Dateline: 2 November 2015
|Isaac Phillips Roberts|
"I was born In the Roberts' farmhouse, on the west bank of Cayuga Lake, July 24, 1833, at sunrise of a fine harvest morning."
Thus begins, Autobiography of a Farm Boy, by Isaac Phillips Roberts. The book was written in 1916, when Roberts was 83 years old. You can read it online At This Link.
Roberts is pretty much a forgotten figure in history, but he played an important role as an agricultural educator at Cornell university for thirty years. The college even named one of their new (in 1906) agricultural buildings in his honor. But Roberts Hall was demolished in the 1980s.
Roberts achieved a great measure of success as a professor even though he never attended college and had no educational degrees.
A NY State historical marker (click the link for a concise biography) is at Roberts' birthplace in East Varick, NY. It states that he was "representative extra-ordinary of the American farmer."
As Isaac Roberts states in his book, East Varick is on the western shore of Cayuga Lake, directly across from the village of Aurora. Well, if you look on a map and track about 20 miles due east of Aurora you will find my house. The professor practically grew up in my neighborhood... 182 years ago.
This area of central New York state was largely unsettled back in those days. It was a land rich in resources, and well suited for an agrarian society.
Autobiography of a Farm Boy is a historical gem for modern-day agrarians looking to better understand what life was once like in the agrarian nation America once was.
For example, the following description by Roberts of his mother gives us a glimpse into the role of women in the agrarian culture of early 1800's America. She was not highly educated, but she was highly literate. She did not seek to have a career and be an income earner outside her home. Instead, she was a helpmeet to her husband, performing the important tasks of managing her home economy; providing for and nurturing her children. Her life energy was focused on being a mother, as well as a friend and caregiver in her immediate community. In other words, she did not endeavor to be a leader in the society of her day, but to raise sons that would one day be responsible leaders.
This is an old concept that is clearly biblical. But, of course, in the industrialized world, motherhood is not the high moral and social calling it was once universally considered to be. Managing a home and being a mother are, at best, now a part time task in the industrial order.
"My mother, Elizabeth Burroughs, was also born near Harbortown, New Jersey, August 16, 1800, and came to East Varick with her parents when they settled there in 1812. It was she who stood at the center of the household. It was she who made It possible for me to go forth strong in body and of purpose, to work patiently and bravely for the farmers—for science, for justice and for truth.
As I look upon the picture of her strong, rugged, placid face, I recall her self-sacrificing life for the good of everyone within the sphere of her influence; and I know that she was a Christian, although she belonged to no church and seldom attended one.
Soon after marriage at twenty years of age, her toils began, and as the years passed, griefs and burdens followed on one another's trail; but she bore them all quietly, lovingly, even smilingly.
I see her now, the central figure in that numerous, growing family —commanding, handsome, but not beautiful, with that large benignity which comes to middle-life and age, from a well-spent, unselfish life. From the youngest to the oldest child, we all looked to her for comfort in trouble, for instruction and advice in all our undertakings, and for appreciation in our successes.
After all these years I cannot forgive myself for having wantonly disobeyed her when she forbade me to attend a dance at a tavern of doubtful reputation. This was the more inexcusable since I was allowed to do almost anything that was not positively bad.
Such education as she had she received In the schools of Harbortown, but she never went to school after she was twelve years of age. She was, however, a great reader—considering her cares and opportunities—had a remarkable memory and was clever at mathematics. She could figure a problem "in her head " more quickly and accurately than any of her sons. She was particularly fond of Rasselas, Aesop's Fables in Rhyme, Thompson's Seasons and Scott's Lady of the Lake, the greater part of which she was still able to quote In her old age. She could not sing at all nor could any of her generation of the Burroughs family; but she had an unusual love of poetry and occasionally wrote letters In verse to her children.
My mother died at the ripe age of seventy-nine years In the house where she had lived for more than fifty years and In the midst of loving children and grandchildren. She had been"Aunt Betsy" to the whole neighborhood and a friend to everyone who needed anything she could give or could do for them."