An American Life
01. Egremont, Massachusetts, 1777
02. War with England
03. Restless in New England
04. Westward Migration
05. Arrival at Cooperstown
06. Death in the Wilderness
07. On to the Butternuts Valley
08. A Wedding in the Wilderness
09. The Melting Pot
10. Tragedy in Two Parts
11. War of 1812
12. A Purdy Woman
13. A Family Recovers - the Good Times
14. A Great Awakening
15. Hard Times Settle In
16. The Darkness Deepens
17. The Light Returns
18. And He Will Send His Angels with a Loud Trumpet Call
Lydia: An American Chronicle: 1767 to 1861 is a work of fiction loosely based on the life of the
author’s fourth great grand aunt. The story of
Quotes from “The Preacher” are from the Book of Ecclesiastes, King James Version.
Cover Photo: Dresses worn in the Butternuts Valley by Mary Martin Colton and Lydia Colton Chapman, circa 1810. Modeled here by descendants.
Dianne O’Connell is a retired Presbyterian minister and hospital chaplain. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Southern Illinois University, a Master of Divinity degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and has lived in Alaska since 1967. In addition to her ministry, she has worked as a newspaper reporter, a labor organizer, and non-profit administrator.
An American Life
Egremont, Massachusetts, 1777
The thin, wind-whipped limbs of a handful of apple trees stood naked against the somber sky. The retreating winter snows had left a thicket of dead, wet and tangled grasses where twenty people stood listening to the preacher intone his blessings. Most of the women wished they’d worn a warmer cloak.
Ten-year-old Lydia Colton shivered at the edge of her mother’s grave, wiser than many children, but still quite uncertain as to how she was expected to present herself before these grim-face adults, all of whom seemed to be watching her. A quiet child, she was happiest while working beside her mother, or alone thinking, or conversing with a special Presence who had been her guide since “the beginning,” she supposed.
“Why are they watching me?” she silently asked her Companion. Lydia’s body shook. “Do they wish that I would weep? Or stand straight and show my bravery? Wilt they say that I am childish, or comment that I appeared cold-hearted at my mother’s funeral?”
The Presence answered, It does not matter, Lydia, how others judge thee. We will sort it out together when they’re gone.
“I will miss you, Mother,” she whispered quietly.
She knows. She is with us here as well, the Presence offered.
Lydia noticed her father Samuel signaling Gideon, her brother. The father bent down, said something to his son, and Gideon slipped away toward the house, soon to return with something over his arm.
Her father moved toward her through the little throng of neighbors. Saying not a word, he wrapped her in a thick, woolen cape – the one which had belonged to her mother. Father and daughter stood watching as the deacons lowered the plain wooden box into the grave that father and sons had finished digging that morning. Margaret Colton, wife and mother, would now rest in the family burying place out here by the half dozen struggling apple trees the family proudly called its orchard.
It was early spring, 1777. The Colton farm was just outside Egremont, a little New England village not far from Great Barrington in western Massachusetts. Lydia’s family had come to this place from Connecticut in 1756. Several men, including her father, had purchased land from the Stockbridge Indians and set about to build a community. Samuel Colton farmed his land, paid his taxes and was one of the founding members of the village’s First (and only) Church. Lydia and her sister Sarah were baptized here after the family’s arrival. Sarah died last year. Now Lydia’s mother had gone to join her.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” the girl quietly mouthed the words of the Congregational minister who had come to the Colton place to conduct the simple service.
“May the Lord bless us and keep us and make His face to shine upon us, be gracious unto us and bring us peace,” the minister intoned.
May it be so, the Presence responded.
“Mother, drink some water,” the girl had pleaded just a few days earlier, as she held the cup up to the feverish woman’s lips. “The doctor says you must have rest and a lot of water.”
Margaret attempted to drink for her
daughter, but was too weak to swallow.
She had been ill for much of the winter.
Influenza, or what the people called “the gripe”, was ravaging the farms
and villages of
fox, or a hawk, must have made off with the rest of the litter,” the boy had
opined when he’d brought the kitten in from the barn. “Why don’t you take her?”
“Now look at you,”
It was true. Muff had taken a special interest in the stricken woman, and whenever the growing kitten wasn’t chasing after bugs in the kitchen or mice in the barn, she was curled up at the foot of the ailing woman’s bed. Sometimes, she crept up closer and purred. Margaret would reach down and stroke her.
not to be, my
Margaret had held her daughter’s cool fingers and sighed,
Later that night, the woman’s fever rose and the chills set in yet again. This time the battle was lost. With her husband and children at her bedside, Margaret died. Her daughter sensed the release and ascension of a pale, shadow-like spirit from her mother’s body. The family sat quietly for a time, then began to weep.
must fetch Shiphrah and Puah Wilson for me,”
good maiden sisters had helped her mother when
would be like Mother to spare me this task,”
She wished to do it, the Voice broke in. Just say, thank you, Mother, and note her fine needlework.
“Will I get the fever next? Father or my brothers?” she asked.
Death has now passed over this house, came the Voice, and thou wilt be remembered for the multitude of years the Lord has granted thee. Sickness will be no stranger, but much comfort will be received through thy hands.
It was more than the Presence usually offered in one breath. The girl sighed and closed her eyes. The cat meowed once and curled up beside her.
That was Tuesday. Yesterday, family and friends arrived to take turns sitting beside Margaret’s coffin, which had been placed in the main room of the house. Today the preacher and deacons arrived for prayers, scripture reading and sermon. Following the service at the house, the family and other mourners processed out here by the apple trees, where the pastor was in the process of offering still more words.
The sun had risen this morning like any other
morning, but remained well hidden behind the clouds.
Take heed of the trees, my Lydia, came the Voice. They indeed look dead, but thou knowest they will soon spring forth with new life. If thou believeth in new life for a tree, thou can surely believeth in New Life for a Child of God. Your mother is with me.
Look after your father, the Presence whispered to the girl. It was the same charge that her mother had given her.
The man and his sons stood talking outside in the night air.
farmer’s wife was a hard-working woman, and
“Must I take my mother’s place?” she asked the Presence who appeared beside her. “I am just a girl. I have not learned the skills women must know to run a household.”
Saith not that I am but a child, for thou shalt succeed in all that I put before thee. Be not afraid, for I am with thee.
it will be, thought
Samuel remained outside a while longer. Finally, he too, came in, kissed his daughter, and entered the room where he and Margaret had shared a bed for about a score and ten years now – only this night, he would sleep alone.
he lay in the dark, the new widower thought about the God whom he had
envisioned as taking special care of this place, this family. The God of
Samuel’s Puritan ancestors still informed his view of life. He accepted his wife’s death as God’s will,
although he was apprehensive about raising his younger children, Gideon and
“Father, do not despair,” the girl had told him that morning. “God will take care of us.”
“The Lord appeared to me as the sun rose. In the new light, He spoke to me, and told me that He will care for mother now. And he will care for us, as well.”
Samuel believed the girl, but he was uncertain that their neighbors would understand her intimate conversations with the Lord, or His angel, or this divine Presence. He shuddered as he envisioned the tall steeple of the Egremont Congregational Church. It wasn’t like years ago when a young girl who experienced God differently than others could be banished, like Anne Hutchinson. But even so, Samuel did not wish his daughter to be thought strange.
“I believe you have heard the Lord,” he told his daughter. “We will, indeed, prosper under His love and guidance. But take care to share thy conversations only within the family. You are a precious child, but some might think it unbecoming for a girl to talk so boldly about such matters.”
Perhaps so, observed the Presence, but times will change, Samuel. Times will change. For now, just sleep.
~ 2 ~
War with England
The war with
“Did you hear?” gasped a neighbor
two weeks after the return of the village militia. “Our cannons, the hundred cannons we
captured, they made it to
“A week well-spent, I’d say,” Samuel responded. “Very well spent.”
When Samuel answered the call to
arms again in the fall of 1775, he left as he had before: with the clothes on
his back, a knife, a tomahawk, and his own American long rifle, a piece he had
used frequently to bring down a deer for the family table, or a bear or wolf
menacing the sheep. The British soon learned
Samuel’s unit engaged in quick skirmishes and ambushes to deprive the British of their food and supplies. Samuel was a good marksman and was called up on three occasions. But he did not like soldiering.
“I did my part,” he told his daughter later, “but I knew I would never make a soldier like my father.” He spared her the details of his reasoning.
The fighting wore on. It was now 1777,
On this particular day, the war was
going well for the colonists. Around the
When the men got to the part,
Fath'r and I went down to camp,
Along with Cap'n Goodin',
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty puddin'.
Samuel had four living sons, all living at home: Samuel Jr., 27, Daniel, 22, and Gideon, 13. Joseph, may God protect him, would soon be sixteen, the age for enlistment.
“Sam Jr. and Daniel remind me of
me,” he confided to
“Joseph is more like your grandfather,” he continued. “My father, Sergeant Colton, had a mind for adventure and was a good leader of men. Your grandfather served in the Connecticut Assembly, you remember.”
When the next call for troops occurred, it would be Samuel’s sons, not he, who would represent the family in the field. The call came. Samuel Jr. responded and served thirty-seven days, enough time to realize that, having done his duty, he would rather marry the Buckman girl.
Before he shouldered his rifle to join his neighbors, young Samuel had asked Prudence and her parents if he could spend one night courting her beneath the bed clothes -- to see if they should pursue talk of marriage. The girl and parents agreed.
“I was nervous as a cat,” the young man reported to his brothers the next day. “The Buckmans invited me to spend the evening, and then they up and disappeared into the side room, leaving Prudence and me alone.”
“So?” the brothers responded.
“Prudence and me, we talked a while, about nothing too much, she was nervous, too.”
“Then what?” from the young men.
“Well, finally she says, ‘the bundling board is already in the bed.’ I say, ‘It is?’ And she says, ‘Take off your clothes, Samuel. But don’t forget to leave your under garments on.’
“I say, ‘I won’t forget.’ And she walks over to the stairs and starts up. What was I to do, but follow her?”
“No, that was the right thing to do,” brother Daniel offered.
“We got upstairs and, well, we both undressed, leaving our under garments on. We both sat down, one on either side of the bed. We sat there and, well, I kissed her. And she let me touch her. And, we put the board back before morning.”
The brothers guffawed.
“We are going to be married as soon as I come back.”
Which is exactly what Prudence Buckman and Samuel Colton Jr. did.
The following June, Daniel served the cause one month and eleven days. It was not long after he returned that he tarried a night bundling with Miss Anna Crocker, married her and moved to nearby Stockbridge.
The brothers again gathered in the kitchen to hear Daniel’s report on his experience much the same as they had gathered for Samuel. The report was similar except that Daniel claimed it was he who initiated the long walk to the sleeping area.
“Perhaps, I should wait a while to think further about this,” she murmured.
Good idea, suggested the Voice.
As each brother prepared to serve in
the fight against the British,
“Quiet,” she would admonish her brothers, as they came in one by one, picking up one of the slices of fried pudding she had set out on the table.
Once Gideon came in with a long pole on which he had impaled a large groundhog. Plopping it on the floor, he grinned,
“Sister Lydia shalt make a tasty stew from this hairy beast.”
“Thou shalt skin him for me first, brother,” she answered. “Now take it out until prayers are completed. Daniel’s unit leaves tomorrow.”
Gideon did as he was told. He returned, grabbed his pudding, and sat down near the fireplace with his brothers. His father smiled and nodded toward his daughter.
“Most merciful God, we give thee thanks for our lives, for our new country, and for our family. O Lord, look with favor upon thy children. Look with favor upon General Washington and Colonel Ashley and most especially, Lord, we plead that thou protectest thy son and our brother Daniel, as he leaves to fight the bloody British to obtain our blessed freedom as a new nation…”
Her father and brothers glanced at
one another, and with one accord decided not to address
“The Lord came to me while I was feeding the chickens and assured me that He would keep Daniel safe under His protective wings,” she told her father the next day. Samuel touched his daughter’s face kindly, and thank her for the divine message.
She prayed especially hard for
Joseph who, as expected, up and enlisted when he turned 16. Joseph didn’t join
for a skirmish or two like his father and
brothers, but rather he signed on for three whole years. This brother
would end up fighting in the battle of
The young soldier posted a message
whenever possible back to the family. Holding each of her brother’s letters
tightly within her prayerful hands, sister
“Father and dear brother Gideon, the Lord has promised me that our brother Joseph is under His special care. He will return to us safely,” she assured her family.
And, indeed, Joseph did return home safely.
Gideon was just a boy when the war
started, but the fighting waited up for him.
In 1780, having attained the age of sixteen himself, this youngest son
of Samuel Colton took up his father’s flintlock with determination to do his
part to beat the British. Unlike brother
Joseph, Gideon was not particularly suited for war, but it was his turn. The
boy served six months on the first call and four months eighteen days on the
When Gideon returned home from the
It wasn’t thou, her God whispered gently.
I said, it wasn’t thou, He whispered, decidedly more loudly.
The fighting continued until the British
were defeated at
~ 3 ~
Restless in New England
would there not be great opportunity for a young family if they could purchase
good land for little money in
“Yes, I suppose,” Gideon answered. “But our family is here. And Deborah’s family is here, as well.” Deborah was the girl Gideon was sweet on and
a good friend of
“Gideon, you’ve said there is little
land available here in
“And Gideon, business would be good for a millwright. With new towns springing up, everyone would need a mill. Father can come with us.”
“Ah, you would like to come along too?” Gideon smiled.
“Yes, I would,” his sister stated.
For a dozen years Lydia Colton had kept a home for her father and brothers, cooking the family meals, planting and harvesting the family garden, feeding the ducks and plucking the chickens.
Over the years,
Now, the 22-year-old girl had been driving Prizzy to town on her own for what seemed a lifetime. Since the war, life was changing all around her and she wanted to be a part of it, part of the excitement she felt when folks gathered up their families, purchased their supplies at the Egremont store, and said their goodbyes to neighbors and friends before heading “west.”
Her father had brought home copies of the Massachusetts Gazette with stories
describing the causes of this migration.
For one thing, the
“I can both shoot and skin a
Father Samuel and Gideon tanned
cowhide and deerskin to make leather shoes and leggings for winter.
As for Gideon, yes, he was a farmer but he had also apprenticed to become a millwright. Almost as soon as a new village was established, someone needed to set up a grist mill to grind the grain from the new farms into flour or meal. Waterwheels also drove small-scale mills for sawing timber and weaving cloth. Gideon could design and build those mills, as well, but he would have to leave the familiar surroundings of Egremont if he was to actually make a living with his growing skills.
“You need a husband of your own, a life of your own,” her father would begin.
“Father,” she would answer, “Dost thou know a young man suitable for thy daughter’s hand?”
There had been a stranger from across the county who had presented himself to Samuel Colton four years earlier and asked to court his daughter. Before responding, the father sent his son to find out more about the new arrival. Gideon’s report home indicated that the young man’s family was well-respected. Samuel agreed to allow the man to visit his daughter on Sunday afternoons. The young people did seem to get along.
“Father, Jeremiah has asked to tarry
with me one night,”
With some trepidation, Samuel asked to speak to Gideon alone.
“Tell me again what you found out about this Jeremiah,” Samuel queried his son.
“Our uncle says that he comes from a God-fearing, hard-working family,” Gideon began. “This son Jeremiah left town two years ago. Our uncle said he was a smart, strong boy. Maybe a little shy. But no one ever said a bad thing about him. That’s all.”
“I do not feel good about Jeremiah. But I have no real reason for my concerns. I wish your mother were alive,” Samuel lamented.
“I am more concerned that she might like him,” the father countered.
The night for bundling was determined.
Sometimes I, too, wish I could better protect my children from disappointment, worried the Voice.
“Did you say something?”
It was a long wait. Father and daughter waited together. The meal was ruined. After a while, he and
Jeremiah Bumpus was never heard from again. He had been working out over on the Thompson farm, but they reported he just up and disappeared.
“I guess he was just shy,”
the whole of
It will be so, the Presence attempted to assure him. But Samuel did not hear the low whisper and was not reassured.
The aging Minuteman reviewed the
status of his children. Samuel and
Daniel each had a wife and children. Even though he was “working out” on his
father-in-law’s land, Sam Jr. would eventually inherit the
and Gideon – and even
The old man’s thoughts became a kind of prayer. “The only thing holding these young people here is me,” he told his God.
. You are a good man, whispered the Presence, Come home and rest in me. This time Samuel heard the words of his Lord, and allowed himself to die.
As she stood on the same spot under the same
sky where she and her father had stood more than a decade before,
It works something like that, the Voice allowed, the heavens will be revealed to you more fully in God’s time.
The next evening, the young woman ventured another conversation with her brothers -- about moving west. She desperately wanted to go, and she knew it was what her father had wanted for her, but her brothers remained unconvinced.
girl needs help, the Presence mused.
Thinking, perhaps, that the Voice
had a good idea,
And, it would be so. The young women agreed with
~ 4 ~
Samuel, the eldest, did inherit the
farm, but a portion was sold off and, according to the wishes of his father,
Samuel distributed enough of the proceeds to each of his younger siblings to
get them started in
Each brother would have his own
wagon drawn by two oxen. Each would lead
a fresh cow from the family herd to produce needed milk during the journey, and
once they arrived in the Otsego country.
Joseph chose a cow with a female calf and Gideon chose a cow with a bull
calf, both born that spring. The calves would follow their mothers and would be
an economic resource once in
Joseph’s wagon would carry his pregnant wife, two little girls and his young son Samuel. All their belongings also had to fit in this one conveyance.
Gideon’s wagon would carry his wife,
also pregnant, his infant daughter and
It was not a long trip, by pioneer
standards. The little family wagon-train and livestock moved out on a Monday
morning, heading west toward
~ 5 ~
Arrival at Cooperstown
“Two farm wagons, a small cart-like thing, a horse, and a couple of cows and calves,” reported a young farmer who first spotted the newcomers on the trail. “Nice looking oxen, too.” When the wagons got closer, the young man rode out to meet the new arrivals.
“There’s a camp where you can stay the night. Two families are there already. Not sure if they’re stayin’ or movin’ on,” the man informed Joseph. “You’ll be wanting to visit Judge Cooper,” he added upon learning that the family hoped to settle in the area.
The Coltons reached
I can still understand them, the Presence noted.
“It will require a great deal of labor,” Joseph explained to his wife. “The land is densely wooded but within an hour’s ride of the settlement. We can get a cabin built this summer and clear more land to plant a crop next spring. Within a year, we should be prospering,” he grinned.
Rebecca smiled. She’d go see the
land, and check out what berries and nuts might be available for gathering this
season. She’d packed some staples, but
they would need to buy or gather additional food for the winter. This little town
had very little to share or sell and
Joseph and Rebecca agreed on the
Judge Cooper promised easy purchase terms for settlers, including the Coltons. Cooper was a wealthy land speculator, true, but one known for his reasonable terms. He had purchased 50 thousand acres of wilderness in 1783, sat on his investment through the war, and was now opening up the Cooper Patent to development. He wanted his settlers to succeed.
Judge Cooper and his family were of the better sort and the Coltons of the middling sort. Cooper wrote later that most of the settlers were quite poor, or of the meaner sort. But in a community of thirty-five, including two slaves, most of those distinctions were put aside, especially when the families had children of the same age. In a small town, it was also easy, if not required, to become involved in community affairs.
Joseph found himself on the first
jury convened in
“Thank you, Lord, for giving me Joseph
You are learning that the world is not as safe as your father’s home, the Presence responded. This is good; but be not too afraid. There are more good men than evil, and this town will prosper.
Judge Cooper and his wife, Elizabeth
Fenimore Cooper, had brought their children to
The Coltons might not have believed
it possible when they first arrived in camp, but by 1803, when the boys turned
thirteen, the population of
But at the moment the famous author was but a little more than a year old. And the town named for his father was home to some 35 souls.
~ 6 ~
Death in the Wilderness
While Joseph Colton was establishing
Perhaps, it would be best if the
women stayed in
It was arranged. It was only then that
The three young women, two of them pregnant, consulted together. They would appear in town, march to the little structure which served as a store – and with some flare purchase two more rifles and a large supply of powder. They would again march confidently down the muddy little street with their rifles slung over their womanly shoulders. The townsmen would know that these women were not to be trifled with.
Joseph and Gideon looked at one
another. Maybe it wasn’t a stupid
idea. Seemed like a stupid idea, but
maybe not. The women could shoot, especially
Into town the women rode, returning that afternoon with their arsenal. The men left in the morning to go build a cabin.
It took but a couple days for the
brothers to erect the initial structure.
Gideon was proud of the little one-room, windowless cabin he and Joseph
built. He would return to
When the men returned to Joseph’s
cabin a week later, there were two horses and a wagon tied out front. Running to the house, Gideon found two women
from the settlement and their husbands, as well as
Do not regret the lack of a physician, the Presence whispered. Bath her to keep her cool, provide her with a little chicken tea or water-gruel, and with soap and hot water wash your hands, your clothes and you’re your serving dishes. Also, my child, speak to her of my love and remind her I will be with her throughout this passage.
daughter Perlina was nearly two and a half years old, walking and beginning to
talk. This second child was also a
girl. Her parents named her
“Lord, Lord, have I made a terrible
mistake? Were we not supposed to come to
this place? My poor Gideon. My poor little girls,”
Shush, my child, the Voice responded, be assured that you are where you were destined to be. I have led you here.
My child, you cannot control nor understand everything under the sun, the Presence said quietly. Comfort my children. You are there for me.
Puritan ministers of her childhood had tried in vain to convince
She cherished the conversations with her spiritual Companion, certain that He would not bother with a woman pre-destined to eternal destruction. And surely He would not purposefully mislead her.
Seek me, and you shall live, came the Voice. I have not misled you.
To prepare herself for her own
“A prudent man,” the Rev. Cotton Mather had written many years before, “will die daily.” To live under the power of such an impression would certainly make ready a person when it was actually time to die.
“A prudent woman who practices dying, will do death well when the final call is heard,” she explained to the Presence.
And that call will be a long way off, the Presence offered quietly.
On to the Butternuts Valley
Ever so often, Lydia’s grief would lighten and she would remember the afternoon the three young women had purchased the rifles and attempted to look “totally capable of taking care of themselves” in front of the townsmen. She would giggle, and then remember that none of them could ever be sufficient unto themselves. This family needed one another.
“I’m not sure,” her brother answered, “but I think they dunk their members completely under water when they baptize them, in a river or a lake, not in a church. They are funny in a couple other ways, too, but that’s all I remember.”
“That’s not so funny,”
“I’m not arguing,
“They are ALL Baptists! Every woman I met in town today – and they were all friendly and nice to me – but they were all Baptists. I even met an elderly gentleman Ebenezer Knap and his wife who started this Baptist church before the War. The British ran everyone out of town and arrested a good number of the men as collaborators. Some families are just now coming back. They have been through a lot.”
“I’ve heard some of those stories,
too,” her brother replied, “Many families are from
“Do not make fun of me, brother,”
“We will both make friends,” he assured
her, “but Gilbertsville isn’t like a village in
Thy brother is a wise man, the Presence smiled. Thou hast nothing to fear from my Baptists.
Years passed. Gideon enlarged the little cabin into a
comfortable two-room dwelling, similar to the homes of other settlers.
On returning home, the settler-woman would tend to her medicinal herb garden, as well as her regular vegetable garden. She attempted to plant flowers outside the cabin, but the animals made short shift of the blossoms. A fence would be needed, but there were other things needed first.
During those first years, Gideon not only enlarged the house, but built a barn, a chicken house, and a drive-shed big enough to keep the wagon and perhaps later, a sleigh. He was hoping to purchase the sleigh before winter to make travel easier in the snow, but it would depend upon the success of the crops. It might take two more growing seasons. He also began collecting the tools and equipment needed not only for farming, but also for building water-powered mills. Gideon had plans.
In the spring of 1797, a lanky young
Christian, single and without means, arrived in the Butternuts country. Dressed in the home-spun clothing his mother
had sewn, Israel Chapman had walked one hundred miles from
His was the trade of an itinerant. It was
Gideon met Mary Martin while doing
business in Chenango and, after a short courtship, planned to marry her the
coming July. Mary was the eldest daughter of John Martin, a fairly well-to-do,
but scallywag of a Scotsman who made his living in textiles, frequently traveling
across the Atlantic to
“Oh Lord,” she sighed one evening. “Perhaps it is time for me to expand my horizons?”
Take a look around, the Voice suggested. Open your eyes and your heart.
“Gideon’s spending all his time over
Worry not, came the Voice. Just bundle up the little girls and get thee to prayer service over at the Thomas place this Sunday.
Sunday morning came. After
After the scripture reading and
prayers given by Old Mr. Thomas,
As she stood fretting and wondering if she would have to drive the buggy home herself, Asa calmly walked up with Israel Chapman.
“I’m sorry, Madam, but I cannot
drive you back to the farm this afternoon,” Asa explained.
“Why certainly,” she squeaked.
“I’d be pleased, Miss Colton,” said Israel Chapman. “I’ll just hitch my horse to the back of your buggy and after I get you and the girls settled, I’ll trot on home myself,” he smiled.
A Wedding in the Wilderness
It was not long before Israel Chapman came a ‘courting. Gideon felt awkward when the young man requested his permission to visit his sister. There was the age difference, there was the memory of Jeremiah, there were just all kinds of concerns rumbling through Gideon’s brain. But one look at his sister and the stern look she shot back at him convinced Gideon that permission should be granted.
“Don’t protect me,” she told her brother one evening. “I know what you are thinking. You forget about Jeremiah Bumpus. I forgot about him years ago. I love Israel Chapman and if he asks me to marry him, I will.”
“Ah,” Gideon began.
“And we can be grateful that that
abominable practice of ‘bundling’ has quite gone out of fashion. I feel confident that a man like
The courtship continued.
Recognizing a strong, Christian
woman when he met one, it was not long before Israel Chapman asked Gideon
Colton if he could marry Gideon’s sister
“I would be pleased if you would present that
question to my sister,” Gideon answered.
“She has a mind of her own, and I will abide by whatever answer she
gives you. And welcome to the family,
The neighbor women baked the wedding cake and hid a nutmeg inside the batter. The person who found the nutmeg in their slice of cake had good reason to believe that she – or he – would be the next to marry.
Not to be outdone in the merry-making, the young men of the community, dressed in old clothes and strange masks, organized a “horning” with cowbells, old shovels, and pots and pans. The idea was to make as much disagreeable noise as possible as the couple prepared to retire for the night. The friends followed the newlyweds to their new home, making “music” the entire distance. The Chapmans would live just outside New Lisbon, twelve miles from Gilbertsville, both settlements in the Butternut valley.
She had cared for her father’s home,
had helped Joseph and Rebecca establish theirs outside of
The first year,
“The Lord does the rest,”
During the hottest and hardest six
weeks of mid-summer,
When the end of summer came, it was
back to the corn and the wheat.
Lydia Chapman and Mary Colton became close friends. They shared recipes, medicinal herbs and roots, and impressions of the world around them. Mary also shared the news that she, too, was pregnant, expecting delivery in July.
Gideon and Mary came to see the new “borning room” Israel built beside the kitchen so that the heat from the fireplace would keep the special little room warm for Lydia and new baby when it arrived.
“Our sleeping area is too far from the fireplace at night,” he explained. “Babies shouldn’t get cold and neither should new mothers,” he added, glancing at his new wife.
There was a midwife in New Lisbon
“You will help
“Think only sweet, good thoughts,” Mary admonished her. “It’s best for the baby.”
“I know you are right,”
‘Yes,” Mary assured her. “I’ll remember the wine.”
“Here are the flannel blankets and little diapers,” the expectant mother added.
“Do not worry,
“What do you think of Almon?”
“Sounds better than
“It’s a river in Roman mythology,”
And so it was the wine-dipped baby was christened Almon.
a fine child, the Voice allowed. And it is a goodly name,
“Thank you,” was all the new mother could say, as tears of joy welled up in her eyes. “Thank you.”
The following spring,
With time, the couple purchased a
second cow, separating the milk and selling the cream.
The cash market for farm goods was
Gideon and Mary’s first child was born in July 1798. True to the new, more modern, family tradition, they named him Theron – a Greek word for “hunter.”
Two years later, Gideon and Mary
became the parents of Mary Ann.
The babies continued to arrive two by two. By 1805, the women had ten babies under the age of seven between them. The sisters-in-law wore a deep path between Gilbertsville and New Lisbon, assisting each other with births and caring for each other’s growing brood whenever needed.
Gideon had been correct: there were
plenty of Congregationalists arriving from
Israel Chapman prospered to the
point of replacing his settler cabin with a comfortable farmhouse.
The Melting Pot
1796 - 1806
When she visited Cooperstown to
purchase goods not available in little Gilbertsville, she would see the
tradesmen deal in the new American dollars, English crowns and guineas, French
guineas, Spanish pistoles, as well as Portuguese moidores. She had no idea there were so many currencies
in the world – nor had she realized so many non-Englishmen made their homes and
did their business in the new
It was true, many Gilbertsville
families worshipped in the Baptist church, but in
is more than one way to me, the Presence assured the maturing woman.
The Otsego Herald kept the family informed regarding local, national,
even international issues. The old printer Elihu Phinney had arrived in
Through the pages of the Herald, a farmer could read of the
newest techniques for growing potatoes. Phinney also printed the new French
Constitution in its entirety and was not adverse to printing lengthy reports on
other matters of national and international importance. One issue alone included news from
One week, Phinney’s list of books for sale included a History of South America and Robinson Caruso.
Reviewing the weekly advertisements,
Another advertisement announced that Abner Thurber, hatter, needed a lad of 14, 15, or 16, whom he could train to be a journeyman maker of hats. Another advertisement was placed by a father looking for a runaway 15-year-old son; and still another placed by a husband advertising for a runaway wife.
Whereas my wife Sarah has repeatedly violated her marriage covenant by prostituting her body to a great number of persons and has continued a scene of lewdness for eight years, and has two husbands now living besides myself, one of whom visited her while we lived at Oquago, by the name of Elmore –
This is to forbid, therefore, all persons from trusting her on my account, as I will pay no debt of her constructing after this date, and I do hereby consign her to her favorite bullies for her future support. (Signed) Michael Swope, Bowman’s Creek, March 1, 1796.
“This would not happen in
“Don’t be so sure of that,” Mary countered. “You were very young when you left home. There may have been ’scenes’ of which you were unaware.”
“Here’s something a little nicer,”
Marital Bliss. Married a few weeks since, at Westharp in this state, Mr. James Wyatt, aged 107 years, to Mrs. Anna York, of Nempnet, age 91.
“That is nicer. May Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt live long and happy lives,” Mary grinned. “Look at this.”
The subscriber having had several children in his family inoculated
for the smallpox, thinks it is a duty that he owes to the public to
give this notice, as a caution to those who have not had that distemper
and who may have business with him, that they will not be perfectly
safe after the eruption in calling at his house til the first of (October)
(signed) Jacob Morris, Butternuts.
John Adams had been elected second
president of the
Thomas Jefferson of
Young Israel Chapman was interested
in national events, but his main focus was on building up the farm, year after
year adding either animals or farm structures, such as hen houses and a place
to store grain. Israel knew that he could accomplishment more with more man or
animal power, so he used the first year’s profit to purchase two oxen, one of
whom he named Hercules and the other Samson.
He also brought home a large, noisy goose by the name of Cassandra and a crate full of hens which
he called “the Furies.”
One year he built a wrap-around
porch for the house and furnished the kitchen with a dry sink, table, chairs,
jelly cabinet, and a pie safe. The
In so many ways, the Coltons and Chapmans, like their neighbors, were no longer Englishmen and women. They had become Americans, following American trends and developing American tastes and values.
Tragedy in Two Parts
1805 - 1812
Be thee an Englishwoman or an American woman, heartbreak at the loss of a child is universal. Gideon’s little boy Allen came down with what everyone initially thought was a cold – hoarseness, drowsiness, red eyes, and sneezing. In a few days, however, there was considerable fever and small red spots began to appear on the boy’s face, neck and body. The adults now knew they were dealing with something different.
Measles is a terribly contagious childhood disease. To protect the other children in the house, little Allen was confined to a little room by himself, where the temperature was kept cool and the windows kept dark. One can only wonder what the little boy felt laying there alone in the dark with everyone else working and playing outside.
On the fifth day, however, Allen took a turn and began shivering uncontrollably. The parents watched helplessly as their little boy became delirious and soon expired, a few days before his fourth birthday.
Mary and Gideon sat with their child and cried.
The Presence stood by
The boy is with me now. His spirit is healthy and strong. Comfort his parents. They will feel my love through yours.
It was a horrible year for Gideon and Mary Colton. After Allen’s death, Mary gave birth to her fifth child, Lone. The infant was stillborn. Lone was buried beside Allen in the small family plot visible from their mother’s kitchen window. Gideon carved two simple wooden markers for his sons. The deaths made what happened next all the more horrifying for the young families.
New Englanders had always been supporters of public education. In fact, the first public school in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established in 1643, three years following the arrival of ancestor Edward Colton to that settlement. Following the Revolution, public education became a top social priority with each community attempting to set up a school as soon as practicable.
A public school had been established
in Butternuts township and several families sent their children there. In the fall of 1805, the town hired a new
schoolmaster, Stephen Arnold. Gideon and Mary planned to enroll Theron who was
now seven and
after meeting the new schoolmaster, both Mary and
A flood of emotion filled the
“May he be a sinner in the hands of an angry God,” she prayed through her teeth and her silent tears.
I will judge the quick and the dead, came the Voice.
In addition to being called as
midwife by her sister-in-law, daughters, and nieces,
A decoction of bruised red cedar leaves was good for rheumatism and as a warm stimulant for producing perspiration.
Oil from sassafras bark was used in decoction as a wash for inflamed eyes; also as a soothing drink for catarrh, gravelly affections, and inflamed state of the bowels. Mixed with pumpkin-seed it made an excellent tea for stranguary.
The root and seed from skunk cabbage was helpful for asthma or nervous spasms. The powdered root was mixed in molasses or syrup and used even for epilepsy. An overdose, however, could lead to vomiting and vertigo.
Ointments and baths and enemas and
blister plasters all were used for various ailments.
Sometimes the treatments relieved the sufferers, and sometimes not. Sometimes the patient died.
At times of death,
~ 11 ~
The War of 1812
The years passed. The families followed the progress of the War
of 1812 through the pages of the Otsego
Herald. Gideon’s oldest son, Theron,
“Bring them all home safe,”
“Mercy, the bloody British burned
President Madison’s House and a good part of the rest of
The war raged on – even after the
peace treaty was signed. Communication
was so poor that Colonel Jackson’s victory at
“We have won the respect of the
British and the world,”
“Praise the Lord,”
Verily, verily, sighed the Voice.
~ 12 ~
A Purdy Woman
1812 - 1814
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose
Under heaven … a time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn,
and a time to dance… The “Preacher”, the Book of Ecclesiastes
The words of the Preacher swirled in
“She sure is a Purdy woman now,” her young husband grinned after the ceremony.
Even Uncle Joseph and his family
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” Gideon moaned to himself as his daughter and her stillborn child were laid to rest two years later. His wife and sister stood by his side. The young husband, Nathaniel, cried.
“Another death by childbirth,”
had sat with Perlina when the fever came and stayed while she faded;
remembering two decades earlier when she could not save the life of the girl’s
mother in the little cabin outside Cooperstown.
I am here, came the reply.
“I cannot see you,” she answered.
A Family Recovers – the Good Times
1814 - 1820
Every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour,
it is the gift of God. … the Preacher
Family responsibilities have a way
of keeping folks keeping on, even through war and tragedy. After Perlina’s
death in 1814, Gideon’s family stayed in Sherburne for another ten years,
providing new baby Coltons for Aunt
Gideon and Mary Martin Colton
eventually became the parents of fourteen children, in addition to Perlina and
Ludda. Three boys died in infancy and
Perlina died at the age of 22. Ludda married Aaron Cook and established her own
home in Sherburne, later moving on to
Even so, 1820 would be a peak year
for the Coltons. Eight children were living at home, from Theron, age 22, down
to little Linus, twelve months. Selina
would not arrive for another two years.
This was the fullest the
In 1820, the Chapman household was also at its peak.
The cycle of the seasons came and circled on. The families would later recognize these years as the Good Times.
Springtime was for cleaning and
planting in the Chapman household. The
hot summer months brought the haying season.
Be it spring, summer, autumn or
winter, as mother of the house,
“The sweetest bread is made with fresh-ground flour,” she told her girls. “Because we are close to the mill, we can grind just one or two bushels at a time, so that it always stays fresh.”
“Take twenty-one quarts of flour,
put it into the kneading trough, and make a deep round hole in the center of the
Adding water by degrees, the mother and daughters would take turns working the liquid through the mass, molding it over and over, kneading the growing dough with clenched hands, until it became perfectly smooth and light, as well as stiff, that not a particle would adhere to their hands.
The rising process would be
repeated, with the dough covered and set by the fire. Miraculously, it would rise again. This time,
“It is best to kindle the fire with dry pine or hemlock furze,” she told the girls. “Then fill the oven with faggots or hand wood split fine and dried. Let the wood burn down and stir the coals evenly over the bottom of the oven. After it is sufficiently hot, clean and sweep the over and throw a little flour in on the bottom. If the flour burns black, wait a while for it to cool. Then put the bread in.”
The loaves would be done in about an hour and a half and would weigh four pounds per loaf.
Sarah Joseph Hale in her the Good Housekeeper, published in 1841, noted that this bread-making process was good exercise for women’s hands and arms and strengthened all the muscles of the body in the process.
Plus, she added, “Kneading the dough will make the fairest hand fairer and softer, the exercise giving that healthy pink glow to the palm and nails which are so beautiful.”
It was true; the Chapman women had beautiful hands.
One whole day was usually set aside for baking. In addition to bread, there were pies. The family orchard provided great quantities of apples thus this American family grew up on apple pie.
“Everything is in apple-pie order,” she proclaimed, as the pies were placed in the oven.
In the fall, the women cut the herbs
in the garden, gathered and hung them to dry over the family fireplace. “Cut and dried,”
At the end of summer,
“Look, Mother, Poppa brought home a
present from town,” called Parney one Saturday afternoon. Parney was a good-looking boy, smart, and
hoped to secure the position as schoolteacher the following fall over in the
“Poppa bought Mr. Irving’s Sketchbook,” he exclaimed. “There is a second one here for the little ones– Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales!”
“I see he also obtained a new Almanack,”
In the early years, when the
When everyone was gathered, he began:
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted
region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers
of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head.
Parney, the family’s soon-to-be schoolteacher, then took the book and continued:
In this by-place of nature, there abode, in a remote period
of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since,
a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane; who
sojourned, or, as he expressed it, “tarried,” in Sleepy
Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children…
The children loved The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and they laughed to think that their brother Parney might someday be an Ichabod Crane. Washington Irving’s story Rip Van Winkle was a favorite of the older folks who like Rip, remembered life before the war and the changes they had experienced since.
For a farm family, the Chapman
library was pretty substantial.
Sometimes Parney would read to his siblings from the Tales of Mother Goose, by the French
author Charles Perrault; and sometimes from Children’s
and Household Tales, compiled by the Brothers
These were the loving and laughing times. The warmth of The Presence permeated both families like the smell of cinnamon and hot apple cider. Winter was about to settle in. It was very good.
~ 14 ~
A Great Awakening
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,
do it with thy might;
for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge,
nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
“Why does he want to move now?”
“Because there isn’t much call for
new mills around here anymore and there is plenty of work out in
It was 1820, and Mendon was a
prosperous area. Back in 1800, a road
had opened from
“You should consider Mendon, as
“No, Gideon, I’m happy right here,”
“I’ve built my farm, established my
roots, and pretty much know what is going to happen from day to day, season to
“Mary will change her mind about Mendon, as soon as she gets a chance to see it,” her hopeful husband offered.
So, Gideon, Mary and the
family re-located to
Change is an inevitable part of life, the Presence noted. Both you and Mary will weather this. As in a garden, in order for a family to grow and grow strong, the plants must spread out and be nurtured in new soil. This leaves room for the original plants to grow and thrive in the old garden, as well.
“But plants don’t have feelings;
they don’t get lonely,”
No necessarily so, the Presence smiled. They love to be fed and watered.
Old Elihu Phinney had sold books
from his printshop starting back in 1795. Phinney’s entrepreneurial sons now
sold books from large wagons rattling along the improved road system and from
“book-boats” floating down the Erie Canal.
And speaking of reading, there was a
new author coming to the public’s attention. Gideon remembered the young Jamie
Cooper back in
Mendon was a fine place thanks to
both the new canal and the power supplied to the mills by area waterfalls.
Laborers, merchants and others came not only from New England, but also from
Gideon’s family found themselves in
a community keenly aware of the evils of slavery, for instance, and a
significant group of people were determined to do something about it. Slavery remained legal in
children are slow to do what they know is right, the Presence complained to
Gideon Colton did his small part in assisting his neighbors hide and move escaping slaves along through the night – sometimes opening up a mill to such guests.
“It cannot hurt to let them rest at
the mill until nightfall,” Gideon told a worried Mary. “They’ll be gone tonight. There is a boat waiting at
Mary Colton knew that
~From Her Perch in New Lisbon~
“Mary and Gideon seem happy in
And from your perch, your world will become wider than you even now know, the Presence smiled back.
One of the theological struggles during the period of the Second Great Awakening had to do with non-Christian peoples in non-English speaking lands. Christians like Missus Wilson and Lydia Chapman could be, and often were, of opposite minds regarding resources the church should expend on foreign missions.
The issue began in 1806 when five
young men were caught in a
Henry Opukanhaia is a fine man, the Voice allowed one evening during
Religion was a hot topic in western
Not to be outdone, the New School
Presbyterians, and other denominations, conducted endless religious revivals
during this Second Great Awakening.
There was so much interest in religious matters in western
Over the years,
“I know there is hypocrisy in the church,” she began a prayer to the Presence. “Sometimes I even feel like a hypocrite myself. But these are my people, my family. Would it really be any different anywhere else? What should I do?”
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, the Presence offered. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Judge thy prophets on these two commandments – and beware of those prophets who would suggest otherwise.
“Folks can be Christians no matter
which of these churches they attend,”
One can be a child of God, no matter what name they call Him, the Presence added.
Also intellectually curious, sons Charlie and Parney came home one evening with a large chart that displayed a drawing of a human head divided into 27 different compartments each with little pictures in them.
“It’s called phrenology,” Charlie explained to his curious mother. “This German doctor named Franz Joseph Gall discovered it.”
“It’s the science of predicting personality traits through reading the bumps on one’s skull,” Parney chimed in.
“Yes. And a real phrenologist was in
“What happened? What did he do?” sister Almira inquired, coming into the room. Her father and older brother Almon came in behind her with curious looks on their faces.
“Well, he ran his fingertips and palms over my skull to feel for enlargements or indentations,” Parney began. “The whole process was a little eerie. He took measurements of my head, and predicted that I would meet a girl with a big head like mine – and that we would be married.”
“He would need a girl with a large head to put up with him,” his brother teased.
“Don’t make fun of it. Phrenology is very important. There is a lot you can predict about a person’s personality, his likes and dislikes, and particular talents. Some people are even using it to hire folks for certain jobs. I wanted to make sure that I would make a good teacher.”
“And the ‘doctor’ assured him that he would,” Charlie grinned.
“Well, we can pin up the chart in
“Doesn’t look too promising to me,”
“Not to me, either,” Almon agreed.
“Even schoolteachers,” she shuddered, remembering the horror twenty years previously when the little girl was killed. Lydia Chapman signed on with the temperance movement and found meaning and purpose in the work.
“It’s the only thing I can think of
to do for the child beaten to death by the drunken teacher. There wasn’t anything we could really do to
comfort her parents, and there wasn’t anything we could do for the
You are doing the Lord’s work, the Voice assured her. Wine and other spirits were meant to be a gift, but when they are abused, it turns into a dark, dark gift, indeed. Teach my people the value of moderation – even abstinence, if their constitution requires it.
So it was that Lydia Chapman remained
in New Lisbon, as mother, church member, wife, and activist. Gideon’s family, over in Mendon, followed
much the same pattern. The families raised their children, supported their
churches, were active in their communities, and kept up with current literature
and social issues. The Lord continued to bless the
families for several years – but then He seemed to abandon them. These darkening times would try the family’s
faith and strength, and bring
Hard Times Settle In
1831 – 1835
In the winter of 1831, Israel
Chapman mounted his horse, Pegasus, to ride to the
Almon doesn’t remember why he decided to saddle Arion and catch up with his father that morning, perhaps to just enjoy the ride to town together. He rode not too long a way before he found father and horse lying in the snow.
Assessing the tragic situation,
Almon shot his father’s horse, but figured
Broken bones required a doctor. So once home, Almon helped his father into
the house and headed back into the cold – this time errand firmly in mind. Go to New
“Perhaps, a little medicine first?”
“Of course,” she replied, helping him drink a
little light broth and tea one of the girls had prepared.
It was late afternoon when the
doctor arrived. It was he who actually
splinted the leg with a metal contraption he brought with him from town. When
the apparatus was in place, he gave instructions for the continued care of the
injured man – with emphasis on the need for much fluid and a “brisk
purge”. Later, the doc road off with two
bushels of Chapman apples for his trouble.
The family began the long watch to see if
“Lord, I need this man,”
I am here, the Presence whispered.
“I’m grateful that Almon didn’t
shoot me, too,”
On the ninth day after the fall,
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth forever. … the Preacher
Gideon and Mary were in the throes
of their own grief. Their son, Ashbel,
had died of consumption. He was only eighteen. Consumption killed more people
I am here and I love thee, the Presence whispered.
know, she sighed, but I loved
The Presence was quiet.
Consumption is a family disease.
“Please protect my family,” she cried. The Presence didn’t seem to hear.
Ashbel’s brother Lorenzo died the following year, newly married and only twenty-four years old. Sister Louisa, mother of two little boys, succumbed to the same sickness a few months later. The new postal system didn’t seem such a blessing now. News of the deaths arrived quickly. Mary’s handwriting was shaky.
It was 1833, and her own beloved
Charlie, age 25, was coughing. He had been sickly most of the winter. Perhaps
it was just catarrh, the common inflammation of nose and throat. But the cough was deep and rough. A week went
by, then several more. Charlie’s
condition did not improve and, in fact,
Mary Colton almost felt good that
had something concrete to offer her sister-in-law and friend. Mary returned
“In the last stages,” Mary wrote, “to prevent the bones from pricking through the skin, beat up the white of an egg and add two teaspoons of gin, and apply it with an old linen you can discard later.”
It was but a few months when
“Lord, how can this be?” she murmured. Consumption could be a very slow killer, often taking years to destroy the lungs of its victims. It would be a while before this second son would need her constant attention, but she knew in her bones that the horror was about to begin again. “But maybe not,” she hoped aloud.
The mother began to gather what was
needed to prepare her remedies. But she
also purchased a supply of
“Mother, do you really think this is safe?” Almira asked, tasting the elixir with her finger.
“I don’t know,”
The “doctor” had offered the bottle of foul-smelling liquid not only as a “speedy cure” for consumption, but also for such ailments as nervous prostration, general debility, asthma, dyspepsia, serofula, marasmus, paralysis, chronic bronchitis, anemia, chlorosis, and “all disorders of the blood system.”
“Please make it heal my son,” she prayed, as she gave the first dose to the pale young man.
Snake-oil, murmured the Presence, but it will calm his cough.
Parney, this son who did not wish to be a farmer but who had always enjoyed teaching children, soon followed his brother to the grave. He was 33.
Her personal darkness was deepening
and time did not bring relief. Years before,
“At least it isn’t cholera,” a
townswoman offered. “The towns along the
Grief is not judged by numbers, the Voice admonished sadly. You need comfort and rest for yourself.
The Chapman family experienced an unfamiliar isolation during these killing years. Neighbors did not visit nor participate in the laying out of the dead in the same way they might have otherwise done. When a family member died from consumption, the family most often faced the loss alone.
“Surely this misfortune will turn from us soon,” she assured Almon, Marindy, Almira, Harriet and Linus. “We must have faith and we must wait.” And stay away from the ignorant people who live in town, she added silently.
In the spring of each of those
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit,
nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child;
even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
~ 16 ~
The Darkness Deepens
1835 - 1842
She sat to work, eventually penning a letter to her sister-in-law:
My Dear Mary,
I hope that this letter finds you as well as can be expected. It will be some time before either of us will truly be “well.”
I have begun a
project, for which I need your help. It
will be one small way that I can remember the lives of our children, and my
Mary, dear, I would like to stitch four squares, one each for Parlina, Ashbel, Lorenzo and Louisa. I hope this is a proper request, but could you be so kind as to send me a bit of fabric that reminds you of each of them? We are one family and it would please me so much to include them.
Please let me know and God bless you, Gideon and the children.
Love from Your Sister and Friend,
“Bless them and keep them, O Lord,” she prayed as she worked. She was asking for a blessing for her departed loved ones, but also for the quilt squares themselves – that they might be a blessing to others.
will gather thy loved ones together as a hen gathers her chicks under her
wings. I will not forget them, the Presence answered.
While his sister
And thus it was, Gideon, Mary, and
the little ones pulled up stakes and headed for
President John Quincy Adams’ dream
was to tie various sections of the country together through a network of
highways and waterways. He would pay for
the dream through the sale of public lands. The
Gideon wrote to
“Gideon is happy in
“Ask no more of me!” The words were
directed to a Presence she no longer wished to see nor feel. “I will go no further.” The Presence fell strangely silent.
“What have I done wrong?”
Before an answer could materialize, she
received word that Gideon’s second eldest daughter, and
It was not long before Mary Colton
sent her sister-in-law copies of the news reports published when nephews Alonzo
and Theron were killed in two separate construction accidents. Theron had been struck
in the head by a piece of machinery and was unconscious for several days before
he died. Alonzo was killed soon after in
Almira folded the letter she had been reading to her mother. When she looked up, she didn’t recognize the older woman’s face.
“Mother?” she quietly asked. “Mother!” she said a little louder.
After a long while, the stricken woman whispered, “Almira, no more letters.”
The loss of Gideon, Mary and so many
family members sucked
The woman took to her bed, determined
to look into the eyes of the Death Angel. If the Angel took her, too, she would
fight no more.
“Mother, you must eat,” Almira
cajoled. Almira had assumed matriarchal
responsibilities for the family during her mother’s illness. Almira, the daughter who never found a proper
beau, cared for her mother, coaxed her to eat a bit or drink a bit of tea. Nightly, Almira searched through Mrs. Child’s
The Family Nurse, hoping for
suggestions to help her mother.
“Mother, could we make a quilt piece for Uncle Gideon,” Almira ventured.
“No,” was all
“He was a strong, Godly man. We cleared this land together, built a life, raised our children, and tried to do right. Then he falls off a horse and the Lord takes him.” Her eyes filled with tears she did not allow to fall.
Then she spoke of Gideon.
“Accident-prone boy, that Gideon. Had to pray for him night and day just to keep him alive. Hurt his shoulder bad when he marched off to war. Too many children died. Broke his heart. No wonder he gave up.
“A prayer for each of the children, too,” she whispered, as she ran her fingers over pieces and patches of the quilt her mother made and the more recent squares that she had stitched herself.
“There are stories in these old
quilts, Almira.” Her eyes were growing dimmer, but she held tight to the
colored squares and triangles, relating stories of childhoods long ago back in
“You will have to make the one for Gideon and stitch them all together,” she told her daughter.
This was on a good day. On the bad days,
did thou expect life to be? came the Voice.
Thou art born; thou livest one
hundred years; and thou diest. No
challenge in between? Just rest, my
Time passed. Almira, brought out her one black dress, as was the custom in the community and prepared again to enter mourning yet again.
It could become a complicated
process, this mourning. Heavy or deep
mourning, was supposed to last between a year and a day and two years. Deep
mourning was expected after the loss of a spouse or a parent. Both
After deep mourning, came a year or so of full mourning, the main difference being that bereaved women could discard black veils and wear white cuffs with their black dresses. None of this was practical on a farm, but was a consideration when the Chapmans left their home.
The final stage of mourning was six
months of half-mourning, during which women wore black but could accent it with
other muted colors. After
Children over the age of ten years
required from six months to a year in black; children under ten years of age,
from three to six months.
Grandparents were allotted six months and aunts or uncles required three to six months. Cousins or aunts or uncles related by marriage were mourned from six weeks to three months, and friends and more distant relatives warranted a minimum of three weeks.
A sibling – that would be Gideon –
was allotted six to eight months. Add
another six to eight months for Mary and maybe six months each for Theron and
Almira took to wearing a plain, dark dress when she went to town for needed supplies. But not necessarily black, and certainly no veil.
“That’s for city folk,” she said. “Would just get in the way for a farm woman.”
“Perhaps Mother would go out if she could wear a little color,” Harriet commented to her sister Almira. “Her lilac dress is pretty.”
“I do not think it would make any difference,” Almira responded, picking up a kitten. “She won’t wear black and she probably wouldn’t wear lilac either.”
“I do wish there was something I could do for her,” Harriet continued. “But, Almira, I have another problem.”
“What is that?” asked her sister.
“George and I are going to have a child.”
“Oh?” Almira inhaled deeply.
“It will worry Mother terribly.”
“Yes, it will,” Almira agreed.
“The baby isn’t due until November. Maybe we don’t have to tell her just yet,” the young woman ventured.
“No, not yet,” replied Almira.
“I will start knitting some booties tomorrow,” Almira said, attempting a smile. “This family needs a baby.”
“Harriet is pregnant? How did that happen?”
“Mother,” Almira answered. “She and George have been married nearly a year. Wouldn’t a baby be nice for you and me, too?”
“The Angel of Death is still in the neighborhood,” the mother warned and closed her eyes.
Harriet joined her ancestors that winter. She was buried in the Thomas/Chapman cemetery along with her child, not too far from her father and brothers. A stricken but determined Almira began to stitch a quilt square for her sister, until she had to halt. She had spilled enough of her own blood through jabbing her fingers with the needle that she had to discard the material.
The old woman dreamed of little Harriet so many years ago, chasing that year’s crop of “muffs” around the yard and into the barn. All kittens were “muffs” for that tiny soft-hearted girl.
“I caught a muff, Mother,” she would giggle. “There are five tiny muffs in the barn, all different colors. Can I keep this one in the house?”
Her little girl grew up, married,
“One of ol’ Muff’s multiple great,
great, grand kittens, no doubt,” she sighed.
Yes, nearly fifty years ago now,
“And sure enough, there were proper boy cats already here in Otsego county,” she told the kitten in her lap. “And Muff was fruitful and multiplied.”
But not all the kittens survived, the Presence reminded her. There were foxes, and racing wagon wheels, and disease, and even the neighborhood dogs. Some kittens just went missing.
are a cruel and angry God,”
The winter wore on.
“Almira needs me,” he explained to friends. “My mother is ill. My young brother cannot chop enough wood to keep the place warm and tend to the animals by himself. I’ll be there at least through winter. We’ll see about the crops come spring.”
It felt good having her oldest son
home. He reminded her of
The winter passed, the days grew warmer. A bit of green poked up through the muddy ground even before the snow had finished melting.
There must be a new litter or two in
the barn to feed,
“You are ruthless and relentless,” she sighed to the quiet Presence beside her. The Presence was glad to see a little passion well up in the old woman.
Almira opened the oaken chest and took out the quilt squares. Perhaps now she could finish the one for her sister. When it was completed, she turned to work on squares for her aunt and cousins. There had been twelve deaths, and now twelve squares; time to stitch them together.
“This quilt will not be used on a bed,” Almira thought. “It will be displayed on the wall, or used as a comforter for my mother in the evenings.”
“The quilt represents the dead. But what about the living?” she reflected.
Her sister Marindy was married. She, Almira was home, of course. For the moment, Almon was also there, but should his mother no longer need him, he would surely return to the village. Linus, the youngest, had not yet married, but seemed to like that pretty, dark-haired girl at church. Eventually, she would be alone with Linus.
“The farm will go to Linus,”
“Let’s talk to Linus about that,” Almira answered.
Months passed -- Almira in black,
Months turned into a year, then two,
then four. Almira and
“Life is a gift,”
“Yes, grandmother,” came the small, attentive voices of her grandchildren.
“Losing loved ones is the price one pays for growing old,” she said quietly to her daughter across the room.
“I know, Mother,” Almira replied.
As a child and young woman,
“Each life has its own pre-determined number of days,” she said quietly to herself, “and its own pre-determined challenges.” She knew now that she could only walk along side those she loved as they faced their own destiny – assuring them of God’s through her own.
“I have done what I could,” she told the Presence, “and I will not let their memories fade.”
You have done well, came the Whisper.
Gideon lived seventy-four
years. The Presence had protected and
comforted this favorite brother throughout a long life.
Thank you, she whispered.
You are welcome. Now take up your bed and walk.
The Light Returns
1842 - 1860
of spring were now in full bloom. When she awoke, birds chirped outside
“I haven’t heard the birds for a very long time,” she commented to herself. “Yet - there they are.”
The woman dressed, made her bed, and walked to her kitchen. The long malaise had lifted. She smiled at her children and grandchildren as she sliced and fried up a batch of country potatoes. Slipping the potatoes into the oven to keep warm, she took down an old bowl, measured out some flour, and began mixing pancake batter.
With a raised and curious eyebrow, Almira stood aside.
“Almira, where do you keep the maple syrup these days?”
“I’ll get it,” Almira replied.
“Grandmother made breakfast,” one of the little girls reported when Linus and his wife came into the room.
“Grandmother makes wonderful breakfasts,” Linus replied. “Look at the potatoes – and those pancakes, too!”
“It has been seven years of near constant mourning. During those years, I’ve lost my husband, two sons and a daughter. I’ve lost Gideon and Mary, and six nieces and nephews. But I am here.”
That’s right, came the familiar Voice.
“I am 75 years old and, outside of not seeing so well and feeling useless, I’m in pretty good shape.”
That, too, is true.
“What can an old woman – and you have to admit, I am getting up there in years – what can an old woman do to be useful after her children are grown or even dead, her husband and loved ones gone? I can’t read or sew like I did in my youth. My eyes are weak, you know.”
Let’s look around, even with those weak eyes, and see what others are doing, came the Suggestion.
Elihu Phinney’s Otsego Herald had closed its doors in
the early 1840s, but other newspapers sprang up to take its place, including
the Cooperstown Republican & Democrat
and Horace Greeley’s
“So this is really the
“Yes, we now stretch from sea to sea,” her son explained. “The politicians call it our Manifest Destiny.”
“There is a lot of world out there,
“The country has doubled, maybe even
tripled in size since then,” Almon continued.
“First we annexed
“Your second cousins, Gideon’s
grandchildren, are moving west,”
“We’ve got relatives in
The years went by pleasantly, a relief from the years of trouble.
are definitely the matriarch now, the Presence responded. Your
children and grandchildren will learn much from you – even when you least
expect it. But there is a world beyond
Try! the Voice said, more sternly than usual.
“Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” she said aloud. “Do you know Elizabeth Cady Stanton?”
Oh, yes, came the Reply. That woman has a lot of potential. She is planning to re-write my Bible.
that is all right with you? Almira is
very interested in
Elizabeth is doing good work, yes, working on behalf of my daughters as well as my sons.
wants to go to
Perhaps you should go, too, the Thought intruded.
You will be a sensation, came the Answer.
was taken back when her mother not only remembered her conversations about
“You would?” the daughter asked. “It’s a long trip, Mother. We’d have to spend several nights in unfamiliar places.”
would be no easy task to travel the 158 miles to
“Mother, the boat truly is pulled by horses!” Almira exclaimed when they reached the canal dock.
painted so brightly! In this sunshine, I can see the flags flying,”
“That must be the captain?” Almira continued, “The one with the ruffled white shirt and gold chain.”
“That’s him,” Almon agreed. “It’s the steersman and bowsman who do all the work. He’s just there to look pretty.”
Almon helped his mother and sister purchase their tickets and board the boat. For daytime travel, there was a large central cabin furnished with comfortable chairs and reading materials—and carpet! After dinner, the crew would re-arrange the dining room and turn it into sleeping quarters. The area was divided, one-side for the ladies and the other for the gentlemen. A curtain was stretched across the room to make it official. Berths were pulled down out of the walls and lo and behold, the beds were complete with sheets and blankets.
Approaching the captain, Almon said, “Look after my mother, if you would, sir. She is 81 years old, a little blind, and this is her first trip on a packet boat.”
“I imagine it is,” grinned the captain.
“She’s with my sister. She’s not done this before either.”
“How far are they going?” the ruffled one asked.
“Heading for the conference, I imagine.” The captain winked at Almon, and assured him he would look after the women.
Almon took his leave and started home, shaking his head.
“What have I done?” he asked himself. “But they certainly looked happy. Mother has not been so excited in twenty years,” he explained to the horses.
“Neigh,” they responded.
“All any of us really wants is for our children to grow up healthy with an opportunity to live productive and happy lives,” she said. “Men can’t make this happen alone. They never have been able to do it alone. But they have a dickens of a problem asking for help. We need to give them the benefit of our counsel through the vote, whether or not they recognize how much they need us!”
“That was invigorating evening. “They seemed to like what I had to say.”
it ever any other way, laughed the Voice.
You are alive again,
At the close of the conference,
actually saw Frederick Douglass,” Almira bubbled to her mother on the way back
former slave and abolitionist, now lived in
the women retraced their route back to
home, Almira and Lydia began participating in numerous female charitable
societies, one to help the mentally ill, another to fight alcoholism, a third
to provide education for underprivileged young people and, of course, the most
important, the one to abolish slavery.
Whenever a speaker came to the New Lisbon Congregational Church
Missionary Society, one could be sure that Old Lydia Chapman and her daughter
would be in attendance. Later,
One of the heated controversies of the time concerned pre-millennialism and post-millennialism.
Sigh, offered the Presence.
“It all has to do with the second
coming of Christ,”
“Does it matter?” Almira asked innocently.
“Well, if you believe that the world
must deteriorate, even be destroyed, before Christ returns, then there is no
reason to try to improve conditions now.
In fact, you might be tempted to hope for the worst,” her mother
replied. “However, if you think that
Christians are supposed to help usher in the
“I think it is important to look after God’s people and God’s world as He would have us to do, but let Him worry about His heavenly calendar,” Almira offered.
“I think you may be right,”
I do, too, offered the Voice.
“It’s criminal how we treat our criminals,” she exclaimed one evening, “And old Mrs. Cramer is sick. The family cannot keep her safe, yet there is no place for her, no help for them. Why? What should we do? We can do so little. Why does it take so long for anything to get better?”
Time is a process,
nation, very much like the Chapman family, continued to grow and change.
whole continent had been settled, and
hovering attention is sweet,”
I know, murmured the Voice.
early morning sounds of farm life still greeted
“I feel as young as I ever did,” she would assure Almira, “just for shorter and shorter periods of time.” And then she would sleep.
And He Will Send His Angels
With a Loud Trumpet Call
Lydia Colton Chapman died quietly in
March of 1861, at ninety-five years of age. Abraham Lincoln had been elected President of
quota assigned to this state is 17 regiments of 780 men each,” the
She had cared for her family, leaned on the Presence, supported the work of her church and sought the betterment of her community. There would be others to follow her. Now it was time to return to her roots.
In thee, I have been very pleased, murmured the Voice, as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I will gather thy spirit to the spirits of thy ancestors and thy memory will be for a blessing.
Following the burial, the mourners
returned to the home where
“You will teach us about the spinning wheel, yes?” they asked.
“Yes,” their spinster aunt assured them, “I will teach you.”
“And tell us grandmother’s stories hidden in the quilt?” they added.
“Yes,” Almira repeated, pulling her mother’s quilt closer to her and patting her mother’s carved oaken box beside her. Yes, she would be able to tell the stories and even add to them. Later, she would help the girls embroider a mourning memorial in honor of their grandmother, and perhaps a silk wall-hanging with the names of everyone, including marriage dates, birth and death dates. There would be much to do to prepare the young ones to carry on the memories of the family.
Slipping away from the funeral
party, and with the strains of Rock of
Ages still reverberating in his ears, Almon mounted his horse and rode to
the New Lisbon telegraph office where he sent word of his mother’s death to
One of Almon’s telegrams reached
Lydia Ferguson in Altona,
A little she-bear, the elderly Lydia Chapman had mused when she learned the name of the newborn girl. She will protect her cubs.
Lydia Ursula was thirty-two years old and married when her great aunt died. Among the now far-flung extended family, it was Lydia Ursula who felt the winds of heaven open as her great aunt’s spirit left this world. The rains poured out of the sky and rivulets rushed over the black earth between the rows of crops. In town, heavy droplets pounded off the roofs and puddled up in the muddy streets. Lydia Ursula stood on the grass of her Midwestern home and allowed her clothing to be soaked. She knew it would be she who would, with the help of an inexplicable inner Presence, now be the spiritual guide for this family. And she also knew she didn’t have much time to get things in order.
I will be with you, she heard the Voice say. And that is how it was.