While researching and writing my book Pride of the Valley: Sifting through the History of the Mount Healthy Mill, one of my goals was to profile each of the six generations of families that owned the business during its one hundred thirty years of operation.
I discovered many discrepancies and the understandable muddling of facts that happens over time, and felt compelled to set the record straight wherever possible–and especially when it came to the women in the story. Of course the women of the first two generations–Eliza Hendrickson Hill and Rachel Maria Hill Rogers–were the hardest to get to know.
It saddened me when the names of the women were incorrectly reported, for the women I mentioned in my book didn’t hold jobs that distinguished them in the community. They didn’t leave wills or journals, and the first surviving photograph of one of them dates to 1866. Their mention in historical records is seldom more than a report of to whom they were married. I figured the least I could do was make sure their names and their spouses were sorted properly.
Throughout much of history, a young woman’s first duty was to marry; her family often wielded more influence over the choice of husband than she did. Eliza Hendrickson was eighteen years old when she married Jediah Hill in 1815. Rachel Maria Hill, Jediah and Eliza’s only child, was a mere sixteen years old when she married Henry Rogers, who was ten years her senior. I’ve often wondered if that marriage came about because Jediah decided Henry, who was his hired hand, was the man he wanted to take over operation of his mill one day, and offered Rachel’s hand as part of the deal.
As it turned out, I would locate much more detailed information about the women in the four subsequent generations, but in this article, I’d like to focus on Eliza Hendrickson Hill, the family’s matriarch.
When Jediah and Eliza migrated to Ohio with their three-year-old daughter, Rachel, in 1819, Eliza made the first essential contribution to establishing the little family’s home and business. They left a well-established community in New Jersey and started from ground zero on the frontier.
While we may marvel at Jediah Hill’s acumen in siting and building a water-powered sawmill, women like Eliza were no less skilled. Trained in household management from an early age, by the time a woman was old enough to marry, she had vast stores of practical knowledge essential to their family’s survival.
Though they lived only a mile from the town site, Eliza likely would have been responsible for managing all her daily tasks—food preparation, laundry, planting a garden, minding their toddler, and more—without help.
On a typical day, Eliza may have set out to accomplish one major task—perhaps laundry. But she would still have to begin that day by stirring up the fire, cooking breakfast, washing dishes, airing bedding, and caring for her child and the stock—perhaps horses, chickens, cows, pigs, and sheep—before tackling the larger job. Laundry required hauling buckets of water to heat, scrubbing the clothing with homemade soap, and then boiling everything to kill any lice or fleas in the fabric.
There was no spin cycle, so everything had to be lifted, dripping wet, from the rinse water, wrung out by hand, and hung up to dry. Depending on the size of the family and the number of hands to help, this labor-intensive enterprise could take all day, bearing in mind, of course, that the lady of the house must budget the time to cook the midday meal for her family.
Should she finish before it was time to start supper—one wonders what she might choose to do with her leisure time. A bit of mending? Adding a few lines to the letter she was writing to the home folks? Helping one of the children learn their letters? Weeding the kitchen garden? Drying herbs to use for seasoning and for treating illness?
The old saying, ‘Man’s work is from sun to sun, but women’s work is never done’ surely rang true for nineteenth-century women everywhere.
Once the supplies she had brought from New Jersey ran out, Eliza would have needed to grow or make more—not just to sew the family’s clothes, but likely to grow the flax and raise the sheep that would provide the raw materials, spin the thread, and either weave the cloth herself or take it to the nearest webster.
As the community grew, the division of labor allowed both men and women to specialize in what they did best. What a blessing it must have been to be able to purchase items in a general store!
There is evidence that Jediah took his wife’s needs into consideration when building the large family homestead, which was likely completed in time for their daughter Rachel’s wedding in 1832. In the stone-floored cellar, Jediah dug a well so it was not necessary for his wife to go outside to fetch water.
As the family’s business prospered, Jediah and Henry, his son-in-law, sought to expand the sawmill to grind flour and cornmeal. In August 1838, all four family members took a working vacation to New Jersey. Though travel in antebellum America was distinctly unpleasant, I am so glad Eliza and Rachel went along on the trip, for it would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Henry kept a journal of the trip, and mentioned someone in the family having an upset stomach or headache nearly every day. Traveling in a wagon, they suffered through both the heat of late summer and cold temperatures as summer turned to fall.
Thankfully, the trip was not all misery. Henry mentioned seeing the sights in Columbus, Zanesville, Philadelphia, and Trenton, and paying extended visits to family in three different cities. He noted that Eliza and Rachel had written ahead to a dressmaker in the city to have new gowns made, and that they had taken their bonnets to the milliner’s to have them trimmed in the latest fashion. Everyone in the family enjoyed shopping at the extensive market in Philadelphia.
You can learn more about the family’s experiences on their trip. Henry’s journal is the subject of my book Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More: Explorations of Henry Rogers’ 1838 Journal of Travel from Southwestern Ohio to New York City.