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I love Vermont

“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”

Calvin Coolidge, 1928 [delivered by Calvin Coolidge at Bennington on September 21, 1928]

 

        Amanda Matilda Colburn was born in West Glover, Vermont on November 12, 1833, the same night as the Great Meteor Shower of 1833.  It is estimated that a quarter of a million meteors were seen over North America that night.

       The fear and wonder generated by the meteor storm is credited, in part, with sparking the third Great Awakening, a time of religious fervor and activism throughout the United States.

       We can only wonder if Amanda’s parents saw her birth, under such circumstances, as a portent for her life’s trajectory.

Abraham Lincoln and the Great Meteor Shower of 1833

“I boarded for a time with a Deacon of the Presbyterian church.  One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, and I heard the Deacon’s voice exclaiming, ‘Arise, Abraham, the day of judgment has come!’  I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers!  But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places.  Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”

[from Specimen Days & Collect by Walt Whitman, 1882]

 

 

 

 

 

The most famous depiction of the 1833 meteor shower was actually produced in 1889 for the Adventist book Bible Readings for the Home Circle – the engraving is by Adolf Vollmy based upon an original painting by the Swiss artist Karl Jauslin, that is in turn based on a first-person account of the 1833 storm by a minister, Joseph Harvey Waggoner on his way from Florida to New Orleans.

Wiki public domain image.

         Amanda was the first child of Ira Colburn, Jr. and Celana Cisco.  Ira Colburn’s farm was situated on the Glover/Albany Vermont border, in an area that would come to be called the Northeast Kingdom.  It was, and is, a place ‘set apart’, by its remoteness, ferocious weather, and ruggedness of landscape, and individuals, who inhabit this region.   It was, and is, a beautiful place to live, but a hard place to make a living.  It was the last area of Vermont to be settled, due to its remoteness, and distance from major waterways, and it was a dangerous place because of its close proximity to British North America during the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812.

        It was always a challenging place for farmers, being that the growing season could be as short as two months, temperatures could reach forty below, and their most prolific crop would always be stones.  Those conditions were exacerbated by the Year of No Summer in 1816 (a result of a volcanic eruption in Tambora, Indonesia in 1815) which prompted many settlers to flee the area, and with the opening of the Champlain and Erie Canals in the early 1820s, a mass exodus of Vermonters headed west to the flatter, warmer, and less-stony land of western New York and Ohio.  But Ira Colburn stayed.

The Lumber Industry of Glover

Glover, Dec. 18, 1895

There has been eleven saw mills built in town, run by water power.  The first mill built in town was erected by Nathan Cutter in 1808, near the outlet of Parker’s pond. This mill has done a large business up to the present time…..Aaron Wilson built a saw mill near where the grist mill now stands, which did a large business for a long time.  Capt. John H. Hill built two mills in the west part of the town on the Colburn brook, which did a good business……

….Orleans County Monitor

           Ira built a sawmill on the brook that bore his name, Colburn Brook, which tumbled a mile down through woods into Parker Pond that nestled in a high valley next to Parker Settlement, named for the first settler Ralph Parker. Parker Settlement was where the Colburn family went to church and where the Colburn children would go to school.

from the Orleans County Monitor

“April 17, 1834:  Captain John H. Hill’s sawmill raised this day in the west part of the town on the Colburn Brook”

“John H. Hill was a captain of the Glover’s old militia, the Old Floodwood Company, c. 1805-1820…”

            Besides Parker Pond and Colburn Brook, both of which featured daily in her life, Amanda would have been very familiar with the story of Runaway Pond, an event that happened twenty-three years before her birth, but whose consequences were still being felt in the area.

Parker Settlement  

 “On the lot of land were built the first meeting house, school-house, store, ashery; and the first kiln of brick ever brunt in town was burned here…At this place the town and freeman meeting were held in the early days; also June trainings, when at the sound of the fife and drum the old “Floodwood Company” with shouldered arms, marched up and down Ralph Parker’s street and ground their arms at the Captain’s feet. The road that ran through this historic spot has been removed, and nothing now remains to mark the stop save the stone in the old cellars, the woodwork has all gone to decay, and the land is used for pasturage.”

—-Orville Valentine Percival  (Glover resident and historian)

The Runaway Pond

June 6, 1810

            It had been a dry spring.  Aaron Willson, who owned a saw mill near Glover village, needed more water to power his mill.   Five miles away lay the Long Pond, a mile long lake.  Aaron had the idea that if he could dig a ditch near the pond’s outlet, his mill would get the water it needed to operate, so on June 6, 1810, sixty of his neighbors, armed with picks, axes and shovels, hiked to the pond and began digging.  They soon found out that the bank at the outlet consisted of a quicksand-like composite of sand and gravel; the bank let go, and Long Pond became Runaway Pond.  

       The floodwaters tore twenty miles through the Barton River valley, carrying off trees, houses, mills.  Spencer Chamberlain ran ahead of the flood waters and rescued Mrs. Willson from the mill just before the flood hit.  When the floodwaters reached Lake Memphremagog, a thirty-six mile long lake that straddles the U.S./Canadian border, the lake rose a foot.  

Lions and Bears 

       As if British soldiers, years with no summer, and runaway ponds weren’t enough to contend with, two newspaper articles, and a story from the Albany Town History, illustrate some of the other dangers the residents of this area faced  (note: Elisha Wright was a neighbor of Ira Colburn’s).

1888-12-3  Orleans County Monitor  

         “In the early settlement of the west part of Glover, there was a dense wilderness in Albany bordering on it, which remained unsettled for a long time. This forest was a favorite haunt for the bears which made depredations on the cattle and sheep of those living on its border. On a certain day a huge bear was seen chasing Elisha Wright’s sheep. Freeman Waterman, who lived near, ran up to the pasture and shouted loudly to the bear and tried to drive him away, but he was so intent up on having a taste of mutton that he followed the sheep through the bars near the house. When he saw his close proximity to the house, he turned back, and in going through the bars became entangled in them. Waterman rushed up and caught him by the hind leg and shouted to Wright and to John Vance, who had heard the outcry, for help. Vance had to hunt up an axe, and Wright to load his gun, and before they got back Waterman was obliged to relinquish his hold on the bear, which became very furious at being thus delayed. Wright fired at him for a distance, without effect, and he made good his retreat to the adjoining woods.” Orleans County Monitor. [Orville Valentine Percival]

1888-12-24 Orleans County Monitor   

         Speaking of bears again: Dea. Ziba Bliss, one of the early settlers of West Glover living on the borders of the wilderness mentioned before, suffered great loss from the depredations of bears, which used to make mad havoc with his corn, oats, cattle and sheep. One night his son Stephen went for the cows and saw there was trouble with the sheep. He followed on by the side of the fence near the woods, when he heard a terrible growling over the fence opposite him, and on looking over the fence he saw two huge hears who had killed two sheep and were devouring one of them. When they saw him one of the bears came up to the fence, put his forepaws on it and growled fiercely. Stephen ran up the hill and shouted to his father to come with his gun, but before he could get there the largest bear took the whole sheep in his arms and both marched off to the woods. Orleans County Monitor

        And from The History of Albany, Vermont comes the story of a Dow child who loved the woods and came home one day talking about “the big kitty” she had patted as he lay dozing beside a log.  The men, alarmed, took up guns and found “the kitty” which turned out to be a catamount about 8 feet from nose to tail-tip [The History of Albany, Vermont]

Amanda’s Family

           Amanda’s forebears were well-educated people.  Warren Colburn was the author of Colburn’s Arithmetic, a famous textbook that was used world-wide. 

           Amanda’s father Ira Jr. and grandfather Ira, Sr. promoted education, and contributed to the Orleans Liberal Institute that was built in Glover village. Ira Colburn, Sr., was also known for his physical attributes.

           Ira, Sr., and Mercy would have seven children: Ira, Elizabeth, Amanda (whom ‘our’ Amanda would be named after), Luther, Rosamond, Mercy and Samuel.   Ira, Sr. and Sarah Hitchcock would have a son, Almon, who would serve in the Civil War and die of disease in 1864. 

            Ira, Jr. and Celana’s family grew:  three sisters followed Amanda:  Celana Cisco, born 1835; Eliza Ann, born 1836; and Ellen Nancy, born 1838.

            Except for Ira Colburn, Sr., all of Amanda’s grandparents and great-grandparents had died by the time she had reached the age of five.

     “Ira Coburn and his wife, Mercy Mason, came from Lebanon, N. H., in early days and settled in the northeast past of the town and cleared a farm.  They raised a family of seven children, three sons and four daughters, who all lived to manhood and womanhood.   They were both industrious, hard-working people. 

       Mr. Colburn was a butcher and as shingle maker, and probably made in his life shingle enough to cover half the buildings in town.  . He was probably the stoutest man in his day in town—all bone and muscle…..He would lift an enormous loads; a 400 lb. hog was nothing for him to handle alone.  On a certain training day in early times, John Coomer, a very stout, wiry man, became disorderly and it became necessary to put him under guard.  Colburn was ordered to do it.  He walked up to Coomer and told him he must go with him; he swore he would not. Colburn took him under his right arm and marched off with him with all ease, set him on a rock, and told him to sit there, which he did. 

       On a certain time, Colburn was reaping with a lot of hands, when Jefferson Ufford, a smart and wiry man, became angry with Colburn, and threatened to lick him.  Colburn straightened up from his work and said, “Jefferson, have you made you peace with God?’ and kept right on with his work, not being molested. He always carried a butcher knife to a bear hunt, and at one time when the bear fell, he ran up and cut his throat. The bear growled when he stuck the knife in him.  He had three wives, two of whom he survived.  He lived to be over 80 years of age.”

—-Orville Valentine Percival, Orleans County Monitor

When a Child Loses a Parent

The death of a parent before a child reaches adulthood is a catastrophic event that forever alters that child’s life.  Such children often suffer lifelong psychological scars:  depression, anxiety, trouble forming relationships, trusting people. The death marks the end of their childhood, and separates the world into “before” and “after”.  Who they become, who they choose as a partner, how they view the world, are all shaped by the loss of the parent.   The child has no language to make sense of a parent’s death.  Abraham Lincoln, who was nine when his mother died, wrote that sorrow comes ‘with bitterest agony’ to children because it ‘takes them unawares.’

The Death of Celana    

        The biggest loss of all came in 1840.  On April 21, Celana gave birth to Henry Harrison, Ira, Jr.’s first (and what would turn out to be his only) son.  Four weeks later, on May 25, Celana died. (Twenty-four years later, Almon, Celena’s brother-in-law would be buried next to her.)

        With no grandmothers, or nearby aunts, to help, Amanda became a surrogate mother to her three sisters and her newborn baby brother.

         Five months after Celena’s death, Ira married Olive Fuller, Oct. 1, 1840, who died Jan 22, 1843.

        Ira then married Mary Ward (daughter of Thomas and Ruth (Lord) Ward of Westfield, Vt.), and they had seven more daughters: Mary (1843), Lovila Lucinda (1848), Mahala (1850), Eva Ruth (1853), Emma Augusta (1855), Lydia Clark (1859), and Clara Ida (1864).

Amanda’s First Marriage

          Amanda married Hiram H. Farnham, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, on January 1, 1856, in Haverhill.  It is not known when and where they met.  Hiram’s parents, Barachias and Lucina Moxley Farnham were living in Craftsbury, Vermont, only about ten miles from where Amanda grew up, so Amanda might have met Hiram in Vermont, when he was living with his parents, or when he was visiting them, or they might have met in Massachusetts.  It is possible that Amanda joined the thousands of young women from New England who went to work in in the textile mills of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Hiram was working as a shoemaker in Haverhill, a leading center of the shoe industry.

            Amanda and Hiram’s first child, Albert, was born on April 21, 1857.  (Note: Henry Colburn’s birthday was also April 21.)  Amanda and Hiram’s second son, Frederick, was born September 2, 1858, but he died on March 9, 1860.  The cause of death is listed as “water on the brain.”  

           Frederick’s death seemed to have been the impetus for Amanda to leave Hiram, as noted in the first part of the divorce record below.  The divorce proceedings were initiated in June or July of 1865 and finalized in November of 1865. The information is included here as it defines the details of what led to the separation. 

—– Haverhill town records:

AMANDA’S DIVORCE RECORD FROM HIRAM H. FARNHAM

FARNHAM, LIBLT. V. FARNHAM

November, 1865

“Amanda M. Farnham, wife of Hiram H. Farnham, of Haverhill (Massachusetts) in the county of Essex, by her petition represents, that she was married to said Farnham on the thirty first day of January A.D. 1856, at said Haverhill, by Rev. Albert H. Martyn, and that she and said Farnham lived together as husband and wife at said Haverhill till on or about the fifteenth day of March, A.D. 1860; that she has always been faithful to her marriage obligations, and a kind and faithful wife to said Farnham, but that said Hiram H. regardless of his marriage obligations, did during the time of their living together as aforesaid at said Haverhill treat her with extreme cruelty and neglect and at various times inflicted abuse and blows upon her, and particularly in November 1859 and during January and February 1860 he the said Farnham did beat and in various ways abuse her his said wife and refused and neglected to support her and the two children of said Hiram H. and herself, and refused to pay the rent of the tenement in which they lived, or to pay the funeral expenses of the youngest child of herself and said Farnham, which said child deceased on the 9th of March A.D. 1860.  And the libellant further represents that on or about the fifteenth day of March A.D. 1860 she left said Farnham, being compelled to do so by his extreme cruelty and gross neglect, as aforesaid, and for five consecutive years and more, to wit, from that time to the day of the date of this libel, has lived separate and maintained herself and the surviving child of herself and said Hiram H. Farnham, without assistance from him the said Hiram H.”

—-Haverhill Town Records

 Manda        

         Amanda left Hiram on March 15, 1860, but didn’t return to Vermont until June, 1861.  In-between, she is listed in the 1860 Census as Manda Farnham, age 28, living in the same house with Henry and Almira Pike family, in Haverhill, Mass.  Henry Pike was a shoemaker.  Henry’s father, Stephen, Amanda, and an eighteen year old girl, Johnnie Evans, from Ireland, were binding shoes for Henry.

         With the start of the war, Amanda returned home.

The Call to War

      Josiah Grout, (who would become a member of the Vermont Cavalry), was attending attending the Orleans Liberal Institute at Glover, and wrote:

            “The first patriotic outburst I recall was at Glover, where I was attending school. When the news of the surrender of Sumter reached that place, the post office was crowded with students and residents awaiting the arrival of the mail. When it came one of the fathers read from the Boston Journal that Fort Sumter had surrendered to the Confederacy. Following the reading there was deep silence. Finally one of the party, seized a broom, mounted the counter, and said, “Boys, let us give three cheers for the old flag!” The cheers were given with a zest, repeated with a tiger, and the crowd moved out of doors for a better opportunity to shake off the spell. One of the company said that he could not see why we cheered, that he felt more like crying over such news. The one who wanted to cry did not enlist.”

—-Josiah Grout, Memoir of Gen’l William Wallace Grout and Autobiography of Josiah Grout, 1919, pg 218-241.

The Orleans Liberal Institute, Glover village, undated photo

(Courtesy of Glover Historical Society)

A Family in Trouble

     “In the summer of 1861, left alone with her little boy and in poor health, she returned to the old home to find the family in great trouble.  Henry, her brother, had enlisted in the 3rd Vermont Regiment, thereupon she left her child with her parents, and followed her brother; partly to relieve the great anxiety respecting the only son, partly from a desire to help in the struggle just at hand.  Enlisting at Saint Johnsbury, on July 5, 1861, she was enrolled as a member of the 3rd Vermont Regiment, and appointed hospital matron.”

—-Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, pg. 96

The First Recruits

“Among the first to be credited to this town we find the names of Almon J. Colburn, Henry H Colburn, Ireneni  [sic] F. Gage and Loren J. Flood.  All of these were young men of about 20 years of age, and they enlisted together on June I, 1861, in company B of the Third Regiment. Only two survived to see the noble cause they espoused triumphant, viz., Henry H. Colburn, who was severely wounded and Irenens [sic] P. Gage. Of the others Almon J. Colburn died in hospital in Vermont Feb 18, 1864 and Loren J Flood was killed in connection with the battles of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864.”

—-Hemenway, Abby , The History of Orleans County, compiled by Pliny White 1882, pg. 201

 Chapter Two – Mustering In

In 1861 Amanda becomes the hospital matron for the Vermont 3rd Infantry after mustering in at St. Johnsbury Vermont. They arrive in Washington D.C. in July of 1861 and soon “see the elephant”. The first skirmishes occur while sickness and disease became rampant. Amanda’s skills quickly become essential to the regiments well being.