Over 10 years ago, following the death of Erva Wright Smith the Webster Museum and Historical Society, by way of Ms. Smith’s will, received the wonderful gift of her families papers and letters and documents which included about 40-50 diaries from the mid 1850’s – 1930. Some are incomplete, some are not readable, but a number of those written by Minerva Foster Strowger are informative as to the lifestyle and thought of the people who lived in the Nine Mile Point neighborhood at that time. We are indebted to Laddie Bertch, George Hall and my husband Bud for helping me understand the agricultural terms of the early days on the farm and my grandmothers and great grandmother whose language patterns often returned to their rural roots during childhood conversations with me.
Minerva Foster Strowger was born in 1830 and died in 1904. In 1859 she married Charles Strowger from Penfield. Minerva was the granddaughter of Abraham Foster one of Webster’s earliest citizens. Charles (1830-1907) was the great grandson of Daniel Penfield’s first miller John Strowger. Minerva and Charles had two children Johnny and May. Both Minerva had Charlie came from large families.
Historian Blake McKelvey instructs us to imagine Rochester in the days of the Civil War. “Listen to the clatter of horse hoofs on the paving stones on Main Street in Rochester, the glow of gas lights in the evening, the plodding boatmen driving their oxen along the canal towpath and of people gathered at the Reynolds Arcade waiting for the latest War information coming over the wires via Mr. Sibley’s telegraph. Rochester was a city of less than 50,000 people the 20th largest city in the union.”
Also remember as you read that the majority of the 2750 people who lived in Webster in 1860 lived on farms. Roads were made of packed dirt and scraped from time to time in order to eliminate the hump in the middle either for ease of travel or an occasional neighborhood horse race. Gas lamps had not yet come to Webster and communication with the world beyond was by letter or printed word. There were carpenters and joiners, harness makers and cobblers, dressmakers, and a tavern keeper or two. There were mills. The Foster family had a mill on four mile creek. Charles S. Wright, H. Nelson Curtice and Luther Curtice were the Town Supervisors during the Civil War.
Nationally, Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 by a comfortable margin in Rochester. There was great support for the Union of the states. There was no need to enforce the draft by way of conscription until near the close of the War in 1864. Many young men were anxious for adventure and mother’s concerns were no different now than in 1862. John, Minerva’s young 16 year old brother was ready to enlist.
June 3, 1862
It is cool and cloudy. The boys got up at four and went down to their hooks. They got no fish. Charlie has gone to the nursery. I sewed on babies dress. Davis had the horse to the city. Uncle James came here just at dark. It was an unexpected pleasure. We had quite a time with John. He told mother that he was going to enlist. It made Mother feel very bad. I talked to John a long time. I think it done him good.
June 6, 1862
Charlie went to the nursery to work. I got up the horse and took Mother up to Ann’s. We had quite a talk there. Mother feels bad about John.
June 8, 1862
Charlie got up the horse so Stub could doctor his foot. Agnes went home, Charlie talked some of going to the bay, but I told him I wished he would not but stay at home and help me about my painting. So, like a kind husband he did. I dressed a fowl for dinner and made a lemon and pie plant pie. Just as we got done dinner, George and Ann came. We ate dinner here. Father, Charlie and John Wooden went fishing in the lake. They caught a nice lot of bass. Mother does not feel very well. She keeps worrying about John.
One of the most mismanaged and confusing aspects of Civil War era were the policies relating to the Draft. Probably not too surprising as this was new ground for the young nation.
On April 18th, 1860 only two days after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Ft. Sumter, the Mayor of Rochester called for a rally. Thousands attended and Mr. Nash announced that 39 young men from the Rochester area had volunteered.
Until the fall of 1861 the Rochester area was able to fill its quotas for soldiers using volunteers. Beginning in the fall of 1861 a “bounty” of $100.00 was paid to those entering the service. The bounty payment came from local
sources. By 1862 the bounty had increased to $300.00 and by 1864 it had to $1500.
Lists of names were pulled by the selection board. If you could find a substitute you could pay him an agreed upon amount of money to serve in place of you. Or, you could pay the selection board a bounty of $300.00 and escape service all together.