Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ebenezer Cheever in the Revolutionary War

Decoration Day, or Memorial Day as we now call it, is a day set aside to remember very ordinary heroes; our neighbors, our friends, the farmer down the road and all those who put aside their own needs for a time or forever for their country. Sometimes volunteering and sometimes not; injured, slain or returning in good health - what these men and women have in common is their sacrifice for others.
I have been working on compiling additional information on those from Scipio who served in any war and last week spent some time looking at the pension applications for Revolutionary War veterans. Today I’d like to write about Ebenezer Cheever, born in Connecticut and buried in Scipio NY. I would have enjoyed a conversation with him about his service!
Ebenezer was a privateer. Born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1763, he enlisted in New London in September of 1780 when he was barely 17 years old, on board the privateer ship Randolph commanded by Nicholas Fosdick and was out to sea for 2 months. During that time the Randolph engaged in a battle with the British privateer ship Hibernia, which they won and so took the Hibernia as a prize.
In 1781, Ebenezer enlisted on the ship Young Crommel of ten Grives ( a name I’m not sure I am spelling correctly). They took a British privateer ship this time as well, one mounting ten 4-pounders and one 12.
1782 finds Eb serving on the privateer The Randolph. The crew was taken by the British frigate Vestall. Ebenezer was on board the Vestall as a prisoner for about 2 weeks, then put on a transport ship for another 2 weeks, detained a few days in another transfer then spent six or so months as prisoner on the Jersey prison ship.
Besides the sea, Ebenezer served on land with the Connecticut state troops for about another 9 months spent primarily in helping to build forts. He was taken another time by British Ship of War Gallatee after a running fight of 10 or 12 hours and spent another 3 months on a prison ship. What stories he must have had to tell!
After the war ended, Ebenezer lived for 4 years in Vermont, for 5 years in Montgomery County NY then spent some time in Saratoga County, NY. From there, Eb moved to Cato NY for 5 years then to Scipio about 1815 where he continued to live when he gave his sworn statement in 1833. For his service, Ebenezer was given $30.00 yearly pension. In 1841, he died in Scipio and was buried in the Cornwell Cemetery on State Route 34, leaving behind his widow Jerisha Cheever.
Just an ordinary man, a farmer in central NY, Ebenezer served his country as so many more continue to do today. My hat is off to you all.

Visiting Scipio - Then and Now

Without fail when I hear from someone who is seeking information about their ancestors, they also want to know more about where they lived. What was it like? Did they have a log cabin, or a stick built home? What were the roads like and how did you find your way from place to place? Were there bears? Wolves?
Often, maps provide our best picture of the area and conditions at a given point in time, especially of transportation routes for the movement ever westward. Occasionally, local Historians or newspapers add some detail to that picture. I found one such article in an 1877 edition of the Auburn Journal.
The article describes the summer of 1825 in Scipio. 1825 was 26 years after Scipio was set off from Onondaga County, and 8 years before Ledyard and Venice were set off from Scipio. On a lot just east of Scipioville, where today Center Road leads us to Scipio Center, the news article states that a large number of Onondaga Indians set up an encampment.
During that summer they traded with Scipio’s early settlers by exchanging their handmade moccasins, brooms, baskets, and beadwork for farmer’s produce such as flour, butter, meal, lard, meat, vegetables etc.
When it became time to leave, the Indians simply cut down a large elm tree and made it into a canoe. Two neighboring farmers drew the canoe to Cayuga Lake, a distance of about 5 miles, with their teams of four horses.
The Indians launched it down Cayuga Lake; rowing until eventually they entered the Seneca River and moved on.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Going to the Movies

I don't believe that Scipio ever had a theater. Her residents mostly went (and continue to go) to nearby Auburn, NY for that type of entertainment. My favorite place was Schine's Theater with it's planetary theme. Our choice of theaters has changed, but Auburn still supplies the product!
I went to see the new Star Trek movie last week with another "Trekkie" friend. Neither of us was sure that Star Trek without William Shatner as James T. Kirk would make the grade, but like gawkers at a natural disaster we couldn't resist going to see for ourselves.
And what you might ask does this have to do with a history blog? Well, in my opinion, this movie was a historian's view of the Star Trek crew. Where did they grow up? Who were their parents? How and where did they each meet? Were they friends right away? What was their childhood like and perhaps most importantly when did they learn to trust each other enough to follow Kirk and blast those Romulans out of the sky?
We are all influenced by our past, and the person we become is largely due to the customs and rules we were brought up to follow. This is the same whether we are looking back at our history as a country since the Revolution in 1776, or looking forward towards a Star Date in Kirk's Captain's Log.
Live long and prosper.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thomas Gray and the Cold Winter

Every winter I reach a point in time when I wonder why on earth I live in the northern USA. Then spring arrives in Scipio; the smell of lilacs and mock orange fills the air; the hummingbirds begin to dive and dart around the feeders while the blue jays squawk away and I remember why central NY is such a great place to live.
Winters can be harsh, and the new exhibit at the Scipio Town offices have some photos that show just how harsh they were only a few decades ago. The photos contributed by a former resident show snow banks on Skillet and Wyckoff Roads that reach to the tops of the telephone poles!
While those photos are from the 1940’s and 1950’s, it is not unusual for our wintertime environment to be harsh. The Fulton History website had an article from the January 28, 1914 Syracuse Post Standard that caught my eye.
According to the Post Standard, there was an extreme cold spell around January 14th, 1914. During that time, a Thomas Gray, age 63 and living alone, fell asleep beside the stove and when he woke several hours later, the fire had gone out leaving his extremities numb from the cold.
Even though he started the fire and tried to warm himself, the damage had already been done to his feet and hands. Two days later, a neighbor discovered his condition and called for help for Mr. Gray. Dr. Hoxie of Sherwood and Dr. Smith of Fleming came, and tried to send Mr. Gray to the hospital but he refused.
By the day of the article in the Post Standard, his condition had worsened and at the urging of Reverend Doran, he finally took the train to Auburn City Hospital, where he had several toes from both feet removed due to being frozen.
We forget sometimes how our early settlers had to work so hard just to feed their families, and to stay warm in the winter. Even in the early 20th century, before electricity came to Scipio, life was harsh and required a kind of constant vigilance to stay ahead of the game.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Harry Wilshire of Scipioville

April turned into a very busy month and before I knew it, was gone! I was finally able to get outside and pick some daffodils; this week I have been watching the newborn calves in my neighbor’s field. There is a new one almost every day! No doubt about it, Scipio is still a farming community for many of us.
I was also honored to receive Registered Historian status from the NYS Association of Public Historians in April. I have been working towards that for a few years now. Maybe you are reading this blog because you saw the address in the nice article in our local newspaper, The Citizen about my achievement.
Or maybe you are looking for an ancestor, or to learn more about central NY and the Finger Lakes in our early days.
An interesting way to learn more is to use the Footnote website to look up old news articles (there is a link to Footnote at the bottom of this page).
In the first decade of the 20th century, there was a local paper called the Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal. I found a story about a Scipioville teenager named Harry Wilshire that was quite intriguing.
The headline boldly declares in capital letters “CHASED BY A WHAT-IS-IT – Scipioville Youth is Driven from Woods by Strange Wild Beast.” With a heading like that I just had to read more.
It seems that Harry was a good boy who did not indulge in alcohol, lending credence to his “bloodcurdling” tale. Out for an afternoon of squirrel hunting on the Searing farm, and doing a little daydreaming, Harry suddenly looked up to see a wild beast, not five rods away.
Being a smart fellow, Harry shot at the beast, causing it to jump into the air, then make a beeline for poor Harry who turned and ran. Or as the writer put it, Harry “put on the high clutch for the open country.”Somehow, Harry managed to outrun this beast, and safely made it home. The description he provided later matched that of a bobcat. The story mentions that a similar creature was seen a few years past in Union Springs, less than 4 miles away.