North Country newspapers, the only media during the 1800s, were slow to come around and at times downright resistant to women’s rights. Their job was to report the news, but in order to maintain readership, they also had to cater to their customers — like the old adage says, “give ’em what they want.” That atmosphere made it difficult for new and progressive ideas, like women’s rights, to make headway.
The push for women’s rights exposed many inequities early on, but it was difficult to establish a foothold among other important stories of the day. The powerful anti-slavery movement of the 1800s presented an opportunity, for although women and slaves were at opposite ends of the spectrum in the popular imagination — women on a pedestal and slaves treated terribly — they sought many of te same goals: freedom to speak out on their own behalf, the right to vote, and equal pay for equal work. Women passionate about those subjects joined anti-slavery organizations to seek freedom and equal rights for all, regardless of race or sex. Continue reading
All this talk from me during the last two weeks about spruce-related subjects (Sprucelets and spruce beer) is linked to past conversations with my mom, a native of Churubusco in northern Clinton County. It’s officially known as the Town of Clinton, but to local folks, it’s just Busco — and about as country as it gets around here. Growing up there on a farm in the 1920s and ’30s, Mom partook in things that were once the norm, like drinking raw milk and chewing spruce gum.
Her repeated mention of loving to chew spruce gum intrigued me. But as a young boy, I made the mistake of thinking any old evergreen would do, so I tried white-pine sap, something I still regret to this day. Maybe it doesn’t actually taste terrible, but in my recollection, it was terribly terrible, like turpentine. To avoid steering anyone away from it based on an old memory, I confirmed through our state DEC website and others that white-pine resin can be used to make turpentine. And the higher the pitch level, the stronger the turpentine taste — so my memory is good that the taste of raw pine resin was awful. Continue reading
In keeping with last week’s spruce theme — Sprucelets: An Original Adirondack Medicine — is a look at one of the most common drinks in early Adirondack history: spruce beer. Like the aforementioned Sprucelets, it was believed to be of medicinal value due in part to its vitamin C content. Several evergreens share those same properties, and their use dates back centuries.
In one of the earliest mentions of evergreens used as a health aid in North America, there remains disagreement as to which tree along the St. Lawrence River (at today’s Quebec City) was used by Jacques Cartier in 1536 to cure scurvy. His voyage journal says that after learning nearby natives were quite ill with an unknown disease, Cartier quarantined his men on their ships, which were frozen in the ice.
As he noted, the precaution didn’t work. “Not withstanding these defences, the disease begun inside our group, in an unknown manner, as some of us were getting weak, their legs were becoming big and swollen, the nerves as black as coal. The sailors were dotted with drops of blood, and then the disease went to their hips, thighs, shoulders, arms and neck. Their mouths were so infected and rotten that all the flesh fell to the level of the roots of the teeth which had fallen out.” Continue reading
Cold and flu season once again has sufferers scrambling for any kind of relief from all sorts of medicines. A little over a century ago, right here on Northern New York store shelves, next to cough drops by national companies like Smith Brothers and Luden’s, was a local product made in Malone.
Sprucelets were created mainly from a raw material harvested in the Adirondacks: spruce gum. Like hops, blueberries, and maple syrup, the seasonal gathering and sale of spruce gum boosted the incomes of thousands of North Country folks seeking to make a dollar any way they could. Much of what they picked was sold to national gum companies, but some was used locally by entrepreneurs who established small factories and created many jobs.
Among these was the Symonds & Allison Company of Malone, founded there in 1897 by Charles Symonds and Aaron Allison when the latter purchased half-interest in Symonds Brothers, a convenience-store operation offering food, coffee, candy, and tobacco products. Continue reading
A few weeks ago in this space appeared the story of Gershom Beach’s remarkable 24-hour recruiting hike in Vermont, rounding up Green Mountain Boys to join their leader, Ethan Allen, in capturing Fort Ticonderoga on the New York side of Lake Champlain. In the end, their combined efforts played a critical role in George Washington’s American troops driving the British from Boston, for the armaments he used came from Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Men serving under Colonel Henry Knox completed the delivery, carrying them south to Albany and east to Boston.
Typically shortchanged in that famous story is the fort at Crown Point, which was captured two days after Ticonderoga fell. Seth Warner, a name very familiar to historians in connection with other military campaigns, commanded the troops that executed the takeover, which met with little resistance. Continue reading
Goodness has long been an admirable part of our identity as Americans. It is evident at the national level in our response when natural disasters strike here or abroad. Closer to home, we see it manifested daily in our own Adirondacks and foothills, where people donate, volunteer, and reach out to help others. Our foundation as small-town folk is one of welcoming, caring, sharing.
Along with that comes the knowledge that we’re also lucky to be Americans, lucky to not have been born in some other country where things are much different. Many of the lessons we learned in school were derived from the struggles of others in less fortunate circumstances.
We were taught to appreciate certain rights and freedoms, to speak out against perceived wrongs, to defend the less capable, and to question the directives of those in leadership positions. In some countries, those rights are viewed as privileges for the chosen few, or are not available at all. Continue reading
Here’s the opening stanza from “Paul Revere’s Ride”:
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
Less than a month later, at a different location but with the same cadence, Longfellow could have written: Continue reading
While researching a pair of books on North Country iron mining, I unexpectedly became privy to tragedies that many families faced. Mining accidents were frequent and involved excessive violence, often resulting in death. Victims were sometimes pancaked — literally — by rock falls, and their remains were recovered with scraping tools. Others were blown to pieces by dynamite explosions, usually as the result of, in mining parlance, “hitting a missed hole.”
The “missed hole” nomenclature refers to unexploded dynamite charges accidentally detonated later by another miner when his drill made contact with the material or caused a spark. The resulting blast was often fatal, but not always. Those who survived were usually blinded, burned badly, or maimed in some fashion.
In 1878, in Crown Point’s iron mines at Hammondville, near Lake Champlain, a young laborer, Billy Richards, was tasked with holding a star drill (basically a hand-held chisel with a star point) against the ore face while his partner — his step-father, Richard George — struck it with a sledge hammer. Through this commonly used teamwork method, a cadence developed whereby the star drill was struck and the holder then turned it slightly before it was struck again. Continue reading
For millions of people, holidays are all about going home, returning to one’s roots of family and friends. That concept was epitomized by a North Country man who attained great fame in Hollywood, but to his great credit never forgot the home folks — and to their credit, the home folks never forgot him. Whenever he returned to the North Country, or old friends visited him in California, there was always an exchange of love, admiration, and deep appreciation.
He was born in northern Michigan in 1916 as Harold John Smith, about as anonymous a name as one can imagine, and likely one that stirs no sense of recognition. But if Otis Campbell were mentioned, many would instantly recall Mayberry’s affable town drunk from The Andy Griffith Show. Continue reading
A century ago, an emerging North Country artist made a name for herself in Jefferson County, but it was the many names she wore through seven decades that made her story so difficult to trace. She began life in North Dakota in 1883 as Phoebe Alice Weeks. During her marriage (around 1910) to Carl Warren, she was known as Phoebe W. Warren. During her second marriage, to Lewis Perry Hazlewood of Sackets Harbor in 1916, she was known as Phoebe Hazlewood (often misspelled as Hazelwood), but her middle name appeared variously as Alice, Weeks, and Warren, or the initials “A” or “W.” Decades later, there was a third marriage to Henry Morse, during which she again was described by various names, the most common of which were Phoebe Hazlewood Morse and Phoebe Weeks Morse.
What’s most important of course, is that she did in fact make a name for herself in the art world. From the time she was very young, Phoebe gravitated towards artwork created by cutting out paper shapes, which were then displayed over an offsetting background. For instance, a cutout from black paper was presented over a background of white paper. The method was known generally as silhouette. Continue reading