Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Michael Camfield

Mikel Cumveldt was born March 15, 1822 in Alsace-Lorraine, an area on the border of France and Germany. He spoke German and immigrated to the US about 1833-1835. On his arrival he was separated from his family and bound out as an indentured servant to an upstate NY farmer to pay for his passage. We do not know the correct spelling of his surname. The farmer that took him changed his name to Michael Camfield to sound more American. The name was often recorded as Canfield. He was indentured for seven years. I do not believe that he was ever reunited with his family. I’ve been told that he came with his parents, a brother and a sister. His death certificate lists his father’s name as John.

When he had earned his freedom he got a job driving horses on the towpath of the Erie Canal. His job took him by the farm of William Wisner in Orville (now Dewitt) William’s daughter, Sarah, liked to sit along the bank of the canal as the boats traveled by. In this way Michael and Sarah met. Even after seven years, Michael’s English was broken. William was not happy when Sarah announced that she planned to marry an illiterate immigrant. They married about 1846.

They had a son, Joseph, in 1847. In 1849 Sarah’s father and the rest of her family moved to Avon, IL. Michael and Sarah remained in Onondaga Co. It is not clear when they headed west or where they went first. They took in a foster daughter, Sarah Ann, who was born in 1855 in NY. The story is that her mother died and her father asked the couple to look after her for which he initially paid them. Eventually the payments stopped but by then she was a part of the family.

At some point they ended up in Waukegan, IL between Avon and Chicago. Here he drove an ox cart through the mud of the streets of Chicago. Eventually he moved his family to Berrien Co, MI and later to Branch Co, MI where he farmed 80 acres.

Michael’s great-grandson, Cecil Camfield, tells the following stories:

“I spent a lot of time with my uncles who told me stories of Mike: Once Mike had a pair of colts, one he showed at the Fair. The judge couldn't decide between Mike's colt and another for first place. They were showing, "under harness" which meant their heads were held up by a "check rein." Mike suggested that they uncheck them. When they did the other colt's head dropped to the ground while Mike's never quivered. Later Mike was offered $100 plus a team of old nags for the colts. Mike needed the money so made the deal. Later one of the Warner boys facetiously asked him how he liked his new team. "Me gotum, me gotta like um," was Mike's answer. (That reply has become my philosophy.) In the summer-time Mike's dog would lie in the stock-watering-trough to cool off. When Mike found him there he would haul him out by the scruff of his neck and kick him. One day Fred found the dog in the trough and administered the usual treatment. Mike saw it, got his gun and shot the dog. "Nobody kicks MY dog!" Mike was - - - shall we say, strong minded? The night before he married he went out with is friends on the Canal saying, "This will be my last drink." It was. When Mike and Sarah got on the "outs" they wouldn't talk to each other. Then he would say to Fred, "Tell the old woman so and so." And Sarah would reply, through Fred, " Such and such."

Michael died in 1899 in Batavia, Branch Co, MI.

[Originally published at The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree, January 30, 2006. I am reprinting it here because I will be transcribing some of the Camfield letters here in the near future.]

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