Alonzo Franklin (Frank) Ranney writes to his brother Henry, mentioning at the start that Henry is actually “indebted” to him for a letter. He brings his brother up to date on his family, who he says are all well. Frank’s oldest son, named Henry Sears Ranney after his brother, lives on a nearby farm with his wife and three children. Younger son Horace has moved out to Michigan and also has three children. Frank’s 32-year old daughter Ella lives nearby and has just had a baby son. Frank’s youngest son Emory is still in school and works on his brother’s farm.
Frank fills his brother in on local weather and his recent harvest. He mentions visits from more distant Ranney relatives and then says that business is “dull” in Phelps. The Panic of 1873 had settled into a depression that lasted until 1879 and was known as the “Long Depression” until the 1930s.
Frank concludes with some talk of national politics. He remembers that Henry had been partial to Horace Greeley in the 1872 presidential election. Greeley, a longtime New York newspaper editor, had formed a Liberal Republican Party in protest against the corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency. Grant had won re-election and his eight years in office gave rise to the term “Gilded Age”, first used by Mark Twain. Frank seems to share his brother’s dislike of Grant, but doesn’t feel that much better about the 1876 Democratic challenger, Samuel Tilden. Although Tilden was governor of New York, Frank considered him an unscrupulous cheat. Frank said that in the 1868 governor’s election, Tilden had helped manipulate the vote in New York City to steal the election from the Republican candidate, John A. Griswold.
In an apparent afterthought, Frank writes upside-down on the top of the final page about his feelings of indignation at the conduct of the South. He mentions the “old rebel yell” and a letter written by former Confederate president Jefferson Davis. I’m not entirely sure what Frank is referring to here, but less than a year later the presidential election will end in a near victory for Tilden, and a deal to put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House in return for the withdrawal of federal troops protecting the elected (black) Republican governments of North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana; effectively ending reconstruction and completing the so-called “redemption” of the South.
My transcription follows the images, which are unfortunately a bit blurry this time, making them a bit harder to read:
Phelps Feb. 16th 1876
I think if I was to be very particular you would not hear from me at this time as you are indebted to me in that respect. We are all usually well, our family number only 3 at present. Henry lives nearby & works the farm they have 3 children. Horace you are aware lives in Mich they have also 3 children all XXX [unreadable] helped him to buy 40 acres in addition to the 40 he did own & he is getting along remarkably well. We hear from our friends there frequently, all well when last heard from. Lewis health had been better for some months than for some time previous. Ella was married about a year ago. She has a son about 6 weeks old. She lives about a mile from us.
Emory D. our youngest will be 19 years old next May. Attends school this winter he probably will work for Henry on the farm this coming season by the month and board with us. As for myself I enjoy very good health except rheumatic difficulties occasionally. I suppose I do not show my age as some do from the fact that there is scarcely a gray hair in my head. I use no Dyes or Tonics.
Yesterday it snowed all day some 8 or 10 inches deep, the mud in some places about the same depth, and today it is blowing and drifting so you may calculate the going in no ways good. We have not had over 2 inches of snow up to this time at any one time this winter, remarkably mild winter so far. We nor scarcely anyone about has been able to secure any ice for their ice houses as yet. Our wheat crop was light in Western N.Y. We had from 32 acres only 432 bu. Of good merchantable wheat. Of barley from 5 acres 247 bu. and from 12 acres to corn 1500 bu. Of ears. 2 acres potatoes about 300 bu. Oats none.
Our stock consists of 4 head Horses, 6 cows, 3 yearling steers & 3 spring calves (no sheep). Slaughtered 8 good hogs & keep 3 over.
Last summer a daughter of Anable whose mother was Betsy Ranney called on us and spent a few days on her way to Elbridge’s to visit her uncle Luke Ranney & aunt Martha (not married). On her return to Mich Martha came as far as Phelps & made us quite a visit. Says that she used frequently to visit Uncle McFarland at Syracuse & that Emily who married Squires is keeping a large boarding house there and is on very intimate terms with her. They have about 60 boarders, the business is transacted in her name. Squires has never succeeded very well in business having failed 3 or 4 times. Emily says she is a very smart active business woman & much confined by her cares.
Business of all kinds is very dull. Farm produce low except perhaps Butter & Cheese. Also Beef & Pork at paying prices for farmers. Yet all kinds of business is dull among all classes. I continue to receive the Springfield Repub. from some source. Do you get the Phelps paper, suppose it to be sent you from office.
I don’t know exactly where you stand politically. Had the impression you was somewhat Greelyized nearly 4 years ago. The Springfield Repub. is an able paper, yet do not apprehend it to be entirely infallible. Rather given to faultfinding, many times without cause. I cannot agree with it in its laudation of Sam Tilden, don’t believe him to be quite a saint. He has for years been an arch conniving unscrupulous politician. Has gained some reputation as a reformer without accomplishing much as yet. I don’t forget in 1868 that he was chairman of Down State committee and was instrumental in figuring up majorities in certain wards in N.Y. City thereby defeating John A Griswold who was legally elected Gov. of state.
Please write soon & I will answer.
With regards to self and family
Yours A.F. Ranney
[upside-down on top of final page] I don’t like that old rebel yell. It comes too soon I think for it drove their hellish history. I can’t help feeling indignant at XXX [unreadable] defiance & Jeff Davis letter.