|Title||Harriet Merancy Beadle Remembers Her Mother, Reminiscence|
|Author||Harriet Merancy Beadle|
|Type||Primary Sources: Reminiscence|
Merancy Blakesley Beadle was born in 1794 in Wallingford, Connecticut. She married Harry Beadle in 1814 and was widowed in 1834. In her reminiscences, Merancy Beadle’s daughter recalled the life of a poor widow in early nineteenth-century Connecticut.
Excerpts from Reminiscence of My Mother
My father was a carpenter and builder…He also built the house No. 123 South Main St., into which he took his bride in 1814, before it was completed, and where their seven children were born…He constructed articles of furniture as well as houses, such as tables, bedsteads, etc., and the quality of his work was such that “Beadle’s joints” had a reputation which was not confined to his own town. At the time of his death he was making “Beadle’s Fanning Mills,” an invention of his own for winnowing grain, and for which he had received letters patent from Washington: but a little while before, a North Haven man had made a small, but real improvement, which he patented and commenced manufacturing, and this spoiled my father’s business. My father had no capital, and was in debt, but hoped by the profits on his invention, to meet his liabilities. This turn in affairs, however, destroyed these hopes, and when he died, he had a number of unsold machines in his shop. My mother was able to dispose of most of them, but at greatly reduced prices. His estate being insolvent, it became necessary that the house should be sold, and a day was appointed for the sale. My mother was advised by a friend to bid it off* herself, “For,” as he said, “you must have a shelter for your children.” But she replied, “I cannot; I haven’t a cent to pay for it.” Still he urged it, advising her to apply to her mother, Mrs. Mary Blakeslee, who was a widow, but in comfortable circumstances, for help to do so. She was adverse to this for the reason that her mother was not pleased with her marriage to my father because he was a poor man, and had not succeeded in making money, nor had he prospects of better conditions. But the situation was urgent, and swallowing her pride, she borrowed a sum of money for immediate payment, and obligating herself to discharge the indebtedness as she should be able. On the day of the auction, when bids were called for, my mother bid the price of appraisal, and no one followed her. Of course it was knocked down to her. Among those assembled at the auction, one man said to another, “I thought you wanted that house.” “I did,” he answered, “but I was not going to bid against a widow.” This kind friend was Mr. Wooster Martin, the same who advised her to buy the house. I like to think that perhaps others in the assemblage were actuated by the same friendly consideration. Then began the years of effort to pay for the house which she occupied as long as she lived…
Having no income, my mother resorted to many and various expedients to procure the money for the necessary expenses of daily living, and in addition, to meet the payments on her indebtedness as they became due. Amelia, the oldest daughter, was married to Julius Ives of Hamden, was settled in a home of her own. Julia, the oldest at home, commenced teaching school, and continued the occupation for many years. James was apprenticed to Ezra Ives, a carriage painter of Meriden. Mary learned the trade of tailoress, which occupation she followed till she was married to George Andrews of this town. Joseph Blakeslee and Harry Hobert were still too young to leave school, but later, Joseph was “bound out”* to Mr. Jared Allen, a farmer living on the turn-pike west of the town, and Harry H. went to work in a shop in Prattsville, Meriden, making ivory combs. Before Amelia’s marriage, she and Julia worked at toothbrush cases, in a shop standing at Campbell’s pond, to which they walked daily, but I do not know by whom they were employed. As for my mother, there was hardly anything a woman could do that she did not turn her hand to. She made boys’ cloth caps, braided and sewed boys’ straw hats, braided husk mats, dried and sold apples in their season, dyed yarn and stockings, and wove rag car-pets and woolen blankets. She kept silkworms and spun and made sewing-silk. She made regalias* for a Society, cut labels and packed screws by the thousands for a manufacturing company. She quilted bedquilts at one dollar a spool, the number of spools used being her measure of the amount of work on the quilt. She took boarders and did their washing. She let* furnished rooms, and at one time had the care of an invalid baby. She made soap and tallow* candles. She kept a cow, and paid for its pasturage with a neighbor’s cow by sending her little children to drive them to and from the pasture.
In 1837 she let her house for a year to Mr. Jared P. Whittelsey who occupied it while building the house which is still called by his name…During this year she occupied a few rooms in Dea. Carter’s house, now owned by M.J. Butler, opposite Town Hall. She did much of the work in her garden, and even sawed and split much of her own wood, saving every expense possible, and turning into money the work of her hands.
For several years she had the care of the “meeting house,”* sweeping and dusting it with the help of her boys and myself, while the boys built the fires, shovelled the paths, and rang the bell…
There stood in front of the home plot owned by my mother, an immense maple tree, which, from its shape and variety (sugar maple) we used to call the “Sugar loaf.” Its sap product was profuse, yielding in favorable weather several gallons in a day. This was carefully gathered, boiled, and “sugared off,” and used for sweetening our coffee, which was often made of well-toasted bread. A frequent supper was water-gruel*, into which we used to crumb our bread, thus saving the expense of butter. The little children usually had bread and milk. Cheese sometimes took the place of butter, and sometimes we had a supper of Indian hasty pudding, or of “pop Robin,” a dish we all liked. It consisted of boiled salted milk to which a little water was added if the milk was not abundant, and the whole thickened with a batter of wheat flour which was dropped into it gradually from a spoon, and these lumps of scalded flour formed the ‘pop’ of which we were very fond. For several years my mother kept a pig, of which at ‘butchering time’ she sold a half, reserving the other for use in her own family, smoking the ham, cheek and shoulder, salting down the pork, and making sausages and head cheese. Those were busy days, and so, indeed, was every day the whole year round…
During these years of struggle and monetary stress, the most careful economy was practiced on all lines, and so dollar by dollar, almost penny by penny the savings grew. I do not think she ever missed a payment when it was due. Repeatedly, when interest day came, she took her little girl (myself), and suiting her pace to the little footsteps, walked the whole distance to her mother’s house on North Farms, nearly four miles, to make the payment. Generally the return trip was made in the same way unless some one offered her a ride.
That she was undaunted by disaster was well-showed when she cut the cord of her ‘thimble finger’ and it became stiff so that it could not bend. She immediately set to learning to wear her thimble on her third finger, for sew she must with her three little children; the difficulty of the task will be appreciated by anyone accustomed to using the middle finger.
I do not know where she obtained the eggs for the hatching and cultivation of silkworms, but once in hand, they increased rapidly, and became a source of quite an income. She kept them in the attic on boards covered with paper and laid on the heads of barrels. They were fed on mulberry leaves which I gathered from bushes growing in the fence rows between the meadows back of the gardens belonging to our neighbors who kindly gave us permission to do so. The worms grew rapidly, developing an enormous appetite which kept me very busy in the endeavor to supply. When they arrived at maturity and began to show a disposition to form their cocoons, she hung up old garments and branches within their reach which were immediately appropriated and decorated with cocoons, and from these cocoons the silk was spun. The process of manufacture from beginning to end was very interesting.
In her girlhood, my mother, like all her companions learned to spin both flax and wool, making linen thread for tablecloths, sheets and towels and for common sewing, and yarn for weaving into flannel for dresses, and cloth for men’s apparel. There was a loom in the east end of the attic where she wove woolen blankets, rag carpets, etc…
She never had a so-called “hired girl,” but she had at different times the assistance of some half a dozen young girls from neighboring families in needy circumstances, furnishing board and clothes and schooling in return for their services. This was a genuine charity, for she made it a real home for them, and instructed them in household arts as she did myself.
Glossary*bound out - to be living with and working for another family for a period of time, sometimes to learn a trade as an apprentice. Sometimes children were bound out by an oral agreement between their parents and the new master, sometimes with a written indenture.
*gruel - a thin, almost liquid food made by boiling something, such as oatmeal, in water or milk. Gruel was often made for sick people.
*let - rented
*meeting house - building where church services are held
*regalias - special clothing for ceremonies
*tallow - beef fat, used in candle making
SourceHarriet Merancy Beadle, Reminiscence of My Mother, 2nd printing. (Wallingford, Conn.: Wallingford Historical Society, Inc., July 1957), 5-10, 17. Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.