by Euphemia Jane Carter Freeman
with comments by Ida F. Winter
taken from Family History of George Richard and Euphemia Jane Freeman (1990),
pp. 17-20, compiled by Glen R. Freeman
My father’s name was Henry Carter. He was the second son and fifth child of Benjamin Carter and Mercy Bates who were married 9 July 1844. He was born 10 May 1822 at Blisworth, Northamptonshire, England. He was a tall, slender, broad-shouldered man with a taciturn disposition. He met and later married Elizabeth Green in Blisworth on 11 July 1853. Elizabeth did not reach her six foot husband’s shoulder.
He was very strict with us children but good to us. He was honest and upright in every respect but did not take any interest in religion. He thought those who did profess to, did not make much progress. He thought them hypocrites. He did not want us girls to work for those who had a public house (saloon) nor for parsons. He had no use for parsons (ministers). He was six feet tall without his shoes and was rather slim. He worked on the Blisworth Canal for a company that repaired bridges and locks and any other things which needed repairing. He worked for this company for many years. When he left the company he worked as a “legger;” that is, he, with eleven other men, six on each side of the boat, would lie down on a wing of the boat and place their feet on the side of the tunnel and force the boat through the tunnel. This was the only way the boats could be forced through the tunnels at that time. It was called, “legging the boats.” Each boat was equipped with large iron hooks on each side, and the wings were equipped with large iron eyes which fit into or on the hooks. This made it possible to put these wings on the boats when necessary and to remove them when they were no longer needed. The men had to lie on their back while legging the boats through the tunnels. The men practically walked on the walls of the tunnel in order to force the boats along. In case two boats met in the tunnel, the wings would have to be removed from both boats before they could pass each other. My father worked as a legger in the tunnel between Blisworth and Stoke. The tunnel was three-fourths of a mile long. These leggers had to go any time the boats came along – – all hours of the day or night – – and when they had legged the boat through the tunnel, they would walk back over the top of the tunnel carrying the boat wings. These men had a small hut (house) on the side of the canal where they sat and waited for the boats to come. Near this hut they had a garden in which they grew vegetables and fruits. The men called the canal “the cut.” I never heard it called a canal. Father worked at this for a number of years. I do not remember just how many, but it was until they got a steamboat to take the boats along the canal. This steamboat could take several boats through at once and, of course, this put the men out of work.
Henry and Elizabeth moved to Towchester, and father got a job on the railway. For a long time he worked on and around the station (depot). When he was about fifty years old he was crossing the icy tracks one morning and slipped and fell across the track and a train ran over his left foot and leg. They were so badly crushed that it was necessary to amputate his leg below the knee. It was necessary now for him to get an artificial, or peg leg as they were called. He wore it for the rest of his life. As soon as he was able to work again, he was given a job in the signal box. Here his work was to open and close the switches for the trains as they moved through and around the station. Although crippled, he walked to and from his work except when given a ride by some friend. Every night it was necessary for him to go quite a distance from the box where he worked to light a distance signal. It was quite dangerous to do this as well as to climb up the iron ladders to his box, especially on rainy, frosty, or windy nights, but fortunately he did not have any mishaps at his work. He did this work until a short time before his death. Father never backed out of work. Whatever he was expected to do while at his work, he did it.
In the winter time while he was working on the canal, it was often necessary to use the ice boat to break the ice so that the other boats could be moved along. This boat was different from the others. It was flat where the men stood, and there was a rail from one end to the other on each side of the boat. There were twelve men to operate this boat, six on one side and six on the other. They faced each other, took hold of the rails and rocked the boat from side to side. This was a rather hard way to break the ice but it accomplished the work.
While father was working on the cut(canal) he was given a Sunday off from work once a month and in the spring and summer time he would take us to the woods to gather primroses, cowslips, kingfingers, oxlips, bluebells, buttercups, daisies, and many other kinds of flowers. We children used to count so much on these trips with him. It was two miles to the woods but we enjoyed the trip walking there and back. On the way back Father went into the fields and gathered mushrooms. He liked mushroom catsup and also liked them cut up and put in a beefsteak pudding with the meat.
Like all other men, Father was funny in some things. He would never have anyone else ’s cat in the house. He would throw his shoe at it and it was sure to get it. He once had two or three cats of his own and someone killed them each time he got one, so he said, “If I can’t have one of my own, I will not have other people’s.” Father kept rabbits instead and liked to have a big rabbit pie for Christmas dinner.
He was very fond of watercress and would spend a long time cleaning it for his supper. One neighbor seemed to know when the cress was ready for she always appeared and asked for some saying she could enjoy cress he prepared; she knew it was clean He was clean in his work, dependable and honest.
With his pocket knife he whittled fine shavings of wood to use in lighting the fire. The shavings caught fire quickly. Paper was very scarce in those days.
Father did not talk to us very much about the tings we should do or should not do, but when we girls went out in service, or as we say here, hired out to work for people in their homes, he would tell us that as long as we kept ourselves straight, we could always have a home with him. That was a much as to say, “If you don’t do that, don’t come here.” He did not say much. He was a man of few words, but we knew that he meant what he said. He never whipped us, but if he got angry, look out.
If he thought or knew anyone was in need he would help them. He was always very honest and straight with everyone and liked everyone to be the same with him. If they weren’t, he did not want anything to do with them and would leave them entirely alone. He never interfered with Mother in anything she did. Sometimes she would ask him about something she wanted to do or somewhere she wanted to go, but he would say, “Do as you like; you know better than I do.” My mother often used to say, “If Dad was as particular in serving his Heavenly Master as he is in serving his earthly master, he would be very fine indeed.”
Of course, there are two sides to everything. Dad liked his tobacco and beer and he thought he wasn’t doing anyone any harm by using them. He was, or course, especially himself.
When we talked of coming to America, we, my husband and I, wanted him to come with us as Mother did want so much to come with us, but he said, “No, I was born in old England and I will die in old England.” and so he did die there. I often say, “It looks as if he was taken away so that Mother could come with us to America.” “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.” The more I think of these things the plainer they seem to come back to me.
While I was in service, I did not see Father and Mother very often for about twelve years.
Father had two brothers and two sisters, but we did not know much about his brothers. One was named Ben and the other Joe. Like Father, Uncle Joe had a wooden leg, only his whole leg had been taken off next to the body.
I think of another story now about the men working on the “cut” (canal). Sometimes they received part of their pay in coal. They often took boat loads of coal through the tunnel and whenever they were given coal for pay, at the bridge just before they entered the tunnel, they would throw their share in the canal. Then when they had time they would drag it out. While it was under water no one else would know about it. If they had put it on the tow path at the side of the canal they probably would never have seen it again. So, out of sight, out of mind.
Father died on 23 March 1902 at Chapel Brampton, England, at the home of my oldest sister, Polly (Mary Ann).
(This history was written by Euphemia Jane Carter Freeman in May, 1941 and copied by her son, Wilford Freeman 30 July 1941.)