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Reminiscences of Childhood by a Matron of Eighty


DEAR BROTHER:—You have asked me to write you some of my early recollections of the things that took place in the land of our birth. I wish I were more capable of the business, but you wiIl have to excuse me. I am afraid anything I recollect will be very meagre and childlike, as I was just ten years and about eight months old when we left Scotland.

I suppose I was born at Auchope. (pronounced Ackup) in the Parish of Morbattle, Roxburgshire, on the 20th of September, 1819, (Queen Victoria was born in May of the same year Your birthday, I suppose you know, was September 28th, 1828. It was the Sabbath. When I tell you what I think were my first recollections I think you will say, "Oh! I wanted the facts, not fancies," but I cannot yet divest myself of the idea that I can remember the time when I took the first step alone. It was at our neighbor’s home, the "Shill." The houses were about as far apart as our house and Mr. Hoggs in Glenburnie, if you recollect. Each stood in a little meadow, or "Park," as they were called. Instead of a highway there was a foot-path and a stile in the line wall, or "dyke." The only other neighbor was at "Sourhope"—a farmer’s place then occupied by a family of the name of Shiell, who later had a private school where we, three oldest, had the privilege of taking our first "lessons." But to go back. As I said, our neighbors at the Shill were almost the only ones we often saw. The family at this time consisted of two old bachelor herdsmen and an old maid, (such as are now coming into such repute) for housekeeper. She was quite lively, and often came down to our place, and of course took a good deal of notice of the big baby that would not learn to walk. So one day she took me on her back and told Mother she was going to teach me to walk before she brought me home again I cannot tell you whether I took all this or no: of course I have heard it told many times. When she got home she set me up against the side of the house and held up a watch a little in front of me, and whether it was the watch or the fear of not getting home that induced me to take the first step I do not know, but I think I can almost feel the thrill or sensation that went through me when I found I could take steps alone, and not fall. I had had such a fear of falling. Peggie soon took me back home, when I gave proof of her being as good as her word by running all over, I think, out of doors as well as in. I was about twenty months old, with a good Scotch constitution, as I have, thank God—in my seventy-eighth year.

The next thing I will mention —tho’ I do not claim to remember that, but have been told, when about eight weeks old, our father took the cradle on his back, and my mother took me in her arms and carried me about four miles to a place, "Hetterburn," where our father’s parents lived. Grandfather had got hurt by a cow; he had left off herding and was taking care of some cattle for some one. He had hemorrhages from his lungs, and could not speak above a whisper. Grandmother was deaf as I am now, and could not hear him. Mother stayed as long as he lived, I do not remember how many weeks—not many. I think. They owned a small house in the village of Yetholm, (pronounced Yet-turn,) where we went to Kirk and Market, tho’ we lived in the parish of Morbattle, where our dead were buried. After Grandfather’s death, Grandmother moved into the little house but did not like to live alone and so came and lived with us. I do not remember of her coming. She died, I think, the autumn of ‘29. We came here in ‘30. Father sold the little house, which enabled him to bring us to this country. He had had a long hard sickness which reduced him both in purse and person, and the effects of which he never recovered from in his body. Our Grandfather, I have heard Mother say, was a very good man, rather more social in his habits than our father, made a practice of inviting his friends and neighbors the last night of the old year, when they had cakes and ewe-cheese, the older the better, and finished most likely with a social glass, which was thought at that time to be indispensible on such occasions, and probably there was not near the percentage of drunkards that there is now.

Grandfather was an Elder in the old Kirk at Yetholm, which was said to be one of the two last straw-thatched churches in Scotland It was a long slanting roof, and came so low down that any one could touch the eaves with the hand. You had to go several steps down into the body of the Church, which was like a basement. It was rebuilt, I suppose. in modern style a few years after we left. The old minister, Rev. Bleaky, who had been there a long life-time, had died a year or two before. He was an old man, and I think, must have had a shock, for as long as I can remember he did not preach, only baptized the children and probably officiated at communions. He always had a "helper," as they were called, generally young men just out of Seminaries. We had several smart young men. The one who got the place after the old man’s death was, I think, a Mr. Baird. They were "put in," as it was called, by what were called the Heritors, or owners ot the land in the parish. Sometimes they put in those that were acceptable to the people, but often otherwise, which was the cause of the disruption, when a large pro portion broke off and constitutes what is called the "Free Kirk."

The first "Helper" I can remember was a Mr. McFee. I remember one text he preached from. The words were "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." I do not remember much of the sermon, but just the subject. Then I remember his farewell text. It was, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." His parents lived some distance off, and he had a letter the night before, telling of the death of his mother. Together, it was too much for him, and he broke down, and could not finish his sermon. He had had a call from, I thought either Baltimore or Philadelphia, but Mrs. Davison, George Davison’s widow, who used to live at the head of Platner brook, tells me it was to Australia.

Of course you do not remember going to church there, but I remember when you were first taken there. It would be about the end of October, as four or five weeks was about the usual time when Mother would take out her little ones for baptism. She and you—the baby—and I went over Saturday night to Elgyp where old Mrs. Mary Hymers, mother of John and Thomas Hymers’ sister lived. She was the wife of George Bell, that brother George was named for. Our folks and they were very intimate. It made it easier for mother, it being about half-way to the village. Father came over in the morning, and we all walked home at night. Sometimes they took the donkey. The only "Beast of Burden." they owned, and used to ride "bit about." as they called it. She did very well if father or mother were near, but it they fell behind or out of sight and she spied a good big thistle at a distance she would make for it, and there being no fences and a good many thistles, she made rather a zigzag path. but when father was behind her with his "stick" (that a shepherd always carried as well as the "plaid") she had to keep on the track, or path. She was one of the best dispositioned of her kind, and yet she liked to play tricks on us when she got a chance.

We thought it a great treat to get the bridle on her and all three of us oldest ones get on her back, tho’ she did not always go where we wished to, and if there were any open or sheep drains in the way she would spring across, all fours, which would generally land one or all of us in the drain. I remember on Sabbath (and I don’t understand yet how we escaped a whipping) it had been a hard rain and they did not go to the preaching, so in the afternoon it cleared off and we managed to bridle the donkey and got out of sight of the house and finally got as far as Broomiesyke (a "syke" is a small stream next larger than a spring strand, but now a raging little torrent ) Of course over sprang the donkey, landing us, some in the water and some on land. William had on a pair of nearly new shoes. One had been untied and off it went down the stream. I caught at it but missed it and away it went, and home we went a humbler looking party than when we started. Of course we had to tell the truth and I think that was what saved us all from a well deserved whipping for if there was anything in father’s estimation worse than breaking the Sabbath it was lying, which I once knew to my cost.

In the time of the year when the lambs were sent up to the hills where father herded from the Masters at Newton, father had to keep a man, or big boy, to help him till the lambs forgot their mothers and got used to the place. They had to stay with them all night, there being no fences, and it was down hill about all the way home, about four miles from the starting point, so they had to be very vigilant. The man would get up at one or two o’clock and let father in. One morning Andrew and I were sent with the boy’s breakfast (I think it was Robert Young, you knew him.) Father told Andrew he must go directly when he got there to look after the sheep in some direction, but before we got there, I, at least, had forgotten all about it, and Andrew might have done the same. When I got home my father asked if Andrew went right away, as he told him. I knew what Andrew would get if I told the truth, so I tried to say "yes," but it was about the hardest to get out of any word I ever remember of speaking. My face flushed, and I knew he didn’t think I was telling the truth. When Andrew came home he got the truth of it, and then he settled with me and I got just what I deserved and I have never forgotten it.

April eight.—The day, two years ago, that dear papa was released from his frail diseased body to go, I trust, where there is no more pain or sickness, and to be with his Lord and the other dear ones gone before, and as I sit here alone I do not murmur, scarcely mourn, as I think how much better it is for them, who have already crossed over, than for those of us who are still in this world of trouble and perplexity, and I am thankful that I am so near the end of my journey, which has not always been the smoothest, but of course we needed all the troubles and trials or they would not have been sent, and if less would have done, we would have had less, for. "He doth not afflict willingly" and the most I mourn over is what he regretted so much, that we are so far from what we ought to have been, considering all that the Lord has done for us, both in His afflictive and merciful providence. The Lord forgive our shortcomings and accept of us as His beloved.

Our grandmother used to tend and rock the babies, whoever was the one, and on fine days, as long as she was able, used to take a walk up the brae side above the house, or farther around to the quarries where the stone had been taken from to build the new house which was not finished when they moved there, so they had to live several weeks in the "Byrie." There was a little herb grew around the quarries that grandmother called "Time," but I think it must have been Thyme. She liked it for tea. We used to gather it for her and she would take it home and dry it. She was troubled with headache and had frequent attacks of erysipelas in her face and head. In that country at that time they would have nothing wet put on, but just dust it with wheat flour, and we always felt bad to see grandmother’s face stuck over with flour and the red shining through. I don’t think she had any particular sickness, at the last, but just wore out. She was over eighty.

I suppose you know we had a little sister, named Elspeth after our grandmother. She lived till about three years old. I seem to remember but little about her, partly, I think, because we seemed to be so little at home.

After going to the private school at Sourhope two or three terms, there was a parish school built, it was called two miles and three quarters from our place but it does not seem as if it was so far but suppose they were measured miles, and father used to say the Yankees guessed at their miles and had so much room they could afford to throw in a bit. However, it was quite a walk and as the teacher’s family lived in one end of the school house, he was on hand at nine, and there were no exercises allowed. We had to leave home before it was really light and did not get home till after dark. We went six days in the week (true, we got away at noon on Saturday,) and we went regular eleven months in the year, had August, I think, for vacation. On Sabbath we walked five miles to church, had two services, with an intermission, as it was called, so you see we had but little waking time at home.

We had one holiday in the year, and that was "Yetholm Fair." Everybody was expected to be there and see everybody else there, something like "General Training," or more so. I do not remember the day, but some time in the fall, or "backend," It was the custom among the young lads and lassies to give presents, called "fairings." They had what they called "krames," or stands, where they had all sorts of things to attract the eye. The old folks would give presents to the little folks, we, of course, got our share. I remember when I got home running into the house to show little "Eppie," as we always called her, my fine presents. She was sitting on grandmother’s lap. I can remember how she looked. Her hair was darker, also her eyes than our Matie’s, but when Matie was about her age (I have her picture in the house now, taken at about that age) I think she resembled her very much. When I tried to show her my things she turned her little face away and laid her head on grandmother’s bosom and gave a little weary sigh. Grandmother said, "Eppie is not well enough to look at them to-night." I think she had been ailing some time before that, and lived some time after. It was a lingering trouble, the doctor did not seem to know what it was. He ordered her head shaved, and a blister put on it, but it did not help her. I have sometimes thought it might have been something like Roberts first child, you remember him, he was about eight months old when he died. One night, as we were coming home from school, William met us and said Eppie was dead. The funeral services were at the house, and it seemed as if a man took the coffin before him on a horse, and all the others went afoot. Women never went to the burying grounds there. I think it was as much as six miles to Morbattle, where they buried.

I think grandmother lived about a a year after I think she died the fall before we left. I don’t know whether our folks had thought anything about coming to America, but of course they could not as long as grandmother lived, but the winter after her death it was much talked of. I do not know whether it was particularly hard times, but for some years then there was a great emmigration, so much so that a Stewart girl on Stilson street wanted to know if Scotland hadn’t been taking a vomit. Douglass’ folks, who had been our neighbors at the Shill, but had lived in England several years, came over in ‘29. We came in ‘30 and George Davidson in ‘31. They lived, till the next spring in rooms finished off in Douglass’ wagon house.

Well, our folks talked America all winter, and finally by spring concluded to go, but could not leave till the May term, as they had to give the master notice of their intentions. Their great argument for coming here was that there was hardly a family that grew up there but some of them would come, and if they came when their children were young, they could take them all with them, then get a piece of land, a thing they could not hope to do in Scotland, and, if it was woodland, there was work for the boys to clear it. Now, as we are about to leave the old place, I wish I had taken lessons in drawing in Fergursonville, or somewhere else, so I could give you a sketch from memory. It is just as plain to my mind’s eye as if it lay right before me, but I will go to bed and may be dream of it. It is almost eleven p. m.

The word or name Auchope, I think must have come from the word "auch" meaning "ash," pronounced in purely Scotch style, and that cannot be written or spoken distinctly by any other people. A "hope" or "whup," as it is pronounced, is a glen or hollow between the hills, where there is a little skye or stream, fed by plenteous springs running off the hillsides. After connecting with some others, it takes the name of a "burn," not a very appropriate one, in its natural state, and when two or three of these join they become a river. Then, I think at one time different kinds of timber must have grown along the little streams and given them their names. Auchope might mean "ash brook, or creek" as there were two fine ash trees that grew, one outside the garden wall, the other in a fale dyke or sod, or sward wall on the south side of the garden, or kale-yard, and other such trees were not to be seen for miles.

At one place, Clifton, near Yetholm, where our father lived ten years, which he called his "single service" meaning before he was married, they had what was called a "planting." Of course it had been planted and cared for like an orchard, and the trees were then large and we used to like to go through it when the crows had their nests in it. The same family, Bennetts, lived there in the Herds’ house that father boarded with when he worked for the Maister. We sometimes stopped when coming from the preaching and got our dinner.

But go back—There was another skye, that took its rise on our Cheviot. There was said to be, and doubtless there was, a little lake on the top for I have seen men from Yetholm go past and come back with lots of trout in their creels. It seems strange to me now that never any of us was at it, but they say, familiarity breeds contempt. We could see the Cheviot all the time from our house, a noted hill or mountain, that towered away above all the other high hills around it. Many came from long distances to see it. It was of a conical shape, and as seen from our place seemed to run up to a point, but there must have been some flat space on top if there was a lake.

It stood on what might be called the northeast corner of the ampitheatre of hills that surrounded our little valley. It mostly filled, though it stood back a little, a gap between the Farweet, (a loaf-shaped hill directly in front and east of the house, over which the sun rose, as it was not as high as most of the other hills, so got the sun earlier) and the Shill hill, which was a high, steep hill a little to the north. I see on a map that I have, that one point of the Cheviot, nearly the northern-most, which, I think is the one we lived on, is put down as being 2684 feet above the sea level. The stream that came down from Cheviot was a little larger than the one that came from the Hurr, or one of the hills that father herded on. They came together a little above our house and formed Auchope burn; then a little below Sourhope it joined another which was called Cocklawfoot burn, as it came from a place by that name. "Law," there, meant a wide stretch of mooreland, when for miles there would not be a house, tree, or fence to be seen, and where people often perished in the storms. A family by the name of Telford, who used to live in the place by that name, at the foot of the hills, came to this coun try shortly after we did and settled in Burlington, Otsego county. There was a large family. We went to school with some of them in Scotland. I hear of them once in a while by way of Rev. Clappertun, who is settled over the two congregations of Burlington Green and Garrettsville. He is a very nice, plain Scotchman, and seems to be well liked. Papa and I went out there with Mr. Park when Rev. Clapperton was installed. He married a Blakely from Kortright.

But to continue—After these burns met, the stream was called Beaumont water, and about two miles from that ran through. a nice flat, dividing Town Yetholm from Kirk Yetholm, where the parish kirk and the Tinkler row, or Gypsy street were, and where we attended kirk. In town Yetholm there were two churches, both Presbyterian, and yet there was some difference, but I do not know what. Not many miles farther on, Beaumontwater emptied into the river Till, and running a few miles more struck the Tweed, which did not run far until it emptied into the North Sea at Berwick, where our father once went to see a cousin by the name of Wilson, who had something to do with shipping. We thought it very wonderful to hear him tell, after he came back, about the ships and the sea, little thinking that we would so soon have such hard experiences.

The Shill hill, on its north side, sloped down into a lower ridge which was called Flyupedge, and there, we were told, ran the line between England and Scotland, but it was something like the equator, more imaginary than real. Father used to tell us we could stand with a foot in each country, but he never could tell us where the right spot was.

There was a great deal said about moors of heather, but the only piece I ever remember of seeing around there was right along that ridge where the line ran. We used to go there to pick crow berries, small blackberries that grew among, but I don’t think on, the heather. It seemed to be in bloom all summer. The berry was of a purplish red. A little farther north was a great pile of rocks, looking as if a parcel of giants had been playing with them and piled them as fantastically as they could, leaving lots of caves where we would go in and call them our houses. They were called the Corby Crags. From their top they said the sea could be seen on a clear day, and some thought they could see ships. I think it was only about ten or twelve miles on a straight line, though the water ran much farther.

I sojourned in Kirk Yetholm two months the spring before we left. I boarded with George Bell’s folks and attended sewing-school in town Yetholm, where I learned to be a good plain sewer, but did not have time for ornamentals, which would not have been of much use for me. But I think it is about time I had left the old places, as we did, some day in May, (I do not think the "term," as it was called, was the first.)

After disposing of the sheep, of which father had the keeping of about thirty, and of two cows as part of his wages, and giving away our bird and cage, and rabbits, (of which we had a number,) also the hens and the dog, I think they called him March, and like his name, he was so cross and snappish that none of us liked him.

I think the first night after leaving the old home, we stayed at Sourhope with the Shiells, with whom we had always gone to school, and were great friends. The next night we spent at Curburn with Jack and "Peggie" Cragg, (Craig) an old bachelor, and maiden sister. He walked to Yetholm with us next morning, and on the way slipped a Scotch shilling into my hand, which, with eighteen pence I had before made just half a crown. How rich I felt! but when we came to Edinburgh, I bought a cap for you and a pair of stockings for myself, which took it all. But the merchant, when mother told him we were going to America, gave me back a muckle Scotch penny, which I kept and showed the folks after we came here.

On coming to Yetholmn,. we found a man with two single carts, sent by William Ruthford, a grandson of an old lady, my mother’s grandaunt, who took my mother home with her when her mother died, (her father being dead before.) Our mother was about eighty years old at that time, and stayed there, (they called the place Ferniehirst Mill. They had a mill and a good - piece of land and kept several horses,) till she thought she would rather work out, but she always regretted leaving.

The old lady was very strict, and made mother walk to and from church with her, and repeat the text and parts of the sermon, when she would rather have gone with the hired folks, and had a good time. - -

Well, the carts met us at Yetholm, and took us and our chests, (which I think the Shiels had brought down,) and brought us to Kelso, where we stayed with relatives for the last time at the house of George and Mary Kerr, grandparents of Jessie Copeland, whom you remember. Mrs. Kerr was sister to the Cousin Wilson. whom father visited at Berwick. We called that day on their father. I think he was over a hundred, and lived with an unmarried daughter in a little house close on the river Tweed on the opposite side from Kelso. I remember her coming out to our place, I think it was called eight miles to Kelso and ten to Jedburg from our place, carrying a big basket of hens to keep them off the Maister’s "corn," as all their grain was called. How ridiculous it looks to me now, an old, grey-haired-woman, short and fat, to walk so far and tarry such a load when she might have shut them up, and bought feed with the eggs. She gave us one, and we called it "Peggie," after the donor.

Next day the regular "carrier" started with us and chests for Edinburgh. We passed over a long stretch of moor-land called Soutra-edge, scarcely a house to be seen. At last we came to a place called Lowriesden, and as that was the common name, (tad lowrie,) for a fox, we thought it quite appropriate. The Edinburg coach stopped here for a change of horses. When the fresh horses were brought out, two grooms held them, they were all ready at a toot from the guard’s long horn, and were off on the gallop.

The place was wild and dreary outside, and was not much better in. Though for the first time we saw the rudiments of a stove, yet for many years I could not contrive what kind of a fire-place they had. I thought they had the fire in an iron box, and an iron chimney that went out through the roof.

We got our porridge and milk and went to bed, and probably most of us to sleep, but in a short time there was a great halloing. It was time to get up and get started. (We knew we had to start early to get on the canal boat.

We were all so tired and sleepy, it was a task to get the little ones awake and dressed. I don’t think we had any light, as there was neither lamps nor matches those times, One of your shoes could not be found. I don’t know but it was found afterwards in the cart.

When we got down stairs we found it was about two o’clock, and the whole thing was the work of a drunken rabble who had been drinking all night and got beyond control. That was my first experience with whiskey drinking, and I was going to say thank God about the last, but I just thought of the night we landed at New York. The "carrier," who brought us, seeing we had all got up and dressed, took out his horses, and we reached Edinburgh a little after day light.

Edinburgh stands on a hill or hills. Dalkeith, a great meal market at the foot of the hill, is about two miles out. We called on a distant relative of mother’s in the old town, and got some breakfast. Shortly after, we went under an old shed and stepped on to something which soon began to move, we were on a canal boat which took us to Broomielaw, near Glasgow. Shortly after leaving Edinburgh we passed through a tunnel, the first I had ever seen or heard of.

Our father’s cousin, James Oliver, who settled in Burlington, must have joined us at Edinburgh. Their youngest boy, Andrew, was about William’s age. He and our boys and I were together. When we came into the tunnel it was dark as pitch, and the water was dropping from the rocks overhead. It was said they had a new horse, that had never been thro’ before. I suppose the tow-path was all rock, and the horse’s feet and the shouting of the driver made a great noise, and frightened little Andrew, as we called him, so that he cried. He was a little lacking.

We stayed in Glasgow several days, waiting for the ship to get ready, which lay at Greenock, whence we sailed. Glasgow is a very clean city. We went through the Arcade, in which were many large and beautiful buildings then. The Clyde was a fine river, but no ships of any size could go up. Then we came down in a small steamer, dragging a barge, Now they have deepened it, so that large vessels go up.

Greenock is a dirty place. We were there two or three days, but stayed in the ship. When Mother looked down the hatch-way into the steerage, where our berths were, she sat down and cried. She thought she could never live so long in such a place, but she lived over eight weeks, for seven weeks and four days out of sight of land, and sick all the time For about five weeks I could not raise my head. Father had everything to do, and you, a sick baby, to care for and wean. Surely he was a man to be pitied, but I cared for nor thought of nothing but to be let alone. At last the sailors told father 1 would not see land if he did not get me on deck. He took me up and laid me down one day and up came a shower. Father was below. I tried to get up but could not. A sailor came along and carried me down, and in less than a week I was quite well. Then father was taken with the trouble that caused his death at last. Then mother took it the night we landed, and had to be taken to a boarding house, and have a doctor tend her several days, while we lay in the sloop we came up the river in. But to go back.

After a stormy passage of over eight weeks, we found ourselves on Sabbath morning, August 7th, 1830, safely anchored opposite Staten Island, and 1 can now see the smile on father’s face as he came down from the deck, and told us he had seen the new country, and he did not know what the language of the people would be, but the cocks, seemed to crow in the same language as at home. We were soon all on deck but mother, and she had to crawl up when the health officers came on board.

I was going to tell you the effects of whiskey we saw and heard the night we came into the dock, Monday night. We had a terrible tyrant for first mate, from the Orkney Islands. The captain had allowed him to misuse the sailors all the way over, and they dared not rebel, or it would have been mutiny, but when they got to New York they got drunk and came aboard, declaring they would kill the mate, and they would have done it if the passengers had not interfered. One of the sailors got hold of the mate’s necktie and twisted it so his face was black as the stove. Some of the passengers took him off, the captain got his pistols and threatened to shoot, and along with the other troubles came up a terrible thunder storm such as we had never seen before.

But my ink and paper is exhausted, and so, I think, is my brain. You may say I have not used much of that material here, but I may say if you think of the times I have written, you will know I have done a good deal of thin king, and be satisfied with the quantity, if not the quality, of the article.

And believe me, as ever, your well wishing sister,

MARGARET OLIVER MURRAY.


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