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.
“At another time she was very desirous of helping him and he told her she might stand in the cornfield and wave her arms and be a scarecrow and she thought it would be great fun. She went to the cornfield and he thought no more about her until she failed to come to dinner. They began looking for her and Father remembered about it and went to look for her and found her still there waving her arms. He gave her turpentine sometimes for medicine. He would motion her to come with him so Mother would not see them and tell her to eat a lump of sugar and not tell Mother. To eat it quick. When she tasted it, she exclaimed it was all turpentine. He was surprised and gave her a good one.
When Father went to town one day, Em wanted him to bring her a new dress with birds on it. He promised to do so and when he came home she was greatly disappointed because it had only bunches of flowers. She began to cry and said, “Father you promised to get me a dress with birds on it.” He said he had. She said she couldn’t see them and he told her they were behind the bushes. She believed him and went to school and showed the girls her dress with birds on it and because they did not believe it, she was very indignant and said there were “for Father said so”. She was very kind-hearted and did not like to have anyone feel uncomfortable and if Addie snubbed anyone, as she did sometimes, she tried to make it up to them. When Addie refused to be kissed and resisted, Em smiled on him and submitted to be kissed - not because she like to be kissed but she felt sorry for him.
A young man came to town with whom she fell desperately in love but she was not noticed at all by him, he being at the age when aspired to older company. When he was inflicting his attentions on her older sister, she was worshiping him in silence. One day he expectorated and she stopped to admire it. She also tried to have an affection for his disagreeable sister but alas for the constancy of woman! When he returned after a few years, a widower, she would have “none of him” although he sought her.
As you have already perceived, she was very credulous and has always continued so. She was always the victim of John’s (her brother) practical jokes. One Christmas she received a package which was wound up in several wrappings of paper and, when she at last reached the treasure, she was disgusted but consoled herself that she had got so much string. She would become very angry with John because he teased her and as soon as he had started to go to the office would call him back to kiss him, fearing something would happen to him before she forgave him. He, one time gave her and the maid a dollar to divide if they would kiss Mr. Spencer (Note: I think this was John’s father-in-law) and gave Em a counterfeit to be changed, thinking no one would change it for her, but it was not detected and she came home with two half-dollars of good money and he hastened to redeem it. He did not mean to give them the money but play a joke on them, which was on the other side this time.
Tommy was five years younger than Em (seven years younger than Addie and twelve years younger than Aunt Ell) and a great pet. He was small, with black hair and eyes and very red cheeks. He was very active and kept his mother and six sisters busy caring for him and keeping him out of mischief. He walked when he was eight months old, having been exercised by jumping in the spring pole. He was very mischievous and destructive. He delighted in upsetting flower-pots, pulling the knitting needles out of the work, punching holes in cellar windows and in such-like performances. When reproved for breaking anything, he said he wanted to see how it was made. He early developed a genius for machinery and preferred to spend an evening in the engine house at the furnace to going to any other sort of entertainment. (NB: This was after the family had moved from Crown Point to Port Henry). And when he sometimes stayed longer than he intended, Mother became so alarmed about him that I have been called up at midnight to go with her to find him. When nearly at the furnace, we heard him running home because he was so late and he was intensely disgusted to have us go for him. I think it was unnecessary to have been so alarmed about him because he was really storing knowledge for his chosen profession.”