The Life of Thomas Rouss

 from Sligo to Sullivan County





Family Data




This story appeared in the Sullivan Review on October 14, 1943. It is a rare survivor of a time past. At the time of the report Mr. Rouss was 100 years old.

" Mr. Rouss was born in County Sligo, Ireland, October 14, 1843, a son of the late Steven and Ann Convey Rouss, who came to America when Thomas was a very young boy. After their arrival in New York, they went to Carbondale, (PA) and a little later, the father secured employment on the North Branch Canal, moving his wife and son to a point near Tunkhannock. (ed. probably where John Harrison was employed at that same time) Mrs. Rouss died soon after moving to this home, from a fever she contracted while on board ship. Her remains were taken to Pittston (PA) for interment.

Steven Rouss, after the completion of the canal, came to Sullivan County, with a number of his countrymen, and purchased a tract of land on what is known as Rock Run in Forks Township. Here he maintained a home until his death.

After the death of his mother, Thomas Rouss was cared for by an aunt who later became Mrs. Anthony Philbin and some time later moved to Sullivan County locating on a farm at what is known as "Irish Ridge".

Thomas came with them and received his education at the schools of Sullivan county, walking four miles night and morning to either the Cherry MillsCherry Mills school or Ringer Hill school which continued in session for three months each winter. (at left is the Cherry Mills school)

Having thus learned to read, write, and cypher, he looked around for a job, which he secured in a tannery at Dushore where he remained for three years. He was also employed for the same length of time at the Laporte and Proctor tanneries.

Mr. Rouss was a carpenter by trade and assisted in the erection of coal breakers for Gunton, Connell, and Murray, and O'Boyle & Foye. When the Williamsport & Northbranch Railroad was being built from Nordmont to Satterfield, he was employed by that company for some time on bridge construction.

On November 25, 1873, he was united in marriage with Miss Catherine Cowley (probably Cawley) whose parents came from Ireland, and settled on a farm on Irish Ridge. Mr. and Mrs. Rouss purchased a farm of Mr. Jordan, father of Father Jordan deceased, where they commenced housekeeping. The farm is located in Laporte Township where he still makes his home. ....

Mr. Rouss is fond of recalling the memories he has of his early life and comparing them with the times of today. When his father was employed on the North Branch canal, he received 50 cents a day during the winter months and 75 cents a day in the summer. A day's work was from daylight until dark. When the "boss" called the roll in the morning, if one were not present , he would be docked a "quarter" or a quarter of a day, even if he were but a few minutes late. The day laborer on the canal used pick and shovel to loosen the earth and then a wheelbarrow to carry it up the steep bank of the sides, leveling this off for a "towpath". Carefully guarding his earnings he saved enough to make a first payment on his home in the wilderness when he came to Sullivan county.

Mr. Rouss remembers distinctly when school teachers were paid from $10 to $15 a month and boarded around, and that the county superintendant at that time received the princely sum of $300 per year for his services.

Nearly all of the houses were built of logs, chinked with clay and had stone fireplaces and chimneys to warm the rooms and provide a place to do the cooking over the coals. Bread was baked, either on stone bake ovens outside the house or in a tin bake oven placed before the fire on the hearth. What light was used at night was from homemade tallow dips. Most of the farms consisted of a small acreage around the buildings, the rest of the country being a dense forest. Much of the clearing was done by felling the trees and piling them in heaps and burning them on the ground. Millions of feet of much better timber than we see today was burned in order to provide a place for raising a little wheat and vegetables for family use. It was almost impossible to use a plow to prepare the land for the seed, so the blacksmith made what is known as a "grubhoe" with a flat blade on one side and a sharp blade
on the other. 

A Grubhoe

With this instrument it was possible to stir up the earth and cut off roots so that a seedbed could be planted. There was no blight or potato bugs at that time.Potatoes were dropped in a trench, dug open with the grubhoe, then covered with dead leaves, then earth, and then left to care for themselves until digging time in the fall. Some good crops were raised in this manner.

There were no railroads in the country when he first came here, and very few roads, except foot paths and bridle trails. .... Horses were scarce and very few teams were in the country. Oxen, instead of being the exception as today, were the teams mostly used.

When anyone passed away it was necessary to go to the undertaker or cabinet maker to have a casket built. This was done at a cost of from $2 to $5. A team of horses and lumber wagon were secured if possible to carry the casket and immediate family to the grave. All others walked. (ed. it is 8 miles from Irish Ridge to St. Basil's Church and cemetery where all these families worshiped.)

All of the clothing of the family was made in the home. Wool from the sheep, carded and spun by the women, was taken to the weaver where the yarn was woven into cloth. Sometimes flax or cotton yarn was used as the warp thus making what was known as "linsey woolsey"cloth. This was taken home and garments for men ,women, and children were fashioned and made in the home." 

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