The Farm Boy And The Angel


In a hill on the Cuyler farm was a cave “containing an immense value of gold and silver, stand of arms, also a saddle for a camel hanging on a peg at one side of the cave” (“the ancient inhabitants of this country used camels instead of horses”). There were other caves, too, and one sheltered “barrels and hogsheads of coined silver and gold—bars of gold, golden images, brass kettles filled with gold and silver—gold candlesticks, swords,” all in charge of spirits clad in ancient dress.

To find such riches, hire a glass-looker, blindfold him, and bid him kneel. Then hold before him at eyelevel a tall white hat in which his seer-stone lies concealed and he will see the place you seek.

To possess the treasure take a black sheep to the spot, cut its throat, and lead it bleeding in a circle that the red drippings may penetrate the earth and appease the ghastly guards below.

Or, dressed in black and riding a black horse with a switch tail, gallop to the place and demand the treasure in a certain name. As the chest rises from the earth, lift the lid and take your prize, but beware the blinking toad beside it that in a trice becomes a man and knocks you three or four rods with one blow.

New impulses swept western New York as the year 1825 began. Not since the coming of the Yankees exiled by iSio’s cold summer had the countryside been , so stirred. Already commercial craft were plying long sections of Governor De Witt Clinton’s man-made river, which was to be completed and opened in the $f fall, and profits were said to exceed the golden dreams of their owners. The Erie Canal towns near the Smith family home were boiling with expectations.

From the east to nearby Sodus on the shore of Lake Ontario came a colony of Shakers, and immediately the nervous religious ferment of the past decade intensified. The Shakers’ insistence on asceticism, celibacy, cleanliness, and quiet contrasted strangely with their worshipful rituals. Visitors reported their religious exercises included dancing and whirling and marching, which moved them to such ecstasies that participants broke from the pattern and, receiving “the gift of tongues,” howled out long passages of unintelligible gibberish.

From the east, too, came the Irish laborers on the canal, and their presence in the miasmic Montezuma swamps had added the melancholy of their native music and the humor of their tall tales to local folklore. The ghostly voices of malaria-slain diggers called at night above the bogs between Geneva and Seneca Falls, and the bills of mosquitoes, blown up by Celtic fancy to the size of well drills, pierced the iron sides of sap kettles.

Spring was slipping into summer when out of the west on the placid waters of the new channel floated a gala craft, bearing the old Marquis de Lafayette. The boy-hero of the American Revolution, now sixtyeight, had returned in the previous year to the land he had fought for, and his triumphal tour of it was soon to end. He had given the lake-country towns short notice of his visit, but they were ready for him. At Rochester a flotilla of twelve flower-strewn, pennant-hung barges awaited his arrival. Brass bands on their decks crashed into “Hail, Columbia” and “Hail to the Chief,” and an artillery company let go airshattering salutes as his boat slipped under bridges laden with cheering, waving admirers. The canal’s banks were thronged, the city’s roof tops covered, its windows packed, as the populace raised “shouts of joyful acclamation.”

The cannoneers of Canandaigua, gathered hastily at their guns, welcomed the tall wizened general that evening with salvos heard far across Canandaigua Lake, and the town’s spacious hotel produced a feast for one hundred distinguished guests. By ten o’clock next morning a lake-to-lake journey had been made, and the nation’s most welcome visitor, in an elegant barouche drawn by six milk-white horses, rolled into Geneva, heralded by massed bands and the “roar of ordinance” echoing over Seneca’s waters. When Lafayette re-embarked on the canal that evening at Syracuse, having covered seventy-five miles by coach in twenty-four hours, the towns through which he had passed were already contentedly regarding the day’s efforts as only a rehearsal of the autumn celebration soon to come when the waters of Lake Erie would at last be linked with those of the broad Atlantic and the harvests of the boundless West might be dispatched on waterways to the far-scattered markets of the world.