Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cornelius Van Houten Ryerson's Flight from Labor on the Mandeville Farm

Visit from St. Nicholas. Illus. by Louis PrangImage via WikipediaHappy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

It is my extreme privilege on this day to offer to you this story provided to us by Pequannock's Official Township Historian, Councilman Ed Engelbart:

A CHRISTMAS STORY 1854

The following Christmas story was brought to light in an April 25th, 1930 Paterson Evening News newspaper interview by an unknown reporter with an aged Civil War veteran, named Cornelius Van Houten Ryerson -86 years old (born in 1844) - of Meads Basin, Mountain View ( present-day Wayne,N.J.) -who recalled his labors as a 10 year old farm boy in Pompton Plains in 1854. The article came from Sidney Ryerson Sauter, the great nephew of Cornelius Ryerson. It is a story that brings out the reality of early 19th century farming in "Old" Pequannock Township and the often harsh and non-romanticized nature of rural life that could be part of young child's life. ~ Ed Engelbart, Pequannock Township Historian

"Boys went to work at an early age in those days," said Mr. Ryerson. When I was ten years old I was working around Peter Van Dyne's farm, doing odd chores around the place when Anthony Mandeville of Pompton Plains happened along and told me that he was looking for a good boy to work on his farm. I told him that I was that boy if the job was steady." "Mr. Mandeville took me up to my dad’s house, for you know in those days boys could not be hired out for any length of time unless papers were drawn up. So papers were drawn whereby Anthony Mandeville was to have my services for a year in return for which he was to board, clothes and provide school for me. Well I got board all right, but no clothes and no schooling, but by ginger, I worked for that board until I got tired and home sick.  I was there most of the year and I had not been allowed to visit my parents once and when Christmas Eve came along I decided to run away home. I will never forget it. We had heavy snow in those days and when I started from the Mandeville farm I had not proceeded far when I heard Mr. Mandeville corning after me. I dug my way into a snow bank until he passed and then came out and continued my hike through the deep snow toward Mountain View and home. When I finally reached the Wayne section I stopped at the log cabin of an old colored mammy. My feet were soaking wet and I was tired and hungry. You know, many farmers in North Jersey had their slaves in those days. This old colored lady had been a slave. She invited me in and not only gave me a meal but took the cloths which I had wrapped around my feet; warmed them up for me and helped me rewrap the old porous pair of rubber boots that I had been wearing with nice warm cloths. I managed to get to my dad's place where I am now living. It is Prospect avenue now, but then it was called Hopper Hill. How happy I was and my parents and brothers and sisters, they were all so glad to think I would be with them on Christmas Day. You know we did not make presents in those days. Of course we had a Christmas tree. Dad would got out in the woods and cut down a native cedar. There were no ornaments at the time. We made our own Christmas tree decorations. Colored paper, strings of pop-corn and homegrown apples or pears were the extent of our tree trimmings."

"Had the roads been passable Dad would have driven to the Mandeville farm after Christmas and have it out with Tony Mandeville for the way he had treated me, but the drifts were too high and it was a few days later I got a job at the Peter Mandeville farm where I get $50 a year, board, clothing and schooling. Well I stayed the year, got my board and I certainly earned it. Received about two weeks school, but never got my $50. I hear a lots of the old boys say. "If the boys of today had to work like that they would be better off. Well, I don't just believe that. In the first place I am darn glad the boys of today don't have to go through any such experiences and in the second ...place this country is producing mighty good boys today as they have done and always will do."


Later at the age of seventeen, he told "a little white lie about his age, " and enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil war - that required an legal age of eighteen for enlistment - often ignored by recruiters. Cornelius said he was influenced by the recruiter who said, "We are here to enlist men for Uncle Sam.," who came with a fifer and drummer playing "Yankee Doodle" and the "Star Spangled Banner."  Cornelius Ryerson fought in the battles of Williamsburg and Fredericksburg, Virginia and at the decision battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He received a bullet in the leg at Fredericksburg, and slight gunshot wounds at Gettysburg. He is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. Anthony Mandeville is buried in the Cemetery of First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains. Unfortunately, the Christmas story doesn't give the name and burial site of the former slave woman, a woman of great and unexpected kindness.  ~ Ed Engelbart, Pequannock Township Historian

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Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock EnvironmentalHistoric District, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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