Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 23, 2021


 "Mis' Elderkin's Pitcher" by Harriet Beecher Stowe (first published in The Atlantic Monthly, August 1870; reprinted in her collections Oldtown Fireside Stories, 1872 and Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories, 1891)

Back in the early days of Massachusetts there was not much to do in the form of amusement.  There were no magazines od daily papers, no theatre or opera, no parties or balls (except, perhaps on election day or during the Thanksgiving festival).  What there was, however, was the fireside, where one could talk, gossip, or tell stories.  The best story-teller in Oldtown was Sam Lawson, a lanky, not well educated, rustic.  Sam could spin a story from whole cloth or from the past doings that took place in the small community.  Most of Sam's tales were reminescences of the past, told in his Yankee vernacular.

One such tale was "Mis' Elderkin's Pitcher."  Before she was Mis' Elderkin, she was Mary ("Miry") Brown, the popular and atttractive daughter of Black Hoss John Brown, a miserly and cantankerous old man.  All the young men seemed to flock to Miry and, since she was in the church choir, a lot of the young men joined the choir.  There was a time when Sam himself was sweet on Miry, but she was more of a friend than a sweetheart, and Sam soon started going out with his Hepsy and Sam was more than pleased with Hepsy and he and Miry remained friends.

The young men who were enamoured of Miry included Tom Sawin. Jim Moss, Ike Bacon, and -- lately -- Tom Beacon, who "came up from Cambridge to rusticate with Parson Lothrop."  Tom Beacon thought that just because he was born in Boston, he was better than any of the locals and could pick and choose among the country girls.  The country girl he wanted to pick and choose was Miry.  So one evening he conspired to walk Miry home from church all alone and, being a self-assured young man, ventured to place his arm around Miry's waist as they walked.  That was a mistake.  Miry was as strong as she was attractive and Tom Beacon found himself flhying head over heals and landing on the ground as Mary continued to walk home alone.

That did not please her father.  Black Hoss knew that Tom Beacon came from money and money was what interested Black Hoss, ho could squeeze a penny so tight it out out two.  The more he father pushed the idea of Tom Deacon on Miry, the more she hated the Bostonian.  Then Bill Elderkin came to town to teach at the academy.  Bill joined the church choir and claimed he sung tenor.  "He no more sung tenor than a skunk-blackbird, but he made b'leive he did, jest to git next to Miry in the singers' seats."  Soon Bill and Mary were exchanging noted during the Parson's sermons and Mary was falling for Bill.  But Bill was poor; his family consisted only of his mother, "the old Widdah Elderkin, she was jest about the poorest, peakedest old body over the Shelburne."  Black Hoss tried to dissuade Miry about Bill, but the more he talked against him, the more Mary loved him.

That fall, Bill left for college up in Brunswick but he kept writing long letters to Miry.  Black Hoss would grab those letters from the store (which also served as a post office) and kept them.  Mary never saw any of them.  She then asked Sam that is he saw any letters from Bill at the store, would he grab them and bring them to her.   Sam did and Miry was relieved that Bill had not forgotten her.

Miry was the last of Black Hoss's children -- all the others had married and moved away -- and her father made her work hard around the house with seldom any time off except for church.  Then her father became ill, and caring for him, as well as the household chores, and the making of the  utter and the cheese, and whatnot...well, it just about tuckered the poor girl out.  There is a type of man who can be contrary -- just when think he's about to die and has gotten weaker and weaker, he bounces back a bit, and then the cycle starts all over again.

Black Hoss finally did die and Squire Jones read his will.  The farm and stock went to his son.  The household stuff went to his older daughter.  And he left Miry only the old cracked pitcher that he kept on the top shelf in his bedroom.  Miry had hated that pitcher for as long as she could remember and had want to throw it out but Black Hoss forbade Miry to even touch it.  Mity was handed the pitcher; "it seemed jest full o' scourin'-sand and nothin' else."  This was the final insult to Miry from her father.  she took the picher and threw it against the wall.  Shattered, it revealed hundreds of gold pieces:  eagles and guineas.

Sam always tried to end his stories with a moral for the youngsters listening to his tales:

"So, boys, you jest mind and remember and allers see what there is in a providence afore you quarrel with it, 'cause there's a good many things in this world turns out like Mis' Elderkin's pitcher."

For the curious, Miry is now Mis' Elderkin and lives in the handsomest house in Sherburne and rides in her own carriage.  He husband is a deacon in the church, a colonel in the militia, and a selectman in the town.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) most famous work is Uncle Tom's Cabin.  She was one of eleven children born to a Calvinist preacher and was an ardent abolitionist.  One of her brothers was the famous preacher and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher.  She was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction but none of her works approached to popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Both Oldtown Fireside Stories and Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories are available to read online.


  1. Never thought about her writing anything else other than UTC till now.

  2. I have read Harriet Beecher Stowe's UNCLE TOM'S CABIN which is justly famous. Now, I'm curious about her short stories. Nice review!