My Great-grandparents

[Vignette written by William Perry Hay (1871-1947) circa 1940s on his great-grandparents Thomas and Sarah Maiden Hay.]

original notes - click on picture for larger view
original notes - click on picture for larger view
As a very small boy I was taken, two or three times, to the home of my great-grandparents in Annawan, Illinois but I have a memory of only one, probably the last, visit.

On this occasion my grandfather was also present as he had driven us over in his phaeton [see note below]   from his home in Bradford. My father tried hard to find a photographer who could take a picture of the four generations represented there – the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son – but was unsuccessful as the record of that day has not come down to posterity.

Thomas Hay, at that time, must have been about 80 years old and had retired from farming and was living in the village. He was short and fat and, unlike all his sons I have seen, did not wear a beard or mustache but was smooth shaven. His hair was gray but quite abundant and he wore it rather long and I remember that it stood out and made him look quite bushy.

He was quite hard of hearing but enjoyed talking and was good conversationalist. In his speech he had little or none of the Scotch burr and I remember that I had no difficulty in understanding him. We got him to read to us some of Burn’s poems which he did with such gusto that I came away with the impression that poetry and high class literature was his favorite reading, but I have since learned that he always had on hand a good stock of dime novels to which he turned when he wanted real satisfaction. His memory was remarkable and he was able even at that age to read as many as four lines of poetry once and then repeat them from memory.

My great-grandmother was also short and fat but was surprisingly nimble in all her movements and prided herself on her ability to look after her house. She was upstairs and down and took an interest in all that went on. On one occasion I was the cause of giving her a bad fall and we thought she was severely injured but she righted herself as quickly as a young woman would have done it and laughed the accident off. I had taken the steps away from the kitchen door to get a ball that had rolled under there and just then great-grandmother started into the back yard and stepped off into space. My distress over the affair was heightened by the lively application of a switch in the hands of my father.

I know practically nothing about my great-grandfather’s early life. In all probability he came from Scotland with his parents in 1811, yet it is possible that his father came over in 1811 by himself and was followed two years later by his wife and children. There is a record, apparently furnished by Thomas Hay himself, which states that he arrived in America in 1813, but I am inclined to believe that his dates were confused for communication between Great Britain and the United States at that time must have been interrupted.

It is said that the Hay family came over with a number of other Scotch Dissenters, landed in Philadelphia, went overland to Pittsburg [sic] and traveled down the Ohio River in a flat boat to southern Indiana. They settled on a farm about six miles southwest of the town of Hanover and doubtless underwent the trying experience of most other early arrivals in that region. The land was poor and it took the work of the entire family to wrest a living from it.

In 1820 Thomas Hay married Sarah Maiden, who is supposed to have come from North Carolina, and continued to reside on the farm belonging to his father. Some two years later he bought and moved onto another farm and here most if not all his children were born.

In 1850 his oldest son, Robert, who had grown up, married and started a family of his own, moved to Illinois and in 1856 Thomas Hay and several of his other sons and daughters followed. I have been told that, in some cases, farms which they owned were simply abandoned as worthless and they doubtless were when compared with the rich prairie lands of Illinois. The contingent of the Hay family which moved over into Illinois in 1856 settled in Henry County, about 40 miles further west than the place selected by Robert Hay. Here most of them remained as long as they lived and are now buried in the little cemetery near Annawan.

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NOTES: The above was written by William Perry Hay sometime prior to his death in 1947. Since then, the following documentation has been found:
• 1811 is confirmed as the date that the family emigrated, and it is believed that all emigrated together, and that the landing was in New York not in Philadelphia. The passenger list records exist from 1800 in Philadelphia and from 1820 in NY. No records were found in Philadelphia for any of the Scottish families. Additionally, William Greene Hay's biography mentions they landed in NY and from there to Philadelphia, and then across land to Pittsburgh. It is assumed that the original landing in NY was forgotten; in 1811, NY was not so much larger a metropolis than Philadelphia.
• Although there are not abundant records from 1811-1813 in Indiana, the ones that do exist suggest that all the Hays (and Davidsons, etc) emigrated together in 1811. A Davidson child (James) was born in 1812 in Indiana; church records state that Jane and William were founders in 1812.
• Finally, as stated above, during the war of 1812, emigration must have virtually been nonexistant.

the phaeton carriage -- a 21st century picture of a reproduction
Phaeton is the fanciful early 19th-century term for a sporty carriage drawn by a single horse or a pair, with extravagantly large wheels, very lightly sprung, with a minimal body, fast and dangerous. The rather self-consciously classicizing name refers to the disastrous ride of mythical Phaëton. The most spectacular phaeton was the English four-wheeled high flyer. The mail and spider phaetons were much more reasonably constructed phaetons. The mail phaeton was used chiefly to convey passengers with luggage and was named for its constructing using mail springs originally designed for use on mail coaches. The spider phaeton was of American origin and was a light vehicle made for gentlemen drivers.