The way that our forefathers and foremothers lived, the
customs and manners of that old life, now only a memory, must
always be more or less interesting to us. There is much of
romance attached to it, but the actuality was a hard and stern
reality, with little to soften its rugged features.
Nearly one hundred years have passed since a few men decided
to leave the Berkshire hills and bring their families into the
then unbroken forest of the present Windham township, Portage
county. Before leaving, however, the following persons were
dismissed from the Congregational Church of Becket and organized
into a church by themselves: Deacon Elijah
ALFORD and wife, Olive ALFORD, with their daughter, Ruth
ALFORD, Thatcher CONANT and wife, Elizabeth
CONANT, also their daughter Susannah CONANT, Jeremiah
LYMAN and wife, Rhoda LYMAN; Benjamin
HIGLEY and wife, Sally HIGLEY, Miss Anna
This was on May 2, 1811, and we know not, but it is pleasant
to think that the bright May sunshine rested in silent
benediction on this little band whose strength of courage and
undaunted fortitude made these early homes the center of our
manhood and womanhood.
About a month after this, the first eight families having put
all their earthly possessions they could take with them into
their ox wagons, started for the homes which were to be theirs
on the frontier. The trip would mean but a few hours of time
now, but then it took about six weeks. They frequently camped
where night overtook them, and if the night was stormy the
patient woman heart must have almost failed amidst such
Often the women would leave the crowded wagons, which were
filled with the few cooking utensils, bedding, a chest and a
rocking chair or two, and walk that they might rest the tired
cramped body. If any became too sick to sit up they were made as
comfortable as possible on an improvised cot of the bedding, but
the journey still continued.
One woman was known to remark, after seating herself on a log
at the close of a weary day, that "Women will follow men to the
ends of the earth." She evidently knew nothing of the new woman.
While sitting by the side of one who was born during the
first year of this century, and listening to the stories told by
her of the olden times, when she was young, she told me the
Some years after the first settlers came an uncle returned
that he might accompany her to this township. It was during the
last of the journey back that they passed through an Oneida
village. The Indians were about to have a festal dance of some
kind, and offered her uncle the pipe of peace, thus giving him
no alternative than to do otherwise than to accept their
hospitable intentions, for to refuse would give them the
impression that he was an enemy. This left the young lady and a
little boy alone in the wagon.
As the dance progressed she became badly frightened, such
grotesque positions, such horrible grimaces, such pandemonium
she never dreamed of, to use her own expression. When the air
was rent with those dreadful sounds and stolid Indians seemed
like creatures from the other region, they brought her the pipe
to smoke, but she was too badly frightened to do aught but
One woman, on reaching her destination, asked: "Is that pile
of logs to be our home?" The house that caused this remark was
one built of logs without gable ends. However, few houses were
built before the occupants came, and these afforded shelter
until the less fortunate had finished their little cabins of one
or possibly two rooms and a rude chamber overhead. All but a few
articles of furniture were hewn out of logs, and I have often
heard my grandmother tell of the rude stool, benches, and
tables, while just at first the bedsteads were of poles.
They held their first religious service in their new home on
Sunday, July 28, 1811, in one of the first private cabins built
in Windham. In the midst of the grand old forest, Gods first
temple, this small band inspired each other with words of
helpful comfort, and their songs of praise mingled with the rich
melody of the birds. It was not long ere a log structure was
built for this purpose, and not many years passed before a frame
house took the place of this. It was a long time, however,
before these buildings were sufficiently warmed, and the women
took their foot stoves with them. They kindly allowed the girls
to warm their feet, but watched to see that they did not put
them on the bright tin which was so tempting, but that they were
kept in the proper place.
Slowly the mighty forest trees fell away from these humble
homes; this forest, which at night echoes and reechoed with the
bark of foxes and growl of wolves, the growl of bears, and the
scream of wild cats.
Neighbors often dropped in to spend an evening, and after a
time, the young people had their parties then as well as now.
But the young ladies escort went with torch in hand that he
might find his way by the blazed trees, and also frighten wild
The hoot of an owl or the howl of a wolf might startle them,
but the young ladies of those days, accustomed to these sounds
often, would not scream in such terror as would her
granddaughter or great-granddaughter of today.
But few families had more than one or two horses, so the
ladies, old as well as young, commonly rode horseback behind
husband, father, brother, son, or lover. How very unpleasant
this must have been, as they could not do otherwise than to
cling often to those sitting ahead to keep from slipping off.
At first the nearest place where pins, needles, thread, and a
few other necessary articles could be purchased was at
Pittsburg, about 100 miles distant, and later at Warren. And
Windham was certainly a very prosperous township when a
merchant, Deacon Isaac CLARK, came, even if
the entire stock was valued at $500, which seemed of great value
then. His wife acted as his buyer, making the trip to Pittsburg
on horseback. On the first page of the entry book are the
September, 1817 John SELEY. Dr.
To ½ lb tea @ $1.50
To Ό yd cambric @80 cents
To ½ paper pins @ 25 cents
. .12 ½
Jeremiah LYMAN Dr.
To 5 ½ yds. Calico @ 60 cents
To 1 skein silk
To 2 ½ yds. Fulled cloth @ $1.75
To ½ lb pepper @ 50 cents
In those days young ladies purchased their table dishes
before marriage, and doubtless all might tell some laughable
stories about the getting of them, but the following perhaps is
the most interesting:
This particular young lady purchased in Warren her "setting
out," as the first dishes were called, and had them packed
securely in a bundle, fastening this in some manner to the horn
of her saddle. All went well until nearly home, when her horse
became frightened and refused to go. She urged it forward a few
steps, when it whirled and started back. Again and again this
was repeated; the horse then shied far to one side, striking a
tree and tearing a hole in the bag of oats she had taken for
feed. When the horse shied she noticed just ahead in the fast
gathering darkness what she first thought was a yearling calf,
but as it came opposite found to her amazement it was a bear. No
need of urging her horse forward now, and frightened as she was
it required all of her attention to hold him. It is needless to
say that the oats were all sown. However, the precious dishes
were all whole, every dish.
Everything purchased was paid for in produce of some kind.
There were no idle hours in that old time. The housewifes
lot was full as hard as that of the pioneer himself. All was
bustle in the one living room the house afforded from early
daylight to sunset, and after the evening darkness came on, the
knitting, spinning, and darning, or patching continued until 8
or 9 oclock, when all went to bed tired.
Most of the clothing worn by the family was of domestic
manufacture, including fabrics of linen as well as of wool, and
they made all of the much prized linen. The wool was taken from
the backs of sheep and washed, carded, spun, dyed, and woven on
the farm premises. Their wool dresses in the earliest time were
often made with wool thread spun from the wool more nearly
resembling hair. Plaids were the prevailing designs, and the
colors were obtained from barks, berries, and leaves.
Flax wheels, now set apart as ornaments, and as such have no
particular story to tell the present generation, were once
essential to every household. The flax was sown early, and the
"fairy blue" anxiously waited for. The women began their work at
the second hatcheling, then came the spinning and weaving. When
the web was taken from the loom it was spread on the grass and
exposed to the sun, frequently sprinkling with water until wet.
One old lady, who lived to be one hundred and four years old,
knit socks for three wars; the Revolutionary war, the war of
1812, and the Rebellion. During the Revolutionary was she
crawled under old buildings for saltpeter, and watched the
kettle while getting it into shape to be used in powder.
I have often heard my grandmother tell of the first
missionary society planned by the young girls. They met every
two weeks at private houses during warm weather.
A young lady of to-day would be surprised at the real
self-denial shown, because they had so little to give at the
most, as they themselves often needed what we would call bare
necessities. Indeed, our necessities would be luxuries to them.
The young lady of to-day as a Christian Endeavor worker of a
Kings Daughter, with her books, her monthly magazines, her
weekly papers, her chance to become conversant with the
absorbing topics of the times; this young lady who pledges
herself to give so much a week or month, is far beyond the
brightest dream of her great-grandmother, of whom she inherits
the qualities of unselfish, loyal womanhood.
However, they were not entirely without educational
advantages, as Miss Elizabeth STREATOR and
Miss Rebecca CONANT opened a school in a
private house about a month after the first settlers came. For
about a year these young ladies gave their services, relieving
each other every two weeks. One, Rebecca CONANT, afterwards
married and went with her husband among the Indians of Michigan
The first teachers were young ladies, and the first death of
an adult in the township was a woman., Miss Lucy
ASHLEY, while one woman, Mrs. Rhoda LYMAN,
died during the journey here, and lies in an unknown spot near
Utica, N.Y. Life, with its joys and sorrows, doubtless passes
and repasses near the unmarked grave, little knowing that the
last sad scene of another life was ended there with a Christian
The first birth of a white child that lived was a daughter of
Mrs. Wareham LOOMIS.
Our grandmothers prepared good, substantial meals, even if
very plain. Rye and Indian bread was very common, cornmeal in
various forms. At dinner boiled vegetables were often served.
Beef or pork was often boiled with potatoes, cabbages, and
turnips, but not in the form of a soup.
Venison was a favorite meat, while at first the best pieces
of bear meat were eaten, and wild turkeys were common.
They did not can fruit in those days, but made a jar of
preserves, and wild crabapples, wild plums, huckleberries, and
cranberries were considered nicest.
After a few years two ladies, Mrs. Ebenezer N.
MESSENGER and Mrs. Jeremiah
LYMAN, at least had cultivated apples and
peaches, which were borne on trees raised from apple seeds and
peach stones brought from their old homes in Becket.
No famous women have lived in Windham, but commonplace lives
lived well deserve praise, as it is not so much what is done as
the way it is done.
Mrs. Harriet SNOW ALFORD Chairman and Historian Windham
committee - Mrs. Lucretia NORTON, Mrs. Mary A. BOSLEY, Mrs. Emma
DONALDSON, Mrs. Estella PEASE, all descendants of pioneer women.