THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 17 (Sizing Up)


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And throughout that evening’s conversation each man learned and understood a lot about the other.


The evening by the fire progressed very smoothly. Grandfather updated the Esquire on several families back in Salem.


The Esquire told Grandfather about various parcels of land that were available. Grandfather made mental notes about each parcel and, at times, asked questions or offered comments about them. They agreed to look at three specific parcels.


Timothy appeared in the doorway. Esquire Garnsey commanded him to “Fetch me another sherry!”


Grandfather was taken aback by the terseness of the direction that the Esquire had given Timothy. There was a noticeable silence in the room as Grandfather took stock of Esquire Garnsey’s manner and Esquire Garnsey sized up Grandfather.


Then the Esquire asked, somewhat bluntly, “Well Mr. Birdsall, what would be your vision if you had your pick of any parcel in New York?


Grandfather’s mind abandoned his thoughts regarding the esquire’s treatment of Timothy. His thoughts leapt to those grand estates along the Hudson River. He blurted out “A parcel with both highlands and lowlands, a slope on which to pasture my animals, flat rich river bottom where my family can grow crops, and a section of good timber from which we could build..”


AND THERE IT WAS. Before Grandfather realized it he had led Esquire Garnsey to his deepest of dreams. It was the vision he held for his whole family. He felt somewhat tricked and ashamed that he had blurted it out without too much prodding.


“Well, then, Mr. Birdsall, – – – you shall have it – – but without many neighbors” said the Esquire. He continued “It lays farther south than the other parcels so we will make it a two day trip with an overnight at Mr. Juliand’s in the village of Hornby. Mr. Juliand is a friend with who I sometimes do business.


“Hornby?” asked Grandfather.


Oh, excuse me,” replied the Esquire, “I still call it Hornby, it was renamed Greene last year.” He then directed indentured Timothy, who had returned with the Esquire’s sherry, to prepare overnight packs and foodstuffs for the ride to Hornby/Greene.


After some preliminary discussion the Esquire specified the various portions of the trip and what obstacles they would likely encounter. The two men then agreed to get some rest.


Grandfather slept very well that night. So well, in fact, that indentured Timothy had a dreadful time awakening him the next morning.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 16 (Evening Conversation)


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“The float fee has been taken care of” replied Esquire Garnsey.


“Then I must repay you” countered Grandfather as he stood up to retrieve the five cents from his salvaged wet belongings.


“Not now,” the Esquire said with a dismissing wave of his hand, “we can work something out later.”


Grandfather realized that this was typical of business men. He thought “Get you to owe them a favor and then they pull you in like a wet fish.” Still, he liked Esquire Garnsey and, after all, he was being treated more like a relative than a guest.


“Tomorrow, if you and your horse are up to it, we will ride over the mountain and to the Chenango Valley. I will show you where the French lived and we can look at some parcels of land.”


“I’m ready and my horse looked fine as we departed the riverside. Your man fed him and wiped him down. Said he looked fine also.”


“Good!” said the Esquire slapping the palm of his hand on the table. “Let us move our chairs by the fire. The sun has set and the cold night air is moving in.   – – TIMOTHY – -,” he hollered to his indentured man, “Please fetch us each a jigger of sherry.”


“Oh – – no thank you Esquire” interrupted Grandfather. “You enjoy your drink but I do abstain from alcohol.”


“Suit yourself Mr. Birdsall,   will I not offend you if I drink?” replied the Esquire.


 “Never, Esquire, – – – – not in your home. Each man’s rules follow in each man’s home. I am sure you will not be offended when you visit me in my new home and I do not allow drinking.”


“Abolitionist – – – Mr. Birdsall?” queried the Esquire


“No – – – orthodox Quaker – – Esquire Garnsey” replied Grandfather.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 15 (The Land Agent)


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The Float Master took Grandfather to Esquire Garnsey’s home. There, Grandfather was welcomed, given dry clothing, a bowl of hot water for bathing, and a warm meal.


Esquire Garnsey’s indentured servant had taken Grandfather’s horse to an outbuilding where he wiped him down, gave him a meager sample of grain and a large amount of fresh grass. The servant brought, to Grandfather’s room, those things that remained tied to the saddle.


During supper Esquire Garnsey probed Grandfather about his trip from Salem. He was surprised to learn of the route that Grandfather had taken. He was not surprised to hear about the Indian returning his horse.


“Must have been young John Leaf. He is the only one I can think of who would not ride off.” When the Esquire asked Grandfather for a description the reply was not clear.


Grandfather had responded “Except for one thing there was nothing remarkable about him.”


Grandfather continued his memory of the encounter. “The Indian was young and he did have one strange thing – – – it was a tattered blue and red silken scarf wrapped around his waist. The loose ends hung down to reach his knees.”


“Yes – – – it was John Leaf” responded Esquire Garnsey, “You met John Leaf. He lived with a French family for a year. They found him in the woods with a broken leg. He speaks no English, some French and a lot of Indian. The red and blue scarf was a gift to him from a young French woman.


Grandfather assumed that the young Indian was nursed to health up north, on Lake Champlain, where a few French Families remained. “How did he come to reach way down here?” asked Grandfather.


“A few French families lived near here, just over the mountains, westward, close to the Chenango River” responded the Esquire. “Moved there to escape the revolution in France – – -reached here about 1792 – – only stayed abut two years – – moved down river to meet some other French folks in Pennsylvania. An adventure laced with disaster, it was.”


With that Esquire Garnsey abruptly stopped his story and said “Now disaster, young man, is what you nearly had. Almost lost your horse and your life.”


Grandfather did not care to be referred to as “Young Man”, especially from another man who might even be younger than him. Grandfather recognized it for what it was; a rather lame attempt by the Esquire to give himself more status than he deserved.


“Land agents – – – an interesting lot” thought Grandfather. It was only then that Grandfather suddenly realized, and stated out loud, that in the hubbub and aftermath of the float accident he had not paid the Float Master.


He still owed him the “Five cent to cross.”

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 14 (Calamity)


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“Mr. Birdsall – – – lay down” commanded the Float Master. His second command was “Mr. Aiken move away, – – far away – -, from the rope.” And with that the Float Master himself sprinted away from his position.


As Grandfather lay there in frozen awe the rope finally frayed in a few spots. The loose strands curled and twisted like snakes in a fire. And then, with a deafening “CRACKKK”, the pulley on Mr. Aiken’s side exploded into several pieces. Grandfather, the horse and the float were all swept downstream until they reached the end of the rope. The other end was still attached to the Float Master’s tree.


The float swung in a wide arc downstream and toward the shore. The uprooted tree broke loose just as the float slammed into the river bank. Both Grandfather and the horse were thrown into the cold mountain water. Grandfather grasped at several pieces of brush and tree roots that were growing on the river bank, but each time the force of the current ripped him away from his temporary anchor.


Finally he was swept into an eddy and the back-current pushed him to shore. As he clawed his way up the slippery mud bank his thoughts went immediately to his horse. There was no sight of him upstream or down.


Grandfather’s heart sank, and just as suddenly it leaped, as he heard a horse whinny in the brush behind him. Grandfathers grasping at the roots had slowed his progress. The horse’s natural instincts allowed him to reach the eddy before Grandfather.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 13 (Floatsam)


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“Five cent to cross” the Float Master stated.


It must have been a standard response as he repeated it in a matter of fact manner – – “Five cent to cross.”


“Yes, brother” Grandfather replied as he simultaneously waved in a positive agreement.


Mr. Aiken helped Grandfather and his horse board the float. Planks were placed from the shore to the float. The Float Master pulled the upper rope tight to hold the float against the river bank that Grandfather was on.


Grandfather gingerly jumped aboard.  The horse, with a little jitteriness, side stepping and a few balks, finally boarded the float. Mr. Aiken pulled the planks back to shore and up the river bank.


The Float Master dug his heels in and put his weight against the lower end of the rope. As the float slowly departed the eastern shore the debris laden high water took the float downstream a few feet. The Float Master hollered “Lay into her, Mr. Aiken.” And lay into her the little man did. Grabbing the upper side of the rope Mr. Aiken took the same stance as the Float Master; heels planted firmly in the earth. Ever so slowly the float was moving across the river.


Grandfather saw it first; a large uprooted tree swiftly being carried downstream by the flood current. “TREE!” Grandfather yelled while pointing upstream.


“Heave to Mr. Aiken” directed the Float Master to his helper.


With all their might both men pulled on their respective ends of the rope. The float moved somewhat faster but the uprooted tree won the race. It slammed into the side of the float almost knocking Grandfather and the horse off, but they maintained their footing.


Mr. Aiken and the Float Master could not move the raft another inch toward shore. Ever so slowly the force of the river current against the tree took the float, inch by inch, downstream. With each inch the rope became tauter and tauter. It was like a giant pulling on a bowstring.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 12 (Welcome to Jericho)


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By mid-afternoon the trails doubled, then tripled in width. Grandfather then saw a group of cabins on the opposite side of the muddy river. As Grandfather peered for the sign of any humans a crackly, almost squeaky, voice came from behind; “Need help Christian?”


Turning his horse Grandfather was facing a short wiry man with a big welcome smile. Stepping down from the saddle grandfather stuck his hand out. Each man was obviously glad to see the other. A vigorous handshake continued for some time.


“State your business” the thin man commanded.


The confidence in this little man’s voice belied his stature and appearance.


“I am heading to Jericho” Grandfather answered.


“Well you near passed it,” the man replied. “You are there.”


They exchanged names.


“Birdsall” said Grandfather.


“Aiken” replied the man.


Grandfather told the man that he was “Looking for Esquire Peter Garnsey, dealer in land.”


“Yep, he sometimes abides here but on the other side of the river,” responded the Jerichoite, “have to take the float.”


“The Float” was actually a raft that was used to ferry men, beasts of burden and produce across a large river. The ever widening Ouleot River that Grandfather had been riding parallel to was at its end.


The local man led Grandfather downstream a bit farther. At that point the Ouleot River emptied into the Susquehanna.


There, tethered to a large maple tree were three ropes; one had a bell attached. What Grandfather had assumed was two other lengths of rope was really one endless loop. That loop passed through a very large wooden pulley.


Mr. Aiken grabbed the rope with the bell on it and shook it vigorously. The bell rang. A second bell tied to the other end of the rope also rang. Mr. Aiken studied the cabin on the opposite side of the river.


Grandfather surveyed the float and its pulley system. One end of the long rope was tied to one end of the float. The rope then passed through the pulley fasted to the maple tree. The rope continued on in mid-air across the river, through a second pulley attached to another large tree on that side and the remaining end was attached to the other side of the float. Apparently the float could be pulled across the river from either side or a man on the float could pull himself to either side.


Mr. Aiken filled in some time by telling Grandfather that Jericho was “full of Vermont Sufferers.” As he started to explain the meaning of this statement and the history behind it the Float Master finally emerged from his cabin on the other side of the Susquehanna.


“What is your business?” he asked.


Mr. Aiken responded for Grandfather, “Mr. Birdsall here wants to visit Esquire Garnsey’s house.”

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 11 (Swollen Streams)


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Grandfather told me that he rode in a more spirited manner as he followed the old Sullivan Military trail. Making up for lost time he knew he would be in Jericho the next day. His camp on the eighth night was spent in another evening downpour, however, the rain stopped after a few hours.


Grandfather continued his story. “A few stars poked their heads out between the drifting clouds and a partial moon was visible from time to time. A warm breeze started drying the underbrush and my evening company consisted of a hoot owl, several small mice who were trying to steal food, and a ferocious looking fisher with beady eyes, black fur and the quick movements of a weasel. I fashioned my cloak into a lean-to with the help of a few dead branches and some twine. For the second time on this trip I slept somewhat peacefully.”


The next morning’s ride quickly brought him to the end of the military trail. It was back to the compass and map at regular intervals. However, Grandfather told me that he made more use of the sun’s direction than the compass. He came to the edge of a rain swollen stream but decided not to cross it.


Grandfather told me more of his story and the decisions he had to make. 


“There will probably be several streams between here and Jericho so I will cross only those streams necessary,” he said to himself. “And this stream runs in my direction, I will be riding parallel to it, so it will not delay me.”


And on he rode. Several streams that emerged out of the Katskills joined the main stream that he was following. These were not difficult to cross. Each of them had sufficient water but none were overfull.


On the other side of the stream, the one that Grandfather was following, things were quite different. Each of those streams was emptying the hills opposite him. These streams were roaring. The stream he was following grew larger and more ferocious. From time to time Grandfather would have to move to a higher elevation to avoid the flooded flatlands. It eventually grew wider as the valley flattened out. This had the effect of slowing the stream down. The stream became a river; a wide dirty morass of floating logs, branches and dead weeds that had been freed by the rising waters.


Luck was with Grandfather. He began to find foot trails to follow. Every once in a while he noticed horse droppings on the trails. They were old and there were no hoof prints to be seen. Still, this was encouraging to him. He knew he must be approaching a settlement.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 10 (Self-Confidence)


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That morning’s walk, as he searched for his horse, was tedious. Plowing through the woods and brush had soaked Grandfather thoroughly. His waxen cloak was excellent for protection while riding his horse. But it was of little help when walking through the undergrowth.


Grandfather mounted his horse and spread his cloak over the horn of the saddle and the horse’s neck. Once he had ensured himself that his night cover and food was securely bundled behind him he moved on his way through the woods. An errant ray of sunshine snuck through the crowns of the large oak and chestnut trees. Grandfather enjoyed those warm moments. Between the small bits of sunshine, and the warmth of his horse, Grandfather was dry by late afternoon.


A late evening shower erupted as Grandfather stopped to make his seventh night’s camp. Covering himself once more he engaged in the tiresome meal of biscuits and dried lamb. The shower turned into a downpour. Once again he slept on a high spot but this time he had found enough dry hemlock boughs to make a decent bed. He slept well despite the hard rain beating on his waxen roof. There was no lightening or thunder that night. But the wildcats howled.


The next morning Grandfather found his horse right where he had left him.


A breakfast of the same food as the night prior re-energized him and he headed off to find the military trail. The rain and heavy brush had delayed the progress of this leg of his trip. However, it was nothing when compared to the previous days episode with the lost horse. That experience had also taken an emotional toll on his self confidence.


He half-heartedly prodded his horse forward on this eighth day. About mid-morning Grandfather’s path crossed General Sullivan’s old trail. He was bursting with joy knowing that he had found his way. He was also prideful in knowing that he had progressed this far mostly on his own skills.


“And then I realized how jaded I had become” Grandfather told me one Sunday morning.


He continued “At that moment I immediately stepped down from my horse and knelt at one of the old stumps whose top still bore the hundreds of axe marks laid on it by Sullivan’s men. I asked the Lord for forgiveness of my pride. I thanked the Lord for sending the Indian to me with my horse. I thanked the Holy Spirit for Sullivan’s righteousness in cutting that trail. I thanked Jesus Christ the Almighty for sharing your Grandmother Abashaby with me. And I thanked Him for allowing me to remember the moment of my departure, the faces of your aunts and your father standing under the manger roof, the beautiful face of your Grandmother Abashaby on the porch, and your uncle Henry high in the old pine tree.”

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 9 (A New Viewpoint)


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Grandfather scoured the woods for some time before he finally picked up the horse’s trail. He threw his saddle upon his shoulder and started the arduous hike.


After a long walk following the hoof prints he spied a flash of blue and red through the trees. Grandfather froze in his tracks as the colors turned into the image of an Indian. The Indian continued to approach Grandfather almost as if they were on the same path. It was only then that Grandfather realized the Indian was clutching a rope and that his horse was on the other end.


“What would come of this awkward situation?” Grandfather told me in in one of his many repetitions of this part day of his trip to Jericho.


“The Indian approached me without fear,” Grandfather continued. “Was I facing Death or Deliverance? Once more the Lord had placed me on a crossroads in my life. Then with one swift movement of his arm the Indian thrust his hand forward pointing directly at me with an open palm. And just as swiftly he thrust the open palm back toward the horse as if asking ‘are you and the horse one?’ Wishing to respond quickly, I, with open palm, pointed past the Indian to my horse, then to myself. The Lord had, again, intervened. To my disbelief the Indian held out the rope towards me. I slowly approached him and cautiously took the rope.”


Grandfather stated that both he and the Indian made some non-threatening movements indicating “thank you” and “your welcome.”


Not knowing were he was, Grandfather took out his map and compass.


He offered the Indian to share his biscuit while studying the map. The Indian took one bite and promptly spit it on the ground. He quickly followed up by cleaning his tongue with his fingers. Grandfather was concerned that he had insulted his new friend but soon realized that the Indian simply had no taste for English baked goods. However, it was quite different with the dried lamb. The Indian took a piece and sampled it by licking the surface a few times. A smile came upon his face whereby he tossed the whole thing in his mouth and began chewing vigorously.


The Indian then made a motion that must have begged his leave; and off he loped through the underbrush, at times leaping like a deer.


How Grandfather wished he would have stayed. Maybe the Indian could have helped to locate the old Sullivan trail.


And so, there was Grandfather alone again in a section of forest that he knew nothing about let alone his location. He back tracked the trail that he had followed to find his horse. Eventually he found the camping spot where he had spent the previous horrible, rainy, and thundering night.


By that time mid-day was approaching. Taking another compass bearing he rode in the direction of the Sullivan trail while at the same time hoping that the old soldier, who had given him directions, knew what he was speaking of.

THE PILGRIMAGE: Part 8 (A Fearful Night)


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Grandfather thought would be his last day on the trail. It appeared to be a mere twenty miles from Walton to Jericho. What the map did not show was the rugged foothills of the Katskills. These mountains separated the Delaware Valley from the Susquehanna Valley.


The brambles were thick and the footing treacherous. There were slippery deposits of red clay.


“God had also neatly scattered hemlock swamps here and there” Grandfather often said when relating the story of his journey. “I barely covered ten miles on that sixth day of my trip. The rain came in torrents and my compass became foggy and hard to read. On a normal day I could climb a tall pine tree, take a compass reading of another tall landmark, and head for that. But on this day the weather was so foggy and rainy that I could not pick out distant landmarks.”


“For August,” Grandfather related, “it was a very cold night. The pine and hemlock boughs were full of water and I could not make a fit bed of them. I unrolled my dry pack and removed food from a waxed wrap. This I had kept tied to my saddle. The flax twine kept my rain wrap over the top for good measure. Everything remained dry. I wrapped myself with my waxed canvas rain cover. A hard biscuit and a few pieces of dried lamb kept my hunger away. I put my horse on a long rope so that he could feed on the few pieces of long grass that grew in the openings between the trees. He seemed to prefer the ferns that grew beneath the trees. I found a high spot without any rain puddles. I lay my second wrap on the ground, pulled my rain wrap tighter around me and lay down.”


Grandfather drew an oral picture of a terrifying night and we were not sure who contained the greater fear; him or his horse.


“The rain turned to a windy squall. It became very cold, with lightening and thunder. I remained fairly dry and so did the three or four field mice who joined me under my waxed cloak. The hazy thin light of early morning became my best acquaintance. It allowed me to escape the fearful screams of wildcats who lived in these surroundings. A sleepless night clouded my consciousness.”


He continued his story.


“It was a while before I recognized my peril. My horse was gone! A small piece of rope remained attached to the sapling on which he was tied. I called and hollered. All was in vain; my trip was for naught. I owned one less horse and a two week walk back to face my family and the Society of Friends.”


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