The Story of the Jinrikisha
as told by
and transcribed by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
The following is a selection from a taped interview with Alderman Gleason at his home on Keuka lake on July 30, 1968. Mr. Gleason was an ideal subject for an oral-history interview. He was 76 years old at the time, had a life-long interest in local history, was a natural-born story teller, and had an exceptional memory. He had a wealth of information about Glenn Curtiss, Keuka Lake steamboats, Marcus Whitman, and other subjects but I was interviewing him about Jonathan Goble, missionary to Japan and alleged inventor of the jinrikisha. This is what he told me.
My knowledge of Jonathan Goble and the rickshaw stems from the stories that were told me by my uncle who as a boy played in the shop of Frank Pollay who was a carpenter in the little hamlet of Pulteney which is across the lake from me. He related that he was interested in some patterns which were hanging on the wall in his carpenter shop. He said, I asked him about those patterns and he told me they were the original patterns which he had sent—the original patterns of the jinrikisha or the small cart which he had made for Jonathan Goble. He said that he had formed his acquaintance with Jonathan Goble when they went together on Perry's flagship the Mississippi into Yokohama harbor in 1852.
Their acquaintance separated but when Goble went back to Japan as a missionary from the Wayne Village Baptist Church in 1865 about, and with his wife who was Eliza Weeks from Wayne, and she was suffering from some disease of the hip and as the only means of transportation in Japan at that time was the sedan chair, and the jar, especially when the coolies broke step, was more than she could stand comfortably. He wrote to Frank Pollay and requested him to make some little car in which she could be transported through the narrow streets of Yokohama and the patterns which he showed my uncle were the patterns of that cart…
Frank Pollay as a young man was punished by his father and he deemed it an unjust punishment, so unjust that he left his home and went to New York City where he enlisted in the navy and became ship's carpenter on the flagship of Admiral Perry which was the Mississippi. Mr. Pollay had been deafened by the bursting of a gun on the Mississippi and this affliction was quite a handicap to him all the rest of his life. When Pollay had completed the woodwork of this cart he didn't take it to his father who was a blacksmith in Hammondsport to do the iron work. Instead he took it to Obadiah Wheeler in North Urbana who operated a combination blacksmith and wood-working shop there. Obadiah Wheeler was my great grandfather…
This story was told me by Andrew Wheeler who was my uncle. He was no blood relation but he had been adopted by my great uncle, Jacob Wheeler, who was the son of Obadiah Wheeler and lived in the family home at North Urbana. Shortly after my uncle was taken by Mr. Wheeler, his wife, who was Edify Brown and a very, very nice woman, died, and after Uncle Jacob had lived for 4 or 5 years alone, he decided to seek another wife and his hunting grounds took him to the little village of Pulteney where he had become somewhat acquainted with a maiden lady by the name of Fidelia Piatt. He was wont to take my uncle with him who was much interested in finding amusement while his father was—well, I don't know just how to word that—his father was busy, too. So he wandered down to Frank Pollay's wagon shop and became much interested in what Mr. Pollay was doing and he always spoke with high esteem concerning Mr. Pollay and that is why, in response to one of his boyish questions, Mr. Pollay took down the patterns which he said were the original patterns of the jinrikisha which had hung on the wall and explained what they were and what he had made from them.
Oral history often produces conflicting stories. In another interview on July 24, 1968, with Linus Bennett in Pulteney, I got confirmation of the Pollay story but with a change. Bennett claimed that his father, Richard Nelson Bennett, did the iron work for Pollay in his blacksmith shop in Pulteney. Linus Bennett was in his 91st year at the time of the interview and remembered Pollay well. He pronounced the name "Play". He recalled that Pollay was deaf, and he gave me directions to find his grave in the Glen View Cemetery in Pulteney.
Francis Pollay died in 1912 and his wife died in 1914. An exhibit of pictures and artifacts related to Pollay and Goble was organized recently by Pulteney Town Historian Emily Radigan, and may be visited in Pulteney Town Hall from 10 to 4, Tuesdays through Thursdays.
© 1990, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.