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Memories of Early Georgetown

Milestones Vol 29. No. 4

Editor's Note--This is a slight Variation from manuscript from Milestones Vol 14 No 2

Mary Salome Eaton (1826 ­ 1917) was the wife of Methodist Episcopal preacher, Matthias Myers Eaton, whose life was devoted to tending his congregations at different locations in Western Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. Prior to her death in Wilkinsburg, near Pittsburgh in 1917, Mary Eaton spent her last years recording memories of her life and adventures as the wife of a traveling minister. The result was a book titled: Memories of the Wife of an Itinerant Methodist Preacher. The following excerpt is from her book, and paints us a wonderful picture of Mary's time living in the Beaver County community of Georgetown in 1861.

Georgetown was rather a pretty little town on the bank of the Ohio River. The buildings were scattered promiscuously, with not much attention paid to streets, there being as much commons as occupied ground, on which pigs, cows, horses and dogs roamed at will. The population of the town was made up largely of river men ­ steamboat captains and pilots, who were away from home the greater part of the time. They had plenty of money, and fine, well-furnished homes, and I think almost without exception were Methodists. The church was not up to the times nor equal to the wealth of the people; it was a plain wooden structure, standing on the commons and very much out of repair, but as it always fell to our lot to build or repair, it would have seemed strange to go to a place where this was not to be done.

We were pleasantly situated, having a good garden, or the half of a garden. Old Lady Poe, the mother of the man from whom we rented, had a half interest in the property, and one half of the garden belonged to her. It was a large lot, there being sufficient ground to give us potatoes, corn, beans, tomatoes, and all smaller vegetables. The old lady was very kind. She had a fine bed of asparagus, which she allowed us to pick every other time. Hers was an old fashioned garden, containing all kinds of herbs such as tansy, rue, sage, thyme, summer savory, coriander, and wormwood; old fashioned flowers, such as batchelor's buttons, ragged Robins, bouncing Betty, bleeding hearts, blue bells, Lady-in-the-bush, spider-in-the-web, mourning bride, and many others. The flower beds were all bordered with chives, in flavor resembling an onion, the tops of which I sometimes used for flavoring gravies.

Mother Poe was a bright old lady, in her eighties and the mother of a large family, mostly boys. They were among the earliest settlers of this county, a stalwart muscular race, well adapted to scuffling with the Indians. One of their family killed an Indian warrior single-handed, and they were proud of showing the place where the fight occurred and the cliff of rock over which he threw the Indian. It was worth a good deal to hear the old lady tell of their early life among the savages, of hardy adventures and narrow escapes.

This was the first year of the [Civil] war, and it was a pretty sight to see the fleet go down the river, the decks crowded with soldiers. They were lustily cheered from the banks of the river, which were lined with men, women, and children, and the cheers were answered from the boats with double energy. It was fun for them then, poor fellows; they little dreamed of what was before them. Several of our Georgetown boys went, among them two sons of the widow Mahaffey, and her only visible support, yet she was proud of the fact. They wrote her such good letters; they were with McDowell, with whom they were not much pleased, and we thought at that time he drank too much for the comfort of the boys or the good of the country. I think the Mahaffey boys came through the war safely. Alas, how many did not!

We had five appointments on this charge: Georgetown, Hookstown, Jones, New Cumberland and Green Valley. Mr. Eaton had an assistant, Reverend Shearer the first year, Reverend Beatty the second. Dr. Dempsey was our Presiding Elder for the third year, and it fell to our lot to entertain him, which we did cheerfully. He was so hard to suit about his meals that no one cared to have him, but after having him in my home at different times for three years, I had found him to be little trouble ­ I cooked for him as I did for anyone else, except that I always managed to have stale bread for him of which he was fond. He was never cross, but had no use for children, especially in church, and would not hesitate to say, if a baby cried, "Sister, take that child out." This was one reason the sisters did not like him. But it was my experience, after knowing him four years, that I very much preferred to entertain Mr. Dempsey, with all his queerness, than some others who came to our house who were nearer perfection than he. He was a dignified gentleman, only a little cross-grained.

This summer was a gloomy one, on account of an epidemic of the worst type of diphtheria, which raged throughout July and August. The doctors seemed powerless and I heard our doctor say that he dreaded to be called. In nearly every family it entered, death took from one to three, and in the family of one of our church members, Brother Jamison, it took six out of a family of seven; two were buried in one grave. In connection with this double funeral there was a very sad occurrence. We had no undertaker; the friends made all the necessary arrangements, and one of our class leaders, Mr. Cooly, spent his time going among the sick, and caring for the dead. He was at Brother Jamison's when the boys died. Mr. Eaton was not at home, it being Sunday, when he was at the other end of the charge, but Brother Cooly left word about the funeral, and said he was going across the river to order the caskets, saying, "I will be back for church tonight." He crossed the river, attended to the business, and started to recross, but in some way or other his skiff was capsized, and it was found the next day bottom side up. Every means was take to recover his body, but without success, and it was not until five months later that it was found at Steubenville.

It was a wonder that the diphtheria mortality was not much greater. We had no quarantine ­ no restrictions whatever; the funerals were attended by anyone who cared to go; everyone visited the sick, and worst of all, the doctors did not know how to treat the disease. The most effectual treatment they had for it was cauterizing the throat, but the disease did not confine itself to the throat, especially if there was a cut or scratch about the body. My husband was among it day and night, visiting the sorrowing and consoling them as best he could, baptizing and burying the dead. Our children were necessarily exposed to the danger, but the Pastor, no matter what the circumstances, must be about the Master's business, in season and out of season. However, through a merciful Providence, our family escaped entirely, but I cannot describe the anxiety, amounting to anguish, which I endured, not knowing at what moment some of my children might be attacked, and had I not relied on the Almighty One for support I could not have endured it.

In Georgetown we formed many warm friendships, especially at the Jones appointment. In these days of many preaching places, which were far apart, the people went from one point to another, and the preacher's family became pretty well acquainted with the people of the charge, often forming warm attachments and receiving many favors. My husband seldom came home without something substantial for the use of his family. Here I received two nice quilts. These were the days when we had to knit or do without stockings, but I seldom had to knit, as the old ladies of the church kept Mr. Eaton well supplied; this was quite an item, and aside from the material value of these gifts we appreciated the spirit which prompted these dear old saints, laid aside from active service, who felt that they could in this way do something for the Master; and I doubt not that while plying the needles many a prayer ascended that God heard and honored.

Her original manuscript resides at the Washington and Jefferson College library in Washington, Pennsylvania, and was published by the Commission on Archives and History, Western Pennsylvania Conference, United Methodist Church in 1989.