Sunday, August 24, 2014

What To Do About Pension Citations

I have copies from fourteen Civil War pension application files. They are a great source of information that may be found no where else. See One Widow's Plight and Why Everyone Should Use Pension Application Files to see examples of what you might find. Now that I am trying to do a better job of citing my sources in my genealogy program I have worked through the easy records for my direct ancestors (i.e. census and vital records, etc.), but there are a lot of things in the pension files that I really need to cite. But there begins the problem. I could cite the entire file, for example:

Lawrence H. Flynn (Cpl., Co. M, 1st MI. Eng. and Mech., Civil War), application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

It certainly indicates that it comes from the pension file, but if I wanted to look up the specific page where I found the information it would be useless. However, wading through often lengthy (60-100+ pages) files looking for one piece of information is time-consuming. While I might come across something else of interest during the hour or more it might take me to find what I was originally looking for, knowing that I couldn't quickly find what I needed might put me off from doing it at all. Besides, other things demand my time, like my daughter, so if I have to choose between reading to her or perusing the concerns of the dead, I know what I'll choose.

One solution is to preface the main citation with something more specific, such as:

Deposition of H.B. Osborn, filed 11 Oct 1912, Lawrence H. Flynn (Cpl., Co. M, 1st MI. Eng. and Mech., Civil War), application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

That would certainly narrow it down, but I would still have to sort through all the papers to find the one I want. I am coming to the conclusion that what I really need to do is just number each page, even if it is only for me, so that I can find what I need in a timely manner. I have already completed the first step, namely to organize the documents chronologically. I didn't do that when I originally received them because I thought perhaps there was a reason the documents were in that order. Eventually, I disabused myself of that notion. It is definitely much easier to see what is going on with everything ordered by date, but with so many pages finding a single one still takes time.

I know my numbering system won't aid anyone who isn't browsing my family tree program, but it will certainly help me. I will be able to quickly double check specific items and move on to something else without out wasting precious time. For me, it will mean that when I cite my pension sources they will mean something.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Slaughter House Problem in Kalamazoo

In 1902, Caroline Bartlett Crane, a well known civic reformer, promoted meat inspection and sanitary slaughter houses in Kalamazoo. Mrs. Crane and several other ladies inspected seven abattoirs in Kalamazoo and were absolutely appalled by what they found. Mrs. Crane came away from these visits determined to see Kalamazoo with a central slaughter house and a meat inspector. Though the conditions she found were “indescribable,” then as now, trying to push reforms through can be. . . um, challenging. Even fourteen years after Mrs. Crane reluctantly dirtied her soles in her slaughter house inspections, a central abattoir was still merely a dream, though some important reforms were made during that time.

A meat packing house in Chicago, from the collections of the Library of Congress

During her inspections Mrs. Crane was disturbed by the conditions she witnessed. The abattoirs “were all in an indescribably filthy condition. . . Two are simply indescribable. . . I expected to see blood, but I expected to see the blood and the refuse disposed of in a clean manner. Instead there was an awful mass of filth and offal tramped down into the floor.” [1] The facilities were “utterly and absolutely filthy. They . . . are not ventilated, have no drainage, are foul smelling, dirty, covered with cobwebs and blood, filth and mould of years, and in general are revolting.” [2] “The ground under and around is soaked with rotted blood and filth of years. Nothing but a hoe and plane could effectually remove the caked blood, grime, grease and mould and other quite unmentionable filth from the walls and floors, and nothing but a thorough conflagration could ever remedy these plague spots” that send forth most of the meat eaten by the townspeople. [3] “At all or nearly all of the abattoirs, hogs are fed on the offal and afterwards slaughtered and sold.” [1] Mr. Rufus Averill, who runs one of the slaughterhouses visited by Mrs. Crane, didn't deny that hogs were fed on offal, but said “experience has shown that they thrive and that they are just as good meat as hogs fed in any other way; besides they perform a service that could be performed in no other way.” [4] Estimating that not even ten percent of the meat sold in the city was inspected and after witnessing conditions in uninspected slaughter houses, it is no surprise that Mrs. Crane declared “after my experience in visiting the local abattoirs, I utterly refuse to eat meat that has not been inspected.” [1]

The law at the time, prohibited the sale of “putrified, poisonous or diseased meat” but provided no system for detecting it. In fact, only six officers had the job of inspecting dairies and all manufactured food products for the entire state. [1] Clearly, the task of ensuring that diseased cattle were not allowed to enter the slaughter house could not be carried out by six men for all of Michigan even if that were their only chore. Mrs. Crane recommended that a central abattoir be built to service the Kalamazoo area and that it be overseen by an inspector under municipal control. [1] A single slaughter house would make it possible for an inspector to assess all cattle brought there for processing and allow him to make sure that sanitary conditions were maintained in the facility.

Before examining the slaughter houses in Kalamazoo, Mrs. Crane had toured at least one meat packing house in Chicago. There both the incoming cows and the resulting carcasses and internal organs were inspected for any sign of illness. [2] The slaughterhouses themselves were kept “scrupulously clean” with the “floors and surroundings scrubbed daily with boiling water.” [2] One can only wonder which facilities Mrs. Crane toured because this was only a few years before Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, his expose of the atrocious conditions he discovered when he took a job in a Chicago meat packing plant.

It may be that Mrs. Crane visited a meat-packing plant that exported meat and therefore had to meet higher standards. She was angered that the laws were designed to protect trade and not the health of American families. While Michigan did have The Pure Food Laws of 1893 on the books, remember that there were only six inspectors for the entire state, one to see to dairy compliance and five for everything else. Mrs. Crane continued “we can live without jellies and candies [which were subject to inspection], but few of us feel that we can live altogether without meat. . . The butcher trade is not even protected by a license. Any kind of man may kill any kind of a beast in any kind of a place, and sell it to any dealer who may or may not be aware if that animal came to the slaughter house diseased, dying or dead.” [3]

Whenever new regulations are proposed for practically any industry, one can expect objections, no matter the benefits that would result. This case was no different. Butchers, as a whole, claimed they would be put out of business. Others suggested that regulations were unnecessary as they heard no reports of people dying from consuming diseased meat. Then there was the usual argument that a new system of inspectors would cost money. While addressing the State Conference of health officials at the University of Michigan in 1904, Mrs. Crane proceeded to explain why those objections were not based on evidence. In her closing statements she said “Is there anything a city council should be more ready to pay for, than for wholesome food supply for the city?” [5]

Nearly three years after her inspections, Mrs. Crane cited how a few small improvements toward better meat inspection and better abattoirs had been accomplished. Asked about the situation in Kalamazoo, she said that “she had no doubt that it would be accomplished here too in time. 'And,' she added, with a smile, 'you know I said I would never give it up even if it took twenty years.'” [6]

Finally, in 1907, Mrs. Crane could celebrate a significant victory. “Kalamazoo is to have meat inspection,” cried the Telegraph. [7] After years of inaction the city council finally passed a resolution to appoint a meat inspector. It probably didn't hurt that the Kalamazoo health officer presented a basket of tubercular cow lungs to the council to underline his stance on the issue. [7] Shortly after this announcement was made, it was reported that Mrs. Crane along with the city health officer, a city attorney and the “newly appointed,” but yet unnamed meat inspector would draft a meat inspection ordinance. [8]

In 1909, the Kalamazoo board of health was still discussing a central slaughter house and after a joint meeting with the meat dealers association the Kalamazoo Evening Press reported that an ordinance including a central abattoir, local meat handlers and licenses for certain types of butchers was “coming soon.” [9]

“Soon” would turn out to be the end of 1915, at least for a license requirement for butchers. The Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press proclaimed that the new meat ordinance was “most rigid in requirements.” [10] In addition to requiring licenses for butchers, with yearly renewals contingent on a satisfactory inspection of their place of business, strict regulations for slaughter houses were also to be implemented. The new rules stated that: 1) All slaughter houses must have an ample supply of water, uncontaminated by any run-off from the premises, for the purpose of cleaning the building. 2) Slaughter houses must have cement floors with proper drainage and sewer connections. 3) Floors must be washed daily and other surfaces, including walls must be scrubbed at least monthly. 4) Offal and refuse must be removed the day of slaughter and properly disposed of. 5) Animals must be treated humanely. [10] This was a tremendous leap forward and assuming the ordinance was complied with, would do much to assure that locally butchered meat was fit for consumption.

Mrs. Crane succeeded in making known the disgusting conditions in local slaughter houses and as a result the questionable safety of the meat processed therein as early as 1902. Five years after her crusade began she won a victory with the appointment of a meat inspector for the city. In 1915, licenses would be required for the first time and strict standards of cleanliness, at least in comparison to what came before, were put in place for slaughter houses. A central abattoir would remain an elusive goal at least as late as 1916 when it was still just another recommendation in the annual report to the city council. [11, 12, 13] In searching the newspapers online at the Kalamazoo Public Library through 1923 I failed to find any mention of a central abattoir becoming a reality. Be that as it may, Mrs. Caroline Crane did Kalamazooans a tremendous service by bringing the issue of filthy slaughter houses and a lack of meat inspection to light. I have no doubt that her crusade played a critical role in successfully bringing meat inspection and regulations governing butchers and slaughter houses to Kalamazoo.

  1. “Foul Places Are Abattoirs, Says Mrs. Crane,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 25 March 1902, page 1, column 1-2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 3 March 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “The Meat We Eat,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 28 March 1902, page 4, column 3, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “Meat Inspection, The Paramount Issue Among the Women of Kalamazoo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 31 March 1902, page 7, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. “Visit To Abattoir,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 27 March 1902, page 2, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  5. “Answer to Objections Against Inspection of Meat,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 12 January 1904, page 3, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  6. “Abattoir Inspection Movement Gaining Momentum,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 16 January 1905, page 2, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  7. “Will Inspect City's Meats,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 11 June 1907, page 2, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  8. Changes Made In Committees,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 28 June 1907, page 2, column 3, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  9. “Willing On Both Sides,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Press, 13 May 1909, page 1, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Miscellaneous Kalamazoo Publications Collection.
  10. “New Meat Ordinance Most Rigid in Requirements; Assures City of Clean Meat” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 10 November 1915, page 11, column 1-2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  11. “Health Officials Want Improvements,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 11 April 1914, page 10, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  12. “What Health Department Recommends” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 10 April 1915, page 1, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  13. “Report Shows Health and Sanitary Conditions in City to be Excellent,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 7 April 1916, page 6, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Widow's Plight

Sarah “Lizzie” Flynn's husband (my gg-grandfather) died at the end of May 1900. About a week later, the census taker came around and captured that awful moment in her life. Six of her 9 children were living with her, though the eldest two (boys) were ready to (and soon did) leave home. Her remaining children, all girls, were 18, 15, 13 and 10. Sarah was 54 years old. The family lived on a small fruit farm, but as the profits were meager she applied to the government for continuation of her husband's Civil War Pension.

In her statement to the pension board Sarah described her situation and why she felt she needed the pension money to be continued.

The only property either real or personal she owns or has any interest in is a dower interest in 20 acres of land situated in Oshtemo township Kalamazoo co. Mich, which place is worth not to exceed $1500. The land is very sandy and very little but fruit is raised on it. Her husband left no will and therefore she has only a dower interest in it. There is a mortgage against the property of $600 given to a Building and Loan Association of Kalamazoo, which is being paid at the rate of nearly $10 per month, and will not be paid up for two years yet. Last year there was raised produce as follows. Strawberries $70, other fruits about $50 or $60. There was nothing else raised that was sold – no wheat, not corn enough, nor potatoes, and etc. for the farm use. Out of this was paid taxes, about $5.00 and on mortgage, $120.
The farm would not rent for hardly over $2 per acre cash rent. She is going to work the farm herself and hire what help is needed.
Aside from the above, she has no property either real or personal and no income from any source aside from her own labor in working the farm, selling fruit, and etc. and is entirely dependent upon her own labor for her support. Her husband left her no life insurance.

The Flynn farm must have grown a lot of strawberries to yield about $70. In 1900, grocers were purchasing strawberries for about $1/crate and selling them for 8-9 cents/box. [1,2] Unfortunately, I don't know how much the crates or boxes held.

Sarah would have needed the help of her children to bring in the harvest. And in case you haven't done much strawberry picking, after an hour or more of almost continual leaning over your back is less than happy. I can't imagine picking strawberries several hours per day, every day for a couple of weeks. At the age of 54, Sarah would have certainly been ready to lie down at the close of the day. Also, keep in mind that strawberries then weren't engineered to keep for any length of time. Speaking from personal experience with our comparatively tiny strawberry crop over the past few years, they are good for about one day if not refrigerated. To get the best price, strawberries were probably picked and taken directly to market and Sarah couldn't afford not to get the best price.

The brief statement from Sarah's widow's pension application may not seem like much, but it does provide a glimpse into life in the Flynn household. As is usually true of genealogical records, I wish it included more information, like what other fruits were grown. I could find out a little more by tracking down who owned the farm at the time of the 1880 agricultural census. I know it wouldn't tell me much, but I could determine if apples, peaches or grapes might have been grown.

Although this find is only a small thing, it is one reason why I'm happy to dig through pension files to find the wheat among the chaff. After all, with enough little tidbits of information it is possible to start assembling a better picture of someone's life.

If you want to see what else you might find, read Why Everyone Should Military Pension Application Files.

  1. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 19 June 1900, page 5, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 30 June 1900, page 7, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Fatal Accident

The story in the family goes that my gg-grandfather accidentally shot his cousin in a hunting accident in Germany. According to family lore, he never got over the horror of killing his cousin and this is one reason why he came to the US. I never really gave it too much thought because I figured I would never be able to verify any of it. Then, recently I began to research the family of Charles Schmidt living across the road from my gg-grandfather, August Hartman, and his family in Oshtemo. It just so happened that August married Sophia Schmidt so I thought it was possible Sophia was somehow related to Charles. I also knew that August's daughter-in-law wrote a poem upon the death of Charles' daughter.

To try to determine if there was a blood relationship between Charles Schmidt and Sophia (Schmidt) Hartman I started by looking for information about Charles and his family. Charles had a son, also named Charles/Carl who died in 1892. When I found his death record the red flags started waving in my head. Young Carl had died of an accidental shooting. Immediately, I remembered the family story and obtained a copy of the Kalamazoo Gazette article that mentioned his death. It detailed how Carl and his cousin, a man by the name of Hartman, had gone out quail hunting. Reportedly, they had flushed the birds and were walking along in single file with guns cocked, ready to shoot the instant the birds became visible. Hartman allegedly stumbled and his gun discharged, hitting Carl and creating a “terrible wound.” Though Carl was rushed to a nearby house and the doctor immediately summoned, the wound was fatal and poor Carl died later that night.

The newspaper article does not indicate the given name of the shooter so I can't prove that it was one of my Hartmans, but I believe that this incident is the basis of the family story. There are notable differences, however. First, my gg-grandfather was not Carl's cousin, but possibly a married relation. Second, the shooting occurred in the US, not in Germany. I don't find these discrepancies troubling because we all know how stories can change over time and depending on the narrator, with each telling. So, if my gg-grandfather wasn't the shooter, who was? I suspect that it was one of August's three sons. It would appear that they did engage in hunting, based on the above family photo which shows my great-grandfather and (based on the resemblance) one of his brothers. At the time of the shooting in 1892, Carl was about 30 years old, my great-grandfather was 9 and his two brothers were 13.5 and 12 years old. If it was one of these children, that could explain why the given name was not printed, though certainly everyone in Oshtemo would have known the identity of the shooter.

I believe that I have found the inspiration for my family story. Though the place and the person involved disagree with the newspaper account, the grain of truth, an accidental shooting while hunting, appears to be true. Though the event was tragic, it would seem to demonstrate that there is a family connection between the Hartmans and their neighbors the Schmidts. I need to keep working on that problem, but in the meantime, I think I have discovered that there is some truth in the old family story.

“A Fatal Accident: Carl Smidt Killed By Fellow Hunter,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 22 November 1892, page 1, column 2, microfilm image, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional Collections, Kalamazoo Gazette Collection.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rain, Food And Survival

These days we are so far removed from where our food comes from that rain can seem more of a nuisance than the life blood that it is. For our ancestors, it was a different story. Have you ever really considered just how dependent on the weather our ancestors were for their very survival? What they produced is more than likely in direct proportion to getting the right amount of rain at the right time? Too much, too little or not at the right time, rainfall was crucial for allowing families to produce the food they needed for their own consumption, for sale to neighbors to earn money for other necessities or to feed their animals.

Many people probably had a small (or even large) garden plot that could be watered, if necessary by pumping water from the well and transporting it in buckets. But when the farm in question was tens of acres or more in size, that was simply not feasible. And if you have ever closely examined an agricultural schedule for one of your families you'll see why. As an example, here is what my ggg-grandfather's farm produced in 1879, according to the 1880 agricultural census.

Michael Flynn, 1880, Washtenaw county, 40 acres
25 improved acres, 2 acres permanent pasture/orchard, 1 acre of woodland, 6 acres of mown grass lands, 12 acres unimproved
Hay: 6 tons produced
Horses: 2, 1 other cattle, 1 calf dropped
Milk cows: 1 animal, 100 lbs butter produced
Sheep: 2 animals, 2 fleeces produced (8 lbs)
Poultry: 20 birds, 80 dozen eggs produced
Indian corn: 5 acres planted, 200 bushels of indian corn produced
Wheat: 11 acres planted, 160 bushels of wheat produced
Irish potatoes: 1/2 acre planted, 40 bushels of potatoes produced

Although we don't know what or how much was grown in a vegetable garden, the production of this small farm makes clear that more than just food for the people was at stake due when bad weather struck. Without enough hay, your cows, oxen or horses may not survive the winter. With no oxen, how will you plow your fields? Without your dairy cow there won't be fresh milk, butter or cheese. If you want to see what a large farm (of 178 acres) produced, and therefore what they had to lose if rainfall was suboptimal, look at the bottom of this post.  It is interesting to note (interesting for us, not so much for the farmer) that on the larger farm 10 of the 113 sheep died due to "stress of weather."

All of our farming ancestors, which admittedly means most of them, must have been scanning the skies on a daily basis, particularly during the growing season. Does that wind mean an impending storm? Do those clouds hold rain? Will there be enough?

We have a small garden and I always keep informal track of when it last rained and approximately how much. Unlike my ancestors, I am fortunate. If it doesn't rain enough I can drag about 150 feet of hose down to the garden and spend an hour or so watering our meager crops, but our ancestors didn't have that luxury. In the absence of rain it would be time to gather up all of the buckets, prime the pump, fill the buckets from the well and lug them to the garden while trying not to spill a precious drop. My family doesn't depend upon our garden the way our ancestors did. I can always go to the grocery store to buy what I need, but if money was scarce for our forebears what was their recourse?

So, the next time it rains on your picnic or if the clouds burst when you're grilling on the 4th of July, just remember that that precious, glorious water is ultimately where all of our food comes from. Put down that spatula, put on a rain hat and go out in the rain and do a little happy dance. I'm sure through all of the years, our ancestors must have done so at least once.

Abner Brown, 1880, Cass County, 178 acres
120 acres tilled, 2 permanent meadows/pastures/forest, 46 woodland
Grass lands: mown 15, not mown 40
Hay: 10 tons produced
Horses: 3
Milk cows: 3 animals, 600 lbs. butter produced
Other cows: 10 animals, 3 calves dropped, 2 calves purchased, 5 sold living
Sheep: 113 animals, 54 lambs dropped, 1 lamb purchased, 113 fleeces of 672 lbs
Sheep deaths: 1 sheep slaughtered, 1 died of disease, 10 died of stress of weather
Swine: 2
Poultry: 23 birds, 150 dozen eggs produced
Indian corn: 10 acres planted, 500 bushels produced
Wheat: 35 acres planted, 920 bushels produced
Flax seed: 16 tons flax straw produced
Irish potatoes: 0.5 acres planted, 60 bushels produced
Apple orchards: 2 acres, 100 bearing trees, 150 bushels produced
Wood cut: 20 cords

Now, if only I could get to add the second page of the agricultural census for my Michigan people for 1850, 1860 and 1870! How else will I ever know how many bushels of potatoes they grew.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Climax/Scotts Newspapers Digitized by KPL

As with any family history resource, it may be limited or relate to a small area, but if it contains information about your ancestors it can be a goldmine. If you have relatives who lived in the Climax or Scotts area of Kalamazoo county I have some good news for you. The Kalamazoo Public Library has digitized three newspapers that are now searchable on their website. They are:

Scotts Cereal 1905-1906
Climax Cereal 1900-1912
Climax Crescent 1912-2012

Yes, you read that right; the Climax Crescent images go through 2012. So, if you are trying to track down living relatives, you have a very good chance of finding them if they live in Climax. If your family lived in Scotts, don't be dismayed that that paper covers only a short period. As it is near Climax you'll likely find information about your people in the Climax paper. In fact, The Climax Crescent actually has the subtitle: “The only newspaper that thoroughly covers the territory of Climax and Scotts.”

While I only have a few distant relatives who lived in the Scotts area, I found a brief reference to the Clemens family reunion of 1918 at Indian Lake in the Climax paper. I failed to find any other description of it in these papers, but armed with the date, I can scroll through the microfilm for the Vicksburg Commercial the next time I visit the WMU Archives. With any luck I'll find something interesting on my family. Maybe you can find something on your family as well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ousting The Loyalist Preacher

Let me start by saying that this post has absolutely nothing to do with Kalamazoo. While working to source my Goff/Goffe line (that ended up in Cass county) I spent some time browsing the New Hampshire Town Records at Family Search. In searching for vital records in Bedford around the time of the American Revolution, I happened upon the case of John Houston. In the first entry I noticed, the town had decided to withhold his salary until he came to his sense. I was intrigued.

It seems that as of April 12, 1775 Bedford had no problem with the Rev. John Houston. At the annual town meeting on this day they voted to choose someone to collect the rates (taxes) to pay for his preaching for the coming year. [1]

Then, after the shot heard round the world, everything changed. 

Wash drawing by Francois Godefroy of the Battle of Lexington from Journee de Lexington.  Held by the Library of Congress. 

April 20, 1775:
The town received an urgent letter (grammar and spelling preserved):
“To the select men of Bedford – Gentlemen
This moment the meloncholy Intelligence has been Received of Hostilities being Commenced between ye troops Under the Command of General Gage and our Brethen of the Massachusetts Bay.
The Importance of our Exerting ourselves at this Critical Moment has caused the Provincial Committee to meet at Exeter and you are Requested instantly to Choose and hasten forward there a Delegate or Delegates to Join the Committee and aid them In Consulting Measures for our safty. In great hast I am by order of the Committee your Humble Servant. J. Wentworth” [2]

Note: The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought on April 19th, 1775

May 2, 1775:
The town of Bedford raised the matter “Relating to the Rev'd. John Houston in thoss troublesome times as we apprehend his praying and preaching to be Calculated to Intimidate the minds of his hearers and to weaken their hands in defence of their Just Rights and Liberties as there seems a plan to be Laid by Parliment to destroy both.” [3]

I find it ironic that the warrant to inform all of the freeholders of a town meeting in which the selectmen set forth the item about John Houston's preaching was recorded “in his Majesty's Name” and after the orders of business had been listed, the selectmen of the town indicated the above items were given under their “hands and seal at Bedford this 2nd day of May in the 15th year of his Majesty's Reign Anno Domini 1775.” [3] Not surprisingly, this was the last time the meeting entries were recorded in this manner.

May 16, 1775:
“Voted that what Mr. John Houston give in is not Satisfactory to this Body.
Voted that the Meeting House doors be Shut against Mr. John Houston until the_ he Comes to a Sence of his Duty and behave himself to the Satisfaction of the town and that he Shall have no Salary from the town until he behaves himself as above.” [4]

June 15, 1775:
“Whereas we find that the Rev. Mr. John Houston after a great deal of Tenderness and pains taken with him both in publick and in privat toward him Relating to his Speeches frequently made both in Publick and private against the Rights and Priviliges of America and his Vindicating the King and Parliment their Present proceeding against the Americans and having not been able hitherto to bring him to a Sense of his Error and he has thereby Rendered him Self Despised to people in general and to us in particular and that he has Endeavoured to Intimadate us against maintening the Just Rights of america therefore we think it not our Duty as men or Christians to have him Preach any longer with us as our Minister. Therefore voted that he (viz) the Rev. Mr. John Houston preach no more in Bedford until the last day of March Next and that he have thirty Six Sabath days more to his own use and Dispossal (viz) from the 16th of May last to the last day of March Next More than the nine Sabath days Voted to His own use and Dispossal at our last March meeting and that the Town be freed from paying him anything for the Said thirty Six Sabath days.” [5]
The vote was unanimous. [5]

September 19, 1775
The town voted to treat with John Houston and to apply to the Presbytery to get him dismissed and to see if Mr. Houston himself would also petition the Presbytery asking to be dismissed. [6]

March 27, 1776:
“The town took in to Consideration Mr. John Houston Conduct as being Inimical to this Country for which he was tried by the Commitees of three Neighbouri-- towns and found Guilty as also a former Vote of this town Setting him aside from preaching to us as our Minister on the Same account till he made proper acknowledgment for his faults and Returned to his Duty – Wherefore Voted Unanimously to allow the Said Mr. John Houston the whole of his time to himself for this year for the above Reason and the town free from his Charge on Said account.” [7]

March 27, 1778:
The town appointed a committee to “treat with the Presbytery” or to create their own to put Mr. Houston on trial and see if they will dismiss him. [8]

March 8, 1779:
“To see if the town will vote to defray the cost that has already arisen by the selectmen and commettee of safty of going to Exeter against Mr. John Houston's taking the Oath of Fidelity.” [9] The town voted to pay some of these costs. [10]

May 1, 1780:
“Voted no to pay Capt. Samll [Samuel] Patton the money that he disbursted when the committees mett concerning Mr. John Houston when it was thought he was inical to the country as mentioned in the third article in the warrant.” [11]

I don't know how the case ultimately ended, or even if it did. It had already dragged on for five years and frankly, as I had found what I was looking for on my Goffe family, I stopped paging through the records to chase a man I care nothing about. The time I spend on genealogy is precious and I would rather use it to cross something off my family history to-do list. I did, however, want to share what I did find on John Houston because while it is only telling us about a few little towns in New Hampshire, this story makes it quite clear how this little settlement in the woods felt when it was time to choose sides in the American Revolution.

  1. "New Hampshire, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1636-1947," digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 14 Jun 2014), Hillsborough > Bedford > Town records 1770-1794 vol 3 > image 72, page 133.
  2. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 73, page 135.
  3. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 74, page 136.
  4. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 75, page 138.
  5. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 76-77, page 141-142.
  6. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 79, page 144.
  7. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 783-84, page 153-154.
  8. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 107, page 200.
  9. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 123, page 232.
  10. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 125, page 236.
  11. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 150, page 286.