E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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The only exception, so far as our fraternity was concerned,
as I remember, was little Joe Avery, the son of Professor
Avery. There had been a time-honored custom of "ringing
off the rust" at the end of the freshman year that is, ring-
ing the bell until the rope was worn out. To this custom,
the faculty decided to put a stop with our class. This was
regarded as bringing on our class everlasting shame and
disgrace, a thing that must not be allowed. On the night
when this finishing work of the class was to be performed,
the faculty, having taken the precaution to bar all the ave-
nues to the chapel, arranged themselves in full force about
the door, to prevent any possibility of breaking in. In this
crisis of affairs, the class gathered about the lightning rod.
while Joe scaled it, entered the belfry, and rang the bell in
the face of the faculty, and so saved the honor of the class.

On the whole, however, during my stay in college, the
discipline was wholesome, and no serious disturbances
occurred. There was, as a matter of course, some hilarity,
but very little of a scandalous nature.


While I did not lead my class, an ambition that never
took possession of me, I succeeded in attaining a fairly hon-
orable position, and did not fail to secure some o'f the minor
honors. I was appointed prize speaker and was placed on
the Junior Exhibition list honors that proved my greatest



Nor long before the time of the prize contest, during my
Sophomore year, while on a visit to Uncle Asa Austin's
af McGrawville, I had an attack of pleurisy, brought on by
inordinate laughing. Instead of returning to college, as was
my expectation, I was obliged to hasten home, where I was
confined some months by this somewhat serious attack.
When I had so far recovered as to be able to return to
college, being still weak from the effects of the attack, I
went to the woods to practice in preparation for the exhibi-
tion. This was too much for me in my enfeebled condi-
tion, and it brought on a mild form of bronchitis. How-
ever, I went through with the contest, so frightened by the
vast audience before me that I could not tell when I left
the stage whether I had said my piece or not. I disap-
pointed both myself and my friends in that I failed to receive
a prize. This failure of my voice was doomed to disap-
point and discourage me in a way more serious than the loss
of the prize. It eventuated in changing the plans I had laid
out for myself. Although I went on with my work in col-
lege, I did not fully recover from my sickness and difficulty
with my throat.

It was at this time that I became acquainted with Dr.
Noyes, ex-professor of Chemistry. He had a fine garden



and a small farm, and was much interested in horticulture.
He had also a small private laboratory in which he spent
much of his time. These interested me, and particularly the
horticultural pursuits. Accordingly, I went to board with
him 'for a short time. He gave me a plot of ground on
which to plant various seeds and fruits, and I practically
started a little nursery. This gave me out-of-door occupa-
tion at my leisure hours, in the hope that it might prove
beneficial to my health. It was doubtless helpful in keeping
rne up, but my health was far from being permanently

As the end of my Junior year approached, and before the
time of the Junior contest, to which I had the honor" of an
appointment, I decided, at the advice of my dear friend and
teacher, Dr. Edward North, to accept the invitation extended
me through the intercession of Dr. North, to spend the sum-
mer of 1847 with the Downings, the far-famed horticultur-
ists of Newburgh, N. Y. Dr. North was himself highly
interested in horticulture, and had an acquaintance with the
Downings. I had previously read their "Landscape Garden-
ing," which had set me on fire with its artistic and poetic
inspiration. I also knew something of their "Fruit and
Fruit Trees of America." I was glad of this opportunity
to gratify my taste in this direction, hoping that at the
same time my health might be permanently benefited by it.
The opportunity for getting a practical knowledge of horti-
culture and of forming acquaintance with these men proved
a very happy one. I became familiar with all lines of the
nursery business by going out and working with the man.

Mr. Charles Downing took me in as a member of his
family, and treated me with the greatest kindness and con-


sideration. We became, in fact, intimate, lifelong friends.
I always remember him with the greatest respect and deep-
est affection. A. J. Downing was the writer, while Charles
was the practical man. '/The Fruits and Fruit Trees of
America" was the product of the practical knowledge of
A. J., and after the sad death of his brother, he made all
the revisions of the book. Charles was a very plain man,
but full of good heart and good sense. With Mr. and Mrs.
Downing I stayed on through the entire summer. I could
not have had a more delightful home. The house was large
and roomy, and located on the banks of the Hudson, in
full sight of the Highlands.

Early in the fall, Mr. J. W. P. Allen, a nurseryman 'from
Oswego, came to Newburgh to purchase nursery stock, and
he besought me to go to Oswego and take an interest with
him in the nursery business which he had already estab-
lished. To this proposition I felt inclined to give some
attention, and my friend, Mr. Downing, seemed to encour-
age me in it. The business was in the line of my tastes, my
throat difficulty was still upon me and seemed effectually to
discourage me from the execution of the plans with which
I set out on entering college. The outdoor life and pleas-
ant occupation that this business offered seemed favorable
to the recovery of my health. Mr. Allen went to Perry
to consult with my father and mother, and the decision was
made to enter into partnership with Mr. Allen in his busi-
ness, my father lending me five hundred dollars towards
the venture. Abandoning my college and law-school plans,
I went to Oswego in the fall of 1847 to enter upon my new


Edward A. Sheldon, to a Friend.

Perry Centre, Aug. n, 1847.

It is my nature to "hurry." I regret that it is

so, but what is, can't be helped. I have always been told
that I would "hurry myself through life and into the grave" ;
and when I stop to reflect, I tremble at the danger. I don't
know when I ... have seen the moment I was not in a
hurry; or felt a restless desire to be doing, or do faster.
I think, however, I shall be able to overcome this in some
measure. ... I have written to Allen, giving him some
encouragement, but not a decided answer. Our folks all
seem to favor my going, though, as they say, they don't
know much about it. ... I think I have weighed the
matter well ; as well as I could had I years to decide in ; and
I have about come to the conclusion that, taking all things
into consideration, I had better accept. My greatest query
has been whether I should sacrifice my education for money;
and it is now with a great deal of reluctance that I can
consent to give it up ; but if I go on, I 'fear I shall be able
to do but little better than I have done for two or three
terms past.

I am convinced that close application to study is very
injurious to me, and the physicians and my friends tell me
I must not persist in it. I have thought, too, that I might
devote as much time to study as will be good for me, and
at the same time do the business of the nursery ; and I think
perhaps I shall be able to make arrangement with George
to take my place during the winter months, so that I can
be with my class.

I have written to Prof. North, making a full statement
of the case and asking his advice altogether with some
questions upon points of law and partnership. In a previ-
ous letter to me, speaking of Oswego, Mr. Allen's nursery,
etc., he says, "A connection with him (Mr. A.) would be
very desirable. The location is undoubtedly one of the best


in the State." Cowles, an old graduate near there, has writ-
ten to me to the same effect. This was the fore part of the
season, when I first thought of making some arrangement
with Mr. Allen. Professor then wrote to Allen, and I expect
said something for me, but what I know not ; but one thing
is certain; he has a great idea of a certain youngster of
our acquaintance; I fear far greater than he will realize.
Since I wrote you last I have received a letter from Mr.
Fanning, President of Nashville College, Tenn., in answer
to a letter I wrote him a short time since making some
inquiries about the course of study, system of education,
country, etc. He is desirous I should join them, and render
him some assistance in their Horticultural department. They
have connected with the college, a farm, garden, and nurs-
ery, workshops, etc., and each student devotes three or four
hours a day to some employment, to the avails of which they
are entitled. They devote a good deal of attention to Chemis-
try, Mineralogy, Geology, and Botany. All this appears
very well, but there is room enough for improvement in
our Northern system o'f education ; and I long to see it
brought about. . . .



ON REACHING Oswego, I became a boarder in Mr. Allen's
family, who then resided in the stone house on the corner
of East Seventh and Mohawk Streets. We erected the first
public greenhouse in Oswego on the corner of East Tenth
and Utica Streets, where the nursery was located.

In this family I had a fairly comfortable home, although
Mr. Allen was not a good provider. He was emphatically
a visionary man. He did not live in an everyday, practical
world. He did not see things as ordinary men saw them.
This characteristic manifested itself in all his business

During my first winter in Oswego, I made a few acquain-
tances. Mrs. Allen had a niece living with her, a Miss
Treadway, the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman, a
bright, lively young woman. She had a match in her friend,
Miss Elizabeth Ludlow, a daughter of Judge Ludlow. They
were full of fun and frolic, and indulged this propensity
very freely. My acquaintance with the Ludlow family
became quite intimate, and a good deal of freedom of inter-
course existed between us, as the following incident will
illustrate :

One winter evening, Miss Treadway and Elizabeth Lud-
low took it into their heads to play a trick on me. I doubt-



less gave them the impression of being a green country
boy, not accustomed to city ways, who might be easily
frightened. They dressed themselves up in very grotesque
garbs, with masks on their faces, and thus attired, called
me. They found me very cool, collected, and not at all
disturbed, and I entered freely into conversation with them.
Finding that I was not in the least disconcerted, they soon
retired, and I proposed to Mrs. Allen that I would at once
return the call, if she would loan me an old suit of clothes,
an old hat, some flour, and a jug. She entered into my plans
heartily, and I was soon on my way to the Ludlows in the
garb of an old, drunken miller. I entered the side gate,
ascended the back steps, uttering sounds appropriate to the
character I had assumed. As good luck would have it, the
old folks were all away 'from home, and the occupants at
that time consisted of Judge Ludlow's children, Anna,
Helen, Baldwin, and Elizabeth, and Miss Treadway. They
were all young people, none of them children, and not likely
to be harmed by a little fright. Elizabeth was doubtless the
youngest of the company, and she was a young lady. Tak-
ing me for a drunken tramp, as I had trusted they might,
the entire crowd fled precipitately upstairs, leaving me in
full possession of the parlors. Soon after, the windows
upstairs flew open, and there was a wild cry for help. Bald-
win, the only boy in the company, proposed to announce
that they had a gun, and would shoot. But Anna, the oldest,
with her characteristic conscientiousness, suggested that he
should not say that he had a gun, as this would be telling a
lie, but that he should talk about a gun.

Having accomplished my object, I thought it best to
retire before succor came. Returning to my boarding place,


I doffed the old suit, and putting on my usual attire, I went
over to the Ludlows, to see how matters were ending. Some
passing friend had come in at their call for help, and finding
no tramp, pacified their fears and got them all back to the
parlors, where I found them still in a very agitated state
of mind, discussing the intrusion of the tramp and their
fortunate rescue from harm. They narrated to me the whole
transaction with the greatest interest, and when they were
all through, and I realized that I had gotten out of it all
that I cared for, I gave them the true interpretation of the
affair. The girl team took it as a good joke, and rather
enjoyed the way they had been paid off for their call on
me, but Anna was inclined to take it more seriously, and I
thought she never quite forgave me for the fake. She
had a horror of deception of any kind, and I have thought
that she never quite trusted me after that as she did before.
For me this was about the only fun of the season. My time
was spent quietly at home and in attention to such business
as my new occupation demanded.

In the spring, some change o'f household plans made it
necessary for me to find a new boarding-place, and I went
to the Oswego Hotel to board and to room with my new
friend, Cheney Ames. He had recently lost his wife, and
he took me to his own room; and we became warm, lifelong
friends. He rose to a position of wealth and influence, and
proved himself of essential service to me in my future work.

It very soon became evident to me that I had embarked
in a sinking ship, that the firm was practically insolvent,
and that the best thing for me was to get out of it as soon
as practicable. The little money I had invested was quickly
absorbed, and I could not hope to get it back again. Mr.


Allen, however, offered to give me a small block of city lots
located in this part of the town, in lieu of my interest in
the company. I decided to accept this as being the best
thing I could do in the present exigency. It was a fortu-
nate escape at any price, and I came out in the end without
much i'f any loss, for I soon sold my lots, and thus by slow
installments got my money back.

I was once more free, and without any plans for life. I
had no liking for idleness, and began to look around eagerly
for some occupation. I sought for this in several different

Extracts from Diary of E. A. Sheldon,

East Oswego, 1847.

Sept. 8th. This day is an important period of my life. It
is, as it were, the first starting-point of my life; at least,
the birthday of my manhood. I have heretofore never
known what it was to look after or provide for myself, and
hence, I have been, as it were, care-free. To-day I have
commenced business for myself. This day I assume the
name of a partner in a firm, and its consequent cares and
responsibilities. I am frank to confess that my ambition
now is to gain an honorable reputation. I am resolved that
in six years from this time, if my life and health are spared,
no nursery in the State of New York shall surpass this of
otws. . . .

Sept. Qth. ist, Went to the greenhouse and worked at
making out a list of ornamental trees, shrubs, and plants
until noon. After dinner, went and saw Mr. McCarter, a
mason, about completing the mason work of the green-
house. 2nd, Worked at the catalogue. 3rd, Went over the
river to see about purchasing a horse. After supper went
again to see McCarter and Kline. Thus ends the second
day of my new life. There is so much to be done, it really


makes me feel wild. But Industry and Perseverance, they
say, do wonders.

Sept. loth. Went two or three miles to see a horse;
returned and wrote a preface for a catalogue. After din-
ner went down to the greenhouse and laid out a plan 'for
an office. Gave a note of $30.00 for a horse ; harnessed him
and went with Kline to cut some buds ; and then went to
town and bought a harness. After supper went to see about
purchasing a wagon and hiring masons.

Sept. nth. Went to the greenhouse and back and pre-
pared an advertisement for the "Horticulturist and Culti-
vator." Went with a man from Jefferson Co. and showed
him over the nursery. After dinner went with Allen about
five miles out of town to a Mr. Worden's, a cultivator of
fruit. Such a load of fruit I never saw. One little Bart-
lett three inches and a half in diameter bore three bushels
of the finest pears. Many of his apples too are very fine.
I begin to think more of Oswego than ever. If as a
general thing the fruit trees of Oswego can be made to
bear such abundance of fine fruit as those of Worden, every
rood of land ought to be covered with them.

Sept. 1 3th. In the forenoon budded apricots on peach.
This afternoon wrote an advertisement and two or three
letters; helped Allen pack fruit for taking to the fair; and
lastly chased the packet* some four miles. I do firmly
believe that man was born an hour too late, for he seems
always trying to catch up, but has never succeeded as yet.

Sept. I4th. Went to market for Mrs. Allen, then to
greenhouse, repaired stoneboat, went over the nursery in
search of the best opportunity of getting stone. Came back
and went down town to the harness shop ; and returned to
Allen's and chopped wood till noon. After dinner' went
down to greenhouse, and with Kline made out a list of
fruits for catalogue. Returned and chopped wood till sup-
per. This evening chatted and played backgammon.

"The fast canal-boat. ED.


Sept. i6th. Before breakfast went to market and sawed
some wood for Mrs. Allen. After breakfast went to the
nursery and set the hands at work; and after that budded
trees all day.

Sept. 21 st. . . . Met at the table with some young-
sters, collegians. Spent the evening with them. They enter-
tained me by playing whist while I sat moping in the cor-
ner. They expressed much surprise that I was a student
and could not play whist.

Nov. 1 2th. This forenoon stole somewhat of the Paddy's
trade by way o'f ditching. . . . This evening went to con-
sult with a lawyer about the nature of my security against
Allen. . . . He thinks as I do, that things look rather dark.
. . . Whether wilfully or not, I cannot tell, but the man
has certainly deceived me in regard to the real value of the
nursery stock and the income of the establishment. On
the strength of what he said, I have involved myself in
debt, from which I fear I shall not be able to extricate
myself. All things combine to give me the blues.

Dec. 3rd. ... A long interval has elapsed since I last
opened my day-book. (Entries had been continued pretty
regularly until Nov. ipth. Ed.) Most of this time I
have been absent on business at my father's. ... A large
portion of the time when here, I have the "blues" roundly.
I find a heavy debt accumulated on my shoulders. "What
shall I do?" is a question I cannot solve. ... I see my
folly in attempting to do so heavy a business without some
capital to start upon. ... I begin to think I must work
or starve.

Dec. 4th. ... I have the "blues" so that I can accom-
plish but little or nothing. I am almost constantly brooding,
over my condition, which unfits me for every duty. I must
make an effort to shake it off, and content myself with doing
the best circumstances will allow : angels could do no
more. .


Letter to His Sister.

New York, Apr. 18, 1848.
Dearest Sister,

It is late at night, and the watchmen's clubs are sounding
on the flagged pavements over which I have been treading
all day, yes 'for the whole week past, until foot-sore and
disheartened, I turn in to breathe out my heart feelings into
the ear of those whom I know are ever ready to sympa-
thize. I have just closed a letter to Frances, and my own
loved sister and family must come next. . . .

But you are anxious to know what brought me here, and
what I am doing. I believe you have my history to Clin-
ton. Since then it is short, but big with events. While
at Clinton I received a letter from Prince, an extensive
nurseryman at Flushing, L. I., eight or nine miles from the
city, promising, or at least giving me the strongest kind of
encouragement, that he would give me a situation as clerk in
his nursery. I accordingly came, putting implicit confidence
in what he told me. ... I reached Flushing a week ago
last Friday. Prince was away from home, nor did he return
until Saturday afternoon, when he gave me to understand
that he had nothing for me to do. ...

Oh! how can I describe, or how can you understand my
feelings at this time ! Nothing but despondency and black
despair seemed to hang over me. On Sabbath morning I
lay tossing to and fro with fevered head and brain, with not
a single ray of light or hope to cheer the present or the
future. . . . Oh! wretched man that I was! and I cried
"Who shall deliver me from the body o'f this death !" Then
a thought flashed across my mind, that I was, and had been
leaning too much upon an arm of flesh. I arose, fell upon
my knees, determined to leave my case with God. I wrestled
long and hard ; and blessed be God, he enabled me to prevail.

I was now as happy as I was before wretched. I look
upon that day as one of the most propitious periods of my
life. My joy indeed unspeakable. It was like another
regeneration. I believe, indeed, I was then enabled for


the first time fully to conquer my wicked, headstrong ambi-
tion, and completely to overcome my attachment to the things
of time and sense ; and make my duty to God second to noth-
ing. I knew now no better than before how I was going to
extricate myself from my present embarrassed situation ;
but I put my trust in God, and I was happy. I knew he
would provide a way for me.

The particulars o'f how I got away, etc., I will tell you
when I have more time. Suffice it to say I got back to
New York. And here for a full week I have been chas-
ing over these hard pavements in search of employment,
until foot-sore and weary I am almost discouraged.

. . . If I do not find a situation, I don't know but I
had better find my way home if my labor can be turned to a
good account there. How would it be ? Could enough more
work be laid out, by way of planting corn, or sowing grain
so as to make it an object or worth while for me to join
hands with you this summer? ... I have ordered my lots
at Oswego to be sold and have left the business with Mr.
Talcott. I presume I can stay with Mr. Downing this sum-
mer, and unless my aid can be turned to a good account at
home, perhaps I had better do so.

I tell you what it is, sister dear, I have learned some inval-
uable lessons, though at rather a dear price. I know you
have been very anxious to hear from me, but I have been
in so unsettled a state, that I feared it would give you but
little satisfaction ; and I hoped each morning that the night
might give things a more decided character ; but each night
has left me where the morning found me, and I felt that I
must delay no longer. A 'few days ago I sat down and
filled half a sheet for you, but everything was so indefinite
I committed it to the flames. Remember me in most ten-
der affection to the family and take a great deal of love to
yourself from

Your constant and devoted brother,




DURING this period of suspense, it came into my mind
to investigate the condition of the poorer classes in the city
of Oswego. I accordingly invested five cents in a small
blank book that I could carry in my pocket, decided upon
the statistics I could gather, and began my rounds among
the poorer tenements in the outskirts of the city. Among
the items that interested me particularly was the educational
status of the poor. Greatly to my surprise, I found fifteen
hundred persons who could neither read nor write. As a
country boy I had hardly known of such a person, and my
astonishment may be well understood on finding such a
degree of gross ignorance. To me it seemed like being in
the midst o'f heathendom.

Being deeply impressed by this state of things, I com-

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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 5 of 18)