Pioneers in York State

My great grandparents, Susan Leigh and Harvey Keene, were married in Connecticut in 1814. Susan was just 15 years old and Harvey was 19. Right after the wedding they set off for "York" state, the wilderness in those days. Harvey had learned the sawmill trade from his father and wanted to set up in business for himself.

The year before, Harvey and his friend Seymour Timmons had traveled horseback through the country and found a likely spot on a river bank near good flat lands where farmers would settle. Seymour's uncle speculated in land and he invested in the area, insuring its development. Harvey had returned to marry Susan the next spring.

By the time they got back to the claim, Seymour had a log cabin up, had made friends with the Indians and was ready to get to work on the sawmill. There were several wagons in the party for not only were they bringing their household furnishings, trade stuff and supplies, but there were other families coming to farm and several men to cut lumber and help set up the mill.

The sawmill was a success and Harvey ran that while Seymour ran the store. They traded for skins with the Indians and settlers and were the only store for miles around. Eventually they had the postoffice too.

Two years later, Susan's sister Sally came with another group of settlers, to marry Seymour. She was a year younger and both girls had red hair with tempers to match. Their cabins were close together between the mill and the store and they delivered eachother's babies, raising their children together almost like one family.

My grandmother Amanda was the youngest of the Keene children and my grandpa Melbourne was the third youngest of the Timmons children. Of course such a marriage wouldn't take place now, but no one thought it wrong then.

Susan had red hair, as I said, tiny she was and slender as a reed. How pretty she must have been with her dancing red curls and sparkling eyes full of fun and mischef but busy as a bee with her big family. Harvey was six teet tall, a big man as a lumberman should be, so they must have made a picture.

After Susan's first baby, a boy, was born, the chief of the Indians who lived around there came to Harvey with an arm load of beaver pelts to trade for her. Seems he'd admired her red hair and smallness and had only waited to see if she could produce sons to negotiate a trade. Harvey had quite a time persuading him there could be no trade, but finally the chief gave up, figuring Harvey knew he had a good thing and wasn't going to give in.

Periodically the chief would bring or send Susan a gift, a soft deer skin, beaver pelts, moccasins especially small for her tiny feet. Sally and Seymour would "twit" her about her beau, but underneath they were all uneasy. Evidentally Harvey's size and strength engendered enough respect to prevent her being carried off. Later the chief lost interest when she had five girls in a row.

Great Granny, as I called Susan, came to live with my grandparents, Amanda and Melbourne, at the Big Farm sometime in 1883. She had lived with various children and grandchildren off and on since Great grandfather died, but after she fell and broke her hip, everyone decided the best place for her was "Mandy's".

Grandma was known for her skill with sick folks and babies. I guess in some places she'd have been called a wise woman or midwife. She knew herbs and gathered, prepared and compounded them into medicines. She delivered dozens of babies with tender skill. Many a night's sleep was broken by a disheveled, frantic husband come for "Aunt Mandy, cause Tildy's took bad!"

Great Granny sat in her chair next to the big fireplace in the kitchen. She smoked her cob pipe and told stories to goggle eyed great grandchildren of Indians, wild animals, horrendious storms and mighty pioneer men. She also told tales of her childhood in Connecticut and of the generations before her, back into the dim history of the old country, England. Granny pared potatoes, fixed vegetables and helped with preserving as well as offering advice on all subjects.

Late every evening, Uncle Bert carried her to bed and early in the morning returned her to her seat so that I thought she never left her chimney corner at all! I was her pet for I had her red hair, tho her curls were all white now under her cap. She fed me bits of cinnamon bark and cloves from her deep pocket and showed me how to whistle on my thumbs. Granny was pert and witty till the day she died and her family adored her.