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  • Ancestral Hometowns III: Enfield, Massachusetts in 1865

    Philip S. Thayer

    Published Date : August 1987
     In the spring of 1865, the Civil War was drawing to a close, the mills of Enfield were humming, and Reuben Thayer started a daybook.  That summer, while he was selling milk, eggs, potatoes, vinegar, and other produce of his modest farm to a number of fellow townsmen and women, agents Charles Richards and John L. Wilson went throughout the town taking the state census.

    Enfield, abolished in 1938, and now under Quabbin Reservoir, was perhaps a typical mill village of the period, having almost equal populations of farmers (133) and mill hands (111), as well as the expected cast of supporting service workers (Table 1).  One of the bigger mills, the Swift River Company, was located in the upper village, usually called Smith’s Village in honor of the proprietors of that mill, and owners of much of the real estate near it.  The commercial center was at the main village, Enfield proper, where there was a hotel, a saloon, two boarding-houses, livery stable, printer, post office, and two churches.  There were several other mills there, drawing power as did the Smith’s mill from the Swift River’s East Branch.

    The farmers and tradesmen were almost entirely Massachusetts natives, but the mills were beginning to attract large numbers of foreign-born, notably Irish, with a sprinkling from other countries (Table 2).  The total population was 997, or 231 families.  Of these, 827 were natives of Massachusetts, 59 from other states (led by Vermont with 21 and Connecticut with 17), and ill foreign-born, including 85 from Ireland.  There was one Black in the town, a young man of 15, born in Virginia, and living in the household of Josiah Woods, manufacturer, proprietor of one of the mills.  His story might bear investigation.

    The mills employed a modest number of skilled workmen, some of them foreign-born (weavers were traditionally Scottish or English), and the expected predominance of young men and women as mill hands.  There were a few older mill hands but. 36 percent were below the age of 20 (Table 3).  The youngest were 10 and 11, presumably employed as “bobbin-boys.”  There were never large numbers of French Canadian workers in Enfield, perhaps because of its relative remoteness and small size.  The number of persons reported as unable to read or write was 33, and there were two blind persons,. one deaf person, and one deaf mute.

    Reuben Thayer had apparently moved to Enfield from Belchertown, where he was born on his father’s farm, to try his hand in the industrial. revolution.  He is listed in the 1850 census as “manufacturer” and in the 1855 census as “weaver.”  However, by 1860 he was again a farmer, and in 1865 he was selling produce to a variety of customers.  The daybook was kept for only a few months, but it tells us a little about his life and the town.  From the names in his daybook and the census records, many of the customers can be identified: mill hands, widows, a manufacturer, carpenter, wool sorter, butcher’s wife, blacksmith, and an occasional farmer.

    His prices might be of interest.  For milk he charged six cents a quart, butter 40 cents a pound, eggs 25 cents a dozen, vinegar 25 cents a gallon, and potatoes from the new fall crop (28 bushels sold), 80 cents a bushel.  In April he slaughtered a hog, and sold 94 pounds of pork at 18 cents a pound.  A small crop of turnips was harvested in the fall, and 8½ bushels were sold at 50 cents per bushel.  The volume of milk and butter sold suggests that he had only one cow, two at the most.  Probably no more than a half dozen hens would provide eggs for home use and the two to three dozen eggs sold each month.

    His purchases are also detailed and include household staples, rent of a postal box, fish (including a shad in May, 50 cents), tripe, veal, shoe-i ing of a horse, mending a scythe, etc. The largest single expenditure was $7.75 “for 12 gals. Moonshine on the Frog Pond”!

    Genealogically speaking, his most interesting customer was Clark Sampson, who took a quart of milk a day, and paid regularly at the end of the. month.  The census shows that Sampson was 62, living with his wife Lucretia, 61, and a “Mattie Leonard, 13.”  At that time, Reuben Thayer’s son, Reuben Lewis Thayer, was 16, and called a “clerk” by the census-takers.  Three years later, R. L. Thayer married Martha Leonard, and they eventually became my grandparents.  Clark and Lucretia (Hanson) Sampson were Mattie’s grandparents.  Mattie’s mother, Vironne Antoinette (Sampson) Leonard, had died a few months after Mattie’s birth.  I visualize the young Mattie meeting the serious young clerk when her grandparents sent her to fetch the milk.


    Note:          Reuben Thayer’s daybook was inherited by the author’s father, Clark Leonard Thayer.  The author’s patrilineal line is Clark L.10, Reuben L.9, Reuben8 Hezekiah7, Reuben6, Hezekiah5-4, Nathaniel3, Richard 2-1 Thayer.  Social historian Dr. Philip S. Thayer is a regular contributor to the NEXUS.

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