Early Remembrances of Wolcott, Lamoille County, Vermont
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No more earnest lesson of what energy and perseverance can accomplish could be found, perhaps, than in Mr. Hubbell’s sketch of his trials and triumphs in those early days, found in the following narrative, written by him and published in 1829. We are indebted to the kindness of Mr. Justus Hubbell, one of the descendants, for a copy of the pamphlet, which we deem of sufficient interest to warrant an entire reprint:
“This narrative was written for the private use and gratification of the sufferer, with no intention of its ever appearing before the public, but certain reasons connected with his present circumstances have induced him (by the advice of his friends) to commit it to the press. It is a simple narration of real facts, the most of which many living witnesses can now attest to. The learned reader will excuse the many imperfections in this little work: the writer not being bred to literary knowledge, is sensible of his inability to entertain the curious, but if his plain and simple dress can reach the sympathy of the feeling heart, it may be gratifying to some. It may also serve to still the murmurings of those who are commencing settlements in the neighborhood of plenty, and teach them to be reconciled to their better fate, and duly appreciate the privileges they enjoy, resulting from the toils of the suffering few who broke the way into the wilderness.
” In the latter part of February, 1789, I set out from the town of Norwalk, in Connecticut, on my journey for Wolcott, to commence a settlement and make that my residence, family consisting of my wife and five children, they all being girls, the eldest nine or ten years old. My team was a yoke of oxen and a horse. After I had proceeded on my journey to within about one hundred miles of Wolcott, one of my oxen failed , but I however kept him yoked with the other till about noon each day, then turned him before, and took his end of the yoke myself, and proceeded or) in that manner with my load to about fourteen miles of my journey’s end, when I could get the sick ox no further, and was forced to leave him with Thomas McConnel, in Johnson , but he had neither hay nor grain for him. I then proceeded on with some help to Esq. McDaniel’s in Hyde Park : this brought me to about eight miles of Wolcott, and to the end of the road. It was now about the loth of March , the snow was not far from four feet deep, no hay to be had for my team, and no way for them to subsist but by browse. As my sick ox at McDonnell’s could not be kept on browse, I interceded with a man in Cambridge for a little hay to keep him alive, which I backed, a bundle at a time, five miles, for about ten days, when the ox died. On the 9th of April I set out from Esq. McDaniel’s, his being the last house, for my intended residence in Wolcott, with my wife and two eldest children. We had eight miles to travel on snow shoes, by marked trees no road being cut: my wife had to try this new mode of traveling, and she performed the journey remarkably well. The path had been so trodden by snow-shoes as to bear up the children. Esq. Taylor, with his wife and two small children, who moved on with me, had gone on the day before. We were the first families in Wolcott: in Hyde Park there had two families wintered the year before. To the east of us it was eighteen miles to inhabitants, and no road but marked trees: to the south about twenty, where there were infant settlements, but no communication with us , and to the north, it was almost indefinite, or to the regions of Canada.
“I had now reached the end of my journey, and I may say almost to the end of my property, for I had not a mouthful 0f meat or kernel of grain for my family, nor had I a cent of money to buy with, or property that I could apply to that purpose. I however had the good luck to catch a sable. The skin I carried fifty miles, and exchanged it for half a bushel of wheat, and backed it home. We had now lived three weeks without bread , though in the time I had bought a moose of an Indian, which I paid for by selling the shirt off my back, and backed the meat five miles, which answered to subsist upon. I would here remark that it was my fate to move on my family at that memorable time called the `scare season,’ which was generally felt through the State, especially in the northern parts in the infant settlements. No grain or provisions of any kind, of consequence, was to be had on the river Lamoille. I had to go into New Hampshire, sixty miles, for the little I had for my family, till harvest, and this was so scanty a pittance that we were under the painful necessity of allowancing the children till we had a supply. The three remaining children that I left in Hyde Park, I brought one at a time on my back on snow-shoes, as also the whole of my goods.
“I moved from Connecticut with the expectation of having fifty acres of land given me when I came on, but this I was disappointed of, and was under the necessity soon after I came on of selling a yoke of oxen and a horse to buy the land I now live on, which reduced my stock to but one cow, and this I had the misfortune to lose the next winter. That left me wholly destitute of a single hoof of a creature : of course the second summer I had to support my family without a cow. I would here notice that I spent the summer before I moved, in Wolcott, in making preparation for a settlement, which, however, was of no avail to me, and I lost the summer, and to forward my intended preparation, I brought on a yoke of oxen, and left them, when I returned in the fall, with a man in Johnson, to keep through the winter, on certain conditions, but when I came on in the spring, one of them was dead, and this yoke of oxen that 1 put off for my land was made of the two surviving ones. But to proceed, in the fall I had the good fortune to purchase another cow, but my misfortunes still continued, for in the June following she was killed by a singular accident. Again I was left without a cow, and here I was again frustrated in my calculations. This last cow left a fine heifer calf that in the next fall I lost by being choked. Soon after I arrived, I took two cows to double in four years. I had one of my own besides, which died in calving. In June following, one of those taken to double, was killed while fighting, the other was found dead in the yard, both of which I had to replace. In the same spring, one of my neighbor’s oxen hooked a bull of two years old, which caused his death soon after. Here I was left destitute no money to buy, or article to traffic for one, but there was a door opened. I was informed that a merchant in Haverhill was buying snake-root and sicily. This was a new kind of traffic that I had no great faith in , but I thought to improve every means or semblance of means in my power. Accordingly, with the help of my two oldest girls, I dug and dried a horse-load, and carried this new commodity to the merchant, but this was like most hearsay reports of fine markets, always a little way a-head, for he knew nothing about this strange article, and would not even venture to make an offer , but after a long conference I importuned with the good merchant to give me a three year old heifer for my roots, on certain conditions too tedious to mention. I drove her home, and with joy she was welcomed to my habitation, and it has been my good fortune to have a cow ever since. Though my faith was weak, yet being vigilant and persevering, I obtained the object, and the wilderness produced me a cow.
When I came into Wolcott my farming tools consisted of one axe and an old hoe. The first year I cleared about two acres, wholly without any team, and being short of provisions, was obliged to work the chief of the time till harvest, with scarce a sufficiency to support nature. My work was chiefly by the river. When too faint to labor, for want of food, I used to take a fish from the river, broil it on the coals, and eat it without bread or salt, and then to my work again. This was my common practice the first year till harvest. I could not get a single potato to plant the first season, so scarce was this article. I then thought if I could but get enough of this valuable production to eat, I would never complain. I rarely see this article cooked, but the thought strikes my mind, in fact, to this day I have a great veneration for this precious root. I planted that which I cleared in season, with corn , and an early frost ruined the crop, so that I raised nothing the first year, had again to buy my provisions: My seed corn,, about eight quarts, cost me two and a half yards of whitened linen, yard wide, and this I had to go twenty miles after. Though this may be called extortion, it was a solitary instance of the kind, all were friendly and ready to assist me in my known distress, as far as they had ability. An uncommon degree of sympathy pervaded all the new settlers, and I believe this man heartily repented the act, for he was by no means indigent, and was many times reminded of it by way of reproof,
My scanty supply of bread-corn made it necessary to improve the first fruits of harvest at Lake Champlain, to alleviate our distress, it being earlier than with us. Accordingly, on the last days of July, or first of August, I took my sickle, and set out for the lake, a distance of better than forty miles. When I had got there, I found their grain was not ripe enough to begin upon , but was informed that on the Grand Isle they had began their harvest. I was determined to go on, but had nothing to pay my passage. I finally hired a man to carry me over from Georgia, for the small compensation of a case and two lances that I happened to have with me, but when I had got on to the Island, I found I was still too early. There was no grain ripe here, but I found the most forward 1 could, plead my necessity, and staid by the owner till I got one and a half bushels of wheat, and worked for him to pay for it, it was quite green : I dried it and set out for home , but my haste to get back prevented my drying it sufficiently. I found a boat bound for Mansfield mills, on the river Lamoille, and got my grain on board, and had it brought ‘there free from expense. I got it ground, 0r rather mashed, for it was too damp to make meal. I here hired my meal carried on to Cambridge borough for my sickle, and there got it ground the second time, but it was still far from good meal. From the Borough I was so fortunate as to get it home on a horse. I was a fortnight on this tour. My wife was fearful some accident had happened, and sent a man in pursuit of me, who met me on my way home. I left my family without bread or meal, and was welcomed home with tears, my wife baked a cake, and my children again tasted bread.
I had the good fortune to by on trust, the winter after I lost my corn, of a man in Cambridge, twenty-four miles from home, twelve bushels of corn, and one of wheat. This, by the assistance of some kind friends, I got to Esq. McDaniel’s. I also procured by digging on shares in Hyde Park, twelve or thirteen bushels of potatoes. This grain and potatoes I carried eight miles on my back. My common practice was one-half bushel of meal, and onehalf bushel of potatoes at a load.
The singular incidents that took place in getting this grain on, though tedious to mention, may be worthy of notice. Soon after I set out from home, sometime in the month of March , it began to rain, and was a very rainy day and night. The Lamoille was raised the ice became rotten and dangerous crossing many of the small streams were broken up. The man of whom I purchased the grain was so good as to take his team and carry it to the mill. The owner of the mill asked me how I expected to get my meal home. I answered him as the case really was, that I knew not. The feeling man then offered me his oxen and sled to carry it to the Park, and I thankfully accepted his kind offer. He then turned to the miller, and directed him to grind my grist toll free. While at the mill a man requested me to bring a half hogshead tub on my sled up .to Johnson. By permission of the owner of the oxen, he put the tub on the sled, and it was a Providential circumstance, for when I came to Brewster’s branch, a wild stream, I found it broken up, running rapid and deep. At first I was perplexed what to do. To go across with my bags on the sleds would ruin my meal. I soon thought of the tub, this held about half of my bags, the other half I left on the shore, and proceeded into the branch and crossed with safety. Though I was wet nearly to my middle, I unloaded the tub and returned into the branch, holding the tub on the sled, but the stream was so rapid, the tub being empty, that in spite of all my exertions, I was washed off the sled and carried down the stream, holding on to the tub, for this I knew was my only alternative to get across my load. At length I succeeded in getting the tub to the shore, though I was washed down the stream more than twenty rods, sometimes up to my armpits in the water, and how I kept the tub from filling in this hasty struggle, I know not, but so it was. The oxen, though turned towards home, happily for me, when they had got across the stream, stopped in the path till I came up with the tub. I then put in the other half of my load, and succeeded in getting the whole across the branch, and traveled on about three miles and put up for the night. Wet as I was, and at that season of the year, it is easy to conceive my uncomfortable situation, for the thaw was over, and it was chilly and cold. In the morning I proceeded for home came to the river, not being sensible how weak the ice was, I attempted to cross, but here a scene ensued that I can never forget When about half across the river, I perceived the ice settling under my oxen. I jumped on to the tongue of my sled, and hastened to the oxen’s heads, and pulled out the pin that held the yoke. By this time the oxen were sunk to their knees in water. I then sprang to the sled, and drawed it back to the shore, without the least difficulty, notwithstanding the load, and returned to my oxen. By this time they had broken a considerable path in the ice, and were struggling to get out. I could do nothing but stand and see them swim round sometimes they would be nearly out of sight, nothing scarcely but their horns to be seen , they would then rise and struggle to extricate themselves from their perilous situation. I called for help in vain, and to fly for assistance would have been imprudent and fatal. Notwithstanding my unhappy situation, and the manner by which I came by the oxen, &c., I was not terrified in the least I felt calm and composed ;at length the oxen swam up to where I stood, and laid their heads on the ice at my feet. I immediately took the yoke from off their necks , they lay still till the act was performed, and then returned to swimming as before. By this time they had made an opening in the ice as much as two rods across. One of them finally swam to the down stream side, and in an instant, as if lifted out of the water, he was on his side on the ice, and got up and walked off, the other swam to the same place, and was out in the same way. I stood on the opposite side of the opening, and saw with astonishment every movement. I then thought, and the impression is still on my mind, that they were helped out by supernatural means , most certainly no natural cause could produce an effect like this , that a heavy ox six and a half feet in girth, can of his own natural strength heave himself out of the water on his side on the ice, is too extraordinary to reconcile to a natural cause, that in the course of Divine Providence events do take place out of the common course of nature, that our strongest reasoning cannot comprehend, is impious to deny, though we acknowledge the many chimeras of superstition, ignorance and barbarism in the world, and when we are eye witnesses to such events, it is not for us to doubt, but to believe and tremble. Others have a right to doubt my. testimony, but in this instance, for me to doubt would be perjury to my own conscience, and I may add ingratitude to my Divine Benefactor. In fact a signal Providence seemed to direct the path for me to pursue to procure this grain. Though I was doomed to encounter perils, to suffer fatigue and toil, there was a way provided for me to obtain the object in view. In the first onset I accidentally fell in with the man of whom I purchased at the Park. I found he had grain to sell. I requested of him this small supply on trust , we were strangers to each other a peculiar friend of mine, happening to be by, volunteered his word for the pay. I knew not where or how to get the money, but necessity drove me to make the purchase, end in the course of the winter I was so fortunate as to catch sable enough to pay the debt by the time it was due. Though I hazarded my word, it was in a good cause it was for the relief of my family, end so it terminated. But to return, I had not gone t0 the extent of my abilities for breed corn, but was destitute of meet, end beef end pork were scarcer in those times. Accordingly I had to have recourse to wild meet for a substitute, end had the good luck to purchase a moose of a hunter , end the meet of two more I brought in on shares had the one for bringing in the other. These two were uncommonly large were judged to weigh seven hundred weight each. The meet of these three moose I brought in on my beck, together with the large bones end heeds. I backed them five or six miles over rough land, cut up by sharp ridges and deep hollows, end interspersed with underbrush end windfalls, which made it impracticable to pass with a hand sled, which, could I have used, would much eased my labor. A more laborious task was this then that of bringing my meal, &c., from the Perk.
” My practice was to carry my loads in a bag, to tie the ends of the beg so nigh that I could but comfortably get my heed through, so that the weight of my load would rest on my shoulders. I often had to encounter this hardship in the time of a thaw, which made the task more severe, especially in the latter Dart of winter and fore pert of the spring, when the snow became coarse end harsh, and would not so readily support the snow-shoe. My hold would often fail without any previous notice to guard against it perhaps slide under a log or catch in a bush end pitch me into the snow with my load about my neck. I have repeatedly had to struggle in this situation for some time to extricate myself from my load, it being impossible to get up with my load on. Those who ere acquainted with this kind of burden may form en idea of whet I had to encounter the greet difficulty of carrying a load on showshoes in the time of a thaw, is one of those kinds of fatigue that it is herd to describe, nor can be conceived but by experience. It is wearisome et such times to travel without a load, but with one, especially et this late season, it is intolerable, but thaw or freeze my necessities obliged me to be et my task, end still to keep up my burthen. I had to drew my firewood through the winter on a hand sled , in fact, my snow-shoes were constantly hung to my feet.
`Being destitute of teem for four or five years, end without farming tools, I had to labor under greet embarrassments, my grain I hoed in the first three years. After I raised a sufficiency for my family, I had to carry it twelve miles to mill on my beck, for the first three years, this I had constantly to do once a week. My common load was one bushel, end I generally carried it eight miles before I stopped to rest. My wife et one time sold her shirt to purchase a moose hide which I was obliged t0 carry thirty miles on my beck, end sold it for a bushel of corn, end brought the corn home in the same way.
“For a specimen of the hardships those have often to encounter who move into the wilderness, I will give the following, that took place the winter after I came on : We had a remarkable snow, the first of consequence that fell, it was full two feet deep. Our communication was with the inhabitants of Hydeperk, end it was necessary for us to keep the road, or rather path, so that we could travel, we were apprehensive of danger, if we did not immediately tread a path through this snow. I was about out of meal, end had previously left a bushel et a deserted house about five miles on the way. I agreed with Esq. Taylor, he being the only inhabitant with me, to start the next day on the proposed tour. We accordingly started before sunrise, the snow was light, and we sunk deep into it. By the middle of the day it give some, which made it still worse, our snow-shoes loaded at every step, we had to use nearly our whole strength to extricate the loaded shoe from its hold. It seemed that our hip joints would be drawn from their sockets. We were soon worried could go but a few steps without stopping, our fatigue and toil became almost insupportable were obliged often to sit down and rest, and were several times on the point of giving up the pursuit, and stop for the night, but this must have been fatal, as we had no axe to cut wood for a fire , our blood was heated, and we must have chilled. We finally, at about dusk, reached the deserted house, but were in effect exhausted. It seemed we could not have reached this house had it been twenty rods further , so terrible is the toil to travel through deep snow, that no one can have a sense of it till taught by experience. This day’s journey is often on my mind, in my many hard struggles it was one of the severest. We struck up a fire and gathered some fuel that lay about the house, and after we had recovered strength, I baked a cake of my meal. We then lay down on some hewn planks, and slept sound till morning, It froze at night , the track we had made rendered it quite feasible traveling. The next day I returned home with my bushel of meal.
“Another perilous tour I will mention, that occurred this winter. It was time to bring on another load of meal from Esq. McDaniels. I proposed in my mind to go early the next morning. There had been a thaw, and in the time of the thaw a man had driven a yoke of oxen from Cabot, and went down on my path, and trod it up. The night was clear the moon shown bright, and it was remarkably cold. I awoke, supposing it nearly day, and sat out, not being sensible of the cold, and being thinly clad I soon found I was in danger of freezing, and began to run, jump, and thrash my hands, etc. The path being full of holes, and a light snow had just fallen that filled them up, I often fell, and was in danger of breaking my limbs, etc. The cold seemed to increase, and I was forced to exert my utmost strength to keep from freezing, my limbs became numb before I got through, though I ran about every step of the eight miles, and when I got to McDaniel’s the cocks crowed for day. I was surprised upon coming to the fire to find that the bottoms of my moccasins and stockings were cut and worn through, the bottoms of my feet being entirely bare, having cut them by the holes in the path, but notwithstanding the severity of the frost, 1 was preserved, not being frozen in any pact. Had I broken a limb, or but slightly sprained a joint, which I was in imminent danger of doing, I must have perished on the way, as a few minutes of respite must have been fatal.
“In the early part of my residence in Wolcott, by some means I obtained knowledge of their being beaver on a small stream in Hardwick, and desirous to improve every means in my power for the support of my family, and to retrieve my circumstances, I determined on a tour to try my fortune at beaver hunting. Accordingly, late in the tall, I set out in company with my neighbor Taylor on the intended enterprise. We took what =was called the Coos road, which was nothing more than marked trees, in about seven miles we reached the stream, and proceeded up it about three miles farther, and searched for beaver, but were soon convinced that they had left the ground. We, however, set a few traps. Soon after we started it began to rain, and before night the rain turned into a moist snow that melted on us as fast as it fell. Before we reached the hunting-ground we were wet to our skins, night soon came on we found it necessary to camp (as the hunters use the term), with difficulty we struck up a fire, but our fuel was poor, chiefly green timber the storm increased the snow continued moist, our bad accommodations grew worse and worse, our fire was not sufficient to warm us and much less to dry us , we dared not attempt to lay down, but continued on our feet through the night, feeding our fire and endeavoring to warm our shivering limbs. This is a memorable night to me, the most distressing I ever experienced, we anxiously looked for day. At length the dawn appeared, but it was a dismal and a dreary scene. The moist snow had adhered to every thing in its way, the trees and underwood were remarkably loaded, were completely hid from sight nothing to be seen but snow, and nothing to be heard but the cracking of the tended boughs under the enormous weight, we could scarcely see a rod at noonday. When light enough to travel, we set out for home, and finding it not safe to leave the stream for fear of getting bewildered and lost, we followed it back, it was lined the chief of the way with beaver meadow, covered with a thick growth of alders, we had no way to get through them but for one to go forward and beat off the snow with a heavy stick. We thus proceeded, though very slowly, down the stream to the Coos road, and worried through the ten miles home at the dusk of the evening, nearly exhausted by fatigue, wet and cold, for it began to freeze in the morning, our clothes were frozen stiff on our backs, when I pulled off my great coat it was so stiff as to stand up on the floor. In order to save our traps we had to make another trip, and one solitary muskrat made up our compensation for this hunting tour.’
“A painful circumstance respecting my family I must here mention. In the year 1806, we were visited with sickness that was uncommonly distressing, five being taken down at the same time, and several dangerously ill. In this sickness I lost my wife, the partner of my darkest days, who bore her share of our misfortunes with becoming fortitude. I also lost a daughter at the same time, and another was bedrid about six months, and unable to perform the least labor for more than a year. This grevious calamity involved me in debts that terminated in the loss of my farm, my little all, but by the indulgence of feeling relatives I am still permitted to stay on it. ‘Though I have been doomed to hard fortune I have been blest with a numerous offspring, have had by my two wives seventeen children, thirteen of them daughters, have had fifty-one grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, making my posterity seventy-four souls.
“I have here given but a sketch of my most important sufferings. The experienced farmer will readily discover, that under the many embarrassments I had to encounter, I must make but slow progress in clearing land , no soul to help me, no funds to go to, raw and inexperienced in this kind of labor, though future wants pressed the necessity of constant application to this business, a great portion of my time was unavoidably taken up in pursuit of sustenance for my family, however reluctant to leave my labor, the support of nature must be attended to, the calls of hunger cannot he dispensed with. I have now to remark, that at this present time, my almost three-score years and ten, I feel the want of those forced exertions of bodily strength that were spent in those perils and fatigues, and have worn down my constitution, to support my decaying nature.
“When I reflect on those past events, the fatigue and toil I had to encounter, the dark scenes I bad to pass through, I am struck with wonder and astonishment at the fortitude and presence of mind that I then had to bear me up under them. Not once was I discouraged or disheartened: I exercised all my powers of body and mind to do the best I could, and left the effect for future events to decide, without embarrassing my mind with imaginary evils. I could lie down at night, forgetting my troubles, and sleep composed and calm as a child, I did in reality experience the just proverb of the wise man, that `the sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much.’ Nor can I close my tale of sufferings without rendering my feeble tribute of thanks and praise to my benign Benefactor, who supplies the wants of the needy and relieves the distressed, that in his wise Providence has assisted my natural strength, both of body and of mind, to endure those scenes of distress and toil.
“COUNTY OF ORLEANS, Nov’r. 1824.
“The undersigned, having read in manuscript the foregoing narrative, and having lived in habits of intimacy with, and in the neighborhood of Seth Hubbell at the time of his sufferings, we are free to inform the public, that we have no doubt but his statements are, in substance, correct.
Many of the circumstances therein narrated we were at the time personally knowing to, and are sensible more might be added without exaggeration, in many instances wherein he suffered.
“THOMAS TAYLOR, Justice of Peace. ” DARIUS FITCH, ,J of Peace. “JOHN McDANIEL, J. P. ” JESSE WHITNEY, T P.”
Mr. Hubbell was known among his townsmen as a good and pious man. He died in 1832, aged seventy-three years, leaving a valuable farm to his descendants.