BACON – SPENCER FAMILIES
in Bingham township
By Willard A. Bacon
Photo and Text Submitted by Kevin D. Bacon
Ira and Naomi (Bennett) Bacon
Ah! Well do I remember the old family homestead; the old house standing in a little clearing of two or three acres; the whole surrounded by a dense forest of hemlock, maple, beech, cherry, ash and pine. That old structure, simple as it was, afforded a home for eleven children, four of whom were born there.
Coming from York State with his wife and family of seven children, our
father established this little home and so began the pioneer life of the
Bacon family in Bingham, Potter County, Pennsylvania.
The house was built of rough logs, chinked on the inside and plastered on the outside, with mud. At one end was the big fireplace where the cooking was done. I can see it all so plainly, after all these years; the crane that swung over the fire, the old tin oven and the bake kettles; these were the implements of cookery; but when we had spare rib, Mother hung it up before the fireplace by a tow string, and when she had worked her will with it, it was eating fit for a king.
The house was about sixteen by twenty five feet, and at the end farthest from the fire stood two beds, under which through the day, was placed the trundle beds for the younger children, while in the garret, which we reached by means of a ladder, were the sleeping quarters of the older boys. Oh yes, I remember that old garret, and how we often found our beds covered with snow, when we awoke in the morning; but that must have been good for us, for we were a healthy, robust lot of youngsters.
Then there was the old spring; it headed up near the state line, then made its way down between the house and barn, across the road and emptied into the Mundy brook. There was a trout stream for you; that Mundy brook. There was where we boys used to go a-fishing, and those days we could could catch them, and all we could carry home too.
One time when they were lads, Henry and Fredus went with a cousin of ours, Abner Martin, over on the Genesee river a-fishing, and caught so many fish that they had to string them on a pole, and it took two boys to carry them home. So much for the fishing in those days.
1. Going “pigeoning” was a favorite sport when we were young. The
pigeons came into the woods, some nine or ten miles from where we lived,
in the spring to nest. Squabs were a great delicacy, then as much as
they are now a days; and we were anxious to secure enough to supply
our own wants, and get enough to give our neighbors, and couldn’t go
Father was a carpenter and millwright, and was therefore a great deal from home; that left the family almost wholly to Mother’s care, and it was she who taught us the rudiments of work and right living; and so well did she succeed, that none of all her eight boys ever became habitual users of tobacco, strong drink, or profane language, and we certainly knew how to work. As an instance W. A. Bacon cut fifteen acres of buckwheat, with a cradle, in a day and a half and Zera O. Bacon set it up after him. That seemed like something of a day’s work, when three acres is considered as a fair day’s work, when using a cradle. Also, Willard A. Bacon at one time sheared seventy eight sheep in one day and got done at five o’clock. And each one of the seven might tell a good story of many a big day’s work well done.
Her three daughters were good, industrious, God fearing women, who were expert housekeepers, and not afraid to try their hands at almost any kind of work. It was owing to her teachings, as well as our father’s counsels, that we were brought through the temptations of youth, and were landed safely on the shores of manhood and womanhood.
2. Schooling. The first school we attended was in an old log building, furnished, as almost all houses in those times were, with a huge fireplace in one end, and the desks placed along the sides. The desks were made by boring holes into the logs, driving into them long wooden pins and fastening boards to them. The seats were slabs, with wooden pins for legs.
There we sat with our faces to the wall, with nothing to see but our books and the bare walls. I never knew just why the room was so arranged, unless ‘twas so the teacher could get a better chance at us. Our studies, I remember, were, “Readin’, ‘ritin, an’ ‘rithintic, Taught to the end of a hickory stick,” only they used beech, if I remember right, and I think I do.
In those days, reading and arithmetic were taught very much as they are today in the district schools, and writing too for that matter; only they knew nothing of the steel pens of today. We used a quill pen; goose quill mostly, and the “master” had to be good at making them. In fact, we all took a hand at it with more or less success. The inks, too, were often made at home.
To these three studies they added geography, grammar and spelling, and when one had mastered these, he had an education fit to teach any district school.
Sometimes the acquiring of an education, was attended by some difficulties. One summer was very dry. The leaves withered and died on trees and the grass turned brown and crackled under our feet. The crops were short and there was practically no hay in the country, and father had five or six head of stock to winter. I was fourteen or fifteen years old at the time, and Zera O. and myself used to get up early in the morning, go into the woods and cut down trees and trim them up so the cattle could get to them easily to browse on the twigs. This was done every morning before school, and we brought them all through the winter as slick as moles; besides adding materially to our knowledge of the “three R’s”.
As time passed, the United States schoolhouse took the place of the ancient log building. This stood on the line, half in Pennsylvania and half in New York. This fact gave it a great name and it was famous all over that section of the country, and in that school was taught forty or fifty as sturdy boys and girls as one could find in all the country round. Besides the Bacons, there were the Spencers, the Briggses, Robbinses, Neals, and Howes; and none went to the bad. They never needed a whiskey bottle to help them have a good time, and they never lacked for entertainment either.
The teachers they hired in those days were much different from the teachers now a days. Then, they ruled by fear, and the whip and ferule were very much in evidence. The first thing they did was to get the ill will of the children, although they didn’t call it by that name.
There was a man by the name of Crandell who taught our school and had a fight with Fredus Bacon, because Fredus told him he wasn’t afraid of screech owls, if they did roost in Whitesville (Crandell’s home). It ended with Fredus being master and Crandell agreed to behave himself.
3. One Teacher of note. Among other teachers good and bad was Elder Hudson, who married our cousin, Ruth Spencer. He was peculiarly constituted, in that he would almost rather die than give an inch, so we had to toe the mark. He was very “strict”, which word meant much in those days. I remember one incident that seemed very funny to me, though the other boy did not seem to enjoy it as much as I did. He was a seat mate of mine and he was always standing up and clawing over me and I got tired of it, so I sharpened a peg and put it on the seat so when he sat down he wouldn’t be apt to miss it and he didn’t. He struck it full force, jumped and yelled like a baseball enthusiast. The Elder grabbed him by the collar and churned him up and down on the seat, which did not help matters much for him. Someway it still seems very funny to me, though I doubt if he remembers it with a smile.
The Spencers were related to us on Mother’s side of the house;
Mother’s sister, Lydia Bennet having married Alvin Spencer, and their
lives were so interwoven with ours, that we can hardly speak of one
without mentioning the other. The two families, for years, lived about
a mile apart and so we were often at their house, while they were frequent
visitors at our house. They had nine children, six sturdy sons and three
daughters. Delany, the oldest daughter, was a cripple, so aunt Lydia
always had one girl at home, as she never married.
Aunt Lydia’s oldest son, William, married Lucy Howe, and their oldest son Neltson Spencer married sister Emily’s daughter, Clarentine Briggs. Their first child had four grandparents and seven great grandparents. Also, William Spencer’s grand daughter married Willard Bacon’s youngest son, Zera. Thus, the two families were united by stronger ties than those of cousinly regard.
Luke Spencer went west to practice law, choosing New Richmond, Wisconsin
for his future home, and it was there he contracted pneumonia and died,
and was buried among strangers.
Aunt Lydia and uncle Alvin and their sons and daughters are all gone, but their descendants to the fifth generation, many of them, live near the old home, though some are scattered through the west.
Henry Bacon told this story of a logging bee for uncle Strait, who lived on the farm now known as the Curt Baker farm, which he was then clearing. The ox yoke broke so they couldn’t use that team, as there was not another yoke to be had, so the boys took handspikes and hitched themselves onto the chain and drew the logs together that way. He said, “It was great fun, for we were young and even hard work was made into fun. We were a husky lot of youngsters I can tell you”.
A good story was told of Franklin the oldest son, which, although it
occurred after he went west, will bear repeating. After he came to Wisconsin
he did a good deal of teaming, and on one of his trips he stopped at a
small stream, cut a hole in the ice and watered his team.
The first wedding was that of sister Emily, who married James Briggs. Although the first married, she was younger than Franklin, therefore he must dance in the hog-trough. He was assisted by uncle David Bacon, who furnished the trough, and acted as best man at that ceremony.
5. The second girl and fifth child, Barbara, was the one who most resembled Mother. She was a lively girl, and no one presumed to be dull when she was around. One time while visiting her friend Polly Lawton, later the wife of Henry Bacon, she, girl fashion, thought it would be fun to decide which would be married first, by tying their big toes together, and letting the string break while they slept; the one having the shortest string would be the first to find a husband. Unfortunately the string refused to break, when Barbara, forgetting she was tied, exclaimed, “Wait a minute, I’ll run and get the shears!” As she spoke, she gave a flying leap from the bed, and nearly tore their toes out by the roots. So they finally sent down for the shears and cut the string, leaving time to decide the question.
John and Ira Bacon, with their nephew, Clarence Briggs, went a harvesting
one summer for a man who was noted for his backwardness in paying his hired
help, although he was abundantly able to do so. The boys were young and
went into the field with the intention of doing a big day’s work, and they
did it. The man had promised them their pay as soon as their work was done;
but when, tired and hungry, they finished, he began to make excuses for
not having the money on hand. He said a neighbor owed him, and had promised
him the money, but had disappointed him, but as soon as the neighbor paid
up, he would surely pay them.
Another time, Ira and Clarence were working near Harmontown for Neltson
Spencer, pealing hemlock bark, which was used for tanning leather.
6. Father, although getting well along in years, still worked at his trade. The last mill he built was on the Genesee river near Perryville, now called Hickox, in the township of Genesee, Potter County, Pennsylvania. As I was looking over one of his old account books, I found where Henry Bacon worked with him and together they built a mill for Levi Annis. Many were the mills he built and repaired along the streams that empty into the Genesee and Allegheny rivers.
The boys, as they grew old enough, most of them followed their father’s trade and were carpenters, but he excelled them all in fine work, some of which may be seen to this day in old mills, which were long since deserted and are now falling to decay.
The first great loss to the family, occurred when David, a child of twelve, was stricken with a malignant fever, while visiting his brother Henry. His visit was cut short, when he complained of being sick and wanted to go home. His brother took him home, where he lived only about a week, and died June 11, 1854, aged twelve years two months and six days.
The next was Fredus, who went west and enlisted, near the first of the
war, in the famous Eagle regiment, the 8th Wisconsin. While serving in
that regiment he was killed by the accidental discharge of a comrade’s
rifle, and he sleeps where he fell, at New Madrid, Missouri. He fell March
After the children were, most of them, in homes of their own, Father and Mother decided that they were too old to run the farm, so Zera took the homestead, married and settled there, and they lived with him.
Several years later, on June 21, 1868, Father died, very suddenly, while
on a business trip.
7. At the time Mother left us, the children were all scattered, some to the, then, far west, others to neighboring towns, none remaining but Zera, who still lived in the old home; but the family have always been closely united by that tie of brotherly and sisterly love that we were taught at Mother’s knee.
As Mariah Bacon Humphrey so often used to say, “We do love our folks”. The fact is we are clannish and glory in it. “God bless us all”.
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