Plowman Poetry: Plowmans of the Long Ago

August 9, 2009


Pearl Benedict

Pearl Benedict

The Plowmans of the 1800s and early 1900s greatly enjoyed writing poems, some of them quite long, to celebrate Christmas, birthdays, and everyday events of life.  Poems were read at the Plowman Christmas Tree, a family reunion always held on Christmas Day with great fanfare — more about the Christmas Trees in later posts.  Following is a poem written by Pearl Benedict, daughter of Mary Eliza Plowman  Benedict and granddaughter of William Tuthill Plowman, to be read at one of the Plowman Christmas Trees.  I have taken the last line of the un-named poem for its title.

      Plowmans of the Long Ago

By Pearl Benedict


Years have passed since first was written

Jokes in rhyme for all to hear.

Plowman born, with those they married

All who came from far and near.


Many of the first who gathered

Round the Family Christmas tree

Have now passed to brighter glories

Bringing near eternity.


First the families lived together

In one county side by side,

Later many cousins “wandered”

But returned at Christmas tide.


Then this younger generation

Planned the program, trimmed the tree

Wrote the jokes and served the “oysters”

Sang the songs of cheer and glee.


Many hands have penned their message

Rhymes both good, and bad I fear,

But they never failed a welcome

Laughs they got, from some a tear.


Still another generation

Lives afar from that first home

But the ties of family hold us –

Binds us all where e’er we roam.


What’s the value of these writings,

Quiltings, fish frys, family “bees?”

They all form a band around us

Strengthening us for troubled seas.


Happy are those ties which bind us

Give us background, makes us know.

We are one, both youth and aged,

Plowmans of the long ago. 

The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Mother, conclusion

August 8, 2009


Today Lide Plowman concludes this installment of her memories of childhood, especially those of her mother Emily Crane.  Lide’s childhood was a happy one, some would say idyllic, but there was much hard work and struggle in pioneer Michigan.  The family tree chart is at the end of this post. 


Some of the Plowman brothers and sisters in later years

Some of the Plowman brothers and sisters in later years

Mother and Father used to make evening visits from one to six miles, in always took an ax along to clear the road from accidental trees and limbs fallen across the road.  I have a vivid memory of their coming home rather late one night, when the children from Uncle Sammy’s were over playing with us.  I stood between the window and door saying something like this, “Here I stand, beside the door, come and kiss me three or four.”  And just as Ira Crane was to kiss me, Mother’s hand with a dark glove on came between our faces.  Can you imagine the exclamations and running of a lot of frightened children?  Mother soon realized our fright and came in to assure us we were in no danger.

 Mr. Bower who bought out Uncle Francis Crane had three boys and they would stop in their way to school to warm themselves before our fire.  To plague sister Jule Mother would say, “John Bower has come to see my Julie”.

 She used her shoulders to keep her pins on and we children would reach for one she would always make a strange noise and quick motion of her head, which always made us jump.

 She was a woman who lived for her family.  No outside influences caused her to forget them and she always joined with them in a little fun or sports.  She was self-sacrificing, I remember as I was getting up to a young lady of her giving me a dress she had bought for herself.  Father rather objected to this.  She had very good taste in selecting materials, to get good quality, fast color, and pretty figure.  Aunt Ellen often spoke of the good taste she had in that way, and she also often remarked how nice and white her floor looked.  Mother did not mop everyday but when she did there were no dirty corners or streaks on the floor, but we children stayed in another room or out of doors until the floor was dry.  Now how do you think it looked after the night wood had been brought in on a cold, snowy, winter night?  You could slide from the door to the hearth, but that was unavoidable so it had to be endured.

 Saron and I took a great deal of pleasure in playing checkers but after several days we would have a disagreement, and if it continued our board went up on the “high shelf”.  A board as long as the room, nailed to the beams, which made a good place to keep things from the children, and was used for books and medicine.  Father lathed and plastered after I can remember and he had some difficulty in getting the plaster to stay on, as it persisted in creeping down.  After awhile we would have the checker board until it was taken from us for the same cause.  Ivanhoe was kept on this same shelf and when I could find nothing else to read they would get it down for me again, I must have read it as many as ten times, as well as two or three times since I was a woman.  I never could get interested in Thaddeus of Warsaw which Father thought was a great book.

 For papers we had the Star in the West, a Universalist paper, the New York Tribune, the county paper (first the DeWitt Republican, later the St. John’s Republican) and the Journal of Education.  The first three were weeklies and gave us much good reading. 

 I wish I could make you see as I do the old German tinker who visited us once or twice a year.  He was rather a small man with one leg shorter than the other and withered so that he had to use a cane.  He was dressed in clothes he made himself from skins of animals, sheep, deer and coon.  He had a coonskin cap, a sheepskin coat, and a fur garment for a shirt, with the fur on the inside.  His shoes and pants were also made of fur. 

 In the winter he had a cutter fixed up or I should say made with anything he could find.  He drove an ox whose harness consisted of rope, leather, string and a strap, he had picked up in his travels.  He minted our tinware as we had no 10 cent store to get new and throw the old away.  He usually stayed two or three days and it was as good as a circus to us children, for Mr. Medsker was as good as a clown.  We would stand around and watch and listen to him by the hour and he was very funny if things went well, and if they didn’t, we all kept our distance.  His ox and rig was as curious to us as wild animals in a circus and I think the children here would be as interested as we were.  His home was somewhere in Riley and he had two little girls.  One of them came with him once, she was rather good looking.  She had to sleep with Till, much to Till’s displeasure.

 The nearest doctor was at Lyons, but Dr. Hugg at Ionia was considered best but was twenty miles away in a new country.  I think he was with Mother when Till was born.  Later Dr. Seinol, a well educated doctor came.  Father had great faith in him.  He it was, who removed the cancer from Uncle Hiram Brown’s lip with a pair of dull shears, after other doctors had eaten it out and he had suffered a great deal and spent much money.  It never broke out again and he lived to be an old man.

 It was a great blessing to have a good physician only two and one half miles from us.  He lived one mile east of Westphalia, and was our dr. until the Civil War when he moved farther away and later went to the war.  After this Dr. Dellenbough came. 

 I hope you have not tired of these reminiscences as I have enjoyed it and Pearl has insisted that I put in many things that may not interest you.  She says next year it must be the children of the “House of Plowmans”.

 Hoping you may have many happy Christmases and that the New Years as they come may bring you many blessings. 

Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree







The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Mother, part two

August 6, 2009


Mary Eliza "Lide" Plowman

Mary Eliza "Lide" Plowman

Here is Lide Plowman’s account, written in 1922, of her memories of her mother and life in the mid-1800’s.  As in previous posts, the family tree chart is at the end of this post.

Mother occasionally had help for a few days sewing.  We had our first sewing machine, when I was perhaps seventeen.  Mother was glad if I ever made a dress she would not be ashamed to see me wear, I think I succeeded after awhile, as I began to make my own clothes at that time.  She used to make all the buttonholes but later I said I would never ask her to make another until I could make one as good as she.

 She was a good cook and always had aplenty, but people those days did not have the variety, they think they must have now.  It must have been some task to put up school dinners for six or seven, including the teacher.  (Iva, you have a good start!  Pearl)  But I think the children were used to eating what was set before them, better than now.

 It was a busy time in the home from one year’s end to another.  The butchering was a long two or three weeks of hard work.  Six or seven hogs to be tended on the first day; followed by cutting up and packing the side pork, hams and shoulders.  Then the sausage, trying, or rending the lard, watching that nothing spoiled or went to waste.  The hardest part was saving the lard the first day and preparing the refuse for soap grease.

 The children were always anxious to help and it was a picnic for them to blow up the bladders for balloons, and put corn in them to make them rattle, and also to roast the tails over the fireplace.

 Making sugar was another long, cold, hard task, both outdoors and in.  The sap was caught in a wooden spile, that Father made and run in a trough made from half a split tree two feet or more in length and hollowed out by hand.  They gathered some of it in large wooden pails.  They used a sort of yoke fitted over the shoulders with a string and hook coming as low as the hands, so they could steady the pails.

 The sap was boiled down in a cauldron kettle in the woods, and the syrup brought to the house in pails hung on the yoke.  We had to hunt all the pans and pails to stand it in to let it settle, then we strained it through a cloth before making sugar.  Each one who was large enough to handle a ladle, to stir the kettle, to keep it from running over was now standing around the stove.  (Before the stove came it must have been the fireplace, but that is beyond my memory.)  After the first it was not so much fun to help with the sugaring and it took from three to four weeks to make enough sugar to last our family throughout the year.  Later years Mother would buy a loaf of white sugar for extra, shaped like an egg at one end and flat at the other, but I must have been a grown woman before we had any granulated sugar, although we had brown sugar, called muscovado, before this.  Mother would let us have a dish of sugar the first kettle in the morning but after that if we wanted any we had it on a clean chip from the woodpile.

 Later in the spring there was the soap making which took perhaps a week, from the filling of the leach and running off of the lye to making of the soft soap.

 If one would pioneer now, away from the railroads with no autos or telephones, and could only get what could transported a hundred miles through the woods, we would begin to realize what it meant.  Besides making your clothes from cloth you had manufactured, and doing without what you could not raise.  This is the life of the pioneer!

 As I look back, I think we enjoyed what we had, and were just as contented as people are now. 

 Screens were unknown, so at night we gathered in front of the house around a smudge, made of fine chips from the woodpile.  The children ran around and through the smoke to keep from the mosquitoes and with no light in the house we could get quite a good sleep.  At that hour we had our play oh “Hide and Seek” with Mother playing with us. 

 You grandchildren can only remember Mother likely, as a quiet rather sober woman, rather stooped with gray hair, but I can see her as tall and straight with an abundance of black hair, and ready to talk and laugh and have a good time. 

 She and Uncle Lute Jones were always having a lively talk and joking back and forth.  His birthday came on New Year’s Day and they often visited us on that day, and of course he had to have a whipping.  One year Mother whipped him with a long sprout, which he took home with him and cherished as long as he lived.  Aunt Ellen kept it as carefully as he and often spoke of it to me in her last years. 

 Mother’s was the ruling hand as we all found, she was the one to reckon with if we were not good or transgressed the law.  And I being rather stubborn found it out more often than the others.

 Father never complained about the noise the children made, and there must have been some, as you can imagine with three boys, four girls with George, baby (Ezra left for Isabelle County when George was a baby.)  But let us start to quarrel and he would say, “Emily, can’t you keep those children quiet.” 

Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree


The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Mother, part one

August 6, 2009


In 1922 Lide Plowman wrote another chapter in her family’s history as she recounted her memories of her mother and other members of the Plowman family.  We will continue to run the family tree chart at the end of the post to help you keep all the people in the story straight.

Last year I told you more of Father and now I shall tell you most of Mother, Emily Crane Plowman.  Father’s name was William Tuttle Plowman and he was always called Tuttle only when his nieces and nephews called him “Uncle Tut.”

 Mother was born in Orange Co., New York, father’s native county, in 1824.  After her mother Elizabeth Crane married Mr. Stidd, who was not kind to her, she went to live with Uncle Sammy and Aunt Sarah Crane.  She was then about three or four.  They first migrated to Ohio and later when Mother was about fourteen to Oakland County, where many of Uncle Sammy’s relatives lived.  Besides his sister, our grandmother, he had brothers Francis, John, Joseph, Aaron, Gilbert (called Gil) and others I do not recall.


Seven of the original eleven Plowman brothers and sisters

Seven of the original eleven Plowman brothers and sisters

They never had any children of their own and took another girl Arminda, who was younger than mother.  They were very good people but were not financially prosperous and always had a hard time to get along, but in spite of this they were willing to care for those who needed help and later took three other children.

 Sometime after Father came to Clinton County, Uncle Sammy and his brother Francis (Abigail’s father), came too.  They settled on what we know as the Trierweiler Farm and Uncle Francis just east of this.  Uncle Francis’ wife’s name was Polexany, Lext for short, and they ate off the same plate!

 When Father was left with three little children his sisters Adeline and Sarah came and stayed with him a year when he and Mother were married.  Uncle Sammy’s were opposed to this for Mother was only nineteen and Father was eleven years older, besides having the three little children. 

 The other girl Arminda married James Randall and lived in Ionia.  He dressed fine and was not a farmer and Uncle Sammy’s quite approved, but it did not turn out so well for he was not so good a provider. 

 Father knew that Uncle Sammy’s did not like him very well, for years later Mother and I found a letter he had written to Arminda, in which he intimated that he was the better man of the two and that Mother had not done so bad after all.  As I remember he had not written to make Arminda feel badly, but anyway it was never sent.

 After Mother and Arminda were married, Uncle Sammy’s not living alone, took his brother Joseph’s three children, Ira, Charlotte, and James.  They were living there as long as I can remember.  I heard that Charlotte was still living the last time I was in Ionia.  I must have been eleven years old when Aunt Sarah died, and they had no one to care for this family. 

 About this time they heard that Grandmother was living in Jackson.  They had not heard from her since they left New York.  Father and Mother went to visit them.  After Aunt Sarah died it was planned for Grandmother, her husband, and Amanda to come take care of and live with Uncle Sammy and the children.  He did not live long and left the forty acres and house to Grandmother, and the forty acres across the road from Father’s farm to the three children, Ira, Charlotte, and James who then went to Ionia where Uncle Francis and other Crane relatives lived.  Mother’s uncles lived in Oakland, a large family of them.  I remember best Uncle John.  We children always called him the rich uncle, with his stovepipe hat and his broadcloth cutaway coat.  He was taken sick at Uncle Sammy’s and died there.  His children as many as nine or ten came to see him and care for him.  They were much at our house as we had more room and Father was a good provider.

 Father and Mother were what we would call thrifty, as they never spent more than they made and accumulated more, so that in later years they had aplenty, although both had been brought up without any extras. 

 It must have been a great change for Mother from a family of four with three women to a family of five with one woman and three little children.  I never heard her complain as the family increased and the added work came to her.  The house was no larger than Uncle Sammy’s, but they soon had a new one with more conveniences with means to furnish what was needed.  They lived in this good log house, which was lathed and plastered on the inside (which was very unusual in those days) until Uncle John Benedict built the new house soon after the Civil War, and is the house which stands on the old farm now.

 When we think of the spinning, weaving, knitting, making, and cooking for the ever increasing family we wonder how one could do it all, and board the teacher too.  Not to speak of the peddlers and tramps who happened along, for Father could never turn anyone away and Mother never complained even when Mr. Slocum came and camped down for three weeks, until I told Father if he didn’t tell him to go I would.  I was about fifteen then.  Then he went to Uncle Ed’s but he sent him on the same night knowing that he was shiftless and would not work.

 The work in such a family as we has kept a woman busy most of the time, where everything we wore was made at home. 

 The things I remember must be about fifteen years after Father came to Clinton County when I was about seven and older.

 We had a hand machine for breaking the flax, a hatchel for removing the straw, and a small wheel for spinning the flax.  But after, I remember, Mother did not weave linen cloth, such as she wore when she was a child.  It might have been she hated it so herself that she could not punish any of us by making us wear it.  She must have gotten the cotton cloth from Detroit and later from DeWitt, Portland, Lyons, or Ionia.

 But she did spin and weave wool cut from our own sheep.  We often had the yarn spun by the McVeigh girls, but Mother wove it, as Till and I are good witnesses, for we handled the piece in as we called it, when Mother drew one thread in at a time in the harnass which took us about half a day.  And we had to keep our eyes right on the threads and watch out for what we called flats; as it made a poor streak in the goods. 

 Then when Mother had it ready to weave, we had to fill the quills.  If this skein of yarn ran smoothly and no snarls in it, it was not much trouble.  The quills were about five inches long, made from elder stalks with the pith cleaned out.  We must have had from fifty to a hundred of these quills so she need not have to wait.  Ezra and Charlie must have helped Mother before we were old enough.  When the quills were most empty we were called to fill them again.  All the yarn used in weaving the cloth had to be wound on these quills, some work you see, for little children.

 This woolen cloth was used to make all the men’s suits, good and everyday, some of the girls clothes, and for bed blankets.  We always had home woven petticoats until I was about sixteen, when we made the last ones for all the girls, called “balmorals” and they were very pretty indeed.  I cannot remember many woolen dresses that I wore of Mother’s weaving.

It was no small job just to spin and knit stockings for such a large family.  We made stockings for Father as long as he lived and he wore long ones too.  I think I must have been twelve years old before I had my first pair of stockings from the store. 

Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree


The Cottage

August 4, 2009


The cottage as it looks today.

The cottage as it looks today.

Kate and Orla Bailey built a cottage around 1932 on Bass Lake, 35 miles northeast of Grand Rapids.  (Kate was a granddaughter of William Tuthill Plowman.)  The cottage was on a large lot on a hill facing west as one looked over the lake.  The cottage could sleep around 15 people without resorting to pallets or sleeping bags.  No doubt, the cottage’s sleeping capacity was tested many times over the years when family reunions and gatherings were held there.  Donald and Mary Winegar honeymooned at the cottage in 1938. 

The original cottage.  Auntie Kate Bailey is standing on the porch.

The original cottage. Auntie Kate Bailey is standing on the porch.

Throughout the years, the growing Winegar family vacationed at the cottage each summer.  The dock would be laboriously carried down the hill and put in place.  The motor boat would be readied, and the fun would begin.  Water skiing, fishing, and swimming were favorite activities.  Croquet, card games, and reading were other favorite past times.  Many years’ worth of National Geographic sand Reader’s Digests provided for hours of enjoyment.

The cottage in winter.  Photo by Sharon Pierce, a neighbor.

The cottage in winter. Photo by Sharon Pierce, a neighbor.

The cottage was furnished mainly with cast offs from the family.  If some article of furniture was no longer needed, it was taken to the cottage for use there.  The cottage became a veritable museum of antiques – furniture, pots and pans, linens, silverware, and much more.

In the 1960’s, Auntie Kate, as she was called by everyone, saw how much the Winegars enjoyed the cottage and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse:  buy the cottage and pay me when you can.  Don and Mary gladly took Auntie Kate up on her offer.

The cottage was extremely rustic – unfinished floors and walls, no insulation, and no screens on the windows.  Don replaced the windows that lifted up and were hooked in place with sliding glass windows and screens.  A wall mounted gas heater was installed and the front and back porches were enclosed to make sunrooms.  An enclosed stairway to the cellar/garage was also added.

A cottage sunset.  Photo by Donald S. Winegar.

A cottage sunset. Photo by Donald S. Winegar.

After Don died in 1987, Mary continued to spend her summers at the cottage until she was in her mid-80’s.  Mary was always concerned that Auntie Kate might come and not like the changes, so she always kept the inside of the cottage as it was when it was when they bought it.

Just as the cottage was a magnet for the whole family in its early days, so it continued as the Winegar clan grew up, married, and had children.    No one minded the rustic and somewhat shabby character.  It was The Cottage.

Jim stands in front of the fireplace at the cottage.  The Bliss-Daniells 1907 wedding picture hangs above the mantel.

Jim stands in front of the fireplace at the cottage. The Bliss-Daniells 1907 wedding picture hangs above the mantel.

When Mary died in 2003, my wife and I bought out my sisters’ and brother’s shares.  We knew the cottage needed some renovations, but we resolved to keep the essence of the original cottage.  One goal was to have a low-maintenance and comfortable interior without changing the exterior.  We had a gas insert installed in the stone fireplace, which provides adequate heat from June until September.  One of the four upstairs bedrooms was turned into a nice bathroom.  The walls were paneled with bead board and the floors were refinished.  We refinished and kept the old farm kitchen sink.  We built a boathouse down by the lake for storing the dock and boat.  No more carrying the dock down the hill piece by piece!

The remodeled cottage can still sleep nine without making beds on the floor.  Our plan is to spend our summers at the cottage, and hopefully, the cottage will continue to see its share of family gatherings.  Just as the Bliss home in Wacousta was known as The Pivot because it was the family center around which everything and everyone revolved, the cottage is a Pivot for our family.  A dream would be for our children and grandchildren to continue to enjoy the cottage long after we are gone. 

The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Father, conclusion

August 3, 2009


Today we conclude Lide Plowman’s letter in 1921 in which she remembers her father and all the activities of her younger days.   The chart of the family tree is at the bottom of this post.


George Plowman, Lide's brother

George Plowman, Lide's brother

Father was a good manager.  I cannot remember the time when we lacked any of the necessaries, and we had many luxuries.  His motto on which we were raised was “Sell what you do not need to eat”.  So cream, butter and eggs were used as we needed them.

 Father was very handy with tools.  He and Sam Boughton made the loom which we all remember and will acknowledge was well made and substantial, also the warping bars and scarns (I cannot find this word in the dictionary), quill heads and I do not know about the big wheel and reel.

 The house was later lathed and plastered by father, and we had many things our neighbors did without.

 I remember when he took the last load of wheat to Detroit, driving horses, and received 50¢ a bushel.  He brought home worsted checked cloth for mother and grandmother dresses alike.  After that he could get money for it nearer home, so that the trips to Oakland and Detroit were visiting trips.


Sarah Elizabeth "Sate" Plowman, Lide's sister

Sarah Elizabeth "Sate" Plowman, Lide's sister

I went with them when I was eight and Sate [note: Sate was Sarah Elizabeth, JSW] was little, and I had a straw bonnet which made me rather vain.  Uncle George’s was our first stopping place and aunt Mary Brown lived three miles from there.  We had a horse team and stayed in Lansing the first night at the Old’s Hotel.  From Lansing on we had plank (1853) roads and had to pay toll before we could pass the toll gates.

 Father, aunts Eliza and Mary, had quite a good district school education.  He was much interested in learning, and had quite a few books and read the news papers thoroughly.  The New York Tribune was a constant visitor with us.  He took an interest in all the things that helped to make good citizens.  It was a great cross to him when the sight of one eye was injured by a wood chip.

 After that I read the papers to him, which was the year Freemont was running for President, and was beaten by Buchanan (1857).  I got my first taste of politics then, and like it still.  He was always school director and took the Michigan Educational Journal.  It was from this journal that he found the problem for me to solve, which was a study for me for weeks or months.  I give credit to father for stimulating in me a desire for knowledge.

 A hare to shun a gray hound ran full 40 leaps before the dog began.  And for her life so nimbly did she strive, that to his three leaps she gave always five.  But two of his are equal to her three.  To catch the hare, how many leaps made he?

 I finally studied until I proved he could never catch her.  But father thought I must be mistaken.  When I studied algebra I found they sometimes gave problems with negative answers.  I am sure this one problem helped me greatly in my study of mathematics.  [Note:  I agree with Lide.  The dog will never catch the hare.  JSW]

 Father had a great deal to do in running the business of the township.  I do not remember when he was not Justice of the Peace, and the office of Supervisor was about equally divided between him and Moses Bartow.  Mr. Bartow was a democrat with only a few republicans in the township.  But father had the confidence of the people, and many staunch friends among the leaders.  When neighbors had trouble and came to him to try the law on them, he would always talk to them and try to adjust it out of court, while the other justices enjoyed the lawsuits, indeed rather courted them.

 This has been all of father, as most of you do not know of the long ago, but mother would fill as large a paper with all she had to do and faithfulness with which she fulfilled her duties to a large family.

 She lived very near her children and entered into their joys and sorrows as a faithful mother should.  What pleasure it was to have her come out and play “coop” and “Hide and seek” with us.  She had great tact in making work seem play, such as running races at knitting and sewing, and seeing who could shell the most peas.  We were eager to work with her then, and it made work play when we were working with her.

 Our older brother have given her a tribute that any woman might crave, that she was a good a mother to them as an own mother could be.  And we younger children did not know the difference between them and ourselves.  No one ever had better brothers than they, and no mother had better children. 

Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree











The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Father, part two

August 2, 2009


Today we continue with Lide Plowman’s memories of her father and life in the Plowman household.  If this is your first visit to this blog, you will want to read part one of this autobiographical story of life in the mid-1800’s in Michigan.  The family tree chart is at the end of today’s post.

Before I can remember, father built a large log house to accommodate the increasing family and used the old one for tools and black salts.  They used black salts to make soda and the like.  A shed on the east end of the house was a work shop.

 The first chimney was built of narrow flat split sticks, laid in plaster and plastered inside and out.  The jambs or sides of the fireplace, built of large stones, were about five feet apart, and spread out toward the front, which made a nice large place for the family to sit around.  The back of the fire place was laid up of stone.  The first hearth I remember was of brick, but at first it was likely of stone.

 The wood we burned would be a wonder to children now.  The body of the trees were drawn to the house by hooking a chain around the larger end, and the other end of the chain hooked into the ox yoke.  A 12” to 16” log chopped into four foot lengths served for a back log, while a log 6” or 8” thick served for a top stick.  This made the foundation of the fire, after which kindling was placed under, and smaller sticks piled between.

 You will wonder how these large logs were brought in.  We were never without a stout large home made sled with four posts.  The large log was rolled on to it and the stakes put in place, with one boy drawing and one behind pushing, it was brought in before the fire place.  Then with a boy at each end it was put in place.  Then another load for top and fore stick.

 The kindling was placed on “live coals” and the small wood put on top.  We never let the fire go out, for in those days we had no matches, and the only way to start a fire was by the use a flint or to borrow from the neighbors.  I myself remember going over the crick to Uncle Sammy’s with a little shovel to borrow fire.

 You who have never seen such a fire have no idea of the heat and light it afforded.  A candle was not needed to read by and we were all comfortable, if we were not too close.  I wish I could tell you the pleasure we had in watching the fire, seeing the flames and the sparks fly up and coals fall, and the many queer and fanciful shapes fashioned by it all.  It would take a post to do this justice, and we’ll let Till and Sate help us out.

 The great bed of coals served to cook our meals.  A long shovel was used to draw out enough coals to fry a large spider of meat.  The spider had three legs and set over the coals.  A crane hung and swung in the chimney supplied with iron hooks on which to hang kettles, for vegetables, meat and an iron tea kettle, when the fire was low the hooks were hooked in to each other to bring the kettles near the fire.

 Bread was baked in a tin oven set before the fire, and over the coals.  This oven looked something like a leanto, set back from the house, with a place for the dripper where the upper floor would be.  The bright tin of the roof helped to brown the top of the bread, while the coals browned the bottom.  This dripper must have been about 10” by 24” and was the one grandmother Plowman (Emily Crane’s mother) used for pumpkin pies for the boys, when Father and Mother went to Oakland.  I have heard Ezra and Charlie and Saron say they asked for a pie thick enough that when they bit into it it would touch their noses.

 I can just remember when father brought home the first stove.  I must have been about 6 or 7 years old.  This stove was never a good baker, so our bread was still baked in front of the fire or in the outdoor oven until the elevated oven came in to our home, when I was maybe 12 or 14.  Even after that, mother during harvest would bake 15 loaves of bread and pies in the outdoor brick oven, which had taken the place of the mud oven.  I wonder if George or Lute remember splitting oven wood for mother?  It was not a job the boys liked.

 Bringing in of the night wood was a job for two boys and the sled.  We had a shut-in stairway which was an unusual thing in the new country, as a hole in the chamber and ladder running up to it was the usual thing.  Between this stairway and the fire place was a space about 4 feet wide at the bottom and running up narrower.  I have no idea how many sled loads of wood it took to fill this space, likely one fourth cord.

 The fireplace was a cheerful, comfortable place for the family to gather to talk over the days doings, with mother and sisters knitting (mother did not spin and weave much after I can well remember, although Till and I helped her some.)  Father reading or finishing off an ax helve, of which each of the boys had their own, some righthanded, and some left, to suit the boy.  They were first shaped with a draw shave, then smoothed with a pocket knife, then scraped with a piece of window glass and rubbed with fine sandpaper until smooth as a piece of glass.  No one could make a better one than father.

 Can any of you remember our brothers sitting facing each other straddle a flat iron shovel handle, placed on their chairs, with a bushel basket between them, shelling corn (on the handle)?  Not for the chickens and geese.  Oh! No.  That was a daily job for the smaller ones; but to make meal for food for the family, and some of the animals.  (How I should like some for my Christmas present, we never have any now so good). 






Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree




The Plowman Family: Lide Remembers Father, part one

August 1, 2009
Mary Eliza "Lide" Plowman

Mary Eliza "Lide" Plowman

According to her grandson Mark Andrews, the following is a letter written in late 1921 by Mary Eliza Plowman Benedict and directed to the PLOWMAN CHRISTMAS TREE.  Mary Eliza, better known as “Lide,” wrote from the home of her daughter Pearl Jones in Brooklyn, New York.

 I am going back to the time when our father went from Oakland Co. Michigan, to Orange Co. NY, where he was born Feb. 20 1813 (Wm. Tuttle Plowman) to get his first wife Mary Ann Potts.  This was in 1833.  He told me about it one night in 1866, when I was sitting up to watch for the meteoric shower.  He said he was in N. Y. state and going home from seeing Mary Ann Potts when the heavens seemed to be falling.  It was a wonderful sight!  I was not rewarded, however, for my watching and learned later that the “shower” was not visible in Michigan.

 Father and his first wife lived in Oakland on rented farms, working by the month until Ezra was born in 1834.  They had oxen and other things for settling on a new farm, and Sam Boughton and wife Kiziah or Jane E., father’s cousin, and two other families came with them to Westphalia.  There were only six families in the township (36 square miles) at that time.  It was not an unusual thing for bears to be looking for some of their live stock.

 Father built his first log house and began to clear the land, when one of his oxen was killed by a falling tree.  This made it necessary for them to go back to Oakland Co., and make a new start.  Charlie was born there in 1837 and they probably came back to Westphalia in ’40 or ’41.  Saron was born in 1842, and father was left with three little children (Mary Ann Potts died in childbirth).

 Aunt Adaline came from Oakland Co. to care for them, and Aunt Sarah came for company and help (they were about 13 and 19 years old).  [Note: Adaline and Sarah are William’s sisters.  See the chart.  JSW]  You can realize something what it meant when their only mode of travel was an ox team, through woods, and all the disadvantages of a new country.  But they came and I think Aunt Adaline always had a tender spot in her heart for Saron, and who could blame her.

 In 1843 father married our mother, (Emily Crane) who lived with her uncle Sammy Crane.  He had moved to Westphalia about the time father did.  His brother Francis Crane (Abagail’s father) lived just east of the Casper farm.

 Father was an enterprising, energetic man.  He soon had a large apple orchard, and the peaches, plums and cherries we had when I was a child were larger and better than Clinton Co. can offer now.  I could not have been more than seven or eight then.

 The four and six gallon crocks of peach and plum preserves made with maple sugar would be a wonder to you now.  All from their own labor and no money expenses.  When I was about sixteen I tried to can fruit in a crock by sealing it over with a mixture of resin, beeswax and lard.  But my first attempt failed, although “Met” had been able to keep it this way.  (Met – Luna’s mother).  [Note:  "Met" is Mariette, Charles Nelson Plowman's wife, JSW]  It was just after this that glass cans began to be used.

 The only thing they could sell for money was “black salts” made from the ashes they gathered where they had burned the log heaps in clearing the land.  The leaches would hold six or eight barrels of Ashes, and with a dozen leaches to run off, they took some water.  The Lye was boiled down to a shiny black sticky mass.  When it was ready for sale, which was a real blessing as it supplied the necessaries they could not produce from the soil (Lute collected it in hollowed out logs).  Lyons or Ionia was the place of sale.  The land office was at Ionia so that was an important town.

 This was a real pioneer’s life (would you like it?) 

Plowman Family Tree

Plowman Family Tree



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