A condensed sketch of my motherís early life
written by Elbert H. Miller, Allegan, Mich. Feb. 9, 1928

submitted by Sally Trabulsi

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My mother Helen Flora (Halbert) Miller, was the daughter of Henry S. Halbert & Sarah (Root) Halbert and was born in Pavilion, NY, June 27, 1844. About the year 1847 when mother was three years old, her father moved to a large dairy farm in Erie Co., N. Y. not far east of Buffalo. This was about the time he married his second wife, Mary Graham, his first wife dying seven or eight months after the birth of mother. Mother recalls a large dairy barn for the herd of cattle and thinks there was room for 26 head of cows, 13 on each side. The milk was sold to a dairy in Buffalo being shipped from Alden, a small station only two or three miles from the farm.

After living here for several years Mr. Halbert went, with his brother-in-law Jason Duguid who married his oldest sister Achsah and lived in Genesee Co., N.Y., on a trip to inspect and look over land in Virginia, and purchased a farm of some 300 acres in Fairfax Co., Va. near Centerville and about 10 mi from Fairfax Court House the county seat. Then in 1851 the family moved from N.Y. to Va. in overed wagons, stopping at night in houses along the way. Mother recalls that it rained a good deal on this journey and the roads were very muddy and the streams high, many of the smaller streams being flooded. This trip took place in March as Mother remembers, she being seven years old in June following their arrival in Virginia.

This farm was practically unimproved, and they moved into an old house near by while their new house was being built. The land was quite heavily timbered and mother remembers very well a small sawmill that her father had and she is of the opinion that a good part of the lumber for the home was sawed on the place. The saw mill run by horse power and she distinctly remembers how well she liked to ride on the log carrier of the mill. The new house was a good sized frame building with some eight rooms downstairs and two above, over the center or upright part. It was plastered throughout and painted and considered a very good country home in those days. A white picket fence also inclosed (sic) the front yard which was considered quite the proper thing. The house fronted the east and was painted white and viewed from the road not far in front was rather an attractive looking home with its large green shutters and tall chimney. No doubt in this house Herbert H. Halbert, motherís half brother, was born, on June 11, 1853.

She tells many interesting facts about their customs and memories of living in those days. Of the dark cheese room where long rows of home made cheeses were placed on shelf after shelf to cure and ripen. The large wooden flour barrel was also kept here and was replenished from time to time as wheat was taken to the grist mill and the flour brought back. Corn meal was also one of the staples and was used almost as much as the white flour, fried mush for breakfast, Jonny cake for dinner (the midday meal - no six oíclock dinners in those days) and often mush and milk for supper. What pleasant recollections of the winter evenings when frequently some of the neighbors would drop in, sitting about the big open fireplace chatting and visiting; while the children played about shouting with delight as the logs cracked and fell apart and the sparks shot up the huge chimney. Cider and popcorn were quite often passed about at these informal gatherings, and as an especial treat fried cakes or cookies were brought out.

She tells of the brick smoke-house, one of the necessities of the day, that stood back of the house and where the home cured hams, bacon and meats were smoked. Hickory wood or chips were used exclusively if it were possible for they seemed to give a wwonderful sweet, nutty flavor to the meat that nothing else would produce. This building was also used to store the wood ashes during the winter so they would be available to make lye for the home made soap. What fun she had helping to tend the fire under the huge iron soap kettle that hung suspended between two green posts and into which the lye, and the meat scraps (that had been carefully saved from butchering time) were placed in proper proportions to produce the years supply of soap.

Nearly every farmer raised sheep and had their own wool which was carefully carded and spun into yarn from which the heavy wool mittens and stockings were knit.

Soon after the house was finished, the barn, granary ant other buildings were put up. Timber was plenty and lumber comparatively cheap.

A young orchard was set out, apples, cherries, quinces, persimmons, apricots, peaches, etc., and was just beginning to bear when they moved away in the fall of 1860.

Some of their neighbors were of course Southern families and kept slaves - the Leeís, Colemanís and other families, then there were also Northern or Yankee families who lived within a few miles and with whom they were on rather more intimate terms. The James Miller family had moved into this section from Penn., and it was during these years in Va. That mother became acquainted with James W. Miller whom in after years she married. Mother remembers of their hiring one of the Negro women slaves of the Colemanís to assist her mother in the housework but does not recall that any Negro men were used in the farm work, tho there were at different times hired men that helped her father.

(The following pages were written after the death of mother, from memory of conversations and from information gleaned from old letters and records, and was written the latter part of March 1934.)

Just previous to the outbreak of the Civil War the sentiment against the Northern land owners in Virginia became so intense that even their lives were endangered. I know it to be a fact that Grandfather Halbert was compelled to leave very hurriedly at night, and steal awy in the darkness across the state line. I have understood that in some cases the women remained for a time to look after the stock and try to dispose of what property they could, but eventually of course they too had to vacate. My impression is that the Halberts lost heavily, or practically all their property in Va. Anyway, they again moved back to Western New York, as we know that in 1863 Henry S. Halbert was appointed Postmaster of the Village of Pavilion Center, which fact is verified by the commission signed by the Postmaster General and which is preserved among other old papers. We also know that mother, who was about 19 years of age at this time, acted as clerk or assistant in the post office.

Right here let us drop back a few years to mention one event that occurred of which mother was justly, quite proud. It was in March 1861 that she and her father were present in Washington, D.C. when Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President, and mother, then 16 years old, had the pleasure and privilege of passing along with many others and shaking the hand of President Lincoln. She cherished the memeory of this event and always mentioned it with considerable satisfaction.

To resume - the evidently left pavilion Center within a few years and moved to Pearl Creek, N.Y. where her father had a cooper shop for the manufacture of barrels. This we glean from a number of letters written from Pearl Creek. In one of them Mr. Halbert tells how very hard he had been working getting out logs for barrel staves and also the material for heading for three or four thousand barrels, so this little industry must have been extensive enough to supply the necessary barrels for all the local territory.

Mother taught a country school near here and was teaching just shortly before her marriage to James W. Miller on Feb. 26, 1868.

They left at once for Whiteside Co., Ill. Where J.W. Miller owned an 80 acre farm some 7 miles N. W. Of Morrison. Here they began house keeping and here on Dec 22, 1868, their first son, Herbert, was born, he died however the following spring on March 7, 1869 and was buried in the little cemetery adjacent to the Spring Valley Presbyterian Church which was located about a mile North of the home farm.

This little white country church still stands the same very much as when first built, only it has been raised and a higher foundation constructed making quite a basement room beneath.

The Halberts and the various Miller families who lived in this community were all staunch adherents and loyal supporters of this little Pres. Church, over a period of many years or as long as they remained in that section. Here Uncle Andrew Millerís seven children first attended Sunday School as well as Grier, Ella, Laura Miller and myself.

On July 28, 1871, Elbert Henry Miller arrived to take up his residence in the James W. Miller home, and here it may be well to drop this sketch of motherís life, as it will be continued with more or less accuracy in the short autobiography of my own life.

[Note appended by SPT: I believe Helen Flora Halbert died in Allegan, Michigan, while with her son Elbert and his wifeóprobably around 1930, but I could be wrong. Need to do more research, but am sure I have the information. I do know that Helen and James Miller celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary (would have been 1918), which was quite an achievement in those days].


More from Sally Trabulsi:

As it turns out, my great-great grandfather was born in Pavilion on June 7, 1820. He must have been a colorful old guy--married 3 times, moved all about upper NY State, to Virginia before the Civil War (from which he was chased when the War began), back to New York State, then perhaps to Kansas, and wound up in Morrison, Illinois, where his daughter had settled and where he died on August 26, 1893. I even have a photograph with a Texas photographer listed on the back, but perhaps the photographer traveled.

My great-grandfather's name was Henry Seymour Halbert. A search for Halbert on your "Gen" pages netted nothing, and I wondered if you would like to know more about Henry and his daughter, my great-grandmother.

Henry married his first wife, Sarah Root (born March 7, 1821 in New York State (probably same area) on March 22, 1842, in Wyoming, NY. They had a child (my great-grandmother) Helen Flora, b. June 27, 1844 in Pavilion. Unfortunately, Sarah (who was called Sally --MY NAME :) ) died on February 16, 1845, right there in Pavilion.

Henry married a second time to Mary Graham, on September 14, 1847 in Pavilion. She was born September 7, 1824 in York, NY (if I can believe my notes), and died December 1870 in Blue Rapids, Kansas. I know that relatives of my great-grandfather (James Miller, who married Helen Flora) settled out in Blue Rapids, but I don't know how Mary Graham -- and probably Henry -- got there.

At any rate, Henry next married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Miller, a sister of the above-mentioned James. This made Helen's sister-in-law her stepmother! I am quite sure I have the dates of that third marriage someplace; I'm still trying to organize my "paper" legacy!

Helen Halbert Miller's son, Elbert Henry Miller was my mother's dad; my mother was Helen Frances Miller Pomeroy, and I am Sally Lee Pomeroy Trabulsi, and I live in Allegan, Michigan (between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo), where Elbert settled after being born in Illinois and moving to Iowa. We do get around!


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