Eric and Charlotte

Eric and Charlotte

     This picture is an early Ambrotype. The print is made on an emulsion on a glass plate and does not appear correct until a black background is applied. It was probably taken at or shortly after the wedding of the couple that took place in Cortland, DeKalb County, Illinois on September 20, 1859, making it a very early photo indeed. It is unique and very fragile.

     DeKalb County. Illinois was considered the frontier in the 1850s. Eric, or Errick, as he signed himself then, was born in 1837 in western New York State but moved when only about three with his parents to Illinois. A brother was not born until Eric was thirteen so he was undoubtedly given many chores on the farm. Coming of age on a frontier prairie farm gives a man many skills required of a homesteader. In his life we will see him as a farmer, stone mason, saw mill operator, carpenter, and railroad construction contractor.

    Charlotte was born in Greene, Chenango County in upstate New York in 1831. She was the tenth of eleven children of Rev. Charles Felix Barnett and his wife Clarissa (Whitmore) Barnett. Her story must be told before we proceed with the couple's life.

Eric was Charlotte's third husband. In 1852 she married a local boy, Henry Pike and they moved to Wisconsin to farm a homestead he had bought there. They had a baby, Mary Elizabeth, born in 1853. Later in that year or early in 1854, Henry died and Charlotte returned to Greene where she is found with her child in the 1855 census. She is living with her father. Interestingly, Henry's father, William Pike kept a careful diary, and although he mentions the sicknesses and deaths of some of his children, he is silent about Henry. He and his wife are later on good terms with Charlotte, so Henry's death is assumed.

 What follows in the next few years is cloudy. In 1856 Charlotte is again in the Old Northwest. Family lore says she is married to Doctor John Morgan and they have a baby, named Kate Ford Morgan in 1856 in Edina, Knox County, Missouri. It must be said that no documentation can be found for any of this probably due to the sometimes disorganized state of frontier life and because life in Missouri and surrounding territory in this period was in near anarchy and turmoil leading up to the Civil War. Armed factions from both abolitionist and slave holding groups roamed the countryside and terrorized settlers. Missouri had regiments on both sides of the upcoming tragedy. It has been said by her daughter, Marcia, that Charlotte served as midwife for her husband during this time, a life we can unfortunately only imagine. Kate's later DAR application says her father died in 1857. She was named Kate Ford after Charlotte's sister Kate who married a man named Ford.

Charlotte was then twenty six years old, twice a widow, with two small girls to raise. At this time in circumstances we do not know, she met Eric Crossett, a man six years her junior. Now we can return to the beginning of the tale started above.

The newlyweds were in transition from Illinois to New York in early 1860 for it is there in the Village of Greene in Chenango County that their first child together, Frank Lyman, is born in June. A search for them in the census seemed fruitless. By scanning page by page I believe I found them. Directly following the entry for Simon A. Barnett, Charlotte's brother, in the July 1860 census, a family is found named Crossell. It's not just a misspelling. The husband and father is called "Heman", the wife Charlotte (the enumerator would know her), two daughters named "Lydia" and "Catherine" and a son "Merrick" aged one month. The ages all match the Eric Crossett family and the names play with the truth, like Catherine for Kate and a play on Erick with Merrick. I'm convinced this is the Crossett family. A Crossell family does not exist in future censuses. Why this was done is impossible to say right now. Maybe they knew how it would drive a genealogist crazy. Maybe it was just for fun.

     Soon the Civil War was to begin. Eric joined the Cavalry in August of 1862 with his wife very pregnant for their second child, Eric Smith Jr., my grandfather. Charlotte was left living with her father. Eric Sr.s war story will be told in a separate chapter. "Private Eric Crossett"
    Upon Eric's return from war in April of 1865, they took up residence in Greene where they are found in the 1865 New York State census. The entry is interesting in that it shows all the children named Crossett, and all born in Chenango County. One wonders who gave the information or why more precise data was not given. Eric and Charlotte wasted no time in growing their family. 
  • Frank Lyman b. June 1860
  • Eric Smith Jr. b. 10 October 1862
  • Martha Ermine Minerva b. April 1867
  • William H. b. 1869
  • Marcia Alice b. 13 April 1872
  • Bessie Beryl b. 1877   
    Charlotte's brother Simon ( called "Sime" ), seen here, was in the business ofSime construction. The Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Company were building a line from Schenectady to Binghamton that would soon replace the canal that ran from Binghamton to the Erie Canal. Sime landed the contract to build the right of way including the roadbed and all the bridges, culverts, and cattle passes needed. He contracted the stone work to his brother-in-law. Eric's 1868 diary tells something of the work. He employed several men, and owned horses and equipment such as a pile driver and a stone boat (a large sled to pull stones from quarry to work site.) It was better than a wagon to bear the weight of stone and to maneuver over rough ground. He managed these assets to earn a good living for the family.

Railroads were springing up everywhere, the country had been spanned by them and the prospects of wealth and power did not escape the venture capitalists of the day. Prominent among them were J. P. Morgan, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. They gave the name "robber baron" its meaning. The following excerpt from Wikipedia describes the tumultuous history of the Albany and Susquehanna. 

   "In the summer of 1869, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk began to buy up shares in A&S, aiming to accumulate a controlling interest and install their own people to the board and take over. The A&S president at the time, Joseph H. Ramsey, reacted to Gould and Fisk by issuing thousands of shares that had been sitting on the company's books to his supporters; Ramsey then had the books spirited from his office and buried in the Albany Cemetery. Gould and Fisk, incensed by his actions, had him suspended as president of the A&S by a judge they controlled on the New York State Supreme Court, George G. Barnard. Ramsey responded and applied to Albany judge Rufus W. Peckham, both sides trying to force the A&S into the control of a partisan recipient. Peckham succeeded, getting his order in first by a matter of minutes.

    Subsequently, Fisk stormed the office of the A&S in Albany with hired thugs; he was then taken to a police station by an A&S employee masquerading as a policeman. As soon as he was free from jail, Fisk returned to the A&S headquarters with a restraining order signed by Judge Barnard and a new set of thugs. They took over the A&S station at Binghamton, stealing a train, and set off down the line to Albany, seizing stations as they went; A&S men flipped a switch to derail the cars. Fisk and his recruits met their adversaries, the men of the A&S, in a tunnel near Harpursville,(now Tunnel, N.Y.) proceeding to attack each other with all manner of weapons until the governor ordered state militia to take charge of the road.

    Morgan, who had arranged a $500,000 mortgage for the road and been appointed a trustee, arrived in New York on 1 September and was recruited by Ramsey’s supporters. In the name of Dabney, Morgan bought six hundred shares of A&S and made contact with all the shareholders loyal to Ramsey, ensuring that they or their proxies would be present at the annual meeting held in Albany on 7 September. Personally supervising the voting, Morgan was elected a vice-president and director of the road. Gould and Fisk counteracted by voting in their own men in separate elections. The case reached the New York State Supreme Court that ruled in favour of the Ramsey group’s elections. Morgan subsequently leased the A&S to the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company on 24 February 1870 for ninety nine years, taking the company out of play."

    So we see that by 1869 the railroad was complete. What part Eric may have taken in these exciting times is not known to us since all his diaries (except two) were destroyed by his daughter Martha after his death. We can see by the existing diary that Eric made good money as a stonemason. 

    In 1870 the family can be found in Broome County, New York operating a sawmill in the Town of Windsor. Mary Elizabeth has married and she and her husband, Monroe Foote, are in residence. It is difficult to envision what this sawmill looked like. Thousands of portable sawmills were built right after the Civil War, operated until trees in the surrounding hills were completely cut, then the portable mills were dismantled and moved on. I was able to locate the site on an 1870 map by matching the names of neighbors on the 1870 census. It is on a road wonderfully named "Honey Hollow." The mill might have been powered by the fast running creek running down the hollow as it still does today. It may have given power by acting on a horizontal water wheel. More probably a steam engine was used taking its water from the creek. Eric may have had the steam engine from his pile driver to use at the mill or he may have taken over a mill already built by someone else. Circular saws had only recently come into common use. This more recent image may indicate the scale of the operation and its type as it was then.


    This portable sawmill was manufactured by B. W. Payne in Elmira, N. Y. This image with others appears on the website of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum It, or one like it, may well have been used by Eric. 

    After diligent search I have been unable to find Eric and Charlotte in the 1875 New York State Census. Their son, William H. is living or visiting on a local farm. He was only five at the time so the family was not far away. Possibly the family was overlooked by the census enumerator or had moved south a bit into Pennsylvania only a few miles away. By this time they were middle aged. This image is from the period in question.

Eric and Char

     Time has clearly had its impression on them but they appear healthy and prosperous. Their hands seem particularly eloquent as they are hands of hard workers probably quite unused to the garb they wear. Their hands are partially clenched, maybe from the stress of having to sit still until the picture developed. 

    It was at some date in this period (ca. 1880) that sons Frank and Eric set off looking for work. Frank married in 1882 and Eric in 1885 so at this time they were very much bachelors. At the end of their "Odyssey" they wrote home to their sisters and enclosed a poem they had written about their adventures. They called it "Crossett Boys En Tramp".

    By 1885, with the boys back home, Eric Sr. and family had moved to Binghamton, in neighboring Broome County, New York. He and his two oldest sons, Frank and Eric Jr. started a stone masonry and construction business. They purchased a quarry on Pennsylvania Avenue atop Ingraham Hill and set up a stone yard in town.

Stone Yard

    In this size it is a bit hard to see, but Eric Sr. with beard is in the center standing. In the back row, to the left of the fellow standing on the stone, are Eric Jr., Frank, and William. They were about 23, 25, and 16 in 1885 so this photo is taken about that time. Eric Jr. and Frank were the owners of the business. All three men lived near the stone yard. In 1890 an entry is found in the Proceedings of the Binghamton City Council to grant permission for Eric Crossett Sr. to build a house on Griswold Street on Binghamton's east side. 

8 Griswold

      This house was to be the final residence of this couple, seen here standing to the right. It was to be their home from 1891 until 1918 when Charlotte died.  In it many incidents of the Crossett family history took place. Binghamton City directories show that, for a few years, daughter Bessie lived there and worked as a cigar maker. Not many other permanent residents are shown, but family stories and documents tell another tale. As can be seen on the front porch of the picture, people came and went with regularity. Eric and Charlotte were the hub of the family that had many spokes. There were sad times. Charlotte's daughter by her first husband, Mary Elizabeth (Pike) Foote had four children. The 1892 census shows that two of them, Eva, and Ernest, were living at Griswold Street. A third, James, may also have been there. Tragically, In January of 1893 twenty year old Eva died and was buried from the house. Only eight months later her brother James, aged only seventeen, followed her in death. He, too was buried from 8 Griswold. The lack of an 1890 census and the incompleteness of the 1892  make it hard to know where their parents were at this time.

        In May of 1894 their youngest son, William died of Typhoid Fever. He wasWilliam a gifted sculptor and did stone carving on the Capitol Building in Albany. It was on his way back from there that he took sick and died in Windsor, New York.

        Charlotte also had a daughter by her second husband. Her name was Kate Ford Morgan. Kate was married briefly to a Mr. Miller and had two daughters by him, Charlotte (named for her grandma) and Nellie. They were born just a year apart. In 1903 Nellie died of pneumonia at age twenty. She lived at 8 Griswold in the 1900 census. The funeral was from there. Also in 1903 Charlotte's brother Simon (Sime) died as did her son-in-law Frank Hoerl, Martha's husband. In 1908 Nellie's sister Charlotte (Lottie) aged twenty six, died of kidney disease at her home in Delaware but was brought to Binghamton and buried in the Crossett family plot at Floral Park Cemetery already occupied by several family members.  

        It was not all sad times, of course. Family seemed drawn to the Crossett homestead. Daughter Marcia and her husband Seth Smalley briefly lived close by until moving to Cuba to start a plantation. (a story to be told elsewhere) When their children were old enough for high school and could not get adequate schooling in Cuba, they came and stayed at 8 Griswold. Bessie was married while living at home to a handsome young minister, John D. Waldron. All the family were close. Reunions were held annually during which cousins and friends assembled from surrounding counties. They are a story in themselves. 

      Unfortunately, the house  is no longer standing. It has been replaced by a parking lot. The picture has hardly fared better.  Stored in trunks in attics and basements, exposed to heat and flood, and copied on acidic paper it is a survivor. Still, we're lucky to have it and its connection to all its stories. 

     Eric senior was truly a jack of all trades, skilled with his hands and a hard working man all his life. Even though he suffered some disability from his Civil War service he continued in contracting work until he retired and then farmed and took care of his horses and kept busy. In 1908, while on trip to New Castle Delaware to visit his daughter Kate and her husband, he suffered a head injury in being thrown from a wagon when the horse shied. He was brought home to Griswold Street and lingered on until May of the following year when he died. He, too was waked from his home with all the ceremony of the Grand Army of the Republic and joined his son and grandchildren in Floral Park Cemetery.

Four Generations

     Charlotte continued on as matriarch of the family. She is seen here at the end of her life in a four generation portrait with son Eric Smith Crossett Jr., his daughter Grace Loomis, and her daughter, Dorothy. Hers was a life filled with loss. She was next to the last surviving sibling in a family of eleven. She lost three husbands, a son, four grandchildren, and a son-in-law. She remained a strong, determined woman through all of her life's adventures and departed the family in September of 1918, the end of an era for the Crossett family.