(From "Memories" by her daughter, Henrietta Hitchcock)
My parents were born and raised on farms in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. My mother's name was Forster. Her father was a hard working capable man. He was of English descent .... My mother's description of her parent's life on their farm was always so interesting to me. I never tired of listening. (Her mother) died when my mother was about ten years old, her sister Jane twelve, a great and irreparable loss to them all. My grandfather, with the help of the two girls and some help from the old grandmother kept together and lived on the farm for several years. After awhile the elder boys wanted to go to the City of Buffalo to learn trades and work for themselves. Grandfather, finding it hard to manage the farm without their help, decided to sell the farm; and the family then were separated. Grandfather returned to his old home In Pennsylvania for a visit, where he died not long after.
My mother and sister Jane went to Buffalo where the brothers were, and went to live with an aunt, their mother's sister, the old grandfather going with them. They attended school--the girls--and were kindly cared for. 'The old grandmother died about a year after they went to Buffalo. She was always homesick for the farm, never feeling at home in the city. My mother and sister nursed and cared for the dear old grandmother they loved so well; and you can imagine how lonely it must have been for the little country girls who had always had her near to be parted from her. The aunt and uncle, living as they did in a busy hotel, had very little time to console and sympathize with them. There was plenty of work for them to do, helping their Aunt and going to school. They were kept busy and in time forgot in a measure their grief and were contented and happy.
The older boys found good homes for the younger boys, paying for their care and visiting them often to see that they were well cared for. They were thoughtful kind brothers. My mother used to often tell how they came once or twice a month with a light wagon or buggy, get them all together and take them for a ride, once going as far as their old home*,where they had a run through the old orchard and ending the visit to their mother's and grandmother's grave. The brothers always remembered to bring with them candy and toys for the younger boys and ribbons and kerchiefs for the girls. The brothers' visits were eagerly looked forward to and were always remembered as among the brightest of their childhood days.
When my mother was about sixteen years old she met my father, he was then about twenty-four. His first name was Ashel--Ashel Barber, the first name a queer old Bible name. My mother used to often tell of the many pleasures they had together, of the dancing parties in the big hotel dining rooms, and the merry sleigh rides to the great falls of Niagara and how they all enjoyed the big fireplace with its brightly burning logs; and often a nice supper awaited. She had several cousins living in Buffalo, and with her sister, Jane, they had many pleasant times together. The brothers were always ready to join in their pleasures and to guide and care for their welfare.
My mother was married at her uncle's when in her sixteenth year, They remained in Buffalo a number of years. All their children were born there, a boy and three girls. I [Henrietta Barber] was the youngest, born October 1st, 1841. A few years later my father decided to move to Chicago, Illinois. My father was keeping a hotel at the time in Buffalo. But it was a hard life for my mother, besides the care of her children, and she was glad to give it up…
When Spiritualism attracted much attention.... (my father), became greatly interested. I went often with him to Spiritual meetings .... My mother, as you perhaps know, was a Presbyterian and gave very little thought to anything along that line. But she was liberal in her views and it was All right for us to go to the meetings. And she sometimes went with us, as did my brother and sisters… When the great epidemic of cholera swept the country during the years of forty-nine and fifty, hundreds dying of the disease, my father was a victim, and died after an illness of but twenty-four hours. My father was the only one in our family to have the disease, but in some cases whole families were ill at the same time. My mother fearlessly helped those about us, forgetting her own grief in so doing. Our nearest neighbours, an English family, were all down at once--father, mother and five children. The father and all the children died within a week. The poor mother, the only one who survived, returned to England brokenhearted and alone... After my father's death and his business settled, Including doctor’s bills and funeral expenses, we had very little money left and to my mother, with her four children to care for; it was a serious problem for her. My father had applied for a life insurance of several thousand dollars. But his sudden death left the transaction unfinished.
My mother was a good, careful nurse and was much in demand among her friends and among strangers who heard of her. The eldest sister kept house for us during her absence and myself and sister a little older than I went to school. I remember how cold the winter was following the death of my father. We lived fronting the lake and the big snowstorms were numerous. It seemed to take the most of our funds to keep us warm.... I remember the gold fever of forty-nine. Everyone seemed to be talking gold and of going to California to get it. A good many, so my mother used to say, seemed to think that if they could only get out here they could pick up gold along the roadsides...
Some time after my father's death my mother’s brother, David[David G. Forster], wrote her to come to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was living. He was doing well and was anxious for my mother to be near him. He was married and had several children. My mother decided to go. We set sail via the Erie Canal for the Prairie City, as Terre Haute is called...We were met by Uncle David and were warmly welcomed.
After a few days stay at his home we found a place and were soon settled by ourselves. Sisters and myself entered school.... After leaving this school I attended the old seminary in the center of the town... It was quite a distance from our home; so I didn't go there very long. There was a fine college for young ladies In Terre Haute at this time, had recently opened, and my Uncle David offered to pay my tuition if I wanted to go. I enjoyed the school and tried to do my best towards getting the coveted education. The firing upon Fort Sumpter, as you know, sounded the trumpet of war. Recruiting offices were opened. The summons soon came and they were ready and anxious to be off. Then President Lincoln issued the call for three hundred thousand more. The town seemed deserted. The womenfolk were called together In the churches to prepare bandages and scrap lint for the sick and wounded. Hospitals were opened and long rows of cots, white and clean, awaited the ambulance trains. It brought tears to our eyes to see them; they were so suggestive of the misery we knew was inevitable.
And all too soon the reality was upon us. The ringing of the bells as usual announced the coming of the train bearing the sick and wounded; and we hastened to meet them with fear and anxiety. As the train rolled in slowly and the wounded were lifted carefully and tenderly to the waiting ambulances, the subdued silence would oft times be broken by uncontrolled sobbing from friends and relatives. A great many of the sick and wounded were brought to Terre Haute and Indianapolis hospitals from the battlefields of Kentucky and Tennessee. My mother, cousins, Uncle Richard’s [Richard Forster] daughters, and myself often visited them.
I remember several sad incidents. My mother was a nurse for a time in one of the hospitals. I remember quite a young fellow, scarcely twenty, asking my mother if she would write a letter for him to his mother. She commenced the letter but he died while she was writing and before she had finished. But she found the address of his people and with some of his letters and little-belongings she put them together and, finishing the letter with the sad news of his death, she sent it to his home. Each day long lists of the killed and wounded were in our daily papers; and it was with dread we scanned their columns...
I met your father for the first time at the railroad depot upon the return of the Qoone regiment... And not long after we were engaged. His wishes were that we be married at once... My mother and uncle thought it better to wait until the close of the war... We compromised by promising to wait for a time, hoping that the war might end sooner than we thought... About this time my Uncle David failed in business, partly on account of the hard time consequent on the war; and he had to close down his furniture factory and reduce expenses in many ways. I felt at this time that I ought to do my share toward helping my mother. Uncle David had been kind and helpful when he could; but now affairs with him were different. My brother died several years previous to this when only twenty-two years old. My eldest sister, too, died young, leaving only my sister, Frances, to help at home. So I decided to leave school and try to get a country school to teach... Your father again urged that we should get married and at once. .... The wedding took place at my uncle's home, his daughters being my chums and playmates from childhood. It was a simple wedding and took place in the afternoon of 27th of May, 1863...
Eddie** spent a year in Terre Haute, staying with my mother and going to school there.
About this time we began to think of coming out here to California... Your father and 1, you and Grandma left St. Louis in 1900,*** I think, just before the opening of the great world's fair there... I will never forget how your father enjoyed it all. He loved nature in all its aspects. He could see something fine and beautiful in everything; and the rest of us enjoyed it with him. Excepting poor Grandma. She, you know, was almost blind. But she was patient; and we told her of many things; and she seemed to enjoy it too. She was at that time past her eightieth year. But she was still capable and helpful in a good many ways; and her mind was strong and clear. But when we reached the high altitude at Denver and Salt Lake it affected her slightly. She seemed to think that we were all in great daner and wanted to get out of the train.You remember how our sleeping berths were arranged and how frightened I was when I woke up about midnight and found her out in the aisle going as fast as she could to the rear door of the car. I caught her just in time to save her. After I put her back in the berth she wanted me to open the window. In trying to get it up it slipped from my hold and fell with a bang, catching one of my fingers as I fell. Grandma was trying to get out again; and there I had to sit, it seemed hours to me, holding Grandma with one hand, with my finger fastened tight in the window until the train stopped and I could make you or your father hear. I couldn't call loudly for fear of waking everyone in the car. We finally settled down and Grandma was all right again long before we reached Los Angeles. But that was such a queer experience. It was said that an old lady had died on the same train in passing through the high altitude of that part of the country. It caused heart failure in her case.
When we arrived here, you know, Fred**** and little Marjorie met us at the depot. They were glad to see us. It seemed good to get off the train after out long journey; and we were soon with Katie. We read welcome and joy in every line of her dear face...
Editorial note: After daughter, Henrietta’s wedding, there is very little known about Hannah for the next 27 years, except that some time during that period she married Mr. I.E. Johnson, who later died before she came to California. She continued to live at Terre Haute, although it is possible that she may have lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, at one time. Henrietta wrote that her son, Eddie, spent a year in Terre Haute staying with his grandmother, Hannah, while he went to school there. During the remaining years of her life Hannah lived with her daughter, Henrietta, and son-in-law, Edward Hitchcock, in Los Angeles, California. In 1903 Edward wrote that Hannah "has suffered much from rheumatism. Is now childish with old age." She died at the age of 88 on June 7, 1904, in Bells, Los Angeles County, California.-- E.H.K
*This would suggest that their farm must have been near Buffalo, in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania.
** Eddie was Henriatta’s eldest son and grandson of Hannah. This must have been about 1880.
*** About 1900 instead of 1904 as Henrietta thought. The party consisted of Edward and Henrietta Hitchcock, their son Earl, and Hannah.
****Fred Herron, the husband of Henrietta’s daughter, Katie.Marjorie was their daughter and the great granddaughter of Hannah