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I in compiling a genealogy it is usually the case that one knows of a person only by virtue of the vital statistics attached to them. It is a rare treasure to have letters and diaries that give a glimpse of living, breathing, feeling individuals. Such is the case with the letters which are the subject of this chapter. Cousin Kris Crossette Pangburn obtained these letters from the Castleton, Vermont Historical Society and has kindly agreed that I could publish them here. They were written between 1816 and 1827 by three different people, Jacob Crossett Jr., his wife Sarah or "Sally", and their son Eli. To me they are third great Grandfather and mother, and third great Uncle. I have outlined Jacob's life in the chapter called by his name. Jacob and Sally married in 1805 and had eight children, all boys of whom only the last, Sheldon was born after 1816 when they moved from Castleton, Vermont to Orangeville, New York in what was then Genesee County. The distance is about 250 miles as the crow flies. This 1817 map of the area shows that a probable route mostly by water from Castleton to Albany, the Mohawk River to Rome, the Seneca River to Lake Ontario, and the Lake to the Genesee River south into Genessee County would comprise about 350 miles. An alternate route would be by land across the belly of the state in the valley soon to be followed by the Erie Canal. They had seven boys with ages ranging from eleven to one, plus their belongings, two horses, a wagon, and tools. They had sold their property in Vermont for $150 and bought their new place from Sally's brother, Moses Dunning. 

1817 NY State Map

    It may be hard to get ourselves to imagine the nature of the territory at that time. There were no railroads, no canals, and precious few roads developed mostly from old military roads and Indian trails. Forest covered the land. The British had closed off settlement beyond the Catskill Mountains and it was not until after the Revolution that the land really became available for widespread settlement. By 1816 people were moving in to take advantage of the rich river valley land. The Revolution was over only 25 years and the War of 1812 only 2 when Jacob and Sally settled in. Here is Sally's first letter home to her mother: all the letters are presented in their original grammar and spelling:

Mrs. Betsy Dunning               Postmark – Warsaw, N.Y
Castleton, Rutland Co.           Orangeville, June 9, 1816
Vermont

Dear Mother,
Through the continual mercy of God we are all in good health – it was with pleshure we read Nancy's letter – it gave me some satisfaction to heare from you and that you were well – she says that you are very lonesome which is the case with me – although I have a handsome place and things as comfortable as any body could expect in so new a place – I think it some satisfaction that I can attempt to worship the same God and see the same sun, moon, and stars that you do – often in my sleeping how I fancy myself with you in Castleton and I hope that if our lives and health are spared that we shall see each other again but it is uncertain – the road looks long to look back but I think that I should be willing to travel it once more for the sake of seeing you and the rest of my friends there is not anything else I want to go back for – if we could enjoy the privaledge of meeting (she is referring to a Church meeting) here as we could then – there is not any congregational meeting here short of six miles – there is a baptist meeting in five and a methodist nearer – we are in hopes that we shall have meting nearer for it is setling fast around us – it is very cold backward wether such as never was known in this country before (1816 was known as "the year without a summer". To read more go here.)– we have got two buschels and a half of wheat sowed that looks very well – five acres and a half corn planted upon shares which will make about twelve acres planted and sowed which with the blessing of providence will be enough for our own use – we have bought two cows – one excelent – a good cow with a calf for 26 dollars and one farroed cow for 20 dollars which supplys us comfortably with butter and milk – we have also bought twenty one buschels of wheat at one dollar per buschel and four buschels of corn at sixty-two cents per buschel and fifteen buschels of potatoes at 44 cents per buschel – we have sold our old mare for 50 dollars – received one pair of two year old steers and the remainder in grain next winter – the young mare we keep yet – we have not seen anything of Mr. Hollenbeck but we heard from them – one of our neighbors that is acquainted with him saw him a few days ago and told him that we were here – he thought by his looks and actions that we were not very welcome inhabitants – I suppose he thought that one story was good until another was heard for by what we learnt in Warsaw when we stayed there that he had told quite a favorable story on his side – it is Betsy that is dead – instead of Mariatta (blank hole in paper) –is married and got two children according to your request I will write something about my boys – they have all ben very well so as we have ben here they are as well as myself never enjoying better health since we left Castleton – Royal (age 4) is very often talking about granmam – he does not forget what you and Aunt Betsy said and did – he wanted some currents today – I asked him what he would think about – he said Aunt Betsy – he has found a man that is about as good a playfellow as Dayton though he is often speaking about him and Rosina – he wishes that folks would put down their houses and have board ones – he wishes he could go and carry this letter to granmam – Alfred has got entirely well of his sores – he does not walk yet but he begins to stand alone – they all send their love to you – I hope that you will not be impatient with my poor writing – I think that I never shall be so careless about writing as I have but as it is the only way we can have of conversation and I consider it priviledge that I can write – if it is poor – if you take panes to write to us anymore which I hope you will direct your letters as you did the other for this town has been divided and the name is not as well known as Warsaw – this from your affectionate child till death.                      

                   Sarah Crossett

Nancy, (her sister, I think)
I belive I must write you a few lines and give you a description of my house – it is on the east side of the road with the dore on the east side – the window on the south end and the front facing the road with either dore or window and a brock a few rods north so that sometimes when I am out after water I can see a boy go to mill – I do not – but you will want to know what are the names of the folks nearest – it is “Penny” and “Hammond” - give my love to your man and all inquiring friends.

                        Sarah Crossett

The loneliness and homesickness Sally is feeling is clear. While the neighbors are "nearest"she still only occasionally sees one of them. Still, she has plenty she must do which will keep her busy. Cooking, washing, mending, caring for domestic animals, and watching over seven boys under 11! This reenactment photo captures the costume and tools that Sally had to work with just to do the washing which would take all day.An 1820 wash day.

It is unusual that Sally is able to write as well as she can. This family put great stock in education and several of the next generation were teachers. Sally is just 30 years old at the time of this letter and will be dead before turning 48.

In 1817 things are more settled and the couple sound more at home. Apparently the "year without a summer" was taken in stride. Here is a letter written by both Jacob and Sally to the folks back home. It took so long for mail to travel (this one took thirteen days to cover 250 miles) that they answered several letters at once. The first part seems like Jacob. Not as good a speller as Sally.

Mr. Eli Dunning                  Warsaw – Genesee County
from Sarah (Sally) Crossett                         14 Dec. 1817

Dear Friends,

We yesterday read your letter dated 1st Nov. but put into the post office 24th – which informed us of your health which is very pleasing to us – I would likewise inform you that through the forbearance of providence we are all enjoying the same blessing and have ben so favored that we have not ben under the necessity of calling a phisician since we left Vermont – we have hear nothing certain from Moses (Sally's brother) since he left this place in June 1816 – Jacob saw a man from New Hartford a few months ago that as acquainted with Barber – the man that Moses was in business with – said Barber had sold and gon up to or near the head of Lake Erie – this man knew nothing particular of Moses but I suspect he went with Barber – he commenst a suit against Hollenbeck when he was out here and Hollenbeck and Charter commenst two or three suits against him – but I cannot learn as there has ben any trial against either – we have heard nothing from Eli but conclude he is yet at Paris as Moses said when he was here that he would not take him away from there if they would keep him.
A general time of health here now – money very scarce but provisions plenty wheat one dollar, rye 75 cents – whiskey aplenty, no cider but fine apples, corn 62 1/2 cents – we have bought but three pints of whiskey since we come on the purchase so you may conclude that we have not become very hard drinkers yet – our best respects to all of you – likewise we wish to be remembered to Mrs. Stetson and her family- signed

Jacob and Sally Crossett

To: Nancy Northrup (Mrs. Thomas Dickenson before she was married)

Dear Niece: I was glad to receive a few lines from you – I hope you will not let it be so long before you write to me again – as it respects the other boy you mentioned in your letter it is a mistake I have no more than I had when I was in Vermont – the boys send their respects to you to give their love to their grandmam – tell her they have not forgot her nor your mother – we heard from Castleton this fall – Mr. Tom Hall informed us that Sally Ransom (?) was married to a Mr. Stevens from Poultney, Vt. This from your affectionate aunt -

Sally Crossett

To: Anna C. Dunning -

Dear Anna – Thank you for the few lines you wrote to me and hope you will not forget to write again – your Aunt Sylve and her family were in good health – her husband's name is Arvin Webster -

Affectionately yours AUNT
Sally Crossett

Little intriguing details emerge from these letters. Eli is not Jacob and Sally's Eli who is only 10 at this time. He seems to be perhaps Moses' son who is travelling with him. The Paris mentioned is apparently Paris, NY just outside Oneida, NY in Oneida County, directly on the way from Vermont. It is exactly in that area that another Crossett clan resided at the time. They were descendants of James Crossett, one of the original immigrants and Jacob's great uncle. That they knew each other is almost certain, but one of Jacob's sons, Sheldon, says in a later letter that his father never said anything about family.  

Health and the farm are two primary concerns in the letters. The two are intimately connected since sickness had to be dealt with in the absence of almost all health care resources, and the success of the farm depended on good health in those who worked it. Cows don't milk themselves and haying had to be done, the work had to be done every day no matter what.

Goin' Haying

We now intercept Sally's letter almost a year later.

Mr. Eli Dunning                                 Warsaw, NY       from: Sally (Dunning) Crossett                     Orangeville                                                                                      Sept. 28, 1818

(inside addressed to Betsy Dunning)
Dear Mother – It is with pleashure once more I attempt to write you a few lines to inform you that myself and family are in good health – I hope that these will find you and the rest of our frinds enjoying the same blessing – we have not heard anything from Moses since Jacob (Crossett) was there – I wrote to him the next day after we read your letter but have not read any answer – if you have heard from him I wish you to write to me as soon as you receive this and let me know if you think you shal go to see him this winter – if you do I think I shall try to meet you but you must not depend to mutch upon it for money is scarce and hard to be got – the situation of my family such that it will be difficult to leave home. We went to make Ruth and Louis Clark a visit this summer – found them well and in comfortable circumstances – I wrote you Polly was married – it was a mistake – it was Ruth instead – she is married to man by the name of Holly about her age –( good thing or we would have had Polly Holly) we likewise visited Abel Hunt – found him and his family in tolerable good health and circumstances – we have had a very warm dry season – there has not ben any frost until last night – we have had apples and peaches this year just so as to make the children want more – Jacob Stetson calculates to visit his mother this fall or the forepart of winter – if he does I shall write to you and he can tell you our situation better than I can write it – God in all wise provident has seen fit to deprive us of our minister we had settled here, by death – he died in June – we have not had any preaching in this town now except a baptist that preaches one half the time in the school house in our district – they have hired a congregationalist in Warsaw – it has pleased God to put into the minds of the people of this place to set up Sabbath schools for the purpose of learning children religious instruction – there have been three or four in this neighborhood that we hope and trust have been brought out of natural darkness into God's marvelous light this summer – I must now draw to a close as it is getting very late in the evening – give my love to my brothers and sisters and their children – tell them I want to see them very much but whether I shall or not God alone knows – don't fail of writing to me soon – this from you affectionate daughter to death – Adieu dear Mother and may God bless you with all the comforts of this life and more abundantly with that which this world cannot give or take away.

Sarah Crossett

To: Betty Dunning

P.S. Mr Sylvester Lincoln is dead – he died this summer very sudden – his wife found that he made a strange noys in the night – got up found he was in the agonies of death.

Jacob Crossett

With this next letter the realities of life in the 1820s on the frontier are made clear. It is hard reading. 

Mr. Eli Dunning                                       Warsaw, N.Y.
Charzy, County of Clinton                   Grangerville, 12th Jan.1823

Friends of Champlain:

We have delayed writing to you for some time in hopes to be able to give you a more favorable account of our health and circumstances – since we came to this place until all most two years since we were wonderfully favored with health, but since that time we have ben visited with serious trials of sickness and distress – Eli was taken with a fever one year ago last May which terminated in a fever sore on his right arm near the shoulder joint and continues a running sore now. Several pieces of the bone have come out – he is now able to do some light chores about house and go to school – Sally has ben much out of health for more than a year past she was so afflicted all last winter with the rheumatism that her hips are drawn out of their proper place and remains quite a cripple( 37 years old) – the forepart of November last she was apparently brought to the brink of the grave but contrary I think to the expectations of any of her attendants she is so far recovered as to be able some days to sit in her chair and knit or sew a little and have rode out a few times in the sleigh to some of the neighbors but has not been so well this week past – the rest of our family are in tolerable health especially the youngest (Sheldon) which we call the Doctor is as lively as a colt. We had a handsome little stock when our sickness commenst but doctor bills and hiring womens help has swept it off – in the course of the last year I have disposed of my best horse and four cows and have not yet through with the Doctor yet – it takes a good cow to pay a girl for 12 – 14 weeks work. Produce of all kinds here is very low and money scarce – it is with much difficulty to obtain enough to pay our taxes – it is quite the reverse from what it was when I came here for then land and improvements and produce of all kinds were high in the extreme – I had no money to buy land with but laid out what little property I had for improvements and now I expect to be under the necessity of letting the land return to the Office – but sickness, death, trouble, disappointment is the common lot of mankind and we seem to be having our part of it at present – but a few more rolling suns will carry us beyond this veil of tears – but our great and important errand is here to live and conduct in such a manner as to obtain an inheritance in a better world.

Mr. Arwin Webster and family moved from here last spring expecting to take up their residence in the State of Indiana or Illinois, we have had no particular information from them since they left here.

Yours affectionately, Jacob Crossett

An infection which would today be cured with a pill disabled Eli for life and sickened him or years. He died in michigan between 1840 and 1843 around age 32 - 35. Eight pregnancies and deliveries in 15 years without good pre or post natal care made Sally old before her time. The family's health insurance was grazing in the pasture. Strong faith and strong character were to see them through the raising of their boys and the ability to leave them each some money to get a start with. Here is the final letter we have from Eli to his cousins:

Thomas and Nancy Dickenson                                     Warsaw
Champlain, New York                                           Nov. 4, 1827

From: Eli Crossett

Dear Cousins,

I barely know how to commence writing but I think I shall nor be particular about the style but will send you a few lines to let you know that I have not forgot you and tell you that we are all in tolerable good health at present. Mother has been unwell a considerable this summer by spells but she is now in quite good health – I myself have been greatly blest with health for more than a year – I think I have not been sick a day since a year ago last spring – It seems lonesome place at fathers now for the boys have almost all gone from home there is only three at home now – Russell got work about fifteen miles from home and Martial is going to school in Middlebury six miles from here and Royal has gone to learn the tanning trade in this place. Powel, Alfred, and Sheldon are at home – Father received your letter about the middle of October but I did not see it until a week ago when I was at home – You requested to know where Eli D. was – He and Uncle Moses was at fathers in Sept. Eli went from there to Lockport in Niagra County on the canal – we have not heard from him since – he did not know certain whether he should stay there or not – we had not heard from him since last December until he and Uncle Moses came to fathers in September. Uncle Moses stayed five or six days and then went on to the west for four days travel and then returned for home – he was looking for a place to move to he is going to move to Caldonia near the springs and calculates to take a tavern stand there – it is about forty miles from here – we expect him along in the course of two weeks – he was to be here the ninth of November – he will probably be at fathers soon after he arrives there for he left his horse and Eli's little mare there and went home on the canal – Eli went to the west with him and then around and came to Caladonia and then fetcht the horses back to fathers one week after they left there before he went to Lockport – he talked some of going to work in a carding machine there if he did he would stay there some time if not he should leave there then home. I cannot know exeactly where to direct your letters – we have had a very fine season for the past – it has been somewhat dry some part of the time but it has been as good for crops as common I think – it is now getting to be rather wet muddy wether in this part – I guess that you will think by this time for me to stop unless I can write something of more consequence – but you must excuse me for I am not in the habit of writing letters – this is the second that I ever wrote – I shall therefore conclude soon – I do not know as you can find out what I have wrote for my pen is rather poor and my hand trembles so ever since it was lame that I can write but very poorly – give my respects to Aunt Betsy – tell her that I have not forgotten her yet and I hope she will not forget me – tell her that I hope I shall have the priviledge of seeing her again sometime or other but I do not know as I shall – perhaps I may after my time is out here – I shall calculate to leave this place soon I shall come into that part sometime or another – I must now bring my lines to a close – I hope you will excuse my mistakes and blunders – forget me not for I am sure I shall not forget you – write often and I will try not to be so neglectful as have been here before – I do not know as I have anything more to write so I will therefore say goodbye for the present but forget not to write after.

Eli Crossett

It is interesting to note that for Sally and Jacob, home is really Castleton where all their family remains. For Eli and the boys it is Orangeville. They, in their turn go west and set up new homes. On it goes generation after generation. Sally died in 1833 and Russell, Alfred, and Eli did not survive their father who died in 1843. Probably Paris Olin did not survive either since we have no record or mention of him. Martial continued the farm, and Powell, Royal, and Sheldon, and many of Martial's children went west to the new frontier in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Their stories are told under each name. Western New York was building up, the Erie Canal opened in 1825 and commerce and settlers came streaming in. Extra sons had to find their fortunes where there was cheap land.   

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