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.
This the fourth installment in a series that continues in the Times of Ti the second week of each month.
"The farm was very stoney and hard to cultivate, and all of the help had to be hired, and it made hard work for both Father and Mother, with little return for their labor. Everything was done by hand as machinery for farming had not yet been invented. They mowed the grass with a scythe, threshed the grain with a flail, sowed grain by hand, and used a hoe for exterminating weeds in the fields. Candles and whale oil were now used for lighting purposes. The candles were dipped in the fall to last the season. They prepared sticks long enough to hold a dozen candles, and a frame for holding them. The wick was made double and the sticks ran through. The tallow was melted in hot water and the sticks dipped one after another, then hung in the frame to cool; then the operation was repeated until they had accumulated tallow enough to make them the right size; then they were packed in boxes and economically used.
Wood was plentiful but it was all prepared by the use of an axe only. It made fine chips which fell to my lot to gather. Those which were cut off smoothly were my special treasures, as I liked to have them fit the floor.
Some things which we consider necessaries now were unknown at that time. Napkins were not used, finger bowls unknown. Our forks were two tined, very sharp, and children were not allowed to carry their food to their mouths with them, for fear of hurting their eyes but were told to use their knives instead.
A certain etiquette for children was rigidly enforced. They were not allowed to talk much at table, especially if any older person was talking, or to repeat anything they might hear. They had to keep their arms close to their sides, and sometimes had books placed under the arms to accustom them to hold their arms properly. Children were often told that "children should be seen and not heard" and "little pitchers have big ears". As a consequence of this treatment children were not often seen, or if they were they were very quiet when company came. We had our hiding places. I went behind the stove (instead of the back door? platform, I suppose! Editor) but my older sister was not quite so bold and crawled under the bed where she could "hear and not be seen". We were often spoken of as 'nice children,' so quiet and well behaved, but we made up for it after the company left. It was the custom to go visiting uninvited and it was a great pleasure for us children to look out and see ladies coming with their baskets of work at two o'clock to take tea with Mother. Usually she had to make cake and biscuits after they came. They followed her into the kitchen while she was cooking; and another custom I remember was that no matter how nice the food was, the hostess generally disparaged ir, which called out praises without stint, and they would ask how it was made, lamenting their inability to do as well. While they were visiting with Mother we embraced the opportunity of trying on their bonnets!"
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.