Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Scottish Borders and the Connection to Bovina

As I write this, I am staying in the town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders.  My interest in the town and the area is that it is from where my Miller ancestors came – this is my fifth visit to the borders region.  So it seems appropriate to put some information into the Bovina NY History blog about the Scottish borders while I am visiting there.  This entry is a slightly edited version of what recently appeared in the Bovina U.P. Church newsletter, so it will look familiar to some of you.

Many of the earlier settlers in what became the Town of Bovina came from the area of Scotland known as “The Borders.” Bovina families with such surnames as Ormiston, Johnston, Miller, Elliott, Thomson, Armstrong, Graham, Coulter, Crosier, Scott, Irvine, Jardine, Murray, Turnbull and Hilson all had origins in the Scottish Borders. People from this area of Scotland have had a major influence in the United States. George MacDonald Fraser noted this influence in the introduction to his book, The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, with a reference to the 1969 Presidential Inauguration and the fact that three prominent border families, Johnson, Nixon and Graham (the last reference being to Rev. Billy Graham). I recommend reading Fraser’s book. It’s a long read, but really helps understand the development of the character of families from that region.

Given that the borders region was a popular route for invading armies from England and Scotland, the area was restless for hundreds of years, torn by a vicious cycle of raids, reprisals and blood feuds. The people who survived all of this had to be ruthless and resourceful. Prominent in the story of the borders are the Border Reivers – essentially guerrilla soldiers and professional cattle thieves. This was a region in which clan loyalty could trump loyalty to your nation. Peace of a sort only came with the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He came down hard on the reivers – deporting a number of them and changing the administration of the region to ultimately blunt their power. Peace came to the borders, but at a price.

Many of Bovina’s Scottish families came in the late 18th and early 19th centuries – about 200 years after the end of the reivers. Many of these immigrants came from or near Hawick, a mill town in Roxburghshire noted for various kinds of knitwear. Francis Coulter, for whom Coulter Brook was named, came to the United States around 1800 (though Francis’s last name in Scotland was not Coulter but Coltherd – it changed after he came to Bovina). David and William Miller, sons of Thomas Miller came to the United States separately, David in 1815, William in 1830. Thomas was the beadle of the Roberton church, just a few miles from Hawick. The Ormistons came from nearby Wilton and were one of the more prominent Scottish borders families. John Hilson, one of Bovina’s somewhat later arrivals, came directly from Hawick in the 1850s. Gilbert Jardine also was a native of Hawick.

One of the reasons I am making this journey is to explore a fund raising trip for the Bovina U.P. Church to the Scottish borders in the late fall of 2014. The trip will be coordinated through a company called Celtic Tours, based in Albany. I have done a dozen trips through Celtic since 2006. My good friend Noreen Yost has led these trips and will be leading this one. Her trips are very popular. When you meet her, you’ll understand why. Each trip I have done with her raises money for a local church, library or museum. For each person going on the trip, $50 will be donated to the Bovina United Presbyterian Church.

Pricing details for this trip will not be worked out until January, the biggest challenge being the airfare (fuel surcharges and taxes are often more than the ticket price itself and have recently gone up substantially). The trip will be seven days/six nights and will include three nights in the Scottish Borders and three nights in Edinburgh. The Scottish Borders do not receive the tourist traffic that Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands do, but the region has much to offer. Residents from around the Catskills will be struck by the resemblance of the terrain to their home mountains.

One of the events being considered specifically for those interested in family history will be some kind of ‘meet and greet’ event with members of the Borders Family History Society. Beyond that a number of sites are being considered for the itinerary, starting with the four magnificent ruined abbeys at Melrose, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Kelso. These abbeys date from the 12th century and are striking reminders of the turbulence that the borders experienced over 500 years. They were destroyed and rebuilt several times before their final destruction in the 16th century, caused partly by the reformation and partly by Henry VIII’s invasion in the 1540s, known as the ‘rough wooing.’ Another attraction is Abbottsford, the home of Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (in Bovina’s early days, every school library had at least one of his books on its shelves). Abbottsford just underwent a major renovation and will be well worth a visit – and Scott himself is buried at Dryburgh Abbey. Another possible site is Traquair House, the oldest continuously occupied house in Scotland, dating from 1107. Also being considered for the day we travel to Edinburgh is a stop at the Rosslyn Chapel, made famous in the DaVinci Code. In Edinburgh, there will be plenty to see – Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyrood (famous for its association with Mary Queen of Scots) and Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that overlooks Scotland’s capital. Or you can take advantage of some of the research opportunities there, including the National Records of Scotland, which is the recently merged General Records Office of Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland. For the days we are not traveling to and from the airport or to Edinburgh, you can join the group or go off and do your own thing. One other option under consideration will allow you at the end of this trip to exercise the option to visit Northern Ireland (from where Moses Burns, the ancestor of the Burns and other Bovina families, came).

So stay tuned for further developments. If you are seriously interested in this trip, please let me know at or at 607-832-4609.

And today I am off with Marjorie Gavin, who lives here in Hawick, to check out a couple of things related to the planned trip next year.  Marjorie and I think we are distantly related through the Laidlaws and Grieves, but we’re still working to prove that.

And here's a picture I took on the 23rd on my way to Hawick. This is the main square in Selkirk - the statue is to Sir Walter Scott - highly revered in the borders.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 1913 - 100 Years Ago in "That Thriving Town"

From the Andes Recorder's Bovina correspondent 100 years ago this month:

September 5, 1913
•    Thomas Gordon and family have returned from their trip to Florida.
•    Mrs. Lucy Coulter has rented the Methodist parsonage [1891 County Highway 6; latitude 42.262252, longitude -74.784731], and will move from the Boyd house.
•    Mrs. Alex Hilson and Miss Jane Hilson and James Hilson motored to Springfield Center, Otsego county, last week to visit at Jas. A. Gow’s.
•    John Hilson is cleaning up around the Boyd property, recently purchased. He expects to erect a new house next year, setting it back of the present house.  [This is at the site of the Tom and Betty Hilson home, 1851 County Highway 6; latitude 42.262242, longitude -74.785514].
•    Because the law forbids the sending of school children thru the fields where there is no public highway, Christopher Gladstone has been set off from the Miller district into the village district.  The distance from school remains about the same – two miles.  [The Miller district school was at the corner of Miller Avenue and Lee Hollow/Bramley Mountain.]

Bovina Man’s Pocketbook Stolen
Chas Johnson, Colored, Takes $90 in Cash from Robt Ploutz – Is Captured

Bovina had a little excitement early Wednesday morning when it was reported that Charles Johnson (colored) who worked for William S. Thomson, had disappeared and that the pocketbook of Robert Ploutz, also employed by Thomson, was missing.

Ploutz arose that morning and went for the cows.  When Mr. Thomson went to arouse Johnson he was not in the room but apparently nothing was missing.  When Ploutz came with the cows he went to ascertain if his pocketbook was safe and it was gone, together with $90 in money and a check for $25, which it contained.  The telephone was put into use and officers notified to watch railroad stations.  Shortly before train time a negro was seen going up toward the station at Bloomville and the authorities were notified.  The man was arrested and the pocketbook found on him.  All expect $2 of the money was recovered and the colored gentleman had spent this for a new hat.  After money was taken from him he was set free. 

September 12, 1913
•    John Quinn has secured the job of look[ing] after the two miles of State road in Bovina.
•    Mr. and Mrs. Michael Miller will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their marriage Saturday [Michael and Sally McCune Miller were my great great grandparents and at this point in their lives were living in Amy Burns' house, 2108 County Highway 6; latitude 42.261609, longitude -74.780697].
•    Over $30 was realized from the bake sale held Saturday by the V.I.S.  From a play last week they realized over $43
•    A.T. Doig is putting in a cobble pavement in front of his store [2099 County Highway 6; latitude 42.261924, longitude -74.780609].  Alex Hilson is also preparing to put in a cobble pavement in front of his store [1815 County Highway 6; latitude 42.262077, longitude -74.786147].
•    Arthur Taggart, little son of Professor and Mrs. Leon Taggart, died September 7, age 8 years, 8 months and 24 days.  Death was the result of an attack of whooping cough.  The funeral was held Wednesday with burial in the Center cemetery. 

Sudden Death in Bovina

W.C. O’Brien, Employed by Gideon Miller, Stricken Wednesday

William C. O’Brien, of Colchester, who for the past few weeks has been employed as wood worker and horseshoer in Gideon Miller’s blacksmith shop, was stricken with a shock between 10 and 11 o’clock Wednesday morning while taking a shoe off a horse and fell under the animal.  He died about noon.  He was about 55 years old.  The body was taken to Downsville, Thursday.

Mr. O’Brien before moving to Colchester lived on the old turnpike between Dunraven and Margaretville and peddled meat in adjoining places.

September 19, 1913
•    The Improvement Society will hold a Bake Sale, Saturday.
•    Arthur Bergman will install a furnace in his farm residence.
•    Miss Helen Dennis, one of our oldest residents, is critically ill.
•    Tuesday at the Primary election 20 votes were cast and all were Republican.
•    J.T. Barnhart up Pink street, is preparing to build a large wagon [1945 County Highway 5; latitude 42.288719, longitude -74.777307].
•    Gay Hogaboom moved this week from the Dickson house, adjoining the hotel, to Fleischmanns.  Mr. Olmstead has moved from the John Hoy house to the rooms vacated by Hogaboom.
•    Bovina Center is now waiting for the return of the papers incorporating a water company.  Among the incorporators are J.W. Coulter, Alex Hilson, Thomas Gordon, A.T. Doig and W.G. Coulter.  It is proposed to dam Coulter Brook above Frank Coulters.

September 26, 1913
•    The papers incorporating the Bovina Center Water Co, have been received back from Albany.
•    For the month of August the patrons of the Bovina Center Co-Operative Creamery company received 37 cents a pound for butter fat.
•    Town Superintendent of Highways McPherson and assistants put the new iron bridge in place across the Little Delaware at Douglas Davidson’s on the Gladstone road, the past week [this is the bridge on what is now called Bob Hall road, latitude 42.251818, longitude -74.804086]. 
•    Miss Helen Dennis died at her home in Bovina Center on Thursday, September 17, at the age of 78 years.  Death was due to chronic myocarditis complicated with bronchitis.  She was a dauter of the late Thomas Dennis and was born in Bovina and always lived at the place where she died.  She leaves a brother, John P. Dennis, in Virginia, and one sister, Miss Louise Dennis, in the old home.  The funeral was held Saturday with interment in Center cemetery. [Helen was likely living at what is now the Hugh Lee house, 1607 County Highway 6; latitude 42.261061, -74.789881.]

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bovina's Last Old Home Day

Bovina starting in the early 1920s, had annual Town Picnics often known as 'Old Home Day.'  The last such picnic with that label happened forty nine years ago today.  Here's the report from the Delaware Republic Express issue of September 10, 1964:

For a further history of past town picnics, see this blog for May 31 and July 2, 2009.

Two photos by Frances Burns.  The left one is the 'Lazy Farmers' mentioned in the article - Gary is in the wagon and Paul is pulling it.