Extracts From “My History of Homesteads”

By Samuel L. T. Wright

Southampton Historian

INTRODUCTION  (Not expected to be given word by word – nor any of it.)

My name is Samuel Wright…better known by my friends as “that Sam Wright who is trying to write a history of some kind.”  They are correct, I have tried very hard to write a good history of the west part of Southampton.  I am also known as a farmer – but not a very good one…and they are right!  Neither am I a good writer – but oh! I do love to gather the history and write it down!

The next two paragraphs are taken from Sam’s preface of “My History of Homesteads”.  It is found on page 207 of our new history of Southampton on the Manhan”.*

‘An ancient cellar or ruin always possessed a strong attraction for me. Who built here? When? What happened?   What became of the people?  were the questions that I wanted answered.  I cared little for genealogy, but it seemed to me a pitiful tragedy who had lived, struggled and left such visible marks upon the face of the nation, should be forgotten.  Previous to 1881 we had always hired help in haying.  In 1881 we hayed alone.  That job finished, I resolved to treat myself to some unusual pleasure, as a reward for my toil.

I could think of nothing that I desired as much as a full history of the neighborhood in which I was born and had always resided, so I resolved to collect and write it down.  I was but 29 years old, much interested, very enthusiastic, and had no idea of the magnitude of the task.  I thought one blank book would hold the records.  I expected to finish the work in a  few weeks, besides doing my farm work.  I interviewed the people within my reach who seemed likely to be able to help me; sent letters to several distant states, searched records, public and private.  I soon found out that I had undertaken  a gigantic task.  People almost without exception, were very kind and helpfull to me, and showed great interest in my 
 work.  I did not at first, expect to put in genealogy, but soon found it improssible to omit!’

Before I continue the story of my writing – I will acquaint you with the Wright farm – the history of the old homestead and of the farm buildings…some of them I built.

You probably would see no beauty in the old salt box house, worn and gray…probably needing repairs, but to me it is beautifull.  It is my home, I was born and raised in it.  Built away back in 1782 it stands on the west side of the Fomer Road a few rods from the Westhampton line…facing the east.  I’ll never forget the warmth of the fireplace, especially on winter nights in the big old kitchen.  Here, at the table was where I did my writing when the chores were done.

The present house which is the only one ever built on this place, stands on the left or west side of the road.  The old barn built by Thomas Lyman stood about 8 rods north of the house, was without a cellar.  A lane fenced with heavy stone walls ran from this barn northward across the home lot to the pasture beyond.  There is now no visable trace of the barn or the stone walls.   The well which was in the old barnyard, and which we still use in the summer, is all that remains to show the location of the old barn.

Luther Wright, Jr. my father, built the present barn in 1847.  This is a side-hill barn and stands on the east side of the road.  It has a cellar under the main part of the barn.

Six yards south of the house stood for many years, a large side-hill cider mill.

SAM’S BUILDING PROJECTS

Five rods west of the house stands a corn house built by me, in 1889.  Fifty feet south of this is a side-hill hen house with a cellar under it.  I dug the cellar in 1887.  It is small, 12 by 12 by 8, but the timber is 7 by 7 inches.  This cellar laid by me would easily support the weight of a medium sized barn. The foundation is deeply laid.  The wall itself is constructed of large stone, strongly laiid but not faced…and awkward looking.  I did the job of cementing the cellar bottom, and although the cement is not as smooth as a mason would have it, it is extra thick.

See my bankwall, on the south and east sides of our barnyard?  Built by me with little help in 1886.  I call it my centennial wall.  The old wall looked better than the present one-but that one fell down.  This one is not handsom (sic).  It is not a faced wall, it was not built by line, but the foundation is strongly laid in a trench and it will stand for centuries, if carefully used.

See my hitching posts?  Huge boulders with ring bolts driven deeply into them, each one requiring about six times as much iron as an ordinary man would use.  A horse securely tied to one of my rocks will stay there.

FARMING IN THE WORDS OF MR. WRIGHT

My father and I have worked together on the farm for many years and he has told me interesting incidents connected with farming in his early life.  I will give a sketch of it as practiced on his farm, a sample of the methods and time.  Cider mills were very numerous and cider was plenty and cheap.  In 1832 the Wrights made forty barrels of cider in their mill, which they sold to a Mr. Joseph Kingsley of Westhampton for 50 cents a barrel, they drawing the cider to his house, and we taking goods out of his house for pay.  No money could be expected at that price.  40 cents a barrel was sometimes the price of cider.

Money was hard to get in those days, but when obtained a little went a long way.  In 1832 the corn crop failed on the farm.  Times were hard, but a few cords of bark which the Wrights had peeled sold that summer for $40.00.  This money paid all the taxes and left sufficient overplus to change poverty into comparative plenty.

When the Wrights came here this land was nearly all covered with forest – and mostly cleared by my father.  Farmers spent what time they had in the forest felling trees, for the more land cleared the better.  There trees were left to dry until after haying.  They were then set on fire, which burned most of the leaves and smaller limbs.  The large charred tree trunks were then cut into convenient lengths and hauled together, usually with oxen, or cattle.  Every farmer owned one or more yokes.  These logs were then rolled into large piles and burned, simply to get rid of them.  If they were to be turned into money, they could be cut into cord wood and burned into charcoal, which was worth in markets about five or six dollars.  Some times the blackened logs from the clearing were drawn to the house for firewood, but this was almost too trying to the ladies’ temper.

It is a question of who worked the hardest, the farmer reeking with sweat with the combined efforts of the huge fires and the August and September sun, as he lifted or rolled the large charred logs into piles for burning, or his wife as she washed his stained and blackened clothing. 

The only soap available was made on the farm.  I can remember how my mother watched the large iron kettle in which the soap was boiled, and no wonder, for if a mistake was made, it meant working with poor soap for a year.  Ingredients needed to make it were, wood ashes, lime, all the yearly refuse grease from the farm, leach tubs and a lye kettle. 

As soon as the trees could be disposed of, the land was sowed to rye.  On the rocky, stumpy hillsides, harrows could not always be used, so the rye and grass seed was picked into the scanty soil by hand with hoes.  When grown the rye had to be reaped with a sickle.  The land was fenced until after the rye was harvested, and then turned into pasture.  A new piece of land was cleared this way every year.  Large yields of rye were thus obtained.  This rye was a large share of the bread eaten by the people of the community.  My father tells me that in 1835 he raised 70 bushels of rye on 2 1/2 acres of land which I know to be rocky as land can well be.

THE YEAR 1889

I will try to tell you how all this started.  In the Autumn of 1881 I first became interested in the local history of the neighborhood in which I was born and had always resided.  It included about 41 houses in the west part of Southampton and 54 homesteads in the south part of Westhampton…this adding up to many genealogies.

Since I am a farmer, carrying on a farm, and had a family to support, my time for research was limited.  It was not until the fall of 1889 8 years later, that I had collected sufficient reliable information to warrant my commencing to write.

When an antiquarian looks over a record, his first question is, or should be, “Is this work reliable?”.  My authority is as follows: 

I have carefully studied all available material from the Southampton records from the first recorded meeting.  This is the foundation for my Southampton genealogy, and is also the authority for some incidents related in the history of homesteads.  To obtain information for my history of houses, mills, etc. I have carefully looked over the records of births, marriages and deaths.  I have examined old account books.  I have interviewed personally or by letter many reliable persons, whom I had to suppose were able to give me many facts.  Numerous people have taken great pains to look up records in their possession, or in other ways have been of great assistance to me.  To them I render my sincere thanks, especially to Mrs. Relief Bodman and to Mr. Sardis Chapman, antiquarian of Southampton.

And now behold the result!  The scholarly antiquarian, if he ever sees my work will laugh at the misspelled words, criticize the grammar, the construction of the sentences and the punctuation – and perhaps find it hard to read my writing.  There probably are mistakes, but I have done my best to avoid them…and I think my book will compare favorably of works of [it’s] kind, in its truthfulnes.

IN CONCLUSION JANUARY 13, 1905

Now that I am bringing my history down to the present time, after a gap of 15 years, I will say for any who may see this book, that when I began to write I intended to continue the general history of the town to the present time.

I am now 52 years of age and cannot write without “specks”.  I have been suffering from a lung disease for about 7 years which may prove fatal.  I also am troubled with asthma. 

To continue this work is impossible for me now, even though I still have a desire to , but the distance between my home and the necessary town books is a long four miles.  When I was young, it seemed shorter.  I had in the early years though little leisure except in winter…and it was a long cold drive.

And now…I close my precious “History of Houses” with a heavy heart.  My great hope is that someone will appreciate and cherish my work enought to make it available to future generations.

Samuel L. Wright

Southampton Local History

*Correct title is “Southampton Newtown on the Manhan.