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Thread: Family Pay Dirt

  1. #1

    Family Pay Dirt

    My wife and I have been on a serious quest to find out about the Johnson history. We knew via family stories that it had some interesting history but an old book that my Great Great Great Grandfather² wrote has been good reading.

    Sometimes you forget how different things were back then. He was a school teacher and I had to cringe when he said he decided to change the system from "repeated whippings by a leather strap" to that of signing hymns. He was reported to the Superintendent who came out and said he enjoyed the change. Of course neither would be allowed by law now, but I don't think my wife...a school teacher....would accept school teacher wages in bushels of oats. Nope I am not making that up. Its how teachers were paid back in 1850.

    Another account that was funny was his father's convictions not to plant hops. Back in the 1840's it was how farmers here made a living. His father (a very religious man) felt it was wrong to get money from a crop that caused drunkedness. So they plowed it under and threw it over the rock wall. Now this explains why those wild hops always grew there today. I guess those hops are not so wild after all.

    Apparently he got a bit of wonder lust too, so reading about his 150 day trek from Me to CA on a ship during the Gold Rush was cool, until a mutiny almost killed the Captain over a dispute about going around the Horn.

    He talks about the old Johnson trunk, and yes that is still in the family today, discovered in a town hall that was under renovations and was given back to the family. Since we have not moved, you get a different view of what life was like back then. A 1859 map shoved inside the book gives you names of homes back then. These are old cellar holes today, but its nice to put names to the places I have logged and farmed beside and wondered "who lived here anyway"?

    I won't bore you with all the details, but a lot of things have been cleared up by reading this autobiography, and its interesting to see his view of things back then. But still some things remain the same. Many of the people he mentions...the Robert's, the Wallaces, the Morton's, the Philbrick's and other families, are still here today. And as for this family, we still log, raise sheep, farm and teach school children. Some things just never change I guess.

    I did have one question though. That map has several homes that my farm now encompasses. The Hogan Farm, the Hamlin Farm, The Davis Farm, the Cate's Farm and others. If you divide the total acreage up as it exists today, these farms averaged a mere 40 acres a piece; could 40 acres really sustain a family homestead in 1850? Considering everything they needed to get by in life rested on only 40 acres, it doesn't seem possible.
    Last edited by Travis Johnson; 01-04-2009 at 09:10 PM.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
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    Well, they didn't live as well as we do now. Also, no mechanization to speak of and so one man with one or two horses, 40 acres is a very demanding task. Also back then, one farmer only fed maybe 5 people. I often think of just getting wood for the winter, what a daunting task, crosscut by hand, split all by hand. Haul from where ever.
    Jon

    God and family, the rest is icing on the cake. I'm so far behind, I think I'm in first place!

    Host of the 2015 FAMILY WOODWORKING GATHERING

  3. #3
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    Good answer Jonathon! All I can do is agree with what you posted.
    ________

    Ron

    "Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."
    Vince Lombardi

  4. #4
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    I often wonder what it would be like living in the mid 1800's. It's not long till I come to my senses and start thinking about all the manual labor that would be required just to survive much less any "leisure" time. Jonathan's example of just putting up enough wood to get through the winter for example. Growing and preserving enough food to make it through the winter also. I have the greatest respect for the "old timers". It's no wonder they usually had large families, they had to grow their own farm hands usually.

  5. #5
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    I happen to teach with a Science teacher that is also an EMT and he states the big killer back then, rotten teeth. I had bad teeth as a kid, finally have my dentures and with today's technology it wasn't the most pleasant thing to have 16 teeth removed at a time! So statistically, I would have died early. So Mother Nature's selection process is being messed with by technology on me. Plus I sweat easily and have had pnuenomia each year the past six years and in '77 had double pnuemonia, severe dehydration and collapsed arteries. So, I prefer living in the day and age I do.
    Farming with my horses is very relaxing for me, but I also can fire up the Oliver 770 with the front end loader to move and lift things. As well as my John Deere 2510 to finish quickly anything the horses and I can't complete in a timely manner.
    Jon

    God and family, the rest is icing on the cake. I'm so far behind, I think I'm in first place!

    Host of the 2015 FAMILY WOODWORKING GATHERING

  6. #6
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    The heritage and book you have are treasures. I bet 40 acres was enough - for food, warmth and work.

  7. #7
    It's funny you should mention teeth Jon. 20 minutes ago I called into work and said I won't be in, because I have to find a dentist for an emergency tooth extraction. I have had this broken tooth for a few years now and its bothered on and off, but in the last few weeks its gone from annoying to very painful. A few weeks ago I could kill the pain with a shot of Listerine twice a day. Then when that stopped working a shot of hydrogen-peroxide every few hours would kill the pain. Now its down to 2 asparin every 4 hours and Ambesol every 10 minutes and I can't eat or sleep either. Time for this 34 year old tooth to go. I cannot imagine living in the dark ages with an absess tooth.

    As for wood cutting its interesting to note that this book was written about times in the 1850's when Maine was being cleared for sheep. (The rivers here drove the looms that spun the woolen trade). He notes in many places, "30 acres of woods cleared and burned."

    I assume during that time wood could be had for little or nothing. Just this weekend alone as I cleared an acre of ground for my sheep, I was glad I had a chainsaw. I could not imagine doing such work with a ax and crosscut saw.

    I guess that is what is so neat about finding this book now. I am actively clearing land for sheep, just as my Great Grandfather² was doing on this same land 159 years ago. What happened is, this acre of land is between working fields. Because its a drainage for both fields, it gets wet and makes mechanical harvesting impossible. So it grew regrew into trees. But the trees are very limby from the abundant light. So the hardwood is too limby to be of any use other than firewood and the softwood trees are only good for pulp. In other words its not a very good woodlot and its not tillable either. The best use for it as far as I can see is for grazing. So I'll clear it out and let grass grow and sheep graze.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  8. #8
    As for homesteading our research answered another long time question in the neighborhood. We have this old 1850's family cemetery on the farm in Thorndike. A nice place back in the day in a grove of Maples and on this little hill looking towards the distant mountains. Now the Thorndike Historical Society could not figure out where this family came from as no Steven's ever lived in Thorndike as far as records go.

    But our farm is split between two towns, primarily...Thorndike and Jackson. Just across the line is an old cellar hole of an Inn. It was big in its day and via rockwalls now grown up with trees, you can see where it was an old rotary. Roads went to Dixmont, Jackson, Thorndike, and Brooks. You can even find an old well, some remains of stables, and of course the inn's rocked foundation.

    My dad made the connection that maybe the Steven's came from that Inn. Well we found out that they did not own the inn but were servants in it and were felled by a family outbreak of Scarlet Fever. They simply found a suitable spot for a cemetery a few hundred yards away but it just happened to be in another town, throwing everyone off. This is a good find because now we can help people of the Steven's family doing research on their geneology and direct them to the right cemetery.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  9. #9
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    Turns out dental care is really important. People who floss have a lower incidence of heart disease than those who don't. The bacterial burden in the mouth is a source for all sorts of bad things. Hope you get that tooth fixed soon.

    As for the good old days - along with woodcuts of medieval woodworking techniques, there's lots of them showing some poor guy getting a tooth yanked out.

    Good luck with yer tooth.

  10. #10
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    to that of signing hymns. He was reported to the Superintendent who came out and said he enjoyed the change. Of course neither would be allowed by law now
    I know some kids that could do with "repeated whippings by a leather strap" My wifes nephew comes to mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Shively View Post
    Well, they didn't live as well as we do now. Also, no mechanization to speak of and so one man with one or two horses, 40 acres is a very demanding task. Also back then, one farmer only fed maybe 5 people. I often think of just getting wood for the winter, what a daunting task, crosscut by hand, split all by hand. Haul from where ever.
    Plus back then your neighbors never batted an eyelash at helping each other out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post
    could 40 acres really sustain a family homestead in 1850? Considering everything they needed to get by in life rested on only 40 acres, it doesn't seem possible.
    I would bet most Amish farms are under 60 acres.
    Throw Apples out the Windows, but make sure not to hit the Penguin.

    If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.

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