Transcribed by Jaylyn Thacher

Olean Times Herald 2/10/88


Wolves, Disease Still Rampant in County in 1820

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The information for this article came from Spafford’s Gazeteer, published in 1824; Beers History of Allegany County; and The Wellsville Story, by Hazel M. Shear.)

By Joan Dickenson, Times Herald Staff Writer

ANGELICA—The Allegany County of the early 1820s had 9,330 people. They lived in 13 towns and were served by seven post offices. A total of 2,167 worked in agriculture, while 193 worked in manufacturing and only nine in “commerce.”

The population included 30 foreigners, 12 free blacks, and 17 slaves. Fifteen of the slaves lived in Angelica.

Of the population, only 2,122 were “electors,” men qualified to vote.

The county had 30,362 acres of improved land. The domestic-animal population included 11,109 cattle, 1,326 horses, and 14,966 sheep.

In 1821, 65,623 yards of cloth were made in local homes.

The county had 16 grist mills, 58 sawmills, six oil mills, seven fulling mills, eight carding machines, three “cotton and woolen factories,” five ironworks, one trip hammer, 10 distilleries, and 27 asheries.

PRODUCTION OF potash was the county’s biggest industry. New settlers “cut down trees, rolled them in heaps, and burned them”—not to clear land but to harvest the potash, quite often their only source of cash. As a side benefit, the land was cleared for farming.

It took about 700 bushels of ashes to make one ton of potash fertilizer, which sold for $90 in 1827.

The county’s 83 school districts had a combined annual budget of $769. The county had 2,341 children age 5-15, and of those, 2,280 attended school in 1821.

The teachers were often not settled residents but tended to be “traveling strangers who paused to replenish their purses.” Some were foreigners, many were “intemperate,” and all, the History says, were “addicted to the use of the rod.”

For perspective on the $769 budget figure, it’s worth noting that in 1832, “flower” was 3 cents a pound, butter was 20 cents a pound, and calico was 28 cents a yard. A paper of pins cost 13 cents, a pair of “nitten needles” cost 6 cents, and a spelling book, 19 cents.

A carpenter made around $1 a day, but a teacher’s weekly wage ranged from 50 cents to $2, plus board. Teachers boarded in their pupils’ homes, and sometimes augmented their pay by selling textbooks.

THE PRINCIPAL disease reported in 1822 was dysentery, which Beers says, was “most fatal” to children. Beers also says the three chief medical tools were blisters, calomel, and lancet.

Other common diseases included deadly Genesee Fever, a combination of typhoid fever and diphtheria that “seemed to belong to this valley alone,” Hazel Shear wrote. Pneumonia plagued the elderly, scarlet fever or “canker rash” was routine, and whooping cough, measles, mumps, and chicken pox sometimes “took even whole families,” cemetery records show. Neighbors nursed the sick, then carried the disease back to their own families.

Disease wasn’t the only hazard. Mrs. Shear mentions a “story well authenticated in two Angelica families” during the War of 1812. Most of the men were away, and when a pack of wolves came into town, “two brave women shot (them) from their cabin windows.”