Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sarah Ann Camfield - The Final Years

When I first "met" Sarah Ann it was 1876 and she was 59 years old. She and Mike were living in Burr Oak, Michigan and she was writing to her daughter, Anna, a week before Anna's marriage to Ashley Carlisle.
Burr Oak Sept 26 1876

Dear Anna do just as you like as far as we are concerned it makes no difference as I know of if you are coming so soon I can not tell any news in fact there is nothing to tel only Charley starts today for california I suppose he left here with that intention

From your affectionate Mother
My first impression was that she was a little brusk! But as I worked my way through the letters Sarah Ann's story began to unfold.

In 1877 it appears that Sarah Ann and Mike were sharecropping in Burr Oak, Michigan and they, along with several others, were forced to move and lost the wheat crop that they had planted the previous fall.
wel this place was sold Monday all that Sutherlands mortgage covered he bid it in for $10,000 dollars we all loose our wheat Parker 20 Franke Graves 25 acres Robison 7 Scurvin 20 our 40 all goes with the place the 80 and the wood lot is to be sold in about 5 weeks we dont know what we are going to do yet or where we are going but suppose we shall find aplace some where

How heart breaking that that their lives could be so upset by the decisions of others! They did find another place to live in Burr Oak but did not stay long before they moved to Noble, Michigan where they rented a farm from Henry Bogardus, who Sarah Ann would have known from her childhood. They seemed to have a good relationship with the Bogardus' and Sarah Ann often mentioned them. Mike worked long days in the fields often taking his dinner with him and Sarah Ann felt isolated and lonely. Loneliness is a theme that carried throughout Sarah Ann's letters. Several times she mentioned not having seen another woman for weeks at a stretch.

Money was always an issue for Mike and Sarah Ann and there were periods of incredible poverty and some of her letters just broke my heart. In 1880 she had only one "whole" dress:
You sent pieces of new dresses while you was in the dress business why did you not make two or three I have had only 1 dress made since you made one for me on the Gates place Mrs Bogardus made the calico one she gave me when we live on the Boil farm that is all I have had I guess you wil think I kned a some one to make me some that dark calico one you made for me when I was at your house is my dress up one it has never been washed it is the only whole one I have

Because Mike had had no education, keeping track of the finances fell to Sarah Ann and she recorded both the cost of goods and what they were able to make from their labors. Mike worked the fields and raised horses. Sarah made butter to sell and raised lambs, sometimes keeping them in the house as pets. There was fruit to dry and food to be canned, cooking, sewing and work of some sort or another that never seemed to end. Being in their sixties and suffering from various illnesses off and on there was often more work than they could manage on their own and their finances would take a hit when they had to hire help both for Mike in the fields and Sarah Ann in the house. Off and on during the early 1880's their oldest grandchild, Fred Camfield, would stay with them which was added work for Sarah Ann but he was also company and she adored him.

They continued to save every penny that they could and I was excited by Sarah Ann's letter of 17 October 1884:
Wel I have been going to write you every day since we bought our farm but have put it off til now which was 4 weeks last tuesday we bought a 74 acre farm in Indiana three and one half mile east of Orland is 5 miles south of here so we will be 5 miles south and 3 ½ east of here I cannot describe it you wil have to come and see it we are to pay 18 hundred dollars for it it looks like a big job for a couple of old folks but if our life and health is spared we hope to be able to do it it is in Stueben CO Millgrove township Fawn River is the south line of the farm there is some marsh down by the river good mowing marsh and a good for fish they say

Alas, it was not to be! I'm not certain what happened but instead of the farm in Indiana they bought a 40 acre farm in Noble, Michigan, not far from where they had been living. It was located on the south east corner of the Bronson-Orland Road and what is now Slisher Road, 4 miles south of Bronson, Michigan. I wonder how much has changed in 125 years?
The buildings on the farm were in need of lots of work and a stable had to be constructed for the animals before the next winter which left little money for repairs to the house. In an uncharacteristic splurge, Sarah Ann paid someone to wallpaper the parlor:
I got the prettiest wall paper that could be and got the rom papered and my best carpet down and I did feel proud of it we got windows with 4 glass in a window it cost 2 dollars and 1 shilling to get the paper put on and it is all cracked to pieces come loose fromtop to bottom you never saw any thing like it I feel so bad about it but that dont help it

Sarah Ann and Mike never could seem to get a lucky break! They finally had a place of their own but life continued with the same tedious rhythm of work and want that they had known for years. She was often frustrated with Mike and I assume he with her. At one point she complained to Anna, "Father is no more company than a stick of wood." Their grandson Fred came to live with them full time in the late 1880's and was a great help to them and company for Sarah Ann. She loved to visit with her neighbors and travel to visit her children and grandchildren but the demands of the farm and the cost of travel made visits few and far between.

As Mike and Sarah Ann aged they had more and more trouble working the farm. She tells of him being unable to work because his shoulder was lame and complained that writing and chores were painful due to her lame hands. Gradually Fred took over responsibility of the farm. When he married Libbie Warner in 1897 Mike and Sarah Ann rented out their farm and moved with the newlywed couple to a farm in Batavia, Michigan. In early 1899 Mike and Sarah Ann both became seriously ill. Mike did not have the strength to recover and he died there on the 18th of February. Sarah Ann did recover and lived a while longer with Fred and Libbie but soon her care became too much for the couple. I don't know how the arrangement was decided on but she would spend the remainder of her years living winters in South Bend, Indiana with her son Joe and summers in Buchanan, Michigan with her daughter, Anna.

It was only in these final years that Sarah Ann seemed truly happy.
Dec 29 1899

Dear Children and grand Children

I will try to write once more to let you know that I have not forgotten you we are all well as usual and trying to be happy as we can I have every thing I kneed to be comfortable I have my bed here in the front room and agood coal fire in the other room night and day Joseph sleeps on the couch by the stove so I am not alone we have plenty to eat and why not be happy and content and I am..........

She was being cared for by her children and grandchildren and her worries were few. She was able to make calls on the neighbors and attended church as often as she felt up to it. Even though her hands were crippled she could not sit idle and so she spent countless hours piecing quilts and sewing carpet rags. In 1960 her granddaughter, Tamerson Calisle Binns, wrote of the years that Sarah Ann spent in Buchanan:
Grandmother Camfield never interfered in anything + was a model grandmother. Read her Bible, sang hymns + knit + made quilts which mother + I quilted.

Sarah Ann lived a very long, hard life and I'm glad that her final years were happy ones. She died in 18 February 1912 at the age of 94 and was laid to rest beside her husband, not far from where they had lived in Noble.

This is the fourth and final installment in a series written for the 91st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women!

Sarah Ann Wisner Camfield Timeline
Sarah Ann Wisner, The Early Years
Sarah Ann Wisner Camfield, Marriage, Children and Migration
Sarah Ann Camfield, The Final Years

Also see:

Family of William Wisner
Badgley and Wisner Deed Abstracts, Onondaga, NY
Henry Bogardus, Shirt Tail Cousin

Thanks for the poster fM!


Camfield, Sarah Ann Wisner. (Burr Oak, MI) to “Dear Anna”
[Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Letter. 26 Sept 1876. Digital Image.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,]  New York. 2008. 
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1875 - 1876,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.] 

Camfield, Sarah Ann Wisner. (Burr Oak, MI) to “Dear Children”
[Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Letter. 21 March 1877. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2008.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1,Correspondence, 1877 - 1879,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Camfield, Sarah Ann Wisner. (Noble Center, MI) “You sent pieces of new dresses” [Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Note. Undated, found between letters dated 18 October 1880 and 12 November 1880. Digital Image.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2008. [Carlisle Family, Box #1,Correspondence, 1880,
Bentley Historical Library,University of Michigan. 2008.]

Camfield, Sarah Ann Wisner. (Noble Center, MI) “letter no1”
[Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Letter. 17 October 1884. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2008. [Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1884 - 1886,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Camfield, Sarah Ann. (Noble Center, MI) “I suppose you are”
[Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Letter. 7 January 1889. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, 1887 - 1889,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Camfield, Sarah Ann (South Bend, IN) to “Dear Children and grand Children”
[Anna Camfield Carlisle]. Letter. 29 December 1899. Digital Images 1-2.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2009.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Correspondence, Apr - Dec 1899,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]

Binns, Tamerson Carlisle. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Vivian”
[Vivian Carlisle LaValle]. Letter. 28 October 1960. Digital Images 1-9.
Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York. 2008.
[Carlisle Family, Box #1, Genealogical Papers,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]


Kathy said...

What a wonderful story. It is great that you have all those letters to help tell Sarah's life. It sure sounds like it was a hard life! Thanks for sharing this, I loved reading it.

Tipper said...

After moving in with her children-I'm sure it was a relief to leave the worrying to someone else after all those years. I think the dress part was the saddest. Having so few clothes is something most of us could not understand today-even in the midst of the economic mess-most of us still live in the land of plenty.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. We have a few letters in our family and they help paint the picture of our ancestors' lives in ways that we would not have otherwise.

Donna said...

What a great photo of her in the rocking chair!!

Joan said...

Apple, this series was a masterful job from the timeline right on thru to the Final Years. Your choice and use of her letters were poignant reminders of the real Sarah. Great tribute to Sarah. Congratulations!

footnoteMaven said...

Apple, brilliant! And those sources . . .

I always love your work, but this is amazing.


Harriet said...

You are so lucky to have these wonderful letters. Letters really help us know our ancestors.

Kathryn Lake Hogan said...

Greetings Apple,
What a wonderful, detailed story you have put together about the life of Sarah.

Unknown said...

What a treasure to have those letters. I have 50+ years of my mother's diaries. I wish I felt confident in my writing ability to do something with them. Thanks for sharing this - I'm glad Sarah had an easier life in her later days.

FranE said...

Enjoyed reading Sarah's story. How nice to have it in her words.

Joan said...

Congratulations as the feature author of this COG. Well deserved, and as I said, just a masterful job.

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Apple, this is a wonderful tribute to your great-great-grandmother! What a treasure you discovered in her letters and photographs.

You have done a tremendous job putting all of the pieces together into a nice biography of her life.

I very much enjoyed reading. You have inspired me to write even more detailed biographies about my ancestors.

100 Years in America
Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Forgot to mention - I love Sarah Ann's smile. It's contagious!

Also - I like the new look of your banner and sidebar here at Apple's Tree. It's very clean and inviting.

100 Years in America
Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

Michelle Goodrum said...

Apple, Your work is an inspiration and gives me something to work towards! I know the material is there to work with. I just need to get it organized and home my research and writing skills!

Thanks for a very enjoyable read!

Judith Richards Shubert said...

Apple, this is truly a fantastic tribute to Sarah Ann! You have made her come alive for me and I truly feel like I will remember her and her hard life from now on. I love the last picture of her. Hopefully, she and her husband loved one another and had joyful moments during their marriage. I love the way you've used the letters within your narrative! Congratulations on being the featured author for this COG!

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I want to thank you all for your very kind comments! Sarah Ann's story has really touched my heart and I think that really helped me in writing about her life.

TK said...

Great story, Apple! Beautifully told!

Nancy said...

Just have to add one more comment on your series about Sarah Ann. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her story. You have a beautiful writing style.
Nancy Hurley

Nancy said...

Congratulations on being the featured author for the COG. What an interesting read about Sarah Ann and the hard life she led. I love her photographs. I think she would have been an interesting person to know.
Again, congratulations!

Sherry - Family Tree Writer said...

Apple what a wonderful story and I loved her gentle smile! And I found it amazing that in the photo of her in the rocking chair, it's still there. The many hardships of her life didn't keep her from smiling!

My mother is 98, and her parents farmed, often on rented property, though they purchased well before the children were grown, and she did not have many dresses either. (from what my mother tells me, they were neither poor nor rich, kind of in the middle financially) Even had they been much better off as farmers, it would have been common for her to perhaps have three at most.

What a wonderful story!