Ranney Letter #37

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Lucius writes to Henry near the end of the summer of 1858. Lucius says he has received two letters from Henry in the last couple of weeks, and he does not mention the death of his daughter in the Spring — suggesting once again that there were letters between February and August that did not survive in the archive.

In response to Henry’s inquiries, Lucius has talked to the miller in Jonesville about “flouring” some local wheat for Henry. Henry apparently considered the miller’s offer, because he did the math in pencil on the last page of the letter (in photo). The wheat crop was much lighter than expected due to the rust, a fungal disease once known as the “polio of agriculture.” Lucius says he has no live-in hired boy this season, and is “both man & boy this summer.”

Definition: Offal usually means the parts of an animal discarded after butchering, but can also refer to the byproducts of grain milling.

My Transcription:


Allen Aug 26
th 1858
Dear Brother

I take the present moment to drop a line to you. I have received two letters from you within two or three weeks & I now attempt in part to answer them, although with regret I have been very dilatory. I was at Jonesville a day or two ago to see about wheat & flour &c. I saw Baxter, the man that owns the mill. He said that he would flour wheat on a short notice. His terms of flouring were this. He would give what flour the wheat would make & furnish barrel & deliver at the Depot & he keep the offals for fifty cts a barrel, or he would give the offals (or bean &c.) and charge seventy five cts on the barrel. He says that last year and almost every year 4 1/2 bushels of wheat will make a barrel of flour. He has not tested it this year but he thinks but he think it will take 10 or 15 lbs more of wheat this year than most seasons. Wheat is generally poor & considerably shrunk this season.

Since the new wheat has begun to come in to market the price for white wheat has been from $1.00 to $1.15. It may be a little lower but I think that it will run higher. There is a great deal of wheat a going into the market. There has been on an average for the last two weeks about four thousand bushels per day or 100 loads in Jonesville & about 1/2 that amount in Hillsdale. White wheat I think now stands at $1.15. At these figures a barrel would cost here from $5.70 to $6.00.

The wheat that is bought in this market is all shipped, not any floured here scarcely. About the mark I did not think to inquire particularly, about the 1/2 barrels he does not put up any in that way. But if he can get the 1/2 barrels he would do it. He has got the same miller that he had when you were here. He says that he will make a good article, one that take well & retail first rate.

If you see fit to get any put up I will assist you here. I have been very busy this summer for I am alone. Miles, the boy that was here last year, went to the State of N.Y. last spring and I am both man & boy this summer. I have not hired much, only in harvesting & haying.

I saw a piece in the Northampton Courier concerning a man somewhere in the East that had tended eight acres of corn this summer. I can say that of myself besides doing a great share of my harvesting & haying, I have about the same amount of hay this season as last. I have not thrashed my wheat yet. I thought before harvest that I should have about 250 bushels, but I think now that I shall have about 150. The rust injured the wheat from one 1/4 to 1/2 throughout the state. The prospect before harvest a few weeks was never better, but it has proved to be a short crop. I also have got 12 acres of summer fallow which is partly plowed the second time, that I done myself in addition to all the boy work.

Mother has had 3 or 4 shakes of the fever & ague. She is better now. Otherwise we have been well this summer. Harrison & Lem have thrashed their wheat. They had 100 bushels. Anson has not thrashed. He will have about 50 bushel. L. G. Says that he shan’t have not over six bushels. Fruit is very scarce in this country. There is no peaches. We shall have about one half the apples as last year. I have the same team that I had last year. The Boys also have the same as last year. My stock is about the same. I summered about 10 tons of hay. The hay crop is good this summer. Corn about the same as last year. There is not much old corn in the country, old corn is worth 60 cts. Oats & potatoes are a light crop.

There is much more news that I might write but I have not time this morning as I have to go to Jonesville on business today. I would like to write a little to Ralph & Ella but they must excuse me this time & write to me soon.

Yours in Haste
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #35

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Lucius writes to Henry, a little over a week after returning from a trip to Ashfield and Phelps. He spent six weeks and a day away from home, which he remarks is just a day less than the time Henry spent away on his recent visit West. Lucius says Alonzo Franklin’s family is well, and revives the perennial claim that Frank is putting his affairs in order in Phelps and planning to move to Michigan (he never does).

Lucius describes a severe flood (remembered in New York histories as the “Freshet of 1857”), which washed away most of the bridges around Phelps as well as several mills, and damaged the railroad. He remarks that times are hard in Michigan, but apparently the Panic of 1857, which began in October in New York, had not affected Lucius badly enough to prevent his trip East at the beginning of November.

My Transcription:



Allen Dec 27
th 1857
Dear Brother

I presume that you would like to hear from me by this time, & I am very sure that I would from you. I arrived safe home two weeks from the next Friday after leaving Ashfield. I found everything all correct on my return Home, & we are all well at present. I stopped at Albany one night, at Utica over one. Train arrived in Vienna in the evening. I found Franklin’s folks well & Frank was a making arrangements to move to
Mich in the spring. I had an excellent visit in Phelps & Hopewell, & in fact the whole visit was a good one.

They had a very heavy freshet in Ontario Co & in fact from Siracuse almost to Buffalo when I was there. It swept off almost every bridge in Phelps both great & small. It took both bridges at Orleans & all on the Creek to Vienna, & a number on the Canandagua Outlet. It also done great damage to the railroad. It took out about seventy feet of the high embankment East of Vienna in the hollow by Russell Bement’s old place. It made a great Depot & the passengers had to exchange cars.

Harrison & his Wife were here Christmas. I heard from Lewis yesterday. He was on the Grand Jury last week at Coldwater. We heard from Priscilla a few days ago. She was well but did not weigh only 180 lbs.

I was gone just six weeks & one day on my visit, just one day less than you was. We had some very cold weather the next week after I got home. We had about 4 days of good sleighing & then it came off warm & pleasant & remained so until last week & now it is comfortable winter weather with about three inches of snow. I wish that there was about three inches more.

I have not foddered much yet, sheep only 3 or 4 days. Produce is very cheap of all kinds. Wheat is only with 75 cts. I think that it will be higher next spring. I have not thrashed the balance of mine yet. Times are, or rather money matters are, very hard this winter.
Ralph, I got some chestnuts on my return home. What speculations are you into this winter? Ella, have you got your pay on the Butternuts yet, & are you a studying Laws & Resolves as much as you was?

I have nothing more in particular to write. Write soon, I want to hear from you. Mother, Clarissa & Caroline send their Love to you all.

Yours in Haste
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #34

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Lucius writes to Henry in the summer of 1857, after a long silence. The gap in their communication was probably not as long as the gap in the archive, because Henry went to Michigan in late 1856, and Achsah returned home to Allen. Lucius writes about the farm and the family. He says their mother Achsah did not go to Coldwater to visit their cousin, Lucretia Ranney Hathaway in the fall, as she had apparently planned to do. Coldwater is about twelve miles from Allen. Harrison, who was married in early 1856, has had a son in April, and Anson’s son who is just over a year old “walks all over the house.”

Lucius mentions that he has traded his team of oxen for horses, and that Harrison and Lemuel also have a team of horses. Horses are slightly more of a luxury than oxen, because they are faster (and can pull a wagon quickly to town), but more expensive, since they need oats whereas oxen can survive on grass. Lucius also says Anson doesn’t have a team at all, so he has been doing his brother’s “team work.”

Lucius invites Henry to visit again in September, when their brother Alonzo Franklin will be coming out from Phelps. He also invites his niece and nephew, suggesting to Ralph that he take up a peddler’s basket and come out on west. This is a joke, because Ralph is only twelve — but Ralph does go out on the road as a peddler several years later.

My Transcription:


Allen July 19
th 1857
Dear Brother

It has been a long time since I have written you a letter, & the reason is not because I have forgotten you for I presume that there is not a day passes but what I think of you & also think of what a fine visit we had together last fall. But it is my negligence. We are all well as usual & also the other Boys & their Families for aught I know. I see them quite often. Mother’s health is about the same as it was when she came home last fall.

We had a very long & severe winter & the spring & summer are very backward, & very wet. We had a very hard thunderstorm last night. Provisions are rather dear here this summer, although there seems to be a plenty in the country. We have a plenty of old wheat on hand yet, old potatoes & old pork &c. Potatoes have been worth during the summer, one dollar a bushel. Wheat, the average price about $1.50 a bushel &c. One year ago today I had my wheat harvested & in the barn & the most of my hay, and now I have just begun to hay & my wheat will not be fit to cut under about a week.

Crops look very promising at present. I think I shall have two hundred bushels of wheat. I call it 12 acres. You recollect where it was sowed. I should estimate it higher, but the Weavle are injuring it some. Don’t know how much. The little piece across the road is injured by being too large straw, it is lodged flat to the ground the most of it. Grass is very good. I shall cut double the hay that I did last year. I have a piece of oats that looks well. Potatoes look first rate. Corn is backward but is a growing finely now days.

Anson’s crops look very well. He will have nearly two hundred bushels of wheat. Harrison & Lemuel’s wheat is rather small, their other crops are good. Lewis says that it has been too wet to hoe his corn much, but it will all be right with him in the fall.

I suppose that you have heard that Harrison has a boy about three months old. Anson’s boy walks all over the house. Anson has not got any team this summer, consequently I do the most of his team work. I have no oxen this summer, I work horses. I traded my oxen for horses last winter. I have about such a team as the Boys had when you were here. They have the same now.

We have three cows this summer. I sheared the same flock of sheep that I had last fall when you were here. There was 66 of them. We saved 2 fleeces, the other sixty-four sheared 291 lbs of which I sold for 44 cts a lb. Beat that with a common flock of that size in your county if you can.

Mother says I must write more about my horses. I keep that black colt that you saw. She is raising a fine colt this summer. I have the boy 2 year old colt, & I also have a yearling colt that I bought last winter. Which makes in all six horse kind. I have since shearing sold all of my wethers, both old & young. 23 in number for $2.25 per head. Beef cattle are very high here at present. There is a great many buyers about these days.

I moved the house from across the road over near where you & I staked out & I find it much better or handier rather. It also looks better. We are a having a great deal of fruit this season. We shall have a number of bushels of peaches from the old, apparently dead trees. Our orchard is a bearing full. We shall have a great many greenings & we are a having lots of currants. In fact there is a going to be a great many beechnuts, butternuts &c.

We have not heard from Priscilla in a long time. She was well the last we heard from her. We are expecting Franklin out here in Sept & we would like to have you come out with him if you thought you could make it pay. We are a fitting up some roasters. I think it will be doubtful about my going East this fall as A.F. is a coming out here. Mother did not go out to Coldwater to see Mrs. Hathaway last fall. It did not seem to be convenient for her to go until we was afraid that Mrs. Hathaway was gone. Andrew is not a living with us now. His mother got married last winter & wanted him to go live with her, so he went. I have got a lad to work for me this summer, about seventeen years old.

I might perhaps write many more things which would be interesting to you, but it is chore time & I must draw to a close. I must try to write often & hope that you will do the same. We want that you should all write. We were all very much pleased with the large mail that we got from you at one time last winter. Ralph, can’t you take a basket of essence & take a trip out into
Mich and make a dime or two & see your kin? They would like to see you very much. Ella how can you manage to come out, try and study out some way can’t you? If you cannot don’t forget to write. Carroline goes to school to Mr. Howes this summer. Down in Anson’s dist.

Yours in Haste H. S. Ranney
From Lucius Ranney

P. S. Please do not delay writing but a short time after you receive this. Mother says that Ralph is a great hand to write. Can you make any of your townsmen believe many moderate
Mich truths? We all send our love to you all.
L. R.

Ranney Letter #28

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Lucius writes Henry and Achsah again, in spite of the fact he has not heard from them since his previous letter of early September. Lucius apparently finds the long silence unsettling and says “we are all anxious to hear how you all get along.” He gives news of the family and neighbors, and of his farm. His daughter Carroline, who is now about four, has been to party for a little girls at a neighbor’s house, and had a good time. Lucius probably includes mentions of Carroline for his mother’s sake, rather than Henry’s.

Anson has gone to the State Normal School at Ypsilanti, to take a four or five week teacher training course. In the nineteenth century, a lot of professions such as teaching and medicine were taught in short, intensive programs. In the mid-1800s, for example, the “medical lectures” at colleges like Dartmouth lasted only fourteen weeks (and cost $50). People went, learned what they needed to know, and returned home. Sometimes they went back for a second course of study a year later. Then they took an exam. Only at the elite colleges did students stay for long academic terms. The multi-year, residential college life we’re so familiar with was something only the rich experienced until the establishment of land-grant agricultural and technical colleges during the Civil War, and then to a much greater degree in the twentieth century with programs like the GI Bill.

My Transcription:


Allen Oct 22
nd 1854
Dear Friends

I wrote a letter to you some five or six weeks ago, & have not heard any thing from you since that time. But however having a few leisure moments this evening, I thought I would write you again a few lines. We are all well. Anson is at Ypsilanti to school at the State Normal School. He went about three weeks ago. He will probably stay about two weeks longer. He went with Mr. Beers. I presume he will teach this winter.

We heard from Franklin’s folks some 3 or 4 weeks ago by way of Mr. Everett Baggerly & his wife. They are here on a visit & expect to spend a few months here. We like John Baggerly’s folks quite well for neighbors. They said that Frankiln’s folks were well.

Lewis and Sarah Ann moved to Quincy about two weeks since. Henry Koon got a letter from Harrison about a week since. He said that he should start for home about the first of December. We got a paper a day or two since from California. Suppose it was from Lemuel. We have not heard directly from Priscilla in some time.

We have just finished husking corn & digging potatoes. I had three hundred bushels of ears of corn, & 75 bushels of potatoes. We have had a very pleasant fall so far, & but a very little rain until today. Today has been a very steady rainy day.

I hope that we shall hear from you soon. We feel anxious to hear how you all get along &c. Do you get the Hillsdale Standard regular? We send it times & matters move along about as usual. We milk 3 cows. Butter is worth eighteen pence. I let Lewis have to old Brin cow. Snap & Old Yellow are sleeping around the fire as usual.

Carroline went to a little girl’s Party to Mr. Brockway’s yesterday. She enjoyed it well.

Please write as soon as you receive this.

Yours in Haste, Mother, Henry &c.
Lucius Ranney

Mother, if I do not write more on this slip of paper I am afraid that you will think that I am wasteful. Well what shall it be? There is so much that I might write about that I hardly know what to write. Well we are a fattening a beef & six hogs. We have 22 pigs about 6 weeks old. They are just right for roasters. We have 10 spring pigs. We raised one calf this summer. It is a nice one.

We also raised a nice lot of chickens. Mrs. Ford started out a visiting a day or two since as usual. She went to three places & they were all gone. You know that she is very persevering on such occasions, consequently she made us a visit.

Lucius

Ranney Letter #27

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Lucius writes to Henry and Achsah, who is visiting Ashfield to help out. Both Henry and his wife Marie have been ill. Lucius mentions that he was briefly down with “ague & fever,” but is recovering. Lewis is fully recovered, and is buying a small farm in Quincy, about six miles away. He and his wife Sarah Ann will stay with Lucius until they move into their new place in a month. Lucius also says Harrison is not home yet, because he is waiting for a cholera outbreak to subside.

Michigan and the rest of the continent are apparently experiencing a drought, and Lucius gives a detailed account of the conditions on his farm. The hot, dry weather has reduced the wheat and corn yields, and a hailstorm has damaged his fruits, but Lucius says at least the extreme heat has produced plenty of tomatoes.

Lucius says his wife Clarissa has gone into the “dairy business,” and made twenty cheeses. Their daughter Carroline is healthy and Lucius writes fondly about her and says she “often says she wants to see Granma.” But he repeats his opinion from previous letters, that Achsah should come home whenever she is ready. Lucius also says he’s sorry Henry’s family has seen so much sickness; and he uncharacteristically sends his love at the close of the letter. It will be interesting to see if, as the brothers age, more or less sentiment shows up in their letters.

My Transcription:


Allen Sept 10
th 1954
Dear Friends

It has been a long time since I have written to you, in consequence of which I am almost ashamed, but friendship & duty directs me to do it, although I am quite feeble just about these days. I was taken with the ague & fever about ten days since. I had 3 or 4 very hard shakes of it. The first hard work that I done after the first shake was to send after some Rhubarb, Quinine, Brandy & Hops, and I soon started over fever & ague. I am now fast recovering. I can eat nearly my full allowance, think that I shall be at work in a day or two. The rest of us here are all well. We have not had a Doctor since Mother left here.

Lewis & his wife have made it their home here this summer. His wife has not been here for the past four weeks. She has been down near Hillsdale in their old neighborhood, a sowing, visiting &c. Lewis has bought him a small farm, I expect. He went yesterday to draw writings & he has not been here since. He has bought 20 acres all under good improvement with a log house, a young orchard good land &c. It is located in the town of Quincy two miles north of Quincy Center. He gives five hundred and fifty dollars $550.00 for it, gets possession the first of Oct.

We got a letter from Priscilla a few days since. She that her health has been & is better now than it has been for several years past. Harrison has not got home yet. The last we heard from him was about a month ago. He thought that he should come home after the Cholary subsided. Say in Sept or Oct. He had been well the last we heard from him. We have not heard from Lemuel since I wrote you last.

A.B. Is here with us this summer. He is at work on his place some. He had an excellent crop of wheat for this year. Two hundred bushels, it is now worth $1.75 per bushel. He is clearing off & putting in about 7 acres this fall. The wheat crop was very light this season here in
Mich. The smallest yield per acre that I have ever known in this Western Country. It is very dry here, but according to the papers we do not suffer with the drought as many parts of the United States do. Even your region of country does. The corn crop is going to be a light crop generally. The potato crop is a going to be very small. Buckwheat got a good growth of straw, but the extreme hot & dry weather has blasted that. My wheat crop was better than an average, but it was light. I harvested 10 acres & I had 125 bushes. I have 10 acres of corn which is about middling fair. 1 acre of potatoes which are as good as anybody’s & that is not any more than 1/4 of a good crop. Our corn looked first rate until about the middle of July. We then witnessed a terrible blow & hail storm. It cut the corn terribly. It also knocked the apples & peaches & plums awfully. It knocked off a great many of our hard winter apples. We have apples enough to use & shall have some to dry. We shall have from 4 to 8 bushels of good winter apples. We shall have but a few peaches. We also have but a few plums. But a plenty of tomatoes. We have had a great deal of not only warm but hot weather this summer, both day & night. We had a fine shower yesterday & it is cooler today.

Mother, I say Mother because I suppose that this will reach you, there is a great many things that I might write about which I do not think of now. But I will make a kind of wholesale business of it. Times move along about as when you left here. The neighbors with the exception of a few changes remain about the same. Moultrop has returned from California without money & full of pin pains as usual. It is generally healthy here this season. None sick about here but me & it seems to me that I shall feel better after supper as Clarissa is cooking not a quarter of veal but has a large piece nearly baked & any quantity of potatoes.

Lewis says that his health is better than it has been for six years. Mrs. Brockway & the 2 Mrs. Sheriffs got home day before yesterday from Phelps. They have been down on a visit. Was gone about 4 weeks. They did not see Franklin but heard that he & his folks were well. Uncle Everett as we call him & his wife are a coming out here about the 10
th of Oct to spend the winter.

Clarissa is in the dairy business on a very small scale this summer. She has made 20 cheeses. Carroline says that dinner is ready & I shall have to stop writing. She is always on hand about 10 minutes before there is anything to eat & if you do not believe it, you would if you should see how she grows.

Mother, as regards you coming home, I shall say as I have said in my previous letters. That is, come when you think best. We would all be very glad to see you. Carroline often says that she wants to see Granma. We all get along very well here.

I am very sorry that Henry’s folks are sick as much as they are. I suppose that ll things are for the best. But it certainly seems to me that they have more than their share of sickness. It has been a long time since we have heard anything from you, therefore write on receipt of this.

Clarissa sends her love to you all. I also send mine.

Yours in Haste, Mother, Henry & Family
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #26

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Lucius writes Henry in mid-June, 1854. He mentions that he received a letter recently from Henry, but was waiting to write until Harrison came home from the Cherokee Nation. Harrison is anxiously awaited, Lucius says. The family’s anxiety would have been heightened because Lyman died March 7th, 1854 in Van Buren, Arkansas. The fact that none of the letters in the archive discuss Lyman’s death is another strong indication that there were many more letters sent and received between the Ranney brothers than have come down to us. But as a result of this gap, we have no information on how Lyman died. Based on earlier letters, we know he had been ill and that epidemic illnesses were not uncommon, and in a future letter we learn Harrison is delayed returning home because of an outbreak of cholera. But we also know that from Lyman’s point of view, Van Buren was a pretty rough town. Lyman could as easily have been killed in a robbery or brawl as by illness. We’ll probably never know, and this incompleteness of information is typical of this type of archival research. We work with what we have, and hope the story we can tell using the available information hangs together and makes sense.

In spite of the fact their brother had died only a couple of months earlier, though, the Ranney family has other concerns that get a lot of attention in this letter. Lewis is looking for a new farm, with even less acreage than the reduced parcel he has been working since his illness. A dramatic rise in land values has allowed many of the Ranneys’ friends and neighbors to sell at large profits. A neighbor boy has died, which has affected everyone (possibly more so because of their own recent loss of Lyman). And Lucius wants his mother to come home, but as always doesn’t want to come right out and say it.

My Transcription:


Allen June 18
th 1854
Dear Friends

We received a letter from you about two weeks since & ought to have written to you before this, but have waited for Harrison to come home. But he has not come & I shall not delay writing a longer on his account. The last letter that we got from him said that he should start for home in May. But Henry Coon got a letter from him some 2 or 3 weeks since. Harrison said to him that he meant to start for home about the first of June but should be at home at any rate by the fourth of July. We are anxiously awaiting his return.

We are all well & have been since I wrote last. Lewis & his wife are here & have been for about 3 or 4 weeks, or ever since Sarah Ann came from the state of N.Y. She was at Franklin’s 3 or 4 days, they were all well. Ellen had just got over the ague. Lewis went out to Black River & drove his cow, with the intention of staying. He did not buy any land. He stayed two weeks & made up his mind that it was not the place for him. Priscilla’s health was quite good, Lewis said that he never saw her as fleshy. Densmore & Edwin were also well.

Lewis thinks of buying about here somewhere. He wants somewhere fro twenty to forty acres of land. Land is a getting very high about here. It has raised in value one third since you left. I mean Mother. Mother you would be surprised if you knew all the sales of land & changes even in this town since you left. I will just mention a few that you are the most particularly acquainted with. Mr. Bements have sold to John Baggerly and he has moved out here so that we have got them for neighbors once more. Mr. Bement’s folks have bought 3 miles south of Hillsdale. He sold for two thousand dollars & bought for the same 80 acres. George Martin has sold 60 acres which was all he had to a man by the name of Edwin from Ontario Co. for eighteen hundred dollars. Mr. Scovill has sold his that joined Holbrook. Mr. Graves has sold his & has moved a few miles west somewhere. Richard Aldrich has sold & moved out with his father in law. Elder Sabin sold last fall & the man that bought him out has sold again. Daniel Nichols has sold & bought near Jonesville. There has been a number of small sales on & about the Prairie this spring. There is a great many many Eastern people through the country a looking this season.

We got a letter from Lemuel a day or two since. It was written the 9
th of May. He says that he is well & has been. He also says that he is a coming home next spring. He says that he has not made his fortune yet but has been a doing well of late. He has made the last three moths $500 five hundred dollars. He is a mining but he says that his claim is a running out a little. He intends to keep a mining until he comes home. He got a letter from Lewis & one from Henry a day or two before he wrote.

Anson is here this summer. He is a clearing off, intending to put in about seven or eight acres of wheat this fall. I am also a clearing off 6 acres up on top of the hill by the sugar place. Wheat is worth two dollars a bushel. I sold a load the other day for $1.90. Wheat looks very poor on the ground this summer, poorer than I ever saw it in this country. Anson’s looks well, it bids fair for two hundred bushels. Mine looks better than on average, but rather poor. Other crops looks well. The weather is fine. We had a heavy rain yesterday.

Mr. Brockway’s folks have been sorely afflicted. They have lost their son George. He died about five weeks ago. He was sick just a week. He died with the inflammation of the bowels. He suffered a great deal of pain through his sickness, the most I ever knew a person to in sickness. The family (Mother) you know took it very hard, & the neighborhood feel to mourn the loss of him, for truly it is a great breach of the family & great loss to the neighborhood.

I sent some money to Franklin by Harrison Baggerly about three or four weeks ago, & out of it there would be about 26 or 28 dollars more than was a going to him which I told him that he might send the whole or a part of to you. Probably you have received it before this time. As regards your coming home, I will say in this as I have said in my previous letters, you can act your own pleasure about coming home. We would all be glad to see you, but just do as you think best & you will please us. We do not want you should give yourself any uneasiness one way nor the other about us. I would also say that we get along well. I do not know how long Lewis’ folks will stay here. Lewis’ goods are in the house across the road.

We shall write again when Harrison comes home or we hear from him again. I have nothing more in particular to write at this time. Clarissa says that she will not write any this time. She is a writing to her folks. It is nearly night. We have been to the Prairy to meeting today. Clarissa & Sarah Ann send their love to you all. Wealthy Ann Howard was married to Andrew Winchester about 4 weeks since. Write soon.

Yours in Haste
Lucius Ranney

[Notes written upside down in the margins:]

We have sheared our sheep & have sold wool for thirty five cts a lb.

Caroline as the old saying is, is tougher than a bear. She wants to be on the move from morning till night. She is all over the farm & wants to know all that is a going on & she asks as many questions as her Grandmother Ranney has ever thought of.

We raised about 30 lambs this year which I would like to sell for $1.50 a piece.

Ranney Letter #24

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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.
My Transcription:


Allen Oct 4
th 1853
Dear Brother

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.

In Haste
Lucius Ranney

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.

Ranney Letter #16

1851-10-12LuciustoHSR
Lucius writes to Henry in the Fall of 1851, mentioning that he has had letters from Henry in Ashfield, Alonzo Franklin in Phelps, and Lyman in Arkansas in the same week. Lucius says everyone in his household is well, although his wife and niece have had bouts of fever. Their brother Lewis, however, is fighting for his life.

Lewis had traveled down to Ashfield the previous Spring, and had returned home with an illness that “used him up.” In the fall, he developed an infection in his leg that completely immobilized it. The doctors described this as erysipelas, which is an acute streptococcus bacterial infection of the skin and lymph nodes. As Lucius says, the infection was often fatal, through septic shock, spreading through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, and necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh eating” infection).

Lucius says the illness prevented Lewis from working for most of the summer, so in addition to being ill, Lewis is in a tight financial situation. But Lucius remarks, he has “a smart wife.” Lucius also reports what he knows about Lyman and Priscilla, and says no one has heard from Lemuel in half a year.

The harvest was apparently very good in Michigan, because Lucius says the price of wheat is down as low as fifty cents a bushel. And due to Lewis’s illness, no one in the family raised any peppermint. As a result of the “uncommon hard” times, Lucius will have to defer payment again on the loan Henry gave him. But he hopes to be able to come down to Ashfield himself in a year and repay his brother.

Lucius closes by saying their youngest brother, eighteen year-old Anson, has just returned from Lewis’s place fifty miles away, and that Lewis is doing better.

My Transcription:


Allen Oct 12
th 1851

Dear Friends

I was very much gratified by receiving a letter from you, one from Franklin, & also one from Lyman the past week, & as you all seem to be in a prosperous situation, it is somewhat a consolation to us here. I shall however write but a few lines, as I intend to write to you all this afternoon. We are well here at present. Clarissa has had the ague & fever some this fall, also Ellen Franklin’s little girl has had it some.

Lewis is very sick with a swollen leg. The doctors, the species of irrasiplas. He has not been out of the house for about eight weeks. The swelling commenced on the inside of the leg just above the knee. It makes the cords & joint stiff . It is drawn up in a triangle form & there remains. It is swollen very large and very hard. For the past two weeks it has been increasing & working upwards, & unless it is checked it will work up into his bowels & kill him. Mother is there. I saw him yesterday He has failed very much since I saw him a week ago. It is hopeful that he may get along but I am afraid that he will not live but a short time. He has the best of care & has had three Doctors. They opened it for fear it might be materated, but it was not.

Lewis had a bit of sickness this summer after he left Ashfield, which used him up. He has not been rugged since. He has not been able to do much the past summer. It makes it bad in his situation, although he has a smart wife.

Lyman writes that Bishop & Co. are going to send him out among the Indians with a stock of goods. When he wrote he was at Napoleon on the Mississippi on business for the firm & was going to return soon.

We have not heard from Lemuel since last spring. Densmore was here yesterday. He says Priscilla’s health is pretty good.

Produce is very low this fall. Wheat is worth from 50 to 55 cts per bushel. We had about 200 bushels. As for oil peppermint, in consequence of Lewis health they did not raise any.

The demands you have against me I am afraid that I shall not be able to send you this fall. But I think & hope that I shall be able to go down next fall myself & pay you. Times are uncommon hard in the state this fall. If the wheat crop comes in good next summer I will try & send you a quantity of flour if it should be desired.

I must draw my letter to a close. Anson has just come from Lewis. He says that L is better. Good news. Write on the receipt of this. Give my respects to all enquiring friends.

Yours in haste
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #12

f6633
Lucius writes to Henry in February 1851, in his “leisure moments while our folks have gone to meeting this afternoon.” After giving news of the family, Lucius announces that he and a neighbor have gone into the “thrashing” business, and have processed 10,000 bushels, or about a third of the local wheat. They made $360, most of which went toward the $250 purchase of the thresher, wages, and other expenses. But the business seems promising, and Lucius plans to lease his farm and pursue the opportunity.

Henry had asked Lucius for details on the cost of flour and transportation the previous fall, but Lucius was ill with typhus and unable to respond. Henry was apparently considering buying flour in Michigan for shipment to New York. The flour was cheap enough, Lucius reports, but transportation was high, and “advanced about 80 per cent” toward the end of the season. It’s doubtful that Henry could have made money on flour that cost him over five dollars a barrel. The high railroad rates made it too expensive to ship the Michigan wheat.

About two-thirds of the way through the letter, Lucius mentions that he and Clarissa had a daughter the previous fall. Lucius says the baby “is healthy & of course a smart & good girl.”

Lucius asks Henry for an extension on a loan, explaining that due to his illness and building a house for his boarder he’s short of funds. But he will borrow locally to repay his brother, if Henry needs the money.

After closing the letter, Lucius writes another long paragraph about items that had slipped his mind. Their mother has “failed considerable” since returning from a visit to Ashfield, and Lucius is considering a trip East himself once he has leased his farm. At the very end, Achsah Ranney writes a few lines to Henry’s wife Marie, asking her to kiss the children for Grandma.

Illustration is a threshing machine, ca. 1851

My transcription:


Allen Feb 2
nd 1851
Dear Friends

Thinking that a few lines would be gladly received, I therefore embrace the few leisure moments while our folks have gone to meeting this afternoon, or P.M. We are all well. I was sick last fall about six weeks, four weeks confined to the house, with the chill & typhus fever, but have regained my health again. Anson was also sick about the same time. He was very dangerously sick a few days but recovered faster than I did. He goes to school this winter. Lewis and wife and Harrison are well, or was a few days previous. Priscilla & Densmore live at Albion yet. They were out here a few days ago visiting. They are a boarding out, & have been the most of the time since they have lived there. He gets $1.50 per day, Priscilla binds shoes what time she gets. Light shoes only. We have not heard direct from A. F. since you wrote.

We received yours of December the 12
th /50. We received a letter from Lyman about four weeks since. He was well, his year with Bishop was then about up. He expected to stay longer. As for your boy Lem, he is a regular tramping Ger. His habits remain good, he takes love easy. Or in other words, enjoys life. He started last fall for Illinois. He went there, he stopped at Galena, stayed and worked about one week. He says they were all old country people that worked in the shop, consequently he left for some other port. When he wrote he was in Wisconsin, about 60 miles from Milwaukee. He was at work there. He gets good wages he says. He is a coming back here in the spring.

The weather is fine. We have about 2 inches of snow now. The ground has been naked the most of the winter. We have had good sleighing about 2 weeks with about 4 or 5 inches of snow. It is a good time for slaying the forests & I will assure you the time is not lost.

I & one of my neighbors bought a thrashing machine last fall. We paid $250 for it. We hired a man to work with us, of which we worked at thrashing about 2 months & thrashed about ten thousand bushels of wheat which come to $360. Our hired help & expenses would not exceed $60 & the machine is not damaged the amount of $30. We can thrash & clean fit for marketing eighty bushels in sixty minutes. A
Mich story but true. The town of Allen raised about thirty thousand bushels of wheat this year & other products in proportion (though not of Ashfield). We had two hundred fifty bushels of wheat.

You wrote to me last summer something concerning the worth of flour here & the transportation &c. After wheat began to come in to market I went to Hillsdale to make some arrangements & enquiries concerning it & should have written immediately to you but I was taken sick the next day, so I excuse myself. At that time I could get a bbl of flour for five bushels of wheat and wheat was worth sixty five cents. Which of course would be $3.25 & transportation to New York was about $1.00 or to Buffalo about .60 cents. Late in the fall transportation advanced about 80 per cent & wheat about 3 or 5 cents. Therefore you can judge whether you could made a speck on flour or not.

I have let my farm on shares for three years. The conditions are these: I furnish a team & necessary utensils, one half the seed of all kinds & have one half the grain delivered in the half bushel. I also put on three cows fifty sheep of which I have one half the butter cheese &c., one half of the wool, one half of the increase & growth of the stock. We have the privilege of keeping one cow for ourselves. He has the same privilege of the cow. I have reserved about four acres which contains the house & yard & orchard &c. I am to build him a house to live in. I am now a building it. The size is 17x20, one and a half story high. I shall stay on the place & make what improvements I can & in the fall thrash. He takes possession in the spring.

We have a little daughter. She was born the 22
nd Sept. We have named her Carroline Elisa. She is healthy & of course a smart & good girl.

The money I am owing you if you wanted I will try & borrow it if I can. Sickness & building will bring me rather short until next fall. If you can wait until next fall it would favor me some. I rather think that Lewis cannot pay you until then. I have two teams, one I shall keep for my own use.

As you are not acquainted here I cannot write you much news. To describe the country here is I presume all useless for I presume you have heard a great many
Mich yarns. There is all kinds of country here. Just about here it it similar to Phelps Town land. The railroad running west from Hillsdale goes through this town three miles from here. It will be completed to Chicago I expect next season. I do not want to urge you out of your way but I should like to have you come to Mich next season. We have a very good society here.

You discover that my pen is always poor, but writing good. Don’t forget to write as soon as you receive this. Anson has received some papers from you of Cato.

Yours in haste
L. Ranney

I like to have forgotten some small matters. I had a horse hooked by a two year old heifer this fall. He died a short time after. The horse was worth about sixty five dollars. We also had two hogs die when they were nearly fatted. They would weigh about five hundred the two. I consoled myself by saying as the Paddy did they are but a small loss. Franklin’s little girl lives here with us. She goes to school. Clarissa sends her respects to you, although she is a stranger. Mother sends her love to you all & all enquiring friends. Mother has failed considerable since she was to Ashfield. Lewis and Harrison intend to mint it some next season. They are doing tolerably well. My object in letting my farm is to save hiring & get as much improved as I can fix for building &c., & perhaps go to Ashfield.

Marie, I send a great deal of love to you and Henry and want to see you and the children more than I can write. I want you to kiss them for me. Grandma.

Ranney Letter #9

Lucius writes Henry from Allen Michigan in March 1850. He mentions that he has not written in a long time, and later remarks that neither has Henry. We can’t be sure, of course, that the previous letter from April 1843 was his last contact. Chances are that after a century and a half, some of the letters are missing from the archive. In any case, letters seem to be moving between Ashfield, Phelps, and Michigan, because Lucius has heard from Alonzo Franklin that Henry has heard from Lyman.

duck
But we can assume Lucius and Henry have been out of direct contact for at least half a year, because Lucius announces that he was married about six months earlier to a local girl, whom he describes as “19 years old, her health is good, &c.” He gives Henry an update on all the family doings, including those of their cousins Lucretia and Frederick. Lucius thinks their brothers Lewis and Harrison are not as hardworking as they might be, but he describes younger brother Lemuel as “doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls.” Their sister Priscilla has had a daughter (Mary, b. Nov. 1849, d. Aug. 1852), and Lucius adds some news about their brother-in-law Randolph Densmore. Lucius also gives Henry an inventory of their farm, including a little drawing of a duck.

A local physician and his students have been caught dissecting a stolen corpse, Lucius tells Henry. This happened a lot in the early 19
th century — both the stealing of bodies by medical students and the prosecution of those who did. Dr. Charles Knowlton, their friend and doctor in Ashfield, as a matter of fact, had served time at hard labor for the same crime (but that’s another story…)


My transcription:



Allen March 10
th 1850

Dear Friends

I am aware as well as yourselves that it has been a long time since I have written to you. Consequently methinks this will be gratefully received. We are all well as usual, Mother is not very rugged however this winter. Our friends are also well.

I received a letter from A.F. a day or two since. He says he recd a letter from you a few days since from which I understand that you have received one from Lyman. Consequently I shall say little about him. He has in my opinion made as food a move as perchance he could in going to Arkansas. He wrote us about the time he did you. He is quite steady & shrewd & has a good education, & that is you are aware a fortune to a young man.

I suppose that you have heard that I was married but let that be as it may. I can safely say that I am. I was married the 17
th of Oct last. My wife’s name was Clarissa A Wilcox. She is 19 years old, her health is good, &c. As for Lemuel, he is at Grand Rapids. I suppose he wrote us a letter about two months ago & we have other means of hearing from him. He is at work at his trade, he is doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls. We expect him home this spring. He left here last spring. He worked in Paw Paw, Van Buren Co. The past summer. He worked in Albion, Calhoun Co., a while in the fall, then he went to the Rapids where I suppose he now is.

Franklin wrote that his family was well. I suppose that you know nearly as much about his affairs as I do. Lewis and Harrison are at work on their places doing tolerably well. They do not work very hard, perhaps I need not tell you that, but they are generally busy. They are making some improvements.

Densmore is into all kinds of business & is bound to have a good living while he is sojourner upon Earth. He & a partner slaughtered four thousand sheep last fall for the pelts & tallow out of which they made five hundred dollars. This winter he is a butchering some & is working some at his trade &c. He shifts too much for his own interest, I think.

Anson lives at home yet. We are a jogging along after the old sort. We are making sugar some at present. We have made 100 lbs. We have 14 acres of wheat on the ground which looks very well as yet. Wheat is worth 75 cts, corn 25 cts, oats 18 cts, hay $6.00 &c. We have one pair of horses, one yoke of oxen, 6 cows, 70 sheep, 2 roosters & one duck. Also many other fine things.

We have had an open winter here. We have not had any good sleighing, but about 2 weeks of poor sleighing. A great deal of rain. Aunt Polly, Frederick and family are out to Grand River. I suppose Lyman wrote you about Uncle Henry Sears, Nathan’s family, &c. There is no doubt in my mind but Uncle Henry has feathered his nest out of Uncle Paul’s property in Texas. Who blames him? Not I. But some of you Ashfield boys ought to go and make him a visit.

Harrison likes the country well in the vicinity of Mt. Carmel. Harrison has the Yellow Fever to a small degree, say a buck load or such a matter. I have not had it yet & think I shall not bad, as long as I have plenty of Pork & Beans. But human nature is not easily satisfied. Clarissa and I was a visiting at Mr. Cross who married Lucretia Ranney this winter, they were well. Abner Rogers’ family, some of them live near there. Benjamin Rogers lost his wife last summer or fall. He married another in six weeks. He has ten children. They live in Lenawee County, I suppose you know that.

There is quite an excitement raging here in our town at present. There is been found the bones of a human being, a Female, with the share of flesh on, found in a bag. It was found in a field in the fence corner, covered with barks, a day or two since. It was badly mutilated. It is supposed to have been dug up from some of the neighboring burying grounds by a Physician & student & two or three more. They have been arrested & I suppose sufficient testimony can be found against them to convict them. They have been dissecting it for two or three weeks. They have been watched. They found that they were like to be pursued & they secreted it in that shape. The people let them work for the sake of getting sufficient testimony against them. It will probably go hard with them. It is no particular honor to the place but I want to show you what is a going on in this heathen land.

I have nothing more in particular to write. We should be happy to see you here & if not convenient for that we would like to hear from that way soon. If my memory serves me you have not written for a long time. I have endeavored to give you the outlines of some of the most important news that is now in my mind, so you must excuse me for this time. You have discovered of course that my writing is good, but poor ink.

Our folks all send their respects to you all. Franklin’s little girl, Ellen Isabel, is here this winter & goes to school. The rail road is a going to leave Hillsdale & continue west some ways I suppose. They have commenced work on it.

This from your affectionate brother
Lucius Ranney

Priscilla has a daughter five months old, her health is quite good.

Ranney Letter #3

Lucius writes his brother Henry again from Allen Michigan, April 1843. He apologizes for not writing sooner, and thanks Henry for sending newspapers. Apologies for tardiness will be a frequent part of these letters, showing that there’s an expectation among the brothers that their correspondence will be frequent and that letters will get timely responses. This expectation, added to Lucius’s remarks about money (“We have money enough due this fall in Phelps…”) and the fact that he continues to call Phelps home, suggest the brothers continue to consider themselves members of a geographically extended family rather than free agents. This connection continues, in spite of the fact that the brothers are now adults (Henry is 27 and Lucius has just turned 24) supporting themselves and building their own homes far from the family center in western New York.

AllenMI

Allen2011
Lucius tells Henry he has traded one of his lots of land for one with a better “situation,” which might mean that the land is better for farming, or that it’s closer to town. The new parcel has thirty-five “improved” acres, ready for planting. Lucius reports in detail how much he paid for the parcel and what he plans to do with the new land. Although he doesn’t mention this, it seems he traded evenly as far as acreage was concerned, since Lucius continues to live on this 160 acre farm the rest of his life and it is easy to find on old maps. Two eighty acre parcels in the bottom center of the map above (due south of the town of Allen) are marked as belonging to Lucius. Neither parcel has the stream on it that Lucius boasted of in his first letter, so that is apparently the parcel he traded (possibly it’s one of the parcels to the right of one of Lucius’s parcels on this map). It’s also possible to find the parcels on satellite photos. Although they’ve been subdivided into a half dozen smaller parcels, you can still see the shape of the old lot and section lines. This is the case across much of the Midwest — once you’re aware of it, the lines are easy to see on satellite images or out the window of a plane.

News of other family members is a feature in this letter, as it will be in most of the Ranney letters. Lucius tells of seeing Lewis, who has expanded his peppermint planting to fifty acres. This means he will probably distill at least 500 pounds of oil in the fall, and Lucius advises his brother to come out and buy it. This is not only evidence Lucius would like to see Henry (he mentions that a couple more times in this letter alone), but is a reminder that Henry Ranney is one of several Easterners who regularly buy the peppermint oil of Michigan farmers (there will be much more on this subject in my dissertation -- wherever I manage to complete it!). Trade between Western settlers and Eastern merchants frequently ran along these family lines, and was yet another tie binding the migrants with the folks who stayed behind.

In addition to farming, Lucius has gone into the Potash business. Potash is potassium carbonate, which is used for bleaching textiles, making glass, and most important, making soap. Potassium is also one of the major elements of agricultural fertilizers (which is more important now than it was then), and is now mined but in the nineteenth century was produced by soaking wood ashes on large vats (hence the name, pot ash). Until settlers reached the treeless plains of what we now call the Midwest, there were always trees to clear before the wheat could be planted. So potash was often the first product that could be shipped back to Eastern markets. Lucius says he has partnered with “one of Mrs. Baggerly’s Sons in Law.” The Baggerlys are not an Ashfield family, so this suggests that Henry is at least familiar with some of the people his family has met since they moved to Phelps.

Lucius remarks that the land around Allen is filling up fast. Forests are becoming wheat fields, and the value of land will rise quickly as the last parcels are settled. Then Lucius gives his brother some advice: he should find a wife. His description of Henry’s social life and his own frontier existence give an interesting glimpse at the different lifestyles lived by those in the East and West in 1843. Finally, Lucius asks for information on cousins from Ashfield. He has heard they were in Medina, about thirty-five miles away, and he would like to visit them if he was anywhere nearby. Once again, family — even extended family — is an important part of frontier life.

Note: In a postscript at the end, Lucius says “Excuse bad spelling writing &c.” As I’m transcribing these letters, I’m fixing some of the spelling and punctuation in order to make them easier for modern readers. That includes adding apostrophes to contractions and breaking long run-ons into separate sentences. But just so you don’t miss all the fun, in the PS Lucius
actually wrote “Excuse bad speling writing &c.”


My transcription:



Allen April 30th 43
Henry Ranney

Dear Brother

I once more take my pen to write a few lines to inform you that I am well & ever have been in Michigan. I shall not apologize for not writing any sooner for I have not any except negligence to make. I suppose you are well are you not? I hear nothing in particular from you of late but receive papers from you quite often which I peruse with pleasure.

I traded one of my lots of land the other day for a lot with 35 acres improved House & Barn. I gave or rather agreed to give five Hundred Dollars in four yearly payments, the first next fall, & clear ten acres on the lot I let him have. I think the extra improvements are worth five Hundred Dollars & the situation of it is worth One Hundred Dollars more than the one I traded, so therefore you see that according to my estimation I have made $100. We have money enough due this fall in Phelps to make the first payment & shall with common luck raise enough wheat to pay the rest. I have six acres of wheat on the ground which bids fair for 100 bushels. I intend to clear 20 acres this summer & seed thirty to wheat. I have two as good lots of land for farming as there is in Michigan or anywhere else. If you doubt my word come out here and see which I hope you will this fall will you not?

As for Lewis I saw him a few weeks ago. He was well and is doing well I guess. He & his partner will have about 50 acres of mint to still this fall. You had better come out this fall & buy their oil. What is it worth now?

I wrote a letter home about two weeks since stating to our folks that I should probably be at home about the tenth of May. I suppose that they will move then to the West but shall write again today that I shall not return home until June for my business is such that I cannot leave at present. I want to plant about eight acres this spring & furthermore I am in the Potash business with a partner. One of Mrs Baggerly’s Son in Laws. We are a building a Pot-Ash this spring. We have made three tons & we find it profitable therefore we intend to follow the business.

This part of the country is settling fast. Where there was forests one year ago the same surface is now waving with wheat. The cars will run to Hillsdale Center this summer, six miles east from where this child is & then you can out here time in a hurry if you please.

We have had a hard winter for the past one for this country. Grain is pretty well up. Wheat is worth 62 cents per bushel corn 50 oats 37 potatoes 25 &c.

I shall give you a little advice, that is a man of your cloth & business ought to have a wife. Why? Because you are t home at night then and nothing to trouble your mind but someone to cheer up your drooping spirits. But you are now a hunting up a horse and then you are in trouble to know who to take to this party that ball that ride this circus &c. But it is different with me. Sometimes I should be at home at night & sometimes in the woods to where night would overtake me I should be obliged to stay. Now I am contented where ever I am, with a wife I should be discontented under such circumstances. Therefore you see the disadvantage I should labor under with one. But I don’t say that I shan’t have one.

Enough on that head. I want you should write as soon as you receive this or put it off till after I go East. I shall go about the first of June. I should like to meet you there or somewhere else very much. I do not know when I shall go to Ashfield if ever, but think I shall in the course of a year or two. If you see any of Uncle Jesse’s folks just ask them what part their girls live. When I am a traveling about I may go near them. If I do I should like to know it & go and see them. I have been through Medinah where I heard since one lived. Give my respects to all inquiring friends.

Yours in haste, Henry S. R.
Lucius Ranney
Excuse bad spelling writing &c.

Ranney Letter #2

1842-5-15LuciustoHSR
In May of 1842, 23-year-old Lucius writes to his older brother Henry of his arrival in Allen Michigan, after a 10 day journey from Phelps. He announces he has bought a quarter section (160 acres) of prime farmland for $148 cash and his wagon and team of horses. Lucius describes the property, listing the distances to neighbors and nearby towns, inventorying the trees and water on the parcel, and noting that the railroad will run only six miles from the property later in the year.

Lucius mentions that their brother Lewis came down to see him, but was unable to wait for him to arrive. Lewis had a farm in St. Joseph County, about fifty miles away, where he had continued a Ranney family tradition by being the first farmer to successfully grow peppermint. Lucius also says their father is “very low” and that although their parents intend to move from New York to Michigan in the fall, he doesn’t think they will. He is right: their father George Ranney Jr. died in Phelps in September 1842.

Lucius tells Henry he plans to plant winter wheat and gives the current prices for wheat, corn, and oats. He closes by asking Henry to write soon, and to send Massachusetts newspapers so he can keep up with events out east.

Like the earlier letter from Lewis, Lucius’s letter to Henry reveals their shared interest not only in news of the family, but in the specific details of the land Lucius has bought. The list of tree species and the remark “you may judge what the soil is for yourself” suggests that the brothers remain very interested in each other’s success. The slightly boastful tone of Lucius’s descriptions implies there may be some friendly sibling rivalry involved, too.


My transcription:


Allen May 15th 1842

Respected Brother

I now take the present moment to drop a few lines to you as perhaps it will be interesting to you to read, for I suppose that you know that I am in the woods. I arrived here on the fourth of the present month being ten days on the road with a team. I am happy to say that I am well in good spirits and well suited with my location.

I have a warrantee deed of one hundred sixty acres of as good land as there is in Michigan. For said land I paid one hundred and forty eight dollars, a span of horses, one wagon and harness which we calc $280.00 for it and I would not take a song for the bargain.

Lewis was here about three of four days before I arrived here. He thought I was here, stayed two days expecting me along. He then wrote a line and left. He writes that he and a fellow by the name of Smith have set twenty four acres of mint this spring and it is large enough to hoe. It is in the town of Florence St. Jo. Co. 5 miles from White Pigeon north I think.

Father was very low with a live complaint or consumption when I left home. I have not heard from him since I left. The rest were well as usual.

There is a good spring of water on my land. A brook runs through the back part of it which there is two saw mills within one mile of it. A road on 2 sides of it. 12 houses within 1 1/2 mile of it. 9 miles south west of Jamesville. 3 miles south of Allens (???) in the timbered land white wood and maple beech butnut bass black walnut oak hickory are the principal timber on the land. You may judge what the soil is for yourself. Six miles from Hillsdale Center which the railroad will be completed to from Adrian this season.

I am calculating to sow ten acres of wheat this fall and fix some for building. Our folks are expecting to move out here this fall but I don’t think that they will. I stayed with Orren Ranney one night in Adrian. He is in the mercantile business and is a doing well I expect.

Wheat is worth 87 1/2 cents per bushel here oats 25 corn 31. I wish you would send the papers along here into the woods at least 1 or 2 a week so that I can pass of leisure time in a pleasant way. Direct yours to Sylvanus, Hillsdale Co. I have my board for $1.25 per week. I don’t think of anything more to write just now. Give my respects to all inquiring friends. If you can solve this writing you will do well. Write as soon as convenient.

This from a Distant Brother

Lucius Ranney