Good Sleighing

Several of the Ranney letters mention sleighing, in terms that make it seem to be a favorite activity during the winter months. Snowfall certainly made it easier to get to places where there were not roads — hence Lucius’s pun in a recent letter, connecting sleighing with “slaying the forests.” But it also seems to be something people looked forward to in its own right.

In the course of researching this particular branch of the Ranney tree, I’ve occasionally run up against information from other branches; in fact since posting these letters I’ve received several messages from people working on other Ranneys. One of the distant branches that interests me is the one with American painter William Tylee Ranney on it. Although not widely known now, during his short career (he died at age 44) Ranney was a very successful painter of western and frontier themes. I’ve just gotten my hands on a copy of
The Art of William Ranney, published in 2006 by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming.

William Ranney’s branch is about as far from the Ashfield Ranneys as it can be. He is descended from a different son of Thomas Ranney, the original Scottish immigrant. But he was born in Middletown in 1813 and grew up on the agricultural frontier (North Carolina, in William’s case), so he lived in a similar time and place, and he drew and painted pictures!

Hopefully, the pictures or the stories that go with them will add something to the story I’m putting together here, if only glimpses of what historians like to call “material culture.” In the meantime, this is an 1852 Wiliam Ranney painting called “
The Sleigh Ride.” Quite different from the Currier and Ives image of nimble little sleds flying across the snow pulled by jingle-bell covered ponies. But everyone seems to be having a great time. So apparently sleighing was one of those forgotten pleasures of 19th century winter.