Search This Blog

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Public Schools in the 1800s in America

This was a time when demographics were changing America from localized rural schools to more city schools. During this time children did not always go to school because of responsibilities to help the farming family or the family business and when poor children and orphans had to work in factories that paid them for their cheap labor. School was not mandatory. In 1852, Massachusetts passed school laws that required students to attend. Shortly after that New York did the same. Within 50-60 years all states had such laws on their books to at least get America's pupils through the elementary school years. Catholic schools emerged as private schools. The Supreme Court in 1925 allowed children to attend public or private school, stopping any legal battles over compulsory public schooling.

Localized schools were small and tended to have boys on one side of the room; girls on the other side. Some schools had individual desks in neat rows. Others used tables and benches. Students of all ages were often in the same classroom and the older students would help with the care and teaching of the younger ones. Students tended to be gathered by subject, and not by age, so the children learning a math assignment, for example, might be younger students as well as older ones. Chalkboards were common, and inkwells or quill pens were the norm.

The August 17, 1999 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch shared with its readers that patriotism and citizenship were taught in schools, along with the three Rs. The Pledge of Allegiance was a daily practice. Teachers were often strict, and discipline was routine. Actually, the parents would not be pleased if a teacher was lax in disciplining the children for misbehavior. Whipping a child was banned in 1830s, but not the use of switches or paddles. Children were well trained to pay attention to the teacher, rather than the kids sitting around or next to them. Each was expected to know their lessons well. Children learned from others in the room too because as they would be working on their assignments others might be learning a different subject from the teacher that interested them too. Classrooms were noisy and children spent a lot of time memorizing lessons from textbooks and the Bible. They often recited their learnings before the teacher. Older children tended to the woodstove in the classroom to offer some comfort from the exterior cold. Some parents still felt that school was a waste of time for their students. Most of the learnings a person acquired were from textbooks, family and schooling as most families did not travel and have new more worldly experiences.

Black children were not allowed to attend school. Any teachings for them were done secretly. Some were taught by the white town members or missionaries who wanted them to know how to read the Bible. Even this was dangerous as the teachers were subject to being jailed or fined, and the students to being punished or whipped.  After the Civil War ended, many blacks chose to go to new schools as Freedmen.  

Today we go to school, typically, year round except in the summer. To help with the farming, children in the 1800s would work the fields in the spring and fall and go to school in the summer and winter. Some of the older boys helped on the farms in the summer too. Teachers might be tested, but often were just grown students now hired to teach the next generation. Teachers might have their own place to live, but could well be boarded by various student families throughout the year which was known as being "boardround."

Children walked to school, or rode horses. They might bring their lunch or might not eat at all. They did get recess. At about age 10, boys might be "apprenticed" to learn a job, which could stop their schooling days. Girls might be married by 15 or so and no longer in school. Penmanship was a course that was given serious attention, along with the reading, writing and arithmetic.

This look back more than 100 years makes me curious as to what schools will be like in the next 100 years. No doubt they will still be centered around the 3 Rs, but I find it hard to truly imagine the vast amount of future technological advancements that will enrich schooling and lifelong learning experiences.

October is "Family History Month." Add Ghost Tales to Your Family Yarns

I am the family genealogist, and my passion for this hobby is never ending. October is designated as Family History Month in the United States. 

Our family collected stories of ghostly happenings and weird coincidences a few years ago and I created a family book on my computer.  If you encounter such stories, and you probably will if you ask or if it has happened to you, this is a very interesting way to celebrate Family History Month.

Here is an example of one of my stories:

Searsport Maine: Cold Rooms of Family Farm on Turnpike Hwy.

I was born in Bangor Maine but lived in Connecticut for most of my youth. Nana and Grandpa's farm was in Searsport, my favorite place to visit.

On winter visits my sister and I slept under a flurry of quilts in an icy room that allowed us to witness and amuse ourselves with each visible breath. Our Mom and Dad slept in the guestroom down the hall which overlooked the Penobscot Bay. Beyond their room is a small bedroom where Mom used slept as a child.

Her brother Gerry scoffed at her stories of cold chills and ghostly rattling of her bed, which caused her great aggravation and sleeplessness far too often. Being a very brave child, Gerry decided to swap rooms with Mom. He was so certain he could prove his sister was just making up stories to scare him.

That night was fraught with eeriness, at first conjured up in a lad's ever active mind; then it happened to him too. Cold! Rattling! And maybe something else?

Gerry tore the bedding apart. He even pulled some floorboards (imagine my grandmother's fury), but he could find no reason for the unruly rattles. He never again slept in Mom's room. And, never again did he rib my Mom about the cold and rattling.

As years passed and Mom grew up to marry Dad, her stepbrother Jimmy slept in this tiny room on his visits to the farm. Years apart, Mom and Jimmy independently experienced the presence of a spirit in this room.

One day Mom casually asked Jimmy if he sensed anything unusual when he was in her old room. He chuckled and shared with her that he did indeed. They now shared the same secret knowledge: No matter how hot a steamy summer's eve might be, or how chilly the winter night might become, this room would grow cold or colder as the sleeping person became aware of a ghostly presence who spoke no words, jiggled the bed, and caused the sound of a rhythmic heartbeat thumping in the chattering cold.

How I wrote my book on ghost stories:

As we gathered each story, I used my Word program to write them and to include photos whenever possible of the persons in the stories or the homes, etc.  When thoroughly edited and the final work approved by each family source to me, I printed the small book on 8 1/2 by 5 inch paper. I used 32 lb. HP paper because it feels more like a book and will easily run through my Kodak printer. For the back cover I used card stock. For the front, I used a clear heavy-duty plastic and then bound with spiral binding combs to neatly hold the book pages together. I have a paper cutter and a spiral binder machine. You can also take your book on a jump disk, etc. to a printer such as Staples or Office Depot and they will do this work for you. Another way to capture the stories is on DVD, giving each person their own personal disk of the book.

Capture your ghost stores to become a part of your family history now.

Friday, September 23, 2016

THE STORY OF SKIPPER in Colonial Beach, Virginia: Full of Memories as Home and as a Tourist

My husband and I and our large dog Skipper who is mostly border collie have spent a total of many weeks in the small town of Colonial Beach, Virginia. Each visit was to take care of our Uncle Tom Evans, to visit Aunt Dorothy who suffered from Alzheimer's and to help Tom with his home there. My husband Patrick also spent much of his youth there and his best childhood memories of summers always involve Colonial Beach. A good place to visit for all.

Small describes Colonial Beach. The peninsula town covers about 4 square miles and has a population of about 5,000 residents; perhaps less. Some residents are full-time while others are there part of the time. 

Patrick  has shared stories about the casinos for off-track betting and the legal gaming history of the beach. In the nineteenth century tourists boats made regular runs to the beach for fun in the sun, for fishing, and for the gambling. It was and is still known as the "Playground of the Potomac." Two things slowed weekend and vacation tourism there. The automobile's popularity allowed tourists to visit other places easily rather than having to rely on boat departures and arrivals. And, the legal casinos were destroyed by fire in the 1960s and were not rebuilt. Today there is only Riverboat Off-Track Betting with a restaurant, lounge, and pier which is the go-to place today at Colonial Beach for gambling.

The beach is near some interesting historical attractions including George Washington's birthplace and Stratford Hall, my personal favorite. Stratford Hall is the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee. In town there is the summer Victorian home of Alexander Graham Bell (see Right) and his family which is now a lovely B&B located on the Potomac River. Actually most of the town faces water from the Potomac or from Monroe Bay as it is a narrow peninsula. We have lovely memories of seeing all of these places with Tom and Dorothy.

By Suzyramble (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Two authors that I know of have lived here. Sloan Wilson who is famous for The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit chose Colonial Beach as his retirement town. And, my personal favorite is Sherryl Woods who, like my husband, enjoyed summers as a kid in Colonial Beach. Sherryl authored many books including Return to Rose Cottage and the series of family friendly novels centered around the Chesapeake Bay which is now a Hallmark Channel Series entitled Chesapeake Shores

Tom had cabinets in his basement from Sherryl's Colonial Beach home that were perfect for his fishing supplies and which she no longer needed due to some renovation work. I could not walk in Uncle Tom's basement without thinking of Sherryl Woods!

Our dog Skipper would get so excited every time we went to Colonial Beach. First he would get a long trip in our car, which he loves. Then he would get to have the car's back windows down and his head poked out to catch the gentle breeze, ears flapping. We would drive 25 mph in Colonial Beach and he would bark at squirrels and other animals. Cute, but at times noisy. The highlight of his day was his ride around town. 

He did not enjoy it as much when we would be on Uncle Tom's golf cart although his ears did flap in the breeze.  Colonial Beach is a golf cart town so carts are everywhere! Supposed to be a licensed driver to be at the wheel, but I suspect a lot of the ones we passed or followed were underage, but driving just fine. They drove 25 mph also. 

We were always looking for interesting things to do in our C-Dory boat and the Potomac was a great place. We would launch from the Colonial Beach Yacht Club marina at the peninsula point, cruise the shoreline, head across the river when Dahlgren Weapons Lab was not testing equipment over the Potomac, and boat to the District of Columbia. Nice. Beware though that there is a lot of floating debris in the Potomac near DC, so be cautious.

Colonial Beach offers events for residents and tourists although we rarely went to any of them. They have an arts Friday program, craft events, rockfish tournaments, fireworks, etc. There are several antique shops. The beach does have restrictions that never existed in the heyday of the resort town. In the past dogs and drinking and sleeping on the beach were allowed, but today the "NO" signs include no dogs on the public beach, no alcohol beverages, and no fires. Oh well. Oh, the beach entrance at Colonial Beach Municipal Pier has a brick pattern walkway composed of bricks purchased by local residents and tourists alike. Our Cator family "owns" one of these bricks.

A couple of local must-see, extremely casual, places are Lenny's Restaurant which is open for breakfast and lunch only (a personal favorite); Ola's Restaurant; and Fat Freda's (closed now I think). Lots of locals gathered to eat at these, especially Lenny's. When we wanted something a bit fancier we would stop at the waterfront Wilkinson's Seafood Restaurant, with great entrees and coleslaw made with French dressing which is yummy, as well as several other welcoming eateries to choose from.

The worst time there for our dog Skipper was when we went to Fredericksburg which is about 45 minutes away to move our Aunt Dorothy from assisted living to the nursing home at the beach. Our dog thought we were at the marina. Someone visited our uncle's home, did not close the gate, and Skipper took off for the marina. Skipper is a disabled dog who has birth defects in his back legs. Despite this, he was determined to find us and ran to the municipal pier and swam from there to almost the Point of the peninsula where the marina is located.

This run and swim covered about 3 or 4 linear miles. About three miles was running the road from Tom's McKinney home to the Pier; the balance swimming from the Pier to the Point. Some people called animal rescue who fairly easily were able to capture him when he was returning from the Potomac waters to the road, exhausted. These wonderful people called us and my husband left the nursing home immediately to get him. Skipper slept for days afterwards. He was so very exhausted, but okay and very relieved to be back with us. We cannot thank the kind people of Colonial Beach enough for saving and finding our dog for us. Bless you all.

Eventually Dorothy passed.  Tom came to live with us in FL where he ultimately passed away also. We miss them both very dearly.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Searsport Maine's Dinosaur Mansions

When I visited Searsport Maine with my husband many years ago, we saw many old Sea Captain homes - grand estates built during the time of the Searsport Sea Captains sailing the high seas from China to Cape Horn, and more.  Each house has great history.  We stayed at a B&B that was the former home of my 4th Great Grandfather, Capt. Green Pendleton.  Each house was a desirable purchase back then, but not now it would seem.

Today I came across an article about the sale of the Capt. John Willard McGilvery home at 120 Main Street in Searsport in 2014.  John was the uncle of the husband of my third great aunt, Ann L. McGilvery...obviously a distant in-law.  But it is not him that interested me, it is the fate of his home in Searsport, and that of the many other sea captain homes in that small town.

This McGilvery home was originally built in 1874 for $5000 when the average Maine home was built for $100.  It is worth about $800,000 but is taxed at $400,000 and sold recently as a result of an auction at around the $200,000 mark.  The McGilvery home is on the National Register of Homes which should be of value, right?  Evidently not so.  Why such a disparity in prices?

The home more recently was the "Carriage Inn" B&B, with many guests in its three guest rooms, which may well have been haunted according to .  

Maine artist Waldo Pierce lived there in mid 1900s and the house still has some of his murals on the walls.  Again, valuable in real estate or it should be.

The auction realtor Mike Miller said, “It’s a beautiful, beautiful home. If you like old houses, it’s a doozy but the market is inversely proportional to the cost of heating oil. The effect of that on a property like this is enormous. We call them dinosaurs. If you have 4,500 square feet of old house with horsehair plaster, you’ve got a problem.”   Ah, so heating cost and maintenance is the culprit!

This is a 13 room, 6,000 square foot house with horsehair plaster.  The home has 12 foot ceilings which eat heat!   Five fireplaces which do only some to heat and may well cause heat loss. 

So. someone got a bargain for the house (which still has the original pumpkin pine floors) and the carriage house with a studio apartment above it.  Amazing.  Oh, perhaps the new owner has rented this out the apartment to help defray the skyrocketed fuel costs!

No matter what, I will always marvel at the homes of the Searsport Sea Captains.

Thank you, Bangor Daily News for this article.

House photo:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Elmer Amos Keyser's Tin Lizzie

My brother-in-law had a great uncle who died while cranking his Model T Ford! 

I have heard jokes about people kicking the bucket when 
Times Dispatch of VA 1911 Ad
they cranked their Tin Lizzies, but this biography snippet is reality. The Tin Lizzies were manufactured from 1908 to 1927; I have no idea which model or year his was.  Some came with electric starters after 1919, so his likely was an older model.  And they all came in black about that time.

A Model-T has only two speeds - high and low.  And a Tin Lizzie has only rear wheel brakes.  And it has a spark, an important thing for it to have.

There is a lever next to the steering wheel which advances (lever down) or retards (lever up) the spark.  To start cranking, the Model T uses the lever up or retard position.  To not use the lever up position is to endanger one's personal space while standing in the path of a potential moving vehicle.  Vehicle kick.  Not good.

So, Great Uncle Elmer Amos Keyser would have set the car to retard mode (lever up).

There he would have turned the Magneto or Off or Battery switch.  That switch must ultimately be in Battery mode, unless the battery is dead; then the Magneto came in handy. 

As we all likely know, the hand crank is located in the front of the car (yep, step in front of your Model-T which is always in gear UNLESS it is remembered that the rear brakes must be fully set first!  A memory lapse means you get mowed down.  Bad start of a road trip,  Elmer Amos did not get mowed down.

And that crank is right below what could be a sizzling radiator.  Elmer Amos had to pull out a wire ring, the choke, at the lower left corner of this cold or hot radiator, all the while facing the car.

With the Magneto switch engaged properly, he would have pushed the crank in and given it a mighty turn!  He should have only needed to crank the engine one or two turns and a tad bit more till he had ignition.  Coils buzz. If the engine is warm it may start now.  Cold starting evidently could mean cranking it with his right palm only.  His fingers and thumb all needed to be on the same side of the crank.  

He likely would have quickly pulled up the crank and the engine should have powered up, so he could hop into the car and give the throttle some rev.  And the road trip begins.

Did I get all that cranking stuff right?  Hope so, but not sure!

However it should have occurred, Elmer Amos supposedly was struck in the head with the crank and ultimately he died.

On April 28, 1926 in Greenville Pennsylvania, at the age of 58, Elmer Amos Keyser died while hand cranking his Model T Ford at his farm, 5 miles west of Greenville.  The death certificate said he died of acute heart dilatation which lasted for 10 minutes.  It could have been solely from the exertion of a "cranky" car and a head injury caused by the crank itself when the Model T fought starting.  Family tradition "says" the switch was in magneto mode which would definitely indicate the car was not easy to start this time.  But it is more likely that head injury was combined with a final moment of heart disease erupting into the acute heart dilatation.  Sad.

He was born in West Virginia in 1867 , married his wife Annie White on April 3, 1889 in Belmont, OH, farmed in PA, and died there, and was returned to OH for burial.  His widow Annie died in OH three years later at age 62 of uterine and ovarian cancer.

Info on Cranking a Model T from:

Monday, May 9, 2016



Your 4th GGfather Peter Henry Heiskell was born in Winchester, VA when his mom was 30 and dad Johann Christof was 33.  He married your 4th GGmother on May 13, 1783. 
Your 4th GGmother Susanna "Susan" Weitzel was born in 1765 in Winchester VA to Christopher and Mary Bonnet Weitzel.   Susanna was 2nd generation American.  Her grandparents, Johan Jacob Weitzel and Mary Barbara Geist Weitzel were both born in Germany.  Johan Jacob died at age 100.

In 1779 Peter was commissioned as an Ensign in the Virginia militia.  He is an approved name for SAR and DAR lineages.

To me, the most fascinating thing about your 4th GGdad occurred when Thomas Jefferson's family found themselves in deep debt following his death.  After struggling for several years, they had to sell Monticello due the high debts of Jefferson.  The Executor's Sale was held in the winter of 1831. James Barkley purchased the mansion then and owned it for three years before selling to U. S. Navy Officer Uriah Levy who ultimately saved Monticello from further ruin.
When the Barkleys made their purchase, they sold off or gave away many of Jefferson's possessions that came with their purchase, including the carriage, or gig, that Jefferson had ridden to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  This gig was presented to Peter Heiskell of Staunton. This is an important and  famous gift from the Jefferson estate to your 4th Great Granddad!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Nancy Skaggs DeSpain, Daughter of The Long Hunter!

Dear Grandchildren of the Durham/DeSpain line:

Your Eighth Great Grandfather was Peter DeSpain, a 5' 5 3/4" farmer born in NC in 1764, before the Revolutionary War. 8GGdad Peter did grow in Virginia where he enlisted as a private for 18 months in the Revolutionary War. Peter served in Capt. Bentley's Company and Colonel Hawes Virginia Regiment and saw several battles including Camden, Guilford Courthouse, Ninety-Six SC and Eutaw Springs SC.  His last battle was in 1781.

Ten years later he married Nancy Skaggs in Green County, KY.  

8GGmom NANCY SKAGGS DESPAIN, born in SW Virginia in 1759,  had an interesting history also.  She was the daughter of Henry Skaggs, a Scotch-Irish pioneer known as The Long Hunter who lived to be 86...from 1724 VA to 1810 KY.  When Nancy was born her dad was 35; her mom Mary Skaggs was 20. 

As a Long Hunter, your 9GGdad Henry was a hunter, explorer and a pioneer who traveled for long periods in the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee during the 1700s.  Henry would be gone for months upon months for hunting in the Trans-Allegheny wilderness.  He eventually worked as a land agent with Daniel Boone, exploring Middle Tennessee and Eastern and Central Kentucky.  Henry became a veteran tracker as well as an Indian Fighter.  


An exploring party of 13 "Long Hunters," so named because of the long periods of time spent away from home, camped along Barren River in 1775. Their names were carved on a beech tree, a silent record of the first white men in this area. 9GGdad Henry Skaggs and Joseph Drake of this group had been among the first Long Hunters, 1769 - 1771, whose exploring helped open mid-Kentucky.  

This drawing depicts how 9GGdad might have look on the trails. 


One of your 9GGdad's many adventures was when he helped Mrs. Jenny Wiley in her escape to avoid recapture by the Shawnees in October 1789.

Jenny Wiley married Thomas Wiley, an Irish immigrant and they built a log cabin.  On October 1, 1789, her husband road to a trading post on a horse laden with ginseng.  He would barter the ginseng for necessities and would be back late that day.  He had been gone only a few hours when Thomas' brother-in-law John Borders was searching for sheep that had escaped their fencing, and heard what sounded like owl hoots when he approached his Thomas' cabin.  John knew the hooting could be caused by owls and the dreariness of the cloudy day or could be well be pre-attack signals of Native Americans who would attack at dark.  He got Jenny to agree to go to his home as a precaution.  Since attacks were fairly common and occurred at night, she lingered to do a final few minutes of weaving on a piece of cloth she was creating and to feed the livestock.  Mistake!

Eleven indians (2 Cherokees, 3 Shawnees, 3 Wyandots, 3 Delawares) stormed their Virginia log cabin during daylight, mistaking the Wiley cabin for one where an enemy lived.  Though they tried to barricade the door to the cabin, and then to fight the indians, her younger brother and all but one of her children were slain.  Jenny who was pregnant and her youngest child of fifteen months of age were taken captive. Her child became ill and he was killed while Jenny slept.  She gave birth to her baby but he was was ultimately scalped.  Jenny still lived.  She was a captive in what is now Little Mud Lick Creek in Johnson County KY.    

Jenny finally escaped when left alone, bound with rawhide, while the Indians hunted.  It was raining hard and she was finally able to escape by stretching the rawhide ties and began her arduous flight to freedom. As she neared a fort blockhouse, she screamed her name and situation.  Out of the fort emerged your elderly 9GGdad Long Hunter Henry Skaggs whom she knew as a friend of her father's!  Henry was in his 80s by now but was not daunted in his efforts to save Jenny. They both knew she was in imminent danger of recapture. To get to Henry she would have to cross a river.  Others at the fort had taken the only canoes on a hunting trip, so Henry and one of the women at the fort had to construct a rough raft as quickly as possible. Henry told Jenny to try to ford the river herself if the Indians found her before he could get to her.

Skaggs and the woman felled a dead mulberry tree which broke into three fairly even pieces, wrapped it tightly with grapevines, gathered his rifles, and he took off across the overflowing river to get to Jenny. The raft drifted far down river but Jenny kept pace and hopped onto the raft when it was finally made shore. The river was still raging enough to carry them further adrift, and the raft tried to break apart about mid-river, but they got near enough to shore to grab overhanging branches on the fort side about a half mile downriver.  

Jenny  was returned to her husband, eventually moving to Kentucky themselves.  

Harpe Brothers, America First Serial Killers (PIC BELOW):

Upon the request of Governor Gerrard in 1799, 9GGdad Henry Skaggs led an attempt to capture America's first reputed serial killers, the Harpe Brothers in Western Kentucky.  Several posses had been assembled to capture the brothers, but the only posse that found them ended up fleeing to safety.  Skaggs was "enraged" and tried to reassemble to scattered posse, to no avail.  Henry went after the brothers on his own! Henry came upon drunken men celebrating after a house raising. When hearing the news of the Harpe brothers not being captured, the drunks grabbed liquor and rifles and began the search.  The euphoria of the expedition quickly died and Skaggs had to go on alone once again.  He arrived at the cabin of Col. Daniel Trabue, another old Indian fighter, and Trabue agreed to join Henry as soon as his 13 year old son returned from an errand to borrow flour and beans from a neighbor.  The son did not return; the Harpes killed him first and discarded his body in a sinkhole.  The son's dog arrived home instead. Trabue and Skaggs hurried to find Trabue's son, finding instead his body which had been beaten and tomahawked.  Though the enraged Skaggs and Trabue searched for days, the Harpes were evidently long gone.  The attempt was woefully unsuccessful.

Your 9GGdad "Henry Skaggs was a "bold, enterprising and fearless" man, a true adventurer of the early frontier"  (Thwaites and Kelloggy, Dunmore's War p. 239).

"Be safe and keep your powder dry" *

Henry Skaggs family is Scotch-Irish.  He was not part of the Irish Catholic immigrants who came to America due to the late 1840s potato famine. Instead, they were of Presbyterian background