Willard H. Nickerson
This sketch of the experiences of Mr. Willard H. Nickerson was furnished, by request to the Historical Society of Vineland, by his widow, he having prepared it during his lifetime. Mr. Nickerson died May 19th, 1920, in his eightysixth year. Mr. Nickerson was a familiar figure on Landis Avenue for over forty years. He had served as Chief of Police, Marshal, Constable, Deputy and UnderSheriff, Overseer of the Poor, Inspector of the Board of Health, Truant Officer, Court Officer, Fireman, etc., all of which he filled with credit to himself and the community.
The following are extracts from the notice of the death of Mr. Nickerson, by Frank E. Channon, author and magazine writer:
"In the fullness of years, working in harness to the last, honored and respected by all who knew him, Willard H. Nickerson, Vineland's 'Grand Old Man,' and the veteran chief of the local police force, answered the last call early this morning.
"Death came to the old chief as a result of blood poisoning which he contracted while searching for the man who later ended his life in the swamps beyond Walnut Road. It was while engaged in this search that Chief Nickerson suffered some scratches from which the poisoning set in, and despite all efforts to save the aged officer, he passed away at 12.40 this morning.
"The figure of the chief was a familiar one on the Vineland streets, and it will seem that almost a part of Vineland has gone out. His ruddy features and white hair, his keen old eyes and alert bearing, were familiar to every Vinelander. Chief Nick is dead - the sad information passed from tongue to tongue.
"There has passed out one of Vineland's oldest residents - a picturesque figure, a stalwart old soul, square and honest as the winds of God - Willard H. Nickerson. Rex. pax."
May 19th, 1920.
A BRIEF SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF WILLARD H. NICKERSON.
I was born at Sutton, Mass., March 2d, 1835. I was the second of eleven children - all but two of whom were living up to two years ago.
My descendants were from Cape Cod. My grandfather Nickerson was born there. Since then I have learned that nearly all the Nickersons can be traced back to Cape Cod.
In my younger days I lived in many places. My father, being overseer in cotton factories, made it necessary for us to move from place to place.
When I was six years old we were living in Franklin, that is we lived at the mill just out of Franklin. To go around the pond to Franklin was about a mile, but to go across was about one-quarter the distance. One night my brother George, who was two years older than I, took me with him to Franklin to play with some boys. It was a bitter, cold night, andj the folks wanted us to stay all night. My brother wanted to stay, but I wanted to go home; so I started off alone to walk across the pond. The ice was about three feet thick, and it cracked and roared, making a dismal noise. That with the air-holes in the ice, made it a dreary and dangerous journey for a sixyear-old kid. I reached home before ten o'clock and found the folks all asleep. I went in and crawled into bed, almost frozen. There was a young lady boarding 1 at our house, and she heard me whining and called to me to come into her bed and get warm. Just as I did so, my brother came running in. He had begun to get worried about my going across the pond on account of the air-holes, and so started running after me.
When I was seven years old we were living in West Medway, and my father put me to work in a cotton factory there. My brother George worked in the same factory. I remember one time my brother was getting ready to go home to supper, and putting on his coat one sleeve caught in the main shaft and drew him up and slatted him around, and some wooden stanchions caught his feet and pulled his shoes off, and stockings, too, hurting him severely. It was a water-power factory and I was too small to shut the gate. The rest had gone to supper, and as they worked evenings the mill was left running. I ran upstairs to the only man left in the building and told him what had happened, and he came down and shut the gate and took my brother off and carried him home, as we lived only a short distance from the mill.
I worked in similar factories until I was eleven years old. At that time we were living in the village of Wrenthem. There was a small building about thirty feet away from the main factory there, and where they made cotton batting, and I was put to work in that building all alone. When I set the picker going it created such a dust that one would choke unless they wore a wet sponge on their nose, which I was obliged to do. Going to dinner one day, one of the boys in the neighborhood hollered at me, and called me a cotton bug, owing to the small particles of white all over my clothing. I ran after him and licked him, and that afternoon his mother came to the factory and began to scold me, following me around; so I just turned on the picker and filled the room so full of dust that she had to get out.
After this I returned to Franklin, having been away from there about a year. I was thirteen years old and had been used to taking my own part. Franklin had grown to be a pretty rough place. Some of the boys began picking on me, and I smacked one of them; so that night, when I was out on the street, about a dozen boys got after me. One boy, about eighteen years old, stopped me and wanted to know what I hit his brother for. I told him I would hit him again if he said what he did to me. He called his brother up and told him to say it. When he said it I smacked him again, and then I turned on the big fellow and he closed in on me and threw me down, getting on top of me. I caught hold of his hair and put my teeth in his face. Then a man came along and got hold of him to take him off of me, and I held on to his face with my teeth and he raised us both up on our feet ; then I let go his face and gathered up some stones to throw at him. He started to run, and I chased him down the street, across the square. I never had any trouble after that. We had become acquainted.
Soon after this we moved to Ashland and lived in a double house with my uncle. Right next to us a boy lived by the name of Charlie Parkhurst, who later became the great preacher and reformer in New York City. He was about two years younger than I, but we attended the same school, known as "Old No. 6." The young folks used to go down there nights and have spelling matches and play games. Some of us smaller boys used to go, too. There was a big box stove in the schoolroom, and the boys used to pile up a lot of wood around it after school, so as to have it ready for night. One night something happened and we did not go down to the school-house, and about midnight my mother came into my room and told me the school-house was burned down. I sat up in bed and said, "I knew it would." The wood had caught fire from the heat of the stove and so set the building afire.
A few years ago I received a paper from Ashland, with the following article in it. It was marked "Old No. 6."
"Buffalo, New York. "Mr. Editor:
"I was much interested in the slight scrap of history pertaining to 'Old No. 6.' The first term that I went there the school-house was burned. If I can remember rightly, Miss Lidd taught the first term in the new building and I think Elias Grout kept the first winter school there - and it was to him the last school he ever taught. This was the winter of 1851-52. The winter of 1852-53, Mr. Charles Parkhurst, Sr., kept the school. I believe that was his last term of school teaching. His wife taught the following summer. The family removed to Clinton soon after. There are some scholars whose names were not mentioned. There was Cyrus and Willard (or Will) Nickerson, fine athletic fellows, with their dark complexions and piercing black eyes, and the Bartlett boys and Will Onthank, who Elias Grout once shook out of his boots, much to the amusement of us little ones. Then I remember Sumner and Bingham Hayden, Silas Greenwood, his sister Mary, and some others, but their names I have forgotten.
"CHAS. W. BACON."
I could not place this Mr. Bacon, so I wrote him a letter, and got a nice letter in return. In his letter he told that the great reformer, Charles Parkhurst, of New York City, was the Charlie Parkhurst who went to school there in Ashland. So at that time I sent Dr. Parkhurst a pamphlet of "Beautiful Vineland" and also wrote him a short note. I received a very cordial letter in response, urging me to come and see him. A few days later I received two pamphlets from his brother, Wellington Parkhurst, showing the town of Ashland and surroundings, and in it the old Parkhurst home, the old Nickerson home, and several other places of interest, including the old mill and river where I spent many happy hours.
Bacon said he heard, during the war, that I was down South, and often looked for me and thought perhaps he might find me. He was in the Northern Army. Prom there until I was eighteen I worked on and off at shoemaking. Then I went to New Bedford and shipped on a whaler. We cruised around the Atlantic for a few months, then went around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean.