Ferris State University Big Rapids MI College

The Old Home

My great grandfather, Richard Ferris, served in the Revolutionary War from 1776 to 1783. He died October nineteen, 1846 at the age of eighty-four. He was the father of ten children.

His oldest son, John Ferris, was my grandfather. He, too, died at the age of eighty-four. My grandmother was the daughter of Thomas Moger. The best information I can get indicates that, beyond a reasonable doubt, my ancestors on my father's side came originally from England to Westchester County New York, and from thence to the town of Spencer, Tioga County, New York.

My grandfather was by occupation a farmer. If he ever did any real work, no one ever caught him at it. I never have been able to discover how he managed to live. I do not believe that he could write. He may have been able to read a little. During the larger part of his life, he indulged very freely in the use of good whiskey and hard cider. As he approached old age, he drank little. No one of his nine children, six boys and three girls, ever received so much as an elementary education. My father could neither read nor write. When any one of the children could earn a wage at manual labor, he or she was required to go out to work. Grandfather collected and used their meager earnings.

My father John Ferris, Jr. was born in the Township of Spencer, January fifteen, 1824. His home on the little farm offered few opportunities for growth. Poverty hung 

like a pall over the children. Just as soon as they could earn a pittance at manual labor they were made not only to take care of themselves, but to give a portion of their earnings to their father and mother. They were denied the privilege of attending school. Consequently, my father did not acquire even the rudiments of an education.

He began earning a small wage when he was thirteen. From that time until he died, January thirty-one, 1895, he toiled incessantly. He never knew the meaning of leisure. Whatever noble traits of character he possessed he must have inherited from his mother.

When he was twenty-six or twenty-seven he purchased forty or fifty acres of forest, three and a half miles south of the village of Spencer.

After erecting a log house, he married Sarah Woodard. Then he began clearing the land. All winter long he chopped down great hemlocks, beeches, and maples, together with the underbrush. In the following summer he burnt, as best he could, this material. The larger trees remained to be cut into logs, which were drawn and rolled into heaps to be burnt prior to sowing winter wheat in the autumn.

Father did not do this work alone. He, with a helper, converted the partially burnt trees into logs. On a given day his neighbors with their teams came to his assistance. This form of co-operation was called a "Logging Bee." In this century we frequently hear lectures on the importance of community work. Little is heard, however, about its 

origin. "Bees" were a necessity in the days of pioneering. Neighbors considered working together a privilege.

Father's first wife died of tuberculosis within two years after their marriage.

At the age of twenty-eight he married Stella Reed an orphan, one of seven children. My mother was nearly eighteen years of age at the time of her marriage. She was then living in the home of William Gridley on a farm four or five miles from Candor, Tioga County, New York. She had acquired a good common school education.

Father and mother purchased a hemlock forest of seventy or eighty acres four miles southeast of the village of Spencer. Here they began housekeeping in a little log house where I was born, January six, 1853. Four of my sisters, Sarah, Anna, Mariette and Olive were also born here.

It is impossible for me to give an adequate description of father and mother's struggle on this prospective farm.

The log house was one story and probably about twenty-four feet by twenty. It consisted of one large room and a very small bed room for the visitor or the rural school teacher who came for a night's hospitality. In the main room was the large bed for father, mother and the baby. The red trundle bed for the other children was on casters, and during the day found its place under the big bed. A large cook stove with elevated oven occupied a conspicuous place in this room.

In the one room mother cooked and did all of her work; in the one room we children played and fought; in the one room we lived together. All of our relations were intimate. The "together" idea was a tremendous factor in the development of the character of American pioneers. The fundamental virtues were a necessity of our survival. The modern home has abandoned the "together" ideas, and so standardized and specialized home life that annual banquets are necessary in order to bring parents and children together. The children of today are entitled to sympathy rather than congratulations.

If I had the gifts of a novelist or dramatist, I could offer my readers stories of the old 'logging bees' that would fascinate the most indifferent. The jokes that were handed about grew out of the very lives of those physical giants of long ago. In those days neighbors co-operated for the welfare and happiness of all. Human sympathy was manifested in a charming manner.

This is not the whole story. After the logs were in heaps my sisters and I joined father in setting them on fire. This was done at night. Whether our delight originated in the mind of our primitive ancestors, I do not know. I do know that the boys and girls of today cannot experience in any of their amusements the hilarious delight we experienced in imagining ourselves savages in our attempt to set the world on fire.

The reader who knows the value of lumber today will ask why this destruction? Because there was no market for it. As late as 1862 my father purchased a high grade of clear pine lumber for eight dollars per thousand feet.

Gradually the forest disappeared and fields of wheat, patches of corn and buckwheat were planted. A few cows and sheep were cared for in order to help the family eke out a meager existence. In those days sewing machines and kerosene lamps were unheard of luxuries. 

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