Nina Daniels



Wednesday, May 5, 1948

We were speaking of the income derived from ashes on our last paper on old pioneer affairs. If we could reconstruct our town as it looked 139 years ago, we would be shocked, if not amazed.

Fancy, if you can, a small clearing in the immense forest. It is dotted with forlorn looking stumps, as though the giants that once stood upon them were abashed at their sudden destruction. Deep layers of ashes surround a few small log cabins.

Of course not all parts of the town and locality were settled simultaneously. I believe the King Brown farm at the Center was the first farm and home to be established. That was in 1809 and the home was a shanty.

In 1810 Reuben Thomas, of New Hampshire, went "west" and purchased a tract of land from one David Parish, who was establishing an estate in the town of Parishville. That would be the home of the late Harry Thomas where his widow now lives, on the Colton road. Some time before the middle of the last century, Joshua and Emily Brown cleared land for a farm and home on the Gynn road. Indeed, the home that they established was what is known as the Gynn place and their descendants still live there in the persons of Clinton Carey, his wife and two sons.

In 1825, Augustus Jaquis and his wife, Cynthia Fletcher Jaquis, built the house on Parish Street, now owned and occupied by his granddaughter and her husband, the Fay Duffys. Early in the history of this village David Parish had built for his agents the fine old house which is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sumner Fenner.

From Vermont by Sled

Also in 1825, Jonas Parker of Vermont loaded his goods and family into two sleds, one ox-drawn, one horse-drawn, and came to the spot which is now the farm of Julia and Ezra Crump at the Center. His lean-to rested against the hill near the State road. Parish also began the foundation of what he hoped to be a grand estate on the County road about 1811. So the stumps and ashes were fairly well distributed.

I wonder how many young women would be satisfied with their homes if they were like those lean-tos and shanties, or even the clean log cabins which the young husbands built for their brides in those days so long ago. Were they contented there in the woods with only the song-birds and little furry things of the forest for companions? Did they bemoan their fate when washing their home-made clothes on the stones at the stream? Were they lonely when the long night came on with just a flickering home-dipped candle to sew by? And were they affrighted when watching by a beloved sick child, the cry of hungry wolves from the near-by forest reached them?

I believe both the pioneer men and women were happy and proud in their vigorous and useful lives, else why did their descendants live on until the present time upon those acres so toilfully made habitable?

Land Stays in Family

Only a few months ago Harry Thomas passed away in the house built by his grandfather and Clinton Carey, and his family still occupies the place built a century ago by his grandparents, while on the Parker Homestead Mrs. Glen Measaw, her husband and three little boys still cultivate the acres cleared by her forbears. One generation after another thus passed on their love of the land hallowed by the labors of each other. Contentment must have been with them, or they would have departed long ago.

Speaking of ashes, no doubt great-grandfather often tracked loads of them onto the cabin floor, if indeed there was a floor, as they were all about after burning the noble trees. And with Yankee ingenuity they found use for them. They sold great quantities of them to the numerous asheries in the settlement.

Most of the storekeepers ran asheries in connection with their other business. Here in Parishville, E. D. Brooks had an ashery and bought all the ashes he could get. Mr. Hopkins, founder of Hopkinton, bought large quantities of both field and house ashes. He paid 12 ½ cents a bushel for the latter and six for the field ashes. So Carlton Sanford tells us in his history of Hopkinton. He relates of Mr. Brooks buying all the ashes he could find, putting them on the road for that purpose and manufacturing black salts with the ashes. And he tells of Clark S. Chittenden in Hopkinton having his pearlash plant on the west bank of Lyd Brook. Gilbert Covey and Reuben Post took a contract to clear ten acres of land on the Hopkins farm at ten dollars per acre and the ashes. They had great success in burning the felled trees and saving the ashes as they secured 600 bushels of ashes from a single acre. They sold the ashes at ten cents per bushel, making the job very profitable for them.

At the asheries a large receptacle for a leach was kept. Into this ashes were poured, followed by a certain amount of water. The water percolated down through, coming out a dark-colored lye. The lye was put into kettles set in arches and boiled down to a hard, almost brittle, stuff known as black salts by the pioneers. Thus they had the raw ashes and black salts from which they obtained what little money they had. That is why one found an ash-house in connection with an old house—every ounce of ashes meant a few cents.

Soda Replaces Saleratus

From the black salts, pearlash was manufactured by baking the salts until they were white and pure, and formed into a cake, with which carbon was mixed. That product was then used in the manufacture of saleratus. Of course, this process was not undertaken by the settlers themselves. They saved and sold the ashes of the pearlash, someone else turned out the saleratus. One seldom sees a paper of that now; instead we buy bicarbonate of soda.

Another use for their ashes was in the making of soft soap. In fact, the pioneers had little else except soft soap for their use. Into a barrel placed on a slanting platform they poured ashes and water. The mixture which came out as lye was mixed with fat and boiled to the proper consistency. I do not fancy this soap helped in making "the skin you love to touch," but it cleaned their clothes, etc. Peddlers used to come through and sell cakes of better soap for toilet purposes.

This is the story of that which remained after the noble forest was destroyed in order that we might have our farms, our villages and homes. It is next to impossible for us to imagine the unremitting labor, hardships and patience which went into that clearing of the land.

NOTE: I renamed Mill Street Parish Street in my own mind. The mills are no more.



North Country