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.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
" She used to like to work on the farm and, because she did, I tried it also but did not like it much and did not perform my part as well as she did hers. One day we went out to rake after the team and Father thought I did not do very well and asked me if I didn't know anything. I dropped my rake and went to the house and he did not ask me to return. My delight was to get rid of dishwashing and I was always pleased to have to watch the turkeys. I took my book and followed them around.
Ette was fond of work and when 12 years old made herself a calico dress all alone. She taught a private school in Westport and also in Port Henry. I was induced to apply for a school when I was 16 and succeeded in getting it. It was in "Hell's Kitchen," a suburb of Crown Point. I had to be examined for a certificate and as I was still afflicted with bashfulness could hardly answer to the questions and was much disgusted with my sister Addie (Betsy Ann Adelaide) because she answered for me. I was obliged to board around and at one place I slept in the family sitting room with a bed quilt hung for a screen, while the man and his wife occupied the other corner of the room. I lived mostly on pork and potatoes, Johnny-cake and blueberry pies. But the people were kind and simple and did the best they could.
I received the magnificent sum of $1.25 a week besides the privilege of sitting at their table. It has always been a question with me which had the best of the bargain. As I was not much use at home, I think the $1.25 was mostly gain for me. I had at the end of school $17 and bought me a beautiful leghorn bonnet for which I paid $6 and, as it had to be trimmed with something, I bought a twenty-five cent wreath, that being all I could afford as I needed other things. The bonnet was a very fine braid and it came well over my face and also covered my ears and had a cape of the same, and as it lasted me several years and was several times dressed over, it was not so bad an investment. But as the bonnet was the only article of dress that I owned that was nice, it must have been my "crowning glory." I soon began to get other things to correspond and had a complete wardrobe by the time it was worn out.
Sunbonnets were fashionable at this time and hoods also. Hats were worn only by boys. It was also the fashion for girls to wear low-necked dresses and short sleeves and low shoes which were called "buskins". Boys wore coats which came to the waistline and which were called "round-abouts". As what we had was earned, we enjoyed our personal belongings and exchanged with each other, making some new combination which was known only to ourselves."
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.