A late 19th century perspective on earlier migration from New England to the Delaware Co. area.
Transcribed by Linda Robinson, July 11, 2003
REASONS FOR SEEKING HOMES IN A WILDERNESS (Source: The Stamford Mirror, Aug. 30, 1881 p.2 c.2)
Friend Champion - Your letter was received, requesting an answer to the query propounded by your New York friend, to wit, "What induced those eastern people to come into the wilderness, risking their lives at the hands of the Indians? Certainly there was room enough where they came from. Why came they here; What was the incentive?" &c.
I can only mention some facts that have come down to me from my parents and others, most of whom have passed away years ago. What I write may look somewhat egotistical, as much may refer to what induced my parents, as that of the public generally. We might infer that others were urged forward by similar causes.
Now to the reason. We answer that there were two prominent reasons, to wit:--One for the want of room; the other, a determination to secure cheap, substantial homes. First then, there is a slight mistake with your New York man as to there being plenty of room at their old homes. Families, in olden times, grew up more children than in our day; not unfrequently from four to six hardy sons, with as many daughters, numbering often from ten to a dozen; and hence the boys must migrate somewhere. Surely, the girls would of necessity, as well as from choice, go with the young men, who, in those days, did not push out West and leave the girls behind, as now-a-days.
At that time, the present mode of manufacturing all kinds of goods was unknown. Each household then spun and wove most of the clothing for the family.
Farming, then, seemed the only occupation for the surplus of young men. Common blacksmithing, plain carpenter work and shoe making filled the other occupations.
The Dutch, as a rule, when their sons married, not unfrequently kept them on the homestead, all WORKING in harmony. The New Englanders were a different race. Here were a herd of live Yankees, as restless as a tiger in a cage. They were willing to leave and step out beyond parental control, and strike out for themselves. Yea, anxious to make their mark in the world and be somebody, and away they drifted, and none who listed in settling Harpersfield and Stamford, was ever known to desert and turn back, as a few do now-a-days who go West, get homesick, and return.
Land, then, at home was nearly as high as it is now; and, in fact, the inhabitants nearly as numerous in many localities. Young married men were desirous of building up homes for themselves. What stimulated one aroused the others to action, and migration became a mania, and there was a rush for the West. The young wives, too, were willing to follow the young men of their choice and risk the consequences. They must have possessed more stamina than the young ladies of the present age. Harpersfield and Stamford were then west. Hence Connecticut, Massachusetts and eastern New York moved west.
What I know about some who first settled in Harpersfield:--When my father moved there in the summer of 1785, ninety-seven years ago, there were but three families in the town. He was one of five brothers and one sister, four of whom and the sister, wife of Elisha Sheldon, Esq., made their homes in that town. They came from Dutchess County, N.Y. Among the first settlers with whom I was personally acquainted, were the Gibbes, Bairds, Lindleys, Knapps, Nichols, Wickhams, Birdsalls and many others, all substantial men, known for many years.
Young men, at that time, were willing to work; few lived by their wits. And so our Yankee forefathers, choosing to be independent than remaining under the restraint and check of their pater families, looked to Harpersfield as the haven and realization of their fond hopes.
As well might you dam the cataract of Niagara with a cobweb, as to stiffle, quell and subdue the spirit of go-ahead-ativeness of the descendants of our Pilgim fathers. They possessed a self-determination, a will power, implanted by the God of Nature, and they braved hardships undauntedly, they scoffed at fear, even of the Indians (slight danger of them was realized after the war) and looking through the mist of years, they saw in the smiling future a hope that was beckoning them on to pleasant, happy, substantial homes. They raised their banner on which was written "Victory or Death" and the goal was reached.
Honest labor, with fair dealing, was then above par and honorable; while indolence and fraud were frowned down and disgraceful. Ought we not then, as their descendants, hold in sacred veneration the memories of our dead fathers, for their untiring industry, preserverance, fidelity, and moral rectitude?
Yours truly, A.B. Wilcox