Tag Archives: Leather tanning

Delaware County diaspora

First in a series tracking my ancestor Arthur Bull’s family from the Catskills to the Adirondack foothills (1870-1875).

For the New Year we embark on a new trajectory with my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — Union Army veteran, tannery foreman and head of a growing family. This path leads to the foothills of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where one of his daughters — my great grandmother Eva May Bull — will marry into the Charboneau family.

But first the family of Arthur and Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull made one more Delaware County detour back to Town of Hancock (Hancock Post Office) in the Catskills foothills — which is where the U.S. Census taker found them living on 27 Aug. 1870.

By: Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County
Tannery workers in 1870.  My ancestor Arthur Bull and his fellow tanners were having a tough time earning a living in the Catskills in 1870. They became part of a widespread migration to forested areas further north. By: Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County

The family had grown since the end of the US Civil War — with the addition of my great grandmother Eva May, born in 1866 in Pennsylvania, and another daughter, Jessie Ann, born in 1869 in Delaware County, N.Y.

So at the time of the 1870 US Census, the Bulls had five children living at home in Hancock: Emma, 12, Carrie, 11, Milo, 8, Eva, 4 and Jessie, 1 [incorrectly identified as “Lewis” and “male” by the census taker].

Arthur, 36, was still working as a tanner and Mary, 29, was keeping house — but their census entry implies that they may have been experiencing hard times.

No value is listed for real estate on their census entry, and their personal property only amounted to $200 (about $3,700 today) — much less than what they reported 10 years earlier when they last lived in Delaware County.

The decline in the family’s fortunes may have been due to the scarcity of tanbark in the depleted forests of the Catskills foothills, making it more difficult to earn a living there as a tanner. They were also now supporting a larger family.

A nearby cousin?

Nevertheless, they do not appear to have been alone in their struggles. For nearby lived another Bull family — John Bull, 34, a laborer; his wife, Eliza, 32, a housekeeper; and their son Daniel, 16, also a laborer — with personal property valued at just $100 (about $1,850 today).

Arthur’s father — my ggg grandfather Jeremiah Bull — came from a large Catskills family, and John may have been the son of one of Jeremiah’s brothers. More research is needed to verify an exact relationship, which I have found hints of online (albeit unsourced).

Yet I can’t help but think that Arthur and Mary would have drawn some support from having relatives as neighbors, if indeed they were cousins.

Catskills tanners in general were having a tough time — and they became part of a widespread migration to forested areas further north. Arthur Bull and his family joined this Delaware County diaspora some time before 1875.

However, as we will learn in the next post, the Bulls appear to have made one more stop in the Southern Tier first.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A Corbettsville, N.Y. merchant

Second in a series on the occupations of my paternal great, great great grandfather Jeremiah Bull in the 1800s

A passage in a History of Broome County (1885) indicated that in 1852 my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull bought a foundry in Corbettsville, N.Y., and turned it into a tannery then sold it. A historic map shown in the last post supports this possibility.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-ad3e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The Tan Vats (1860-1920). My great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull — listed as a merchant in the 1860 U.S. census — may have briefly owned a leather tannery similar to this in the Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. Photo: NYPL Digital Collections

From pervious research, I had some corroboration that Jeremiah lived in Corbettsville because my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — his son — was living there at the time of his 1856 marriage.

My next plan of action was to examine census reports for more details — but right away I noticed that the timeline appeared to be off.

The 1855 N.Y. State census for Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — where Corbettsville was located — indicated that Jeremiah Bull and his family had lived in the town for only a year. I wrote about this in Tanners in my family tree, where you can see an image of the census.

That would place his arrival at about 1854 — two years after the History of Broome County said that he converted a local foundry into a tannery — assuming the census information on the Bull family was accurate.

Also, at the back of the same 1855 state census — in a section titled “Industry other than agriculture” for the Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. (enumerated on 11 July 1855) — Jeremiah Bull’s name does not appear, and there is also no mention of a foundry. But Julius Corbett is listed as a operating a tannery — which he should not be if Jeremiah took the facility over from him in 1852.

1860: A change for the better

However, fast forward five years and Jeremiah’s situation has changed for the better. In the 1860 U.S. Census for Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. (Kirkwood Post Office), Jeremiah Bull (enumerated correctly, but indexed under the name variant “Jeremiah Ball”) is listed as a “Merchant” in a household with wife Mary Elizabeth and daughter Mary.

That certainly would imply that he owned a business — most likely a tannery, since that was his trade at the time, had been for years and continued to be as indicated in earlier and later census reports.

And I also like to think that those who compiled the History of Broome County tried their best to paint a reasonably accurate historical picture based on their own research and oral history interviews — even if they ended up doing a rather broad sweep with the brush and being off by a few years here or there.

So for now, let’s say that it’s possible that my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull owned a tannery for a time before the U.S. Civil War — and that this premise provides a good starting point for further research into business or property records or even news articles from the area that might support this contention.

Meanwhile, the tanning trade was not my ancestor Jeremiah Bull’s sole occupation — for the agricultural section of the 1860 census revealed that he also resided with his family on a 113-acre working farm in Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Some Leatherstocking locales

The part of New York State popularly known as the Central-Leatherstocking Region encompasses several counties — Schoharie, Broome and Oneida — where my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and my other Bull ancestors worked as leather tanners during the 19th century.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-ad3a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Open air tannery (1860-1920). My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull worked as a leather tanner before joining the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. He resumed this work at war’s end, and his family’s frequent moves appear to have been work-related. Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections

This made me curious: What was the tanning industry like back then? And were there work-related reasons why Arthur Bull and his family relocated so frequently, both before and after the U.S. Civil War?

In the 1800s, the tanning trade required a location with adequate water power, good transportation to bring in animal hides, and enough hemlock and oak trees for the requisite tannin to process those hides into leather.

The Catskills area bordering New York’s Hudson River — where Arthur Bull learned the tanning trade — had all of these in abundance in the early 19th century, as outlined in Augustus Ostow’s excellent environmental blog post The Catskill Tanning Industry.

The work itself was a physically demanding, grisly business, with open vats of fermenting hides — as depicted in the photo above — sending up quite a stench. Yet the need for domestically produced leather kept most Catskills tanneries active until the mid 1800s.

Eventually, however, forests became depleted through overuse by the tanning industry. That and an economic recession from 1833-1840 — which caused leather prices to plummet — likely prompted some Catskills tanners to pick up and relocate.

Moving for work

Among those who moved was the family of origin of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.  By 1855 they had left the Catskills area and settled in the Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — in the state’s Central-Leatherstocking Region — where Arthur, his father Jeremiah and brother Milo were listed as tanners in the 1855 New York State census.

This move was the first of many for Bull family members as they followed the booms and busts of the leather tanning trade to start over again and again in new, forested locations.

Judging by the birth locations and ages given for Arthur’s children in the 1865 New York State census for Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y, he and his wife Mary Elizbeth (Blakeslee) Bull lived in three different locations during the nine years between their 1856 marriage and the end of the U.S. Civil War:

  • Pennsylvania in 1858 [most likely in Susquehanna County just south of Broome County, N.Y.],
  • Delaware County, N.Y., in 1860, and then back to
  • Broome County, N.Y., until at least 1865.

Nor was that the end of their moves around the Empire State. More in the next post as I continue on the trail of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s civilian life before and after the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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