Thursday, April 8, 2021

Life was hard for Long Lake’s early settlers

ben emerson livonia stanton emersonIn 1849 William Stanton brought his family across the frozen lake to an ice filled cabin on the west side of Long Lake next to Joel Plumley who had arrived in 1832. He was an unfriendly vengeful man. He had been known to set fires, cut tails of animals, and refuse to help anyone. He claimed Long Lake as his own and saw neighbors as intruders. His remarks when asked to help a starving family that arrived in the dead of winter; “Why should I if they are fool enough to come in the middle of December.” William Stanton’s daughter, Lavonia, kept a journal and this text was sourced from that journal.

At age fourteen, Lavonia married a local man named Benjamin Emerson. They moved on to the back section of the land left by John and Alice Boyden who had encountered Mr. Plumley’s wrath because they bought the land that he wanted. One day Alice went out to the back field and discovered that the man had set fire to their hay. That was the final straw. They packed up their belongings, moved across the lake, and built another house.

In the meantime, Benjamin and Lavonia Emerson (both pictured here) purchased the back lot of the vacated Borden property because it bordered her parents’ property. They were aware of Joel’s temper and though he had cut the tail on her parents cow one night, he had not done anything yet to the young couple. They began to clear the land, building a modest cabin, happy as two young lovers could be, but blind to what lay before them.

One would think that nothing could touch this remote community and these young lovers hidden away in the crags and crevices of these domed mountains, but war has long fingers. This war was a travesty that brought brother against brother; this was the Civil War, which threatened to divide the nation. One fine fall day as Benjamin and Lavonia were finishing their harvest, they spoke of the unspoken. Lavonia had heard about the war. She knew several men who had been called to serve and she prayed Benjamin would not be another one. However, in 1862, he was called, and. with tears and fears, Lavonia kissed the man she loved good-bye knowing that she may never see him again. Many nights, she sat alone in their cabin in the dark backfield writing to her Benjamin. Working hard helped relieve her of some of her fears. One gray morning the following spring, she was digging in the dirt preparing a garden. She was struggling with the rocks, thick tough tree roots, and the near impenetrable hardpan soil. She did not hear the man approach.

“What are you doing?”

Immediately, she recognized the voice. It was old Joel Plumley. Oh no, she thought, what is he going to yell about now. She stood up and faced him. “I’m planting corn.”

  “Well, look here, Lavonia, you are planting those rows too close together. He took the hoe, made a few hills, and covered them. “That is the way to plant corn,” he remarked. She thanked him for his kindness. He mumbled, “You’re welcome, Miss,” and ambled back over the field to his place. That afternoon Joel came back with his oxen. He and Lavonia’s two brothers cleared the ground in front of her house and put in potatoes.

jeremiah plumleyThen he left, entering his quiet childless home. For a moment, he thought of his son, Jeremiah, who was fighting in the Civil War. He did not know if he was dead or alive. Joel lit the fire, sat down, looked out his window, and smiled as he saw the lights of the Shaw house through his window.

Now, feeling the warmth of the fire and the soft light falling through the window, he realized that should this town have been only his, it would be dying with him in just a few years. The town would live. Long Lake would stay long after he was gone and then with one final thought, his dark eyes crinkled, his mouth turned up in that crooked smirk, and he proclaimed, “But I will forever be known as the first white settler to step foot in Long Lake.

From the pages of Conquering the Wild by Gail Huntley, www.gailhuntley.com

Photo at left of Jeremiah Plumley. Photos provided by Gail Huntley.

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Gail Huntley is an author, retired English teacher, and playwright, who has written historical plays for Hamilton County and several historical books. She grew up in Long Lake and now splits her time between her cabin there and her place in Virginia near her children.


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11 Responses

  1. Charlie Stehlin says:

    My mind must be slipping as I thought it was John Todd who first stepped foot in Long Lake when it was a true remote wilderness. And it was Todd who walked through the woods and came upon, for the first time, Blue Mountain Lake….or I thought I read. I’m still learning! No matter, the history is interesting, and these Stanton’s are new to me, unless I forgot which is not so uncommon anymore with me. I bet that Stanton journal is worth a few shiny pennies nowadays.

  2. Robert White says:

    Did the men return from the Civil War? I know the Plumley and Emerson names have survived that time period.

  3. I wonder if cantankerous Joel Plumley was of the lineage of Charles Plumley, son of John Plumley (Somersetshire, England) who came to America in the 1670’s? And was Joel related directly to Honest John Plumley, the famed Adirondack Guide from Long Lake? I would think so.

    • Deana Wood says:

      Joel was honest John Plumley’s father. My second great-grandmother Harriet Plumley Henderson was honest John’s sister. Joel was born in New Hampshire.

    • I answered you with a private email but will answer here for everyone. Yes, Joel was Honest John Plumley’s father. My research only covers the people who came tothe Long Lake area, not their ancesters before that; however, it looks like Deana may have that information for you. Also, the man on the cover of my book, Conquerieng the Wild, is Lou Plumley a descendent of Frank, Honest John’s son. Thank you for responding.

  4. Cristine Meixner says:

    The first sentence had me thinking William Stanton was the vengeful man. It was very confusing until I reached the third graf. Very interesting though, once I got my head straightened out!

  5. Linda KI says:

    Thank you for such an interesting story, look forward to more!

    • GAIL huntley says:

      Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to leave a comment. I will have all my books at the Long Lake Farm Market every Thursday this summer. If you are in the area, please stop by my booth and say hello.

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