of the HOLMES Family
settlement of South Richland, Oswego County, New York
by Rev. Jesse H. Jones
in the Pulaski Democrat from
12, 1900 to August 6. 1902
Many thanks to Julie
Robst for contributing these wonderful articles, on the Holmes
family, and the settlement of the area known as Holmesville, in S. Richland.
These articles were published for almost two-years, giving its readers
a most interesting account of the family, from before its settlement to
the Town of Richland, while living in West Winfield, Herkimer County, as
well as their ancestral history.
The articles describe,
in much detail, what life was like for the Holmes family and other settlers
in the early 1800's in S. Richland. Read about the families living
here, their schools, churches, the Indians, and the Great Religious Revival
in 1832. Follow the migrations of various members of the Holmes family,
and read first hand accounts of these early settlers lives. The articles
begin with the ancestry of the Holmes family in the 1600's.
Be sure to to
check out the Herkimer
County, N.Y. GenWeb for more information on the Holmes' Family, and
some of the other settlers, who came from West Winfield. This is an ongoing
project as there are 35 Chapters.
It may be
proper to mention the sources from which the following accounts were drawn.
These sources are:
1. My own reminiscences
of what my grandparents told.
2. Reminiscences which
Samuel Newell Holmes, Esq. has written.
3. Further reminiscences
of Almon and Ann Electa, these last two being the two children yet living
of John and Grace Holmes; and all my own recollections have been considered
and approved by them.
4. The records from
four family Bibles, those of John Holmes, David Dewey, Hiel
Richards, and Isiah Holmes.
5. Obituaries, letters
6. Records on tombstones,
both in West Winfield and South Richland; Deacon J. R. Hutchins having
very kindly helped me in the latter.
7. Published history
of Connecticut by towns.
8. Town records and
church records of Pomfret, Connecticut; also town records of Alstead, New
Hampshire; and Tolland, Connecticut, copies having been obtained from clerks.
9. Rev. W. Martyn Kellogg,
grandson of Esther King Kellogg (younger sister of Grace King Holmes),
who drew from family records which he had.
10. Also Mr. O. B. Holmes
and Mrs. Sarah Holmes Clarke (since deceased), were especially helpful
in making investigations at West Winfield, New York.
11. Most important
data were found by a two day search through the county records at Oswego,
where I got the date of every deed involved in the case. 12. Records
furnished by Roswell W. Holmes; reminiscences of Mr. H. J. Brown. 13.
Volumes of records and personal help received in the Newbury Library,
Chicago, Illinois, which were essential to success.
Chapter 1 - Lineage
branch of the Holmes family came from Pomfret, Connecticut, and some account
of the settlement of that town is essential to our story.
was at first a part of Woodstock; and both for about fifty years belonged
to Massachusetts. They are in the northern part of Connecticut, Woodstock
bordering on the former state. The way of the first settlement was this.
1683 about forty men, all but four or five being of Roxbury, Massachusetts,
signed an agreement to go to that section and settle, it being then a forest
wilderness. The settlers spread throughout the whole region. In 1714 the
south part of Woodstock was set off as a new town, and called Pomfret.
Among the inhabitants of this new town was Jehoshaphat
Holmes, who was elected first town clerk, and by re-election held
the office at the time five years until 1719. I have found the probable
line of his ancestry as follows:
May 22, 1639 one George
Holmes was admitted a freeman of Roxbury, Massachusetts.
As Boston and vicinity began to be settled only nine years before, it is
evident that this man was an emigrant from England. He, then, is the fountain
head of the family descended from him. Next year, February 1, 1640, there
was born to him a son, whom he named Nathaniel.
This Nathaniel, March 27, 1667, married Patience
Topcliff, and, (after several other children) there was born to
them in 1690 a son whom they named Jehoshaphat, who became doubtless the
man of that name of Pomfret, elected the first town clerk there, because
he was born and grew up in the town from which the settlers of
that place came.
1715, (he being 25 years old), Jehoshaphat Holmes
married Sarah Waldo; and to them was born,
just eight years and a day after, a son, who was named Nathaniel after
the father’s father. In 1731 Jehoshaphat was elected clerk of the church.
In 1745 he died; and it is recorded of him that he was both clerk of the
town and of the church at that time, and he “had long and faithfully discharged
these offices.” An honorable record indeed, and one which shows him to
have been among the eminencies of the community where he dwelt.
also is mentioned in the printed annals of the town for 1753, when he was
just 30 years old. He had three wives. The first was Desire
Spicer, whom he married November 11, 1742, when he was less than
nineteen years and a half old. By her he had no children. April 21, 1748,
he married Mary Moores; and on Match 19 next
year a son was born, whom they named Jonathan, and who especially interests
us. Afterwards a daughter was born who died in infancy; and February 10,
1752 the wife died.
a year after, January 4, 1753, Nathaniel Holmes
married Mary Jordan by whom he had five children.
Two of these, the third and forth especially concern us, viz: Nathaniel
August 14, 1760; and Josaniah born January
20, 1763. The name on the town records is “Josaniah” as the town clerk
assures me from careful examination of the same. Another curious circumstance,
showing the condition of the times, appears in the record of the baptism
of this same person, for in the church records it reads, “Jassaniah,
son to Nathaniel Holmes by Mary his wife”
was baptized March 27, 1763; as the church clerk informed me. The name
is not in the Bible and how it originated there is no means of knowing.
But as to the spelling of the name, this person in maturity was always
known as “Jesseniah,” his name is also spelled in the town records of West
Winfield, and in all the family records, and on his tombstone; and a nephew
and grandson were so named after him, nor was any other spelling known
in the family. Hence I follow the family custom rather than either of the
curious records in the town where he was born. Jonathan and his two half
brothers, all sons of Nathaniel, son of Jehoshaphat
Holmes, these three are they who went up out of Pomfret, Connecticut,
and finally settled in New York State; and their journeyings and settlings
we are to trace. Before doing so, however, we may
properly turn attention to another
line of the family.
into Woodstock, as distinct from Pomfret a Holmes line, which is
probably parallel, though I know
of no record to prove this; and the following is a brief account of that
names or so signed to the Roxbury agreement April 1683, to go and settled
Woodstock, as I have said, there were four and five who were from outside
of the former place, and one of these was John Holmes.
Whence he came, or where he was born I have no means of knowing. He may
have been a son of Isreal Holmes of Scituate,
Massachusetts. He ran the sawmill of Woodstock settlement. In 1688 he was
constable and tax collector, and in 1710 he had a fulling mill. In his
two mills he was a worker of whom another John Holmes, but not of his line
was to be his duplicate a little more than a hundred years after. In 1713
he died, having been a leader in the affairs of Woodstock
from its beginning thirty years
before. Judging by his age he may have been a cousin of Nathaniel, Jehoshaphat’s
father; but the relationship can hardly have been nearer.
of Woodstock, married April 9, 1690, Hannah Newell
of Roxbury and to them was born a son David.
He again had a son David, who was a captain
in the French and Indian War, and a physician and surgeon of high respute
in the Revolutionary War. He had a son Abiel, who became Rev.
Abiel Holmes, D. D. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a historical writer
of great eminence in his day. To this eminent writer was born a son, who
was named Oliver Wendell Holmes and who became among the most notable authors
of his time.
As I have
said it is highly probable that this line and that of Pomfret were offshoots
from the same stock, but the relationship I have thus far been unable to
trace. The one thing certain is that the Pomfret line was at best only
collateral to, and did not in any wise descend from that of the great poet.
2 - The First Flitting
evidence obtainable goes to show that Jesseniah Holmes
was the first of the family to leave the old home town. As to the motives
it is not difficult to surmise them. When the Revolutionary War was ended,
and the New England people knew that all that vast territory west of them,
empty of people except for a few Indians and a few pioneer settlers, belonged
to their nation, and was theirs as individuals, if they would only go up
and possess the land, the spirit of emigration broke forth in mighty powers,
and for more than forty years a steady stream of people flowed into the
newly opened country. The Holmeses who went up from Pomfret, Connecticut,
were drops in that stream.
as I have said, all the evidence there is goes to show that Jesseniah was
the first. But of his life between his baptism and marriage nothing is
known save one tradition, which is that when the British made their descent
upon New London, (September, 1781) and all the yeomanry of the countryside
turned out to repel the invader, as the record tells, he was one who lined
up in the patriot ranks, and marched toward New London for that purpose.
this tradition the only source of information we have is the obituary published
just after his decease, and we use it freely. From this, referring to Pomfret,
we learn that he “resided in that vicinity until nearly twenty-one years
of age, when he was married to "Miss Olive Goodell”
who was a year and nine months older than he. Where they were married is
not known, only it was not at Pomfret. “Nearly twenty-one” would bring
the marriage into the autumn of 1783. The family tradition is that Miss
Goodell was a woman of fair complexion, light hair and eyes, and stout
in form, her shape being like that of her son John, and that she had great
energy and force of character, with much tact and
winsomeness; and that upon her advent
into the family she caused a decided sprucing up and improvement in household
child, a son, was born July 5, 1784, but probably not at Pomfret, as there
is no record of it there; and they named him John. This John
Holmes is the principal personage in all this family history.
says that “Some time after” the marriage “he (Jesseniah) removed to Tolland.”
There are but two mentions of the family on the records of that town, and
they are as follows: “A son was born to Jesseniah
and Olive Holmes, December 7, 1789, and died the same day.”
“Martha, daughter of Jesseniah and Olive Holmes
was born October 29, 1790.” In the family records this is Marcia,
and the day of birth is the 30th, but there is no doubt that the same child
is meant in both records. During the period between the birth of John,
and of the son that “died the same day” I have been unable to find any
location of the family. But two
more children had been born, Roswell, December
27, 1785, in whose family tradition is that he was born at Pomfret; and
Boxy, October 31, 1787.
child was Horace, born September 23, 1792,
and from his eldest child, Mrs. Mary Holmes Dean,
I learn that he was born in Tolland also; but somehow there is no record
continues, “There (at Tolland) in a revival, as we hope, he (Jessniah)
was brought from the darkness into light and joined the Congregational
church there, then under the pastoral care of Mr. Williams. The change
appears great as he was much given to hilarity and mirth.” The church books
of that period have disappeared, and nothing can be learned about this
continues, “Soon after this, (his joining the church) he removed to the
State of New York and finally settled in the place now known as the town
of Winfield”, in what is now North Winfield a place of nearly twenty
miles south of the city of Utica. As Horace was born in Tolland,
Connecticut, it was after that that this removal took place, probably in
1793 or 94. The next date I have found, was given me by Mr.
O. B. Holmes, who is living in the house which Jesseniah
Holmes built in Winfield. This date is from the printed history
of Herkimer county in which it is said that in 1796 Jesseniah
Holmes was chosen an assessor at the first town meeting ever held
in what was then and for nearly twenty years after Litchfield, but afterwards
was named Winfield. The above
facts shows that he must have been
a resident for quite a period before in the region, had become a holder
of land, and had acquired quite a standing among his fellow citizens. This
would place his coming at least in 1795 or more likely a year or two earlier.
time of the above settlement New York State was for the most part a vast
forest, with patches of clearing here and there, with a thread of highway
from Albany to Buffalo having villages scattered along, and with branch
threads like that to Oswego.
where he settled was rich and strong, bearing great beeches and maples,
a soil opulent for farming and gardening, for raising any crop which the
climate would permit. It lies in immense hills heaved up like huge overturned
bowls; or in long rolls and swells. But it was all forest; and the great
trees had to be felled and cleared off, before the fruits of the soil could
be raised. This toilsome work of the pioneer he set his hand to vigorously,
and it absorbed his time, thought and strength.
years, I infer the time to have been about the year 1802, he was able to
build a sizable frame house which is still standing where he set it upon
one of those immense humps of land which characterized the region. The
sills of the house, hewn out by hand, are eighteen inches square, mute
witness to the size of the timber that grew, and to the plentifulness of
it, so that the pioneers thus threw it away to get rid of it.
wearying labor of subduing the forest and making a home so occupied his
mind and used up his strength, that we find in the obituary the following
concerning this period. “Here the allurements of the world, and the prospect
of gaining a permanent residence for the support of his family, for a time
drew off his attention from spiritual things. But soon his mind was roused
by the text, ‘Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone,’ and he was
under great distress of mind for some time, until at length he was pressed
in mind to give himself again to the Lord, unreservedly; which he did,
and light broke again in upon his mind, and his ‘peace was like a river,’
he went on his way rejoicing. He enjoyed his mind much in being very active
in conference meetings, and
giving exhortations after sermons,
which at times were very devotional and edifying.
his mind was called to the subject and mode of baptism, by the preaching
of Elder J. Butler, which led him to search the Scriptures, and see whether
things were so. The result was he was buried by baptism and joined
the Baptist church there.” As that church was formed in 1796, it may be
that Elder Butler was the founder and first pastor; indeed that is quite
likely. Then Mr. Holmes united with it soon after it was formed, possibly
the same year, or pretty surely the next.
the obituary says of him, “He possessed considerable native talent which
he frequently exercised to his own satisfaction and the education of his
brethren, who with one voice called him to take the office of deacon, which
was very unexpected to him. But he submitted to the judgment of his brethren,
and served them a number of years to their great satisfaction. It was thought
by some that he ought to labor in the ministry, and such conversed with
him on the important subject. He viewed it as a great work to stand as
an ambassador for Christ and preach the gospel to a dying world. But he
submitted to the judgment of his
brethren, and was ordained by a council at the age of about forty years.”
As he was
born January 20, 1763, he became forty years old January 20, 1803, and
it may be fairly inferred that it was some time during that winter season
when he was ordained.
same year, 1803, the first church edifice was built, to which he contributed.
It was set on the hill hard by where the old burying ground is; but was
long ago moved away down into the village near the railroad station, because
the great changes of population made it useless otherwise.
dates would be given only that something like half a century ago all the
church records were burned up in a disastrous fire in the village.
find this man as the spring of the year 1803 opens, a thrifty farmer, a
highly esteemed citizen, a preacher of the gospel with all which that implies,
and a liberal contributor to the building of a meeting-house for the church
of which he had been for five or six years a member.
Chapter 3 - The Second Going
Up Out Of Pomfret
In the only
book of far back records left in West Winfield (the rest having been burned
in a disastrous conflagration there,) a book about the highways, the second
entry on the first page is concerning a highway laid out with reference
to the farm of Jesseniah Holmes; and the third
entry is concerning one laid out with references to the farm of Elijah
Holmes, the latter farm as one will see on the spot, lying right
north of the other. The date of both records is 1803. Who was Elijah
Holmes? Who was his father? Where did he come from? Let me lead
the reader the way I was led to the answer.
or more north from the railroad station of West Winfield, up on a hill,
an utterly desolate place, lies a deserted graveyard. There used to be
a church close by, the one build by the first settlers, and now moved to
the village. Beside it they made their burial ground; and the moving away
of the church has left the burial ground deserted and desolate. Toward
the front in that ground is set a long row of tombstones, side by side,
all of them having on the name Holmes, and
being evidently of kinfolk. Right in the center of that row stands one
small, weather-beaten, red sandstone tombstone, the only one of its kind
in the ground. Evidently the person buried there is by some years the first
person buried in the grounds, because the date of the death is much earlier
than that of any other person there. Weather-beaten and crumbling with
long exposure as the stone is, the inscription is plainly legible, and
it reads, Jonathan Holmes died March 8, 1814,
aged 65 years.” Who was Jonathan Holmes? There
is no record or trace in town , nor was there any one there who could tell.
Close beside this red sandstone was a small marble stone bearing this inscription,
“Eunice, wife of Jonathan Holmes, died July,
1822, aged 68 years.” What relation did this pair bear to all these whose
bodies lie along on either side? The position in which they lie would
indicate that they were the founders of the line.
answer to these questions is to be found in the Pomfret town records. The
“65 years” back from March 8, 1814, carries me close to March 19, 1749,
where those records tell us that, Jonathan Holmes
was born there, eldest son of Nathaniel, (son of Jehosaphat) and Mary
Moores his wife. This is solid ground. But the rest of the story
is told also; for those same records tell that “Jonathan
Holmes married Eunice Richards October
17, 1776;” and that “Elijah Holmes, son of
the above, was born August 19, 1777. David, another son, was born
May 15, 1779; and Lucy, a daughter, was born
February 26, 1781.” Now on the larger square monument, set a little north
of the red sandstone in
Winfield, it is graven that “Elijah
died June 2, 1855, aged 78 years;” which takes us right back to 1777, the
year in which the Pomfret records say he was born. Moreover on another
side of the monument David’s name and death are recorded. He was a bachelor.
All these data drawing together seem conclusive, and to reader it certain
that this Jonathan was that half brother to Jesseniah, whose birth is recorded
in Pomfret, Connecticut, and that he was ancestor to all who lie in that
line, just as the place where he does lie would indicate.
Jonathan and wife there? And when did he come? I can offer only an approximate
K. Holmes of Lincoln, Nebraska, says that his grandfather Elijah
came up from Connecticut in 1803. But Orange, Elijah’s second son, was
born December 25, 1801, is said to have been born in Winfield. Moreover
the record in the highway book, in the summer of 1803, shows him to already
own a farm there. It would seem therefore, as though his coming up should
be placed as early as the summer of 1801.
If I make
out the story rightly, Jesseniah was prospering so well, and gave so good
a report of the country, that Elijah moved up there about that time bringing
his father and mother, Jonathan and Eunice, with him, the father being
upwards of fifty years old. This agrees with all the facts known. I have
mentioned before, Elijah located his farm right beside his half uncle,
Jesseniah; and to anticipate a little, I may add that a quarter of a century
after he came to own both farms.
As to the
marriage of Elijah I have obtained the following: Nearly two months after
he came to be twenty-one he was married in Pomfret, Connecticut, to Olive
Ingals, 17 years and 7 months old, October 7, 1798, by Rev. Walter
Lyon, pastor of the church there. She died March 6, 1806, in Winfield,
New York, aged 25 years, having borne five children, Alvah,
Orange, David, Pamelia and Eliza. Afterwards he married his half
cousin Marcia, second daughter and fourth child of Jesseniah; and by her
had four children, Roswell, Augustus, Sophia and
to the main current of our story. On the third day of January, 1804, Elder
Jesseniah Holmes’s oldest daughter, Roxey,
was married to David Dewey, a young man of
great energy of character, and who some eighteen years later moved up into
the new region of which we come now to speak, and acquired a large property
4 - John Holmes The Pioneer
Holmes is frequently to be met with in the annals of the Holmes
family. For one instance, the John Holmes already mentioned ran a sawmill
in Woodstock, the next town north of Pomfret, in 1688, was constable and
tax collector of the town, and in 1710-11 he had a fulling mill. How like
was the course of our John Holmes a little more than a hundred years later
with his sawmill at Holmesville and fulling mill at Santa Fe. And
not to mention many others that are recorded, there are two of the name
now in the town where the writer lives.
year 1804 the vast tract of land of which Oswego county was a part began
to be opened up for settlement. In payment for claims against the government
a great section had been set off to Alexander Hamilton and other New York
city gentlemen, and by them, or those deriving title from them, had been
surveyed and plotted so that farms of convenient size could be bought and
worked by small farmers working single handed, the lots generally containing
in the neighborhood of 150 acres. News of this spread far and wide, hence
came the rush of emigrants from Vermont who began the settlement of Pulaski
the same news had gone through all eastern New York State; and so the same
restless, pioneer impulse had been awakened there. Hence in the spring
of 1805 Elder Jesseniah Holmes and his oldest son, John, went up into this
newly opened country to see what the land might be.
in the region they met with Mr. Randolph Bunner the agent for the New York
owners, and whose name appears on scores of records of deeds in the county
clerks office in Oswego. They looked over the land but no transaction occurred.
However, when they came to go away the following conversation took place,
as reported by the late S. N. Holmes, Esq.,
of Syracuse, the youngest son of John.
Bunner, agent for the sale of the land was talking to my grandfather,
[i. e. Elder Jesseniah], who did most of the talking on our side, when
he came to shake hands and bid him goodbye, being very anxious to make
a sale, he said, “Now Mr. Holmes, I want you to promise me a creedy that
you will not locate any where else until you come see me again.” And grandfather
sacredly promised he would not; and on that promise the whole tide of affairs
of the settlement of our father and his family centered and was anchored.
For grandfather said, that but for that promise, he would not have gone
all, as he found better chances
a good deal.” However the promise was made, and then father and son returned
to their Winfield home for the work of the year.
followed one may fairly infer that the son finally concluded to take a
lot, when he should go up the next spring and begin there. Now as “it is
not good for man to be alone,” he chose a partner to begin life with him.
Hence it was that on Sunday, December 8, 1805, the year of the first trip,
Holmes was married to a Miss Grace King, a Connecticut school teacher
who had come into Winfield; and from the circumstance of the case it is
fairly presumable that he brought her home to his father’s house, the same
one that is standing there as I have before said.
5 - Grace King Holmes
In our family
somehow it has always been supposed that Grace King was born in Connecticut;
but a clue furnished by Rev. H. Martyn Kellogg,
grandson of Esther, younger sister of Grace, has enabled me to obtain the
official list form the town clerk of the very town. All the family save
perhaps one, were born in Alstead, New Hampshire, a town about fifteen
miles north of Keene in the northern tier of towns in Cheshire county.
The record for substance is this. To “Silas King
and Anna his wife” were born; Moses, August 11, 1772; Anna, February
24, 1774; Luther, October 28, 1776 (and died the next year); Luther, August
8, 1779; Grace, June 5, 1782; and Esther, January 4, 1785.
Martyn Kellogg I also learned that the family “moved to Coventry,
Connecticut, when Esther was a little
child;” but the records of that town show no trace of them. However, a
letter in hand, from “Electa Fenten” to her
“sisters” Grace and Esther, dated at Coventry, August 19 and September
16, 1821, shows that their mother died there September 11 and that their
father was still living in the vicinity. From this it follows that there
was a sister Electa not born in Alstead, New Hampshire, but presumably
in Connecticut after they had moved there; and it may be fairly inferred
that Grace and Esther both went up to New York State from there.
fact is notable. Coventry and Tolland are contiguous towns and it would
not be at all unlikely that the Kings and the Holmeses were acquainted
before Jesseniah and his family left Tolland to go up into New York State,
sometime in 1793-5, and that out of this acquaintanceship arose later the
marriage of John and Grace.
6 - The Final Location
married, and with his mind all the more finally bent on a home of his own,
Holmes went back with his father the next year, (1806), up into
Oswego county. Concerning what occurred then S.
N. Holmes, Esq. writes, “Mr. Bunner
so increased the advantages which he offered as to enable grandfather,
(Jesseniah), to buy a farm for Hartley, and father, (John) to buy
not only his own farm, but also land to the went of it, as well as west
and south of the stream, including most of the land on which the village
of Holmesville now stands, together with what is called Santa Fe. So the
bargain was closed and the contracts drawn and signed.”
which John Holmes selected for himself was
“lot 105” on the survey, which contained 128 acres, and the price was three
dollars an acre, the total amount being $386.25, as the record in the County
Clerk’s office in Oswego shows. He was nearly eight years paying for it,
the deed given when the contract was fulfilled bearing the date January
19, 1814; and Newell says “our father told us that before he paid it up
the interest he paid on it amounted to more than the principal.”
is now the Afwood place except 5.51 acres from the southwest corner sold
to Hartley Holmes March 2, 1830. It has never
been owned but by the two families since white men set foot there. This
lot was chosen as specially fitted for a farm. There was running across
it what appeared to be a living stream of water, just what was needed for
cattle. Near the northeast corner of it there was what seemed to be a living
spring, just the place for a pioneer’s house. I can remember when the stream
still ran and when Milton Holmes had a damn on it, and a small mill to
saw wood in, right by the road just south of his house. But forty years
ago the stream had gone dry; and now where the spring was, in dry weather
there is only water standing in a dug out hole. So little could he who
in the unbroken forest, in 1806, selected his farm, foresee how the conditions
would be changed nearly a century after.
probability Jesseniah Holmes at the same time
made a contract for all that part of lot 116, (next south of 105,) which
lay east and north of Grindstone Creek, being 119 acres; while probably
John made a contract for the rest of that lot, on which the most of Holmesville
stands. Whether John Holmes contracted at
this time for the rest of the land which he afterwards owned there is now
no means of determining.
and son having this bought the lots 105 and 116, the father returned to
the farm in Winfield, while the son remained to clear up his. Where or
how he lived can only be conjectured, but one may guess that it was either
at the Gillispies a mile to the west, or at Squire Pride’s a mile and a
half to the east, both of whom were on their places before he came.
rate to clear off a piece, to fell trees and log and burn, so as to get
the ground ready for a crop, and to build a log house for a home, these
were the work to which John Holmes set himself
for that long lonely summer and fall in the pathless forest.
his house near the spring to be handy to water, but on the edge of the
upland to be out of the way of freshets. When he had finished his season’s
work he closed the log house, and left it to take its chances for all the
long winter until he should return. Then he wended his way on foot back
to his father’s house up there on the great hill in Winfield, a palace
compared with his own, and to the wife from whom he had been so long away.
had fallen, on Saturday, December 20, 1806, a child was born to him, a
girl; and they called her name Elvira. Whence came the name is not known,
unless from Elvira Richards (sister of Hiel)
who was born November 22, 1804, and afterwards was wife of J.
Nelson Dewey. The child had dark brown eyes and hair, and a sweet
oval face, and was bright, healthy and good natured. It was she who came
to be mother of the writer of this family history.
7 - Going Up To The New Home
were three to go up to the new home in the far forest. Grandmother told
me that when they went to South Richland my mother was three months old.
As she was born December 20, 1806, she came to be three months old March
20, 1807, and that day was Friday. Besides a paper in grandmother’s handwriting
says that they went in March; and the two sayings show that they went between
the twentieth and the last day of the month.
Again the well known habits of mind
of New Englanders show that they would naturally start early in the week.
So we may fairly infer that on Monday, the 23 of the month, they set out
for their distant forest home. I emphasize the word distant. Though only
some eighty miles away, yet measured in time and toil, the only true measure
of things, that log home in the forest to which they were going, was farther
away from the home whence they set out than St. Louis or Omaha is from
New York or Boston.
of transportation was an ox sled drawn by a yoke of oxen. On the sled were
packed snugly their few household belongings; and above all was laid grandmother’s
precious featherbed, the one choicest article of dowry that a woman could
bring to furnish her home in those frugal days of exceedingly scant possessions
in that pioneer age; and upon that bed she sat carrying her infant in her
arms, as she herself told me.
belongings, we may well note something of what they were, that the people
who are on the stage of life now-a-days may realize how their grandfolks
lived a hundred years ago. Grandmother did not tell that, but my wife’s
mother, Martha Dodge, who died in our house
a little past ninety-six years old in 1888, did give to us a similar list.
Her mother, Ruth Cone, went up into the “Black
River country” from Middlefield, Connecticut, in 1806, into what is now
called Worth, and these are the cooking utensils she carried: a long handled
frying pan of wrought iron; a rounded bottomed cast iron dish kettle with
legs, that would hold a pail full; a pot with legs to cook dinner in, which
held a pail and a half, and which in shape bulged out in the middle and
was smaller at the top and had a cover; and a two quart cast iron kettle
to bake in. She used the side kettle and the two quart kettle to bake in,
covering the former with her frying pan, and the latter with her fire shovel.
In this way she cooked for four men, five children, herself and baby.
different could have been the cooking utensils which grandmother took up
with her into what was only another part of the same great forest. If we
say there were also, perhaps, a couple of kitchen chairs and a table with
some crockery, (such as mother Dodge herself had in 1813), and a chest
of bedding and clothing, we shall not be far astray. They were going where
there was nothing to buy and no place to buy it, and they must needs have
taken a year’s stock at least with them.
nobody imagine that this couple with their little one were pinched and
poor above others. With such few grand and simple belongings, such meager
outfit everybody began life when settled up New York State in the early
years of this century. With such slow, humble means of transportation they
traveled. But few if any of the settlers who went up into that region during
that period had any better.
last autumn on the great swell of land in Winfield, hard by the house from
which that lowly group set out, and the whole scene came up alive in my
imagination. As I gazed upon the house they seemed to come forth, and then
moved slowly along on the way down past the house of Elijah
Holmes just on the edge of the valley below; and then through the
valley and up the rise of the highway beyond, until they went over the
crest and out of sight. So did they go on their long and tedious journey,
and my heart even now goes with them in their journeying.
was pretty certainly via Utica or Whitesboro to Rome, and thence to Williamstown,
there being so far a made road. But here they turned sharply to the left,
westward, and all the way to where they stayed the night before they reached
their journey’s end, some fourteen or fifteen miles, they had, as Almon,
their son, says, “only a cutout road through heavy timber.” How long they
were on the way is not known; but at the slow pace of oxen probably four
or five the distance being about eighty miles.
night before they reached their journey’s end was spent at the house of
F. Pride, familiarly known in the first third of this century as
“Squire Pride.” Some forty years ago, his daughter,
Bathsheba Pride told her who is now Mrs. Clara
D. Jones, that she held my mother in her arms on the morning before
my grandparents started for their own house. And when I asked John
Erskine last fall where that could have been, he answered quickly,
“Why I can tell you as well as not. It was Squire Pride’s house right over
there on the road beyond the cemetery,” as he judged about half a mile
beyond on the south. So it was a mile east from the corners where afterwards
the Dewey-Tinker tavern stand was. There, then, they passed the night,
and from that hospitable pioneer shelter they set forth betimes in the
had passed over the mile of cut out road to those corners on “the Old Salt
Road” they struck right across it into unbroken forest and unbroken snow,
with nothing to guide them but blazed trees. The road was not even surveyed
out until two years later. After going a mile through the trackless wilderness
of snow and trees, the sled dragging along over tree roots, and hummocks
and through hollow, as it could, about the middle of the forenoon they
came to their journey’s end at the log house which grandfather had built
and left the autumn before; and they found it safe and undisturbed.
8 - Their Pioneer Home
house was perhaps fourteen by twenty feet within, and stood as I said before
on upland near the edge of the bank, which broke sharply off down about
four feet to the valley in which the brook ran.
enter and look about. There is no floor only mother earth. The space between
the logs are shinked up with moss and plastered with mud from the claybed
just down in the valley. A place for a fire had been prepared in the middle
of one end by laying against the logs of the first two or three tiers large
stones carefully selected, of each kind as would be likely not to crack
or explode with the heat, to keep the fire from the logs. Overhead there
was built a chimney of sticks plastered with clay mud as the chinks were.
More than half a century afterwards, Mr. Atwood, in plowing there, turned
up some of those back stones. Water was always kept on hand to quench any
little fire in the logs or
sticks that might catch fire from
other end in one corner was the bed. A crotched stick had been driven into
the ground, from which one cross stick ran into the crevice between the
logs for an end stick; and a longer one ran length-ways into a crevice
for a side stick. Then many poles were laid close together length-ways
the whole width, and these were covered with a thick layer of hemlock boughs.
Upon this grandmother placed her feather bed, and so her couch for the
next two years was prepared.
who will in imagination survey with me the scene in that desolate, cheerless,
unfurnished earth floored cabin, will not wonder that my grandmother, as
she herself told me, the first thing when she got there sat down and had
a good cry. Twenty years after, she told me this, an aged woman, whom I
met by chance up in the edge of St. Lawrence county, told me the same story
concerning herself. How many and many a woman if only their voices could
be heard from out of the silent dust, would relate that same tale of tears.
they get a fire? Matches were unknown for well high a quarter century yet.
Fire may have been obtained by flashing powder upon tow in a flint rifle
which grandfather had, and then lighting a candle; or with flint and steel
striking sparks into tow or punk until they were able to kindle a blaze.
Or perhaps they brought fire with them from where they stayed over night.
They might easily have done so in some iron dish they had.
babe, she could lie snugly in bed, while the parents were getting the house
to rights, what little there was to do.
On my study
walls hang the portraits of those three, painted many years after, those
of grandfather and grandmother by Bonfoy, a traveling artist in 1845 or
6, and two of my mother, that little babe, by Grace Maria, whose extraordinary
gifts were quenched so soon. And as the faces of these dear ones so long
ago passed over, look down upon me, I seem to be working in their very
presence as if their spirits hovered about me all the while; and I would
that all I do might be worthy of them. And I wonder if I will ever see
them again. Oh that I may! Oh that I may!
9 - Incidents Of Two Years
It was pretty
certainly Friday or Saturday, March 27 or 8, 1807, that John
and Grace Holmes, bringing their babe, Elviria, came to their new
home, the rude hunter’s log house in which they lived for the next two
years. A few events of this period have come down to us.
no grist mill nearer than Oswego twenty miles away; and grandfather had
to go that long slow trudge partly by blazed trees through the woods, and
the rest of the way on the rudest road. Any vehicle was out of the question.
So he used to borrow a horse and go afoot, leading the horse loaded with
grain, corn for the most part of it, if not altogether. He always
started so as to reach Oswego in time to have his grist ground that night,
so that he could start the next morning at break of day and get home as
soon as possible; for
he had a right and quick sense of
the wife and babe he had left all alone there in the forest.
indeed all alone, and how little can we realize it. To the south it was
forest for miles. On the west the Gillispies
had made their beginning, Hugh having already taken up lot 86, where the
corners of the road are, at which the school house stands, as it has stood
from the beginning, say eighty years. There were three brothers of them,
Hugh, Henry and Robert, the last of whom was known as “General Gillispie”.
Grandmother told me there were three families about a mile away in different
directions and none nearer. Alone in the forest with the nearest neighbor
a mile off, and nothing better than blazed trees to indicate the way, for
a solitary woman with her babe this was loneliness.
Visit of The Indians
in the late autumn or early winter of this first year grandmother’s courage
was pretty well tested. Grandfather had gone to Oswego and staid over night
as usual. When early in the morning five great, stalwart Indians came pushing
into the cabin, sat down on the earth and said, “Shoony cake, shoony cake,
shoony cake.” They wanted Johnny cake and that was as well as they could
speak it. They also promised to pay in deer meat when they got some. They
were entire strangers; indeed there were very few Indians about; and
naturally grandmother was somewhat
frightened. However she concealed her tremors, whatever they were and set
about preparing what they had asked for. As such bread is not made now,
I have not tasted or seen any in about fifty years, I may be pardoned for
describing how it was made. Boiling water was poured upon Indian meal,
and the mass was stirred quite stiff with a wooden paddle or iron spoon.
Salt was stirred in at the same time. Care was taken that there were no
lumps in the mass, and then it was ready for baking. In those pioneer times
when utensils were few, they used sometimes to spread the
batter out thin on a piece of board
or a big clip set up edgeways, and slanting a little back from the fire,
as well as to bake it on a spider or in a kettle with the coals laid around.
At any rate in due time she had enough ready so that they all breakfasted
to the full. Then, as they went away they repeated their promise to pay
which she made no account of, being only to glad to have them go and leave
her in safety. However they were true to their word, and in a few days
brought to the cabin a hind quarter of venison. Large pay for the breakfast,
as I should judge it to be worth at least two dollars.
It was in
the late fall or the first winter this year, 1807, that grandfather shot
his first deer. A light snow having fallen he started out and in a short
time came upon a deer, his own movements having been so still that the
deer had not seen or heard him. Standing motionless he waited until the
deer, which was walking along a few rods away, was about opposite, when
he drew up his rifle and followed with his sights up the back of the foreleg,
and as they touched the brisket he pulled the trigger. The bullet struck
between the ribs and the quarter, and as the deer stopped broadside on
and gazed at grandfather he could see “a stream of blood spinning out through
the wound.” But he stood like a statue
without stirring; and the deer seeing
no motion and hearing no sound beside the shot, was not frightened, and
in a moment or two started along on a walk. Before it had gone far, feeling
sick from the wound, it lay down. This was just as grandfather had expected;
and then quietly loading his rifle he walked as still as he could near
to where the deer lay, and put a bullet through its brain.
turn of mind was shown by the fact that when he had hunted eight days more
without getting another, he concluded he had spent as much time as the
deer he had gotten was worth; and so he quit and hunted no more.
to Face With a Bear
it was later in the same winter that grandfather had his adventure with
the bear. Nearby the house he had a pigpen in which was a sow with a litter
of pigs, so near that he thought no bear would come that close to a house
where humans dwelt. In that he was disappointed. Instead, he heard the
squealing of the sow, knew at once what the trouble was, and seizing his
ax, hastened to beat off the intruder. The bear had already, however, dragged
his prey out of the pen and down into the valley where the creek ran, and
was making his way to the upland on the south side when grandfather overtook
As he closed in upon him as in hand,
the bear dropped the pig and reared upon end, jaws open ready for the fray;
grandfather also standing with ax uplifted, equally prepared. So grandpa
looked at the bear and the bear looked at him, each a sort sizing the other
up, and each waiting for the other to begin the attack. Pretty soon the
bear, seeing that grandfather preserved a resolute and ready front, concluded
that discretion was the better part of valor; sank down on all fours and
made off, leaving his prey behind. But the sow was to badly hurt to be
kept, and so had to be killed and was put into the pork barrel.
grandfather once why he did not strike the bear right in the head with
the ax. “Why,” said he, speaking briskly, “he would have knocked it out
of my hand instantly. He could strike with his paws to ward off such a
blow better than the best boxer.”
as the bear stayed around, grandfather determined to try for him again.
So he made a sort of logpen with only one place where the bear could enter.
Across that place he laid a log for the base of a figure four trap. Then
he borrowed of General Gillispie a steel bear trap, and set it where he
judged the bear would put his fore foot as he was reaching for the bait.
Then he set the figure four trap with a heavy log to fall down on the under
one and crush the bear between. For the bait he put on a piece of the pig
which had been dragged out of the pen, a toothsome morsel for Mr. Bear.
Well, the bear came but, he was shorter than had been supposed. So only
one hind leg lay across the under log of the trap, when it was sprung,
instead of the body as was expected. The upper log in falling bruised the
leg that was there but did not disable the bear. Besides, instead of putting
his forefoot into the steel trap, he put it down close beside it and spring
it without getting caught. Thus the bear escaped altogether. But he was
so impressed with the multiplicity of the dangers which beset him that
he cleared out entirely, and was never seen about there any more.
first year grandmother had to get out of bed with her feet on the ground.
In the warmth of summer and the bitter zero cold, and worse, of winter
it was just the same. There was nothing under her feet save the bare, damp
earth. But the second summer there was a hired man; and at grandmother’s
request he split off some short planks from a chestnut log, smoothed and
edged them as well as he could, and laid them on the ground making a bit
of a floor before the bed for her to stand on and dress in the morning.
reader will say, “a hired man in a one room cabin, where could he sleep?”
A ceiling of poled laid close together across from the end opposite up
to the chimney, made a flooring. A thick layer of hemlock boughs placed
upon them made a sort of bed such as many a hunter has slept soundly on.
Up a ladder set beside the stick chimney the man climbed into this low
garret, crept onto the bed of boughs, rolled up in his blankets and so
in the spring or early summer of the second year (1808) a serious accident
happened. The family record says, “an infant boy died at three weeks old.”
For the lack of knowledge on the part of both, grandmother lifted so as
to bring on premature birth. Yet so healthy were the conditions of life
that the ill effects upon her were of short duration.
Newcomer For A Neighbor
same year Col. John Douglas came into the
region and took up land about two moles west of Holmesville, where the
road now is that goes to Mexico, but then it was not even surveyed out.
I should think his farm was lot 122, or the one next to it and that the
blazed tree pathway along which grandfather traveled when he went to Oswego
to mill, must have run quite near if not right through where the Colonel
made his beginning. A seminiscence of Deacon J.R. Hutchins of Holmesville
is just in place here. He says “I worked for Colonel Douglas when I was
a young man, and have heard him tell about
coming up from Westmoreland, Oneida
County, this state, when a young man and buying his farm, then a timber
lot of 96 acres, and then returning to Oneida County. The following spring
he came up again and proceeded to make him a home after the fashion of
most other settlers, by clearing land, getting in crops and building a
log house. I think he told me about bringing up some apple seeds, which
he planted as soon as he could conveniently; and eventually he had quite
a large orchard. The principal means of travel in those days was on horseback
by blazed trees. His place was on the Mexico and Pulaski Road about two
miles from Holmesville. Fred Spicer owns and occupies it now.”
of the apple seeds and resultant apple trees mentioned brings to mind a
notable characteristic of the New England people. They might be called,
The People of the Apple tree, so abundantly have they cultivated and developed
that fruit and spread it abroad. The immense apple trees on the place of
Elijah Holmes in Winfield, are another illustration of what Deacon Hutchins
Douglas “was a pensioner of the War of 1812;” and “was clerk of
the Baptist Church from 1835 to 1859, both dates included. Deacon
Abel Douglas was ten years younger than his brother John, and came
to Richland in 1824.”
It was probably
some time during the first two years life in the first log house that General
Gillispie’s bear meat feast occurred.
spleened against wild meat of every sort, unless possibly venison, thinking
it had a wild taste. But of all kinds, bear meat, the very thought of it
was disturbing to “that diabolical apparatus called the stomach,” to use
Carlisle’s phrase. Well, all the neighbors around were invited to a feast
at General Gillispie’s; and all went of course. Social occasions did not
come in that sparsely settled forest so often that anybody who was asked
could think of staying away. The feast was in the middle of the day, and
answered to out Thanksgiving dinner. The meat of the feast was prime and
passed for beef, nobody imagining it to be anything else except the family;
at least grandmother did not. However, after dinner, as the afternoon wore
on, and the toothsome
repast became well settled, the
question began to be bruited about in the company, what kind of meat was
it which they had eaten, and which had tasted so good to all. At length
it was made to leak out like, that a nice tender two year old bear had
been killed recently, and flesh from that had been the “beef” (bear-beef
it might have been called) of which all had partaken. Well, if anyone felt
qualmy and dissatisfied, “nobody” lost their dinner. But in another region
under similar circumstances another grandmother did lose hers.
this same period, probably, that General Gillispie stayed overnight at
the cabin, sleeping in a blanket on the floor, I suppose. In the morning
bright and early, grandfather and he stepping out in the clear bracing
air, saw a partridge sitting on the far end of a log. Each had his rifle,
and they shot two or three times a piece lengthways of the log and could
not hit the partridge because of the effect of the log varied the ball
so. Then grandfather went off sideways and brought it the first shot.
Second Log Cabin
in the second year the road was surveyed out and located where it now runs,
so that a house could be placed right with reference to it. Then in that
summer a better log house was built “not far from the road and some hundred
rods” Almon says to the east from the present Atwood house; and in due
time a well was dug. May 12th of that year, 1809, a son, Jesseniah, was
born, and it was probably after that that the second log house was ready
and they moved up into it. Then the first one was used as a barn.
had a barn their father, Elder Jesseniah,
drove them up a heifer from his farm in Winfield. Every spring he came
up to see how they had got through the winter. For three years in succession
he drove up a heifer, and next spring as he turned into the field saw the
skull of it lying on a stump just there by the road notifying him before
he saw a person that the creature had starved to death, grandfather not
having been able to secure fodder enough to see it through. But the fourth
one lived. This incident well illustrates the hardships which they endured
who settled up that new country. But a far severer hardship fell on those
who settled up such a region as Indiana, for I have read that
there, out of ten young couples
who went into that one place there together, eleven persons died in two
moving into the second log house the first and severest stage in the pioneer
life John and Grace Holmes ended; and one
may be pardoned a word of reflection here.
the Golden Door no single feature of the architectural wonder of the World’s
Fair at Chicago was more striking than the Perlstyle and Memorial Arch;
and the Arch was the center and chief glory of the other. Many times did
I go and feast my eyes on those beauties; and as sacred sayings I treasured
the records placed upon that Arch. Two of them having strong pertinence
to the lives of the two people whose experiences I am relating, and I quote
them here. On one panel were these words: “To those brave settlers, who
leveled forests, cleared fields, made paths by land and water, and planted
panel were these words: “To the brave women, who in solitude, amid strange
dangers and heavy toil, reared families and made homes.”
those “brave settlers” was John Holmes, pioneer
in South Richland; and one of those “brave women” was his wife “Aunt Grace,”
who reared a family of nine children from such a beginning. As I stood
and gazed on that wonderful Memorial Arch, and copied the above words,
I thought of those two as justly and to the full worthy of all the honor
and commemoration that such a Memorial could give and as I gazed upon the
Arch and read the words, they thrilled to the heart’s deepest life.
to part 2