A History Of A Basswood Rocker
And The Family That Owned It
About 1640, somewhere in England was born a boy, John Bartlett, who was to transplant the Bartlett name to America. I know only a few things about him but what I know helps to give a picture of him in that unsettled time. He grew up during the English Civil War. It was, also, a time of rapid settlement in New England and the West Indies. Before 1642 18,600 persons went to Barbados as compared to 14,000 to Massachusetts and 18,000 to other West Indies as compared to fewer than 4,000 to the rest of New England. He served his apprenticeship as a carpenter and builder, usually apprenticeships were from age 14 to 21. Sometimes after 1649, when George Fox won his first converts, he became a Quaker. Between 1655 and 1662 60 Quaker Missionaries arrived in the American colonies where they made converts and established meetings. In that period 4 Quakers were put to death in Massachusetts. In 1662 the parliament passed the Quaker Act, which made things worse for Quakers in England and somewhat better for those in America. Until the toleration Act (1689) 15,000 Quakers were imprisoned in England of which 450 died in prison. But the colonial governments were forbidden to pass the death sentence, the defendants, were to be sent to England for trial, which did not happen with the Quakers in America, so heavy fines were established instead of prison terms and death.
Soon after 1662 John decided to come to Massachusetts. Many English including many Quakers were coming at the same time. The earliest settlers had brought apple seeds with them. At this time pears were becoming popular in France and England. Pears had originated in southeast Europe and western Asia. In Europe most pears were grafted on quince rootstock. Before he came to America John was working for a nurseryman named Williams. Williams had developed a good pear that did not form a good union on quince. He then grafted a compatible variety onto the quince and then grafted his new pear onto the compatible variety, a procedure known as double-working. Williams patented the pear under the Statute of Monopolies of 1624, which instead of granting monopolies indefinitely limited them to 14 years. John asked if he could be Williams agent for the pear in Massachusetts. Williams did not want to patent the pear in Massachusetts, which had established a patent law in 1641, but he said John could take the pear with him. So when John arrived in Weymouth, Mass. in the early 1660’s, he brought with him some pear trees and rootstock, which he hastened to patent as the Bartlett pear. Practically everyone had enough land to grow his own food and fiber (flax), but John and his descendants, always had their orchards, but they did not earn their whole living from the orchards but always were farmers or had some other trade. John, as I said before, was a carpenter.
In 1665 John married Sarah Aldrich, born January 16, 1645 in Braintree, Mass., daughter of George and Catherine Seald Aldrich. The next year they had a son, John, and four years later, Samuel. In 1671 they moved west to Mendon, Mass., perhaps to get more land, carpenter work or perhaps thinking the fines for being a Quaker would be less, or more likely because some of their friends or relatives were going. That same year their son Jacob, our ancestor, was born, followed by Moses, Sarah, Mary, and Noah. Then because he could no longer afford to pay the fines and support his growing family, in 1682 he moved to Rohoboth, now Manville, in the town (township) of Cumberland RI. There on January 24, 1684, their eighth child, Daniel was born, and in august John died. Rhode Island, of course, did not persecute Quakers and other dissenters. When John died his children were 18, 14, 13, 10, 7, 5, 4, and 6 months of age. I think the oldest, John, might have been a carpenter, too. Samuel and Jacob would be starting their apprenticeship to learn some trade. When the mother, Sarah, died in February 17, 1688, only the oldest was of age and the youngest was only 4. We do not know how they all grew up, but it must have been hard. Jacob married Sarah Albee in 1711 when he was 40 years old. In 1712 Damariah was born, Moses 1714, Abner about 1717, Jacob 1720, and Joseph, our ancestor in 1723. On November 7, 1744 Joseph married Abagail Aldrich who was the daughter of Seth Aldrich who was the grandson of Sarah Aldrich’s brother. Remember she was the first John Bartlett’s wife.
All this time, the Bartletts were farmers, orchardmen as well as artesens and craftsmen of various kinds. They lived only 11 miles from the docks of Providence, so they could have engaged in trade with other British colonies or with the mother country. The two main exports of colonial Rhode Island were cheese and whiskey from one of the 70 distilleries within the small colony. They may have even exported nursery stock or pear marmalade or wine. But probably most important al all, they were Quakers, who visited other Quakers and other meetings and went as far as Newport every year to yearly meeting. Log cabins had long given way to plank or brick houses built by the Bartletts or their relatives. Almost everyone they knew was a relative or was to become one by marriage. It was not unusual for second cousins to marry and more distant relatives could not keep the relationship straight. In 1744 the British and French had in been contending for Empire with only a few intermissions for the past 55 years and were to continue for the next 20 years when the French were finally driven out of North America. In 1754 the Indians raided for into the settled area of Massachusetts and even Rhode Island. Ebenezer Cook Jr., who’s daughter Anna was to become Joseph’s Son Jacob’s wife, was driven by Indians to Providence, RI, where Anna was born.
Joseph and Abagail’s children were: Eber b. 1745, Abel b. 1748, Chloe b. 1749, Jacob b. 1751, Abner b. 1752, Pheba b. 1756, Joseph b. 1758, and Livin b. 1763. Abner and Jacob were both blacksmiths.
On Sept 27, 1781 Abner married Drusilla Smith, daughter of John Smith of Smithfield. RI. This was right at the end of the American Revolution, when on Oct 19, 1781 Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. The 1780’s was a period of postwar depression. Rural New England was hard hit with the loss of markets for foodstuffs created by the French, British and American Armies. The currency of the Continental Congress depreciated and Providence RI merchants closed their doors rather than accept paper money. There arose the need for a strong central government. On Sept 17, 1787 the constitution was signed, and ratification by the states began. National elections were held in the fall of 1788 and in the spring of 1789 the first congress assembled and Washington became president. Rhode Island had not even called a convention to ratify the constitution, but under threat of being treated as a foreign nation, Rhode Island ratified in 1790. Prosperity returned and with it a rise in land values, and quite a few of the Bartlett’s neighbors began selling out and going to the frontier for new and more land. Many went to the new state of Vermont, now that the land wars between settlers from New Hampshire and New York were over there. Also, something was happening in western New York that was to have an affect on the future of the family. There were some residents of Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic of Batavia who formed the Holland Land Company, which between 1792 and 1797 acquired 3,600,000 acres in western New York known as the Holland Purchase. In 1801 their agent opened an office in the new settlement of Batavia NY, from which purchasers of most of the lands of the state lying west of the Genesee River obtained their titles.
However, not all of the Bartletts remained simple Quaker artisans. We do not know how much education any of them had. The earliest family records state that Josiah Bartlett was a collateral relative of ours. He lived from 1729 to 1795, was a Physician and Judge and signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Hampshire.
On April 25, 1796 on a farm on the edge of the Village of Manville RI, twin girls, named Mary and Lydia were born to Abner Bartlett, age 44, and his wife Drusilla/ There were already five children in the family: Dexter, 14; Amy, 12; Savid, 9; Smith, 6; and Abel, 3. They were inseparable, sitting on the same chair and eating off the same plate until 19 years later when Lydia married and moved to western New York State. In 1798 when the twins were two, a brother, Daniel, joined the family. That same year, 116 years after John Bartlett had settled in Rhode Island, Abner and Drusilla with many relatives and friends joined a wagon train and moved their family to Danby, Vermont. Of course, they took the Bartlett pear with them. On January 16, 1800 Abner’s youngest son, Jeremy, was born. On April 24, 1801 Abner died of small pox and was baried on his farm, at Danby, Vermont. Lydia was only five when she lost her father, but Dexter was 19 and old enough to look after the farm and orchard with the help of his immediate and extended family. When Lydia was 11, Drusilla married Lemuel Griffith on March 20, 1807 in the Quaker meeting at Danby, Vt. A copy of the marriage cartificate is still in existence. Drusilla died December 25, 1852, and was buried in Collins, NY. Her headstone beside Mr. Griffith reads “formerly wife of Abner Bartlett”.
I have tried to find out what life was like for the Bartletts in Vermont. Once the land was cleared, the pioneer built a log cabin house. He hewed logs flat on two sides, and cut away half the thickness at the ends so they would fit snugly together at the corners of the dwelling. Te logs were then piled on top of each other to the height of a low room. Chinks between them were sealed with mud or clay. The settler cut a door and windows and put on a bark roof. There had to be an immense stone fireplace for cooking and warmth in the bitter winters. The earliest settlers used a green log as a back bar in the fireplace to hang their cooking pots on, and when it charred through and fell, many people not only lost their dinner but their lives as well in the resulting fire. Lydia’s brother Abel died at age 27 in a cabin that caught fire from a charcoal pit, in the night, at the farm of Josiah Southwick where he was employed at Danby, VT. But since Abner was a blacksmith I suppose that their backbar was iron on which hung iron hooks of various lengths called pot hooks. If the fireplace was big there were often benches inside the fireplace at the side where the children could sit to get some of the warmth before it went up the chimney. Sometimes there was a fold down bed near the fireplace for the parents. Most cabins had only one or two rooms, but overhead under the roof, was a loft, reached by a ladder and often used as a bedroom for the children. The puncheon floor was made of logs split in half and laid with the flat surface upwards.
The thrifty settlers built crude asheries. For this they needed a barrel, a kettle and a crude stone base with an open top. They would cut small holes or slits in the bottom of the barrel, place it on top of the stone base and put the kettle underneath it. The barrel would then be filled with wood ashes and water poured into it. As the water trickled down it would dissolve or “leach” out lye from the ashes. When the kettle was full of this solution, the water would be boiled off, leaving the lye. The wife would boil the lye with grease saved from cooking meat. It produced a clear, jelly like soft soap.
The roads were still very primitive. A few years before the roads in the New Hampshire Grants as Vermont was, were little more than blazed trails and it would have been a pack train for moving with everything pulled on a hand sled or carried on horseback. But I think perhaps they went at least part way by wagon.
It has just come to my attention that near their home in Rhode Island was a large foundry where Abner and Jacob worked. This foundry manufactured much of the iron goods for eastern New England in the 1700’s. It is mentioned in the history of Danby VT that the two brothers made all the iron kettles and stirring rods used in the manufacture of lye in that area. This was important because lye was the main cash crop of the area for some time, as potash was used in the manufacture of glass as well as soap.
Corn was the chief food at first. They ground it into meal for hasty pudding and Johnny cake (corn bread, a corruption of Journey cake, because they baked it ahead of time for provisions on trips). Until gristmills came they generally ground it in a “plumping mill”, a hollowed out stump into which the corn was poured and “plumped” down by a stone tied to the end of a nearby springy sapling. The thud of plumping mills could often be heard all over a valley after harvest time. Pumpkins were another main food. They were easy to grow and they were quite tasty when mixed with milk after cooking.
Light was provided by candles. Tallow was rendered from beef or mutton suet. Strands of yearn were then dipped in the melted fat and allowed to cool. The dipping and cooling process went on until the desired thickness was obtained, or the tallow was poured into pewter candle molds.
Deerskin and other furs were still used for shoes and the heavier clothes. But flax produced most of the rest of the clothing until some sheep began to be raised for wool. Most homes had both a flax wheel and a wool wheel for spinning flax and wool thread respectively. The wheelwrights were kept busy turning out spinning wheels and repairing them. Growing flax and turning it into thread and finally into cloth was one of the hardest jobs for the whole family. When the flax was rip, it was pulled up by the roots, dried and then rippled by being drawn through an iron comb with big wire teeth. Next the stalks were retted (rotted) in the running water of a brook to soften the tough fibers (there was a process of dew retting, also). Then the fibers were dried again. Then came the hardest part of all – the flax-brake. A flax brake was a great pair of jaws made of two timbers hinged together on one end. The teeth were slats set lengthwise in the jaws in such a way that when the jaws were closed the upper jaw slats fitted into the slots between those in the lower jaws. The flax was laid in the flax brake and the jaws were closed on it and pounded with an enormous wooden mallet. The idea was to break the flax fibers apart. It took a powerful man to weild the mallet properly. When one considers the toughness of those fibers, it is no wonder the homespun clothes wore well. There was more processing until at last the flax was hatchled (haetcheled as the Vermonters said). This was such a dirty, dusty, irksome work that people came to use the word “hetcheled” to describe a person who was irritated about something and our word “heckle” comes from this. The hatchel was a comb with fine wire teeth which separated the long, golden fibers of the flax, from the short ones, called tow. Flax and tow were twisted into strong thread on spinning wheels and then woven on a handloom, the flax into strong, soft linen and the tow into coarse tow cloth. Boys hated the prickly tow cloth shirts that made them itch. Somewhere along the line the thread for sheets and table linen was bleached.
Life was hard work. In Spring it was plowing, sowing, pruning and grafting in the orchard. In summer there was fighting weeds with hoe, haying and harvesting. In fall it was chopping wood, slaughtering and preserving. In winter there were tools to be repaired and livestock to be fed, watered and cows to be milked. The women spun, wove, sewed, knitted, roasted, boiled, baked, churned butter and made cheese.
Vermont had been the first state to forbid slavery and establish universal manhood suffrage. They, also, under the leadership of Ira Allen had established a firm base of support for their public schools from elementary through university by setting aside 5 divisions of land out of 70 in each six mile square township for the support of schools. We do not know how much contact the Bartletts had had with non-Quakers in Rhode Island, though it must have been some, as Rhode Island was riddled with religious factions in the colonial days. Somehow the Bartletts became closely associated with Zoeth Allen, so that Zoeth’ daughter, Sally Allen married Smith Bartlett and Lydia Bartlett married Zoeth’s son, Isaac Allen. Zeoth’s father John had come from Rhode Island and may have been a Quaker, Zoeth’s wife, Jane Harper was of Scotch-Irish descent and her father Captain George Harper, and his seven sons served all through the War of the Revolution. Zoeth and Janes’ children were raised as Presbyterians. Both the Bartletts and Allens appeared to have a strong interest in education, and even believed in education for girls. So that when the girls wanted to attend the academy for girls, opened by Emma Willard in 1807 in Middlebury VT. Their fathers, in Lydia’s case her step-father, said the local academy was good and why leave home. So there appears to have been co-education for girls in Danby VT, before it was dreamed of elsewhere. We do not know what Isaac Allen’s occupation was but Smith Bartlett was a tanner and leather worker. Tradition says that Isaac became very interested in propagating the Bartlett pear and as a series of droughts made farming and orchard keeping unprofitable in Vermont, it influenced his decision to go west to the Holland Purchase. In 1915 when Lydia was 19 and Snith was 25, they married Isaac and Sally Allen and set out for the Holland Purchase. Zoeth Allen was a furniture maker and when he realized the marriages were eminent, he worked day and night to make furniture for the two young couples. We do not know what pieces they were able to load into the wagons, but among them were the basswood rocker and a walnut or butternut dresser that I have today. Zoeth was very apologetic about the walnut furniture. If he had time he could have sent to Ohio and gotten some of the beautiful yellow pine that he was beginning to order for his richer customers. So the rocker rode in state in the wagon all the way from Danby VT to Collins NY along the Mohawk Valley where the Erie Canal was to be built beginning in 1817 and completed in 1825, while Lydia rode horseback all the way or walked when she became tired of riding.
The war of 1812 had just ended and apparently the trip to Erie County NY was safe. But here is a description of their route just a little over a year before. From Thundergate – The Forts of Niagara by R.W, Howard: “In December 1813 Fort Niagara fell to the British, stirring and diversified scenes of flight and refuge – During the latter part of the 30th and the forenoon of the 31st, the road from Willenk to Turner’s Corners in Sheldon presented one continuous column of retreating soldiers, men, women and children from Buffalo, families from the settlements in all the southern portion of what is now Erie County, and the Indians on masse from the Buffalo Reservation. Bread, meats, and drinks soon vanished from the log taverns on the routes. It was a crises of suffering and privation; a winter of gloom and despondency. Language is inadequate to enable the reader to realize the then condition of the Holland Purchase. Throughout all the back settlements, there were the half deserted neighborhoods; the solitary log house, no smoke rising from its stick chimney; cattle, sheep and swine hovering around and looking in vain for someone to deal out their accustomed food.”
Smith and Sally settled on a farm one mile south of what is now Lawtons NY and built a house that was still standing in 1975 and owned by a great grandson. Isaac and Lydia built a log cabin nearby with an address of Collins NY, which is 4 miles north of Lawtons. They had 8 children who were double first cousins to Smith and Sally’s 9 children. When the Erie canal was complete, Lydia’s brother, Dexter, sold the farm in Danby VT and with his wife and seven children moved to North Otto, a few miles to the southeast of Collins, traveling by the Erie Canal from Troy to Buffalo and then by wagon to their farm. Lydia’s twin sister Mary married and came to western NY sometime before 1828, her sister , Amy, in 1834; brother Savid, a famous scythe maker, in 1840; brother Jeremy in 1845; brother Daniel in 1850; her mother and step-father came sometime, date unknown. More of the Allens must have come too, because my great grandmother, Drusilla Allen Stoddard said that she had 50 first cousins living close enough for her to be acquainted with them.
All I know about Isaac Allen’s life in NY was that he enjoyed working with his orchard and that he served on the Collins school board for 40 years. Lydia was the busy housewife and mother having 8 children in the first 19 years in NY and rocking them each in the Basswood Rocker that was always in the kitchen – the center of the household. Rocking in a rocker is recommended to prevent and alleviate lower back problems. I never heard of any of the owners of the Basswood Rocker suffering from back problems. The neighbors admired the rocker and for a few years Zoeth and some of his young apprentices had quite a business making rockers and shipping them to Western New York. Then the pattern was transferred to someone in Connecticut and they were mass-produced there, one even being sent as far as Hawaii with the missionaries. So far from being unique, our rocker is just one survivor of many of the same general design. In fact, in the current Spegel catalogue, there is one for sale with fancy carving on the back, but instead of being called the Zoeth Allen Rocker, it is called the Josiah Bartlett Rocker. He was the signer of the Declaration of Independence. I do not know how he got in on it, but they were all related anyhow.
Isaac Allen became a convinced Friend, being won over to the Quaker views by his earnest and devout wife.
Lydia and Isaac Allen’s children were:
(1) Daniel Bartlett Allen
b. April 28, 1817 in Collins, Erie County NY
d. November 6, 1901, Oceana County, Shelby, Michigan, where he had moved in
m. Eleanor Wells – 1839
b. March 21, 1812
d. April 1, 1881
(2) Mary Allen
b. April 11, 1819 – Collins, Erie County NY
d. June 27, 1855
m. Benjamin Wells
(3) Drusilla C. Allen
b. June 18, 1821 near Batsvia, NY
d. June 1, 1913 near Germantown, PA, buried Pella, IA
m. Dr. Irn Joy Stoddard Aug 23, 1847
b. Sept 15, 1820
d. Nov 16, 1916
(4) Jane Allen
b. March 10, 1824
d. 18 month old
(5) Joshu Allen
b. March 10, 1826 – Erie County NY
d. March 20, 1907
m. Emeline Etsler in Liberty, MD
b. Nov 14, 1830
d/ March 25. 1900
Top farmer, philosopher, and poet
(6) Prusha Allen
b. June 23, 1829
d. March 19, 1888
m. George Parkinson
(7) Dimmis Allen
b. Jan 15, 1831 – Last child born in their log cabin.
m. Eli Johnson
So sometime between 1831 and 1834 the family along with the basswood rocker moved out of the log cabin into a frame house.
(8) Sylvia Ruth Allen
b. Feb 13, 1834
d. May 31, 1922
m. Joseph Palmerton – December 25, 1854
b. Oct 8, 1824
d. Jan 26, 1892
We now leave the story of Lydia to take up the story of her daughter Drusilla. We know that Lydia lived until she was 73 and a widow, probably, and died April 10, 1879, in her son Joshua’s house in Collins, NY. I think that she kept the Rocker with her most of her life. Beginning about 1840 she had grandchildren to rock, and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and nephews, when they came to visit, which they frequently did.
We know that the broad liberal standards of the Quakers recognized women as a power and they were considered the equal of men in all points of right and privilege. It followed that the girls in Quaker families were given unusual advantages. Drusilla began early an educational career which never ended. She was sent to a Quaker boarding school at the age of fifteen; at seventeen she began her career of teaching in another Quaker school as an assistant to an intelligent woman who exercised a strong uplifting influence over her life.
Later she entered Emma Willard’s Seminary in Troy, NY, and completed a full course of study. She graduated in 1845, and at once entered upon the work of teaching in the mission school which had been established b the Quakers for the Seneca Indians in the Catteraugus Reservation, but gave this up to marry Dr. Ire Jy Stoddard. Dr. Stoddard was a graduate of Colgate University , in Hamilton, NY, 1845. They started at once for India, where Dr. Stoddard had been assigned as a Baptist missionary to the Nowgong District in Assam. The long journey to Calcutta was their wedding trip. They feasted on salt provisions, hard tack and sea biscuits. They were married August 23, 1847.
She knew nothing of the strange language and the numerous dialects of the country, but before a month had gone by, she had made a start in the study of the Assamese tongue, and supplied herself with the necessary books, and was able to translate for others who were not so clever.
Ot was fortunate for workers in the mission that it was near some English gentle-folk. These families kept them supplied with the latest periodicals and books as they came from the mother country – a valued boon, as Baptist missionaries had no money to spend on luxuries.
For nine years the development of the mission went on successfully, with Drusilla teaching and Ira preaching. But there was no such thing as medical or agricultural missionaries in those days, so the Stoddards and other missionaries had to serve in those capacities too. One of the thrilling stories to their young descendants is how one day word came from a distant village that a man-eating tiger had killed many people and finally one of the headman’s wives. The headman sent an elephant and begged the missionary Sahid to bring his gun and come and kill the tiger. The mission did not have a gun and Ira did not know how to shoot. One, but the English loaned him a large rifle and while provisions were being prepared for the journey, he took a little rifle practice. Mounted on the elephant and accompanied by a hoard of natives, he rode off and to the village where he managed to kill the tiger. Many of the grateful villagers joined the church and sent their children, including girls to Mrs. Stoddard’s school. So the first converts were won not by preaching but by use of a gun; a fact that Drusilla had trouble explaining to her Quaker relatives. However, the Bengal tigers were not yet an endangered species. Ira’s reputation as a killer of man-eating tigers spread and several more times he was called to perform a similar service. Once on Sunday, after first preaching to the assembled beaters. One time he was almost killed when the tiger jumped down on the elephant after it had passed under the tree where the tiger was hiding.
At the end of nine years Ira was prostrated with continuous fevers, Malaria and other fevers were endemic in the tropical country. He was ordered back to America. Drusilla was in perfect health, although her hearing had been impaired by the successive fevers and use of remedial drugs. Three children had been added to the family: Bertha, born March 3, 1850, and named after a German missionary; Ells, born March 12, 1852; and Ira Joy Jr., born October 24, 1855.
Upon reaching this country a high dry climate was sought and Pella, Iowa was decided upon. It was the seat of Iowa Central University. Mrs. Drusilla was invited to take charge of the Women’s Department, she began work in 1858. Nearly 400 students were in attendance in 1861. When Fort Sumpter fell in April of that year, the first class was about to graduate. The sad boom of the nations guns rolled out over the Iowa prairies and the big college bell tolled, calling for volunteers. The school was depopulated, but at the close of the civil war, the old interest revived. Twenty-five of the former students had been killed in the war, but many returned to finish their interrupted courses. One of these was my grandfather Henry Whitney.
Ira was preaching in the Baptist church in Pella, but he longed to return to his work in India. So about 1862 they went to a new mission to the southwest part of Assam, among the Gares, rumored to be headhunters, who had never been visited by white men. The less savage Gares, who lived in the foothills were on British territory, and in a fairly safe region, here the mission was founded. I think the girls, Bertha and Ella, aged 12 and 10, remained with relatives in this country to continue their education but Ira Jr. went back with his parents.
Drusilla soon had a collection of orphaned or abandoned girls who she took into her home to raise and educate. It would be nice to say that she rocked the babies in the basswood rocker, but I think it was still in Collins, NY. Ira had a small congregation of Anglicized natives, but he longed to come in contact with the head-hunters back in the hills. So he translated his sermons and favorite hymns into their dialect and with his native helper walked for miles through the forest looking for them. Whenever he came to a village it was deserted. But as he walked he sang the hymns he had translated in his fine baritone voice. One favorite was about a beautiful land, far away. After months of seeing no one, finally a small band of natives crowded around him and demanded to know where the beautiful land was and how to get there. And so the gospel came to the Gare Hills. When the Civil War ended in 1865 the inevitable post war depression and economic problems in the U.S. forced the Baptists to cut back on their missions. First the cut off the appropriation for the girl’s school. This broke Drusilla’s heart because she had no funds of her own to keep the school open. The mission board said “send them back to their homes”. But as they were orphans they had no homes. Rather than see them starve, Drusilla returned to Iowa leaving Dr. Stoddard and Ira Jr. as his companion in India, where he remained four years until all funds were cut off. As soon as Drusilla regained her health she resumed teaching at the college, now as head of the History Department. She continued until advancing years and her infirmity of deafness made teaching impossible.
If Pella had possessed a large library, a few museums, and an advanced lecture course, Drusilla might have been content, but her sands were not run out and she must know what the busy world was doing, spent many days in Des Moines in research. An observer might frequently see Mrs. Stoddard boarding an early train, for a long day in the Historical Building. At ten o’clock at night she might again be home tired but happy, after three hours of travel.
On August 26, 1875, Bertha Stoddard married Henry Whitney. They had both graduated from Central College. She had taught a few years and he had worked in a machine shop as an expert machinist. They settled on a farm near Pella. When her grandmother Lydia asked what she could send them for a wedding present, as she was breaking up housekeeping and moving in with her son. Dursilla said “Ask for the old rocker and walnut chest of drawers.” There were newer things but Drusilla thought those had more sentimental value, having made the honeymoon trip to western New York State. So the basswood rocker came to Iowa and was put in the farm kitchen, where it was used to rock the following children:
1. Robert Harper Whitney
b. August 13, 1876
d. Sept 1877 – age 13 months
2. Alice May Whitney
b. Nov 29, 1878 Pella, Iowa
d. Sept 19, 1885 of Diphtheria
3. Ella Louise Whitney
b. Jan 22, 1882 New Brunswick, NJ where the Whitney grandparents lived.
d. Oct. 12, 1927
4. Ernest Henry Whitney
b. August 28, 1883 – Pella, Iowa
d. Oct 24, 1957
m. Jane Rand Aug. 12, 1920
5. Vida Bertha Whitney
b. Nov 5, 1885 – Pella, Iowa
d. Dec 21, 1974
m. Lloyd Mundy – Jan. 25, 1930
b. Jan 25, 1900 d. Nov. 1966
6. Arthur Whitney
b. Dec 13. 1887 – Pella, Iowa
d. Jan 22, 1964
m. Emma Beers – June 3. 1925
7. Susan Curtis Whitney
b. Jan 27, 1890 – Pella, Iowa
d. February 10, 1976
m. Elwood Johnson – July 1, 1925 (no children)
8. Edith Drusilla Whitney
b. April 4, 1892 – in Rahway, NJ
d. January 22, 1962
m. Jay Whitson – May 29, 1918
b. March 26, 1889 d. Oct 1, 1976
A few months before Edith was born the family, along with the basswood rocker, moved by train to Rahway, NJ where her father had a job in a machine shop where he was a very skilled worker but as it was before the days of unions he received a very small wage. In a few years they moved to Plainfield where the children grew up and went to school. The two boys Ernest and Arthur attended Colgate University. Louise took a business course and became a secretary in New York City. Sue became a nurse. Ernest became a stock broker in New York City and sent Edith to college. She attended Oberlin College 1910-12 and had to drop out because of illness. She attended Iowa State College 1914-1918, graduated May 29, 1918 and was married the same day. While Jay was in the army (July 1918 to May 1919), she was assistant dietician in Muhlenburg Hospital, Plainfield, NJ. When Jay returned from WWI they returned to Iowa where Jay worked as a hired man on his father’s farm. In January 1921 he became assistant county extension agent of Shelby County and they moved to Harlan where Bertha was born on July 6, 1921. As Bertha was the first grandchild on that side of the family, Edith asked that the basswood rocker be sent to her to rock the baby. Vida said that all the fourteen rooms of furniture, most of it walnut, should stay in Plainfield until the six children all had homes of their own. Edith and Jay were living in a rented house and Vida did not think they would want too much to move. Edith sent the freight cost of the basswood rocker and the walnut chest and said that she gave up all claim to the rest of the furniture. So after same months the rocker and chest arrived in Iowa once again.
I forgot to say, in 1904 Ira and Drusilla moved in with Bertha’s family and Edith had to run errands for them and the Whitney grandparents, who lived next door. In this way Edith got to hear wonderful stories of their family history.
In 1930 Vida got married and moved out of Plainfield for a few months, and put most of the family furniture in storage. While in storage, the furniture was stolen. If the basswood rocker had been there it probably would have been stolen, and therefore, I would not be writing this story. The rocker was in pretty sad shape when it arrived in Iowa the second time. The back had been cracked on the right side where the arm joins the back and a metal screw had been put in to reinforce the wooden pegs. The seat had been patched probably several times so that none of the original seat remained. The caning was completely broken out and no one in Iowa appeared to remember how to do caning, so Edith put a cover of denim over the back and tacked upholsterer’s webbing across the seat and made a cushion for it.
In Sept. 1925 Jay and Edith bought an 80 acre farm in Cass County, Iowa and lived there until March 1926, when Jay became assistant editor of Wallace’s Framer and the family moved to Des Moines, where Mary Alice was born April 21, 1926. The rocker’s home was four rented houses the five years that we lived in Des Moines. In 1931 the depression was on, although we did not know how bad it would be, “prosperity was just around the corner”. Jay’s job petered out and we bought and moved to an 80 acre farm between Indianola and Ackworth, Iowa. The basswood rocker was spruced up with a dark coat of walnut varnish and a new cover for it’s cushion, but by now everyone had forgotten that it was made of basswood, a light colored wood. At the turn of the century someone had put black carbon paint on it. Every owner seemed to have added a coat of paint, maybe one every few years.
In 1937 Jay became a field man for the US Dept. Of Agriculture and was gone from the farm a lot during the years until 1943, but the rocker stayed home on the farm while Bertha graduated from Indianola High School in 1938 and Simpson College in 1943. In 1943 the family, with the rocker, moved to Ames. Bertha taught a year in the Legrand High School. She got her M.S. degree in Rural Sociology from Iowa State University in 1945. That fall she went to work at Cherokee State Hospital where she met Hugh Barrett, who was in the Civilian Public Service unit there. They were married June 5, 1946 and went to Kirksville MO, where Hugh attended Northeastern Missouri State College and where Jay was born April 1, 1947. We did not have the rocker to rock him in, so he rocked himself, which he did on his hands and knees, banging his head on the crib. In 1947 we moved to Ackworth, where Hugh preached at Ackworth Friends Church and attended Simpson College, graduating in the summer of 1948. We moved back to the farm that year and met up with the rocker again. Daniel, born July 10, 1949, was rocked in the chair as was David, born March 19, 1951. In June we took the family and the chair to Clio, Iowa where Hugh was preaching in the Methodist Church. There was an old blind man in the area who did chair caning, so we had the chair recaned. When Franklin was born on Sept 10, 1952, a newly caned chair was waiting for him. In 1953 we moved with the chair to Hillsdale, IL where Hugh preached while he went to Garrett Biblical Institute, in Evanston. In July 1954 Hugh and Bertha began working at East Moline State Hospital and the next year we bought the house at 1356 7th Avenue in East Moline, where the chair was to remain the next 25 years. While there I felt the paint and varnish was getting too thick on the rocker and tried to remove it, without much luck. I then took it to a professional furniture refinisher, who got down almost to the original wood and said “What a wonderful antique rocker of basswood, you have there.” I was shocked at how light color it was after seeing it dark all those years. In July of 1979 Hugh and Bertha came to Chester, IL to work at Manard Correctional Center and brought the rocker. On January 24, 1981 Caroline Ann Barrett was born in Iowa City, Iowa and the rocker celebrated its 166th birthday.