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Item of the Week: A Wintertime East Hampton Childhood

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 09:13

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

Abigail Halsey (1878-1946) begins this 44-page book by describing the setting in which she heard the stories she shares — the Mulford Farmhouse, where the tales were told by Abigail’s 89-year-old friend, Mary Esther Mulford Miller (1849-1938), called Mollie. Mollie grew up on the Mulford Farm, and her stories recall her upbringing in East Hampton during the mid-1800s.

Mollie was born to Capt. Jeremiah Mulford (1815-1867) and Mary Miller Mulford (1818-1885). In the story “Snowed in at Hardscrabble,” Mollie recounts her experiences during the winter of 1856-1857 and the Great Freeze that gripped the Northeast, when the span of Long Island Sound froze solid enough to walk on, and heavy snow covered the streets and the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, isolating each settlement from neighbors. After more than a month, people petitioned the railroad to clear the tracks so passengers and supplies could move between the North Fork and New York City.

The heavy snow extended Mollie’s Christmastime visit with her Aunt Elizabeth (Bet) Dayton (1823-1906) and Uncle Edward (Ed) Dayton (1821-1911) from two days to two weeks. Mollie tells of snowed-in days full of work in and around the Dayton house and barn, and evenings spent in the warm family home playing games, singing songs, and reading Scripture.

Given that she wasn’t quite 8 years old at the time, it is unsurprising that Mollie reported bouts of homesickness, even with a goose feather bed and homespun linen sheets. Despite her homesickness and how she missed her Uncle John Mulford (1806-1893), Mollie felt that the isolation with the Daytons was “no hardship,” with two maids and plenty of food, firewood, and supplies to keep the snowbound family comfortable.

As we watch autumn shift to colder weather and we prepare for winter, we hope to avoid a winter as harsh as the one Mollie remembered.


Moriah Moore is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.

 

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