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.
"A man was hired for the winter term, as the large boys only went in winter. In summer a woman was hired as she was considered capable of governing girls and children and she did not expect the same pay. Inconsequence of this arrangement, a scholar was obliged to begin at the beginning of her books every term until the teacher found out how much she knew. One advantage of this system was that we knew quite thoroughly what little we did know. We were able to advance a little every term and, if bright, we were able in the course of time to get to the end of the book. The common English branches only were taught - Reading, Spelling, Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar, and Writing. Later Algebra and Rhetoric were suffered under protest. Quill pens were used and the teacher was expected to make them.
One feature of the schools were the Spelling Schools which were held in the evenings in the school house, the parents attending as spectators. Two bright scholars were selected to choose sides, first one leader choosing a scholar and then the other, alternating until all were chosen. The words were given out by the teacher, going from side to side, and when a word was missed the unlucky one had to sit down and had no further part in the spelling. It continued till all were down or only one left. Often there was a tie.
There were two churches in town, Baptist and Congregational, with meetings in the schoolhouse in the outlying districts, usually a Methodist minister. We attended all of these. The churches were about three miles distant. The preaching as I remember it was rather 'sulphuric.'
Sermons were about an hour long and a service at half-past ten; after that a Sunday School and at one o'clock another service like the one in the morning but no evening service. The large choir was a very important part of the meeting and they so considered themselves. The Methodists were very peculiar in their dress, wearing the plainest clothes and their meeting houses were plain with not even a belfry or a bell.
Every year there were revival meetings in the churches which called out the people for miles around. They were very sensational, especially the Methodists. They shouted, groaned and forced people to come forward to be prayed with and became so wrought up that they would fall, either from exhaustion or for effect. They did some good but often more harm. Sometimes in these meetings, if they persisted in remaining in their seats, they would tell them to go to a warm place.
They used to ask them to speak in meeting. As they were most of them very ignorant, it was very amusing sometimes. As an instance, one woman who was converted every year, having become a backslider as she said, between times, got up and said she 'had served the Devil as many years as she was old and she meant to serve the lord the rest of the time.' Her oldest child made the same resolve, then each one in turn till the last one, who said: 'he had served the Lord ten years and meant to serve the Devil the rest of the time.' The only one who lived up to his profession. The others were the Camp Meetings which were very sensational and where the roughest element went and carried on all sorts of iniquity on the outskirts. They began by righting people; and I do not remember the love of God preached much."
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.