Friday, May 30, 2008

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park
Originally uploaded by dvdbarrett
Bertha Barrett sitting on the East Rim, in Big Bend National Park, Texas, Feb 1985

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Biographical Sketch of Bennet Whitney 1810-1896

Bennet Whitney was the great-great-grandfather to the Barrett brothers - his son, Henry Whitney (great grandfather), his daughter Edith (Whitney) Whitson (grandmother) - her daugher Bertha (Whitson) Barrett (mother).

[For those interested in Whitney genealogy Bennet was descended from the immigrant Henry Whitney: Henry-John -Joseph-David-Ebenezer-Aaron-Bennet]

Bennet Whitney was born in Wilton, Connecticut, March 23, 1810. In April, 1828, he was baptized by Rev. Asa Branson, and joined the Baptist church at Stratfield.

He was learning his trade of molder and furnace-man at Gregory's foundry, corner of Fairfield and Clinton Avenues, in Bridgeport.

In 1832, he was a delegate to the Baptist State Convention at Middletown, when Rev. Jonathan Going was soliciting aid for the new Home Mission Society. "Some of the more conservative brethren opposed the new venture, but Mr. Whitney spoke in its favor and gave $10." He entered his desire to go into the Ministry, in his diary, about that time.

In 1833, with his two older brothers, he bought out the Gregory foundry, and set up the first steam engine used for manufacturing, in Bridgeport. They were pioneers in
the iron-fence business, an in making iron plow-points. He was one of the the very small group who had the courage and foresight to buy the old St. John's Episcopal Church, and start the First Baptist Church.

On October 14, 1836, he married, at Suffield, Susan Curtis, the daughter of
Nathaniel and Elizabeth Smith Curtis, at her brother's home. Rev. Nathan
Wildman officiating. They had eight children, all born in Bridgeport.

B.W. was the first Deacon of the church and served as treasurer several times.
A certain petition always appeared in his Family Worship each morning. One grandchild remembers that sentence, as distinctly as the aching little knees, in the long prayer. He was too humble to instruct the Almighty which side to favor, in any public question, but he prayed fervently, every day, "May the Right prevail!" And his feeble old voice put more vigor into it. He truly lived by the Bible, even to following literally the instruction to the Disciples: "If any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also," without realizing the injustice to his children. No wonder early pictures of his wife look "dragged out!"

About 1855, they moved to Keokuk, Iowa, where he saw that town as the "gateway to the great West of the future". His wife's sister, and her son George Parsons, had preceded them, and written glowing letters. Later, they moved on to Pella, Iowa. Perhaps the railroad had not been built, for somewhere the children travelled in a canvas-top wagon over prairie.

They returned East near the end of the Civil War, and lived near New Brunswick, N.M. where the father and his two younger sons could work in Machine shops. In
the spring of 1874, they removed to Rahway, N.J. where he bought a house with
large spread of garden, at 49 Harrison Street. For twenty years he remained in Rahway, where he was greatly beloved, his tall patriarchal appearance attracting attention wherever he went. He served as Deacon in the Baptist churches at Keokuk, Pella, New Brunswick and Rahway, and every pastor had good reason to thank God for his loyal support and wise counsel.

While living here, in Rahway, a well-to-do distant cousin finished the gigantic task of compiling the genealogy of the Connecticut Whitneys, and as Bennet took great pains to gather the data for this branch, he received a set, of three volumes. Later on, his sister Caroline and his brother Zenas each got a set, but the writer is under the impression that they paid over thirty dollars apiece for them. Bennet's set, with the
great Family Bibile, and the stamp, "B.W." with which castings were marked, in
the foundry, are all at the home of his eldest grandson, Ernest Whitney.

The Golden Wedding and the sixtieth anniversary of the marriage of Bennet and
Susan (Curtis) Whitney also came while they lived in Rahway, N.M. His son, Henry, came with his family, for the West,, and lived in the old home. Later, the senior family moved to 39 Myrtle Avenue in Roseville, Newark, where B.W. died August 26, 1898, he was buried in the Whitney plot in Van Liew Cemetery, (formerly Oak Hill) near New Brunswick, N.J.

"He was always very active in church work and especially in Bible study. He mind
remained clear and active up to the last, and in the discoveries (and his interest in all the questions of the day) and inventions of our age continued unabated to the end of his life. But his greatest interest always was in questions of duty, and in contemplating the love, wisdom, goodness and greatness of God, as manifested in his works and in the salvation of men."

"He was never prominent in political matters and held office but seldom, though his
principles caused him always to affiliate with the party opposed to slavery, and
to maintain his views decidedly though courteously."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Farm Life in Pre-World War Days

The following was written by the Barrett brother's grandfather, Newton Barrett. It was written about 1975, when he was 85 years old, remembering life on the farm during World War I when he had had just graduated from college and gotten married. Newton was a city boy who found the isolation and tedium of life on the farm very difficult, according to his son, but in the following account he is focused on discussing how farming with done in those days:
Farm Life in Pre-World War Days
by Rev. Newton Barrett

For some time, I have felt an urge to recreate from youthful memories, something of, with my passing, an age which will be lost except for documentary relics--an age which to quote someone who made the startling statement, made even before the contemporary transformation of nuclear and computer miracles, is more different from that of the early 1900's than that was from Abraham's, 4000 years ago.

It seems advisable to relate briefly the circumstances which brought me to the farm, so far removed from ministerial environment. William Beck, an unschooled but extraordinarily resourceful German-American Minnesota citizen, had acquired 480 acres of nearly virgin land. From frame building construction work, the emergency created by our entry into World War I, and leaving of the tenants of his two farms, forced him to take over the operation of them himself. Needless to say, labor was exceedingly difficult to secure.

I had completed my collegiate studies, married a fellow-musical student Alma, his second daughter, and faced induction into the armed forces. It was agreed that I should join forces with him; and make my contribution to the war effort by raising food for those who were in service.

On our honeymoon, we arrived by train the day before registration for the draft. Practically a greenhorn, I was to perform the strong-arm and -back tasks supplementary to Father-in-Law's skilled supervision and cooperation. For the first ten months we lived with the Beck family in their four-room house; then as the second tenant vacated the other one.

Father had preceded us by three months; he bought at the frequent auctions the basic equipment, and had plowed some land for the crops of oats and corn, and stocked the buildings with horses, cows, pigs and chickens. My first assignment was to plow a small pasture for flax. Ordinarily in this new country, it was common to break wild land, and sow this cash crop, late maturing, but producing before weeds had caught up with it. He hoped that this piece had been allowed to go untroubled and would still provide a sizable harvest--many pioneers had thus produced enough to pay in a single year the entire cost of the inexpensive land. To anticipate, we got a small yield, and had to store it because the elevators in town were commandeered for small grain.

The plow, borrowed from a neighbor, was somewhat different from the basic shape, turning a shallow furrow, about 16 inches wide. As I remember it, it required only two horses. Of course it was a primitive walking plow. I had a sorrel pair, not perfectly mated; one being a resourceful animal, as we proceeded, he kept pushing his partner out away from the furrow, thus turning less than the proper width of turf. This I later tried to remedy by rigging a short peg on Barney's side, so Dick would be jabbed in the ribs unless he kept his distance.

It was soon time to cut the early crop of hay. In the prevalent crop rotation, there was a large field "seeded down" in this case with timothy, and ready for horse-feed, one of the largest necessary crops for our power. (Some estimated a third of a farm's crop must be horse feed.) Father rode a mower, which cut perhaps six feet of feed, leaving the grass lying in windrows. I followed somewhat later to rake the partially-dried hay into piles. When it was ready to preserve, we readied the rack--an ordinary wagon with a box or body, perhaps 14 feet long and three wide. The permanent body was 16 inches deep. For the bulky hay a rack was mounted over the box, wide boards as long as the box, and probably three feet beyond it on either side. A tall member at front and back completed a receptacle sufficient for practically a ton. As I've indicated, I had the laborious job of pitching with a fork a sizable bunch, and Father stood on the wagon and loaded it--arranged it expertly so it would ride without slipping off. We went to the low-roofed barn; and I pitched the stuff through the mow door; while Father pushed it back, so as to fill the whole space.

The rest we stacked nearby. I unloaded the rack, and Father did the expert task of building a ten-or-twelve foot high pile, the top layer being laid to shed the season's rain.

By now it was time for cutting oats--a major task, processing the large acreage. (There was a little barley on some farms, but no wheat this far south in the state.) The implement was a versatile "binder", which mowed a 6ft. swath, when a canvas elevator on rollers carried the grain to the top of the machine, where it was ingeniously separated into uniform bundles; and tied together with twine from a large roll; and knotted; then dropped to the ground. I remember Father bought this old affair for only $15! Unhappily, it wasn't such a bargain, as the knotter didn't function most of the time. I learned the gentle art of hand-binding--taking a wisp in each hand, I twisted the ends together, threw the whole around, and twisting the butt ends together in a simple knot. Fortunately Father's ingenuity was equal to the situation; and soon all operated flawlessly. The bull-wheel which bore the entire weight, had a rough tread, and never slipped. The force required for this operation demanded three horses' strength. My job was shocking--laboriously, not morally. After a few rounds, there were the shocks in rows. I was to take two by the ties, slap them down on the ground, push the head-ends together; then repeat four times till there was a complete shock, except for the final pair of bundles, laid lengthwise along the whole, to shed rain.

As long as time permitted now, we started fall plowing. This takes us to the matter of crop rotation. Briefly it was a four-year process: two for corn, the principal care in the industry. The third year, oats or hap was sown, seeded down with hayseed. After haying the new crop started; and after that, the field left undisturbed for pasture. In the fall this was "plowed for corn." After the first corn crop, the ground was disced--an implement consisting of a dozen foot-wide discs, like a shallow dish, separated by a few inches apart, six and six, slightly angled from a straight line, so when drawn by four stalwart horses, it would throw up and around the still soft earth.

In the fall, neighbors were gathered into crews, and traded word during the month or more of threshing grain. A commercial separator outfit went from farm to farm until all were served. It had a steam engine, powered by soft coal in a wagon set near the boiler. A great pulley midway along one side carried a belt 40 to 50 feet to the main element--into which the bundles of grain, brought by several rigs, were forked, thence carried through the torturous separator, whirring reels full of six-inch spikes placed so as to tear to shreds all that came through the affair. As all continued to pass along, the grain went to a elevator chute, and thence out and down into waiting wagons. Finally, and anticlimactically, the cast-off half ground straw, with clouds of chaff, were carried or blown out the rear and, one-manually I, with an oversized fork, threw all together into as nearly a stack as the material permitted. Odds and ends of necessary farm processes followed until the corn was ripe, kernels flint-hard, perhaps in later generations tested to delay or reject anything more than 20% moisture content.

Corn was planted in hills 42 inches apart. A picker went along between rows with a box-wagon, above the permanent bed, a supplement of 12 inch boards--a total of 26" dead-reckoning ear cor measured a bushel for every two inches of depth; small grain or shelled corn, 2 bushel per inch with a simple tool, a dull spike or hook attached by leather glove material to the right hand, would tear open the dry husk, a quick snap would break the cob from the stalk, and a toss land it into the wagon. Another 12 inch board was held above the rest by cleats, and this "throw-board" would prevent the tossed ear from landing across the nearby rows. Ordinarily a good picker could fill his box in half a day, at noon driving it to the crib in the farmyard, throw it off, feed the horses, and go in for dinner. Afternoon was a repetition. Sometimes, if fenced properly, the hogs were turned into the field, to feast on loose kernels or missed ears.

Harvesting the corn ended the field work. Winter months gave opportunity for some leisure; but there were daily chores throughout the year. In this general farming economy, the principal continuous cash yield came from milk, or cream, and incidentally, eggs. In our neighborhood, there wasn't a thoroughbred animal. In general the cows were mongrel critters, preferably leaning to beef brands, as the male calves, sold for veal or raised for same, weighed a dozen pounds more than dairy stock. Drawn by hand morning and night, the very modest milk product was separated by an ingenious device which by centrifugal force as the flow was whirled at terrific speed, separated the tiny percentage of the lighter cream from the watery bulk of skim milk. This job, enriching the patient yeoman's muscular constitution, consisted in turning a crank, starting painfully slowly, gradually gathering momentum, and finally attaining sufficient speed to perform its task. The cream was kept cool in the basement until a bucketfull had accumulated, when it was taken the five miles to Ruthton, and delivered to a station, which shipped it to creameries or city milk purveyors.

A daily operation was cleaning the milking barn--the layer of straw for bedding and admixture with manure. This was forked into a spreader--a large wagon equipped with a reel at the rear end, which geared to the wheels, whirled around and threw the fertilizer far and wide, usually on land destined for the corn crop. It may be added here that the hay sowing included red clover, which was too short to be mowed with the timothy, but made splendid pasturage, and rich rich in nitrogen, (a legume plant) kept the land in production vegetation. There were no silos there then; but corn silage somehow, I forget precisely how, was the dairy cow's principal fodder. The horses were fed a generous mangerful of hay, with a modicum of oats, graded to correspond with the light or heavy labor the season demanded, and poured into a box at one end of the stall manger.

The hogs gathered squealling and nipping, about long troughs, twice daily filled with slop, a mixture of corn and milk-this before agronomics informed us that the milk reduced their capacity for the far more weight-producing dry feed. I still regret our ignorance of the animal's need for a balanced ration--wiseacres insisted on "corn and more corn". My most frustrating task was to try to keep the herd from burrowing or forcing their way out of the wire fence. Nobody realized that they were starving for mineral supplement. Our ton of soft coal was dumped onto the ground nearby; and when, as too often happened, they got to it, they devoured it like so much rock candy. Equally surprising was my discovery when, after finishing the odorous chore in the cow-barn, I went, squatting through the waist-high door to clean out the hog-house, rummaging through the trampled straw, I couldn't find an ounce of feces! The "filthy beasts" went outdoors, however cold the weather, to leave their waste away from their sleeping quarters. The poultry subsisted mainly on what they could scratch up in the neighborhood, to speak fairly, supplemented by a grudging scattering of oats and/or corn. The universal need for salt was provided by a cubical block some ten inches on a side, thrown out in the lot, where all who desired might lick it.

The universal demand for quantities of water was supplied by a wooden tank some eight or ten feet across, deep enough to hold barrels of water, deep or high enough so horses and cows could reach it. The hogs and chickens were supplied by daily fillings of troughs. The most conspicuous structure on the premises was the windmill, which for no cost save occasional oiling and repair, drew from the well enough to keep enough on hand (or mouth). The family pump was set on a platform a step high, under the mill. Naturally a lever was installed which would stop or release the mill's action. For winter's use, the tank contained a heater--an iron receptacle shaped to rest on the bottom, high enough to surmount the water level, and to admit a supply of coal.

Our introduction to the farm year began with June. It remains to describe the beginning in March. The area in question was inhabited by some owners; and a number of renters, who, having no stake in the property, made no long-term plans, or future-looking administration. Hence, as hinted above, many moved in a given year, often holding an auction sale--the popular crier being dated months ahead on a full schedule. One principal cause was the prevalence of quack grass, a bright green hardy plant-some said introduced in the earliest days, to provide q quick pasturage; but with a terrific case of entangled roots, defied extermination, and of course reduced as all weeds do, the yield of legitimate crops. To the subsistence man, the most promising course was to move to not green fields and pastures new; but hopefully, less prolific quack. March was moving time, and hauling of grain etc. Usually before the end of the month the ground was thawed enough to permit spring plowing of cornland which remained to be put into arable shape.

My first experience was with three horses hitched to a single-bladed 16 inch ploughshare; and beyond this inefficient use of manpower, gang-plowed (both spellings in use), 4 inch bottoms, two of them, with four lusty horses hitched abreast. The practice was to mark out "lands" or sections some 2 rods (30 ft.) wide, measured the long way-our half a mile. Beginning at the fence (usually the section line) the outfit would turn the furrows from end to end; gross over the land, and plough back to the home end. Next the team would draw the machine on ground next inside the land, turn ditto, until the area was ready for the harrow, to break up clods and smooth the fresh earth, for planting.

My job was usually to follow this first process with a spike-tooth harrow, some 16 to 24 feet wide. Remembering a western scene, where the operator rode a horse behind the implement, I tried this with a pony provided for wife and me for buggy trips. But the dumb creature refused to budge; so I had the dubious pleasure of walking all day, earning the derogatory epithet of clod-hopper.

Land which as mentioned before, had borne a corn crop, was conditioned by a disc, which covered six or eight feet of half-ready soil. Fields assigned to small grain service were sown by a wide seeder, a wedge-shaped box with a mechanism which allowed a small trickle of seed-oats to drop onto the earth, the amount regulated by levers, for light or heavy seeding.

Corn planting was something else. As I said, everyone there used the checking method--a wire chain constructed from 42-inch sections, joined by interlocked loops, to reach from end to end of the field. This was fastened to the end fences along the first row. A planter, a small steel cart constructed with two-or four--cans set 42 inches apart, was filled with seed corn. A trip mechanism was slipped over the wire; and driven along it, as the rig passed each joint in the wire, an opening was popped open just long enough to drop four-no more, no less, kernels into about four inches of ground, and I think, never being entrusted with this critical procedure, pulling enough soil over the hill to conceal it from hungry wildlife. The wire would be moved just 42, or 84, inches by someone at either end; and so on until all was completed.

But this wasn't all. As soon as tiny blades peeked up far enough not to be buried by moving earth, a corn-plow was driven down each row half a dozen small hoes between each two rows. This performed two services: it uprooted all weeds, and kept the seedbed soft and cooperative. As soon as this was done, the same job was performed, going the other way. And so on until the corn was high enough and strong enough to ripen, but not when more disturbance would damage the expanding roots--perhaps four operations.

The second year Father somehow secured from Minneapolis a hand for each of us. We four labored from about 5 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., an hour out for dinner while the horses munching their fodder. Only Sunday was free--but chores demanded some four hours even then.

This regimen continued about ten years, when many farmers were bankrupt.