JOHNSVILLE IN THE OLDEN TIME
From the Book by the same name by Nathan J. Bailey, 1884

Part Three


The trustees of the JOHNSVILLE Academy visited the institution occasionally. They generally gave the principal timely notice of such visits, in order that he might have time to scour up his pupils. The visit of the trustees was always a great occasion. For days prior to such events the neighboring hedge was ransacked for rods to bring the discipline of the school up to a proper standard. On the day of visitation the scholars were expected to wear their “Sunday-go-to-meetings” -- hence old pantaloons with large patches at the knees, and at other places not necessary to mention, were discarded -- but for that day only.

The trustees always arrived at one o’clock precisely. For fifteen minutes prior to that hour not a whisper could be heard throughout the school, but the slightest squeak in the vicinity of the door turned all eyes in that direction. On the entrance of the trustees, which was generally in “Indian file,” the school rose en masse, and with bow and courtesy welcomed the guardians of education. Business then commenced in earnest. Class after class was examined in spelling, reading, arithmetic, grammar, etc., and the whole generally wound up with a display of elocution. The largest boy in the school generally declaimed that well-known pathetic effusion beginning with:

“Pity the sorrow of the poor old man”;

and the smallest urchin winding up reciting;

“You’d scarce expect one of my age.”

On the conclusion of the exercises one of the trustees usually delivered a short address, reminding the children if they would be health, wealthy, and wise, they should rise betimes in the morning and be punctual at school. The address was generally concluded by the speaker making some allusion to himself, to show what education had done for man.

Formerly, during the winter months, debating societies were all the rage in JOHNSVILLE. Every young man in the place was a Demosthenes -- i.e. in his own estimation. The societies generally held their meetings with closed doors, bu now and then the members would relax a little and invite their sweethearts and a few select friends.

On such occasions they were careful to select an easy question, one that did not transcend the powers of the speaker. When an open debate was to come off, the speakers appointed to open the argument on either side could be heard for several days previous, in the barns and corn-cribs around, practicing flights of oratory.

We were once favored with an invitation to one of the Society’s meetings, which we not only thankfully, but joyfully accepted. The old Academy on the occasion was brilliantly illuminated -- a double amount of tallow candles having been pressed into service. The elite of the village were present, and expectation ran high. The question for discussion was, “Which passion is the strongest, love or avarice?”

Captain BENJAMIN PUNCH, of whom we have already made honorable mention, opened the argument in favor of love. The Captain, in the discussion of the question, appeared to be perfectly at home. His description of the power of love was certainly a masterly effort. As he proceeded in his argument, we thought the Captain’s heart warmed up with the eloquence of the subject. The speaker frequently in the course of his remarks used the simile, “love, like a potato, springs from the eye.” At the conclusion of the Captains’s speech, the ladies present smiled their approval.

The village Doctor replied to the Captain, He, too, was at home. He portrayed the power of avarice with a thought that gave us to understand that he had fully studied the subject. The doctor spoke feelingly, and his arguments, like his medicines, had a telling effect.

Several other speeches followed pro and con, and the debate was concluded. A vote was then taken as to the merit of the arguments adduced. The right of suffrage being extended to all present, the question was decided, by the help of the ladies in favor of love.

We would here remark that the wisdom of the first settlers of JOHNSVILLE can not be sufficiently estimated. They have certainly placed their posterity under lasting obligations; for, when they built the village, they built it not for a week nor for a year but for all time. In other words, by some happy calculation on their part, they erected the identical number of tenements required for all future wants of the inhabitants. Hence, the fourteen dwellings now comprising the village are the veritable originals -- the same erected by the early fathers of the place, and which for so many years have weathered storm and flood.

The name of PUNCH formerly had a copious existence in JOHNSVILLE, owing to the obesity of the inhabitants. The rotund portion of the population, and their name was many, were always spoken of as Punch PIERCE, Punch BOGARDUS, Punch OSTRANDER, Punch ROWLAND, and so on.

Speaking of Punch ROWLAND reminds us he once favored us with a call. He came down upon us during a driving snow-storm. Owing to the severity of the weather we expected no visitors on that day, and had taken the opportunity to polish our hall oil-cloth. Oil-cloths in those days were invariably of a blue color; they had a very slippery surface at all times, but when freshly burnished with a little grease or oil they were lubricous in the extreme.

Mr. Punch ROWLAND, therefore, as it will be seen, bore down upon us at an unfortunate period. He came plowing along through the immense snow-drifts. Old Boreas at the time was doing his best, driving the snow hither and thither at a slashing rate. But our visitor kept the even tenor of his way; he heeded not the peltings of the pitiless storm.

Our hall-door was ornamented with a ponderous knocker, but ROWLAND either did not perceive it or else he had lost all faith in knocking, either temporal or spiritual. He bolted in the hall without stopping to sound the customary note of alarm. The moment, however, he set foot on the new polished oil-cloth he was floored in a twinkling. Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen! In his efforts to gain his equilibrium he performed astonishing feats of ground and lofty tumbling. No clown in the pit of a circus ever turned so many somersets within a given time. ROWLAND during his flounderings, we think must have been convinced that the ups and downs of this life were many. He finally, by sliding, skating, and rolling, reached the door communicating with the sitting-room. Here again a new fatality befell him; not noticing that there was a step down at the foot of the door, he stumbled and pitched into the room, landing on all fours -- what snow he had failed to deposit in the hall he succeeded in shaking off in his last effort.

Our friend rose slowly and stood for a few moments with a bewildered air. During the calm that then ensued we took the opportunity to contemplate the appearance of our visitor. Mr. ROWLAND after a while recovered the power of speech. He commenced by letting us know he had just dropped in to say his mother had a jumping tooth-ache, and wanted to know if he could borrow a little kamfire. Feeling the case was urgent, we immediately furnished Mr. R. with the desired article, but deemed it prudent to hold on to the bottle containing it until our visitor had regained the outer world. The wisdom of this course was soon apparent, for, as our friend left the sitting-room, he again f ailed to take heed to his ways. Not minding the step, he pitched out into the hall, where he again performed a second edition of gymnastic feats. After floundering a while he slipped out among the snowbanks and we saw him no more.

The people of JOHNSVILLE formerly had their trials; and who has them not? But we are speaking of jury trials, where justice is doled out to transgressors by twelve men of sound and disposing mind.

The village in it early days was fortunately blessed with an upright judge. Judge SMITH, to whom we refer, was the early lawgiver of the place. He was a good citizen; no one was more highly respected than the Judge. He was frequently called Doctor, from the fact that he had been educated for a physician. He commenced the practice of medicine when quite young; but having unfortunately killed his first patient by overdosing, the people of that locality took the alarm. The sick immediately revived and sat up. The well used every precaution to keep so.

The doctor, finding his occupation gone, threw his physic to the dogs, removed to JOHNSVILLE, and commenced the study of law. Judge SMITH could not be called a profound jurist. He was somewhat eminent for his charges, however. We do not mean his charges to the jury, but charges for his opinions on legal questions. We once consulted the Judge on a question of law for which we paid a quarter of a dollar; had we given him an additional quarter to have kept his advice to himself, we should have been a gainer by the operation..

The people of JOHNSVILLE in those days were great growers of pork. The were very proud of their pigs; they kept them constantly on exhibition, i.e., by letting them run in the streets. At twelve o’clock precisely every pig went home to dinner. As they pushed along in quest of their food, they invariably succeeded in giving vent to extra grunts and squeals, which, speaking within bounds, were truly appalling.

Getting tired of the squeals and grunts of the various porkers, which constantly kept poking their noses at us through the picket fence, we called on the Judge to ascertain if pigs were entitled to run in the street. We found the Judge at dinner, but concluded to wait until he had refreshed his inner man, as our case was not urgent. We were accordingly ushered into the study. While there waiting we embraced the opportunity of glancing at the Judge’s library. Two volumes lay on the centre-table which appeared had very recently been consulted; one was a New York Directory for 1795, the other was styled, “Who Killed Cock Robin.” The Judge evidently was engaged in examining a murder case.

Before we had time for further investigation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .to be continued.

Typed and submitted by Virginia A. Buechele
Ginny's Genealogy Page

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