The Poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong
"SKETCHES OF MY LIFE"
Page 29-37

Transcribed and Donated by Leslie Howard Strawn


CHAPTER NINTH

And when they cleared six acres

He sowed that ground in wheat,

In order that the next year

We might have bread to eat.

We raised our beef and cabbage,

And we raised our pork and beans,

And we were blessed and prospered

When’re we used the means.

And thus our time went on,

From one year to another,

And every other year

My children had a brother.

In the year of fourteen

My husband bought a farm,

With fifty acres cleared,

An orchard, house and barn.

In the year of seventeen

He would get rich at stilling,

He bought a set of stills,

And then he needed drilling.

He hired different men

To superintend the stilling,

But he lost more than five dollars

Whene’er he gained a shilling.

The trouble was, my husband

Did always love the drops,

Then home would do as well

As other whiskey shops.

Then when he was at home,

And the whiskey was so handy,

With plenty of good company

It did as well as brandy.

After he had been stilling,

The sheriff came around,

And attaching other property

He also attached that ground.

But I managed to redeem it

Out of the sheriff’s hand,

By the help of my younger brother

We still retained the land.

It was under execution

From one time to another,

But was still redeemed and saved

By Jacob Strawn, my brother.

Till one evening in his absence

Came in a false-hearted friend,

He said, “I’ll pay your sons in live stock

Their father cannot spend.”

He said, “Give yourself no trouble,

For I will pay you well

In young horses and young cattle

Your sons can keep or sell.”

By his false flattering promises

At sheriff’s sale it went,

He bid it off and kept it,

And never paid a cent.

In the year of twenty-two

We built a house of brick,

We built it large and strong

In order it might stick,

For I plainly saw by that time

My sons could nothing have,

Unless it was something there

That I could for them save.

For the sheriff and the constable,

They were coming round,

And attaching all the property

Except it was the ground.

And to make all I could secure there

I thought I ought to learn,

And in the year of twenty-seven

We got a woolen factory,

The rest on the plantation.

But for costs and fines and lawyer’s fees

We paid five hundred yearly,

With drunken rants and drams and sprees

We were discouraged clearly.

And when we strove the hardest

His supreme command to mind,

It was then we failed the farthest,

And sometimes he was unkind.

I often though I’d leave him

And leave the farm and stuff,

For of such a life of trouble

I felt I had enough.

My oldest son, discouraged,

Said, “Let me go away

For here it is no use

For me to longer stay.

“I am tired of this teaming

And hauling on the pike,

For my father comes and spends it

And that I don’t much like.

“He comes down there and drinks,

And makes me so much ashamed,

If I should leave this country

I ought not to be blamed.

“Oh, bind me to a trade, mother!

Something with me do,

For here I can do nothing

Either for myself or you.”

I said, “If you were older

You might go to Illinois,

Or now go with my brother,

His family and boys.”

At first it seemed to stagger him,

To go so far away,

But on the second thought he said,

“I’ll go without delay.”

I mentioned to his father,

“John will go to Illinois,

And now go with my brother,

For we have other boys.”

At first he did oppose it,

And said he should not go,

But the boy was not discouraged,

He thought at first it would be so.

But I employed a tailor

And worked with all my might,

A sewing and knitting

Almost all day and night.

By planning and persuasion,

His father gave consent,

And off to Illinois

With my brother John, he went.

Then I felt so unprotected

And lonely all the while,

For he was my chief company

And was my oldest child.

The second in the factory,

A doing what he could

To take care of the property,

And also learn the trade.

About two thousand dollars worth

Of machinery then in it,

Besides the cost of buildings

And of digging race and seat.

My trials and my sorrows

Were increasing every day,

And I was still a planning

How we might get away.

And so we struggled on

To the year of twenty-nine,

No hope of reformation,

No, not the smallest sign.

Two days before we left,

The sheriff came again,

And attached the sheep and hogs

That were running in the lane.

The cattle in the pasture,

The corn upon the ground,

The things about the farm and barn,

All that could be found.

Then came into the house,

And from room to room he went,

And attached the beds and furniture,

All that were worth a cent.

And also twelve fat hogs

We were fattening in a pen,

And we thought it was our time

To be leaving then.

Then we had little but our clothing,

And that was rather scant,

For two year’s wool was in the factory,

Though still no pinching went.

But Oh! It was a trial

To leave my house and property,

And turn into the world

With so large a helpless family.

But I roasted him some beef

And baked some good light bread,

And left it in the cupboard

From whence he had oft been fed.

I gathered up his clothing,

Left them in the case of drawers,

Wound the clock, picked up my babe,

Stepped out and shut the doors.

I felt the act was desperate

But resolved I would be free,

And all that I possessed I’d give

For freedom for my sons and me.

That we might enjoy some peace,

And be freed from servile fear

And be blessed with family freedom,

As families mostly are.

For all that a man hath

Will he five for his life,

And I resolved I’d live no longer

In so much fear and strife.

And so I took my little ones

When he was gone from home,

And went off to my fathers

Where he did seldom come.

CHAPTER TENTH

And when I left my farm,

I believe God would clear my way,

And we should have our bread,

And that from day to day.

And now I will acknowledge

God did prosper our way,

And we have bread enough

And some to give away.

We fed the friendly Indians,

When they came to our door,

And the Lord did bless and prosper

In our basket and our store.

And when I went to father’s

I thought I’d make a rule,

That in the wintertime

My sons should go to school.

But early in the spring, they

Commenced to work right manfully,

Because what they could earn

Would come into the family.

They undertook a clearing

To prepare it for the plow,

And when they got it done

For that they got a cow.

The third one was fourteen,

The fourth he was twelve,

And how those little lads

Did strive and dig and delve.

The fifth one was afflicted

And could but little do,

The sixth one with my parents,

The seventh, five, ‘tis true.

The eighth one is in his grave,

And the ninth one at my breast,

And we had a cow and dog,

And that made all the rest.

And then they took a-field

And earned some cash that way,

And then into the meadow

And earned some, making hay.

And then in a plum thicket

Where the ground was wet and flat,

But they persevered and cleared it,

And they got a horse for that.

And then into the cornfield,

When they husked the first load,

Before it was day next morning,

I was upon the road.

I took it off to Newark

And traded in that town,

And brought them back new boots and pants,

And things for Ziba Brown.

The distance, fourteen miles,

Seemed rather a long road

For me to do my trading

After I sold my load.

A twenty-eight mile drive,

A short November day,

After what I had done

Before I went away.

Milked three cows and got the breakfast,

Left their dinner on the table,

That they might save their corn,

As fast as they were able.

When I milked and got the supper

I found it was their wishes,

I should cut out their pants

Soon as I washed my dishes.

When I came back ‘twas dark,

But one of them did suggest,

If I’d cut his pants and fix the pockets

That he could do the rest.

So I cut out his pants

And a pair for his brother,

And he took hold of one pair

And I hold of the other.

And so we made the pants

Before we went to sleeping,

Next morning with new pants and boots

They seemed to feel their keeping.

One took three jumps across the room,

A looking at his feet,

The other took a little dance,

And did it up complete.

And when they saved their corn

They then observed the rule,

And so my little boys

Were started off to school.

And early in the spring

They did commence their labors,

In order to get in their crops

As early as their neighbors.

They were chopping logs and burning,

And clearing off the ground

For logs and limbs in those old fields

Yearly these were found.

And still I kept a thinking,

And ‘twas impressed upon my mind,

That I should take those children

And some new country find.

And if they’d thought they could go

To where the land was clear,

I could not expect they’d labor

To clear the land up here.

But O! The undertaking

To go so far away,

With my large helpless family

To travel day to day.

To leave my old acquaintances

And aged parents too;

Oh! It was one close trial

To know what was best to do.

These thoughts kept me a weeping

Almost both day and night,

I prayed to be directed

And guided on my way.

I at length made up my mind

That it would be for the best

To take my little sons

And set out toward the west.

So one morning at the table

I mentioned to my boys,

And they all agreed at once

We will go to Illinois.

The third son, looking thoughtful,

Said, “One of us must go

Down to those old premises

And let our brother know.

“For I think he’ll leave that factory

And come and with us go,

He’ll be help and company for us,

And help and company for you.

“I hope he will go with us

If we go to Illinois,

For he is the best mechanic

Of any of us boys.

“He will make our sash and bedsteads,

And make a table too,

And help to make the rails

And all we have to do.

“And after we get there

We must drop into the work,

We must all do what we can

And none must think to shirk.

“When we get to that new country

We’ll have a chance to try,

And then we must be active,

Root little hog, or die.

“When we get to Illinois,

We will all be together,

For John’s already there,

And that will be so clever.”

And then we went to fixing,

And then no oats were sowed,

And in two weeks from that time

We were upon the road.

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