Saturday, August 20, 2016


               The truth be said, there in nothing recorded on the life and times of Hannah as a little girl growing up on her parent's farm in rural Scarsdale.  In the 15 years that followed Hannah's birth Zebulon and Lydia Andrews Libby had 4 more girls and 3 boys making for a total of 11 children.  Through it all it is quite remarkable that all lived to marry except one, Josiah Libby, who was born 10 May 1800 and died on 7 February 1801.  One can only imagine how sad the family would have been to lose this little child.

               Because nothing is really known of this time period in Hannah's life, I have taken the liberty to refer to the writing of others who have provided generic versions of live in the time period around 1800.  " Life was not easy for many children during the 19th century. While wealthy families did exist, the average family depended on its children to help provide a living. Children began working at an early age. Their skills were honed to make them useful in many areas, from farm production to manufacturing, and street sales. The average child was afforded little time for play, and the toys available to them were few and simple. Many toys were homemade. 

               Children of wealthy families, however, experienced a very different life. They were not only sheltered from the harsh realities of life known to low or middle class children, but from most of the outside world.

                 During the early and middle 1800’s, many families operated family farms. In fact in 1840, 85% of the Illinois work force was farmers. Farm families tended to have many children. Older children were charged with helping to care for the young as well as with many other responsibilities. Children were considered an asset to their families as soon as they could begin working to help out with the family farm. “In short, children were expected to begin working for their families as soon as possible. At age seven, typically, boys joined their fathers to work in the fields and to learn farming while girls took their place beside their mothers to learn the household chores or “women’s work” that constituted their lot” (Fornieri and Gabbard, 97).

               The subsistence farm was typical in the 19th century, wherein farmers focused on self-sufficiency, and grew only enough food to feed their families. The chores of men and women on the farm were clearly delineated, and women and their daughters played an important role in the subsistence farm. They typically managed dairy and poultry operations, made soap, candles and spent a great deal of time producing cloth. Cotton and wool made up most of the family’s clothing, with the women providing one set of clothes for each family member, every season. In fact, “as late as 1840, farm women produced more cloth at home as all American textile mills combined” (Fornieri and Gabbard, 96).

                Women usually cared for the kitchen garden, but men typically farmed the fields. Men and boys also cared for the livestock, cut and split wood, built the house and barns and constructed and maintained the fences. Families reproduced their households by setting up their grown children in households on adjacent farms. This allowed them to co-op their farming efforts and made offspring available to care for parents in their old age. In short, children worked during the day almost as much as their parents. Working alongside parents and older siblings was how children learned the necessary skills they would use to run their own farms in adulthood. Many people continued to live this way right up to the Civil War." (Found online at - America on the World Stage - A Teaching American History Grant Program - "What Was Life Like for Children inthe 19th Century (150 years ago) and How was it Different From the Lives of Children Today?")

               About the only thing I might add to the above about the Libby family farm was that they probably did a certain amount of logging as they lived on prime property for cutting trees to create lumber and for the production of masts for sailing ships (especially for the British navy.)

               The following describes the process of setting up a farm from scratch in early Maine:  "From the arrival of the first European settlers until about 1900, the creating of farms from the wilderness was much unchanged and dependent on those two tools, the axe and the firebrand. These steps suggest what was common. Some men had the help of a strong son or two. Some settlers were single, thus with no family to worry about. Some men had no old home their family could stay, they had to feed and house their wife and children while doing the steps listed below.

               Year 1 – Cut trees on 5 or 6 acres. The man of the family did this, usually after he had planted the gardens at his old home. His wife and family would tend these crops while he was in the wilderness.

               Year 2 – Again the man would come alone, burn the slash, and plant corn among the stumps. He then would build a log cabin and move the family That winter they would live on corn meal plus whatever had been brought from their old home and what could be found such as wild meat.

               Year 3 – Next the settler would build his first barn, plant wheat as well as corn and clear another 5 or 6 acres. The farmer’s oxen would pull a new land harrow (all wood) among the stumps to scratch up the soil for planting. We should note that corn and wheat need to be ground to be eatable by humans. This could be done at a conveniently located gristmill or by hand. 

               Years 4 – During this year our settler would add rye to his garden and would plant English hay to be harvested for winter animal feed. English hay was better feed than was salt marsh hay along the coast or meadow hay found inland. Again he would apply the axe and firebrand to more wilderness acres, what was called improving the land.

               And so this process continued. After about seven years, our settler would build a frame house that might become the ell of the big house that he might build after a dozen more years. Most farms in our area did not prosper enough to have that big house addition. A bigger barn or a lean-too on the old barn could be added to accommodate hay and livestock. As the stumps were burned away, or dug up, or rotted away, the oxen would drag a brush harrow to smooth the fields. This could be as simple as a log drawn side ways or as complicated as having the log fitted with birch tops (in drilled holes). Harrows with iron teeth were used on cultivated land."  (What is written here is based on Clarence A. Day’s History of Maine Agriculture, 1604 – 1860.)

Picture of a cabin in the woods
               We know nothing of what the Libby farm house looked like.  Having been to this part of Maine it is obvious that every inch of land used for actual farming had to be bought with a high price in difficult, back-breaking labor clearing hundreds of trees from every acre and then fighting back the forest as it tried to reclaim the land.   The Libby farm being a second generation home and farm might have looked more like the following which is a modern day picture of the Carter Home that John grew up in a couple of miles from the Libby farm.

The original Carter home is the part directly behind the car.
The rest of the house as added on in later years.

               Another topic to cover here is Hannah's education.  Hannah did have some education - she was known to write letters and was variously described as "refined,"  The details of this in Hannah's life is again not known to this writer.  The roots of education in New England go back to the1600's and the Pilgrims but the system really wasn't codified and established by law in Maine until at least 1816.  So, with the Libby family living a few miles out of town, it is likely that Hannah received her early training at the foot of her mother.  Later it is possible that she spent at least part of the years attending one of the schools established in Scarsdale. 

               With this we have done about all we can to fill in the missing pieces of Hannah's life prior to her marriage to John Carter.  That will be the topic in the next part of this narrative.


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