An American Life



Dianne O’Connell


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 ofLydia encompasses roughly 85 years between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.  Lydia’s story parallels the story of the development of a nation during this period.

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.


Dianne O’Connell

29,300 words



An American Life



Dianne O’Connell



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 ofMassachusetts.  A younger, less exhausted woman perhaps could have recovered from the fever, chills and persistent coughing, but for the already weakened Margaret, it had been a month of steady decline and eventual death.


Lydia prepared her mother’s meals, bathed her mother’s body, and kept her as comfortable as possible.  Muff, the ragamuffin kitten that Gideon had found last summer, served as friend and companion to both mother and daughter during the sickness. 

“A 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?”  Lydia found a bit of milk for the straggly little clump of fur and named it “Muff.”

            “Now look at you,”Lydia had mused at her mother’s bedside.  “You big ol’ cat.  Thank you, Cat, for being so good to Mother.”

            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.

            Lydia, like the attentive cat, would lay her head by her mother’s side and pray that somehow God would spare her.   She sensed a godly Presence, who whispered sadly,

            It’s not to be, myLydia, it’s not to be.

            Margaret had held her daughter’s cool fingers and sighed,

            Thank you,Lydia, thou art so kind.  I will love thee, forever. But now thou must take care of thy father and brothers for me.”

            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.


“Thou must fetch Shiphrah and Puah Wilson for me,”Lydia told her brother that night.  “Tell them Mother has died.  They will know what to do.”

The good maiden sisters had helped her mother whenLydia’s sister Sarah died last year.  Lydia watched as her mother and theWilson women laid out Sarah’s body, washed her, and dressed her in a long white shroud with open back and long sleeves.Lydia’s mother had sewn the garment together quickly.  To begin such a task before her daughter died was unthinkable.  Now, just a year later, this younger daughter would prepare her mother for the burial ground in much the same manner.  ButLydia found a second shroud, one that Margaret had secretly stitched for herself and set aside for her daughter to find. 

“It would be like Mother to spare me this task,”Lydia sighed. “But to stitch one’s own burial shroud...”

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.  Lydia’s eyes and thoughts began to wander.  The apple trees did stand naked from the winter winds, but even now she spied tiny specks of green where each new leaf was tucked away awaiting spring.


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.


Lydia looked up at Samuel and squeezed his hand.  Father and daughter returned to the farmhouse, followed byLydia’s brothers, the preacher, and neighbors.  Women from the church had brought big pots and baskets of food for the gathering, which lasted several hours.  When everyone finally left, there remained food to feed theColton family for several days.  The family was grateful, but also relieved to be alone.


 The man and his sons stood talking outside in the night air.


Lydia sat by herself in the kitchen, staring at the silent spinning wheel next to the large stone fireplace. The fireplace took up an entire wall, with iron pots and ladles and other utensils hanging or sitting to the side of the glowing embers, banked for the night.

Lydia began to weep. She would be terribly lonely without her mother. She never doubted that Margaret was with God, but the question which needed even more sorting out, was, “what will happen toLydia?” 


A farmer’s wife was a hard-working woman, andLydia’s mother had been no different. 


“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.       

So it will be, thoughtLydia.  With her mother gone, it would now fall to the daughter to spin the wool, weave the cloth, plant the seeds, harvest the vegetables, and feed the men.  Lydia glanced outside the window toward the apple trees and the new grave.  Come fall, there would be apples and other fruit and vegetables to gather, sort, and store in the cool, dark root cellar under the house.  Her brothers might help, but they had work of their own to do on this sparse and rockyNew England farm.  YesterdayLydia was still a child; tomorrow she would be the woman of the house.


            Lydia’s brothers came in from the night and quietly climbed the stairs. 


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.


As 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 andLydia, by himself.  EspeciallyLydia.  The girl was an obedient and religious child, but a bit peculiar.  Samuel had named her after his Aunt Lydia.  Both his aunt and his daughter seemed to have special relationships with the Divine, sometimes conversing as if He were there in the room with them.  Young Lydia had never met her aunt, but the similarities were uncanny, thought Samuel. 


“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 withEngland was entering its third year.  Back in the spring of 1775, news arrived of the battles atLexington andConcord, and the bloody battle atBunker Hill.  All able-bodied Massachusetts men between the ages of sixteen and 60 were required to join the colonial militia, but only one in four signed on as Minutemen, vowing to be ready within two minutes if called upon to fight the British. 

Lydia’s father served as such a Minuteman with theBerkshire County militia, marching with eighty of his neighbors toLake Champlain under the command of Colonels Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.  On May 10, 1775, the small force of colonists was able to surprise and capture the British garrison atFort Ticonderoga.  The plan went so beautifully – with no loss of life on either side -- that Samuel was home in five days, while other recruits hauled the booty back toBoston.  It was a “battle” not often repeated in a war which would eventually claim the lives of so many, either in combat, or through disease, even starvation.

The attack onFort Ticonderoga was bloodless, but important nonetheless.       

            “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 toDorchester Heights. The siege ofBoston is broken.  And it was our cannons that done it!”

            “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 that aMassachusetts farmer, turned Militiaman, could handle his rifle.

             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,Lydia’s mother had died and the girl was now the woman of the house.  Neighbors would gather in theColton kitchen to share reports of the war’s progress and the horrible conditions under which the men were fighting.  Lydia busied herself where the men were, eager to over hear the news of the battles. 

            On this particular day, the war was going well for the colonists.  Around the Colton table, the men laughed and sang the new American stanzas to Yankee Doodle Dandy, the British tune first sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled colonialists.  The redcoats were singing a different tune now.

            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'.


            Lydia would serve slices of her mother’s Indian mush “hasty pudding,” a recipe which required cooking corn meal slowly in water until it thickened. The pudding could be eaten hot, in a bowl of milk, or left to cool and solidify.Lydia liked to fry slices of the cold pudding and add maple syrup, molasses, or even salted meat. 

            WhenLydia served the pudding, the men (and boys) thanked the girl and gobbled up all that was offered.         

            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 toLydia one evening. “They love the land and are good farmers.”  

            “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.

            Little sisterLydia busied herself within hearing distance of her brothers, wondering what it would be like to have a young man want to be with her that way.  But she really didn’t know what “that way” meant. 

            “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,Lydia would take out the family Bible stored in the oaken chest her father had built for her mother years ago.  The carved box contained letters and other cherished family memorabilia whichLydia protected as diligently as her mother had before her. 

            “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.

            Lydia would open the Bible and begin her prayer service:

            “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 addressLydia’s bloody choice of words for her prayer. Perhaps the Lord even smiled at the young girl’s budding patriotism. Certainly He looked with favor upon her earnestness.

            Lydia’s brothers participated willingly in this family ritual, but their father sensed that the boys did not quite experience the same feeling of grace and certitude as their sister did when the prayers were completed. 

            “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 ofSaratoga when the British General Burgoyne sur­rendered. He was also one of a detail that carried Benedict Arnold, who was wounded in that battle, on a litter toAlbany. Joseph was with Washington and the Continental Army during the frigid winter atValley Forge, 1777-1778, and was nursed through the rampant influenza in the army hospital that winter. The next summer, he was with General Anthony Wayne at the capture of Stony Point, and during the winter of 1779-1780 was stationed atWest Point.  Yes, Joseph’s father was right, the boy made a good soldier like his grandfather. 

            The young soldier posted a message whenever possible back to the family. Holding each of her brother’s letters tightly within her prayerful hands, sisterLydia kept watch over him, as she implored her God for protection. She would then return the missal to the carved box.

            “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 second.  Lydia prayed as hard for Gideon as she ever had for her older brothers, but Gideon’s service came to an abrupt halt when he took a musket ball in the left arm, rendering the limb nearly useless.  The injury would plague him for the rest of his life. 

            When Gideon returned home from the fighting inNew Jersey,Lydia was his constant nurse and companion, believing it was in some way her spiritual deficiency that allowed Gideon to be injured.  Somehow her protective veil of prayers had let a musket ball through.

            It wasn’t thou, her God whispered gently.

            Lydia wouldn’t hear of it.

            I said, it wasn’t thou, He whispered, decidedly more loudly.

            WhileLydia had not cut off communications with her God, this was one topic which she did not wish to discuss further.  She had somehow failed and to atone she would look after Gideon more carefully in the future.

            The fighting continued until the British were defeated atYorktown in 1781 although the official treaty wasn’t signed until 1783.  

            TheColton men each returned toBerkshire County, but they now knew there were opportunities elsewhere.   Good land was opening up inNew York, for instance, and purchase terms were enticing. Each had seen service in the neighboring state and read with interest the calls for new settlers. After the war, land speculation in westernNew York was rampant.  Lydia listened to the tales of this new frontier with growing excitement – but it would be some time before she could bring others to share her dream.



~ 3 ~


Restless in New England



“Gideon, would there not be great opportunity for a young family if they could purchase good land for little money inNew York?”Lydia asked her brother one morning before breakfast.

            “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 ofLydia’s. “And, then there is Father.  Father can’t handle this farm alone.  He needs us.”

            “Gideon, you’ve said there is little land available here inMassachusetts for new farms and what’s here is worked out,”Lydia pressed on.

            “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,Lydia’s father had acquired nearly one hundred acres ofNew England’s rocky soil and was considered a competent farmer, but none would call him wealthy. He grew a little wheat, rye, maize, and potatoes, which supported his family, as well as two oxen, five cows, two sheep, and six pigs.  Lydia had her vegetable garden and the chickens.  As the boys grew older, they each endeavored to save up to purchase a horse, so now there were five of them on the place.  Old Priscilla, or Prizzy, had been Margaret’s mare, a pretty little colt Samuel had purchased as a present for his wife so many years ago.

“As soon asLydia grows big enough to drive the buggy, Prizzy will be hers,” Samuel told his sons.  And so it was. 

            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, theNew York legislature purchased land from the Onondaga and Cayuga Indian Nations, for the purpose of distributing the land to war veterans.  Before the war, speculators had purchased large tracts in the interior and were now interested in selling off smaller parcels to new immigrants.Lydia wanted to be one of those immigrants.

            “I can both shoot and skin a rabbit,”Lydia reminded her brother. “I can cook it and put it up for winter.  I can card wool, spin it, weave it, and cut out and stitch a new set of britches for you.  Not that I haven’t done it hundreds of times already.  I’d make myself useful to you and Joseph, even Deborah and Rachel.  There is always a need for another pair of woman’s hands around a farm.”

            “Yes,Lydia, if Deborah and I were to migrate west, you would surely come with us,” Gideon answered.  “But I’m not of a mind to go anywhere.  This farm is all I can handle right now.”

It was true.Lydia old friends, Shiphrah and Puah, had completed her education as a late 1700s farm woman. She knew how to preserve foods in ceramic crocks, including potted rabbit and vinegared and salted vegetables.  She had maintained her mother’s patch of flax, harvested the crop, and with the help of Shiphrah, learned to spin the thread on the old spinning wheel. Puah showed her the loom and taught her to weave the thread into linen.  The family’s sheep provided the fleece from which she spun and wove the woolen cloth used to stitch breeches and coats for the menfolk. 

            Father Samuel and Gideon tanned cowhide and deerskin to make leather shoes and leggings for winter.  Lydia could sew in leather, as well.  She was an accomplished young woman.          

            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.     

            Lydia had several reasons for wanting to leave Egremont. 

            “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?”

            Samuel sighed.Lydia was right. It was painfully clear that neither he nor she had met such a man inBerkshire county. 



            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,”Lydia reported a bit breathlessly a few weeks later.  “He wants to ask your permission.  Please say ‘yes’.”

            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.

            “Father, ifLydia does not like Jeremiah after tarrying with him a night, she has no obligation to marry him.”

            “I am more concerned that she might like him,” the father countered.

            The night for bundling was determined.  Lydia washed and tended her hair, and paced throughout the afternoon.  Gideon agreed to spend the day and night with brother Daniel’s family. Samuel spent the day cleaning the barn and chopping a cord of wood, mumbling to himself about women and what fathers should tell their daughters if there were no mother to tell them, whatever it was that they should know.

            Sometimes I, too, wish I could better protect my children from disappointment, worried the Voice.

            “Did you say something?”Lydia asked.


            Lydia dressed and prepared the evening meal.  Samuel would share the meal with his daughter and Jeremiah and then discreetly find something to do outside until it was time to retire.  He had fashioned a board to place inLydia’s bed and left it leaning against the wall, not wanting any more to do with it.  He went back to the kitchen to wait for Jeremiah withLydia.

            It was a long wait.  Father and daughter waited together.  The meal was ruined.  After a while, he andLydia ate a few bites and continued to sit.  Samuel choked back a cough, while tears ran down his daughter’s cheeks.        


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,”Lydia quietly suggested.


            “In the whole ofBerkshire County, there is not a man who would deserve the hand of my daughter,” Samuel had stormed at the time. 

            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 theColton farm and, no  doubt, remain inBerkshire.  Daniel had established himself near his wife’s family in Stockbridge.  Joseph had married sometime back and was “working out” not far from Egremont, and now even Gideon had found young Deborah.  Gideon would not want to work a farm much longer that would eventually be inherited by his brother.

“Joseph and Gideon – and evenLydia – will find their futures elsewhere,” the father ruminated.  “These younger children should head for the dense, unspoiled forests inNew York, the father continued.  “I saw that area during the war, and it was very good.  But I’m too old to make such a move, and besides, I would not leave Margaret.  When I die, I want to be buried beside my wife.”

            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.

            Lydia grieved deeply for her father. It was she again to whom the responsibility fell to prepare a parent for burial.  As they had when her mother died, the local women came, the neighbors were fed, the preacher spoke, and Samuel was laid to rest beside his wife in the burial ground out near the family’s apple trees. 

             As she stood on the same spot under the same sky where she and her father had stood more than a decade before,Lydia prayed for her father’s soul and firmly believing that he and his wife and all their ancestors before them would be reunited in heaven. 

            It works something like that, the Voice allowed, the heavens will be revealed to you more fully in God’s time.

            Lydia was content with the Voice’s words and turned her heart to more earthly matters.

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.

            The girl needs help, the Presence mused.Lydia, gather ye up thy young sisters-in-law.  Convince them first. If thou truly wants to do this, I will send Joseph and Gideon with thee on thy adventure.

            Thinking, perhaps, that the Voice had a good idea,Lydia spoke separately with the young wives, one of whom was now her friend Deborah, making a convincing argument that their families would, indeed, find a Promised Land “way out west inNew York.”     

            And, it would be so.  The young women agreed withLydia that it would be much better if the men, women and children traveled together the coming summer. The sisters-in-law would make this clear to their husbands.         


~ 4 ~


Westward Migration



This is howLydia, along with Joseph and Gideon and their families, joined the great post-Revolution migration of New Englanders who left the comforts of their homes to seek new lives for themselves in the wilds ofNew York and beyond. 

            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 inNew York.

            Lydia’s job was to pack up the household, choosing those items which would be immediately needed in their new surroundings, but leaving much behind.  Her mother’s cast iron spider pan which had seen years of service at the family hearth, the big cooking pot, the griddle and the pewter coffee pot, as well as the new Dutch oven she herself had purchased from the traveling tinker just a couple seasons ago – all these, and accompanying utensils were packed into the farm wagon she would share with Gideon and his wife and baby. Three patchwork quilts made by her mother, three feathered comforters, and the oaken box also found a place.  The butter churn, a wooden bucket, and Gideon’s axes, tools, and farm implements were hung on the sides of the wagon.  The spinning wheel was placed in last.

            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 inNew York.  Chickens would have to be purchased later.   Tables, chairs, and beds were left behind.  They would build new ones when they found a place to settle.

            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 andLydia.  After planning and sorting and packing and repacking, it was decided that they would purchase a horse from brother Samuel and hitch it to a smaller wagon forLydia to carry what could not be fitted into the larger wagons.

            Lydia was delighted.  Now there would be no question whether or not there would be room for one kitten.  She knew it would be risky for the little feline.  She might become frightened and run off.  ButLydia had built a little slat box out of an apple crate for the animal, in hopes that Muff’s offspring would make the trip safely.

            It was not a long trip, by pioneer standards. The little family wagon-train and livestock moved out on a Monday morning, heading west towardOtsego Lake in centralNew York.  The journey was about one hundred thirty miles west, along a road widened and made more passable since the war, and dotted with an occasional roadhouse.  The wagons would make about 15 to 20 miles a day, depending upon the condition of the road.  When it ended, to be replaced by a narrow trail, the travelers would move more slowly.  The trip, they thought, would take about a week; instead, it took two.



~ 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 reachedCooperstown mid-summer 1790 when the settlement numbered thirty-five inhabitants.  New families were welcomed enthusiastically.

            Lydia noticed that the other settlers talked differently from her neighbors back home.  It wasn’t quite so, well, Biblical, she mused.

            I can still understand them, the Presence noted.

            TheColton group found the camp, introduced themselves, and slept.  Next morning, Joseph and Gideon rode into town to visit the local land baron, Judge William Cooper, and were given directions for checking out available acreage.  Plans were made for theColton men to ride out the next day to look things over. After finding a likely site, the men returned to consult with the women. 

            “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 andAlbany was a long way back through the forest.









Early Wilderness Farm:

Taming the Wilds. Engraving from: American Agriculturalist, November (1864)


            Joseph and Rebecca agreed on the land outsideCooperstown and, a few days later, an exuberant Joseph returned to town to put money down on 100 acres of uncut forest.

            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 inCooperstown on June 21, 1791.  The defendants were Abram Norton and John Gardner, both of whom were accused of assaulting Esther Batchelor and holding her prisoner for eight days.  Judge Cooper presided.  Norton and Gardner were found guilty.  Being that there was no jail yet in Cooperstown, the men were publicly whipped, and sent back toAlbany.  Esther returned east, her western experience a disaster.

            Lydia and her sisters-in-law shuddered.  It was not an easy country for women, especially a woman alone.  Lydia was unaware of any such atrocity occurring in her Puritan community back home, but no woman in Egremont would try to live or travel without the protection of a male relative.

            “Thank you, Lord, for giving me Joseph and Gideon,”Lydia prayed.  “This trial has frightened me; I did not know that such a thing could happen.”

            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.

            Lydia was comforted by the words of the Presence and also noted that He was losing His New England accent.  She smiled at the thought and so did He.


            Judge Cooper and his wife, Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper, had brought their children toCooperstown the year previously.  Jamie Cooper was thirteen-month-old, the same age as Joseph and Rebecca Colton’s little son, Sam.  The boys would grow up together until Jamie was sent away to school.

            The Coltons might not have believed it possible when they first arrived in camp, but by 1803, when the boys turned thirteen, the population ofCooperstown would be three hundred and forty-nine citizens. The village would include seventy-four houses, a combination court house-jail, two taverns, several mills, a short-lived brewery, an academy, and a weekly newspaper -- Elihu Phinney's Otsego Herald, a bookstore, a library, and a Masonic lodge.  It was in this year that the young Cooper boy would be sent toNew Haven,Connecticut, where he was enrolled at Yale. 

            TheColton family would hear little of James Fenimore Cooper for several years.  Eventually, he would return toNew York and begin to write.  There was not aColton son for several generations who did not stay up late into the night to read The Last of the Mohicans or the Deerslayer, stories all set in their very ownNew York wilderness.

            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 himself inCooperstown, brother Gideon explored more of the Cooper Patent. Twenty-four miles to the southwest, in the town (ship) of Butternuts, was the littlevillage ofGilbertsville.  Abijah Gilbert first arrived in what was to become Gilbertsville in 1788. After building a cabin, he returned toEngland for his family.  When Gideon, his wife, his sister, and his infant daughter arrived there four years later, a tiny settlement had taken root.

            Lydia was overjoyed. Ah, wilderness.  It was just as she had pictured it; tall stands of undisturbed trees, rolling hills, a creek, and even a gray wolf howling in the distance.  Gray wolves were becoming less familiar inMassachusetts and, while they were no friend to farmers,Lydia loved the sound of this one’s voice.  Her sister-in-law was less exuberant.

            “My dearLydia, my time is coming soon, and I am afraid to birth a child alone in these woods,” her sister-in-law confided.

            Perhaps, it would be best if the women stayed inCooperstown until the baby came.  There was no doctor, but there were other more experienced women, including Joseph’s wife.  Rebecca indicated that they could stay with her while Joseph and Gideon worked on the cabin near Gilbertsville.

            It was arranged.  It was only then thatLydia realized that she, her sisters-in-law and the children would be “without male protection” for several days at a time until the Butternuts cabin was completed.  What to do?

            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 Lydia.  There would be no need to shoot anybody, they were certain, but if it made the women feel more secure, Gideon and Joseph could spare the funds for the extra guns.   And they would only be gone for maybe a week.  The baby wasn’t due for another four.

            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 toCooperstown, stay until the baby arrived, then bring his little family, including his sister, to this goodly place.  He’d continue to work on the cabin and make it into a real house next spring.

            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 asLydia and Rebecca.  His wife Deborah was laying in bed – a tiny baby in her arms.  His bride of only three years had given birth to the couple’s second child while he was away.  Before he returned, childbirth fever had set in.

            Lydia had attended the birth of Joseph’s children and also Gideon’s daughter Perlina.  She had been fortunate, until today she had never witnessed puerperal fever or death by childbirth.  Lydia sat at the bedside of her brother’s wife, who had also been her close friend since childhood.  Gideon shooed the attentive kitten off the bed and held the mother of his daughters.  Once the fever and abdominal pain came, all knew that the new mother was likely to die.  Lydia was horror-stricken.  If there had been a doctor or a barber in the little camp, perhaps leaches could have saved the young woman.  None of the men or women in the room felt competent to cut the young woman’s skin to allow for bleeding – a common treatment for fever, to relieve pressure building up in the patient’s system. 

            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.

            Lydia listened to the Voice and did as she was directed.  Within a few days, her friend’s life on earth ended.  She and the other settler women talked quietly of the medicines their mothers and grandmothers had prepared to treat abdominal stress, bring down fever, and calm delirium.  In the autumn they would collect and dry the herbs that they knew their families would need through the winter.  The men arranged for a burial place overlooking the glimmering, glass-likeLake Otsego.

            Gideon’s 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 herLydia, but little Perlina quickly shortened the name to Ludda. 

            Lydia promised her sister-in-law she would care for Perlina and the newborn, but she wasn’t sure how she would deal with her sense of profound guilt.  It was she who most wanted to “be a pioneer”, not this innocent young woman dying in this tiny cabin outside a godforsaken place calledCooperstown.

            “Lord, Lord, have I made a terrible mistake?  Were we not supposed to come to this place?  My poor Gideon.  My poor little girls,”Lydia cried to her God during the darkness that followed the burial.

            Shush, my child, the Voice responded, be assured that you are where you were destined to be.  I have led you here.   

            Lydia held her brother, his little girl, and the new baby. The father and little girl wept together.  The death of her parents broughtLydia one kind of sorrow; the death of her contemporary overwhelmed her with the realization of her own mortality.

            Lydia sought desperately for a constructive spiritual purpose for her friend’s death, praying that her grief “would never wear off”, so that the young woman would always be remembered.  She prayed about these things deep into the night.           

            My child, you cannot control nor understand everything under the sun, the Presence said quietly.  Comfort  my children. You are there for me.

            The Puritan ministers of her childhood had tried in vain to convinceLydia of her inborn total depravity.  But while she did not suffer from the melancholy of her ancestors regarding human life and death, she still harbored a nagging insecurity about her eventual salvation.  Hers was a theology that continually struggled with the concepts of predestination and free will.  Was it “meant to be”, or would it not have happened if she had just heard the voice of her Lord more clearly.  Or perhaps, she had somehow put her own desires to come west above the well-being of her family and the wishes of her God. 

            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 eventual demise,Lydia began practicing the Calvinistic spiritual exercises of her ancestors, “daily dying.”

            “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. 

            Lydia had known girls who were so deeply afraid of dying and of damnation they could think of little else. As a result, they seemed fearful of life itself.  Lydia loved life and was determined to treat it as her most important gift from God.  Nonetheless, each evening she reviewed the day as if it were her last, gave thanks for it, and entered into sleep with the thought that she might not see the morning. “If I should die before I wake,” she would intone,  “I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

            “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.



~ 7~


On to the Butternuts Valley


            Lydia and Gideon, two babies, and the kitten rode to theButternuts Valley whereLydia would be mistress of a tiny cabin that Gideon had built for his deceased wife.  There was a profound sadness, but also a strong sense of family duty -- she would remain with her brother and care for his home and his babies.Lydia would never abandon Gideon.  And Gideon would always care for his sister.

            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.

            TheButternuts Valley was not devoid of people when the Coltons arrived.  Tiny Gilbertsville was home to a number of families.  They even had a little church.

            “Gideon,”Lydia asked one evening, “what is a Baptist?”

            “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,”Lydia continued.  “Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan.”

            “I’m not arguing,Lydia, I’m just saying they do things differently than we do.  Why do you ask?  Have you met a Baptist?”

            “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 fromRhode Island and notMassachusetts.  But don’t worry; we will find some Congregationalists, too.  I’m sure there are some of us hiding out in the forest someplace.”  Gideon laughed.  “There were some Presbyterians back inCooperstown, I think.”

            “Do not make fun of me, brother,”Lydia responded, “I need to make friends here. But I’ve never met a Baptist before.”

            “We will both make friends,” he assured her, “but Gilbertsville isn’t like a village inNew England. We’ll meet all kinds of people and we can only hope that they will accept us to the same extend that we accept them.”

            Thy brother is a wise man, the Presence smiled.  Thou hast nothing to fear from my Baptists.

            SoGideon, Lydia and his children began their life in theButternuts Valley.


            Lydia remained single.  It was not that she was adverse to men, marriage or motherhood, but she knew she must wait.  The experience with Jeremiah had faded in her memory.  At this point, she just knew that the right man had not shown himself and, in the meantime, these babies needed her care. For now, she told both Gideon and the Divine Presence who stayed near her, she was content.  Gideon assured her that she would always have a place in his home and the Presence assured her that he would let her know when the man and the time were right to leave that home.  

            Years passed.  Gideon enlarged the little cabin into a comfortable two-room dwelling, similar to the homes of other settlers.Lydia furnished her brother’s house, helped him plant the crops, and set about caring for him just as she had back in Egremont.  The nearest village was little Gilbertsville, but twice a year, she and the girls would accompany Gideon back toCooperstown to buy supplies and look around.  Cooperstown was growing into a real community with a general store, printing office, even a rudimentary apothecary shop. 

            Lydia would buy seeds at the general store, look at fabric and cooking utensils and chat with the other women in town.  She also visited the apothecary shop and talked with the druggist and dropped by the Otsego Herald to check on new books.

             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 fromAlbany, following the trees blazed by earlier settlers. He was twenty-one years of age, sturdy, and unafraid of hard work; settler David Thomas hired him as a farm hand almost immediately.  Originally hailing fromBerkshire County,Massachusetts,Israel quickly came to the notice of another family fromBerkshire, the Coltons.

            Lydia was almost thirty years old and her life was about to change dramatically. First, Gideon had purchased two lots in nearbyBurlington for 248 pounds in March.  The lots contained 65 acres, a saw mill, a grist mill, and water rights for the operation of same, even when water was scarce.  Although still engaged in a little farming, Gideon, at heart, was a millwright. Even with his one weak arm, Gideon was becoming a master craftsman, designing and constructing flour mills, wind mills and water mills.        

            His was the trade of an itinerant.  It wasLydia who stayed behind and cared for the two little girls while her brother traveled throughout Otsego and Chenango counties, building mills and arranging for the heavy grindstones and other gear to be to be brought in fromAlbany. 

            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 toScotland, on business. Martin, it was rumored, had not only a beloved wife and children in Chenango, but also possibly a wife and more children back inScotland.      Martin’s daughter Mary was eighteen when she met Gideon.  Gideon was older, becoming financially established and was well-respected.  Her father thought well of him, too. Ludda and Perlina, now four and six, were smiling, well-mannered little girls.   Mary Martin was pleased to become the wife of Gideon Colton.  The Coltons were Congregationalists. Mary was a Scotswoman and a Presbyterian.   But here inNew York, the distinction was minimal.

            Lydia liked Mary Martin well enough, but had her doubts about keeping house for this prospective, much younger sister-in-law. 

            “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.

            Lydia had met the new man fromBerkshire working over at the Thomas place and, at the time, noted that he was possessed of friendly good looks, and seemed strong and polite. He was obviously intelligent and was even attending the organizing meetings for a new Congregational church in the Butternuts area. 

            Lydia remembered the Chapman family back inMassachusetts.  Solid people, she recalled.  Israel was several years younger thanLydia and thus had escaped her father’s gaze when he was surveying the area for prospects for his marriageable daughter.  Time had passed and this boy had grown into a more than acceptable man.   In fact,Lydia realized she found him really quite attractive.

            Lydia prayerfully consulted with the Presence. It became clear that Israel Chapman should woo her, but there was one problem.

            “Gideon’s spending all his time over inChenango County with that young girl,” she complained to the Presence.  “He’s never home.  How can I possibly get a proper introduction to Mr. Chapman without seeming too forward?”  She even found herself talking just a little bit about the nice Mr. Chapman with Perlina.  The six-year-old giggled.Lydia wondered if she had said too much to the child.

            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.  AfterLydia dressed the girls, she took a little extra time with herself.  Young Asa Thomas would be coming by to take the little family back to his parents’ home where the prayer services were being held until the new church could be organized.  Gideon had hired the boy to helpLydia, and it was good to have Asa to hitch up and drive the buggy on a Sunday morning. 

            After the scripture reading and prayers given by Old Mr. Thomas,Lydia joined the women while the men talked of the need for a church building and a preacher and what each of these would likely cost each participating family.  Perlina and Ludda played with the younger Thomas children until it was time to leave.  Lydia was disappointed since she had had no opportunity to speak a word toIsrael.  What’s more, she couldn’t find Asa, and even Perlina seemed to have eluded her watchful eye.

            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.  Lydia’s eyes widened with irritation.  She would have spoken, but Asa continued, “Animals don’t rightly observe the Sabbath, Madam, and my father needs help with Old Sally.  Israel has agreed to drive you and the girls home, if you’d be willing.”

            Lydia stared.  Then regained her composure.

            “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.

            Lydia smiled.

            Perlina giggled.





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.

            Lydia was radiant wheneverIsrael appeared, or even when he was expected to appear.  Gideon loved Mary Martin, so he had some understanding ofLydia’s behavior aroundIsrael, but to see his sister respond to the young man’s attentions in this way, brought back memories and a desire to protect her from disappointment.

            “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 likeIsrael would never even broach the subject,” she added.  “Don’t worry, Gideon.” And she hugged her brother.

            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 sisterLydia.

             “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,Israel.”

            Gideon, Israel andLydia had been instrumental in the establishment of New Lisbon’s new little Congregational church, but like most American couples,Israel andLydia were married by the minister in a simple ceremony at the home of the bride.  It was early May and a very happy Lydia carried a bouquet of spring flowers from her own garden (yes, a small fence had been erected and the results of her continued efforts finally blossomed.)  She wore a new dress she had stitched herself from a lively print fabric purchased during her last visit toCooperstown.

            Here inNew York, the entire neighborhood expected to be invited to such a happy event, and they were. There was feasting and dancing into the night, something a bit foreign to the young couple fromNew England, but enjoyed nonetheless.

             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.

            Lydia was now Mrs. Israel Chapman.

            She had cared for her father’s home, had helped Joseph and Rebecca establish theirs outside ofCooperstown, and had cared for Gideon’s children in what was definitely Gideon’s house.  This Mary Martin was a nice girl and she would care for Perlina and Ludda; they would visit often.  But now, for the first time in her life,Lydia would be wife and mistress of her own household.  She loved Israel Chapman and her heart overflowed with happiness.

            Israel had purchased 100 acres of wilderness, built a log house with the help of relatives and neighbors, and brought his wife to settle down and grow a family. Deer were plentiful, the land provided, and the Lord looked with favor upon them.           

            The first year,Israel cleared a section of his land for the house, a small barn, and a vegetable garden.  He cleared another two acres and planted one in corn and another in wheat.  He andLydia worked together drilling regularly spaced holes in the soil, dropping the corn seed in each hole, and covering each with a mound of soil.  They sowed the wheat by hand and borrowed a neighbor’s harrow to drag across the field to cover the seed.

            “The Lord does the rest,”Israel said as he wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.  And sure enough, the rains came, the sun shined brightly, and the corn grew.  But asIsrael knew, the Lord expected a great deal of assistance during these hot summer months.  The corn itself would take three hoeings –one to kill the weeds, and two others to build up on the soil around each cornstalk. 

            During the hottest and hardest six weeks of mid-summer,Israel would help his neighbors with the hay, and, in turn, they would help him.  Men would show up at a farm before daybreak with scythes in hand. Together they would move across a field, mowing the grass down while it was still wet with dew.  After a noontime supper, they were back in the fields, raking, spreading and turning the cut grass so that it would dry in the sunshine.  The cured hay was then hauled to the barn. 

            When the end of summer came, it was back to the corn and the wheat.Israel had purchased two long handled scythes for making hay.  He now harvested the wheat.  The wheat was dried and thrashed by beating it with a flail and the loose grain and husks were separated by being tossed and sifted in a winnowing basket.  Israel used his corn knife to cut the ears from their stalks.  Later they would be husked and shelled.            

            Lydia gathered a sheaf of corn and a sheaf of their first wheat and hung the bundles inside the cabin by the fireplace.  It was a good first year. Winter came. In the cold monthsIsrael planned to feed the hay to his one horse, four sheep and milk cow He would also cut timber and make repairs around the place.  Lydia would tend to her little klatch of chickens and spin the wool sheared from the four young sheep.  Lydia also came to realize that she was pregnant.


            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 andLydia knew several women with child-birthing experience.  But as the winter wore on, she became more and more trepidatious.  With memories of Deborah’s death re-surfacing in her mind, she made preparations with Mary concerning her care and the care of her newborn should she not survive its birth.

            “You will helpIsrael with the baby?” she asked her friend.  “He would need help, if the fever took me.”

            “Think only sweet, good thoughts,” Mary admonished her. “It’s best for the baby.”

            “I know you are right,”Lydia responded, “but I do worry.  I told you about the herbs and the black oak bark and the paregoric. They are good for fever.  And the wine – the women say that bathing a newborn infant in wine fights disease and makes the baby strong.  I’ve put aside some apple wine for the baby.  You’ll warm it and bath the baby?”

            ‘Yes,” Mary assured her. “I’ll remember the wine.”

            “Here are the flannel blankets and little diapers,” the expectant mother added.

            “Do not worry,Lydia,” Mary assured her.  “When you call the women together for this birth, we will all be here. You and the child will be fine.” 

            Israel andLydia’s first child was born in February 1798.  The delivery went smoothly and the midwife handedLydia a new son wrapped in the blankets she had prepared for him.  He was later bathed in the apple wine, but it was several days before his parents settled on a name.

            “What do you think of Almon?”Lydia asked her sister-in-law.

            “Sounds better thanIsrael or Elijah,” Mary laughed.  “Even better than Gideon, I suppose.  What does it mean?”

            “It’s a river in Roman mythology,”Lydia answered.  Israel found the name in a dictionary when he visited the print shop inCooperstown.  He liked the sound of it – I think I do, too.  We aren’t living inNew England anymore.  Here inNew York, cities are calledRome,Paris,Ithaca, andUtica.  Even New Lisbon is a city inSpain. Maybe our child should have a name fitting the new times.”

            And so it was the wine-dipped baby was christened Almon.

            He’s a fine child, the Voice allowed.  And it is a goodly name,Lydia.

            “Thank you,” was all the new mother could say, as tears of joy welled up in her eyes.  “Thank you.”


            The following spring,Israel bought a nearby, improved farm of about fifty acres and, within two years, he had cleared sixty more. The new acreage had a real apple orchard, with many treets, andLydia, with Almon wrapped tightly to her body, planted strawberries and blueberries near the house.   Wolves and bears were frequent visitors andLydia more than once pulled out the rifle she had purchased back inCooperstown to scare them off.           

            With time, the couple purchased a second cow, separating the milk and selling the cream.  Lydia also made buttermilk, butter and cottage cheese.Israel brought home a couple of piglets one spring, raised them up through the summer, and butchered them in the fall.  NowLydia could cure the hams and bacon, make sausage preserved in grease, liverwurst, head cheese, and render the fat into lard.  Wheat was milled into flour and white corn into corn meal. And then there were the sheep and the wool and the spinning.  It was a busy life.

            Israel andLydia worked together to build the farm, and it was prospering.

            The cash market for farm goods was atAlbany, soIsrael and his neighbors would pack up their produce and drive their livestock to town, following those same blazed trees through the forest that had originally guidedIsrael to the Otsego country.

            Lydia’s herb, root and vegetable gardens were flourishing.  And her flowers were doing well. She loved her life, her husband, and their children who began arriving every two years.


            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.    Lydia andIsrael named their new little daughter, Marindy.

            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 fromNew England, along with persons of many differing religious expressions.Israel became an elder in the new church.  By 1805, a second Congregational Church was established in the Butternuts valley.Lydia attended services faithfully, but kept her father’s counsel, never speaking of her personal conversations with God, outside her closest family.  

            Israel Chapman prospered to the point of replacing his settler cabin with a comfortable farmhouse.  Lydia’s home now boasted wide planked oak floors, a large kitchen, family room and small parlor.  Upstairs, the girls shared one area, the boys another.Israel andLydia had a room to themselves off the parlor.





The Melting Pot

1796 - 1806


            Lydia noticed that both she andIsrael were changing in ways she had not expected.  These New Englanders were becoming more, well, cosmopolitan.  It wasn’t just the Baptists. Here inNew York, folks rubbed shoulders with Yankees, English, French, German, Dutch, Scotch-Irish, as well as Blacks, both free and slave, and the local Indians.Lydia had known Indian families back inMassachusetts, but she had never before met a Dutchman or a Black man.          

            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 newUnited States of America.  

            It was true, many Gilbertsville families worshipped in the Baptist church, but inCooperstown, she met women who were former members of the Church of England (now Episcopalians), Methodists, Presbyterians, and Friends.  Brother Joseph had become a Methodist!

            There is more than one way to me, the Presence assured the maturing woman.  Lydia was certain this was the case, but she was equally certain that she would prefer her own family to worship in the familiar confines of what would always be to her, theFirst Church.

            The Otsego Herald kept the family informed regarding local, national, even international issues. The old printer Elihu Phinney had arrived inCooperstown back in 1795 with his heavy boxes of moveable, lead type and a new flatbed printing press.  Phinney also brought boxes of books and opened a bookstore.  His Otsego Herald soon had a circulation of 800 throughout the area.  The Coltons were, of course, among the paper’s subscribers.

            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 fromCharleston,Philadelphia,Boston andAlbany, as well as dispatches fromLondon,France, andHolland. 

            One week, Phinney’s list of books for sale included a History of South America and Robinson Caruso.

            Reviewing the weekly advertisements, Lydia and Mary learned that William Rensselear’s Cooperstown Dry Goods Store carried Antigua Rum, French Brandy,Lisbon Coffee andHolland powder, along with American hard soap and nails.

            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.

            Lydia and Mary were particularly astonished when they read:

            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 inEgremont,Massachusetts,” a wide-eyedLydia laughed.

            “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,”Lydia replied.

            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.”


Public Notice


            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)

            next month.

                                                                        (signed) Jacob Morris, Butternuts.


            Lydia and Mary pledged to each other to have their own children inoculated.  Their families might suffer the ravages of disease, but that disease would not be small pox.


            John Adams had been elected second president of theUnited States in 1796.  Vice president during General Washington’s administration, Adams, an attorney, was from “back home” inMassachusetts. This pleasedLydia and her family.  They were becoming informed citizens as they watched their new country develop.

            Thomas Jefferson ofVirginia was elected president in 1800.  In 1803, Jefferson purchased theLouisiana territory fromFrance for $15 million and sent Lewis and Clark west to explore the new territory.  In 1808, this third president of theUnited States ended the foreign slave trade, but the institution of slavery itself remained.


            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.”  Lydia was pleased with the animals and warmed by her husband’s neo-classical sense of humor in naming them.

            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 following yearLydia replaced all the straw mattresses in the house with feathered ones and began a campaign to have her parlor walls painted by one of the itinerant decorators who had worked on homes inCooperstown. 

            Lydia had seen a mural in one home depicting scenes from theHawaiian Islands. It was not but a couple of years before the right artisan was identified and commissioned to not only paint the parlor wall murals but also to shellack designs of birds and fruit on the chairs and other pieces of furniture.      

            Lydia had her eye on a set of Blue Willow china which the store inCooperstown had recently stocked.  But this purchase would also have to wait until after the next harvest, she decided.

            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.

            AuntLydia arrived with snake-root and flax seed for tea, along with a little paregoric for the tea.  Mary administered castor oil to the child “to keep him operating freely” and prepared a mild, milk and vegetable diet for the boy. He appeared to begin to recover.

            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 byLydia:

            The boy is with me now. His spirit is healthy and strong. Comfort his parents. They will feel my love through yours.

            Lydia clipped a lock of Allen’s hair to put in a locket for Mary. She then assisted her young sister-in-law with burial preparations. 

            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 andLydia andIsrael planned to enroll Almon, also seven. 

            But after meeting the new schoolmaster, both Mary andLydia were uneasy.   The man seemed tense, even cold.  He did not smile when introduced to the mothers or their sons.  Mary andLydia knew that there would be strict discipline in this school, like any other, but the man’s demeanor was troubling.  Maybe they would just keep Theron and Almon at home for a few weeks to see how the new teacher settled in.

            A flood of emotion filled theColton and Chapman families a short time later when they learned that the teacher had been charged with murder.  The man had flown into a rage during class and whipped a six-year-old girl to death in front of her classmates.  The entire town was stunned and the school was immediately closed.

            Arnold’s was the first murder trial inOtsego County.  He was tried atCooperstown, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.  To the horror of the Coltons and the Chapmans, on the day of the execution,Arnold’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.  He would be sent back toAlbany. When they learned of the decision, the two couples walked to the home of the girl’s parents and sat with them in silence for several hours before the deepening darkness told them it was time to leave.

            Lydia struggled through that night and for days to come.  The man deserved death, but killing him would not bring the little girl back.  Lydia was a Christian. Christ demanded that his followers forgive their enemies. She was not a follower of one of the plain sects, the German Amish or even the English Quakers, neither of whom would even take up arms to defend their families.  CouldLydia ever forgive a man who could kill a child? She shuddered.  Probably not, she realized, but she must release his fate to God. 

            “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.


            Lydia andIsrael lived a fair distance from the school, but Gideon and Mary saw the little building almost daily. For them, it was time to leave the stricken community. Within the year, Gideon moved his family to Sherburne,Chenango County.  There were new babies, Lorenzo in 1807, and Louisa in 1809.  Lydia made the trek from New Lisbon to Sherburne to help her sister-in-law for each lying in and took care of the older children until their mother recovered. 

            In addition to being called as midwife by her sister-in-law, daughters, and nieces,Lydia also set simple fractures, stitched wounds, and prepared the herbal medicines she had learned from her mother, other women and even the druggist inCooperstown.

            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.

            Lydia was also knowledgeable in the use of poultices.  Bark, leaves, blossoms, or seed were stewed in water, or milk, and thickened with crumbs of bread.  When applied to inflamed surfaces, sweet oil or lard was spread to prevent their adhering to the skin.

            Ointments and baths and enemas and blister plasters all were used for various ailments.  Lydia and the other women sometimes prepared their own concoctions but also purchased medications from theCooperstown pharmacist.

            Sometimes the treatments relieved the sufferers, and sometimes not.  Sometimes the patient died.

            At times of death,Lydia also served as the family’s spiritual comforter and guide.  Absorbed as she was in the care of others and solid as she was in her relationship with the Presence, it would later seem strange to the family thatLydia might need their comfort, as well.



~ 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, andLydia andIsrael’s boy, Almon, were fourteen years old at the time, too young to serve.  But Uncle Joseph and his boys Samuel and Simon were all serving in the New York militia, Simon fighting in the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls, Ontario, 250 miles west across the state.         

            “Bring them all home safe,”Lydia prayed, reminded of the days she stayed home inMassachusetts waiting for her father and brothers to return from skirmishes with the British.     

            “Mercy, the bloody British burned President Madison’s House and a good part of the rest ofWashington,” she reported toIsrael. “DollyMadison saved some of the household item,” looking up from the Herald.

            The war raged on – even after the peace treaty was signed.  Communication was so poor that Colonel Jackson’s victory atNew Orleans came two weeks after hostilities were supposed to have ceased.

            “We have won the respect of the British and the world,”Israel told his wife.  “We have fought them twice and beat them both times.”

            “Praise the Lord,”Lydia responded.

            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 Lydia’s mind.  The times were changing, and not for the better.  She remembered back in 1812 when, despite the war, the families gathered in Sherburne for the marriage of her brother Gideon’s eldest daughter, Perlina, then twenty years old, to Deacon Nathaniel Purdy.  Purdy had been a promising young man. The couple was obviously in love, and Gideon was pleased to give his blessing.

            “She sure is a Purdy woman now,” her young husband grinned after the ceremony.

            Even Uncle Joseph and his family came fromCooperstown for the party Gideon threw for the occasion. The family festivities lasted several days.  There was laughing and dancing and great joy.  But the time for joy was coming quickly to a close.




            “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,”Lydia quietly noted.

            Lydia 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.  Lydia’s heart broke for her brother Gideon, for Nathaniel, and for Perlina’s younger sister, Ludda.  She had cared for these two motherless girls during the years before Gideon had wed Mary; they were like her own daughters.  Twenty-two years.  It had been twenty-two years sinceLydia and her brothers had pulled up stakes inMassachusetts and set down new ones in the Otsego wilderness ofNew York.

             New York is no longer wilderness – except in spirit,”Lydia sighed.  “Where is the Spirit now?”

            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 AuntLydia to help birth every two years.  The family rejoiced with each new arrival, and each new child was baptized in the Congregational tradition of the Colton/Chapman Puritan ancestors.

            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 toOhio.

            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 theColton home would be at any one time.

            In 1820, the Chapman household was also at its peak.

            Israel andLydia’s family now included seven children: Almon, Marindy, Parney, Harriet, Almira, Charley, and Linus Noble.  Only little Dorrance had not survived infancy. 

            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.  Israel would watch for the constellation Sirius and proclaim to his children, “See Sirius, that’s the Dog Star. He rises with the sun during the hottest time of year.  The dog days of summer are upon us. And it’s time to ‘make hay while the sun shines.’”

            Be it spring, summer, autumn or winter, as mother of the house,Lydia taught her daughters to bake bread, starting with pouring the grain into a tub, a bushel at a time.  She would fill the tub with water and stir the grain up from the bottom with either her hands or a large stick.  Pouring the water off, she repeated the process until the water flowed clean.  She placed a large sheet on a board, spread the grain out on the sheet,  and set the board out in the sun – this was easier in the summer -- stirring the grain every two or three hours to hasten the drying process. 

            “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 flour,”Lydia would demonstrate. “Pour into the hole a half pint of brewer’s yeast which has been well stirred with a pint of milk-warm water. Stir the liquid in with a spoon until we have a thin batter.”

            NextLydia would sprinkle the batter over with dry flour and cover it with a warm cloth – either sitting the mixture by the fireplace in the winter, or by a sunny window in the summer.  The batter would swell and rise until it formed cracks in the covering of flour.  Lydia would then let one of the girls scatter two tablespoons of fine salt over the rising dough.

            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,Lydia would divide the dough into seven pieces and mold them into loaves.

            “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.

            Lydia used wheat flour for the upper crust for each pie because it was the best.  The bottom crusts were prepared with whatever mixture of rye, barley or oats she had on hand.  She taught the girls to cut each apple in equal slices and to place them carefully in neat, even rows inside each pie.  She watched as they made perfectly spaced pinches in the crust.

            “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,”Lydia would say, “nothing’s likely to change there, just like Missus Wilson’s opinion of foreign missions.”

            At the end of summer,Israel would harvest his crops and take them to market inCooperstown.  When he returned, there was always excitement.

            “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 thevillage ofMorris.

            “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,”Lydia answered.

            “Hold on,”Israel warned.  “Your uncle’s family will be here tomorrow.  We’ll save Fairy Tales for then. And yes, the new Almanack was in, so I got one.”

            In the early years, when theColton children visited the Chapman family,Lydia would take down the old family Bible and read them stories by candlelight during early evening.  Now,Israel had provided something new,Irving’s Sketchbook, a collection of short stories he knew his wife and children would enjoy.  Something else was new, a whale oil lamp.  Night time reading just became easier.

            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 Grimm.  Lydia even had a copy of Aesop’s Fables. 

            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.

                                                                               …the Preacher


            Lydia,” Mary Colton confided to her sister-in-law, “Gideon is determined to move the family to Mendon! That’s 130 miles west of here. The children won’t be able to grow up with their cousins.  We’ll have to make all new friends.  I just don’t want to go.”

            “Why does he want to move now?”Lydia asked.

            “Because there isn’t much call for new mills around here anymore and there is plenty of work out inMonroe County.  Gideon bought some land a while back and went out and built a mill on it. He has that one leased, but says the whole area aroundRochester is booming economically and it’s where we should be,” Mary explained.  “And it’s close to theOhio border.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Theron and Alonzo didn’t eventually move toOhio.  Lots of people are settling there.  But I’m getting to be an old woman.  I want to stay where I’ve raised my family.”

            “I understand,”Lydia responded.  “I would not want to leave New Lisbon either. But we can write. I hear you can get a letter delivered across the state within two weeks.”

            It was 1820, and Mendon was a prosperous area.  Back in 1800, a road had opened fromEast Mendon heading westward.  Since that time there had been a steady migration of settlers passing through from every part ofNew England. As the area became more thickly populated, mills became a great public necessity. A few men, including Gideon, moved to meet the public need.

            “You should consider Mendon, as well,Israel,” Gideon said to his brother-in-law.  “It’s an attractive little town about 15 miles south ofRochester.”

            “No, Gideon, I’m happy right here,”Israel answered.   

            “But Israel, you could get your crops and stock to market a lot quicker being so close to the city.  There is the new canal,Lake Ontario, and rail service now,” Gideon pushed on.

            “I’ve built my farm, established my roots, and pretty much know what is going to happen from day to day, season to season,”Israel responded.  “I am content. Someone has to stay and keep the land producing here in Otsego county. That’s me. How’s Mary doing?” he asked.

            “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 toMonroe County in westernNew York andIsrael andLydia remained inOtsego County.  Lydia was saddened when her brother moved so far and she was equally sad to lose her best friend Mary.  The two families had grown up together and it was like each had lost its better half.

            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,”Lydia sighed.

            No necessarily so, the Presence smiled. They love to be fed and watered.

            Lydia may have been wrong about the emotional life of plants, but she was right about the mail.  First the railroad, then the canal. It was just a couple more years before the national postal system began to really expand.  New roads were built, old ones upgraded, and stagecoach companies competed for mail contracts.  Personal correspondence was but a small part of the business, however. Newspapers, advertising fliers and books took up most of the space. 

            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.  New York farmers were readers.

            And speaking of reading, there was a new author coming to the public’s attention. Gideon remembered the young Jamie Cooper back inCooperstown when the Coltons first arrived and staked their land in the Cooper Patent.  Now Jamie was back inNew York, where he had become a popular author. As new stories were published, Gideon would either purchase copies from one of Phinney’s traveling agents who passed through Mendon, or send for one through the mail. He would first read the tales of Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook himself, and then pass the books on to his sons.  Israel would do the same back in New Lisbon.        

            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 elsewhere inNew York,Pennsylvania, Delaware,New Jersey, even from foreign countries such asIreland andGermany.  The town was bursting with new people – and new ideas.

            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 inNew York State until 1827.  The fight to curb the spread of this “peculiar institution” dominated both local and national news.  In 1819,Missouri had been denied admission to theUnion as a slave state and was not allowed in until Congress passed the Missouri Compromise.  The Compromise provided that Missouri could become a state as long as she was paired withMaine, a free state.  President James Monroe signed the compromise which also barred the spread of slavery north and west of Missouri.  The plan was not good enough for the abolitionists as long as slaves who fled the southern states could still be captured and sent back to their masters.

            My children are slow to do what they know is right, the Presence complained to Lydia.  They are calling these times the second great religious awakening, but many are definitely still asleep – oblivious to the needs of my people.

            Lydia remembered the words of the Presence when she learned of Gideon and Mary’s activities in Mendon.  Gideon being a good Congregationalist, and Mary being an equally good Presbyterian, were firmly in the camp of the abolitionists. At first, they merely made what financial contributions they could to the anti-slavery movement through the church.  The issue did not become a personal one, however, until the family moved to Mendon – a “station” along a branch of the Underground Railroad. 

            ManyMonroe County locations were used as safe-houses to shelter slaves as they moved north to freedom.  Rochester was a haven for free thinkers and abolitionists, and, because of its location onLake Ontario, and therefore its proximity toCanada, the city was a major hub for The Railroad. Dozens of trails wound their way into the city. Escaped slaves usually traveled up throughNaples and then on to Honeoye, but some came through Canandaigua and Mendon.  

             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 atRochester and they’ll be inCanada by morning.”

            Mary Colton knew thatLydia would support their work, but was careful in her letters back to New Lisbon. She did not want to reveal too much, should the communication fall into the wrong hands.

            Lydia prayed for her brother’s safety and well-being, as well as for the Negroes and their families he and Mary were helping reachCanada.


~From Her Perch in New Lisbon~


            “Mary and Gideon seem happy in Mendon,”Lydia reflected one evening in her prayers.  “But I can be aware of, and active in, the world right here from my perch in New Lisbon.”

            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 aNew England rain storm and took shelter under a haystack.  As it would happen, their meeting would have a major impact on Lydia Chapman’s view of the world.  As the rain fell, the young men talked. They determined that when the sun returned they would work to bring the Christian message to people throughout the world, beginning inAsia.  It was out of this Haystack Prayer Meeting that the Congregational Church’s American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was born in 1810.  In 1812, the Congregationalists sent their first five missionaries toIndia.  In 1819, the church began planning its mission work inHawaii.

            Lydia’s little NewLisbon Congregational Church became quite active in its support for the denomination’s Hawaiian missions.  New England clergymen and their wives had sailed fromBoston and arrived in those exotic islands in April 1820.  Soon they began sending information back home.  Lydia was fascinated with the tales of scantily-clad people, volcanoes, brilliantly colored birds and flowers – and the people’s total lack of Christian influence.  Partly out of love for God, and partly out of curiosity about paradise,Lydia was always eager to hear of the progress of God’s work inHawaii.

            That Henry Opukanhaia is a fine man, the Voice allowed one evening duringLydia’s prayer time.  TheSandwich Islands are among My favorite paradises; and there are some problems which your missionaries may help address. I was not pleased, for instance, when they killed and ate Captain Cook. I will bless the missionaries and care for them, but they, too, have a great deal to learn.

            Lydia pondered, not fully understanding what the Voice was sharing with her.  Nonetheless, she continued to pray for the Hawaiian missions and looked forward to news from the islands during church services.



            Religion was a hot topic in westernNew York.  Modern-day prophets of every imaginable bent were actively exhorting people to either renewed faith, or perhaps, a different approach to faith altogether. The next few years would see the emergence of the Mormons, Spiritualists, free thinkers, and utopian communities such as the Shakers – all in westernNew York.  William Miller in 1818 began predicting dates for the Second Coming of Christ.  The dates would come and go for the Millerites, but their faith remained steady.

            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 westernNew York that the area was called the Burnt Over District: there were just no more people to set afire with new conversion experiences – they were all afire already.

            Lydia’s own Congregational Church faced a crisis during this period that resulted in a major split and re-ordering of the church.  The Rev. William Ellery Channing preached a sermon on “Unitarian Christianity” atBaltimore in 1819.  Within six years, the American Unitarian Association was organized, and more than one third of the old Congregational churches went over to the more liberal theology, including many of the early, wealthier congregations. 

            Over the years,Lydia had always been interested in religious and ethical concerns and how best she could serve her Lord.  As a thoughtful woman, she had questioned some of the precepts of her Calvinist heritage, but she had always remained within her church.  She was intrigued with the Unitarians, and sometimes discouraged with the lack of Christian kindness among her own church members.

            “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.


            When inCooperstown one Saturday Lydia purchased a book for her daughters. It was a novel by Catharine Maria Sedgwick called A New-England Tale.  Lydia had heard that the new novelist had been quite critical of the theology and hypocrisy as practiced by some of Calvin’s Elect and she was anxious to read the book herself.  Sure enough, some of Sedgwick’s more Christian characters were Methodists or Quakers. Even Crazy Bet, whose understanding of the Divine Will was outside traditional Calvinist theology, was more spiritual than most.      After finishing the story,Lydia eagerly shared the volume with her three growing daughters Marindy, Harriet and Almira.  They, in turn, to varying degrees, attempted to emulate the honesty and dignity of heroine Jane Elton as they grew into Christian womanhood.

            “Folks can be Christians no matter which of these churches they attend,”Lydia decided.

            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 Cooperstown and Parney got his noggin read,” Charlie laughed.

            “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 the kitchen,”Lydia offered.  “I’d like to study it a bit myself.” 

            “Doesn’t look too promising to me,”Israel winked to his son Almon.

            “Not to me, either,” Almon agreed.


            Lydia andIsrael were proud of their children as they grew into young adulthood.  Lydia was particularly pleased that none of her sons drank – they might have bumps on their heads, but it wasn’t because they had had too much to drink.  Drunkenness was one social ill that brought home horrible memories forLydia.  She knew that all social classes drank heavily at the time, be they farmers, printers, laborers, or canal diggers.

            “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 murderer.  Israel and I – the whole community – were just helpless,”Lydia reminded the Presence, unnecessarily.

             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 bringLydia to her knees.


~15 ~


Hard Times Settle In

1831 – 1835


            In the winter of 1831, Israel Chapman mounted his horse, Pegasus, to ride to thevillage ofNew Lisbon.  Very few people rode albino horses, butIsrael was proud of his.  It wasn’t a particularly bad day, in fact, cold and icy as it was, he looked forward to riding through the crisp February air and gazing at the crystallized trees that made winter in theButternut Valley such an awe-inspiring season.   The errand wasn’t particularly important; to this day the family can’t remember just whyIsrael was on the road to New Lisbon that morning.          

            Israel himself recalled a slight scuffle in the trees to his right before a small doe jumped out and virtually flew before Pegasus’s eyes, a lone wolf close behind.  The whole scene was over in the shake of a lamb’s tail. Pegasus reared, lost his footing, and went down.  Both man and horse suffered broken legs.

            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 figuredIsrael himself could be saved. The father and son weighed the possibility of Almon riding back to the farm to get a wagon versus somehow liftingIsrael up on Arion’s back.  Israel opted for the painful process of getting on the horse.  Using his rifle as a temporary splint, Almon bound it to his father’s leg with strips he was able to cut from Arion’s blanket. Heaving his father up on the horse, the son led man and animal back toward the farm.

            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 NewLisbon.  Get the doctor. 

             Lydia helped her husband into bed and arranged the feathers so that his head and shoulders were elevated. She took a closer look at the leg, bone protruding through the skin about halfway between the knee and the ankle. Almon had already removed the rifle-splint.  Lydia could see that the leg had to be set – the sooner the better.  Calling her younger sons to assist, she determined to gently, but firmly pull the leg straight.

            “Perhaps, a little medicine first?”Israel suggested hopefully.

             “Of course,” she replied, helping him drink a little light broth and tea one of the girls had prepared.  Lydia added a grain of opium. She was glad that on her last trip toCooperstown, she had purchased more than herbs and roots.  She would prepare the opium every six hours for as long as it lasted.

            Israel was calm asLydia and their sons maneuvered his leg into place.  Next, his wife called for hot water and linen with which she washed the opening where the bone had once been.  She dressed the wound and prayed that the bleeding would stop.

            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 ifIsrael would heal.

            “Lord, I need this man,”Lydia prayed. 

            I am here, the Presence whispered.

            At firstIsrael’s leg did seem to be healing. But on the third day,Lydia saw the red line appear beneath his skin.  Husband and wife knew that infection had set in.  They were not surprised when it was followed by fever.Israel grew sicker and weaker.  The man knew that if the doctor were brought back, he would insist upon amputating the leg.  Conflicted, now it appeared thatIsrael had waited too long.

            “I’m grateful that Almon didn’t shoot me, too,”Israel whispered to his wife, with a weak wink and tired smile. “If he had, we wouldn’t have had these few days together.  The Lord has blessed us,Lydia.”

            Israel’s leg was becoming putrid. Taking a breath,Israel sipped a little ofLydia’s tea. “The children are grown. Linus is nineteen this year.  You have been a good wife and we have made a good life. I truly am sorry that I must leave you,” he said quietly. 

            On the ninth day after the fall,Lydia awoke and went to her husband’s side.  She saw a tear in the corner of his eye.   Looking up at her, he whispered, “I love you.”  Lydia squeezed her husband’s hand and pulled it closer to her.  The couple sat wordlessly together for some time.  Then Israel died.

            One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:

            but the earth abideth forever.                             … the Preacher


            Israel was buried in what would become known as the Thomas/Chapman Cemetery near New Lisbon.  Her husband was 55 years old at the time of his death, nine years her junior, yetLydia would outlive him by thirty years. 


            Lydia grieved for her husband, but also worried about herself.  There was so much to do to prepare for spring.  Running a farm was not an easy task for a widow.  Her sons would help, of course, but the prospect of planting and caring for the animals and maintaining the business end of the operation withoutIsrael was daunting.  She wrote her brother and sister-in-law to tell them ofIsrael’s death and her personal worries, but there was little they could do to help or comfort her.

            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 inNew York than any other disease, most frequently striking young adults just entering their prime of life. Her nephew Ashbel’s death and nowIsrael’s would only be the beginning ofLydia’s personal descent into hell.

            I am here and I love thee, the Presence whispered.

            I know, she sighed, but I lovedIsrael. And Mary and Gideon loved Perlina and Ashbel.  Why, Lord, why did you take them so young?

            The Presence was quiet.

            Consumption is a family disease.Lydia knew that it descended upon certain families, but no one knew exactly why.  She took a deep breath and prayed as hard as she ever knew how.

            “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.


            Lydia grieved for her brother and sister-in-law.  To lose three children in such a short time was overwhelming.  But the two contemporaries, who could have helpedLydia in her loss, were deep in their own grief – counting onLydia’s letters of comfort for their own solace. It was not surprising thatLydia was in her kitchen alone when she heard the first cough; her blood stopped cold in her veins. 

            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,Lydia saw for herself that he was spitting up blood with those coughing spells. First the coughing, then the chest pain and night sweats, followed by fever and fatigue.  Lydia knew that Death had come knocking.

            Mary Colton almost felt good that had something concrete to offer her sister-in-law and friend.  Mary returnedLydia’s letters with suggestions that had seemed to bring comfort to her children as they weakened with this dread disease.  Honey and milk was a favorite of Charlie’s.  In the mornings,Lydia would walk with her son in the pine woods, which Mary said was invigorating for consumptive people.  It was, and forLydia, too.  The walks also gave the mother time to be with her young man as they fought the disease together as best they could.  The rest of the family looked on helplessly, knowing thatLydia didn’t want assistance.  She wanted nothing more than to take care of Charlie herself. 

            Lydia compared remedies with other women in the area, especially woman who had lost family members to this dread disease.  The women exchanged herbs and roots and directions for their preparation.  Lydia brewed various teas and decoctions from the leaves of Succory, Slippery Elm, White Horshound, Colt’s Foot and Wild Ginger. Mary sent word that the root of Butterfly Weed had helped Ashbel loosen up his cough.

            “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.”

            Lydia did as her sister-in-law suggested. Charlie’s condition worsened.  He spoke often of Ashbel. The young cousins had grown up together when everyone was still living in theButternuts Valley.   The boys had wanted to farm the land like their fathers and forefathers had before them.  Plowing the fields would not be their fate. Instead, the waiting ground would open up and, much too early, would welcome the young men home.


            It was but a few months whenLydia heard another soft cough. She looked up to see Parney, her next younger son, quietly sneaked out of the house so that his mother would not hear him.  Once outside, he coughed again.  Lydia watched from the window.

            “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 ofWinchester’s Genuine Preparation of the Hypophosphites, the Specific Remedy for Consumption, as advertized in the Otsego Herald, and delivered conveniently to her door by a traveling medicine man.                                                                  

            “Mother, do you really think this is safe?” Almira asked, tasting the elixir with her finger.

            “I don’t know,”Lydia answered truthfully, “but I am afraid not to try.  My herbs and teas did not heal Charlie; perhaps this Winchester Preparation will help Parney.”

            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.


            Lydia had watched both her sons lose weight, become flushed, and “slowly, gracefully fade away.” Death by tuberculosis was often romanticized by writers of the day. One such romanticist wrote that those so dying transcended their corporeal bodies “allowing their immortal souls to shine through.”  Lydia was not moved by the description.

            “My Lord!”Lydia ventured, hoping to hear something reassuring from the Voice.   Her mind felt empty, or perhaps it was just too full.  Whatever the cause, she could hear or feel nothing from the Presence which, or who, had been her internal companion since childhood.

            Her personal darkness was deepening and time did not bring relief. Years before,Lydia had lost a child at birth, little Augustus.  She mourned the infant and felt empty and lonely for weeks.  But she had recovered.  In the past five years, she had lost a husband to gangrene and two sons to consumption, as well as two adult nephews and a niece each of whom she had helped bring into the world. 

            “At least it isn’t cholera,” a townswoman offered.  “The towns along the Erie Canal are being decimated by cholera and that is an ugly, nasty, repulsive death.  Consumption is kinder, except for the cough.”

            Lydia stared at the woman in disbelief.

            Lydia ministered to the living as well as the dying, calming the fears of her children and her children’s children.  When news arrived from Mendon telling her of the deaths of her nieces and nephews, she sent letters of faith and encouragement.  She recognized that while she had lost a husband and two adult sons, her brother had now lost four children.  She grieved heavily for Gideon’s family, but was she not entitled to her to her pain?

            Grief is not judged by numbers, the Voice admonished sadly.  You need comfort and rest for yourself.

            Lydia had held her children tight when their father and brothers died. But there was no one to put their arms aroundLydia now thatIsrael was gone. After saying “good night” to her household,Lydia rocked herself to sleep in the kitchen as the fire burned down to embers – eventually burning out.  Later at night, she would find her way to bed.


            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.

            Lydia was now in her 60s. She kept the house, fed the family and monitored the farm, but inside, she was wounded.  Her anger with her God grew with each burial.  She continued to feel the Presence -- a cold, uncaring sensation.

            I’m beside you,Lydia, the Presence whispered, butLydia either could not, or would not, respond.


            Lydia thought of the Angel of Death that had hovered over the Egyptians, taking the first born of every family.  How they must have waited and prayed that night for the dark angel to move on.  In her case, the wait took several years.  And with each year, her spiritual constitution weakened.

            In the spring of each of those years,Lydia packed a small picnic lunch to take out to the Thomas/Chapman cemetery, where she sat and visited with the spirits ofIsrael and their sons.  She dreamed of her mother and her father, and prayed for each of Gideon’s departed children.  “Pray” might not be quite right word.Lydia remained angry, even during these quiet afternoons.  She could feel the Presence near her, but neither she nor He spoke a word.  Someday, perhaps, she would understand. But she wasn’t going to pretend to now.

            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.

…the Preacher



~ 16 ~


The Darkness Deepens

1835 - 1842


                        Lydia struggled to meet her own expectations.  She was not a weak woman. She would meet her responsibilities.  Her jaw was firmly set in public, but in private, her eyes streamed with silent tears.  She moved through her home seeking some way to honor her husband’s and her children’s lives and also, perhaps, to provide herself reason to get up each morning.  Memories flooded her heart when she touched or smelled clothing her family had worn.  Everything was still there.  Some dirty.  Some clean.  All needed ironing.

            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 belovedIsrael.  You remember the memorial quilt that my mother stitched back before the War?  I have begun something similar, and have already completed squares forIsrael, Charlie and Parney.  I have some ideas for little Dorence who died so long ago, but I have to get new material for him. Charlie, Parney andIsrael’s clothing remains all over the house. This was one way to force me to make selections and put the rest away.

            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,




            Lydia soon received a reply, including a package of multi-colored swatches, each with a note explaining its relationship to each of Mary’s children.  Lydia set about designing and constructing the quilt squares.

            “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.

            Lydia continued to pray, and ever so often the gloom would lift as the Presence watched her work.  She soon recognized that her needlework was a form of prayer itself.

            I will gather thy loved ones together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. I will not forget them, the Presence answered.  Lydia was comforted, at least for a time.

            While his sisterLydia sewed in New Lisbon, Gideon’s response to the years of tragedy was different.  He was tired of Mendon.  Everything reminded him of his children and his inability to protect them from disease or even comfort their mother when they died.  He wanted out.  His oldest sons, Theron and Alonzo, had ventured further west toOhio and, mechanically inclined like their father, found construction work building canals.

            “Land inOhio is cheap,” Gideon told Mary.  “It is likely that Theron and Alonzo will homestead there.  We are old, it is true, but perhaps, we should go, build up a place for the younger children.  No more building mills, just a small farm for the family.” 

            And thus it was, Gideon, Mary, and the little ones pulled up stakes and headed forOhio. 


            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. TheColton men – the father and two adult sons – were among those who purchased sections of the newly opened land, thereby helping to fund the massive public works projects.  They moved their families toMedina County,Ohio, for a fresh beginning.


            Gideon wrote toLydia that Mary and the younger children were doing well.  Gideon’s spirits seemed to be lifting, and he sounded hopeful and excited about what he called “his new plantation.” 

            “Gideon is happy inOhio,” his sister reported to the Presence during her evening prayers.  But the Presence seemed sad. 

            Lydia’s pleasure at her brother’s news of his new life and new plantation soon plunged into ice cold, frozen misery. Word came that Gideon was dead. He was 74 years old.Lydia sank to her knees.  Gideon, the brother whom she had loved most of all, was gone. 


            “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.  Lydia was spiritually alone.  The loss of Gideon shredded her soul. The fears of her childhood flooded back, her brother’s death was an overwhelming personal failure on her part.

            “What have I done wrong?”

             Before an answer could materialize, she received word that Gideon’s second eldest daughter, andLydia’s namesake, had also died.  The Angel of Death was back. 

            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 Indiana, the circumstances never clear.  Mary wrote her friend and sister that she had no idea how she could carry on. She had lost too much.  Then came word that Mary herself was dead.

            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.

            Lydia did not respond.

            After a long while, the stricken woman whispered, “Almira, no more letters.”

            The loss of Gideon, Mary and so many family members suckedLydia into an abyss from which she might not ever emerge.

            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.  Lydia’s sickness was neither the infection that tookIsrael nor the consumption that killed her boys. It certainly wasn’t childbirth fever. Whatever it was,Lydia could not, or would not, leave her bed. Nor could she, or would she, eat.  A dark, thick mist enveloped her mind, and she could not, or would not speak.  Lydia mostly slept, sometimes not.

            “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.  Lydia would try to smile for Almira, but the effort just led to exhaustion and quiet, tearless sobs.

            “Mother, could we make a quilt piece for Uncle Gideon,” Almira ventured.

            “No,” was allLydia could answer. “No quilting.”

            Lydia could no longer see well enough to sew.  She wasn’t blind exactly, but she could no longer thread a needle.Reading, too, had become very difficult. It did not matter. She did not wish to sew or read.

            Lydia’s mind gave her not a moment’s relief from her memories, her sadness, her feeling of being used up.  Mostly, she was silent. When she did speak, she spoke ofIsrael.

            “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 inMassachusetts, as well as here inNew York.

            “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,Lydia just stared.

            What 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, myLydia. It’s time for others to care for thee as thou hast cared for them.  Soon thou will begin to understand.

            Lydia turned her face away, determined not to listen, but the old Biblical cadence of the Voice was reassuring nonetheless.   She felt warmed when she felt the purring of a little six-toed calico cuddled in her lap – almost hearing the Voice in the humming sounds of the small cat. 

            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.  BothLydia and Almira had dressed in black for two years following the death ofIsrael.  In addition to clothing restrictions, there were restrictions on leaving the home for business or participating in social events. The women attempted to follow conventions here, as well, staying as close to home as possible given that they had a farm to run.

            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.  AfterLydia finished the mourning process forIsrael, she began the process for each of the children

            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.  Lydia mourned her sons, nephews and nieces each for a year.

            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 Alonzo?  Lydia’s mind went dark.  The mourning for one family member would be followed immediately by the mourning for the next. Even though she finally rejected the expected attire,Lydia could not emotionally escape the black. 

            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.”

            Lydia’s attitude was, “I’d rather not see anyone at all than to put on that ugly dress ever again.”  She would see no one outside of the immediate family for weeks on end.

            “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?”Lydia asked in disbelief.

            “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.

            Lydia silently cried for her daughter and her daughter’s child and young husband. Only she could hear her own sobs echo from the murky hole where she found herself.  She had hit the bottom of the well.

            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, and died.  Lydia slowly let out her breath and held a kitten close to her heart.

            “One of ol’ Muff’s multiple great, great, grand kittens, no doubt,” she sighed.  Yes, nearly fifty years ago now,Lydia’s kitten had made it toNew York fromMassachusetts in that handmade crate perched on the wagon seat beside her.

            “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.

            “You are a cruel and angry God,”Lydia snapped, putting down the cat. She would not think of the kittens anymore.


            The winter wore on.Otsego County winters had always been cold and deep.  This one was no different.  Almon moved back home to help his mother and sister.  This oldest son was a maker of wagons and preferred to live in the village. But he could build wagons just as easily from his mother’s home, so he returned.  

            “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 ofIsrael.      


            The winter passed, the days grew warmer. A bit of green poked up through the muddy ground even before the snow had finished melting.

             Lydia rocked in the chair Almira had placed near the window.  She watched a mother cat stalk an unsuspecting woodland creature.


            There must be a new litter or two in the barn to feed,Lydia thought.  A few days later, she saw the same old grey cat playing with her furry little brood over by the well, five kittens, all different colors and all enjoying the bugs and bright buds of the approaching summer.  A week later,Lydia could only make out three small balls of fur. 

            “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,”Lydia said, as if hearing her daughter’s thoughts, “as long as he agrees to provide for you.”

            “Let’s talk to Linus about that,” Almira answered.


            Months passed -- Almira in black,Lydia in her everyday calico.  Lydia could not help but think of Harriet each time she saw a kitten tumble and skid across the kitchen floor.   There had been fifty to sixty years worth of kittens – each loving and living life as heartily as it possibly could, for as long as it could.  The old woman cuddled a purring lump of fur in her apron as she watched Almira, this night sitting at the old spinning wheel.   No one had used the old wheel for years, but there she was, spinning.


            Months turned into a year, then two, then four.  Almira andLydia were finally free of the black and crepe.  Linus married the dark-haired girl, and now had two little girls of his own – each one bringing joy to the aging, but healing, woman.

            “Life is a gift,”Lydia offered one afternoon.  “We cannot complain when our gift isn’t as big or as bright as the one given to someone else.  We must be grateful for that which is given to us and to use it well.”

            “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.

            Lydia had outlived nine of her brother’s fourteen children and four of her own. As a child, she’d prayed for each of her brothers back inMassachusetts as they prepared to go off to war.  Her prayers had been in earnest, and the voice of the Presence had been real.  They had been protected; they had been blessed; they had lived their lives and found comfort in the love of God through experiencing the care and compassion of their sister. 

            Lydia was no longer angry.  She had come to flow with the rhythms of life and death around her.  The Voice had not promised her family lives without inconvenience or tragedy, but had rather assured them that He would be there with them as they stood by one another through the trials of living and dying.  They had been faithful, and they had prospered, just as the Puritan ministers of old had promised. 

            As a child and young woman,Lydia had sought to protect her family through her own piety.  But in the end,

            “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.Lydia now recognized that she had often been His instrument for doing so.  Perhaps, the Voice had been faithful after all.

            Thank you, she whispered.

            You are welcome. Now take up your bed and walk.


~ 17~


The Light Returns

1842 - 1860


            Signs of spring were now in full bloom. When she awoke, birds chirped outsideLydia’s window.

            “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.

            “Thank you, dear,”Lydia 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!”

            Lydia smiled.

            It was 1842.  Lydia looked at herself in the mirror and said to the reflected image,

            “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’sNew York Tribune. Almon was reading the Tribune – printed inNew York City.  Lydia looked over her son’s shoulder at a map printed in the paper.

            “So this is really theUnited States?” she asked Almon pointing to the page.. 

            “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, isn’t there?”Lydia commented. “I remember Mr. Jefferson purchasing all this fromFrance,” she added, pointing to the area of theLouisiana Purchase of 1803.

            “The country has doubled, maybe even tripled in size since then,” Almon continued.  “First we annexedTexas, and then we acquired all of this,” running his finger over most of the western part of the continent. “This is the result of the Mexican American War. Now with the organization of theOregon territory, which is all of this up to the Canadian border, we’ve filled in the map.”            It was true, theUnited States of America stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and from theRio Grande north to the Canadian border, which was set at the 49th parallel, as a result of the Oregon Treaty of 1846.

            “Your second cousins, Gideon’s grandchildren, are moving west,”Lydia commented.  “After Theron was killed inOhio, his whole family up and moved toIllinois.”

            “We’ve got relatives inMissouri, andTexas,California, and theOregon Territory,” Almon continued. “There’s a steady stream of people moving west. Someday there will even be a transcontinental railroad.”

            Lydia’s re-emerging interest in the world encouraged similar curiosity in her children and grandchildren.  Almira continued to read to her mother, but as Linus’ daughters grew older, she was pleased to turn over some of this responsibility to them.  Each evening, the youngsters would take turns reading stories from the newspaper to GrandmotherLydia.  Lydia would listen and help them figure out the words and offer proper pronunciations. Then they would talk for a few minutes before the young ones and the old one retired for the night.

            The years went by pleasantly, a relief from the years of trouble.

            “Thank you,”Lydia said time and again, as she watched over her family.

You 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 your family,Lydia.  What is Almira doing these days?

            Lydia looked out the window and watched Almira feeding the chickens and shooing away some playful kittens.   Could she remember what the girl had been talking about recently?

            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.

            “And that is all right with you?  Almira is very interested inStanton.”

            Elizabeth is doing good work, yes, working on behalf of my daughters as well as my sons.

            “Almira wants to go toSeneca Falls.  There will be a big gathering of women there talking about things like women’s suffrage and slavery,”Lydia continued.

            Perhaps you should go, too, the Thought intruded.

            “I am 81!”Lydia replied.

            You will be a sensation, came the Answer.

            Almira was taken back when her mother not only remembered her conversations aboutStanton andSeneca Falls, but declared that she would like to accompany Almira to the meeting.

            “You would?” the daughter asked. “It’s a long trip, Mother. We’d have to spend several nights in unfamiliar places.”

            “Yes, I would,”Lydia stated.  “I’d like to go somewhere and do something important before I die. Yes.”

            It would be no easy task to travel the 158 miles toSeneca Falls.  Lydia had gone no further than Cooperstown since she and her brothers arrived there fromMassachusetts in 1790. Almira had never visited anywhere outside of Otsego and Chenango counties. The women began to make plans. A skeptical Almon eventually agreed to hitch up the wagon and take his sister and mother the 18 miles to Cooperstown, and then the 30 miles north to thevillage ofIlion., located on theErie Canal. The two women would travel by packet boat the remaining 110 miles toSeneca Falls.

            “Mother, the boat truly is pulled by horses!” Almira exclaimed when they reached the canal dock.

            “It’s painted so brightly! In this sunshine, I can see the flags flying,”Lydia answered, “It looks like something out of a fairytale.”

            “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.

            Seneca Falls,” Almira answered.  “And we appreciate my brother’s concern, but my mother and I will do just fine.”

            “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.



            By 1848,Seneca Falls had built a reputation as a center for social and religious reform. Abolition, temperance, and women's rights were all issues guaranteed to spark a lively conversation.  Participants at the conference quickly heard about Almira andLydia, one older woman and one really old woman, who travelled by packet boat from Otsego county to join them.

            Lydia found that the younger women sought her out.  As a woman born prior to the Revolution – a woman of a different time and place who yet supported their efforts – she was both a curiosity and a blessing.  Lydia spoke her mind freely, recalling life on the frontier when first she and her brother Gideon, and then she and her husbandIsrael, worked in tandem to establish a home in the wilderness.  She spoke of the pain of watching loved ones sicken and die, reminding them that such pain was universal among human beings, be they white settlers, Indians or black slaves. 

            “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!”         

            Later that evening,Lydia commented to the Presence,

            “That was invigorating evening. “They seemed to like what I had to say.”

             Was it ever any other way, laughed the Voice.  You are alive again,Lydia.  Live your life well.

            At the close of the conference,Lydia and Almira listened to the final reading of the Declaration of Sentiments and made preparations to return home.

            “We actually saw Frederick Douglass,” Almira bubbled to her mother on the way back toOtsego County.  “He wrote his autobiography a couple of years ago.  I didn’t know he supported women’s rights.”

            Douglass, former slave and abolitionist, now lived inRochester,New York.  He was a sought-after public speaker and editor of The North Star newspaper.  The North Star published an extensive report on the Seneca Falls Conference. Almira purchased the newspaper and read the story aloud to her mother.

            As the women retraced their route back toIlion via canal, they made a pact with one another to support the goals of the conference with as much energy as they had to offer.  When mother and daughter disembarked from the canal boat, Almon found two changed women.

            Once 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,Lydia and the Presence would discuss what had been said late into the night.

            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,”Lydia tried to explain to her daughter.  “Will God’s kingdom of peace come before or after Christ returns?”      

            “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 theKingdom ofGod by working to improve the world, well then, I guess you’d be a post-millennialist.” 

            “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,”Lydia said.

            I do, too, offered the Voice.

            Lydia could sound confident about her beliefs when talking to Almira, but she was more open about her questions and concerns while talking with the Presence.

            “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,Lydia. You and others are my instruments, came the Reply. Build your life and thy community as you would have it be in heaven. Provide for and comfort my people. This is all part of the right time.


            The nation, very much like the Chapman family, continued to grow and change.  Lydia had already experienced the wonders of the canal system, but there was more.New York’s Mohawk and Hudson Railroad had opened in 1823. Now railroad tracks criss-crossed the region.  Plans were already being made for that transcontinental railroad.

            But even now,Lydia or Almon or anyone else could board a train over in Earlville inChenango County, connect with the Rochester and Syracuse Railroad atSyracuse and head on west toOhio, Indiana andIllinois, taking any number of different routes – all by rail. 

            From Chicago, a traveler could change trains and head south toPeoria on the Illinois River Railroad.  Or they might take the new Peoria and Oquawka, soon to be re-named theToledo,Peoria and Western Railroad.  A number ofLydia’s western relations would become railroad men, especially inIllinois. 

            A whole continent had been settled, andColton and Chapman extended family members were among those who followed the roads and the rivers, the canals and the rails across the land to their individual manifest destinies.


            Lydia was pleased that she had lived to see all this.  Her mind was “clear as a bell,” she would tell friends and family, but as she entered her ninth decade on earth, her body didn’t ring like it used to.  Almost totally blind now and very shaky on her legs, she was no longer able to attend church or special lectures.  Almira and Linus were fearful that if she walked too much or was left alone, she might fall and break something significant. 

            “Their hovering attention is sweet,”Lydia sighed to the Presence.  “But it gets tiresome, too.”

            I know, murmured the Voice.

            The early morning sounds of farm life still greetedLydia each day, but within a few hours, the old woman would fade off into a quiet nap.

            “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 theUnited States that fall and was inaugurated March 4.  Lydia would miss the news on April 12 when Confederate soldiers fired upon  Federal troops stationed atFort Sumter,Charleston, South Carolina.  She would not read aboutNew York’s overwhelming response to the new president’s call for troops.


            “The quota assigned to this state is 17 regiments of 780 men each,” theCooperstown Gazette reported April 20, 1861.  New York met her quota.


            Yes, Lydia missed the American Civil War and it was probably best.  She’d prayed her country and her family through the Revolution and again in 1812.  Someone else would have to do the praying from 1861 through 1865.

            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.

            Lydia’s daughter Almira prepared her mother for burial much in the same manner asLydia herself had prepared her mother Margaret some 85 years before.  Almira bathed her mother’s body, softly brushed her thinning, gray hair, and dressed her in clothes befitting her journey.  Almon completed the wooden casket and assisted his sister in placingLydia inside.  Family members and friends arrived at the Chapman home to say prayers and kiss the matriarch goodbye.

            Lydia’s family and community gathered at the New Lisbon Congregational Church, where eldest daughter Marindy’s husband, the Rev. Alexander Canton, delivered a moving eulogy. The mourners prayed the traditional prayers, sang the traditional songs, and processed to the small Thomas/Chapman cemetery whereLydia was buried next to her belovedIsrael and their sons Parney and Charlie, and not far from Harriet and the baby.  A weeping willow was carved into the sandstone marker along with a simple cross.

            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.

            Lydia, settler woman and Christian, found peace as her spirit became one with the Presence.

            Following the burial, the mourners returned to the home whereLydia andIsrael had first cleared the land to establish their farm in the wilderness.  Their youngest son Linus and his wife Polly were now master and mistress of the estate.  With the help of many generous neighbor women, a great feast was laid out and visiting continued late into the evening.  

            Lydia’s young granddaughters sat beside Almira. The old spinning wheel sat in the corner. The cotton mills provided a multitude of fabrics, and the family now wore store-bought clothes. But the little girls remained fascinated by the old wheel.

            “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 relatives inMassachusetts,New York,Ohio andIllinois.  The postal telegraph system was now ten years old. No one knew how they had ever lived without it.          

            One of Almon’s telegrams reached Lydia Ferguson in Altona,Knox County, Illinois.  Lydia was the daughter of Almon’s cousin Theron, the one who had been knocked in the head and killed on a construction site back inOhio. ThisLydia – as was now an almost universal custom – bore a middle name: Ursula.

            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.