My agricultural ancestry

Perhaps because I lived as a child in an 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y., I take particular interest in the agrarian history of ancestors like my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull — who in 1860 lived with his family on a farm in Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Photo by Norman J. Charboneau
Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse at Whispering Chimneys on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Perhaps because I lived in farm country until I was seven, I take particular interest in the agrarian history of my ancestors. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

When I recently discovered Jeremiah’s farm facts, my mind wandered back to the 10-acre farm where I resided in the early 1950s with my parents, maternal grandparents and two younger brothers.

We children absorbed the cycles of nature on the farm — which bore the official name of Whispering Chimneys on a high, swinging metal sign down by the road.

Our family raised only chickens and rented out the hay fields to nearby working farmers — in contrast Jeremiah, whose rural property was productive enough to require a live-in farm hand.

Still, in some ways, his homestead resembled ours. Not a fully working farm, really — since Jeremiah earned his living as a tanner (while my dad worked at General Electric and my mom was a school music teacher). But with a good amount of land — way more than our 10 acres, and sufficient for some working livestock and cultivated fields to provide food and income for his family.

Recalling my formative years at Whispering Chimneys, I conjure up the rush of cool creeks in spring, the taste of tiny wild strawberries in early summer, the warmth of just-laid eggs from the nests in our barn, and the smell of fresh crushed grass in the mouths of the ruminating cows that poked their heads through the fence from the Mennonite farm next door.

I also remember staring in awe at the majestic two-story snow drifts that blew up to the rooftop in winter — when candles were kept ready in case the power went down. And watching white cotton sheets billow skyward in warmer weather on the clothesline that stretched to the stately pines out back.

Of course mine are childhood memories. My dad, who had to deal with practical matters in our drafty farmhouse, took a different view. At age 78, he wrote down his recollections in a third-person story:

A young family came upon one of these mansions and was hypnotized by its ten acres of land, big red barns, and a few tourist cabins. [But] during the first winter they could feel the wind whistling through the walls, and had to fill the walls with poured insulation. It was still so cold that a second furnace was needed to heat the windy west side.

I wonder what Dad would make of having Jeremiah Bull as an agrarian ancestor? He’d probably be pretty amazed at how our early road trips unlocked so much of this family’s history — and how the lives of our ancestors in some ways resembled our own.

What more could I learn about the civilian lives of my Bull forebears during and after the Civil War? The search for answers continues in future posts.

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5 thoughts on “My agricultural ancestry”

  1. It just amazing how much our lives revolve around the same places and how each of our ancestors were probably closer than we know. My mom and dad married in 1929 and lived in Hallstead, Pa. Just a few miles from Binghampton, N.Y. and Silver Lake, Pa. My gg grandfather Jeremiah was also a farmer logger and tanner in Conesville, N.Y. moving to Silver Lake after the Civil War. Perhaps because of the abundance of hemlock trees. Also perhaps to be closer to his cousins or your relatives. I have a lot of research done by Loretta Llounsbury Buel. Much info of your family because she thought it might be our Jeremiah. Anyway, my mom and dad moved to Albany after the Depression started for work. They ended up in Gloversville, N.Y. for a while after losing a small little boy. We became Buells in the 1920 census. Before that we were Bulls. Look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, Don B.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Don. I am really interested in the info on Bull family that Loretta Llounsbury Buel gave you, particularly if it is about my branch of the family. And thanks for the invite! I’ll be in touch.

  2. My gg grandfather married Mary Whitney after the Civil War. Just wondering if she was related to the Whitneys that you mention. Silver Lake, Penna. is just over the border from Binghamton, N.Y.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Don. Amazing that you actually drove by the Whispering Chimneys farmhouse! I’m not sure if your Mary Whitney was related to William Whitney [husband of Rhoda Blakeslee — my great, great grandmother Mary (Blakeslee) Bull’s sister]. But it’s certainly possible. The Whitney family were early settlers in the Binghamton, N.Y. area, so they may all be connected if one goes back far enough on their family tree. And thanks for inviting me to the Buell family get together. I’ll be in touch!

  3. You are very good at determining who is who.You have many more cousins in and around the Albany area and across the country. I was the last of 12 kids. Nine of us are still alive. To get a idea, google my mom’s obit. Her name was Nellie Buell. I have a picture of Joseph Bull/Buell. He was my grandfather and one of two boys of Jeremiah and Mary Whitney. They lived on a farm in Silver Lake, Pa. into the early 1900s. My older brothers remember visiting. They logged trees. My dad also. I can’t believe I passed your home many times on Rt. 20. I used to work in Cobleskill. Went to breakfast many mornings at Charlie’s in Duansburg. I am 63. Soon to be married 40 years with 5 kids. I am, for some unknown reason, very interested in family roots. My dad, who died in 1963, never talked about Jeremiah — but of course he died before he was born. I have extensive research done by Loretta Llounsbury Buel given to me by Conesville historian. It was very nice to hear from you and will read your postings. One thing everyone says is that we all look alike. We have a family get together a couple times a year and you are certainly welcome to come. Next get together will be Super Bowl Sunday. Welcome to our extended family that numbers in the hundreds. Sincerely, Don Buell .

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