By Julie Foster Van Camp
Prologue: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
A washed-out sign leaning into a ditch informed me I was “Entering Whiting.” I was driving north on Vermont Route 30. The year was 1992. Clapboard farmhouses and towering feed silos dotted the sprawling fields. The horizon burned in brilliant blotches of red and streaks of purple and pink, blending behind the black silhouette of the Adirondack Mountains. I passed a white colonial-style church with a cemetery behind it, several houses in need of paint, the town clerk’s office, and a general store. Pastures, speckled with Holstein cows, spread across the broad valley.
Was this all there was to Whiting? I turned around in a farmer’s driveway and retraced my route, looking harder for more evidence of the town. The afternoon light was fading. I had no motel reservations. In fact, I had not seen a motel since leaving Rutland. My fuel gauge was bumping on empty.
I came to a filling station offering grinders and gas, and pulled in. A middle-aged man, wearing bib overalls, a plaid shirt, and a cap advertising Hybrid Seed Corn, was resting against a stool behind the counter. He was thumbing through a magazine.
“Do I pay first, before I pump?” I asked.
“Sorry, lady. I haven’t had any gas for three months. Not since water got in my tanks.”
“Is there another station in town?”
“Nope. This is it. You might find one open in Middlebury.”
“Which way is that?”
“About twelve miles over yonder. North.”
“But I’m not going that way. Where might I find a place to sleep?”
He stood up. I watched his hazel eyes drift across the dirty windowpane. Chewing on the side of his mouth, twitching his thumb on the counter, he said, “Well, I hate to tell you, lady, but you’re in the boonies. There ain’t anything around here. But over east in Brandon, there’s a nice inn. Don’t know if you’ll find gas there at this time of day, though.”
He stared at his black, dust-covered rotary dial phone, as if wondering whether it was connected to anything. “Would you like me to call the inn, see if they have a room?” he asked.
Moments later he assured me that a bed and gas were waiting for me in Brandon. The scratchy weather forecast coming over his radio said we could expect another sunny April day tomorrow. I was warming up to Whiting.
“What you doing up here in these parts anyway?” he asked.
“Searching for ancestors,” I said. “Ichabod Foster settled here in 1784.”1
“So did my ancestors. Maybe we’re related. I’m Guy,” he said.
“Maybe so,” I said. “My name is Julie. I believe Ichabod was my great-great-great-grandfather, and had a son born here in 1785 named Albro and a grandson named Azariah in 1811.”
I told Guy that I had driven hundreds of miles over the past twenty years searching for my ancestors. I had tramped the ground where their logs became cabins and their clear cuts grew corn. I had rummaged through seventeenth-century land deeds in Salem, Massachusetts, marriage records in Coventry, Rhode Island, and probate abstracts in Taunton, Massachusetts. I had studied census data in Medina County, Ohio, and vital records on a German island in the North Sea, and fading photographs of Iowa relatives. Clutching my magnifying glass, deciphering tiny Old English script, I had followed clues.
“You’re a travelin’ woman,” Guy said. “I pretty much stay right here in Whiting.”
“Hope I see you tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll be visiting the town clerk in the morning.”
Guy stood in the doorway as I walked to my car.
“Thanks for finding me a place to stay,” I said.
I had trouble falling asleep that night. I don’t know why. Images of people and places emerged like old sixteen-millimeter films, clicking, missing, refocusing. Almost visible. Almost hidden. I remembered traveling in our shiny blue LaSalle with my parents and my older brother, Jake, on Thanksgiving morning in 1946. I was nine years old. Our destination had been the Iowa homestead farm in Washington County. We passed Amish families in black, horse-drawn buggies, churning up dust along the gravel road. My father fretted about his clean windshield. Edging over to the culvert, he stopped, jumped out, and wiped it off with a rag he always kept in the glove compartment. After a quick pass over the hood, he slid back behind the wheel. Thanksgiving dinner was waiting.
The Foster family ritual seemed like Norman Rockwell material. Dinner was served at the “town house” in Wellman, after which we traveled the few miles to the farm purchased in 1860 by my great-grandfather, Azariah Foster. Aunt Mabel, her round face beaming, her apron a little off center, pushed open the swinging dining room door and placed a huge turkey platter on the table. The succulent, browned bird was a fresh kill from the feeder lot south of the barn. Uncle Ellery carved. The sideboards were crowded with bowls of creamed corn and scalloped oysters, mashed potatoes and brown gravy, tiny garden peas, coleslaw sprinkled with paprika, and cherry and orange Jell-O molds brimming with nuts and tiny marshmallows. Rhubarb, apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat pies filled a corner table.
We gathered to celebrate family, faith, and the fall harvest. My father and his four brothers, those five sons of Martha Jones and Henry Lucas Foster, sat, legs crossed, on the living room sofas, methodically lighting, relighting, puffing away on their pipes and cigarettes. Aunt Laura refilled their coffee cups. Laughter filled the room as they relived childhood adventures on the seemingly endless Iowa prairie.
Nearly thirty years later, shortly after my father’s death in 1973, I returned to Iowa from New England with my husband and three young children for one more Thanksgiving feast in Wellman. My father had been a pediatrician who diagnosed young patients with appendicitis but neglected the growing pain in his own stomach. He had drifted into a cancer-induced coma and died shortly thereafter. Eight months before he died, my brother Jake had hooked a hose to the tailpipe of his car. The engine was idling. He pulled the hose inside. The windows were shut. When he didn’t arrive home for dinner, his wife drove to his foreign car dealership and found him on the back seat. Bank records showed that he had delinquent loans.
As my father’s ashes were placed in the crypt next to my brother’s, I cast about for something to hold. My mother’s hands were wrapped around her own pain. Her electric shock treatments and months in mental institutions during my childhood had maimed our fragile connection. We couldn’t talk. I felt a cold, empty crevasse splitting open, swallowing me inside. I was falling without a rope, my spirit spinning out of control. Knowing there was no one to hear me, I cried silently, trying still to be the perfect daughter.
Could re-creating my Thanksgiving memories fill the void I felt, help me feel the presence of my brother and my father once more on the farm, pass on a tradition to my young family? After our traditional feast, my children curled up on the living room floor. I sat on the nearby sofa sipping coffee with my Uncle Warren.
I asked him if we had any family history records, especially ones stating causes of death. The Foster Bible was destroyed in a farmhouse fire in 1923. As if on cue, he reached into his shirt pocket and handed me three small, tattered pages. He slipped his pipe from his lips. “Here, I think you should have these.” His blue eyes twinkled as if they hid a family secret. He never said why he was carrying the notes that day.
The fragile pages listed only birth, marriage, and death dates for four generations. The notes were written around 1902, when my father was five years old. Albro, my great-great-grandfather, born October 16, 1785, in Rutland County, Vermont, was the last name mentioned. His parents weren’t listed.
“Who were Albro’s parents?” I asked. Uncle Warren didn’t know. No clues remained. “Why me?” I asked. He smiled.
“Take good care of these notes” was all he said.
When I finally found time in the 1990s to focus my research, those five Foster farm boys were dead. I regret not caring when I should have, when I could have recorded firsthand accounts of life on the prairie, and asked my father what he felt when fire consumed the farmhouse or when he trotted his bay mare over the fresh snow to his one-room schoolhouse. These stories were silent.
But could I uncover other family stories among the records in towns like Rutland and Whiting, where Albro was born? Would I find another Foster farm, a birth record, a death certificate? I had to try. My census research had shown me there was only one Foster family in the Rutland area in 1791 with a male child to match Albro’s age range. I decided to seek the missing pieces that might prove beyond a census assumption that Albro was Ichabod’s son.
Shortly after nine o’clock the next morning, I pulled up to the Whiting town clerk’s office located next to Guy’s station. A round-faced, middle-aged woman with deep blue eyes looked up from her desk behind the counter. “I’m Grace Simonds, the town clerk. Can I help you?” she asked.
“I’m looking for the birth record of my great-great-grandfather, Albro Foster,” I said. “I believe he is the youngest son of Ichabod and Susannah Carr Foster.”
“So you’re looking for your relatives,” she said. “Many people are these days. Are you a Foster? You must be the one who stopped at Guy’s yesterday. A stranger isn’t hard to spot in Whiting.” Grace flew on autopilot without a verbal release button. Her energy, like a transfusion, breathed life into my travel-weary body. Her husband’s family had lived in Whiting all their lives, and had started the Brandon Inn after the Revolutionary War.
Inside the small, one-story frame building was an L-shaped room with a counter separating Grace from the reception area. A room behind her cluttered desk was jammed with metal shelves containing volumes of dusty books. Moments later, she was lugging a stack of land deed records from the vault. Together we scanned grantor-grantee indexes in the first three volumes. Ichabod purchased and sold hundreds of acres of farmland between 1784 and 1805. Grace also produced a card file that had no record of Albro’s birth or Ichabod’s death. She opened a drawer containing a copy of an 1800 map of Whiting. Farmhouses appeared as black squares with the owners’ names attached.
Grace stared at the map. “There’s Ichabod Foster, right under that square. That farmhouse is still there, on the old Crown Point Road,” she said.
I reached for the map, like a lifeline, a link to a family I thought was lost. The veins in my hands tingled. I couldn’t utter a word. Was I going to walk across Ichabod’s cornfields, sit in his parlor?
“My husband once lived in that house,” Grace said. “Our families were here when Ichabod was. Ours didn’t move on.”
“Who lives there now?” I asked.
“George and Belle Senecal. They bought the house in 1944,” Grace said. “It’s been added to, but one of the original barns and the granary are still standing.”
She made a copy of the map. I tucked it in my pocket as I thanked her for finding Ichabod’s farmhouse.
I left Grace’s office and drove down the dirt road heading west toward Lake Champlain. The Adirondack Mountains rose in the distance, reflecting the morning light, soft and pink. A few hundred yards ahead, a small white farmhouse came into view. My wheels ground to a stop. Gravel dust swirled around my windshield. Was this Ichabod’s house? I couldn’t move. I seemed to be entering a time warp, generations disappearing, coming together. My shirt stuck to my back as beads of sweat formed along my spine. I slid out of the seat and leaned against the wire fence edging the upper field. Grace’s map assured me that this was the house.
I walked down the road, kicking pebbles, savoring this moment of discovery. Pastures of grass surrounded the small Cape Cod-style house. A small barn, shed, and chicken pen looked weathered and worn out. Weeds had replaced wheat in the fields. A robin pecked seed from the feeder hanging on an oak tree. Lace curtains lined the front windows. I climbed the cracked concrete steps and rapped on the door.
The door opened. A tall, solid-looking man with grayish-white hair and large blue eyes smiled at me.
“Lookin’ for somethin’?” he asked.
“Not exactly.” I paused. “Well, yes. Did Ichabod Foster once live here?”
“Yes. It’s fact,” he said. “He built this house a long time ago.”
“I believe he was my great-great-great-grandfather,” I said.
George invited me in. His wife, Belle, a short woman wearing a white embroidered apron over a blue flowered housedress, peered around the parlor door. Pausing a moment, she asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I stepped through the doorway, feeling as if I were walking back in time. My toes were touching floorboards that once bore the mark of Ichabod’s boots.
We sipped instant Sanka as we walked through the house. Two upstairs bedrooms, a large living room, and an inside kitchen had been added since 1796. George pointed to the hand-hewn kitchen beams and wide wallboards.
The original steep steps leading to the children’s loft were visible only from an upstairs closet. I pictured Ichabod sawing, pounding, planing each rough ladder-like step. They had been sealed off when wider stairs were added for easier access to an expanded sleeping area.
George wanted to show me the outbuildings. His dusty green tractor was parked in the old shed where Ichabod’s wagon must have rested. I didn’t know whether George drove the tractor anymore. His fields were full of weeds.
“The barn across the road is crammed full with family paraphernalia, furniture and other stuff,” he said, suggesting I wouldn’t want to look inside. I did. But I didn’t ask. I had hoped to spot some memento that might have belonged to Ichabod. Too many winter storms and spring floods had washed away any tools and oxen leathers left behind when he moved south to Middletown in 1805. Many other families had lived in this house. I thanked Belle and George for the chance to sit in Ichabod’s parlor. Would I ever prove he was Albro’s father?
I asked if there was a family cemetery in the back field. George said he didn’t know of one but told me to walk around anyway. I found a little medicine bottle, a pile of rusty spring mattresses, and an old tractor rim. Nothing remained on the farm that belonged to Ichabod except perhaps his fingerprints on his kitchen beams. He had lived in Whiting, a town of 482 people when Vermont’s first census, tabulated in 1791, revealed that Albro must have been a member of this Foster family. Grace had told me that 485 people and 2,000 milking cows resided in Whiting when the 1990 census was taken. This isolated community was ever changing, yet unchanged.
I departed with a roll of pictures in my camera and a handful of black earth stuffed into my jacket pocket, damp and warm against my thigh. Had Ichabod watched me walking through his cornfield, squeezing that clump of moist soil between my fingers? Had I found my potential link to Vermont history?
I had uncovered no clues about Ichabod’s death or proof of Albro’s birth. If I could prove Ichabod was Albro’s father, my genealogical voyage would be charted back four more generations to Puritan Massachusetts in the time of the pilgrims. Was I a traveler trapped at the river’s edge without a bridge in sight? The evidence I collected from land deeds, census records, and church minutes was all circumstantial. I had found Ichabod’s farm, but nothing else. Did any other primary source materials exist? I felt sad when I flew home to my cabin on Lopez Island in Washington State without the proof I searched for, without a positive connection between Albro and Ichabod.
That evidence I longed for arrived unexpectedly five years later on a cool July evening. I was checking the Foster genealogy message board on the Internet, where I often posted requests to see if I could find living relatives. I was always disappointed when my request for information on Ichabod, Albro, and Azariah (Albro’s only son) wasn’t answered. Cyberspace had been silent for two years.
That evening, I opened an e-mail from a woman named Cynthia Meyerson in Oklahoma City. She hadn’t seen my request before that evening when she decided to have one more look at the Foster message board before canceling her AOL membership. Why did she do that? On July 23, 1997, she replied to my request.
I am a direct descent of Albro Foster. Have part of a diary written by Ichabod Foster. Have the Doane Genealogy back to 1629. Know so much about Ichabod except where born and died, lose him after 1810. Some of the Fosters are in Jefferson Co. after 1810. . . . Is he with them? My gggrand mother Ann Jeanette Foster was born 1831 in Jefferson Co. NY. Albro and Rispa are living with Richard and Ann Foster Hinkley at the time of their deaths. Recently received copy of Albro’s obit. I am thrilled to find you and most willing to share anything and everything. Hope you have info on Ichabod.2
“I have proof that Ichabod was Albro’s father!” I shouted. I don’t remember anyone in my family responding. I read and reread the message, letting each word penetrate my mind. I felt like a marathon runner who finally has reached the finish line. Albro was Cynthia’s great-great-great-grandfather. She had the proof in Ichabod’s handwriting. Albro’s father had kept a diary with family records for his children, siblings, sisters, brothers, parents, and in-laws.
Cynthia’s second e-mail arrived the next day:
I have been looking for Ichabod for over twenty years and I am overwhelmed to find you and that you have all this information!!! I haven’t worked on the Foster line in years . . . really felt stuck. I was just fooling around last night when I checked the Foster names. You are the answer to my prayers. Ann Jeanette Foster and husband Richard C. Hinckley moved to Lincoln Co. Kansas about 1870. Ann Foster Hinckley died 19 Dec. 1927 in Lincoln Co. and my cousin Frank Cole still owns and farms the old home place. This family had lots of info but never did any research. My mother was given the diary in the 1950s and we visited Middletown, etc. on vacation when I was a girl. The diary that I have was one of a series. I have years 1785 to 1809. The others are lost. Each page is a month and is like a journal record.3
My newly discovered distant cousin and I clogged cyberspace for days, sharing and comparing family history records. Ichabod’s granddaughter Ann Jeannette Foster Hinckley had carried the diary with her when she moved from Ridgeville, Ohio, to Beverly, Kansas, in 1880.
Cynthia and I met a month later at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. She had red hair and green eyes. I have light-brown hair and blue eyes. Lots of gene pooling since Ichabod’s day, I thought.
We sat at a desk in the library and carefully removed the diary from its brown paper wrapping. I felt as if I were unraveling a miniature mummy. Thin, hemp-like cord crisscrossed to form a laced binding that held the frail pages together. Edges crumbled. I could cup the diary in my palm. The heading on the first page read March 1785. The cover was missing. I have no idea in what year he started his diary. Ichabod recorded the events of each day in narrow, tiny rows across unlined pages, one page for each month. He missed only three days in twenty-two years. His penmanship remained steady and strong, flowing like a gentle stream across each page.
As I deciphered his Old English script, Ichabod’s world opened before my eyes. He wrote about friends who spent the night; about harvesting his hay, making shoes, sighting wolves in the woods; planting cucumbers and corn, wheat and peas, beans, turnips, melons, even tobacco. He recorded the fields in which he planted them—the upper, the one behind the barn, the other east of the house.
11 April 1791
I took 15 sheep of Elijah Right to pasture and
he is to pay my town rate to Pliny Smith4
17 November 1793
We killed our hogs
12 August 1794
our earmark a half crop the underside of the right ear
20 September 1795
I see and eat a peace of ripe peach that grew in Whiting it was 26 years ago that I see the last peach
Ichabod wrote about his treatments for various ailments. He cured piles with pine knots split and boiled in two gallons of water; he used beech bark, red nettles, strong vinegar, saltpeter, and mum gum powder to stop a bleeding cut. His entries were accented with tiny sketches of ships under sail, books of the Bible, birds in flight, fish swimming, flowers in bloom, toads, frogs, and peepers sounding off. Every spring he noted the return of the first robin. He tracked the wild geese going north. July was the month his spotted cow “took the bull.” Weather was described: clear, squalls, fair and pleasant, heavy snow. Ichabod was a man connected to the cycles of life and his natural world.
He read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation at least four times. Each time he finished, he sketched a row of little books across the page, noting significant verses, such as Romans 8:20 (“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,”) and 1 John 1:8 (“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,”). At the bottom of one page, he wrote “PROSTITUTION.” Alone. In larger script. Was Ichabod concerned with sin? In one of his last entries, April 23, 1807, he wrote: “There are 1169 chapters in the Bible and to read them in 31 days you must read 34-1/2 chapters in a day.”
I imagined Ichabod sitting at a small desk in his parlor, quill pen in hand, writing. As the sun fades, his wife, Susannah, lights a candle for him.
Where did he find paper, ink, and a pen in the wilds of Vermont years before statehood, during the unsettled times when Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys roamed the countryside and soldiers marched along Crown Point Road? Land transactions recorded in Rutland show that Ichabod had traveled with his wife and baby, James Otis, from Coventry, Rhode Island, in 1770, two years after they were married. I wish his earlier writings had survived. The diary, with missing pages and no cover, starts in March 1785.
On the page for the month of October 1785: “in the early hours of the morning our son was born.” The date was October 16. It matched Uncle Warren’s faded notes. I couldn’t lift my eyes off that line. I was holding proof beyond any reasonable doubt. Ichabod was Albro’s father. I couldn’t read the words anymore. My eyes had filled with tears of joy. I sat in silence as I reached for a tissue.
Cynthia smiled. “My daughters want you to have the diary,” she said. “You are a Foster. I’m not, really. I’m adopted.”
I looked into her green eyes full of giving. Did I care if she was adopted? How did she know I wasn’t? I hugged her, wishing for words to witness my feelings. I couldn’t speak or stop the tears from flowing. Was Ichabod watching this exchange, a twinkle in his eyes?
A few days after his sixty-eighth birthday, in 1808, he wrote his last entry. The diary ended. But his spirit kept nudging me. I didn’t know what had happened to him. When did he die? Where is his grave? I longed to harvest the riches of my diary discovery, but suddenly my bounty wilted. Time stopped. There was nothing new to learn from Grace Simonds in Whiting. Where could I search next?
Ironically, my answer, again, arrived unexpectedly over the Internet. On January 12, 2001, I opened my e-mail to find a note from a woman I had never heard of. She wrote:
I am a great Aunt of Robyn Osborn [a cousin whom Cynthia Meyerson had mentioned]. I have another diary (or journal) written by Ephraim Doane. It isn’t signed but that is the only conclusion I can come to. He writes about Ichabod on nearly every page. Some little comment—such as Ichabod left for Whiting today. Or Ichabod and Albro came by today. Also on the last page he has written—Susannah Foster died February—I think it says 24th—1820. Abigail Foster died December 21, 1814—37th year of age. Also Ichabod died January 1, 1813.
On May 10, 1811—John and Albro had each of them a son born.
I will send more notes from this diary if you want. It is very hard to read. Please let me know if you already have this diary. Or have no interest in it. Robyn has told me that you have the Fosters done all the way back to England but I thought you might be interested just the same. I know I always look for more and more in the family history.
Sincerely: Marjorie (Marge) Wiles Goad5
I felt confused and elated, emotions clashing, questions bumping into each other. Something didn’t sound right. Ephraim Doane was a familiar name. He was Albro’s father-in-law. I wasn’t trying to trace his line. I wasn’t aware that he had written a diary, and perhaps this was his second one. I asked Marge to send the pages.
A week later a packet of diary pages arrived. I didn’t wait to reach my cabin to open it. I tore the wrapping on the road as I stood by our country mailbox. The pages were larger than those in Ichabod’s diary, and were black and white, not the patina color of his original. Clearly, it was a copy, but of what. Who wrote it? There was no cover.
My eyes followed the writing on the first page. Suddenly I couldn’t get my breath, my cheeks tingled, but I must have been smiling when I shouted “Hallelujah” to the blue January sky. The neat, gentle penmanship was Ichabod’s, and the page started where Cynthia’s diary left off. The last four years of his life, described in his handwritten words nearly two hundred years ago, rested in my hands. The Ichabod named in Marge’s e-mail was his namesake, his fifth son.
I felt as though I was holding a diploma awarded for years of study and persistence, as though I’d passed the test given me by Ichabod himself. When I returned to my cabin, I curled up in a chair and started reading what he had written from 1809 to 1813. I held the final puzzle piece, the bridge across the river. He recorded his family’s final migration in 1811 from Whiting to old Willink in the Holland Purchase lands of western New York near the shores of Lake Erie. The War of 1812 was rumbling on the horizon.
24 October 1811
We set out with our family & effects for the Holland Purchas
A psychic tug pulled my soul. Could I find Ichabod, feel his presence, discover his final resting place? Could I follow his trail to the end of his life?
Does a grave exist with his name on it? More than any kin I’ve uncovered in my family history travels, I am pulled to Ichabod, like a corn stalk stretching to touch the sun. Is it his name or the period of American history in which he lived? I can’t explain the innate mystery, but a bond exists out there somewhere beyond the beyond.
During my 1992 New England trip, I had found his father Benjamin’s gravestone in Clarendon, Vermont, and his grandfather John’s in the Old Newell Burying Ground in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the town where Ichabod was born in 1740.
When I located those grave markers, my crevasse of loneliness over the loss of my father and my brother began to melt. I don’t know why. I accepted those feelings as a gift. I remember straining my eyes to read John’s marker, trying to decipher the weathered dates and letters carved in granite. I sprayed the marker with shaving cream and wiped it with a towel, leaving the faint white indentation of letters and numbers. Sometimes legible, sometimes not, these stones, smoothed by rain, snow, and wind, confirmed the existence of these ancestors. Validated mine. My lifeline grew stronger.
In 1992, when I had driven from New England to the Midwest, I had found the stones of Ichabod’s son Albro in the Fields Cemetery in North Ridgeville, Ohio, and his grandson Azariah in the Wassonville Cemetery in Washington County, Iowa. One grave remained a mystery. Where was Ichabod buried?
Could I follow my great-great-great-grandfather’s footsteps and wagon wheels from his beginnings in Rhode Island to his middle years in Vermont and on to western New York where he died? Would my search lead to his grave? His travels covered a lifetime. My second journey to New England (the focus of this book) spans several weeks in October 2003.
I purchased my own grave plot before I returned that fall. I remember the cemetery grass squishing under my boots like a saturated sponge as I followed Dr. George Dengler up the slope behind the small country church on Lopez Island. A short, narrow man with thinning gray hair and friendly blue eyes, George handled plot sales. He pointed out my choices.
I picked one with a view. I’m not sure why. But it felt right. Cows were grazing on the far side of a sagging barbed wire fence, as their ancestors had done on Ichabod’s farm. The distant snow-capped mountains on the Olympic Peninsula touched the blue sky, like the Adirondack Mountains viewed from Ichabod’s fields.
A soft summer breeze brushed my face, as if confirming my choice, my contract with the earth, my connection with my ancestors, who had picked plots for centuries, honoring their parents, their spouses, and sometimes their children. Without their granite and marble stones scattered throughout New England and the Midwest, my family roots might have shriveled and died unnoticed, disappearing from view, remaining invisible. Picking my plot, anchoring myself to generations past, I felt connected.
As I drove home from the cemetery, I passed hayfields ready for harvest, sheep searching for shade, cows rubbing their necks on wire fences. I recalled my mother and her idea of a grave. I laughed, remembering that she had never wanted family buried in the ground. Iowa winters were too cold, she would say. Her ashes, along with those of my father and my brother Jake, rest inside a mausoleum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Could Ichabod have instigated my decision to settle on Lopez Island, to purchase a rural plot as my farming ancestors had, soil to shelter my soul for centuries? My family has crossed the continent, and so has Ichabod’s diary.
I will return to New England to share his writings with Grace, George and Belle, and Guy. My journey will begin in Rhode Island, and I will trace Ichabod’s 1770 route to Vermont, which he left in 1811 to cross New York to the Holland Purchase lands near the shores of Lake Erie.
When I reach old Willink, will Ichabod be waiting?
1. H. P. Smith, ed., History of Addison County Vermont: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Company, 1886), 726; Harold and Elizabeth Webster, Our Whiting: Story of a Small Vermont Town (Rutland: Academy Books, 1976), 19.
2. Cynthia Meyerson, e-mail, July 23, 1997.
3. Ibid., e-mail, July 24, 1997.
4. Ichabod Foster, Diary 1785–1813 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections Department, unpublished original through 1808, copy of original 1809–1913 (original owned by Richard Cole, Lincoln County, Kansas), 282 pages. Mss #716.
5. Marjorie Goad, e-mail, January 12, 2001.