Looking Backward: The provenance of a 50-acre plot of land: part 1

If old photographs are windows into the past, then old letters are doorways. I was fortunate enough a few years ago to find one old letter that opened a door. It was written by a young man who was somewhat homesick for his family and perhaps, a bit anxious about the future. He was probably wondering whether he had made the right decision to leave his home and parents for such an unforgiving place so far away. He never came right out and said so in his letter, but one can read between the lines. I was intrigued by the letter and wanted to know more. So, I decided to dig a bit deeper and discover whatever I could about the letter-writer and the land he described in 1843. I especially wanted to locate this particular plot of land. His letter home follows below.


Onondaga Co., N.Y.

John Chase


Otsego Cy., N.Y.

Dear parents:

I now employ a few moments by writing to you to let you know that we are well at present. I have had the ague (malarial fever) about two weeks this spring but at present my health is as good as usual. I have neglected writing before on account of the winter being so uncommon hard. I thought that I would wait and see if we could live through. We have had a verry (sic) severe winter since I returned from the east. Hay is from $8 to $10 per ton, corn 50 cts., oats 20, potatoes 25, wheat 88 cts., butter 10 cts. Although produce is low it is verry (sic) scarce. Their (sic) never has been so hard a time from people that have to buy their living as the present since I have lived here. As for money it is about as well to pay, we have none. I have expected about $500 this spring and have received fifty. There is no use in trying to collect a debt here at present. If I should I shall (sic) have to bid off the property myself and the more property a man has the worse it is for him, especially any kind of stock. My cows would not sell for ready money enough to pay for their wintering. Wheat on the ground is verry (sic) much injured by the snow lieing on so late. The snow was two feet & a half deep here the tenth of this month and ther (sic) is some banks as deep now to be seen. Our cattle can now live in their pastures and we are verry (sic) glad for we have had a hard struggle (sic) to get them through the winter. People have generally commenced plowing although the ground is quite wet. I wish you to write to me soon & let me know where Samuel is and how he is doing. I want to know what luck Josiah had getting home. I feel anxious to know how you get along with your affairs. Also I should like to know the general opinion of the people respecting the debate that was going on when I was there. George Resseguie's wife is not expected to live but a short time. This from your son with respect.

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