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History Lives Here Text

Letters from a Saugatuck Pastor 's Wife

James Franklin Taylor was born November 4, 1824, in Penn Yan, NewYork, attended eastern colleges and was ordained in 1855 a the CongregationalChurch of Pekin, New York.On October 14, 1856, he was married to Mary L. Porter of Penn Yan. The coupleserved churches in Indiana before moving to Chelsea, near Ann Arbor. Here son William A. was born in 1863; and adaughter, Grace Lillian, in 186.


As early as 1867 Mrs. Taylor wrote: "I do not expect James willbe able to preach much longer. Indeed we can neither of us bear the nervousstrain, incident to this profession." In 1868 in an effort "to seekout of door activity" Taylor accepted a call to the Congregational Churchof Saugatuck He pug his household goods on the train to Chicago where they werepicked up by the steamer Ira Chaffee and brought to Saugatuck The familytraveled by horse and buggy and crossed the ferry to Saugatuck late in theafternoon of May 1, 1868. In, 1870, a third daughter was born and named MabelLouise.


Between 1872 and 1883, Mary "Mollie" (Porter) Taylor wrote manyletters, to her sister Harriet "Hattie" (Porter) Mills still in PennYan where her husband, E. W. Mills, ran a dry goods stare.


Friday morn, June 17, 1872

Dear sisters Hattie & Lillie,

Your last welcome letter heralding the package reached us safely tue.eve. and the huge package itself appeared on Wednes. eve. brought downin the maternal arms of the "Aunt Betsey" our little Allegan steamer.We were much surprised at its size and half inclined to think your two familieshad concluded to move here and this was the first installment of your goodsbeing the contents of your wardrobes and Mr. Mill's store combined.


(Back Again) Ihad not finished this last sentence ere I was startled by a vehement outcryfrom under the bed clothes of my room. Of course this call must be heeded.Little nameless is now made ready for the day and is snugly tucked away in thesame nest again as I must wash the sitting room windows while she takes hermorning nap.


We are almost distracted with work both present and anticipated, untilafter the Fourth. James spend all day yesterday looking round Dutchtown for anew milch cow. Saw several transparencies he calls them, you could seethrough them, but made no purchase. Must be off today in another direction.


There is to be a grand celebration here on "the Fourth" andthe S. Schools are to have some part in it. James and I are anxious for a niceBanner for ours if possible by that time. We did intend to have gone to Chicago last Monday, buta stormy week has prevented. Then our people always sell refreshments forchurch purposes. James has just left a log of practical selections to be lookedover from which to make selections for the next S. School concert. July 3. Thisis to be patriotic in its character, a difficult subject for young children. Heselects the Scripture recitations and helps what he can about the others.


Our last concert was very interesting indeed. The Scripture word wasflowers and the church was full of them both cultivated and wild. James and thechildren went up to the "bayou" and Willie found a most beautifulspecimen of the pink lady's slipper. James managed to get this up, by theroots, with his jack knife and we had it in full bloom in the church. It is nowgrowing by the front gate. I recited "The Morning Glory" thatbeautiful piece with which you are doubtless familiar. It is so touching thatJames said many eyes moistened. If you have not seen it, I will copy it foryou.


James wishesthis letter, many, many thanks for all the nice presents. The linesLillie copied are very beautiful, many thanks. Willie accepts the primer fromGrandma as a birthday present, has read it through nearly. He has ague hangingabout him again as have I.

Mother's book says


"When the old woman, first did wake

She began to shiver, and she began to shake.

She began to wonder and she began to cry.

Lord a mercy on me, this can't be I"

yours, Mary


Saugatuck, June 3, 1873

Dear sister Hattie:

This sultry morning reminds me that the summer days are really comingagain and I must awake from my sluggishness to prepare for its toils. TheSpring has been so cold and tardy that it seems as though for this year oneseason had dropped out of the calendar. How many things I wish to say but wherecan I find either the leisure or the strength. The Winter has been one of greatseverity, almost uninterrupted storms and clouds. Now it seems delightful tofeel the sunshine again although a little too fierce for absolute comfort.


The town is alive with measles. This disease has not appeared herebefore for many years, so that all the children who are natives of this placeare liable to an attack. Willie is now down with them and Gracie shows so manysymptoms of them that I have taken her from school. Mabel is trotting aroundplaying in the dirt as brown as a little Gipsey. She was very closely housedduring the Winter and Spring as her lungs were so sensitive that she could notbear the sharp winds.


James and Icannot recover from the fatigue of the fire relief work which although nearly ayear, is not yet quite finished. Both my mind and body have been so overtaxedsince my return from Penn Yan that I feel as though I am unfit for anything.Last Summer and winter we all worked very hard to earn funds to finish payingfor the parsonage and to repair the church building. We are now working off adebt on the Cabinet Organ. There are so few of us to bear all the burdens ofChurch work that we feel many times as though we cannot endure it anothermoment through such excessive physical fatigue.

Now as to home matters. This is the season that at least Mother and Lillieand you are to spend with us, is it not? We are planning to go out to the farmabout the fast week in July and to spend most of the time there during the longvacation. I shall take my girl Anna with me and the children have the freedomof those pleasant field and woodlands and beach. James and Harm (our villagehired man) will run the parsonage during this period and the children will comeinto town once a week to take their music lessons. There is but a very littleof the Ague here now and the air on the Lakeshore is very pure and sweet. I do not think you would run any risk ofsickness, there, more than in any place. Besides all this, we have an excellentphysician now, a member of our church and well skilled in his profession.,


I am trying to make a new rag carpet for my parlor and stairs here, sothat the old one here, can be put down on the floor of the farm parlor. I thinkthis job is more than half done. I have colored black, red, tan color, green,blue, orange and yellow. Have made a great deal of soap this Spring, both softand hard. Must suspend house cleaning on account of the measles.


We have set out a new apple orchard on the farm of about 50 trees, alsoabout SO pear trees, a few peach trees and more than a hundred grape vines.Also more than a hundred poplars as a screen from the lake winds. We have alsoset out 100 Norway Spruce trees here to be removed there at some subsequenttime. These are very small yet but are going nicely. We want you to come outand rusticate in the true sense of the word and enjoy this lovely spot with us.You must bring your planish clothes with only a few articles for church andcalling. We intend to live out doors under the cool maple and beach trees. Theapple and peach trees promise some fruit and our fine town garden alwaysfurnishes us with the vegetables of the season. I think you would enjoy thischange far more than to go to the sea shore. We had a rare opportunity topurchase a new Mason and Hambin Organ at a greatly reduced prize a few weekssince so Lillie need not grow rusty on her music. We want you to come out andhelp name the farm, mark out the carriage drive &c &c


Gracie and Willie are doing very well in their studies, but the schoolis now much interrupted by measles. If you can come please write to meimmediately so that I can know how to plan. Ship building is now one of theindustries of the place.


Although this letter is addressed to you it is meant equally for Motherand Lillie Gracie said, "Tell Aunt Hattie if you wants one of us, she mustcome out here and make her choice." Our farm man, John Eising is a jewel.He is a bachelor, kept bachelor's hall on a farm 5 years in Hollandbefore coming to America.We do all of his work that can be done here such as baking, washing, mending,&c &c The farm is in very poor repair and needs refencing, but can bemade very valuable and pleasant after a while. It is not in a condition to berented out on shares yet. We pay him by the month.


Gracie has taken music lessons one quarter. She learns very readily andseems inclined to play with expression somewhat naturally. Mabel sings somepieces like a lark. She calls the little organ hers. We have not yet offeredthis for sale. Have not had time to brush it up yet. Our new organ is not allpayed for yet. That is, Mr. Wallin advanced some for us. The children's musicran off from the four octave inst. so much, that we wished to secure a largerone.


I can and trynot to feel annoyed by the dirt and confusion. We have just cleaned out ourflower beds and walks. Cannot pay much attention to flowers this season. Thecold winter destroyed some choice plants out doors. but we have many left. Lifeflies. Pioneers live almost wholly for the succeeding generation.

Your Mary


Farm, July 24 - [1873]

Dear sister Hattie,

It is very early morn. The sun is scarcely up. I am sitting m thechildren's swing with the beech trees close by the cottage. Whichever way I setthe lake is in view - if in one side, an unobstructed view, with here and therea white sail on the horizon, if on the other side just a little snatch of itsgrey waters between orchard and forest trees. The breeze is fresh, the wildbirds jubilant. The whole landscape glorious, a fit original for a lovelypainting. The songsters here are numerous, very tame, singing a11 day long.


Your kind letter and beautiful presents reached me Sat. eve. as was outhere and James was so hurried that he could not get them out to me sooner.Monday was an intensely busy day with its large washing, many berries to pick,house to be put in order for James keeping during the week &c &c LateMon. eve we all came out here again. Luca and Anna and I just flew all day withan enormous ironing and so many preparations for James and the carpenter whoworked here all day yesterday hanging doors, repairing window sash, puttingdown base boards &c &c The house was very poor indeed when we took theplace but by our own labor mostly in little intervals of time, it is now quitecomfortable. of course, it lacks many things for convenience sake but then whenat any moment we can lift the window shade and admit such an enchanting view,what care we for bare walls and unpainted ceilings. the children enjoy it herevery much indeed except little Mabel who is sometime restive because she cannotsee her papa every day. I must hasten as our man John is going to Douglas immediately after breakfast to meet James there.I must send this by him.


The childrenare entirely well since they had the measles. Their lungs were so much affectedby them that we have at times felt quite anxious about the result. Mabel's hardcough is wearing away slowly I think and the other children are better. The dayafter I last wrote you I came down with a hard chill followed by several othersand attended with a most distressing cough. This lasted me several weeks andwore me out fast. I think it was somewhat sympathetic with the children as theywere then in the midst of their measles. As soon as the children were betterour man Harm had an attack of billious fever just in the hurry of strawberrypicking. James and I picked all the berries and recd. $50.00 for what we sold.We ate freely and gave away generously as we always do.


Gracie is delighted with the embroidery. Please return many thanks to"E.W." for his generous kindness and excellent taste. My shawlpleases me very much indeed. Do not spend your money for us. We are verythankful for the little things which you lay aside, but do not send any more newthings. I want you to be out of debt. Man ready

goodbye. Mary


Mon. morn. Nov. 22 [1873]

My dear sister Hattie;

Your letter reached us two or three days since, but 1 have not beenable to secure one moment's time in which to reply. We had one hundred and sixteenbushels of turnips freezing up in the ground at the farm and our cider forvinegar freezing in the cheese two miles beyond. The weather is becomingseverely cold and we are not prepared for winter. The turnips, cider and sundryother things are now secured.


In regard to Auburndale, we have recd a barrel from Miss Strong'sclass, as she proposed. this contained some very good garments which will helpmuch on the children's' wardrobe when made over.


I have nottime to go into details in reference to this place. Of course business is verymuch depressed everywhere and most of the people are obliged to practice theclosest economy to meet the necessities of life. The Church is by far thenoblest one with which we have ever labored and we do not have any desire toleave them at present because of their poverty. It is composed of a very heroicband of men and women.

We feel very grateful to you all, and especially to Mrs. Long for yourcontinued interest in us but do not feel that it would be right for your Societyto labor for us when we are so able and so willing to labor forourselves. Pluck is a western phrase which is replete with meaning andwhich is rapidly become more emphatic. The children have not been in schoolthis term and I have much sewing to do for them. I do wish to have themcommence next week when the term opens.


The boy's sleeping room is the worst inconvenience about the houseespecially in winter. It is an old shanty not near as warm as our new onionbarn. I keep a rag carpet hung up back of the bed and all of the cracks closedup with oakum. In extreme weather like last winter they require an immenseamount of bedding. I furnish lodgings for eight persons, besides the transientguest. Our salary is seven hundred dollars - one hundred of which we rec. fromthe H. M. S. Hitherto this year we have recd but one draft of $25.00 from theSoc. as it is embarrassed. The remainder will doubtless come in time. The Douglas people failed to meet their promise. they haveowed us $80.00 for more than a year. Of this we shall probably never rec. onecent. We expect to do without it. This was due to inefficiency on the part ofthe collectors. There is no organization there. James does not preach over theriver now. He has more than he can do on this side.


Have been verymuch engrossed by day and night with a sick and dying child about Gracie's age.She was buried in one of Gracie's little chemises, not the nice one you sentbut a neat plainer one. the mother of one of our young lady members is insane,I fear hopelessly so. It is distressing to hear her rave. We get along verywell indeed and are not probably much more over-worked than you P. Yan peoplethough our labor is sometimes of a different kind. Love to all


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