The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry. The nephew typed these up in 1900 and inserted some comments.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
November 25, 1899 - Port Henry, N.Y.
"I have often heard Mother speak of old times, and also of her grandparents. They lived in Barre or Athol, Mass., and like their neighbors, in a very primitive manner. Their houses were plain; the kitchen was the living room, and had a fireplace which occupied nearly one side of the room, with a capacity for several large logs. There were no cook stoves; the cooking was done in the fireplace and the baking in a brick oven at the side of the fireplace, made like a closet with shelves. They made a fire in it, and after it was thoroughly heated, it was cleaned out, and bread, pies, beans, and cake were baked to perfection. There was a crane in the fireplace with hooks on which the kettles were hung; a spit for the roasting meats, which had to be turned often; and a bake kettle which was put over ashes and coals drawn out on the hearth, a convenient way of baking biscuits.
I never heard of their having carpets, but as a substitute, after washing their floors, they sanded them and decorated them with a broom, according to their tastes, and could have a new pattern every day. At the same time the sand scoured the floor. I think this is the only labor-saving device I ever heard of their having.
The kitchen was the most important room in the house, and often the only one except an attic where the children slept. There was usually a bed in the kitchen, and sometimes two in the farther corners. No lights were needed when the fire was burning, but they had candles for their lighting. They never let the fire go out in winter, as they had no matches. A settle (a long wooden seat with a high back) beside the fire made a comfortable seat.
The earliest tradition I have from Mother of her family is the marriage of her parents, or a little before. Her father staid (stayed) at home to care for his parents. I think he was the youngest child, and they were aged. At one time he started out to "seek his fortune", and when he bade them goodbye they felt so badly that he put his "bundle" down and staid with them till he was married. She said her father and mother were engaged a long time - her father had provided her "setting-out" which meant furniture for housekeeping, when her older sister, not liking to have her younger sister married first, accepted a man she disliked and married, taking Grandmother's "setting-out" with her; so she had to wait another year.
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.