||Marriage and Story of Lois Sears and Benjamin Parmeter
by Alice White (Pictured)
Contributed by: Joy Vander Ven
June 2, 1901
Written by Alice [Parmeter] Bronson Rozell
My Mother’s Story
Many, many years ago, in the town of Montague near the Black River, in the County of Lewis, State of New York, there lived a few white settlers, among them my husband and I. The country was new, very hilly and rocky, where many Indians lived; their wigwam’s and villages dotted the country here and there, and the smoke from their campfires could be seen curling its way upward. Among the rocks and hills were many wild animals of various kinds which made it a great hunting ground for the Indians and what few white settlers that inhabited the country. My husband and I starting out to sail the sea of life with great hope and anxiety of a prosperous and happy voyage but under the disadvantages of a new country, we found it very hard many times to obtain the necessaries of life, but looking forward to a brighter future and better days. Little did we know of the trials and troubles that awaited us.
In 1854 we rejoiced over the arrival of a baby girl but in a few short weeks our rejoicing turned to sorrow. The bud was taken to bloom in Heaven, for what was once joy and comfort to our home had passed away in silent death in the keeping of a loving Father that knoweth all things. O that I might look upon her face in peaceful sleep and clasp her to my breast again and kiss those rosy cheeks. But she is in a better land where trouble is never known, under the Shepherd’s guiding hand, where flowers ever bloom. With the sympathy of my husband to sooth my sorrow and share my grief I felt that all had been done by the hands of a merciful Father and all was for the best.
Nearly 3 years had passed when on July 22, 1857, there was born to us a baby boy but in a few months we thought we would have to part with him for a number of days he lay very sick with lung fever. With careful nursing he was again restored to health. After about seven years of hard labor, we had not accumulated much of this world’s goods. We resolved to seek a home elsewhere so, gathering our scanty portion of goods to gather, we moved to the beautiful village of Rossie about sixty miles in a southwest direction where my husband purchased a tract of timber of 100 acres. We built a house of the trees of the forest, and in the spring of 1859 we moved into our new home. The birds were singing their sweet melodies and the flowers of the forest with their sweet perfume and as I looked on nature with all its beauty the words of the poet came to me: Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. Looking forward to the time when we should reap the reward of our labor, little thinking our expectations would be blighted forever.
In the summer of 1861 well do I remember the time when the news went throughout the land, that our country was involved in a Civil War. From home to home, lip to lip, nation to nation this terrible news spread, and many answered to their country’s call to fight for home and freedom. Thousands of fathers and sons left home and family and as the sound of Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! died away in the distance, I thought of the aching hearts of wives mothers and children that are left, perhaps many to suffer the trials of a widow or the fate of an orphan.
One year had passed and still the battle cry was heard and the call of our country to arms until my husband thought it his duty to go. So on August 2, 1862, he enlisted as a Private in Company B, One hundred and Forty second Regiment, New York Volunteers. The thought of that eventful morning is still fresh in my memory. With a babe of seven months in my arms and two at my side which at that time constituted our little flock and through sobs and tears he left us and as he disappeared from our sight we trusted him to the care of One who knoweth all things.
There comes new cares and hardships, none but those with experimental knowledge can tell, left with a family to care for and nothing but a small month of pay of a soldier, with a debt of fifty dollars on our home which under these circumstances, I could not pay and one day they told me that my home was gone. O God when will these troubles end, what will become of those that oppress the poor! I sold what few things I had and went to my father, who lived in Ohio hoping there would be a chance for me to earn something to help support my little ones, but my father and mother being well along in years and of rather poor circumstances they could not be of much help to us. So I rented a house about four miles from there, where afterwards the rent was donated to us so with good management and the generosity of my neighbors we managed to get enough to keep us from starvation.
One day in May 1864 I got the following letter ~
May 25, 1864
Mrs. Lois Parmeter
I sorrow to break the sad news to you of the death of your husband while in action at Bermuda Hundred May 20.
You have my sympathy and may the good Lord comfort you in your sad bereavement.
Your loving brother,
O my God, hast Thou no mercy, must my family be separated, must my home be broken up! That was once full of hope and happiness but now is crushed forever, and as I read this letter over and over again I felt that my heart would break. All my former troubles were nothing compared with them now. No more consoling and loving letters, no one to help me care for my little ones, but now I was left a widow with three fatherless children to meet the fate of an unfriendly world. O God when will these troubles end? Me thinks not until the Great Father of all will speak Peace to our souls.
THE HOMELESS BOY
The morning after the sad news of my father’s death had reached us, my mother said to me, “Orville, you know we are left without support and the time has come when we must part.” And I, a boy of seven years needing my mother’s care for a good while yet, but some of us children must go. I, being the oldest, it fell upon me, so mother gathered up what few clothes I had and tied them up in a snug little bundle and with one sorrowful kiss to each and a last farewell I left them to face what was my lot to meet.
All day I traveled, enquiring many times for some place they would be likely to want a boy of my size but without success. The sun was about to sink below the horizon. I thought my lot was like Jacob of old, his first night from home nothing but the ground for a bed, a stone for a pillow, and no covering but the sky. But as I stood in silence wondering where I should go, I glanced across the field where I saw a man working with a team. I thought I would try once more so approaching him with trembling voice, I asked, “Do you want a boy”?
The gentleman looked me over and replied, “Yes sir. Do you want a job?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “I want a place I can work for my board and clothes”.
“Well, I have been looking for a boy to help me but you look rather small. But I will try you and see what you can do. Help me finish this load of stones and we will go to supper.” So I took hold with willing hands, for I realized that all depended on me as to my stay in the future. No father’s tender voice, no mother to sympathize with me in my hungry and tired condition, but as a slave to its master to be paid according to his worth.
Soon our load was finished and we were on our way to the house. The chores were soon over and we were seated at the table. If ever I enjoyed a meal in my life it was then, for I had not ate anything since I left home in the morning and the long walk of that day made me very tired and hungry. And when the time arrived for us to retire for the night, Mr. R. led the way upstairs to a small corner room and gave me a lighted candle and then bade me goodnight. With the thought of home and mother I knelt beside my bed and offered up my little prayer that had been taught me when at home. I climbed into bed and was soon in the lands of dreams under the care of a good Shepherd that cares for his lambs.
When I awoke in the morning feeling quite rested from the day before I arose to commence life in my new home. After the morning meal was over I was set about such work as I was able to do. But as days and weeks passed, my labor became harder, my master’s voice more harsh from bad to worse until the rawhide was introduced. And one day after receiving a severe whipping I resolved that being whipped by that rawhide would be a thing of the past, and the first opportunity I had I hid it where no mortal hand could find it and I escaped many a severe whipping from a cruel master. My mother, hearing the way I was treated, she came to see me and learning the facts of the case, she interfered on my behalf.
After my mothers visit Mr. R. decided to send me home so on one morning in September 1865 Mr. R. told me under the condition of things he could not keep me any longer and I would have to go to my mother. Oh how I rejoiced to think I was soon to be out of the sound of his voice and from the sight of his unpleasant face. My things were soon gathered up and I was on my way, rejoicing with a far different feeling than I had experienced over a year ago.
I found my mother at my grandfather’s. She was glad to see me but I saw by the sad look on her face there was something that troubled her mind but what it was I could not tell. I enjoyed myself as best I could but it was not the home that it once was. Oh how soon my expectations had turned to grief. I saw I would soon have to go and find another place to work. In a few days my mother told me she had found a place for me for the winter to do chores and go to school, and by that time perhaps she could find me a place to stay for good for she could not care for us all.
On the arrival at my new home I found a hearty welcome by Mr. and Mrs. Wells and my stay with them was very agreeable. I will never forget it, they were all to me that a father or mother could be to a child and I was sorry when the time came for me to leave them.
During this time my mother received a letter from my Uncle near my old home in New York saying if she would bring me out there he would take care of me. But how were we to go, was the question we were trying to solve. We had no money and no way to get any. One day glad tidings came, that a pension of eight dollars a month had been granted to my mother with a few dollars back pay.
We had enough to pay our way to my uncle’s, but my oldest sister of only six years would have to live somewhere until she returned. A friend of ours told us that there were some people who lived in town that wanted to adopt a little girl, but the thought of our family being separated perhaps never to meet again grieved my mother very much. With thought and consideration she, thinking it would be better for the child, gave her consent and calling her to her side told her about her new home and that she must be a good girl and always obey, and then she broke down. Oh how can I, O must I give my child away once more. She embraced her and folded her to her bosom and kissed those rosy lips. Then I led her away to her new home and we never saw her again until she had grown to womanhood for those people moved away west.
RETURNING TO THE HOME
OF MY CHILDHOOD
A few hours’ ride brought us to the scenes of my childhood, where I had left but five years before but what a change. In a few short years what was once full of joy, peace, happiness, and the sweet voices of the children as they played about the door was silent now as death, and as we turned to go I saw a teardrop fall from mother’s cheek.
If all our hopes and all our fears
Were poisoned in life’s narrow bound
If travelers through this veil of tears
We saw no better world beyond
O, what could check the rising sigh!
What earthly thing could pleasure give!
Oh, who could then endure to live?
After spending a few days visiting with friends and relatives, my mother returned to Ohio and I to my uncle’s, what was to be my future home. My uncle and aunt were very kind to me for awhile. But with children of their own, I was blamed for all the little troubles that occurred and if there was anything to be done I was the one to do it. My clothes became ragged, no shoes or stockings to keep my feet warm in the cold wintry weather of northern New York. I suffered very much from the cold.
One morning my aunt said to me, “Orville, it is necessary for you to go to Mrs. Austin’s on an errand, a distance of one and a half miles.” The snow was very deep and storming very hard, and no road broken out. I pulled on a pair of old boots my uncle had thrown away, and with my knees through my pants I started on my journey. Before I reached my destination I thought I would freeze, facing the storm, wading snowdrifts and nothing but thin cotton clothes full of holes to keep out the cold wintry blasts. My feet became numb and as I sat down on the snow to rest I pulled off one of my boots. I found my feet were freezing and I knew no time must be lost. So pulling on my boot again and with perseverance for a short time I was seated by a good warm fire. Returning home with the wind to my back, I did not encounter so much difficulty but the scars on my feet I will carry to my grave.
One little incident happened a few weeks later. The water we used for cooking we carried from a spring a distance of about a quarter of a mile. One cold and blustery morning my aunt said to me, “Orville, you go and bring a pail of water!”
“Yes auntie, but I have nothing to put on my bare feet.”
“You can go that distance without anything if you hurry.” But with a resolute mind, I stood my ground and as she reached for Dr. Beech as she called it, I with pail in hand slid out the door with my aunt following. I threw the pail at her and I went bounding over the crust as nimble as a deer to a neighbor’s house about the distance of half a mile. As I looked behind me I saw my aunt in mad pursuit with whip in hand. I could hear her gentle voice calling but my ears were deaf to its sweet tone. I went into the neighbor’s house and warmed my feet and the good lady gave me a pair of stockings to return home with.
Through shame on my aunt’s part I escaped a whipping. But I resolved that day the first opportunity I had I would run away. My uncle had very little to say as to my welfare; his business being of such called him away from home most of the time. I was left under full control of my aunt.
The cold winter months wore away and the warm sun of spring melted the snow, and the sweet song of birds could be heard among the trees. It was on one of these beautiful mornings my aunt sent me to a neighbor a mile away to borrow some flour. The snow was on the fence corners and shady nooks, I barefooted with sack in hand, hastened on my errand to Mr. Savage’s farm. While on my way the thought came to me, now is my time to escape. Hanging the sack on the gatepost I went on, never returning to get it.
All day long I traveled without a morsel to eat, trying to find an uncle of mine about twelve miles distance. It was almost night when I found his place. I will never forget what my uncle said when he saw me. I with my clothes all rags, my face and hands dirty, and the red streaks of blood trickling through the mud on my chapped feet. He stood viewing me over and over again. Then with a trembling voice he said, “My God! My God! Boy where did you come from? Go in the house and tell your aunt to wash you and put cream on those sore feet, and get you something to eat.”
I received the desired attention. I stayed with them a few days and enjoyed my visit very much until my uncle found me a place which proved to be a good home. Mr. and Mrs. Nichols were very kind to me and done all they could to make me happy. But with all this, dear reader, it is not home with kind parents to sympathize with you in your little trouble and afflictions. With all the imperfection and humbleness there is no place on earth that might to be as dear and sweet to us as home.
Three years I lived with these people. I was comfortably clothed and with good school privilege I improved the opportunity the best I could, my schooling having been very limited up to this time. I, like most boys of my age, built many air castles and by my associates telling me I could do better if I received money for my work, I concluded to run away. Oh is it not humanity the most dissatisfied creatures that ever lived. Many times have I regretted the day that I viewed the place for the last time that I should have cherished and loved.
One of our neighbors, Mrs. R., had heard through her son what I intended to do. Seeing me going, she called to me to come back but I would not heed her pleadings. But those words are as fresh in my memory today as when I heard her call over thirty years ago.
I, a boy of fourteen years, was able to do quite a little work. I hired out to Mr. Keeler who lived a few miles away for a small sum per month but the few days I stayed there was to me most miserable. No prayers were offered up but instead were oaths and curses, and this I would not stand and I went to an old acquaintance of my father who tried to have me stay with him. But I was not satisfied, my mind was not at rest. I dreamed of mother and my determination was to go to her whom I had not seen for about five years, but I had no money. How could I get there?
I could have a job making stave bolts but I had to have some one help me. I found a young lad about my age whom I will call Henry Well. Henry and I worked hard for eight days but without much success. On election day we borrowed a boat and went up the river of St Lawrence about four miles to Alexandria Bay and there Henry gave me the slip.
In the afternoon the wind blew very hard and the river became very rough, but I felt that I must be true to my word and returned the boat that night. Though warned of the danger in such a storm I heeded it not. The wind being in my favor, I placed a cedar bush in the bow of my boat and I, seated in the stern, steered my craft down the river, passing by islands and other sceneries until I supposed I had gone far enough. I saw at my right in the distance a house on the shore. Thinking it the place I wanted to go, I threw my sail or bush away and turned my boat in that direction, and with my oars, I had hard work to keep my boat in the right course. But by perseverance I reached my destination and found to my disappointment that I was wrong. The man of the house told me I had come a mile out of my way and that I would have to return back across the Bay and go farther down the river. But I am afraid you will have a hard time, you had better stay with me until the storm abates.
But I was determined to go and turning my boat I started back. I had not gone far before I found my boat was filling with water and my strength nearly exhausted and quite a distance from shore. What was I to do? As I looked around, I saw a small rocky island a few rods away and with all the effort I could put forth I pulled for the shore, which I reached in safety with my boat half full of water. I emptied out and was soon on my way with but a short distance to go before I would be on my course again.
In trying to get back into the main river, the waves were rolling so high that they went over my boat and with all I could do it was washed against the rocky shore. All wet and cold, and supposing I had been shipwrecked upon an island, I thought my fate like Roberson Crousoe.
The sun was fast disappearing in the west. Wishing to know the size of my domain, I started out to see. In a half hours’ walk I found what I supposed to be an island was a portion of the main land, and it was not long before I was safe at my boarding place.
The next morning when I settled up with the gentleman for our work, I found we were in debt to him fifty cents for our board. I have him Henry’s ax to balance the account. There were dense forests along the river that reached back a number of miles. My nearest way to a boat landing was to wind my way through the woods to the place I left the day before.
I was intending to try and work my passage on board a steamer to Cleveland, hoping that I might get something to do to earn money to get the rest of the way to my mother which was thirty two miles. When I arrived in town that evening I looked down the river and I saw the smoke of a boat, and as it came nearer I recognized her as one of the northern steamers. I went to the dock and I called to the agent standing near by and asked, “Does that boat go to Cleveland?”
“Yes sir,” replied the gentleman. And when she steamed alongside the dock I went aboard in search of the captain who I soon found.
I, trembling, approached him and asked, “Captain, do you want any more help?”
“No sir, we have a full crew.” Feeling disappointed, I turned and went on shore and the steamer went on her way. I stood on the dock feeling that I had not a friend on this earth when I heard a voice call me.
“Hello there.” I looked up and saw it was the agent addressing me. He asked, “What is the matter, my boy? Why did you not go aboard the boat?”
I replied, “I had no money to pay my way and the Captain told me he had a full crew.”
As he came nearer to me he asked, “Where were you going?”
“To Cleveland,” I answered. “I have a mother who lives near there whom I have not seen for a long time.” He asked me to sit down on a trunk that was there and tell him all. We sat down and while I was telling him my story, we heard the coarse sound of a whistle telling us there was another boat about to land,
The agent arose and placing his hand on my shoulders he said, “My boy, you go aboard this boat and ask no questions.” And then he left me.
ON BOARD THE MAIN
When the Main left the dock, I was on board. The sun had disappeared from our view and darkness had spread over the land.
The rattling and squeaking of her rudder chains, the heavy thump of the mammoth engine that propelled our ship along sounded to me like distant thunder. While leaning against a pile of wood in deep thought, I was startled by a call close to me, “Hey Johnnie.”
It was dark and not wishing to be seen, I kept silent thinking I might arrive at my destination without being discovered. Again came the call, “Hey Johnnie.”
I thinking he saw me, answered the call, “What’s wanting?”
He in reply said “I want you, come with me.”
I followed him to the light where he demanded my ticket and I told him I had none. I saw by the expression on his face that he was angry, exclaiming, “What are you doing here?”
I quickly answered, “I am going to Cleveland and if you have something I can do to pay my way, I am willing to do it for I must see Cleveland.”
He, seeing that I was so determined in the matter, he looked at me a moment and then commanded me to follow him and on entering the cook room said, “Charley, I have brought you a helper.”
“Well, Johnnie, you have come to help me, have you?”
“Yes sir,” I replied. Let me say here Johnnie is a common name for a boy on board a ship.
“Well, I guess we will get along,” he replied. “Have you been to supper?”
“No sir,” I answered.
“Well, here’s plenty, come and help yourself.” I felt I could do myself justice to a good square meal so I pitched in.
Everything went smooth until we were out of the river, into Lake Ontario, when the wind began to blow and I began to feel sick, oh, so sick. I stretched myself out on the deck near the engine room trying to get in a position to get some relief when a sound came like that of a report of a cannon and I saw the passengers and crew flock to the engine room. There was a great excitement for a few moments and nothing but steam could be seen. One of the crew said to me, “Johnnie wake up. The boiler is bursted and we’re going to the bottom.”
But I was so sick that I could not raise my head and I said, “Let her go.” I found afterwards it was the lower cylinder head of the engine head had blown out and leaving us without power to propel us along, rolling and plunging about in a merciless sea. The whistle was blowing the signal of distress for about one hour when we saw a Canadian steamer coming to our rescue and towed us into Kingston, Canada. We lay in port waiting for a tow out and what time I had I improved viewing the city.
One day while strolling along the streets the sound of the whistle told me they were ready to go. I was soon on board and our boat was towed down the lake, stopping at Cape Vincent to unload our cargo we wound our way down the beautiful River of St. Lawrence, passing by islands covered with evergreens. With their rocky shores was a scenery long to be remembered. Finally we reached Ogdensburg where our boat was laid up for repairs.
December second; well here I am twenty six miles farther from Cleveland than when I started and the boat would not sail again until next season. Charlie, the cook, promised to help me.
When our boat laid up for the winter Charlie said to me, “Johnny, you come with me and I will see you through.” I followed him on board the steamer Akron, which was bound for Cleveland. There I was again initiated in my old job helping the cook.
That night we started on our voyage but at that time of the year, the lake was very rough, and we had to sail when the weather would permit. The result was it required a long time to make the trip.
Our deck crew was a jolly lot of englishmen, very nice fellows but full of fun. One day when it was dull and nothing much to do they succeeded in playing a joke on me. I, the only greenie as they called it on board the ship, was to be the character of the joke. And as I was always ready to obey orders, it was an easy matter to pay their game. Shortly after dinner I was washing dishes.
The steward came rushing in the cookroom and exclaimed, “Charlie, has that anchor been greased lately?”
The cook, seeing the joke, replied, “No, I had forgotten it but I will see to it this afternoon.”
“Well you must, and right away, too, for we want to cast anchor tonight and if it is not greased it will stick in the mud.”
The cook turned to me and said, “Johnny, you get some grease in a dish and grease the anchor.” I, young and not having the knowledge of such things and thinking that men had more respect for themselves than to impose upon the ignorance of a boy, I prepared the grease and proceeded to apply it to the anchor.
When I had finished greasing one prong I heard a shout and, looking behind me, I saw all the crew had been watching me standing in silence for a moment. The watchman said to me, “That will do, Johnny. You may grease the rest some other time.” And with a good laugh they left me. It might have been something for them to laugh at, but I felt more like crying, to think that men I had placed so much confidence in had disregarded my trust and imposed upon my ignorance to satisfy their own curiosities. But afterwards they told me that this was part of the initiation to become a sailor.
Crossing Lake Ontario, we entered the Welling Canal and back over the hill into Lake Erie, arriving at Cleveland December 8, we found the weather warm and pleasant. We lay in port all night and December 9 I bid adieu to the boys and the old steamer Akron at Cleveland and made my way through the country for I realized that a boy without money and friends would stand a poor chance in a place like that.
I walked eight miles in the country and became tired and hungry. I stopped at a farm house, and knocked at the door. A lady answered my call. “Good afternoon,” I said, “is the gentleman of the house at home?”
“Yes,” she replied, “you will find him down cellar” and pointed to an open door.
I found the gentleman sorting apples. Looking up he said, “Good Evening.”
“Good evening,” I answered. “Do you want to hire some help?”
“Yes,” he replied, “I want some one to drive my team this winter. Do you think you can do it?”
“I think I can, sir.”
“Well if you can, I will give you eight dollars a month.” I thought it small pay but thinking I could do no better I accepted his offer. I worked for him three months.
During this time I learned the way to my mother’s. I had saved a few dollars to go with. So one day I boarded the train bound for the town my mother lived. I had not heard from her for a long time and not knowing exactly where she lived I went to my grandfather’s place to learn her whereabouts.
As I entered the gate a little dog came out barking at me. His bark attracted my grandmother’s attention. Coming to the door, she said, The dog won’t bite you, he always makes a big fuss at strangers. Will you come in?” I went in and I see she did not recognize me. I soon made myself known and it was late that night when we closed our eyes in sleep. Grandmother lived in the town of K, two miles distance and she had married a man of property and enjoyed the comforts of a beautiful home.
When I entered my mother’s house the next morning I found her in the act of washing a little baby boy. She bade me take a chair and while warming myself at the fire and looking at her careworn face, I could hardly keep the tears back while she glanced occasionally at me. She saw something in my looks that caused her to recognize me as her child. Oh what a meeting! The prodigal son had returned. And as my mother clasped her arms around my neck and tears flowed down her cheeks, her joy was expressed in words exclaiming, “My boy, my boy!”
Click on the Photos for a Better View
This is a scan of a tintype photograph taken in the summer of 1862 of Lois Parmeter and her children. The baby on the left is Alice Amelia Parmeter born 13 January 1862 (she was my grandmother and the author of this story), Harriet C Parmeter born 9 March 1860, and Orville C Clark Parmeter born 22 July 1857.
Since their father, Benjamin Parmeter, enlisted in the Civil War on August 2, 1862, I believe this this photo of the family was taken for Benjamin to carry when he went off to war.
The Rev. Orville Parmeter
Rev. O.C. Parmeter
Obituary of Orvill Clark C. Parmeter