Saturday, February 27, 2010

Westward Ho!

Josiah Holden writes to his niece on 22 Aug 1880. He apologizes to Sarah for his poor penmanship, it seems his eyesight is beginning to fail him. He almost sounds tired. At 83 years old, Josiah certainly could claim the right to spend the rest of his days on the front porch. However, Josiah and his wife had just returned from visiting their daughter up in Manistee, Michigan. What seems even more remarkable about this trip of over 100 miles, is that this elderly couple traveled by themselves. As Josiah succinctly states, "Two rather old chickens to make such a trip alone!" I like this guy!

As I go through more of these letters, I almost feel like an unseen visitor. I wonder if Josiah or Sarah would ever have dreamed that their correspondence would be read with such interest almost a 130 years after it was written. It obviously must have been important to Sarah Cummings, as she saved the letters. So did someone else, I would assume a descendant of Sarah's (most likely a grandchild).

Josiah relates his story of westward movement. He tells Sarah:

We left our native home (Hollis, New Hampshire) the first of June 1832 with four
bright and promising little boys, the oldest 7 years and the youngest, Charles
less than 2 months old. We started for Illinois but it was the season of
the Black Hawk War and we stopped in Ohio and stayed there 2 years and
Gregg was born in Cuyahoga Co. on the 18 day of February 1834 and the first of
June of that year we started for Illinois. Stayed there 8 years, from
thence we moved to New Albany, Indiana and stayed there for two years and from
there moved to Michigan in 1845.

I just marvel at the frugality of his words. He doesn't mention all of the tribulations this young couple must have gone through. Imagine travelling with four young children, including one infant during a time when the most common mode of transportation was your feet.

Josiah does not mention how they travelled. I wonder if they went via the Erie Canal? It certainly would seem logical. By 1832, the Erie Canal had exceeded the wildest expectations of the New York Canal Company. Many of our ancestors who came west traveled, at least some part of the journey, on a canal boat. If you click on the link it will take you to the Old Erie Canal State Park. It's a really neat website. I also found the photograph below in the Wikipedia Commons.

I also went looking for Josiah Holden in the 1840 Federal Census. I found him in Jackson, Will County, Illinois.

I will admit it is kind of difficult to read, but the entry above is for Mr. J. R. Holden. I skimmed by the census page on Ancestry three times before I realized it was him. Josiah's brother Phineas Hemmenway Holden (you gotta love that name) has a large family that stays in Will County for years. These must be the 'Illinois' relatives Josiah mentions every now and again.

Coming next - the Black Hawk War...


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I'm fairly new, as well, and have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    Keep telling your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"