Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Interesting Interview with Mrs. Nancy Frost, Aged Ninety-Eight

The Weekly Leader, April 3, 1883

As the time for the celebration of the first settlement of Ohio draws near, every scrap of information which sheds light upon the history and experience of the early settlers, who came here in 1788, and the few years following the landing of the Western "Mayflower," acquires fresh importance.  We cannot learn too much of the pioneers.  All of those early settlers and their families who came here in 1790, in the infancy of the settlement, have perished save one.  The only person living who came to Marietta prior to 1790, is we believe, Mrs. Nancy Frost.  Mrs. Frost is the eldest daughter of Robert Allison, who came to Marietta from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1789, about eighteen months after the advent of the first settlers.

A reporter from the Leader office visited Mrs. Frost last Friday, to listen to such recollections and reminiscences of her youth as she might choose to relate.  She is the grandmother of Messrs. Miles and O. A. Stacy and lives with the latter gentleman, at his home a short distance below Lowell.

Mrs. Frost was born October 22nd, 1784, and has completed nearly half of her ninety-ninth year.  She is an intelligent old lady and talks with ease of the experiences of her childhood and is possessed of a singularly faithful memory.  From the number of details and minor incidents she recalls, and the generally strict sequence of dates she observes, one is impressed with the fact that for a child she was an unusually close observer, and that her mind was "Wax to receive and marble to retain."  Mrs. Frost has enjoyed excellent health till the time of the recent flood when she was seized with pneumonia of so acute a nature that she barely managed to survive the attack.  She attributes her recovery to a scrupulous abstinence from medicine.  She has taken no drugs for thirty years and is firmly resolved never to resume the practice, neither can she be persuaded to take a drop of spiritous liquor, even as a medicine.  She is tolerably active, attends to all of her own wants and would assume household duties if she were permitted to do so by her friends.  She takes short walks in the open air each day, and believes exercise better than medicine.  She has always been in the habit of retiring and rising with the sun.  To her excellent habits and her knowledge of the value of diet and exercise may be ascribed her long life, health, and the excellent state of her mind.  On her ninety-eighth birthday Mrs. Frost weighed one hundred pounds.  The old lady has some difficulty in hearing strange voices, and we conversed with her through Mrs. Stacy, who kindly acted as interlocutor.

She was in her 6th year when she came to Marietta with her father's family.  They came in a boat with a Mr. Hewitt, and in addition to their household supplies brought a cow.  Upon reaching Marietta they were given quarters in one of the block houses, which she describes as being "picketed in" as in distinction from the garrisons at "the Point" whose quarters were not surrounded by an enclosure.  She lived in the block-house till she left Marietta, which was either in 1794 or 1797, when her family moved up the Muskingum river, near the present town of Lowell.


Speaking of Indians, Mrs. Frost said that her earliest and most vivid recollection of them was associated with an alarm given to the garrison that the Indians were about to make an attack.  Gates were hurriedly closed and fastened, weapons grasped, and her mother with the other women set to moulding bullets, and she was told by her mother that upon no account must she allow her younger sister to cry.  Mrs. Frost says she kept the child silent by placing her against the wall and holding her hand firmly over her mouth until the anticipated danger was past.  She spoke of seeing two men who had been killed and scalped by the Indians.  One of them was John Rogers, the post scout, and the other a mulatto boy.  Rogers was killed, she said, near Col. William Putnam's old residence on the river bank.  (Now occupied by John Strecker, Esq.)


Mrs. Frost had many pleasant reminiscences of her early school life.  "School was kept every day of the week, both summer and winter, except on Saturdays.  On that day we had a holiday, and the little boy would spend the afternoon playing soldier, and fighting mullen stalks.  The girls each Saturday afternoon attended a kind of week day Sabbath school conducted by Mrs. Mary Lake."  Mrs. Lake taught them the creed, the Lord's Prayer and the catechism.  The late Col. William Putnam's father was the first schoolmaster.  Mrs. Frost says that he whipped a boy so mercilessly after he had been in office a few weeks that "The men held a meeting and turned him out."  He was succeeded by Major Anselm Tupper who taught three years, and probably plied the rod more sparingly than his predecessor.  Among her schoolmates she mentions "Gus Stone, Frank Stone and Maria, Susan and Sophie Green whose father kept store."  Sophie Green afterwards married a man named Burnett, and moved to Tennessee.

On Sunday Dr. Story preached regularly.  The minister and Judge Tupper were the only persons licensed to perform the marriage ceremony.  People would come on foot from Waterford and the other settlements to be married and then trudge back to their homes.  Mrs. Frost tells an amusing incident of a couple who were - 

Mated But Not Married

A man from the Belpre settlement came for Dr. Story in great haste one day, and said that he wanted him to come down the river and marry him immediately.  The worthy divine was engaged in the construction of a barge which he was desirous of completing, and replied that his barge would be done in one week and that he could come down in it at that time, and marry the couple.  The would-be groom said that he must be married at once as it was time to plant corn and he could not wait, as he needed the woman's assistance.  Dr. Story told him to go back and plant the corn and he would formally join them on the following week.  The man returned to Belpre and the next week Dr. Story went down, found the couple planting corn in the field; led them to their house and married them.  It cannot be said that the settlers "stood on ceremony" much in those days.

How They Lived

The early settlers were obliged to bring with them supplies of all kinds.  Cloth, ginned cotton, and wool were part of the stores provided by each family.  Soon flax was raised and spun and cloth made by many of the women.

Mrs. Frost spoke particularly of the excellent gardens cultivated in her youth and said that in variety of products, neatness and fruitfulness they surpassed any that she had ever seen.  Corn meal was the staple article of food.  During the first year of their stay in Marietta, Mrs. Frost's family had wheat flour, but after that supply was exhausted they purchased bolted meal from Pittsburgh, and afterwards ground their own corn in hand and horse mills.

No Corner in Corn

One fall owing to an early frost the corn crop was injured and corn became very scarce.  On the Virginia side of the Ohio river there lived an old Mr. Williams "who owned blacks" and had a goodly store of corn which he disposed of to the settlers at the uniform price of fifty cents per bushel, refusing to take advantage of the scarcity of the commodity or the excess of the demand over the supply.  He not only refused to speculate himself, but took measures to prevent others from obtaining more corn than they needed for their own consumption and disposing of the surplus at an advanced price.  Mrs. Frost tells of two men who approached Williams and sought to buy up a hundred bushels of his corn, and were told that they could have three bushels each for their families, but that he would allow no one to speculate in the surplus.  The aspirations for a corner int he grain market were summarily crushed.

Very little coffee was used in those days, and a substitute for it was often made from browned barley.  Tea was the favorite beverage among ladies.  Milk was always plentiful as a number of cows were owned by the settlers and it was quite a common thing to see a yoke of cows preceded by a horse, hauling supplies and timber.

The most expensive commodity was salt.  At times it commanded five dollars a bushel.  It was the alum or rock salt and was all brought from the East.

There was oftentimes a scarcity of change and the Spanish milled dollar was divided into halves and quarters by means of a chisel and hammer to meet the demands for fractional currency.  Continental paper money had almost passed from use then and Mrs. Frost tells of her father having some as a curiosity, merely.


Mrs. Frost says that small pox raged for a time in the settlement.  She had had the dread disease before she came to Ohio.  It was especially fatal to the older members of the community, few of whom had ever been vaccinated.  The young people generally survived.  Doctors Barnes, True, and McIntosh vaccinated patients and with Mrs. Lake looked after the sick and dying.  Mrs. Frost said repeatedly that there was no regular place of burial at that time.  It was not thought safe to go any considerable distance from the Stockade and therefore interments were made at the nearest and most convenient spot, no matter where that happened to be.  She said that she attended the funeral of General Tupper, and that he was buried somewhere in the vicinity of the "Covered Way."  She relates a touching incident of the death and burial of Squire Wood's eldest child, which was a little girl.  Mrs. Frost, then Nancy Allison, Eliza Ayres, and Maria and Susan Green were chosen by Mrs. Lake, the teacher, to bear the coffin of their little companion to its last resting place.  She says:  "We tied handkerchiefs about the ends of the coffin and carried it to the grave in her father's garden."

An Enterprising Debtor

We endeavored to elicit some information about the early courts, but on that subject the narrator of these reminiscences was not so well informed, as she was a child and laws and their administration are not attractive to most young persons.  She recalls the old jail, of logs, and tells of a man imprisoned for debt, who supported his family while serving out his term of confinement by shearing his neighbors' sheep, which they kindly drove to him for that purpose.

Mrs. Frost recalls Generals St. Clair, Putnam, Tupper, and all of the prominent men of the settlement.  She remembers Mrs. Meigs, Sr., and tells of her taking out her snuff-box in church, rapping it, taking a pinch of snuff, and then passing it to all the other occupants of her pew.  Mrs. Frost frequently saw Blennerhassett chopping wood, and he was impressed upon her mind by the fact that he was very near-sighted, and after striking a few blows, would stop, stoop, and ascertain the progress he had made by gauging the incision with his fingers.  This was before he lived on his island.

Old Celebrations of April 7th

There was no public celebration of the anniversary of the first settlement of the State while Mrs. Frost resided in the block-house at Marietta.  She says they were much too busy and were occupied with more serious matters and would not then spend the time for a holiday, although Independence day was observed.  Some years later the younger members of the various settlements commenced the practice of celebrating the 7th day of April.  They usually had a picnic dinner, engaged in rustic sports, and wound up with a country dance.  From other sources we learned that a serious disturbance once took place on the 7th of April and that weapons were conspicuously flourished and that a riot and bloodshed were with great difficulty averted.  The scene of the outbreak is said to have been in the vicinity of the present Biszants Hotel, opposite the office of the Marietta Leader.


Mrs. Frost's active mind recalled more incidents than one could readily record in an hour.  She had much to say of the trials and annoyances which the pioneers suffered and endured.  She tells simply yet graphically of the stirring scenes of camp life when three companies of St. Clair's soldiers were quartered here before the Indian War.  She recounts how soldiers were served whisky as a part of their rations, and how they were bound to a post in the Stockade and flogged for drunkenness; how the settlers suffered by disease, and floods and famine; how they were molested by wild animals and their livestock killed; how wolves made night hideous by their dismal howlings; how the ugly redskins lurked in the shadow of the forest and shot down unsuspecting farmers; how panthers crouched in trees and waited for their human prey; how the pioneers

Prayed and fasted in the forest -
Not for triumphs in the battle,
And renown among the warriors,
But for profit of the people
For advantage of the nation."

It will be observed that these facts as they have been related to the writer do not coincide, in all particulars, with the late History of Washington County.


No comments: