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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



I was born on the 31st May 1843 in the small town of Cowick, Yorkshire, England, near to the town of Selby, where my mother was raised. My mother was Sarah Mitchell whose parents William and Sarah Mitchell lived on a farm on what was known as Combleworth Common. Besides farming they also made bricks and tiles. The Common, as it was called, was unfenced and had some growth of brush, which made a good harbor for rabbits and birds.

My grandmother was a good kind woman and my happiest childhood days was when I could be there. They had four daughters and five sons. My mother, being the oldest girl, died when I was about six years of age and she be about twenty-six.

My father, Henry Fordham, was a native of Yorkshire, England, and was a watch and clock maker as was his father, John Brett Fordham of Knottingley.

They made the old English Brass Clocks, but the German wooden clocks, which were made by machinery could be sold so much cheaper that it ruined their trade, although they still followed the repair business.

My father was married in 1841 to Sarah Mitchell and to this union five children were born. One died in infancy, two about three years. I was the second born and can just remember my mother. Elizabeth was the fourth who grew to womanhood and married Abner Hatfield and raised a family of eight.

After mother’s death we were then living in England at a place called Ferryridge. Father was again married to my Aunt Hannah Mitchell and to them a son was born named Henry. When Henry was three months old Father immigrated to the United States and to show how our plans oft go wrong, or so we think, we were to take a ship to New York and from there go to Cincinnati. However, when we got to Liverpool the ship had sailed, so we took another ship to Baltimore Md., about or near the middle of May 1851.

My eighth birthday was on the Atlantic Ocean. I well remember the first rock of the ship and how it scared us children but many a rock we experienced before we got to this side. One storm tore a sail or two into strips and broke one yard arm in two, and made a job for the ships carpenter, but strange as it may appear it didn’t arouse me from my sleep and I knew nothing of the storm until the next day.

Often we experienced head winds causing the ship to have to tack about or instead of a direct course we had to go in a north-west or south-west direction alternately to gain any headway. Then again we would experience calms when there would be little or no wind and the water would be perfectly smooth.

One incident I remember was a burial at sea. A man had died on the way. He was sewed up in a canvas and it was said a sack of coal attached and he was placed on a plank ran over the side of the ship and tipped into the Ocean. I don’t remember any service but most likely there was.

We saw icebergs near the banks of Newfoundland and some cold weather. The sailors fished some on or about the banks, but only caught one cod fish. I was looking, watching them draw in the line and saw the fish taken out of the water. The Captains wife sent us some after it was cooked and to be sure it tasted good.

What a grateful sight it was when we got into the Chesapeak Bay and up the Petapsco River! The scenery was very fine after being nine long weeks on the water. We landed in Baltimore about the 23rd July 1851. The Captains name was Chase and his ship was the Athens. He and his wife were very kind to us.

After our arrival in Baltimore, father, and another Englishman, went ashore and during their stroll they run across some tomatoes and they looked so nice and red they bought one thinking they must be good - they were not used to that kind of fruit. Directly they bit into their fruit and made a very wry face. A little native saw them and he says "Mister, them things is poison", so they threw them into the street and the little native picked them up and ate them himself.

The emigrants at that time was mostly from Ireland. There were several hundred on our ship and only a few English. One particular was so lively and full of jokes. He kept some of the passengers cheered up when they would be inclined to be discouraged on account of the long voyage.

We were in poor circumstances on our arrival in Baltimore. It had cost more than was expected as it was expected that the trip wouldn’t be over six weeks. Father rented some rooms but before he could find any work he had a serious spell of fever. Ship fever they called it, but it was about the same as Typhoid. Our old captain came in about that time and left ten dollars which was a great help and showed a kind heart. After he recovered, but not entirely well, he went out in search of work and took a relapse of the fever. He finally recovered and found employment in a machine shop. After a time he lost his job and found work with a gas meter company making movements for the meters, it was a good deal like clock work. He worked for them for near seven years, then came the panic of 1857 which caused hard times and no work for many. Father was out of work. I got a job in the warehouse of a potter at $1.50 per week and me about 14 years old, when I ought to have been going to school.

In 1855 father’s second wife died and he married the following year Miss B. Ellen Gettier of Baltimore but the next year 1857 was a hard time, for so many was out of work that we began to look for some change. In the early Spring of 1858 father fixed himself up repairing clocks and watches etc. He took a trip to Western Virginia and went on to Parkersburg. Someone he got to talking with told him of a settlement of English and Scotch back in Ritchie County at Cairo, Egypt, but how it got the name of Egypt is another story. He had some success and returned to Baltimore and made the necessary arrangements to move his family to Cairo where we lived in a small house about three miles below Cairo on the North Fork of the Hughes River. Here I received my first lessons in the use of an axe for cutting firewood and spent some idle time fishing and driving a cow to and from pasture. After 18 months at this place we moved to Calhoune County on to a tract of land owned by Mr. Bennett who was a friend of my Father. I had been there cutting down trees in an unbroken forest making but little progress clearing the land. It was very rough and of little account for farming. It was a mistake of inexperience going into hot back woods country to try to make a living. I could tell a good deal of our experiences in Calhoune County but it would be of little or no benefit to anyone. We lived or rather existed there about three years.

As the Civil War was going on in 1863 we removed to Illinois to Sandoval at the junction of the Illinois Central and Ohio and Mississippi Railroad’s, the latter is now part of the Baltimore and Ohio system. At that time it had a six-foot gauge. We had to travel the first forty miles by wagon and was the most of two days going that distance. On arriving at Ravenswood we had to wait for a boat. Father had a young mare and on account of Guerrillas we went round Parkersburg and down the river so that in a short time we got our goods on a boat and we took passage for Cincinnati, intending going by railroad to Sandoval. However, we found that the Government had the road to ship troops and supplies west, so we had to take another boat, the Silver Lake, to go to St. Louis and then take the other end of the railroad to get back to Sandoval. The family all went by rail except my brother Henry and I. We had to take charge of the horse and go over land about sixty miles, which we did in two days and two nights. The first six miles was across the Mississippi bottom then the land gradually raised toward the middle of the State, mostly with belts of timber along the streams.

After we got settled I worked for a Canadian farmer on a 160-acre farm and helped to stack, thrash and haul wheat. He had some over 600 bushels, so it took some work, besides about 40 acres of corn. I got along very well, this being my first experience in farming. I was well pleased with the country until August when chills and fever commenced. That summer and fall it was a regular epidemic and I was no exception and I had my share of it. I was hauling wheat at this time and about five miles, and at times I would get overheated and first I began to feel chilly when I went in at the end of my days work and finally I was laid up. Then my view of the nice country took a change.

I didn’t have a very good health that winter. About a week after New Year’s we had one of the most severe cold spells which lasted near two weeks. In the spring of 1864 father concluded to go back to W.Va and started me and brother Henry back – for what I don’t know. We were to go to Callhoun, but providence directed it otherwise. We travelled all one night on the fast train to Cincinnati arriving there in the morning and took a boat to Ravenswood, but we heard so much about the guerillas on the way we concluded to go on to Parkersburg. We arrived there in the morning too late for the train east and as there was only one train daily I concluded we could walk the 30 miles to Cairo rather than to stay overnight in Parkersburg.

As we knew nothing of the County roads we took the railroad and it was hard walking. When we got to Silver Run Tunnel we thought we would take a near cut to William Wells on whose place we first lived after coming from Baltimore, but we missed the right path and dark coming on. We found we were going downhill so after a while we came in sight of a house and inquired who lived there. They said it was Richard Rutherford’s place. That was quite a relief as we were about worn out. They took us in and treated us very kindly and let us stay a few days until we got rested, then we went up the river to Jas McKinney’s. There the Home Guard was out as some Guerillas had been seen, but they were gone.

I went to Mr. Jacob Hatfields and rented an old house to have some place to stay. We borrowed some bedclothes and made a bunk to sleep in. I had contracted a cold and it run into Pneumonia. I sent Henry to Mr. Godfrey’s with whom father was well acquainted and while he was gone Mr. Hatfield came in and told me I would have to get out of that or I would die. He told me I could go to this home, but the Godfrey’s sent for me to go there, and there I had quite a spell of sickness. They got a doctor from Harrisville. I had the daughter to write to father, he answered and said they were all coming back, which they did in a few days arriving at Cairo and they went to live in the house I had rented.

After a time I went to work on the grading of the old Calico railroad that was being constructed from Cairo to the Ritchie Mines. I only worked about twenty days when I enlisted in the United States Service in the war that was drawing to its close September 16th 1864 and served nearly nine months when our Regiment was ordered to Wheeling to be mustered out June 10th 1865. We had a fine ride to Wheeling some in box cars and others on flats. At Wheeling our Regiment made quite a show - sixteen company’s and but few of them saw any hard service as they was used as Railroad guards. Our Colonel was a Mexican veteran and had lost his right arm in that war and that was the reason he was given that duty. In February 1865 my father enlisted in the U.S. Service – this was the last call for troops in the Civil War.

He moved the family to Cornwallis. About the latter part of May we was ordered to Wheeling to be mustered out. It took about three weeks to get all necessary papers made out. On the tenth June we was paid off and mustered out. We was left to get back home the best we could. We came down the Ohio river on a boat to Parkersburg, thence by rail to Cornwallis. I worked as a trackhand about three months with an Irishman as boss, then in the tunnels with Bob Johnson when they was constructed with heavy timbers. This was on repair work. We moved on the Godfrey Farm in the latter part of 1865 Mr. Godfrey having gone west and we raised a crop of corn and would have had some wheat but it froze out so bad that there was nothing in the spring.

In June 1865 I was baptised and received into the Harrisville Baptist Church. In 1866 I worked on the grading of the Calico Railroad a second time and boarded at Mr. Hatfield’s awhile and was married on Christmas Day to the oldest daughter Mary Ann. In the spring of 1867 we moved into a log shanty built in about four days by four of us and lived in it about one year. Here our first child was born.

In 1867 we then moved over to the Godfrey Farm to raise a crop and had good success both in raising and selling the crop. We lived in a small shanty on the banks of the river and so well hid that the assessor didn’t find me, but that was made up the next year!

In 1867 I worked in the tunnels again while they were being arched, one summer and winter. The same summer, the Reverend P.A. Woods told Mr. Hatfield of a farm over on the south fork of the Hughes River of about 400 acres known as the Tibbs Farm that was for sale. It was owned by George Passmore who had bought it for oil purposes but the excitement went down leaving it on his hands. It was bought for £4,000.00 and divided between Abner Hatfield and myself and Mary Ann. It had a one and half storey frame and a hewed log of one storey which fell to us in which we lived about four years. We then got out a set of hewed logs and had a raising of some sixteen hands and put it up in about sixteen feet which was in time ceiled and weatherboarded with a frame lean-to of twelve by twenty six feet and the main building is 18 x 26 divided into eight rooms. I should have said that we moved to the farm in the early spring of 1869 and lived on the farm for thirty-two years raising crops with more or less success.

The first serious setback came in the summer of 1875 when we had a big flood in the South Fork. We had a good deal of bottom land in corn and it was all destroyed. We had some floods in after years but not much damage done. One summer later, I don’t remember the year, we had the most destructive one we ever experienced. It swept away some houses and one Meeting House and piled lumber and all kinds of rubbish on the lower bottoms of Spruce Creek. There was also one very dry year when corn made very little unless it was on low ground.

In 1899 we made a visit to Marietta to a brother-in-law, M.A.L. Gracey, who had married my sister Emma J. Fordham and had died leaving an infant daughter, Doris. My stepmother had gone there to care for her granddaughter.

The Norwood addition had been laid. We concluded to buy a lot but didn’t build until the fall of 1901. The house was finished about the middle of January 1902 and we moved in vacating a house that William C. had built for himself which we occupied about three months. After we had lived here three and a half years times got rather close so we went back to the farm, renting out Norwood House to Mr. Woods for $10.00 per month. He died while away from home. It was afterwards rented to Mr. Dole in 1906. The house was partly burned so that it cost $555.00 to rebuild. We remained on the farm until 1910 when we came back to Marietta. We had two saw-sets on the farm and although we had house pattern sawed lack of time we didn’t build although we needed another house as Wm C. had moved in to assist with the work out here.

Mr. Eddy who then occupied the Norwood House got behind with his rent and had to move out. I tried to sell but failed so we thought best to occupy it ourselves and let our son have the house on the farm.

The first six years went smoothly then came sickness to my wife in the fall and winter of 1916. Although she was in a serious condition for several weeks she finally recovered but was not able to stand heavy work such as washing as before that sickness. We went over to the farm in the fall of 1917 and again in 1918 which was the last trip over there in the latter part of September. She contracted a severe cold, which ran into Bronchitis, and had a severe cough. She got better of that but lost flesh until in the summer of 1919 she weighed only 97 pounds. Sometimes a little better and other times worse until 1920 when she was confined to her room. In May she got worse, and is weaker on the 20th. She had some kind of convulsion and gradually declined until November 24th. She died leaving me all alone, except our youngest daughter was and is with me.

It was a sad bereavement to me. We had travelled the pathway of life together for nearly fifty-four years and it was hard for me to realise that I should see her no more in this life, but my hope is in the ‘Great Beyond’ and we can sing;

"How Joyful is the thought that lingers, when loved ones cross deaths sea,
That when our labours here are ended, with them we’ll ever be."

Thomas Fordham

The above account has been adapted for publication in the Digest magazine from the original manuscript written by Thomas Fordham aged 77. Wherever possible the content of the original manuscript has been preserved.

I would like to thank Thomas Fordham’s grandson, Randall Arthur Fordham of Shelby, Ohio, United States, for submitting a copy of the original manuscript ‘Wanderings of a Lifetime’ for publication in the Digest.

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