Category Archives: Family History

Grampa

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In 1987, when he was in high school, my cousin Randy (first cousin once removed) interviewed my grandfather and wrote this report. I previously posted my mother’s remembrances of her grandmother; this takes us one generation closer to the present. I think Randy’s son Petey should take it a step further, and interview his grandmother (my Aunt Ellie) and my mother. Now would be the time to do that. They’re a year older than Grampa was in 1987, and Ellie’s memory is failing.

Grampa with Randy and his sister Kristy, 1974ish(?)

Grampa with Randy and his sister Kristy, 1974ish(?)

I conducted my interviews with my great-grandfather, Floyd R—— of Alstead. He was born on November 28, 1903 in Alstead, and has lived most of his lived in the area, now living about ½ a mile from his birthplace. In 1924 he married Margaret Benware of Langdon, who is also still living.

Mr. R—— recalls his teenage years well, and remembers a great number of names and events. Until the age of 14 he lived and worked on his family’s farm, and then he moved into Alstead and boarded with a Doctor Stevens. He did a number of jobs as a teenager, mostly physical labor. He worked in one of the village stores as sort of a stock-boy, earning 10¢ an hour, the standard wage for kids. He also owned his own cows and horses, selling milk for 10¢ a quart, and drove cattle from Alstead into the surrounding towns for other people. At this time most people had a couple cows or horses, even those living on Main Street. He had some jobs kids today wouldn’t be allowed to do, such as assisting the doctor in his office and helping deliver the mail during the winter, which he did have to be sworn in to do. He feels he did more work than most of the teenagers of the time, and worked hard, making 20¢ an hour working on some jobs, which was an adult’s pay. His most profitable job was hauling sawdust to people in town with animals, for which he got $3 a load, and sometimes he got 2 loads a day. It took a while with a wagon and two horses. Another job was working at Vilas Poo when it was being built. His father worked there as a carpenter, and Floyd was an assistant to Mr. Carter, the overseer for the project. He made $3 a day and didn’t have to work too much, going with Carter to town for supplies or working part of the day and then going to an auction. No one else could put him to work while he was just hanging around the pool, because they didn’t want to get Mr. Carter upset; he didn’t really care whether he ran the project.

His most interesting job was working on the race circuit for 3 years with Doc Stevens, touring New England and New York. He never rode the horses; he took care of the horses. He met a lot of gypsies on the race circuit and remembers them as nice but shrewd people. There was one group he knew well in New York, a large family headed by an old man. The old man was a very smart horse trader, and often got good horses cheaply. He would stand outside of the gates in his ragged clothes, and when he saw a good horse, he would wait until it had run a poor race and then offer to buy it from the owner, who was usually eager to get rid of the horse. He would then go into the stables and pretend to borrow the money, instead taking it out of a huge wad he carried with him. He got a lot of good horses cheaply this way, and it took the owners a while to catch on. The gypsies all appeared poor, but once Floyd accepted an invitation to visit this family in NY City, and found they lived in a mansion with huge stables.

For sports, he enjoyed skiing, sledding, bicycling, and football. The YMCA had a program in Alstead for a while, and he got involved in boxing and other physical sports.

Alstead was smaller in the 1910s, but had a lot of local businesses, a horse-shoer’s, plow shop, lumberyards, 2 grocery stores, a barbershop, garage, hardware store, and dry goods store. Freight was brought into town by wagons. The nearest railroad was in Walpole and Bellows Falls. The train depot he used the most was in Cold River, across from where the Jiffy Mart is now. Cattle were shipped out of there, and wild horses were sometimes brought in and sold. There were hobos who wandered through and sometimes slept in the culverts near the train depot. The hobos were generally not bad; they would work wherever they could find a job, and then move on. The tramps, or bums, were mostly dishonest, and were more likely to steal food than work for it.

In 1918 he received a letter from President Wilson notifying him that he would have to report to an Army training camp after his birthday, which was two weeks after the war ended. He says he thinks that at the time they were drafting people between the ages of 16 and 40.

He said that the women’s rights movement didn’t make much of an impact around this area. Floyd and Margaret both remember there being many more boys than girls in the area. Margaret was the only girl in the 8th grade class in Langdon. Her whole class had to repeat the 8th grade because her schoolteacher had been fooling around with a married man, and she had been run out of town. The class had to repeat because the parents figured the teacher hadn’t done a good job. Floyd went to school through the 7th grade in a two-room schoolhouse in Alstead. The nearest high schools were in Walpole and Bellows Falls, but Margaret did go to 2 months of high school in Keene.

In the 1910s, when there was a fire the only way the town had to fight it was a pump to get water from the river or nearest source of water. Then a bucket brigade would have to pass the water to a holding tank near the fire. Using this method, there wasn’t much of a chance to save the burning house; they worried more about saving nearby houses. Finally the town bought a Model T fire engine because they were losing too many houses.

When asked what changes were least appealing in the world, he said that it was too hectic today – life was less hurried when he was younger, with less noise and fewer cars. He bought his first car in 1924 – a Model T Ford for $440. He doesn’t remember there being more than 5 to 10 cars in the whole town before WWI.

He doesn’t remember hearing about many famous people while he was young, mainly the presidents and Babe Ruth. He remembers seeing one of the presidents around 1910, either Taft or Roosevelt, drive by his house in Alstead. He said no one believed him at first, but then they heard news that he had gotten lost going to Keene and ended up on the back roads. Around 1920 he went with one of the Wilder boys from Alstead to Vermont, where they ate supper with Calvin Coolidge, who was already vice president. The Wilders were related to Coolidge, and they had gone to pick up a cow they’d bought.

During the Great Depression, money was scarce around the area. During the early 1930s , many of the men in town sat on the Post Office steps waiting for work. Floyd spent one week on the steps, and then decided that was enough. He found a road job in East Alstead. The town was hiring men for 3 days and then laying them off, giving more people a chance to work. He was the only one to stay on after the 3 days, he worked hard, but he said he was friendly with the lady the foreman boarded with, and she may have talked him into it. He stayed on the job until it was done, hauling gravel to East Alstead from Alstead, the same site where the proposed gravel pit is now.

During the end of the Depression, he worked for the state, pulling gooseberry plats, which were a cause of blister rust in pine trees. After the hurricane in 1938, he worked cleaning old roads of debris.

During World War II, he worked in the mica mines, which became a high-priority government job for the war. Because he was working in northern N.H., gas rationing didn’t hurt him, because the rationing agents would give him as much as he could use. He also remembers rationing meat, lard, and sugar, and covering windows for blackouts.

After the war, he continued working in the mines, and then he joined the state road crew, working until his retirement. After retirement he put all his time into his farm and gardens, which is what he is still doing today.

Before There was Amy Carmichael, There Was Cynthia Farrar…and Her Pastor

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Cynthia Farrar was the first American spinster foreign missionary. She left the United States in 1827 to spend 34 years in Bombay, where she founded a girls’ school that had 400 students within 2 years. I came across Cynthia as I followed rabbit trails from some research about my ancestors. I hope to write more about that soon, but for now I’ll note that she was a member of the church of which my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a founding member, and he surely knew her, though he died two years before her departure to India.

Their mutual pastor, Halloway Fish, is the character who most fascinates me at the moment. Halloway was the second pastor of the the congregational church in Marlborough, N.H., the first having been dismissed thirteen years earlier due to “unfaithfulness” and “being unexemplary in walk, imprudent in conversation, unchristian in comparing, rash in judging and slandering,” and “profane.” Considering the long stretch during which the congregation had failed to fill the pulpit (which hardly reflects well on my ancestor), Halloway was a little wary. Here is the letter he finally wrote in response to the call:

To the Church of Christ and Congregational Society in Marlborough greeting.

I have taken into view the circumstances of the case before me; your broken situation for many years I have seriously considered and your goings toward your former minister and toward Candidates and their treatment of you. I have seen the situation of the Chh. I have viewed it is small and I fear that that discipline which is absolutely necessary to preserve a Chh. from contempt and reproach has not been observed in this place. Your offer I have taken under serious Consideration. To the union I have been an eye witness, and it is not so good as I could wish that it was. I have endeavored to let every circumstance have its proper weight, and to discover what will probably be the consequences of my accepting or rejecting your invitation. As for the Scriptures of truth I know of no particular direction in them which wall apply to my situation unless it be Christ’s general rule, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them.

By placing myself in the situation of an inhabitant of this town and by my placing him in my situation and then inquire what I should wish that he would do, affords me some light or assistance to understand my own way. In addition to these things I have represented the situation of matters in this place in as just a light as I possibly could to those who I have reason to suppose are friends to me and friends to religeon [sic.], and who are experienced, and judicious, and the best, and almost the only advice which I can obtain from them is this. Act like an honest man consult the good of the cause in which you are engaged. And to the throne of Grace I have often repaired for wisdom to understand my own way and a heart to do those things which shall be for the Glory of God and the interest of Zion. And what shall I do more, that I have not done in order to understand my own way. Shall I delay the matter? this will be disagreeable to you and to me for a state of suspense is a disagreeable situation and delays are often dangerous, though in some cases they are suitable and proper, but as almost four months have past since you gave me an invite to tarry with you, it appears necessary that matters should be brought to a point and if I understand my own way, or know what is suitable to be done, it is my duty to comply with your request. I therefore accept of your invitation to become your stated minister in Divine things, yet I must say it is with a trembling heart sensible of the work which is before me, sensible of the difficulties which always fall to the lot of ministers, and sensible of my own insufficiency for these things. But if I am one of Christ’s ministers. He will always be with me according to His promise to His Appostles and to His ministers, “Lo I am with you alway even unto the end of the world” and by His assistance I shall be enabled to do all things which shall be incumbent on me as one of His ambassadors.

What shall I say more? will it be improper to pray that the relation which will probably ere long be formed between us, may be lasting happy and profitable for Time and Eternity? may we live together in peace and be helpers of each other in the way to Glory? This I present you as my answer with the following exceptions, viz. That I should have the liberty of being absent from you two Sabbaths in the course of every year during my ministry with you.

HALLOWAY FISH.
Marlborough, May 19th, 1793

Don’t you just love this man? And there’s more:

He led the congregation out of the nonsense of the halfway covenant.

He was staunchly Calvinistic at a time when the Arminian element that would eventually veer off into Unitarianism was gaining a foothold in the New England churches. His father, Elisha Fish, was a pastor in nearby Upton, and moderator of the council of which both congregations were members, but a Mr. Goddard, leader of the Arminian faction, was the scribe (what we would call the clerk, I suppose), and he almost succeeded in blocking Halloway’s ordination to be the second called pastor of the Marlborough congregation. It played out in an odd way, though: after four of Goddard’s party voted against the ordination, which was never the less passed with a strong majority, the elder Fish, having consulted with the Calvinists, called for a reconsideration, the result of which was unanimously against the ordination. They had called the Arminians’ bluff. They “dared not consent” to denying the ordination “knowing that it would raise a storm of indignation against them.” Goddard called for a third vote with the result that the vote became unanimously in favor.

Halloway was “serious and devout in spirit, exemplary in his life, being faithful as a minister of Christ.” This was in contrast to the first pastor, Joseph Cummings, who was dismissed for having a poor character and neglecting his pastoral duties. He wasn’t a brilliant preacher or scholar like his brother Elisha, a pastor in Gilsum, N.H., but he had good sense and a good head for business. Their father noted the difference: “Halloway must teach Elisha farming, and Elisha must teach Halloway theology.”

But that doesn’t mean Halloway was a sloppy slouch when it came to doctrine: “Although a very blunt man in his speech, he was friendly toward other denominations, and always remained on good terms with them. He was a most vigilant and sagacious watchman on the walls of Zion. Very few man, if any, of his times, were possessed of keener discernment as to truth and error. He defended the truths and exposed the errors of his times with boldness and strength, to an extent not common to his contemporaries in the ministry.”

But that doesn’t mean he was always right. He preached against dancing (picture ballroom scenes from adaptations of Austen novels for the type of dancing likely in question), for instance. Some of his young congregants didn’t care for that belief, either, and expressed their displeasure by shaving his horse’s mane and tail. “To this he paid no attention, but rode his horse everywhere just as before. When any questions were asked, he replied ‘that it was not exactly to his own taste, but it was to the taste of some of his people, and so he submitted to it.'” So we know he had a sense of humor!

When the pastor of another nearby church died, Halloway was among those who took turns supplying the pulpit. Much comparison of the Calvinistic and Arminian preachers ensued. Congregants debated the relative merits of Fish and a Mr. Howe. Though Howe was generally not applauded, one church member said “Well, he will do to offset Father Fish of Marlborough.” His friend rejoined, “Pooh! I’d rather have Father Fish’s great coat stuffed, in the pulpit, than Mr. Howe.” The appellation “Father” suggests that this was later in his life and that he was well and affectionately known in the region.

His ministry was fruitful. During his nearly 31 years as pastor (1793-1824), he baptized 303 children and the congregation received 178 people by profession of faith — significant numbers for a town that, in 1794, had just 28 voting citizens (including my ancestor and Cynthia’s father).

Halloway appears to have excellent taste in wives. Hannah (nee Brigham) Fish is described thus: “To her few acquaintances who still remain, no words of eulogy are necessary, to add to their estimation of her life and character. Her pure and useful life, her consistent example, winning deportment, and earnest piety, shed a beautiful halo and a gentle radiance over her husband’s long pastorate. To that beloved and venerated pastor, she was truly a helpmeet in all home duties, and a most efficient aid in winning souls to Christ. Many rise up to call her blessed.”

Here is a drawing of the unheated (until 1823) meetinghouse where the congregation worshiped:

The First Meetinghouse in Marlborough, N.H.

I can join my source’s first-person account in saying, “Here our ancestors worshipped God; many of them coming the distance of four or five miles, and sitting on a cold winter’s day while the Rev. Halloway Fish, with the collar of his [aforementioned] great coat turned up about his ears, and striped mittens on his hands [every well-dressed minister should have such a pair of mittens], put forth his doctrinal views in sermons of not less than one hour in length. The morning service being over, during the intermission the women retired to the nearest house for a fresh supply of coals for their foot-stoves, the men repaired to the tavern, to warm themselves, and regale the inner man with a mug of warm toddy, while they discussed the principal events of the week, or expressed their views on the subject of the morning’s discourse.”

If you’ve read with me thus far, you’ve likely fallen as much in love with Halloway Fish as I have. And if you haven’t, well, then you shall remain blissfully ignorant of the slight contempt in which I now hold you. 😉

Source: Charles Austin Bemis, History of the Town of Marlborough, New Hampshire (1881)

Robert Fowler Lawrence’s The New England Churches: Comprising Histories of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches in the State, with Notices of Other Denominations (1856) also has a bit on Halloway Fish. It has a few facts slightly different from Bemis’s book, but Bemis obviously drew from it, as his description of Fish’s character is a near quote of Lawrence’s.

Anther source tells me that Halloway was a life member of the American Tract Society

And I got the quote about Joseph Cummings, the first pastor, from A History and Description of New England, General and Local, by Austin Jacobs Coolidge and John Brainerd Mansfield.

Memories of a Grandmother

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By the time I was eight and a half years old, Mary Etta G— R—— was my only living grandparent. She always seemed old to me, perhaps for two reasons: first, she was already 61 when I was born, and second, I’m sure her lifetime of hard work had added many a wrinkle.

Etta and her husband, Elmer Bishop R——, were the nucleus of the family and the Alstead, N.H., neighborhood that is still called R—— District.

In their early married years they often had “kitchen junkets” in their home. They kitchen was cleared, and all enjoyed an evening of dancing. I don’t remember those dances, but I do remember the minister coming to the house to hold neighborhood prayer meetings and hymn sings.

Grammie was always ready to step in when any of the family wanted help with caring for children or whatever else needed to be done. They raised their oldest grandson, Bayard, after the early death of his parents. For several years Grammie drove the horse and buggy “school bus” to the South Acworth high school, traveling five or six miles round trip twice a day. That didn’t leave much time for all of the household jobs that were so time-consuming in an era before modern appliances.

Three of their sons lived most of their married lives in the neighborhood. One of their great-great grandsons and his family now live in the old farmhouse where Grammie and Grampa spent their married life. After Grampa’s death, Grammie remained in the house until serious health problems near the end of her life made living alone impossible, and she moved in with her son Ervin and his wife Alice.

Teachers at the one-room grade school adjacent to my grandparents’ property boarded at their house, and in the summers Grammie and Grampa often welcomed two or more boarders from the New York City area. There always seemed to be exciting people coming to visit their home.

One of my early memories is of a toothache that Grammie treated with ground cloves. A more pleasant memory is of the Christmas she gave me a sled.

Etta was a hardworking woman who was never fully dressed until she had tied on her apron. Like so many country wives, she helped care for the farm animals, worked in the garden, picked wild blueberries for family use and for selling to others, and carried out the many home duties of cooking, cleaning, and caring.

Grammie died when I was 23, leaving a legacy of strong devotion to family, friends, and community.

By my mother, Margaret Etta R—— B—, May 2011, for a cousin’s book about the G— family