Eldad F. Goodwin, Henry’s brother-in-law, writes from a peddling trip. In addition to being family, Henry is Eldad’s supplier and creditor, hence the double greeting of “Brother Henry” and “Dear Sir.” Eldad writes about visiting a Dr. Bemis to try to collect on a promissory note for his father, Henry’s father-in-law, Anson Goodwin (he made surgical splints, so the physician’s $35 debt may have been related to prior purchases). Bemis apparently bought the note from a third party to whom Goodwin had endorsed it. In spite of the fact Bemis paid a discounted price for the note, the fact it was in his possession ought to have canceled his debt to Anson Goodwin. So there must be more to the story than comes across in the letter.
Eldad is apparently new to peddling, but he thinks business is good and he has sold out of several items he’d like Henry to resupply. The illustration is a page from Henry Ranney’s ledger, showing items charged to Eldad’s account in another resupply in early 1854. Eldad was peddling on foot, probably carrying a tin trunk and one or more baskets. He mentions he is going to meet “Cross” (a relative of his wife, Julia) in Spencer in a few days. Peddlers often traveled together, but they split up to sell their wares, so despite being new to the business, Eldad would have spent most of his time on his own.
Peddling is a really interesting topic, and Henry Ranney was deeply involved, so I’ll need to write much more about it soon.
Hubbardston Dec 21 1853
Agreeably to my promise, I drop a few lines to let you know of the whereabouts of the pedlar. We staid over Sunday at Barre, eight miles from here, and I have been these three days in getting here. I should think from what little I tried it that the peddling business was very good, but can tell better when I get my hand in.
You can tell Father that I called on Dr. Bemis and had quite a confab with him about the lost note. He told me precisely the same story about it that he wrote to Father. I watched him close and could get nothing new. He showed me the note, which is genuine as it has Father’s name on the back in his own handwriting. We went together to the P.Master and I looked his papers over. No such letter was on his books. And I do not think that he ever saw the note. He appears to be honest and I think he is.
Bemis says the note was not due when he paid it, says he told the man he would give him Thirty Three Dollars for it (35) and the man made no objection to taking that. He borrowed a part of the money from Howard and paid it. Says he told Howard that this was the first time in his life that he ever shaved his own note &c. I have his statement on paper, will show when I get home. He has the reputation of being a horse jockey here. I fear that father will have to lose that note. But something may turn up yet.
I have sold all out of a number of little things and pretty near of several others. If you have that N. York order, wish you to send it to Henry H. and get such things as you are not supplied with immediately as I shall want a small bill of goods before many days. Get something to please the children, of course.
Cross thinks he shall go home the last of next week and I may come too as we shall be within a days drive of home, but can’t say certain. At any rate get the goods ready and I will take if I can make a live of it.
Have you any Hot Drops, Tape, Worsted, Braid, Harmonicas, Corking, Pins, Velvet Ribband, Ounce Pins, Coats, Spools Thread Large Size, Bayliss Needles N. 7 & 8? My health has been good. So has the weather, but am some afraid of a snow storm.
I expect to meet Cross at Spencer next Saturday. If you have anything to communicate please direct there and I shall be sure to get it, as I will leave word to have it forwarded in case we leave before a letter could get there.
Respects to all, In Haste Yours
E. F. Goodwin
Shall write to my wife tomorrow or next day.
Paul Sears writes to Henry from Mt. Carmel, Illinois, in the Fall of 1853. Paul is Henry’s first cousin: his father Nathan was Achsah Sears Ranney’s younger brother. Paul was born 1820 or 1821 in Zanesville Ohio, not in Ashfield, and followed his father into Medicine. He is the cousin that Lyman visited and wanted to study with, but who turned him away and suggested he go to Arkansas. So it’s interesting that he asks how Harrison is doing in Tahlequah, but doesn’t ask about Lyman.
Paul asks several questions about Henry’s extended family, and then gives a little information of his own. He mentions he is glad Henry did not go to California, and in general seems to feel himself a bit above those who grub for money. Of course, Paul is a successful physician with the widest “ride” in his area, so he has the luxury of not having to worry. As he says, “It is quite healthy here at this time, but I get all the business I want.”
Paul is very interested in genealogy, and includes a list of ancestors that goes back to the Mayflower. Paul says one of his Sears cousins is preparing a book on the family’s history in America, and he would like both to prove that he is of the Mayflower stock, and to contribute the details of his own descent. I haven’t been able to locate this book, which may never have been published, but the Sears family website claims Richard Sears has about 200,000 members now living in America. And in an interesting note in the genealogy, Paul mentions that some of the Sears ancestors relocated to St. John, New Brunswick, in 1783. This would make them Royalists — members of a group we never hear enough about in Early American history.
Mt Carmel Oct 26 1853
Some time has elapsed since I have had the pleasure of hearing from you in person. I recd a letter from sister last mail and regret to hear of your illness. I hope you have entirely recovered. I hear Harry is still in Talequo (or some such savage name) and feel much pleased that you are both held in esteem. When did you hear from Aunt (your Mother) and how was the Family and when do you expect to visit home and what does Harry think of the natives? I would like to see you both very much, yet it’s best for you to persevere and accumulate all you can.
Mother is still on the farm and gets along about as usual. Zech is looking out for the dimes and making money. He went on a visit to Ohio last fall and wanted to make a show, and had a 50$ Gold Piece stolen out of his pocket. Says it served him right. Ought not to make such a display on a steam boat.
It is quite healthy here at this time, but I get all the business I want. John my Brother in Law is attending lectures at Jefferson Medical College Phliadel. this winter. The young man I sent to California has returned. He does very well. He is now staying with me, don’t know what he will do yet.
My children are going to school and learning very well. The youngest is learning Dutch, reads very well that language. I anticipated the pleasure of taking a camp hunt but presume I will not get to go. The Illinois Methodist Conference meets here and are now in session. We have our quota of Preachers.
I am very glad you did not go to California. It’s but few in proportion to the number that goes that makes it big. Remember me kindly to Harrison. I would write often, but sparsity of news & business is my apology.
You or Harry told me that we had a maiden Aunt and that she knew our genealogy. I do not know her address and I want you or Harry to write her and get all the information you can on the subject. Robert Sears is going to publish a work on the Sears Family, and if we are of his branch I want to give him all the information I can on the subject. I give you his genealogy which you can send on to her. My father said he knew we were of the same stock and I want to know anyhow. Anything pertaining to our ancestors will be interesting. Please write her or your Mother.
Genealogy of Robert Sears of N. York.
Richard Sears, the Pilgrim, landed at Plymouth May 1630
Paul Sears (son of Richard) Joshua (son of Paul) Nathaniel (son of Joshua) (Brother to Col. Isaac Sears the Leader of the Liberty Boys) Thatcher Sears (son of Nathaniel) (Robert) Parent & Born at Norwalk Ct. 1753 Went to St. John N.B. May 1783 Robert Sears seventh son of Thatcher born June 28 1810. The above is correct & confirmed by the Record of Harwick Mass. & The Town of Norwalk (or Norwich) Fairfield Co Connecticut.
Anson writes Henry from the town of Reading, seven miles from the family home in Allen. He has taken a teaching job for the winter that pays $16 and board, which Anson says sounded like a better deal than $12 a month for working “out in the snow.” Some of Anson’s students are older and bigger than he is (Anson is 20), but that doesn’t seem to bother him. He likes the people, who he says are “good nice citizens.”
Anson says the family is well, and mentions that they had heard from Lemuel. Although he supposes that Lucius may have already written about Lemuel’s letter (if Lucius did write, his letter was lost. This is one of those remarks that leads me to think there were actually many more letters between the brothers than made it into the archive — which is remarkable, given the number that were preserved), Anson repeats Lemuel’s news from memory. He says Lemuel has offered to send him money for his trip, if he will come to California. Since Lemuel has already written that he would not advise friends to travel overland to California, this presumably means a journey by ship down the coasts of North and South America, around the Straits of Magellan, and up the other side to San Francisco. That would be quite an adventure for a twenty-year old from Michigan, and Anson seems to be considering it. Anson says if he goes he might retire to Ashfield afterward, once he has made his fortune.
Nov 24th 1853
Having a few leisure moments to spare I will improve the time by writing to you. I am well & doing the same. I am about seven miles from Lucius in the town of Reading, teaching school. I have taught about ten days, and so far I like the business very well. My school is not very large now & probably it will not be this winter. It will average about from twenty five to thirty scholars. Some of them are men grown larger than I am. I get sixteen dollars & boarded. I thought that would be better than to work out in the snow for twelve. It is a first rate district. The people are good nice citizens, which makes it rather more pleasant.
I came from home last Monday morning. The folks were all well then. Lewis was at our house when I came away. They were all well there. We received a letter from Lemuel a few days since. Probably Lucius has written about it before this. He wrote that he was in good health and doing tolerable well. He was to work where he has been for some time on Clear Creek, twelve miles from Shasta City. He was to work by the month mining. He gets one hundred & seventeen dollars per month & boards himself. He wrote for me to go to California. He said he would send me the money in the spring if I would only go. He says that a laboring man can make more there than he can here in the States.
I must stop writing now for a while because it is most school time and I will try and finish after school.
Well school is out for the night and I am glad, for I am a little tired now but will soon be rested again. I received a letter from Harrison a few days ago. He wrote that he was well but a little homesick. He thought of coming back in the spring, in June I believe he set his time for coming back. He wrote that Lyman had been sick but was getting better so that he was up around. Mother she is in Phelps N.Y. I suppose she calculates on staying there throughout the winter.
If I go to California I shall probably go to Ashfield when I come back from the Gold Mines. Then I can have something to live on. I suppose you think there is not much to be made in California. Well everyone to their notion.
I thank you very much for the papers you send me, for I get some time to read them and find some good pieces in them. I suppose I shall have to quit for it is most time to go for my supper. Please write on the receipt of this. Write soon.
A. B. Ranney
P.S. Please send my mail to Reading P. O. Hillsdale Co. Mich and Oblige A. B. Ranney
Lucius writes to Henry in the fall of 1853. After the customary apology for not writing sooner, Lucius says he delayed because he knew Lewis had written in September. Like Lewis, Lucius says writing is difficult: he would “rather do a days work anytime than to write a letter.”
In addition to news of the family, Lucius gives Henry a very detailed account of his farm, and of the prices he is getting for his produce. This is valuable information, because it gives us a picture of what a hardworking man on 160 acres could produce in a year, with a single, part-time, hired man. Lucius lists all the crops he sold, and all his livestock. He also mentions that he has “a boy” living with them who will be in the household for another ten years, until he is 21. The 1860 Census lists an eighteen-year old “apprentice” named Burton Brown as part of Lucius’s household, as well as a thirty-two year old “farm laborer” named Austin Pross.
Lucius thanks Henry for a book he sent as a gift. Samuel Cole’s American Fruit Book was published in Boston in 1849; Lucius says it is “a very useful book in selecting & cultivating fruit trees in this new country.” He already has 120 apple trees, which are just about old enough to produce, and he says his peach trees are yielding thirty to fifty bushels of fruit. Henry has also apparently said he might send Harriet Beecher Stowe’s books, but Lucius says they already have both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was a book of “Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story is Founded,” published in 1853 by John Jewett of Boston. Jewett was also the publisher of Cole’s book, and Henry may have a business relationship with him, because at about this time he begins to dabble in the book trade for a few years.
Lucius says Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Key are “a choice book, and one that takes well in this State.” Although Lucius is not as active a campaigner for abolition, he is sympathetic and equates an appreciation of Stowe’s anti-slavery message with “intelligence and enterprise,” which he proudly declares Michigan is full of.
Translation note: A shoat is piglet that has just been weaned.
Allen Oct 4th 1853
Well knowing it my duty to write a few lines to you, I therefore embrace the present time. We are all well & have been the past summer. I should have written sooner, but Lewis said that he had written to you sometime in the summer. A poor excuse is better than none. But I have had a great deal to do, or have done a great deal this summer. Clearing &c. I had rather do a days work anytime than to write a letter.
We raised about 280 bushels of wheat this season, of which I sold the most of it for $1.00 per bushel. It is now worth $1.10. We received a letter from you a few days since. You wished me to see what I could get, or what flour would be worth, delivered at the Lake. The cheapest way that it can be got would be to buy the wheat, which would at present prices cost $1.10 per bushel, & get it toured. The millers will give a barrel of flour for five bushels of wheat, which will cost per barrel here at the present price of wheat $5.50. It will cost 30 cts per barrel from here to the Lake. You can readily see whether there is any speculation or not. If so I will assist you in it if necessary.
You also spoke of oil Peppermint. The season has been so very dry that peppermint is very small indeed. There is some New York buyers about. They offer $3.50 per lb. Lewis will have about 25 lbs. He has contracted a few lbs to the druggists in Hillsdale, Jonesville, & Coldwater for $5.00 per lb.
We have 7 acres of good corn, is worth 50 cts. We also have 100 bushels of oats, they are worth 40 cts. A good crop of potatoes, say from 100 to 150 bushels, they are worth 31 cts. We milk 4 cows. We market considerable butter which is worth 16 cts per lb. Our stock consists of 2 horses, 1 yoke of oxen, 4 cows, 2 colts, sixty sheep, 6 fatting hogs which will at killing time weigh from 250 to 300 lbs each, 8 shoats to winter over which will weigh about 80 lbs each, &c.
As regards the books you wrote that you had sent me, we have got one only. That is Cole’s Fruit Book & I am a thousand times obliged for the Present, for I find it a very useful book in selecting & cultivating fruit trees in this new country. We have Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The country is full of them, and also the Key. They are a choice book, & one that takes well in this State. I must say, and without prejudice too, there is a great amount of intelligence & enterprise in the Wolverine State.
We have about 120 apple trees of the choicest of fruit. The most of them begin to bare quite a little. We have about 40 peach trees. We have had from 30 to 50 bushels from them this season. We had plenty of them that commenced getting ripe in August & have had them a ripening tree after tree ever since & have a plenty yet. We have several plum trees that bare & some guineas, currants a plenty, &c.
As regards my farm, I have 160 acres, about 70 acres cleared, & would not thank a man to offer three thousand dollars for it. I have money enough & more due to me to pay my debts. I keep a hired man a part of the time this summer. A man can get about $150 to $160 a year to work on a farm.
Anson is at home at present. He has attended school this summer. He thinks of teaching this winter. He will probably get some land soon to make a farm of. We have a boy a living with us. He will probably stay until he is 21. He is now 11 years old.
Lewis & wife are well. Franklin was here in June last. He has disposed of all his land here. He thinks that he can live easier in the State of N.Y. than here. Priscilla & husband live at South Haven, the mouth of Black River. We heard from them a few days ago. They were usually well. He is in a sawmill, Lath Machine, & farming, & tearing away at various things. He has 30 acres of good land there. If you want to write to them you can direct to South Haven, Van Buren Co Mich. We have not heard anything from Lemuel this summer. Lyman said he got a letter from him in June. We hear from Harrison & Lyman often. They think of coming to Mich in June next.
I sheared 50 sheep this season, of which I sold the wool for $86. One sheep, a buck, sheared 11 lbs & 14 oz. I sold my wool for 50 cts per lb. Farming is getting to be much better than it has been for years past & the prospect is favorable for it to continue good. There is a Flood of Emigration to this country this fall. It has been very healthy here this season. The price of land has increased one quarter in a year.
You see I must close for want of room. I have endeavored to give you some of the lines of my affairs & things in general, and that without fabling too. Write on receipt of this.
Mother is a writing to you & Marie some things I have neglected to write. Mother thinks some of going to Phelps & also Franklin’s little girl that lives with us this fall to spend the winter & if she does I think she will go to Ashfield.
Lewis writes to Henry for the first time since his illness. He has recovered, and can almost walk normally, but he is a changed man. Lewis says he is “Able to do a good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years.” He has reduced his farm to forty acres, which he can manage comfortably, and his wife does a lot of the work with him “from choice.”
Lewis reports on the health and doings of the brothers. Lucius is now clearly the most driven farmer of the family, and younger brother Anson is working with him rather than out on his own for wages. Harrison and Lyman are in Arkansas, and Lemuel is out of touch. Henry has apparently retired from business and become a gentleman farmer, and Lewis pokes a little fun at him, asking whether he has done any heavy work himself or does he just watch others do it.
Their mother Achsah has decided to spend her winter in Phelps and Ashfield, Lewis reports. Henry’s wife Marie is ill, so Achsah will be able to help look after the children. Lewis says he encouraged her to go, and that Lucius agrees it is a good idea, but would never say, “for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her.”
The season was dry and the harvest light, Lewis says. But he planted five acres of Peppermint, and he has seen in the papers that the oil is selling for $4.25 per pound. Lewis asks Henry for a price because he would prefer to deal with family, but he makes sure Henry knows he is aware of the oil’s value in New York.
Hillsdale Sept 11th 1853
It having been a long time since writing you, I have concluded to lay everything else aside and write you. Yet I had rather work a day than write a letter. I am unused to letter writing opt late (of which you are probably aware of) and it seems quite a job. I read a letter a week or two ago of yours at Lucius’s, stating that Marie’s health was very poor. I think I am prepared to sympathize with you in your afflictions, yet we had no children to look after or care for. But we cannot expect our days all sunshine.
Our relations’ healths are all quite good at present here. Lucius is a driving away as usual at farming. Anson is with him. Harrison and Lyman are yet in Arkansas, expect doing well. Lemuel we know but little about. Lyman wrote that he received a letter from him in July. He did not mention how he was doing or when he was coming back. But advised his Friends not to take the overland route to California.
My health is quite good this summer. Leg become about straight so as not to be observed in my common walk. Therefore you will calculate that I have not got the Blues as had when I wrote you last. My health in the main is quite good. Able to do good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years. I do not work very hard nor do not intend to. I now have only 40 acres of land, 28 improved, which I can work myself with a boy in the summer season very comfortably. My wife is quite a rugged woman and very ambitious and helps me a great deal from choice.
Mother I believe has concluded to spend the coming winter at Phelps and Ashfield. I have mentioned it to her several times the past summer that there was nothing to hinder her from visiting her friends East again. But her head is full of cares and so much to do & Lucius has a very kind woman and would like to have her go if she could enjoy herself better. But Lucius would not recommend her to go for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her. But Frank has invited her and you in your last wanted her, therefore she has concluded to go, probably in October.
We have had a very dry season. Wheat and corn came in fair. But most other crops were light. Wheat is worth 8/6 per. But I had only 85 bushes. Sowed only five acres last year. What is Pept Oil worth? I planted five acres last spring. It has been too dry for it, shall probably get about 30 or 35 lbs. I see it quoted at about four twenty-five in N.Y. Papers.
How does farming go? Have you split any rails yet or made stone wall? Or do you as an old saying is, keep tally while others do it? Ralph I suppose is company for you if nothing more. It hardly seems possible that he is a boy eight or nine years old. We are not remarkably fond of very small children at our house. But one of that age we should think worth fussing with.
I must close as I am going to town and have not time to write any more. Please write soon. I am much obliged for papers I am receiving from you and intend favoring you with the expense sometime.
My respects to you and yours.
I can send Hillsdale papers to you occasionally if of any account. Densmore’s people we have not heard from in several months. Probably well or we should have heard.