Project 150: It’s 1861. Farm On.

Project 150 is a series of Civil War posts that, taken together, will tell the story of my family’s life choices during the years of rebellion.  Sources used for today’s post include privately held family documents, a Wiki article on the election and the Federal 1860 census accessed at ancestry.com.

My great-great-grandparents, F. Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor, woke up each day of 1861 inside a farmhouse on Ceylon Lane.  Each night they tucked their three children, John (age 9), Olfred (age 6) and Sarah (age 3), into bed.  When they attended Goshen Baptist Church in the nearby village of Garard’s Fort, Marion and Mary Jane drove past brother Samuel Minor‘s family home.   Driving to the nearest town, Carmichaels, took the couple past the homes of Marion’s parents, John P. and Isabella McClelland Minor, and his sister, Isabella Minor and Hugh Keenan.  The families were four of the ninety-eight that called Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania home.

Within its sixteen square miles, the township had 134 women housekeeping and keeping all that was in the house – the stories, the children, the meals, the cleaning, the mending, the tending, the healing.  The hills also sheltered 105 farmers and day laborers, 5 shoemakers, 4 carpenters,3 merchants, 2 clerks, 3 seamstresses, 2 millers, 2 stonemasons, 2 stonecutters, 2 washerwomen, a shinglemaker, a chairmaker, a cattle drover, a physician, a blacksmith, and a coal miner.  All but two families were white, and all but twelve residents were born in Pennsylvania.  Most everyone could read and write.  The township’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of the merchants and three farming families: the Lantzes, the Gerards and the clan of John P. and Isabella Minor.  

John Pierson (Pearson) subscribed to the Waynesburg Messenger,  an instrument of the Democratic Party.  Shared among the extended family, the pages were no doubt well thumbed; the articles frequent sources of conversation and debate. Greene County voters had handed the county to the pro-slavery Southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, in the 1860 election.  

As the country staggered toward dissolution in 1861, Marion bought twelve head of cattle from Philip Wolf for $140, and another three for $25.  A bit later he purchased one from John Ramer for $24.20. As Abraham Lincoln settled into the White House, F. Marion bought ten more head at $60.  

Throughout the summer of 1861, as volunteers formed companies and regiments and brigades, the Minors of Ceylon Lane farmed on.  Walnut and oak trees were felled for logs, planks and rafters; stable flooring, joists, and sills.  Stables were built, homes repaired; livestock bought, fed and sold.  Into the fall the family farmed.   John P. purchased 50 bushels of coal for $5.  John P. Junior and Olfred probably climbed the hill to the family schoolhouse when they could, and climbed trees to shake out nuts when they were asked. 

As the days folded into long nights, the Minor business of tending children and raising cattle continued to thrive. 

December the 24th 1861

This is to certify that I, Elias Slocum, waid for TB Martin and Dan Shore 42 hed of cattel sold to Pearson Minor the cattel was in a fair condition to when waid.  

                                    Elias Slocum, way master

On December 30, 1861 John P. Minor made one last entry in his business ledger:  Lindsey paid me $487.00.  

Farm on.

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Serendipity Surrounds a Secret: Madness Monday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds a Secret

My mother’s family was a well-to-do farming clan – the Minors of Greene County.  Cattle and stock dealers for generations, the family groups had accumulated hundreds of acres of hilly land in southwestern Pennsylvania  by the turn of the twentieth century when the bituminous Pittsburgh coal vein prompted a speculative race. Around 1905 the rights to that black gold were sold, by some accounts for up to $600 per acre, and the Francis Marion Minor family was suddenly land AND cash rich.  In spite of the opportunities afforded the prosperous, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, suffered from horrible headaches and melancholy, traveling throughout his life from health resort to health resort seeking relief .  I haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for his brooding.  Some secret lurks within family lore.  It hangs over other stories like the fog lingering over the Susquehanna River even as the rest of the Wyoming Valley clears to reveal its broad plain, mountain ridges and blue dome sky.

Last week I stepped away from the shroud to gain perspective, re-searching the family patriarch in case some new record or paper had been digitalized.

John P. Minor + cattle

Among the google-returned items was a newspaper article from 1908.  My great-great-great-grandfather Minor died in 1874.  But. . . . If an article catches my interest, I read first and judge relevance later.  Suddenly this unexpected detail poked through the family fog:

  • A quick review of the family register confirmed that THIS John P. Minor was the eldest brother of my great-grandfather, Robert Minor.  John Minor had married Elizabeth Garard, and they had one child, Ira, who died December 12, 1908.
  • A further newspaper search at the Library of Congress Chronicling America yielded multiple accounts of the bank’s failure in 1906 – and of this young man’s suicide.  Mr. Rinehart was convicted in January of 1909 for stealing funds from the bank and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
  • The postcards which document my great-grandfather’s descent into headaches and melancholy were postmarked 1910.
  • After rereading my Minor documents of that era, I am not convinced that the fortune mentioned in the article was that of John P. Minor alone, but perhaps that of the entire FM Minor clan.  Even so, the $500,000 dollars would have been the equivalent of $12,000,000 dollars in 2009. Losing half of that sum would have resulted in the family being worth “only” $6 million dollars, with the economic clout of someone with $131 million dollars in 2009.  *¹  Split among four families, that is still a grand fortune, by my book.

Did the Minor family have a predisposition to brooding, melancholy, headaches, and other “nervous ailments” and was my great-grandfather’s depression caused by this bank failure or by the family crisis that came in its wake?  Why did Robert Minor continue to suffer?  And what ever happened to all of that money?

Perhaps I will never really know the true nature of the secret, or be privy to the knowledge that hurt this family so deeply.  This genealogical serendipity surrounds my secret, however, helping to define its edges and contain its outline.  At the very least, I know that there really was a family fortune, that there really was family tragedy and that at least some members of the family – like Robert Minor – had difficulty coping.

The secret is by my side now, not lurking in a corner driving me mad.

*¹ The website Measuring Worth is extremely helpful in calculating the relative worth of the U. S. Dollar, from 1774- the present.

Mapping My Ancestors: Where’s Donald?

Accessed from MyTopo: Historical Topographical Maps, July 25, 2011

In 1904, the year this topographical map was drawn, my grandfather Minor, Donald Corbly Minor, was a two year toddler living on the family farm on Ceylon Lane, a tiny road leading out of Whitely, Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Today it remains a tiny road, gravel and oiled to keep the dust down.  I pass by the old farm house, and remember the trips we made out to these hills when I was just shoulder high to my mom.  We walked through cow-nibbled grasses, hunted for old trash pits among the trees, dug up jars to be treasured back home.  Topo maps are small snags of information that reflect the part of a community that changes least, its topography.  Granddaddy’s hills and streams will remain when the farm’s foundations support vines instead of walls.

 

The Old Minor Home Farm: Those Places Thursday

My mother and three siblings pose here on the dining room steps with their mother, Kerma Minor.  The white painted-brick farmhouse was surrounded by 330 acres of rolling hills studded by her daddy’s prized cows.  This was my mother’s home, Ceylon Lane, Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania–where the Donald Minor family weathered the Depression and World War II.  Home on the home farm that her daddy had inherited from his daddy, Robert Minor, who had been bequeathed the home farm by his dad. Francis Marion Minor had in turn received the 330 acres from his father, John Pearson Minor, as per item 7 in his will of 28 February 1867:

I give, devise and bequeath unto my son, Francis Marion, his heirs and assigns the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the Myers farm, containing three hundred and twenty nine acres more or less…

Just when, I have wondered, did the former Myers farm become my family’s home farm.  Last week I unearthed a document in the Minor Papers that provides an important clue.

An article of Agreement made and concluded between James McFarland of Cumberland Township (housejoiner) and John P. Minor of Green Township both of Green County Pennsylvania on the twenty second of February eighteen hundred and thirty one as follows

John P. Minor was to purchase and supply all the materials for the project, and furnish board and lodging to James McFarland for the duration of the project.  In addition Mr. McFarland would receive $300 upon the satisfactory conclusion of all work.

For his part, James McFarland was to

complete the joiner work of the brick house formerly occupied by Jacob Myers.

The agreement stipulates that he was then to finish the floors and petition three rooms off on each floor

according to the construction of the said house.

Mr. McFarland was also charged with making cupboards, and sashes for the upstairs window, and casing and fixing off all the windows in the whole house.

and run up two pair of stairs in the dwelling house ….a pair of stairs to be run up outside on the porch and a drysink on the inside byside of chimney  the doors to be taken down and the facings new and then hung and mantle peaces and cheer boards and wash boards and all other things necessary to complete the building is to be done by said McFarland.

The house described bears a striking resemblance to the house my mother described as her childhood home.  For now, til new evidence surfaces to contradict me, I believe that the brick house, formerly occupied by Jacob Myers, was handsomely renovated by one James McFarland in 1831, and subsequently occupied by generations of John P. Minor descendants.

Postcard Advent Calendar, December 19: Here, Kitty, Kitty!

 

A Merry Xmas to all of my readers, on this the sixth day of the Minor Postcard Advent Calendar. Today’s card is a REAL PHOTOGRAPH, on bromide paper by the Rotographic Company, New York City, copyright 1906.  On the back, thirteen year old Helen Stephenson Minor wrote her four year old brother, Donald Corbley:

How are you and Billy getting along by this time?  Are you coming with Papa when he comes up after me?  Have you been sliding down the hill any this winter? I expect it runs pretty nice doesn’t it?  Bye Bye. ~Helen

Helen attended a boarding school, near the town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, I believe.  In this note she asks Donald about his pony, Billy, and inquires into the farm’s sledding.  It must have been a white Christmas season for her to anticipate a nice run down the hill.

Like Helen, I LOVE this photocard! The tiny tree looks as if someone topped a cedar or hemlock and decorated it with hand-made paper chains and stars. The candles appear to have been painted on after the photograph was developed!  And I adore the kitten, all snug in its crocheted sweater.  “What ARE you,” she asks the toy horse.  This wheeled toy is represented in many of my cards and must have been a favorite gift of the era.  The basket hung on the tree holds another popular gift:  a trumpet-like instrument.  But take a look at that doll!  What a face! At first glance I thought this was a skeleton wrapped up in fancy attire.  I don’t know what to make of it.  Do you?