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The Life of John W. Johnson
Chapter 8
Basket Making & Marriage - c1855

Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba

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I went to school a short time, and after recovering somewhat from my lameness, having quite a number of baskets, I went to Bangor, and took my baskets with me to Boston. I intended to retail them out, but finding that I could not travel very well, I sold them out in lots, and then went back to Oldtown, and stopped a short time. Whilst there I became acquainted with Susan Newell, whom I afterwards married, and her brothers Thomas and Loring Newell. The brothers wished me to go with them to Salem, Mass., and stop until fall, making baskets, and then they wished me to travel with them through the winter, and give entertainments. I was somewhat tired of Oldtown, and also dissatisfied with my partner in the shop, and we therefore separated, and I went with the Newells to Bangor, and there took the boat for Boston, Mass., and then went to Salem, where we found some Indians with whom we camped.

After arriving there I was set to work pounding ash for baskets, and also brought ash upon my shoulder from the surrounding swamps to our camp. Before the ash can be worked, or before it will strip, it has to be pounded very hard, striking about two blows in the same place, until every part has been pounded, and then each year's growth becomes somewhat separated and can be stripped off, and these parts can also be stripped, if desired, into pieces as thin as a ribbon. The strips are usually about seven feet long, and smoothed by placing the strip upon the knee, and then gauging the knife upon it, drawing the strip through, giving to it an equal thickness, which requires some little practice. Whilst here we used to shoot at money, some four or five rods distant, and by this we picked up considerable change.

Whilst shooting one day, an Irishman standing near, to raise a laugh, knocked my cap down over my eyes. This he continued to do for some time until I was exceedingly angry, and raising my bow, I struck him pretty hard over the head, and started to run, the Irishman after me with a large stone, which he threw, but it did not strike me. I then turned upon him, and in running around the tent he fell, and I was just in the act of striking him, when a companion of his struck me in the neck with a slung-shot, the marks of which blow I shall probably carry to my grave.

Fortunately for myself I did not receive the full force of the blow, as it grazed my neck, but what I did receive was enough to make me stagger into the tent that was open, and prostrated me. I was somewhat stunned, but soon recovered, and went out of the tent, and around to where the Irishmen were, when I heard the one that struck me wearing that he would serve every red-skin in the same manner. But he had no sooner got the words out of his mouth, when before he was aware of it, by a well-directed blow under the chin, I laid him prostrate, and then seizing an axe that was near, I told them to keep at a proper distance, and the police coming up at the same time, took the fellows away. They vowed vengeance against us, and threatened to destroy our tent, and for a few nights we watched pretty closely, expecting trouble, but no one came to molest us. We remained in this place about a week, being troubled exceedingly by the Irish, who came to our camping-ground intoxicated, and then insulted us in many different ways.

We next went to Manchester, and while waiting at the depot to take the cars for that place, a gentleman came up and commenced a conversation with me, asking various questions, and at length asked me if I should not like to learn a trade, and that if I did he would give me a good chance. There had quite a number gathered around us, and the Newells fearing that I might want to go with him, began to talk with the rest of the company in the Indian tongue, and also told me that the whites were a miserable people, and persuaded as to run and get on to the team that had our baggage, that we hired hauled to Manchester. I believed all the Indians told me about the whites, and I thought they were a very bad people, and I therefore hurried off, and soon caught up with the team and jumped on.

When we arrived at Manchester, we found that our friends that went in the cars had secured a place near a salt marsh for us to put up our tents, and we therefore drove immediately to the spot, and put them up.

We made a great many bows and arrows while here, and also some baskets, and also picked up some change by shooting at money. At the depot where we usually shot at money, was a long platform, and one day while shooting there, a man stuck a beautiful knife into the platform, saying that he would give it to me, if I would strike it with my arrow. He had placed the edge towards me, and when I fired, I noticed that a splinter flew from my arrow, and I ran and took the knife, and put it into my pocket. The man came up and said that I did not touch the knife with my arrow, but picking up the splinter I convinced him to the contrary, and kept the knife. He intended to impose upon me in a way that in very common by sticking up his knife, edge towards me, so that in firing I might split my arrow, and then walk up and take his knife, and thus raise a laugh among the crowd that had gathered around, but he found that he was mistaken, for I got ahead and took the knife. We were oneday shooting pieces of money stuck up in the cracks in a post, and while there a drunken man came along, and would get in the way of our shooting. We advised him to get out of the way, but he paid no attention to what we said, but was careless and unconcerned, saying, that "that them little fellows couldn't hurt him if they did hit him." The ones that were shooting at this time were little boys, and as one of them not five years old let an arrow fly, the man reeled in its way, and it struck him in the forehead, knocking him senseless, and it was sometime before they brought him to his senses. If the arrow had been a sharp-pointed one, it would undoubtedly have killed him, but the head of the arrows that they use when they shoot at money are about the size of a quarter.

We remained here about a week, and then went to Essex, Mass. Myself and one of the Newells ran the distance there, and going into the ship-yard, made quite a little sum of money before our company arrived with their team. We camped near the ship-yard, and remained there about four weeks making baskets, and I worked very hard while here, lugging upon my shoulders the ash to make our baskets of, some six miles. I used to pound it in the wood, and also strip it, and then tying up a bundle, put a strap around it, and around my forehead, and another over my shoulders, and in this way I carried the ash.

From here we went to Ipswich, where we had a great amount of company coming not only in the day, but keeping it up late in the night, but we did very well while here, selling a great many baskets.

We next went to Amesbury, and while there we obtained permission to cut some ash in a swamp, a short distance from our camps. The swamp was a very large one, and we cut over the line upon another man, which we had to settle for a short time after we left the place. We experienced a very severe storm while here, the wind blowing down our tents whilst the rain completely drenched us, which was rather bad, as we had a sick child at that time. A short time after the child died, and I carried the body to Haverhill, where it was buried in the Catholic burying ground, and leaving my horse, I secured a large express team and drivers and went back to Amesbury to move our goods to Haverhill. Having packed up our things, we started off, and about eleven o'clock that night, as we were going down a short hill not far from Haverhill, the holdback broke, and the horse in the shafts (we had a tandem team), began to kick, and the driver jumped off, leaving the horses full possession of the team. I was seated upon the top of the load, which was not a very desirable situation, considering the lay of the land before me. Upon each side of the road was a rail fence, and the ground fell off on both sides from eight to ten feet.

The horses finding that no restraint was upon them, bounded down the hill, striking the rail fence at the side of the road, and smashing it down. The carriage, horses, and myself were precipitated down the embankment, but I jumped before I reached the ground, clearing myself somewhat from the boxes, trunks, and other things that were stored upon the team, and escaped with some slight bruises. After recovering from the fall, I found that the horses had been bruised some, but the carriage was a complete wreck, and our goods were scattered promiscuously over the ground.

One of our number went ahead and procuring a lantern, came back, and we picked up the things, and putting them in a pile, covered them over. The driver procured a light wagon, and took the two Indians that were with us and went to Haverhill, leaving me to take charge of the goods. I fixed up a suitable place and laid down, and was awakened in the morning by some of the neighbors who had brought me a capital breakfast, to which I did ample justice. After eating my breakfast, our driver came with a good team, and loading up our goods we went to Haverhill, camping after we arrived there near the Catholic Church.

I was married while here to Susan Newell by the Catholic priest, who, when about to marry me, asked me what my name was. I told him that I was called John Lawshian and sometimes John Glossian. He then wanted to know if I had been christened. I told him that I could not tell him positively whether I had or not. The priest told me that he could not marry us unless I know that I had been christened. I again told him that I did not know, but that if he was intending to marry me, he must do it quickly, as I did not wish to stand there to be stared at, as there had quite a number gathered around us. Thinking more, probably of his fee than the objections, as that would more than balance any compunctions of conscience, if he had any, he married us.

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