March 1996

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Autobiographical Sketches


Floyd Griswold Greene

Floyd Griswold Greene wrote this account of his family and his early life for his daughters.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion

Part One

As those, if any, who may be inclined to read these pages will doubtless suspect, my name is Floyd Griswold Greene. The given name, Floyd, has never appealed to me and apparently the three (now four, 12/11/1948) daughters who have had sons have felt the same way about it. My mother told me that the name was selected by my father as one that could not be nick-named. His name having been Philip, and he having been known only as Phil, possibly he was allergic to his own nick-name. The origin of names is intriguing. Perhaps my pride should keep me from spilling the beans and putting here in print that somewhere I have read that the original meaning of "Griswold" was "the woods where the pigs were pastured." As to the "Greene," that name in the old Green family bible is spelled "Gruen," German, I suppose, for Green. The "e" at the end of my name I added at the time I began to read of the Revolutionary soldier, General Nathaniel Greene. I admired him, and so thought it would be a good idea to spell my name as he did. My cousin, Will Greene, got the same idea from some source and added the "e." So far as I know, none of the rest of the family got 'teched that way. (12/16/50 But I find on a front page of Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad in my mother's writing, "Mrs. Ruth M. Greene, from her husband Oct. 1871.")

My father's name was Philip John Green, and he died Dec. 16, 1883, at 40 years of age, when I was 5 years old. He was the oldest of 10 children, of whom Aunt Mary, now 92 years old, (now deceased, early 1948) was the only girl. His father—my grandfather—was likewise Philip Green. He was a German who had been a miller in the old country, and, with 4 brothers, he came to this country in the early 1840s. Except as to brief details, I will not, at this point, go minutely into the data and experiences with respect to my paternal or maternal ancestors. I will reserve that for an appendix, if and when I ever get the urge. Possibly there will be no demand for it.

Suffice it to say here as to Grandfather Green that he married my grandmother, Elizabeth Wolfanger, and eventually located, considerably prior to the Civil War, upon the farm on so-called Dutch Hill, in the Town of Dansville, Steuben County, New York, about 2 miles north-east of the hamlet of Rogersville, named after William Rogers an early settler, or, as the post-office department called it, South Dansville.

My mother's maiden name was Ruth Maria Griswold, and she was born on the Oak Hill farm September 19, 1849, the oldest of 7 children. Her father's name was Hubbard Griswold, and he was born in Walpole, New Hampshire, Jan. 10, 1798. Her mother was Sally Maria Woodcock, who was my grandfather's second wife; his first wife, Ruth Sylvester, was born in Westmoreland, was married to my grandfather at the same place in March, 1822, and died at Dansville, New York, Sept. 18, 1847.

My mother was named Ruth after her, and I have heard my grandmother speak very nicely of her as "Aunt Ruth." My grandmother was born in Swanzey, New Hampshire, Nov. 14, 1827, and she and my grandfather were married Sept. 5, 1848, when my grandfather was 50 and she was just under 21. All of the children were born on the farm where my grandfather lived nearly all of his adult life, known as "Oak Hill," in the said Town of Dansville, 3 miles west of Rogersville and 5 miles east of Canaseraga. He built a log cabin on the south side of the road, below the orchard, where the excavation and some stones can still be seen; and built the present farm house, on the north side of the road, prior to my mother's birth. At the time of his first wife's death they lived in Dansville.

Of my father's early life I know but little. I believe that he worked mostly at farm work while a young man, and that he worked for my grandfather Griswold at one time. (One of my mother's letters—Mar. 4, 1903, states: "Just 23 years ago today your father came up to work father's farm." That would be Mar. 4, 1869.)

When and where he first met my mother, I do not know; or whether he attended the Rogersville Union Seminary, which some of the Green children did attend, I think, and which I know that my mother and some of her brothers and sisters did attend. I am inclined to think that my father did go there at one time, and I have a vague recollection that my mother told me that he taught district school in the Oak Hill district. In any event, I do know that my mother taught school in the "Greenbush" district, which embraced the Green farm, and where the one-room school house was located, even in my early days, and perhaps still, down in a valley a mile or more north of the Green farm. So, there was plenty of opportunity for my father and mother to have become acquainted, especially since it was the custom in those days for the district school teacher to "board around" with the various families of the district. I have heard my mother say that inasmuch as the families with the most children had to board the teacher most, the teacher had to stay longest with those families which were most apt to be the least neat. But I also know that those German families, in general, and the Green family in particular, were neat.

My father and mother were married November 30, 1869, in the parlor of the farm house on Oak Hill. He was then 26 years old and my mother was 20. I have heard it said that my grandfather bought a new set of parlor furniture and a new carpet for the occasion. Many years thereafter the carpet was given to Aunt Clara and Uncle Hub and was on the floor of their living room at Hornell.

The parlor set consisted of a horse-hair sofa and 2 horse-hair chairs, of pretty design, in walnut. They and the carpet graced the parlor on Oak Hill for many years after I was familiar with the place, and many times I have curled up on that sofa and read books when we went up there Sunday afternoons. Anything more active than reading was more or less taboo in that strictly religious Methodist family of those days. "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" was an important commandment to them. I wonder whether it wasn't as satisfying a way of life as is life now when the bars are entirely down, and to keep the Sabbath holy is ancient history.

Reverting for a moment to the horse-hair set, when my grandmother left to live in the west she loaned—not "gave"—the parlor set to Aunt Clara and Uncle Hub. It eventually got into the possession of Uncle Hub's second wife, who replaced the horse-hair coverings with a more modern kind. In recent years, we tried to get possession of this set, but, for reasons not necessary to detail here, have been unsuccessful.

Following my father's and mother's marriage, they started their married life on a farm of Grandfather Green's, the so-called "Wood Place," which was located on the road from South Dansville to the Rogersville depot of the Shawmut Railroad, about 3 miles or so north of South Dansville. I well remember the house, which was a small, wooden, unpainted house, and which has been gone for many years. There was a farm barn across the road from the house.

My people did not live there a long while, though just how long I do not know. But it was during that time that my sister Ruth Mary, who lived but 3 weeks, was born. She is buried in the Griswold lot in the cemetery on Oak Hill, less than a mile East of our Oak Hill farm. There, too, are buried my Grandfather Griswold, his first wife, my Aunt Abbie, who died when I was about 16, and two of the Griswold children, Louisa and Ellsworth, who died from diptheria, within a very short time of each other when Louisa was 16, and Ellsworth was but 6 or so.

My father was also buried in that cemetery, on a nearby lot, but, upon my mother's death, May 12, 1918, I had her buried in a lot which I bought in the South Dansville cemetery, Forest Lawn, and then had by father's remains removed there, beside my mother. The old Oak Hill cemetery had become so covered with brush and bushes that I could not bear to have my mother laid to rest there; although, following her death, the undertaker, with two men who were to dig the grave, and I, went there for that purpose. So I went to South Dansville and bought the lot in the beautiful cemetery there. When I pass on, as I suppose I shall, it is immaterial to me whether I am buried there, or in Mount Hope, Rochester.

After the perhaps two years or so on the Wood Place, my father and mother moved up to the Village of Rogersville—or South Dansville, as you may prefer to call it—and my father went to work in the big stone grist mill, which is still standing at the lower end of the village, though no longer used as a mill. My grandfather Green, who had been a miller in the "old country," had owned this mill, but whether, at first, my father worked for him, or had bought the mill, I do not know. In any event, my people moved into a small house, no longer there, on the west side of Silver Street, just beyond the Oliver house—now the DAR house—which is at the corner of Silver and Main Streets. It was owned by Charles Oliver and presumably was rented from him. My father never owned any house in the village, and in fact never lived in any other house there, except in the Pealer house, where we later lived for many years, both before and after my father's death there.

I was born on August 20, 1878, presumably in the little Silver Street house. Of course, this is strictly hearsay, because, no matter how precocious I may have been as a baby, I must admit that I have no recollection of the occasion. I use the word "presumably" purposely, because in later years I learned that there was some mix-up, whereby Kitty Losey's parents and my parents were positive of the dates of our respective births, but for some reason they could not both be right. However, my birth-day has always been stated to be Aug. 20, 1878, and I assume it is correct. In any event, it is too late now to straighten the matter out. There were two Drs. Ackley in the village, Dr. Charles and his son, Dr. Cassius. I presume that I used to know which one officiated at my birth, but it is one of the infirmities of age that one becomes uncertain of things which he once knew well.

Making a further reference to the Charles Oliver, mentioned above, Dr. Green, Margaret's (FGG's cousin) father, was named Charles Oliver Green, after this Charles Oliver. Both he and grandfather Green—and my step-father Mr. Pealer—were all strong Democrats; and Mr. Pealer used to spend many Sunday afternoons visiting with Charles Oliver in an office which he had in the wing of his house. When he died, when I was a small boy, he wanted to be buried with his hat and boots on; and he was. I can remember seeing him in his coffin with his hat on his head. He was said to have made considerable money during the Civil War selling supplies to the government, and besides his village property, he owned several farms. One of his boys he called "Curn," short for Colonel, and another "Cap," short for Captain, and they were so known in the community, although their names were Woodruff and Gail, respectively.

When I was but a baby my people moved down the street into the Pealer house, his wife—Wade's mother—having died shortly before. When I was a small boy, the little house on Silver Street, where I was born, was moved down on Main Street, across from the Pealer house, and became a grocery store, run by John Masterman. Masterman was an Englishman and for some years was postmaster, with the post-office in his store. In making a sale, he was apt to say: "Sold again and got the tin; and that's the way the money comes tumbling in."

More important, probably, than the fact that I was born in it, is the fact that when I was 11 or 12, or so, Fred Owen, following graduation at the Lima Seminary, started, up-stairs over the grocery store, the Empire State Teachers' Class, designed to instruct in teaching, by mail. This was the parent of the present large Normal Instructor plant at Dansville. The concern grew and after a number of years it was moved to Dansville. Following John Masterman's death, the store building was moved back and served for a barn, and probably still does; so, while I cannot claim to have been born in a manger, I was at least born in a barn.

There can be no continuity of recollection in connection with a young child's life. Isolated, unrelated instances are all that can be recalled, and doubtless many things are really based upon what has been talked about and told, rather than upon real recollection. For instance, I still insist that I recall the tragic night and experience when I was weaned, and it is my earliest recollection, if that is what it is. In those days, except in rare cases all babies were nursed. No other method was really known. Clapp's Foods hadn't even been thought of. And to interpolate, very many things which are now commonplace had not been thought of. Chauncey Depew, who has been dead for many years, once made a speech, setting out the many things which had come into being during his life. I suspect that, since his death, so many more things have been evolved than had during his life span that, since I was born the record would be even more remarkable than what had happened during his life-time. I suspect that Chauncey Depew never saw an airplane, and I am sure he knew nothing of radio or atomic bombs, or that while he lived it was possible to get San Fransisco on the phone by the operator saying, "Hold the line, please."

To get back to the tragedy. In those days children were weaned quite a bit later in life than they are now. I insist that I can distinctly remember my father holding me in his arms on the side porch of the Pealer house in the night, and trying to divert my attention from a milk diet by showing me the moon in the sky. Obviously I was converted, either then or eventually.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Conclusion
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