A Little Family History
Prepared and read by Alpheus L. Baldwin at the Branson and Elma Dennis Reunion, held at the old homestead, August 12, 1923.
We will begin our story, if you please, just 100 years ago. On August 12, 1823, a little blue-eyed boy about 5 years old called Branson, might be playing about his father's, Thomas Dennis', cabin, about one mile south of Greensfork, on what is now known as the Cook farm.
At the same time, viz., August 12, 1823 a little brown-eyed girl, scarce 3 years old, might be playing, with her dolls, perhaps, in her father's, Job Reynolds', home down in Guilford, North Carolina.
The little blue-eyed boy was not a Hoosier born, but had come the year before, with his father and mother, an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister, in a wagon, across the mountains and Ohio River, from Randolph County, North Carolina.
Now the blue eyes of our little hero must have opened with surprise and wonder at the strangely new, crude country of their adoption; the winding dirt roads or paths, through almost interminable forests, the little log cabins suddenly appearing here and there (with a right good space between the here and there).
Thomas Dennis was just in the prime of manhood. He was 31 years old, and had married Elizabeth Wilson just 9 years before, to which union there were now five children: Wilson, a sturdy lad of eight, Lucinda, a little lass of six, Branson, aforesaid, Cynthia, about 2 years old, and tiny Lindsey, a babe in arms. Another five will be added to the household, of native little Hoosiers, and the alternation of a boy and a girl, then another boy and a girl, was kept up, until an even dozen constituted the household, ten children and father and mother.
Young Thomas Dennis set forth with his young family in his wagon drawn by four horses, and slowly made his way over hill and dale, toward the great North West, the land of promises, the land that flows with milk and honey -- providing you work hard enough for it, and after a six weeks journey arrived in the vicinity of Dublin; but the wolves were so numerous and so troublesome in that vicinity, that he moved over to the neighborhood of Economy. But he soon bought 101 acres a mile south of Greensfork, for $400, or a little less than $4 per acre, and moved his family thence.
Here little Branson passed 9 years of his childhood, and here sister Miriam was born, and also brother William who died in infancy, and was among the very first to be buried in the then new graveyard just south of Greensfork, but the little grave of our great uncle is not marked.
In 1831 Thomas moved to Nettle Creek, to the farm where his son Thomas was born, and grew up, and lived, and his son Samuel, likewise for many years. The 80 acres east of the road was first bought from Pleasant Harris, for $1000, or $12.50 per acre. Land, you see, was growing in value.
But Thomas Dennis did not long enjoy his family and possessions. After 8 short years, well-to-do, for those times, with only one loss from the family circle, already alluded to, he passed away.
He had been appointed assessor for the congressional Townships 16, 17 and 18, a territory embracing 108 square miles, had finished this work, and had then been appointed Treasurer of Wayne County, and was in the midst of the duties of this office when he died, a little less than 48 years old, to be exact, 47 years and 10 months.
September 4th, 1839 was a sad day for young Elizabeth Wilson Dennis, but she did not lack for company, nor for physical support. Wilson was now a mature man of 25; Branson had reached his majority, Lindsey was a sturdy boy in his teens, and Lucinda, Cynthia and Miriam could help in the home. I suspect that Elizabeth, and Thomas, & little Malinda were more company than help. Malinda was 3 years old, lacking 5 days and I may here add that she survived her father but 4 years and in the same month of the year, September, she was laid by his side in the little graveyard across the Creek.
"Secondly, I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Dennis my bay horse, Fox, a side saddle and bridle, one bed-stead and bedding worth $50, one bureau, one cow and calf, and ten dollars of kitchen furniture, forever, at her disposal, and that my wife shall not be deprived of her house and home while she remains my widow." So reads a portion of the last will and testament of Thomas Dennis, all of which you may read, if you choose in the office of the Wayne County Clerk, where it is duly recorded. I may just say that he gave each of his boys 80 acres of land, and each girl 40 acres, or the equivalent in money, which was reckoned at $350.00.
Elizabeth had objected to him being buried at Nettle Creek, because, as yet, no one had been buried there. But Thomas insisted that when he died he should be buried there, as someone had to be first. And so his was the first grave ever dug for a white man in what is now Nettle Creek Cemetery. Elizabeth survived her husband almost 24 years, and passed away May 21st, 1863. She was widely and favorably known, and Betsy Dennis and old Fox were a familiar and welcome sight throughout the vicinity.
I may as well here record the demise of old Fox. He became so old that he could be neither useful or happy, so young Thomas was appointed to be his executioner. Now young Thomas thought how he might dispatch him in some kindly manner, so he fed him a half bushel of wheat. Now as the wheat began to swell, old Fox naturally did the same, and when young Thomas saw that he was about to die in pains, the young Quaker borrowed a gun, and relieved the old servant of his misery.
As we are now approaching a wedding, we had best go back and bring up the little brown-eyed girl.
I have neither the time nor the knowledge to relate much of her childhood. Like all girls and boys of that day and time, who had lots of brothers and sisters, this little girl had 9 sisters and a brother. It used to be said that Job Reynolds had ten daughters, and every daughter had a brother. Elma passed her youth back in the Pine Tree State, she was sent to Quaker boarding school, where all their wardrobes were inspected by the matrons to see if any of their wearing apparel was too gay for a Quaker damsel. Grandma had a silk shawl which did not pass inspection, and which was therefore sequestrated. But some time afterward, at a reception, grandma saw that selfsame shawl about the shoulders of a matron, which only proves that human nature then, and now, and always will be, I suppose, the same.
In the late thirties, Job Reynolds got the fever, wanderlust, which had driven so many of his neighbors to the North West. But he first came on a trip of inspection, and went back home. Grandma heard neighbors ask him, "Well, how did you like it up in Indiana?!" "Very well." "Do you think of moving there?" "I think I will." And the next year, 1838, I think it was, he trekked northwest, with his family. They settled at Newport, which we now call Fountain City, and soon after had a grist mill and a lath mill just below Fountain City, for he was a millwright, like his father, Francis Reynolds, as well as some of his brothers. Here he resided 'til 1853, when he moved to Ogden, Henry County, but daughter Elma, and granddaughters Louisa and Sarah, and Phoebe did not go with them, so we, too will remain behind with them, and follow their story.
But here, again, I am too fast. It will be most proper to have a wedding before so many children.
Where Branson first met his brown eyed affinity I do not know, but I always imagined it was at Quarterly Meeting of Friends, for everybody went to Monthly and to Quarterly Meeting, and everyone who could went to Yearly Meeting. Even in my childhood this custom still prevailed, and the crowded meeting houses and the yards full of parked buggies, carriages, spring wagons and farm wagons is indelibly stamped upon my memory.
But wherever and whenever it happened, meet they did, and although Branson had a long ways to go a courting, almost across a county to the village of Newport, the wedding was arranged, and in the year 1840 they were made one, probably in the Quaker Meeting House at Fountain City, the home church of the bride. Uncle Wilson remained at home to care for their mother Elizabeth for 7 more years and when he married Rachel Thornburgh at the age of 33, he was considered quite a bachelor.
In that same will of Thomas Dennis referred to, we find this paragraph:
"Fourthly, I give and bequeath unto my son Branson, the farm I bought of Harrison Roe, it being Section 3, Township 17, N. Range 12 E.; the south half of the N.E. 1/4." Now, Miles LaMar lives on the north half of the same quarter, so grandpa and grandma started housekeeping just south of Miles LaMar's and what was later Abe Smith's farm. His father had paid $600 for that 80, or $7.50 per acre. Trees were cut down and removed to make room for the log cabin which was erected. It had a puncheon floor, i.e., the boards were split and smoothed off with an adz, instead of being sawed. As some of the cracks in the floor were wide enough to admit little feet, the baby children were tethered to a bed post, that they might not get a leg fast in the cracks or wander into the fireplace. The ceiling consisted of poles laid side by side, and grandpa could kick the ceiling, which proved two things: first, that the ceiling was not unnecessarily high, and that grandpa was a very agile young man. The clearing about the house must not have been very large, for the wind sighing through the forest would scrape the branches of the trees against the house.
And the next year 1841 the first babe was born and named Louisa. And don't we know that the girl wife and mother longed to see her mother, and numerous sisters and little brother David? And so, when Louisa was three months old, the side-saddle was tightly girthed to a horse, and with the proud young father as escort and guardian, the long journey o'er hill and dale through streams, along shady paths, to old Newport was made. I hope it was a trusty horse, for if anything fatal had happened to that babe, I don't know what would have become of the author of this.
And the next year, 1842, sister Sarah was born, and the next year, 1843, the young family of four moved to the farm known later as the Mat Newcomb farm, and then the Heiner farm. Here a partnership was formed with Peter Waltz, and sawing lumber was combined with farming and hauling, for the next 14 years. The Pennsylvania Railroad was built within this period, and Dennis and Waltz furnished some of the railroad ties. Up at three o'clock, with no regard to weather, Branson, with his fine four horse team would haul logs or ties, then home to supper, then clean those horses thoroughly, then across the field to the mill, to saw until 10, or 11, or even 12 o'clock.
And the faithful wife never went to bed till Branson returned from the mill. The mill stops! No, he is not coming. He is pinching the log over for another bite for the saw. The mill stops again! Yes, he is coming now, for she hears the crowbar fall ringing to the floor.
And what fun they had in those days! Lide and Said were in their teens now, and Phoebe was five years their junior; and with Lee and Bill Waltz and their sisters and the good young folks, what one could not think of, another could. All stock ran loose on the commons in those days and all fences were rail fences. One night these youngsters built a rail pen with a board floor in it, right in the road. Then they put a neighbor's cow in it, and prying up the sides of the pen they slipped a rail in first one side, then another, so that when said neighbor found his cow next morn, she was in a pen on the road, and up in the second story, so to speak.
The Waltzes were not Quakers, and Lee had made a fiddle, and could play it, indeed, was known all his life as quite an artist. And they could dance, and they taught Lide and Said how to dance. Little Phoebe was not old enough, but she was a witness of their secret, and it gave her a hold over them that she used very effectively, by threatening to tell Pap that they danced. On one occasion her displeasure was so pronounced that she could not be coaxed or cajoled, and it seemed certain that their grievous sin would be exposed. The family of five were gathered at the supper table, and young Phoebe filling the young hearts across the table with dread by many a knowing nod and gesture, at last broke the silence. "Pap! Oh Pap! -- Say, Pap!" "What is it, Phoebe?" "Do cars run through the fields?"
Here little Margaret was born, 1854, and Uncle Wilson, 1856, and when little Margaret died at the age of three years, the first great sorrow darkened the happy household. My mother has told me that father did no work for a week, and I can appreciate how much he grieved, for I know so well how he loved.
On Xmas day, 1857, the deed to the 80 acres east of the road here at the old homestead was secured, which cost $3000, or $37.50 per acre, and in March following, 1858, they moved to their new and last home, nearer their own church and nearer their own kith and kind.
In the following January 1859, Branson completed his farm by a purchase from R. and J. Harter of the main tract west of the road, for $6500. This adventure put the young farmer heavily in debt. How much, I fear to say, lest my memory be inaccurate. But once, coming with my grandfather up the Hagerstown-Franklin pike, he pointed out to me the old homestead of one Brumbaugh, form who he had borrowed, to the best of my memory, $7000.00.
With much of the land east of the road covered with timber, and much west of the road a swamp, with their two horse teams, little plows, double shovels for cultivating corn, a cradle for harvesting grain, and interest at 10%, I can't understand how he hoped to pay even a part of the debt. And he told me that one year he had to go to his creditor and tell him that he could not pay even all of the interest, and none of the principal; and how Mr. Brumbaugh, replied: "Just go right ahead, Branson, I'll carry you." And the farm was, essentially, paid for, for while he died in debt, this was owing to the purchase of the Hagerstown property, and this, or his personal property would probably have cancelled the debt.
And here, in 1858, was born last, but not least, our uncle Job, named from his maternal grandfather, who has inherited his full share of his parents' kind-hearted hospitality, which we have met here to enjoy today.
I have spoken of the scattered log cabins and the seemingly endless forests that greeted our forebears who emigrated to Indiana. I think it will require care on our part not to get an exaggerated idea of how long this condition lasted. Indiana was admitted as a state in 1816, and the land in this section was first surveyed and open to sale in 1822, the year our grandfather emigrated hither. From that time forward a steady stream of settlers poured over the mountain into the new states. The Baldwins, and Beesons, and Dennis' and Chamnesses, and Bonds, and Reynolds and Thorburghs and others from Carolina. The Balls from Virginia, the Pennsylvania Dutch, in fact, from every eastern state, so that by 1840, when our grandparents Branson and Elma were married, there were probably as many country people in Wayne County as there are today. Richmond and a few other towns were much smaller, and there may have been fewer country houses, but there were a larger number in each house. Families of 8 or 10 or 12 were the rule, not the exception, as now. Dalton Township has decreased in population for many years.
From the early 60's, my annals will not so much be history, as personal reminiscences, for my childhood and youth was spent near my grandparents, and I love to record that during all those years there is not a trace of anything but loving kindness on their part. I felt so welcome I hardly knew which was home. I will not tire your patience by telling any of the numerous episodes and anecdotes connected with the great orchard, the old sugar camp, the swimming hole, etc., etc.
On Xmas, however, when I was begging for some money to buy firecrackers, and my father, perhaps, wisely, declined to give it to me, a dime found its way from grandpa's pocket to mine, and the coveted crackers were obtained, and I gravely suspect that my popping around there caused anxiety and annoyance the rest of the day.
The whole family went in a wagon to Forepaugh's "greatest show on earth", exhibited at Hagerstown, but it was grandpa's hand that led me into and around the big tent, and afterward into the side show, where we saw the fat lady, the living skeleton, and the huge snakes.
I presume my grandfather had faults. But I, his grandson, can't see them, or name them, and I presume that grandma was not a perfect woman, I grant that, because she was mortal, but I, her grandson, never recognized a blemish in her lovely character. If they did have imperfections which other could see, they were so dimmed by their magnificent virtues that they were as inconspicuous as a tallow candle in the glare of the midday sun.
The blue-eyed boy and the brown-eyed girl are sleeping in the churchyard in the valley. Their industry and frugality, perseverance and patience, their never failing loving kindness have helped to make our lives more successful and happy, providing however, we show that we have inherited, and that we put into practice the Christian virtues that adorned their lives.
Four generations from that union have living representatives; of the five children, one is living, four are dead. Of the 22 grandchildren, 14 are living, and 8 are dead. Of 23 great grandchildren, 21 are living, and 2 are dead. And five of these great grandchildren have honored the family union with 12 great great grandchildren. These are by name, Lucille Beeson gives us Norman and Mary Elma; Edith Oliver gives us Donovan; Archie Addington gives us Madona Fay, William Waldo and Elmer Lewis; Roy Newfarmer gives us Ormand, Leo, Kenneth, Rose and Doris; and Thelma Davis gives us Anne Louise.