Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How the News of Lincolns Death Was Received in Ellicottville

From the Library of Congress

James Moffit (1843-1911) started The Ellicottville Post newspaper in 1884 and his son John A. Moffit (1867-1915) became an equal partner in the business in 1888. The younger Moffit arranged and edited the column “Echoes from the Long Ago” under which the following letter to the editor appeared in the Wednesday, April 15, 1914 edition (.pdf file courtesy of Fultonhistory.com). The author of the letter was William W. Canfield (1854-1937) who at the time was editor of the Utica Observer Dispatch newspaper and the brother of John A. Moffit’s wife, Mary Gertrude Canfield (1867-1946).

 Wednesday, April 15, 1914. To The Editor of The Post:

President Lincoln was assassinated on the evening of April 14, 1865 or 49 years ago this year.
I have heard it said that no man or woman living, who was old enough to understand about Lincoln and sense what his murder meant, ever forgot the exact circumstances under which the assassination of Lincoln was first heard by them.

It may not be uninteresting as a contribution to the “Recollections” concerning Ellicottville and Cattaraugus county which you are publishing, to tell the incident about the news of the assassination of Lincoln as I remember it.

We lived on Fish Hill, and there was sickness in the neighborhood, as diphtheria had been prevalent and our family had suffered severely. In the forenoon, I was sent to a neighbor’s on an errand. I was about half way between the old Canfield homestead and the home of Porter Canfield on the east, when I met Dr. Horace Arnold. The roadway was full of slush and mud, and I was picking my way along beside a rail fence on the south side of the road. Dr. Arnold stopped his gig. I shall never forget the look of sadness upon his face.
“Where is your father?” he asked. I told him that father had gone over to the back lot after a load of wood.

“Tell him that President Lincoln was shot by a rebel last night, and that the rebels are marching on Washington,” said the doctor. “I am going on up the hill and will stop at your house when I come back.”

“Is the president dead?” I asked; for though I was a mere lad, I knew all about the war and Lincoln.

“Yes, he is dead,” replied the doctor as he started up his horse. And then, turning in the seat of his gig, he looked over his shoulder and said: “You had better go right off and tell your father to go to the village.” 

I ran back to the house and told my mother, and she sent me up through the orchard and down into the back lot to tell father. He was chopping. When I had told him what Dr. Arnold had said, he sat down on the end of a log and covering his face with his hands sobbed as I heard him sob a short time before on the death of his favorite daughter. Soon, he loaded on what wood he had cut and we went to the house; and very soon after that, Dr. Arnold returned and called. In a few minutes, George Gray was seen driving down the hill, and in his rig was A.K. Galloway and one of the Randall boys. They stopped in front of our house, and Dr. Arnold again told them all he had heard. 

Abram Gray came over from his house, and together they all went toward the village. Father harnessed up a horse and took me with him and we followed on. My uncle Porter Canfield, Mr. Woodbury and Ben Austin who lived next below him, came along in Woodbury’s wagon. E. Perkins, who lived where Moses Marsh now lives, walked along on foot till he reached the William Niles place, and then he entered the Niles wagon. There were others whose names I do not recollect—perhaps Miles Harrington and James Slattery and some men from the Meacham Hollow road. 

Signal Telegraph Machine and Operator

They all talked about this monstrous tragedy which had flown to them over the hills and along the valleys on that April morning in some mysterious way, for we then had no telegraph line in Ellicottville and of course the telephone was unknown for long years afterward. But somehow, all the county seemed to have heard of the killing of Lincoln and men were streaming into the village from every direction. 

There was inquiry and questioning upon every face, and terrible threats went round through the crowd. I recollect that some of the soldiers who had come home as a result of wounds or for some cause, stood there on the sidewalk, white and trembling, fearful anger in their eyes, ready to start at the beat of the drum and march again to fight the beaten foes who at that moment were supposed to have been responsible for Lincoln’s death. One man—I do not know who it was—stood upon a barrel or box on the sidewalk and swore the most awful oaths I had ever at that time heard declaring that he would not rest until Lincoln had been avenged, if it proved true that he had been assassinated by the rebels. 

A drawing from The Ellicottville Post
I think that the post office was in a small wooden building on the north side of Main street that stood on the edge of the Devereux land office lot. The crowd was around this office, or building, and it seems to me that the post office was there located. The mail was then taken twice a day from Ellicottville to Great Valley, and it arrived twice a day. It is my recollection that we had a mail about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and another again in the early evening. Dan Bartlett was the contractor, and Theodore Lowe was one of the drivers. One of these two men, I believe, had gone to Great Valley to secure more information as that was the nearest telegraph point. In the early afternoon—probably about 2 or 2:30 o’clock, someone came from Great Valley, and there was a rush around the team and wagon. Theodore Lowe, as I remember it, stood up on the wagon seat, and as the hushed and saddened faces gathered around him, he read some copies of dispatches that had been received at Great Valley, and told the fearful story about as it proved in the end to be true.

Lincoln had been shot in a theater by an actor named Booth. He was dead. There had been assaults upon Staunton and Seward and there was known to be a plot. It was suspected, though not certain at that time, that rebel leaders were concerned in it. The assassin had escaped, but was being followed.  

All the bells in the village were tolled, and sorrow stood on every countenance. I saw more strong men crying that day than at any time since in all my life, and it impressed me greatly. Among those whom I remember as being there, in addition to those whose names I have mentioned, were Gain R. Blackmon, J. King Skinner, P.V. Skinner, Delos S. Sill, Robert H. Shankland, Moses Beecher, A.G. Rice, E. Harmon, A. Gibbs, A.D. Scott, Henry Sheffield, Stephen McCoy, Bethuel McCoy, George Brewer, Shep Arnold, Joseph Razey, and many others whose names have long since escaped my memory. I recollect very plainly that one man talked very violently and loudly to Mr. Shankland, who was the editor of a Democratic paper; and the Democrats were not regarded as being very friendly to Lincoln or his policies.

“I suppose you are satisfied now,” said this man to Mr. Shankland, approaching him in a somewhat threatening manner. 
The History of Cattaraugus County, 1879

Mr. Shankland replied: “I am satisfied that it is the greatest calamity that has befallen the country in my time,” and he walked slowly away, his head bowed and his eyes filled with tears.

We went home later, and we met a number of men going to the village to learn the news. They were not satisfied with all that could be told them, but went on, thinking that further intelligence might have been received. At almost every house, women came down to the gates alongside the road and made inquiry as to the tragedy. For Lincoln had been very close and near to the people, and even in our humble country homes he was regarded as the savior of his country and as the great representative of the common people.

Image from President Lincoln's Cottage
George Gray and his brother Abram remained till evening, and the further receipt of news from Great Valley. When they drove past our house, there was a hallo, and father went out and secured some additional particulars.


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