Excerpts from Tuesday, March 31, 1896

Adams and Vicinity

Sixty Years or More Ago
Paper No. 2

Allusion was made in previous paper to universal habit of drinking and treating three score years and more ago, and in this correction it is worthy of remark that the effects from the use of alcoholic liquors upon individuals was far less injurious than in-more recent years, owing doubtless to the greater purity of liquor and the entire absence of drugs that characterize the mixtures of today.  It is true, however, that there were drunkards in these early days, one of who one winter morning was found frozen to death in the mill yard by the side of a sawlog where he had laid down with his bottle as his cherished and loved companion.  The first case known of delirium tremens in this vicinity was probably between 1823 and 1830 and which was more than "a nine days wonder," as but very few indeed, in the entire surrounding community has even heard the name of such a disease with all it appalling and dread visions which to the subject seemed such a fearful reality.  There were instances too where the drinking habit led to shiftlessness and to poverty and destitution and thus becoming a charge upon the town for their support.    In these early days the town in the spirit of economy was in the habit of putting up its paupers in a species of sale by auction, the person who bid the lowest per week or per year, agreeing to victu?l, lodge and clothe them, was awarded the custodian and keeper generally, expecting to gain something additional from the services the might succeed in securing from the work of the pauper in the condition of semi-slavery.

This suggests a recognition of the fact that the state of New York was once a slave-holding state, and that it was not until 1799 that a gradual emancipation act was passed supplemented in 1817 by another act declaring all slaves free in this state July 4, 1827.  One of these apprentices or slaves under this gradual emancipation act was held to the village of Adams by Willard Smith, who at that time was one of Adams' most enterprising citizens.  One the the great holidays of the year was what was known as "General Training," which occurred usually in September of each year and was an occasion which was looked forward to by young and old with the keenest zest and enthusiasm.  It would seem that the exciting military spirit of the period was a legacy of revolutionary times of whom the previous half century had left many survivors as well as that of the war of 1812-15, then only a score of years previous, when military enthusiasm led to the formation of a company called "Silver Greys," from the fact that it was made up of greyheaded men who by reason of their age were exempt by law from military duty.  In these "General
Trainings" all the male population between the ages of 18-45 inclusive, unless exempted by some disability, were required to be present for military drill and exercise for two or three consecutive days.  Every branch of the service was represented, the independent companies of infantry between whom there was a good degree of rivalry for superior excellence in drill, etc., producing a high esprit de corps;  then there were companies of "sappers and miners," of rifles, in dark green uniforms, the artillery and cavalry.  The major and 
brigadier generals with their respective stuffs, and the colonels of the different regiments with their staffs made an imposing display and became especially exciting in the mock battles fought with blank cartridges, but giving all the roar and smoke of an actual battlefield which formed the drill of one afternoon, where would be seen frightened rider less horses and men emerging from the smoke with faces filled with powder received in the charge of regiment against regiment in the desire to win the victory.  The comical and ludicrous in these drills came in with the attempted evolutions of the "Floodwood," composed of the un-uniformed militia; some of these had old muskets, while others had sticks of all sorts and sizes with which they were

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Sixty Years or More Ago

to go through the manual drill.  Their lines and marching wee almost invariably of an exceedingly serpentine character and were as a rule without discipline.  One of the unvarying attendants of the "general tracings" was the gingerbread wagons with the accompanying cider; these sheets of gingerbread were 12 or 14 inches long and 9 or 10 inches wide and usually sold in subdivisions but not infrequently would one be seen munching away at an entire sheet.  Wrestling matches were also attendants to these training's together with feats of jumping and other athletic exercises, tricks with cards, thimbles, etc., were to be seen among the lemonade or cider and apple stands.

Sixty and more years ago the Fourth of July was not only commemorated by the booming of cannon, but with the ovation and dinner in which the surviving revolutionary soldiers were given the place of honor, and next to them the soldiers of the war of 1812-1815.  On the 50th anniversary of our National Independence in 1826 the celebration was held on an island which then existed and for many years thereafter in Sand Creek just below the village, the head of the island being a short distance above where the lower mill dam now stands and extending
down the creek to within a few rods of the cheese factory.  This island was covered with a nice greensward and shaded by stately trees, and on this occasion temporary foot-bridges were constructed for the island to the shore on both sides.  A table several rods long was made along the centre of the island and the refreshments were carried back and forth on a long narrow car on a track running the entire length of the table.  This unique and novel method of serving the guests was planned and carried out by Henry Whitcomb, which was a guarantee that the car ran smoothly and successfully.  The Hon. Daniel Wardwell, afterward member of the congress of the district, was orator of the day.

Mails were carried on horseback twice a week at this time from Utica via "Redfield Woods," and papers were distributed by the mail-carrier to the subscribers living on his route, the number who took papers not being so large that they could easily be carried in the large saddlebags of the carrier.

Comparatively from three to six weeks were required for merchants to go to New York and make their annual or semi-annual purchase of goods, going by train or stage to Albany and thence by sloop down the Hudson.  Sometimes in returning it would take from one to two weeks to be ?? up against the wind and current from N. Y. to Albany.  After the completion of the Erie canal the route was by team to Rome then by packet boat to Albany and then on by sloop.  Occasionally some farmer wishing to realize cash for his wheat would take his team and draw it to Albany, but in most cases he would receive only a small amount more than enough to defray the actual expenses incurred in going and returning.

Dwellings were all constructed with huge fireplaces that would readily take in logs four feet long, and suspended pots and kettles for culinary service.  It was not until about the close of the first quarter of the present century that cooking slaves were introduced or came into general use.  There was generally built by the side of the fireplace a large oven in which the rye and Indian bread, baked beans, pies, etc. were baked; the bake-kettle, a large but rather shallow kettle with iron cover which was set in the hot coals and ashes and then more heaped on top for ordinary uses in baking such things as potatoes, etc.

Candles, which each family manufactured themselves, (either mould or dipped) were the almost only means of illumination, although sperm or whale oil was used to a limited extent.  Matches were unknown, and so

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Sixty Years or More Ago

the embers or remains of the day's fire were carefully buried in the ashes to start the morning fire, and if unfortunately it did not keep resource was had to the flint and steel, or failing in this they would go to their nearest neighbor's "to borrow some coals."

Nearly every family carded, spun and wove most of the woolen goods used in their households, and the dye tub with the spinning wheels and loom were everywhere to be seen among the household furnishings.  At this period, however, the wool was more frequently sent to the carding machine shop to be made into "rolls" ready for spinning, and when the fulled cloth was wanted the flannel was taken back to the "fulled" and finished and was then manufactured at home into the required garments, the cutting being done by the village tailor generally, and the making up by seamstresses who would go from house to house to fill their engagements.

The hides of animals slaughtered were taken to the tanneries and what "leather" was required for family use was tanned on shares and frequently manufactured into boots and shoes at home by traveling shoemakers who had their regular circuits, or the leather was taken to the village shoemaker who would cut what was required.

When animals were slaughtered for food it was customary to divide it quite largely with their neighbors, they in return when they killed the "fatted calf" or "stalled ox" would return number of pounds of their various indebtedness, barter or exchange of products, in fact supplying the wants of specie or currency very largely in most kinds of occupations.

In the fall of the year there would be the neighborhood "husking bees," in which sometimes hundreds of bushels of corn previously placed from the stalks would be drawn in and piled at one end of the barn floor and and the old and young, male and female, would strip the husks from the corn amid story-telling, joking and peals of laughter, especially when some young lady found a "red ear" of corn.  Apple-paring bees were also frequent at this season of the year and the kitchen would be festooned with the multitude of strings hung up on the walls and on frames to dry.  When the work was done refreshments, usually of pies of different kinds with cider and doughnuts, would follow as a sequence to the husking and apple-paring bees.

Among the ladies there were frequent gatherings for quilting parties, which were always eminently social in their character, and one of the especial characteristics of this period was the habit of snuff-taking.  Then but w who did not carry either in a pocket in their drop skirt or in their hand bag with their knitting work and snuff box filled with macaboy or Scotch snuff, and indeed very many gentlemen carried their snuff boxes too, so you would frequently see and hear a whole group snuffing and sneezing for dear life.  Married ladies almost always in these days wore caps, and as these were more frequently made so that the frill or ruffle on the front of the cap extended down in the lower part of the face of white muslin, and ?? in conjunction with the kerchief of the same or ????? material worn over the shoulders and crossing on the breast made these ladies look much older than ladies the present day of the same age.  There were also other reasons for their looking much older -- all the cooking was done standing before the huge kitchen fireplace so that one hand had to largely employed in shielding the face from the heat and flame while the other done the active work necessary, and then in these days dentists were unknown, so that when there was a loss of teeth there was the falling in of the cheeks and lips from thin cause, which affected the appearances of the men as well as the women.  It was an exceedingly rare thing sixty years ago to see a man with either a full beard or mustache, and when one was occasionally seen it was upon a foreigner, usually a Frenchman.

The above information is transcribed from the Jefferson County Journal for Tuesday, March 31, 1896. 
Permission to reproduce granted by the Jefferson County Journal, Adams, NY
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