This article, “Recollections Of A Boy’s Life in The Village,” was authored by Amos E. Jewett and dated March 16, 1945. At the time, Amos E. Jewett was 83 years old, having been born in Ipswich near Rowley. Massachusetts on June 16, 1862. His house still stands at 311 High Street in Ipswich. Thanks to John E. Grundstrom for sharing the story.
Recollections of A Boy’s Life In The Village
By Amos E. Jewett
Just how it came to be known as the “Village” or how long the name has been applied to it I do not know, but probably it received that title soon after the settlement in 1635. It is about a mile in length and contains at present eighteen houses, all but three of which were built wholly or in part by Jewetts. It is part of the town of Ipswich, situated about three miles from the center, but only one mile from Rowley Center, hence much of the associations of the Village people have been with the latter town, and when they died they were buried in the Rowley graveyard.
The original owners were Thomas Emerson, Thomas Scott, John Gage and Robert Mussey. My ancestor, Joseph Jewett, bought the Emerson farm of eighty acres in 1650, the Mussey farm containing about one hundred acres in 1654, and before 1656 he had acquired nearly all the Scott and Gage properties. Shortly after the death of Joseph in 1660-1, four of his children came to live in or near the Village, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Joseph and Faith who married John Pingree. Descendants of Jeremiah and Nehemiah still live there and part of the lands purchased in 1650 and 1654 are now occupied by the tenth, eleventh and twelfth generations of the name.
It is a far cry since Jeremiah went to King Philip’s War in 1675, leaving his wife and six children, in a lonely farm house with no neighbor within half a mile, or a century later when his great grandson, Capt. Moses marched on the Lexington alarm and three of his sons also enlisted in the service of the Province against the King. Here have lived, labored and died generation after generation of men and women “content to live where life began,” pursuing “the old dull round of things.” Some of course went to other places and found their life work, and some after years of absence returned and spent their last days here.
The telephone had not been invented and of course nothing was known of wireless or the radio. The telegraph was but little used compared with the present day and although we lived on the main thoroughfare from Boston to the eastward there was no telegraph line on it and I well remember when the first line of two wires was constructed in 1867. Travel, other than by train, and few used that method of transportation, was either by walking or by horse and wagon, the latter of various types from the low two spring four wheeled wagon in common use for marketing and having a movable back seat so that the whole family, if it was not too large, could be accommodated, to the two wheeled chaise, made on the same model as “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” or the “One Hoss Shay.”
A half century before my day, 100 yoke of oxen were employed to haul a vessel “The Country’s Wonder” built in Rowley, one and a half miles to the river. Oxen were in common use. I have seen forty yoke all owned within a radius of not more than three miles, hauling a building. Now you could hardly find a yoke in three counties, scarce as hen’s teeth. Uncle George told me he had many times driven oxen to Boston with loads of produce, a distance of about thirty miles over what is now route 1A, going one day and returning the next. In my boyhood the Newburyport Turnpike was but little used and grass grew in the middle of it, leaving only wheel tracks and horse track here. After a heavy fall of snow a number of yoke of oxen were hitched to a large oxsled, a large log attached to the sled and the whole arrangement dragged through the drifts. I have driven oxen many miles.
There were very few modern conveniences during my boyhood. We burned wood and peat for heating and cooking. The latter was dug in the peat meadows at Linebrook, and many of the neighbors owned a half acre or more meadow. It was cut in strips of three feet in length. four or five inches thick, and then stacked and dried through the summer. It was really coal in the making and gave a good heat and kept a fire overnight. We usually burned one and one half cords a winter.
Some cooking was done in the fireplace; grandmother used the first stove she bought in 1855 for more than twentyfive years and it was in use some time after her death. I found in the attic a Dutch oven she once used, and made a squirrel cage out of it. She used to cook in the brick oven Thanksgiving time. Everybody thought they must set a good table and as a rule food was plentiful and not too expensive. Some went perhaps a little beyond their means which led great grandfather Edward, who was a little eccentric, to remark that some of the neighbors would spend all they had to “get up a great dinner for Thanksgiving, eat all they could hold and in less than two weeks they would be out knocking off frozen thawed apples.”
How grandmother ever did so much cooking on such a small stove I cannot understand but do it she did, cooking bread, cake, pies of mince, apple, squash, pumpkin, and in their season berry, and those two abominations i detested, and never ate if I could get anything else, mockmince and dried apple pies. The latter were made from apples that had been pared, quartered, strung on shoe thread and dried by hanging them out of the chamber windows for a few weeks in the fall and then stored in the attic so that nothing could damage them. I never thought there could be anything done that would make them any poorer than they were. Neither the butcher, fish peddler or baker were patronized a great deal, as money was not too plentiful. The baker came once a week and sometimes a few cakes or cookies were purchased. but very little bread. It was a common saying that a man could live nine days on nothing and seven on baker’s bread.
We did not have so many holidays then as now. Of them the fourth of July was in many respects the most noted and quite generally observed by the ringing of bells, firing of guns and crackers, but not many fireworks other than the latter. Thanksgiving was a close second and I think by the old time New Englander perhaps the one day above all the others he enjoyed. Service at the meeting-house in the morning, then the whole family gathered around the table at dinner, and it was a day of general good cheer. I do not remember that we ever had a turkey when i was a boy, but we had plenty of chickens. pies, puddings. cranberry sauce. etc. We went across the road to Uncle John’s and Aunt Dolly’s to supper and the next year they would return the visit.
Christmas we never paid much attention to, although when small we used to hang up our stockings and generally got something in them. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then called, was observed to some extent. Five of us boys walked to Ipswich, Memorial Day, 1871, when the soldier’s monument was dedicated. I remember it was a very hot day.
Nearly everyone in the Village kept a cow even if they did not farm, but if they did they had several, and one or more yoke of oxen. The cows furnished, besides milk and butter, cheese which was made by the housewife, great quantities of which were eaten. I learned to milk when twelve.
The oxen were generally raised on the farm, broken to the yoke as steers and after a few years of service sold to the butcher and a younger pair used in their place. The oxen did a large part of the work on the farm, ploughing, teaming hay and wood, etc. They were very moderate but we used to think better for work in the woods than horses. Every family raised one or more hogs and all had hens. As these animals were kept in close proximity to the house, flies abounded by the million. Window screens were not much in use and oval screens were used on dining tables to cover the food so you could find it.
This leads me to say that none of the beef or pork or very little came from the west, but the local butcher bought, slaughtered and sold practically all the beef, pork and mutton that was used. Some of the beef was very good especially if from a young steer or heifer. but very poor if from an old cow or old ox. Before they were sold to the butcher some attempt was made to get a little flesh on them but it did not always succeed, although I remember hearing of one man who was telling some listeners how a cow he had bought gained on his hands. He said, “When I got that cow she was so poor she could walk on lily pads. I kept her three months and let her out and she got mired in a gravel pit, went slump, slump way to her knees every step.”
One day while on my way to Rowley when I was about ten years old I was overtaken by a man in a concord buggy who asked me to ride. I had hardly gotten in when over the rise just ahead of us came five long horned western steers running very fast; the man got out one side of the wagon and I on the other side. Just before they reached us they turned to their left, went in a lane a short distance, through a gap in the wall and ran up on our hill which was parallel to the road. When a little distance on the hill they turned and slid, for it was in winter and there was snow on the ground, down the hill striking the wall and knocking down about a rod of it, then crossing the road went through two fields until they struck a wood road and disappeared into the woods.
Soon the butcher and some of his men came and we learned that the steers had come from Brighton, and when one was slaughtered the others had taken fright, jumped the high fence and escaped. They were eventually all captured but some were gone more than a week and travelled many miles. No two were found together. One was shot in Topsfield, one entered a barn yard in Boxford where there were other cattle and was caught, one was killed in Middleton and another at the Ipswich Town Farm.
Uncle H. who lived to the age of ninety five went to Boston, a distance of thirty miles, but once. His longest journey was when as a boy he went with his father “up to Fletchers in Hampshire State.” The trip was made by oxen and they brought home a load of chestnut rails. I walked over his farm with him seventy years later and he showed me some of the rails still in use. He never married but lived with his mother until her death in 1871. She was the only person I distinctly remember who was born during the Revolution.
He told me that when a boy he had many mornings taken a half peck of corn and a half peck of rye to Harris’ mill on Egypt River and when he reached home his mother made him a cake for breakfast. I have pictured to myself the little boy trudging over the hill and through the woods with his bag of grain and back with his grist. It was a three mile walk and he could not have had a very early breakfast, but no doubt it tasted good.
Uncle H. used to see visions or apparitions sometimes, or thought he did. One evening as he was coming home from meeting in Rowley, he saw a man standing by the gap where the cows were turned into our hill, but the unfortunate part, for the man at least was “that he had no head.” Whether he was born that way or accidentally lost it I never knew, nor did Uncle H., because he told me that “He didn’t trouble me and I didn’t bother him,” so I suppose that, like many other occurrences, will always remain a mystery.
One summer day as I was on my way to Egypt River to catch little eels, Uncle H. who was working in his barnyard hailed me as I passed, and said, “Boy, how old are you?” I replied nine, upon which he said, “The day I was nine years old my father give me a new rake.” I remember thinking that I should prefer something besides a rake for a birthday present. It sounded too much like work, and there were so many things that actually needed doing, that raking and such things were of minor consequence.
All the raking was done by hand at that time and also the mowing. I remember the first mowing machine I ever saw, a small one horse affair with a three foot knife, but a great improvement over hand labor. It was some years before mowing machines were used on the marsh and some men would never allow their marsh to be cut by one.
All the grass was cut as nearly every family kept one or more cows. The pastures were all clear of bushes and pastured by cattle, from the twentieth of May to the Twentieth of October. The grass on five acres was supposed to be enough to sustain a cow and ten acres a horse. Everybody kept their fences and walls along the road in repair and their gates closed as cattle going to and from pasture were liable to get into a neighbor’s garden or mowing field which would cause trouble. Some were not as careful as they should he and often allowed their stock to wander at will in the street although it was against the law. One old man in the Village thought he, being the oldest person there, should have the privilege of pasturing in the street.
Among the pressing things that needed to be done were various games that must be played, if we could find time and we generally did, some of which like many boys who had gone before we had to invent and which I have not seen played for half a century. Our ball games were three year old cat and four year old cat, depending on the number of players engaged. Just why it was designated “Cat” I never knew nor why the year was mentioned, and as that seems to be one of the forgotten games, I suppose I never shall know. Snap the Whip was played by any number of boys taking hold of hands, running a distance and then the big boy at the left stopping short and the others swinging in a circle. Of course the one on the end would have to run faster than any of the others and it generally ended by him being thrown end over end much to the amusement of the rest hut not so funny for him.
Duck on a Rock or simply Duck was a game we played a great deal and for those who have never played it or heard of it I will explain. A large rock weighing perhaps 100 lbs. was placed in an open space and a small one placed on it; then all the players but one procured a rock about the size of an orange or grapefruit and took turns trying to knock the small rock from the large one by throwing their rock at it; the one who at that particular time was not tossing a rock was guarding. The game was to knock the small rock off the large one and that let all the players in, but if you missed knocking it off you must watch your chance and try to pick up your rock and get back to the pitching place without being caught by the tender; if you were caught you must tend until you caught someone else.
I Spy as it was called was quite popular. In the summer we went swimming, in the winter we built snow forts, skated and slid. In the spring we hunted birds’ nests, a custom which happily has been done away with, fished and went eeling; in the fall there were nuts to gather. Often winter evenings we would meet in a barn and by the light of a lantern have wrestling matches.
There were always wild animals and birds in the woods and l had about all the different kinds of animals first and last, rabbits, squirrels, both red and gray, crows, snakes, owls and even some little tame skunks. I once saw a flock of about fifteen passenger pigeons up in the woods, at least that is what Uncle John said they were from the description I gave him. That was in 1877. Once we raided a heron’s nesting place where there were hundreds of nests. It was a strange sight to see as many as six nests in a tree, the old birds flying about squawking and the young ones in all stages of growth. The stench was terrific. One family used to gather and eat the eggs when they were fresh.
Twice during my boyhood, bee trees up in the pasture were cut down for the sake of the honey, by unknown parties during the night time. I remember Mr. Oliver Bailey said there must have been thirty pounds of honey in one of them.
After my father’s death our family consisted of grandmother, mother, my younger brother and myself. My father’s cousin, a man of middle life, came to live with us doing the chores — we had a horse, cow, hens. and a garden — for his hoard. Edward was a man of good education and a great reader. He had taught school at Rowley, been a selectman and at that time was serving on the school committee, but with all his ability in some directions he never accomplished much, lacked a mainspring and perhaps a balance wheel. He had the least mechanical ingenuity of any person I ever saw and I do not remember that I ever saw him drive a nail or saw a board.
On the other hand he had the most remarkable memory of any one I ever met. He was especially interested in the weather and for years kept a record of it. He could work out eclipses and once got up an almanac. His memory was so unbelievable that I hesitate to write of it, but I knew him forty years and never knew him to make a mistake. He once told me he could remember every day from the time he was eight and many before, could tell where he was, what he did and what the weather was. He did not seem to think it remarkable nor did he think it strange that others could not. Some doubt having been expressed as to his memory he was persuaded to test it with a weather bureau record kept in a neighboring town. We went over two years, some twenty or thirty years previous. I did not know of it at the time, but later I asked him if it were so and he said it was. “How did you come out?” “Well, we differed in two instances, but I am not sure I was wrong; you know it sometimes rains in Rowley and not in Newbury.”
He was a retiring, modest man and I do not remember his ever saying anything derogatory of another. After he left our house he lived a winter in a family noted for their precariousness although they were well-to-do. I met him in the spring and during our conversation, asked him how he liked living with them. He replied “With them prudence is a cardinal virtue.” His forbearance, kindness and humility, are not qualities appreciated by the world at large, but nevertheless they are among the finest. The little urchin whose mother made him apologize for throwing apples at him, an apology which I think hurt Edward more than it did the urchin, has lived long enough to know that the world’s estimate of men is often wrong, and also to erect a marker over the last resting place of Edward.
My mother, in order to help in the running expense of the family, used to get stockings from the Ipswich mill and give them out to be finished. She had to teach those who took them to their homes how to do the necessary work, and also return them to the mill. Those who did the finishing were paid twenty-five cents per dozen and my mother received three cents for handling them. Many a time I have driven old Ned to Ipswich and brought home in the wagon or pung one hundred dozen. I was then twelve to fourteen and it gave me an opportunity to go to the library for a book. Being from the backwoods I got snowballed more or less in the winter, and I made up my mind that there were two boys in particular that I would lick when I was bigger but i never did. One died young and one night years afterward, when I was leading the Ipswich band, the other came into the band room and asked me if he could play the relief snare drum. I told him he could so the fight never came off.
In the fall of 1866, I went to Ipswich with my mother and called at her old home where I saw a young man in a blue uniform who gave me a handful of filberts. I afterward learned that he was interested in my aunt, and had come to bid her goodbye as he had enlisted in the army. As I grew older I would sometimes when at my grandfather’s go up to the Locust Grove Cemetery with him. He had the care of a lot on which was a cenotaph to the memory of the young man whom I met, and on it besides his name and date of his death, 21 December, 1866, was “He is not here where have they laid him?” His name was William Bugbee, and I heard it said, “Willie Bugbee was killed and scalped by the Indians.” His picture always hung in my grandfather’s sitting room.
In 1925, I met at Los Angeles Mr. E. A. Brininstool who wrote a book entitled “The Bozeman Trail.” When reading it I found that Bugbee was one of eighty-two men killed and mutilated by the Indians under Red Cloud at the Fetterman Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney, three months after I saw him. I do not think his folks ever knew where he was buried. Those killed were buried near the fort; thirty years after, the bodies were removed to the Custer battlefield and again in 1930, to the National Cemetery, in either Wyoming or Montana.
On Bull Brook, a tributary of Egypt River, was an old mill long unused where we boys often played. It was taken down years ago and nothing is left to show where it stood but the remains of the dam. Last summer in company with one of my granddaughters I went to the site but the road to it has so grown up to trees and bushes that it is difficult to find.
Previous to 1828 the school was kept in a private house, last in the old Pearson House by the big elm. In 1828 a schoolhouse was built. It would accommodate about forty pupils. They sat two at a desk. There were four rows of seats, two aisles, a blackboard at the back of the room and on one side. At the front of the room was a box stove with stove pipe running the length of the room. The desks were “deep-scarred by raps official” and otherwise ornamented by “the jacknife’s carved initial.”
I can see it all now after a lapse of seventy-five years although the building has long since gone. There was no underpinning other than a few loose rocks on which the sills rested; we used to crawl under the building in the warm weather and it was never banked up in the winter unless by the snow, so it was cold to say the least, in the winter time and many were the cold feet and chilblains the scholars enjoyed. We, the boys, wore cowhide boots and as they were not exactly waterproof we sat many a day with wet feet and often it was “Teacher, may I go down to the stove” and I am happy to say the request was seldom denied, and we huddled around it.
The pupils were from four to twenty years of age in the winter term but during the summer the older pupils had to work. I went to school at the age of four. It was of course an ungraded school and the studies were quite varied. We had to buy our own books and it came hard on some parents who had large families and small income, At one time we paid for the chalk we used on the blackboards.
The school was opened by reading from the New Testament and repeating the Lord’s Prayer. We studied reading, writing, spelling, Colburn’s mental arithmetic, the best book of its kind I ever studied, common school and national arithmetic, algebra, common school and physical geography, composition, grammar, history and single and double entry bookkeeping.
We had spelling matches on winter evenings at the schoolhouse and I think that in the generation that preceded mine, were the best spellers I have ever known. The one who gave out the words would open to a page in Webster’s unabridged dictionary and go from top to bottom and I have seen some of the contestants go through the whole evening without failing.
On alternate Fridays we had to speak pieces or write compositions and today I can repeat the “Speech of Regulus to the Carthaginians,” “Marmion,” “The Deacon’s Masterpiece” and others. One boy who never was quite ready to learn a new piece always fell back on a few sentences from the trial of Warren Hastings and an older boy, he must have been eighteen or nineteen at the time, electrified the audience by gravely reciting “Once on a hill not a great way off, Three woodchucks died with the whooping cough,” much to the amusement of the scholars and disgust of the teacher.
The compositions we wrote bordered on the literary, we chose our own subjects, and wrote about trees, animals, birds, etc. They generally began “There are a great many kinds of . . . ” then followed the names of all we could think of and we closed with “I cannot think of any more so I will close.” Once I ended with “and many others too numerous to mention,” but that was after I had named all I knew. One evening when I was eight and had not arrived to the dignity of writing but had to print, I was struggling with a masterpiece on birds when I had at the time what seemed like an inspiration, a word so long that with careful spacing it took nearly a whole line: “REDWINGEDBLACKBIRD”
We of course walked to school and one of the boys, John Dickinson, who lived about two miles from the schoolhouse, used to cut across lots and cross the creek which was about fifteen feet wide, on two large poles spiked to posts on either side of the creek. We used to go swimming there and always referred to the place as “the poles.”
As I have grown older and look back I cannot wholly approve of the methods and rewards used in those days. If a pupil could keep at the head of the class the largest number of weeks he was given a prize at the end of the term. In the meantime “Rewards of Merit” were given. As I recollect there were some who never got a prize and to this day I feel sorry for them. They were not as quick to learn and in other ways handicapped which we did not take into consideration then for in spite of the shining example of the little girl “In Schooldays,” which I think is a fine poem, there were few who hated to go above another but so far as I remember were very glad and made no bones of showing it.
It was an eventful day when a member of the school committee visited the school although it made quite a difference who he was. Mr. C. was a very fine man but very stiff and formal. We did not enjoy a call from him, especially if he asked any questions which he generally did. I can see him now coming around the corner. He used to walk from town as it was only three miles. That is, I could see him if I happened to be reciting in class or otherwise standing because we could not see out of the windows when sitting. I suppose the builders thought we could study better if we did not have a chance to look out. The news that Mr. C. was on the way travelled fast and things were pretty well sewed up by the time he arrived. I remember he once asked me what large city was on the St. Lawrence and upon my answering Montreal, he said you should not give it the rising inflection. If he had said you should not give it paregoric I should have understood as well.
Only three times in my day did we have men teachers and that was in the winter when the large boys attended. The women teachers were generally able to take care of themselves and us also. This was known as the North, North District, and some man in the district had to engage the teacher. My father was the one the year I was seven and he made what seemed to me a very fine choice.
Newspapers were not so common as now and I do not remember any one who took a daily paper. Uncle John took the “Massachusetts Ploughman,” Uncle George, the “Boston Traveler” and “American Agriculturist,” Aunt Apphia, who lived in the next house to us, we always called her Aunt Affie pronouncing the f like r, took the “Essex County Mercury” and we took the “Watchman and Reflector” and the “Youth’s Companion.”
I well remember when my father brought the first Youth’s Companion home from Boston. He had subscribed for it but it did not come as soon as I thought it should so he got one for me. We took it for fifty years. I read the articles of C. A. Stephens from the first to the last. “Lynx Hunting,” “Captured by the Attizarts,” “Lost on Labrador,” “Stories of the Old Farm,” etc. The (lime novel also flourished but somehow i never got hold of many of them. The Pearson girls took the “Atlantic Monthly” and “Our Young Folks.” I had opportunity to read them. Among the articles which appeared in “Our Young Folks” the ones that stand out to this day are Aldrich’s “Story of a Bad Boy,” “Good Old Times” by Kellogg and William Henry’s “Letters to His Grandmother” by Abby Norton Diaz full of quaint humor. Speaking of humor, the humorists of that day were Josh Billings and Petroleum V. Nasky and Artemus Ward, these were their pen names. Thomas Nast probably excelled all others as a caricaturist, and it was said at the time that his pictures did more to break up the notorious Tweed Ring than any other thing.
Occasionally we saw the “Boston Journal” or a New York paper which gave us more of the world outside. I remember the Franco-Prussian war and recollect that the sympathy of us boys and I think most of the older people was with the French. In 1876 came the news of the Custer Massacre.
We patronized the Public. Library and read all the Optic books, Kane’s “Arctic Explorations,” Hayes’ “Arctic Boat Journey,” DuChallis’ “African Adventure Book,” “Hunting the Gorilla,” etc. Cooper’s works always delighted me especially the Leatherstocking tales and whenever we played Indians we were the Deerslayer, Hawk
eye, Chingachgook, Uncas or some other hero but never one of the Mingos.
The older folks read the writings of Dickens, Thackery, George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe. I attended the Lyceum Lectures at Rowley a few times. Stormy evenings in the winter when we could not slide or skate we often would pop corn or crack nuts and sometimes my mother made molasses candy.
Once a year Professor Harrington made his appearance and gave an exhibition of ventriloquism and sleight of hand performances in the Rowley town hall. Fakirs and patent medicine salesmen abounded as they do today and the public was victimized as usual.
The Kickapoo Indians, at least that was who they said they were, made periodical pilgrimages through the towns, giving exhibitions, telling stories and selling salve and the “Greatest Discovery in Modern Times,” SAGWA, price only $1.00 per bottle, six bottles for five dollars. This was warranted to cure all known and some unknown diseases. The method of manufacture was demonstrated on the stage, by the erection of a tripod from which hung a kettle around which the “Indians” danced uttering the most outrageous yells and howls which no doubt added efficacy to the mixture. Not long since I found one of their pamphlets advertising the virtue of the medicines they prepared.
I have no recollection of having any ice cream when a small boy but occasionally in the whiter time helped myself from the crock of frozen cream in the “cheesesafe,” which when sweetened was pretty good. The first bananas I ever saw were of the red variety. Jerry Todd had them for sale in the seventies.
The Civil War had been over but a short time and a great number of books were being written about it or some particular phase of it by all ranks of writers from privates to generals and we read more or less of that literature. Politics occasionally raged. My father who died in 1869, was not enthusiastic over the Civil War and t suppose would have been classed as a mild type of Copperhead. Uncle George always said he was too much influenced as a boy by Uncle John who, after the dissolution of the Whig Party became a Democrat. Uncle John was quite outspoken and I heard it said later that if he had been able to speak out loud (he had lost his voice and could only whisper) he would have been sent to Fort Warren during the war. However, he was a first rate man and kind to boys. Uncle George’s two sons were in the war. From the Village or just over the line fifteen men went, two of whom never came home. James Potter, or Jimmie as he was called, for he was only eighteen, was shot and instantly killed at Fort Hudson and Alfred Richardson, for whom my brother was named, died near Baton Rouge, La.
Our walks in the woods and pastures were always delightful to me, but I suppose it makes a difference whether one cares for the outdoors. How many times I have been up in the pines, and to the sands in Bullbrook pasture, once an Indian arrow maker’s home where thousands of chips remain. Still farther on were the “Graves” of those who died with smallpox and beyond that the cellar and ruins of the old pesthouse. On Uncle John’s farm were many nut trees and the Pearson girls, cousins of my father, would sometimes get thirty bushels in a fall. We boys and the squirrels generally got our share.
There was nothing we enjoyed better than going swimming in the creek when the tide was up. What fun we had, not only swimming but trips up and down the creek in boats. The Rutherford boys had two craft and spent all the time they could on and in the water. In the spring numbers of lamprey eels came up the creek. The Rutherford boys called them “lamper” eels and always called turtles “turkles,” and bitterns “bitrons.”
I remember the first pair of skates I had. They were screwed into the heel of my boot and also strapped around my ankle and over the toes. Skating we thought great sport,
equaled only by sliding. We coasted in the road in those days, no fear of cars and very little horse travel. I still have the remains of my sled my father bought for me in 1868.
The girls did not skate much but were fond of sliding. However, they didn’t count a whole lot until we grew older. They had considerable intuition but were lacking in reasoning power, we thought. There was a long brook near the schoolhouse and I remember one recess in the winter when I was hauling a girl on a sled, over the frozen brook, she said to another girl, “Give me your rope and I will haul you,” presently a third one was attached, then a fourth upon which I said, “Look here, I ain’t going to haul the whole school.” The first girl replied “You’re only hauling me, I am hauling the rest!” “That so?” I said dropping the rope, “Well go ahead and haul ’em and see how far you get.” However she was a pretty good girl and used to bring nuts all cracked to school and treat me.
We used to play around the brooks and ponds a great deal. I caught one of the large snapping turtles in Dow Brook when I was about thirteen, and found that someone had cut M.P. 1847, on his shell. I suppose it was Moses Prescott one of the Village boys my father played with, who was horn in 1832. At another time I caught a small turtle and cut E. J. May, 1876, on his shell. I gave him to a boy who lived nearly three miles away, but the turtle got away and I caught him in the same pond the next spring. How he found his way back I cannot conceive. Ten years later in the spring of 1887, my brother, when on his way from duck hunting in Bull Brook pasture, found the same turtle some distance from the pond.
Once a year a circus came to a neighboring city. We seldom went but as the wagons containing the paraphernalia and animals went by we saw enough to fire our imagination. The elephants always walked so we got a good look at them. In 1872 I went to Newburyport to Barnum’s circus and later saw Jumbo there.One of the pleasures we looked forward to in the fall was the advent of the drovers with their droves of cattle from the eastward, mostly Maine. There would be two to four men, as many dogs and from fifty to a number of hundred cattle of all descriptions, bulls, oxen, steers, cows, yearlings and sometimes calves. I remember one drove had six hundred in it. The drovers bought, sold and traded on their way to Brighton which was their destination. The Village boys were particularly fortunate as the drovers often put up at Uncle John’s and turned the cattle into his nine acre field, paying six cents per head for the privilege.
Uncle John lost his voice when a young man and could not speak above a whisper. Some of the drovers never seemed to understand that he was not deaf and used to shout when talking, which provoked him very much. One night after they had been spinning yarns until well after ten o’clock, which was late for those days, one of the men leaned over and shouted “don’t know but we are keeping you up too late Mr. Pearson,” to which Uncle John replied “No! I ain’t deef and if I can’t get to bed at nine o’clock I just as soon set up all night.” Sometimes a flock of sheep or drove of hogs came along but not often. It is years since the drovers ceased coming. One of the last, whom I knew well, a very fine man always thought, was, with his horse drowned in a pond in Boxford.
Nearly all men worked at home, many of them in small shops making shoes, especially during the winter time. The shoemakers would go to a neighboring city or town every Saturday and get the material, uppers, bottom stock, etc. I think the shoemaker had to find the pegs. The women did the stitching, closing it was called, with wax ends which were made from shoe thread with bristles curiously attached, the uppers being held in place by clamps, often home made, and the holes for the thread being made with an awl.
The trade of shoemaking was followed more than any other although every community had its carpenter, painter, blacksmith and wheelwright. Many depended on farming alone for a livelihood, and every family had a garden.
In looking backward over a long life, it seems to me that people were as a rule happier in the days of my boyhood than now but distance lends enchantment. Few were rich but few suffered for the necessities of life. There was much of the good neighbor spirit and readiness to help each other. People worked hard and many hours a day, but one Scriptural injunction was almost universally obeyed. They worked six days and rested the seventh. I hardly remember seeing any work done on the farm or in the shop on Sunday. I have never known anyone who gained anything in the long run by working seven days a week. It has always seemed to me a tacit admission of the inability of those who did, that they were not as capable as those who got a living for themselves and their families by working six.
Wages were low but so were prices of needful articles. There were far fewer attractions, no movies, no radios and not nearly as much light reading. The average wage for men for a ten hour day was $1.25 or $1.50. $2.00 was considered a high wage. Boys of twelve to fourteen were paid fifty cents a day. I walked to Rowley to work the summer I was sixteen, and worked in a shop eleven hours a day for seven cents an hour. In the winter my pay was raised to seven and one half.
Sundays we went to meeting almost as regularly as the day came. There were three sessions. I did not go in the evening when I was small but later when we had no horse often walked three times. We lived a mile from the meeting house. One Sunday in November 1872, when on my way home from Sunday School I went up on our hill and saw the smoke of the great Boston fire.
These reminiscences of an old man whom time has left, but not for long, may throw a little light on life in his boyhood. Nearly all the boys with whom I fished, tramped in the woods, went eeling, went swimming, played with and fought, have “gone on the journey we all must go.” This is the “Way of Life” and it is well.
–Amos E. Jewett
- History and genealogy of the Jewetts of America by Jewett, Frederic Clarke
- The Jewett Family of American 1911 yearbook
- The Jewett Family of America 1969 Yearbook
- 311 High St., the Amos Jewett house
- Ipswich Village on the Old Rowley Road by Thomas Franklin Waters