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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Vol. 75, Number 1 (Oct. 1973)

The legend of a coin,   p. 20


Page 20


TheLegend
ofaCoin
The excerpt in our August-September
issue from the book Blacks on John
Brown resulted in our receipt of the
vignette below, written by Mrs. Helen
Kessenich of Spring Green. The child
mentioned, Sylvia Emeline Newell,
grew up to marry Thomas Hill, in
Spring Green, in 1870. Of their six
children, two survive: Pearl Hill
Bossard "19, and Irma Hill Gray, whose
husband is Harry L. Gray '07. A
brother was the late Carl N. Hill, who
graduated from the Law School in '08.
  A Spanish milled dollar minted in
1787 and once owned by John Brown,
the Abolitionist, has been given to
the Daughters of the American
Revolution, New York City, after
many generations with a Spring Green
family. This unusual coin, nicked by
tiny teeth marks, has a hole drilled
through it, for in 1854 a little girl,
Sylvia Emeline Newell, wore it on a
ribbon around her neck and used it
as a teething ring.
   In 1845 Sylvia Emeline's father,
Eleazer Newell, who was the grand-
son of Captain Daniel Newell born in
1755 of Puritan descent, was running
two general country stores; one in
the primitive village of Jay, Essex
County, New York, the birth-
place of Sylvia Emeline; the other
in Keene Valley.
   The original settlements of North
Elba, Keene Valley and Jay were
adjacent to the west slopes of
the Adirondack Mountains. The woods
behind them were impassable with
a thick growth of small underbrush,
witch hazel and alders. Here and there
a lonely settler was living.
   From these regions the backwoods-
 men came to trade furs for several
 months' supplies at Eleazer Newell's
 stores. They loved to gather about
 the old pot-bellied stoves in these ham-
 let places to visit awhile on
 'settin' chairs.'
   They weren't friendly to strangers,
 for there was a hard core of reserve
 around these mountaineers which was
 difficult to penetrate. Eleazer was
 quite easily accepted by these people,
 for he had been more fortunate than
most of them in acquiring sufficient
education to teach in rural schools.
They often depended on him
for legal counsel, and he was notary
public as well.
  One day a stranger came to the store
at Jay-a man, tall and gaunt.
Eleazer saw at once-though the
stranger, too, was tight-lipped and
reserved as were the other fur
traders-that he was not a native
of those parts.
  He was John Brown, who had
come to North Elba to train the
unskilled runaway slaves and black
families how to live on land which
Gerrit Smith, the philanthropist,
had given them. In April 1849,
he had moved his wife and daughters
from Springfield, Massachusetts,
where he had been in the wool
business, to North Elba by way
of Lake Champlain.
   It was a cold blustery day, and
the women were crowded uncomfort-
ably in the oxcart as Brown strode
along beside them. When they
approached the Adirondacks, where
the fresh colors of spring were
beginning to appear, and heard the
thundering roar of rapidly flowing
streams, they were overwhelmed with
the beauty of this country which
they had never seen before.
   Brown wasn't given to speaking his
mind to others, especially to the
backwoodsmen from Keene Valley
and Jay, who were scarcely aware
of the rising tension between the
North and the South over slavery.
Nor did he gain support for his cause
with the white settlers from North
Elba who resented the Negroes whom
Gerrit Smith was attempting to
establish in that territory.
   But Eleazer did understand, and he
 sympathized with the plight of the
 black people. As they became better
 acquainted, Brown found consola-
 tion in him. This stem-faced, reserved
 man was more deeply religious and
 more completely dedicated to a God-
 given principle than anyone Eleazer
 had ever known. He respected him
 for his unfaltering courage in vindicat-
 ing the wrongs suffered by the Negro,
 wrongs which he so fiercely resented.
 The two became good friends.
   Eleazer loved the scenic surround-
 ings of the mist-veiled mountains,
 but in his heart he hungered for more
 than this. His loneliness was
 expressed in a letter written from
 Keene Valley, June 30, 1852, to his
 fiancee, Cecelia Newell, a distant rela-
tive who was then teaching in
Canada: "Dear Cecelia, here I am
among the mountains at work with
all my might. I have a store here and
at Jay, and I am doomed to stay
here for a spell. It is a rather rough
place in every way; society not as
good as it might be; but in this life
we cannot always expect to enjoy
sunshine. Love, yours, Eleazer."
  They were married in December,
1852, and Eleazer brought his bride
to Jay by buckboard, the horses plung-
ing along the snow-clogged moun-
tain roads.
  On November 23, 1853, their first
child, Sylvia Emeline was born, and
the following year on September 19th,
Cecelia wrote from Jay to Eleazer
who was then at their store in Keene
Valley: "Dear Husband: We are not
sick, although Sylvia Emeline is
not well. She has been quite trouble-
some today, and I think she is cutting
teeth again. Sister Julia wanted me to
write to you to get her a fur collar
and cuffs. She says she wants good
ones but not the highest priced ones.
It is very lonesome to have you away,
and I shall be glad when the week
is at an end. Julia stays with me,
but no one can fill your place
in my affections. So good-night from
your wife, Cecelia."
   A few weeks later when Eleazer had
returned from Keene Valley to Jay,
John Brown came to see him.
   "Eleazer," he said, "I have worked
from mornin' 'til night this past
summer, and the crops haven't turned
out good. The soil is thin and rocky,
and my Negroes can't learn to live
up here in the North. They put no
stock in this kinda farming. Maybe
there's some other way I can help 'em."
   Seeing the heavy burden of despair
Brown was carrying in his heart,
Eleazer went to their living quarters in
the rear, and brought out Sylvia
Emeline and placed her in Brown's
arms. Happily he held her, admiring
the pretty baby girl with the blue gray
eyes and chestnut brown ringlets.
Reaching into his pocket, he brought
out a Spanish milled dollar.
   "Here, Eleazer, take this and have
 someone drill a hole in it," he said.
 "Let the baby wear it on a ribbon
 around her neck, and use it as
 a teething ring."
   "Thank you, John, thank you
 kindly!" Eleazer said. "We will always
 keep it as a teething ring."
continued on page 25
20


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