Oftentimes when you’re out afield, you happen across things that may have no bearing upon hunting or fishing but which enhance the overall outdoor experience. The iron kettle is a perfect example. For decades my Dad and I fished a particular stretch of stream that had great fishing largely because it was difficult to get to. We walked down a trail that followed the main river for 2 miles and then fished up a tributary creek about 4 miles to an old immigrant road that was abandoned in 1858. We walked back 4 more miles along the route of the old immigrant road to our camp. Because there was no marked trail and it was an all-day excursion, we never saw another angler and had the stream all to ourselves.
The walk back was a tiring one but somehow it was always worth the effort. One such walk, in 1980, brought an extra bonus in the form of an old rusty iron kettle that my father found along the immigrant road. The old kettle was partially buried in dirt and leaves and as he brushed off the dirt, Dad could see it was completely intact, including the bail and lid. The maker’s name was cast in the iron lid, B. Ellis and Co, S. Carver, Mass. When Dad returned to camp that night with the iron kettle, I could almost imagine it falling off the back of an immigrant family’s wagon. Since the stretch of road it was found on was only in use for two years, we can be pretty sure it was lost in 1857 or 1858. If only it could talk, I wondered what tales the kettle would tell. With a little research, the old kettle began to weave its story. Little did I know that it would talk directly to me.
Carver, Massachusetts lies about 10 miles from Plymouth Rock where the Pilgrims landed in 1620 and has been inhabited since 1637. Shortly after the American Revolution, a foundry was built which operated in Carver until 1910. It provided shot for the new country in the war of 1812 and cannons for the Yankees in the Civil War. In 1810, the Federal Foundry was purchased by Benjamin Ellis and renamed. After the War of 1812, the B. Ellis and Co foundry became known far and wide as a maker of cast iron kettles and cast iron stoves. To this day, there is an iron kettle on the Carver Town Seal. The company owner, Benjamin Ellis, died in 1856 and the foundry changed names again. Thus our kettle was manufactured sometime between 1810 and 1856.
The old iron kettle resided beside my parents’ fireplace for over 25 years and was an interesting relic of the American westward migration. In the early 1990s my wife Mary became enchanted by the study of genealogy and she’s become quite an expert in the field, tracing our family roots back many generations. It’s a fascinating field, genealogy, and really helps you appreciate the journey that our ancestors made so that ultimately we would wind up here in California. It’s a story of families coming together and striking out westward for a better life for their children and grandchildren. It’s a story of families from diverse backgrounds and countries becoming one new American people.
Many times in this column, I have alluded to how the outdoors has provided a common bond in families that has been passed from generation to generation. When I was first married, I was eager to share my love of the outdoors with my bride. We went camping at almost every opportunity, backpacked into the wilderness, and sat around the campfire with my parents watching stars. Poor Mary fell almost as madly in love with the outdoors as I did. In time, our children learned the same reverence for wild places. We camp with them and their spouses, and our now grandchildren too, much like our parents did with us a generation before.
“What does all this sentimental stuff have to do with an old iron kettle?” you are probably wondering. A few years ago, Mary and I were sitting at mom’s house warming our backs at the fire. Mary glanced down at the old iron kettle and saw the words “B. Ellis and Co, S. Carver, Mass” and exclaimed that her great-great-great grandfather was named Benjamin Ellis! Could it possibly be the same Ellis who manufactured the old iron kettle? Sure enough, the maker of the iron kettle was indeed a cousin to Mary’s ancestor. What an incredible coincidence that almost 200 years ago one of my wife’s relatives made a kettle that got lost in the 1850s and then found over 120 years later by my father. What an amazing journey that kettle has made, to travel from Massachusetts by wagon all the way to California, to get lost and then eventually to wind up right back with a relative of the same family that made it.
Shortly after I discovered the history of the kettle, I made my Mom an offer she couldn’t refuse. The iron kettle now resides in a place of honor beside our hearth. It seems as though the iron kettle could indeed talk. It tells the story of a nation, of a family, and of a continuing tradition of reverence for God’s outdoors.
Until Next Week,