Selections from the Autobiography of John Gage
The American history of the Gage family began in 1630 when a young John Gage at the age of 26, leaving the familiar ways of Old England behind him, went adventuring across the sea with Gov. Winthrop's colony. He was one of the signers of the covenant of the first church of Boston, August 27th, 1630, and one of the original proprietors of Ipswich, Mass., a part of which is still in the possession of descendants. He died in Bradford, Mass., where succeeding generations continued to live, until, about the middle of the 18th century, James Gage moved to Amherst, N. H., and his son James, journeyed west to Litchfield, N. Y. Here, August 12th, 1802, John Gage was born "in a log house with one room, a low chamber reached by a ladder, a lean-to cellar, two doors, two small windows and an open Dutch fire place with a stone back and the chimney built of split wood, laid up cob-house fashion, and plastered over with mud". This was exchanged soon after for a comfortable frame house, the primitive log cabin being then occupied by a man, (and his wife) who had a turning lathe and made spinning wheels.
As a boy Mr. Gage was active and industrious, and inclined to be impatient of the three or four months schooling which each winter brought,-being stirred by the call of the outside world. As a means of meeting this call he began, before he was eighteen, a hard apprenticeship as an iron molder. It was about this time he made a trip of which, later, he wrote "I started on foot from home in the morning and got on to Dyes hill as the sun rose, on my way to Burlington to get a rifle of a rifle maker. I walked lively 8 miles to Walker's tavern and there learned that a man was going right down to Burlington, 20 miles, with a buggy and alone, and I asked him for a ride; he said he would carry me for 25c, and I stopped a moment to think of it and knew I had never spent 25c. cash a year, and could walk down in half a day, and that was more than I could earn at work, so concluded to save my money and pushed on ahead. Got near half a mile before the buggy man hove in sight, and there I put ahead running down hill and he did not pass me for 4 or 5 miles, and barely got out of my sight before I came in sight of Burlington where I arrived before one, and where I staid near two hours trying the rifles and on my feet most of the time, when I started on my return thinking to go 10 or 12 miles to a tavern and stay all night. But when I got there the sun was up an hour or two and I concluded to go on to Walker's, eight miles from home, to stop for the night; so I put ahead, walking and running, and arrived at Walker's before dark and began to debate the subject of going home and making 56 miles travel for the day, and before I reached the house, decided to go in and get a glass of brandy and start for home, which I did without ten minutes rest. Soon as I got out, my head felt dizzy, and not being in the habit of drinking spirits, could not tell what the consequences might be, so concluded to run and sweat it off, and did run most of the way home, went to bed and slept soundly till morning, and none of the family showed any surprise at my early return, * * * except Mother, who seemed surprised when I came down to breakfast."
At the end of four years, feeling himself well equipped in his trade, home was left behind and he settled in Watertown, N. Y. in charge of a foundry, which he and William Smith later bought. A few months before buying the business, Mr. Gage was called to Fowler, N. Y. to attend a law suit for his father, got a judgment in his favor and then decided to take a short vacation, which he thus describes-
"Walked thence to Ogdensburg where I staid 2 or 3 days to get a boat to Montreal, and got on board of a good Durham boat before sunrise in the morning with a steady breeze down the river, and passed the Galoes rapids about 8 o'clock, 7 miles from Ogdensburg, the first rapids I ever saw in a large river, and to sail over it was a grand sight to me. Before coming to the rapids the white top'd swells appeared something like an immense flock of sheep jumping fences. 22 miles from Ogdensburg is Rapid Deplaw, and 40 miles commences the Long sea, 9 miles in length, and a few miles below that commences Lake St. Francis, 32 miles in length. Near the head of this lake is the village of Cornwall on the north side of the river, and here the line between the U. S. and Canada crosses the river, and runs east across New York and Vermont.
On the islands and main land just above Rapid Deplaw are to be seen many large stacks of stone chimneys around which the houses were burned in the French war. Lake St. Francis is 8 or 10 miles wide in some places and full of islands, and from here we can see the Green Mountains of Vermont, the only hills that are to be seen from Ogdensburg, until you get into Lake St. Peters, here can be seen Mount Royal on the island of Montreal.
Coteau Delaw is a village and rapids a few miles below the lake and in lower Canada, and here we landed just below the rapids and I for the first time set foot on Canadian soil. Here we took on a pilot and sailed 5 miles to the Cedars rapids, a village and Catholic Church. From the Cedars to Split Work rapids is 6 miles, and from this but a short distance to the Cascades. These three last rapids are intolerable rough and ugly looking and if I had not been on board with good boatmen and an experienced pilot, I should have been terrified.
A short distance below the rapids commences lake St. Charles, 18 miles long. The west branch of the Grand river enters near the head of this lake another branch enters below Windmill Point, 3 or 4 miles from this. Here stands a windmill, the first I ever saw, and we anchored for the night. In the morning we sailed to Lachine. There are 2 villages by this name, upper and lower. At Upper Lachine commences a canal that goes to Montreal but not finished at the lower end and many boats go down and unload within half a mile of the city, for Lachine rapids are so shallow that boats must lighten before going over. One branch of the Grand river comes below Montreal, which makes it an island.
Opposite Lachine is an Indian village, Coughmewager, it appears quite as well built as the average white Canadian villages; it is said to contain 2000 inhabitants. There is a decent church and bell in it, which they took from the States in time of war.
The island of Montreal has an excellent soil, and vegetation is nearly as forward as at 44 degrees north in N. Y. At the top, the mountain is yet covered with bushes. The canal, 9 miles, is all the way blasted through lime stone of which they build the locks. The houses are mostly built of cobble stone, and then covered with a coat of mortar which scales off and gives them a shabby appearance. The new houses are mostly built of good quarry stone, and covered with tin or sheet iron and look very well. The harbor is safe and water shallow. Ships of 300 tons come up here.
Went to see the new church that is building, it is raised about 8 feet above the foundation, and covers near an acre of ground, in form a long square. In front the walls are brought forward 14 feet, and between them rise three pillars. About 15 feet from inside the outer walls, run 2 walls the whole length of the building and all the walls about 5 feet thick, the stone unhewn, and in front ornamented. There are 2 markets near together, they are now well stocked with vegetables. Near the new mansion is a stately monument to the memory of Lord Nelson.
Here are furnaces, stores, stables, taverns, grocers, blacksmith shops, houses, mills, etc., indiscriminately mixed together. The streets are so narrow that there is only room for carts to pass, with which they are full. * * * At noon went to Lachine and took the steamboat that goes to the foot of the Cascades. We put into the mouth of the Shatigee (spelled Chateauguay) river to land some passengers; we then went into a small village near the head of the lake on the same side, landed some passengers and took in wood. While crossing the lake we were met by a violent storm of wind and rain but it had little effect on our boat. This boat, like most of the Canadian steam boats, has a good engine, but poor accommodations for passengers. We landed at the foot of the Cascades on the north side, and I traveled on foot in a clay, wet, road for 3 hours, and put up for the night.
Started early in the morning and took the King's road, almost a dead level and clay soil; the inhabitants are poor and ignorant and few can speak English. I walked 40 miles and put up for the night. This (the next) day I walked 40 miles, and though the farmers are far ahead of the lower Canadians, yet I saw no improvements equal to that on a Yankee island belonging to Judge Cooper. The island is one which the British gave in exchange for another near Kingston. There is a frame for a barn just raised 50 feet wide and 200 feet long, and large sheds running east from the north and south corner 150 feet, I think this was for sheep.
I went into Prescot and into their fort, a nice little structure, then crossed to Ogdensburg, thence to Moorstown ten miles up the river, and staid over night.
Walked (next day) 17 miles to Nossie and staid to the furnace till near night, a very hilly place. Walked 12 miles further and staid over night.
Walked to Watertown. * * * My whole expenses for this trip from Watertown to Fowler to attend a lawsuit, then to Ogdensburg, down to Montreal in a Durham boat, and return to Watertown, on foot, were $13.50 and I think I had 50c. in my pocket when I got home, though I feared I should have to earn some money to carry me home, and I did work a day or so in a stone quarry in Ogdensburg, while waiting for a boat, besides I tried to get work in a furnace in Montreal."
As soon as he reached home, the partners set to work to put their furnace in better running order, and then built for themselves a stone house and established their comfort by having one of their apprentices, A. S. Kellogg, bring his mother and his three sisters to complete their family and keep the house, the girls teaching school or working out part of the time. This arrangement proved so satisfactory that in 1830 when Portia Kellogg was seventeen and John Gage twenty-eight, they secured, as he later wrote "the pious priestly services of a Christian minister to allow us to live together as man and wife, and now at this writing most 52 years have passed together with us, with less of the troubles, quarrels and vexations, and more of the joys, comforts and happiness of life, than falls to the lot of most mortals."
For twelve years Mr. Gage ran the foundry, working steadily, faithfully, at first at heavy hand labor besides keeping the books and overseeing, but gradually the executive end crowded out the manual labor, until over work and the confinement of the office so threatened his health that he sold his share of the business to Mr. Smith, and in 1835 set out for a few months of travel, partly to recuperate, partly to look around for the location of a new, less confining occupation. Eventually an agreement was made to join Daniel Lyman in building a flour mill in Chicago, where he purchased of N. J. Brown, one eleventh part of the subdivision of the South quarter of block 69 School Section Addition, on the N. W. corner of VanBuren Street and the South branch of the Chicago river, "which", he writes, "I paid for and covered with our mill and a smith's shop, hoping to be able to buy the other ten lots by the time I should need them for about what I paid for the one, and so told Mr. Brown. 'No, you won't,' said he, 'they will be worth four-fold before long.' I paid him $800 for lot 11 in the Garrett, Brown & Brother's subdivision in 1836 and in 1841 I bought the other ten lots of him for $759, or less than one eleventh the cost of the first one, by the lot".
After contracting for lumber, Mr. Gage returned home to Watertown, and prepared for moving his family to Chicago as soon as possible. He had a comfortable long spring wagon made, with two seats in front and a chest and bed in the rear, (to which he attached the best pair of horses to be found in that then famous horse region) and into this he tucked his wife, with two babies, her mother and her two sisters, and started on July 15th for Buffalo; from here they boarded steamer for Toledo, where once again they took to. their wagon and the road, reaching Chicago early in August.
By the middle of February' the new flour mill was in operation, which proved "a mighty good thing for the little village of Chicago, as well as for Lyman and Gage, for flour was scarce and sold for $16 a barrel, but soon as we began making we sold at $12 a barrel and held it at that till we put it lower and lower, when in 1839 we sold for five dollars. Very little flour came from the East after we began making and we bought all the good wheat that came to Chicago till 1840 and were obliged to go to St. Joe and Michigan City for large deficiencies, in wheat."
There is a small cluster of lakes forty miles N. W. of Chicago and nine west of Lake Michigan, and in this charming bit of country two of Mr. Gage's brothers had extensive holdings, and here, having sold his successful business, he brought his family some years later, as Chicago, through increasingly bad sewage, had become a menace to his children, little graves then sheltering five of them.
At Gage's Lakes was started a fruit orchard, wherein were set peaches, pears, quinces, plums, cherries, apples and even apricots, while against the inside of the high fence, built as a protection from the biting winds which swept down from the north and west, grapes were trained. But the winters were too severe, making light of board fences, and in spite of a gallant fight the railroad could not be brought nearer than Waukegan, nine miles away, therefore, still in pursuit of his dream of a fruit farm, Mr. Gage once more visited the East- looking for a suitable home, and it was while on his way to Cape May that, stopping at Vineland, he became interested, and decided to search no further. As everything undertaken was carried out with energy and enthusiasm, Mr. Gage invested rather extensively in land here, beginning with five acres on the N. W. corner of Landis and West, to which were added two lots, N. E. cor. 6th and Plum, two S. E. cor. 6th and Elmer, eight lots 7th and Plum, north side, while Mrs. Gage bought twenty acres at Park and West. There was a house on East Ave., set in a pleasant ten acres, which, of all others, was the one John Gage wanted for his, but the owner, Mr. Pucket, had no thought or desire to sell, consequently the Gages bought the old Wiley place on Landis Avenue, their holdings running to 6th Street, and here, after some alterations, they settled. Then it chanced, one Sunday morning, that two men met, fell to talking, and, one thing leading to another, the suggestion to "swap houses" was made, enlarged upon, shrewdly weighed, financially balanced, and-Monday morning saw the Gage Lares, on its way to the old Pucket place, pass the Pucket Penates going to the Gage house!
The activities and interests of the new town, and especially those of their less conservative neighbors, were entered into with enthusiasm by both Mr. and Mrs. Gage; his was not a conventional type of mind, his thoughts often wandering far afield from the old established roads, and in these mental explorations he met with a sympathetic understanding from his wife, tempered and balanced by her wholesome common sense and warm heart. Their house, became, indeed a center for those of radical, independent thought, whether social, political or religious. Its door opened to Fred Douglas, and its ample roof sheltered over night, as the years passed, Andrew Jackson Davis, Warren Chase, Lucy Stone Blackwell with her husband Henry B. Blackwell, Henry C. Wright, Judge Underwood of Virginia, Robert Dale Owen, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie C. Claflin, Sojourner Truth, C. B. Lynn and Burnham Wardwell, all welcomed with that friendliness which made the Gage home a haven of comfort alike to the invited honored, guest, or the homeless and unfortunate. While not agreeing with the Town's policies in many instances, Mr. Gage made himself valuable in advocating and pushing the construction of new roads, together with the improvement of the old, both as a private citizen and when serving as the first Road Superintendent. He was for long a member of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society, which did such good service in those early struggling years, was one of the starters of the first canning factory in Vineland, a staunch member of the Greenback Party here, and, with his wife, was a charter member of the Friends of Progress as well as of the Vineland branch of The Equal Rights (later the Woman's Rights) Society. This latter, was particularly fortunate in having Mrs. Gage as a member, not only because of her spirited partisanship, but because she was a continual justification of the hotly disputed claim that a woman could attend to her home duties even if she did vote, in that before her death she had taken under her care thirteen children besides her own.
An active, useful and long life was brought to its close, when, on December 29, 1890, John Gage died, his remains, in accordance with his wishes, being cremated. Thirteen years later the ashes were lovingly placed in the coffin beside the body of his wife, when she slipped away to join him in "The Other Room."