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   "By - Gones" by George A. Brooks, Sr.

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One family member [George A. Brooks] wrote a short little book of memories which includes a few lines about Potter's Hill [Rhode Island]. The book was written approximately 1910-1912. The individual who wrote it was born in 1852. (If any bad language has eluded my editing - please forgive. This man was an uncle that my grandmother was rather embarrassed to acknowledge.) George A. Brooks, Sr. was an interesting character (and character he was). One newspaper editor quipped back in the late 19th century when the town of Bazile Mills, NE was getting electricity "that if the (town) of Bazile Mills was to be run by electricity, what were the Mills (the flour mill) run by?" He answered himself by saying that the Mills were run by Brooks. He was very involved in county and state politics as well. Carol Jarmin GENGOMMER@aol.com


by George A. Brooks, Sr.


On the following pages of this little book, I have tried to describe some of the funny incidents of my life and I think that, perhaps, they may look funny to others as well.

I have been requested several times to put these into print and if it hadn’t been for the persistent efforts and assistance of my present wife, this book would never have blossomed into existence.

George A. Brooks, Sr.

My earliest recollection of my boyhood days is that of the little place in Rhode Island known as Hog’s Island.  This island contained only three houses; old man Russell lived in the south half of the one tenement and my folks lived in the other half; a Mr. Rhodes .lived in the middle house and Mr. Gavitt in the third.  Why this little place was called by that name was from the fact that each tenant of the island kept a pig.

I can distinctly remember the strife that existed in seeing whose pig could be made to weigh the most on butchering day, which was quite an event.  Often have I heard my mother say: “Everybody will have to get up at four o’clock tomorrow morning, for there is going to be a general butchering of pigs on Hog’s Island.”  It will be well for me to mention that this Hog’s Island is situated in Potters Hill, Rhode Island.

Upon my visit there last summer, the trees on which they used to stretch the poles on which to hang the pigs after they were butchered, were now so large that I would have to reach three times in order to reach around them and if they were used for the butchering purpose today, they would have to have about fifty feet of rope for each pig and some one in an airship to tie them tight.  The old path leading from each house to the pig pens was entirely obliterated.  I inquired of Mrs. Wagner, the lady who lives in my old home now, if anybody on the island kept pigs and she answered in the negative.

I remember of attending a minstrel show in General Potter’s barn; Ben Russell was ticket seller and end man, well, I might say that he was the whole show.  If I am not mistaken, my sister Sarah was either my chaperone or one of the actresses.  I was then six years of age and the admission fee of five cents seemed an awful big price.

Then we moved to Poquetanuck, Conn.  During several years of hard labor as a factory operator at Potters Mill and other places, my father had accumulated a few hundred dollars.  Messrs. Benjamin, Samuel and Noah Lucas, uncles of mine, together with my father bout a little woolen mill at this place.  They manufactured satinettes principally.  The plant was not very large outside of the water wheel which was the large part of the institution.  This well was forty feet in diameter.  The plant was run by them about two or three years when it burned down.

This fire, practically, wiped my father and uncles off the earth, financially, and it was known to Horace and Edward Babcock, former employees of father’s, that this was a good water power and it was with their assistance that a brick structure was built.  This was just about nicely completed then the rebellion broke out and I heard my father say that all hands had to go to work now.  The announcement that Ft. Sumpter had been fired upon reached our little village about two o’clock and this remark of my father’s was made at supper time.  Shortly after this, we started to work day and night.  I was then about ten years old.

Previous to this, I had many pleasant times.  I will relate one which comes to my mind:  It was a beautiful spring morning when Carl Woodmanse, a particular friend of mine and about the same age as myself, struck old Pee-leg Woodmanse for a job.  He was then farming for Captain Benjamin and was hauling manure when we struck him for the work.  We were told to go into the barn and bring out a couple of pitchforks and help him load.  We agreed to that and wanted to know what the consideration would be and the old man said: “if you two boys will help me to put on a good load, I will give you three cents.”  So we turned in and helpd load.  For some reason the old man was a little bit late that day and in quite a hurry to get started as he had to haul this manure over to what was then known as Brewsters Neck and now called Point Comfort where one of the state insane hospitals is now located.  And I might say right here that Carl and myself have helped old Pee-leg many and many a time to plant two fish to one hill of corn during boney-fish season.

Well, going back to the three cents which we got for loading manure—it was rather hard for us to split that odd cent, for everything was split in those days, so we agreed to go down to uncle Allen Chapman who ran a grocery store in the village.  There we invested the three cents for a plug of Lorrillard’s Sailor’s Delight.

I have often thought since that time that you could have smelled my breath from here to Hot Springs, South Dakota, a distance of about six hundred miles.

Well, we divided the tobacco all right and walked up through the lane from the old man’s store and then down to the sand bank near the old Gallup grist mill.  There we both took a good liberal chew, when we thought nobody was looking, spitting in the beautiful white sand to our heart’s content.  It wasn’t long after this when we began to think of going home.  Carl’s mother was a nice motherly lady and Carl seemed to think that that was the proper place to go and we were both ready to heave up Jonah when we got there.  I crawled into Carl’s cradle which was an old fashioned affair.  Carl laid down behind the door.

I want to say, that Carl was about my age (six years) but he didn’t seem that old from the fact that he was in the habit of stopping his mother during the noon hour or any other old time to nurse a little.  When I would ask him to come to my house and play he would say: “I have to see ‘ma’ first and get a little ‘nin’ and then I will come along.”

I had not much more than landed in the cradle when we both began to spew.  Of course, Carl had his mother to help him and they helped me out a little too.  After it was all over and I thought that my father had gone back to work, I mosied home.  I don’t remember just how that afternoon was spent but I know that it was two or three days before I tried any more of that Sailor’s Delight.

It was long after the fire that I got my first suit of clothes.  Father bought the material (satinette) from a Mr. Scofield at Mountville.  My mother was the tailor.  It is only of late years that I have been able to tell what the style and cut of this suit was; it is now plain to me that it was a sack suit-a four button-I remember four big black gutta percha buttons down the front.  The vest was high necked and the pants (oh those pants) were rather short in the legs.  Mother said that there had been too much goods put into the coat and vest already and that there was no need in wasting the material-anyway, there was no allowance for shrinkage-that I am sure of.

With this suit, I wore a pair of kip leather boots, copper toed and I always wore my trousers tucked in the tops of these boots for then I was more comfortable-then the boys couldn’t see how short they were.  Mother always threatened to let out the legs so that I could wear them over the boots but she never got around to it, for which I was very thankful.

The second and third season that I wore this suit, I was compelled to stand up most of the time-I don’t remember of ever wearing it out; but at the age of fifteen, I was still wearing the damned coat and vest which were a pretty good fit at that time.

I always had a great dread of winter for the reason that I had to run about one hundred and fifty tallow candles.  We had an old tin candle mould which didn’t hold but three candles and it was quite an effort to keep our family supplied.  I noticed a great many times when I would go to look at them in the morning that the candles were not as fresh as the night before but nearly gone and I had to finance pretty closely to keep the stock up because I couldn’t run but three candles at the time and my job every night after supper was to put the pan of tallow on the stove, string the wicks and the old candle mould and run my candles as soon as the tallow was hot.  If there was any surplus tallow around the mould, I had to put that into the pan and carry the candles down the cellar where we had a box on purpose to hold them.

We had lamps but they burned what we called a lamp fluid.  Some of the lamps had two burners and others but one-we had one of each.  The rule of the household was never to take one of these lamps off the table but carry a candle.

By the way, I had another job.  For fear that I wouldn’t have enough to do, my father would buy four cords of second growth hickory wood-that was my annual dose.  Cord wood in those days came four foot long and it was necessary to cut each stick three times.  After this wood was cut, I had to carry it into the wood shed and pile it up.  That job sometimes used to last until spring and I have known myself to change from chopping wood to setting bean poles.  And thereby hangs another job!

We had a garden-that was very systematically arranged.  Yes, father was some gardener-he could draw the line and set the stakes and the young man had to hew to that.  He always wanted seven beans stuck around each pole but that couldn’t be done before the moon was right.  The potatoes had to be planted with the eyes up and a spoonful of fertilizer put in each hill.

We had a garden-that was very systematically arranged.  Yes, father was some gardener-he could draw the line and set the stakes and the young man had to hew to that.  He always wanted seven beans stuck around each pole but that couldn’t be done before the moon was right.  The potatoes had to be planted with the eyes up and a spoonful of fertilizer put in each hill.

I recall one little incident which happened while I was working nights in the mill:  I was a little past ten years old then; the mill had been shut down for the usual midnight lunch and Uncle Aaron must have started the mill but I was not there at the starting.  He made a general search for me and found me asleep in the picker room, well, when I came to, he had me by the shoulder and turned me over several times and said; “you ragged - picker boy get to your work!”  I complied with his request and sunrise found me still at my post.

There used to be an old fellow there by the name of Sheldon, who used to run a horse power wood sawing outfit.  He went around to the different people in the town and sawed their wood.  I had suggested to father that it would be a good idea to get the old man to saw up that four cords of second growth hickory but he didn’t seem to think it was the thing to do.

Uncle Jesse Bedent used to file my saw—after a general kick had been made for about a week and I could catch my father in good humor so as to get his permission to take it over to Uncle Bedent, I would take my saw over and have it filed and set.  The price for this job was twenty cents and I persuaded uncle Jesse that he was doing that work too cheap and that in my estimation he ought to have a long two shillings (thirty-four cents).

After I had the job all fixed up and the saw fixed at that price, I told my father that he had raised the price and I thought that rather than give the old man a corner on the business, he ought to give old man Sheldon the job to saw up that four cords with his horse power.  My father took the proposition under consideration but—I failed.  It was several years before I could get my father into my way of thinking about things!

I can look back with pride to my experience in the mill from starting as a ragged- picker boy and ending as second boss weaver and had the - old war only lasted about twenty years longer, I would have been owner of the whole - plant, works and all.


War closed.  Night help at the mill were all let out and that included myself.  The next week Uncle Aaron bought the village grocery store.  I was offered and accepted the position as private secretary, chief clerk, delivery boy and general roustabout, everything but inspector of cuspidors.  We carried a general line of groceries as well as merchandise, such as nails, flour, Porto Rico molasses, C. D. Boss’ crackers, Beacon Light flour, Lorrilards Sailor’s Delight, brown sugar, Mule matches and NEW ENGLAND RUM.  The bar was right next to the rum barrel and next neighbor to that was the molassas barrel—real handy, you see.

One of our busiest days in that store was when Uncle Aaron, the president of the concern, was selected postmaster of the village.  All of the prominent, eminent and famous men of the village came to the store to offer their sympathies and incidentally to visit the rum barrel.  That was a busy day for the private secretary!

During my first twelve months as chief clerk, I don’t remember of having but one fight and that was with one of the Spicer boys from Meeting House Hill.  He claimed that he had four dozen of eggs in his basket but I didn’t let him up until I had convinced him that he didn’t have but three and a half.  Maybe, that other half dozen was smashed in the scuffle, I don’t know.

At the end of the first year, I received a salary of fifty dollars; out of that, my clothing and expenses amounted to twenty dollars and a half; the balance my mother placed in the old Norwich Savings Bank.  The following year my salary was doubled on me—that gave me more money to spend and an occasional circus with the girls.

Speaking of circuses, I never went to but one real circus and that was Barnum’s.  I walked three miles to see that and I remember of buying a card of ginger bread which cost me ten cents—I had to pay twenty-five cents to see the circus.

Upon my return home, I walked from John Fox’s hill barefooted, carrying my shoes in my hand—I was saving shoe leather and perhaps some blisters.  My shoes were made from kid off the back of the neck of a Brighton steer.

The first sweetheart I ever had was twenty-three (skidoo).  She told me that at our first meeting but it was under difficulties that I got her right name, anyway, I knew that she had red hair and wore a number 9 ½ hose (out size) and very partial to bright colors (?) because, I know.  I was then sweet sixteen and had never been kissed.  Did I see much of her?  Yes, she traded at the store.

The rest of this little narrative pertains more to George A. Brooks move to Nebraska and starting the little village of Bazile Mills.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Donated by Carol Jarmin  GENGOMMER@aol.com
Mail   If you have a (pre-1922) contribution from a Rhode Island book or newspaper you would like to share, please send me an e-mail with the publication title, author, and publisher. Thanks. 
This page was last updated Saturday, 01-Jan-2005 19:16:20 MST