Transcribed and contributed by Bethel Baker Thoennes, via Elsetta Torres.
Included with this wonderful manuscript are records from Jonathan Baker's Family Bible.
Letter written to Mary Frances Brownell (Phelps) by John Randolph Baker, her grandfather
Property of Mrs. S. C. Hollister
Entered from a typescript of the original,
in the possession of Ann Baker Phillips,
and loaned to her cousin, Bethel Baker Thoennes, September 28, 2000
Silver and Gold Standard
So said the Prime Minister of Great Britain under Queen Elizabeth, and James the First's knowledge did not save him in the hour of temptation when the bribe was offered which was a death penalty. On account of his great usefulness as Prime Minister, the king commuted his punishment to a fine of $200.00 and imprisonment in the Tower of London for a length of time. He died of a broken heart and his crime does not compare with the crime of the demonitization of silver in agreeing to pay our war creditors in gold coin exclusively.
When I was a boy it was very common to hear the declaration, "Millions for defence but not one cent for tribute." It was soon after Great Britain had in 1816 demonitized silver and all the silver countries had paid tribute to Great Britain, but our fathers refused. In an unguarded moment our republicans have, like Esau, sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.
No candidate will ever get my vote who goes for a monometalic currency or one standard, either gold or silver. To separate them is making millionaires of credit class and paupers of the debtor class. Since the demonitization of rupees from 48 to 27 cents, the poor Sepoys get five cents a day. (This fact is authenticated by Bishop Hurst, who has been writing a history of that country.) And Great Britain can now get wheat from pauper labor for less than it can be raised in this country, so you see the millionaires are provided for by getting wheat and cotton, for when silver goes down cotton and wheat also go down.
John Sherman, who was secretary of the treasury of General Grant's cabinet, must bear the responsibility. His admission that we have already lost a hundred and sixty millions is positive proof, and that is but a small part of our loss for the last twenty years. The gold bugs or the credit class can now chuckle over the silver bugs or the debtor class, in the language of Robinson Crusoe, the gold bug can now say, as he said on the island of Juan Fernandez:
"I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute
From the center all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute."
The silver bug or pauper class may reply:
"I am out of humanity's reach
I must finish my journey alone
Never hear the sweet music of speech
I start at the sound of my own."
DeFoe was an author (English) of celebrity. It was considered authentic when I was a boy, but most likely it is fictitious.
Who could believe that John Sherman, a man who was regarded above suspicion could be bribed by a nabob with $500,000? But facts are stubborn things, but like Lord Bacon his gold has become dim. He will be credited with making more paupers than all the wars and famines that ever visited this our beloved land of America. And himself and family will have to bear the stigma as Lord Bacon has for all time to come.
Sammie, Hattie, and now Mary
The second day of August 1854 a small black-eyed baby came to our house while we were threshing wheat. Sammie was then his sixth year, and we were highly gratified to have the little stranger come to serve an apprenticeship with her little brother five years old past. We soon discovered that one eye was much blacker than the other, but we could find no remedy, only to let it alone, and I was rather pleased to have it so, and we were happy to have one of each gender. But poor Sammie was not well and he became worse as he grew older and finally died when he was sixteen years old.
My cousin Joseph, big Anna's brother wanted to come and live with us, and his wife, an English woman offered to take care of Mother and little black-eyed Mary. We were very happy for a time, but his wife began to complain as she wanted a home of her own and I could not blame her for she was quite ambitious, so I told Joseph we had better separate for a time at least.
The poor fellow was loath to go, but he found a place with Clark Wilder of Aurora and in a year or so he returned and lived in Mr. Bassett's house and in the old blacksmith shop, and then went to Ross's Grove and then to Iowa. He enlisted in the Union army and he has written us since coming to Nebraska.
His brother came soon after to our house from the east with $200 and wanted me to take it from him. I counted the money and came short some ten dollars or thereabouts. He worked for me during the summer and he was a very good hired man. He also went to Ross's Grove and soon died.
Various Swindlers and Thieves
A man by the name of Briggs came here and rented William Harding's farm and I indorsed his note for the cash rent, and after I had paid the note he gave a fictitious one with a mortgage covering his horses and wagon and threshing machine. With a great deal of trouble I got my pay. In part he proved to be a poor sample of a Baptist Christian and he soon stole a horse and was sent to state prison.
One day I was up to Father Foote's and a man called and wanted dinner and his horse fed. It was a fine looking horse and I spoke of his having a fine horse. He then went on to relate that this horse had been stolen from him in Wisconsin a short time prior to that date. He soon got on his track and pursued him a long distance before he came within sight of the man, and when he edged up near enough he knocked him off the horse and took away his pistol and left him on the road. When he told me that I concluded that he had killed him. He said that he was then in pursuit of some oxen which had run away from the place where he had been engaged in breaking prairie.
A few days after, old Uncle Lance had a fine span of horses stolen and C.B. Yates and Hall and others pursued them but all but Yates returned. In some ten days C.B. Yates also returned with the horses and two thieves. I was at the jail when he came back and I was sure that I had seen one of the men before, but I could not recollect where I had seen him. But I soon remembered where I had seen the very identical man. It was the man I had seen at Father Foote's a month or six weeks before, with the fine horse. When he saw me, he turned his head another way. They were evidently old criminals, some 35 or 40 years old.
One young man in Batavia stole a horse from me a few years after. I soon got on his track at the Waverly House in Elgin. He had registered his name as Oscar Cooley and I supposed it was him until I got to Batavia. An Irishman and myself went after him. The Irishman had bought the horse of the young man who called himself Oscar Cooley, but we learned from the man in Batavia who let him have the horse and buggy that his name was Wesley Knight. On our way down from Elgin to Batavia it occurred to me that if I could settle with the young man for my private damage I would prefer to do it and not expose him, whom I presumed had never done the like before, as the Cooleys were all above suspicion. If he should be incarcerated in prison and come in contact with old criminals he would in all probability never be reclaimed.
These and like thoughts came into my mind and I rehearsed them to the Irishman who cordially approved of my plan. But to make it sure that I had a legal right to settle with the young man I concluded to call on C.B. Yates, who understood the law in such cases, and ask him what he thought about it. He said I could not only do it, but it was my duty to do it if I was convinced it was his first offence. A good criterion to go by was to do by others as you would have them do by your boy. This advice from one who had been captain of police on Chicago was sufficient.
We had stopped at all the livery stables on Fox River and when we inquired if Oscar Cooley had got a horse and buggy on Friday night, he examined his book and said, "No, but Wesley Knight had and returned without the five-ringed halter which was sold to the Irishman with the horse." We then inquired if he knew where we could find him. He thought he would be found at the Batavia Institute as there was an exhibition there that p.m. So we started for that institution.
They had just started the exercises of the occasion. I went ahead and the paddy followed and in looking to the right I saw him. He looked as red as a beet. Paddy says, "There he is. Shall I speak to him?" I said, "Yes, tell him we want to see him below." Wesley immediately started for the door and we followed him and we went on the west side of the house. When I began to upbraid him for stealing my horse, I asked him what I had ever done to him. He said I always treated him kindly but that he had got in debt and his debts were pressing him. He had some ten days before seen me on my way to Ross's Grove and it would give him ample time to consummate his purpose of securing the horse in my absence. By charging one half of his value he could readily sell him and get the money he so much needed to pay up his dancing bills, as I learned he had been attending dancing schools.
I have used the seducer's language rather than his own for he cried like a child and begged of me not to expose him. He said it would break his sister's heart. His father had just sold his farm for $1500, and as soon as he returned from Vermont he would pay us whatever we demanded. He said it was the first time and the last time he would ever do it, so we settled with him by taking his note for $25.00 and he paid the paddy a great deal more, as he had paid $60 for the horse. I do not recollect what he charged for his trouble. The young man left for parts unknown and his bondholder paid the forfeiture and his father indemnified him for so doing.
Another young man in the neighborhood was sent to state prison for stealing some clothing and his brother got him out in time so that he would not lose his citizenship, which requires a petition with the signatures of a certain number of names. His name was Luther Curtis. He had been sent for one year and he was released in ten months or thereabouts. I employed him for several days to drive a breaking team and inquired of him concerning his treatment while in prison.
He said that he had enough to eat, such as it was, but his work in making barrels in hot weather, cooped up within a small enclosure with high walls and a hot sun was unendurable, and the vermin at night would annoy him so that he could get but little rest.
I lectured him never to yield to the tempter again, for if he did he could not expect such leniency for the second offence. I tried to impress upon his mind that he might be tempted again but he must resist the temptation or he would be overtaken again. But he was very confident that he would not, but when the Mexican War broke out he started for the war but soon returned with a lot of horses. I had lost a horse and he came to sell me one, but I would not buy to pay anything down, as I was sure the horse had been stolen, but he soon got rid of them.
His brother-in-law, Forley Here took several of them to give him a chance to get more, and in a few weeks he had some more on hand for sale, but I expected to see the owner after his horses in a short time. Sure enough, the two owners came and got their horses and got the thief also and the Grand Jury brought several inditements against him. On the first he was sent to prison for three years, and when the time expired he was returned for six years and he never came out of prison alive.
So you see the wicked have a hard road to travel and they do not live out half their days. Let the blessed Bible be the guide of our youth and in old age its precepts will become so indelibly impressed upon our memory that we will have no desire to depart from them, says the Psalmist. "I have been young and now am old but I never saw the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread." An ideal man or woman are those who have the characteristics of the God-man mediator.
The Family Grows ... Boys and Girls ... Their Health
On the 4th of November 1847 another little stranger made us a visit. It was the feminine gender, and unlike the Pagans we received such as readily as those of the masculine gender. If anyone should ask me which one of all my children, both living or dead, I had kissed the most number of times I could not answer correctly.
I presume old father Jacob could, as his affections were very much concentrated on Joseph and Benjamin. Of course they were the children of his beloved Rachel, but Moses would never have made that mistake. He was so disinterested that he sought no place of preferment for his own progeny, and his own household are scarcely mentioned during the forty years on the wilderness. This trait in the character of Jacob and also David towards his son Absalom was, I believe, a weakness in his character and caused them much trouble. It is too much like unconditional election and reprobation.
I wish to follow in the footsteps of the great Apostle Paul who said, "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things. Our Heavenly Father says, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of them that hate me and showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." So you discover that he visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of those only who hate him, and this declaration I here make before the Judge of all the earth that to my best recollection I never had any hatred toward the blessed Christ or Christianity in my life and I hope all my progeny can truthfully say the same. I sincerely hope that all can say with the great Apostle Peter when he said to Jesus, "Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee."
When Mary and Ettie were little girls they were greatly afflicted, Mary by cutting teeth and Ettie by a thumb nail. The former suffered more from her teeth cutting than all the rest of my children put together. Our children from Helen Eliza to Willie carried around their necks a five franc piece, a French silver coin given us by William Harding which answered a very good purpose without any cutting of the gums, all but Mary's. Hers had to be cut often and the poor little creature would consent to have me perform a surgical operation on her gums which greatly relieved her.
Ettie's thumb nail ulcerated and there appeared flesh which looked like proud flesh. I tried different remedies in vain. One time I did not know but we would be under the necessity of amputating her thumb but we providentially found a remedy in the use of Petit's eye salve. A man had left a quantity of medicine at our house on trial and it was just the medicine we needed and was worth more to us than an $100. It was all good medicine, some $20 worth, which I paid the man when he called for it, and Ettie's thumb was well in a few days.
Trading in New York and Last Visits to Family There
I had been running a breaking team for two or three years for different persons and took in exchange pork and dry goods and a fine colt and some money, and I got over 100 acres broken for myself. I had raised some very fine winter wheat and Deacon Hewitt and lady visited us, and Hannah Hewitt, who had been teaching in Elgin, returned with her parents to Galway, Saratoga, New York.
In the fall and winter of 1848 and 1849 I got a hundred barrels of wheat made into flour, and the sleighing being fine I hauled it into Chicago. And the following June I went with the merchant Goodwin, who had 300 barrels of flour and a quantity of lard and had one hundred barrels more and a quantity of wool. We put all on board steamboat to Buffalo. It would have been money in our pockets to have sold it there, but I wanted to see New York City, so we put all on the canal boat to Albany and got it shipped from there to the city of New York by a tow boat.
When I got to Albany I took the steam-boat to New York, and in going down the Hudson River the walking beam gave out and the boat was delayed for some time. We took another boat and arrived safely in New York. It was several days before the arrival of the canal boat, which had been towed down by a steamer. The hot weather had injured it (the wheat) so that we got but little more than in Buffalo.
I assisted my cousin, William H. Burr in selling eggs and oats. I got the trade quite perfect and I worked for my board and lived on oysters and crackers and so on. I returned on the Harlem R.R. to Duchess county, where I stayed a few days, and then I went to Galway and stopped a few days, and then went to Northampton and visited our friends, several of them for the last time, among them being Sister Hannah and Father and Jason Bacon and John Foote. Jason Bacon, Levi's brother was drowned in 1850, the next year, and Father died in 1850, and sister Hannah died in 1852 and John Foote soon after.
It was some three months before Jason's body was found in Sacondaga, a mile and a half from where he got thrown from his horse, just below the bridge at our old crossing place. Poor boy, he was in the prime of life and was about to go into the mercantile business in Denton's Corners. After family worship he got on his horse to cross the bridge, and he had to ford water two feet deep to get on the bridge.
He crossed the bridge and found the water too high to ford to get to his brother-in-law's, who was his partner, so he returned back across the bridge and followed the river on its bank where the water was about two feet deep, until he came where the bank had been excavated so that people could go on and off of the old float bridge, which had been removed. Not being familiar with the old float bridge, he reined his horse near the river and when he came where the crossing of the old float bridge was, his horse plunged in over and threw him off, and he hung on to the bridle and the swift current took them down.
Bill Denton and Edward Kennicott were there with a boat and called to have him let go of the bridle, which he did, and the horse swam to shore. The boy sank twice and the boat was close to him when he went down the third and last time.
His pocket book was found near where he went down the third and last time with some $75 in currency in it, and hundreds of people were searching for his body day after day and cannon were fired, but all in vain.
A spiritualist medium, a woman, and John Holenbeck went up and down the river in a boat and when they came near where the body was found some time after by Jason's father and my brother Charles, the medium had given the description of the place where it was found wedged under a log on Father Coleman's opposite his farm a few rods from shore. My sister Hannah could not be content until the body was found, and one very pleasant day while rowing the boat around near the spot described by the medium, my brother saw some human hair floating on the water. And on close examination he saw the something which proved to be his body. They got a big box and rolled the body therein. My poor sister lived two years when she went to meet her beloved boy and his father died a few years after and my brother Charles also.
(About this time 1850, many of our great statesmen died.)
Charles and Hattie Born ... Changes in Farming
Our eldest son living was born the 6th of August--Charles J. Baker, and Hattie was born the 30th of September, 1852.
The railroad had got out to Wheaton in 1849 and the Illinois and Michigan canal was completed and the Illinois Central was well underway. And the new Chicago was improving rapidly since the fire of 1849, the cholera year when so many died in New York City and in Chicago and in many other parts of the United States.
The McCormick reaper was the first in vogue and many others soon were introduced. I had been running a breaking team for two or three years for different persons and took in exchange pork and dry goods and a fine colt and some money, and I got over 100 acres broken for myself. I had raised some very fine winter wheat and Deacon business in Denton's Corners.
The binder was introduced, and threshing machines. I bought a reaper and threshing machine, which were a great improvement on the cradle and the flail, which we had been accustomed to use. It was years before they were perfected so as to cut and bind grain and thresh and clean it as they now do, so that one or two men can do the work of a dozen men.
Farming in the 1830's
Our old way of doing things was so different from what it used to be that it almost seems that I am in a new world. For instance, to raise a crop of wheat, oats or rye, or corn, the old method was to plow the ground with a wooden mouldboard plow, the grain sown by hand and cut with a sickle or cradle, and then bound by hand and threshed out by flail and cleaned up by a hand fan or fanning mill. It took me and my brother Benjamin all day to thresh by flail 15 or 18 bushels of rye or wheat without cleaning it up, and we had to work hard to do it. One acre a day was a good day's work with a sickle.
To cut and bind up now, a man with a good team can cut and bind ten or fifteen acres per day, and I saw a corn cutter patented by Albert Peck that one man with his team would cut and bind ten acres of corn per day. And it used to take a man one day to cut and bind one acre a day. Now steam threshers will thresh and clean up for market 1000 bushels of wheat in one day with plenty of help or 1500 bushels of oats. I used to pay fifty cents per acre for cutting wheat with a cradle and about the same for binding, and it became difficult to obtain binders that could keep up with the cradlers.
To give you some idea of corn raising in the state of New York on the border of the Adirondack Mountains, I will try to give you our method of raising a crop of ten acres of corn.
After I became of age, or 21 years old, in the year 1833 (a part of this page belongs to the third decade which I have assigned to Ettie, but I will give you the date so you will understand) my Brother Levi and the writer plowed the ground in the fall of 1832 preceding my birthday anniversary, February 25th, when I became of age and when all the colored people in the northern states were also free. The ten acres was sod ground and worth about 75 cents per acre to plow. In the spring we gave it a good harrowing and then marked it out by drawing a log chain across the gield the field once some three and a half feet apart and then planted the corn the opposite way and used our best judgment in planting so as to have the rows the same distance apart both ways.
After planting the corn it was necessary to put scarecrows or some images and stakes with yarn representing a net, which the crows were sure to avoid, as they are the most cautious of birds. Other birds can be decoyed by the stool pigeon, but crows never.
Digression on Wisdom
If many men had the caution and wisdom of a crow they would avoid the saloon, the snare of the fowler, and the most effectual way to do this is to follow the blessed Jesus, let him be our model. Our only safety is to keep within his fold, as he is the Shepherd of the sheep. Old honest Abraham understood his helplessness and inability to cope with the rebel leaders without the divine aid when the great battle of Gettysburg was fought, and like Washington he looked to the Almighty for success. It came in due time, 50,000 prisoners were paroled in ten days' time in Gettysburg and Vicksburg. And this glorious victory he was assured of before the battles were fought. This fact you will learn from the Northwestern Christian Advocate, a journal of recent date.
Back to Farming—Fox River Valley vs. New York
But I had not raised the crop of corn which I had planted, and after hoeing it two or three times, besides cultivating it as many times more, when an early frost came and ruined it, except some 20 or 30 bushels around the barn. Our clear profit was not to exceed $15. It was charged on those who settled this country of trespassing on the rights of the brute creation. Be that as it may, my mind has undergone no change regarding that country which gave me birth. It may be a good country to be born in, but their land is valueless, and those I have induced to sell out and come west, as the writer did at an early day, do not regret doing so. I have six nephews in the Fox River valley country who are keeping on an average of 40 cows each. Notwithstanding the severe drought last summer their crops were very good and their hay was good to a superlative degree.
The Fox River valley is superior to any part of the Union in my estimation, but there is no comparison between that and the Heavenly one. In the first place, there is no night there and they need no candles for the Lord God giveth them light and they shall reign forever. And it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath laid up for those who love him, and no good thing will he withold from such. The only trouble is we don't in our hearts believe it. Good Lord, help our unbelief.
I will close this manuscript by contrasting my relatives' present condition with the one in Sacondaga and in Duchess county:
They all have good homes here near the great city of Chicago, the best milk and butter market in America--and always will be, as Chicago is always spreading its wings in every direction but east, and one of the grandest improvements in modern times is the ship canal which will connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River.
My relatives in Kane County, Illinois have farms second to none other in the west. Honest Johnathan will average $10 work of milk delivered to Batavia 365 days in the year, and his 200 acres of choice land has been greatly improved by tilling, and also DeWitt's and Edgar Wadsworth's. Jason has a good berth in Chicago and his salary is some $2000.
My beloved Sister Hannah's son Levi has a good situation in Van Northwick's paper mill, and his son Jason and his son-in-law Barber stand ready to receive them as an expression of their gratitude to both Father and Mother for the work done them in their childhood and giving them a good education. This applies also to Edgar and Jason Wadsworth and to Ned Galusha and his better half. I am glad to hear that all my progeny and relatives are not delinquent in parental duty.
The Judge of all the earth knows that I have given up all to my children except my library and clothing and my golden wedding presents. Those I purpose dividing soon among my children, and when my wife interrogates me about my not having a home to go to in my old age my reply is, "I can now trust my two youngest boys Bennie and Willie for our support."
And especially after Bennie's acknowledgement to Ettie and Edgar Wadsworth, without any solicitation, and their both offering to do more for us than they can afford, i.e., to have us both go and occupy his house in York, Nebraska. And Willie proposed to have me go and board with him where he was paying three dollars per week. I said, "No, Willie, you cannot do that for me. We don't want to be so much expense to you and Bennie.
I can safely trust you both to see well to it that we are well provided for, and a monument not to exceed a cost of $85 to be erected on our graves, 'Our Father' on one side and on the other, 'Our Mother.' "
And if we become too great a burden to you and you both prefer to give your third of the proceeds of your 320 acres of land, (after breaking up the balance in the enclosure for four years, on condition that Charlie or Hawkins work the land--which would be calling the annual rent on the 320 acres $600) in four years our home would be secured for life with all our beloved children, as it was with my Father after an equal division of his property among his eleven children, five boys and six girls. So you must see the fairness of my proposition, and you could pay the interest on the loan and the rent on the school land and the tax on the homestead, and then you would not be burdened with us for you would all vie with each other—which should have Father and Mother—as my brothers and sisters die [did?].
I could not get the consent of my brothers and sisters to have Father live with us even one summer and I would gladly have taken Father and Mother Foote and spoke to Mother about it but it did not meet with her approval. And the paper that Ettie and Hattie have signed would be satisfactory too if carried out, but it would be larceny in me to take money from my creditors for our support when the good Lord is prolonging my days to give me time to meet my liabilities or pay all my debts and then I will pay the debt of nature.
retyped by Beth Baker Thoennes 10-30-2000 to 10-06-2003
Copyright ©2003 Beth Thoennes, Elsetta Torres, Jeanette Shiel
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