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Linda Roorda

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  1. Visions and Voices

    Ever have a hunch, a sixth sense about something? Seems like it guides us to do something positive, or helps us make a decision. I’ve had many instances. Most times I paid attention to the message; but, I’m ashamed to say, sometimes I did not heed the voices. Deeply touched by my friend Ann's blog about her visions and voices, she encouraged me to share my own. Twice I sensed something bad was going to happen and couldn’t shake that feeling for weeks, until… Another time I had the strong sense a friend was very sad as I sat down at my work computer, but didn’t write a note then… Many times I’ve heard a loud voice speak as though someone was right next to me… And one time I had a heavenly vision… When I finally shared about my vision, it was a few weeks later. I’d worried what people would think. It’s not normal to see visions or hear God speaking to us, right? Well, wait a minute… not so fast. Let’s back up a bit. I should have known better… One of the clearest voices I’ve heard was after leaving an abusive employment situation. I’d resigned from the new job because of an unexpected inability to function and make decisions… I was hearing my former boss yelling and belittling me in my mind, and felt like an absolute and total failure. I literally could not think how to address an envelope!! Contemplating ending my life while driving, I passed the home of my Dad’s old Army buddy. I’d known him since I was a 2-yr-old toddler when my family lived in Alaska during their Army days. Roland lived out his strong faith in God, and now, driving past his house, I clearly heard the voice of God say, “I’m here for you. Your family needs you. You will be okay.” Nightmares and flashbacks then began of abuse from my teens and by my former employer, while also having very real property and car damage, but the cops did nothing to find the likely perpetrator. Yet, like David wrote in Psalm 91:2, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’”, God was there for me in many ways during this extremely difficult time… as I took encouragement from His spoken words to me in the car that day. Finally seeking professional help, I was diagnosed with PTSD which had actually started after verbal rape in junior high. With counseling, my healing process began… Another time, I had the strong sense that something bad was going to happen. It was a few weeks before Christmas when our kids were little, and I couldn’t shake the feeling. Ed didn’t think there was anything to it, saying I was just being overly pessimistic. That heavy feeling stayed with me until Christmas Eve when he was taken to the hospital with severe chest pain. The doctors found he had a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot from his leg had passed into his lung, but he was going to be okay. I’d sensed something… One morning as I sat down at my work computer, I had an overwhelming sense that Mary Jane, my friend since junior high in New Jersey, was very, very sad. Thinking about sending her an email, I decided my negative feelings were inappropriate and did not write. The next day, Mary Jane emailed me that her mother had passed away… a few hours before my premonition. I felt so badly about not writing her… if only I’d written a note of love and compassion when prompted… I also had a strong sense I needed to visit my Uncle Pete and years later an elderly friend, Edna. It was the last time I saw my uncle before his passing. Edna was in the hospital, more serious than I knew. Taking her last breath while I was there, my simple presence meant a lot to her family… Then came the spring of 2003. I had an overwhelming sense that something ominous was going to happen. The thought that the world was going to end that summer kept coming to mind, but just as quickly I’d push it away. It was too dark a thought, until… We awoke on June 11, 2003 to a hot and humid morning. I considered canceling the trip to the Watkins Glen Gorge with my girls, Jenn and Em, but we decided to go anyway. Anticipating a great time, we climbed the winding steps hewn out of rock in the entrance tunnel, rounded a curve, and stood at the top… gazing out at a downpour! How’d that happen so fast? We looked at each other and laughed – there had only been a few drops when we entered the tunnel… someone turned the faucet on! As it slowed to a drizzle, we walked on, enjoying the scenery of waterfalls and pools, plants and flowers. “We walked along, taking a few photos, as I held my umbrella over the cameras to protect them from getting soaked. I noticed the plants, telling the girls what they were, absorbed in the many varieties of ferns, flowering plants, and greenery. The girls were chatting together, enjoying the gorge, usually walking behind me, sometimes in front. As I enjoyed the plants, rock formations, and waterfalls, several times I clearly heard the words spoken loudly, “Watch them.” Each time, I’d pay attention to the girls for a while, but then drift back to observe the plants or the beauty of the gorge. I felt uncomfortable hearing those words, paying more attention to my girls for a while; but, the pull of nature was too strong and my focus would shift again. How could I have known that God was prompting me, and I didn’t heed His prodding better to “watch them…” Why didn’t I listen and watch them more closely?” (from Watch Them… A Mother’s Memories, pg. 1, by Linda A. Roorda) About 2-1/2 weeks later, Jenn collapsed at home in Alfred, suffering heart failure as blood clots passed through to her lungs, disrupting heart and brain function. Life support was removed two days later on the afternoon of June 30, 2003, and our precious daughter, wife of Matt, entered the joys of Heaven. Having asked God, “Why? I don’t understand?”, He provided Scripture in the Rochester International Airport. Waiting for Emily’s arrival from California that morning, above us and to our left hung a plaque with Psalm 139:13-16: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” “The next morning after Jenn passed away, I sat on the bench in my flower garden in the eastern corner of our back yard. It was sunny, but still cool. This was my favorite spot, enjoying our yard from that perspective. I could look back at the house and think about my family. I could admire God’s creation in peace and quiet, listening to the chattering of the birds fluttering all around. As I prayed, thanking the Lord for Jenn’s life, praying for peace and comfort in our loss, I had a vision of Jennifer. She was at the base of a hill, in a sunlit field of beautiful flowers, near a tree, surrounded by children, and indescribably happy. I heard Jenn say, “Be Strong.” And then she was gone as quickly as she’d appeared… leaving me with an overwhelming sense of peace…” (Watch Them… pg.11) Even Ed had a vision of Jenn with long hair, describing how she sat on the sofa in a manner he had never seen. But I knew it was for real because that’s exactly how Jenn “sat” – stretched out, feet and legs curled “under” her, while she cupped her chin in her left hand with that elbow leaning on the arm of the sofa! I’ve had more premonitions, though I cannot recall the details. And, on two occasions, I clearly heard a voice with a message. In one, I was told to get out of a friendship, and the other time told not to reply to someone’s inappropriate words… but, thinking I knew how to handle both situations, I did not heed the words heard… later confessing to God how wrong I was not to trust the validity of the messages… learning the hard way to always be attentive to His voice, His messages… God shows His love to each of us in many different ways, ways that are as individual as we are, and in ways we may not always recognize as coming from Him. Yet, even when we don’t give Him our full attention, He continues to reach out to us, drawing us closer to His side. Both Psalm 139:13-16 and the words “Be Strong” have continued to be precious words from the Lord that I’ve clung to. With visions and voices from our awesome God, He has held me in His hands, wrapped His love around me and blessed me with His peace, a peace beyond understanding… The Hollow of Your Hands Linda A. Roorda ~ In the hollow of Your nail-scarred hands You gently hold my fragile life. You carry me and protect me And whisper words of wisdom’s wealth. ~ You wrap me in your calming presence You shelter me in the raging storms. Your comfort brings a gentle peace With endless joy that overflows. ~ Your arms of strength enfold the weary My faltering steps you gently guide. You lift my face when tears rain down And give more grace when You I seek. ~ Your voice of wisdom sustains my soul With lamp held high You lead the way. When You I trust, forsaking folly The winding path You straighten for me. ~ In the hollow of your loving hands You gently hold my fragile life. You keep my soul in perfect peace When all my heart abides in You. ~~ 11/23/18 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~
  2. An Open Book

    I love a good book, don’t you?! You know, the kind you can’t wait to sit down and read… but then can’t bear to close up for even a little bit to take care of other responsibilities! I grew up an avid reader ever since I can remember. But, it became more intense in 4th grade at East Palmyra Christian School when our teacher, Mrs. Witt, set up a reading competition. I came in second by only three books! Next, after moving to Clifton, NJ, I was the only student at Passaic Christian School allowed to sign out three books each week instead of two… simply because they knew I read fast and voraciously while keeping up with homework and catechism. Then, my Dad introduced me to one of his childhood favorites, “Penrod and Sam”, at Clifton’s Public Library near Christopher Columbus Jr. High (formerly Clifton High School where my Dad graduated). Though a bit over my head at the time, I progressed on to reading everything I could about the pioneers’ treks westward, along with cowboys, cattle ranching and cattle drives on the famous trails. They knew which landmarks to follow and where the dangers lay. I favored Zane Grey western fiction, historical biographies and autobiographies, in-depth looks at our nation’s presidents and major wars from historical overview to personal perspective, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago”, Corrie ten Boom’s books including “The Hiding Place” of her survival and release by clerical error from Ravensbruck prison camp, books about other Holocaust survivors, and so much more of history. Though I have enjoyed other fiction novels, they are not my preferred genre. I much prefer stories of life’s reality and how others overcame their difficulties. Sometimes, I’ll read the jacket introduction and then a few scattered lines on random pages, or at least part of the beginning when choosing a book. I don’t want to know the ending… not just yet! But then, with book in hand, I long to read uninterrupted from start to finish… building up to a great finale! There are even a few good books I’ve read multiple times to renew the memories, simply because each book held an absolutely great story! Life is like that open book, read and treasured by those who care… or perhaps read and set aside till later, or even returned to the shelf if it doesn’t quite pique our interest. And, yet, life happens in the mundane as we go to work, take care of our home and family, and find our place in the world while the book has to be set aside for a time between reads. And though it’s been said that our life’s ending is like closing a book, it’s also like that favorite book on the shelf which you can open at any time to recall precious memories. Still, it’s what’s in between the front and back covers, and the characters portrayed, that makes all the difference in the quality of the book read and re-read… or in the life well lived. In reality, though our life may be lived outwardly like an open book, it’s the inner heart and mind that others cannot read well. We contemplate life quietly and hold some treasures private and close to our heart. And that’s a good thing. When the world out there thinks they know everything about you, they really don’t. Our personal life belongs to us… a touch of a mystery to others. Yet, we can’t hide any detail from our God. He knows our every thought, word and deed… In fact, He knows our whole life story from start to finish! “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? … For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. …All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be… Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:1-7, 13, 16, 23) And in this psalm above, I find comfort knowing how much our great and sovereign God loves and knows me, and you, thoroughly… like an open book. An Open Book Linda A. Roorda Like an open book, read by those who care Are pages of life exposed at each turn Where intricate themes are gently revealed In lessons learned and wisdom gained. ~ Those who will judge a book by its cover Haven’t a clue of treasure within You cannot observe life standing afar For only up close are depths understood. ~ There once was a day when this book was new Brightly shining with promise and hope What was to come with dreams to fulfill Began to unfold as pages were turned. ~ Now the cover’s worn, the pages are frayed For a life lived well is not one of ease As wear and tear are evidence clear Of storms that raged to bring days of peace. ~ Notice the stains from tears that once flowed Yet take the time to ponder their cause For fragile feelings are those in response To emotions from the depths of the heart. ~ Imperfections rise from pages of wear Reality seen on turning the leaf Yet with each turn the past fades away That yesterday’s wound brings tomorrow’s mend. ~ For a gentle love restores with mercy As One who redeems these pages will cleanse The story renewed, a witness to all Of life’s true meaning and value within. ~ Then as you read final pages slow Tenderly hold life’s treasure in hand And gently close the cover for now To understand this life well lived. ~~ 11/05-07/15 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~
  3. A Peaceful Solitude

    We often find peace in a quiet place of rest. There, alone, unencumbered by life’s trappings, we can meditate and seek the Lord in prayer. Away from the hustle and bustle of life’s busyness and grueling schedules, we can focus our thoughts and attention as we pray for God’s wisdom and for blessings upon our friends. Because we are so like those sheep that David settled down to rest in peaceful green pastures, we can meet our Shepherd there for His guidance and restoration. With a simple prayer in such peaceful solitude, I’m reminded of how often Jesus sought a quiet place to pray. Away from the noisy crowds, He met His heavenly Father alone to pour out His heart. Asking for His simple needs to be met, He also prayed that those with heavy burdens would find peace by relinquishing their cares to the very capable hands of God. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus sought a quiet place to get away from life’s busy pace and demands, to think and pray to His heavenly Father. Like Mark 1:35 tells us, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Shortly afterward, his disciples found him; together they went off into the synagogues and villages to preach and serve the needs of the people. “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16) Another time, after sending his disciples ahead to the next town by boat, and dismissing the crowd of people, “…he went up on a mountainside to pray.” (Mark 6:46b) If quiet time was needed by our Lord to pray and restore his energy… to refresh his soul during hectic days of ministry… how much more do we need that time alone? I know I tend to forget that, often uttering prayers on the run so to speak. Jesus went off by himself to grieve when His cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded. He spent time alone to contemplate important issues in His ministry. And, He prayed for hours when facing his arrest and death on the cross. Fitting examples for situations we face that are both simple and complex. There is a peace I find in my quiet place… sitting in my gardens among nature’s blessings of flowers and birds… listening to the sweet chirping of busy birds, watching dainty butterflies flutter by, and watching the creek on its endless flow… for in the midst of His creation I feel His presence. How appropriate that our risen Lord was found in a garden that first Easter morning! To my garden I often go to pray, think a situation through, and hear the Lord’s wisdom in His still small voice within my heart. For in my garden, a respite from life’s hectic pace, I find a peaceful solitude, and come away feeling refreshed and restored. How about you? A Peaceful Solitude Linda A. Roorda There is a place where I long to rest A place of quiet and contemplative peace A placid harbor, restoring my soul Where the Lord I meet in solitude still. ~ A place of rest my cares to release Where storms of life meet the Calmer of Waves And prayers of faith trust in His will As I’m safely held in the palm of His hand. ~ For soothing comfort and solace is found Near to the heart of our gracious Lord Feeling His presence all along the way As He takes my fears and comforts with peace. ~~ 08/24/17 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author.
  4. Of Mariners and Whalers

    Whaling was not a romantic venture by any means. It stunk… literally and figuratively. “Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” So said Ishmael after sailing in 1841 on the Nantucket whaler Pequod under Capt. Ahab. “Moby Dick,” a novel by Herman Melville of Troy in New York’s Hudson Valley, piqued its readers’ interest in the world of sailing and pursuit of leviathans, those great and plentiful whales of yesteryear. Ishmael’s adventure on the high seas left him forever immortalized as the sole survivor of a whaling trip gone awry. In this epic sail, Capt. Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the white whale which took his leg created an undiluted raging hate that destroyed himself and his crew. And Melville’s romanticized whaling venture proved the very real fears of family and friends of whalers were not unfounded. When a whaling schooner put to sea it might be gone for months to a year or more at a time. The trip was both boring and stressful, with frenzied excitement in the chase… but it was also an occupation filled with apprehension by living life so close to the brink of disaster. Even the family left behind lived with constant fear… would their husband, father, or son be coming home, and when? Mariners and sailors of the open sea, who provided transportation of goods from one area to another, were of the same ilk. It is well-known that they were hardy men of strong stock who braved the raw elements, loading and unloading ships, but they were also a loud and boisterous, fighting and swearing crew. They were the backbone of commerce, providing the necessary resources to move foodstuffs and manufactured goods, but equally ready to defend a ship or nation from attack at a moment’s notice. Mariners and whalers were vital to a growing world economy then just as today’s sailors or merchant seamen on cargo ships are. And, in a sense, their traffic on the open sea can be likened to yesterday’s teamsters and trains and today’s tractor trailers which have been the mainstay of commercial transportation for the modern world’s products - always on the move. But let’s imagine ourselves in a New England seaport where we happen to notice a woman standing at an upstairs window, gazing out to sea… watching, waiting, longing and hoping. Her man, the love of her life, the father of her children, is a-whaling. It’s been almost a year since she last saw him. There’s been no word of him or the whaling schooner. But wait… is that a sail peeking over the horizon… could it be his ship, or just another disappointment? She waits, hope building, heart pounding... As the schooner sails into the harbor, she recognizes the sails, the colors, the bowsprit… it’s his ship! But… is he on it, or did he lose his life in the whaling boat? She dashes out of the house, through the busy streets, down to the docks… and finally spies that familiar stride coming toward her, as she collapses into his arms. In another town, another woman watches and waits for her man… a mariner and landowner, a fairly wealthy man who put to sea from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He’d struck quite a handsome figure when she first met him. Hannah thinks back to those early days and how good he’s been to her. She knows how much he loves her for he’s told her often, and brought treasured gifts from his trips. He’s a good man, everyone likes him, and she’s so proud of him. Just then, her unborn little one stirs, and his movements bring a smile to her face and joy to her heart as she tenderly draws her shawl a little tighter in the cool air. Comes the summer day in 1755 when her little one is born, and she names him for his father, giving her surname as his middle name, not a typical gesture for Scots-Irish. But, when her beloved John sails back into harbor, his dear wife is not waiting at the dock for him. And little John will never know his beautiful mother who dies soon after his birth. Relinquishing his son to the care of his late wife’s parents, John returns to sea. Yet, neither will the little lad walk in his father’s footsteps. He will never learn his father’s wisdom… for his father dies at sea in 1758, and there is buried. He may have been part of the French and Indian War between 1754 and 1763... or, he may have taken sick and died at sea. We don’t know. And now, orphaned as a toddler, at so tender an age, little John C. is raised by his mother’s parents, eventually marrying his cousin, Hannah, who shared his mom’s name. Within this story are interwoven documented facts of my ancestor, John Caldwell McNeill, the son of said mariner, John, of Londonderry and its environs in New Hampshire. While John McNeill, Sr. left behind personal belongings (some from his time at sea) and several properties as documented in estate papers, no documentation has been found to prove his own parentage, nor where and how exactly he died. Though the sea has an unparalleled beauty all its own, it is also unforgiving and relentless. And those answering its beckoning call with efforts to sail its wild forces will either become victor or the defeated. One of the most illustrious and admirable ancient occupations of the sea was found in the whaling industry. With a knowledge rich in the history of the centuries-old business of whaling, Richard Ellis wrote in “Men and Whales” that “…it is only through the lens of hindsight that the whaleman's job becomes malicious or cruel… Oil was needed for light and lubrication; baleen was needed for skirt hoops and corset stays. That whales had to die to provide these things is a fact of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century life…" (quoted in New Bedford Whaling Museum, Whales and Hunting) It was a different era than ours. Whales provided much to a civilization which gave no thought to the decimation of such a magnificent creature. Whaling was simply a way of life, meeting life’s necessary accoutrements. Few men beyond the company owners became wealthy from the whalers’ dangerous efforts. For initial research, I turned to the New Bedford Whaling Museum website. (URL at end of article) Whalers brought home: 1) sperm oil from the blubber of sperm whales; a light straw color, it was used for lubricating, lighting and soap; 2) spermaceti or head oil, particularly from the sperm whale, is a pearly-white translucent waxy liquid at body temperature, the most valuable product used for top-quality candles, medicinal ointment, sizing for combing wool, and used through the 1960s for leather tanning, in cosmetics, textiles, and typewriter ribbons; 3) a darker whale oil from the right, bowhead and humpback whales was used for lighting, lubrication, food, tempering steel, in the headlamps of miners, and in soap; 4) baleen, or whalebone, was made of keratin (in fingernails, hair, hooves and claws) which hangs from the mouth of 14 whale species; it acts as a strainer for krill in seawater, providing many 19th century goods for which today’s plastic or steel has taken over, including buggy whips, carriage springs, corset stays, fishing poles, hoops for skirts, umbrella ribs, etc.; and 5) ambergris (black to whitish gray) which came from the intestines of diseased sperm whales, used as incense and medicine in ancient times, now used primarily as a stabilizer in perfumes. Many New England ports were home to whalers, most notably Nantucket, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts, while San Francisco, California became the popular base for Pacific whalers. New Bedford was the busiest and wealthiest port along the eastern coast from Maine to Delaware. In 1857, New Bedford’s fleet of whalers peaked at 329 vessels having a collective value of over $12 million, employing over 10,000 men. From the New Bedford Whaling Museum website, we learn that whaler Benjamin Tucker returned to port in 1851 carrying “73,707 gallons of whale-oil, 5,348 gallons of sperm oil, and 30,012 pounds of whalebone (baleen). After expenses, the net profit of Benjamin Tucker's voyage was $45,320. The usual share for the owners of a ship was between 60 and 70 percent. In this case, between $13,596 and $18,128 would have been left to be divided among the captain and crew for several years of work.” I was then caught by surprise to learn from a friend that the old North (aka Hudson) River in New York boasted a profitable home port for whalers putting out to sea. Will Van Dorp has traveled New York City’s waterways, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Great Lakes (except Superior), and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He has a captain's license, and works on a passenger vessel as an onboard lecturer. He is also author/photographer of the blog Tugster, with photos and data on tugs and ships in what he’s termed New York City’s watery Sixth Boro. In a recent conversation, Van Dorp shared with me the Hudson Valley Magazine’s April 2012 article on New York’s whaling industry. “Hudson Valley Whaling Industry: A History of Claverack Landing (Hudson), NY,” written by David Levine, is an intriguing article which readily sent me off into further research. New York’s North (Hudson) River provided three home ports to a thriving whaling industry for a good 60 years. It’s believed the North River was so named by the early Dutch who gave directional names to the waterways around Manhattan. To confuse us even a bit, there are maps and old photos which indicate interchangeable usage of North and Hudson River for the entire river’s length. Some retained usage of North River for only the southernmost portion between New York City and northeast New Jersey, while the Hudson River designation was intended for that section of river above and within New York state. A 1990 Hagstrom street map of New York City still labeled it the North River, although Hudson River, in honor of the 1609 explorer on the Halve Maen (Half Moon), has been preferred since the early 20th century. But, were it not for the British Parliament’s 1766 duties and taxes on their thriving colony’s exports of whale oil, there may not have been a Hudson River whaling industry. Reacting in 1774 to the British Intolerable Acts, the Colonial Continental Congress banned trade with England. Naturally, Britain retaliated by blockading its colony’s ports in New England, including the highly successful port of Nantucket. They captured and destroyed the colony’s ships on the seas, and forced American sailors to work on British ships. The result was that New England’s strangled whaling industry was essentially dead in the water. As the Revolutionary War came to a close in 1783, enterprising businessmen began searching for new ports and good land away from the effects of war. From Nantucket, Seth and Thomas Jenkins sailed in search of a protected port, well away from marauders of the sea. Finding just what they wanted along the Hudson River at an old Dutch community, they purchased land at Claverack Landing, New York. Renaming the town Hudson in 1785 after the intrepid explorer, Henry Hudson, thirty proprietors (New England whalers and businessmen) laid out the new city and helped establish the shops needed to support a thriving whaling industry. Though the ocean was over 100 miles south, the port soon became “one of the most important whaling centers in the country.” (Levine) By about 1819 or 1820, however, and just when booming growth marked it as the fourth largest city in New York state, the Nantucket Navigators’ last whaling ship put to sea. A new Hudson whaling company was created in 1829, while competition down river soon saw other whaling companies established. In 1832, both the Poughkeepsie and Newburgh Whaling Companies sent whalers out, while the Dutchess Whaling Company in Poughkeepsie was established in 1833. Yet, by about 1844, these highly profitable inland whaling companies also ceased to exist, and the industry as a whole began its slow decline with crude oil products taking over the market from whale blubber. Though a relatively small city formerly known as Claverack Landing, Hudson had profited greatly from its flourishing whaling industry. Essentially, that growth was relatively short-lived and smaller in volume in comparison to the resurgence of New England’s booming seaports at the edge of the sea. So, what was involved in whaling to bring the goods back home? Soon after putting out to sea, the men on a whaling schooner typically took 2-hour turns high up “in” the crow’s nest on the mast. (The crow’s nest was a simple structure or platform for men to stand on near the top of the mast to get a good look into the distance.) The job of the man “in” the crow’s nest was to look for the spout of a nearby whale when it came up for air. Knowing that each type of whale had a distinctive type of spout when coming up for air was important in determining whether to pursue or not. And with the shout, “Thar she blows!” the crew was in business. Passing key information down about the kind of whale and exactly where it had been spotted brought the captain, mates and crew assembling in the whaleboats. The remaining crew, often a cooper (who made and fixed wooden casks), blacksmith, carpenter, cook and steward, stayed behind to care for the ship and be ready for the returning whalers. After launching their small whaleboats into the sea, rowing began in earnest to get the crew as close as possible to their intended prey. With the captain urging the men forward, their rowing efforts grew quieter the closer they came to the whale. With its keen hearing, they were well aware that as they drew near, they could easily be crushed and drowned by the unpredictability of such a large leviathan. The next danger they faced was in setting the harpoon, or whale iron, into the blubber of the whale’s back. The harpoon was a long iron rod with either a single or double arrow-shaped tip which acted as a hook. Once embedded in the whale, the harpoon’s attached rope, i.e. line, was allowed to play out its slack as the whale took off with a surge. With the harpoon set in the large whale, the crew rapidly backed their boat away for their own safety. As the wounded whale thrashed about in pain, it could irreparably damage their boat in a variety of scenarios. The whale might escape if the harpoon wasn’t set deep enough. It could also overturn and sink the whaleboat as it thrashed, leaving the men to flounder around at the mercy of the sea until their ship could find them which, unfortunately, wasn’t always the case. It was not unusual to have several or all men lost during this part of the venture. Then, while the whale swam easily near the water’s surface at speeds of up to 20 mph, the whaleboat began its wild ride, often being helplessly dragged and bounced along at the whim of the whale. Sometimes, if they were taken too far, the mother ship was unable to locate the crew when they didn’t return in a reasonable amount of time. As the whale swam and dove, the line usually “played out so fast that it smoked from the friction.” And, if the whale dove deep and fast enough, the whaleboat could easily be taken down with it and all men lost. Occasionally, a man managed to get tangled up in the fast-moving line and was all too quickly yanked out of the boat and drowned. As the whale tired, the crew turned the line around a short post in the boat to take up the slack, all the while slowly gaining ground on their victim. The crew would then maneuver their boat closer for the kill. As the men reeled in the line, the harpooner would go aft to steer while the boatheader came forward with a lance. Standing and walking was an extremely dangerous position change in an unsteady boat, leading to the death of one or both men on many occasions. Then, when in position, the boatheader plunged his lance into the heart or lungs to kill the whale. At this point, the crew again rowed their boat quickly away while intently watching the whale as it thrashed about. When the whale had died and turned over, the men attached a line to a hole made in the tail, and the exhausted crew worked even harder to tow the dead whale back to their ship. Unless the ship was nearby, rowing as they hauled behind them a good 50 tons or more of dead weight meant their prize was by no means easily brought in. By the late 1850s, harpoon guns had been developed which were much more accurate and able to penetrate deeper than a man’s throwing strength could bury the harpoon. Other explosive devices were used after 1865 in an effort to more effectively and safely defeat the great whales and prevent the loss of life and boat as in years past. When the crew arrived back at the schooner, the men worked in 6-hour shifts around the clock. They had to complete the next phase as quickly as possible before frenzied sharks snatched up too much of their profit. The whale was attached to the ship’s starboard (right) side with chains as the crew put a “cutting stage” (plank platform) atop the carcass. Next, they stripped thick layers of blubber off the carcass with long spades. Once these huge chunks were cut off, each weighing about a ton, they were hauled up on deck and cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. Trying out, i.e. boiling or rendering, was the process that extracted oil from the blubber. Initially done on shore, the crew began tackling this job on their schooner by the mid 19th century. Big iron pots were set up in a brick stove with fire beneath the pots. As oil was rendered from the blubber, it was then cooled, put into wooden casks, and stored in the ship’s hold below deck. Typically, one barrel equaled 31-1/2 gallons. Once on shore, this oil would be strained, bleached, and sold as lamp oil. With little of the carcass going to waste, the head of the whale was prized for it contained oil more valuable than the blubber. The top of the whale’s head held the purest oil called spermaceti, up to 500 gallons, and worth 3 to 5 times more than any other whale oil. The lower half of the forehead contained additional oil which was boiled separately; it was less valuable than spermaceti, but still superior to the oil rendered from blubber. The jaw and teeth were also saved and used by the crew to carve beautiful and delicate scrimshaw in their spare time. But, processing the dead whale was virtually as dangerous as the hunt had been. As the men worked, there was no way to avoid getting blood and oil on the wooden deck. And, occasionally, someone slipped and fell overboard into the jaws of those ravenous sharks in the roiling waters below. Other crewmembers might be crushed by the huge strips of heavy blubber, or injured by sharp harvesting tools. At times, boisterous waves caused the ship to toss back and forth, sloshing boiling oil onto men, an injury they did not easily recover from, if at all. And, there was even the rare occasion when fire for the rendering process spread and destroyed part or all of the ship. Whaling was definitely not an easy job even for men at the peak of physical fitness. Once each whale was processed and stored in barrels and casks below deck, the upper deck was scrubbed clean, and the men were back at their posts looking for the next whale. Soon enough, “Thar she blows!” was heard from another watchman, and the entire process began again. When the hold was filled to capacity, at times less so or even empty, the whaling schooner returned to home port for a respite. To more fully appreciate an in-depth experience of yesterday’s whalers, check out the New Bedford Whaling Museum website. The information and illustrations are impressive in explaining a way of life unknown to us today. But, beyond all the hard work, the whaling ship and her hearty crew retained a certain stench, an odor that never seemed to dissipate. Simply put, whalers stunk! Even though the conscientious crew scrubbed their ship clean after each whale was processed, the malodorous aroma permeated everything. As the New Bedford Whaling Museum website noted, “It was said that a ship downwind could smell a whaleship coming.” Again, while most whaling schooners remained at sea for many months at a time, some were out for a year or several years at a time. Not an arrangement exactly conducive to quality family life as we know it, theirs was simply an accepted way of life a few hundred years and more ago. Occasionally, rather than remain alone at home for months or years at a time, some women sailed aboard whaling schooners which were then called “hen frigates.” These women, alone or with children, were spouse of the captain or a crew member, and were also lookouts, cooks, and nurse to crew members who became ill or injured. Obviously, the whaling schooner was a very welcome sight for many reasons as it sailed back into port after its time at sea. As we look back in the mirror of hindsight, we understand the valuable resource whales were to the world’s economy. But, we also realize the extent to which whales were decimated, and greatly appreciate those who began preservation efforts of these magnificent creatures of the sea. Source information for this article and quotes, except as noted, and illustrations can be found at the New Bedford Whaling Museum website. New Bedford Whaling Museum – Life Aboard a Whaling Ship Hudson Valley Magazine, April 2012, by David Levine, “Hudson Valley Whaling Industry:  A History of Claverack Landing (Hudson), NY.” Columbia County Historical Society, Hudson River Whaling: (data and illustrations) Wikipedia: History of Whaling in the U.S. For pictures of the whaling industry, see “The Spectacular Rise and Fall of U.S. Whaling: An Innovation Story”, by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic: Nautical terms
  5. The Caregiving Saint

    Oh Ann! Thank you for your kind words. It's humbling to know something I fretted about posting with such honesty has blessed you and others I've heard from. Life's moments are hard sometimes for all of us. God bless you, dear friend
  6. The Caregiving Saint

    “You’re a saint!” said a friend recently. “No,” I replied. “I just do what needs doing.” As my husband has become more physically limited, I’ve picked up the slack. I could not do otherwise. Admittedly, at times I feel overwhelmed and resentful, utterly exhausted physically and emotionally. Working a full shift from 3-11 a.m. in medical transcription with friends beginning to retire, running to medical appointments on multiple afternoons every week for years and taking care of most home chores, I can become shortsighted and pull a good pity party. Then I remember how the Lord has been with us as He works “all things together for good to those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) We now understand the grieving process after the total loss of Ed’s vision, the passing of our 25-year-old married daughter, and my breast cancer amidst my husband’s health issues. He had been legally blind since damage by the incubator’s pure oxygen after premature twin birth (his right eye never had vision). Yet, Ed farmed with his dad as he grew up and for 10-1/2 years after we married. We marveled at his determination and ability to do whatever he could with limited vision. So, it was a surprise when depression set in as he lost the last vestiges of sight. No one told us until later that it takes time to grieve any loss, to understand, and accept the challenges. There is often denial, not wanting to face changes. Guilt or the “if only” stage may be followed by anger and depression. Learning new ways has not always gone smoothly. We dealt with Ed’s depression at becoming more limited in his abilities, along with major changes in our roles. Though it took a toll on our marriage, we remained focused on our children’s needs. When all seemed well, 11 years ago he developed unrelenting muscle/joint pain and dizziness, neuropathy, had multiple surgeries, grand mal seizures, life-threatening pancreatitis, severe congestive heart failure, COPD on chronic asthma, and more. Then, my mother had a stroke leaving her partially paralyzed, and I took charge of her affairs, too. The good news is that our love survived… and grew deeper. After vision loss, Ed spent six months at The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts with invaluable training among others who were blind. Finding it harder to get around now, in a wheelchair for appointments, Ed does his best to help – he works a few hours weekly from home, makes my grocery list, does a load of laundry weekly, adds pellets to the stove, and more as he’s able. We can’t go to church together, take walks, have date nights, or travel to visit family and friends. Instead, we value quiet time talking, listening to music or favorite preachers on Christian radio and TV, even playing “Trivial Pursuit” without the game board. Through it all, Ed’s faith, wisdom and sense of humor remain intact, seeing us through difficult days. God has granted us strength to accept change and persevere, with insight and compassion we would not have had without the trials. We understand better how to help each other, like when to offer assistance or give each other space to learn by trial-and-error. We’ve learned the community has kept its eye on our family over the years. It’s humbling to know God uses us to help friends facing challenges. When poetry began pouring out from the depths of my heart, reflective blogs were added and “Poetic Devotions” was born. Tentatively stepping out on a limb to blog publicly, the Lord blessed me with words and the right Scripture which strengthen my faith and touch the hearts of others. Yet, the role of spousal caregiver and healthcare advocate can be physically and emotionally draining, often leading to burnout from feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s hard to watch your loved one suffer. Stress and grieving the former way of life may take various forms. Like me at times, you may become tired, teary, irritable, short-tempered, depressed, lose interest, pull away from friends, or feel helpless, unable to deal with one more thing. Under stress, caregivers often let their needs slide. From experience, I can tell you not to neglect your own health. Ed insisted I get my mammogram which I planned to cancel because of his health needs. Dutifully going, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, facing surgeries without him at my side while he needed surgery in between mine. Diagnosed at an early stage, I feel blessed to be cancer free. Get plenty of rest. Learn when to say no. House cleaning can wait. Stay involved in activities or hobbies that interest you. I take walks, write, quilt, garden, make silk floral arrangements, and lead singing at church. Spend time with friends who support and energize you, just as reaching out to others will encourage them and you. Share your feelings, pamper yourself, and accept help. After my cancer diagnosis, friends showered me with cards, a beautiful pink azalea, were at my side for surgeries since Ed could not be there, and brought us meals. I feel guilty enjoying a day out with a friend, leaving my husband behind, but it’s emotionally relaxing and rejuvenating. Kayaking with friends last summer was awesome! Posting some of Ed’s humorous quips or an updated status on Facebook provides feedback to let us both know how deeply others care as we touch the hearts of family and friends. Essentially, we are all caretakers of each other. Seek wise counsel to discuss challenges or guide you in obtaining assistance from professional agencies. Find support within your church, or a community group specific to your family’s needs. Take advantage of local adult day care or respite programs. Search for helpful information and support online. Having observed us at a distance, our friend gave the above compliment. Though I do not feel deserving of being called a saint, we all are as Believers. Our lives are to be examples of Christ’s love working through us. Without His guidance we can do nothing (John 15:5), but it’s hard to remember that. If you fail as I do at times, don’t give up; apologize and forgive, identify the issues, and try again. I appreciated another friend who shared that, when so many marriages are torn apart by hardships, we are an example of long-term faithfulness. Without comparing anyone’s unique circumstances, others traveling their own very difficult journeys have felt the same way. I don’t have all the answers, but I praise God for His faithfulness in guiding and renewing us daily. Amidst many trials, David wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Jesus says “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) I Peter 5:7 reminds us to “cast all [our] anxiety on Him because He cares for [us],” while Isaiah 40:31 affirms that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” And the Lord has given us His peace and strength to persevere together, even on those hard days, as we walk a different path than expected when we said “I do” nearly 45 years ago. Come Walk With Me Linda A. Roorda Come walk with me, hold tight my hand Listen to my heart as we share this path Guide my footsteps, don’t let me wander That my eyes remain focused on You. ~ May I ever at your side be found Growing in love with a trust secure. For in the trials that beset our days We find a wisdom that strengthens our bonds. ~ See through my eyes, understand my heart Know my emotions and the love within, While I appreciate your gentle spirit And all the ways you’re meant to be you. ~ Understand my fears, losses and pain Hold me in your arms with comfort and peace. Help me to know that wisdom is gained Along our journey on difficult paths. ~ Come walk with me, at my side be strong Not in mighty brawn, but in wisdom’s truth. Guide my footsteps in teaching my heart With mercy and grace let our light so shine. ~~ November 2017 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~ Originally posted on the Network, an online resource for the Christian Reformed Church of North America.
  7. Besides... I Love You!

    Easter... a very special time of year. It reminds us that warmer weather is arriving after the long winter’s cold, and spring is beginning to show its colors! It’s a time of renewal as plant life exemplifies rebirth by poking through the covering of a late snow, leaf buds begin to swell and emerge from their long winter’s sleep, and early flowers showcase their gorgeous colorful blooms. It’s a special time for children as they have fun decorating eggs, enjoy the search for hidden eggs to fill their baskets, and savor scrumptious chocolate treats and marshmallow peeps. I also remember a time, way too many years ago, when it was fashionable to buy a new spring dress and white bonnet for Easter service at church. But, there’s so much more to the meaning of Easter. Each year I am reminded again of all that took place about 2000 years ago. That precious little baby whose birth we celebrated just a few short months ago grew up with a purpose. As my husband’s niece, Rebecca, once said, “That God would become a man and understand our struggles on earth just blows my mind. [That’s] true humble love.” To be loved, and to know you are the object of that love, is an exhilarating and overwhelming feeling, while also giving you a sense of security. You know beyond a doubt to whom you belong. Yet, in contemplating God’s love, I sometimes find it hard to think of such unconditional love for me... After all, what about that little thing I did? Was it really wrong? Maybe I can just excuse it away. What about the unkind words I said? Will my family, my friends, or even God, forgive me for certain mistakes I’ve made? I know He has, as have friends to whom I’ve apologized over the years. But, what about the bigger mistakes? How could God still love me when my temper flares… again…? What does He see in me? I can never measure up… Well, actually, none of us can. So, why would God care so much for me… for each of us…? That One man who was perfect would willingly take my unworthiness, my shame, my heavy load of sin, and endure the penalty of the cross, just for my soul, is overwhelming. I cannot repay such a debt! But, wait… I don’t have to? My debt is paid in full? Because He freely gave His life that I might live, all I have to do is believe and accept His gift? Because Jesus loves us that much? Now that’s true love! I am reminded of Johnny Hart’s “B.C.” cartoon column. He was a good friend of my husband’s Uncle Mart and Aunt Tilly and family in Ninevah, New York, members of the same Presbyterian Church where Hart also taught Sunday School. How succinctly Hart put the thoughts of this holy week into perspective in his comic strip: “I hate the term, Good Friday.” “Why?” “My Lord was hanged on a tree that day.” “If you were going to be hanged on that day and he volunteered to take your place, how would you feel?” “Good.” “Have a nice day!” [Johnny Hart in B.C., 04/09/03] Which brings to mind a similar thought-provoking cartoon I had also saved years ago from “The Wizard of ID”, a joint venture written by Johnny Hart and Brant Parker, illustrated by Parker: Friar: “Happy Good Friday Sire!” To which the king grumbles: “What’s so good about it?” The friar replies: “It took an act of God, but they finally found somebody willing to die for you.” ...leaving the king speechless. [Copyright Creators Syndicate Inc.] After the brutality and agony of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, His friends are devastated. Yet, envision with me the beauty of an early morning sunrise. Birds are beginning to sing as the sun’s first rays appear. The dew has settled gently on the flowers in the garden as they open their buds to the sun’s warmth. According to His disciple Mark (ch.16:1), Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James), and Salome quietly arrive at the tomb with spices for their beloved friend and teacher who died a horrible death on a cross… only to see in astonishment that the great stone has been rolled away. Upon entering, they see the tomb is empty except for the burial cloths folded neatly. They are already sad, but now are very afraid. Suddenly, two men stand before them in brilliant light. Knowing their fear, an angel speaks gently to reassure them. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples…” (Matthew 28:5-6) Trembling and bewildered, but joyful, the women run from the tomb. Despite their confusion, what unspeakable joy they must feel as they run to tell the disciples! And to think that with a simple child-like faith in Jesus who gave His life for me… for each of us… we can be forever in His presence. What pain there is to realize that I fall short of His tender love every day. But what joy in humbling myself to recognize and confess my sins, and to ask for forgiveness for the errors of my ways from those around me and from my Lord, and then to feel their forgiveness… as the Lord’s love and peace with mercy and grace surround my soul. That’s what Easter is all about… God’s great love! Hallelujah!! What a Savior!! Besides… I love you! Linda A. Roorda Who am I? My soul doth ask. What am I worth? And to whom? I see only failure as I take the reins And do not give my Lord the lead. ~ How can you love the me who I am When all I see are my struggles? Yet, Lord, You do love even me In ways that I cannot comprehend. ~ To sight unseen You guide my path Ever at my side, gently calling. And as you wrap loving arms around You cover my soul with tender mercies. ~ For You opened wide Your arms on a cross Giving Your life that I might live, And in return You ask for my love With all my heart, my soul and my mind. ~ But you didn’t stay within that tomb For on day three You rose from the dead. Seen by many, in the hearts of more, Eternity waits Your Gift of Love. ~ Where once I felt the crashing waves That overwhelm and burden my soul, Now peace and joy have filled my heart With love to share for those on my path. ~ Your presence surrounds me with Your peace As You offer grace to light my way, And then I hear You whisper soft Besides… I love you! ~ A Happy and Blessed Easter to all! ~~ 2013 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~
  8. Life's Tapestry Gems

    The tapestry of life… a montage of all that once was to all we’ve become and soon will be, all which occupies our life and dreams, and all which defines who we are in the depth of our heart. Wouldn’t it be neat to see a tapestry of scenes from your life… like the movie we see in our mind’s eye as we reflect back over the years? And from all those experiences in which we learned and grew emotionally and spiritually, what a journey it would tell! I’d like to think my tapestry would show a woman who has grown wiser over the years… for I am well aware of my youthful immaturity and inherent failings. But, woven throughout would also be the golden threads of friends, mentors and teachers who came alongside and taught me with loving encouragement. Having made small embroideries, larger crewel embroidered scenes, counted cross-stitch projects, and many quilts over the years, the fronts display their beauty. The back, however, is a different story. Hidden from view are threads that meander in a wayward fashion to the next section, or even hide mistakes – rather like my life! But, I also believe that the ups and downs and errors of life which those threads represent have all happened for a reason. As one of my favorite authors, Corrie ten Boom, once wrote, “Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted, I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery… there is a Crown." (Corrie ten Boom, 1974. “Tramp for the Lord: The Story that Begins Where The Hiding Place Ends”, p.12, CLC Publications) It’s so reassuring to know that our life experiences have an intended meaning and purpose… that we might gain a wisdom we could not have learned otherwise. Nothing can beat the exciting happy times we all enjoy! But, it’s especially in understanding the depths of pain and sadness through losses suffered or mistakes made that we grow wiser as God guides us through our difficulties. How often we find that from those life experiences the Lord positions us to come alongside someone else who might be struggling and in need of an emotional lift. For we, too, have tucked away memories of treasured friends who traveled beside us when we were in need. Though we may not think of it that way, they are, indeed, the gems of our life… just as we are for others. With these thoughts, I was reminded that “...in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV) Through our patchwork experiences, we bring our worship of “praise…to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV) What a cherished thought to know that whatever we go through, God will work it out for our good, our benefit, when our trust is placed in Him. From the blessings He gives to the difficulties He allows to come our way, may we grow in wisdom and, in turn, be used by our Lord to bless others. Life’s tapestry… that which God has woven as His masterpiece of our life… a testimony to those around us… a visual reminder of how great His love is for each one of us, tarnished and faded though we may be. For we do have a purpose in this world… in living and serving our Lord and others with joy in our heart! Life’s Tapestry Gems Linda A. Roorda Woven within the tapestry of life Are threads of gold among the diverse. These colorful scenes, a journey of years Depict a life in memories treasured. ~ Memories like dreams elusive and wary Some haunting echoes, some images clear Some melancholy, some bursting with joy Of all which dwells within my soul. ~ This soul You knew from before my birth For You’ve called me Yours since time began. You wove the threads in skillful pattern Of who I was to who I am now. ~ For I am unique, a special design The only version which You created. And all of my life with its joys and tears Helped weave the me who I've become. ~ These memories dear like gentle footprints Bring quiet joy within my heart To recall a world of growing wiser With scenes that flood the gates of my soul. ~ As memories transport through all that once was And draw me in to contemplate Emotions run strong and images lie deep From another time and another place. ~ Memories thus treasured and savored anew Serve their purpose in visions tempered By value and worth from sadness and joy To understand life as it now presents. ~~ Refining the love within my heart Of those who walk among the threads In vivid hues of brightly lit scenes To bring a warmth and smile in my heart. ~ For the King of Light has woven my life In mosaic rich and design unique Of a life well lived through blessing and trial In treasured scenes on tapestry rare. ~ Thus memories and dreams, threads of a lifetime Have woven the fabric of this my life While you, my friends and dearest loved ones Are interwoven as tapestry gems. ~~ 2014 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~
  9. Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris was born August 8, 1812 in or near Spencer, Tioga County, New York. The “Mother of Woman Suffrage” as her oldest son, Edward, dubbed her, Esther holds the distinction of being the first American woman Justice of the Peace in 1870’s Wyoming Territory. As an early suffragist, she had an important role in gaining rights for women in Wyoming, playing a bit part in the early days of the national movement. This is her story… but first, a little background which led me to Esther. While walking our former farm fields alongside the Catatonk Creek, the remaining dam structure and the back hill, I often pondered the fact that Esther and her extended families cleared and worked this land, hunted these hills, and sawed its timber. They watched countless sunrises and sunsets from the same perspective we have. They saw many a storm come down this valley from the north and west, smelled the same earthy aroma as spring arrived, stood in awe as beautiful rainbows appeared over that back hill, and admired the brilliant colorful hues of the valley’s various trees and sugar maples in the fall. But, of interest to me personally, is Esther’s tie to the old “tenant house” as we called it when my husband’s Roorda family owned the farm on the corner of Ithaca Road and Fisher Settlement Road. This Greek Revival farmhouse had character! Built in the 1830s, it stood where our house was built in 1982. Esther grew up on the farmland here, but her brother, Daniel McQuigg, Jr. built this “little house” in the 1830s for his wife Eleanor’s mother, Mrs. (Rev. Asa) Cummings. I loved its design and floorplan; but, alas, upkeep of the house had not been maintained during the nearly 150 years of its existence. By the time we contemplated renovating it, dry rot had consumed the support beams, the main floor had separated 3 inches from a main load-bearing inner wall, and the foundation was buckling. Original imperfect glass panes were still in the windows. And, while the main floor’s ceiling was 10-12 feet high, it was too low upstairs for my 6’7” husband to stand upright. Though wood clapboard siding had been covered by ugly faux red brick asphalt sheet siding, I loved the Greek Revival design. Opening the front door, flanked by faux pillars and little windows, we entered the main hallway. To the left was the front parlor, formerly separated by sliding pocket doors (removed by a former tenant) which opened to the dining room. The second doorway on the left in the hall led into that dining room with its original but dysfunctional fireplace. To the left of the fireplace was a smaller room that had been converted into a bathroom. The door to the right of the fireplace led into the kitchen which had a door to the west porch entrance, and a rear door to a back shed. And, to the left at the rear of the kitchen was a door which opened onto a steep staircase and upper rooms. This back staircase intrigued me as we climbed up to what was clearly servants’ quarters separated from the other rooms upstairs by a different door and latch than found in the rest of the house. At the top of the stairs which curved left was a small room. This room had what I perceived to be original early-mid 19th century wallpaper of young belles in hoop-skirt gowns. Back in the small open hall, there was a simple wooden railing protecting one from falling over and down the stairs. This open area had a small “sitting” area that overlooked the staircase, large enough for a small table and chair(s), with another small room to the side, directly above the kitchen. A door to the right in this hall led into a larger room. This room had a very antique simple latch/lock. In here, we found a large curtain stretcher frame which had likely seen decades of use in the distant past. Unfortunately, I never thought about donating it to the town’s historical society. But, back on the first floor at the front entrance, we return to the main hall to take the stairs up. Ed and I recall that these stairs were so well built they did not squeak like those in our new house which squeaked fairly soon after being built! However, former occupants had also destroyed this staircase’s fancy posts and banisters for firewood. There were several rooms, two along the front, two on the side, and that larger room with the door which entered the servants’ quarters. But, again, the ceiling was so low that my husband could not stand upright at any point. And, as I said, the house was in such poor condition that it was not financially feasible for us to make renovations. Apparently not long after this “little house” was built, a sugar maple was set centered halfway between the house and the road. Still thriving in 1982 when the house came down in the fire department’s practice burn, it was damaged by the fire. We used it for firewood, never thinking to count its rings. Whether Esther Hobart McQuigg ever set foot in this house, I cannot say. Her middle name of Hobart was in honor of her mother’s family, early Massachusetts settlers who emigrated from England. Esther’s mother was Charlotte (Hobart) McQuigg, b. 1779 in Canaan, Litchfield County, CT, d. 1826 at Spencer, Tioga County, NY. Charlotte’s father, Edmund Hobart, was b.1745 in Groton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. On 01/01/1776, he married Mehetable/Mahitabel Peck at Canaan, Litchfield, CT, having nine children (Ancestry.com) – Prescott, Charlotte (Esther’s mother), Betsey (died young), Rodney, Mille, Isaac, William, Esther, and John. Edmund d.1808 aged 63 years, buried Spencer, while Mehetable d.1832 aged 77 years, making her birth about 1755, is also buried in Spencer’s Old Cemetery. In 1795, Charlotte’s father, Edmund Hobart, traveled with wife and family likely by traditional wagon and oxen from Canaan, Litchfield County, CT, taking the popular road past Oneonta’s Otsego Lake. Passing through Owego, Tioga Co., NY, Edmund took his family on to Spencer, NY, purchasing land which then included our property. Hobart’s oldest son, Prescott, was b.1777 in Canaan, CT. Sadly, he holds the distinction of being the first death recorded within present-day Spencer soon after the town was settled. Injured while using the indispensable axe, 17-year-old Prescott died of lockjaw in 1795. He was buried on his father’s farm until land was set aside for a cemetery about 1800 from the estate of Joseph Barker in town. This became the Old Spencer Cemetery at the corner of Liberty and Main Streets. (Spencer History) Edmund Hobart built a successful saw mill on the embankment above the Catatunk/Catatonk Creek, roughly 500 feet east of our house. A dam was built back to the steep hill which held back a 10-15 acre millpond to efficiently run the millwheel. The ubiquitous apple orchard was established below the mill on this side of the dam, trees still producing when my husband farmed with his father from 1968 to 1985. They provided shade for the cows, and bedding protection for deer as my son and I discovered on a hike one wintry day – along with tasty apples for the animals to enjoy! Edmund Hobart’s second son, Rodney, operated a grist mill with Daniel McQuigg on the same mill site. Daniel McQuigg married Edmund Hobart’s daughter, Charlotte, purchasing the full property in 1815 after Edmund died. (Spencer History) Later, the Cook Mill on the same ground was known to saw “50,000 to 100,000 feet of lumber per annum” even though not running at full capacity (per the late Jean Alve, Spencer Town Historian in “Sounds of Spencer”, Random Harvest Weekly, 01/11/95). The dam was eventually breached and drained, creating a large field which my husband said contained very fertile “river-bottom” loam. All that remains of the mill(s) is a large pile of rocks among which we found a few small antique bottles. The dam was removed entirely to make way for Hollybrook Country Club’s golf course in the early 2000s. There is quite a rich family history for Esther Hobart McQuigg and her paternal Hobart ancestors placed by a descendant at Find-A-Grave(FAGM) Edmund Hobart’s father was Shebuel Hobart, Jr., b.1715, Groton, Middlesex Co., MA, d.1805 at 90, Westfield, Chittenden Co., VT. He married Esther Parker in Groton in 1739, having 10 children. Esther was b.1721, Groton, Middlesex Co., MA, d.1789, aged 68, Hollis, Hillsborough Co., NH. Shebuel Hobart, Sr. was b.1682 in Groton, Mass, d.1764 at Pepperell, Middlesex Co., MA; he mar. Martha Prescott b.1690, Groton, MA, d.1774 aged 84 yrs, Townsend, Middlesex Co., MA. Shebuel’s parents were Rev. Gershom Hobart, b.1645 of Plymouth County, MA, a graduate of Harvard seminary in 1667; he m. Sarah Aldis in 1675, b.1652, 14 children. Gershom survived the Groton, Massachusetts Indian massacre of 1676; one of his children was killed, while one taken captive was released a year later. Gershom’s father was Rev. Peter Hobart, b.1604 of Hingham, Norfolk, England; he is said to have arrived at Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 8, 1635. (FAGM) ~~ ~~ ~~ Esther’s father, Daniel McQuigg, Sr. was b.1776 in either New Hampshire or Massachusetts, and d.1833 in Spencer, Tioga Co., NY. Meeting in Spencer, Daniel Sr. married Charlotte Hobart, b.1779 in Connecticut; she died 1826 in Spencer, NY. They had 11 children, including (per the late Jean Alve, Spencer Town Historian): Daniel, Jr., b.1801, Charles b.1803, John b.1805, Edmund H. b.1807 in Spencer, Jane b.1808, brother Jesse/Jessie b.1810, Esther Hobart b.1812 (J.A.) or 1814 (online), brother Mindwell b.1814, Eliza b.1816, Charlotte Susan b.1819, and George b.1821. John McQuigg, Jr., Esther’s grandfather, a Revolutionary soldier, arrived in Owego, NY from Massachusetts between 1785-1788. He was b. 1750 in Hillsborough Co., NH, d.1804 Owego, Tioga Co., NY. (FAGM) He m. 1) Mollie Gilmore – ch.: John M. McQuigg, III, b. Oct 13, 1771; and 2) Sarah Coburn – ch.: Mary b.1774, Daniel Sr. b.1776, Elizabeth b.1778, Robert b.1780, Jesse b.1783, Sarah b.1783, Patience b.1787, David b.1791, Rachel b/1793, Jane b.1795, Diadana b.1796. (J.A.) John McQuigg, Jr.’s will was probated in December 1804, presumably the year he died (FAGM), though Alve noted he died in Owego in 1813. He was buried in the cemetery of Owego’s first church. After the church burned, the graveyard on Court Street was abandoned with John McQuigg’s gravesite now unknown. (FAGM) Spencer Town Historian, Jean Alve (JA), wrote in her 08/03/85 newspaper article, “A Pioneer Family and a Family of Pioneers”, that “John McQuigg of Scots-Irish descent came from Massachusetts to the village of Owego by way of Otsego Lake and the trail along the Susquehanna river in the period from 1785-1788. He died in Owego in 1813.” But, if his will was probated in December 1804 (FAGM), then he obviously died prior to 1813 (JA). John McQuigg, Sr., was b. 1706 and d. 1794 in Bedford, Hillsborough Co., NH, recorded as a petitioner for the incorporation of Bedford May 10, 1750, a selectman from 1752-1759. He m. Mildred Lawson b. 1710, d. 1788. (FAGM) ~~ ~~ ~~ Into this hardy family was born Esther Hobart McQuigg, clearly descended from a long line of survivors unafraid of life on the western frontier. As a daughter of Daniel, Sr. and Charlotte (Hobart) McQuigg, Esther was the eighth of eleven children, the second of four daughters. By the time she was 11, Esther and her siblings had become orphans, their mother dying in 1826, their father in 1833. Her youngest siblings were sent to live with older siblings or various relatives in New York and Ohio, possibly Michigan, while Esther was apprenticed to a seamstress. She “ran a successful millinery business from her grandparents’ home [perhaps her Hobart grandmother], ‘making hats, and buying and selling goods for women.’” Esther was also not afraid to take a stand as an abolitionist in opposing pro-slavery rivals threatening to destroy a church. Two days after her birthday at age 29 in 1841, Esther married Artemas Slack of Owego on August 10, 1841 in Owego, Tioga Co., NY. A civil engineer with the Erie Railroad, Artemas was b. March 5, 1811, son of Jesse and Betsy (Burnham) Slack of Windsor, Vermont. Artemas and Esther’s son, Edward Archibald Slack, was born October 1842 at Owego, NY. Sadly, just seven short months later, Artemas Slack died in May 1843 at 32 years. “As a highly respected civil engineer, Artemas traveled throughout the Upper Midwest until he was accidentally killed in Illinois.” (p.11. Wyoming Woman Suffrage, WWS.) Artemas was buried in the Presbyterian Church Burying Ground at Owego, NY, leaving Esther a young widow and single mother. (Find-A-Grave, FAGM) Since Artemas left property in Illinois to his wife, Esther removed to Peru with her young son, Edward Archibald. There, “Ester Slack” met John Morris, “a prosperous merchant and shopkeeper,” whom she married in Peru, Illinois on February 17, 1846 as recorded in the registry at LaSalle County, Illinois. (Biographical Encyclopedia, BE) John Morris was born 1812 per gravestone, or between 1813-1817 in Poland per Federal census records (age 33, merchant, in 1850; 44 in 1860; and 57, miner, in 1870). The U.S. Army Enlistment Record (Ancestry.com) notes his enlistment on January 2, 1836 as John Moryoski, age 22, born 1814, Brestezo, Poland, a farmer. He was noted to be a saloon keeper, miner, and then a coroner in 1872. John and Esther’s first son, John, died as an infant, with twin sons born November 8, 1851 in Peru, Illinois – Edward J. and Robert C. Edward J. Morris (1851-1902) was elected assessor of Laramie County, County Clerk of Sweetwater County, and was a partner in the W.A. Johnson store in Green River, later known as the Morris Mercantile Company, and also established the Morris State Bank. (FAGM) Robert C. Morris (1851-1921) was noted to be “the most expert reporter the state ever had” for the Wyoming State Supreme Court, later partnered with his twin brother in the Morris Mercantile Company in Green River, taking over the business after his brother died. (FAGM) As above, Esther was born in or near Spencer, Tioga County, NY on August 8, 1812 (year on tombstone photo at FAGM; date per JA) or 1814 as per numerous articles about her. Even Federal census records note her age discrepancies (Ancestry.com): 1850 age 32, husband John Morris, age 33, Archibald Slack 7 (her son), John Morris 1, Salisbury, LaSalle County, Illinois; 1860 age 43, listed as “Sarah”, husband John Merris/Morris age 44, twin sons Edwin and Robert, both age 8, Peru, LaSalle Co., IL; 1870, June 1st, age 57 as was husband John, South Pass City, Sweetwater, Wyoming Territory. 1880 age 77, census taken on the 4th and 5th days of June 1880, Sangamon, Springfield Co., IL. (Note 20 year age discrepancy between 1870 to 1880 by my review Ancestry.com.) 1900 age 85, 86 or 87, with 7 written above a 5 which also appears to have a 6 within it, residing in the home of her son, “R.C. Morris” (Robert C.). Perhaps she had previously claimed a younger age than she actually was so as not to be listed older than her second husband, John Morris. Published August 3, 1950 in the “Waterloo Daily Courier” of Waterloo, Iowa under Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – “Mrs. Esther Morris of Cheyenne Wyoming was a justice of the peace 48 years before the U.S. gave women the right to vote! The first Woman Judge – Mrs. Esther McQuigg Morris (1813-1902), who died at Cheyanne, Wyo. on April 2, 1902, at the age of eighty-nine, was known as the ‘Mother of Woman Suffrage in Wyoming.’ She was the first woman judge in America, being chosen justice of the peace of South Pass City, Wyo. in 1870, shortly after women received the vote in the Territory, but 48 years before the U.S. gave women the right to vote.” (Ancestry.com) With her 90th birthday upcoming in August 1902, this notice would make her birth year the more accurate 1812. In July 1869, John and Esther Morris joined the gold rush and moved their young family west, not to California but to South Pass City in Sweetwater County, Wyoming Territory. Gold was discovered here in the late 1860s. Though the working Carissa Mine closed in 1956, it remains open for public tours. With their children, John and Esther settled into a 24×26 foot log cabin on Lot 38, South Pass Avenue. (pg.11, Wyoming Woman Suffrage, WWS) The 1870 Federal Census for South Pass City records John, age 57, a miner, with his wife Ester, age 57, Justice of the Peace, Edward, age 19, occupation of clerk in store, Robert, 19, Deputy District Clerk, and Edward Slack, age 27, District Clerk. Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris was a woman of stature, a hardy pioneer. “Nearly six feet tall, weighing a hefty 180 pounds…a born reformer,” Esther was a woman who radiated strength. Speaking in a “blunt and fiery” manner and adept at articulate passionate speeches, she was a fervent crusader for her cause. (BE) With her ancestral background of pioneers on new western fronts, she supported and promoted women’s rights at a time when it was more often a volatile subject. After America’s Civil War granted rights to former slaves, she was now among the increasing voices promoting woman suffrage, or right to vote. In Wyoming Territory, William H. Bright, introduced CB70, the suffrage bill to give women their right to vote and hold office. “Passing CB70 was not a joke gone awry. Instead, a genuine belief in woman suffrage, a way to promote the territory, and the notion of temporary experiment with this reform influenced the Wyoming legislators.” (pg.8, WWS) It was believed that “Being the first government to pass a woman suffrage bill would invite national publicity and create a positive, progressive image which would induce more settlement.” (pg.9-10, WWS) On December 10, 1869, women were, indeed, granted the right to vote in Wyoming. “This same group of lawmakers also gave married women control of their own property and provided for equal pay for women teachers, many years before most other states would even begin contemplating such legislation.” It was of note that within a short time, the nation’s first female jurors were also seated, as was the nation’s first woman justice of the peace. (BE) Not long after, on February 14, 1870, Esther Morris began her appointment as Justice of the Peace for South Pass City, Sweetwater County in Wyoming Territory. She paved the way as the first American woman ever to hold such a position. Newspapers around the nation informed interested readers of her auspicious appointment. Morris presided over a rowdy western town of about 2000 souls for eight-and-a-half months. Alcohol was readily available from two breweries for miners who frequented “a dozen saloons and several brothels.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/obituaries/overlooked-esther-morris.html Morris tried about 30 cases (New York Times Obituaries, NYT) or 27 cases (pg.14, WWS), or over 70 minor cases (BE), meting out justice as her strong common sense deemed appropriate. Most cases brought before her involved debt disagreements, but she adjudicated “ten assault cases, including three with the intent to kill.” (pg.14, WWS) Indicative of Morris’s ability is that not one of her decisions was reversed by a higher court, even after one case was taken to appellate court. As expected, the era’s news media “found the idea of a female judge somewhat amusing, or so their reports on Morris’s tenure would suggest. In April 1870, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper recounted her first day in court, focusing primarily on what she wore – ‘a calico gown, worsted breakfast-shawl, green ribbons in her hair, and a green neck-tie’. A few months later, the same publication called Morris ‘the terror of all rogues’ and said she offered ‘infinite delight to all lovers of peace and virtue.’” (NYT) A year later in June 1871, Morris supposedly issued a warrant against her husband for assault. Quite possibly a rumor, “one story asserted Esther had tried her husband, John, for drunkenness and had him tossed in jail. Denying it, she replied, ‘A man is not alowd to be judge of his wife much less a woman of her husband. It would not be a legal proseding.’ Common sense, more than the knowledge of the law, explains the success of Morris’ tenure as justice.” [pg. 14, WWS] At the conclusion of her term, Esther decided not to seek reelection. Her son, Robert, “explained his mother’s decision by noting she had received ‘much glory’ from holding the job and demonstrated that women could perform well in elected office. In other words, she had accomplished her goals.” She also knew her husband opposed woman suffrage and probably her job as justice of the peace. [pg.14, WWS] Unfortunately, with their marriage already failing, the couple separated. Leaving John Morris behind, Esther Morris removed to Laramie, Wyoming to be near her eldest son, Edward Slack, a newspaper editor. (BE) Morris recognized her own role in the national emergence of women’s suffrage. After completing her term as justice of the peace in 1871, she wrote a prominent suffragist, Isabella Beecher Hooker. Her letter was read at the national suffrage convention in Washington, D.C., and printed in Wyoming’s “The Laramie Daily Sentinel”: (NYT) “Circumstances have transpired to make my position as a justice of the peace a test of woman’s ability to hold public office… I feel that my work has been satisfactory.” In describing some of her responsibilities such as assisting in picking juries, depositing a ballot, canvassing votes after an election, Morris noted that “in performing all these duties I do not know as I have neglected my family any more than in ordinary shopping.” (NYT) In 1873, John Morris bought his first liquor license for his saloon, continued to work in the local mines and speculated in properties. (WWS) He died in South Pass City on September 29, 1877. [In 2011, Clint Black noted for Find-A-Grave that “John’s gravestone in Cheyenne may be a memorial. City records record burial in 1876.”] John’s obituary in the Cheyenne Sun noted he was the step-father of the paper’s editor, Edward Slack. Age 63 at death, he had emigrated from Poland, arrived in South Pass City in 1868, established himself as a saloon keeper, a miner, and elected coroner in 1872. (FAGM) In the same year of 1873, Esther Morris was nominated for Wyoming state representative from Albany County on a woman’s ticket. Withdrawing not long afterward from the election bid, she made it clear, however, that she was still very much a part of the “woman’s cause.” Moving back east to Albany, New York in 1874, she continued her suffragist efforts, taking part in ceremonies for the 1876 “Declaration of Rights for Women” at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. Traveling west yet again, Morris eventually settled in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1890 where her son, Col. Edward Archibald Slack (1842-1907), had become owner/editor of the Cheyenne News and later the Daily Leader. Slack gave his mother the honorary title of “Mother of Woman Suffrage.” Previously, Col. Slack had begun the publication of the Laramie Independent newspaper, followed by the Laramie Sun. This was also the year of Wyoming’s statehood, being the 44th to join the Union on July 10, 1890. During celebrations, Morris, “honored and respected for her great ability and heroic womanhood,” was given a prominent celebratory role. Morris presented Gov. Francis E. Warren the new state flag of Wyoming “on behalf of the women of Wyoming, and in grateful recognition of the high privilege of citizenship that has been conferred upon us.” (NYT) Morris was part of a tour by Susan B. Anthony in 1893 when Colorado women received the vote, attending a dinner given for Anthony in 1895. That same year, Morris was also elected a delegate from Wyoming to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (BE) Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris died at age 87 or 89 (depending on source) on April 2, 1902 at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the town where she is buried. A pamphlet published in 1920 on Wyoming suffrage by local historian Grace Raymond Hebard contributed in great part to establishing Morris’s reputation for the many women’s rights she helped achieve. In 1960, statues to honor Morris were placed in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol and in the state house at Cheyenne, Wyoming. (BE) Though Esther Morris will always be remembered for her brief time as the first woman Justice of the Peace, she is only rarely mentioned for her important advocacy for women’s suffrage. Yet, she worked fervently among the more recognizable suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree), Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucretia Mott, and so many others. Being the first woman justice of the peace, Morris is typically named alongside Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress in 1917, and Sandra Day O’Connor who, in 1981, became the first woman Supreme Court justice. (NYT) Not until 1920 were all American women given the right to vote, women who have benefited from Morris’s “satisfactory” execution of the trust placed in her as the first American woman justice of the peace. As noted, the three sons of Esther Hobart (McQuigg) (Slack) Morris carried on their mother’s legacy and that of her siblings and extended family as leaders within their communities… rather fitting for a woman of hardy pioneer stock.
  10. On a hill looking south over Owego stands a white marble obelisk, visible from across the river when the leaves are down. Its prominence denotes the Evergreen Cemetery, and specifically marks the grave of a young Mohawk Indian maiden. The site chosen for her memorial displays a stunningly beautiful panorama of the town below as the Susquehanna River wends its way through the midst of what was once thick virgin forest. And it’s not too difficult to imagine the Native Americans who once lived and traveled this waterway through our beautiful and fertile land. The elegant 17-foot tall monument was erected by private donations from the good people of Owego and other cities after the young woman’s death. Her epitaph reads: “In memory of Sa-Sa-Na Loft, an Indian Maiden of Mohawk-Woods, Canada West, who lost her life in the Railroad Disaster at Deposit, N.Y., February 18, 1852, Aged 21 years.” [Searles, p.29] A carved wild rose with a broken stem and missing leaf adorns the back of the monument. Facing west are the words, “By birth a daughter of the forest, By adoption a child of God.” Sa-Sa-Na is buried at the foot of this elegant monument, facing the sunrise to the east. [Searles, p.29] Several websites about Sa-Sa-Na include the words from a poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” with claims it is a Native American prayer. This poem, with its origins in dispute, was confirmed in 1998 by Abigail Van Buren to have been written by Mary Elizabeth Frye in 1932: "Do not stand by my grave and cry... I am not there, I did not die." Many are the visitors who have reported hearing a voice softly singing while they sit upon a bench in front of the wrought-iron fence which surrounds and protects her gravesite. If the singing be nothing more than leaves gently swaying in the breeze, the ambience denotes a quiet and peaceful setting. Sa-Sa-Na (Indian equivalent of the English Susannah) Loft was a direct descendant of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), the Mohawk chief who had caused much fear and destruction during the Revolutionary War. With the colonists’ revolt against the British Crown, most of the Iroquois nation felt their alliance with Britain was key to stemming the tide of colonists who were taking more and more of their ancestral lands. Maintaining his ties to the Crown, Brant (commissioned a Colonel) led numerous attacks on various communities within New York. When the war for independence began, many of the Iroquois nation in the Mohawk Valley region of New York removed to what was called “The Mohawk Woods” in the township of Thayendanegea/Tyendinaga on Canada’s Salmon River. The Loft family, living near Canajoharie, was among those fleeing the Mohawk Valley for the safety of Canada. [Searles, p.8-9] After Britain’s loss to the upstart American nation, more Iroquois resettled on Canadian soil given to them by the British Crown (as did white Loyalists from within New York State). On May 22, 1784, twenty canoes holding fifteen Indian families under Capt. John Deserontyon landed on the shore of the Bay of Quinte for their land reserve of 92,000 acres. The township of Tyendinaga (i.e. Thayandanegea, Joseph Brant’s Mohawk name) is west of Kingston in Hastings County; specifically, it is west of Deseronto and east of Belleville along the Salmon River on the northeastern end of Lake Ontario. Others followed Joseph Brant to what became known as Brant’s Ford on the Grand River, now Brantford, Ontario, Canada. This community is about 25-30 miles west of Hamilton and Burlington, both of which are situated on the far western shores of Lake Ontario. A venerable warrior and revered chief of his people, Joseph Brant was born somewhere along the Ohio River in 1742. His father died when he was still an infant, while his widowed mother, Owandah, raised her family with, presumably, assistance from their tribe in colonial New York. Mary/Molly Brant, Joseph's older sister, became the common-law wife of Sir William Johnson. As the British Superintendant of Indian Affairs, Johnson played a major role in supporting the Crown during the late 18th century in the province of New York. He was also an instrumental force in helping educate the illiterate young Brant. At age 14, Brant left home to become a student at Moor’s Indian Charity School in Connecticut (the forerunner of Dartmouth College) under Dr. Eleazer Wheelock. Returning home with an education, Brant attained new roles in leadership of the Iroquois and as the head of his own family. After the deaths of his first two wives, Peggy/Margaret and Susannah, he married Catherine Croghan in 1780 with whom he raised a family of seven children. With his natural abilities well suited to the role of chief and leader of the Iroquois nation, Brant was instrumental in securing peace treaties after the Revolutionary War between the United States government and other Native American tribes. Having already proven himself a worthy warrior not only by his bravery in battle but as a leader of his people, he now proved his prowess as politician and diplomat. But, more importantly, Brant also encouraged his people to settle their disputes and end the warfare against the ever-expanding white frontier settlements. He then devoted the balance of his life to missionary work, including the raising of funds to build the first Episcopal church in Canada. Appreciating his own education, Brant believed there was much to learn from the whites and their patriarchal society, which differed from the traditional Indian matriarchal society. He felt strongly that, for the Indians to survive, they would need to incorporate more of the methods used by whites not only in their agricultural future, but in virtually every other aspect of life. Having become a Christian (Anglican/Episcopalian) and a Freemason, Brant also believed in educating their own youth so that they, too, could succeed like the white man as the world around them continued its progressive change. His last words to his adopted nephew show how committed he had become to the intellectual and spiritual advancement of his own people: “Have pity on the poor Indians. If you have any influence with the great, endeavor to use it for their good.” Brant died on Nov 24, 1807 at his home in what is now Burlington, Ontario. He is buried at Her Majesty’s Chapel of the Mohawks (originally St. Paul’s, built in 1785), the oldest Protestant church in Brantford, Ontario, with a memorial statue erected in 1886 to his memory. And into this heritage was born Sa-Sa-Na Loft. From a Canadian biography of her brother, George Rok-Wa-Ho Loft, four children were born to Henry Loft and his wife Jemima (or Ya-Go-We-A, also their youngest daughter’s name). Direct descendants of Brant, the Loft children’s maternal ties were of the unmixed Mohawks living in the township of Thayandanegea/Tyendinaga near the Bay of Quinte. Henry’s father, David Loft, was a St. Francis Indian (Abenaki tribe) while Jemima was a Mohawk. Sa-Sa-Na’s older brother, Rok-Wa-Ho (George Rokwaho Loft), married Ellen Smith, also a Mohawk. They were parents of Frederick Ogilvie Loft and William Loft, both of whom have continued Brant’s legacy in promoting the betterment of the Mohawk Indians as a whole. Growing up on the reservation known as The Mohawk Woods in the township of Tyendinaga on the Salmon River in Ontario, Canada, the Loft children received a good education through the work of the local mission school. Understanding the importance of meeting the spiritual needs of his people, Brant had had several books of the Bible translated into their native language, including Genesis and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, along with the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and other Christian writings. Through the local mission’s efforts, the Loft family and children also converted to Christianity. With the two older Loft children having been educated at the mission school several miles away from home, they then taught Sa-Sa-Na at home. The wife of the Episcopal minister in Kingston also gave music lessons to train Sa-Sa-Na’s beautiful voice, who in turn taught her younger sister, Ya-Go-Weia, all she knew. In their longing to help provide a quality education and to Christianize more of their people, Rok-Wa-Ho and his two younger sisters, Sa-Sa-Na and Ya-Go-Weia, commenced a singing tour throughout New York state. Since their oldest sister was married at the time, she remained home with their widowed mother. Traveling to raise funds to help educate their people, their efforts were rewarded in helping to eventually build a church within their own community. On February 15 and 16, 1852, the Loft siblings arrived at Owego, New York where the sisters gave two concerts, and received a warm welcome from the townspeople. Sponsored by Judge Charles P. Avery, they stayed as guests at his home on Front Street in Owego, along the Susquehanna River. Avery was a man with considerable interest in preserving local Indian history within colonial Tioga County, and thus his eager support of the Lofts. The siblings next traveled east to Deposit. At the Oquaga Theater, they gave another sacred concert on February 17th. They were well received at both towns just as they had been at other stops throughout New York, and were greatly admired for their efforts to assist their indigent nation back home. In Deposit the next day, February 18th, while their brother purchased tickets at the station, the sisters boarded the passenger train and took their seats. Unbeknownst to everyone, just eight miles away on the same track, an engineer lost control of his freight train at “The Summit” [also called Gulf Summit], the peak of a steep downgrade [from my knowledge of the area, I presume this to be part of the summit of Belden Hill on Rt. 7.] Knowing what the end result would be, the engineer jumped the train as it gained unrelenting speed on its headlong run down the track covered in snow and ice. Hearing an alarm sounding for the fast-approaching runaway train racing toward their standing train, both sisters managed to jump from their car onto the station platform. Unfortunately, as she jumped, Sa-Sa-Na lost her balance and fell backward onto the car they’d just left, being crushed and scalded to death as the freight train crashed at that very instant with a horrendous slam and explosion of steam. The Owego Gazette for Thursday, February 19, 1852 included this brief notice: “Frightful Rail Road Accidents. Deposit 18, 1852. Freight Train East ran in to mail train going east at this station today, and one person, the elder Indian girl killed. One lady from Great Bend badly scalded. One man badly injured. Freight train coming down the summit became unmanageable. No others injured.” [Both Miss Susan Wisner, 18, of Goshen, Orange County, NY and Patrick Moony from Susquehanna, PA died soon afterward from their injuries. [Searles, p. 105-107, The Deposit Courier, Feb. 21, 1852.] Sa-Sa-Na’s funeral was held in Owego on February 20, 1852 “with impressive services at the Episcopal Church, and at the grave [with] Rev. Mr. Watson officiating.” [Searles, p.108, The Owego Gazette, February 21, 1852] A lengthy obituary of Sa-Sa-Na by the Hon. Charles P. Avery was included in the small handbook, “Memorial of Sa-Sa-Na.” [Searles, p.83] A poem written by W. H. C. Hosmer titled simply, “Lament of Sa-Sa-Na” was read at her funeral. [Too lengthy to include here, it can be located online.] The obituary, sermon and poem were included in an 1852 memorial pamphlet which was entitled, “To the memory of SA-SA-NA- LOFT, noble, lovely, self-devoted – early mourned; and to those who love and cherish her memory, these brief pages are dedicated.” [Published at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.] Great crowds gathered to show their grief in support of the surviving siblings. They had become very fond of the three Indian youths and their endeavors to raise funds for the education of their tribe. The deeply saddened Rok-Wa-Ho is quoted as saying, “One half the burden of the load is lifted from our hearts” following the great kindness shown to them by Owego’s citizens. [Searles, p.33, excerpt from Star-Gazette Sunday Telegram, May 19, 1985] A memorial service subsequent to that in Owego was held at St. Thomas’ Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on February 29, 1852, with a sermon given by the rector S. H. Norton. He referenced Ecclesiastes 3:4: “A time to weep and…a time to mourn.” [Searles, p.89, from the booklet “A Memorial of Sa-Sa-Na, the Mohawk Maiden…”] “The Deposit Courier” of Wednesday, February 25, 1852 included a poem “In memory of Miss Sasaneah Loft, the Indian Singing Girl, a victim of one of the late fatal accidents on the N.Y. and Erie Railroad: ‘To her Father, the ‘Great Spirit,’ The forest child has fled; - Sharp was the arrow, brief the pang That laid her with the dead! But yesterday, and she was here Gay as the fawns that bound In sportive grace and joyousness Her woodland home around… Long, long, in sylvan solitudes Will sound the tale, I ween, How the Great Spirit called to heaven Their bright, accomplished queen.’ From the Oxford Times, Feb. 21, 1852.” [Searles, p. 118, The Deposit Courier] Intending to return his sister’s body to Canada for burial, Rok-Wa-Ho was persuaded by Judge Avery to allow her remains to be placed in the Avery vault at the Presbyterian Church on Temple Street. A committal service for her was held the following spring at Evergreen Cemetery on the hill above Owego. With letters of administration from Surrogate Court, Judge Avery sued the railroad company on behalf of Sa-Sa-Na’s family. Receiving a payment of $2000.00 in September 1852, he turned the money over to the Loft family. Upon receipt of these funds, they were then able to provide for “publication of religious books, in the Mohawk language, for the education and Christianization of the Mohawk people at the reservation in Canada.” [Searles, p.25-26, from Deposit Courier Magazine, March/April 1957.] To provide a monument at Sa-Sa-Na Loft’s burial site, the Owego women raised funds locally and from communities as far away as Albany, Auburn, Binghamton and Oxford where the Loft siblings had given concerts. When sufficient funds were received, a beautiful white marble obelisk was purchased at cost, $201.58 (for a monument valued at the substantial sum of $400), from the Owego Marble Factory of G. W. Phillips who obtained the shaft and bases from Vermont’s Rutland Quarry. This monument was erected in May 1855 as a lasting memorial to the young woman with whom the community had fallen in love. Little known to the rest of the world, Mohawk Indians apparently arrive each spring at Evergreen Cemetery to pay their respects to the memory of Sa-Sa-Na. At times, the chief attends in full Indian dress. “As is the custom of the Indians they arrive and leave quietly and, unless someone happens to be in the vicinity of the monument at the time, no one is the wiser for their tribute.” [Searles, p.8-9, “Still visited by Her People, the Saga of Sa-Sa-Na Loft” in “An Owego paper, date unknown, from the scrapbook of Ruth S. Tilly.”] How fitting that, at least in the past, a quiet and unassuming tribute has been paid each year by the Mohawks to the memory of Sa-Sa-Na, one of their own… a moving tribute to a kind and compassionate young woman who ventured forth with the simple and noble ambition of raising funds to further educate more of her beloved people… her enduring legacy. And so, closing my eyes, I visualize the solemn occasion as the chief arrives bearing a visage of serenity. Slowly and quietly he walks to the edge of Sa-Sa-Na’s grave. Head bowed, he pauses to contemplate… and to remember all he’s heard about this young woman in stories passed from generation to generation. As he lifts his eyes toward the sun, his own face shines with a joy for one so young whose tender heart touched so many… one whose life ended far too soon… but one who left a lasting legacy of love and concern for her people. And with hands raised to the sky, he thanks the Great Creator for blessing their nation with the beauty of Sa-Sa-Na’s life. MAIN SOURCE (other websites on request): “Sa-Sa-Na Loft, Owego’s Indian Maiden, A Historical Anthology,” compiled by Marilyn T. Searles, 2001 (held at Coburn Library, Owego, New York).
  11. Ode To A King

    Analogies give us a glimpse of similarities and truths of a story tucked within a story. Thinking about this concept after my poem was written brought to mind Mark Twain’s British book, “The Prince and The Pauper,” published subsequently in the U.S. in 1882. In Twain’s beloved story, a young prince and a pauper (who happen to look a lot alike and were born on the same day) trade places in life. The prince experiences the roughness of a lowly life just as his counterpart once did, while the pauper tries to bravely find his way at the top of an unfamiliar kingdom. Common sense, so crucial to his survival in the real world, comes in quite handy as he makes his way through the upper echelon. Ultimately, the real prince returns to claim his rightful place as heir and is crowned king. Ever grateful for his real-life experiences as a pauper, the prince now understands life for the poor and hard-working folks beneath him, and is better able to comprehend their needs. And, then he makes his friend, the pauper, his aide. Having never read Twain’s book, my poem was written without knowledge of the story line. After research, it’s clear my poem takes a similar albeit slightly different tack in relating a king who was used to observing the realm from his castle high above the fray of every-day life. Wanting to experience firsthand what life for his subjects was like, he walks among them dressed as a beggar. In this guise, he observes that most people continue on their way with their heads held high, seldom stooping to assist someone poorer than they. They live and breathe a self-serving arrogance. But, on the other hand, a young woman notices the poor man in his tattered clothing. She kindly offers to feed him – and not only did she provide nourishing meals, but she repairs his coat to provide warmth against the cold. He returns often to talk with her, to learn the depths of her heart, and to simply show appreciation and gratefulness for what she has done for him, a beggar. He was afraid to share that he had fallen in love with her, but was now in a dilemma for he needs to return from whence he came. Indeed, he knows that truth must always be told in any situation… and so he set out one day to let her know how much he loved her. He was willing to give up all he owned just to serve her for the rest of his life. And it was then that he could see his love was returned in her eyes as he knelt down to propose. With her “yes,” his heart leapt for joy to know their hearts would soon be united forever, as he shared who he really was. Tucked within the depth of this poem’s story is the analogy of our Lord’s love for us. Leaving his throne in His beautiful and perfect heavenly home, He came down to dwell among us… into this world of sin and pain. Once here, He experienced life just as we do with all of its temptations and sadness, but also the joy. And thus He is able to be our advocate and comforter, knowing from personal experience what our life on earth is all about. Yet, our Lord came that He might serve us, not to be served. “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28) In His sacrifice, He gave His all for us… His life… that we might accept an awesome priceless gift; and, in so doing, share eternity with Him above. What joy there will be when we are united with Him, and remain in the presence of His love forever! What a King! Ode to a King Linda A. Roorda I gazed from afar while observing my realm And found with int’rest motives in action, But often their lives showed merest concern While I could see depths of their anguished souls. Oh how I loved these people of mine! And longed to walk the path to their soul A chance to converse, a sharing of hearts To bring them peace with comforting words. So stepping down, I entered their world Yearning to serve the rich and the poor But they did not know this beggar in rags Most never saw needs, just held their head high. And then I noticed a young woman fair Who spoke gentle words to a stranger coarse She offered me food and to mend my coat While love in my heart had only begun. A love which grew on the winds of time A chance to bond and learn of her heart To know the depths of comfort and peace Humility’s grace wrapped up in mercy. Now deeply in love I’d sacrifice all Yet she did not know the truth of my garb How would I explain that she’d found favor That her heart was true, like gold refined. So I intended my dilemma to share To let her know from afar I’d come, That all I’d longed for I treasured in her, Companionship sweet, a blending of souls. Expressing my love for her tender heart Overwhelmed was she as on knees I bent Asking for her hand, with tears she said yes, My heart leapt for joy that we’d become one. And then I shared my journey in rags From a kingdom rich in glory and fame To this lowly world of sorrow and pain To which I had come, others to serve. For it was then my eyes did behold Analogy of One with far greater love Who left His throne to walk on this earth To share our burdens and speak to our hearts. His love ran red as He gave His all To purchase with blood and redeem our souls That He might draw near, from sin set us free To offer His gift of life eternal. ~~ 12/21/15 – 12/24/15 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author.
  12. I'll Be There...

    Thanks so much, Mahatma
  13. I'll Be There...

    Some of us know the depths of depression and despondency. Some of us know the lack of physical healing or the pain of incurable disease. Some of us know the sorrow and grief of losing a precious loved one. Some of us know family dysfunction. Some of us know abuse that no one else can see or fathom. And we question how this could be… How could a loving God leave us in pain by not healing us, even after much prayer? How could a loving God allow so much evil to go on all around us? How could a loving God allow the senseless shooting sprees that kill our innocent children? How could you do that to us God? But, it’s not God who does this to us… with Adam and Eve came “the fall.” The perfect first couple failed to heed God’s words, listening instead to the guile of sweet flattery from the serpent. Ever since, we and this world around us have been living with sin and its imperfections. We tend to put ourselves… our wants and desires… first. I remember many years ago leaders in church saying that if anyone was discouraged or depressed, they must not be a true believer in God. How wrong and presumptuous to think that the difficulties of life can’t and won’t weary anyone, including a hearty Saint! We’re human, as were the best examples in Scripture who dealt with their own failings and weaknesses which brought them to their knees. Like King David’s psalms of poetic devotions which vividly show his laments and pleadings, they also show his rejoicing in God’s guidance, protection and provision. He was no different than us. We all express our sorrows and laments as well as joy and thankfulness. Yet, it could also be asked, where are we in bringing aid and comfort to the one who has been wearied by the blows of life? As David begins Psalm 55, he sends up a prayerful plea: “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked; for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger.” Yet, as verse 22 attests, David confidently reminds us to whom he could turn despite his troubles by saying, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you…” A sentiment confirmed by the bold and outspoken Apostle Peter who said to “Cast all your anxiety/cares on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) And this from the man who three times denied he ever knew Jesus, his Lord and closest friend! The difficulties we face do not mean God doesn’t hear our cries, our pleas, our prayers. Though His answers may not be what we want or expect, He will answer in His time and in His way… for He alone knows the best way to meet our needs. His answer to our prayers may not come immediately. Sometimes, it’s not until much later that we look back and say, “Oh! So that’s why things happened that way!” In allowing difficulties to come into our lives, God quietly gives us an opportunity to grow. By seeking our Lord’s will through it all, we mature in faith. Even the Apostle Paul dealt with a “thorn in the flesh.” Some have thought it might be poor vision after the brilliant light that temporarily blinded him on the road to his conversion. We don’t know his exact problem, and it really doesn’t matter. Paul felt it was given to him to prevent his becoming conceited. Three times he asked the Lord to remove it from him, to heal him; but, it was not removed and he was not healed. Instead, what Paul heard in his heart was the Lord saying, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9 NIV) In the days that seem so dark, so dreary, so difficult and painful… know that you can find comfort from those around you… a spouse, a child, a dear friend, your church family, or friends within your community. They will be there to comfort you and see you through, and point you in the right direction for help. Assistance may even come through professionals who can provide counseling, medical care and medication. But, also know that there is another who will be there, one who will come alongside, hold you up, and carry you on those days when you can barely manage to move forward – our Lord. I know, because He’s been there for me, for us, through dark and difficult days, with a peace I can only describe as an overwhelming warm blanket of comfort… for “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV) There’s an old song I like by Rich Mullins, “That Where I Am, There You May Also Be.” I especially appreciate the chorus, “In this world you will have trouble but I leave you my peace…” It’s based on John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As proofreader, my husband, Ed, commented, “It’s a feeling of complete and unexplainable tranquility knowing that nothing can shake you anymore, that God has your back whatever comes at you. It’s knowing that you have Jesus and that He died for you; and, when the end comes, that you’re going where He is and there will be peace forever with Him.” It is this overwhelming peace that I have felt as our Lord wrapped His loving arms around me while in prayer, thanking Him for blessings through difficult days... in our daughter’s passing, in my husband’s blindness and extensive health issues, and so much more. Do I always remember to pray right away, to thank Him, and ask for His help and guidance? No, unfortunately, I don’t. Sometimes it’s later that I think, once again, why didn’t I go to God first? I know I need to ask Him to help change my heart just as much as I know He is there waiting for me to draw near to Him, telling me “I’ll be there…” Just like the words we say to a friend in need - I’ll be there… as we become Christ’s hands and feet for others. I’ll Be There… Linda A. Roorda When you feel As though the world Has closed in tightly all around… I’ll be there. ~ When it seems As though your prayers Just never get answered… I’ll be there. ~ When the road You’re traveling on Seems just too steep to climb… I’ll be there. ~ When it’s hard To face life’s challenges That hide your peace and squelch your joy… I’ll be there. ~ When you peer Into nothing but darkness That envelopes your entire world… I’ll be there. ~ When the Lord Does not give healing But simply says, “Trust me…” I’ll be there. ~ When you step Into a bright new day But only feel never-ending pain… I’ll be there. ~ When you need A hand to grasp And an ear to hear the depths of your soul… I’ll be there. ~ When a tear Begins to slide And sadness covers your entire world… I’ll be there. ~ When your face Looks up in prayer While holding tight your Maker’s hand… I’ll be there. ~ When you feel God’s loving arms Gently enfold as He carries you… I’ll be there. ~ When you sense God’s peace fill your soul He gently whispers within your heart… I’ll be there. ~~ 07/10/13 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~~
  14. Journey of Life

    Life is a journey… a different path for each of us, and never what we might envision the future to be when we’re young, standing at the edge of tomorrow. We may sail along on a seemingly smooth course, expecting all our plans will come to fruition, but what we cannot see is the unexpected bend. What lies ahead is hidden from view. With each new day comes change… hardships and prosperity, struggles and triumphs, losses, fears and tears, joy and laughter, and blessings we too often take for granted. This photo of Ganargua Creek was taken by my friend Kathy’s husband, Hugh Van Staalduinen. Ganargua, or “where the village sprang up”, was named centuries ago by the Iroquois Indians. Nicknamed “Mud Creek” for its murky water, the creek flows near Palmyra and Newark, continuing east to Lyons, a tributary of the Erie Canal. The creek is a favorite for canoeing and kayaking with a trail alongside that encourages hiking, an overall great natural wildlife environment. And it was this beautiful image of a creek with its distant banks obscured by a foggy haze that brought this poem and these thoughts to mind. As we once again stand at the door to welcome a new year, we have no clue what lies ahead… just around the bend. We can only be in the moment, enjoying it for what it holds, leaving the unknown future in God’s very capable hands. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) We can live in fear of the unknown, or live out our faith in hope and trust in someone greater than us. We can trust that no matter what might lie ahead, God will always be with us, guiding our steps as He weaves our life’s journey. We can hope for good to come out of the hardships, and appreciate the positive impact within our heart as we deal with challenges. We can be a blessing to others by simply being there for them in a tough time. We can pray for healing, as we look forward in faith, waiting for answers to our prayerful pleas. And, we can trust that even when the answers aren’t what we want, the Lord will ultimately bring about what He deems best… for we grow by facing and accepting whatever difficulty comes our way with a strong and quiet faith. And we are deeply grateful and thankful for the many blessings received. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12 ESV) God knows what lies ahead on our journey of life… He goes with us, just as he told Joshua before the Jews entered the Promised Land, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV) But, it’s up to us to trust Him, and to live by faith with hope in Him as He shows us the way… around the bend. A very Happy New Year to you, dear Reader! Journey of Life Linda A. Roorda Beauty unadorned in peaceful reflection As gentle dawn pierces the haze, While we gaze into the tunnel of time And contemplate our journey of life. ~ This life’s adventure, a passage blest Carried on streams of hopes and dreams, With faith kept alive by promises sure That all has meaning no matter the course. ~ An image from life captured forever Of time standing still in unchanging scene, While visions of yore blend future obscure Harboring secrets of a path unknown. ~ As we sail into the hidden morrow Seeking the ideal of heaven’s realm, We fathom with trust the pathway ahead And patiently wend this journey of life. ~ For there lies our faith, hope in the unseen That One far greater protects and guides, Trusting the day when glory shines through And all is revealed in the Light of His Word. ~~ 09/23/17 All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission of author. ~
  15. There are special memories we treasure and renew each Christmas season, no matter what! It seems that to honor this most treasured holiday is in our soul, for the birth of Baby Jesus brought treasured Joy and Love into our world. As we celebrate this joyous holiday, we enjoy making or buying special gifts for our loved ones, baking delicious treats, and beautifully decorating our homes. But don’t forget the seasonal aromas of fresh-cut evergreens! Therein lies a favorite memory for many in going out to get a Christmas tree from a tree farm, meandering between the rows to find the right one as fresh snowflakes flutter down, or perhaps simply picking out a favorite from among pre-cut trees on a seasonal lot, the latter option often being pretty much all that’s available to our city friends. Decorating the family Christmas tree brings such excitement to a child! Their eyes sparkle, reflecting the lights and tinsel that shine and shimmer, while the fancy decorations bring special memories to mind from year to year. The first Christmas after Ed and I were married, we cut down a small tree in the woods to decorate in our trailer; otherwise, faux trees were usually the norm as our kids grew up to save the disposable expense every year. Now, I simply set up the 2-foot ceramic tree made for my mother-in-law decades ago, which she graciously gifted to me before her passing. Until this research, I never knew that the evergreen tree is said to represent strength, perhaps strength to resist temptations or to remain strong in the harshest of times. We often consider it a symbol of our Christian faith, a reminder of Christ’s birth and everlasting life, but it has also been an ancient symbol of wisdom and longevity. President John F. Kennedy even referred to the durable evergreen as a symbol of character by saying, “Only in winter can you tell which trees are truly green. Only when the winds of adversity blow can you tell whether an individual or a country has courage and steadfastness.” (The Historic Christmas Tree Ship, pg.276) It seems Christmas trees became popular thanks to England’s Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century. Yet, it was in 16th century Germany where many believe the tradition began of setting up an evergreen in the house for Christmas. Martin Luther, credited with starting the Protestant Reformation in 1517, is thought to have begun putting lit candles onto his family’s tree which were held in place by wires. This bright tradition was based on his seeing stars twinkling amongst the evergreens as he walked outdoors mulling over a sermon. The Germans also added edible decorations to the branches, like aromatic gingerbread. German glassmakers began creating unique glass tree ornaments, a tradition carried forward through the centuries. In 1605, an unknown German left a written record of their decorations: "At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc." As time went on, figurines of Baby Jesus were put at the top of the tree. Later, an angel was often displayed as a topper to remind us of the one who had first informed the shepherds about Baby Jesus’ birth, or a star was gently set on the top branch in honor of the bright star which led the Wise Men to the young child. In England, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Germany, apparently set up and decorated their first family Christmas tree in 1841 inside Windsor Castle. Young and beloved by everyone, whatever Queen Victoria wore or did often became the latest fad, like wearing the first white wedding gown for her marriage in February 1840. Thus, she and her husband are credited with starting the very popular Christmas tree tradition. An 1848 drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” in the Illustrated London News eventually found its way to America, republished in “ Godey's Lady's Book ” at Philadelphia in December 1850. However, historical curators have established it was actually Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, who began the British tradition of setting up Christmas trees with “the first known English tree at the Queen’s Lodge, Windsor in December 1800.” Simply put, Queen Charlotte didn’t have the effervescent media giving profuse public praise to her every move that we would remember her effort. Lit candles on Christmas trees created a beautiful illuminating star effect. Unfortunately, they were also the cause of many fires. What a promising change when inventor Thomas Edison hung up his safer electric lights in his office in 1880. Two years later his colleague, Edward Johnson, strung up red, white and blue bulbs for use on his tree at home. By 1890, an Edison Company brochure offered Christmas tree lighting services. Only a few years later, President Grover Cleveland became the first president to decorate the White House Christmas tree with lights in 1895. But, not until 1923, did President Calvin Coolidge set up the first National Christmas Tree on the White House front lawn. The popularity of Christmas trees make them highly desirable wherever you live. Along with the beauty of candles or lightbulbs, various types of homemade decorations have been strung on the tree, including popcorn, cranberries, and fancy ornaments from paper to glass. To serve their many customers, trees were brought to the cities by traditional means of delivery via teamsters with horse-drawn wagons and the popular steam locomotive. Of especial interest among certain waiting city clientele, though, were the roughly 60 Christmas tree schooners which plied Lake Michigan between 1868 and 1914. They were among the nearly 2000 or so beautiful three-masted schooners carrying cargo like tractor trailers on today’s highways. Sailing south from northern Lake Michigan with loads of evergreens in late November, these hardy mariners risked their lives despite stormy weather to bring great joy to their customers. Far from summer’s calm, late season sailing often became a ride on roiling and dangerous waters described as “hellish death traps [in] violent hurricane-force storms.” Many of us readily recall Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, a haunting tale of loss on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 – “…The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down, of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'. The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead, when the gales of November come early…” This last phrase was oft quoted by long-forgotten mariners on the Great Lakes who knew stormy tragedy; and, I’m sure, are among the fears of those who ply the late-season waters even now. Yet, not many of us today know about the tragic loss of the three-masted schooner, “Rouse Simmons”, the famed and fabled Christmas Tree Ship. Born after the American Civil War’s conclusion in 1865, Capt. Herman Schuenemann, the son of German immigrants, knew Lake Michigan like the back of his hand. He’d been sailing since his youth. He knew how storms could blow up in an instant, causing havoc with sailing vessels, just as he knew about storms which took ships down to their dark and bitter-cold watery graves. After all, he lost his brother, August, in the severe gale of November 9-10, 1898. His ship, “the two-masted S. Thal”, also held Christmas trees bound for Chicago when she sank in a violent storm. Loyal to the good people of Chicago, Capt. Herman Schuenemann faithfully brought in his schooner loaded with Christmas trees every year. While not the only Christmas tree ship on the Great Lakes, the good captain with his evergreen cargo was extremely popular at the Clark Street Dock of Chicago. The annual arrival of Capt. Santa was made more popular by the reciprocal love of his many friends and neighbors. He couldn’t think of disappointing the faithful who hoped to buy his trees for their homes, nor the poor families, orphanages, and churches which welcomed his free gift of a tree. It simply gave him great pleasure to sail into the Chicago harbor with his cargo of evergreen joy. Yet, some would later claim Schuenemann had overloaded his schooner that year, making her top heavy. At least one sailor, possibly several, refused to get on board when it was claimed rats were seen deserting while she was docked. Sailors can be a superstitious lot… still, it’s long been known by old sea hands that if rats desert a ship, they know something’s amiss in what the inexperienced or unconcerned observer may overlook. Even so, Capt. Schuenemann set sail on a nearly 300-mile journey from Thompson’s Pier at Manistique, Michigan the week before Thanksgiving… November 22, 1912, a Friday, another bad omen. To the old mariners, you never set sail on a Friday… just past midnight into Saturday, but never on Friday. Knowing a storm was brewin’, Schuenemann wanted to get ahead of it, ignoring advice from friends in the Northwoods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “The people of Chicago have to have their trees for Christmas.” (See film clip of Classicsailboats.org, “Herman Schuenemann, Captain Santa”) In the captain’s defense, though, even the official weather forecast on the day he sailed was not one that would have given rise to grave concern. “Washington, D.C., November 22, 1912 – For Wisconsin: Local rains or snow Saturday; colder at night; variable winds becoming northwest and brisk; Sunday fair. For Upper Michigan: Local snow or rains Saturday; variable winds, becoming northwest and west and brisk; Sunday fair. This would not be the kind of weather which a recreational yachtsman would relish, but it was hardly cause to stop the merchantmen.” (“Anchor News”, publication of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, January/February 1990, by Fred Neuschel; p. 87, Pennington.) And so, undeterred, Schuenemann sailed out into the lake with his cargo of roughly 5000 trees… until the 50-60+ mph winds caught up with him. The gale-force winds laden with snow and ice took their toll on the hardy old ship built 44 years earlier. She was seen by a steamer about 2 p.m. on November 23, 1912, the car ferry “Ann Arbor No.5.” Noted to be riding low and listing badly, the captain of “Ann Arbor No.5” later claimed the “Simmons” was not running distress signals. He didn’t attempt to get closer to offer aid thinking she could yet make it safely to shore, later taking much blame for his decision. Less than two hours after that siting, however, the U.S. Lifesaving Station had received notice and sent a rescue motorboat out from Two-Rivers, Wisconsin during the fierce storm to find the “Simmons”. The rescuers briefly saw her riding low and listing with distress flags flying, reporting that “…she was completely iced over, with most of her rigging and sails tattered or gone.” As they drew within an eighth of a mile of the schooner, a sudden snow squall overwhelmed and “blinded them. By the time the squall blew itself out, the ‘Rouse Simmons’ was gone… There was no Christmas Tree Ship, no Captain Santa, and no trees for many needy families’”. (p.135, Pennington, quoting U.S. Coast Guard Magazine, Dec 2000) The late-season cold and stormy Great Lakes does not bring a pleasure sail. High winds angrily whip the lake into a mountainous frenzy, sending waves crashing over ship decks. The captain and his crew would fight the elements as their ship was tossed to and fro. Though all hands knew what to do in riding out such storms, surely they must have also realized they could go down at any moment. Realistically, there was only so much they could do. “Freezing temperatures would sheet rigging, sails and spars with heavy coats of ice. The accumulating weight of ice on the ship could ominously drag her deeper into the water, changing the center of gravity and making her prone to a sudden roll, from which she would never recover. Running any cargo on the old schooners was especially dangerous in the late season.” (“Went Missing II”, Frederick Stonehouse, Copyright 1984; pg.87, Pennington) Actually, four ships with all hands sank in that horrendous storm of 1912 – “South Shore,” “Three Sisters,” “Two Brothers,” and the “Rouse Simmons.” Having lost sight of the “Simmons” despite an extensive search which risked their own lives, the unsuccessful Two Rivers Point men returned to the rescue house. When the “Rouse Simmons” failed to appear at any dock after ten days had passed, let alone her destination of Chicago’s Clark Street dock, it was determined that she must have gone to the bottom of Lake Michigan. She was believed to have sunk on November 23, 1912, possibly somewhere between the Two Rivers Point light and Kewaunee along the Wisconsin shore. Yet, there were numerous conflicting reports of sightings and stories of her final hours, including supposed sightings that she had braved the storm just fine, confusion on the number of crew aboard, and even confusion as to why she had gone down. For years afterwards, evergreen trees and their remnants, including a few ship artifacts and skulls, were caught up in numerous fishing nets. Not until October 30, 1971, however, did a diver, Kent Bellrichard, accidentally discover the “Rouse Simmons.” While searching for another ship with his sonar, he dove down into the depths to investigate his target at the bottom. Quite sure he had found the “Rouse Simmons”, Bellrichard returned a week later for another dive. This time, with better lighting, he found the schooner’s name and hundreds of Christmas trees in her hold, some tucked deep inside with needles still intact. (pg. 232-237, Pennington) Many more years passed before a fishing trawler netted a captain’s wheel in 1999. Determined to be from the “Rouse Simmons” by the year 1868 etched into the wheel’s metal, it was found in an area dubbed the ship graveyard for the many ships which have sunk there in storms over the numerous past decades. It is now believed the “Simmons” did not break apart from age as had been initially surmised. With her wheel found a mile and a half north of where the schooner rested on the bottom, and noting the specific type of damage to the wheel, there seemed to be sufficient evidence as to why the good Capt. Schuenemann was unable to bring her safely in to shore. Judging from the damage to the wheel, it most likely broke off and sank when the massive mizzenmast driver boom, which supported the ship’s main sails, broke loose. Without the vital wheel to guide the ship’s direction, and with her larger-than-usual load of evergreens, being heavily coated with ice, her sails in tatters from gale-force winds, riding low and listing badly, she all too quickly sank below the surface with a total loss of life in the worst storm folks of that day could remember ever hitting their great lake. (pg. 214-215, Pennington) Despite the family’s loss, the captain’s wife, Barbara, was determined to continue her husband’s tradition. She and her daughters, Elsie, and twins Pearl and Hazel, began their annual trek in 1913 to the Northwoods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They cut down and loaded a schooner full of Christmas trees for the good folks of Chicago, sending more by train. Over time, fewer schooners brought Christmas trees into ports as the safer railroads took over. But, for now, Elsie, age 20, the Captain’s oldest daughter, a very capable trained mariner under her father’s tutelage, sailed the lake on a new Christmas Tree Ship to bring home the greens. Bringing shiploads of trees and green boughs to Chicago’s Clark Street dock at least until 1925 before sending all evergreens by rail, Barbara and her three daughters continued to bring the joy of the season to town just as the good Captain Santa had done. The family was beloved for their kindness and generosity in many ways, but especially during their own time of deepest grief when they thought of others. Yet, one little girl clearly remembered waiting for Capt. Scheunemann’s Christmas Tree Ship to sail into the Chicago harbor back in 1912. At age 5, Ruthie Erickson held her father’s hand as they waited at the dock for hours only to have her father finally say, “Ruthie, everybody is gone. It’s cold. The wind is blowing. We should go home now.” “But Daddy,” she replied, “it isn’t Christmas without a Christmas tree!” (p.316, Pennington) Many years later, 83-year-old Ruth (Erickson) Flesvig attended a play in 1990 about the beloved Captain Santa and his Christmas Tree Ship. As the play concluded, her presence unknown to anyone, the real “little Ruthie” walked up onto the stage to say that she had been there at the docks waiting and waiting for the good captain and his trees. Portraying Capt. Scheunemann was Capt. Dave Truitt, former Chairman of the Christmas Ship Committee who, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, helped restore the annual Christmas Tree Ship event in 2000. (p.304-305, Pennington). With tears in his eyes and everyone else’s, Capt. Truitt took one of the Christmas trees on stage and handed it to Ruth. With these words, he spoke for Capt. Scheunemann by saying, “I couldn’t give you a Christmas tree in 1912 when you were five because of reasons you now know, but I give this tree to you today. Merry Christmas, Ruthie!” (p.316-137, Pennington) Donating free trees to Chicago’s needy, the U.S. Coast Guard’s annual Christmas Tree Ship continues Capt. Schuenemann’s beloved tradition. Since 2000, the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, an imposing icebreaker, arrives at Grand Avenue’s Navy Pier bearing a banner proclaiming her “Chicago’s Christmas Ship”. As large crowds gather, a memorial ceremony pays tribute to the “Rouse Simmons,” the lives lost when she sank, and others in the merchant marine trade who have lost their lives over the decades on Lake Michigan. Then, a large number of volunteers help deliver free Christmas trees to needy families throughout the city of Chicago in honor of Capt. Santa, their dear Capt. Herman Schuenemann. As author Rochelle Pennington concluded, “Captain Herman Schuenemann touched the lives of people he would never know, and the volunteers of Chicago’s Christmas Ship are doing the same… dispelling some of the darkness in this ‘weary world’ that there may be rejoicing in The Season of Miracles… [For] the strength of humanity lies herein: in the willingness for each of us to leave the walls of our own hearts, and our own lives, and connect with the hearts and lives of others. A Babe born in Bethlehem told us so. The Life born in the hay had come to say, ‘Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, serve one another in love, and share. And do unto others, for it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.” (p.317, Pennington) Merry Christmas and blessings to all! Many thanks to a friend, Will Van Dorp, aka Tugster, for the research tip about Captain Santa and his ship of evergreens, the “Rouse Simmons.” Van Dorp traverses the Erie Canal and Great Lakes as an onboard lecturer for Blount Small Ship Cruises. RESOURCES Online: Rochelle Pennington books Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship (Northern Wilds Magazine, Dec-Jan 2011) Winter Christmas Tree 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Christmas tree ship Brief film clip from “Herman Schuenemann, Captain Santa”, ClassicSailboats.org Through interstate library loan: “The Historic Christmas Tree Ship, A True Story of Faith, Hope and Love,” by Rochelle Pennington, 2004, published by Pathways Press. “Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships” by Fred Neuschel.
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