Read at the reunion and picnic of the Miller families held in C.C.Bartholomew’s Grove in Clinton, July 5, 1897, by writer Laura H. Young, of Deansboro.
The history of a nation is best told in the lives of it’s families. Great wars, great conquests, great men, soldiers and statesmen, are not to be forgotten; but the real life is underneath in the throbbing heart-beat of the people, as from day to day they live out in simple, homely details, the life that is now to exist through all time.
So we count it not unimportant the we of this age and generation, unravel, as best we may, the thread of our family history; and, though not of royal lineage, deem ourselves happy that we are descended from the sturdy, honest pioneer, and, that all along the line have been found men filling many a worthy place in the life of our country, some on the battlefield, some in state authority, as lawyer and preacher and teacher, on the farm, in happy homes as loving daughter, wife and mother. And we claim our place in history, and count it not unfitting the we pay this loving tribute to these men and women whom we honor.
The spirit of exploration, of research, implanted in man, is the spirit that has peopled the globe. Columbus sailed to find a new country, the Puritans to find a home, choosing rather to face new dangers than those with familiar faces.
Thirty years after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, from a home in Bonnie Scotland, prompted by the spirit of seeking the new, came four brothers named Miller. And so our story’s begun. Three settled in Boston, and one of them, Benjamin, in Connecticut. He was the great- great grandfather of the first Isaac Miller, of Hanover. So if any of you wish to trace your ancestry back to the “Auld countrie” you can figure from that. Of these people we know but little. We know that at Middlefield, Conn., there were many Millers. Of the lives of the New Englanders of this period we know somewhat. Simple, Frugal, happy, from these sturdy industrious first settlers have sprung a people of whom a nation may justly be proud. Pushing farther and farther into the heart of the wilderness, crossing mountain, river and lake, the persistent march of civilization has cut it’s way. till now, from ocean to ocean, the way is clear, the country settled, and with the tide of immigration, Irish and German, Italian and Russian, Swede and Norwegian, pouring into our land each year, is it not worthwhile to be glad to trace our family back to the strong men and brave women who dared the dangers of the new country? We owe them so much more than we think, for country, home and name. It is worth much, even though character is everything, to bear an honest name, one that has won through generations past, a place of honor and trust. And, although we do not care to claim as perfect our kinsmen who have gone before, for they were human, as we are, they have failed, as we have, yet I doubt if there is any one here to-day but is glad of their connection with the name of Miller.
In Middlefield, Conn., one March day in 1766, was born to Isaac and Harriet Coe Miller, a son, to whom thy gave the family name, Isaac. To this couple were born ten children. One son, Phineas, married the widow of General Nathaniel Green. a daughter, Olive, married Asher Whetmore and came to Whitestown to live. One daughter, Lucretia, married Charles Hubbard, and one of her daughters is Mrs. Walcott, of New York Mills.
But the child, Isaac, we are most interested in. He grew from babyhood to boyhood, when-dare I tell it?-at the age of seventeen he took unto himself a wife, his second cousin, Irene, daughter of Ichabod Miller, just fifteen years old. Ah! well; times change; and marriage among children isn’t quite so common now. They were mere children, and looked it, both being small. But family cares were soon upon them, and when Isaac, the fifth child, was three years old, in the summer of 1794, they decided to seek a larger field for the growing boys and girls. So, in ox carts, they came to Whitestown, the then “western country” to the Whetmores’. Judge White was also a good friend, who helped them find a good location.
I wish I knew of that journey. It probably took longer than it would now across the continent. Imagine the hardship; the brave little mother with her five children packed in the cart with their belongings, and for days traveling through the wilderness, entirely dependant on their own resources. But it was a life to make one brave, alert, independent. The simple meals, of corn mush mostly were cooked over a fire made by wood the father chopped, and near some stream or spring to furnish water for team and family, but eaten under the summer sky with the keen appetite of youth-was it not a meal to give thanks for? And when at night the stars came out and darkness reigned in the surrounding forest, through all the dangers that lurked near, but were kept from them, must there not have been a very present sense of the Father’s care? As morning dawned, the sun came up, the birds sang, and all nature awoke to the new day, I can well believe that from the hearts in the ox-cart went up a song of praise, and I can almost believe that the whole trip was more fun than out stream of cars with their sleepers, buffet and dining cars, where, with all the comforts and luxuries, we lack two things most plenty with them, fresh air and appetite
Who of you would dare take your family and start like that, dependant of your strong right arm to protect and guard them? -and Isaac was only twenty-eight, Irene twenty-six. I sometimes wonder if civilization is making us weak, if luxury is taking the courage and that indomitable spirit of men; or if it is not needed in this period of the world’s history, and so lies dormant, giving room to other faculties more needed now.
After spending some time at Whitestown, looking at different points, Hanover was chosen. Of course, they could not go into the malarious valley. There were settlements at Clinton, at Paris Hill, a house or two in Utica, the Whitneys were located in Kirkland, a few houses in Hanover-- Indians everywhere. The land was bought, a log house built, land cleared, and the home life that was to be an influence in the world forever was begun.
It was frugal life, necessarily, at first; and frugal ways are not to be despised at this day-I would we had more of them-and though in later years they were among those who in that time were counted wealthy; and their children and children’s children have counted their dollars way up into the thousands, remember, please, that industry, integrity and frugality are the basis for the best wealth, and these are Miller virtues.
Why, they tell us that this grandmother used to keep a little bag hung on her bedpost in which to collect the feathers that scattered from bed and pillows. Be thankful with me that the days of feather beds are past, but keep, if you will the moral of the story.
To the log house came, in time, five more children. One died in early childhood, but the others grew into men and women, and lived long and useful lives. The log house in time gave way to a more pretentious building. In it was a hall and a store, and the farmers, grown more numerous now, brought their wheat and corn to exchange for the sugar and other necessities of the household. Frequent trips to Albany were necessary, to make purchases, and carry down the produce. Cattle were bought and sold, a potash run and all this besides the farming, adding a few acres here and there, and then land was money. One thing I regret,-from the home store was sold liquor. Yet in those times, when everybody drank a little “for their stomach’s sake,” I doubt if they were to be criticized more for selling the vile stuff than we, who, in the light of the nineteenth century, uphold and Sanction by vote others in selling; for where they sell there must be buyers.
There was much trade with the Indians, to whom grandfather was a kind friend. I wonder how you model housekeepers would like to find a squaw, or a half dozen of them, wrapped in their blankets lying around your kitchen fire, when you went to get breakfast.
The “little grandma,” as we hear her called, was a quiet woman, and, we can well believe, a busy one. She was never idle, and even when going visiting would knit on the road. Only think, in that little home must be made not only the garments for the whole family, but the wool and flax must be grown, spun and woven, candles dipped, soap and sugar made, (one year they made 2700 lbs. of maple sugar,) and leather tanned. The shoemaker came once a year and made the boots and shoes for the family.
Perhaps the farmer then worked no harder, doing all his work by hand, than now with his modern reapers, weeders, and planters. It is a question whether, in the olden times, they worked harder fighting bears and Indians than nowadays fighting appletree worms, potato bugs, army worms, etc.; and whether the women, making everything, worked harder than in these days of ready made clothing, in keeping up with the times. This old world is getting up such astonishing velocity, that the “new woman,” even with her wheel, must keep in motion or be left in the lurch! But the boys and girls led happy, healthy lives; in school through the winter, in summer helping father and mother, and as intent, and who shall say not as wisely, on plowing, hoeing, and reaping, and the girls on spinning, weaving and knitting, as the boys and girls of to-day with no thought through vacation but for pleasure.
Grandfather used to ride a horse named “Robin” and often rode him to Utica, a common mode of travel, one horse often carrying two, and sometimes three people. But they say that if on his way he saw a squirrel old “Rob” was quickly left while his driver gave chase, often following Mr. Squirrel long distances.
They tell us he used to fry pancakes in the fireplace, and with such a dexterous hand that, swinging the frying pan gentle to and fro, he would give it a sudden shake and deftly turn the cake upon the other side. The cake was buttered, maple sugared, another piled on, then another, and so on till the pile was high enough.
Grandfather was justice of the peace for a long time; probably the first justice of the town of Paris. Perhaps there is a hereditary taste for the law in the family, for his son Isaac was justice for many years, and Roscoe Conkling’s first case was tried before him. One grandson Isaac, was also justice quite a while, and one grandson William, of Indianapolis, was attorney-general during Harrison’s administration.
I went last week to the old Miller homestead. We entered the old house, where great-grandfather and Uncle Ichabod both lived. It stands today a typical house of the early part of the century. It’s old fireplaces, it’s baking oven, even the very paint and paper speak of a life, long past. The door stone is worn by the tread of many feet; the old stone wall across the road, over which the squirrels still chatter, is the work of hands now still in death.
There is a fascination about an old-fashioned fire-place. I can see the family gathered about the glowing logs during the long winter evenings, the group of children of all ages, the father and mother in their high backed chairs. But the light from the coals grows dim, one by one the children leave the home nest for other homes; the fire burns lower; it is gone out; and the old homestead is no more. Other hands may build up the fire in the same fire-place, in the same house, but it is another’s home.
About 1840, grandfather and grandmother moved to Deansboro, into the little brown house where Mr. Van Valkenburg now lives, and here they lived until he died, in 1843, and grandmother went to live with her son Isaac.
Not long before grandfather’s death, he watched the first horse-rake he had ever seen, and as it gathered up the hay, remarked, that he “didn’t know but they would mow with horses yet.” Imagine his surprise at out modern apparatus!
The nine children grew to manhood and womanhood, and now we must bring in other families in our story. We can no more write a family history without other families than a United States history without mentioning England, France and Spain.
Levi married Naomi Munger and settled near home. Benjamin married Laura Hamlin and, in 1810, went to Chautauqua County. When the war of 1812 came on life on the frontier was not very pleasant, and so they came home and stayed for two years. When they returned, Levi and his family went with them, and henceforth their homes were near each other, and they journeyed back and forth to the old home together. And so I write of them together. Uncle Levi walked back three times, and once Uncle Benjamin came with him. He was a great pedestrian and even when that height of luxury, traveling by canal boat, was reached, he would walk on ahead of the teams from Oneida, to tell the home folks that they were coming.
Uncle Benjamin was brought up , according to the scripture, to keep the Sabbath holy, and in the wilds of the Chautauqua county was horrified at the way his neighbors kept, or rather did not keep, the Sunday. He reasoned with one till finally the man said he would clear a piece of land, plow, sow, reap, and harvest it all on Sundays and see if it would not be as good a crop as any. Wheat was the crop chosen, not a bit of work was done except on Sundays. The crop grew, flourished, and was cut and drawn to a stack, seemingly showing how the wicked may prosper. At least it seemed so to Uncle Benjamin, who watched the last load drawn; but suddenly, as the stack was finished, it was struck by lightning and utterly destroyed! The neighbor afterward kept the seventh day and Uncle Benjamin never again doubted the power of the Lord of the Sabbath.
To Uncle Levi were born nine children, viz., Rueben Munger, Isaac Junius, Lorinda Caroline, Phinehas Johnson, Jeremiah Chapin, Irene Cornelia, Naomi, Levi Philander, Louise Naomi, Sally Bacon, and Julius Dewitt, -four of whom are still living.
To Uncle Benjamin eight children were born, viz., Laura Maria, Elvira Eveline, William O., Linus W., Curtis, Irene, Milo H., and Irene E., - only one of whom is now living. Of the intensely interesting experiences of his son Linus, in Van Dieman’s land, many of you have read in the book published by himself.
Anson, the third son of Isaac, married Sally Hitchcock. They had no children, lived for awhile in Hanover, then in Augusta, and are both buried in Hanover. It is interesting to note the people of Hanover. The old church which stands today, is the only reminder that this was once the centre of the religious, cultured and delightful social life of the surrounding country. Fifty five years ago there was a class of people there of whom scarcely a remnant remains. The Pecks, Bartons, Burchards, Melvins, Moores, Mungers, Eastmans,- people wealthy, intelligent, devout. They are scattered now from the east to the west, from the north to the south. As we pass the place where our grandfathers and great-grandfathers came from far and near, came even from the Augusta hills, to worship God, and even in the coldest weather sat through the long sermons with no fire except the little foot-stoves the more luxurious and less hardy of women carried, does it not make us glad that through them we too have been taught to worship this same God? Many a happy marriage dated back to a courtship begun at the old church during the noon intermission, when over the non-day lunch the boys and girls grew to know each other; and these uncles and aunts you will notice chose their “better halves” mostly among the home people.
Irene married Abner Hitchcock, and went to live in Genesee County. To them were born fourteen children viz., Irene, Alma Diana, Lucyett, Abner Eurotus, Isaac Miller, Mary, Milan Hubbard, Elizabeth Bacon, Milano Lansing, Hannah Coe, Julia M., Emily Melissa, and Milan Hubbard,- of whom five are still living.. One son, Milan, was a missionary to the Armenians, and is now in Boston, busy in the cause he loves. How pleasant were the visits back and forth between the new homes and the old. Sometimes they would come from Chautauqua and Bergin together, and then, such feasting! The fatted calf was not spared. All the children came home, and from house to house the visit went on in a way to drive a modern housekeeper wild. At first they had to drive, and when they came on the canal to Oneida of Durhamville, the trip was easy indeed. Once the brothers and sisters from here all went to Chautauqua together. They worked hard, these men and women, and enjoyed their playtimes to the utmost.
Uncle Benjamin was heard to say once that all he asked was to live to see the Erie canal put through. Today, with the network of railways all over our land, the electricity furnishing us with the means of transportation, light and speech, connecting us even with the lands across the sea, so that the Queen’s Jubilee is reported in full in our next morning’s paper, can we but wonder if the next century will see as great changes?
Isaac married Irene Green and they had six children, viz., Alone G., Irene C., Morris S., Isaac C., Eloisa, Allison-a small number, but, they had their Isaac and Irene. It is rumored that grandfather promised a sheep to all the Iran’s, and no doubt the little Isaac’s where a favorite with grandma; and a grandmother’s favor is no small thing in a child’s life. They vibrated for a while between Hanover and Augusta and finally bought of the Indians the place in Deansville that has been known as the Miller homestead ever since, and is still in the family. Of his children only one remains. All that is earthly of the others rests in the cemetery so near their old home, where in their last sleep, as in life, they are all close together. We hold sacred their memory and while we mourn for those so lately gone home, we are glad for their long and useful lives, and that we can hold them in such dear remembrance.
Curtis married Lucy Duncan. They lived in Augusta, were their ten children were born, vis., Lucina, Irene Elizabeth, Mary Ganett, Lucy, Samuel, Olive, Curtis, Levi D., William H.H., Amanda. Six of them are still living and their descendants number over fifty. They moved to Clinton, where he died and was buried. None of the other Miller families can count among their number so many college men, and certainly one of his sons has endeared himself to us all, by his earnest work among us. He has been at the marriage feast, and he has buried our dead. We love and honor him, as long as the Deansboro Congregational Church shall stand, the name of Samuel Miller will be remembered, as having been so long its honored and faithful pastor.
Ichabod married Lucina Burchard. (How almost heartlessly I turn the pages,- born, married, died. Yet between the words are all of human living, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain.) They lived for a while in Hanover, on the old place, and then moved to New Hartford. He died in Jamestown at the age of 94, having accumulated more of the world’s goods than any other Miller. They had eight children, viz., Electra, Cynthia, Mary, Alonzo, Caroline, Charles, Hannah, and Isaac,- but only one is now living.
Phinehas was married twice; first to Emily Kinne, then to Eliza Munger. Six children came from them, viz., George L., Emily k., Mary E., Phinehas M., Eunice P., Henry H., and Louisa E., - four of whom are now living.
Sally, the youngest, married Hewitt Kinne and moved to Warsaw. She had two children, Isaac Miller Kinne and Lucy Irene Kinne, and when they were still small, she came back to the old home a widow. And when, four years later, she married Dr. Buckingham, her son Miller, still lived on with his grandfather, and to him I owe much of the information here gathered. Seven more children came to Aunt Sally, viz., Albert, Sally, William, John, Dwight, James Henry, Josephine, and James Franklin Buckingham,- two of whom live, as do the first two.
Of many familiar ones we have wont to meet on these occasions, I would I had time to speak the praise I could so honestly give, but I trust the next Miller historian will begin where I leave off, and you may all get in, Bear in mind, please all, that you are making history. There needs must be a sadness about all family reunions; they are no longer complete. The first and second generation of millers are all gone; the third and fourth are here in numbers, while we of the fifth are not so many, and the sixth are only three.
It is well for us now and again to look backward and see what has been accomplished, as well as forward at what may be; to see where those who have trod life’s pathway before us have failed and where succeeded.
See how the family circle has widened. There one hundred years ago stood the man and woman with their five little children, today, within five miles of the old home, we gather 150 strong.
All through the western part of the state are many Miller families, in Bergen, Phelps, Chautauqua. Full many a school stands under control of a Prof. Miller. Under her Majesty’s rule in Canada, in Michigan, on the wide prairies of Illinois, ‘neath Indiana’s sky, in the burning heat of Kansas and Nebraska, in the land of flowers and fruit, California, can be found today men, women and children, who owe their parentage to those early settlers of Onieda County Isaac and Irene Miller. And as we gaze over our number we see the gray haired, whom we reverently honor, the strong men, men of culture and of might, pure women, young men and maidens, seeking that best thing a true manhood and a fair, pure womanhood, children with their happy faces ever bright and hopeful, even the tiny baby so lately come to earth, and we can truly say that “This is a scion taken out of old Scotland and grafted in American soil and now become a full grown people, of whom America need not be ashamed.”