Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Michael Miller's Farm Diary

One hundred years ago today, July 28, 1915, my great great grandfather Michael Miller, died at the age of 87. Born in Scotland, he came to America as a small boy with his father and mother, William and Isabella (Dickson) Miller. He was married to Sally McCune in 1853 and took over the McCune farm on Pink Street around the same time. That farm was in the Miller family for some time and later became the Doig farm.

The farm's current owner, Michelle Owings, discovered three ledger books while renovating the house.  The ledger books belonged to Michael Miller. All are interesting, but one in particular covers about 40 years of Michael's farming life. Miller's spelling was a bit off, but it is pretty easy to figure out what he was saying. His spelling was pretty consistent.

This ledger starts around 1850 but it appears he was not doing farming until about 1854. 160 years ago, in the spring of 1855, Miller recorded that he 'soad' oats on May 2, planted "potatoes up in the big meadow" on May 5, and sowed oats again May 7 and 11. The diary continues recording planting, threshing and harvesting. During the 50s, Miller planted oats, rye, buckwheat, corn, turnips, and potatoes.

On May 22, 1855, Miller took a significant step when he 'puled down the barn." A month later on June 20, Miller noted that he "raised the Barn to day." He built a couple of other barns in the 1850s and 60s, including a hay barn on July 1868. He built another barn 'for my self' on June 11, 1881.

Sometimes the weather caused problems. He recorded snow falls, especially when they came at unusual times. In 1855, he noted on October 12 that "3 or 4 inches of snow fell last night. It has broken down a great many trees of all kinds." He noted four days of snow, starting on May 1, 1869, leaving a foot on the ground. A few years later, a similar snow fell at the end of April in 1874. On April 30, Miller wrote "Very Blustrey the foar noon about on[e] futt of snow." And Miller recorded the famous Blizzard of 1888, noting on March 11 that it "commenst snowing to day." He noted that it "snowed all day" on March 12 and 13. He went on to note that the snow was "very deep."

Here's the entries for the Blizzard of 1888
He also noted when there was a frost. In 1859, he planted corn and potatoes at the end of May but a heavy frost on June 10 and 11 'frose the corn .. close to the ground and frose the potatoes." On June 14, he replanted the corn. On May 29th and 30th, 1884, he recorded a hard frost, noting that it "mad[e] the Beech Leaves All Black and Froze the Grass."

Miller often recorded when he 'left the cows out,' usually around mid-May. He sometime also recorded when he started 'stabling' the cows, usually toward the end of October. In March, he recorded 'Taped Shugar Camp To Day."

Miller also recorded financial transactions. On February 4, 1884, he "Traded Barl of Pork for Shingels with James W. Dickson." He noted that he "got $117 Dollers for Pork and paid $160 for Shingels. Got 11 Bundels and paid 60 cts The Diference."

The farming diary essentially ends in 1900, though in December 1902, he recorded that on the 5th it had snowed hard and "the thermometer went down to 14 below zero." He noted deep snow on the 15th, with rain and a ice jam the following day. The very last entry is November 13th, 1904, noting that it "snoad (sic) all day."

Sometime after 1905, Miller turned the farm over to his son William and moved into Bovina Center into the house built by Rev. J.B. Lee and now owned by Amy Burns.

These three ledgers have been donated to the Delaware County Historical Association, where I am the archivist - they are available for researchers during the archives opening hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Here's a sample page from the diary for 1867

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