A Short Sketch of the Life of Esther Townsend Hathaway

by her daughter, Mary Hathaway Wright

My mother, Esther Wood Townsend, was born at Fredericktown Ohio Feb. 27, 1829, being the fifth child born to Thomas and Ruth Townsend.

When 21 years of age she married Henry Hathaway. The Hathaways lived near the shores of Lake Erie 75 miles north of my mother's home, but they as well as the Townsends belonged to Owl Creek Monthly Meeting, and it was while in attendance at these gatherings that my father met my mother and she found favor in his eyes. In due time they walked side by side up the aisle of the old Owl Creek Meeting House and laid their intentions of matrimony before the meeting, and one month later, there having been no objection made to their union they again walked the meeting house aisle, and after a season of quiet, they arose and taking each other by the hand, spoke the words that made them man and wife. In imagination I hear my father's voice unfalteringly repeating the Friends marriage ceremony. "In the presence of the Lord and before this assembly, I take this Esther Townsend to be my wedded wife, promising by Divine assistance to be unto her a faithful and loving husband until death shall separate us." Then my mother responded in like manner, only substituting father's name for her own. The clerk and several witnesses then signed the certificate, and the simple but beautiful ceremony was over.

The wedding journey was made in a big wagon behind which was tied a cow, the wagon being filled with chests of linen and household goods, my mother's "setting out" her father's dower. Their destination was the house my father had built for his bride at Milan, Ohio on the 75 acre farm, the gift of his father. Here they lived for 14 years when my father died of typhoid, leaving four children, Edward, Thomas, Mary, and Charles, Edward being only twelve years old and Charles six months. My father died on the 12th of Oct. 1864. He and aunt Hannah Kirk dying the same night, my father dying before midnight and aunt Hannah after midnight, so that her death occurred on the 13th and his on the 12th. Aunt Rachel Vore died the same fall.

In her bereavement my mother felt that she must be with her own people and she accordingly rented the farm and we went to Iowa where two of her brothers and three of her sisters were then residing. We spent six months at Springdale where uncle Thomas had a general merchandise store and six months at West Branch, where uncles James and William, and aunts Elizabeth Barrington and Mary Townsend (afterwards Heald) resided. At the end of the year we returned to the farm in Ohio, where my mother, assisted by my brothers Edward aged 13 and Thomas 10, began the battle for a livelihood. When Edward was 21 we again went to Iowa, selling the farm and buying a home in the west end of West Branch, where my mother lived until the time of her death, which occurred from pneumonia April 10th 1881, in the 53rd year of her life.

My brother Edward who had taken much of the care of the fatherless family on his young shoulders, and had been mother's mainstay during her widowhood, died four years before she did, leaving a young wife to whom he had only been married eleven months. This mutual bereavement sealed the love already existing between my mother and this bride widow and they were much together during the remainder of mother's life. Mother lived with brother Thomas and wife at the time of her death. Brother Charles, my husband, and myself were in Kansas and did not reach her bedside in time to see her alive, but Thomas and her loved daughters-in-law were with her almost constantly during her short illness and could comfort me much with the assurance that my mother had an abundant entrance as she passed from works to reward.

Six years after my brother's death his widow remarried and some of you know and love her as Deborah Haines.

"She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness" was my mother's verse in the birthday chapter, the 31st of Prov. and to no one did it ever more rightfully belong. After my father's death she not only had the farm work to oversee, but the housework as well, which included in those days spinning the yarn and doing all the knitting of stockings, scarfs, and mittens for the family. Our floors were all covered with carpets of mother's weaving, and our beds with quilts of her making. She cured our year's supply of meats, made butter and cheese, soap hard and soft; boiled down cider and used in place of sugar in making great kettles of apple-butter, molded the candles that lighted our house, made my brothers' clothes even to their over-coats until they were young men, she having learned the tailoress trade when a girl.

Mother had the first sewing machine in our neighborhood and it was not an uncommon occurrence for some neighbor to come in with her arms full of sewing, and ask mother to change works with her and while mother did the stitching the neighbor did the house work and incidentally they would get in a good visit. I can remember that she often took time to spend an afternoon at school and watch our progress, and I also remember that on such occasions she always had her knitting.

She was never too busy to lend a helping hand to any one who needed it. This was before the time of hired nurses and her ministering hand was at every sick bed in the neighborhood; and it was not physical needs alone that she cared for. She was of a very cheerful disposition and lived with and for her children.

Having been raised very strict after the manner of early Friends it was often hard for her to allow us pleasures in which we could see no harm. I remember that we were very anxious to have a croquet set, and that after thinking it over very seriously for some time she bought us one, although she knew that many of the old Friends would consider it a shameful waste of time and money. One day while we still lived in Ohio a traveling minister from Iowa by the name of James Baily was going to hold a meeting at our house, and I was afraid it would embarrass mother if he knew we had a croquet set, so I went and asked her if I had not better hide it until he was gone. She said "No, if it is not wrong to play croquet then we have nothing to be ashamed of, and if it is we will quit." How often I have been glad that she did not allow me to hide them and thus teach us a lesson in deceit. There was a funny sequel to this story, for when the hand-shaking had proclaimed the meeting over, and mother had asked James Baily to stay for dinner and he had graciously accepted, he turned to my brothers and said, "Come on boys let's have a game of croquet before dinner, I have not had a game since I played with my children before I left home."

I remember another incident which indicated her strict sense of right and her ability to resist temptation. A wealthy lady in our neighborhood came one day bringing a beautiful set of furs, which were however not of the latest fashion; she told mother that she herself had a new set and wanted mother to have these as they were so warm and she knew mother would not care if they were out of date. Mother thanked her for thinking of her and then kindly but very firmly refused the gift. We children could not understand it and were very much disappointed that she should refuse anything that would add so much to her comfort, but she said, "Listen children, Marion is a very worldly woman and a born leader and is often trying to put through something in the neighborhood of which I cannot approve. I am afraid to take her gift for fear she is trying to buy my influence." If mother had have accepted the furs they would have been worn out long ago, but the lesson her action taught, who can tell how far its influence may reach.

What Edward Folsom told us of his mother in regard to her love of poetry is true also of mine. She could repeat by the hour poems learned in girlhood; our favorites were "Whittier's Freedom Songs" and the poems written by Dr. Judson's wives, to be found in the book entitled, Lives of The Three Mrs. Judsons.

My mother had in common with the rest of her sisters, at least so far as I knew them, a keen sense of the ridiculous, a trait which helped them over many of the hard places in life. I asked for no better time when a girl than to spend the afternoon with aunt E. Barrington and my mother and listen to their animated conversation. An incident comes to my mind when mother's sense of humor saved the day. Brother Tommy was very small of his age which was quite a thorn in the flesh to him; one day mother had just finished a suit of clothes for him, and he was trying them on. He knew that he looked pretty nice and was strutting accordingly; when brother Eddie in a spirit of mischief kicked at him, just as we sometimes see would-be wits spit on some one's new shoes. He was closer to Tommie than he realized and unhappily caught his foot in the pocket of the new coat and tore it down on both sides nearly to the bottom. Mother was tired and nervous from several days of hard sewing on the suit. The culprit was very penitent and stood looking sorrowfully at the seemingly ruined coat. Mother very sternly said "Edward what shall I say when people ask me what happened"? Edward was silent for a moment and then with mischief in his eye said, "Tell them Tommy was so little that I stepped in his pocket." Mother hesitated for a moment, then we all laughed and the crisis passed. The laugh rested mother's nerves, Edward asked forgiveness and mother mended the coat so neatly that no one ever knew it but those in the secret.

My memory of my mother is of one who had an unfaltering trust in her Heavenly Father and her cheerful ways and helping hand left sunshine all along her path, and the example of her godly life will live on in many lives, so that though dead she yet will speak.

Mary Hathaway Wright, Sept. 10th 1917