Bidwell Lore – Reenacting an Early American Life, Part IV

Welcome to week 73 of Bidwell Lore! We continue below with the final installment of the series “Reenacting an Early American Life” by our guest columnist, the esteemed Samuel Knight Professor of American History Emeritus at Yale University,  John Demos. This week Demos finishes the narrative as 1779 turns to 1780.  For today’s installment, we share  December 30, 31 and January 1, 2. To read the previous three installments, a week in April 1752 and December 27-29, 1779, head HEREHERE and HERE.

Dining table at Bidwell House Museum set with wine glasses, plates, a porcelain bowl, a wine bottle and 2 porringers

Section 4 – December 30, 1779 – January 2, 1780
30 (Thursday)…

Weather mild, but colder toward evening. Came at breakfast Mrs. Sarah (wife of Mr. Noah) Warren about her joining ye church. She passes examination freely, as to knowledge and hopeful experience (1). Visited Mr. Abijah Merrill (who was prayed for yesterday) being confined by various disorders. Stopped at five of ye houses in that corner, as far as Mr. Patten, where I dined.
P.M. Sent to New Haven by Abijah Markham my order for crown chairs. Lieut. Brewer returns from Boston. Informs us that two thirds of the people of this state appear to accept ye plan & form of government which ye convention had drawn up and recommended, and that some very important letters from the Congress and General Washington had arrived and recommended most immediate and vigorous exertions in raising men and furnishing provisions for ye army. This morning our neighbor Mrs. Sarah Spaulding who has been a long time very miserable was delivered of a fine large boy, to our great rejoicing. Blessed be God, ye God of salvation, and may he perfect her recovery. Mrs. Bidwell in attendance with ye midwife. I have for a great while thought of repeating my sermon on Matthew 3, 10, which was preached above 30 years ago. I undertook it today, though with alterations and additions.

31 (Friday)…Cloudy, cold, snow toward eve.
A.M. Mrs. B Kills 5 geese and 6 dunghill fowls for market with ye pork. For it appears necessary to make some money of what we raise that we may be able to purchase what is wanting in other respects. Mr. How & Mr. Slater came to inform me that it is very much desired by considerable numbers in ye town that my salary contribution be further put back, pleading ye extraordinary expense of ye war. (2) I replied that I had preached in this town four years past for which I have received no reward. And how irksome was the coldness of ye meetinghouse, especially in ye winter season, by reason of ye broken windows that were not boarded up as they might have been with little cost. So tedious was it to sit there that people said they could not attend the meeting, and perhaps sometimes there wouldn’t be above 10 or 12 hearers, so that I had principally to preach to empty seats, which was a discouragement to me. They said they would take it into consideration, and went away in some hurry.
P.M. Mr. Amos Rice goes with his team to Hartford and takes our geese, etc. for marketing. Town meeting about soldiers. Voted two companies to raise men to go into the war—15 to be completed for six months, and there are orders for 14 for three months. Came Lieut. John Forbes of Pittsfield here, and brings me a folio letter from Mr. Cabot, ye minister there, opening ye prophecies in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and ye Revelation of ye end times, as he conjectures ye present times in American to be. At evening  had reflections on ye year past, with praise for preservation and numberless benefits. Humiliation and penitence for deficiencies and miscarriages. May a gracious & merciful God teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart to true wisdom.

A wooded path covered in deep snow at the Bidwell House Museum in spring of 2018

January 1, 1780 (Sat)…
If I had heretofore great cause to bless and praise ye name of God for his wonderful mercy in my family’s preservation, what have I now—to be permitted to begin a New Year. I would celebrate His praises with all hearty gratitude. And in special His favoring me with ye necessaries and so many of ye comforts of life. But in peculiar for protracting ye means of grace, and ye blessed influence of ye Holy Spirit. We woke this A.M. to find prodigious snow all about ye house and town. Travel exceedingly difficult;  I went in ye sleigh with my son to Capt. Merriam where his manservant Eleazer Thomas was reported to lay at ye point of death, but ye drifts so deep we were obliged to turn back. May God forbear. Mr. Samuel Townsend and his wife were expected here to dine with us, but could not appear.
P.M. Snow abates but commences again toward eve. People are chiefly employed in breaking roads, providing for their fires, taking care of cattle, etc. But ye Lord pity ye poor and exposed. I read ye life of ye celebrated Erasmus in Biographical Dictionary.

2 (Sun.)…
Ye Sabbath; a very dismal morning; much more snow has fallen. It was atop the red fence before my house by ye storm yesterday; it is now higher, and ye front gate is not to be seen. God has treasures of snow, and hail, and wind! Power belongeth unto God! Exceeding difficult getting to meeting, though ye distance be but little. Though I had prepared an exercise, yet it not being calculated for ye season I did not use it. I was in doubt whether there would be a meeting, but a few came upon racketts, (3) and I preached what remained from the last Sabbath on Psalms 39, 4, A.M. & P.M., for I was obliged for my own sake and for ye sake ye people to be exceeding brief. A number of men came to my kitchen at noon. We dined as we could, and I shortened ye intermission. Storm rages in ye afternoon. I am almost ready to conclude that there has not been so much snow on ye ground at a time ever since ye great storm of 1717. T’is difficult to compute ye height or depth of it. My sons Adonijah and Barnabas and my steers join with a number of ye street neighbors with cattle and shovels to break ye roads. Besides the snowing and blowing the cold is very intense. May God pity and relieve us, and also support and provide for ye poor! Who can stand before thy cold! The life of Mr. James Watkins is much doubted of, but I have no racketts nor strength to go far as to visit him. Send my love and sympathy by those who (eight of ‘em) draw on an hand sled his two daughters French and Brown, to see him before he dies. My heart is much with him. At eve I read to my family part of Mr. Hooker’s Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ. N.B. All ye pains taken about breaking roads are in great measure frustrated. Very few can stir abroad at all.

Next week we will share a story about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Laurel Cottage in Stockbridge.

(1) In order to become a fully accredited member of a New England church congregation, it was necessary to demonstrate a certain level of spiritual fitness. Typically, this involved questioning by the town minister.
(2) This reflects an actual situation, as noted in the Tyringham Town Records. During the years of the Revolutionary War Rev. Bidwell’s annual salary was “deferred” so the town might contribute as fully as possible to the expense of the military effort. He was unwilling, but had no apparent recourse.
(3)Racketts is a period word for snowshoes.