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The following was submitted by Valerie Ross, MD, of Houston, Texas. 

I have a closet-full of memorabilia from the Utopia farm near Friendship/Richburg for the dates 1850's - 1910. My great-great-grandmother (Nancy Ann LeSuer Wells) kept a daily diary for most of those years and I'm in the process of transferring it to CD. I have photos and diplomas and other stuff from the time. I hope to contribute some things to this website as I get them organized.

My grandmother, Gertrude (Wells) Seaman wrote this interesting essay about how Christmas was kept on the farm in those early years, and I thought your readers might find it interesting. 

 

CHRISTMAS IN EAST NOTCH VALLEY

As Told in the Diary of Your Grandmother Nancy Ann LeSuer Wells;  Comments by G.W.Seaman (1973) 

     The diary of Grandma Nancy Ann LeSuer Wells records how one family in the Town of Wirt, Allegany County, New York, kept Christmas in the last half of the 19th Century.  I imagine it is more or less typical of the time and place.  The Harris Wells family from Rhode Island and the Peter LeSuer family from Unadilla, NY had, with no previous acquaintance, settled about two miles apart, during the 1830s, in the East Notch Valley between Richburg and Friendship.

     On a rainy September 20, 1846, George Harris Wells (24) and Nancy Ann LeSuer (23) went up to be married by neighbor Alanson (“Lant”) Kenyon, justice of the Peace and began housekeeping at once in the frame house below the LeSuer’s.  The Wellses with their Seventh Day Baptist (Puritan) background apparently did not observe Christmas festivities--they recognized the day but did not celebrate.  I do not know the inclinations of the LeSuers, but Grandma Nancy’s mother, being a Methodist Prindle with two preacher brothers was not inclined to view December 25 as a day for feasting and merriment.

     The first diary that has been preserved is the year 1857.  George (Pa) was then 35 and Nancy Ann (Ma) was 34.  They had been married 11 years and there were 3 children: Hiram 9, Alice 5 and Ernest 3.  There was lots of hard work that year--they made 249 lbs of maple sugar, Pa plowed with oxen and mowed with a scythe--but underneath the matter-of-fact entries there is a gay note that never appears again. “Pa went to Lants, I staid with the “yonks”.”  

  1857 --- Friday - Cloudy, still and moderate weather.  Did not thaw any.  About half an inch snow on  the ground.  Staid to home all day, cut some apples to dry.  Alanson Kenyon made us quite a visit.  Had a piece of fresh pork for Christmas supper. 

     In 1862 Ralph, born 1858, is 4 years old and Ma makes him “aprons”.  Several young men in the valley have enlisted in the Civil War ranks and one “dead soldier” has gone by the house.  Hiram, now 14, is restless.  He has acquired a fife and practices with the neighborhood boys in a group that makes “a terrible drumming”.  Pa, now 40, has read his name on the September Draft List.  “I pray that he doesn’t have to go”.  (He did not.) 

  1862 ---Thursday - Warm Christmas, cloudy and rainy.  We have set up two hours tonight without a fire and it is warm enough.  It is raining yet, half past ten eavening.  George and me went up to Lants awhile this eavening.  Father and Mother (Peter and second wife, Almira) visited us today.  John Axtell called to leave the colt. 

  1870 --- December 25 - two qts kerosene $.20 

     By 1876 the family is grown up.  Hiram (28), who left home the day he was 27, has been unsettled and now seems to be in Canada.   He is probably married as “Hattie” visits a few days and “starts for Canada tomorrow”.  Alice has attended Alfred College, changed her name to “Nettie”, and is a district school teacher.  Ernest is tinkering watches and taking over the farm work.  The neighborhood is full of Kenyon and Coats young people, among them Joel B. Kenyon’s three lively granddaughters, Libbie, Lissie, and Lina Applebee.  Ralph (17) is always invited to the frequent parties lasting till 11 or 12. 

  1876 --- Monday - Cloudy and a little warmer.  Ralph went to Friendship.  Got him an overcoat, cost fifteen dollars and a suit, cost nineteen dollars.  Nett and Ralph went up to Jefferson’s (Applebee).  I went up in the eavening.  Ernest commenced to make a water bench for Nettie.  Pa lay in bed all day or until half past three.  Churned and filled the twenty-third pail of butter. -the last this fall. 

     Christmas ‘77 was dark and sad.  Pa at 54 was beginning to feel that life somehow was cheating him and he struck back blindly.  He worked less, read and lay abed when it suited him and was on the way to becoming as one neighbor remembered him, “a hard-spoken man”. 

  1877 --- Tuesday - Santa Claus never came here at all, cause we are so ugly.  I spent the day at home, only went up to Mrs. Applebees and staid an hour.  Pa cut his boot on a piece of scythe I drove down in the garden last summer to hold up the boards around the tomato vines.  Pa scolded pretty hard at me for putting it there, has not spoken to me very pleasantly since.  I am sorry but thought no harm doing it.  Ralph came home tonight, thinks he is going to have the mumps.  Not very sunny today, but warm.  Ernest churned 7 pounds butter.  

     I read into this account that Ma answered back with some spirit.  Note “we”.  Perhaps it was the memory of this exchange that made her remark in a later entry, sort of out of the blue, “I have decided that I will never answer back, no matter how bad I want to.”, which excellent resolve she kept the rest of her life, sometimes under great provocation.  So a kind of Christmas peace was achieved. 

  1878 --- Wednesday - Christmas and a cold windy one, too.  I staid at home and washed and baked bread.  Frankie came over and brought me and Nett a preasant from Mrs. Maxon.  Dell Champlin made us a visit in the eavening.  Pa froze his ear doing chores.  I hung my clothes upstairs today.  It is so cold and windy, I could not hang them out.  Have to keep a shawl on to keep warm and a good fire, too. 

  1881 --- Christmas new shoes $1.75 

  1882 --- Monday Christmas.  I got a diary for 1883 and Ernest got his cutter and harness broke.  A man (or a hog) run against him as he was coming from the old farm. 

     Lewis and Frankie Kenyon seemed happy in their big, Italian-style farmhouse, built soon after the War and filled with children and various assorted relatives, each of whom expressed himself by making music, dancing, writing poetry or painting pictures.  It seemed appropriate that when the Government located a Post Office there, it should be called “Utopia”. 

  1884 --- Thursday - Christmas - cloudy, pretty good sleighing and pretty cool.  Snowing tonight.  I staid at home and made sausage and baked bread.  Kenny and Libbie Applebee took supper with us.  Mrs. Randolph and Georgie came over just at night.  Georgie brought me a Christmas preasant - a card, a pincushion and a box of honey.  I had an invitation to go over to Utopia tonight to see the Christmas tree, but I am to tired and my head aches two bad. 

     It might have been heart ache, for 1884 was a bad year.  The Richburg people had finally sunk a test well in the valley, but it was dry.  Ralph and his wife, Lina Applebee, were living in Big Shanty, PA, a raw oil boom town, with their two small daughters Leslie and Lillian, and not happy about it.  Hiram (36) spent the summer at home with his new wife, Dora, who pleased all the family, then in August went west to settle his tangled affairs.  In October, word came to Friendship that he had been shot and killed under mysterious circumstances, never entirely explained.  Ma couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Pa didn’t say much, but he never recovered from the shock.  Hiram was his first born, smart, clever and Pa could not understand what went wrong.  He brooded, grew bitter, though life must go on.  Pa increasingly followed the devices and desires of his own heart. 

  1885 --- Friday - Cloudy, cold north wind.  Pa and Ernest worked down in the basement digging ditch.  Campbell helped them all day.  Our old faithful Maltese cat died this morning.  The rats and the mice will have a good time now. 

  1886 --- Saturday - Snowed about two inches last night.  Clear and cold today.  Wind north.  Just zero tonight.  Ernest went to Richburg to church there.  At night he went to Nile and he and Nett went to Stantons when he got back.  Well, it is Christmas.  Pa and I got a china cup and saucer, each of us.  Ernest got two linen handkerchiefs, Nett a box of writing paper and one handkerchief, all from R.G. and Lina. 

  1888 ---Tuesday - It’s been a cloudy Christmas, dark and looked like rain.  Wind south.  Sleighing al gone.  Ernest bought a box of oranges for 1.75.  I sampled two of them.  They are very nice.  I brought in about a cord of wood to have for the next snow storm. 

  1889 --- (Aunt Nett’s diary) Wednesday - Warm and pleasant.  Seems like September weather.  I darned stockings and made bread.  Ma gave me a book for Christmas “The Woman’s Story” - Ernest gave me a new ring.  Mrs. Stanton gave Ma a glass dish and Lill gave Ernest an inkstand. 

     By 1890 the Utopia Post Office had been moved to the Wells’ home.  Ralph, Lina, Leslie, Lillian, Harold (born 1889) had moved from Big Shanty, PA to the “old” Harris Wells farm. 

  1890 ---Thursday - We did not have anything extra for Christmas.  We all staid to home.  Ernest churned and packed it in a pail for J.S. Rowley --twenty pounds in all. 

  1891 --- Christmas Eve .  Ernest and Nettie started at six for the Christmas tree at Nile.  They have come five minits before twelve.  They say they have had a very nice time and a good supper.  Roy (hired man) did not have so good a time with the old foalks.  We churned today. 

  1891 ---Christmas Eve (Aunt Nett) Ernest and I and Ralph’s folks went to Nile to the Christmas doings, oyster supper etc.  Got home at twelve o’clock. 

  1891 ---Christmas Eve (Aunt Lina) We went to Nile to the exercises.  Children took part oyster supper.  Warm, foggy, and dark.  Rained all day.  Nett went too. 

  1891 ---(Nancy Ann)Friday - Christmas Day - a very dark day.  I baked bread.  Roy went on hill to plow, went home at four o’clock.  Ernest worked in shop.  He is not feeling well.  Ralph came to get a tub of butter to send to Bradford.  Pa went to Friendship.  He got back at half past nine.  He is feeling Boss. 

  1892 ---Sunday - a cold Christmas.  No sleighing.  Five below zero.  Mrs. Lewis Kenyon presented me with a California orange.  Lissy and Emma went with Ernest to the Christmas doings at Nile last eave. 

     Pa went for a pail of water on Dec. 12, 1893, slipped and broke his leg.  “It is a bad job for him”.  Dr. Willard set it with the help of Will Renwick. 

  1893 --- Monday - Warm as summer.  Some rain.  We had a thunder storm in the eave.  Kenyon, Lina and Harold came.  Alack Case came to see George.  Dr. came and says George is doing well. 

     George lay in bed all winter and in spite of the Dr.’s optimism, never walked again, though he did manage to hobble around.  Nett had married Charles Bracy and Edward was born June 21, 1894. 

  1894 --- Tuesday - Christmas Day.  Cloudy, wind north.  Charlie and Nettie came over.  Lulu and Daisy came over to see Edward Wells Bracy.  I got the old cradle for him to lie in. 

     The year 1895 saw many changes.  Pa died in April and Ernest began to build the planned-for new house.  In September he and Lucy Davidson were married but lived in the old house until February.  The 1895 Christmas was the last in “this old shantee”. 

  1895 --- Wednesday - Christmas is over and past.  It has been warm and sloppy.  We all staid home.  Didn’t have anything extra but some honey.  Lucy took a drive with Lewis Kenyon’s folks just at night. 

     I think Lucy might have been a bit homesick, being accustomed to a large and close family circle.  Also I think Aunt Frankie might have said, “Lucy, the new house will be your house.”  Anyway here is the first Christmas in the new house, “Utopia”, which sheltered a new baby -- Gertrude.  New Days, New Ways. 

  1896 --- Friday - Pleasant.  Wind south.  Not very warm.  Nettie, Charley and Eddie came up to hold Christmas with us.  We had for dinner chicken pie, oyster soup, pickles, bread and butter, crackers, strawberry preserves, hickory nut cake, mince pie, cheese bread and butter and tea.  I don’t feel very good tonight, guess I will go to bed early.  (The memories must have been sharp and sad.) 

  1897 ---(Ruth was the baby) Ernest went to Nile Christmas Eve to deliver presents.  Saturday - Christmas Day.  I went down to see Nett awhile.  Lucy and Ernest gave her a footstool.  We had Mrs. Davidson, Roy, Lelia and Emma to dinner.  Lucy and Mira got lots of presents and gave away lots.  I haven’t had aa very merry Christmas (still grieving).  Nette brought me two gingham aprons. 

  1899 ---(Muriel the new baby) Cold and stormy, but it is Christmas just the same.  Mr. Edgar Place, wife and children were here last night.  Our folks have all gone to the Christmas tree at Nile.  They all went to Nile and took dinner at Miner Greens, staid till eavening.  I got two new aprons. 

  1900 --- Tuesday - Mira and her family came to our house to spend Christmas.  Lelia is there.  I came down to Netts.  Snow squalls all day.  We had a chicken pie for Christmas dinner.  Eddie is pleased with the things he got. 

  1901 ---(George new baby) Wednesday - Snowed last night about half an inch.  Our folks went to the Christmas tree at Nile last night.  Today, Lucy took the boy and went over to her mothers to eat Christmas turkey. 

  1902 --- Thursday - Clear and cold.  Our folks all went to Grandma Days to spend Christmas.  They said they had a good time.  They come back just before dark and all but the boy went to Nile to the Christmas tree.  He staid at home with me.  I staid at home all day alone.  I wasn’t lonesome. 

     Here the record ends -- a short, simple, honest record ending with a baby and Christmas memories.

     Rise and bake your Christmas Bread...

     Rise and light your Christmas Fire...

     Rise and open wide the Door...

     For Christmas comes in the Morning.  (Apologies to Dora Greenwall)

    

     Grandma died in 1909 at the age of 87.

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