Ranney Letter #30

Henry gets a letter from his sister, Priscilla Densmore. This is the only letter from Priscilla in the collection. She lives in South Haven on Lake Michigan, about 110 miles from Allen and Hillsdale. Priscilla’s husband, Randolph Densmore, is a “lumberman and manufacturer,” according to most accounts. The couple had a daughter, Mary, in 1849 who died as a child in 1852.

Priscilla addresses her letter to “Mother & Brother.” Achsah is still in Ashfield. Following Henry’s illness, his wife Maria Goodwin became ill and died in January 1855, leaving Henry with three young children (their youngest, George Goodwin Ranney, had died at 5 months of age two years earlier).

Priscilla says she wishes she had known Maria. That they had never met despite Henry’s eleven year marriage to Maria supports the idea that Henry had never visited Michigan during this period. Priscilla says she is able to sympathize because she too has experienced losses. She also tries to console Henry with a paraphrase of a biblical passage (“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6), and the assurance that Henry’s loss is Maria’s gain. This passage is notable, because it is one of the only times religion is ever mentioned in the Ranney letters. Although some of the brothers were remembered in local histories as members of their area congregations, they rarely communicated with each other using any type of religious language. This may come as a surprise to modern readers who have always been told that 19
th century Americans were extremely devout and that ours is an unusually secular time, but the absence of overt religion in nearly all of the Ranney letters suggests otherwise. Based on these letters, we can conclude that at least some 19th century Americans were not particularly religious, or that they considered religion a private matter and kept it to themselves. Of course, death was still emotional, even in an age when people lost loved ones much more frequently. But the Ranney brothers seem to have had other ways of coping than overt expressions of faith.

Priscilla also says that Lemuel has returned from the gold country and has just left after visiting her and Randolph. He will visit Chicago, 125 miles southwest of South Haven, before returning to Allen. Lemuel is planning a trip to Phelps and Ashfield, she says, and Anson is thinking of going along.

Note: Priscilla signs her name P. M. Densmore. Her middle name was Minerva, which may also say something about the family’s cultural background.
My Transcription:

South Haven July 23 1855
Dear Mother & Brother

I received your kind letter of April 18
th with pleasure. Was happy to hear that you are all in the enjoyment of good health which is one of earth’s greatest blessings.

I want very much to see you and enquire all about Maria’s sickness and death. I heard you (Mother) talk so much about her that I hoped I should sometime become acquainted with her. We can sympathize with you in your bereavement for we have been called to part with near and dear friends. You have the sweet assurance that your loss is her gain. We are told in the word of God that whom the Lord loveth he chastneth and that our light afflictions which are for a moment will work out for us a far more exceeding and Eternal weight of Glory.

The children I should love to see. We are all well except Edwin. His health is quite poor. He has a cough. He is in a store as clerk a mile from here.

Randolph has taken a lathe mill to run this season & is doing well. I suppose you have heard ere this of Lemuel’s return from Cal. He has been spending a few days with us. He left here Wednesday evening for Chicago. From there home. He came quite unexpected as we had not heard from him in a long time. He intends to start for Ashfield in about 3 weeks. He will call at Phelps on his way down. I believe Anson talks of going with him.

We have had a cool wet season so far with the exception of a few days. We have a good garden. Our corn & potatoes look well. We intend to visit our friends at Hillsdale probably in Dec. Mother we anticipate seeing you at that time.

For particulars enquire of Lemuel.
Please write soon. We send our love to you all.

Truly & Affectionately Yours
P. M. Densmore

Ranney Letter #29

Lemuel writes to Anson in December 1854, saying he had just received Anson’s letter dated October. This letter apparently took a similar amount of time getting back East, since Lucius forwards it on to Alonzo Franklin in Phelps in early February, saying it has just arrived. He asks A. F. to forward it on to Henry in Ashfield. At some point along the way (probably in Phelps), the entire letter seems to have been transcribed, because the whole thing is in the same hand. Interestingly, the transcriber in Phelps makes a “true” copy, including Lucius’s side-message to A. F. in the final copy. I think this letter is just one of many that made its way from place to place, which might help explain some of the gaps in the Ashfield archive.

Lemuel says he is planning to stay through another summer in the gold country, because the winter rains prevented him and his partners from working their claim completely. They have diverted Clear Creek, and are harvesting the loose gold from the creek bed. Lemuel says they made a little over a thousand dollars apiece after expenses. While this isn’t a fortune, Lemuel defends the result as “better probably than I could [have done] in the Atlantic States.”

Clear Creek, California
My Transcription:

Clear Creek, Shasta County, California
December 18
th 1854

Dear Brother

I have just received your kind favor of last Oct. and take the earliest opportunity to answer, as I know you will be anxiously looking for a reply.

I am digging in the mines yet, trying to make a couple of dollars. I did think and in my last letter to Lewis stated that I should probably start for the Atlantic States next Spring. But I think now that I shall stay until next fall when I shall certainly make a break for the East. You wrote that you would like to know how I have made it since I have been here. Well I have done much better probably than I could in the Atlantic States. I will tell you what I made the last summer.

I have two partners. We commenced working in the Creek or digging a race so as to turn the creek out of its natural bed, about the first of June. And we worked in the bed of the creek until about the first of October. And we took out in that time Five Thousand dollars. And our expenses were about Fifteen Hundred, including hired help & everything. We did not get the claim worked out as the rains drove us out about the first of Oct. and we cannot work in it again until next June. Hence my reason for staying here another summer. We are making about five or six dollars a day to the hand now. Wages for good hands here are four dollars per day, they board themselves. We have two hired hands and are paying them that.

I received two letters from Harrison the past summer, but he wrote to me not to write to him again until I heard from him again as he intended going to Mich. But I have not heard from him in a long time. I am indebted to Lewis for a letter too. I believe you say he is located in Branch Co. Write to me his Post Office address and I will write to him again when I hear from you. How has he made it in selling & buying again?

I hope you will redeem your promise to wrote again as soon as you receive this and let me know what new neighbors you have got there and where your place is and how many acres you have got and when you are going to & &. I shall certainly be home next fall. Write about all the folks. I don’t think of anything more to write in particular. I have never seen anything of the boys from your parts out here.

Give my respects to all my old acquaintances
Yours respectfully, Anson B. Ranney
Leml S. Ranney

Allen Feb 6
th 1855

We received this letter last week & thinking you would like to know what Lemuel wrote I thought best to enclose it & send it to you, A. F. Please forward this to Ashfield.

A. F. I have this evening wrote a letter to you. We are all well.

Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #28

Lucius writes Henry and Achsah again, in spite of the fact he has not heard from them since his previous letter of early September. Lucius apparently finds the long silence unsettling and says “we are all anxious to hear how you all get along.” He gives news of the family and neighbors, and of his farm. His daughter Carroline, who is now about four, has been to party for a little girls at a neighbor’s house, and had a good time. Lucius probably includes mentions of Carroline for his mother’s sake, rather than Henry’s.

Anson has gone to the State Normal School at Ypsilanti, to take a four or five week teacher training course. In the nineteenth century, a lot of professions such as teaching and medicine were taught in short, intensive programs. In the mid-1800s, for example, the “medical lectures” at colleges like Dartmouth lasted only fourteen weeks (and cost $50). People went, learned what they needed to know, and returned home. Sometimes they went back for a second course of study a year later. Then they took an exam. Only at the elite colleges did students stay for long academic terms. The multi-year, residential college life we’re so familiar with was something only the rich experienced until the establishment of land-grant agricultural and technical colleges during the Civil War, and then to a much greater degree in the twentieth century with programs like the GI Bill.

My Transcription:

Allen Oct 22
nd 1854
Dear Friends

I wrote a letter to you some five or six weeks ago, & have not heard any thing from you since that time. But however having a few leisure moments this evening, I thought I would write you again a few lines. We are all well. Anson is at Ypsilanti to school at the State Normal School. He went about three weeks ago. He will probably stay about two weeks longer. He went with Mr. Beers. I presume he will teach this winter.

We heard from Franklin’s folks some 3 or 4 weeks ago by way of Mr. Everett Baggerly & his wife. They are here on a visit & expect to spend a few months here. We like John Baggerly’s folks quite well for neighbors. They said that Frankiln’s folks were well.

Lewis and Sarah Ann moved to Quincy about two weeks since. Henry Koon got a letter from Harrison about a week since. He said that he should start for home about the first of December. We got a paper a day or two since from California. Suppose it was from Lemuel. We have not heard directly from Priscilla in some time.

We have just finished husking corn & digging potatoes. I had three hundred bushels of ears of corn, & 75 bushels of potatoes. We have had a very pleasant fall so far, & but a very little rain until today. Today has been a very steady rainy day.

I hope that we shall hear from you soon. We feel anxious to hear how you all get along &c. Do you get the Hillsdale Standard regular? We send it times & matters move along about as usual. We milk 3 cows. Butter is worth eighteen pence. I let Lewis have to old Brin cow. Snap & Old Yellow are sleeping around the fire as usual.

Carroline went to a little girl’s Party to Mr. Brockway’s yesterday. She enjoyed it well.

Please write as soon as you receive this.

Yours in Haste, Mother, Henry &c.
Lucius Ranney

Mother, if I do not write more on this slip of paper I am afraid that you will think that I am wasteful. Well what shall it be? There is so much that I might write about that I hardly know what to write. Well we are a fattening a beef & six hogs. We have 22 pigs about 6 weeks old. They are just right for roasters. We have 10 spring pigs. We raised one calf this summer. It is a nice one.

We also raised a nice lot of chickens. Mrs. Ford started out a visiting a day or two since as usual. She went to three places & they were all gone. You know that she is very persevering on such occasions, consequently she made us a visit.


Ranney Letter #27

Lucius writes to Henry and Achsah, who is visiting Ashfield to help out. Both Henry and his wife Marie have been ill. Lucius mentions that he was briefly down with “ague & fever,” but is recovering. Lewis is fully recovered, and is buying a small farm in Quincy, about six miles away. He and his wife Sarah Ann will stay with Lucius until they move into their new place in a month. Lucius also says Harrison is not home yet, because he is waiting for a cholera outbreak to subside.

Michigan and the rest of the continent are apparently experiencing a drought, and Lucius gives a detailed account of the conditions on his farm. The hot, dry weather has reduced the wheat and corn yields, and a hailstorm has damaged his fruits, but Lucius says at least the extreme heat has produced plenty of tomatoes.

Lucius says his wife Clarissa has gone into the “dairy business,” and made twenty cheeses. Their daughter Carroline is healthy and Lucius writes fondly about her and says she “often says she wants to see Granma.” But he repeats his opinion from previous letters, that Achsah should come home whenever she is ready. Lucius also says he’s sorry Henry’s family has seen so much sickness; and he uncharacteristically sends his love at the close of the letter. It will be interesting to see if, as the brothers age, more or less sentiment shows up in their letters.

My Transcription:

Allen Sept 10
th 1954
Dear Friends

It has been a long time since I have written to you, in consequence of which I am almost ashamed, but friendship & duty directs me to do it, although I am quite feeble just about these days. I was taken with the ague & fever about ten days since. I had 3 or 4 very hard shakes of it. The first hard work that I done after the first shake was to send after some Rhubarb, Quinine, Brandy & Hops, and I soon started over fever & ague. I am now fast recovering. I can eat nearly my full allowance, think that I shall be at work in a day or two. The rest of us here are all well. We have not had a Doctor since Mother left here.

Lewis & his wife have made it their home here this summer. His wife has not been here for the past four weeks. She has been down near Hillsdale in their old neighborhood, a sowing, visiting &c. Lewis has bought him a small farm, I expect. He went yesterday to draw writings & he has not been here since. He has bought 20 acres all under good improvement with a log house, a young orchard good land &c. It is located in the town of Quincy two miles north of Quincy Center. He gives five hundred and fifty dollars $550.00 for it, gets possession the first of Oct.

We got a letter from Priscilla a few days since. She that her health has been & is better now than it has been for several years past. Harrison has not got home yet. The last we heard from him was about a month ago. He thought that he should come home after the Cholary subsided. Say in Sept or Oct. He had been well the last we heard from him. We have not heard from Lemuel since I wrote you last.

A.B. Is here with us this summer. He is at work on his place some. He had an excellent crop of wheat for this year. Two hundred bushels, it is now worth $1.75 per bushel. He is clearing off & putting in about 7 acres this fall. The wheat crop was very light this season here in
Mich. The smallest yield per acre that I have ever known in this Western Country. It is very dry here, but according to the papers we do not suffer with the drought as many parts of the United States do. Even your region of country does. The corn crop is going to be a light crop generally. The potato crop is a going to be very small. Buckwheat got a good growth of straw, but the extreme hot & dry weather has blasted that. My wheat crop was better than an average, but it was light. I harvested 10 acres & I had 125 bushes. I have 10 acres of corn which is about middling fair. 1 acre of potatoes which are as good as anybody’s & that is not any more than 1/4 of a good crop. Our corn looked first rate until about the middle of July. We then witnessed a terrible blow & hail storm. It cut the corn terribly. It also knocked the apples & peaches & plums awfully. It knocked off a great many of our hard winter apples. We have apples enough to use & shall have some to dry. We shall have from 4 to 8 bushels of good winter apples. We shall have but a few peaches. We also have but a few plums. But a plenty of tomatoes. We have had a great deal of not only warm but hot weather this summer, both day & night. We had a fine shower yesterday & it is cooler today.

Mother, I say Mother because I suppose that this will reach you, there is a great many things that I might write about which I do not think of now. But I will make a kind of wholesale business of it. Times move along about as when you left here. The neighbors with the exception of a few changes remain about the same. Moultrop has returned from California without money & full of pin pains as usual. It is generally healthy here this season. None sick about here but me & it seems to me that I shall feel better after supper as Clarissa is cooking not a quarter of veal but has a large piece nearly baked & any quantity of potatoes.

Lewis says that his health is better than it has been for six years. Mrs. Brockway & the 2 Mrs. Sheriffs got home day before yesterday from Phelps. They have been down on a visit. Was gone about 4 weeks. They did not see Franklin but heard that he & his folks were well. Uncle Everett as we call him & his wife are a coming out here about the 10
th of Oct to spend the winter.

Clarissa is in the dairy business on a very small scale this summer. She has made 20 cheeses. Carroline says that dinner is ready & I shall have to stop writing. She is always on hand about 10 minutes before there is anything to eat & if you do not believe it, you would if you should see how she grows.

Mother, as regards you coming home, I shall say as I have said in my previous letters. That is, come when you think best. We would all be very glad to see you. Carroline often says that she wants to see Granma. We all get along very well here.

I am very sorry that Henry’s folks are sick as much as they are. I suppose that ll things are for the best. But it certainly seems to me that they have more than their share of sickness. It has been a long time since we have heard anything from you, therefore write on receipt of this.

Clarissa sends her love to you all. I also send mine.

Yours in Haste, Mother, Henry & Family
Lucius Ranney

A Letter from Brother-in-Law Eldad Goodwin

Eldad F. Goodwin, Henry’s brother-in-law, writes from a peddling trip. In addition to being family, Henry is Eldad’s supplier and creditor, hence the double greeting of “Brother Henry” and “Dear Sir.” Eldad writes about visiting a Dr. Bemis to try to collect on a promissory note for his father, Henry’s father-in-law, Anson Goodwin (he made surgical splints, so the physician’s $35 debt may have been related to prior purchases). Bemis apparently bought the note from a third party to whom Goodwin had endorsed it. In spite of the fact Bemis paid a discounted price for the note, the fact it was in his possession ought to have canceled his debt to Anson Goodwin. So there must be more to the story than comes across in the letter.

Eldad is apparently new to peddling, but he thinks business is good and he has sold out of several items he’d like Henry to resupply. The illustration is a page from Henry Ranney’s ledger, showing items charged to Eldad’s account in another resupply in early 1854. Eldad was peddling on foot, probably carrying a tin trunk and one or more baskets. He mentions he is going to meet “Cross” (a relative of his wife, Julia) in Spencer in a few days. Peddlers often traveled together, but they split up to sell their wares, so despite being new to the business, Eldad would have spent most of his time on his own.

Peddling is a really interesting topic, and Henry Ranney was deeply involved, so I’ll need to write much more about it soon.

My Transcription:

Hubbardston Dec 21 1853

Brother Henry
Dear Sir

Agreeably to my promise, I drop a few lines to let you know of the whereabouts of the pedlar. We staid over Sunday at Barre, eight miles from here, and I have been these three days in getting here. I should think from what little I tried it that the peddling business was very good, but can tell better when I get my hand in.

You can tell Father that I called on Dr. Bemis and had quite a confab with him about the lost note. He told me precisely the same story about it that he wrote to Father. I watched him close and could get nothing new. He showed me the note, which is genuine as it has Father’s name on the back in his own handwriting. We went together to the
P.Master and I looked his papers over. No such letter was on his books. And I do not think that he ever saw the note. He appears to be honest and I think he is.

Bemis says the note was not due when he paid it, says he told the man he would give him Thirty Three Dollars for it (35) and the man made no objection to taking that. He borrowed a part of the money from Howard and paid it. Says he told Howard that this was the first time in his life that he ever shaved his own note &c. I have his statement on paper, will show when I get home. He has the reputation of being a horse jockey here. I fear that father will have to lose that note. But something may turn up yet.

I have sold all out of a number of little things and pretty near of several others. If you have that N. York order, wish you to send it to Henry H. and get such things as you are not supplied with immediately as I shall want a small bill of goods before many days. Get something to please the children, of course.

Cross thinks he shall go home the last of next week and I
may come too as we shall be within a days drive of home, but can’t say certain. At any rate get the goods ready and I will take if I can make a live of it.

Have you any Hot Drops, Tape, Worsted, Braid, Harmonicas, Corking, Pins, Velvet Ribband, Ounce Pins, Coats, Spools Thread Large Size, Bayliss Needles N. 7 & 8? My health has been good. So has the weather, but am some afraid of a snow storm.

I expect to meet Cross at Spencer next Saturday. If you have anything to communicate please direct there and I shall be sure to get it, as I will leave word to have it forwarded in case we leave before a letter could get there.

Respects to all, In Haste Yours

E. F. Goodwin

Shall write to my wife tomorrow or next day.

A Letter from Cousin Paul Sears

Paul Sears writes to Henry from Mt. Carmel, Illinois, in the Fall of 1853. Paul is Henry’s first cousin: his father Nathan was Achsah Sears Ranney’s younger brother. Paul was born 1820 or 1821 in Zanesville Ohio, not in Ashfield, and followed his father into Medicine. He is the cousin that Lyman visited and wanted to study with, but who turned him away and suggested he go to Arkansas. So it’s interesting that he asks how Harrison is doing in Tahlequah, but doesn’t ask about Lyman.

Paul asks several questions about Henry’s extended family, and then gives a little information of his own. He mentions he is glad Henry did not go to California, and in general seems to feel himself a bit above those who grub for money. Of course, Paul is a successful physician with the widest “ride” in his area, so he has the luxury of not having to worry. As he says, “It is quite healthy here at this time, but I get all the business I want.”

Paul is very interested in genealogy, and includes a list of ancestors that goes back to the Mayflower. Paul says one of his Sears cousins is preparing a book on the family’s history in America, and he would like both to prove that he is of the Mayflower stock, and to contribute the details of his own descent. I haven’t been able to locate this book, which may never have been published, but the
Sears family website claims Richard Sears has about 200,000 members now living in America. And in an interesting note in the genealogy, Paul mentions that some of the Sears ancestors relocated to St. John, New Brunswick, in 1783. This would make them Royalists — members of a group we never hear enough about in Early American history.

My Transcription:

Mt Carmel Oct 26 1853
Dear Cousin

Some time has elapsed since I have had the pleasure of hearing from you in person. I recd a letter from sister last mail and regret to hear of your illness. I hope you have entirely recovered. I hear Harry is still in Talequo (or some such savage name) and feel
much pleased that you are both held in esteem. When did you hear from Aunt (your Mother) and how was the Family and when do you expect to visit home and what does Harry think of the natives? I would like to see you both very much, yet it’s best for you to persevere and accumulate all you can.

Mother is still on the farm and gets along about as usual. Zech is looking out for the dimes and making money. He went on a visit to Ohio last fall and wanted to make a show, and had a 50$ Gold Piece stolen out of his pocket. Says it served him right. Ought not to make such a display on a steam boat.

It is quite healthy here at this time, but I get all the business I want. John my Brother in Law is attending lectures at Jefferson Medical College Phliadel. this winter. The young man I sent to California has returned. He does very well. He is now staying with me, don’t know what he will do yet.

My children are going to school and learning very well. The youngest is learning Dutch, reads very well that language. I anticipated the pleasure of taking a camp hunt but presume I will not get to go. The Illinois Methodist Conference meets here and are now in session. We have our quota of Preachers.

I am very glad you did not go to California. It’s but few in proportion to the number that goes that makes it big. Remember me kindly to Harrison. I would write often, but sparsity of news & business is my apology.

You or Harry told me that we had a maiden Aunt and that she knew our genealogy. I do not know her address and I want you or Harry to write her and get all the information you can on the subject. Robert Sears is going to publish a work on the Sears Family, and if we are of his branch I want to give him all the information I can on the subject. I give you his genealogy which you can send on to her. My father said he knew we were of the same stock and I want to know anyhow. Anything pertaining to our ancestors will be interesting. Please write her or your Mother.

Yours Truly
Paul Sears

Genealogy of Robert Sears of N. York.

Richard Sears, the Pilgrim, landed at Plymouth May 1630
Paul Sears (son of Richard) Joshua (son of Paul) Nathaniel (son of Joshua) (Brother to Col. Isaac Sears the Leader of the Liberty Boys) Thatcher Sears (son of Nathaniel) (Robert) Parent & Born at Norwalk Ct. 1753 Went to St. John N.B. May 1783 Robert Sears seventh son of Thatcher born June 28 1810. The above is correct & confirmed by the Record of Harwick Mass. & The Town of Norwalk (or Norwich) Fairfield Co Connecticut.

Ranney Letter #25

Anson writes Henry from the town of Reading, seven miles from the family home in Allen. He has taken a teaching job for the winter that pays $16 and board, which Anson says sounded like a better deal than $12 a month for working “out in the snow.” Some of Anson’s students are older and bigger than he is (Anson is 20), but that doesn’t seem to bother him. He likes the people, who he says are “good nice citizens.”

Anson says the family is well, and mentions that they had heard from Lemuel. Although he supposes that Lucius may have already written about Lemuel’s letter (if Lucius did write, his letter was lost. This is one of those remarks that leads me to think there were actually many more letters between the brothers than made it into the archive — which is remarkable, given the number that were preserved), Anson repeats Lemuel’s news from memory. He says Lemuel has offered to send him money for his trip, if he will come to California. Since Lemuel has already written that he would not advise friends to travel overland to California, this presumably means a journey by ship down the coasts of North and South America, around the Straits of Magellan, and up the other side to San Francisco. That would be quite an adventure for a twenty-year old from Michigan, and Anson seems to be considering it. Anson says if he goes he might retire to Ashfield afterward, once he has made his fortune.

My Transcription:

Nov 24
th 1853
Respected Brother

Having a few leisure moments to spare I will improve the time by writing to you. I am well & doing the same. I am about seven miles from Lucius in the town of Reading, teaching school. I have taught about ten days, and so far I like the business very well. My school is not very large now & probably it will not be this winter. It will average about from twenty five to thirty scholars. Some of them are men grown larger than I am. I get sixteen dollars & boarded. I thought that would be better than to work out in the snow for twelve. It is a first rate district. The people are good nice citizens, which makes it rather more pleasant.

I came from home last Monday morning. The folks were all well then. Lewis was at our house when I came away. They were all well there. We received a letter from Lemuel a few days since. Probably Lucius has written about it before this. He wrote that he was in good health and doing tolerable well. He was to work where he has been for some time on Clear Creek, twelve miles from Shasta City. He was to work by the month mining. He gets one hundred & seventeen dollars per month & boards himself. He wrote for me to go to California. He said he would send me the money in the spring if I would only go. He says that a laboring man can make more there than he can here in the States.

I must stop writing now for a while because it is most school time and I will try and finish after school.

Well school is out for the night and I am glad, for I am a little tired now but will soon be rested again. I received a letter from Harrison a few days ago. He wrote that he was well but a little homesick. He thought of coming back in the spring, in June I believe he set his time for coming back. He wrote that Lyman had been sick but was getting better so that he was up around. Mother she is in Phelps N.Y. I suppose she calculates on staying there throughout the winter.

If I go to California I shall probably go to Ashfield when I come back from the Gold Mines. Then I can have something to live on. I suppose you think there is not much to be made in California. Well everyone to their notion.

I thank you very much for the papers you send me, for I get some time to read them and find some good pieces in them. I suppose I shall have to quit for it is most time to go for my supper. Please write on the receipt of this. Write soon.

Yours Respectfully
A. B. Ranney

P.S. Please send my mail to Reading P. O. Hillsdale Co. Mich and Oblige A. B. Ranney

Ranney Letter #24

Lucius writes to Henry in the fall of 1853. After the customary apology for not writing sooner, Lucius says he delayed because he knew Lewis had written in September. Like Lewis, Lucius says writing is difficult: he would “rather do a days work anytime than to write a letter.”

In addition to news of the family, Lucius gives Henry a very detailed account of his farm, and of the prices he is getting for his produce. This is valuable information, because it gives us a picture of what a hardworking man on 160 acres could produce in a year, with a single, part-time, hired man. Lucius lists all the crops he sold, and all his livestock. He also mentions that he has “a boy” living with them who will be in the household for another ten years, until he is 21. The 1860 Census lists an eighteen-year old “apprentice” named Burton Brown as part of Lucius’s household, as well as a thirty-two year old “farm laborer” named Austin Pross.

Lucius thanks Henry for a book he sent as a gift.
Samuel Cole’s American Fruit Book was published in Boston in 1849; Lucius says it is “a very useful book in selecting & cultivating fruit trees in this new country.” He already has 120 apple trees, which are just about old enough to produce, and he says his peach trees are yielding thirty to fifty bushels of fruit. Henry has also apparently said he might send Harriet Beecher Stowe’s books, but Lucius says they already have both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was a book of “Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story is Founded,” published in 1853 by John Jewett of Boston. Jewett was also the publisher of Cole’s book, and Henry may have a business relationship with him, because at about this time he begins to dabble in the book trade for a few years.

Lucius says
Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Key are “a choice book, and one that takes well in this State.” Although Lucius is not as active a campaigner for abolition, he is sympathetic and equates an appreciation of Stowe’s anti-slavery message with “intelligence and enterprise,” which he proudly declares Michigan is full of.

Translation note: A shoat is piglet that has just been weaned.
My Transcription:

Allen Oct 4
th 1853
Dear Brother

Well knowing it my duty to write a few lines to you, I therefore embrace the present time. We are all well & have been the past summer. I should have written sooner, but Lewis said that he had written to you sometime in the summer. A poor excuse is better than none. But I have had a great deal to do, or have done a great deal this summer. Clearing &c. I had rather do a days work anytime than to write a letter.

We raised about 280 bushels of wheat this season, of which I sold the most of it for $1.00 per bushel. It is now worth $1.10. We received a letter from you a few days since. You wished me to see what I could get, or what flour would be worth, delivered at the Lake. The cheapest way that it can be got would be to buy the wheat, which would at present prices cost $1.10 per bushel, & get it toured. The millers will give a barrel of flour for five bushels of wheat, which will cost per barrel here at the present price of wheat $5.50. It will cost 30 cts per barrel from here to the Lake. You can readily see whether there is any speculation or not. If so I will assist you in it if necessary.

You also spoke of oil Peppermint. The season has been so very dry that peppermint is very small indeed. There is some New York buyers about. They offer $3.50 per lb. Lewis will have about 25 lbs. He has contracted a few lbs to the druggists in Hillsdale, Jonesville, & Coldwater for $5.00 per lb.

We have 7 acres of good corn, is worth 50 cts. We also have 100 bushels of oats, they are worth 40 cts. A good crop of potatoes, say from 100 to 150 bushels, they are worth 31 cts. We milk 4 cows. We market considerable butter which is worth 16 cts per lb. Our stock consists of 2 horses, 1 yoke of oxen, 4 cows, 2 colts, sixty sheep, 6 fatting hogs which will at killing time weigh from 250 to 300 lbs each, 8 shoats to winter over which will weigh about 80 lbs each, &c.

As regards the books you wrote that you had sent me, we have got one only. That is Cole’s Fruit Book & I am a thousand times obliged for the Present, for I find it a very useful book in selecting & cultivating fruit trees in this new country. We have Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The country is full of them, and also the Key. They are a choice book, & one that takes well in this State. I must say, and without prejudice too, there is a great amount of intelligence & enterprise in the Wolverine State.

We have about 120 apple trees of the choicest of fruit. The most of them begin to bare quite a little. We have about 40 peach trees. We have had from 30 to 50 bushels from them this season. We had plenty of them that commenced getting ripe in August & have had them a ripening tree after tree ever since & have a plenty yet. We have several plum trees that bare & some guineas, currants a plenty, &c.

As regards my farm, I have 160 acres, about 70 acres cleared, & would not thank a man to offer three thousand dollars for it. I have money enough & more due to me to pay my debts. I keep a hired man a part of the time this summer. A man can get about $150 to $160 a year to work on a farm.

Anson is at home at present. He has attended school this summer. He thinks of teaching this winter. He will probably get some land soon to make a farm of. We have a boy a living with us. He will probably stay until he is 21. He is now 11 years old.

Lewis & wife are well. Franklin was here in June last. He has disposed of all his land here. He thinks that he can live easier in the State of N.Y. than here. Priscilla & husband live at South Haven, the mouth of Black River. We heard from them a few days ago. They were usually well. He is in a sawmill, Lath Machine, & farming, & tearing away at various things. He has 30 acres of good land there. If you want to write to them you can direct to South Haven, Van Buren Co Mich. We have not heard anything from Lemuel this summer. Lyman said he got a letter from him in June. We hear from Harrison & Lyman often. They think of coming to Mich in June next.

I sheared 50 sheep this season, of which I sold the wool for $86. One sheep, a buck, sheared 11 lbs & 14 oz. I sold my wool for 50 cts per lb. Farming is getting to be much better than it has been for years past & the prospect is favorable for it to continue good. There is a Flood of Emigration to this country this fall. It has been very healthy here this season. The price of land has increased one quarter in a year.

You see I must close for want of room. I have endeavored to give you some of the lines of my affairs & things in general, and that without fabling too. Write on receipt of this.

In Haste
Lucius Ranney

Mother is a writing to you & Marie some things I have neglected to write. Mother thinks some of going to Phelps & also Franklin’s little girl that lives with us this fall to spend the winter & if she does I think she will go to Ashfield.

Ranney Letter #23

Lewis writes to Henry for the first time since his illness. He has recovered, and can almost walk normally, but he is a changed man. Lewis says he is “Able to do a good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years.” He has reduced his farm to forty acres, which he can manage comfortably, and his wife does a lot of the work with him “from choice.”

Lewis reports on the health and doings of the brothers. Lucius is now clearly the most driven farmer of the family, and younger brother Anson is working with him rather than out on his own for wages. Harrison and Lyman are in Arkansas, and Lemuel is out of touch. Henry has apparently retired from business and become a gentleman farmer, and Lewis pokes a little fun at him, asking whether he has done any heavy work himself or does he just watch others do it.

Their mother Achsah has decided to spend her winter in Phelps and Ashfield, Lewis reports. Henry’s wife Marie is ill, so Achsah will be able to help look after the children. Lewis says he encouraged her to go, and that Lucius agrees it is a good idea, but would never say, “for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her.”

The season was dry and the harvest light, Lewis says. But he planted five acres of Peppermint, and he has seen in the papers that the oil is selling for $4.25 per pound. Lewis asks Henry for a price because he would prefer to deal with family, but he makes sure Henry knows he is aware of the oil’s value in New York.

My Transcription:

Hillsdale Sept 11
th 1853
Dear Brother

It having been a long time since writing you, I have concluded to lay everything else aside and write you. Yet I had rather work a day than write a letter. I am unused to letter writing opt late (of which you are probably aware of) and it seems quite a job. I read a letter a week or two ago of yours at Lucius’s, stating that Marie’s health was very poor. I think I am prepared to sympathize with you in your afflictions, yet we had no children to look after or care for. But we cannot expect our days all sunshine.

Our relations’ healths are all quite good at present here.
Lucius is a driving away as usual at farming. Anson is with him. Harrison and Lyman are yet in Arkansas, expect doing well. Lemuel we know but little about. Lyman wrote that he received a letter from him in July. He did not mention how he was doing or when he was coming back. But advised his Friends not to take the overland route to California.

My health is quite good this summer. Leg become about straight so as not to be observed in my common walk. Therefore you will calculate that I have not got the Blues as had when I wrote you last. My health in the main is quite good. Able to do good fair days works. But not the nerve I carried in former years. I do not work very hard nor do not intend to. I now have only 40 acres of land, 28 improved, which I can work myself with a boy in the summer season very comfortably. My wife is quite a rugged woman and very ambitious and helps me a great deal from choice.

Mother I believe has concluded to spend the coming winter at Phelps and Ashfield. I have mentioned it to her several times the past summer that there was nothing to hinder her from visiting her friends East again. But her head is full of cares and so much to do & Lucius has a very kind woman and would like to have her go if she could enjoy herself better. But Lucius would not recommend her to go for fear she would think they wanted to get rid of her. But Frank has invited her and you in your last wanted her, therefore she has concluded to go, probably in October.

We have had a very dry season. Wheat and corn came in fair. But most other crops were light. Wheat is worth 8/6 per. But I had only 85 bushes. Sowed only five acres last year. What is Pept Oil worth? I planted five acres last spring. It has been too dry for it, shall probably get about 30 or 35 lbs. I see it quoted at about four twenty-five in N.Y. Papers.

How does farming go? Have you split any rails yet or made stone wall? Or do you as an old saying is, keep tally while others do it?
Ralph I suppose is company for you if nothing more. It hardly seems possible that he is a boy eight or nine years old. We are not remarkably fond of very small children at our house. But one of that age we should think worth fussing with.

Sept 12
I must close as I am going to town and have not time to write any more. Please write soon. I am much obliged for papers I am receiving from you and intend favoring you with the expense sometime.

My respects to you and yours.

L.G. Ranney

I can send Hillsdale papers to you occasionally if of any account. Densmore’s people we have not heard from in several months. Probably well or we should have heard.

Ranney Letter #22

Lyman writes Henry in the winter of 1852, saying that he is healthy and that his older brother Harrison is “still living in the Indian Nation,” after apparently taking the job that Lyman had done there the previous year. Lyman has served on several juries, and tells Henry about the weather and local conditions.

Henry has said he plans to visit Michigan the following summer, and Lyman says he would like to do the same. Lyman also mentions that he wants to go the World’s Fair. He is referring to the “
Exhibition of Industry of All Nations,” held in New York City from July to November, 1853. This was the first such fair held in America, and it attracted over a million visitors and featured a “Crystal Palace” that emulated the one built for the very successful 1851 fair in London. But this is the final letter from Lyman in the collection, so I don’t know if he ever made it.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks Dec. 6
th 1852
Dear Brother

I embrace the present opportunity of writing you a few lines. I have enjoyed remarkably good health for some time past. Harrison is still living in the Indian Nation at the point where I stayed last winter. The United States District Court has just closed here after holding for some three weeks. There has been twelve or fifteen convicted during the term of the court. Some are sentenced to the penitentiary. Others are (three) sentenced to be hung for murder, among whom is an Indian. I was on four different
Juries, one the Jury was “hung” for three days.

The Arkansaw River is in fine boating order at present and has been for some time. The boats are arriving here almost every day, bringing some of the delicious fruits of the “
South” such as Oranges, Pine Apples, &c. Mr. Bishop is absent at present on a trip to New Orleans.

I have not heard from Mich for some time, hope to get a letter from there soon. I have not heard from
Lemuel but once since he started for California. That by way of Lucius who recd a letter from him somewhere on his route. I am hoping to get a letter from him soon.

You say you think you will be out to
Michigan during the next summer. What time do you think it will be? I should like to visit the north during the next year. Don’t know as I shall. Not the fore part at least. When I do I shall give you all a call. I would like to attend the World’s Fair if convenient. Mr. Bishop thinks of going north next summer and attending the Fair.

The weather here is as pleasant and warm as the month of September is at the north. There has been but one or two frosts and no freezing weather here. I have recd two numbers of the Home Journal coming from the office of publication. You may order it sent to Mich. or make some other disposition of it if you choose, as Mrs. Bishop takes it and I am not very partial toward it to say the most. I this day recd the Boston Atlas after an intermission of about 2 months.

Write soon & give my love to all your family.

Yours Truly
Lyman A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #21

Lyman sends Henry a short note with a five dollar bill to renew his newspaper subscriptions to three Eastern papers. Lyman says the banknote is from “the N.O. Bank which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at par here.” Until Federal Laws were passed during the Civil War, State-chartered banks printed their own currency. Some varieties of this money were more widely accepted than others, depending on the remoteness of the bank and its perceived solvency. Rather than flatly refuse the notes of a distant or shaky bank, people would sometimes “discount” the note, saying in effect, “I’ll take this, but only at 90¢ on the dollar” or some other amount below the par or face value of the note. Historians disagree on how common this practice was, often citing the fact that people were taught in elementary school how to “discount” in their heads. Personally, I don’t see the point of taking a note at 90¢ or 95¢ on the dollar, if you think the issuing bank is likely to not honor the paper. The reason people were taught how to quickly calculate discounts was that many of these notes carried interest. They were promises to pay a month or two in the future, so people needed to know how much the five or seven percent interest would come to over that length of time.

Lyman briefly answers Henry’s questions about the size of the firm he works for, saying they do about $140,000 a year and that they sell a lot of goods at wholesale prices to smaller merchants who lack the capital to go East and buy for themselves.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks. Oct 17
th 1852
Dear Brother

I recd yours of — Sept. And was glad to hear from you again. Enclosed you will find a five dollar bill (5$) on the N. O. Bank, which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at
par here. This as you will no doubt understand is to pay for another year of the Tribune, Atlas, & Blade which I wrote you about some time since, as the two former papers have already stopped, the year having run out I suppose.

You wished me to give youth amy of goods sold by the firm with which I am staying. We have four stores in different parts of the State and two here in this place. The goods for the other stores all pass through the stores here before they go out to the branches. We sell in the year about 140,000$ here and and at the branches. We wholesale a great many goods here in the course of the year. The country merchants buy, some who have not capital enough to go east to buy for themselves.

I have to cut my letter short as I am writing on Monday morning, and I have now to close.

Yours Truly
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #19

Eighteen year old Anson writes to Henry for the first time from Florence, Michigan, where he is working as a farm hand for day wages. Anson is getting seventy-five cents a day, which he considers good pay. He reports that he is in good health, “which is the first thing in letter writing.” Then he gives news of all the family, and thanks Henry for the newspapers he has sent over the years and invites his brother to write back to him “without fail.”

Unlike Lucius, Lewis, and even Lyman, Anson and his older brother Henry really have no shared experience. Anson was born just before the family moved to Phelps, so although Henry may remember him as a newborn baby, Anson’s only face to face contact with Henry would probably have taken place on the rare occasions when Henry visited Phelps (I don’t think he had been to Michigan yet, at this point), before their father George died and Achsah moved out to live with Lucius. So it’s noteworthy that Anson feels a family connection and decides to initiate contact with a brother who he only knows through letters and family stories.

My Transcription:

Florence May 2
nd 1852
Respected Brother

Being that I am out here in St. Joseph away from the harm of Friends & alone today I thought there would be no harm in dropping a few lines to you, as I had never done the like before. As to health, which is the first thing in letter writing, I have been blessed with good health for the past year & hope this to find you in the same.

I am to work by the day now & probably shall continue to work by the day through the summer. I get $0.75 a day or $19.00 per month, which are good wages for a common tug like me. Probably I am an extra hand, let me tell the story. I have been here about six weeks. I think that I can stay away as long as until fall if not longer. I have a notion of going to Iowa in the Fall if I can make things shape right. If I don’t go there I shall go home & go to school through the winter.

Anyone would judge from the looks of my writing that I had ought to go to school winters, but I do not pretend to be a scholar. Neither at writing or any other branch of knowledge.

We got a letter from Lemuel just before I started from home. His calculation then was to emigrate for California about the 10
th of Apr. I am afraid he will see some hard times before he gets back if he should happen to live until he got back. But luck to him I say. There has been a great many from here that started for California that got as far as Council Bluff & turned about & came back on account of there being such a rush this spring. But I say if there is any that want to go there let them go. I think I can better myself in some other country. Everyone to their notion. I can enjoy myself here for the present well enough.

Harrison was here about a week ago on his way to Mt. Carmel. He says he shall probably be back in the fall, but I guess it is different. I had a letter from Lyman a short time ago. He wrote no news in particular. He is getting pretty good wages down in Van Buren. Lewis has had a hard time of it for 6 or 8 months past. It is hopeful that he will recover fully.

As I have written a pretty long letter I think it is best to hold up now, for if you write to me I may want to write again. I am very thankful to you for those papers you have sent me in times past. Write to me when you receive this without fail. If you should feel disposed to write me a letter you may send it to Constantine St. Joseph Co. Mich. I send my love to you & the rest of the family.

Yours Truly
From Anson B. Ranney

Ranney Letter #18

Lyman writes Henry again from the “land of Bowie Knives and Pistols.” He describes a recent murder and says that there have been fifteen or twenty killings in the vicinity since he arrived three months earlier. Lyman hopes to leave Tahlequah after the next big infusion of U.S. Government money in the Spring.

Lyman remarks that he has read a notice in the Greenfield, Massachusetts, newspaper that Henry has been elected to the Legislature. Henry was an early member of the Liberty and Free Soil parties that contributed their abolitionist agenda to the Republican party in 1860. The
History of Ashfield says this: “About the beginning of the forties, the Liberty or Abolition party made its appearance in the shape of perhaps a dozen voters, or whom Jasper Bement, Henry S. Ranney and Dea. Samuel Bement were most prominent…this small beginning was the nucleus of the Free Soil party, which was in turn the nucleus of the Republican party in Ashfield, as well as in the nation…” The History describes the growth of the abolition movement in Ashfield, noting that in 1849, Hosea Blake was elected in a contested race that included the recruitment of at least one black voter. The election was protested and decided by the Legislature in favor of Blake, who won reelection in 1850 and was one of the men who voted to elect Charles Sumner to the Senate. Sumner was elected by a single vote.

My Transcription:

Tahlequah C. N. Jany 18
th 1852
Dear Brother

Once more I drop you a few lines from this land of
Bowie Knives and Pistols. There has been not less than fifteen to twenty murders in this nation since I have been here (3 mos.)(all Indians I believe). Last night there was a man part Indian (who had a grocery at this place) cut in pieces by two men under the influence of liquor. They killed him in his own house, where there was five or six more at the same time. They have the murderers but there is no certainty of their being hung as they clear more than half of the perpetrators of that deed here in the Nation.

This morning the news reached here of another man being murdered a few miles from here. The one that was killed at this place was badly cut up. I saw one cut in the breast that was not less than eight inches long and laid the
heart bare. A man has no certainty of his life I must confess. Yet I expect to have to stay here six months or year longer.

We have had some very cold weather here for the last few days. Snow about 3 inches deep, the first there has been here this season. Trade is dull here at present, the money that was paid out last fall to the Indians being nearly all gone. There will be another payment made to the Indians about the 1
st April next (amt. 1,500,000$) which will make money more plenty once more, after which I hope to leave the nation as it is not the place to suit me.

I see by the “Greenfield Paper” you sent me that your elected a representative to the Legislature and will no doubt be in Boston at the time this reaches you, but I will direct it to Ashfield and then it can be forwarded if necessary. Nothing more of importance to write at present. Give my love to all our friends in your vicinity. Write soon and let me hear all the news.

From Your Brother
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #17

Lyman writes to Henry for the first time from Tahlequah, where he says he is “no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States.” He has been put in charge of Baker & Bishop’s store there, at a salary of $350 annually. Lyman also says he has “found” $350, so perhaps he was given a bonus to take the position.

Tahlequah was about thirty miles from the U.S. border, and was a town of about 400 people at this time. It was established in 1838, and became the capital of the Cherokee Nation the following year. Lyman describes the people and the Cherokee government, and mentions that two schools have been set up for Indian boys and girls. Although he says “some of the students are far advanced,” Lyman seems to consider it odd that they study Greek and Latin: “English and
dead languages, and no Indian language is taught at the school.”

My Transcription:

Tahlequah Cherokee Nation Oct 28 /51
Dear Brother,

You may be somewhat surprised to be hailed from this quarter of the globe. I am no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States as I do not remain within their limits. My employers Messrs Baker & Bishop have established a store at this place and wanted me to take charge of it, to which I accepted. This city is situated in the C. N. about 30 miles from the line of the States. It is regularly built with a square in the center. Population of about 400 persons out of which number but about
twenty entirely white. And some of them have Indian wives. But the Indians around here nearly all civilized. The greater part can talk English. They are greatly amalgamated, you can scarcely find a full blood. Some half and some as white as anybody.

The Nation built two fine seminaries of learning, one for the males and one for the females. Cost about ninety thousand dollars. One is about one mile and the other about three miles from this place. Some of the students are far advanced, studying in the
Greek and Latin languages. They study the English and dead languages, and no Indian language is taught in the school.

They have a chief & 2
nd chief here, and have a house of councilmen & house of committeemen chosen one member from each district. The two houses are now in session. They pass laws, make appropriations, &c.

I wrote home to Michigan last mail and sent
Anson ten dollars to help him attending school this winter as the last two years of my attending was the making of me. It may be the case with him also. I wrote you from Van Buren before coming here, to direct your letters, papers &c, and also to have my regular papers, those sent from office of publication, directed here to this place: Tahlequah, C. N. Arks.

You will please answer this on receiving it and let me hear from you.

Truly Your Brother
L.A. Ranney

P.S. I am getting a salary of 350$ per yr and found 350$. L.A.R.

Ranney Letter #16

Lucius writes to Henry in the Fall of 1851, mentioning that he has had letters from Henry in Ashfield, Alonzo Franklin in Phelps, and Lyman in Arkansas in the same week. Lucius says everyone in his household is well, although his wife and niece have had bouts of fever. Their brother Lewis, however, is fighting for his life.

Lewis had traveled down to Ashfield the previous Spring, and had returned home with an illness that “used him up.” In the fall, he developed an infection in his leg that completely immobilized it. The doctors described this as erysipelas, which is an acute streptococcus bacterial infection of the skin and lymph nodes. As Lucius says, the infection was often fatal, through septic shock, spreading through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, and necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh eating” infection).

Lucius says the illness prevented Lewis from working for most of the summer, so in addition to being ill, Lewis is in a tight financial situation. But Lucius remarks, he has “a smart wife.” Lucius also reports what he knows about Lyman and Priscilla, and says no one has heard from Lemuel in half a year.

The harvest was apparently very good in Michigan, because Lucius says the price of wheat is down as low as fifty cents a bushel. And due to Lewis’s illness, no one in the family raised any peppermint. As a result of the “uncommon hard” times, Lucius will have to defer payment again on the loan Henry gave him. But he hopes to be able to come down to Ashfield himself in a year and repay his brother.

Lucius closes by saying their youngest brother, eighteen year-old Anson, has just returned from Lewis’s place fifty miles away, and that Lewis is doing better.

My Transcription:

Allen Oct 12
th 1851

Dear Friends

I was very much gratified by receiving a letter from you, one from Franklin, & also one from Lyman the past week, & as you all seem to be in a prosperous situation, it is somewhat a consolation to us here. I shall however write but a few lines, as I intend to write to you all this afternoon. We are well here at present. Clarissa has had the ague & fever some this fall, also Ellen Franklin’s little girl has had it some.

Lewis is very sick with a swollen leg. The doctors, the species of irrasiplas. He has not been out of the house for about eight weeks. The swelling commenced on the inside of the leg just above the knee. It makes the cords & joint stiff . It is drawn up in a triangle form & there remains. It is swollen very large and very hard. For the past two weeks it has been increasing & working upwards, & unless it is checked it will work up into his bowels & kill him. Mother is there. I saw him yesterday He has failed very much since I saw him a week ago. It is hopeful that he may get along but I am afraid that he will not live but a short time. He has the best of care & has had three Doctors. They opened it for fear it might be materated, but it was not.

Lewis had a bit of sickness this summer after he left Ashfield, which used him up. He has not been rugged since. He has not been able to do much the past summer. It makes it bad in his situation, although he has a smart wife.

Lyman writes that Bishop & Co. are going to send him out among the Indians with a stock of goods. When he wrote he was at Napoleon on the Mississippi on business for the firm & was going to return soon.

We have not heard from Lemuel since last spring. Densmore was here yesterday. He says Priscilla’s health is pretty good.

Produce is very low this fall. Wheat is worth from 50 to 55 cts per bushel. We had about 200 bushels. As for oil peppermint, in consequence of Lewis health they did not raise any.

The demands you have against me I am afraid that I shall not be able to send you this fall. But I think & hope that I shall be able to go down next fall myself & pay you. Times are uncommon hard in the state this fall. If the wheat crop comes in good next summer I will try & send you a quantity of flour if it should be desired.

I must draw my letter to a close. Anson has just come from Lewis. He says that L is better. Good news. Write on the receipt of this. Give my respects to all enquiring friends.

Yours in haste
Lucius Ranney

Ranney Letter #14

Pasted Graphic
Lyman writes to Henry in June 1851, acknowledging receipt of a letter of Henry’s forwarded by Lucius. The brothers apparently forwarded each other’s letters onward, which may account for some of the gaps in the Ashfield collection. In some cases, as we’ll see, they also transcribed letters so they could send the latest news along to several places at once.

Lyman says he has been well, but that there has been an outbreak of cholera, both at Fort Smith and in Van Buren. It originated with soldiers who had lately come up the river, Lyman says, although he blames the disease on the soldiers’ drinking and debauchery once they arrived, not realizing that they probably brought it with them.

The political season was in full swing, Lyman reports, and the hot topic was “disunion.” Due to its location near the lands recently taken from Mexico in the war ending in 1848, Arkansas was very interested in the debate over extending slavery into the newly acquired territories. Arkansas Congressman Robert Ward Johnson was Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs and a fervent supporter of South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, who had urged southerners to reject compromise. Johnson shocked moderate Arkansas Democrats with his extreme position, and then declared he would not run for reelection in 1851. This created the confusion Lyman mentions. Johnson was appointed by the Arkansas State Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate, and later to the Confederate Senate. His political career ended when the South lost the Civil War. Lyman apparently favored the Whig candidate, Col. John Preston, but he didn’t come close to winning as Lyman predicted.

Lyman tells Henry that Mr. Bishop has taken on a partner and that they will have $100,000 in stock for the upcoming season, if the new partner can find a way to float his recent purchases up the dangerously low river. This is an interesting reminder that before the age of railroads, merchants and their customers depended on water transportation that was much less predictable. Dry goods bought in Boston had to be shipped down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, where they were loaded on flat-bottomed steamboats (which began carrying freight on the Mississippi and its tributaries right after the end of the War of 1812) and shipped north. Although steam power had reduced the trip upriver from months to days, the boats were still affected by weather conditions and especially by low water levels.

Steamboat Washington, built in 1816.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks June 30
th 1851

Dear Brother

I recd your esteemed favor (via Michigan) a few days since and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well. I have enjoyed very good this summer so far but the cholera is among us. There has been some 10 or 12 deaths from that disease here within a few days. First the cholera has been raging at Fort Smith, a point on this river about ten miles above this place. It first originated among the soldiers who had lately come up the river and who had been exposed and had been dissipating and drinking. There has been some thirty or forty deaths among the soldiers at Ft. Smith.

There is some considerable excitement here in this state at present of the union question. The nominee of the Democratic convention for M. C. in this district is a dis-union man and there is a great split among the Democrats about it. They will probably run a union candidate or vote for Mr. Preston the
Whig nominee who is a strong union man and a smart man. Mr. Robt W Johnson is the Democratic nominee who has represented this district in Congress for the last two years.

The candidates are canvassing the district. They were both of them here and spoke yesterday. Mr. Preston will probably be elected.

The Arkansas River is very low at present. None but the smallest of boats can come up it at present. Dr. Baker, Bishop’s new partner, has been on East to Boston, New York & Phila. and bought about 50,000$ stock of dry goods and am afraid he will not be able to get them up if there does not come a rise in the river. Mr. Baker bought of one house in Boston (Blanchard Converse & Co.) over 12,000$. The firm will have about 100,000$ stock this year which is quite a stock for this country.

Harvest is finished here. Wheat cut about 2 weeks since, green corn sometime since. The weather is not as hot here as it is at the north. At times the thermometer scarily even getting above 98. But it is more steady heat here than at the north.

Give my best respects to
Marie and our friends in general. And to Aunt Jerusha, to whom I would write but I have not time at present. Write as often as convenient and let me know what you are doing down in the Yankee land. Lucius made a raise of a half sheet of paper partly filled and sent it with your letter.

Yours affectionately
Lyman A Ranney

Ranney Letter #13


Lyman writes from Fort Smith Arkansas, which is only ten miles from where he has been living at Van Buren, but looks across the river at the “Indian Nation.” The fort not only defends the boundary between the United States and the Indian territory established by the removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw people from Georgia in the 1830s, but it is the center for trade with the Indians. Lyman writes that in a couple of months the Indians will receive their annual annuity of between $800,000 and $1 million, and that this cash payment will result in a frenzy of selling as the Indians try to turn the government scrip into something they can use.

Lyman writes bluntly about the Indians, but he has also taken the time during the few days he has been in Fort Smith to find out that there are three nations of crowded together in the territory across the river, and that they can’t communicate with each other. He ironically quotes a southern song (
All I ask in this creation, Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation, Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation), and then declares that he would rather live in Fort Smith, because it is more lively and he likes trading with the Indians.

Illustration: Fort Smith, from
Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1861
Translation note: Dido: a mischievous or capricious act: prank, antic. Often used in the phrase
cut didoes. (Merriam-Webster online)

My Transcription:

Fort Smith Arks. April 28
th 1851
Dear Brother

You may think it somewhat strange to receive a letter from this remote corner of the Earth 9as you think I suppose), but it is so. I came up here about a week since to stay a few days as Mr. Bishop has a store at this point and the young man that has been attending to his business here is sick. I had to come up and supply it.

This is a great business point, although most of the trade is with the Indians. All that separates this place in the Indian nation is the Arkansas River. We can look across and behold the Indians on the opposite shore, cutting up all sort of “didoes.” They are over on this side every day, sometimes hundreds of them, trading. And most sure to get drunk, most of them.

Fort Smith is situated on the Arkansas River ten miles above Van Buren. It has more inhabitants than V.B. But the society is not near as good as at Van Buren.

There is to be paid out at this point more about this point about eight hundred thousand of one million dollars appropriated to them by Congress. It will (they expect) be paid to the Indians about the first of June next. Which if it is there will be a great chance of making money as you can sell to the Indians at double price and they would not know the difference.

I am way off down near the Cherokee Nation, but I have
no pretty little squaw or big plantation. There is three different nations of Indians that join this place: the Cherokee (the most numerous), the Choctaws and the Chicisaws all talk different and cannot understand each other no more than they can the white man. But there is a great many of them that can talk English considerable.

I shall leave this place for Van Buren, I expect, in about one week, as the young man is getting able to be about. I think I had rather live here than at V.B., it being more lively. And I like to trade with the Indians.

Give my love to all our friends in the Yankee land, the land of my birth.

Hoping that this may find you and your family all well I close as I am writing on the counter and expect a customer in every moment.

I remain Faithfully Yours
Lyman A Ranney

P.S. I wrote these scattering remarks as I had nothing else to do just at this time and thought perhaps you would like to hear from this point.

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.

Ranney Letter #11

Lyman writes to Henry in December 1850, having just returned from driving Mr. Bishop’s cattle from Arkansas up to Boonville Missouri. Lyman did not form a very high opinion of the people he met on the 400 mile trip to the Missouri River. It’s interesting that he would go to Boonville instead of Kansas City, but I don’t know anything about cattle driving in the 1850s except that the Missouri River was the destination.

Mr. Bishop has gone on another buying trip, so apparently Lyman has gained some responsibility. But he still complains he is only earning enough to cover his immediate expenses. Lyman says he was ill for a couple of weeks with bilious fever (probably typhoid or malaria), but has recovered.

Lyman describes the holidays briefly. Thanksgiving had featured a public feast and a sermon against “ultraism” (political extremism, often associated with reform movements like abolitionism), and Lyman says the slaves have the whole week of Christmas off, and spend it celebrating. But he also mentions a bill is being proposed to expel free blacks from Arkansas (this was ultimately signed into state law in 1859), which he says would “break up a great many” families if it passed.

My transcription:

Van Buren (Sunday) Dec 8
th 1850
Dear Brother

Yours of Sept 9
th came duly to hand and was thankfully recd but I was delayed in answering it in consequence of starting for Missouri about that time. I took a trip to Mo. in charge of a drove of cattle belonging to Mr. Bishop and consequently had a view of the Natives not of North America but of Missouri who by the way (most of them) are same as far as the trading of cattle or horses are concerned and that is about the extent of their knowledge. I was gone about six weeks, went as far north as Boonville on the Mo. River which is about four hundred miles from here.

We have quite a snow here at present, about six inches deep which is something quite uncommon for this country. It has melted some today and will probably all be gone before tomorrow night. Bishop is gone to N. Orleans at present and is expected to be gone for 3 or 4 weeks yet. He will buy his groceries in N. Orleans but will go East (Boston probably) in February to purchase dry goods.

Business is very good here at present. Our cash sales average about 2 or 3 hundred dollars per week beside a large credit business. I am bookkeeper here in this establishment and am getting so that I think books tolerable correct. We keep by double entry in which you have to be very particular.

I don’t expect to get much more this year than my expenses covered which will be over one hundred dollars, Doctor’s bill & all. As I have been sick since I last wrote you (which I like to have forgot). I will now mention it. I was taken about the first of Sept with the Bilious Fever which kept me down about two weeks. But I soon recovered and am now enjoying as good health as I have for years.

Thursday last the 5
th day of Dec. Was the day appointed by the Governor as day of thanksgiving and it was kept. Stores were all shut and the Presbyterian Preacher of this place gave us a good discourse on ultraism, after which we had a fine dinner prepared for he occasion.

Christmas is the greater day here. The
slaves have Christmas week for themselves to do whatever they choose, but they generally keep up dancing the most of the time. They are about passing a law in the state to expel all free Negroes from it which will break up a great many should that law be passed.

It is getting to be about 10 O.C. at night (and Sunday night at that) and I have a business letter to answer yet. I must close.

Give my love to Marie, the children, Aunt Jerusha, and all our friends in Mass.

From your brother

I have written home several times, but have not recd but one letter from them since I have been here. I have just written again and am in hopes they will answer it.


In August 1850, Henry receives a letter from a distant relative, Nathan Ranney (1797-1876) of St. Louis Missouri. Henry had written to Nathan with genealogical questions, and Nathan responds with a very general (and partly erroneous — their ancestor apparently came in the seventeenth century from Scotland, not in the eighteenth from Wales) sketch of the arrival of their original ancestor from Wales. He adds that he has met many Ranneys throughout the North and South, and with one exception they have been “men of high respectability.” The exception was “a man by our name traveling to exhibit wax figures.” Nathan notes that his family were mostly Whigs, but that he was a “firm Democrat.” This apparently changed — or at least he was a Democrat in the Jeffersonian sense, and not a supporter of slavery and secession, because he remained active in the “Union” government of Missouri during the Civil War, and even corresponded with President Lincoln.

It’s interesting that as early as 1850, Henry Sears Ranney was already compiling a family genealogy and looking for information on the origins of the Ranneys in America. Much of what we know about families like the Ranneys comes from the efforts of people like Henry, whose findings were later compiled into volumes like
The Middletown Upper Houses, where you can find the entry on Nathan Ranney on page 233 and the one on Henry on page 356. So it’s lucky for historians and modern genealogists that people were as interested as they were in their family origins. But why were they? What was going on in the lives of people like thirty-three year old Henry Ranney — or what was going on in 1850 America — that prompted this nostalgia and search for roots?

My Transcription:

St. Louis Aug 23 1850

Dr Sir

Your letter including a genealogical tree reached me this day.

Early in the 18
th century a man by the name of Ranney with thirteen sons emigrated from Wales, or as then called Northern Brittany, to this country and settled on Connecticut River, originating the Town of Middletown on the river. From this stock has sprung all the Ranneys of the US who spell their name as we do. I was born in Litchfield Co. Ct. In 1797. My father’s name was Nathan. His brother Dr. Thos. Stow Ranney settled in Bradford NH and afterward moved to Maine. Another brother Stephen Ranney was in the first and second war with Great Britain & severely wounded at Monmouth. He died in Mo. in 1827. He had four heirs and some of his children are living in Mo. My father died in Vt. Rutland Co. about 1820. I was in the army during the War of 1812 & 14 and have lived in Mo. since 1819.

In N. Orleans, Cincinnati, and Louisville I am acquainted with gentlemen of our name. In every instance but one coming to my knowledge, the Ranneys have been men of high respectability and of business habits, but none of them rich. The exception I refer to was a man of our name traveling to exhibit wax figures.

My father and brothers were Whig, but I have always been a firm Democrat.

Never having troubled myself much about genealogies, I cannot give a very lucid account of our family. Perhaps if any branch of it had been very rich in this world’s goods I should have kept posted up.

Yours with great respect,
N. Ranney

Ranney Letter #10

Lyman writes again from Van Buren, in August 1850. He has not heard from Henry, so he suspects his letter never made it — although, since his letter is in the archive, apparently it was Henry’s reply that was lost in the mail. Lyman seems lonely, and writes again about wanting to study medicine, but not having the funds.

Van Buren is apparently a “wild west” sort of boomtown at this time. Lyman says “merchants are getting rich here,” but he also says that murderers walk the streets and that people are regularly killed in duels “or just for some grudge they had.” And since there are many young men looking for work, Lyman’s wages are low. Lyman hints that if he had some money to invest, he could probably make enough to get back to the north and study medicine. But he doesn’t come right out and ask for it.

(Illustration is Van Buren in 1888)

My transcription:

Van Buren August 8
th 1850

Dear Brother

After waiting some time for and answer to a letter I wrote you come time since I have come to the conclusion that you did not receive it, as I have not yet recd an answer. But be that as it may, I will once more write you. I have enjoyed remarkably good health since at the South, although we have exceeding hot weather. I don’t know but that I may leave here between this and next April and try to make some arrangements about studying
medicine. I like merchandising very much yet I think I would rather practice medicine and should have made greater progress that way ere this if I had possessed the means. Merchandising is a good occupation but it takes a long time to get a start in that business.

Merchants are getting rich here. Mr. Bishop four years ago when he came here had not over fifteen hundred dolls and is now worth about 2000$ which is doing well.

I have not heard from home but once since I have been here yet I have written home several times. I recd a letter from Lemuel a short time since. He wrote from Albion Mich. I expect he strolls about too much to save a great amt of his wages.

I think I have been well paid for coming here, having learned in several ways. For one in the way of business, keeping books, &c. I am keeping books here at present, which is done by double entry. Yet there is but little chance of saving much here as wages are small comparatively. There being a surplus of “clerks” who work for next to nothing apparently. It is about all I can do to clothe myself here at present.

There is quite a chance here for speculation if a man has a little money, say 4 or 500$ to commence with. I think he can double his money in a year and perhaps more in buying and selling different articles. Wheat you can buy in the Indian States about ten or fifteen miles above here for from 10$ to 20$ you can sell for from 30$ to 50$ and other things in the same proportion.

If I could see any prospect in the next year for making a few hundred dollars in any way I would do most anything. There is a good society here in this place. Mostly Eastern people. But with those in the country it is far different. There is not over 1/10 of them that can write their own name, and are a desperate sort of men most of them. There is many a man here I have seen who has killed one or more persons in some way, whether in a duel or just for some grudge they had. And yet these persons are passing about seemingly as unconcerned as though they never had committed any act. There has been one or two quarrels here in town since I have been here, and one or two killed, but perfectly without effect.

Write as soon as you receive this and let me know what you are doing and what you are a going to do for the next generation to come. How the children are and Sister “Marie” and the friends in general?

Mr. Bishop gets a paper from Elisha Basset occasionally. I have not sent you as many as I ought, I have had to distribute them to so many different people, but will try to do better for you in future. Send me some papers occasionally as you have done since I have been here. Write on receipt of this and let me hear from you all.

I send my love to sister Marie, the children, and our friends in general and tell them I may visit them in future if nothing takes place other than expected.

Hoping this may find you all well I now close.
From your affectionate brother

Ranney Letter #9

Lucius writes Henry from Allen Michigan in March 1850. He mentions that he has not written in a long time, and later remarks that neither has Henry. We can’t be sure, of course, that the previous letter from April 1843 was his last contact. Chances are that after a century and a half, some of the letters are missing from the archive. In any case, letters seem to be moving between Ashfield, Phelps, and Michigan, because Lucius has heard from Alonzo Franklin that Henry has heard from Lyman.

But we can assume Lucius and Henry have been out of direct contact for at least half a year, because Lucius announces that he was married about six months earlier to a local girl, whom he describes as “19 years old, her health is good, &c.” He gives Henry an update on all the family doings, including those of their cousins Lucretia and Frederick. Lucius thinks their brothers Lewis and Harrison are not as hardworking as they might be, but he describes younger brother Lemuel as “doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls.” Their sister Priscilla has had a daughter (Mary, b. Nov. 1849, d. Aug. 1852), and Lucius adds some news about their brother-in-law Randolph Densmore. Lucius also gives Henry an inventory of their farm, including a little drawing of a duck.

A local physician and his students have been caught dissecting a stolen corpse, Lucius tells Henry. This happened a lot in the early 19
th century — both the stealing of bodies by medical students and the prosecution of those who did. Dr. Charles Knowlton, their friend and doctor in Ashfield, as a matter of fact, had served time at hard labor for the same crime (but that’s another story…)

My transcription:

Allen March 10
th 1850

Dear Friends

I am aware as well as yourselves that it has been a long time since I have written to you. Consequently methinks this will be gratefully received. We are all well as usual, Mother is not very rugged however this winter. Our friends are also well.

I received a letter from A.F. a day or two since. He says he recd a letter from you a few days since from which I understand that you have received one from Lyman. Consequently I shall say little about him. He has in my opinion made as food a move as perchance he could in going to Arkansas. He wrote us about the time he did you. He is quite steady & shrewd & has a good education, & that is you are aware a fortune to a young man.

I suppose that you have heard that I was married but let that be as it may. I can safely say that I am. I was married the 17
th of Oct last. My wife’s name was Clarissa A Wilcox. She is 19 years old, her health is good, &c. As for Lemuel, he is at Grand Rapids. I suppose he wrote us a letter about two months ago & we have other means of hearing from him. He is at work at his trade, he is doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls. We expect him home this spring. He left here last spring. He worked in Paw Paw, Van Buren Co. The past summer. He worked in Albion, Calhoun Co., a while in the fall, then he went to the Rapids where I suppose he now is.

Franklin wrote that his family was well. I suppose that you know nearly as much about his affairs as I do. Lewis and Harrison are at work on their places doing tolerably well. They do not work very hard, perhaps I need not tell you that, but they are generally busy. They are making some improvements.

Densmore is into all kinds of business & is bound to have a good living while he is sojourner upon Earth. He & a partner slaughtered four thousand sheep last fall for the pelts & tallow out of which they made five hundred dollars. This winter he is a butchering some & is working some at his trade &c. He shifts too much for his own interest, I think.

Anson lives at home yet. We are a jogging along after the old sort. We are making sugar some at present. We have made 100 lbs. We have 14 acres of wheat on the ground which looks very well as yet. Wheat is worth 75 cts, corn 25 cts, oats 18 cts, hay $6.00 &c. We have one pair of horses, one yoke of oxen, 6 cows, 70 sheep, 2 roosters & one duck. Also many other fine things.

We have had an open winter here. We have not had any good sleighing, but about 2 weeks of poor sleighing. A great deal of rain. Aunt Polly, Frederick and family are out to Grand River. I suppose Lyman wrote you about Uncle Henry Sears, Nathan’s family, &c. There is no doubt in my mind but Uncle Henry has feathered his nest out of Uncle Paul’s property in Texas. Who blames him? Not I. But some of you Ashfield boys ought to go and make him a visit.

Harrison likes the country well in the vicinity of Mt. Carmel. Harrison has the Yellow Fever to a small degree, say a buck load or such a matter. I have not had it yet & think I shall not bad, as long as I have plenty of Pork & Beans. But human nature is not easily satisfied. Clarissa and I was a visiting at Mr. Cross who married Lucretia Ranney this winter, they were well. Abner Rogers’ family, some of them live near there. Benjamin Rogers lost his wife last summer or fall. He married another in six weeks. He has ten children. They live in Lenawee County, I suppose you know that.

There is quite an excitement raging here in our town at present. There is been found the bones of a human being, a Female, with the share of flesh on, found in a bag. It was found in a field in the fence corner, covered with barks, a day or two since. It was badly mutilated. It is supposed to have been dug up from some of the neighboring burying grounds by a Physician & student & two or three more. They have been arrested & I suppose sufficient testimony can be found against them to convict them. They have been dissecting it for two or three weeks. They have been watched. They found that they were like to be pursued & they secreted it in that shape. The people let them work for the sake of getting sufficient testimony against them. It will probably go hard with them. It is no particular honor to the place but I want to show you what is a going on in this heathen land.

I have nothing more in particular to write. We should be happy to see you here & if not convenient for that we would like to hear from that way soon. If my memory serves me you have not written for a long time. I have endeavored to give you the outlines of some of the most important news that is now in my mind, so you must excuse me for this time. You have discovered of course that my writing is good, but poor ink.

Our folks all send their respects to you all. Franklin’s little girl, Ellen Isabel, is here this winter & goes to school. The rail road is a going to leave Hillsdale & continue west some ways I suppose. They have commenced work on it.

This from your affectionate brother
Lucius Ranney

Priscilla has a daughter five months old, her health is quite good.

Ranney Letter #7

Twenty-one year old brother Lyman writes to Henry from Van Buren, Arkansas, in January 1850. He had left Michigan a couple of months earlier, apparently intending to study medicine with his cousin, Paul Sears, in Illinois. Paul Sears was a well-known doctor in Mt. Carmel, the son of Lyman and Henry’s mother Achsah’s brother Nathan Sears, who had also been a doctor. When this plan failed (Lyman says it was from a lack of books, which hardly seems likely), Paul sent Lyman to his brother-in-law Ephraim B. Bishop, to work in his store. (Bishop’s papers, interestingly, are in the manuscript collection at Yale University).

Lyman writes of several relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Uncle Henry was Achsah’s younger brother. He was a circuit judge in Arkansas before moving to Texas in the mid-1840s. Uncle Paul was another of Achsah’s brothers, who was a real estate speculator who traded in soldiers’ claims around Houston Texas, and was said to be wealthy. He died in New Orleans, but I haven’t been able to determine when or to find out anything about the “affair” Lyman mentions.

Lyman goes on to describe Mr. Bishop’s business a bit, which he knows will be of interest to his merchant brother. He also remarks on the slaves he has seen in Arkansas. In his opinion, some have an “easier time than most of hired girls at the north.” Lyman’s observations of slaves and Indians will continue to be a feature of his letters. By 1850, Henry was a pretty vocal abolitionist (more on that later), so Lyman’s youthful remarks to his older brother are very interesting.

My transcription:

Van Buren Jany 8/50

Dear Brother & Friends

Having written to you from Jonesville Mich. Some time last June and not receiving any answer, thought you must have not rec’d it, and thinking you would like to hear from me once more. I am residing in Arkansas at present, having been here about one week. I started from Mich on the 9
th day of Nov last for Ills, where I expected to stay through the winter provided I could make any arrangements to get into business of some kind. I did not know but I might get an opportunity to study Physic with cousin Paul. But as he had not sufficient books for me to study I thought of returning home. But Paul said his brother-in-law Mr. Bishop he thought would like help in his store, and therefore advised me to come here and thought I would find Uncle Henry on the way between here and there. But was disappointed as he and removed to Texas. He went to Texas about a year since to find out anything in regard to Uncle Paul’s affair and he got married while there, as I learned at the mouth of the Arks. River which is about twenty five miles from where he used to live, and returned to Ark. the last fall to get his little daughter.

Uncle H. Has been married twice before and has had two children but has but one living at present. I did not learn whether he found out anything about Uncle Paul’s affair or not. I found our relatives in Ills. all well. Paul, Uncle Nathan’s son, is a very good Physician and is worth about $20,000 and gets a great ride in his profession. Uncle Nathan has been dead two years come February. His widow lives in Ills. also. They had three children. One lives in Mt. Carmel Ills. (Paul) and two of them live in Arks. Clarissa (Mrs. Bishop) and Henry. Henry is attending school about sixty miles from here. He is sixteen years of age and a hard case at that.

I am staying at Van Buren Arks, a town on the Arks. River six hundred miles from its mouth. I have given up the idea presently of studying Medicine as it will cost so much and I have nothing to get through with. I am not getting very great wages at present but I think I can command greater wages in the course of six months or a year. I have been posting books and drawing off accounts the most of the time since I have been here. Mr. Bishop has a large store, keeping almost everything from Potatoes to Pins. He has another store in Fayetteville which is sixty miles from here, having in both a stock of about $20,000. Keeping a large assortment of clothing making fifty to seventy-five per cent on them.

They have plenty of slaves in Arks. What little I have seen I think they fare better than half of the poor whites at the north. They have their holidays. They had the Christmas week, having dances &c. They have Meetings every Sunday. The Methodist preacher for this circuit preaches to them by themselves. But they are permitted to go to any meeting. Mr. Bishop has one slave only. She does the cooking &c. She has an easier time than most of hired girls at the north.

As it is getting late and I think of nothing more of importance to write, I shall bring my letter to a close hoping that as soon as you receive it you will answer. I send my love to all our relatives and especially to your wife and children.

Yours with respect

Please excuse all mistakes as I am in a great hurry and have not time , if there should be any.

P. S. Direct your letters to Van Buren Arks. Write soon as it takes a letter four or five weeks to come.

Ranney Letter #6

In late summer, 1847, Henry’s nephew Frederick T. Ranney writes from Centreville Michigan, about 45 miles from Allen and seven miles from Florence. Frederick is Samuel Ranney’s son, born in 1820, who went out to Michigan when his father died in Phelps in 1837. He is apparently still in the peppermint oil business in Centreville, where mint planting continued through most of the nineteenth century. Frederick asks Henry to send him money for oil he had shipped the previous fall, to prevent him from having to sell property at a loss to pay his debts. The brothers in Michigan are apparently not able to help, although Frederick went to them first, which suggests that they would have helped if they could.

My transcription:

Sherman Aug the 28
th 47
Dear Sir

I am obliged to call on you for the money on that Peppermint Oil that was sent last fall. I have some money to make out in a few days or sell property at a low price. Lucius nor Lewis cannot help me to money this fall therefore I shall expect it in a return letter. You must write on the receipt of this for time is short with me. Let me know what you can do.

Yours truly in haste,

F. T. Ranney
St. Joseph Co.,

Henry Ranney's Business

As we saw earlier, Henry Ranney and Richard Cook were reported by R. G. Dun & Company’s correspondents to be in business together, possibly supported by Cook’s relatives in New York City. The credit report also mentioned that Henry had been a clerk for J. Bement. Jasper Bement (1794-1850) ran one of the early mercantile stores in Ashfield, and became Henry’s mentor and friend. Together with Joseph, Jasper’s son who inherited his business, they outfitted, supplied, and managed a large proportion of the famous Yankee Essence Peddlers based in Ashfield and neighboring towns (I’ll write more on them soon, in the meantime here’s what Nathaniel Hawthorne had to say about them) This involved Henry not only in the family peppermint oil business, but in procuring a wide variety of essential oils, bottles, and labels, and seeing to their production and distribution to the peddlers.

Henry Ranney’s business correspondence is beyond the scope of this project, but it provides some more background and insight into his life. In 1843, Charles Philips wrote Henry several times from Saratoga Springs, New York. Philips was apparently bottling essences for Henry: he mentions labels and the cost of several essences and patent medicines such as “origanum,” “Opodeldoc,” and “Elixer Pro.” In April 1844, O. O. Elmer of Heath Massachusetts wrote Henry, asking for six gross more of (2 ounce) vials and labels for his next batch of “liniment.” About a month later, Charles Sanderson sent a shipment from Leominster to Ashfield with his brother William (a friend of Henry’s and a famous peddler we’ll run into again later), and in return said “if it is convenient you may pay him that last bill, one half in essence as follows, one half gross peppermint, one half gross wintergreen, one quarter each cinnamon, hemlock, lemon, aniseed and Sassafras, one quarter dozen sassafras in large bottles if you have it. One half gross oil spruce, the balance proportioned as above.” The essence business was big and widely distributed.

In 1844, Henry moved to Boston for three or four years. He married Maria Jane Goodwin of Ashfield, and went into business with her brother George, at 76 Union Street, a few blocks from the Long Wharf. In the summer of 1844, twenty-one year old Augustus Graves of Ashfield wrote Henry there. Graves was in Franklin on a peddling trip, but said he would be in Boston in ten days. “I should like you to put up some essence of an extra quality, twice as strong as any I have yet had of you,” he says, “without the alcohol being reduced. I think I shall want about two gross of 4 oz essence in peppermint, lemon, Wintergreen, hot drops etc. (and 4 or 5 gross 2 oz do [ditto]). I shall be in sometime next week and shall want considerable stuff if you have the right sort…I left home two weeks ago tomorrow, am going east from here. Hope you will have essences, patent medicines, etc. of the right sort for retail trade, as I would rather buy of you than in Ashfield or elsewhere.”

In February 1847, Augustus Graves wrote again from Middleborough Mass, on another peddling trip. He asks for 29 dozen 2 ounce essences, including six dozen peppermint; 12 dozen 4 ounce, including six dozen peppermint, and 6 dozen half pints of peppermint, in flat bottles. Among the other essences and product tasks for are Cinnamon, Wintergreen, Hemlock, Wormwood, Spearmint, Sassafras, Anise seed, Lemon, Pennyroyal, Goldenrod, Hot Drops, Balsam Life, Balsam Honey, and Lee & B. Prestons Salts “if you have them–no other.” (Preston Salts are ammonia-based smelling salts). Graves asks Henry to direct the package to him in Boston, “in care of George C Goodwin 73 Union St.”

When Henry moved back to Ashfield, he continued to do business with his brother-in-law, George Goodwin. He partnered with the Bements off and on, and is mentioned in the R. G. Dun report on Jasper Bement in 1850:

2-11-50: "Has taken a man by the name of "Ranny" as a pt. "R" is reputed worth $20,000 his credit is good. R young of good char, has recently been in business in Boston or vicinity."

In the 1860s, Henry began buying hundreds of pounds of Michigan peppermint oil from H. H. Lawrence of Florence Michigan. His brothers had all gone out of the business by this time. One of his regular customers for this oil was George in Boston. But he seems by this time only to be dabbling. Henry has already made his fortune and is living in semi-retirement in Ashfield, devoting his efforts to being Town Clerk and occasionally Postmaster.

Ranney Letter #4

Lewis writes from Phelps New York in November 1843, where he is visiting family and friends after selling his peppermint oil in neighboring Lyons. He apologizes for not writing sooner, admitting, “I ought to have written a long time since but through the fall I occupy twenty hours in the twenty four a stilling, therefore I wanted the rest for sleep.” Lewis reports that he left Florence on 18 October. He passed through Allen, where their mother, Achsah Sears Ranney, and the rest of the family had already moved after their father George’s death in Phelps a year earlier.

Lewis and his partner Smith delivered 594 pounds of peppermint oil to a dealer named Franklin Wells in the neighboring town of Lyons, who had commercial contacts in New York City and elsewhere. Lyons at this time was actually the center of the lucrative peppermint oil business (but you’ll be able to read more about that when I finish my dissertation), although Henry Ranney in Ashfield still did some mint oil business through the 1860s, connecting friends and family in Michigan with dealers in Boston who also happened to be relatives by marriage. A lot of business was transacted in the nineteenth century along these lines of kinship and trust. The deal is an interesting one, because it suggests the long-term relationship that lies behind it. Lewis receives $2.00 per pound in advance, and then he is also entitled to the increase in the oil’s value if it appreciates in the market over the next eight months. Peppermint oil was easy to store, and the price was very volatile, so this was a clever way for dealers to get a steady supply of oil and prevent growers from hoarding it. And it wasn’t insignificant business: Lewis and his partner made nearly $1,200, and they planned to expand their planting to thirty acres in the spring. Apparently they drove the oil overland themselves, because Lewis plans to start for home as soon as there’s “good sleighing.”

The family was ill when Lewis passed through Allen, so he didn’t stay for a visit. But he reports that his mother is pleased with the move and is thinking of staying in Michigan permanently. Their eldest brother Alonzo, Lewis says, has sold his farm in Phelps and is thinking of moving to Michigan as well (in the end though, Alonzo remains in Phelps). Lewis then announces he is planning on buying land in Indiana, just outside Chicago. It is still possible to get parcels for the “government price” of $1.25 per acre, and Lewis has seen how land values have increased in Michigan. So he plans to speculate, and set the land aside “until time of need.” This is interesting, because it shows that land speculation was quite normal. Often historians portray land speculators as ruthless capitalists from the east, and some definitely were. But it’s important to realize that everybody understood that settlement pushed up land values, and everybody who was able took advantage of the opportunity.

Like Lucius, Lewis thanks Henry for the Massachusetts newspapers he has been sending. He closes by mentioning Alonzo Franklin’s two young sons, who want to be remembered to their uncle, and assuring Henry that “Frank’s folks are all well.”

My transcription:

Phelps, Nov 13
th, 1843
Respected Brother,

I now being perfectly at leisure I indulge in writing to you. I acknowledge I ought to have written a long time since, but through the fall I occupied twenty hours in the twenty four a stilling, therefore I wanted the rest in sleep. But we will stop excuses. I started from Florence the eighteenth Oct. I passed through where Lucius is but did not stay but an hour. Mother had been quite sick with a kind of fever, ague, &c., but was getting much better when I was there. Began to look fresh again and sit up most of the time, and the next was Harrison. He was a shaking with the ague while I was there. Anson had a few shakes but was rugged again. The rest of them were all well. Priscilla’s health is much improved since going to Michigan. Lucius wrote down here a few days since in true back woods style, saying they were getting as tough as bears. Priscilla in particular.

We brought down 594 lbs oil we sold to Wells of Lyons at $2.00 in advance and the rise 8 months. We had a little over 600 lbs, we left a few lbs at home. I have been here about three weeks. I shall tarry until good sleighing and then go back.

Mother and the family seem to be well pleased with their situation and find many more privileges than they expected and the prospect of a permanent home.

Smith and myself intend planting thirty acres in the spring of mint. It is rather hard business, but I think it better than wheat.

Franklin has sold his place here and thinks some of going to Michigan when I go, and look him out a place. He gets seven hundred dollars. Three in the spring and then one hundred yearly.

I think I shall start back in about four weeks probably, before if sleighing is good. My health has been good since I wrote you last winter. I shall remain in Florence another year probably. Crops were generally good in Michigan this season, but rather a poor season for mint, it being dry through harvest time.

You can direct letters and papers to me at Florence in a few weeks again and they will meet a happy reception. I am also greatly obliged to you for the papers I have received from you the year past.

I intend buying a lot of land this spring in Indiana forty miles east of Chicago, of prairie land to lay until time of need. Lands can be purchased at government price in that vicinity.

Frank’s folks are all well. Henry and Horace are a knocking about the table. They want me to write something about them. I guess they are pretty good boys.

Nothing more this time.

Yours respectfully, H. S. Ranney
Lewis G. Ranney

Estates and Credit Reports

In addition to simply reading the Ranney letters, a diligent historian would want to find out as much as possible about where they lived and about all the aspects of their lives for which there might be records. People were writing histories of places like Ashfield Massachusetts, Phelps New York, and Allen Michigan throughout the nineteenth century. In the case of Ashfield, it was already old by American standards, since the town was originally settled in the 1760s. The western New York and Michigan histories were partly about memorializing the pioneer period in those areas, especially as the pioneer generation started to age and die. So there’s a lot of good information on what it looked like and how people lived in these places.

Similarly, wills and estate inventories can often tell you a lot about the day to day lives of nineteenth century subjects. People would literally list
all the property of the deceased and tally up the value. If we pay close attention, this allows us to know intimate details of people’s lives: how many shirts they had, what books they read, what type of animals they kept. Using these details, we can reconstruct a picture of their lives and fill the frame with the appropriate, real stuff, rather than just leaving it to some vague imaginary backdrop from historical movies we saw as kids.

The probate records for Ashfield are in the Franklin County Courthouse in Greenfield Massachusetts. People working in probate offices are usually focused on the present, because they spend most of their time helping people who come in with present-day needs. But they’re also usually aware that stashed away somewhere in the vault they have old documents that probably contain some interesting history. When I’ve visited these offices, the clerks and probate officers have always been very helpful and interested in what I’m finding.

In Greenfield I found Henry S. Ranney’s estate documents, and also George Ranney’s (Henry’s grandfather), which he wrote in 1819, three years before his death. George provides for his widow (his second wife, Alithea Patch), giving her one cow, three sheep, and all the furniture she brought to the marriage, plus the use of a third of his real estate for the rest of her life. He gives his eldest sons Samuel and Jesse a nominal fifty cents each, and gives the bulk of his estate to George “Jr.,” H. S. Ranney’s father. As mentioned earlier, it was fairly common practice in the nineteenth century to leave the bulk of the estate to the youngest son, who would be with the aging parents longest and would take care of them in their old age, long after older brothers had established households of their own.

I was also able to get in touch with the probate people in Ontario County New York, and get copies of the estates of Samuel Ranney, Roswell Ranney, and Alonzo Franklin Ranney (Henry’s oldest brother). Unfortunately, they did not have one for George Jr., possibly because he died suddenly, before writing a will (although there are sometimes documents for intestate estates, too). There’s interesting material in those, which I’ll get to when the time comes.

Another source of information, which fits into the chronology right about here, is a credit report done on Henry Ranney by a reporter for the R. G. Dun & Company credit agency in 1842-3. The credit reporting company had been established only a year earlier by Lewis Tappan (1788-1873, born in Northampton Massachusetts, most famous for his work as an abolitionist), so the entries in the 1842 ledger on the small company of “Cook and Ranney” are some of the earliest. For a really good introduction to the credit crisis of 1837 and the rise of reporting agencies, see Christopher Clark’s
The Roots of Rural Capitalism, 1990. These records are much harder to get your hands on than wills and estate inventories, since the ledger books are held at the Baker Library at Harvard, where they’re a little picky about who they let in and they don’t let you photograph the pages. They’re big, heavy books, divided by region, with handwritten transcriptions of the reports sent in by field agents. This is what they say about Henry S. Ranney:

Ashfield, Cook & Ranney,

"Dec 22 '42 From the enquiries we've made...

R...clever young man...was clk to J. Bement. Can't learn that he or C have more than a few hundred $ worth of property. Has been suggested that they may be assisted by Levi Cook of NY but can't say with certainty.

11-43 C we presume is the son of Levi Cook who has not any property but he has a son doing business in NY who is reported to be wealthy.

The Rs of Ashfield are considered to be men of some but not large property.

We learned that they are reputed safe and doing good business.

Aug 43 Have no knowledge of the real position of this firm. Their reputation is that they are close young men but unless they are assisted by Levi Cook of NY we don't suppose they have much capital.

Aug 44 In fair credit.

Oct 15 47 Ages 34 and 30. In business 10 years. Good character business men credit and business fair. Worth 2 to 3,000. Considered good for engagements.

Ranney Family Background

So who were these Ranneys, anyway? What can we find out about them, to set the scene for this series of letters? Looking for information on a family like the Ranneys in nineteenth century America, we have a pretty wide variety of sources available to us. As many descendants of more recent immigrants to the Americas have found, European communities were not always big on record-keeping. There may be nothing written down about an average family except births, deaths, and marriages in a local church register — and that register may have been lost or destroyed. Luckily, Americans seem to have valued genealogical information from very early in our history. The list of birthdates Lewis provides for Henry in the first letter is an indication of this. And this impulse wasn’t limited only to Mayflower descendants. Between the middle and the end of the nineteenth century people started publishing books tracing the genealogies of families like the Ranneys. According to the Ranney book, (The Ranney Memorial and Historical Association: Preliminary Report, 1904), the family in America originates with a Scottish immigrant named Thomas Ranney, born in 1616, who settled in Middletown Connecticut in the mid-1650s. Although no one knows why Thomas left Scotland, the Scots were defeated by Cromwell’s parliamentary forces at Dunbar in 1650, leading to the unification of England and Scotland in 1653. It’s possible that Ranney, like many of his countrymen, chose to emigrate as a result of these events or the social changes they caused. The book on Middletown’s early history (Charles Collard Adams’s Middletown Upper Houses: A History of the North Society of Middletown, Connecticut, from 1650 to 1800, with Genealogical and Biographical Chapters on the Early Families and a Full Genealogy of the Ranney Family, 1908) agrees with the Ranney book (which is not unusual, since most of these early sources borrowed freely from each other without attribution) and elaborates. Thomas Ranney became a landowner in Middletown in 1658, and married seventeen-year old Mary Hubbard, a daughter of another founding family, in 1659. By 1670, Thomas was paying £105 in taxes, placing him ninth on the list of 52 town proprietors. Thomas was not a member of a church. He died at age 97 in 1713, the last surviving settler. In his will, Thomas gave grants of land to each of his ten surviving children. In addition to his homestead, valued at £110, Thomas’s estate included nearly 400 acres of land and was valued at £757. Thomas Ranney died a fairly wealthy man.

Thomas Ranney’s great-great-grandson, George Ranney III, was born in Middletown in 1746. By this time, Middletown had become the largest port city between Boston and New York, with more international shipping than Hartford or New Haven. The oldest son of a main branch in what was already a large and complicated family tree, George entered the “West India trade” as a young man. The trade, which flourished from the 1750s until the Revolutionary War, is evasively described by local historians as “carrying out mules, horses, and hay, and bringing back rum, sugar, molasses, and fine woods.” Although Middletown had a larger slave population than any other Connecticut city (peaking at 218 in 1756, according to most accounts), it is unclear whether the young George Ranney was involved in this aspect of the trade, or whether he ever actually went to sea. But since the money that islands like Barbados used to buy New England livestock, food, and fodder was derived from sugar produced by slaves and sold in the British market, there is little point splitting hairs: Middletown’s “West India” economy was part of the British colonial system and the slave-based sugar economy.

What is known about George Ranney is that he married Esther Hall, daughter of Captain Samuel Hall, in January 1771. George was 25, his wife 20. Captain Hall was not a ship’s master, but rather a member of another Middletown founding family, a deacon, and a captain of the militia. The Ranney and Hall families have a long history of intermarriage, and in fact George’s younger brother Francis married Esther’s younger sister Rachel two years later. George and Esther’s first child, named Samuel Hall after his grandfather, was born in March, 1772.

The West India trade in Middletown never really recovered from the American Revolution. The British West Indian colonies found other sources of supply during the nearly decade-long conflict, and after independence Middletown’s economy began to shift toward manufacturing. In 1791, a rum distillery that came symbolize this transition was begun by a Hall relative of George’s wife Esther. Although this “last relic of former days…distilled annually, 600 hogs-heads of rum,” by the early years of the New Republic most of Middletown’s merchants had turned their attention to textiles, according to another old history, Whittemore’s 1884
History of Middlesex County: The Town and City of Middletown.

George and Esther Ranney moved their family to Ashfield Massachusetts in 1780. In addition to young Samuel, who was eight at the time of the move, the family included Jesse, age five, and Joseph, three. George IV, called George Jr. in Ashfield records and born in May 1780, may have been the first Ranney born in Ashfield. George III’s younger brothers, Francis and Thomas, moved to Ashfield in in 1786 and 1792, leaving their much younger brother Jonathan (b. 1765) to care for their aging parents and inherit the family homestead in Middletown. By the early 1800s
there were many Ranney cousins in the neighborhood, including the prominent merchant and selectman Captain Roswell Ranney and his large family.

George Ranney bought a 100-acre “farm” from Lamberton Allen, and built a log house. Several Ashfield histories suggest that Allen’s so-called farm was really an uncleared tract of forest, and this suspicion is strengthened by the fact George Ranney built a log house rather than moving into an existing structure. Lamberton Allen was originally from Deerfield, about fifteen miles away on the rich, flat farmland beside the Connecticut River. In August 1746, during one of the many Indian conflicts preceding the Seven Years (“French and Indian”) War, Lamberton’s father Samuel Allen had been killed by a native raiding party while working in his fields. Two of his older children were at work with him: Eunice was “tomahawked” and Samuel Jr. was taken as a captive to Canada. The younger Samuel eventually escaped from the Indians as they were making their way northward into Canada and made his way back to Massachusetts. Samuel and his younger brothers Lamberton and Enoch settled in Ashfield, after the two younger men married daughters of the Belding family. The Beldings were another old Deerfield family who were very active in the early settlement of Ashfield. (Converse,
Some of the Ancestors and Descendants of Samuel Converse, Jr…., 1905)
George and Esther’s sons grew to adulthood in Ashfield in the years between the Revolution and the War of 1812. When the Ranneys arrived in 1780, Ashfield was a tiny upcountry village that had already attracted attention beyond its borders for its “Yankee” independence. In the 1760s, the town’s new Congregational church had taken the land of Baptist residents who had refused to pay the Congregational church’s “tax” because they said their church had been there first. The Baptists protested to the colonial legislature in Boston, but the Congregationalists, led by Harvard-educated Israel Williams, refused to give back the 400 acres taken from the Baptists, and got the government to back them up. The Baptists appealed to London, and in 1769 King George III’s Privy Council gave them back their land. When the Bostonian patriots like Samuel Adams established committees of correspondence and sent out their revolutionary call just a few years later, many Ashfielders called them hypocrites. “They were calling themselves the sons of liberty and were erecting their liberty poles about the country,” said Baptist leader Ebenezer Smith, “but they did not deserve the name, for it was evident that all they wanted was liberty from oppression that they might have liberty to oppress.” (Quoted in Mark Williams’s
The Brittle Thread of Life, 2009)

Lamberton Allen, who sold his land to George Ranney, moved north to Vermont where his cousins Ethan and Ira Allen were local heroes. He settled on Grand Isle in Lake Champlain, between Vermont and Canada, helping to found a township called Middle Hero. At this time, Vermont was a wild frontier area between New York, New Hampshire, and Canada. The Allens and their Green Mountain Boys resisted the territorial claims of their neighbors and played each of them against the others, until 1791 when Vermont finally joined the union as its 14
th state. Samuel Allen remained in Ashfield a while longer than his brother Lamberton, according to US Census data. Although he had been a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, Samuel opposed the local and Bostonian aristocrats who he believed had betrayed the spirit of the Revolution as a people’s independence movement. Samuel led a company of local men during Shays’ Rebellion, and then refused to sign the loyalty oath required by Massachusetts authorities when the rebellion failed. Although this refusal made him unable to hold any public office due to his continuing “rebel” status, Samuel stayed in Ashfield through the 1790s before moving to Grand Isle. He was remembered by Ashfielders as “Barefoot Allen” for one of his many eccentric habits.

The Ranney sons were remembered for helping their father George turn his homestead into one of the best farms in Ashfield. Samuel, the oldest, had been eight years old when the family arrived in Massachusetts. Samuel settled on a parcel just south of his father’s, and in 1821 he built a two-story brick house that still stands beside Route 116 south of the town center. Second son Jesse settled on the land north of his father’s farm, which he later sold to his brother Joseph when he bought a larger farm in Ashfield. Jesse raised his family in Ashfield and died at his home in 1861, age 86. Joseph lived in Ashfield until 1838, when he was killed by a falling tree in his woodlot. Youngest brother George Ranney IV (George Jr.) was born in Ashfield in 1789.

George Ranney Jr. inherited the family homestead when his father George died at age 75 in 1822. This was traditional in early America, because older sons generally started their own farms or businesses long before the parents were ready to hand over their assets, and the youngest would be more available to take care of his parents in their old age. George lived there another eleven years, and then became the first brother to leave Ashfield, migrating to Phelps (then called Vienna) in western New York in 1833, when he was 44 years old. He took his entire family (wife Achsah Sears Ranney and eight out of their nine children) to their new home 260 miles west of Ashfield, leaving behind only his third son, 16-year old Henry Sears Ranney.