Autobiography of Mary Ayres White
Mary Ayres White
Mary's story starts with her birth in Ohio in 1847, the third child of Almon Perry Ayres (d. 1876) and Anna Carpenter (d. 1905). She writes of the family's travels beginning in 1851 and continuing for two decades, primarily in Wisconsin, before she marries and settles in Franklin County, Iowa to raise her own family. Along the way she tells about the adventures and hardships they encountered in a still-new country and provides vivid incidents and biographical sketches that bring their world alive for us. Mary passed away in 1925.
Scanned images of
her handwritten autobiography.
Transcription of Mary A. White's Autobiography
In the year 1847 began the life of the one that writes these lines.
Almon Perry Ayers and Anna Carpenter were married on March 8th 1841 in the then small town of Ashtabula Ohio. I was the third child born to them. The other two were Harriet Maria Born Oct 31, 1842 and Emily Corlin, Born Nov 14th 1844. They were both born at Saybrook Ohio. The house where they lived when I came to live with them was a frame dwelling house belonging to mothers brother Amasa Carpenter. It was built near Grandmothers Carpenters home. My father was a shipbuilding carpenter by trade and a generally all around handy workman.
We lived there until the spring I was two years old when father decided to "go west." There were not many railroads in those days. [End page 1] Father bought passage for his little family on a lake steamer at the Ashtabula harbor and started for Wisconsin. It was a long trip through the half length of Lake Erie north up thro' lake St. Clair and lake Huron. While on lake Huron the vessel encountered a frightful storm, was driven out of her course, and just barely passed by a dangerous rock that had been the terror of all sea captains for many years. The storm was so severe that when we got to Macinaw in the Straits of Macinac at the head of lake Huron they had to lay over for several days for repairs.
After several weeks on this long tiresome journey we arrived at Sheboygan, Wisconsin where we unloaded and was met by fathers brother Nelson. We went by team [end page 2] due west to the southern point of lake Winnebago and then south into Dodge Co. to a little town by the name of Elmira where my grandfather Ayers and most of his family lived. It was there on Sept 1849 that my only brother, Ernest Levant, was born. It was while living there that smallpox broke out and raged with great severity. We all had to be vaccinated and I can begin to remember some things from then on. I may not be able to give dates exactly. But while we lived there Harriet and Emily began to go to school. I didnt understand why they went away every day. So one Saturday they took me with them to see the school house. It was down a long hill at the foot of which was a little brook where we waded in the water then started back home. [End page 3] I remember very well seeing a white cow at the top of the hill which frightened me very much. I began to cry but soon our mother came in sight--hunting her little girls. She was very much troubled at our absence, for in those days were many bands of indians in the woods. Well when we got home the two oldest girls got a little punishment. I wondered why. I had had a very happy trip. I think the whipping made me remember. Another thing was going with father and mother on a jaunt to what was called "The Ledge" a broken rocky cliff where grew cedar trees. Father took home of the red cedar timber and when seasoned made various house-hold articles. A rolling pin, a potato masher, spool holder, are some of the things. In those days a great many useful things were home made. [End page 4] Still have the rolling pin and use it at all times of cooking. I have part of the spool holder too.
We lived there a while. Of course I can't tell the length of time. Then father moved farther north--up into Juneau Co. But I think at that time it was called Adams Co. but being a large county it was divided and the west half was called Juneau. The last two counties were divided by the Wisconsin River. We moved [by] team and were a tired and homesick family when we got there. These friends that took us in that night became the best friends we found in our new home. Mr. and Mrs. Tower, of blessed memory. For all Mr. Tower was a strong Democrat and father a strong Republican and held many heated arguments in trying to convince each other that their [end page 5] party was the right one, they parted as good friends every evening at bed time. That settlement was south of what is now New Lisbon. Then only nine families lived there and it could hardly be called a town. We rented a place near Mt. Tower and moved into what was called the Slab house. I suppose it was made of rough material hence the name.
We got our water from a spring about forty rods from the house and beyond that was a beautiful hill which in spring time was blue with wild violets. One day us children were up there picking violets and we heard a dog barking and then we noticed that our dog Watch that had been with us was out of sight. While we were looking and listening a deer came bounding over the hill and ran with frightened leap [End page 6] right past us with Watch in a frantic effort to catch him. They ran towards the timber and disappeared on the creek bottoms. There the deer escaped. New Lisbon grew very fast. It was called Lisbon in the first place, but my father became some county officer and had the honor of renaming the town New Lisbon. I think there must have been another town in the county by the name or the last part of it, Lisbon. We next lived up north of New Lisbon and father finally took up the law.
While there Mothers brother Ira Carpenter moved from near Kalamazoo Mich. moved thro with teams and bought a farm in that neighborhood. The Little Lemonweir creek ran thro his farm. One day we were all out in uncle Iras door yard and as the view from there was across this little creek [End page 7] we could see uncles garden and right in sight we saw a black bear digging into his potato hills. His son Ora ran into the house for the gun and started out to kill it. But as soon as he started to cross the little bridge the bear saw him and disappeared into the timber. Deer, bear, and indians were not an uncommon sight in those days.
Father finally moved over east into Adams Co. to the county seat at Quincy and went into the law and [was] elected to the State Legislature at Madison. That was in the fall of 1857, the year I was ten years old. That year was a hard time for mother for all of us children were very sick with whooping cough which raged dreadful hard through all the schools. Sister Emily came near dying with it. Some families lost one or two. [End page 8]
While living there Father joined the Masonic Lodge and he with mother joined a singing school and enjoyed the best society. The republican party wished to return father to the legislature. His health not being very good he refused to return and instead he bought a farm near New Lisbon. With the money he got while in Madison [he] built a new house on a hill side so as to have a basement kitchen opening onto the lower level and the front door on the upper level with a lovely view to the north.
There we began a farm life. All had their work to do. The first spring after they had put in the crops father began to grub off a piece of rich land with what help mother could do. It was near the little Lemonweir creek. [End page 9] They were both taken sick with fever and ague and were sick all summer. Every other day they would have a heavy chill always followed by fever and headache. Our finances ran so low that year, with paying for the farm, building and doctors bills we saw some hard times. After that first crop we had it easier. Harriet and Emily went to New Lisbon to school working for their board to pay their way. While Emily lived at Mr. Sage's she was taken sick with measles.
That spring father traded his farm of 80 acres there for 160 acres of wild land down near Dubuque Iowa. He had the privilege of taking the house from the land. He sold the upper half to the school district for a country school house and took the other half all to pieces [End page 10] and rafted it down the big Lemonweir on down the Wisconsin River into the Miss. for Dubuque. But before getting to the Miss. he had to pass through the "Dells" in the Wisconsin. That is where the river narrows down to a small deep stream which passes through a gorge formed by the Baraboo Bluffs. It is very dangerous to raftsmen, or rivermen, on account of a large rock in the middle of this narrow passageway. The water sucks through there with great force. However father and one companion passed through safely and went on down into Columbia Co to Malts Ferry where they tied up for the night and there met a Mr. Williams that kept a boarding house.
He bartered father to trade his lumber for his, Mr. Williams, board- [End page 11] ing house. Well they made the trade. Father came back home and found the rest of the children sick with measles and just as soon as [we] were able to travel we started by team and covered wagon for Malts Ferry. We got rained on one night while camping out -- took cold and had a relapse and were pretty sick children but not till we arrived at the new home. That sickness left brother Ernest deaf in one ear and with weak lungs.
While we lived there father sold the land over near Dubuque for a small sum per acre. I don't know how much. He got rid of it any way. He didnt succeed keeping [the] boarding house so [we] went away and I think left the old house on the sandlot at Matts ferry. We had good neighbors there such as they were, Sweeneys, Hills, [End page 12] Godfreys, Slocums and farther away the Corncross, Perry, Miller and Stone families in West Point. Myself, Emily and Ernest went up there to school and Harriet went to the Okee school and worked for her board at Mr. Rathbons.
Some of our [time] living there Emily worked across the river at Merrimac in a large dairy where they made great quantities of cheese and butter for a Mr. Christler. She got acquainted with John Woodley of Okee and they were married on April 22nd 1868. She was eighteen and John twenty-eight. They lived together for about seventeen years when he died of sciatica rheumatism 44 yrs old. They had four children, the youngest three years old. Emily still lived on the farm by renting it out [end page 13] to tenants who lived on the place. She built a new house, paid all the debts John left and raised her family of one girl and three boys until they married and left home. Then twenty years after her husbands death she married James Harlan [?] of Dumont Iowa. She still resides there, a widow for the second time.
Harriet went up to Union Lakes Minn. to visit our relatives there about the year 1864 . A little later the rest of the family moved up there by turns through Sauk City [and] Baraboo to Lacross Wis across the Miss river to Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, Faribault, and on to Union Lakes where aunt Roxa Webster and uncle George Carpenter lived. There at uncles we joined Harriet again. Father homesteaded a piece of land there, [and] lived [End page 14] there that summer in a tent. But, having no means to build a house, he let it go back to the government and rented a farm from Ransom Webster, a stepson of aunt Roxa Webster, who had gone to the war. There we lived that summer and winter. Hattie taught the district school, Ernest and I went to school to her.
In the spring father left home and went to Chicago to enlist in the army. But the war closed before he got a chance to join and in Apr President Lincoln was shot. So no more soldiers were needed. Father was in Chicago when Lincolns body lay in state (and saw him) on the way to Springfield Ill. where the burial took place. Well, that spring Mother, Ernest, and I put in the crops. Hattie taught school, lived at Uncle Georges where she helped with the work what time she had. We made some maple sugar that spring. [End page 15]
Instead of coming back to Minn. father stopped at Elkhart Ind. among his people. [He] went to work as a carpenter and sent for his family. So mother sold the crops to Uncle Webster. He helped us to pack our goods, loaded them on teams and took us to Hastings Minn. where we took a steamer to Portage Wis. Having shipped our goods to John Woodley at Okee Wis. That was a lovely trip down the river, our first steamer ride. At Portage mother hired a man to take us to sister Emily's living in the country in West Point township. Well when about five miles from our destination he refused to go any farther so we had to walk the rest of the distance. I had a new pair of shoes on and any one can guess how I felt when we got there after a [End page 16] long wearisome day. We staid with Emily several weeks before going on to Elkhart. That first winter I went to live at aunt Laura's [fathers youngest sister] and went to school to Orville Chamberlin a young law student.
The next summer father rented a house and we were all together again. We got work in a woolen factory where we all got good wages and lived well and happy. Harriet staid in Minn. till her school was out and during that summer she became acquainted with Charles Wood who had been honorably discharged as a veteran of the Civil War. He served four years. She came home to us at Elkhart where they were married on June 12, 1866. They went back to Union Lakes, Minn where he had a farm of 160 acres that he took up as a soldier under the Soldiers Homestead Act. They had [End page 17] one child Bertha and [when] this girl was two years old her mother died of the consumption Aug. 24, 1870. She was buried in the cemetery at Northfield, Minn. Harriet requested that her little girl be given to her mother and in Dec. 1870 Charles brought his little daughter to us at Union Ridge, Franklin Co., Iowa.
After leaving Minn. at Elkhart I entered the woolen factory where I was a weaver for three years. I wove thousands of yards of woolen goods, such as flannels, woolen blankets, men's broadcloths and all kinds of suitings, as lady cloths, etc. Ernest was a carder and mother wove the same as I. We rented a quaint old house on a pretty street. At the back of the house was an old well with an old oaken bucket and a windlass, farther on was an orchard with large old trees [End page 18] where we sat in the peaceful Sundays and evenings after our work was done. I was eighteen years old when we moved there. After four years there we moved to Waterloo Iowa. Ernest and I entered a factory where we were both weavers and worked two years.
After that found us in Franklin Co. where sister Emily lived. There I went out to work first at Sam Butlers then at Mr. Cummins and Charles Beeds then to Sam Butlers again. After that year I went to school and lived at home with mother on the John Woodley farm where Ernest had built mother a little cottage. I attended the Ingham Center School and a little over a year [later] I married my teacher Wm. Henry White on April 7th 1873 and we went to live with Alfred Hibbards family. They were cousins to my husband. [End page 19] In the fall we went to live with John Woodleys family and next spring and summer lived with mother. On Oct 29 we moved to a home of our own. We bought an 80-acre piece and built a small house and began life together in a small way. But as the years went along we accumulated little by little three children among the other blessings. Finally added to our farm till we owned 320 acres. There we lived about twenty six yrs. We worked hard but lived a quiet happy life until March 16, 1900 the dear husband and father died. The children were Helen, Warren and Vernon. The two boys tilled the farm that summer. We rented the farm for several years then sold it for $105 per acre. Paid for the first 80, $8.00 an acre, next 120, $12.50 per acre and the next 120 acres, $20 per acre.
Had a sale in the fall and in Dec moved to Iowa City where Warren entered the University and Vernon the Academy and later the University. [End page 20] Both graduated from Liberal Arts and Warren from the Law. Vernon married and lives in Franklin Co. Warren went to Chicago where he lived for 8 years, then changed to Rock Rapids Iowa and went to practicing law quite successfully. Helen and her mother live at Iowa City where they have a good home. She is a stenographer for the largest law firm in the city at a salary of $85 per month. I am the house keeper and expect to so live the rest of my life. I have many blessings and am spending my last days in a quiet, contented manner.
Mary S. White
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