Monday, March 25, 2013

Robert Swan Becomes a Farmer

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

Robert Swan was born in 1826, the fifth child of New York City merchant Benjamin Swan and his wife Mary. According to a family history written by Robert's youngest brother Fred, he attended a private school in New York City and went to work at about 15 as a clerk in the dry good business. He was promoted to be a salesman and spent several years working in business in the area that is today the Financial District. Due to poor health and under the advice of a doctor, he gave up the mercantile business to become a farmer. He spent two years living and learning with John Johnston, then a farmer well known for his innovative methods.

In 1848, he began his study of farming at the age of 22, writing of his first day at the Johnston farm:

On the 31st day of July 1848 I left home via Albany to go to Mr John Johnston's farm to learn farming of him at which place I arrived on the 2nd of August in the morning. I found Mr J at home and was much pleased with him and his family. In the course of the morning (Mr J's soninlaw) Mr Swabi & his wife came to pay a visit at the house after a little while Mr J. Mr Swabia and myself went over the farm and on this occasion Mr J showed me how to bind wheat.

His second day proved more challenging:

Aug 3rd Thursday. I arrose [sic] this morning at 5, dressed and went down to breakfast at six. After breakfast I went to help thrash [sic] wheat in the upper barn this day we did upward of Fifty Bushels, in an hour which Mr J. said “was great work"

On the 7th he was still threshing and "dirty as a sweep." The threshing continued until August 14th, when they started ploughing for the planting of the next year's crop of wheat.

For several men to thresh 50 bushels of wheat in an hour, they were likely using a horse-powered machine, like this one.

Robert's description of his days over the two years that he lived at Johnston's farm are typical of farming in this period and exhausting sounding to the modern reader. Long days of hard work dictated by the weather and the season, interspersed with time free to write letters, visit with neighbors, attend church and read the Bible, and discuss farming with Mr. Johnston and other farmers. Here is a partial list of the activities he engaged in during his two years at Johnston's farm: fed cattle, fixed fence, helped fill ditches, planted corn, altered lambs, hoed potatoes, shot crows, sheared sheep, helped raise shed, hoed corn, cleaned harness, cultivated fallows, cut clover hay, cleaned Timothy seed, cured clover seed, sowed seed, learned to treat foot-rotted sheep and blow fly, took in corn stalks, loaded and spread manure, threshed barley, hauled in buckwheat, drove steers. He also killed a skunk found in the family well, and on another occasion repeatedly had to chase a strange bull off the farm at three in the morning.

Fields east of Rose Hill, once part of the Swan's farm

Of course, as the son of a wealthy man who was learning from, not working for Mr. Johnston, Robert did not have to work in the same way that the paid farm laborers did. When he had problems with his foot he was laid up for a couple of days, and when his family came to town to visit he had the leisure to spend time with them. This would not be an option for a man who only got paid when he worked, as was the case with most farm laborers. Still, Robert was working hard and getting hands-on experience with one of the best farmers in the state.

Robert's decision to take up farming was apparently not unusual. At one point in his diary he writes: Nov 6th Monday. This morning I went over to Geneva to the post office where I found a letter from Father informing me of Mr Halsteds son Roberts intention of being a farmer.  Robert also mentions Herman Ten Eyck Foster several times in his Johnston period diary. Like Swan, Foster received several premium awards from the New York State Agricultural Society for his Seneca County farm. He too was born the son of a NYC merchant and learned farming from a Mr. Owen near Trumansburg. After establishing his farm, he married and had three children, one of whom, Pauline, married Henry A. DuPont, and was the mother of Henry F. DuPont, the founder of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The museum has Foster's diary for 1842-43. Based on this document, he spent his time at the Owens' much as Robert did at the Johnston's.

Robert Swan's professional choice agreed with him: Sunday August 13th How unlike the City where all is confusion is the country where every thing seems quiet thus quieting the heart of man. Based on his writings and the letters of his family members, the Swans were well-off, but not ostentatious or overly concerned with society and station. Robert's father Benjamin was very wealthy and prominent, but seems to have been mostly a self-made man (if you take his son Fred's description literally, and that may not be wise), whose primarily concerns were family and religious matters. He took a genuine interest in the farm and was a life member of the New York State Agricultural Society, watching Robert's progress in improving the farm every summer when he and his wife came for a month-long visit.

Next time we'll look more closely at how Robert Swan managed and farmed his own land at Rose Hill.

Friday, March 22, 2013

New York City Draft Riots

By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill 

In July of 1863, Congress created a military draft and New York City men rioted in protest.

Most of the rioters were working-class Irishmen.  They were angry about several things:  they resented being required to go to war; they resented that wealthier men could pay a $300 fee and hire a substitute for the army; they feared having to compete with freed slaves for jobs; and they were aggrieved because black Americans (who were not considered citizens) were not subject to the draft.  The draft protest soon turned into an ugly race riot.  The police were overwhelmed.

President Lincoln sent several militia and volunteer regiments to control the city.  Unfortunately the soldiers did not arrive until the third day of violence, when mobs had looted and destroyed fifty public buildings, churches, and houses.  Rioters especially targeted black peoples' homes and the properties of abolitionists.  Nobody knows the numbers for sure, but at least 100 African Americans were murdered, and at least two thousand people were injured.  The rioting started on Monday, July 13, and was finally put down by the arriving troops on Wednesday and Thursday.

Here in Fayette, Robert Swan wrote to his father Benjamin  in New York on July 27, 1863, about the draft. 

The Draft has taken place in Auburn Cayuga Co. for this District & quite a number of my neighbors have been drawn, vz Mr. Faster & his hired man, two of Mrs Stacey’s sons, William & George, one of James Rogers sons, & one of the Kimes boys & both of Mr Noyes hired men.  There was no disturbance all was quiet down at Auburn.  At Seneca Falls they were beginning to be very noisy & they sent for the Sheriff & his posse who went down & soon made order and good feeling.  The Draft in Ontario Co at Canandaigua takes place for the Town of Seneca. . .they have a good military force stationed at Canandaigua to repress any disorder that may arrise & which ought to have been the case in the City of N. Y.  No one on this farm was Drafted.

Benjamin Lincoln Swan, ca. 1863

Robert Sawn

It is difficult to decide exactly what Robert thought about the Civil War, from what he said about it in a letter to his brother Edward in February of 1861:

. . . I think the South has committed wrong and is doing all she can, yes more than all the Rabid Abolitionists, to free their slaves and to improve themselves. . .  Mr. Lincoln will be inaugurated on the 4th of March next and then we will see what they will do.  Already the Northern rodes and cities are being benefitted by the insane and suicidal policy of the Seceding States, poor and starving, making war upon the Federal Government is all nonsense and it really makes me vexed to see Northern men go on and make such fools of themselves about the South. . . [Southerners] are not honest or they would have like men stated their grievances and taken a constitutional mode of redress.  No it is the slave trade. . . they are after, and that the border states know and will never, no never permit. . .

 The best interpretation might be that Robert saw faults on both sides of a complicated issue, and that he assumed that Edward would follow his thinking even if he (Robert) did not explain himself with careful clarity.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Save It?

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

One aspect of the historical society is presenting exhibits and public programs. Another is serving as a repository for Geneva’s history. People ask, “What do you do with all that stuff?” and the short answer is, “Save it.”

When we accept a photo, a diary, or a Tarr’s Dairy milk bottle, we agree to preserve that item in perpetuity. We may not display an object or a photograph for years but it doesn’t diminish the importance of preserving it. When people do come looking for an image or piece of information, and reach a dead end, they may ask, “Why don’t you have it?!” Again with a short answer, “Because no one gave it to us.”

One section of our collections storage area; this has items used at or produced by local factories.

The first step in the museum food chain is someone must acquire something; second, they must save it. I really want to see a photo of the Carrolls hamburger joint that was on Hamilton Street around 1970 (it became Burger King a few years later, which is now gone as well), and I can’t find one. Maybe no one thought it was worth photographing; if they did have a shot of their friends in front of Carrolls, maybe they threw it away 30 years later. (When I ask for things from the 1970s and 80s, people say, “Why? That stuff’s not old!” I always reply, “It will be if you hang onto it long enough.”)

This homemade panorama from the 1970s isn't sophisticated but it effectively documents a section of Seneca Street.

The third step is for folks to donate stuff to us. Occasionally we purchase items at auctions, antique stores, or yard sales, but we don’t have the budget to pay for everything. We don’t have time to go door-to-door asking if people have things that we would like, and we don’t have authority to seize possessions in the name of the historical society (and that’s a good thing).

Given these three factors, it surprises me that we have as much material as we do. I’m reminded of this tenuous chain every time I can’t find something I want to know: the photo no one took, the name that wasn’t written on the back of a photo, the huge historical event that wasn’t mentioned in a dairy. If you have Geneva history (defined as anything relating to Geneva, including current events), please consider sharing it with us. If your family doesn’t have an interest in your history, we’re happy to preserve it; if they do, we can make copies and leave the originals with you. If you don’t save local and family history, now is the time to start –fifty years from now someone will be glad you did.

Please call John Marks, curator of collections, at 789-5151, if you are interested in donating or loaning items to the historical society.

Friday, March 15, 2013

From Lake to Table (Fish Dinner from Catch to Table)

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

I was very young when I learned not all the food my family ate came from a store.  My maternal grandfather had operated a small farm before I was born and by the time I arrived on the scene he still kept a few chickens around.  I was the type of child who was fascinated by any 4 legged or 2 winged animal and I loved going to visit Grandpa Henry.  I knew eggs came from those chickens not the grocery store. 

Later, I learned corn, tomatoes, lettuce, beans and squash were grown in our garden, along with some other vegetables I distinctly did not enjoy.  I even got to visit a barn full of sheep and later pigs.  I discovered that you should not bother the sow (female pig) and piglets unless you were able to outrun the pig and the rest of the children who helped you tease her.

Still, the best part of my fresh food experience involved fish.  My father and his father were hobby fisherman.  They loved spending the day by the water, any body of water, and casting in a line with the hope that some large (or medium size) denizen of the deep would deem their bait worthy of a taste.  If the bobber dipped below the surface the battle was on!  Since they fished exclusively fresh water the hook could hold any number of surprises; largemouth bass, small mouth bass, muskellunge, pike, pickerel, bullhead, trout, perch, black bass, rock bass, sunfish, carp or even eel.  Every strike was an adventure for a 6 year old. 

As my family was Roman Catholic and I grew up in the days of no meat Fridays, fresh fish was our alternative.  If there was no fish in the refrigerator we were forced to eat the dreaded creamed canned salmon on potatoes or worse…EGGS!  To this day I seldom eat eggs unless I am out at a restaurant for breakfast.  I became a fish connoisseur early knowing that I favored the fish with fewer bones over the ones with many.  Fish lightly floured and sprinkled with salt and pepper then fried in hot butter was a highly prized luxury for me.  Some of my favorite fish were smelt.  Small finger length fish that could quickly cleaned and prepared. 

With all fish, once the catch is on the hook, in a net or in the boat the next step to a fish dinner is cleaning.  This is where I balked.  I had often watched my dad scale and clean various types of fish, but when he wanted me to help, oh no!  Dad’s explanation was pretty clear.  My mom had cut her finger and if I wanted smelt instead of eggs this Friday I had best sit myself down and toughen up.  Sigh, I wanted smelt so I sat and gulped.  My dad, who often couldn’t figure out how to deal with the 3 women in his house, had an inspired moment using this “food preparation event” to teach me about fish anatomy.  Since you catch smelt in the spring around spawning time it was the perfect time to teach me how to tell a male fish from a female based on their insides.  Before I knew it the cleaning was over, fish were ready for Friday dinner, and I learned something!

So what, you ask, does this story have to do with the Finger Lakes or even the Historical Society?  The answer is multi-faceted.  First Seneca Lake is called the “Lake Trout Capital of the World” and each year the Lake Trout Derby is held on Memorial Day weekend.  Second, most of the fishing my father and I did years ago was in the Finger Lakes, mainly Hemlock and Canadice.  However, from time to time we did manage to go to some of the other Finger Lakes like Honeoye, Seneca, Canadaiqua, Otisco, and Conesus.   I loved them all and considerd myself very fortunate to be able to live in this beautiful spot.  Finally, one of the stories concerning Rose Hill involves a muskellunge (often called a “Muskie”), which Robert Swan bought while in Geneva and brought home for their cook to prepare.  A letter about the meal states the fish was very large, the cook served the fish boiled and nobody cared for it very much.

Well, of course they didn’t!  Muskellunge is a game fish that can grow upward of 50 inches and weigh 30 or more pounds.  It has some “y” shaped bones that need to be removed before cooking, unless you want to take a very long time to pick over your meal.  The fact that the fish grows so large means you should clean any visible fat off it to enhance the flavor and discard the pollutants which collect in the fat.  Of course the cook probably looked at the fish and thought “what will I do with this thing?”  Still, I can’t imagine serving it boiled.  I checked the internet for Muskie recipes and found recommendations for pan frying, baking, grilling and poaching, but not boiling.
I had the opportunity to cook a “Muskie” once and lightly floured it then cooked it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper in hot butter.  It was “WONDERFUL” even though I had to watch extremely carefully for bones.

I think it really is sad that so many children today don’t understand where our food originates.  I doubt many of them have been chased by pigs, ridden a tractor with their father to plow the garden or had the chance to learn about the internal organs of fish while sitting by the sink cleaning smelt.  The Swan children of Rose Hill knew who produced their food and how it arrived on the table.  Many times when I give a tour at Rose Hill and mention the muskellunge I hear, “What is that?”  Thanks to my childhood, I can tell our visitors.

Miss Trout

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mrs. Ricord's Geneva Female Seminary

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

During the 1800s young ladies from middle and upper class families were educated at female seminaries.  The seminaries were basically privately funded schools that provided students with a secondary education. Since there was a general belief that an overeducated woman would become “unsexed”, female seminaries offered classes that were distinctively feminine and considered much less mentally taxing than courses offered to male students.  Along with the basic academic subjects, the curriculum often included French, music, painting, needle crafts, domestic arts and social graces.  Geneva was home to several female seminaries.  One school was Geneva Female Seminary established by Elizabeth Stryker Ricord (1788-1865).

Born in Long Island and raised in New Jersey, Elizabeth was the oldest child and only daughter of Peter Stryker.  Since Elizabeth was very well educated we can assume she was taught by private tutors.  On December 6, 1810 Elizabeth married Jean Baptiste Ricord-Madianna.  Between 1811 and 1824 the couple had four sons and traveled to the West Indies at least twice, where Jean studied botany and natural history.  By 1824 the couple was living in the United States and eventually settled their family in Woodbridge, New Jersey.  In 1829, however, Elizabeth was separated from her husband and living in Geneva. To support herself and her sons, Elizabeth opened the Geneva Female Seminary.

Elizabeth was part of a growing group of women that believed that women should receive an education equal to that of men.    She saw the primary purpose of her seminary as training teachers.  With that in mind she designed a much more rigorous curriculum than what was offered at the majority of female seminaries. Besides sewing very few domestic subjects were offered.  The core subjects were spelling reading, geography, arithmetic, history (ancient and modern), science (astronomy, botany, geology, natural history, geology and chemistry), mental philosophy, moral philosophy, natural philosophy and composition.  For an additional fee classes in Latin, Greek, Italian French, music, drawing and painting were also offered. 

Day and boarding students of all ages were accepted.  Students came from the Finger Lakes, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England. To determine their class level, each student took placement tests. Instead of focusing on memorizing and recitation (the preferred method of instruction) Elizabeth and her follow students encouraged students to ask questions and think for themselves.  The school year was two 22 week terms.

Though the school continued to operate until 1842, poor health forced Elizabeth to resign as principal in 1840.  She, however, was not quite ready for retirement. The same year she resigned from the Geneva Female Seminary, Elizabeth turned her lectures notes on “mental philosophy” or psychology into a textbook, Elements of the Philosophy of Mind, Applied to the Development of Thought and Feeling.   With the book’s publication, Elizabeth became the first woman to write a textbook about psychology for women.  She would publish at least one more book,  Zamba or the Insurrection (a fictionalized poem about a slave insurrection in Martinique).

In 1845 Elizabeth moved to Newark, New Jersey.  In addition to writing for articles for magazines and journals, she co-founded the Newark Orphan Asylum and served as its director until her death in 1865.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Richard III and the Lessons of Leicester

By Cy Smith, Vice President of the Board of Trustees

                           Now is the winter of our discontent
                          Made glorious summer

If you’re a history buff like me, you’ve doubtless followed the story of the exhumation of the remains of Richard III, England’s most maligned king.  The story of Richard in brief:  A dynastic struggle in England between the Plantagenet and Tudor families culminated in a Tudor victory at the battle of Bosworth Field, near Leicester, in 1485.  Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, was slain by the forces of Henry VII.  Tradition has it that his body was displayed in Leicester for two days and then thrown into the River Soar.  Politics was literally a blood sport in the fifteenth century.   Richard was immortalized by Shakespeare, who portrays a malevolent prince, one of the most villainous characters in literature.  The extent to which Shakespeare’s portrait is historically accurate, or a reflection of Tudor ascendancy, remains a matter of debate.  While Shakespeare’s Richard is very much alive in our culture, the Richard of history has been somewhat obscured.  Recent developments show his historical stock to be on the rise.

The reemergence of the historical Richard is due to the unique partnership of an historical society, a city council, and a university.  The historical society is a specialized one – the Richard III Society.  Under the leadership of a dedicated Ricardian, Philippa Langley, the Society uncovered archival evidence that the body of Richard had in fact been buried at Greyfriars Abbey in Leicester.  Like many religious institutions seized by Henry VIII,  the abbey fell into disuse in the sixteenth century.  Eventually it was torn down and its exact location was not recorded.  The Society persuaded the Leicester City Council and the University of Leicester to join in the search and was instrumental in raising approximately $250000 in contributions for the project.  With the assistance of ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists located the site under a parking lot in downtown Leicester.   Excavation followed and last fall a skeleton bearing the marks of a battlefield death and having a deformed spine (“rudely stamped”, as Shakespeare says) was unearthed.  DNA tests with two known descendants of Richard’s sister led to a scientific conclusion that the remains were those of the king.  Now plans are afoot for a reburial in Leicester Cathedral.  York, where Richard spent his youth, has put in a competing claim for reburial but Leicester’s precedence has been upheld by England’s Justice Minister.   Leicester plans the establishment of a visitor center chronicling the life of Richard III and has already opened a temporary exhibit.  In the meantime the parking lot has become a popular tourist attraction.

What lessons can we at Geneva Historical Society draw from this?  The first is obvious:  History is everywhere, even underfoot.  Even more important, history requires dedicated people to recreate it.  The recreation is an ongoing process, drawing upon archives and other records of the past. History exists in our minds, but the physical manifestations of it – its corporeal substance, if you will – bring it wider public attention.  History is important for a community: it is fundamental to creating an identity.  And finally, history like any other non-profit endeavor requires a public willing to support it.