Sunday, April 06, 2008


Friday, April 4th, was the 180th birthday of my great great
grandfather Asa Freeman(or Freeland) Ellingwood. He’s one
of the ancestors whose census images I’ve been downloading
recently and I was struck by a thought as I was looking them

I think I discovered the point when the world changed during
Asa’s lifetime. Or at least I narrowed it down to one decade,
sometime between 1850 and 1860.

On the 1850 census for the town of Milan, Coos County, New
Hampshire he’s listed as “Asa Ellenwood”, 21 years old, with
his 17 year old bride of less than a year, Florilla (Dunham).
His occupation is listed as “wheelwright”. Now being a
wheelwright was, as were most occupations in that earlier
age, not just a job but a craft. It required skill in carpentry
and knowledge of timber as a wheelwright had to pick the
wood used for the rim, spokes, and hub of the wheel and
then fashion and assemble the parts into the finished
product. A more full description of the process can be found
at the Wheelwright’s Craft page of the Witheridge Historical
Archive website.

Asa’s cousin Hiram G. Ellenwood was a hotel keeper in Milan
and it may have seemed like a possible steady source of
business for the young married couple. There would be
stagecoaches, carriages, and freight wagons that might have
need of repairs to wheels or perhaps a complete replacement
from a skilled craftsman. The future must have seemed
clear cut and secure for Asa.

Ten years later on the 1860 Census that future had changed.
Asa and Florilla were now living in the town of Paris in Oxford
County, Maine with the first five of what would eventually be
their eleven children.And Asa’s occupation had changed. He
was no longer a wheelwright.

He was now a mechanic, one of six listed on the two pages
of the census that contain Asa’s family. A bit further up the
first page is a hint as to how the world had changed. A farmer
named William Moony had seven men staying on his farm,
and the occupation for all of them is given as “Railroader”.
The railroads had begun to expand their rail lines in Northern
New England during the 1840’s and by 1850 the Grand Truck
Railroad had a station in Paris.

With the arrival and expansion of the railroads, there was less
need for wheelwrights. While horse drawn wagons, carriages,
and coaches would continue to be used for another fifty years,
the commercial uses would lessen as people traveled more by
train and businesses shipped their supplies and merchandise
over the faster rail line.

There were less jobs for a wheelwright. A time honored craft
was no longer in as great demand, and a man with a young
family to support had to earn a living.

So Asa became a mechanic, perhaps for the railroad or maybe
at one of the mills or factories in Paris.

Asa’s world would shortly change again with the outbreak of
the Civil War. He enlisted in June 1861 but was discharged in
December with a disability. By the 1870 census he was a
farmer back in Milan, New Hampshire.

Of course, our world nowadays seems to change everyday,
with jobs and professions dying out even as new ones are
being createdfrom the latest scientific and technological
advances; it’s become the norm to us. I can think of a dozen
or more ways my own life has changed over the years
because of them.

I wonder if Asa and my other ancestors who lived through
the Industrial Revolution ever looked back and marveled at
how their lives had changed so quickly?

Probably not. They most likely were too busy trying to
survive to have time to be philosophical about it!

It is one of those little coincidences that about the time I
was mulling over what I wanted to say in this post I received
a commenton a previous entry from another descendant of
Asa Freeman Ellingwood!


Miriam said...

This is a great post, Bill. I think there were individuals who thought about how the world was changing, and most welcomed the changes because it meant less back-breaking work. I was raised on the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and in them she often wrote how excited her father was to see new inventions and "technology" become available (this was in the 1870s and 1880s). There was a lot of hope for an easier life associated with the new things that came into their lives.

Brook said...

I feel pretty sure that our 19th century ancestors were quite aware of the impact that technology advances had on them. In many cases it was much more dramatic than the impact technology advances have on us. For example, when Asa Freeman was born, the fastest a message could travel overland was the speed of a horse. By the time he fought in the Civil War, messages were traveling at pretty much the speed of light over telegraph wires. Everything that's happened in communication since is just a refinement of that momentous innovation.

Late last summer, I took a photo of my son Asa Augustus Ellingwood standing at the grave of his great, great, great, great grandfather, for whom he was named. The picture may be digital, but the real technological advance involved happened when the daguerrotype was announce to the world, whan Asa Freeman was about 10 years old.

Technologically speaking, we stand on the shoulders of the giants of the 1800's.

Bill West said...

Good point!
And hello there, cousin!