Biography of George Washington LITTS

This is a wonderful letter written by George Washington Litts, just before he died, and contributed by  Julie Robst.

George Washington Litts

April 21, 1860 Port Ontario, New York - January 23, 1929
Westwood, California

I was born at Port Ontario, Oswego County, New York on the 21 day of April 1860, in a little house on the outskirts that my father owned. I think there was about seven acres of land. My father, John M. Litts, sailed on the lakes in the summer season, living at home with my mother when navigation was closed. At the time of my birth, he was Captain of a steamer trading from Oswego, New York to Lake Superior points.    My grandfather, Daniel Litts, lived a mile south of us on what was called the Oswego Turnpike, a road going from Oswego to Watertown, New York. There were no railroads in that section at that time. My father invested his savings in several tracts of land adjoining my grandfather Litts, and soon after I was born he purchased three other tracts. One from my mother's brother, John W. Price, and one each from his two brothers, Lewis and Stephen Litts, thus consolidating his holdings in what was considered a large farm for northern New York, about 260 acres.

 The first I can remember, and that very dimly, is running about the empty rooms and halls of a new house that my father had built. It was a house of 12 rooms with halls and closets, and to me, a child, it seemed very large and gloomy. The parlor in the main structure was rarely used, not more that one or two times a year, and as a child I was not permitted to go in there, only with my mother. The two chambers of the house were over the parlor and as a boy I had the utmost horror of sleeping up there. It was away from the main living rooms through two halls and up a flight of stairs. The stories of ghosts and spooks that I heard in the neighborhood made me dread those chambers like the inquisition. The next thing I can remember is that my mother and I were about to take a trip with my father to Lake Superior, I was about five years old, some of the incidents on that trip remain with me today. My brother, Fred, was ten years older than I. He took my mother and me to Oswego to meet my father, the distance was about 20 miles.  The steamer was named the Normad and was both a freight and passenger boat.  The crew was mostly neighbors of fathers and lived in Port Ontario. The trip lasted weeks. I remember passing through the Welland Canal and of meeting my Uncle, Captain Porter Price, in Chicago, and his giving me some small silver coins, and also buying a reed canoe off the Indians at Piermarquit, Michigan. There was a school teacher on the home trip that took it upon herself to watch and keep me out of mischief. I wanted to climb on the rail and look at the water and go among the crew, but she made me stay with her, and most of the time I remember I disliked her cordially.

My grandfather Litts died when I was about seven years old. He was 71 or 72 when he died. At one time he had a large farm, but he had
given it to his sons and had sold some off, there was only about 35 acres left on the place when he died. He farmed in the summer time and made boots and shoes in the winter and did repair work. The old shop stood for years after his death. There were no shoe factories in those days, all boots and shoes were made by hand in small shops. Farming in those days was not as it is today, nearly everyone had a trade to help out with. Farm products brought very little and land was cheap and everybody had it.

My grandmother Litts I remember very well and always with love and the most profound respect. She was a quiet little woman and was the peacemaker.  There were three boys and four girls in their family and in their younger days were high strung and hot tempered and inclined to be quarrelsome. They all married before I can remember except Betsy, she never married.  Grandmother brought than all up so they all respected and listened to her long after they had families of their own. She was a charming, lovable, little woman and died at the extreme old age of 94.

Grandfather Litts willed the homestead to Aunt Betsy and she was to take care of grandmother Litts. There was some money, not very
much. Aunt Betsy did everything to make life pleasant for her mother and she lived many years after grandfather's death and mourned for him as long as she lived.  Grandfather Litts, I do not remember much about, he was a tall straight man, stern, with little to say. It was from him that all the Litts' inherited their harsh tempers. On my mother's side, there was also a large family of four boys and four girls. Ralph Price, my grandfather on my mother's side, emigrated from Connecticut, somewhere on the Connecticut River. Ralph Price and his brother, Isaac, came to what is now Oswego, New York as near as I can make out between the year 1800 and 1810, and bought a tract of land of several hundred acres on the Salmon River, one mile east of Port Ontario and both brothers brought up their families there. Grandfather Price lived until I was a boy of 12 years and was much loved by his grandchildren. 

Grandmother Price, died before I can remember. Grandfather married a second wife, a very good woman, but like all stepmothers, was not appreciated by grandfather's children as fully as she should have been. Grandfather sold the farm during the Civil War and bought a small farm at a place called Sand Banks, New York, it was later renamed Altmar. He died at the age of 82, leaving considerable property for those days. He was universally respected.

My mother was a good woman, very religious and was devoted to her family, a loyal wife and mother who tried to bring up her family in the way of righteousness. I can not conceive of her doing anything that the world and her God would think she did wrong, intentionally. If she erred, it was the fault of the head and not of the heart. I am free to say that I think her religious teachings were over zealous. She came from Puritan stock who bore their religion like a cross.

My father, John Litts, or Captain Litts as he was called by his neighbors, for he had been Captain of lake steamships for many years,
was a man of very few words with a flashy, ungovernable temper, whose will was law to all the family ... except mother. When he abandoned the lakes on account of the railroad furnishing cheaper transportation, he worked the farm until his death. He died April 21, 1877 at the age of 54 years.

As a boy I worked on the farm after I was old enough when I was not going to school. We kept a large dairy and I had to get the cows from the pasture in the summer, help milk and do chores after school. Father was a hard driver in the busy season, but at times when he was not driving, there was time to hunt, go fishing and such things as a boy delights to do. The old farm bordered on Lake Ontario and in the summer season we would go bathing in the lake on Sunday morning and sometimes during the week in the evening after work was done. There was considerable chestnut timber on the farm and we used to get up parties to gather the nuts. There was also hickory nuts, beach nuts and a few butternuts. Huckleberries were abundant in the woods along the streams. There was berries of all descriptions to be had in the woods and pasture land and the wild variety was what people depended on, the cultivated variety came later.

When I was 12 years old I was kept out of school in the summer, to work on the farm. I learned to plant corn, cut and drop potatoes,
cultivate with 'old Fanny', mother's driving horse. I raked hay and helped mow it away in the barn and such farm work. At 14, I was able to drive a team and do a "mans work" in nearly everything on the farm. I was large and strong for my age. In northern New York the winters are very severe and there is not much that can be done on a farm. I went to school in the winter and helped with the chores mornings and evenings. This I did until I ran away from home when I was nearly 17 years old. In the meantime my brother married Miss Eva Calkins, a stepdaughter of Alonzo Bradener, a rather distant neighbor of ours. She was fairly well educated, what would amount to a high school of today. She taught in the district schools for several years before she married my brother.

    ****  This account of the life of George W. Litts was never finished. The last sheet was found in his typewriter after his death.

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