Excerpted from


Privately Printed at the Riverside Press

A Birthday Present
March 16th, 1889,


The grandmother of these stories is a lady well known in Michigan for her active benevolence. "Aunt Emily," as she is affectionately called by all her old friends, and "grandma," as she is called by her adopted children and their children, is a sister of the late E.B. Ward, the well-known iron manufacturer, lumberman, and steamboat owner. His history and the history of the early progress in commerce and manufacture of the Northwest could not be separately written. She was a great aid to him in his early business endeavors, in advice, in the opportune loan of money when much needed, and in superintending the fitting out of his fine fleet of steamships, in which she was to have had, in pay for her work, from three to five thousand dollars in stock, according to the size of the boat.
Instead of giving it to her outright, he thought he could handle it more profitably in his own name, but always kept a will made, in which her name was down for a share in proportion to his increased wealth. By his last will she would have half a million, if the estate had been settled as her brother expected. But in the process of settling, in some way the residuary part of the estate was lost to the heirs, which included aunt Emily and her adopted children and all of Captain Ward's children by his first wife. Two of these latter children are kindly supported by the bounty of his second wife, who fortunately received some six millions of the estate.
But it was through aunt Emily's association with her brother, and his reliance upon her judgment of character, that she was enabled to assist so many young men, who now in their prosperity fondly look up ot her as the author of their advancement in life. She very seldom made a mistake about a young man, and if she said to her brother, "Eber, I think that young man would do well if you had a place for him," Eber was pretty sure to give him a place, and the young man was pretty sure to do well.
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"Oh, grandma, do tell us a story!" and golden-haired Emily turns around in her grandma's lap, and puts her arms around her neck and kisses her sweetly.
"Oh, yes, do," and little Portie runs up and tries to climb on that same lap, and grandma reaches down one hand to help him climb, and as he struggles in his smallboy fashion to reach the coveted spot, he knocks his head on her nose, and off go her gold gold - bowed spectacles on the floor; whereat Gyp sets up a furious barking, and makes wild attempts to get up on grandma's lap too; and the other little Emily hangs on to grandma's chair and laughs, and wants a seat in the same place; and the aunties and mammas look on, with smiling faces, to see the fun.
After a time quiet is restored, the spectacles are back on grandma's nose, the children are arranged satisfactorily in and about the lap, and the aunties and mammas are busy sewing, or idle, as it pleases them; and Gyp has sulkily retired and lain himself down where he can keep one jealous eye on the children, and the other eye on a stray fly or two that slyly tickle his nose for him.
And grandma draws a long breath and says, "What shall I tell you? I've told you all the stories I know."
"Oh, tell us about when you were a little girl," the children shout in unison; and aunt Frank says, "Tell us the about the New England days, where you were born and lived until you were nine years old."
"Oh do," beseech three eager little voices; and grandma sighs somewhat, for she has told that story not less than three hundred times, she thinks. But, nevertheless, she launches off bravely, and after a time, seeing the joy on the small faces, gets interested herself. For grandma everybody knows is happiest when she is making others happy. In the first place, she was born with that disposition; and in the second place, she has cultivated it to that degree that she does n't know herself that is what makes her happy.
"But I was n't born in New England," she says, "though my father and mother were, and married in Vermont in 1807."
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"No, I was n't born in New England; your great grandfather was a rover, and though I was the oldest of four children, and the youngest was born before I was quite four years old, no two of them were born in the same place, though two of them were born in the same State. And when you consider that there were no railroads at that time, you may know he was a rover indeed."
"I should think so," said golden-haired Emily; and as the other two children thought the same, grandma proceeded.
"But when I was most four, just before Abba, the youngest child, was born, my father moved back to Vermont, where we stayed five years."
"Yes," says little Emily, "but you did n't tell us where the others were born."
"Well," says grandma, "I was born in in Selina, New York; Sallies was born in Manlius, New York; and Eber was born in Canada. How well I remember crossing the St. Lawrence River one stormy day late in the fall of 1811, although I was but a bit of a girl. We were in a large sail-boat, and father and the man who owned the boat managed it. It was a dark, cloudy day and very windy when they started, but the wind kept rising instead of falling, and the waves kept growing higher and higher, until it seemed as if every wave would swamp the boat. It required all the skill father had, and he was a good boatman, to keep the craft steady.
They had no time to notice my poor mother, who sat forward with her two children clasped in her arms in a perfect stupor of terror. Every wave dashed its spray over her, until she was we through and through, and every time the boat went down into the trough of the sea she shuddered with all the agony of a belief that it would never rise again. She uttered no cry and made no moan, but when the boat at last touched the shore she picked up her baby, and without a word to any one started and ran like a wild deer into the woods.
"Father ran after her, calling upon her, "Why, Sallie, what is the matter? where are you going?' and when he caught up with her she fell fainting into his arms. It was not many weeks after that when Eber was born, and for a long time they did n't think he'd live, and that if he did live he would be a sickly child, and would never amount to anything. But they were all mistaken," said grandma, and a little smile of pleasure and pride lighted her face.
"Was that uncle Eber?" said little Emily.
"Was it?" echoed big Emily.
"Wa'd it unco Eby?" said the small boy [Portie].
"It was your uncle Eber; he is your grand-uncle, you know."
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. . . . Now I must tell you some more about these children, who they were, and how they looked. The two little Emilys were cousins only six months apart in age, and at this time they were six and six and a half years old. But the oldest Emily was a little bit of a thing, with light brown hair and the cunningest little face in the world; and the youngest Emily was a great big girl for her age, with bright, golden, curling hair and the rosiest cheeks imaginable; and as they were both named after their grandma, they were distinguished by the adjectives big and little. The oldest Emily was little Emily, and the youngest Emily was big Emily. We often called her "Golden-Hair."
The baby was big Emily's little brother, and a big baby he was, too, for he was three years old, and considered himself a rather important personage, as babies are apt to do; and he was so considered by every member of the family, especially grandma, who showed her partiality for him in a way that amused his aunt Frank very much. For when his mamma would correct in any way his little sister Emily, grandma would look very complaisant, and say, "Florence" (that was the children's mamma's name), — "Florence is a very judicious mother; she manages her children exceedingly well." But if from the upper regions of the nursery a wail would issue, as from a spanked or closeted boy, grandma would immediately look serious, assume a keenly listening attitude, and say, with some asperity, "Florence ought to be careful how she punishes that boy. He is a very delicate child, and should be managed with great tenderness. I think she is a great deal too severe with him," and grandma's eyes would flash ominously. But I will say for her that she had the good sense never to interfere, at least with what was done up-stairs.
Grandma herself was a fine, plump old lady, with a pair of the keenest gray eyes and a look of the greatest benevolence, as there ought to be in a woman who had spent her whole life doing good. And Gyp,—well, he was a dog that knew most everything; he could play ball as well as a boy, and had as good as saved grandma's life twice, though he was a little fellow that you would easily hold in your lap. Of course there were mommas and aunties around, but they are of no great consequence, and as for uncles, we don't mention them.
"What am I to tell you about this time?" said grandma.
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After my mother died [c. 1818/19], father did not know which way to turn. He had loved her dearly, and it seemed to take from his life all there was of value.
"Uncle Sam wrote to father from New Salem, Ohio, a little town on Lake Erie, now called Conneaut, telling him he must not take his motherless little children to such a far-off country as Kentucky, where he had no relatives to help him look after them, but to come to him, and he and his wife would help him take care of them until he could get settled.
So we turned our course and went to Erie by land, and there we took a boat, and went the rest of the way by water.
"Taking a boat at that time and on Lake Erie did n't mean getting on board a pretty steamer with handsome saloons and comfortable state-rooms, but it meant a big, open sail-boat, something like the fishing-boats they have at the Mackinaw now.
"One rather rugged, squally day in April, we children and the household goods were snugly packed away in such a boat, and father and the man who owned it were to sail it. It seemed to me a very different thing from what I had expected in the sail down the various rivers to Cincinnati. Mother was gone,—gone never to return; to heaven, they said, but where was heaven? We did not know, but we did know that we were left alone with father, who had always been away from home so much that we did n't feel well acquainted with him, and that we had no mother to care for us, to direct us, and to love us.
"I felt that my own responsibility for the younger children was great, and I tried to do everything for them that mother had usually done.
"I know that this particular morning we sat very still and quiet, not talking even to each other, and father had been so occupied in his various duties that he had only paid us the necessary attention of seeing us safe in the boat.
"We had sailed for sometime, when we stopped, and father and the man hauled the boat up on the beach, unloaded the goods, and helped us children out; then they got back, pushed off, pulled up the sails, and made off. We watched them for a while in silent amazement; but as father neither spoke nor even looked back where we were, and the boat kept sailing on and on, we looked at each other and burst into tears.
" 'Oh,' sobbed Abba, the youngest child, 'mother is dead, and father has gone and left us to starve, and there is no one to take care of us!' and she threw herself on the ground, and cried aloud with grief and terror. Sallie did about the same thing; but through Eber and I cried too, for we thought father had gone and left us to die, we also had to think.
"After the first transports of grief were over we began to plan what we should do. Ever said he would n't died there; he'd walk up to New Salem, and uncle Sam would take care of him, and he'd take us too; he was n't afraid of bears, he'd carry Abba half the way, and I could carry her the other half; and as for Miss Sallie, he said, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, she could just walk herself.
" I can see him now," said grandma: "a short, stout boy of only six years, but with a pluck of a man. I agreed to what he said; and while we were in the midst of our plans for the journey, and trying to soothe Sallie and Abba, lo and behold! there was the boat, and father and the man were already hauling it up on the beach.
"We wiped the tears from our faces as quickly as we could, but even father's preoccupied eyes could see that something unusual had happened.
" 'Well, my little children,' he said, 'what is the matter? Why have you been crying?'
"The revulsion of feeling was too much for us, and we all began to cry again, and with a voice broken by sobs Abba told him that we thought our mother was dead, and that our father had gone and left us to starve."
" 'My poor children!' he said, while the tears tolled down his face; 'how could you think so! I supposed you knew what we intended to do.'
"The harbor of Erie is protected on one side by a long, narrow strip of land that runs quite a distance out into the lake, and as that day the water was very rough father thought he would leave us children and the baggage while he took the boat around the point of land, come up on the other side, take us on board again, and so save us from being sea-sick in the high waves that were running farther out.
"After he had explained it to us we felt a good deal ashamed that we had thought so hardly of our father, who had always been good to us.
"We did n't go far that day. The wind blew very hard off shore, and the waves kept growing higher and higher, so that in spite of all care one would, every now and then dash over the boat. The clouds, too, grew heavier and blacker, and it began to rain, so that we had to go on shore.
"It was not an easy thing to get the boat on the beach without swamping it, with the wind and water both trying to toss it a hundred different ways.
"We children sat in silence, nestled close together towards the forward part of the boat, watching with the keenest interest the wild play of the waves and the winds and the clouds. Once in a while Abba would dive her head into my lap to shut out the scene that terrified her, but Eber sat with his hands in his pockets, perfectly calm, and apparently enjoying everything. Sometimes when a towering eave would seem to be threatening to swamp boat and crew and passengers, he would look a little keener-eyed than usual, and as the boat would rise upon the wave a long-drawn sigh would be all the evidence of excited feeling he would give. Sallie clung to me in silent terror; and as for myself, I did n't have any time to be afraid, I was thinking so much of soothing the fears of Sallie and Abba.
"We got ashore safe enough, but we to the skin. The boat was pulled up on dry land and turned bottom up, so as to protect the household stuff from the rain that was now coming down in torrents; and we children and father and the man crawled under it, too, until the rain should stop, when they would fix a camp; for there was no getting out of the place for that day, and perhaps not the next.
"When the rain ceased to pour and had become a light drizzle, father and the man took their axes and began to make preparations to build a camp. WE stayed under the boat, and looked out to see what was going on.
"The man collected the wood for a big fire: first a great log from a tree that had been dead so longs it was dry, — that was for a back log; then pieces of wood and dry branches were piled around it and on top of it, until it made a huge pile. When it was ready to light, I suppose you children think he took a match-box from his pocket, got out a match, struck it, and in a minute there was a fire."
Here the children looked as if they thought, "Of course that was the way of it."
But grandma shook her head, and said, "No, indeed! there had never been a match made in those days. But what did he do was to take out of his pocket a tinder-box, a flint, and a knife. He opened the tinder-box, and with the knife he struck the flint until a spark of fire went down into the box and set the tinder on fire; then a piece of paper, properly folded, was lighted, and that lighted a piece of dry wood, and with that the whole pile was soon in a fine blaze, crackling and snapping and throwing out great sparks.
"In the mean time father had put up a shed-like tent, which opened to the fire, where we were to sleep; and when he and the man started out to gather evergreen twigs we children slipped out from under the boat and ran to help them, for by this time the rain was over.
"We filled our arms with the fragrant boughs many times and carried them to the tent, and then when there were enough we helped father make a big bed."
"That would be a funny bed," said Golden-Hair; "how did you make it?"
"We began at the foot, and put down a layer of twigs, with their stems towards the head; then another layer put the same way, the leafy parts covering the stem ends of the first one, and so on up to the head; finishing it off there with a lot of small soft twigs that did good service for pillows.
"When it was done it was big enough for us all, and was a very much softer and nicer bed than you would imagine."
Here the children nodded their little heads and smiled, and Portie said he wished he could sleep in such a bed all the time.
"When it came bed-time we lay with our feet to the fire: first Sallie and Abba on each side of me, then Eber and father, and on the outside the man. We were covered with blankets, and slept as sound as you do now in bed, and very much sounder than I do.
"We stayed there a week before the storm abated, and the waves and wind died down enough to launch the boat.
"Sometimes father and the man would go out hunting, and bring in squirrels and other small game. It amused us children very much to see men cooking. I wanted to help them, but they would n't let me do very much, for I was n't used to cooking out-doors."
The children looked as if they wished they'd been there to have all that fun, and grandma said, "Of course there are a good many drawbacks about camping out in the woods in April, when the wind is blowing cold and it rains every day. There were no leaves on the trees, and there were no flowers, and the grass had not begun to grow; but, luckily, little children can have a good time almost anywhere, if only those who are with them are kind to them.
"Fathers and mothers, in those days, though just as good as they are now, did n't pet and play with their children as they do now. The old rule that children should be seen, and not heard, was in full force, and they felt great respect and awe for their parents. I think it made better children, but I don't know. I guess they were not so happy," and grandma looked thoughtfully at the bright faces of the children, and said softly, "But it made us older for our years."
Portie said he was glad he did n't have to keep still and just be looked at, and that made them all laugh.
"The sail from the camp to New Salem, about thirty miles, was accomplished in a day, and with no further incidents. We were received very kindly by uncle Sam and his wife, and they did all they could to make us comfortable.
"I washed the children, and put clean clothes on them and myself. It seemed good to be clean and in a dry house, to sleep in a good bed and eat at a table, and to stay in one place for a while after four months' wanderings."


"Uncle Sam was building at this time," said grandma, after each one had got into his or her favorite position, "a sailing vessel called the Salem Packet, to carry passengers and freight from Buffalo to Mackinaw and Green Bay.
"By the first of May she was loaded and ready, and one bright morning sailed off with uncle Sam and a crew of three men, Father went, too, to establish a store at Mackinaw, as trade with the Indians and soldiers was profitable then as now.
"We children watched the boat sail out of the harbor with heavy hearts, and as she grew smaller and smaller in the distance Abba and Sallie could not restrain their tears. Mother was dead, and now father was gone, and would not be back for six months, and we felt very lonely and desolate.
"But Eber and I comforted them as much as we could, and told them that father would be back in the fall, and that we must all be good and not cry, and not make our aunt any more trouble than we could help; and Eber said, 'We 'll have some fun, too; I 'll make a boat, and we 'll go down and sail it in the creek;' which he really did do, and had a great many happy days at that sport."
"Oh," said the children, " I wish we had a creek to sail boats in; a bath-tub is too small;" and they looked for a minute as if they had never had any fun in their lives.
"I helped our aunt about the housework and mended the children's clothes," resumed grandma, "and helped make new ones for us all, and learned everything I could, so that I could keep house for father when he came back.
"It does n't seem as if I was ever a little girl after my mother died. I was nine years old the month she died, and after that, it seems to me, I always had the cares of a woman on my shoulders. I felt that I must attend to the children, that I must see to their clothes, both the making and the mending, take care of them when they were sick, and see that they were neat and clean and behaved well; and I will say that Eber and Abba never disobeyed me but once or twice in all their young lives. Sallie thought sometimes I was n't but a year older than she was, any way, so I had to be more careful what I told her to do.
"I have often wondered since how it happened to be so, and I think they must have been remarkably good children."
Here the aunties and mammas smiled at each other, as much to say, "We know who was the remarkable child."
"In the fall father came back. We were down at the wharf to meet him, and though we were exceedingly glad to see him, we greeted him in the quiet and dignified way children were accustomed to use to their parents in those days. He brought us little mococks of maple sugar, and pretty beadwork that the Indian women made, and other things that were useful. I showed him what I had done for the children; and I felt the greatest pride and joy when he patted my head and called me his good little girl.
"It paid me for all the care and anxiety I had had for the children, and helped drive away the continual pain I felt for the loss of my mother, that seemed to grow more instead of less. I suppose it was because the attempt I made to fill her place caused me to feel all the more keenly what we had lost. I know I could never speak of her death until long after I was a grown woman.
"Uncle Sam and his wife moved up to the village to spend the winter, and father and we children kept house in their old house. I was the housekeeper, of course, and I had great pride in having everything as father wanted; but you may be sure I had many a heartache before I was able to do things as well as mother had done them.
"In the spring uncle Sam and his wife and several families moved to a place on the St. Clair River, where uncle Sam had bought a large tract of land the year before. It was a beautiful peninsula, with the St. Clair River on one side of it, and a pretty inland stream, Belle River, on the other side.
"Across Belle River were a few French families, but except these there were no inhabitants for some miles, unless it were a few Indians.
"After uncle Sam and the people he took had been there awhile, the pace was called Yankee Point, because the new settlers were all Yankees.
"Father went to Mackinaw in the same boat they went in, and he left Abba and me to board with the family of Mr. Ford, and Sallie and Eber boarded with a Mr. Gilbert. The Conneaut creek ran between the two places, and in that creek Eber came very close to being drowned."
"Oh, tell us about it!" said Porte and Eber B., Jr., with great eagerness.
"He and Abba were down there sailing toy boats, when the very finest one farther out into the stream than was anticipated, and Eber waded in after it. But the wind had got into the sail just right, and so the little boat kept ahead of him, and in his eagerness to get it he got over his depth before he knew it, and down he went.
"When he rose to the surface he was father from shallow water than when he went down, and, not knowing how to swim, after a struggle or two he went down again. He sank a third time, and that time did n't rise.
"But in the mean time Abba was screaming with all her might that "Eber was drowning!' and her screams brought some men from a field near by. One of them, who was a good swimmer, plunged into the water, after diving several times found him lying placidly on the bottom of the creek, his little hands clutching the weeds that grew there.
"He brought him up, and they laid him across the knees of one of the men, face downwards, so that the water he had swallowed would run out of his mouth, and in a little while he began to open his eyes and to breathe.
"We children stood crying, for when they brought him out of the water we thought he was surely dead."
""Were you there, grandma?" said little Emily.
"Oh, yes; I had heard the screaming, and was there almost as soon as the men were.
"After that I was very careful to be with him when he went to sail his boats, for he would mind me when I told him not to do anything; and I would n't let him go far into the water.
"We had a very pleasant time that summer. Old Mr. Ford, with whom Abba and I lived, was an odd sort of man, and very fond of onions; he wanted them every day, but if they were n't on the table he would n't ask for them, and his wife very often forgot them; so every noon I used to put an onion nicely cleaned, at his plate.
"I had no idea that he knew who did it, for children in those days were not praised for every little trifle they did. But when father came home in the fall and went to pay our board, Mr. Ford would n't take any pay for mine. He said I was a thoughtful girl, and so good to him, — and here he related the onion story, — that he did n't want any pay for me."
Here the mammas looked at the children withing meaning glances, as if they wished that trait of "thoughtfulness for the happiness of others" could be impressed upon their minds; and the children looked back with smiles, as if they understood it.
"Of course that made me feel very happy," said grandma.
"We kept house as usual that winter, and the next spring father went to Green Bay and stayed a whole year, and we four children boarded at a Mr. McNair's. When father came back the following year, he bought a farm at Ruddville, a little way from Conneaut; but after it was all paid for and stocked and we were living on it, he found his title was a poor one.
"The man from whom he had bought it had left the country, and the complications of the title were such that only redress he had was to sue the State. Father thought that he could not do that, so he abandoned the farm, disposed of the stock at a sacrifice, and we went to Springfield in Pennysylvania taught school.
"I felt the loss of the farm very keenly. Here, for the first time since mother died, we had a home of our own, where father intended to stay; here I thought I could bring up the children, and make them good and industrious; and here, also, would be a permanent home, — no more moving every spring and every fall. And so I was bitterly disappointed.
"But we had a very pleasant time at Springfield. There were a good many girls and boys to go to school, sons and daughters of the farmers who lived in the neighborhood. They all had big farms, and lived in the homely style of that day.
"I remember one funny incident that happened at that school," and as grandma smiled, the children, one and all, wanted to know about it.
"There was a very odd boy — or young man as he was, for he got his growth— who came to school that winter. He wore a pair of leather breeches that were much too short for him, and they fitted as tight as a drum. They had been wet several times and had shrunk, so the wonder was how he could get into them at all. He was always late, and would come lounging in, and when he got to his seat would fall in it with a great thump.
"The boys thought they could cure him of that; so one morning the fixed a wooden peg in his seat, with the sharp point up, and watched for developments. They were not long in coming, for at the usual hour he walked in, slouched lazily along to his seat, and dropped into it with his usual grace; but he bounced back like a rubber ball, and as he slapped the seat of his small-clothes he looked around on the convulsed scholars with an inexpressibly droll air, and drawled out, 'Goll darn ye! I know ye! I know ye!'
"It is needless to say that he did n't fall down any more on that seat.
"The next fall father and Eber and I went up to Yankee Point to live, leaving the two girls in Conneaut, in the care of a good woman. I wanted them to go with us, but father said I was too young to manage growing girls. I did n't think was too young, and I thought it would be better for them to be with us; but as I was only thirteen I could n't make much of an impression upon father, and we sailed off without them.
"Motherless children have a great many trails that those who have mothers know nothing about. Men think they know a great deal, but a woman can keep her children together and bring them up better if the father dies than the father can if the mother dies. I felt the separation form them very much. Abba had always slept in my arms after mother died, and I cried myself to sleep many a night after I left them."


Early in the fall of 1822 father and Eber and I sailed away from Conneaut, in the Salem Packet, for Yankee Point.
"Sallie and Abba stood upon the dock and waved us good-by, and tried not to cry; but I could see, through the tears that were rolling down my own face, that they were crying. Eber rubbed his eyes with his fists, as boys will when they want to cry and are determined not to, and, in consequence, looked red about the eyes and nose, and white in the rest of his face.
"When we could no see them no longer I went down into the cabin, where father and Eber could n't see me, and wept the bitter tears of a mother parted from her children. . . .
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I have selected passages to familiarize the reader with the family's genealogy and history, then proceeded into items related to their traveling-to and living-in New Salem.
* Denotes emission of paragraph(s).