PIONEER HOME LIFE IN SOUTHERN OHIO
I must go back to the old home of my father and mother, as that is the place that suits me best “Be it ever so humble, thee is no place like home.”
“We may build more splendid habitations
Fill our rooms with paintings and with sculptures
But we cannot buy with gold the old associations.”
I am back in that old home, in imagination, with father and mother. And after the big job of moving me and my cats, dolls, etc. had been accomplished, the family settled down to business. We will our parents were fourteen, and all had good quarters in the big house. William, Alexander and John helped to grub and clear the land, and sometimes Jane, Priscilla, Eliza and James would go and help them to burn the brush heaps. This was jolly fun for Maggie and her flock of four - Joseph, the twins and me. Soon as Maggie learned the others were going, after them she swiftly ran with me on her back and my little arms clasped around her neck, with the others at her heels. There she would set me down to watch the great flames and sparks, and she watched that we did not go into danger.
The family always called Maggie “the old hen and her four little chicks.” And while she did not have to scratch for them, she was a fine caretaker of them after they were fed, and she had a good way of amusing us. She now says we were all very good and that I was the sweetest and best baby she had ever seen. And that makes me happy today as she was the sweetest little girl I have ever seen since I saw our own dear mother.
Maggie had quite a time with Matilda, as she was so like our father and brothers, William and James, for fun. She would tease Lucinda shamefully in every way she could. She would hide her pet cat and books which Lucinda from early childhood delighted in reading. Bu Matilda did not want to read when she was little, though she did like to read during womanhood.
Now I have left my cats and dolls. I am five years old and I delight to look at picture books and to draw little flowers on my slate, but I cannot quite read as yet. I want to tell you how I learned to read when I was a little past six years old, for it all came to me like a flash. One day Priscilla said to me “Now Fannie, you know all your letters and can spell well for one of your age. Why can you not learn to read?”
I replied, “No one has ever tried to teach me to read!”
“I will teach you”, she said. And she picked up the New Testament and selected the first four verses of the third chapter of St. Matthew, which are:
1. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judah
2. And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
3. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Elias, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his meal was locusts and wild honey.”
Priscilla read these verses over to me carefully and slowly. Then she said to me,
“Now, Fannie, spell out all these words carefully, in all four verses, and have no one help you. Then come to me in one week and read them every word to me, and I will get you a pretty new dress.”
I went off by myself and in less than three hours I went to her and said,
“Priscilla, I can read these verses now.”
She laughed and said, “Let me hear you.”
I read every word correctly and she was more surprised than I was when I went over Tennessee Pass, I assure you. She went right off to George Ramse’s store and bought a light purple chintz goods and made it into a beautiful little dress, and I wore it to Sunday School on old Dutch Ridge, in less than one week. Te secret of my success in this: I had heard these verses so often that I had committed them to memory; and then, spelling out the words, it all came back to me. The old prophet’s name, and John’s eating the locusts, etc., was hard for me to get over; but I never had any trouble reading, after that lesson. I soon learned to read School books. It seemed like a world of fairy land had opened before me, to be able to read so many sweet stories and books for myself. Father had many old histories, and I also read those - and books about Scotland, England and Ireland were my delight.
This was in 1852, but I wish to tell you that I delighted to hear father read many stories, in 1850 and 1851. In those days I lay down on a cot in the sitting room, evenings, and father would read for all of us. He was a good reader and a fine penman, and taught us much himself. He took three or four weekly newspapers - among them the “New York Tribune”, in which was printed every week, one chapter of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. He was sure to read this every week. I loved to hear about “Little Eva”, but “Topsy” was my delight - with her tricks; and every one of us was happy when she came into the play, as she made it seem so very real to us.
All wee at home then, but William was away at stone work part of the time. When he was married, in 1851, he moved into a new log house on his own place, near us. We always saw much of him and his wife - and I stayed about half my days and nights with them. His wife’s people were sick at the time set for their marriage, and father and mother told him to bring his bride to their home, and be married at the appointed time - May 15, 1851.
This was the first wedding in our beautiful, new home, and father and mother made great preparation for their first son’s marriage. Father and William had lately been in Cincinnati, and purchased furniture for both of their homes - among it the big dining table that was used for six of our weddings. And mother bought a beautiful, fine, bleached lined tablecloth for this great event - which also was used at all our weddings in the historic old parlor.
They were the first couple I ever saw married, and their turkey was the first bird of its kind I had ever seen. I enjoyed that wedding and that beautiful table set for the nuptial feast. The pink china, etc., just glittered. The bride was young and pretty, attired in Quaker drab of light shade - made short waited, and open on back, very much as dresses are made today, but not quite so narrow. And she wore the cutest little, very thin, pure white Quaker cap. They told me she was my new sister and I loved her and delighted in her Quaker talk, dress and manners. And brother William loved her - and that made me idolize her for his sake.
In 1853, our home became a home for about every person living near us, or within twenty miles, as they were then rapidly pushing the construction work on the Marietta and Cincinnati railroad. The railroad company workmen began to lodge at our home every few nights, on their way in buggies, from Marietta to Athens, Ohio - as our home was twenty miles from each place.
Father and mother did not wish to keep lodgers or boarders, but were forced by human kindness to lodge these fine, good men - whom they never charged until so many came that these men threw money down to them and said, “You must charge us, as there is no other house where we can stay over night.” For fifteen years, mother never ate one meal with her family alone, nor slept one night without a stranger in the house. This bothered her, as she lived quietude.
Father and mother had very many friends from far and near, to visit them; and these quests, together with the civil engineers on the railroad, and the railroad workmen kept the house full. A man by name of Gould - I forget his first name _ and G. M. Green, both from Athens, were of the railroad workmen. Honorable William P. Cutler and Beman Gates of Marietta, with Cutler as head manager, were the four who built the railroad - and it took many years.
They would of ten meet at our home and all stay over night. They belonged to different political parties, and they would argue and debate. Father took part in this - and it was great amusement for the big boys, mother and all - and they would sing political songs that were so funny, I can remember them yet.
At this time the slaves from Virginia were running away from their masters. Sometimes fifteen in a month would cross the Ohio river nine miles from our place, and pass through our place on their way to Canada and freedom, over the “underground railroad.” And a great many good men and very many Quakers would help them go, with their teams at night.
Everyone in those days called my father “honest old Uncle Jimmie Smith”, and he was a great joker, and would get off so many jokes and tricks on these four railroad men and the civil engineers, that he just kept them in “hot water” all the time -- trying to get ahead of him. I never saw any person so full of fun tricks and quick answers as my father.
One night in September, 8154, Honorable W. P. Cutler and Beman Gates tried to come from Marietta to our place, but broke their buggy so they would not travel fast, and they never reached our home until nearly 12 a.m. Mr. Gates said to Mr. Cutler, “Let us play a trick on ‘Uncle Jimmie’ tonight, as we are to late getting there.”
Cutler said, “I will lie down on the buggy and you cover me up with the robe, and go and tap on his window and tell him to hurry out here.”
Gates obeyed and tapped and said, “Uncle Jimmie! Uncle Jimmie! Hurry up and come out here quick, as I have a big black fellow out here in my buggy that I want you to hide, as his back is all bleeding from his master’s lash.”
Father said, “I will come as soon as I can dress.” He knew very well what to expect. Cutler was big and very dark complexioned. Gates uncovered him, and Cutler talked just like a big slave. He said to father, “Just see the cuts from the lash on my poor old back; and help me to Canada, if you jest has to put me in the m’th ob de tunnel and let me drop right through into Canada.”
Father looked earnestly at him and, turning to Gates, said, “Why Gates, you have the genuine article here - a full blooded African! These are hard to pass over on the underground railroad! Many of them are nearly white, and we can pass them over for white folks, and have no trouble in the matter. I will hide you in a corn shock and see that you get properly started. But of course, I will never learn whether you ever get to Canada or not.”
Then all laughed and cheered until everyone in the house dressed and went down into the dining room to share in the fun.
Cutler said, “For pity sakes, Uncle Jimmie, give us some supper, for we are nearly starved!”
Father called Priscilla and Eliza up to get their supper, and a jolly time they had before retiring.
At this time, Margaret, Joseph, Matilda and Lucinda were going to school in the old log school house on Dutch Ridge. I did not go to school then as it was too far for me to walk. Alexander, John and James were working on the farm. Jane, Priscilla and Eliza were doing the housework, sewing, mending, etc.
Then things were done until the spring of 1855, when William and Alexander went to Iowa where each bought 160 acres of land near Fort Des Moines. William soon returned but Alexander stayed and did stonework on the first Capitol building there. Brother John joined him and worked with him there until in 1857, when they both went to Kansas and took claims near Fort Riley - also now near Junction City. They also bought some land there, until each had over two hundred acres. Father and mother missed them sadly, and father wrote beautiful letters to them.
Then father hired a man by the name of James O’Neil, to help James farm the place, and he worked for him a long time, and made his home there. His brother-in-law came over from Ireland, and father hired him also. And they both worked there until 1859. They were fine workers and all treated them like brothers, and they became very much attached to our family. The last mentioned was William Marshall.
In December, 1856, our school term in the old log school house commenced and lasted until the first of March, 1857. Sarah McGill, a sister of Honorable William McGill, and a Scotch girl, was the teacher. She was my first teacher, as I never went to school until I was over ten years old. She was pretty and good, and loved her occupation and her name so well that she never changed either. Her picture is hanging in my bedroom now. She boarded at our home and I would sit close to her and hold her very pretty, soft hand in mine, and she petted me. I thought she was the finest person I had ever met; and the novelty of going to school greatly pleased me.
A very heavy snow fell on the first day of school and it did not melt off until after the last day of the three months’ term. The sleigh riding was fine all winter, and father and James take us to school every morning, and go after us every evening This was jolly fun for us and the teacher.
Father and Miss McGill had fine fun reading Scotch books and Burns’ poems. But father could beat he at it - to our delight, and hers.
Margaret, Joseph, Matilda, Lucinda, Frances and I attended this school term every day. The geography that father bought for Joseph in 1853, gave the population of Chicago at 10,000. Just look what it is today! James and Joseph both learned very fast while going to school in the old log house. Lucinda learned very rapidly in all her studies, and she and Joseph were extra bright in arithmetic and algebra.
During this term of school, Nancy Burk was my first little school chum, and about my age. She was very dear to me, and I have her picture hanging beside our first teacher, in my bedroom, today.
I want to tell you how she would whisper to me after our lessons were studies - for we all whispered in school in those days. One day we whispered for one hour without stopping. We were as close together as we could get, with our feet dangling from an old four-legged slab for a set - that had no back to it. This bench was far too high from the floor for us, and our feet kept time with our voices - by swinging them regularly to keep balance on our perch.
Nancy whispered, “Fannie! Fannie! Do please tell me what the ‘underground railroad’ is. I have heard that your father, ‘honest old Jimmie Smith’, knows lots about it.”
I knew lots about it myself and had seen many of its dusky passengers; but I had been taught not to tell what I had learned about it. I whispered, “What have you heard about this wonderful railroad?”
She replied, “They say they run fugitive slaves off over it, into Canada. Please ask your father about this and tell me about this mysterious machine to carry fugitive slaves over to freedom in Canada.”
I looked at her very earnestly and said, “Do you suppose my father would bother himself to run a fugitive slave into Canada, or any place else? I know just as much about this ‘underground railroad’ as my father knows.”
She said, “Then if you know, please tell me and I will not tell it to a human being.”
I replied, “Nancy, they open a tunnel among these hills some place, and drop these fugitive slaves into the mouth of it; and they never stop rolling until they roll right into Canada.”
She always kept my secret and never forgot it.
Nancy was married at sixteen, to a man named William Brandenberry. And in a few months after this, he enlisted as one of the first Volunteers in the Civil War. He was in that war from start to finish, and she learned all about the ‘underground railroad’ and how it was manipulated. It was indeed -
“A very curious machine
As it carried many passengers,
And never has been seen.”