Wallingford, and returned here to make arrangements for his reception. He toiled through hardships almost unendurable, and then, towards the end of the ensuing winter, with sleighing being tolerably good, started with a team to bring his wife from Connecticut to her wilderness home. With buoyant spirits they journeyed on, bringing their moveables and pursued their way as well as their sleighing would admit, for the southwind had begun to blow, which soon caused the sleighing to be very poor. When they arrived at the river they found the ice unsound, and the facilities for crossing not what they are now. If they crossed on the ice at all it had to be done at once, and not wishing to be delayed, they concluded to run all ventures, but soon found themselves in imminent peril, the ice yielding and crumbling at every step, and covered with water shoe-deep. In their trepidation and alarm they lost the direct track, for it was in the evening, and were hastening up the river toward Athens, when a woman rushed from a house on the bank, and screamed at the top of her voice, telling them to turn and go right back, for there was no ice on the river just above them. Without hesitation, for dear life was in great danger, they turned and retraced their steps, the ice yielding under them. With much difficulty they found the crossing place, and stood in safety and thankfulness on the west bank of the river, at Catskill, which then consisted of only seven houses. Rescued from a watery grave, not a hair of their head has perished, all arrived safe to land. The next morning, looking toward the river, nothing was visible but the open water, every fragment of the ice gone. They then thankfully went on their way toward home as fast as poor roads and a very little snow would admit. After leaving what is now Windham turnpike, the way was poorly laid out, distinguished by marked trees only; and now and then a fine deer was seen fleeing at their approach, which was an amusing sight to my mother--something she had never seen before. Very glad were they when they arrived a their destined place of abode, although nothing better than a log house, with just clearing enough around it to make it a little different from the mere wilderness, and with high mountains before and around them, far and near. Nevertheless it was home, Sweet Home. Time sped on, and a growing family with many privations, caused them, no doubt, to often think of the comforts left behind, in the place of their nativity; but no with murmurings, as the Israelites of old, who thirsted for a good thing of Egypt.The writer can well remember the first apple she ever saw—one apiece for all the children, and perhaps as many for the parents, were bought at Schoharie Kill, now Prattsville, and brought home as a grand prize and luxury. After a few years the young apple trees, raised from seeds brought from Conn., began to bear a very few apples, and the children were forbidden to purloin them; but having some thing of Mother Eve and Father Adam about them, the sight was so pleasing, and the taste so inviting, they would sometimes take of the forbidden fruit, which is found out, would subject the offender to a severe reprimand, if not to a small switch well applied more on account of disobedience than the loss of the fruit.
Wild game being abundant, sportsmen sometimes had rare luck hunting. My father, taking advantage of a heavy fall of snow, one winter, day, buckled on his snow shoes, and with a stout rope in hand, sallied fourth in quest of game, telling my mother that if luck favored him, he would lead home a wild deer for her amusement; but being incredulous, she told him she knew better. Having traversed the mountain a short distance, he started a drove of deer, and which were unable to make much headway on account of the deep snow. My father on his snow shoes, overtook them, and selecting a large buck, secured him, and with his rope, tied him to a tree, and then gave chase to the others, but they made good their escape as rapidly as the deep snow would allow them, and so eluded further pursuit. He returned to the tree and untied the rope which bound his captive, intending to lead him home, but the wary brute not being used to such treatment, and not easily halter-broke, showed proper resentment, in a rough and tumble fight, In the fray, the animal stepped on one of the snow shoes, and for a moment had my father under him in his power, but he being very agile, sprang soon to his feet. The deer being so infuriated, and his branching antlers so formidable, my father thought it not best to contend longer, and with his jack-knife, bled him from the jugular vein, which subdued his ferocity; but instead of leading home a live deer as he had anticipated, he transported a fine venison, which, with accustomed kindness he shared with his neighbors and friends; even with the Justice of the Peace himself, who with a good natured wink, observed that the thought it rather out of season for fresh meat. Compunctions of conscience were, however, laid aside in partaking of the spoil gotten in violations of the law; probably it was something like Esau’s savory venison which all loved. Not only deer, but wolves were plentiful in the woods, and often made the wilderness resound with their unwelcome howling. One night they began their concert apparently not far from the house. Uncle Tom Merwin seated himself on the doorstep, fiddle in hand, and struck up some lively tunes, but the wolves seeming not disconcerted, redoubled their energies, and for a brief space there was plenty of music and discordant sounds.Laura Peck
More About Wolves and Panthers
Mr. Chauncey Peck lived, when a boy, with his uncle, Theophilius Peck, and thinks that during 7 or 8 years his uncle’s losses by wolves were equal in value to all his property at the end of the years. On one occasion the wolves were followed and driven far away over the mountain, and at night Mr. Peck asked his son if the sheep were penned up,--who said they were not,--added that there was no danger; but the next morning the carcasses of quite a number of the flock were strewn about in the field, slain by wolves.
Minor Hollow lies a little back of the village of Windham. Mr. Miner Tibbals remembers how, living in that settlement in 1817, when a boy, the "signs" of wolves were abundant, and he, with two or three other persons tracked the brutes into a desolate, bleak place, grown up thickly with underbrush, and found a nest of eight young wolves in a hollow tree. The took them home and obtained $30 apiece bounty money for their scalps--$120 in all. The State and County each paid a bounty then.
Miner Tibbals and Theron Hough, in 1818, were ploughing in a field where some sheep were feeding. A panther came in sight and caught a sheep before their eyes, and carried it to the woods and devoured it. The panther appeared to have watched stealthily for his prey, and pounced upon it like a cat seizing a mouse, and then bounded off over the fence with it, out of sight.
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