The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or email@example.com to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
In most museums, some things get set aside because of uncertainty over what to do with them or just because there is more work than the staff can handle. Twenty years ago, a woman mailed us a Bible with a note that she was moving and going through things when she "came upon this old Bible." It is not our policy to accept old Bibles - or anything else - unless it has a special local story or significance. We copy the family genealogy information that may be in the Bibles, but we don't keep the Bibles. The donor did not want this Bible back, so we set it aside.
The pages from the Abbey Family Bible where their arrival in Gerry is noted.
Recently we took another look and decided to make an exception in this case. This Bible was printed in 1815 in Massachusetts by E. Merriam and Company, predecessor of the company that today is most known for publishing the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary plus the most authoritative unabridged American dictionary. The Bible contains birth and death dates for members of the Abbey family entered by four different people, judging by the handwriting. The last death date entered is Aug. 28, 1875, for Henry Abbey "aged 87 Yrs. lacking one week of being 88 yrs. old."
Henry Abbey, born in Connecticut, had married Eva Ingersol, a native of Massachusetts, May 6, 1814. They had three daughters (Laura, 7, Harriet, 5, and Sally, 3) and a son, Oliver, 1 year old at the time they moved to Chautauqua County from Chenango County.
As I open this Bible to the Gospels and read the lovely and familiar cadences in the story of the birth of Jesus in King James English, I realize this book was brought to Chautauqua County in a difficult, lonely, weeks-long journey by a family in a covered wagon or perhaps an ox cart. One of that family recorded in the Bible, "Moved to Gary(sic) May the 11. 1822." The town of Gerry was soon divided into Gerry, Charlotte, Cherry Creek and Ellington. The Abbeys lived in the north part of the present Ellington. They had five other children, but they apparently lived quietly, rarely showing up in the history books. They aren't mentioned as members of any of the early Ellington, Cherry Creek or Gerry churches.
Understandably, few artifacts survive that made such journeys with our first settlers. Fewer still have managed to retain their stories and their identities. Starting with the Old Settlers Reunions of the 1870s and running up to the Jamestown centennial in 1927 (100 years since the incorporation of Jamestown as a village) one finds published lists of artifacts and mementoes exhibited by families. Watches, table ware, swords, swatches of cloth or whole wedding dresses, and guns from the old New England homes are mentioned, some from the 17th century, a few from even more ancient centuries in the Old World. Items with any tenuous connection to George Washington, rude tools of pioneer life, early newspapers, furniture, and documents were all listed. Where are they now? I think of the Abbey family that brought the Bible, living at first in a log cabin, reading by candle light, this Bible, letters from the old home, school books, and possibly an Albany newspaper. Then for the next 50 years, in a better home, they occasionally recorded their births, marriages and deaths.
Eva died Jan. 23, 1857, Oliver in 1890. They and Henry are all buried in Cherry Creek Cemetery. Their Bible came down through the Mosher family in Falconer. Henry and Eva's daughter, Harriet Lucretia Abbey, married Ephraim Mosier in 1844. The Henry Mosier American Legion Post 638 in Falconer is named after their grandson.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.