The pioneer years slipped rapidly as busy years always do. Every year through careful planning and systematic effort, subduing the prairie soil, in planting and cultivating and harvesting the crops, in watchful care over faithful horses, productive cattle and sheep and swine, and in husbanding the returns from all, this earnest man, delighting in his task was making substantial progress in thrift toward the legitimate goal of financial independence. He was approaching mastery of a situation rather than being mastered by a situation. Had he been less devoted to his patient earnest wife and to the children who had come into the household some years after the war, this lover of the farm and all the interests there would have remained in this his realm, grown rich and independent. But back of his enterprising spirit and determined untiring energy, he was a man with great heart and soul.
The wife's grandfather and the step-grandmother who had brought the four grandchildren to Iowa, who had cared for them, sacrificed for them and reared them, were now aged and unable to care for themselves, and there was no one to give them the care they needed - no one but the eldest granddaughter on whom so many had depended and on whom many others now depended. Would she bring her family and live with John and Mary Abbott during their declining days? It was four miles between the two homes for the grandfather lived near half a mile west of the village of Le Grand. Could these people who loved the farm, leave it to renters? Could this husbandman leave stock and orchard and groves and fertile fields and shade trees of his own planting, and vines of his own tending, leave fence rows and hedge rows where the wild quail built their nests hidden by the prairie grass and the wild flowers, leave the autumn fields where the prairie chickens gathered literally in droves to glean the wheat fields and the corn fields, -could they move out of the plain comfortable farm cottage they had builded and loved so much? Could they? That is why the young Pilgrim, then just a little boy, cannot remember his home, his birthplace except as he might have seen it in later years, the home always of someone else.
The home of Grandfather John Abbott was not palatial. There was a west room and an east room and the house faced south, and the highway, usually dusty or muddy during the late spring and summer and early autumn, but in winter it was frozen hard as pavement, but not so smooth, and it might be covered deep with Iowa snows. This road running east and west has been known since the early days as Quaker Lane, and the reason for it is quite obvious as one knew the settlers for miles on either side of the road.
Concerning this pioneer dwelling, the west room or portion of the house was perhaps twenty or twenty-four feet square, built of hewed native logs. This room had two windows on the south and a front door built of native lumber and with an iron latch, the door about midway between the two windows. There was also a "back door" on the north, perhaps one window and a shed or summer kitchen extended north toward the well with its "old oaken bucket" its chain and long rope and homemade windlass, curb and platform. It should have been noted that on the west wall of the room was the huge stone fireplace built of stone with chimney of bricks. North of the house near the well was a great willow tree and beyond it some cottonwood trees of giant proportions. Below there and a little to the east were some fine apple trees and some grape vines and a bit more to the east a garden where in summer grew those common vegetables which still have a place in Iowa gardens - and always the thrifty rhubarb or pieplant. Some flowers adorned both the back yard and the front yard, lilies and phlox, snowballs and lilacs - always these and later many others.
At some time and perhaps here, there should be a paragraph about the wildflowers of the pioneer days. Of course there are books about such but few read the books now. Be it remembered, the Iowa soil is deep and rich and the rainfall is usually ample so that everywhere in the springtime and summer there was rapid growth of prairie grass and prairie flowers. A few places yet remain, as along railroad rights of way or other small strips of land where the plow has never disturbed the virgin soil, and here you may find samples or remnants of the early days when the sweet william and the phlox, the wild lilies and the violets, and later the mints, the wild asters and the goldenrod and scores of others which cannot here be mentioned, made the entire State a riot of color and glory and gave to the summer breezes a perfume rare and sweet.
A friend of mine told me of his father who lived near Iowa City. It became necessary for this father to make a business trip to Des Moines and of course there was no public transportation and private conveyance was limited, so he set out alone to make the journey on foot. On his return after many days he had much to say about his experience and the joy of it all. He recounted going from one hilltop to another and from everyone feeling a new thrill in the beauty of the wild flowers until he freely confessed that he felt sorry, almost guilty, that there was no one with him with whom he might share the rapture in every new and more delightful vision.
Back to the house again: The east room was similar in size, but being of later construction was of native lumber, well built but rough, unadorned and unpainted. The doors uniting the two large rooms, as well as the outside doors of this newer portion were carpenter made and each had its old fashioned iron latch. In this room was a narrow stairway leading to a primitive low ceiling upstairs - a very important "catch all" and extra room. On the east was a chimney and the room was heated by a stove. There were windows quite sufficient for light and ventilation. This part of the house became the home for the retiring pioneer farmer and his faithful and patient wife and the two "promising" children and it became the crude birthplace of the younger child.
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Memory - what a strange but important faculty. Sometimes it may be a bit treacherous, sometimes it holds what we might wish to forget. Its real importance in human life no one can evaluate.
There is little indeed stored in the memory of the Pilgrim concerning the Great Grandfather, John Abbott, just a faint memory which may have been aided by some accounts given by others or by some old fashioned "likeness." He must have passed away shortly after these readjustments had been made. There is some memory however, about the step-great Grandmother Mary Abbott who lived to be more than eighty-three years of age, her death occurring when the young step-great-grandson was five or six years old.
Mary Abbott was a character who claimed to be a descendent of Pocohontas, and that might have been true. She seemed rather remarkable in many ways. To the children there seemed to be no end to her stories of Indians and their threats to various settlements in which she herself had lived. Often at evening time the children were allowed to go into Grandmother's room to hear her tell stories. Perhaps some of these stories were not too conducive to peaceful slumber but the children were ever ready for more.
How aged and wrinkled and quaint she was. She was confined to her room and much to her bed toward the closing months - perhaps years of her life. She was something of a real old fashioned smoker and her room was often blue with the cloud of tobacco smoke. Her tobacco was home grown and made into "twists" of considerable proportions and too strong for the ordinary pipe smoker. Long after she had smoked her last pipe full, many of these generous twists could still be found lying about the premises. While lying ill during many months she needed much attention and friends and neighbors seemed willing to share in this ministry.
One thing frequently necessary to Grandmother's comfort was to assist with this ancient clay pipe, yellow with age and use. The patient to the very last would fill the pipe from the "twist" ever near by, then would request the attendant to take it to the fireplace and place a live coal on the tobacco in the bowl. On one occasion a young English man, very recently from England, volunteered to give some assistance in the "sick room." On receiving the request to place the coal of fire in the desired place, he did so and generously decided to give the stem a "draw" or two to insure satisfactory lighting. He then handed the pipe to the patient and, though he became a permanent resident in the neighborhood, was married and reared and educated his family there and became a highly appreciated minister of the gospel, he was never known by anyone to take another draw on any pipe. In fact, immediately after this one generous but unthoughted effort he went out behind the house and deeply regretted the occurrence.
Strange as it may seem to us these days, Quaker groups would gather in that tobacco scented room and would sit or stand about Grandmother Abbott's bed while she would puff more smoke into the polluted atmosphere and recite history and thrilling incidents concerning earlier Quakers, especially in slavery times and in pioneer life, ever and again giving evidence of remarkable understanding of the attitudes and messages of George Fox and Robert Barclay; of the Hicksite separation, of the ministry of Joseph John Gurney, John Wilber and others.
As to grandparents on the father's side of the house the Pilgrim has little if anything stored in his memory. The Grandfather was Jacob B. McGrew, a strong character and ardent Quaker. Records of the first and other early sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting record his name on important committees and he was evidently in thorough sympathy with the move to Iowa and pleased with pioneer activity. There is memory concerning a roan horse whose name was Bill, and a sort of top buggy or carriage, and it was said that this outfit was pretty well known throughout the neighborhood, throughout Bangor Quarterly Meeting and on the highway leading to Oskaloosa where Yearly Meeting was held.
It is reported that enroute to and from Yearly Meeting there would be times of very deliberate traveling, when some driver behind him would undertake to pass Jacob and his roan driving horse but at that moment Grandfather would pull the lines up tight and with firmness and positiveness would simply say, "Bill" - that was enough and the would-be passer remained a follower.
Grandmother had been a Southern girl and her maiden name was Martha Davis, her father being a Southern gentleman David Davis, their first born son was given the name of David Davis McGrew, and he was usually known as Davis McGrew.
Returning now to the consideration of this man, the Pioneer, and to his family, it must be noted that he did not give up his activity and his enthusiasm for doing things because he had moved from the farm. At once he purchased twenty acres from Grandfather Abbott, lying immediately west of the old house and the other pioneer improvements. On a portion of this twenty acres he engaged in the necessary business and sold hundreds of favorite apple trees, plums, grape vines and some more ornamental shrubbery. His nurseries became popular for the fruit was true to name and trees and vines of all kinds when transplanted grew, because of special care in digging the trees and other shrubs and vines, so that the entire root system was preserved. Careful instructions were always given as to the best method of transfer and resetting. Some years later when retiring from the nursery business he had opportunity to arrange his own orchard and had in all about a thousand trees. Groves, attractive and spacious were planted, ornamental and rare trees were placed here and there and a site selected for a new home with improvements necessary for stock and the storing of crops of hay and grain. When other conditions were ready, a neat and convenient barn was constructed the framework of which was native timber.
A well was necessary and rather unfortunately it was necessary to drill through strata of limestone before a water supply was obtained. Then came the building of the residence, and it is not necessary to say much about it. It stands today after more than sixty years of constant use, in excellent repair, a monument to the importance of the best of materials put together by master workmen. The plans were made by the father and mother and it was constructed with as many conveniences as the times and their financial condition would permit, as a home for them and their household. Here the Pioneer remained until he was carried to the nearby cemetery to rest there beside loved ones and under beautiful trees of his own planting.
What a home it was - dear, beautiful, quaint old home, the home of the Quaker Pilgrim from eight years of age until his legal maturity, his boyhood home, and to his two sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, their girlhood home. It faced Quaker Lane and was one substantial landmark in the strong Quaker community.
Reference has already been made to two older sons of this early Pioneer, both living at the time of the father's marriage to the pioneer girl and young woman Alpha Pearson. The eldest of these sons Anderson H. McGrew had reached maturity before the birth of the young Pilgrim, out on "the old farm" on March 4, 1868, indeed he had not only reached maturity but had married a wife, Lydia Jane Hiatt of Oskaloosa and they had established their home and were presently receiving one by one a lovely group of six children as members of their household. The new children of the Parental home therefore knew little and were little influenced directly by this eldest halfbrother. The second halfbrother however lived at home or made the father's home his headquarters for many years. His name was Benjamin H. McGrew, the "H." in each case stood for Hammond in memory of their mother who was before marriage Deborah Hammond one of the many children of Benjamin and Margaret Hammond. This worthy and distinguished family became great community builders making a record contribution the story of which should be written by someone well informed and able to evaluate high ideals and strong personality. The grandson Benjamin H. McGrew is worthy of positive tribute as one of the finest representatives of what may safely be regarded as two of the great Quaker families of "Pioneer Days." It is not assumption to say that this older half brother, Bennie McGrew, influenced the life of the youthful Pilgrim as no man save the Father and that his influence was wholly along a different line - a more subtle indirect "hero worship" type as over against the direct positive commanding though loving type exercised by the head of the household.
The parental influence began early and continued always. What a father he was, vigorous, strong, undaunted, unyielding, yet sympathetic. His word was exactly what he meant and he used justifiable means to lead his young son to believe it. If morning had arrived and it was time to arise, one kindly but positive call was sufficient and that may be why the young lad never quite liked his first name - for that is what he heard first in the morning. As to evening time and retirement time there were some proper hours to observe, which accounts for experiences in young, very young manhood when social life was just opening, when on many a frosty night shoes were removed at the front yard gate and stocking feet left tracks on the frosty walk all to no purpose however for in spite of precautions, of fresh oiling of door hinges and door locks, always something happened and the late arrival was duly announced.
Quite naturally in boyhood there was some mutual resentment to some things the father advocated which seemed too exacting. And what were some of these, - well there were many. The father was rather skillful in what he undertook and always insisted if a task was worth doing at all it was worth doing well - in fact the very best one could do it. The task was almost sacred until the result was attained. All this meant straight furrows in the soil and straight rows for plants and trees and everything else.
This father was near 44 years of age when his young son was born and the lad's memory contained little concerning him until the father was fifty years of age - what seemed to the boy quite an aged man. Unfortunately hard work throughout life and especially of pioneer years had telling effect so that with rheumatism and other persistent ailments he was compelled to assume somewhat the attitude of one in more advanced years and perhaps to be less sympathetic with the shiftlessness and frivolities of youth. The father, keen and alert mentally, sometimes regarded his son as easy going and not so pronouncedly rapid in his activities as he might have been. It seemed however the father was intent on doing his part toward the development of the more or less hopeless subject.
Whatever his success may have been in training, the young man remembered throughout life one statement the father made to a neighbor man who wanted to employ the boy to do a piece of work of rather commonplace character. The remark was simply this, " It may take him a little longer to do that work than it would take some others to do it, but when he has completed it thee will be satisfied with the results." Perhaps no one is ever quite worthy of words of confidence like those, but back of these words the father had taken a very active part in the training. Earlier in his undertaking he once said to his son, "If work could be as interesting to thee as baseball is, thee would get a great deal more done."
Once in the boyhood days the father and son were hitching the team to the wagon to drive a quarter of a mile to a neighbor's home where one horse was to be hitched with the neighbor's horse for some special journey. In the preparation for the quarter of a mile the lad did not put the end of a certain strap through a leather loop called a "keeper." When the father called attention to the omission the son said just driving a distance of a few rods not requiring more than five minutes, he thought it unnecessary to which the father replied, "No matter how far or how long - always hitch as if were a long all day drive. Never be careless."
The spirit of thrift and care of details were marked characteristics throughout his life and he did what he could to build these into the lives of those for whom he felt responsibility. There is a right way to do everything so find out what it is in each particular case then do it that way. Make your garden that way, plant corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, trees, - everything - straight rows, proper depth, prepared soil - do it all as it should be done - construct fences, buildings - as they should be constructed. As for implements and tools, use them properly and when through with the task put them in their respective places. The implements used in the soil must be thoroughly cleaned before hanging them up - every noon and every night they must be cleaned until bright, then, rubbed with a cloth saturated with oil to prevent rust. Such implements used for 25 or 40 years were still as fresh and ready for use as when purchased from the store.
His mind was the mind of a student, though his schooling ceased at the age of twelve years. There was accuracy in speech, in spelling and composition, in writing and in arithmetic.
The wife, the mother of the pilgrim was always calm and quietly thoughtful and methodical. Her girlhood was passed under a sense of responsibility for Sarah and Daniel and Rachel all younger and each one looked to her for care, council and advice. Her early married life was beset with problems, the natural problems of pioneer life and her two first born children, coming within a year of each other both died in early infancy and shortly following came the first of the three who survived. Doctors were far away and in those days sent for only as a last resort - often too late, while nurses were practically unknown and midwives were few. A "hired girl" was a luxury so the mother must be brave and strong if she survives.
With all, this mother was possessed with cheerful, undaunted spirit and she faced the inevitable triumphantly. She said little about her plans and purposes but sang softly and sweetly at her tasks and did her sewing, darning and knitting in the evening or night time. When she prayed it was personal communion with One who understood without many words.
No qualified Home Economics Instructor ever instructed her, but in a plain simple way she prepared food for her household - an abundance of it and it was tasty, nourishing and satisfying and always clean and properly seasoned. There was no Red Cross course in her day and no opportunities to study the fine art of nursing, but she had the essential fundamental qualifications of a nurse. She was brave, sympathetic, prompt, gentle and patient. When her little boy of seven years was stricken with scarlet fever it seemed to all that he too was to be lost from the household, indeed Dr. Michener the efficient attending physician had almost no hope of recovery. When however the patient did recover, the doctor had the credit in the estimate of the neighborhood, but a mother's unyielding vigil night after night of sleepless watching after each full day of toil, her prompt and timely ministrations, - all this and all credit is recorded with her quiet prayers in the book of imperishable records.
References have been made to both the Father and the Mother in this home and one might from these references draw certain conclusions concerning personality and character but the fundamental thing has not yet been definitely expressed. They were both religious.
Each had been "birthright Quakers" or Friends, which means the parents of each "belonged to Meeting." Probably that was true with the parents of each - and perhaps for other generations of ancestors if records were available. Of course just the fact that they were born "Friends" did not make them religious, but each had somewhere along through the years accepted the authority of the Bible, the fact of God, and of Redemptive Grace revealed in and through His only begotten Son and had made that Grace personal by turning from evil and accepting the Divine provisions and choosing the way of Life in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The Father had experienced victory over habits that had clung to him since boyhood and certain definite tendencies had been conquered and he had learned to live courageously and consistently the Christian life. The Golden Rule was his rule and there were never law suits or quarrels with neighbors and beyond this there was ever an earnest effort to minister to the needy. The "Meeting" must be maintained through support from the membership and he was never "in arrears" about his pact of such funds. Sometimes in the various meetings and in the Bible School or "First Day School" he took part in speaking, offering prayer or in teaching the Scriptures.
Very definitely he was Christian in his home. Not a morning passed but there was "family worship." The family, the visitors, anyone employed, - all must gather in a circle around the room and when seated and "quiet had settled upon them" the father read "a portion of Scripture." Again quiet prevailed for a time during which anyone who would might pray vocally or not as he felt disposed. Often after he had read the scripture and had closed the Book and placed it again on the small table he would kneel beside his old but favorite rocking chair and apparently taking all others with him into the elevator of prayer, up higher and higher to the very eternal throne of the eternal God that in His presence all might be refreshed and strengthened to meet the exacting tasks and temptations of the new day. About it all there could be no hurry for no demands or appointments or tasks could interfere with the time of worship. If some urgent demand was anticipated then the hours of sleep were abbreviated, all were up earlier and breakfast was over earlier and the usual time for worship thus provided.
As a Quaker among Quakers he was orthodox through and through and of the "conservative" type. For the greater part of his life he affiliated with the larger body of Friends, a member of the near by local meeting belonging to Bangor Quarterly which with the state group of Quarterly Meeting formed the strong and aggressive and somewhat progressive Iowa Yearly Meeting which met annually at Oskaloosa.
He was not in harmony with certain trends within the body of Friends meetings such as the acceptance of singing in meetings, especially congregational singing - leading toward the use of musical instruments as an aid to singing. Neither did he regard the tendency toward an orderly or designated program of conducting meetings as Friendly or after the manner of early Quakers, and a "ministry of stated times" by designated individuals seemed not in accord with Friends views.
Without contention and without grievance or bitterness he felt that these conditions were not in harmony with his conceptions of the Quaker ideals which he held and that for the sake of those who felt otherwise as well as for his own convictions he had best transfer his membership to a conservative type of Friends Meeting known as the Stavanger Meeting located some three miles south of the Le Grand Meeting. This meeting was conservative and the membership was predominantly Norwegian. With no movement of "separation" a very few other memberships were transferred. Perhaps none who thus united with the Stavanger meeting group ever asked or expected anyone else to do as they were doing.
Without assuming to offer any criticism at all it would seem a bit unfortunate to divide the family in this manner in their church interests for in this instance at least the Mother and the children continued their affiliation with the old home meeting.
The Mother was Quaker too and none the less Quaker than the Father, for she was consistent in following her convictions and gave every outward sign of loyalty to the inheritance which was hers in the "faith of her fathers."
It would be unfair to pass by some interesting characteristics in this conservative Quaker Father, least with what has been stated he might seem a little austere, unnatural and quite out of the realm of hopeful, jovial human life. He loved his social contacts, his household was dear to him and wife and children were his joy and his concern. He worked with them and for them and they laughed and joked together, gave and returned gifts as expressions of loving interest. Sometimes he read stories aloud, sometimes sang old songs for he was quite naturally musical. Only the most trivial and commonplace instruments of music were allowed on the home premises. There was no organ in the home while he lived and no piano, and there was a serious condition of high atmospheric tension when the older half brother brought home a violin one evening, an instrument which he was learning to play in an attempted orchestra in the village. The outcome in this difference of opinion need not be reviewed here but it was a real difference just as logical as the fact that to the young man the instrument was a violin but to the more mature man it was nothing more or less than a fiddle. There is no record showing what music was first rendered by the young man with the violin - it might have been "Nellie Gray" or "Home Sweet Home", or "Auld Lang Syne", but in any event it might have been the same tune the father started whistling when, seated on the spring seat of his wagon with the lines drawn tight over his well kept team of horses, he was off for a load of corn from the old pioneer farm. He was a great whistler, sometimes the tunes of favorite gospel hymns as he was driving or doing his morning and evening chores about the barnyard or often driving on the highway - or instead of hymn music he might catch up from boyhood memory some other tune that would never be catalogued as sacred. "Strange" you say, well perhaps, but somehow others believed in him. Often he drove past the farm home of a fine spirited Norwegian Quaker whose name was Christian Gimory who sometimes said in his broken English, "I like Davis McGrew and I think he is a good man, but he whistles so much." Yes it was strange was it not?