Sunday, November 27, 2011

From Kelso to Kalamazoo

I’ve just returned from our November open meeting in Melrose.  The speaker was Margaret Jeary who talked about the memoirs of George Taylor who was born in Yetholm in 1803 and died in Michigan in 1891.   George was the son of a shepherd and grew up in a literate household.  He first went to school when he was seven and was taught by a pupil teacher aged 18.  He was an avid reader throughout his life and a self-educated man.  He became a fluent writer using clear evocative English.

George’s journal or memoirs came to light as part of a local history project by Eckford Woman’s Rural Institute.  With the help of an IT literate daughter they were first in published on the web.  In 2009 “From Kelso to Kalamazoo” appeared in book form as part of the Flashbacks series published by the National Museum of Scotland.  (From Kelso to Kalamazoo: The Life and Times of George Taylor, 1803–1891Margaret Jeary and Mark Mulhern Eds: NMS Enterprises, Edinburgh 2009. ISBN: 9781905267279).

The book is full of delightful little vignettes of 19th century life in rural Scotland.  The author tells of getting drunk for the first time as a teenager after helping with sheep washing.  He so disliked the result that he eventually signed the pledge.  To save the coach fare he would walk to Edinburgh – 50 miles in around  36 hours.  On one trip to Edinburgh he saw an advert for a train trip to Burns Country and in Alloway he met an old lady who said that she was Tam O’Shanter’s wife.  Another train trip to the Great Exhibition in 1851 was on a Sunday.  George, a devout church man, squared his conscience by handing out religious tracts on the train.

George Taylor became a market gardener eventually becoming foreman of a Kelso market garden.  He thought about his work carefully and found that protecting potato plants with straw reduced the instance of blight at a time that it was ravaging the potato crop in both Ireland and Scotland,  He also observed that there was a connection between water and the spread of cholera.

In 1855 George Taylor emigrated to the United States and started a truck farm in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  The soil there was ideally suited to celery which he introduced into the USA.  Clearly this was a successful enterprise as George was able to return to Scotland twice.   On the first occasion he returned with his third wife.  In all he had 4 wives and 9 children but all four wives and 5 of the children died before him.

Thank you to Margaret Jeary for a clear and interesting talk.

Our next meeting is on 26th February 2012 in Melrose when Peter Munro will talk about Saving, Spending and Family History.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments ?