Egregious Oversights, Chapter One (Rev. Elisha Watson)

IMG_3431Sometimes I get so focused on finding a big-deal or oddball story to relate here, I end up overlooking folks really deserving of a tribute.  Case in point, my 3rd Great-Grandfather, Rev. Elisha Watson.

The third of the eleven children of John and Margaret (Irish) Watson, Elisha was born on St. Valentine’s Day, 1822, in Middletown, Saratoga County, New York. As a young man, he attended a local academy, then taught school for five years until deciding to become a preacher. During this time (1840-1843), he attended a revival meeting, was “awakened” (in the jargon of the day), joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, AND married Harriet Husted.

Elisha served as a local preacher (probably in or around Greenwich, Washington County) before joining the ranks of the circuit preachers. Over the next three decades he served in: Keene (1 year), Saranac Lake, Mooers, Seward, Knox, Arbor Hill, Albany, Seward again, Gloversville and Plattsburgh (2 years each), Amsterdam (1 year), and Jonesville (3 years).

This portrait was probably taken in Plattsburgh in 1863; Leonard, their youngest child, was born in Amsterdam in 1864. Seated: Elisha, Emma, Harriet. Standing: Jeremiah, George, Julia, John, and Truman (my 2g-grandfather).

At this point (c. 1870), he was appointed Presiding Elder for the Conference, and the family settled in at Saratoga Springs for four years. A three-year stint in Greenwich followed, and finally another Eldership in the Burlington (Vermont) Conference. He had barely begun his tenure there when his health began to fail. He left the conference and settled with his family in Greenwich.

He was a noted figure in the Temperance crusade in New York State, and spoke often on the subject. I’ve just discovered there was a Watson Lodge of the Knights of Good Templar located up in Gansevoort. The Lodge was named in his honor when the Knights formed their local chapter in 1869. The Knights were originally organized in Britain as a temperance organization.

His chronic health problems (diabetes, perhaps Bright’s disease) were periodically referenced in newspaper columns. He took two extended vacations from work and home (1871, and upon his retirement in 1876), adventures that took him clear across the continent to Oakland, California, where three of his brothers lived. Both trips appeared to have very positive restorative benefits, however temporary. In January 1879, he was in Schenectady when a “blockade of snow” prevented him from embarking on a third recuperative journey, to a spa at Green Springs, Ohio.  He died on January 11, 1879, not quite 57 years of age.

Rev. Elisha Watson's SnuffboxSo I have a handful of photographs of the man. And I have this peculiar silver-plate piece – probably presented to him at some point. I have no idea what it is. It’s too small for calling cards, and has a hinged lid but no latch, so it couldn’t securely contain anything. (But it’s wonderful!)

But my favorite objects from Rev. Watson are his writings.  Like his father he wrote great letters to newspapers… and he wrote sermons, of course – some of which were subsequently printed in newspapers. He even wrote lyrics to hymns composed by his friend J. W. A. Cluett.

The best though is his account of his first journey to California, published in the Saratoga Springs paper under the title “From Saratoga to San Francisco In Six Days! by Rev. E. Watson.”  It’s an exciting and compelling description of an experience most all of his readers would never share. Except for one odd yet contrite jab at Native Americans as a race, I’m very proud of the work.

Another day has dawned, and I am enjoying a ride on the engine. The driver is a most amiable and obliging man. He gives me the best seat on the machine, and answers all questions patiently. This, after all, is the best car for observation, as it affords every advantage for seeing, and is ahead of all the dust. Beautiful morning! splendid scenery! We are just entering the valley of the Humboldt River. The valley is growing wider – nearly forty miles wide now, and long enough to last all day. The snow-clad mountains in the distance contrast finely with these dry plains. There is some verdure along the river and some cattle feeding. But we are nearing Elko now and I must leave the engine and get breakfast.

Shortly after leaving Elko, I witnessed a most exciting “horse race.” Indeed it was the first I ever did witness. It was on a grand scale. Nothing in Saratoga could equal it. We met a drove of fifteen hundred horses that some men were taking through to Missouri. Our train frightened and stampeded the whole of them. They turned and ran back, and as their road and ours were parallel, we had a splendid chance to watch the race. For about five miles it was just about an even thing, but finally the horses won, the leaders of the column crossing the track before the engine, and obliging the engineer to stop the train to let them pass. The column of horses was a mile in length.

After each trip he prepared presentations which he gave in churches and meeting halls all over the area. (Interesting – his grandson’s wife, Jessie, did the very same thing around Iowa and Colorado a half century later, discussing her missionary years in Chile.)

I’ve also recently discovered he sold books out of a shop in Greenwich during his brief retirement – so that whole Watson book thing must be a genetic predisposition!

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