Account from Rutherford B. Hayes of His Childhood with His Sister, Fanny Hayes Platt

 

Written by Rutherford B. Hayes in July 1856

 

My sister Fanny Arabella Hayes was born at Delaware Ohio January 25, 1820. The family then consisted of our father and mother Rutherford and Sophia Hayes, an older Sister Sophia, an older brother Lorenzo, Uncle Sardis mothers brother, and a cousin of mothers Arcena Smith afterwards Mrs. Masson. Sophia died before Fannys recollection in 1821 and Lorenzo was drowned at the age of nine years while skating on the Mill pond at Delaware in January 1825. Fanny always retained a very pleasant recollection of him. He was kind and good natured – prompt, energetic and courageous and the earliest protector of his little sister. Father died before Fanny was three years old on the 20th of July 1822 of a fever. I was born a few months afterwards. At the time of my first recollections our family consisted of Mother, Fanny, Uncle Sardis, Arcena Smith and myself. It is probable that Mr. ------ and Mr. Thomas Masson (afterward married to Arcena) were members of the family, or lived with us as boarders soon after my fathers death. I recollect them both as far back as I remember any one. During these early years Uncle was regarded as the stay of the family and our protector and adviser in every trouble. He was appointed guardian of Fanny and myself and during all our live has been a father to us. – We lived in a new two story brick house of the North East corners of Millian and Winter Streets opposite of the old brick Methodist meeting house in Delaware. It was building at the time of fathers death and remained in part unfinished until about 1828. Our garden, grass plot and barn yard occupied, I think, two village lots about twelve rods on Millian Street by sixteen on Winter Street. We had two apple trees six or eight fine English cherry trees, several peach trees, a couple of quince, and currant bushes in abundance. At the outer edge of the sidewalk in front of the house on Millian Street were planted a number of locusts which grew to a large size. The kitchen was an old one story frame building fronting on Winter Street adjoining the new house. About a year after fathers death we moved into the new house but our resources were so limited that we got no new furniture and were rather scantily supplied. A new bureau and stand still to be seen in Mothers room at Columbus and plain wood bottomed chairs, a gilt frame looking glass a good carpet and cheap curtains furnished the parlor. We were well provided with all that was necessary for comfort and our red brick house built fronting on the street was as good as the houses of our neighbors. I do not know that Fanny or myself ever envied the condition of housing of our friends except perhaps the picture and story books which Mr. Pettibone, the leading lawyer of the village, gave his children. And after Uncle Birchard went into business we were well supplied with everything of the sort by him. Mothers income was derived from the rent of a good farm about two miles north of town on the East side of the ------. We received as rent one third of the crops and half of the fruit delivered at our barn and house in town. The great events of our childhood were connected with this farm. We visited it three or four times a year each trip ocupying a whole day. Sugar walking, cider -------, cherry time, and gathering hickory nuts and walnuts were the occasions of these long looked for and delightful trips. Mother sometimes rode on horseback carrying one and sometimes both of us on the horse behind her. Generally however we walked and crossed the river a short distance below the barn in a canal. The tenants always very attentive to Fanny and myself. They gave us colored eggs filled with sugar at Easter pet birds, squirrels rabbits quail eggs turtles eggs and other curious gifts easily found in the country at that time.

 

My earliest recollections of Fanny is as my protector and nurse when I was a sickly feeble boy of three or four years old. She would lead my carefully about the gardern and barn yard and on short visits to the nearest neighbors. She was loving and kind to me and very generous. With the growing pressure in the family she was at this time quick tempered and obstinate. Uncle Birchard to tease her would put her on the mantel piece and tell her she must stay there until she asked him to take her down. This she would not do, but sitting perfectly upright to avoid falling her face flushed with anger she would bid him defiance and rarely if ever give up. She slept with Arcena and loved her dearly. The first important incident of her life which I recollect was a long and severe illness in the Summer of 1829. At one time her life was despaired of and for many weeks she was dangerously sick. After the disease (dysentery) left her she was a long time regaining her strength. It was in the summer during the warmest weather – after she was able to sit up I daily gave her little rides upon a small handsled which with great difficulty I hauled about the garden. We were both very happy. I can remember no happier days in childhood than these. Fanny was very grateful and ---- so glad that I could be happy spending the days with her. We have often spoken of it in later years and re--- to that period as the beginning of the warm attachment which has lasted during her life. While she was recovering she had a wonderful appetite and ate with the keenest relish potatoes roasted in the ashes and slices of fat pork broiled on the coals. I shall never forget with what delight we all watched her as she was eating.

 

About this time we first began to go to school together. Fanny was always the best scholar in school of her age. She was a favorite with scholars and teachers. Her superiority and success as a scholar were united with such modesty and sweetness of disposition that unfriendly feeling of rivalry were rarely if ever executed against her. She read a great deal when she was a child. All the books we had were read by her before she was ten years old. Uncle gave her a history of England in two volumes – small volumes – abridged I think from H---- & S---- about 1830. She soon had it at her tongues end. She knew by heart the “Lady of the Lake” and a great part of ? allah Roo-- - gifts from Uncle Birchard – almost as long ago as I remember anything about books. These are a collection styled “original poems” containing “the last dying speech and confessions of  -- puss “Tit for tat” and other pieces of about equal --- were our constant companions. Finer poetry we have never seen since. When she was about twelve she read all the plays of Shakespeare, and without and aid from family as far as I know selected those which are generally esteemed the best to be read again and again. – This reading of plays suggested the writing of plays, and she with my assistance undertook to dramatize the Lady of the Lake. I am sure neither of us had ever heard of such a thing. This job done on joint account ocupied a good deal of our thoughts for a long time. Our success was not very flattering. Long after would we learned that it was a common things to dramatise poems, and that the Lady of the Lake had been upon the stage many years – In 1835 when I began to prepare for college and recite Latin and Greek to Mr Finch at his house or office she also took up the same studies and recited to me after my return from recitation with Mr F. and thus get the benefit of his corrections and explanations. In these studies she way very successful and used often to wish that she was a boy so she might go with me to college. She was preserving in her efforts to draw and paint and as compared with her schoolmates made encouraging improvement. But she always said that she had no natural gift either for music painting or drawing, and that her only paintings that were tolerable were those she painted when a little girl with colors obtained from mustard blossoms, holly bush and other garden flowers. Mother was pleased with Fannys painting and proud of showing them. This continued until Fanny grew up, and became ashamed of the school girl “daubs”. She destroyed or hid a great part of them but mother preserved a few of them and in later years Fanny and myself --- had a happy laugh over them. What wit and fun she used to pour out over these pictures and the troubles they had given her! When very young she was taught to ride, play chess, and shoot with a rifle. Although she was always a retiring quiet modest little girl, even so as to be a favorite with those whose sense of propriety swallows up every other virtue, yet in many manly sports she was perfectly fearless and very successful. She rode gracefully and was the best rifle shot of any lady I ever knew. She was a skillful player at chess and indeed of every other games. She was small of her age as a girl round plump and beautiful – neat in her dress and of very winning manners. I do not remember to have even thought her beautiful until after she was married. Mrs. Wasson says she always thought her the prettiest girl she ever saw.

 

In 1828 Uncle Birchards health failed and he traveled South hoping to be benefited by the change of climate. During his absence Fanny and I followed him in his travels by traceing his route from his letters on the map. We talked of him constantly. His absence of perhaps ten or fifteen months seemed like an age. He had been so in the habit of teasing Fanny that she still disliked him. Still we took great interest in his letters and enjoyed the scenes and adventures he described and looked forward anxiously to his return. When he returned Fanny had grown and inproved so much that he no longer thought of teasing her and they were forever after dear friends. He went to reside in the Northern part of the State but his visits were frequent and made us very happy –

 

In 183_[?] Arcena married Mr. Thos Wasson and soon after they moved into a house just opposite to ours on the South side of Wm Street. When Fanny learned the object of Mr W’s visits, she became very angry – she scolded at him and about him – she locked the door when she saw him coming and declared he should never have Arcena for his wife. She finally became reconciled and after the marriage spent much time at Mr Wassons. In the fall after Mrs. W had gone to housekeeping Mother went to Lower Sandusky to nurse Uncle through a severe sickness - bilious fever – and was absent five or six weeks. Fanny and I boarded with Mrs. Wasson while Mother was gone and were constantly together. This was an eventful period in our lives. We were very homesick and had a great many childish trials and troubles. Our friends were very kind to us but nothing could comfort us. We wanted our Mother! We had never before known how much we loved her, nor how necessary she was to our happiness. One of our greatest trials was the loss of our old cat. Our old family puss which had been with us ever since we could remember was left in the house during Mothers absence. There being no one to feed her at home she wandered off and for several days we didn’t know where she was. After hunting all over the neighborhood we found her dead under an apple tree in a neighbor’s garden. Her loss under any circumstances would have been a sore trial to us but something led us to think she had been starved to death! We suffered almost as much as if she had been a human being. She was one of the family – our little family – we buried her with suitable solemnity and were inconsolable several days ----

 

Before Mother returned a District school was opened near our house and Mrs. Wasson thought if best for us to go. The school was free to all and was crowded with scholars of all ages from little folks of our own size up to young men grown – The school Master Daniel Granger was a little this wiry energetic Yankee, with black hair, sallow complexion and piercing black eyes; and when excited appeared to us a demon of ferocity. He flogged great strapping fellows of twice his size and talked savagely of making them “dance about like a parched pea”, and throwing them through the walls of the school house. He threw a large jack-knife, carefully aimed so as just to miss, the head of a boy who was whispering near me. All the younger scholars were horribly afraid of him. We though our lives were in danger. We knew he would kill some of us. Fanny and I begged Mr Wasson with many tears to take us out of school. But he knew Mr. Ganger to be a kind hearted little man insisted on our going. We then looked forward to Mothers return as our only hope. We grew homesick. We had never been separated from Mother and went about mourning together and could not be comforted. One dismal rainy day we were told as we came out of school that Mother had returned. She had traveled on horseback five days through mud and water from Lower Sandusky now Fremont. We flew to meet her with a joy rarely experienced even in childhood. We staid at home from school that afternoon sitting in Mothers lap and clinging to her in perfect happiness.

 

During the following Winter, about 1831, Sarah Moody now Mrs Kilbourne came from Massachusetts and spent several months with us. She was the first relative we have ever seen except members of our own family. Our cousin was then about nineteen or twenty years old and had many accomplishments not then common in Delaware. We soon grew very fond and very proud of her. Fanny at once began to learn from our Cousin and was soon possessed of all her acquirements. I shall never forget how we enjoyed her recitations of poetry and how Fanny soon learned from her life “the adventures of a rain drop” –asking Sarah to repeat it without letting the object be known until she had it by heart. – After Mrs. Wasson left us Fanny and Mother did all the housework. Fanny became ambitious to make a good housekeeper and easily acquired all the mysteries of cooking baking and the like. She rose early called us up to breakfast in the Winter before day light and on washing days – Mondays- hurried us all up and working with Mother often had the clothes “out to dry” before breakfast time. Once in her eagerness to be early up and doing she had a fire built and kettles of water boiling when upon calling up Mother it was found not to be yet midnight! In 1834 we made our first journey. In company with Mother we visited all our relatives in Vermont and Massachusetts. I recollect very little about Fanny during this trip. She was with her cousins the girls, I was with the boys. I recollect I was proud to hear what was said about her. Grandfather Hayes and Grand Mother and indeed all the kindred loved her. There were several superior girls among the Hayes Cousins. In fact the observations I then made are the foundation of the notion I hear after expressed that the Hayes women were far superior to the men. And yet I think that then and since Fanny had always been the favorite of all the grand children. Uncle William R Hayes the youngest and best educated of our Uncles loves her as if she were is own daughter. Uncle Austin Birchard a man of sterling --------talent and of warm generous nature used to watch her with his bright face and eyes bearing with love and delight. From this time I began to prize her at her true value and to think of her as the joy of our little home circle. Whatever advantages other boys had over me none had such a sister as mine!

 

During the next two years Fanny attended a high school – the best in the village, and she was the best scholar in it. Mrs. Harrison I think was the principal --- In addition to her studies at school she read all, or nearly all, the readable books in the circulating library and all she could borrow. Before she went to a boarding school in Putnam she had read all the novels and the greater part of all the other books in Delaware. I say all the novels, perhaps there were some exceptions – but in 1837 I spent about six months galloping through novels we found some which she had not read. In the Spring of 1835 we made a trip together to Lower Sandusky to visit Uncle Sardis. It happened that Genl Hinton was in the stage and was very kind to us taking care that we were provided at the hotels with seats at the table sleeping rooms at night and whatever we needed. Supposing that he attending to everything I asked no questions about bills and travelled the whole distance, getting regular meals and stopping twice at Tiffin and Marion – over night without paying a cent. I first learned this when having reached Lower Sandusky I prepared to settle with Genl H. the bills he had paid for us on the route. On our return two or three weeks after it was all made right. Our good luck was due to Uncle Sardis. All the landlords knew him and in some way – probably from the stage drivers – it was learned that we were his little folks. While we were at L.S. I was occupied chiefly in watching the fisherman drawing their ---- in the Sandusky River and in gazing open mouthed at Gov Lucas army of invasion or protection who were marching to the Michigan frontier. It was perhaps this year soon after our return home that Fanny was chosen by the girls Queen of May. She heard that one of her school friends Miss( ----- Cynthia La----) was disappointed in not being selected. Fanny quietly contrived to decline the honor and to have it conferred on her friend. In the summer of 1836 I went to Norwalk to attend the Methodist Academy under the charge of Mr. Chapman, and was separated from Fanny a great part of the time until I left college in 1842. We corresponded very regularly when apart and spent the vacations together. Before I left home to prepare for college Fanny was in the habit of teasing me a great deal. To her ridicule I could only ----- my superior strength & when I was from nine to twelve years old we had many little quarrels, she always having the better with her tongue and I with my fists. This was a singular fact in our lives. I remember how I feared her ridicule. We loved each other dearly and yet behaved often as if we were hateful enough. After I returned from my first absence at school we had one renewal of our former quarrels, which we laughed ourselves out of before it was fairly begun, and from that time we were loving sister and brother, our love growing stronger and warmer with every meeting. without the slightest interruption or jar to the day of her death. She cultivated her character and disposition with as much care as she improved her mind and with what wonderful and glorious success. While I was at the Norwalk Academy and Mr. Webb’s school in Middletown Connecticut preparing for College she took the liveliest interest in my studies and improvement. She went with Mother to a Seminary in Putnam. I heard much of her scholarship and beauty – This now the first time it ever occurred time it ever occurred to me that she was not rather plain looking. I began to grow proud of her. Never shall I forget the happiness with which we met in the fall of 1838 on my return from Middletown. She had graduated and I had returned for a short visit before entering college. We had been separated a whole year. The stage coach drove up to the door of our old house in Delaware; Fanny her face so beautiful and joyous ran out to meet me. Alas! How my heart aches so I write! WE are to meet no more this side the grave –

 

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