Tag Archives: Catskill Mountains

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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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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Catskill Mountains heritage

Embarking on a search for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — chronicled in the last four posts — unexpectedly led me to a new family history discovery: I have Catskill Mountains heritage going back at least five generations.

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My first visit to the Catskill Game Farm in Greene County, N.Y., in the early 1950s. My family traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — all the while unaware of our ancestral connection to this beautiful, storied area. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

That’s right. Some of my paternal forbears actually lived in the land of Rip Van Winkle — where the legendary Headless Horseman galloped in the dark of night through sleepy hollows beneath the towering Catskills peaks, frightening all in his path.

Well, okay. Maybe it wasn’t exactly like that.

But I am still thrilled to claim this beautiful, storied part of the Empire State as a newly discovered source of my ever expanding family tree.

And I have to wonder: How was this familial thread lost over the generations?

Particularly since my family of origin traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — skirting the areas where my ancestor Arthur Bull was born and raised, yet all the while knowing nothing of his existence, never mind his story.

There seemed to be no end to these genealogical near misses.

As a young child I lived on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. — just 25 miles NNE of Arthur’s likely hometown of Windham, Greene County, N.Y. In the early 1950s my parents took me to the Catskill Game Farm, a giant petting zoo in Greene County, where I came face to face with free-roaming mules, sheep and deer — but remained blissfully unaware of any ancestral link to the area.

Later, my family lived near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. Most holidays, my parents, me, my two younger brothers and my two younger sisters — spanning the Baby Boom age range — would pile into our car and head northeast on Route 7 to visit my mom’s parents near Altamont, Albany County, N.Y.

Our boistrous station wagon — first a yellow and white Pontiac and later a blue Rambler with a push-button shift — passed north of the Catskills region and right through part of Schoharie County. En route we took in the small towns, the rolling farm country and the mountains in the distance — never imagining that our Bull ancestors lived nearby 100 years before.

To pass the time, we sang “Edelweiss” and other tunes in four part harmony (my mom was a music teacher). Or we played the alphabet game — keenly scanning the roadsides for a Quaker State Motor Oil sign, which was crucial for the letter Q.

We were a young family then, barreling down the road in a packed and noisy vehicle, heading into the future — more focused on the new leaves and branches of our family tree than on its ancient roots.

So is it any wonder we never knew there was a family link to the Catskills area that we passed? Weren’t the Bulls probably the same in the mid-1800s — preoccupied with living their lives in the Land in the Sky and not thinking about us, their future descendents?

Which is why I am gratified anew that genealogical prospecting — a dig with no artifacts, just a trail of documents leading back over generations — has unearthed my buried Catskill Mountains heritage and brought it back to life through the stories that those historic documents reveal.

Like the fact that I have leather tanners in my family tree. More on this in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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