Trana Mathews is a pen name; my name is Diane Hildebrandt. My love for books has been constant throughout my life, though my choice of literary genre often changed. I admit I am a confirmed “bookaholic”. I adore big, thick books and love it whenever an author has worked magic so that I can’t put their novel down until reaching the end. Many hours of my life have been spent inside bookstores and libraries. Just ask my kids!
After retiring to beautiful southeastern Arizona in 2015, I needed something to keep me busy and out of trouble, so I began researching and writing my family’s history. My third great-grandfather’s life had always fascinated me. With my mother, aunt, and daughter during the 1980s, I had toured the Dr. Increase Mathews House, which is owned by the Muskingum Historical Society and located in the historic Putnam District of Zanesville, Ohio.
Besides writing, I’m actively involved in Friends of the Huachuca City Library, local community groups, and several writing groups. In my spare time, I also enjoy crafting.
I have two adult children who live in the Midwest, and Macchiato (my rescue cat) has been kind enough to adopt me.
The Mathews Family
Mathews Family Saga Book 1
The church bell clanged and muskets thundered. My eldest sister picked me up and rushed outside our farmhouse. Her gasping breaths dampened my cheek as she ran toward the town square. My other sister and our mother, with the baby cradled in her arms, caught up to us when we slowed. We met my father and older brothers near the Congregational Church. Huddled into small groups, normally sedate people shouted their confusion. “What’s going on?” “Why are the neighboring town bells ringing?” “Are the Redcoats coming?”
The selectmen appeared, stood on top of the stairs, and called for silence. One of them read the Declaration of Independence.
My name is Increase Mathews. I was born on December 22, 1772, and this is my earliest memory. It would be years before I understood this day’s importance, but its impact on my life was immediate.
The sixth son, I’m the ninth of ten children. My family is a motley bunch, because we range from short to tall, with fair to dark hair and complexions. My father is Daniel Mathews Jr. who is five feet eight with piercing dark blue eyes. He is a foot taller than my dark-haired mother, Huldah Putnam Mathews. My older brothers are Elisha, John and Eli. Susannah and Sarah are my older sisters. Luther was born this past February. Three other siblings died young: Daniel III at age three; Samuel at age six; and Eunice before her second birthday.
Mother and Father argued the same night. Before this, I’d never heard my mother raise her voice in anger. I was upstairs in my bed, too far away to hear their exact words, but I could hear the outrage which filled their voices. I also didn’t understand why Mother hadn’t picked up and comforted my baby brother who was crying. This was very odd.
Frightened, I crawled from my bed, crept across the room, past Eli who slept, and woke flaxen-haired John.
“I’m scared. Luther’s been crying for a long time. Why are they yelling?”
“It’ll be alright, Ink. Sometimes grownups disagree over important things. Climb into bed with me.”
My parents’ argument continued as we ate breakfast.
“Again, I say.” Mother’s voice increased in volume. “You’re too old at age fifty. Lish is too young! I had a hard enough time taking care of the farm when you were previously gone. With two children under age five, what am I supposed to do with them while I’m busy taking your place in the fields?”
Father said, “If Elisha comes with me, I can watch out for him. If I leave without him, he’ll sneak away to join. Then, no one will know where he is or what’s happening to him. Isn’t it better if he comes with me?”
My father had used my eldest brother’s formal name, showing the depth of his annoyance. Ordinarily, we always referred to my eldest brother as “Lish”. He would turn fifteen on the 25th of July and be able to join without their consent. Father had made his point about my eldest brother, but Mother was still upset. Their disagreement continued.
Father said, “The King’s absolute rule is tyrannical.” He pointed at Mother. “You know the taxes are unfair, Huldah.” His voice intensified. “The current judicial system is a travesty. Anyone born in America—no matter their family surname—is equal to anyone born in Britain.”
He still chafed at the supercilious treatment he’d received from British officers during the French and Indian War. Later, I learned he’d served on the Committee of Correspondence and attended conventions in Worcester, before the Provincial Congress convened in October of 1774. He’d been ready to fight since the English blockade of Boston Harbor.
Mother was unable to dissuade my father to stay home. He remained firm in his conviction that America needed to separate from England.
New Braintree is in central Massachusetts, almost sixty miles due west of Boston. Our farm lay on the southeast corner where Matthews Road met Utley Road. This is close to the town’s square, which lies at the juncture of roads leading to Brookfield, Hardwick, and Oakham. Like many New England residences, our house was a white two-story saltbox with a rear porch off the kitchen. A central fireplace heated it in fall and winter.
My father was a millwright and a grain farmer. He owned the sash-type sawmill on Mill Road. Under normal circumstances, his business closed during planting and harvesting seasons, or when the water level in Sucker Brook dropped due to freezing or to extreme drought. Now, he closed his mill for the duration.
Father signed up as a bombardier in Colonel Thomas Craft’s artillery. Lish enlisted with the same Worcester County regiment. Susannah decided to live with us when her husband, Jonathan Stone, joined up. My father’s younger brother Aaron was a sawyer at our mill, and his family lived in town. My uncle also enlisted in the Continental Army.
Though it was only summer, the men chopped and stacked an enormous amount of firewood next to the house before they left. Father said, “This should be enough to last you through winter, but I hope to be home before then.”
I remember the tears in Mother’s hazel eyes as she kissed and hugged the men goodbye. “God keep you safe and bring you home!”
Susannah also cried as she bid her newlywed husband farewell. “Promise that you’ll come back to me.”
Jonathan nodded, then turned away to greet Uncle Aaron who joined their ranks. The men picked up their muskets and packs, then left us behind. Their departure changed our lives.
John moved our sheep to their grazing field each day. Our rough-coated, short-tailed sheepdog, who we called “Blackie,” accompanied my brother and was left to watch over the flock. The dog would grasp any errant sheep by its neck to turn it and bark an alarm whenever a predator approached the flock.
Our family was overburdened with work after the men were gone. Since John was busy, Mother assigned me to help Eli, who had a mean streak. More than twice my age and size, he raked out our barn while I struggled to carry and empty the muck bucket onto the compost pile. Under his supervision, I fed our animals and collected eggs from the chickens. The cow kicked over the bucket when I tried to milk her, so my brother still performed this task. Whenever I tried and failed, dark-haired Eli would pinch me. “You’re still a baby. You can’t even milk a cow!”
His actions and words hurt me. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but it quivered. “I’m not a baby. Luther’s the baby.”
I wasn’t the only one my brother tormented. Twelve-year-old Sarah had sandy-colored hair and pale blue eyes. Because she was light-complected with a smattering of freckles across her nose, Eli ridiculed her. “You’ve got mud splattered on your face. Oh, sorry, those are your freckles.”
His other favorite comment was, “You’ll never catch a husband when you walk around covered with mud.” He never teased us if nineteen-year-old Susannah or Mother were within hearing distance.
The daughter of a deacon, my mother was a stickler about cleanliness. She often said, “Slovenliness is a sign of the devil at work.”
Lavender bushes, along with other sweet-smelling flowers and herbs, adorned our front yard. My family dried, crushed, and sprinkled these in each room. Every Saturday morning, the rooms were swept clean. All floors were scrubbed with lye soap before fresh herbs were scattered. Each bed was stripped and remade with clean sheets. The dirty ones would be washed on Monday.
Mother insisted we take weekly baths. After our Saturday supper, John and Susannah brought firewood inside. Eli and Sarah hauled buckets of water inside to fill the kettles. The water was heated. Then, John helped Mother bring down the large tub from a kitchen wall. After she bathed Luther, it was my turn. Susannah washed me and shampooed my sandy-blonde hair. Unlike my older brothers, I didn’t argue about bathing. I liked the smell of lavender soap which Mother made. She sometimes sold or bartered the bars of her scented soap to our neighbors.
The Congregational Church was the cornerstone of our community. Our family attended every Sunday. We rose early to complete our morning chores, left home shortly after dawn, and returned in the afternoon. Mother and Susannah often admonished me to sit still during the services, but sometimes I found it difficult to comply with their wishes. Whenever I wiggled or squirmed, Susannah pinched my leg and Mother gave me a severe frown. My mother is a warm, caring person. Her reprimands are firm, never harsh. Her frown was enough to make me sit up straight and pay attention because I wanted to please her.
We were lucky to have our own minister, and not a traveling preacher like the one who served nearby towns. After church, parishioners exchanged information. Letters became infrequent as the war continued. The sharing of any news became a precious gift.
Town hall meetings were held inside the church every Wednesday evening, but women weren’t allowed to participate. Because many adult males were away, the remaining selectmen decided that each family’s remaining eldest son could attend. Ten-year-old John went every week.
Members shared information from their newspaper subscriptions. Boston Gazette, Connecticut Courant and New-Jersey Journal were the ones read most frequently. Some thought our local Boston paper was the best. John disagreed. He said, “The New-Jersey Journal gives the most accurate reports because of its location near General Washington’s headquarters in Morristown.”
After each weekly meeting, he let us know about any battles reported and what town matters had been discussed.
It proved difficult to harvest all the crops which had been sown. My eldest sister insisted Sarah should help Mother gather the kitchen-garden produce, because she was often interrupted by Luther. The rest of us struggled to get our crops stored before the first frost.
Susannah supervised my actions. “You need to pick up as much as you can carry in both arms. Put it in a pile here. Make sure you point everything the same way.”
Not yet age four, I struggled to do what she’d assigned me without a fuss. My bare feet itched from the chaff, and I sometimes stumbled over roots. I learned to watch where I stepped when my arms were full.
We were grateful when Sarah’s friend, Joe Willson, helped us get the last field completed. We met the quota of crops to be sent to our troops. Mother bartered the surplus. We had plenty of fodder for our animals.
When school resumed after harvest season, John couldn’t attend on a regular basis because of farm chores. Instead, he went when he could. Green-eyed Eli wanted to do the same and asked, “If John can stay home, why can’t I?”
But Mother refused to allow him to do this. Due to her family’s ministerial background, she understood that education was important. Yet, from age ten, Sarah remained at home to learn the art of running a household.
Because I was too young to accompany my brothers, Mother taught me the alphabet at home using an old, worn, beginning primer. I learned how to card wool from my sisters. I also helped them with household chores.
My mother and sisters dried herbs, then used these to make home remedies, crafting syrups and balms. Intrigued, I paid close attention as they made these and also dyes from vegetables. I found it amazing that both a dark mustard and a pale yellow came from onion skins. I asked, “How do the peels make such different colors?”
Mother said, “How long it steeps determines the intensity.”
Puzzled, I asked, “What does intensity mean?”
“In this case, it means the strength of the color.”