Tag Archives: Asahel Hall

A Few Old Books


A few old books

A few old books

Some of my ancestors’ books seem worth sharing. Most of them are educational in nature – three are dictionaries. Despite their two hundred years of existence and what must have been frequent use, the pages remain supple and thick. Most of the bindings still hold together, and the leather covers feel like velvet. As I open them and look at their inscriptions, doodles, jottings, and marks of usage, I applaud my relatives for their literacy and love of history.

Here are some of the books, and a few interesting facts about each.


The Oldest Book

I’m a 4-leaf clover hunter. Many of my finds live on between the pages of books and diaries on our bookshelves. So it was no surprise when I opened this book – “Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book,” published in 1803 – and found one of my dried clovers on the first page. At some point, the original binding, made of wood covered with leather and paper, began to deteriorate from hard use, so someone covered it with crudely sewn striped cotton cloth.

"Noah Webster's American Spelling Book"

“Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book”

At the end of the book are the “Additional Lessons.” My favorite lesson is “Of Cheerfulness.”

Q.  Is cheerfulness a virtue?

A.  It doubtless is. And a moral duty to practice it.

Q.  Can we be cheerful when we please?

A.  In general it depends much on ourselves. We can often mold our tempers into a cheerful frame. — We can frequent company and other objects calculated to inspire us with cheerfulness. To indulge an habitual gloominess of mind is weakness and sin.

Wow! Who knew?


The Wrong Asahel

"Entick's New Spelling Dictionary"

“Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary”

Asahel Hall was the first Hall to live on Whirlwind Hill. My grandmother Agnes assumed that this “Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary” was his, but since he died in 1795 and the Entick’s dictionary wasn’t published until 1805, it must instead have belonged to his grandson – also named Asahel.

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

Still – 1805 was a long time ago, and in this book the letter ‘s’ often looks like an ‘f,’ and there are definitions that are definitely of their time.

Oil man, s. a man who deals in oils and pickles

Oil shop, s. a shop where oils and pickles are sold.

 Fun with Fonts

Mary Jane Hall, my great-grandfather William’s sister, pasted an 1849 calendar into the back cover of this 1825 dictionary. The printers of these old books had fun with their fonts.

"Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary"

“Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary”


Early History

This “History of the United States on a New Plan; Adapted to the Capacity of Youth,” published in 1843, belonged to my great-uncle Aaron A. Hall, who wrote a poem on the back page.

Marion DeLong

Asked me for a song

After trying in vain,

The tears ran like rain.

The book is full of lively black and white engravings illustrating America’s history. Someone used paint to hand-color a few of them.

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”


The Book I Keep Meaning to Read

Archibald Robbin’s 1821 book about his three years as a captive of the “Wandering Arabs” in the Sahara was a bestseller when it was published. Abraham Lincoln, who read it, referred to it in speeches and spoke of it as an influence on him. I really do need to read it.

"Robbin's Journal"

“Robbin’s Journal”


My Great-Grandfather Read This??? 

Another book I mean to read, John C. Cobden’s 1853 “The White Slaves of England,” was written to call attention to the slave-like working conditions of miners, seamstresses, children, tenant farmers, etc. in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. My great-grandfather, William E. Hall wrote his name inside the front cover.

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”


A Different Country

My cousin Tom sent me this “Mitchell’s School Atlas – 1848” a few years ago on my birthday. Although it came from the farm, one of the neighbors, Amos Ives, wrote his name and made numerous doodles on its pages.

The colorful maps detail locations of Indian tribes, herds of animals, and routes to the frontier.

In Texas, part of the land is marked “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses,” and “Extensive Prairies.”

1848 Map of Texas

1848 Map of Texas

Several states are conspicuously absent from this map of the west coast.

1848 Map of West Coast

1848 Map of West Coast

Amos must have daydreamed through his geography classes, because the book is sprinkled with doodles. He drew cats and dogs and circles and people. This is my favorite drawing. I wonder if Amos was having girlfriend troubles.

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

On Wednesday:  “Outbuildings #6 – A House for an Auto”

Ghosts – Part II

Finding Cornelia

At the end of my Monday post – “Ghosts Part I” – I still hadn’t seen Cornelia’s headstone. I had found the two generations that preceded her on Whirlwind Hill. Under a long line of stones lay Asahel and Sarah Hall, their son Aaron (whose stone is missing) and his three wives Elizabeth, Sarah, and Annis, and Aaron and Elizabeth’s daughter Mary Hall. On the left is a small stone that I was unable to read. The only clue to its owner is that he or she died in 1798.

"Headstones," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

“Headstones,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

My brother and I went back to the cemetery the day before I was to leave Connecticut, and almost immediately we found Cornelia. She’s buried next to her husband, my great-great grandfather Salmon Hall. Next to them are their three children who died young – Henry Griswold at two, Emily at seven, and Edgar at eighteen. The impact of seeing these names and dates “written in stone” is so much greater than just reading them as part of a family tree or genealogy. Even the placement and order of the stones tells stories about those buried beneath.

And yet, Cornelia remains a mystery to me. How did a young girl from Sheffield, Massachusetts meet and marry my Connecticut great-great grandfather? How did she adjust to life so far away from her family? Why did she make so many visits back to Sheffield. How long did that journey take in the mid-nineteenth century? And how, I wonder, did she cope with losing three of her seven children? Maybe the ritual of visiting the cemetery helped. I hope that for her the putting of an offering on a grave and the standing in silence in the presence of her ghosts, eased what must have been great loss.

Cornelia's Headstone

Cornelia’s Headstone

On Friday:  Ghosts – Part III – Halloween

Ghosts – Part I

Haunting the Cemetery

On my visit to Whirlwind Hill in October 2013 I spent more time with cemetery ghosts than I’d planned to. I had a “bee in my bonnet” and was drawn to the resting place of my early ancestors.

The sign at the entrance to the Center Street Cemetery in downtown Wallingford, Connecticut reads “Established in 1653.” Many of the oldest headstones, especially the ones prior to 1750, are themselves ghostly. The stones still mark the graves, but the inscriptions have been smoothed or crumbled by wind and rain.

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

The bee in my bonnet was my great-great grandmother Cornelia Andrews Hall. I wanted to find her grave. I’d seen her headstone during one of my online genealogy searches. A picture of the stone popped up on the “Find a Grave” website, and I wanted to see it for myself. My brother didn’t remember running across it at the cemetery, even though he worked for many years as the cemetery’s caretaker – roaming among the dead as he cut the grass and repaired the stones. So on a beautiful New England October afternoon last year he joined me in my search for Cornelia.

At this Halloween time of year the word ghost conjures images of spectral spirits rising from their resting places in dark and haunted burial grounds. Children wear white sheets over their heads and say boo. People pay money to visit fake haunted houses with creepy, scary, heart-stopping surprises.

But my brother and I were looking for a different kind of ghost – the kind listed in the dictionary definition as “a faint shadowy trace.” Since I started writing down Whirlwind Hill stories two years ago, shadowy traces of my ancestors have haunted me. Every time I find a piece of physical evidence of their presence on this earth I feel the power of life’s continuity. The inscriptions on the headstones prove that the person lived, died, and was mourned by family and friends.

My brother and I started at the far end of the cemetery where my great-grandparents, William and Lydia Hall are buried. We walked back and forth in this flat city-block field of stones, but when it came time to leave we had not found what we were looking for.

So the next morning, fortified by another peek at Cornelia’s grave on the website, I drove back into town by myself and began a more methodical wandering. As often happens when you’re looking for one thing, something even more significant appears. Suddenly I came face to face with my great-great-great-great grandfather Captain Asahel Hall and his wife Sarah. The beauty and grace of their headstones surprised me. Carved with skill and care, the inscriptions remain fairly clear and readable. Here was the first couple to live on the farm on Whirlwind Hill – two people I knew very little about, but who, in that moment, became ever so real to me.

Captain Asahel Hall

Captain Asahel Hall

Asahal’s inscription reads:  “In Memory of Capt Asahel Hall who Departed this Life November 11th AD 1799 in the 79th Year of his Age.”

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall

Sarah’s reads:  “In Memory of Mrs. Sarah, consort of Capt. Asahel Hall died Feb 25th AD 1789 in her 70th year.”

On Wednesday:  Ghosts – Part II – Finding Cornelia

The House that Aaron Built

First, a disclaimer: I don’t know for sure that Aaron built the farmhouse, but it is most likely that he did. So I will proceed on that assumption and on a few other speculations in this post that I state as facts.

Aaron Hall was born in 1760 in the original Hall homestead. This small house, which eventually became the kitchen and dining room of the large house had a dirt-floored cellar, a ground floor kitchen and living space, and an upstairs attic sleeping room. Aaron was the last child born to Asahel and Sarah Hall, and one of six of their twelve children who lived to adulthood. Since Aaron’s own eleven children seem to have fared better, I wonder if their long and productive lives were due in part to the house that Aaron built.

In 1781 Aaron married Elizabeth Cook, and not long after built his new house on the upward slope of Whirlwind Hill. The Federal style addition to the original home was graceful and dignified. He was a patriot, and built in a manner that would befit his stature as a veteran of the American Revolution. I have one early picture of the house the way it must have looked in the decades after it was built.

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

My mother, who had strong opinions about aesthetic beauty, said that the stately house was spoiled when Aaron’s heirs and their wives made practical changes to the exterior over the years. Until the early 1900’s the home had classical moldings around the doors and windows, an iconic fanlight window in the attic pediment, twelve-over-twelve paned windows on the front, and white-painted clapboards. All these details were made for show and not for comfort or easy maintenance.

Aaron’s new house had more room, but bigger rooms and more windows brought the need for more heat and more furniture. The new house would have been cold enough in winter to have an upstairs bedroom called Siberia. There was more privacy, certainly, but with a front parlor and a sitting room and multiple bedrooms there would have been enough added housework to require hired help.

By the time my grandfather Ellsworth was a teenager in 1900, the family had filled the house with comfort. My great-grandmother Lydia records in her journals the family gatherings, the evenings when neighbors came to play cards and eat cake, and the celebrations to welcome a new generation. In this photo, which is one of the last that shows the house with its white clapboards, my great-grandparents pose at the front door (a place of many family portraits) with their youngest children, my grandfather Ellsworth and his older sister Ellen. To me they look both proud and happy. Life was good for them.

Ellen, Ellsworth, Lydia Jane, and William E. Hall, around 1905

I’ve always loved this ancestral portrait showing my grandfather as a young man, but it wasn’t until recently when I came across the photo below that I realized the extent of its influence. In the fall of 1968, just two months after our wedding, my husband and I asked a friend to take our first Christmas card photo. We were living in an old Victorian house in the middle of downtown Menlo Park, California. We had a small barn in the back yard, a little duck pond, six ducks, two chickens, and one cat. We felt like urban farmers and decided to dress the part. I don’t remember consciously posing in the style of my ancestors, but here we are, doing just that as we stand in our sunny doorway looking toward the future.

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

On Friday:  Dark Purple Lilacs