War of 1812

The Battle of Sandy Creek

Emily Otis Gill

The following account was found in an old file of the Sandy Creek News for May 7, 1896 and is reproduced in this column because of the interesting description it gives of the War of 1812 and of life during the 18 th century. Mrs. Emily Otis Gill who wrote it was born in Ellisburg April 3, 1814. The battle of Sandy Creek occurred about one half mile from her father’s house when she was less than two months old. She lived to be nearly 98 and retained to the last her remarkably brilliant mind. Her reminiscences follow:

“I was born amidst the tumultuous scenes and casualties of ruthless war. My first remembrances were very antagonistic to our Canadian neighbors, as the British soldiers or Red Coats as they were called, had invaded our country or even our neighborhood for a battle was fought only one-half mile from our house.”

“I was named by one of our American officers after his sweetheart, with the promise of a golden eagle if he lived, but he died. A battle was fought within a half mile of our house. The balls flew by the house in too close proximity to please my mother, so she took her baby and fled to a place of safety, nothwithstanding they were keeping what was then called a tavern, modern hotel. Her old brick oven was full of meats and dainties for the officers as soon as the battle would be over. When she returned next morning the floor was covered with dead bodies and the blood was over the soles of her shoes and every available cotton thing was torn up for bandages for the living, not a small loss when cotton cloth was seventy-five cents a yard. My father was one of the men who helped to carry that large cable eighteen miles upon their shoulders. My longevity perhaps I inherited from my mother. The ages of herself and five sisters amounted to 515 years at the time of their death.”

“Times have changed wonderfully since then. Our grandmothers and mothers plied the spindle to make cloth whereby to clothe the family. Now it is made ready for our use. (If we can get the wherewithal to but it) If an animal died there was no loss. The hide was tanned in the good old fashioned way, not split and burned up by the new process, and it went to shoe the family when cold weather set in, also made in our own homes by traveling cobblers.”

“After my marriage I settled down as all farmers’ wives did at that time to a life of drudgery. I sometimes had some higher aspiration than making butter and cheese. As I sat musing one day these words came to me, Cease, cease these longings, peace be still, for fame ne’er followed in the track of Gill, but I can look back through my ancestral genealogy and trace such names as James Otis, signer of the Declaration of Independence; also Longfellow and others of note. So I often wonder why their shadow could not fall on me.”

“In 1837 I went from Buffalo to Syracuse and it took five days, now it takes five hours. Washington passed away only fourteen years before my birth. Lafayette visited this country in 1824, the year sister was born. Years later I was in Canada and a lady of my acquaintance bought some plates in Kingston that had the landing of Lafayette in New York on them and her husband was so mad he would not eat from them.”

“The first steamboat on Lake Ontario was long since my remembrance. From these low beginnings I have witnessed marvelous growths. Oceans are traversed by steam. The iron horse speeds its way from Maine to California in a marvelous short time. Allow me my friends to mention the things that science has wrought in the medical world. Years ago in performing a surgical operation no anesthetics were known. Patients had to succumb to the keen strokes of the knife until agony was too great to be endured and would sink beneath the fearful shock. I imagine that the next fifty years will not witness as many improvements as the last unless it is in electricity.”

“I have lived under the rule of eighteen presidents and the most vigorous campaign I ever witnessed was when William Henry Harrison was elected in 1840. I had eight brothers and sisters, five of whom are laid at rest; forty cousins, mostly gone, only one older than I am. My life has not been one of brightness or all gladness but tempered just enough with sadness that others woes I’ll not forget. If sorrow has overtaken me I have ever seen in it the hand of a loving Father and when the dark clouds passed away I could see a silver lining.”

Mrs. Emily (Otis) Gill

War of 1812 soldiers were: Charles Alton, Andrew Baker, John Baldwin, Daniel Bealls, Fred Canough, Asa Carpenter, Erastus Chappell, Peter Coon, B. Or L. Covey, William Cunningham, John and Smith Dunlap, Harmonius Ehle, Sam Goodrich Jr., Nicholas Gurley, Samuel Hadley, Isaac Harvey, Philip Helmer, Eben, Elias and Newell Howe, Oliver Hunter, Phineas Lilley, Isaac Mosier, Moses Morey, James T. Murphy, Pliny Nash, Nathan Noyes, Seth Porter Remington, Reuben Salisbury, Jonathan Snyder, Joseph Tucker, John Tuttle, James Upton, Benjamin and Isaac Weser and Christopher Wodell.