Joseph Call also known as
The Modern Hercules, The Lewis Giant,
Big Joe, Stout Joe and
The Paul Bunyan of the East
Joe Call was one of the fabulous strong men and wrestlers around whom a whole saga of myths and legends have grown. He has often been referred to as the Paul Bunyan of the East, but, unlike Paul who was created by the advertising department of a lumber company, Joe was an actual person and a highly respected citizen of Lewis, Essex, NY. Essex County mythology is enriched by many a story about the strength of Joe Call. There have been many articles and a book written about our ancestor Joseph Call.
Joe Call was born on the old Cushing farm two miles north of Woodstock, Vermont on March 31, 1781. His fathers name was James Call and was called 'The Prince of Wanderers' because he apparently moved seven or eight times before settling in Woodstock. At the age of fifty, the father married for the third time and this wife was 15 year-old Anne Powers. Joe was the second son of this marriage and one of seventeen Call children from all marriages.
Joe was reportedly 6' 3" tall, thick set and stronger than he looked. Some conservative estimates credit him with the strength of 3 men. He was also described as "above medium height, large without being excessively fat, compactly built, as spry as a cat and of jovial disposition .(Hall) One other description says "Joe was characterized as being tall, straight and broad shouldered, principally bone and muscle, a gentle man at all times, there being none of the bravado about him and a man who used but little liquor in his career." Within his family, Joe was the largest and strongest of his generation, but his uncle Nathan was also 'immense and powerfully built.' Joe's older brother Jesse, known as Tip, was also said to be very strong. There is even a story about a powerful Call sister who would wrestle with challengers when Joe was away.(Hall)
We don't know much about Joe Call as a youth other than that he was a 'leader and champion' of the local youth. One story from his school days says that Joe, being guilty of some infraction of rules or misconduct, was called to the front of the class to be punished. Joe strode to the teacher, 'took hold and tossed him out the window, to the delight of his companions.' (Hall)
As he grew older, his sense of humor was apparent as he displayed his physical superiority. 'At one get together he hefted a barrel of cider to his mouth and, after slacking his own thirst, gravely offered to pass it around the rest of the company.' (De Sormo) As a youth Joe matched his strength against anybody who claimed any strength of their own. Joe's fame as a wrestler spread locally. Joe traveled abroad and won a wrestling match in Scotland spreading his fame overseas.
Joe worked variously as a logger/lumberer, teamster, farmer, sawmill operator, and mill wright. He served in the militia, ran a store and served as a postmaster, town assessor, auditor, and Justice of the Peace.
While working as a teamster, 'whenever he happened to bog down in a mud hole, he crawled under the wagon, made himself into a human jack and lifted it to dry land.' (Hall) One noted event occurred while Joe was a teamster. At a tavern Joe overheard one of the crowd bragging how he had thrown Joe Call. (Joe's reputation was already wide spread.) Joe had not seen this man before and was somewhat startled by the declaration. Joe responded that he too had wrassled Joe Call and knew all his holds and tricks, and challenged the man to a round or two. One version of the story has Joe lifting the stranger off the floor, holding him at arm's length and saying "now wrassle!" When the victim asked "Who the devil are you?" Joe answered "The man you threw, Joe Call at your service." (De Sormo)
One story has a 'champion wrestler' from overseas who came to American specifically to wrestle Call seeking Joe out on his Lewis farm, where Joe was in the field plowing. Not recognizing Joe, the stranger asked directions to Joe Call's house. Guessing the purpose of this visit, Joe lifted his plow in one hand and silently pointed to the nearest farm house. The stranger then left without challenging Call. (De Sormo) Like all able bodied men of the time, Joe served in the militia for the war of 1812. Two notable events occurred during this time. The first event has Joe and another soldier, Abraham Chase, 'celebrating' a minor victory together in a tavern. After a few drinks Chase challenged Call to a match saying "I feel good enough to throw you." and proceeded to do just that without very much effort. The story states that Joe had either been soldiering or celebrating too hard! In any case, Chase claimed from then on to be the only man to ever throw Joe Call, and in fact has that statement engraved on his tombstone in Memorial Cemetery, Willsboro, NY. (De Sormo)
Another wrestling match occurred while Joe Call was still in the militia. For some reason, "Joe went to the British camp on an errand where the British had their own champion, a mean brute who had never met his equal in a match. Several of the English officers, on learning that the celebrated American wrestler was in their midst, realized that the situation was a natural for a match, but Joe refused to fight. Finally, the English Bully made some slurring remark about the Yankees, which enraged Joe. At the first onset Joe was brought to his knees. Joe had often said he never could discover any difference in the strength of men, but that now he felt he must exert all his power. Seizing hold of his antagonist he bowed himself with all his strength and gradually squeezed the boaster to his breast. The Englishman gave one shriek,....and when Joe released him from his grasp, the bully fell...dead at his feet! As Joe later said, "It was either his life of mine!"- a fight to the death." (De Sormo) Joe Call continued to be popular at barn raisings where he could haul large foundation stones and timbers single handedly. Joe and his boys were involved in logging and sawmill operation on the Saranac River, near Loon Lake, however, in the summer of 1835, Joe developed a carbuncle on his neck and returned home to Westport. A doctor was sent for on August 23rd but he became progressively worse and died on the morning of September 20th, 1835. He is buried in the Westport Cemetery, Essex County, New York.
It was Joe's daughter, Irene Whitney Call (named after his first wife) who married John C. Hitchcock, bringing the Call name (and fame) into the Hitchcock family history.
Joe's Last Will and Testament
Joe Call, The Lewis Giant: by Maitland De Sormo, 1981 New York Folklore Quarterly, Spring 1953, Eleanor Hall Besboro, A History of Westport,
Newspaper clippings (unidentified)
My direct ancestor is Joe's great grandfather, John Call, Jr. married in 1681 in MA Martha Lowden. Enjoy, Jan