The Diary of Lizzie Dopps





Chapter I 

It was a bleak cold day, the thirteenth of November, 1794, snow falling, wind howling, but within a cozy kitchen in an old fashioned home near Winchester, Virginia, all was cheerfulness except for a strange queer noise coming from a small mound of fluffy blankets placed near the grate. Yet that very sound was the cause of much cheer. It was the cry of a new-born babe, a man-child, who was named Thomas Branson.

As I am writing, this in 1936, one hundred and forty-two years have passed since that winter day. My memory hardly extends that far back (I am eighty-four) but I can vouch for the veracity of the fact, for here I am today, and that baby boy was my grandfather, my mother's father.

Three years and several months passed by, and little Thomas was growing to be a sturdy little fellow, while in a town not very far away, St. Clarsville, Ohio, on the fourteenth of February, St. Valentine's Day, 1798, a little, valentine came into this world for him. Of course he was unaware of this fact at the time, and did not get his valentine until years later. This little valentine was named Anna, and was given to Benjamin and Rebecca Vail to brighten their home that February morning.

Time went on, as it has a way of doing, and in June, the bride's month, of 1824, the little pink valentine of 1798, Anna Vail, became the pink and blushing bride of Thomas Branson.

From this union three children were born, Eliza, at St. Clarsville, Ohio, eleventh month, sixteenth day, 1826 (as the Friends register a date, and this was a staunch Friend's family, or as many referred to them as Quakers). This was Aunt Eliza of whom I shall speak later.

On the sixteenth day of June, 1832, Esther Ann, my mother, was born to Thomas and Anna Branson, near Oldtown, Ohio. On the nineteenth of November, 1834, two years later, a son, Nathan Vail, was born to them at, or near Cederville, Ohio. This was my Uncle Nathan of whom I was very fond. I never knew my grandmother as she died January 15, 1847, when my mother was not quite fifteen.

My memories of my grandfather are of when I was a young girl between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Before I was twelve years old, I had lived in what was then called "the west," Illinois, and when I was at the age of twelve my mother, grandfather Branson's daughter, Esther Ann, passed away. My father took his little family of small children, I being the oldest, back, to Richmond, Indiana, after my mother's death.

I was born, August 23, 1851, brother Edgar, or Ed as we called him, was born December 1854; brother Thomas B. or Tommy, was born in June, 1857; brother Charles W., or Charlie, was born in April, 1861, and dear little brother Joseph was born in March, 1863. Dear little Joseph was never to know much of this life. Thus my poor father had the care and responsibility of a family of little ones, the oldest at twelve, and my little brothers, Eddie nine, Tommy not quite seven, Charlie Just three, and baby Joseph, fourteen months old. My brothers Ed and Tommy stayed with Grandfather Branson and his second wife, while brother Charlie and I stayed with Grandfather and Grandmother Matthews, my father's father and mother.

My mother died of the measles and the baby Joseph caught them, leaving him with consumption of the muscles. Grandmother Matthews said she would rather I took care of the sick baby than help with the household duties, so my father (he stayed there a while) and I cared for the poor suffering baby, and he was in my arms most of the time, day and night, for almost six months, and then he went to join his angel mother in heaven,

I do not seem to know so much of my father's people. I was only twelve years old when we went back east and we were there only about two years or a little more. My father did not stay that long, but returned west and after a lonely life of about two years, met a tall dark girl of only eighteen years, Amanda, fell in love with her and they were married. He returned east for his little family and took them back with him to his new bride. I stayed at Grandmother and Grandfather Matthews a while longer and went to school for a while, then I, too, went out west to join my father.

I have often thought what a strong courageous character Amanda was to shoulder the burden of mothering three little boys then eleven, nine, and five years old. And she was a real mother to them--the only mother they really ever remembered, and they loved her dearly. No wonder my father fell in love with her--she was so sweet and so pretty.

As for me, I was then fourteen, only four years younger than my new step-mother, but she was a mother to me also. I could never bear to hear anyone speak slightingly of a stepmother, for I know we found ours a blessing.

I know my father and my own mother were very much in love with each other. As a tiny girl I can remember the jolly times in our home when we had guests, and while my father was not of the boisterous, flirting type, he seemed to be very popular, and I can remember how the young lady guests seemed to enjoy him and I wished they would leave my father alone. But my mother was the happiest of all the girls. I remember how proud she was of my father.

Ah, they were in love and were happy, but the cares of an ever increasing family and ever increasing poverty in a new country (for I have already stated they had gone to the then new, pioneer country of Illinois) was just too much for my pretty, dainty, little mother, who had come from a fairly well-to-do old Virginia and Ohio family. As a girl she had attended boarding school, had her own riding pony, etc,

I like to think, though, that she had a few years of married happiness and love, even though they were intermingled with hardships. She lived! And after my father had known what happiness was, it is no wonder he felt his loneliness when his darling wife was gone. No wonder that, when he found charming Amanda, he wanted a home again and his little ones with him.

When I was a little girl, before my mother died, we lived so far away from school in this new country of Illinois, yet my father and mother wanted me to receive an education, of course, so when I was about nine years old, they placed me with a family by the name of Satherwait, who lived in town and near a school. They were a good Quaker family and quite well-to-do, good friends of my father and mother. There was a daughter in this family, by the name of Anna, who was a little older than I. She was twelve or thirteen. There were also older daughters in the family, but they did the cooking, and, Anna being the youngest and there being no boys in the family, she had to do all the chores, milking the cow, gathering the eggs, etc. My middle name being Anna--the same as her name--seemed to make quite a bond between us. She was lots of fun, a very jolly girl, and I had never had a sister. She seemed to enjoy me, too, so we had some jolly times together--and sometimes we were rather naughty, I fear.

The Quakers in those days were very opposed to music of any kind. One day when we went out to gather the eggs, we thought we would have some fun. In some way or other, Anna had obtained a mouth organ, a harmonica I guess, and had even learned to play it out of hearing of her family. She began to play it for all she was worth when we got out of hearing (we thought) and in the barn. I was dancing--or thought I was dancing--as hard as I could when we looked up and saw her father watching us. Well, that was the end of our music and dancing. A Quaker father would, Indeed, stop that. In fact, we were not even allowed to go out to gather the eggs together after that.

Another time (this must have been before the dancing and music episode, as we were together coming from the barn), Anna had just finished milking the cow, and on our way to the house she said, "I'll race you to the house." We began our race, and lo! Anna tripped and fell, spilt all, or nearly all the milk. We hurried to the pump and got water to wash the milk away. We were just sweeping the last of it when her father came along. "Anna, what is thee doing?" he said. She replied, "Oh, I just spilt a little water (which was true, as we had dumped a lot of water to wash up the milk), and I was just sweeping it up."

Anna had to wash up the supper dishes every evening, and I always wanted to help her. The older ones all went into the living room and enjoyed themselves with roasting apples and drinking sweet cider, etc. When we finished with the dishes and went in to join them, they always gave us a little of the cider but not a lot of it. Anna didn't think we got our share.

One day they brought a keg of cider up to the kitchen where it was warm so it would turn into vinegar. That night Anna said, "Well, we'll get all the cider we want tonight. I'll rattle the dishes while you drink all the cider you want, then you rattle the dishes while I get my fill." This we did every evening until the cider began to get sour. I'm afraid they didn't get as much cider vinegar as they expected, I'm also afraid Anna wasn't a very good Quakeress, but she was not really a bad girl--just full of fun and mischief, that was all.

She made life amusing for me while I was there, but I was not there long and it was not so long after these frolicsome times that my mother passed away and I went east with my father, and was there two or three years.

I did not return west immediately upon my father's remarriage but remained with Grandfather and Grandmother Matthews for a while and went to school. It was during this time I came down with typhoid fever and nearly died. For nine days and nights I lay as one dead, and the only way they could tell life lingered, was to hold a mirror over my nose and mouth and a faint vapor settled on it. After the crisis passed and I began to get better, I was ravenously hungry and had a craving for chicken broth.

Doctor said when I was able to sit up I could have a cup of chicken broth. I tried valiantly to be able to sit up. I seemed to be better and grandmother stewed the chicken, but the morning I was to have it, I was not feel[ing] quite so well and grandmother said, "I don't believe the doctor will let thee have the broth. Thee is hardly able to sit up,"

She then went out of the room to attend to her household duties, but left her chair near the bed, "Now, I thought, "I'll just show them that I can sit up, and will surprise them by sitting in the chair when they return,"

I had almost succeeded in getting out of bed--not quite--when everything turned black. I did surprise them when they returned--not by sitting in the chair, but by lying on the bed, half way out of it, in a dead faint.

When the doctor learned of this he said, "Well, if she is that determined to have her chicken broth, I guess she will have to have it," However, when it was brought to me, I had no taste for it. I was sick. I then asked for milk, which was probably better for me, and drank some.

My Grandmother Matthews was a kind but stern woman with a strong but lovable character. My Grandfather Matthews had quite a sense of humor, but was rather quiet about it. I'll tell of one incident that is rather amusing.

So many of the girls at school were having their ears pierced and wearing ear-rings. The Quakers thought it wrong to wear any kind of jewelry. Nevertheless, I could not withstand the temptation to look like the other girls so I bravely took a sharp needle and standing in front of the mirror pierced my own ears. I put a very small clean straw in the holes so they would not grow together and clipped it closely so as not to be noticeable.

In time they were healed enough for my ear-rings and I proudly got me a pair of pretty, long, gold ear-bobs. I did rather hesitate to appear with them before grandfather, but got up enough courage to, brave his wrath.

However, he was not angry, but he looked at me rather curiously and said, "What has thee got in thy ears?" I replied, "Why, they are ear-rings, grandfather. All the girls are wearing them." He continued to calmly look at me--seemed to be studying the effect, and then quietly asked, "Why didn't thee put one in thy nose?"

That was all that was ever said about my ear-rings, but I thought if I looked so much like a savage as that, I did not care for them, so never -wore them much. Grandfather had won!

My Grandfather Matthews was found dead on the floor, probably from heart failure.


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  2006 Laurie Arnold.  All material presented herein was transcribed or otherwise provided by Laurie Arnold from the unpublished text of the diary, family photos and personal genealogy.  She and her family have graciously given permission for the diary to be posted to the Norton County Kansas GenWeb website, for the benefit of others who had pioneer families in Norton County, Kansas. This diary, photos and personal genealogy may not be reproduced, published or re-published for any reason, in any format, without prior written consent of the contributors or copyright holders.  web design 2006 Ardie Grimes