Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY

Ancient Method of Drying Flax, and a Fatal Accident (Vol. I, pg. 431)

At the beginning of the present century, tow-cloth was identified with the economy of every country household. It was used for bedding and toweling, and entered largely into the summer wearing apparel of nearly every family. So general was its use, that almost every farmer then raised a patch of flax, and spun and wove their own cloth. This custom prevailed, in fact, during the first quarter of the century; but the spinning wheels and looms of that period, have now mostly given place to melodeons, pianos, and chroquet. Flax was sometimes dried in the sun, but to get it in an earlier condition for the hatchel, it was in the fall kiln dried over a fire: many families making a kiln for that purpose--and where convenient upon a side-hill. A hole was dug into the bank, with crotches set up and a bar across them in front, with poles laid upon it extending back and resting upon the bank above. Crosswise of the poles the flax was laid and a fire built beneath. Some made more permanent kilns, which were used for years. Those were walled upon the sides and back with stone or brick, with a piece of timber in front and rear, which gave the drying poles a stable resting place.

In 1866, an old dwelling was torn down to give place on its site, for the beautiful mansion erected by the late Harvey E. Williams, within the present village of Fort Plain. The house demolished was the farm house of Peter Young, Esq., who at the period first indicated was a prominent citizen and a Justice of the Peace; whose ancestry settled in Mohawk valley several generations before his day. He was thrice married, the first time to Marilles, (This name would seem to be the German contraction of Mary Elizabeth.) a daughter of William Seeber; the second time to Betsey Diefendorf; and the third time to the widow of Abram Hees--a Miss Dygert before marriage. By the first wife he had five daughters and three sons--Jacob. William and Abram. The daughters were Elizabeth, who married David Lipe; Caty, who married Andrew Coppernoll; Polly, whose fate we record; Nancy, who married John Charlesworth; and Peggy, who married Lyman Howard. The second wife had several children by Young, and the last had none by him.

Sad Fate of Miss Polly Young.--The Young family was among those who raised and cured their own flax, and had a kiln of the temporary kind located in the bank, a few rods below the house. The bruising of the flax was usually done by the male, and the drying by the female members of the family. Polly, third daughter of Esquire Young, was a beautiful girl, said a lady friend, who was of the same age (18), and well acquainted with her. (Mrs. William H. Seeber, whose maiden name was Nancy Failing, a daughter of Henry Failing, whose ancestors came from German. She had been in company with Miss Young at parties, and was at her funeral. Mrs. Seeber was born April 19, 1784, and died April 19, 1876, aged 92 years.) She was of medium stature and charmingly formed, having a fair complexion, with dark hair and dark eyes. She was possessed of a lively and playful temperament, and of very winning manner; and with her many attractions, it is not surprising that she had many admirers. Some time previous to this period, a young man named Henry Glen Van Ingen, came from Schenectada to serve a clerkship with the merchant--Peter Gansevoort--then trading at the junction of the roads, a little distance westward of the Young's dwelling; and at the end of his time he entered the office of Dr. Joshua Webster, as a student, whose day book enables me to fix the date of this sad event.

The duty attending the drying of flax, was to lay it across the poles over the fire, and turn it as occasion required; hence the object of having an elevated position over the dryer. The further duty of attendants required them to keep the fire in proper condition, and the better to control it, a pail of water and an old broom were usually at hand.

In the afternoon of October 21, 1802, Miss Young was engaged at her father's flax-kiln, when young Van Ingen came there--perhaps the better to appreciate the value of linen cloth--certainly to enjoy the society of an fair maiden. There are several traditions as to the manner in which the accident resulted from his visit; but it is evident it did not come from malice or design, and she lived to exonerate him from all blame. They were evidently toying--fooling, if you like the expression better--or, to use a new word, heard in some localities, they were kenecoying; and while thus teasing each other, they accidentally fell upon the upper end of the poles, which slid from the bank, and they were precipitated upon a large bed of hardwood coals; the flax took fire, and they were enveloped in flames. He got out without being seriously burned; but, as she fell beneath, although rescued soon by friends near, she was dreadfully burned about the arms and chest. Said Mrs. Seeber, she was clad on that day as country girls then were when engaged in household duties--in a calico short-gown, a chintz neckerchief and a woolen or linsey-woolsey skirt, so that her dress was a slight protection to her chest.

She received every attention, and the medical skill of Doctor Webster; but death ended her suffering at the end of two or three days. Her funeral took place on Sunday, when a large multitude of sympathizing relatives and acquaintances were in attendance, and it is believed the greatest mourner was Van Ingen. In the coffin she had on a cap, because so much of her hair was burned off, and that remaining was singed,while several spots on her face and neck betrayed the effects of the fire; but death in this horrid form had not robbed the victim of all her personal charms, as beauty still lingered about her features. Many went to look at the kiln where the accident happened, which had remained unaltered since the accident. The funeral took place in the Sand Hill church, and the old burying ground near its site holds her ashes.

Here are a couple of entries from the daybook of Dr. Webster, under date of July 20, 1802: "Henry Glen Van Ingen began this day, with me, to study physic and surgery--J. Webster; and October 28, following: 'Henry Glen Van Ingen left my house today.'" Thus we perceive that the medical student did not long remain near the scene of the sad calamity in which he was an actor, and which thrilling event has lingered in memory for 80 years. He was from a good family in Schenectada; he never resumed his medical studies. He afterward married Elizabeth Happool, of Schenectada, by whom he had two daughters, one of whom married Cornelius Thompson, and the other Isaac Banker, who were both living in Schenectada in 1874.--Facts from Capt. John Crane, and Mr. and Mrs. William H. Seeber, all now deceased.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home