One of my earliest memories is of a stately brick house with sloping lawn, shaded with trees. This was the house of my grandfather, Samuel Jeffrey. He was born in England in 1777. Whether he came to America with his father's family or came alone, I have no way of finding out. He did not, however, bring my grandmother with him, as she was born in the state of New Jersey in 1780. These two, Samuel Jeffrey and Mary Cramer, were married in 1804, somewhere in New Jersey.
They soon came to Ohio, where my mother, Beulah Jane (their seventh child), was born May 19, 1824. They later moved to Indiana, then the frontier. Here they had the pioneer's task of hewing a farm out of the dense wood.
My Grandfather Jeffrey must have been a Jack of all trades. He made the loom where all their cloth was woven. He tanned leather, and had his own shoe bench, where he made shoes for all the family. It was consequently not surprising that when the time of necessity came later, my mother could make shoes. Grandfather was also a brick mason. The third year after he came to Indiana, with the help of his son he built the house of my childhood memories. This house was situated one mile from Arba, three miles from Newport, two miles from Spartanburg, and fourteen miles from Richmond.
My mother, five years old at the time, also had a hand in building the house. Grandfather was putting on the roof, and supposing that his son Tom was on the ground, called to him for some more shingles. But Tom was not there, and the little five-year-old gathered up a few shingles under her arm, climbed the ladder, crossed the comb of the house, and laid down her shingles. Taking her under one arm, Grandfather came down the ladder, then took a whip and started her home. It was in this house that my mother passed her childhood. It was a childhood but little disturbed by schoolbooks. The public school system was as yet unrealized. The only means of education was that afforded by an occasional subscription school. If a family had five children of school age, the father might subscribe and pay for two. Two or three might start the first week, then possibly for several weeks none could be spared. Toward the end of the term, all the children might go for two or three weeks. The father paid only for the average number attending. In the rough work of the wilderness, every child must do his part. Least of all was it necessary to educate girls. My mother learned to read but it was not until after she was married that she acquired the art of writing.
My father's name was Watson Gates Anderson. He was born in North Carolina, near the Neuse River, and not far from Greenville, December 23, 1815. When he was seventeen years old he moved to Indiana, bringing with him his mother, Rachel Anderson. There he not only taught school in the daytime, but had a singing school at night. He and Beulah Jane Jeffrey crossed the line into Darke County, Ohio, to be married December 13, 1841.
To this union were born fourteen children, five dying in infancy. I was the third child, born May, 20, 1845, in Randolph County, two miles from Arba and fourteen miles from Richmond.
My travels began early. Soon after my birth, Father set out with his family for Windsor, Henry County, Missouri. It was here that my father's mother, Rachel Anderson, died. My mother was returning from a neighbor's one day when she saw Grandmother in the yard calling a calf. Going immediately into the house, she found Grandmother sitting with me on her lap. Mother was greatly disturbed by the vision. Grandmother Anderson's death occurred soon afterwards, and she was buried at Windsor. On account of the ague, Father returned to Randolph County, Indiana, within the year. Here we lived close to my mother's parents, the only grandparents I ever knew.
From the time I was three years old, I lived most of the time at Grandfather Jeffrey's. It has now been sixty-six years since I said good-bye to that house where my mother was reared, but oh, what a pleasant memory has followed me all these years!
There comes the recollection of a little girl one day with a sharp knife cutting the bark off a small locust and peeling it down a few inches. Oh, it looked so white among the green! But Grandmother would be sure to see it, so some mud was stirred up and spread over the place. That looked too conspicuous, and a rag was found and tied around. The injury seems never to have been discovered. Six years afterward the sapling was growing into a big tree.
The back part of the lawn sloped down to a branch, which was fed from springs in the hills, cool and clear twelve months of the year. There was one cataract after another, over solid rock. Up the hill on the other side was the barn, What a treat to go with Grandfather to the barn in the early morning, and what music we would have, the lambs bleating, the geese squawking, the ducks quacking, roosters crowing; all asking in their own way to be fed!
Nothing pleased me better than going around with my grandparents in the old family carriage. We often went to Richmond. When I was three years old, I went with Grandmother to Richmond to shop, and the man waiting on Grandmother gave me a little smoothing iron. How I did cherish that iron! It did not seem possible it could be mine, I considered it so valuable. The iron is still in the family, seventy-five years since it became mine.
I wonder if children are any happier today with their abundance of toys than we were with our few. I had only two dolls. One was a china doll, six or eight inches long. which old Kris Kringle brought me one Christmas. It was too nicely dressed for every-day use, so it was kept in the till of Mother's old cedar chest. The other was a rag doll, which Grandmother made for me. It was not really made of rags, even if it was called a rag doll, but of choice bits of cloth. There was a chair for it to sit on. These also were too nice to play with and must remain on the parlor table at Grandmother's with other bric-a-brac.
Sunday mornings we went to Hopewell to church. This was a church beside the turnpike going to Richmond. There was a white paling around it. There was no city, only the city of the dead, with slabs standing all around like great sentinels on guard.
In 1850, Grandfather Jeffrey took us to see Barnum's show. There was just one big tent. On one side were the animals. Then there were wax figures. Of these, Mary with the Christ Child on her lap, and George Washington with the Stars and Stripes, have never faded from my memory. Tom Thumb was among the many other attractions. But there was nothing that would hinder a good Methodist from going. That is not always true today.
When the railroad came to Richmond, Grandmother took advantage of the opportunity to make a visit to her old home in New Jersey, which she had left twenty years before. Grandfather was to "keep batch" during her absence. He was at Winchester one day on business and became very sick. He started home in the old family carriage, but was unable to sit up and had to ask a stranger to bring him home. This man, finding out Grandfather's relationship to us, brought him to our house. It was dark when he arrived, and I can remember going with Mother to get a neighbor to go after a doctor. I was about eight years old at this time. Grandfather then had an operation and for a time all went well. I can remember sitting by his bedside, giving him water and brushing away the flies. Suddenly, however, he became worse and died. Father wrote to Grandmother in New Jersey, but she was traveling around so much that the letters never reached her. She came home after a visit of just three weeks, and learned only when she reached Winchester that her husband was dead and buried.
My heart now went out to Grandmother, left all alone, except when Mother could spare one of us children a little while at a time. Grandmother sold her extra stock and stayed on the farm.
I remember a few more incidents which must have happened about this time. One day Grandmother forgot the day of the week and, thinking it was Saturday, planned to dig her potatoes. She went first, however, on an errand to one of her neighbors. They were all flying around as though they were going somewhere. She did her errand, then said, "Well, I must go home and dig my potatoes."
"Why, Aunt Polly! You're not going to dig potatoes on Sunday, are you?"
Grandmother would often say that if she had not gone to Bill Lewis's that Sunday morning, she certainly would have desecrated the Lord's Day.
The fiddle was, in Grandmother's estimation, the Devil's own instrument, and she would have introduced the Devil into her home about as quickly as she would his musical instrument. But coming from town one day she found a fine fiddle bow in the road. Without having the least idea what it was, she carried it home and placed it on the parlor table. One of her Quaker neighbors saw it one day and exclaimed. "Aunt Polly! Do you have a fiddle?" That gave Grandmother quite a shock. The fiddle bow was never seen again.
On the other side of the barn, across the branch a second time, at the top of a steep hill stood a large pear tree. Hearing a noise over there one day, Grandmother decided to investigate. She took her cane and went over. Just as she reached the top of the hill, a young man, not seeing Grandmother, rose to his feet not far away and yelled at the top of his voice in evident exultation over the ease of the pilfering, "O Landlord!"
"I am here," Grandmother replied.
There was a regular stampede of half a dozen young men. Grandmother had many a laugh over their discomfiture.
When the gold fever broke out in California in 1848, my father had a burning desire to go there, then a far-away country. He began immediately to save enough for Mother and the children to live on during his absence, as well as for his own expenses, but it was December, 1854, when he left us for that long, dangerous journey. No one in all our country had ever made the trip and returned. It was with breaking hearts we bade him good-bye.
With Father going to California, Mother was determined to learn to write so that she could write him letters. She soon acquired a fairly good hand, and the rest of her life was quite a letter-writer. One peculiarity I remember about these letters was that they cost the sender no postage. This was paid by the person receiving the letter. The first letters I wrote bore the date 1854. But it was only a short time until Mother said, "Now, Melissa, you must make the date 1855." 1 thought it was funny the year changed so soon. But years have been changing faster and faster ever since.
Father's letters were few and far between. Sometimes he carried them for a month before he could get them mailed. Those were pioneer days for California. San Francisco was a village of a few shanties, mostly eating houses run by Chinese cooks.
Before rather left, he bought Mother a little pistol, and taught her how to mould bullets and shoot. Little did we think that Mother would ever have occasion to use it, but she did. Her corn crib stood beside a lane. Corn could be thrown in from the road, and of course could be taken out the same way. One Sunday night someone stole a wagon load of corn. Then the bullets were moulded and the little pistol was loaded. Boards were nailed over the place where the corn had been taken out. Next Sunday night, Mother heard these boards being torn off. She woke us children, and without making a light, slipped out and fired straight for the noise. The intruders did not let any grass grow under their horses' feet getting away. Mother's corn was not bothered anymore, and a young Quaker, a neighbor of ours, had a lot of fun making all the old Quaker men turn their backs to him, while he searched to see if he could find a bullet hole.
Many things that happened in the next two years are stamped in my memory. One of Father's letters read, "Jane, keep the children in school, for when I come home we will go to some new country, and they will be deprived of school." That letter was a source of worry to me. I did not want to go to a new country, and I did want to go to school.
Of course, I had already been to school; Father himself had been my first teacher. I remember his telling afterwards that I had to have a new McGuffey Speller every Monday morning as I always had the old one chewed up about to the word "Baker." But all schooling in those days was more or less intermittent. Upon receiving Father's letter, Mother went over to Arba, and got my older sister Harriet and me into a Quaker High School for nine months. I was much younger than the other children in the school. I do not know how Mother smuggled me in. But I do know that on account of my age I was a favorite and had a good time always.
Early in the summer a middle-aged man came around trying to get up a subscription school. Since Mother was sending us out of the neighborhood, he insisted it was her duty to take us out of the school at Arba and send us to his school. He was going to teach reading, writing, spelling, and "Testament." He made a great point of the latter, and designated to Mother the place where the class would recite. "Thar will be my Testament class." Mother told him we were studying arithmetic and grammar (the latter apparently a subject in which he had not specialized). He thought that unnecessary, especially for girls.
He evidently was not entirely convinced by the conversation, for a few days afterwards he set himself down under a shade tree where we would pass going home from school. He had a grammar in his hand, the book opened to the first page. As I passed, he stopped me and inquired, "What is grammar?"
I rattled off what I had memorized: "Grammar is the art of writing and speaking the English language according to the established usage."
Then I had to parse "John's hat."
"John is a noun, proper, masculine gender, possessive case, as he possesses 'hat' and according to the rule . . . " Then I strung off the rule. I had memorized all this carefully. Whether I understood the meaning is very doubtful. But the old school teacher was plainly impressed by the excellent advantages of the school at Arba.
It was while I was attending this school at Arba that I came into closest contact with Quakers, although they were numerous in our neighborhood. The Quakers were fine, religious people, but many of their ways were odd to us. They attended meeting faithfully on Thursdays and Sundays. The meeting house was divided into two parts by a partition about four feet high. One of these divisions was for men, and the other for women. Each division had its own outside door. A curtain could be let down, completely shutting off the two divisions from each other, but this was used only when there were business meetings, the men and women having separate meetings. During the religious meetings one could see and hear everything that went on in both divisions.
The pupils of the school were permitted to attend the meeting on Thursday from eleven to twelve. It was only a short distance away, and we marched two by two -- girls and boys separately. Why we wanted to go is a wonder to me now. Perhaps it was for the marching. There was no preacher, and each man or woman spoke only as the Spirit moved him. During the nine months that we attended the school we never heard a word spoken; everyone sat through the hour in perfect silence.
At the rear of each division were elevated seats for the older men and women. One man and one woman were elected to keep order and kept a sharp look-out. The rest sat with bowed heads. Before the hour was up, I always became very restless, and would keep my eye on the place where the old men sat. When the end of the hour finally came, the first old man in the seat would remove his hat -- which was worn during the meeting -- shake hands with the rest in the seat, and pass out. The other men did likewise in turn. When their division was empty, this procedure was repeated by the women. We were always ready to go home but, strange to say, always wanted to come back next Thursday.
Quaker couples married themselves without the assistance of a minister. These weddings took place in the meeting house on Sunday. Six weeks before the date set for the wedding, each would rise in meeting and announce the approaching marriage. The second Sunday both again arose and declared it was still their intention to be married. This continued till the wedding day. Then the couple arose, and the man, taking the woman's hand, began the ceremony: "I take this woman to be my lawful wife," etc. Next the woman took his hand and repeated her part of the formula. The wedding was duly recorded in a large book, certain persons signed, their names as witnesses, and the ceremony was over. The newly-married couple passed out of the same door for the first and last time, for next Sunday each must enter by his own door.
The Quakers were governed by their own code of morality, which was usually rigid. It was very wrong to sing or whistle at any time. Strangely enough, they were not particularly rigorous in regard to the observance of Sunday. If work was "necessary" it could be done even on the Lord's Day.
The year 1856 was a great campaign year. The Whig party had died a natural death, and a new party had sprung up calling itself Republican. The campaign spirit ran high at our school. The Democratic candidate was James Buchanan. The Republican candidate was John C. Fremont. A straw vote was taken in the school. I do not believe our Quaker teacher had anything to do about this vote, but at any rate, two-thirds of the pupils joined the new party. I wrote my name under Fremont's, knowing my father was a staunch Democrat, but thinking he was so far away he would never hear of his daughter's conduct. I was eleven years old, and felt fully capable of taking my own political stand. After that, when a Fremont campaign wagon was decorated for a pole raising, I was always included. The school went to Winchester one day and raised a pole from which floated in the breeze a large flag and the banner of John C. Fremont. The city gave us a barbecue dinner. Afterwards we took our leave, singing campaign songs. Harriet and I remained at the school at Arba until the session closed in the fall.
In December, 1856, just as the sun was showing its beaming face, the door quietly opened and behold! dear Father stood in our midst. What rejoicing there was, almost as much as though he had been raised from the grave; the journey was considered so dangerous. Once only had Father despaired of ever reaching home. His ship had been caught in a terrible storm coming around Cape Horn. Old sailors said it was the worst in twenty years. The practice of miners of having their gold dust coined into twenty-dollar pieces, which were carried around the waist in a broad leather belt, made it very dangerous to fall overboard in crossing the ocean, as the weight of the belt would soon take a man to the bottom. One man had been lost in this way during the trip.
Our house was besieged day and night by inquiring friends, eager to hear of that far-away land where gold was to be had out of the soil. Father had several mining songs he would sing for us, but memory fails me almost entirely. One, however, began:
"When gold was found in '48, the people thought 'twas gas,
And some were fools enough to think the lumps were only brass;
But soon they all were satisfied and started off to mine;
Sold their farms, came round the Horn, in the fall of '49."
I was destined to hear about my political activities of the fall. Some good Democrat must have told Father, for one evening as I was sitting by the fireplace, he looked at me and said, "Melissa, I hear you went to Fremont's pole-raising this summer."
"Yes, Father," I replied.
The subject was dropped and never referred to again.
Preparations were soon begun for our journey to Kansas. In the meantime we attended a two months session of the public school in January and February, 1857.
While I was attending this school, I became the proud possessor of an ivory-handled pocket knife, given to me by an older pupil. One day when I was out playing, the knife was lost. Only a short time before, I had been to hear a sermon -- a little girl sitting on a bench in a school house with her feet not reaching the floor. I remember very well because I had a new pair of slippers to wear. But Mother had told me not to put them on until we had got over a rough piece of pasture. After this had been crossed, I found that I had brought only one slipper. The other had been left at home. So I had to go barefooted, and I can remember keeping my feet curled up underneath me as much as I could. The sermon, however, had made a great impression on me. The preacher was talking about God's care for His children. I came away fully believing that I could ask God for anything and that He would give it to me. I consequently asked God to help me find my knife. But I hunted a long time in the short grass without result. Finally I prayed again, in great earnestness, with tears in my eyes. I got up and went directly to my knife. I can see it yet, its white handle lying in the grass. This little incident was the beginning of a faith in God which has never been diminished.