Early Settlers of New York State: Shaw Family

Early settlers of New York state were in the "wild west," if they just went a little ways west.

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My great-great-grandparents were early settlers of New York state. They were both born in New York state in 1791, and decided to go to a new country after they were married and had a baby boy.

They hitched the oxen to a cart loaded with clothing, bedding, plow, spinning wheel-and the root of a sweetbriar rose.

They started "out west," but were still in "York" state when they found a lovely rich spot in the depths of thick forest with a fine spring, and decided this place would be their new home. They lived in the wagon while felling trees and hewing logs to make a cabin. Rocks around a fire were a place to set the spider for frying game and fish and for the coffeepot.

There were good friendly Indian neighbors, but no white people. The couple's seven-year-old son grew accustomed to seeing Indian women in blankets and feathers, and one day called to his mother, "Come, see, here is something which looks like you." Sure enough, he had seen a white woman wearing a dress and bonnet.

Wild game was plentiful, as was wild fruit. Bears, when they smelled honey in the house, would climb on the roof trying to find a way inside the cabin.

The young couple raised flax and harvested it by hand. The stems were retted, then flailed to separate the fibers which were cleaned, spun, and woven into cloth. After it was woven the cloth had to be bleached by being dipped in water and spread on the grass in sunshine until it was white as snow. Great-great-grandfather's summer suits were made of linen as was just about everything else for which white cloth was suitable.

Winter called for wools or linsey-woolsey, a coarse fabric which combined linen and wool. Big bolts of the cloth were prepared and the whole family had clothing made from the same material. All clothes were made by hand.

Once when making a coat, Great-great-grandmother broke the point off her needle. When her husband tried to sharpen it for her, he sharpened the eye instead of the point. The sewing stopped until he went to town-many miles away to buy another needle.

All socks and mittens were knitted by hand. At butchering time, lacking jars for storage, the family put lard in a trough hewn from a log and covered it with a linen cloth. 

Mrs. Amy C. Shaw
Mound City, Kansas


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.