The Day's Work
Old Time Tales of Warren County


The Day's Work

How hard they worked, that's the thing that impresses most of all a collector of old time tales. As he travels about, talking with one very old person after another, he meets with it at every turn, the simple recounting of early lives spent at labor, the like of which the world now knoweth not, at least this section of the world. One cannot but be more and more deeply impressed with a consciousness of the tremendous price the pioneers paid for the foundations of the soft, rubber tired, electric lighted, steam heated way of living, that we of the present time, have fallen heir to.

From early dawn till darkness came, they worked, and then lighted their dim candles or rag-wick lamps and worked yet an hour or two at tasks within doors. The story of the pioneer settler is a tale of toil, of a constant, unceasing battle with the bare elements of nature to gain food and clothes and shelter and heat for his family. In the beginning nobody had any money. In a letter he wrote to his superior officer in the Holland Land Company in Philadelphia, Harm Jan Huidekoper says, among numerous other references to the poverty of the people of Western Pennsylvania, "I traveled for seventy-five miles along one of the main roads without finding a man who could change me a five dollar note."

There was very little money in the country till land owners began marketing their lumber down the river. The portion of the pioneer was hard work and very small pay. The first shingle makers earned fifty cents a day, and the day consisted of twelve hours. The wage of the first sawmill and logging hands was fifteen to twenty dollars a month. Early school teachers taught for as little as twelve dollars a month. As late as 1860 a hired girl could be engaged for five dollars a month, most of which she saved to buy a paisley shawl, the one most coveted article of feminine attire in that day.

Consider the labors of one woman, Mrs. Samuel Arters of Pittsfield Township, who, in the fall of 1849, felt that she must have a new woolen dress. There was no money to buy material, her husband raised sheep but the wool had long since been sheared and sold. But Mrs. Arters, in bringing home the cows, had noticed clots of wool caught in briars where the sheep had pastured. This gave her an idea. She collected the stray bits of wool, which made a good bagful. She washed and carded and spun that wool, wove it into good homespun, dyed it with walnut juice and made her a dress she wore more than ten years.

Those honest, toiling, strong brown hands of our pioneers that held the axe and plough and distaff; those beloved hands that rocked the cradle of our civilization and now have done with their labors and are forever at rest, we honor and revere their memory. May we be at least a little worthy of the ideals and memories the owners of those toil-worn hands have left us.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 385-386: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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