Sunday, December 26, 2010

Essay of Mr. Theodore Devol

The Marietta Register, March 3, 1876

As Read Before the Farmers' Club of Muskingum Township, February 5th, 1876.

Mr. President:

Having been appointed by your Honor to write an essay, and not being accustomed to writing, I feel my incompetency to write anything that might be entertaining to this Club.  I hope your generosity will excuse mistakes, and pardon my blunders.

I can think of no better subject for me to write about than the Past and the Present.  I will, therefore, take for my subject, fifty years ago and now - fifty years ago, when this beautiful valley was almost a dense forest, when the cuckoo and the countless number of birds warbled their songs in almost every bush, when the squirrel's quack could be heard in almost every direction, and anon the tohoot! tohoot! tohoo! of the owl was chimed forth from some old hollow tree, when the beautiful and limpid water of the Muskingum ran rippling down its course unmolested.

But now, how changed!  The forest has been made to yield to the yeoman's ax, defiantly ignoring that beautiful sentiment - "O, woodman, spare that tree!"  The bird's sweet song is seldom heard any more; the quack of the squirrel  has almost become extinct; and by the labor, skill and ingenuity of man, the rippling water of our beautiful river has been made to stand still.  By dams and locks, it has been made navigable [for] first class steamers; factories and mills have been erected; villages have sprung up at almost equal distances from its source to its mouth, accommodating the residents along the valley with all those conveniences which are almost invaluable.

Forty or fifty years ago, mills were few and far between.  i recall one in particular, with which your essayist was pretty well acquainted, having been raised in the immediate neighborhood.  It was known as Featherstone's Mill, located at the head of Dana's Island.  At this mill they ground grain, carded wool, and dressed cloth, and had a custom (in a dry season) of a radius of twenty to thirty miles around.  Not unfrequently men coming that distance would have to stay perhaps from three to five days, waiting for their turn in grinding.  Sometimes they would work for the neighbors for their board and horse feed.  I think some of my friends in this neighborhood can testify to having made us quite a visit while waiting for their grinding.

The products of the soil were then transported to market by water, in flatboat, pirogue, or canoe, or by land in wagons, and on their return merchandise was brought back.  The traveling was done on horseback, or in the old stage coach.  But now the stagecoach reposeth in some old back shed; the canoe has been converted into a feed trough, and in their stead the beautiful steamer, in her grand, majestic splendor, plows through our waters, conveying to and fro the products and merchandise of our country to every village and hamlet. 

Our country has also become checkered up with railroad tracks going up and down our valleys, through the hills, and across our streams.  The iron horse goes snorting by with lightning speed, conveying its myriads of passengers and merchandise from one end of the continent to the other, in a very few hours.  But to my mind the greatest achievement in all the arts and sciences is the magnetic telegraph.  To think of communicating intelligibly with the Old World, and all over this country, in the short space of a few minutes, is almost beyond human conception.  Had some great philosopher, fifty years ago, predicted this great progress in the arts and sciences, he would have been called a fool or maniac.

Fifty years ago, the plow was made and shaped from a log of wood, with handles dug from the roots of a tree, with a piece of iron for a point and land side.  This was called a hog nose or barshear plow.  The ax, the hoe, and the pitchfork, were made by the village blacksmith, rough, heavy and unwieldy.  Now these implements are made of the finest polished steel; even the steam and gang-plow have been made to work successfully in many places.  The sickle, the scythe, and the grain cradle, have all been superseded by the reaper and mower.  Fifty years ago, the buzz of the spinning wheel could be heard in almost every cabin, from early dawn until about three or four o'clock in the afternoon, when their day's work was done, being from thirty to forty knots, earning 8-1/3 cents per day, or 50 cents a week.  The loom, too, usually occupied one corner of the cabin, and a bed the other, while the good dame of the house would rock the cradle with one foot or hand, and draw from the distaff the beautiful fibre of flax with the other hand, wherewith to make the clothing for the family.

Now, all these old relics have found a resting place in the garret or some old outhouse, and we all say, peace to their slumbers.  Then the family were all clad in their homespun, made and fashioned to fit the wearer; then six or seven yards would make a dress for a lady, which would show the form of the wearer.  Now, sixteen or seventeen yards are required, and perhaps before this is completed you are accosted some morning by your sweet tempered wife with, 'Husband, are you going to town to-day?"  You answer in the affirmative.  "Won't you please get me two yards more of this goods?  I haven't quite enough to finish my dress," and the sample is thrust into your vest pocket, perhaps with a sweet kiss to boot, and of course he gets it.  Now, when this garment is completed and donned by the wearer, methinks it would puzzle a philosopher to tell from appearances whether she was naturally or artificially deformed!

If the kind friends will bear with me, I would like to relate a little circumstance that came under our observation but recently in our town, while a friend and myself were sitting on a dry goods box, talking upon the topics of the day, perhaps of the growth of our Farmers' Club. We saw approaching us some real, live, animated being; her eyes sparkled like two diamonds; her prow or figure-head was painted and burnished in the most exquisite manner; at the top of her main-mast were flying beautiful colors and plumes; and she was fashioned and modeled in the most artistic shape; also, being well ballasted, she would drive through the waves and wind without a quiver.  "But," said I to my friend, "she has a pretty long rudder for so small a craft."  Said he, "You are mistaken; you are not posted; that is her trail."  "Trail," said I, "then I'm sold.  Fifty years ago, we used to hear our parents tell about the Indian trail, and the dogs trailing up foxes, and more latterly we have read of blood hounds down South trailing up runaways; but this trail, I think, out trails them all."  There being a sudden gust of wind in the rear, about this time this trail was seen to take a turn round a lamp post, and further than this deponent knoweth not.

Could one of these fashionably dressed creatures, this lady of the period, have dropped down, as if by magic, years ago, I hardly know what the sensation might have been.  I imagine some of the more timid ones might have skulked behind the door, or climbed the ladder, while others, not so easily scared, might have disrobed her of some of her attire, to see if she was really human; and i am not sure but that the boys might have taken down the old flint-lock, for the boys were not so easily scared in those days.  But I desist from further comment.

Fifty years ago, the good Christian people assembled themselves together in the log church, the school house, or domicile, to worship God in the beauty of his holiness, and where all would join in singing the songs of Zion, and praises to his holy name.  But now, how changed!  Of the myriads who now go up to the great temple of the Lord, representing their millions of wealth, how many go up in the true spirit of His name, and how many go to show their gorgeous attires, and their glittering diamonds where a select, salaried few are chosen to chant the praises of his holy name, in all the style and splendor of the opera.  This may be progression in Christianity; it may be acceptable in the eyes of God.

Fifty years ago, the school house was built of logs, with chimney outside built of stone; a fire-place that would take in nearly one-fourth of a cord of wood; a few panes of glass for light, stuck in between a couple of logs; slabs for benches, seating from eight to a dozen scholars; writing desks made by driving pins into the logs, with a board or slab on top of them.  In a school of the above description your writer obtained his education, and came off with distinction and honor.  The branches of education taught in country schools in those days were spelling, reading, writing, geography, grammar, and arithmetic; nothing higher.  The wages paid the teacher then were, for a male teacher, about twelve dollars per month, and for a female, one dollar and fifty cents a week.  The government of schools I almost dread to relate.  The inhuman brutality of some school teachers in those days was terrible.  They would rule as with a rod of iron; would stalk about over the school room, with gad in hand, ready to come down on the head of some unruly scholar without a moment's warning; or, if the teacher was too lazy to leave his seat, he would hurl the ruler across the room at some one who might be violating some of the rules, when the guilty one had to carry the ruler up to him, and receive ten or a dozen whacks of the ruler upon the hand, well laid on, and return to his seat with a blistered hand, or perhaps the blood oozing from the ends of his fingers; or a little more mild punishment would be to hang them by the thumbs up to the joist, or split a quill and put it on their nose.  Thanks to progress and civilization, these inhuman and cruel punishments have now become obsolete.

I must, however, give credit for one custom or courtesy that was taught and practiced in those days.  The school children were taught, on entering and leaving the school room, to make their manners - the boys, with hats off, making a low bow, and the girls a courtesy.  They were also required to show these acts of respect on meeting their seniors upon the public highway.  I can look back now, in my imagination, and see the little girls depress themselves about half their length, when meeting one of the neighbors.  The contrast is now quite visible to us all.  Our schools are now governed by kindness, firmness, and decision.  The school room is made comfortable, convenient, and attractive.  The walls are decorated with evergreens, mottoes and maps, and even the organ has a prominent position in some school rooms.  There can now be acquired at many of our country schools a competent education enough, befitting him or her for almost any of the walks or business transactions in private life.

And now, to wind up my essay, or bit of history, or whatever you may please to call it, I will only add that in the next half century to come, if the same rapid strides and progress in the arts, science and literature that have been made in the last fifty years are continued, it would be hard to predict what may be in store for the next generation to come.  And to my young friends present, who may live to see fifty years hence, marvel not, I say, marvel not, if you should see some scientific genius navigating in the air successfully, for I believe it will be done.

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