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“Anecdotes” by Mrs. Maude Van Duyne

Some Family History in Letters from 1860

Mrs. Maude Van Duyne

From the Wayland Register, May 1960

Mrs. W. H. Preston and Mrs. Willis Van Duyne passed an afternoon and evening some time ago in reading some old letters, which were very interesting to them. These letters were written by their grandmother, Mrs. Adaline Short Becker, wife of John Becker, to her sister, Mrs. Lucy Short Briggs, of Livonia. Mrs. Briggs kept these letters several years then returned them to the Becker children after the death of their mother. The letters were written in the early 1860’s during the Civil War days, only one was dated with the year, which was May 1860, so that this letter was exactly 100 years old.

The writing was very plain and legible and told mostly about the work on the farm and the house-work of the family, which at that time, consisted of the parents and four children. The family lived in the Town of Springwater on what in later years was known as the George Fisher farm on the road leading to Hemlock Lake, just north of the Wheaton Hill road. It is thought the family had just moved to this farm a short time before from the Town of Richmond, Ontario County, where they had formerly lived and where both parents were born in 1830.

Writes of Family and School

Among other things she wrote was that John was plowing and that the ground was very wet. Another letter told of what a good crop of apples they had and how many they had stored in the cellar for winter use. One told of the oldest daughter Clara drying apples to sell to buy herself a coat. She was about 10 years old at this time and she wrote that the family were all helping with the apples. Evidently girl’s coats were not as expensive as in 1960. She wrote of the children attending school and how well they were doing; that they had the same teacher who had taught the year before and that they thought that she was a good teacher. She did not mention the name of the teacher.

In one letter she spoke of selecting a fleece of wool from their sheep which she was going to send to Dansville to have washed and spun into yarn for stockings. One letter told that she had knitted 10 pair of stockings and refooted five pair that winter. In those days home hand-knitted stockings were worn by the entire family.

One letter told of her mother, our great-grandmother, visiting them and of our grandmother going to visit other members of her family. She also spoke of the death of an older sister and of her niece Lucy, coming to live with Mrs. Briggs, who had no children. Another letter told of a hired girl and of how well she liked her and of her being such a good girl to work. She called her Ann and said she had gone home and as she was soon to be married, she was not expecting her back to work. It is thought the girls name was Ann Goundry as she worked for the family at one time.

From reading the letters we thought the family had lived in Springwater four years. Our father, Marion J. Becker, used to tell us about living there when he was eight years old. Each night he would ride a gentle horse to Springwater to get a paper so his parents could read the war news.

Grandfather Drafted

Our grandfather was drafted during the Civil War and had to go to Canandaigua for examination. He had always worn whiskers as they were fashionable for young men at that time. He was between 30 and 35 years old then and quite tall and rather slender, so before going to Canandaigua he shaved his whiskers off, giving him a very sickly appearance, his face was so thin and white. Our father could recall this very distinctly and also that when he reached Canandaigua he was taken into a large room with several others and told to hold his right foot in his hand and hop around the room on his left foot, when he reached the starting place he was told to hold his left foot in his hand and hop around the room on his right foot. When he returned to the starting place he was so short of breath he was told that he was not wanted. Remembering what our father said we know they were all very glad he was not accepted.

Baptism in Ice Water.

During the time the family lived in Springwater the Advent Church held a baptismal service. It was held in the winter in the creek leading to Hemlock Lake. Our grandfather was one of the number who were baptised. The first in stood on the creek bank until all were baptized and their clothes froze while they waited. Our father remembered this very well and said that none of the group took cold from the exposure. Perhaps people were some what stronger in those days than at the present time.

One letter told of a new cutter they had just bought and of a span of black colts they were breaking to drive on the cutter. This was probably what was called a square box cutter with two seats.

Another letter written in May, 1864, said they had sold their farm for $30 an acre and would have to find a place to move. They had been offered $31 an acre but held off thinking they could get more, but finally sold for less. It is thought that they then moved back to the Town of Richmond where they had lived before moving to Springwater. This was the farm now owned by Ira Briggs. We know they lived there at two different times.

One letter spoke of John going to a barbecue and said she did not get to sleep until he came home at 3 a.m. She also told of the little two year old son, whose name was Fremont, saying he called himself Grant. He probably heard politics discussed frequently, as our grandfather was an ardent Republican.

The Becker family bought the John Morley farm on the Canadice middle road and moved there on Oct. 10, 1864. There were six children then and our father came to Canadice with his left arm in a sling caused by falling from a chestnut tree and breaking his arm while chest-nutting with his friend, Frank Doolittle, a neighbor. Chestnuts were very plentiful then and were enjoyed by the whole family.

The Becker family lived on this Canadice farm for many years. It is now a summer home. Our grandmother died on her 21st wedding anniversary, Sept. 4, 1872, leaving eight children. Our grandfather died there July 15, 1910.

At the present time there are 17 people by the name of Becker living in the Town of Canadice.

Editor’s Note: Mrs. Willis Van Duyne was a frequent contributor of historical sketches and other material to the Wayland Register. She lived much of her life in Canadice NY.