by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner
At Worthington’s historic Ringville Cemetery – on Friday, September 16, 2016, under a full moon – onlookers gathered to meet some of the resident wraiths, who had awoken from their eternal slumber in a chatty humor. Their words are documented for posterity below.
Ringville Cemetery, on Witt Hill Road close to the Ringville hamlet in southern Worthington, was established in 1866 and gradually expanded to its present three acres. In 2004 the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite the 1866 establishment of the cemetery, the earliest stones are from the 1810s. These graves were apparently moved from a cemetery in Chesterfield, as our first resurrected speaker explained.
Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing (1766-1818)
Good evening, dear visitors, and welcome to what I sincerely hope is my final final resting place. My name is Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing.
I was born in 1766 at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, over near the Atlantic Ocean coast, where the Coles had been settled since the 1620s. My parents, Samuel and Sarah Cole, desired to take advantage of the unspoiled wilderness out here in the western part of the state, so we came to the newly incorporated town of New Hingham – you know it now as Chesterfield. Several other Coles came as well, among them my cousin Consider, whom I married in 1782 when I was 17. So I became Rosanna Cole Cole. We farmed our 100 acres between Ireland Street and Norwich Lake – one of the first parts of town to be settled. My husband was a blacksmith during the winter months.
Consider and I produced thirteen children. The first babe arrived in 1785 when I was 19, and I had another every year or two until 1809, when I was 43. That’s a lot of birthing, and we weren’t especially lucky. My first namesake, Rosanna, died when she was but seven years old. My second Rosanna didn’t survive infancy. I guess the Lord didn’t intend for me to bear any more Rosannas. In all, five of my children died at birth or in early infancy. As if that wasn’t enough, my son Ansel died when he was 24. He’d been married only two years, and left his widow with a young daughter, Electa. My husband and I were fortunate to see six children survive. Life was mostly a hardship for us women back then.
So many other folks settled this area as part of the Congregregational Church, but the Coles were Baptists. Baptists were an important force in the Bridgewater area. Many were attracted to the teachings of Roger Williams, who preached a different kind of religious freedom – the freedom not to belong to an established church of any kind. We’d had quite enough of that in England, thank you very much. Congregrationalists believed that being baptized as an infant meant you were predestined to be part of the elect. But we Baptists felt strongly that adults should deliberately commit to their faith through adult baptism. Some saw us as heretics and dissenters, which was kind of ironic, given why so many folks came to New England in the first place.
There were Baptists in New Hingham as early as 1760. The meetinghouse I went to was built in 1779 at the corner of Partridge Road and Ireland Street. I don’t think you can see any traces of it anymore. The church was later moved to the center of Chesterfield, where it was easier to get to. Consider was proud to own his own pew which, at the time of his death in 1814, was worth $5.00 – that would be several hundred dollars today. It was filled every Sunday by our children who attended the local school when they weren’t working on the farm or in the blacksmith shop.
We lived here just after King George’s forces surrendered at Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. None of the Coles hereabouts served in Mr. Washington’s army, but many Cole cousins in Bridgeport did. After the American victory – thanks be to a providential God — the menfolk spent a lot of time discussing whether to ratify the new Constitution. Each town had a vote. The Cole men joined the rest of the folks in Chesterfield and voted yea. We had to learn to say dollars instead of pounds. But of course we still drank tea!
We womenfolk had little time for politicking. Our lives were focused on helping make ends meet. We didn’t really use cash money in those days – what there was changed value too much to count on it. What we couldn’t grow we mostly bought through trade or barter. We never felt isolated, as the community was strong, and a stage coach route ran from Northampton over the bridge down by the Gorge, and along the Post Road to Albany.
Unfortunately my husband Consider was taken to a better life in April 1814, leaving me with two children still at home and $140 in debt, which we met by selling off a lot of our land in Chesterfield and bordering Norwich. It’s very difficult for a woman to run a farm on her own, so in November that same year, at the age of 54, I married the Captain Reuben Cowing, a widower with five children still at home –one just a child of four. I was Reuben’s third wife. After I passed in September 1818 the Captain did not remarry. By then, I had the enjoyment of several grandchildren.
So why am I here in the Ringville Cemetery, when I was buried in the Cole Cemetery off Ireland Street? Well, in 1930 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took our eternal resting place for a dam project and moved the cemetery over here to Ringville! Can you imagine? One poor soul, Laura Ellis, was left behind, probably because they couldn’t locate any next of kin. Anyway, we Coles are gathered here again, resting peacefully with our Worthington friends and neighbors. As you can see, I have a beautiful stone with unusual decorations, and all our stones have recently been straightened and cleaned by a lovely young woman, Ricky Chick, who lives near where we Coles lived in Chesterfield. Fitting isn’t it?
Besides, we are all related here. My granddaughter Elisa, Consider Jr.’s daughter, married Elkanah Ring. The Rings have that big stone over there in the center. Why don’t you go on over there and meet Elkanah’s sister-in-law, Lucretia? It’s been lovely meeting you all.
Lucretia Clark Ring (1814-1846)
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I am Lucretia Clark Ring. I was born in West Worthington in 1814, the youngest child of Spencer Clark and Hadassah Bardwell. We Clark children – Alonzo, Elvira, Electa and I, Lucretia (great names aren’t they?) – were a right tight bunch of ruffians.
My wise, hard-working father Clark established a tannery, the first successful business in Chester. He sold it and built a new one in West Worthington, on the river. Life on the River Road was harsh weather-wise but very pleasant. We went to the school near the edge of our property and helped out with farm chores and at the tannery. Have you ever smelled a tannery? Such a foul-smelling process!
And then – what were they thinking? – my brother and sisters went off and left me. Alonzo went to Williams College. Elvira married and skedaddled off to Ohio with the good Doctor Boise. It took them more than two weeks to get there. They smartly traveled ahead of the spring floods – if they’d waited it would have taken longer. And sister Electa, that sourpuss, went to teach in New York over by the new Erie Canal.
I spent my time studying and, of course, going to Methodist meeting. I wasn’t very religious, but at meeting I got to socialize. Our preachers were circuit riders so we had a welcome variety of preachings and teachings. I could tell you a lot about our neighbors – well, maybe another time.
I became a teacher, but wasn’t very successful. There were eleven schools in town, and each one hired its teachers anew each year, so we had to compete for the positions. My heart wasn’t really in it. But around here, pretty much all the young women either taught or married. I had plenty of suitors, including that simpering Mr. Stebbins who sidled when he walked. My father knew me well enough to send him packing!
In 1836, at the advanced age of 22, I married Mr. Thomas Ring. I am such a sloth – I barely got the bed quilt I started back in school ready in time. My husband and his brother, Elkanah Jr., made wooden tools, children’s sleds and other items from wood and metal. My parents moved out to Ohio to live with the Boise family, and I, properly married, moved to Ringville.
Was that ever a change! Husband and I lived in Thomas’s parents’ old house along with Elkanah, his wife, and around ten to fourteen workers. I had to work really hard – laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing up, laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing up, and farming a little, and milking and churning butter. Sounds awful but I liked it. Husband and I discussed moving to Ohio to join the others. Thomas even went out to see what it was like, but we decided we were better off on the “Worthington prairie.” Plus the Rings had a good business with ready water. In Ohio, water privileges were hard to come by and very costly. Thomas was a loving husband, and Father Ring was kind. Mother Ring especially liked me – some said better than her own daughter.
Mary, my firstborn, arrived in early 1840. She was a quiet child, slow to talk, and well-behaved, as what child wouldn’t be in such a household? A second babe, George Spencer, arrived barely ten months later. I felt terribly unwell for the few weeks before he came. All I wanted to do was sit, but I managed to stay on my feet and do a little work. His delivery was hard and painful – fifteen hours. George was slow to thrive, and with Mary to care for and a long winter, I was aching and needed rest all the time. Plus the cough just wouldn’t go away. We tried many different remedies, including a trip to Saratoga for the waters. There I was forced to take in four large tumblers of that disgustingly bitter Congress mineral water and take two blue pills every day. Awful! I told people this helped, but all it did was loosen my bowels. Then, of course, I got pregnant again. Lyman was born in the spring of 1845. I never did get to enjoy the spring that year, and was too weak to nurse. As I got even sicker, Lyman and George went to stay with Mrs. Cowing, Thomas’s aunt down the road – a right blessing that was. Lyman, who was six months old, went from 11 pounds to 13½ pounds in less than five weeks. The tough part for me was that they considered Mrs. Cowing their mother.
I grew worse – I had pains everywhere, night sweats and day fevers, and a large abscess on my neck that wouldn’t stay drained and gave me a terrible sore throat. Though I could eat, I got thinner and thinner.
Brother Alonzo had become a doctor, a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons that had just merged with Columbia College. He practiced in New York City and during the summers taught at the medical college in Pittsfield. He was a modern doctor, very well liked and credited with making stethoscopes common in diagnosis. My husband, more and more desperate, turned to him for help, and my brother prescribed the most modern remedy for conditions such as mine: three drops a day of spirits of naptha – you would know it now as paint thinner. I couldn’t take it for more than a few days. It was near the death of me. Actually, I did die about a month later. I had been consumed by consumption – you know it now as tuberculosis. Back then we thought it came from the bad air from the brook over near the factory.
It’s funny – my dear sisters were sad I was dying, but their greatest fear was that I wouldn’t show the proper faith or contrition. They said I was just too blunt. But I am blunt, and never could lie. I loved life too much, and wasn’t happy to face death.
Thomas remarried, moved to Huntington, and lived another 20 years. George, never thrifty, died before reaching thirty. And Mary went to live with Alonzo, who remained a bachelor – married to his work, as they say. Mary took care of him until he died in 1887, then she married his longtime secretary.
Well perhaps you’d like to hear some happier stories. Why not head over there and meet Mr. and Mrs. Conwell? Our Lyman married their daughter, Hattie. They played together as children.
Martin Conwell (1812-1874)
Welcome neighbors, my name is Martin Conwell. I used to live on Ireland Street in the South Worthington village. You’ve probably heard of my son Russell H. Conwell, the famous orator and founder of Temple University – but there wouldn’t have been any Russell without me and my wife Maranda.
Like so many other residents of Worthington, I was born elsewhere – in my case, Maryland in 1812. In 1836, not long after I married my childhood friend Maranda, we bought a farm and some land from John Pomeroy, one of the early pioneers. Before the 1760s Worthington was an unsettled wilderness, and we either carved farms from the woods and stony ground or bought farms from the earliest settlers. I soon discovered that raising sheep and cows was more practical than farming the rocky land or selling eggs. But I never suspected the cotton fabric produced in those huge factory looms over to the east would send our flourishing wool business into a depression. Like so many other people in Worthington, I practiced several trades. I sold wool, meat, and produce as far as Springfield, and worked as a stonemason from time to time. We knew how to make do. My family had meat to eat, and our children dressed warmly and wore fine calf shoes.
I joined my South Worthington neighbors in the Methodist meeting that formed once the Baptists moved their meeting house to West Chesterfield. We met in a small building on the site of what became Russell’s grand academy. We followed the teachings of John Wesley and believed each man and woman has a personal relationship with God. As devout Wesleyans, we raised our children to recognize that no one was simply entitled to salvation – we needed to achieve it through good behavior and good works.
We also believed the enslavement of our fellow humans was an abomination to the Lord and called for the abolition of slavery. The Methodist Episcopal Church was slow to move on this, so in 1843 – the year Russell was born – our Worthington group split off and joined the newly founded Wesleyan-Methodist Connection, where we could advocate for abolition more openly. We Wesleyans also supported equal rights for women as expressed at the Seneca Falls Convention, hosted in 1848 by one of our member chapters.
Around that time we built our own permanent meeting house. Local notables formed a committee, and we bought some land for $45. Rosanna’s son Consider Cole Jr. and I were the main financial contributors. Five years later, on May 18, 1848, the new South Worthington Church was dedicated. We roasted a calf and a sheep in the Reverend Niles’ oven, but there was no room for potatoes, so I built a fire to roast them outside. It was a grand celebration.
As both an abolitionist and a wool merchant, I had a chance to meet the famous John Brown, who tried his hand for a few years as a wool merchant in Springfield. Mr. Brown had gone to school for a spell in Plainfield, and knew the area well enough to visit us at our farm. Russell told stories about our involvement in what you now call the Underground Railroad, but our Russell knew how to embroider a tale. Whatever Russell said, I don’t recollect ever seeing Frederick Douglass here. And Russell’s story of my weekly wagon trips to help slaves escape north was wildly exaggerated. Nonetheless, I did contribute $10 to John Brown’s cause and kept sad vigil on that dark day he was hanged.
Our first child, Charles, was born in 1840. He and Russell were both educated at Wilbraham Academy and then at Yale. Russell later complained that he had to work for his tuition and resented being bullied by the richer students. And when he started to teach here in Worthington, he felt the need to build a grand academy to house his ambitions. But Charles was not a complainer, and he was happy to teach at the little school he had attended in South Worthington. I’m told he was considered the best teacher the district ever had. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted with his brother in the Massachusetts 46th Volunteer Infantry. He survived the war, and afterwards took work as a surveyor, participating in the survey of the Mississippi Basin. But the war left him with weak lungs, and he died of pneumonia in 1869, leaving his wife Eliza.
Russell was born in 1843, and Maranda here will tell you some more about him. Our daughter, Hattie (named Harriet, after Harriet Beecher Stowe) was born in 1846. She married Lyman Ring, the son of Lucretia and Thomas Ring, and had one child, our granddaughter Flora. After Hattie married, we moved with her five miles down the road to Huntington, where I partnered with Lyman in a dry goods store. Ironically we were selling that cotton that had become so popular.
Our last child, Arthur, was born in 1854 but lived only seven months. That broke my Maranda’s heart. We’re surrounded here by all our children, except Russell, who is buried in Philadelphia near his college.
I died in 1874, but that’s ancient history now. Ah, I guess I’m rambling again. Maranda would like a word – or two.
Maranda Wickham Conwell (1817- 1877)
Well, you’ve met Martin, but I’ll let you know something about me. I’m Maranda Wickham Conwell. It’s “MAh-randa” spelled with an “a” – people usually get it wrong. Don’t you just hate that?
I was born in New York State, married my friend Martin, and settled here in Worthington. I passed away in Somerville, at the home of Russell’s son Leon and his sweet wife, Sarah. I am so proud of Leon. He became the mayor of Somerville, and served a term in the U.S. House of Representatives. But make no mistake, I am happy to be home again in Worthington.
My son Russell made much of his impoverished beginnings, but his was a rich and healthy country life where wealth was not measured in material blessings. As upstanding and prominent Methodists, we valued hard work and supported our church and minister as best we could.
Martin and I were well-educated and cultured people. We took several newspapers to keep up with events of the day, and I loved to read for my own enjoyment as well as my children’s edification. I shared with them the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Greenleaf Whittier’s abolitionist editorials from the New York Tribune.
Let me tell you a little more about Russell. We loved his first wife, Jennie Hayden. He met her at Wilbraham Academy, and they married when she was very young. Russell then served in the Civil War, but didn’t exactly distinguish himself, whatever he said later – he was court-martialed, you know. After the war Russell and Jennie went out to Minnesota, while Russell worked at lawyering. He traveled around the world, writing articles for a Boston newspaper and then lecturing when he returned. Jennie was often left alone and developed an interest in weaving, especially the newly invented Jacquard technique. But like so many women she died too young, at 27. She left behind my dear grandchildren, Nima Harriet and Leon. At that time Russell was living in Somervillle, where he tried unsuccessfully to run for office. Just a year later he remarried Sarah Sanborn, from a wealthy family in Maine. She prompted Russell to follow his divine calling, and he took a position at a Baptist temple in Lexington, Massachusetts. This eventually led his family to Philadelphia, where he established the Baptist Temple and eventually founded the college that became Temple University. Russell accomplished great things, but you can’t believe everything he said, especially about himself. Even as a boy he was a storyteller. God gave him a gift for storytelling, and he used it to great advantage. But his tales got taller every time he told them!
Once he left for the war, he never really returned to Worthington to live. He did come as a summer visitor with his followers, which brought some fame to the town and some money into local pockets. But don’t forget my other children here, the ones who stayed behind. They were good Christians and kindly neighbors.
My own life was a hard one, full of worry and hard work, but blessed all the same. I lost my baby Arthur, as my husband said. In those days we lost so many babies that we were afraid to count them among our children until they were five or six.
We enjoyed living in a tight community of like-minded neighbors in South Worthington, who helped each other whenever there was a need. For a new bride we would weave blankets and linens and construct quilt tops, either pieced or whole cloth. All the women and young ladies would gather, sometimes for two or three days, to quilt the tops onto the batting and a back piece. Occasionally we made a memory quilt for the bride, with each woman contributing an “autographed” square. We also worked together at haying and harvesting season. I wonder, do the ladies of the town still get together to make quilts?
Well, now I’ve had my say. I’ve been very glad to meet you all. Why don’t you head on over to the other end of the cemetery there and meet Johnny Ring. He grew up with my Russell and served with him in that terrible war. He has a lot to tell you.
John Quincy Ring (1843-1864)
Hello friends and neighbors. Gather around the stone here. If I could, I’d have a campfire ready for you.
I am John Quincy Ring, but thanks to my neighbor Russell H. Conwell, I’m better known to history as “Little Johnny Ring.” As you can see, I’m hardly little. I stand tall at five feet and nine-and-a-quarter inches. Perhaps I seemed little to Russell – he was always good at seeing what he wanted to see.
I was born in what was known then as Ringville. Is it still Ringville? Oh, good! I was the oldest son of Ethan Ring from Chesterfield and Fanny Murdock from South Hadley. We were cousins of those grander Rings buried over there, where I’m pointing. From 1851 on, my dad was postmaster at the Ringville post office and he was mighty proud of his work for the U.S. government. In our day there were five post offices in town, and we delivered mail twice each day. My mother was a beautiful, kind and gentle woman, but she took sick with a wasting disease, so I spent time caring for her and my younger brother and sister.
At the South Worthington school I was in the same class as Russell, who was only four months older than me. I had to leave school early, and by age 18 I was a salesman in Westfield. I think I was in the audience when Russell gave his first big speech about the evils of drink at the Methodist Church there. He was always good at speechifying, and ambitious, too, hankering after a college education and more. I was smart too, and good with numbers, but had to work and help look after things at home. Our family were devoted Methodists and I followed my faith as best I could.
After the War with the South started, Russell became a recruiting agent, paid to organize a company out of Hamden County – Company F of the 46th Mass. Volunteers. Russell was always good at bringing in a penny for a good cause. Because he formed the unit, he was of course named its Captain, and his “Mountain Boys” (his name for them) gave him a ceremonial sword to mark the occasion. The 46th didn’t see much action before disbanding, so Russell re-upped and became Captain of Company D of the Massachusetts 2nd Heavy Artillery, stationed in New Bern, North Carolina.
War fever was raging at that time. I wanted to enlist as soon as I turned 18, but I couldn’t with my mother so sick. I enlisted soon after she died and joined up with Russell and his new company. That was in August, 1863, and by September I had become the Company Clerk. The following January I was promoted to Corporal. But in the fanciful stories Russell told about me, I was too young to enlist and joined him as his dutiful servant, following him into battle like a puppy dog.
I served faithfully until I died on March 13, 1864. Russell claimed I died running across a burning bridge to rescue his sword, but actually I died at Hammond Hospital in Beaufort, North Carolina, from phthisis – you know it now as tuberculosis. My mother had the same disease, and we caught it from breathing the bad air near our house. There are stories of other soldiers running back into the fire at the battle of Newport Barracks to save the wounded, but I didn’t do anything like that. In fact Russell wasn’t even there at the time. He was in jail awaiting trial for leaving camp without permission just before the attack – AWOL I think it’s called now.
That sword was only ceremonial, useless in a battle. But in another version of Russell’s story, I suffered burns from running back to his burning tent and died in his arms. As the story goes, he was a cynic who mocked my avid Bible reading, but then my death revived his religious faith, and he determined he would work twice as hard for God – for both of us. It made such a good story I guess he couldn’t resist.
Not to boast, but Russell owes some of his fame and influence to me. There’s even a statue of me at Temple University, with my right hand resting on that sword and my left hand carrying an enormous Bible. I hear a young girl was the model. And those college professors who put up that statue think they are so smart!
Most of the military hospitals were filthy, and the soldiers taken there went through horrible surgeries or ended up sicker than before. But Hammond Hospital, where I died, was special and different. Hammond was the first hospital designed to help soldiers recuperate in a sanitary environment through rest and kind treatment. It was nicely located on the ocean in an old hotel, though I didn’t get to enjoy it long. I was buried quickly in the cemetery on the hospital grounds. My father made his slow way down to North Carolina and arranged to have my body carried home and buried with my family. I was glad my mother was already here, as I had to wait a long time to join my father, brother and sister – they never got the bad air and, like Russell, lived long, long lives.
I’m glad to be home but regret not seeing the world or having a wife and children. But as with many other Worthington boys, it was not meant to be.
I see we’ve reached the end of tonight’s visits, so speaking for all the resident wraiths, I want to thank you for coming, bid you farewell, and wish you a safe trip home. Be mindful of the roots and stones on your way out.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Pat Kennedy teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. She came by her interest in cemetery care and preservation by way of genealogical research. Most of the information about burials in Worthington was not online, so she started producing burial lists with the help of Diane Brenner and Ed Lewis of the Worthington Historical Society. The Worthington Cemetery Commission has undertaken the task of repairing and cleaning stones in our cemeteries and has made significant progress over the last few years, thanks to the generosity of the Rolland Cemetery Fund.
Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington with her spouse, Jan Roby, since 1994 and has been a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society, serving on its board and as one of its archivists. As someone who loves the mystery and adventure of historical research, she has curated several exhibits and contributed articles and photographs to The Corners. In her spare time she works at her day job as a book indexer: www.dianebrenner.com.
Warm thanks to Madeleine Cahill, Diane Brenner, Sheila Kinney, Christopher Marzec, and Casey Pease for their sterling impersonations of the dead.
Posted September 15, 2018.