EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second installment in our year-long examination of the adventures of Knox County farmer Harvey Devoe, who kept a diary for the year 1861, which has been annotated and published by historian Alan Borer and is available through online retailers. Harvey's spelling and punctuation have been left as they originally appear in the diary.
February in central Ohio was no more glamorous in 1861 than it is now. Harvey Devoe noted that the weather was rainy to start the month as he trekked to the post office in Fredericktown.
The next day he passed through mud three inches deep as he went to Markley's Woods to go squirrel hunting. The most likely location for this was the S. B. Markley farm located less than a mile west of Harvey's farm, up Isaac's Run, approximately where Roberts Road crosses the creek.
“Saw a few squirrels but kiled none of them,” Harvey noted.
The weather varied between freezing and thawing the next few days. On Feb. 5, he bought a hog from his cousin George Painter, who lived over the county line into Richland County. He notes the roads were again very muddy, but offers no details about how he transported the hog back home.
February 7 saw the weather turn much colder with snow. Harvey notes on Friday, Feb. 8, that Samuel Leedy's house burned down that bitterly cold morning.
Annotator Alan Borer transcribes Leedy's entry as “8o below zero,” which I believe is supposed to be read as 8-degrees below zero and not 80. Still very cold. Leedy was a farmer and Dunkard minister who lived on the Richland County side of the border where Leedy Road crosses Old Mansfield Road, north of Ankenytown.
Leedy survived the fire and lived until 1875.
A thaw set in during the second week of the month. While Harvey enjoyed the warmth, one day taking a walk in the woods and another day successfully squirrel hunting, the warmth brought health problems.
“I had a fit of ague in the Eavening,” Harvey wrote on Feb. 14.
“Ague” is the term used in those days for malaria, which plagued the frontier until swamps were drained and modern mosquito control methods were devised. The illness would periodically attack farmers with waves of fatigue and fever.
The following day Harvey notes that he wrote a letter to E. Cowles of Cleveland and mailed it. Alan Borer notes that there was a publisher named Edwin Cowles in Cleveland. If Harvey was attempting to get something published, he offered no further details about it. If he did want to become a published author, he'd no doubt be bemused to find that his diary is now available for sale and being read and discussed by historians!
The weather soon turned snowy, and on the 16th, Harvey and his wife had a surprise visitor, a young German immigrant traveling through the area. He stopped at their house and asked if they had any work he could do in exchange for a meal. Thus equipped, he immediately headed off despite the snow.
The snow was so heavy on the 17th that Harvey spent the day around the house reading books and papers, though, alas, he doesn't name any titles. The next day he went to Batemantown to visit his cousin J. “Lewkins” (probably the name we today spell “Lukens”). On the way there, Harvey saw a fox cross the road, and he grabbed his rifle and tracked it for two hours, never finding the crafty creature.
The next few days were mundane, with time spent “choping wood.” For excitement, Harvey went to the Ankenytown Exhibition. No description of this event exists, but perhaps it involved speeches and discussions, for Harvey tells us it didn't turn out well in his diary entry for Friday the 22nd.
“Went to the ankenytown Exhibition in the eavening and it turned out to be a perfect Bore ... and a Fizle ... and came near to being a row..”
A “row” (pronounced to rhyme with “cow”) is an old British term for a fight. Not knowing what else it could have been about, dare we guess it was politics? That one never fails to get people riled up, then and now.
The month ended with the start of maple sugaring. Before the cheap and easy availability of processed, refined sugar, making maple sugar and syrup from the sap of sugar maple trees was an incredibly important farming activity. Harvey notes that he and a friend set up a sugaring camp at Mr. Raice's property and tapped the trees with spiles. Unlike today's vacuum tubes, old-time sap collection involved letting buckets fill with sap and then carrying the buckets to the boiling trough.
The up-and-down freezing and thawing weather of February 1861 was perfect for the production of syrup. Though Harvey gives no details, it was likely a simple camp with an open fire for boiling the sap down to make syrup.
Next month's installment will offer us a few more clues about the nature of the sugar camp.