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Genealogy: Family Histories : Weaver Family Index

"Memories of Early Days"


Melinda Ann Warren Weaver

Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875

Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 03/03/2005

Life of an Early Settler

        It took a long time though for us to get the comforts and conveniences for ourselves and families that we had been used to having, and were anxious to have and were striving hard to obtain, but we all knew how every other family was situated, and our circumstances were so nearly alike that we knew how to feel for each other. Every one that came and had a little money, even a hundred or two, or even a thousand dollars, if they had much of a family to provide for, and lived as economically as they could, were obliged to use all of their money to live before their land came into market, and it came into market before they could raise enough to live on and save any money to pay for their land, and the only way that we could so when the land was brought in the market, (which was about three years after we settled on it), was for each settler to make his appearance at the land office at a stated time and swear it out of market, as they were allowed the privilege of doing by making oath that they were improving  and doing all they could on the land for the purpose of making comfortable homes for their families, and not for speculation. Then it was reserved for the time, and neither speculators or any one else could buy it. But when it should be again brought into market they would be liable to lose their improvements, and no one could afford that. I was indeed all that any of us could do to live and get along by practicing the most rigid economy and working hard until we could raise something on the land. We raised no crops at all the first year, not any of us in our neighborhood, except a little garden sauce on small patches of ground that was dug with a spade, and that was not much - I just now call to mind that four of our men joined hands and prepared a piece of ground, when it was too late in the season for anything else to grow and mature, and sowed some turnip seed, and they grew, so that we had about a dozen bushels each, for four families, and not having any potatoes for the winter we expected that we should get tired of them, but we did not; they kept good, and the last were as good as the first.

    We had not much of a variety of living that winter of 1837 or the next summer of 1838, but we had sufficient to keep us from starving or hunger of such as it was. We managed to have plenty of bread although flour was still very dear, and meat, buying in Milwaukee and using some game, such as rabbits and squirrels, prairie hens, ducks, and venison occasionally. Sometimes our men would, or some of them, would go out and kill a deer and divide it with their neighbors, and sometimes we would buy some of the Indians, or swap, as they would say, a bread or flour, and so we would sometimes change with them, and get along with them the best we could, but we had to take extra pains to clean the meat by soaking it in salt water and scraping it with a knife, and sometimes had to pare off some of it before we thought that we could relish it; but after all we would make it palatable in one way or another, and sometimes it would happen that we would be very glad to the Indians bring along some meat although we had so much trouble with it in getting it fit for use.

    As for fruit, it was but little that we used in those days, except wild plums and crap apples and to make them palatable and fit for use. It took much sugar, and a little more than we were really ready to buy in those days that recalled hard times. We bought dried fruit when it was within our reach - that is, when our small means would allow us to buy it, besides the more necessary articles of food. We had to study and learn economy, and we found it as economical to buy dried fruit, and sugar sweeten it, as to use wild fruit that could get plenty of in the season without buying.

    Our men had been hoping to be able to raise some corn, oats, buckwheat and potatoes, but alas their hopes and expectations failed, and by the time that they were ready to commence breaking the ground their oxen were nearly all of them taken sick and were not able to work, until it
was too late to plow and sow and expect a crop of anything from either sowing or plowing. Then it was that it began to look as if we must see hard times, for we should have everything to buy for another year. How, or in what way we should be able to buy what we should need, we did not know, for our money was nearly gone, but thanks to our all wise Creator and benefactor, in whose kind care and keeping we committed ourselves, and in whom we placed our confidence, and were never forsaken, but were always provided, for our neighbors were very kind as a general thing and willing to accommodate and necessary to borrow at times, and if we had not been kind and neighborly to each other we should have faced harder than we did. We have had a barrel of flour brought in sometimes, and have lent it all out in one day, except what we used for baking. We never suffered on account of it, for if it did not all come back before we needed it, we could borrow of some one else. Sometimes when one had a barrel brought in, we have had to pay out the half of it, where we had borrowed, and just the same with other things.

    While the oxen were unable to work that spring, (1837), my husband dug some ground with a spade to make a small garden, and hearing that a schooner loaded with potatoes had come to Milwaukee, he walked in, brought them home on his back, eighteen miles. He went in one day and came home the next, and was about tired out. He said it seemed as if he had come to Wisconsin to be a pack horse, or to take the place of one. It would seem to some people in these times, as if they could scarcely believe that potatoes were sold at five dollars a bushel in Wisconsin. But it was so at that time, and the merchants could and did extort just such exorbitant prices for everything that came into their hands that they knew the settlers most needed. But no one would buy more than one bushel of potatoes at five dollars a bushel and some would buy only a peck at that time. Those who did buy a few would calculate to save what they could raise from the few that they planted for seed the next year, if they should succeed in raising any.

    It was with the potatoes the same as with the grains of all kinds. By the time that farmers could raise grain and have any to sell, it would fetch scarcely enough to pay them for their time that they spent to get it ready for sale and taking it to market. In many cases it did not come anywhere near paying them, but they were obliged to put up with it, with the best grace that they could, for the merchants had their own way, paid their own price for produce, and that was very low, governed by nothing but their own greedy dispositions and self will. If this seems to be a hard expression, it is nevertheless true. It is an old saying, and a very true one, that the truth should not be spoken at all times, but there are times when we feel that it is necessary to speak the truth loudly and boldly, although it may be much more strange than fiction.

    Well, I have wandered far away from the story of the half bushel of potatoes that my husband, John Weaver, or Uncle John, as he has been familiarly called by almost all acquainted with him, as well as by his relatives and connections, which are numerous. The potatoes were planted, except a meal or two, which we could not forgo the pleasure of eating, having been without any vegetables for nearly three months, and they were quite a luxury at the time, dearly bought, and far fetched. I suppose that some people who read this simple narrative will laugh at the potato story, and some others that might with the truth be told, but not if they had been just there and then, and situated as we fear settlers were.

    That was a backward spring, and the potato seed (as well as a few other seeds that we planted and sowed) laid in the ground a long time. When they showed themselves above ground they were kindly cared for, thinking so saved them all for seed for the next year if they should mature. But my husband was taken sick and not able to work for several days, and had no appetite for anything that I could prepare for him. One day he said he wished the potatoes were forward enough to dig. He believed that he could relish them. I told him that I wished they were, and said no more but stole out slyly into the garden, and with the help of a knife, I opened a hill and found two potatoes about the size of a small butternut and several smaller ones, that were about the size of a hazel nut, and some the size of a pea. I took the two largest and mending the hill as
well as I could, and then served two or three more hills in the same way; then went and watered the hills well that I had robbed. The next thing was to clean and cook these small potatoes for a sick man, and when cooked he ate them with relish as I have never seen him enjoy before or since. When he had eaten them he said he believed they were just what he needed, for he felt better already. The next day he wanted more and I robbed other hills in the same way until I had gone over the small patch of small potatoes which did not take long, when it was visited every day, and by that time he was able to go to work again and had a good appetite.

    He said the potatoes had cured him and that he was partly paid for lugging them so far on is back and shoulders. I was afraid that I had spoiled the potatoes or injured them so that they would not grow any more, but concluded that they had done a good deal of service already, and perhaps when it was most needed. But our potatoes did not fall as did nearly all of our expectations. That summer there was rain enough to keep the ground moist, and they grew finely. We could not tell how many there were of them, how much they would measure or weigh, but they were very fine, good sized, as many in the hills as we should have expected. If we had only dug them once, we thought that they were too good to keep after all, and when they were better fit for use as we thought we used them occasionally, until they were gone and did not save them for seed as we intended, but risked the chance of getting seed before we should
need it. After a while our turnips were ready, and toward spring, before they were gone, we had a chance to buy potatoes enough for seed and plenty for use, as long as they would keep good and we had a fine crop from seed.

    We got through the winter of 1837 and '38 better than we expected, considering the disappointment and failure not being able to raise anything of any account except our poor little garden that year, and that was a little indeed. But one managed to get bread and meat, and a few groceries. Toward spring Mr. Elliott and my husband had a chance to take a job of cutting logs and splitting them into rails. They had to go about nine miles into the timber toward Milwaukee, and take their provisions with them for a week, or from Monday morning till Saturday night. They would come home Saturday night and go back on Monday again with their week's provisions, week after week, until they had finished their job. We cooked their provisions at home, except their tea and coffee, which they had with two young men that lived in a cabin and
cooked for themselves, and who very kindly gave them such accommodations as they had.

    They cut and split the rails for fifty cents a hundred, and had to take their pay at a provision store in Milwaukee, and had to go or send by someone else to get it. Sometimes they would send by neighbors, who had to go for themselves and brought some provisions according as they earned it, and must have it. But there were five weeks in succession during the time they were at their job, that the road was so bad that teams could scarcely get through to Milwaukee. When they did they could not bring much of a load. Our two men had to quit their work every
Friday afternoon, soon enough to walk into Milwaukee. They could stay over night and start as early as they could get away in the morning, with as much flour and meat (with a few other necessary things) as they could carry, and back their load all the way home, eighteen miles to our place and a mile farther to Mr. Elliott's.

    It would be night and they would be tired out, and while they were resting on Sunday, we had to cook their week's rations for them to take back with them when they went back to their work on Monday, and at the end of the week the same process had to be repeated - that long
wearisome walk with their back loads of provisions to keep us from starving at home and themselves in condition to work and earn more. What was worse and very mortifying to their feelings, one of those five times that they had to back their loads home, they went on Friday as usual, and when they got there, there were no provisions for them. The man they worked for was gone from home, and there was nothing in store for them, but they were told by the clerk, that they were expecting a vessel to come in that day but had not got in yet. It was loaded with provisions and they thought that it would be in that night, or early in the morning, so that they could have something to take home with them. But morning came, and there was no vessel in sight, and they walked as long as they thought it would do to walk, and have to get home that night, as it was Saturday, and they expected that they should be nearly, if not quite out of the requisite for cooking at home, and they supposed that our neighbors were nearly if not quite as needful as we were. For that reason they did not like to go home without anything and risk the chance of borrowing for fear of distressing the neighbors knowing that they would lend as long as they had enough of anything to divide. They knew not what to do. They had not money to go to any other store, and they could not get an order, as the head man was not at home. The clerk did not like to take the responsibility upon himself of giving an order.

    While they were talking and considering as to what they should do, a friend came to them, and to him they told of their dilemma; and he advised them to go to the store of Messrs Brown & Miller, where there was plenty of provisions in store for any one that needed it and had no
money to buy. But they thought that looked to much like begging, but he persuaded them and said that it was no disgrace to, and they would never be thought the less for it. His advice was that they should dispense with all feelings of pride or that source, and he thought they might think it a privilege to have such a place to go when it was impossible to get what was their due and the friend went with them, stated their case to those gentlemen, and they told them to come forward and have what they wanted of such as they had in store, and as much as they could
carry, and they would be welcome to it. They expressed their thankfulness, but told them that they did not come to beg, and would pay for what they got as soon as they could. They said, "we will not take pay if you do bring it; our instructions are to give to those who need, and not to see. When you are able, and see an opportunity to assist others, do so; that is all the pay that will ever be required of you. Now, would you like to have some garden seeds," they said, and they gave them of all kinds they had in their store. They came home in the evening very tired and ready for their supper, which I had ready and waiting for them. They were more cheerful than might have been expected, after all that had happened to them since they left home.

    On Monday morning, as tired as they were, they told me of their trial and disappointment, and the kindness they had received, in what way they had been supplied with necessaries of life, and all the particulars. And furthermore, that they did not expect to find any bread in either of
their houses, until we could bake something from the flour that they brought. Then I had to tell them how and in what way I had been supplied. Three of our neighbors had joined teams, and had been to town, with only one wagon, and brought some flour and meat and a few groceries
and by that means I had been supplied, for they returned things that we had lent. Then our men said they would never feel discouraged again unless something worse should happen, for there had always been some way provided for us, and that they would place their trust and confidence in the Almighty and Supreme Being, the author and giver of every good and
perfect gift, and try to feel truly thankful for every blessing received, and humbly hoped that they should never have reasons to feel themselves in such straights again. I am happy to say that they never had occasion to fear again, that they might go home and find nothing to satisfy their cravings of nature. Although they had not ever found their houses quite empty and destitute of food, they feared at that time that they should when they could not get what was their due.

    I suppose I might as well tell how Messrs Brown & Miller came by the stores they gave out. They were provided by a contribution of money from those who were called the head men of Milwaukee at the time; influential men. Those who had contributed hundreds of dollars at the time of elections and town meetings, to buy wine and other strong drink, to give away on those days, and afterwards, if it was not all used or thrown away on those days, was to be thus used. I should say just here, and now, as I said then, that it had been better thrown away on that day, as
some of it was, when men (so called) would allow themselves to draw a hand sled, or a little had wagon around the streets, with a hogshead of wine on it, and one head taken out and a large dipper to dip it out and drink from, which caused rioting, drunkenness, quarreling, fighting,
exposure and sickness, by some of them laying out and taking cold when they were intoxicated, and could not get home before they fell, when no one happened to see them and lead them home - a sorrowful sight for parents or children. There were some of the higher grade gentlemen, as
they were called, those who thought a good deal of themselves, and were well thought of and highly respected by some that let themselves down as low as the lowest, on those occasions of drinking and carousing at election times, which was not considered a very good example for them to set, for them that they called the lower class, and who were looking to them for example.

    As I did not intend to give a lecture just here and now, I will say that a better thought took possession of the minds of the monied men, and they contributed as usual, but for a different purpose, and it was generally conceded a better one - that of supplying the needy with food - for which we had reasons to be thankful, as well as some others. We felt thankful for others as well as for ourselves.

    And when our men had finished their job rail splitting they stayed at home for a while, and my husband went to do some fencing, and try again to get some seed into the ground, and if possible raise something to help feed the family the next winter, and not to have quite everything to buy. He, as well as some other neighbors, broke some ground the fall before. After their oxen had recovered from their sickness, although some of them had died, so that they were not so well off for teams as they expected to be, and no one in the neighborhood had a team of horses, or even one horse; neither would horses have of much use to them, if they had, certainly not to work the land. 

    There was so much sickness and so many deaths among the cattle in the spring and summer of 1837,  that neighbors were but poorly supplied with teams to do their work. There were a number of men who owned a yoke of oxen each, but with some one yoke was owned by two men. Three yoke of ox were owned by two men and it always took four yoke to break the ground on prairie land or oak openings, so they had to join hands and teams, and help each other the best they could, on what ground they had broken in the spring. Our men planted corn, potatoes and beans, and sowed oats and buckwheat, but no wheat that season, because they could not break ground enough and fit it for sowing spring wheat. But we had quite good gardens and everything that we had on the ground came forward and was much better than we expected. When fall came and our crops had matured, when my husband had made his garden and sowed and planted what ground he could get prepared, he and Mr. Elliott went to Prairieville, as the small settlement on the prairie eight miles from us was then called. The year before there were three houses there, and a few more settlers had come since. They were about to build a mill there that summer, and our men went to work digging the mill race, burning lime, doing mason
work, and such other work as they could do.

    And in the meantime, Mrs. Elliott [nee Lucy Transit] and her two little boys that were with her at home, the one eleven [George, Jr.] and the other nine years old [name unknown], went to work with some iron implements that were made for the purpose with handles of wood, and broke and dug the ground by hand, on which they raised the potatoes for their use that year, and a fine little piece of corn to help to bread the family and not to have to buy so much as they had done. They had no team, and Mr. Elliott went from home to work, when he could get anything to do and was able to work. But he was not a very healthy man. Mrs. Elliott was healthier than he was. She had seven in her family to do for, when her husband was away, and no daughter at home old enough to help her. Their oldest daughter [Mary or Harriet; George's daughter, Caroline with first wife Charlotte Weaver would have been about 17 yrs old in 1837. According to family records, Caroline died August 10, 1837 in the town of Lisbon] was with me to take care of the garden and to do such other work as she was able to do. Mrs. Elliott did her work for her family housework, sewing, etc. and with the help of those two little boys, broke by hand the first three acres of ground that they had broken in the Town of
Lisbon, county of Waukesha, and state of Wisconsin. A part of it was done in the spring of 1838, and the remainder was done the next spring. It was hard work for the mother, very hard, but not so hard for the boys. They did not mind it; but for fear that it might be too hard for them, she would, after doing her morning work, with the little assistance that they could give her; go out with them, and measure off a portion of ground, and tell them that was their forenoon work, and when they had finished that they could rest a while, and then go to play for a while if they felt disposed to do so. If she saw that they were working too hard, she would have them stop and rest before they finished the work she had laid out for them. At the same time she would measure a portion for herself, larger than theirs, and when she had finished she had to go in and get dinner for the family and herself. She would be so tired that she would have to lay down and rest a spell before she could get it, but the boys always had a play spell. After their rest, and they enjoyed it heartily, she was satisfied that they were not being hurt by work, then after dinner the same, and so day after day, except Sundays, until they got through with the season.

    It is with feelings of love and respect that I make such particular mention of this family. We had been acquainted with them for several years in the state of New York, always on terms of intimacy and good will towards each other. My husband and his relatives had been acquainted with them in England and always respected them and knew they were honest, industrious and God-fearing people. They always seemed to wish and try to do by others as
they would like to be done by. Now they had followed us to Wisconsin, where it was new and wild, sharing the same fate with us, facing the hard times, working hard to make comfortable homes for ourselves and families, and breaking the ice - as we used to say, preparing the way for other people who should come afterward and always ready with their kindness and advice to us.



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