Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
This is a book that I’ve basically been looking for, for years. Although it has very interesting chapters, state by state, on the settlement of the American Midwest and West by Yankees from New England, I mainly like it for its poignant description of the depopulation of upland New England, which is relevant to my genealogical background (see “About” page of this blog).
This topic is also very poignantly covered by Robert Frost, claimed by my hometown of Lawrence because he went to high school there. See, for example, his poetry collection “North of Boston”. The dialect spoken by Frost, which can be heard on recordings of him, to me really captures the North-of-Bostonregional dialect, now nearly lost. A topic to be explored in another blog entry...
Here are some good quotes from Yankee Exodus.
“My interest in migration from New England began some forty years ago, when I first became conscious of the many deserted hill farms in my native Vermont, and in New Hampshire where I also lived. The old cellar holes, the orchards being slowly throttled by encroaching forest, moved me deeply. I had a fairly good idea of what had gone into the making of those hill farms and homes; and the fact that they had been abandoned, after a century or more, seemed to me a great tragedy. It still does.”
“In good time I myself joined the exodus, and though I visit there almost annually, for thirty years and more I have lived outside New England. Everywhere I went, I met native Yankees or the descendants of Yankees; and came to the conclusion, in no way original, that Yankees must have had a good deal with the civilizing the United States lying west of Lake Champlain and the Berkshires; and, of more importance, had perhaps exerted an influence in those foreign parts immensely greater than was commonly believed and also all out of proportion to their numbers.”
These quotes were from the book’s Foreword.
The actual start of the book, chapter 1 (called “Melancholy on a Hill”) is also amazing:
“The Hill, my great-grandfather had said, produces the best maple honey in Vermont and the biggest supply of material for stone fences you could imagine. He always had plenty of one, and far too much of the other.
When he went there, a little after the end of the Revolution, with the truly appalling idea of clearing a farm in the forest, the entire hill was enveloped with the immense hush of an illimitable wilderness.
Now, a century and a half later, the silence is returning, along wit the wilderness that is marching from the edges of the old fields and pastures straight across and up and down, swallowing miles of stone fences, tearing pastures straight across and up and down, swallowing the miles of stone fences…”
The first chapter captures exactly the tenor and detail I’ve been looking for to describe life in, and then the slow depopulatingfrom, upland new England.
“They all came to call on their fellow Vermonters – the Dorreliates, the Perfectionists, the Christians (from near-by Lyndon); and so, too, the Anti-masons, the antinicotine forces, the Temperance shouters; the hydro therapists, the anticalomelmen, the hosts of assorted Sabbatarians, the sellers of lightning rods. So, also, the Abolitionists, the Friends of Liberia, the vegetarians, the Grahamites, the Thomsonians, the homeopaths.”
“And when the times became dreadfully hard, and Yankees in their desperation started to make gadgets and such for sale to other Yankees – because they had no other market – this house resounded to the heralds of tin calf weaners and Seth Thomas’s clocks, of mouth-organs and parent water-watches, of soapstone stoves and Thayer’s Slippery Elm Lozenges. Once, at least, came a persuasive man who sold mulberry bushes, complete with worms, on which, he vowed, any hill farmer could make a fortune from silk.”