Abolishment of Hard Times: Part Two

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Written by Ebenezer Wakeley, Jr. (1843-1916)

Edited by great-great grandson Gregory Robert Cunningham

 My father, Ebenezer Wakelee, the son of Daniel Wakelee and Mary Baldwin, was born January 13, 1818.  He married Mary Jennings of Greenfield Hill, CT, who was the daughter of Seth Jennings who lived in Easton, Fairfield County, CT, and died there in the year 1871.  My parents were married in 1841.  I was born in Trumbull, Fairfield County, Connecticut, on December 17, 1843.  I was the second of six children.  When I was born the house my father was building was between the two turnpikes on land inherited from the estate of his father.It was not ready to be occupied and we were living in an old house on the New Turnpike.  The first remembrance of life was in the new house that my father had built.  Here the family lived until they moved to Bridgeport in 1852.

Hard Times

It was with great difficulty that men could get work no matter how skilled in their trades.  The times were hard in the North before the Civil War, and there existed what was known as the “1857 Hard Times.”  During this period of hard times my father was without work, so he would cut wood for the farmers living out and about Bridgeport.  He was an expert with the axe, having acquired this ability to wield an axe when he was a boy working under the control of his father.  For two or three generations, the Wakelees had been hewers of timber, which they sold, when prepared at the saw mill, to the ship builders to be used in the construction of vessels.

It was during these hard times that my father solicited of a passing farmer the job of cutting wood and was told to go to work and cut the cord wood at a place about two and one half miles from Bridgeport.  My father was so glad for the chance of work that he did not bother about the price to be paid.  I went to see my father at work and I remember there was snow on the ground.  However, my father cut considerable wood and piled it properly to be measured for the cord.  One day my father was home when the farmer was going by and my father ran out to talk settlement.  There was a long talk on the highway, old Main Street, before my father came back to the house.  He was in a great heat of anger, using oaths in doing so.  The farmer wanted my father to take a portion of the wood, and a little money as payment.  My father, when aroused to anger, a violent swearer and I remember that on this occasion he did more than swear.  He cursed the Country and demanded God to bring blood and revolution upon this country.  It is more than likely that the Almighty paid little attention to this prayer, though blood and revolution came soon enough.  I could not understand why the conditions were such as to take men so dissatisfied and to make it so difficult for men to live.

The times were hard before the Civil War and these times made a great impression on me.  I believed in the abolishment of these hard times.  Much was then being said, and since then written and spoken on the abolishment of slavery, but my thoughts was on the abolishment of hard times.  These memories led me later to be a strong advocate of pure bimetallism, or the use of the purchasing power of both gold and silver in furnishing the standard of prices in the monetary institution of our Country.

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About Author

Mary K. Witkowski is the former Bridgeport City Historian and the Department Head of the Bridgeport History Center, Emeritus. She is the author of Bridgeport at Work, and the co-author with Bruce Williams of Bridgeport on the Sound. Mary has had a newspaper column in the Bridgeport News, a blog for the Connecticut Post, and a weekly spot on WICC. She continues to be involved in many community based activities and initiatives on local history and historic preservation.

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