The following highly interesting account of pioneer life in the town of Greenfield will be found of deep interest to older residents of the county whose memory will be freshened by the personal reminiscences of the writer. At the same time it is of much value as a historical record, giving as it does, an accurate picture of some of the hardships encountered by the Dake family and other early settlers who cleared the timber from the land, leaving productive farms for their descendants, many of whom still are making their homes there. The article was prepared by Mrs. Sarepta Dake Smith, now 85 years of age. (in 1927)
My object in writing this is to pass on to future generations some of the earliest history, family traditions and stories of Daketown, as related to me in my childhood by my father 1. The Dake families were among the earliest settlers of Greenfield. Ten years after the American Revolution four brothers and an elder son came from Rhode Island and took up adjoining tracts of land in Daketown.
They made clearings in the forest, built log cabins, and planted patches of corn with seed bartered from the Indians. Like all pioneers they endured many hardships but prospered. They built school houses and churches. I was born in 1842 and by this time the log cabin had been replaced by frame structures, the clearings divided by stump fences or stone walls into separate farms. The remains of one of these old walls on my father's farm, seemed to my childish imagination the veritable work of the gods. Many the "hews" and gees", many the broken log chains before these huge boulders had been hauled into place by the patient oxen. This farm now owned by the Dake brothers has been in the continuous possession of the family 141 years.
Charles V. Dake of the fifth generation to bear that name, now watches his fine herd of Holsteins graze unmolested, where one hundred years ago, bears, wolves, foxes and wildcats were a menace and the musket was considered as necessary an implement for the farmer as the hoe. It speaks well for the thrift and industry of these farmers that although the land has been under cultivation over 100 years it has lost none of its fertility. It is still the banner potato farm of this section. His two-year-old son, Charles the sixth, may yet run this same farm by electricity, directed from an airplane. The seven grown-up sons of Starks Dake of Middle Grove give reasonable assurance that this sturdy pioneer stock will not commit race suicide.
One of my earliest recollections is helping my brother bring in wood to heat a brick oven for baking rye and Indian bread. These ovens were built to one side of the open fireplace and were to be found in all the houses of that period. They were heated by building the fire directly in them, after which the hot coals were raked out, ashes removed and then the bread baked, leaving over night for a warm breakfast next morning.
I remember, too, the annual dip. Cotton wicks were hung over rods of wood and repeatedly immersed in warm tallow until they were of the right size to fit into the iron or brass candle sticks. Candle molds were a later innovation. When the candles were burned a pair of brass snuffers were used almost constantly to remove the blackened end of the wick. Later on my school lessons were studied by the light of a kerosene lamp. The dimmed illumination of one of these lamps turned low made courtship pleasant. Now we find our electric light more convenient.
MADE OWN CLOTH
My dresses were made from the wool of sheep raised on my father's farm, carded into rolls at a nearby mill (in Middle Grove, since burned), spun into yarn on a big wheel in the home. Colored in the kitchen dye pot, woven into cloth on a hand loom, fashioned from a much-borrowed neighborhood paper pattern and painstakingly stitched by my mother without the aid of a sewing machine. I still have a piece of one of these black and red plaid dresses, which I so proudly wore to school 75 years ago. My brothers' suits were made from sheep's-gray full cloth. The wool of one black sheep was carded with the wool of several white ones to make this. The cloth was sent to a fulling mill in Galway to be made into "full cloth". It was a red letter day for us children when sometime in June the weather became warm enough for our flock of 200 sheep to be driven to the Kayaderosseras creek, there to be scrubbed clean and white, a man astride the back of each while in the water. Afterward they were taken to the barn, held onto a bench while the uncomfortable coat of wool was clipped off the sheep with big shears. Such bleating, such confusion, such a transformation as each sheep reappeared smaller and whiter. When the small lambs were ruthlessly deprived of their tails how our tender young hearts bled with pity. Another catastrophy [sici that invariably happened at this time added to our grief. A colony of cave swallows built their mud nests along the side of the barn, sometimes four or five tiers deep and the vibration caused by the feet of so many scared sheep trying to escape would cause these nests to fall. Many of the little birds unable yet to fly would become a prey to the watching cat. I never saw so many nests along any other barn. How these countless swallows filled the morning hours with their cheerful twitter.
Each fall the village shoemaker measured our feet for a stout pair of calf skin shoes, which if not outgrown and passed down to the next younger child, would last us two years. With what shouts ofjoy we were allowed to discard them and go barefoot as soon as the dandelion blossoms covered the dooryard. How eagerly we watched their coming for not one tiny flower would do the trick for us. The rule held until there were hundreds. I can feel the delicious coolness of the dewey [sic] grass on my feet yet. What a sense of freedom as of young animals at play was ours. From dandelions to chestnuts was the open season for bare feet.
During our Civil War as we all know cotton goods became scarce and expensive. My father and some of his neighbors solved the problem by sowing a large part of their farms in flax. My brother bought an old wool-carding mill at Middle Grove (on the other side of the dam from the present grist mill) and proceeded to install flax carding machinery. The little old fashioned linen wheels were brought down from their long rest in the attic and a younger generation of girls soon learned the lost art of spinning flax. The thread was woven into cloth, which if not so fine in texture as our grandmothers' linen sheets was just as white and pliable, after they were bleached on the grass. Soon our hope chests were filled with tablecloths and towels, which saw service for the next twenty years and were afterward distributed among admiring friends as Civil War souvenirs. This flax mill was destroyed by fire many years ago. The experiment proved a costly one for the farmers as the flax took some element from the soil that required many years to replace.
Another industry that filled the long winter evenings was knitting woolen socks and fringe mittens. These found ready sale at the local store. Some parlors of that day owed their uncomfortable chairs, upholstered with slippery, black haircloth to the nibble fingers of the daughters of the house. Or perhaps this money was spent by some prospective bride, who coveted a big family Bible with blanks for marriages and births, as the customary ornament to lie unused on her center table.
ALL HAVE DINNER
I can imagine my grandmother Abigail 1(called by her neighbors "Aunt Nabby") hospitably passing her snuff box to the assembled housewives saying, "Our men are tired and hungry. Susan, poke the back log under that biggest "kittle" while I bring the "Injun" bread and baked beans. Polly, set the table with the best earthen dishes out of the chest and the big "puter" platter and don't forget the 'apple sass' nor the maple molasses. Sally, take the gourd and bucket to the spring and 'fetch' some water. Sapharonia Seamour, you run home, get some of the cold venison you said you had on hand and a couple of the dried 'pumpkin' pies you baked this morning."
In no time the fragrance of sweet fern tea filled the room, bone-handled knives and forks clattered, jest, laughter, aloud bragging drowned the cries of scared babies and begging dogs. The food marvelously disappeared, the dishes were put away. Then bridge and dancing? No! These God-fearing Rodger Williams Baptists looked with disfavor upon most amusements, as wiles of the devil. Instead of amusement, a white haired old patriarch, Elder Timothy Day, 2 stood up with outstretched hands, saying "Let us pray." He thanked God that no accidents had befallen these brave men. All had escaped danger from wild beasts. That the wilderness had been conquered and his people had established homes in the wonderful country of peace, prosperity and liberty.
1. Abigail Waite Sherman Dake
2. The following is listed in the Greenfield Epitaphs, Dake Ccmetcry. "The Dake Cemetery is situated on the west side of the road leading from West Greenfield in a northerly direction, near and on the south bank of the Kayaderasseras Creek. The inscriptions were copied by Mr. Warren [WoodJ Dake, April 1877."
Day, Rev. Timothy, d. Mar. 6, 1863. a. l9ys.
Day, Sarah, consort of Timothy, d. June 23, 1842. 59th yr
Day, Oliva E., dau. of Timothy & Sarah, d. Sep 6, 1831. 18th yr.
(Source: Gordon Cornell, November 13, 1998)
THE OLD PEACE MAKER
This dear old man now rests among the graves of his beloved people, in a little moss grown family plot, overlooking the beautiful Kayaderosseras valley, about one mile northeast of Middle Grove. This interesting old burying ground also contains a grave, marked by a fallen slab, with a long almost illegible inscription for a soldier (Charles Deake, Sr.) who fought in the battle of Bennington under Gen. Stark and from whom many a D.A.R. in several states trace back their membership claim. Charles Dake, Jr., was for many years a justice of the peace in Daketown. Many of his legal papers are in still in possession of the family. So many of the cases brought before him were settled by arbitration instead of litigation that in his later years he was called "The Old Peace Maker". These first settlers of Daketown were patriotic and religious and were all Baptists. In my grandfather's family, including grandsons, there were five ministers of that faith. The youngest son2 (also educated for the ministry) was drowned in the Mohawk, while bathing, on the morning he was to have graduated from Union College.
A large party of gay young people, including his betrothed, were on their way with horse and buggy to attend the exercises. They were nearly to Schenectady before the sad new reached them and that same evening they returned to the stricken family, a sad funeral party.
This happened ninety-four years ago but so great an impression was made on the community that the event is often referred to yet by neighbors. In another family of Dakes3 all seven sons entered the medical profession where they served with more or less distinction. The people of Greenfield were the first to see danger in hard cider and organized a Temperence society as early as 1809 which was reorganized in 1829 on total abstinence principles claimed to be the first in the state. Howell Gardiner (once our assemblyman) was an active participator in this work. He has many descendents living in Greenfield who honor his memory.
1. Charles Dake, Jr., grandfather of the author
2. Warren Dake who drowned on July 24, 1833
3. The sons of William and Orpha Miller Dake. In his research Leslie A. Green shows four of their sons as doctors.
They are I)r. Charles Alonzo Dake, I)r. William Gould I)akc [II] I)r. Jabcz William 1)akc, I)r. Benjamin F. Dake
4. Howell Gardiner's son Joel B. Gardiner married Sally Dake, daughter of Charles Dake, Jr.
THRILLING WOLF HUNT
My father used to tell us a true story of a thrilling wolf hunt, which took place in Greenfield about 1803. One fine spring following an unusually cold winter Deacon Dake went out early to feed his stock. The flare of the tallow candle within his tin lantern showed plainly on the newly fallen snow the freshly made tracks of 11 timber wolves that had been driven by hunger from the dense forest around Lake Desolation down to the cleared farms. Hastily summoning his scattered neighbors and their numerous big boys, all skilled in the use of fire arms, they made plans to surround the marauders. The tracks led them to the Kayaderosseras Creek, fortunately not yet swollen by the spring freshets. The wolves had crossed over on the thin ice and gone directly to the barnyard of Seamour, where they had killed a yearling steer and four sheep. (This farm now occupied by Joseph Rhodes, is the ancestral home of ex-Supervisor William G. Wilsey.) Their hunger now satisfied, they had sneaked off to the tall timber for their noon day hiding and rest in Visher's Range (since corrupted to Fisher's Range). The huntsmen followed them by way of an old bridge, the broken abutments of which may still be seen a short distance below the present structure, to this ideal place for surrounding them. Accordingly word was sent for the sentinels which were watching the road between Chatfield Corners and Peacock's to draw closer their lines and cooperate with the Daketown men on the South.
Soon the shooting began and every loud report of a musket announced to the listening women at home that another wolf had fallen, until by dusk all eleven of the destructive marauders had been killed and dragged to the door of Deacon Dake, who it had been agreed would divide the bounty of $33. He decided to share it among the twenty-five hunters over twenty-one years of age, each one to receive ten shillings, six pence. About fifty men and boys were engaged. One of the men, whose four boys took part, went home in a "huff' calling this divisiqn unfair but returned next morning with an apology to Esquire Dake, thereby showing the respect in which he was held, and his deserved reputation among his neighbors for justice. Meanwhilethe hunters had been invited in, to warm theirfingers by the open fire andthe mugof hard cider had been passed around for their refreshments. (Even ministers in those days drank moderately, at least.)
(Source: Ruth Rowell Donogh, a newspaper article in my possession published in the SARATOGIAN and sent to my father, Fenton Charles Rowell about the time of publication.)