Monday, February 6, 2012

From Wood County, Ohio, to Sierra Leone – Two Christmases, 1893 and 1894

[The man and women on the right are Zella Bates and John King, posing with fellow Otterbein students, about 1893.]

Zella Bates was a country girl from Wood County. She grew up on a farm in the wilds of eastern Wood County, between Risingsun and Wayne, which she knew by its original name of Freeport. Her family, including her mother, father, and brother Sardis, were devout members of the United Brethren Church, which operated a small college in Westerville, near Columbus.

To this college, then and now called Otterbein University, Zella went in the fall of 1892 as a freshman. In addition to studying Latin, German, and geometry, she met a fellow student named John R. King. A native of Pennsylvania, King was already a licensed minister when he met Miss Bates. Along about October, Mr. King proposed after a courtship mainly involving walks, reading to each other, and attending the newfangled football games. Miss Bates accepted, and they married the following June.

In her diary, she recounts such country events as quilting bees, taffy pulls, harvests, and a couple of Christmases. One was a down home, Wood County Christmas; uneventful, quiet, and full of visits and friends.


16th Sat. Sardy & I leave W. on the morning train We go to Columbus, then take the H. V. [Hocking Valley rail]road at Fostoria I take the O.C. [Ohio Central] for our folks are not expecting us in Bradner papa meets me then goes for Sardy & the trunks. We are glad to be home again.

17. Sunday. papa & I walk to S. school & preaching at the M.E. [Methodist Episcopal church]

22nd Friday. Mama, Sardy, & I go to Fostoria to-day to do some shopping

23rd Saturday. The M. E’s have a Christmas tree. The weather is quite warm for this time of year.

24th Attend Sunday school & & preaching at the M.E.

25th Christmas Day Monday We are all at home to day suppose we will be separated [sic] by a great distance next Christmas. This is a warm & pleasant day.

26th …. Get a letter and Christmas present from John to-day. He is coming Sat.

29th …. Pa & Sardy go to a lecture in Freeport in the evening.

30th This morning John comes on the 8.30 train Sardy meets him. We spend a pleasant day.

31st Papa, Estelle, John & I go to Sunday. school. … dinner in the evening Sardy takes John & I to Bradner to take the evening train for Columbus. We call on Effie & Fred until train time and almost miss the train. We get in Columbus at 10.30 o’clock…

But what a difference a year makes. The newly married Mr. & Mrs. King, who had several friends in the active United Brethren foreign missions, decided to give up Wood County for the wilds of West Africa. Zella hints at this in her entry for December 25. In November of 1894 they sailed for Europe on the SS Britannic, which took them to Europe. A smaller steamboat ushered them into what must have been a nearly unimaginable world of Africa. They arrived in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, just in time to experience Christmas, West African style.


Monday, December 24 . . . Mr. King is bitten by a Centipede in the evening. I am very much frightened but they tell us it is not dangerous. Early this evening we hear firecrackers and see torpedoes flying and are told that is to celebrate… this is Christmas time. A number of children and young people come up to our window with a jumping Jack and sing and carry on. They are serenading I suppose.

Tue 25th Christmas Day. We sleep until late this morning as we were tired and up late. We have cocoa rather late, have a number of callers both yesterday and to-day…. This is a strange Christmas. The day is warm and it seems like a fourth of July. In the afternoon a crowd …. are going around pounding on drums and singing & dancing, They come in front of our window and make a noise for a while. … it seems dreadful to see them carrying on so…. We spend a very pleasant day…..We enjoy the fruits ever so much. We have had breadfruit, oranges, bananas….all of which I like I also like cocoa which takes the place of potato. I make a silk tie for John to-day.

The Kings lived and worked in Africa for fifteen years, before returning to Ohio. John King died in 1938, Zella in 1954. They were benefactors to Otterbein, while retaining income from Wood County farmland they inherited. Their lives were full of extraordinary contrasts, and among their memories were surely those remarkably different Christmases of 1893 and 1894.

[Zella Bates King’s two volume diary is in the Otterbein University Archives. Thanks to University Archivist Stephen Grinch for providing access. I have modernized spelling and punctuation and removed some redundancies.]

How They Paid the Doctor in New Riegel, ca 1860

(Probably the oldest surviving phograph of New Riegel shows the Nuns' Covent in about 1857, contemporary to Doctor Hermann)

We all groan inwardly when faced with medical bills and the complications of insurance. Some procedures are covered; some are not. Some are paid in full, some in varying percentages. And if you are covered by more than one insurer, the paperwork becomes mountainous. Don’t get me wrong, the only thing trickier than insurance is no insurance, so perhaps we should be happy with our lot.

In 1857, my great great grandfather, Johann Baptist Ilgert, fractured a bone. He lived near the hamlet of New Riegel in Seneca County, Ohio. The people in and around New Riegel were mostly German-speaking immigrants and mostly farmers. Luckily, New Riegel had its own doctor, who was able to treat the fracture. Grandfather Ilgert paid Dr. Franz Hermann two dollars, who carefully recorded it in his account book (although, curiously, he failed to record which bone was fractured!). Dr. Hermann accepted cash, but as we shall see, took his payment in many forms.

In rural communities, long before insurance or Medicare, doctors were often paid with either farm produce or labor. Dr. Hermann’s account books and ledgers are preserved in the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont (a copy is in the Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University) and show what the doctor traded his medical expertise for in the 1850s and 60s.

Franz Hermann was born in 1821 in Kaiserslauten, Germany. He left Germany for the United States in 1850, allegedly to escape prosecution for being involved in a “student revolt.” Settling in New Riegel in 1857, he saw patients there until 1866 when he relocated to Bluffton in Allen County. He married Christina Hemley in 1855 and the couple had at least five children. Dr. Hermann died in 1882 and is buried in Pandora in Putnam County, his wife’s hometown.

There were two doctors in New Riegel in the early 1860s. In the 1860 census, they lived practically next door to each other, separated by one empty house. The other doctor, Jacob Boep, had been born in France and was slightly older than Hermann. It may be that New Riegel’s mostly German-speaking citizens preferred Dr. Hermann. Dr. Hermann’s net worth, as shown in the Census of 1860, was slightly higher than Dr Boep’s, too.

But in looking over Hermann’s list of patients, their medical needs, and how they paid, one wonders if he had any cash money at all. Take the case of Peter Theis. Theis, a 47 year old farmer from Luxembourg, paid his bill with one load of pumpkins and sixteen pounds of pork! John Stuhl, a 58 year old farmer born in Belgium, only needed “advice” from Hermann, and his bill was less, accordingly. He paid with three dozen eggs and two bushels of barley.

There were telltale signs of changing medical practices. Peter Hubertssprung underwent “cupping” from the doctor. Cupping was a treatment involving pressing a heated cup to the skin; as the cup cooled, it was believed to “draw out” the disease. Although cupping has long since been discredited, the farmer paid with a ham, four chickens, and a bushel each of corn and potatoes. There is a clear distinction between doctors and dentists in our day, but Dr. Hermann was willing to work on teeth as well. A certain N. Plews paid fifty cents for “drawing 2 teeth.” For another patient, he received forty five cents for drawing one tooth, but only a nickel for the second.

Not all the patients paid with farm produce. Karl Hauser paid with a half-day of wood chopping. Barbara Hiesbun paid by doing laundry. In 1860, John Pieri (sp?) paid him with a 'bookstand" valued at two dollars and "wool....45 cents." Conrad Sacher gave the doctor both “hay” and “work.” Baptist Heitzman was credited fifty cents for "3/4 day work w/o board.” A Mr. Hasenbihler apparently traded his son’s work; he was credited fifty cents for "one day chopping wood (by boy)." When one considers that “work” at that time was hard, slow, and mostly done with the hands, these payments were not casual.

We don’t know how Dr. Hermann valued the produce and the labor he received. From one patient he received a "load" of corn fodder, which he valued at one dollar. How big a load was it and what did he do with the fodder? The doctor may have had cows; horses cannot eat corn fodder. But he also may have resold the fodder. Like much of history, the evidence does not answer all our questions.