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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 08/07/2009

School and Grain

       I see that my thoughts have wandered years away from this time and circumstances that I commenced to write about in this letter. What I have written concerning this one particular family seems of right to belong to the narrative, inasmuch, as we were such intimate friends at that particularly interesting time in our lives and experience. It seems most natural for my thoughts to revert to them, to their hardships and trials, which compared very well with our own and the rest of our neighbors at the same time, although we knew of no other woman who had the courage to break three acres or even a garden patch, with a hand implement, and with the small amount of help that Mrs. Elliott had, or under any other circumstances. My husband was away from home most of the time during the summer of 1838, except from Saturday night until Sunday night or Monday morning of each week, and his evenings, or the avails(?) of what he earned was the means by which we were provided with all that we consumed in our family, likewise the flour to bread his brother's [James Weaver] family. Our family numbered six, and his brother's twelve. As one of them could manage the affairs of both, after the sowing and planting was done (with the help of our boy and his two boys), our brother stayed at home and attended to both places; instead of going to work with our men as he intended, and expected to be obliged to; as the rest of the men, for each man in our sparsely settled neighborhood was at that time in about the same predicament, and felt the necessity of earning something if possible, to help them to get through the summer comfortably, hoping to be better provided for in the future, so as to able to spend more of their time in improving their own home.

    Those who had children old enough were very anxious to have a school to send them to, but knew not how to get one started. But by inquiring, they heard of a young lady living in Milwaukee who would teach if she had an opportunity. So they immediately set about trying to secure the service of this young lady, and if they could engage her, the next thing would be to build a school room. She would like to teach, but her wages must be four dollars a week and her board, and they must find a boarding place near school, for she could not go around to board with each family that sent children to school, as was customary in the eastern states. She thought that there would be too much walking to suit her, consequently she was not hired
to teach. To build a schoolhouse and pay four dollars a week for teaching and four more for the teacher's board, was more than they dared engage or promise to do under the circumstances, as much as they felt the need of having a school. They were very unwilling to give up the idea of having a school, and soon after they had given up the idea of having the young lady teach, they came and tried to persuade me to teach.

    I immediately pleaded incompetency, but the more I plead, the more they tried to coax and persuade. I had to do the work for my family, six in number, and did not feel myself equal to the task or capable of teaching, as I had never taught school. By dint of persuasion, I at last consented, and taught the school in our own little cabin for two dollars a week and boarded myself, and did all my own housework for my family. I had only twenty scholars, but that was quite enough for my small room. I had to be up and around early in the morning, and get my work done so as to bring in benches from out doors, as I had to carry them out every day when I dismissed school. I had to make long days and fill every moment of my time, and was
always very tired by four o'clock, when I dismissed my school, and often had to rest before I could carry out my benches, and clean my room and prepare the evening meal for my family.

I undertook to do all my work, washing, ironing and sewing, besides my every day work, taking care of my three children (the youngest then a year and a half old) [Note: Earlier Melinda mentions she had a family of six, could she be talking of another later child or was it the Elliott girl that made her family six?], and teaching three hours each half day, according to custom, and not take a day except each alternate Saturday. I soon found that I could not manage both my school and my work without taking one day out of each week, so I concluded to take Monday of each week, do my washing and as much other necessary work as I could do in a day, and teach the remaining five days of the week, and make preparations in the best possible manner for the day of rest, which we usually spent at home.

    We had no church to go to, nor any minister to preach to us and as yet had not had any religious meeting in our neighborhood. We read good books and could spend our time very pleasantly and profitably, with reading and teaching our children. Not having a very strong constitution, my duties were rather severe on me during the week, for both body and mind, yet I enjoyed doing duty, although it was very wearisome for me, because I was anxious to play my part well in doing what I hoped would be to the advantage of others as well as ourselves.

    My scholars learned exceedingly well, all but one, and that was a boy that was ten years old at that time, and he could not learn with all the pains that could be taken with him, and yet he tried hard himself. His parents kept him in school until he was twenty-two years old, and then he could neither read, write, or spell. It seemed strange that he could not learn to read and spell, for he was bright and intelligent in other respects. Could work as well as the next one, and was always pleasant and ready and willing to do a favor or kindness for anyone. This was all the trouble I had with scholars that was worth naming. I was very sorry for the boy because he tried so hard, and was so anxious to learn and could not.

    I suppose that many young mothers and housekeepers of the present time would marvel at the idea of a woman undertaking to do her own work for a family of six, and at the same time teach a school of twenty scholars in the same room, which was only twelve by fourteen feet in size. But as necessity was then, and had been , and perhaps always will be the mother of many inventions, we found that by patience and perseverance it could be done, at least for a few months. At the end of four months I found it necessary to give up my school, so as to take time to do my fall work and prepare my family for the coming winter. We had no more school for a year except on Sundays. We opened again after a short time the door of our little cabin for a Sunday school, in which little children were taught to read and spell, and older ones that could read, learned testament lessons and repeated to teachers who gave them instructions according to their ability. With the addition of prayers and singing, the exercises from two to three hours passed very pleasantly, and as we then thought, profitably to ourselves and our children.

    As soon as our corn was glazed and partially hardened, that fall of 1838 so that we could finish drying it by laying it in the sun in the day time, and in our house at night, we picked off a little at a time and dried it in that way, and had some ground every day for two months, by hand, in a coffee mill, except Sunday. It was such slow work to grind by hand that we could not get any more ahead than would do for Sunday, and with the meal thus prepared, we made our bread (or Johnny cake to serve us instead of bread) for two or three weeks; then the buckwheat was ripened, so that some of it could be threshed, and then we dried some of it in the same way as we did the corn, and had it ground in the same way, and had to sift it instead of
having it bolted and with it we made something that we called buckwheat cakes. Although not as fine and nice as we had bee accustomed to using it yet made a very good change under the circumstances. We did not expect to have to do the grinding of our flour and meal by hand as long as two months, when we commenced the arduous task. There was a mill in process of building at the place now known as Wauwatosa, and the proprietor of it had given out word that he expected to commence to grind by such a time he named and the task of grinding by hand was commenced, with the expectation of not having to do it more than two weeks. But as the mill was not completed and ready to commence operations by the expected time, and although the task of grinding by hand was very tedious, we concluded to persevere and not give up until the mill should be in working order, which was two months instead of two weeks. The cause was a sufficient motive for patience and perseverance, and the reasons for which we adopted this plan was obvious. Our indignation had become so thoroughly aroused, in consequence of being obliged to pay such exorbitant prices for our bread material as well as everything else that we had to buy of Milwaukee dealers, that we were not willing to humor them any more than we were really obliged to, but would curtail the expense of this one commodity, now that we began to feel a little more independent, particularly on the bread stuff question.

    Independent! That was a large word to use at that time, when we were too short of money to buy anything that we could do without, and nothing as yet to exchange for that valuable product except our work. We could not get much for that, for money was scarce and wages low. But the organ of hope was large, and we were hoping to have a little something to dispose of when our little crops could be harvested and taken care of; Mr. George Elliott {Junior], of Lisbon, Waukesha, county, can testify to the above. Concerning the grinding by hand for two months, nearly all of our material which we used for bread and cakes, for he was our little faithful home miller for his father's family, and Mr. Smith's young boys done the grinding for his family. One of them is still living and well remembers the time and circumstance; and well he remembers too, how sadly he was grieved and nearly heartbroken when in the time of severe thunder storm and high wind, that first season of corn raising. When it was from two to three feet high it was beaten nearly and some of it quite to the ground. He and his brother had worked so hard to get it forward and in such fine order, while their father was away from home at work, to earn money to supply the wants of the family at home. He was thoroughly disheartened, and did not know how to bear the disappointment, for he really thought that the corn was ruined. But when he was assured by those who had seen the like before, that the corn would get up in its place again in short time, he cheered up and felt better about it. Sure enough in a few days it was all right again.

    There were several of us neighbors that shared in the work and trial of grinding their own bread stuff by hand, I do not remember just how many, but there were six of us, and that did do it for two months, and after that we could always get such work done, and all that we needed, by going a good ways to mill, (fourteen miles was about the distance), for a number of years, except feed for animals, and that we got done nearer after a short time.

    When the grain was harvested that season, in our neighborhood, they had no barns to store it in, nor floors to thresh it on, nor machines to thresh it with. Machines were not considered indispensable in those days, as at this day and age of the world. Neither were they thought to be of so much consequence then as in later days, because they were not much in use; and the few threshing machines that were in use in other states at that time were very inferior to those of the present day. Our men threshed their first crop on the bare ground. They cleaned a piece of ground and made it as clean and bare as they could, and as near to their stacks as possible, because their stacks and log stables were all the protection they had when they were obliged to thresh. Of course, they had to do the threshing with flails by hand, and if a storm came on they had to cover their work as well as they could with hay or straw, and leave it until it should be fair weather again. And when they wanted to clean the grain after threshing, in the place of a fanning mill, and for want of one, they found it necessary to wait for the wind to blow sufficiently strong to blow out the dust and rubbish from the grain.

    There was not a fanning mill within the bounds of knowledge, or, at least, within the bounds of our knowledge at that time; nor even a hand fan, the like of which we had seen used in our younger years. In the absence of suitable utensils for this kind of work, a man would stand on a high bench and pour the grain slowly to the ground from a tin pan, while another man or boy or perhaps the wife, would stand on the ground and hand it up to him. The process had to be repeated two or three times, and sometimes more before it would be clean enough for market, or to use for ourselves. It was rather a tiresome way of doing, or at least we should think so now, but we considered that it was to be the means of bringing us some of the comforts, which we had necessarily obliged to dispensed with for many months.

The Wooden Kettle and Religion

    We, the women of our little settlement, were not scrupulous against going out to assist in securing and taking care of what we had raised. Neither did we allow false pride, or false delicacy of thought or feeling to come between us and duty, but took pride and pleasure in doing whatever it was possible for us to do out doors as well as in whenever we could leave the house and could see the necessity of it. That was often the case, for there was not much help to be had at that time for out door any more than for indoor work, except by changing work with our neighbors, which was frequently done. But it was not at all times and under all circumstances that a neighbor could leave his own work, but generally they were as accommodating to each other as circumstances would allow. As we women were not afraid of soiling our hands or our hearts by laboring, we were ready to go out and assist when necessity required it, and we were able to do it.

    In harvest time we could and did carry sheaves together and shock them, and sometimes help load and stack, and pick up potatoes, husk corn, feed swine, and when we had to feed, and cook the food for them, such as pumpkins and turnips and potatoes, which we boiled in wooden kettles. It was made square, and with stout sheet iron bottoms, and were set over stone fireplace which were built outside for the purpose.

    Perhaps some one who never saw a wooden kettle, and it may be never heard of one of that kind before, would like to know how it was made. The name wooden kettle sounded strange to us when we first heard it, and we wondered how such an article could be constructed as to be used over a fire for cooking, even if it be only food for animals. But we found that there was a possibility of not only for animals, but that it could be cleaned, and kept in good order, so that occasionally our own food could be cooked therein, which showed, as we had often heard, that "necessity was the mother of invention". Our wooden kettle was eighteen inches wide and about three feet long. The wood part of it was made of plank and nailed together in the form of a box with large nails. This was bottomed with sheet iron wide and long enough to turn over on the
ends and sides, so that fire should not touch the wood. Then it was set over a stone fireplace, which was built sufficiently long and wide to allow the box to be bedded all around with stone and mortar to protect the wood. A capacious fireplace underneath with a chimney at the extremity, and a wooden cover to the kettle completed the outfit. Because it was a rude, rustic looking article, it was the object and occasion of much laughter and merriment. The wooden kettle, nevertheless, was found to be so useful and convenient under the circumstances in which we were placed in those early days that it came to be an indispensable article until such time as we could afford to buy a cauldron, which was about three years. Then the wooden one was about worn out, and we gladly exchanged it for a heavy, substantial cauldron. I have often thought of late that if a specimen of those homemade kettles should be sent to the Centennial, it might excite as much curiosity as many things that will be sent there.

    After we had the Sunday School established in our house, we began to hold religious meetings, and although we had no minister to preach to us, we met once in two weeks, sometimes in the house of one neighbor and sometimes at another, for a few months. Then we got out of our small cabin into a larger and rather more comfortable one, and as we happened to have more commodious room, the meetings were held there until the district school house was built, which was more than two years after, except on some particular occasions, perhaps four or five times in a year, it would be held in a neighbor's house about two miles from us, to accommodate some who lived a longer distance from our place.

    One of our neighbors, a well disposed and religious man, took the lead in our religious services, except occasionally some minister would chance to come into our neighborhood, or pass through the settlement, stopping over night. As soon as it was known that there was a minister in the place who would stay long enough for the people to get word of it, it mattered not whether he was a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist or Episcopalian, every one who could possibly leave home - even if they had to appear in their every day clothing, which was frequently the case - would lay aside their pride and come together and unite in the services and listen to the sermon, whether it was Sunday or a week day, and all, or nearly all, seemed to enjoy it as a rare treat. When we had no minister our religious services were conducted in the same manner as when we had one - by prayers, Bible reading, singing, and the reading of a sermon. We always had two sermons on Sunday, the first commencing at half past ten and the second at half past one, and sometimes two o'clock, and the Sunday School between those two services, and a prayer meeting at five o'clock.

    Thus our time was taken up on Sunday. It was all that I could do to get my necessary work done, myself and family in readiness to attend worship, and have seats placed before some of the people would begin to come in. and then every Wednesday evening at five o'clock we had a prayer meeting, except in the shortest days, when they met at seven.

    It has been said, written and put in print that the first sermon that was preached in Lisbon was by a Mr. Frink in 1838, but that was a pure mistake, as well as the dates of some few other particulars that were noticed in that article. But the writer of it was not to blame, (not living in the new territory in those very early days), neither was this author to blame, for of course he was told as nearly as could be recollected. Mr. Lucius Bottsford and Miss Lucinda Denny [Miss Denny was the daughter of Joseph Addison Denny and Phebe Henshaw, born April 3, 1806. She was also a step-daughter Lucinda Henshaw Denny Daugherty] was the first couple that was married in Lisbon [the wedding that T. S. Redford refers to?]. The ceremony was performed by Elder Griffin [Griffing] at the residence of Mr. Jonathan Dougherty, Sr., on the 3rd of June, 1839, after preaching the first sermon that was preached in the town of Lisbon. Thus it was that Elder Griffin (Baptist) preached the first sermon in our new settlement, instead of Mr. Frink. In the month of August following, there was another sermon preached in the same house by the Rev. Mr. Audway, Congregationalist.

    Then in the following winter, about middle of January, 1840, came the Rev. Mr. Frink, (Methodist), and preached his first sermon, or the first sermon that he preached in our place, in our house. He came on a very cold morning and asked me if my home was the place where friends and neighbors usually met on the Sabbath for worship, and when I answered in the affirmative and told him that we also had a meeting every Wednesday evening, he introduced himself as Mr. Frink, a Methodist minister, and asked me if [he] could have the privilege of preaching here on Wednesday evening, when I told him that our cabin was at his service for that purpose. He asked me if I thought that it would meet the minds of the people generally. I replied that I thought it would, and told him that in all probability there would be a general gathering to hear him and with pleasure, as it was seldom that we had an opportunity of listening to a sermon.

    The appointment was made and announced, the news spreading through our little settlement in a short time - only from Monday till Wednesday - so that when the evening came our cabin was filled with people that had come with their oxen and sleds, some of them from five miles distant in different directions. It was good sleighing (or sledding, as they called it), but it was very cold and they had to sit down in the straw or marsh hay, which was plentifully laid down in the sled box, and then wrap in blankets and quilts, or whatever wrapping they happened to have that answered their purpose to keep them from freezing. They had no fine fleet horses and gay looking pleasure sleighs out in the country places in those days, but has to be contented and had to be satisfied to be drawn on the same sled and by the same horned horses, (oxen I meant and should have said), that drew their wood, hay, grain, etc. There was no ringing of the musical sleigh bells, such as we had been in the habit of hearing to cheer and enliven them on their long, slow, cold ride; yet they were very cheerful and sang hymns as they rode along, making the air and the woods ring with the music of their voices and they seemed as anxious and eager to hear what the minister had to say to them as hungry people would be to go to a feast. They seemed to be satisfied and well pleased with the evening's meeting. Mr. Frink came and preached once in two weeks, On Sundays for about two months. In the mean time came the Rev. Mr. Hull, (Episcopalian), from Milwaukee, and he also held service for a while in the evening of a week day. Occasionally Elder Griffin would come and preach to us. We always had a full house. It seemed to make no difference of what denomination the preacher was, all united in the service, although there were some of each of four denominations, until such time as each of them could have a minister of their own order, and then, of course, each sect would naturally enough have the others to join and follow their own order.

    In the month of March came Elder Wheelock, (or as he was commonly called, Father Wheelock), a Methodist preacher. He came two or three evenings for a time, and then he was engaged and hired to come and preach once in two weeks, on Sunday, for a year. He was the first minister hired in Lisbon. He was more than sixty years of age, and he used to walk fourteen miles every other Saturday, getting to our house in the afternoon, perform his duties on Sunday, and walk home on Monday. Sometimes, however, he might get a ride a part of the way, but not frequently, for he did not own a horse, neither was there one in our immediate neighborhood at that time. His salary was the small sum of eighty dollars - small enough, certainly. To some people at the present time it would not seem worth mentioning and that people were thought
less and penurious, not to allow him a larger sum for coming so far to serve them. Considering that he only received the same amount from people with whom he labored every other Sunday in turn, it would seem next to nothing in comparison with the salaries that ministers get at
the present time and those who are able expect to pay them. Yet that small sum was all they were able to pay. The Reverend Father was satisfied, for he knew just how we were all situated and that we had but just begun to live, as it were, only affording ourselves the common necessaries of life, he was content to live with his people that he labored with and to live as they had to, and did not seem to have any desire to live above them.

    There was an effort made to organize a Methodist church and society during his stay with us, but without success, there being at the time so few in number of that order in the settlement. Consequently there was no Methodist society formed in the tow of Lisbon until a number of years afterward; but in the month of June, 1841, there was a Congregational church and society organized and the Rev. Mr. Curtis came from Prairie Village and assisted in the organization, he being the minister in that place at that time. So the Congregational was the first organized church in the town of Lisbon.

    That summer of 1841 the stone school-house was built in School District No. 1, the first school-house that was built in Lisbon. It was a small structure when first built, but in later years it was remodeled and made more commodious. Mr. Phineas Bissel was the first teacher in the new school-house, and was succeeded by Miss Minerva Bissel. Previous to this there had been several terms of school taught by Miss Anna Daugherty in the same small cabin, in which the first school was taught by your correspondent, the cabin having been fitted up for a school room, after we moved into a more commodious one in close proximity to it which was about the same thing or nearly so, as having it in our house. But we put up with it as good grace as we possibly could, for the sake of having a school for our own and our neighbor's children.

    As soon as the school-house was finished it was considered best and most convenient to have our Sunday-school preaching and all other religious services held in that, at least for the time. Just at that time there came a Congregational minister who was sent by the Missionary Board. He happened to arrive just in time to attend and conduct the first religious services in the school-house, and as the Congregational people had organized the first church and religious society in the place about two months previous to this time were wanting a minister and anxiously waited for an opportunity to secure one, and being very well pleased with him, they concluded to hire him for one year, and he finally stayed in the place three years. The Missionary Board allowed him three hundred dollars each year, which together with what the people could afford to give, in those early days and as yet rather hard times, was only just barely sufficient to support him with a wife and family.

    However, they were as comfortably provided for as the rest of us were at the time, so that they could live with us but not above us if they would, for which they seemed to have no desire, but put up with the hardships and inconveniences of a new country life with the best possible grace. This was the Rev. Mr. Spencer Baker. After staying with us three years he left and went to Illinois. Since Rev. Mr. Hull hade made his advent in the neighborhood, the Episcopalians had separated themselves from the dissenting part of the community and held their services in their own houses. After a few months, however, they claimed right to and accordingly had the use of
the school-house every alternate Sunday as their place of worship until such time as they could afford to build a church, which was in the year 1844 as nearly as I recollect. 

    The school-house in District No. 1 was built in the year 1841, when it became expedient for two different sects or denominations to use it for their religious services on each alternate Sunday. So accordingly on every Sunday each denomination went back to their former
place of worship, the Congregationalists to our cabin and the Episcopalians to their own houses. Until the first church was built the Congregationalists made use of the school-house for a number of years before they were able to build, the few Methodists that were in the place at the time uniting with them, and when they did build a house of worship it was used by both
denominations, each employing a minister of their own order, and each claiming the house half of the time, although they both met for worship in the same house each Sunday. Each minister had another place and people to serve. After a few years the two denominations became one and took the name Bible Christians which name still holds good with them.

    There were many changes about that time. A number [of] families left the place and others came to fill their places, and there were nearly as many different opinions, in some respects as there were different people to express them, particularly on church matters and religious subjects. The Congregationalists as a church and society became extinct, and quite naturally the few remaining members united with another family, a Christian people, and allowed themselves to be called by a new name. What's in a name? If only the right feeling and spirit pervade, the name, merely is not of much consequence. Strife and controversy were not unusual in the early days. A sort of religious warfare) or more properly, irreligious) was waging to a greater or less extent for a number of years, which was a heavy trial to some of us before the clouds passed and the storm passed, and the people of different sentiments could be reconciled to each other in respect to religious matters. The Episcopalians and the dissenters could not understand
each other, and all at the same time appeared to be trying to do their duty and to do right as near as they could. People understand each other better at the present day, and can, as a general thing, bear with each other's failings and short-comings better.

    We had never seen nor known that there was or could be such a difference of opinion or feeling among Christian professors as we found; there appeared to be with different denominations after they had separated themselves from each other. We all read one Bible, and all believed, or professed to believe, in one Almighty and Supreme Being, and were all traveling, as we supposed, to one eternal home and haven or rest. We could not understand why
people should differ so much in their religious views when most of them could agree so well usually, and on almost every other subject. But we were so young then and inexperienced - had not seen much of the world, only a very small portion of it, and of the people who lived in it, in comparison with what we have seen since. We have since come to the conclusion that
different people take their views from different standpoints and perhaps it is well that it should be so, at least in some respects, and we have long since ceased to marvel at such things as seemed so marvelous at that time. After a while people could understand themselves, as well as each other better.

    Well, those times are past and gone, and we still live as spared monuments of God's mercy. It was, perhaps well for us in many respects that we lived in those days, shared with our neighbors and friends the trials and hardships of new country life, as well as the joys and pleasures, for there certainly was enjoyment and pleasure even then. It was as much a pleasure to visit our friends and neighbors who were not related to us, and to receive visits from them, as it was to visit and receive visits from our own relatives when we had lived near and among them. Now that we had separated ourselves by hundreds of miles from our own relatives, it was natural to have feelings of love and respect for others who were friendly and kind to
us. In the earliest part of our new country experience we did not invite large parties for the want of sufficient room and other conveniences to make it pleasant and comfortable for a large party of friends. But whenever neighbors could make it convenient to visit each other, they were cordially welcomed, treated kindly, and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Such traits were characteristic of the people of our settlement. There was no dazzling splendor displayed in those early days, neither in the way of furniture, dress, ornaments or viands of the table. No one tried to outdo another. They could not if they would, and they did not show any such inclination.


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