Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sepia Saturday, 2013 August 3: McPherson from Dundee to New York City

The prompt for this week is a 1905 photograph (from the collection of the Library of Congress) of the pier and harbour of the English port of Littlehampton. The picture immediately brought a piece that I wrote about my great-great grandparents, James P. and Mary Burns McPherson, and their immigration to America from Dundee, Scotland.  They both worked in the flax mills of Dundee, where the life span was a mere 36 years when they left in 1842.  Guess the immigration worked as they both lived to a ripe old age in their new country. Now check out the offerings of our fellow  Sepians.

Entrance to the Port of Dundee
by L.H. Bartlett
circa mid 1800s

Young James P McPherson most likely had been saving a few shillings every week for the steerage tickets, which were £4-£5 each. If he saved 2 shillings a week, it would have taken at least 5 months to save enough for one person's fare, and ten months for two fares. After his mother died, James Peter was most likely able to put aside 6 to 8 shillings a week – and if his wife to-be, Mary Burns, was able to contribute a couple of shillings a week (out of her 5 shilling per week pay) the couple might have save £2 a month, and  £10 over the 5 month after his mother's death. In addition to  £9 for steerage tickets, they also had to eke out enough to provide for their own food for the long passage. Saving for the crossing to America was not easy on an income of 18 shillings a week,

James would have made or procured a box perhaps with a lock of some sort in which to pack and secure their meager belongings. They knew they would be crowded into a tiny area, which in reality would be little more than an bunk, with their box and perhaps a few bags containing food, a blanket, and cooking items. Mary would have been busy obtaining a couple of wooden or tin plates and cups, and a tin cooking pot, as she would have to cook over a common fire on deck whenever space around the fire was available. The provision box would be used mostly for foodstuff for the trip. For the crossing, they would need several pounds of oatmeal, flour, perhaps an extravagance such as a bit of sugar or molasses, and some coffee. She might have also been preparing some eggs, salt pickled so they would last for some time. Potatoes, cabbage, cured or pickled meat would be the basis for soups or stews that could last for a whole the day -- or more if needed.
Their clothing and bedding would have been very basic. Dark colored pants and long gowns were good because they had heard that keeping clean was next to impossible on the voyage. Woolen blankets sufficed for bedding as well as a wrap. 

Five months after his mother's death, young James Peter McPherson and Mary Burns left the flax mills and Dundee forever. On July 16, 1842, they were married, either before they sailed or by the Medora's Captain  once aboard, and began their voyage to America.

The Sailing Ship Tay
(Although this is not the Medora, it
suited my fancy and is a close
enough representation of the ship
McPherson sailed on)
Even with all the reading James Peter had done about the trip to America, they must have found their seven week crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the sailing ship,Medora, little better than the conditions in mills of Dundee. Ship owners regarded the emigrants as little more than another commodity to be shipped from one place to another. They maximized the number of seafarers that could be crowded into the ships hold, by hammering temporary planking across the beams and so making berths along each side of the hold. For most of the trip, James and Mary would huddle in their make-shift berth with all their belongings within close reach. There were no port holes, and the only ventilation for the couple and their hundred or so steerage companions was the hatch. Even though James and Mary made the crossing during the summer, when there were few major storms, the
Courtesty of the Collection of Maggie Blanck
Medora was not the size of our modern ships, and with much less draft. Even a minor storm could send waves up and over her decks. It was not unusual and during in heavy weather, the hatches might be closed for days. The folks in the steerage hold were left in the dark, breathing only fetid air, rank with smells vomit and human waste. Even nowadays, sailors blanch at the thought of be cooped up in a tiny hold, by todays standards, for even a day.

Courtesty of the Collection of Maggie Blanck

When the weather permitted, the couple went top side a couple of times a day to exercise, and prepare food at the common fire provided by the shipowners. They often carried their meager belongings with them when they went topside, or one would stay below with their belongings. Amenities, like doors, port holes, a separate sleeping birth, were only for those who could afford cabin passage. Sea travel was not for the faint of heart or weak constitutions. It is surprising that only a small percentage of passengers died at sea.
The Medora was most likely held in quarantine for one to two days on one of the islands off of the Manhattan shore. Usually a doctor came aboard to determine if there were any passengers ill with contagious diseases. If not, the passengers would be allowed to get ready to leave the ship after their clothes and belongings were washed. Many immigrants have reported how everyone, men, women and children would be busy washing their clothes, usually with cold water and no soap, but plenty of rubbing and then string ropes wherever possible to hang the clothes to dry. According to letters to those back in the old country, someone from each family usually stood guard over their clothes and bedding as this was a time where theivery was rampant.
1873 New York Harbor from Brooklyn Heights
Steel Engraving by G.R. Hall
(New York harbor as it may have looked to the
young McPherson couple)
On September 13, 1842, after the Medora left quarantine, she docked on the lower west side of New York city so that the cabin passengers could debark and cargo unloaded. Only then were steerage passengers off loaded to lighter boats or schooners and deposited at the custom house where their baggage was inspected.

Mary and James Peter may have stayed the night in one of the taverns near the waterfront. Or they might have been fortunate enough to have been met by some friends that were already settled in New York. Perhaps they were met by their friends, the Stewarts or other Scots emigrants who had written and encouraged them to come and join them in them in New York. Whether alone or with friends, the young Scot and his bride strode confidently onto American soil in New York City, ready to make their way in a new land.

~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Synopsis: 2013 July 28th

Well, well, well, here it is four days since I returned from my trip to Wisconsin, and have three blog posts (counting todays Synopsis) under my belt.  I knew after the reunion, and our little trek around Crow Wing Lake, that I had turned a corner of some sort.  My mind turned to writing, family history and getting back to work.  Now the trick will be to focus, focus, focus.  I still have a ton of miscellaneous paper floating around on my desk that needs attention.  So no matter how much I want to settle in and write and research, I need to deal with my priority issues -- which includes writing and research as well as the other messy little nests of unattended stuff.

However, my daughter and I saw almost everything on our bucket lists, which included following the Snake River and that part of the Oregon Trail, the Tetons (which spoke to me powerfully), Yellowstone and bison and elk, massive stone walls that harbored native Indians tens of thousands of years ago (these rock and cave formations spoke to me as well), Cody Wy, the Badlands of Wy and SD, then a race across SD & NE to Minnesota where we zigged and zagged to visit old family haunts, and finally to Wisconsin and the Reunion (which was all that I had hoped for -- at least people wise.  Can never get enough family history.)  Then it was westward bound, homeward bound.

One of the things that struck me as we followed first the Lewis & Clark trail, then the Oregon Trail , and finally the route that my grandfather and family followed out to California, was the part the rivers played in their journeys; the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte, Green and, of course, the Snake River.  I also had renewed respect for my ancestors' bravery, tenacity, and toughness to make those treks.  No air conditioned cars, no air condition motels with WiFi and TV.  No rest areas with good water ever so often.  When we came to Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluff, I was astounded to realize that the Oregon Trail folks were but 1/3 of the way to Oregon.  When we arrived in Green River, which was extolled by my Uncle Ralph as a great place to camp for a few days before heading out into the high desert to Salt Lake Citiy, I was equally shocked that it wasn't "green" but wonderfully warm tan hills and rock formations heralded every horizon -- but the river was cool and the water good.

We made it home in 15 hours from Green River, WY, nearly 1000 miles and having to stop several times so Colldubh (my black shepard) could run and such.  According to my Uncle Ralph they were doing good to average 25 to 30 miles and hour in the Overland due to the road being not much more than a track in the desert.  So they probably covered somewhere between 75 to 150 mile a day. The trek to Califonia --- thru the desert and it was hot in the summer time -- would have taken them at least two weeks with no breakdowns -- which they did indeed have.  Tough folks to pile 7 kids, one dog, and all of their belongs and supplies piled into, tied onto and under the auto and heave off from northern Minnesota  to Calipatria, California -- with no map, just that it was south and in California.  Tough folks indeed.

And to end this Sunday Synopsis, I am sharing a picture of Colldubh after a long hard day of travel.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday, 2013 July 27th: Old Things, A Diary and A Box of Letters

"What is precious, tattered, torn and handed down?"  Wowser!  Those words spoke to me.  I have some rather old photographs, but it is the "handed down" that grabbed me -- items that were written by, held by, tended by those people of my past.  So Thank You, Sepia Saturday, and a special thanks to Kathy, Martha and Marilyn for the prompt picture. 

Sometime around 2001, I was re-reading an old letter written by a daughter of my great-great grandparents, James P. and Mary Burns McPherson.  I had read the letter several times over the years, but this time the words jumped off of the page and in my face!  She told about her father keeping record in his diary of the marriages that he had performed as the Justice Peace in Springdale, Wisconsin.  The letter was unsigned and undated -- good information about the great-greats, but not about the writer.  That was the beginning of nearly a decade-long search for the diary.  Research at the Wisconsin Historical Library in Madison, as well as the very helpful folks at the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society, helped me to narrow the author of the letter to the youngest daughter of the great-greats.  Then it was the search of her descendants to locate information about the diary, and finally the diary itself.  Then it took another three years to come to how I could obtain a copy of the Diary.  In November, 2010, I traveled half way across the country to Madison, Wisconsin where I had a great week with McPherson cousin-types that I had never met.  We photographed the diary, scanned pictures, told stories and made lasting bonds with the now far flung family members.  A wonderful week!

Now I am in the process of transcribing the diary.  James P. McPherson wrote with a fine hand, but many times the letters looked far different from the cursive I learned as a child.  In addition,  his word useage was sometime unfamiliar, which took some time to get used to how he spoke and wrote.  Although, I took a year long hiatus in the transcribing  -- had to finish a book of letters -- I am again transcribing the Diary, and in doing so I have a wonderful window into the lives of James P., his family, and the folks that lived in and around Springdale in the middle of the nineteenth century. 

Tattered and worn cover to the Diary
of James P. McPherson
Front Page of the Diary for the
Years, 1850 through 1880

1850 Diary Entry from May 21st through June 14th

During a trip to visit the last suviving McPherson aunties, the sisters brought out shoe boxes of letters written by their oldest brother Ralph, when he lived in Escondido, California and they in a small northern Californian town.  I thought that I had found the "mother lode", and indeed I did.    Ralph's letters meandered throught family history in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and Oregon and covered over a century's worth of stories told and retold in the family.  The family history was intersperced with current events, weather and road reports, and scads of newspaper clippings.

I spent several years transcribing the letters, partially because in the beginning I just was gleaning family history.  It was only into the second year, that I realized that each letter needed to be transcribed in its entirety, so I had to start over.  Not an easy task.  There were 156 letters written over five years; each letter was several pages long -- his average letter was about six to eight pages, some were twelve pages or more.  He didn't want to waste paper or postage, so he wrote top to bottom, side to side AND on both sides of the paper.  As the cost of postage went up, he wrote his letters on onion-skin paper, which made transcribing very difficult and time consuming.  During the transcribing period, I wrote a poem, My Uncle Ralph Never Wrote To ME , which might be of interest.

Today, nearly a decade after I received those shoeboxes, with the help of my sister and a friend of the family, a book of my Uncle Ralph's letters is nearly ready to send off to the printer.  A endeavor of love and gratitude to my McPherson family.

A Shoebox of Letters Written by My Uncle,
Ralph Jabez McPherson to His Sisters,
1980 through 1985

A Page of A Letter Written By
My Uncle Ralph

These are my treasures, now check out the treasures of our fellow Sepians.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

Friday, July 26, 2013

2013 July 26th; T'would Have Been Mr. & Mrs. Richard A. Hill's 60th Anniversary

For Ric,
for all of the love stories,
written with paddles in the water and smoke from mountain campfires;
written in ponds, waterfalls and garden paths;
written in bouquets of wildflowers, sprigs of sage,
  and the first perfect rosebud of the year.
Thanks for the memories,
Winter, 1951-52
Ric and me
1953 July 26
After the Wedding

1960, Ric and me on the Ranch in Hildebrand
1965, Ric and me on the steps of the college "ticky-tacky"
student housing

1972, ranching and the University behind us,
and time for parties, work, and play
2003 July 26
A glorious 50th Wedding Anniversary and Bash
2003 July 26
The Family who Loved Him


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 July 8th: A Foss Reunion Preview, Mary Foss and Ferdinand Theis on Their Wedding Trip to the California and Oregon

1936 McPherson outing with Wisconsin Relatives
L to R: Pearl McPherson(Clive's wife), Jabez B. McPherson,
Elizabeth A. McPherson(nee Foss), Mildred McPherson (Ralph's
wife), and newly weds from Wisconsin,
Mary (nee Foss) and Ferdinand Theis
Courtesy of JGH and Roots'n'Leaves Archives
The 2013 Foss Family Reunion will be held at the Orfan Park in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and I will be there.  I feel very fortunate that I am finally going to meet the family of Mary and Ferdinand.  I scanned the above picture from my grandmother's old black album several years ago.  At that time, all I knew about the picture was that it included some of  my McPherson family and the couple on the right was May and Ferd (the photo  was labeled  "With May and Ferd."  I was sure this was a Foss couple, but I couldn't find a Ferd or a May in my limited information on the Foss family. 

Earlier this summer during a call to Kate, one of the reunion organizers, I asked if I could send a picture to her to see if she might be able to identify the couple.  And that she did!  The picture was of her mother and father, Mary and Ferdinand Theis.  The occasion was a trip the couple took after their wedding.  One of their stops was to visit Mary's aunt Elizabeth (Foss) McPherson, who was my grandmother.  I also liked this photo because although everyone looks to be leaning to the left.  They really are standing upright, but they are on a rather steep hillside above Crater Lake which was my grandparent's favorite place to take out of town folks.  To bad the lake is not visible, but nevertheless, I do recognize the location.

One puzzle solved.  Now I have a notebook of more pictures-- some with names, some without -- and I am hoping for names and stories galore to come my way at the Foss Family Reunion. 

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is a far piece from my Oregon home, but I am looking forward to meeting these Foss folks of mine.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Synopsis: 2013 July 7th, Six Days and Counting

My focus has turned to the trip.  The distractions -- juggling water in a low water year, contractors, high heat, cranky heat pump --  are slipping to the background.  Now it is packing - for Coll (big black Shepherd), me, Reunion stuff, and of course the required techie toys.  However, all that plays out, next Saturday, my daughter, Coll(my dog) and I will be on our way for an adventure.  Blogging will happen as it happens.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sepia Saturday 184th: 2013 July 6, Doc Hill and Barney, the Barn Owl

The prompt for this week is a doozy, at least for me:
 July 6th 1885 was when Louis Pasteur successfully treated a boy with a rabies vaccine. This plaque in Arbois is one side of a pillar dedicated to Pasteur and his achievements. Expect to see commemorative plaques aplenty, group portraits, or even mad dogs! Yikes!

I put my thunkin' hat on and thunk and thunk  Finally, Barny, the Barn Owl flew across my mind.  Twas a while ago, and the the photo is not sepia, but it is faded and yellowed.  Not Pastuer, or vaccines, or plaques, but I amgoing to tell you all the saga of  when Doc introduced me to Barney.

Doc Hill with Barney, the Barn Owl;
wing healed and ready to fly
JGH & Roots'n'Leaves Archives
Over the years, my husband, known by his friends as Doc,  brought a number of critters home; strychnine poisoned dogs lay by our bed so Doc could keep them sedated as the poison worked it's way out of their system; similar situation with critters with lockjaw. The line up of critters was heavy weighted to dogs and cats, and the periodic pet goat, but it was Barney, the barn owl, that gave me the most fits. A good samaritain brought a barn owl with a broken wing into the clinic. Doc rarely turned away a critter in need, nor did he this time. Barney's wing was bandaged and he was confined to cage rest until the wing healed.

The problem being, it was fall and elk season was rapidly approaching. Amid stacks of guns,camping gear, stores of food, he deposited Barney in a corner of the laundry room.  Barny was still relegated to cage rest, and  needed to be fed daily.

"Hon, you don't mind feeding Barney while I am gone, do you?"  Sounded like a question, but I knew that it was more of a directive.  Clinic staff did not feed and clean cages of a non-paying patient.  Veterinarian's wives and children usually got that job.  Our kids were grown, so the job was on my plate.  In those days, elk hunting trips were at least 10 days in length, and two weeks, if Doc could get adequate coverage for his practice.

"What do I do need to do for the owl?"  I sqwaked.

"Just clean his cage every day and I put some frozen mice in the freezer," he tossed back off handedly as he continued packing his rig.  "Might want to thaw the mice in the microwave.  Don't think he will he frozen mice."

With such minimal direction given, Doc climbed in his rig and headed out to meet his hunting buddies.  And I was left with the bird, his wing still securely wrapped close to his body.  No, indeed, Barney did not like frozen mice.  Nor did he like thawed frozen mice, or dead mice.  His preference ran to live little critters, warm bodied mice, to kill and crunch upon.  I haunted the pet stores for their supply of baby mice, amidst snickers, "Guess what Doc did this time?"
"He'd better get home soon if he knows what's good for him"
"Doc's wife don't look too happy these days."

Doc came home with meat for the freezer and stories to last till next hunting season.  Barney was still alive.  And I was so pleased to get rid of my feathered charge that I greeted Doc warmly and gave him a run down of my patient's progress.

Soon it was time to  start exercising Barney so that he could be released into the wild.  For some reason, I was still in charge of Barney's recuperation.  Tried flying him on a line attached to a jess on his leg.  Not too successful, as Barney was too fast and strong for the garage bit.  Next, Doc told me to attach  a long fishing line to his jess.  So on Barney's maiden flight outside, he was indeed attached to fishing line.  Doc held  Barney on his arm.  I tentatively held the fishing pole with the line attached.  In my mind, I thought Barney would fly around me in a circle  -- rather like a kid's airplane.  This was not Barney's idea.  When Doc tossed him in the air, Barney took off as far and as fast as the line would let him.  He settled in a tree, quite some distance away.  Obviously, his wing was healed and in good shape.

"What do I do now?," I asked with  the fishing pole in my hand and Barney in a tree, glaring down at me.

"Just wait him out, hon.  When he starts to fly, start reeling him in, slowly."

Finally, Barney took off from his perch, I reeled him in without getting him tangled in any branches.  Barney spent the night in his cage and the next morning, we took the cage outside and Barney marched out the open door, and took flight.

I had the illusion that Barney would come back, fly over our house, and maybe dip his wings in a  show of affection or gratitude. No, that is the story book version.  Our Barney, took flight and never looked back.

 By the way, a couple of years later, when cleaning out the freezer, I found a package labled, "Mice."  Such is the freezer of a veterinarian's wife.  Now  check out what other fare provided by our Sepians.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications