top of page

The Memoirs of Martha Frances Caudill Brown

Part 5

     We went on to his fathers (George H. Brown) and stayed that night. The next morning I asked my husband (Jonathon A. Brown) to go home with me, he said “no, I have some corn up in that north hill to get out.” He said if it freezes up in there, I can’t get it out all winter. So his sister(Melissie Brown—Hart, Caudill, Stout), my sister and I all went up in the north hill to pull corn off the stalks that was still standing. We throwed it in piles and he and a boy friend of his hauled it in with a yoke of small oxen. After we got the corn gathered in we back to my home and the next day we went to his home where we stayed until March. I became very much dissatisfied. I had never done much work in the house and my sister in law which was about one and one half years older than I was considered herself an expert house (pg 59) keeper. She was very hard to get along with. So I tried in all my awkward ignorant way to please her and my mother in law (Anna Osborne) with all my might. My sister in law would get vexed and would not speak to me for days. I did not know then nor never did know what she got vexed at me over.

     So in March there was a little log cabin near his father’s house that was vacated. I wanted to move into that but did not have anything to keep house with. So my mother (Rhoda Blevins) gave me quite a nice wooden bed, straw tick , four quilts, two pillows, (pg 60) one sheet, one wool blanket and a good feather bed, and a homemade bedspread. My mother in law gave us a straw tick, one quilt and a feather bed. My mother gave me a very small skillet and lid. The skillet had legs to it. I could bake enough corn bread in it for a meal for us. Mother also gave me an old iron cook kettle large enough to cook for a dozen people. And she gave me another one to use for washing clothes. It had legs and one leg had been knocked out leaving a hole about an inch or (pg 61) more across it. I would take some rags and dip them in water and roll them tight and twist them into the hole and could use it for boiling clothes several times before it would come out. I would bake corn bread in the little three legged skillet, then if I had anything to fry I would take up my bread and fry in the skillet as it was all the cooking utensil I had except the old iron kettle. My grandmother let me have three plates, three cups and saucers, three knives and forks and three spoons. That (pg 62) was my supply of dishes until I set an old hen and the chick got big enough for market, then I got me a few dishes.

     In the spring my husband went to West Virginia to work awhile. I stayed in the little cabin and helped to hoe the corn as thru the persuasion of his father, my husband had planted a crop with them again that year. My shoes was worn out, I could not go to church but stayed at home on Sunday and in the field weekdays. When my husband came home he (pg 63) bought me some shoes and a short jacket coat. And he had a few dollars in money.

     NOTE inserted from Dan Brown: The brother (Joseph) of Martha’s husband, Jonathon had a child born in Bluefield, West Virginia in 1897 (the only one). Martha and Jonathon were married in 1895 then moved into Ashe Co. near Whitetop. So, it now appears as thou the two brothers, Jonathon and Joseph, may have went to W. VA. to work together.

I never got a letter from my husband all the time he was gone but was opened and read before I was allowed to read it. His mother would send to the P.O. and get the letter and open it and take the stamp out and when she would write, she would say if you want to write any you may. So she would take my letter and read it before sending it. One time I walked about six miles to the Post Office and a lady gave me material to write to him was all the letter I got to send him that my in law mother did not read before it went out.

     We lived in the little (pg 64) cabin a year. I became very dissatisfied and wanted to move out. My mother knew I was soon going to be a mother so she insisted we move in with them so she could take care of me. Our baby (Cordelia “De” Octavia Brown) was born July 18, 1897 on Sunday morning (in Kipling aka Park aka Whitetop Gap, VA). We had no money to buy clothes for our expected baby. So I went into the woods and dug May Apple roots and dried them to buy cloth to make clothes for my baby. My husband refused to go to the store to get the cloth for me. He said they will know what I am getting it for. He was too bashful to do so as it was just two yards of good for a dress of calico of red and white. So my (pg 65) mother took the herb roots to the store and got two yards of calico and I made the dress. I also had enough outing flannel to make one little underskirt. Then the rest of my baby clothes were made of old pieces of garments such as the tails of old shirts. Most all work shirts were made of unbleached muslin, but we got by somehow.

     There was quite a demand for Birch oil for some time. We would go into the woods, chop down the Birch trees, then we would take an ax and scalp the rough bark off and take a pole ax and pound the bark until it (pg 66) would come off the log. There was no work that was more hard and slavish than this work was. The bark was carried in sacks to the place where it was stilled much in the same way that whiskey was made, only the Birch oil came with the first boiling. A glass jar was set to catch it. It sold most of the time at one dollar per pound. It took one pint to make a pound. It was the same as this winter green extract only was several times stronger. We thought we was doing well if three or four working together if we could make three or four dollars a week.

      One time we worked (pg 67) so hard to get enough to get my husband (Jonathon Brown) a suit of clothes. He had no clothes so he could go to church. We had some contention before he would consent to get clothes for himself as I too needed clothes. But I remember I told him if I had clothes I could not go to church without him as we had to walk and carry our baby. We at this time had two children (Roy Brown born 23 Apr 1901 in Kipling/Park/Whitetop Gap, VA). So the morning that he put on his new blue wool suit of clothes and started to church, he did not feel very happy because of the need of the family. His suit had cost the sum of $7.50.

I (pg 68) thought I did not want to stay at home. So my two younger sisters (Geneva & Rebecca Eliz.) went to help me to my oldest sisters (Susan Jane Caudill Walker). I did not have a shoe to my name. As I had to go some distance along the public road, I went quite early so as not to be on the road barefooted about the time people would be going to church. I did not go home until late in the evening so that way as I remember I did not meet anyone on the way.

In the summer of 1903 we moved from the place where we was living on my father’s place (John P. Caudill) (pg 69). We moved to my husband’s uncle (John Wesley Hart) by marriage. His aunt ( Melissie Katherine Brown born 3 Oct 1876) had fell and broke her wrist and crippled herself quite badly. We worked very hard. My husband did a job of ditching and got wood and we took care of their beans and some of their fruit. I churned every other day in a big eight gallon churn. I would make about one gallon full of butter at each churning. So when we had worked more than two weeks, his uncle told us we could go.

He thought our board (?) and some cloth I had gotten to make our two children some little cotton dresses. (pg 70) –had abundantly said us—(?). His aunt slipped mea five dollar gold piece she said her husband did not know she had it. We milked five cows, fed their hogs. He said he liked our work and all that, but he did not want our children around. It was a relief to me to get away. We moved near my husband’s father again in a little smoke log house.

     In February 1904 we left North Carolina and moved to West Virginia (probably near where Martha’s husband, Jonathon, and his brother (Joseph) had worked earlier, maybe Pageton or Bluefield, W. VA ?). We moved on an old practically worn out place on quite a high mountain. There was no road only just a trail. All our things (pg 71) had to be carried up the mountain as there was not a way to haul not even with a sled. When we got to the house it was filthy dirty. We did not have any thing to cook in. It was raining and snowing. We did not have anything but our clothes, bed clothes, and a few dishes. We borrowed an old fashioned baker and lid. We had gotten a few groceries so I baked some cornbread made with water. We managed.(pg 72) to get enough to eat to keep us from going hungry.

     Then where would we sleep. We put our bed clothes on the floor in front of the fire place and slept what we could. The fleas were terrible. The next day my husband got enough leaves to fill a straw tick and then took little oak poles and nailed us up a bed. Putting poles across to arms (?) for the purpose of springs. When he got it done we found we had to climb in a chair we had gotten from a neighbor to get in the bed. It seemed to us (pg 73) it was the best bed we had ever slept in. Soon after we all four had got in bed, it started to creel over, but the front rail caught on the chair and we slept that way until morning. There was no road to haul anything over, so we got more oak poles and made three beds and filled our ticks with leaves. Later when we could, we got straw for our bed ticks, but we used our oak pole beds for more than two years.

We worked hard. My husband got $1.35 per day. He would work hard all day and carry a sack of flour—(the left edge of the next page has been clipped by the scanner)—or whatever we would have to haul up the steep mountain. We had been there about one month when my husband was taken down with measles. He was in bed three weeks. Then I had to cut and carry wood to keep the fire going to keep the house and us warm day and night. I would chop the small oaks then cut the limbs off and get one end on my shoulder and drag them to the house, then chop them up in stick length. I had to carry oat ---about one mile to feed four cows. All the water we used had to be carried quite a long ways up a very steep hill.

I took cold which settled in one of my eyes. I seemingly --- near going blind. My husband got up out of (pg 75) bed and started doing what he could. His voice was almost gone and his strength was not equal to the task. He went to the store one day which was quite a distance. He had to climb the steep mountain carrying what supplies he could. When he got home he was shaking as if he was freezing and great drops of sweat standing out on his face and his voice in a terrible condition.

Our two children, not yet seven and three years old was taken down with measles and was very sick with them for some days. 

bottom of page