The cover image is an 1857 oil painting called Waiting for the Ferry, by William Tylee Ranney. Although not a member of the immediate family that is the subject of this book, Ranney was a cousin. Born in Middletown Connecticut in 1813, he was a contemporary of the Ranney brothers of Ashfield whose grandparents had migrated to Ashfield from Middletown. In a career that lasted until his death in late 1857, Ranney completed about 150 paintings, many dealing with western or pioneer themes.
I am extremely grateful to the people of the Ashfield Historical Society who have been exceptionally generous for more than a decade, allowing me to visit several times and giving me access to their invaluable archives. Grace Lesure and Nancy Garvin have welcomed me, answered my questions, and have been interested in whatever I was searching for in their files; whether it was information on the Ashfield essence peddlers and the peppermint oil business I used in my dissertation, my fascination with Ashfield’s “infidel” doctor Charles Knowlton, or the Ranneys. History, at its heart, is the story of people, and the glimpses into the lives of people afforded by items like the Ranney letters are some of our best opportunities to connect the broad brushstrokes of nineteenth-century history with the experiences of the people who lived it. The interest and care of people like Grace and Nancy insures that such items will be available when curious historians drop in with questions one day. And they continue an important tradition of making their region’s history available to the public, both in person and on the internet. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of their 5,000 articles on Ashfield’s history, not to mention the 23,000 glass plate photographic negatives taken by a pair of Ashfield brothers between 1882 and 1907! If I lived closer to Ashfield, I’d be there all the time.