Living off the Land

August 12, 2009

One of my ancestors, Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), was a master when it came to living off the land.

The following is from “The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County” by John F. Hall, Published 1900:

Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), the first permanent (white) settler on this island, so far as known, like many of his fellow-countrymen one hundred years ago, was a man of stalwart mould. He stood six feet in height and weighed fully two hundred and fifty pounds and was a Quaker. There is no evidence that he left the Quaker neighborhood at Leeds Point and came to this island to live permanently previous to 1783, when he was twenty-nine years old. He built his first log cabin and cleared away the field where it stood. He raised several crops of corn and rye and became thoroughly familiar with the very great abundance of wild ducks and geese and many kinds of sea fowl which then were tame and plenty, but are now rarely seen. He no doubt experienced the great pest of mosquitoes where there were so many ponds and swamps among the sand hills, and assisted as a wrecker in those days when many vessels with valuable cargoes were lost on the Brigantine shoals. It is difficult in these days to fully appreciate the advantages and the disadvantages which this stretch of beach afforded a young man who seems to have had no aspirations for political honors, but had his way in the world. The records at Trenton show, that he had risen to be First Lieutenant in Captain Joseph Covenover’s Sixth Company, Third Battalion, Gloucester County Militia, his commission bearing the date of September 18, 1777.

For fifty-five years this stalwart son of the Revolution lived on this lonely island and prospered, occupying log cabins till a more pretentious frame structure could be built in his old age. He raised cattle and grain and sold to passing vessels his surplus products and was under but little expense for taxes or the luxuries of life.

He was careful to build brush fences along the beach to catch the sand and build up the sand-hills to keep high tides out of the fresh water ponds so necessary for the wild fowl which comprised an important part of his food supply. He disliked to have sportsmen trespass upon his estate, though he always granted permission to shoot game under certain restrictions when he was asked.

He was particular to keep away from his sand-hills the cattle and horses which owners on the mainland brought over here in the summer to pasture. If the grass were eaten off, the sand-hills would blow away, which was detrimental to his policy of building up the island. The big sand-hills, which many now living can remember, were the result of the care and vigilance of patriarch Leeds, the original proprietor.


In case you’re wondering why a Quaker fought in the Revolutionary War (against the Society of Friends teachings of non-violence), we need only consider this additional information provided by Mr. Hall.

Jeremiah Leeds, in his old age, used to tell the story of a visit which his father, John Leeds, received one day from foraging Redcoats, just before the Revolution.

A British vessel entered Great Bay in full view from Leeds Point. Two barges with soldiers and sailors came ashore for fresh meat. The captain ordered the Quaker farmer to drive up his cattle which were grazing in the meadows nearby. This was done, where upon two fat steers were selected from the herd and quickly knocked in the head, their bodies quartered, loaded on wagons and taken to the barges and to the ship.

“All right. That’s all,” was the farewell greeting of the captain to the farmer, who considered himself lucky in losing so little by the uninvited visitors. The steers happened to be the personal property of Jeremiah and his brother, and were worth perhaps at that time six or eight dollars per head. This event had its effect in making a soldier of a Quaker boy in the war of the Revolution which soon followed.


Another ‘by the way’, the island that Jeremiah occupied is now better known as Atlantic City.


Sadly, Jeremiah was part of a tiny minority of humans who tried to take care of the land upon which their lives depended. Over the centuries, industrialists and others have taken a far different approach.

For example, starting in the 1600’s, wealthy men decided that ivory billiard balls were far superior to their wooden and clay predecessors. The best source of ivory at the time was the tusks of elephants. And the only way to get the tusk of an elephant was to kill the beast.

Over the next couple of hundred years, thousands of elephants were destroyed so that their ivory tusks could be ‘harvested’. The tusks were the only things carried away by the hunters; the bodies were left to rot where they lay.

One might think that humans eventually came to their senses and recognized the evil of slaughtering innocent animals so men of wealth could strike ivory balls with wooden sticks. That wasn’t it at all. The truth is that the manufacturers of the billiard balls recognized that the world was running low on elephants. For them to remain in business, they had to find a substitute material.

Obviously, animal life has often been seen as insignificant. The great American Buffalo slaughter was not caused by the population’s insatiable appetite for Bison steaks. On the contrary, humans wanted the hides. The leather was perfect for machine belts during the Industrial Revolution, and the winter coats of the animals worked well for winter coats for humans.

The meat of the animals was left to rot much like the elephant’s carcasses.

And the blame cannot be laid at the feet of men like Buffalo Bill Cody. The animals he shot were used to feed the armies of railroad workers.

In truth, the first people to slaughter Buffaloes for the skins were the American Indians who sold the hides to the white businessmen.

I’ve heard of numerous complaints about air and water quality in the United States. Perhaps growing up in Pittsburgh gives me a different perspective.

When I was a lad, people used their headlights during the day and mothers hung their wash in the basement to keep it clean while it dried. Very few people fished in the three rivers because of all the chemical pollutants.

Today, the air is much cleaner and the rivers have become a sportsman’s paradise with trout, pike, bass, and many other species being caught on a regular basis.

Our country has done a tremendous job in reducing pollution. Is there more that needs to be done? Of course, but things are so much better than they were.

I guess you’d have to see how bad it was before you could recognize how much better it is.

As for the senseless killing of animals… unfortunately, the slaughter continues. Poachers are killing mountain gorillas so people can have vases made out of their feet, elephants are still being killed for their tusks, sharks are killed for their fins, bears for their livers, and so on.

It’s very similar to the drug trade. As long as there is someone with a wad of money willing to buy these items, men will kill innocent animals so they can feed their families.

We, as humans, have a tendancy to look the other way to avoid seeing the evils in this world. Besides, we have to keep up with the lives and deaths of people like Michael Jackson and the next American Idol. Those things are far more important.

How Times Have Changed

March 9, 2009
Family reunion in the fifties

Family reunion in the fifties

This photo was taken in the back yard of my Uncle Lewis’ home in Linwood, New Jersey. The three couples are (from left to right) Seward and Cathryn Leeds, Lewis and Nellie Leeds, and Fred and Gertrude Ulmer.

Three of those people are also in the next photo.

Classmates in early 1900's

Classmates in early 1900's

The second and fourth from the right (in the first row) are Seward and Gertrude Leeds. The first boy on the left in the second row is Lewis Leeds.

Thus, the photo of the three couples is a family reunion for three siblings.

My parents are the ones on the left – Seward and Cathryn Leeds. Dad’s name was ‘officially’ William Henry Seward Leeds, but everyone in the family called him Seward. Naturally, his co-workers called him Bill.

Dad was the youngest of the three siblings who survived to adulthood. He was born in 1891.

In 1910, he and his brother rode from Northfield, New Jersey to Pittsburgh (double on a motorcycle) in search of employment. They both succeeded in not only finding work, but in finding wives. Dad married Cathryn Mary O’Hare and Uncle Lewis married Nellie Crowley.

At some point, Uncle Lewis and his wife, along with two sisters-in-law moved to Florida and later back to New Jersey. Dad and mom remained in Pittsburgh, but I believe dad’s heart remained in south Jersey.

Aunt Gertrude moved to Philadelphia to find work shortly after she graduated from high school. She was the only one of the three to finish her formal education; the boys had to drop out of school and go to work to help support their widowed mother. Gertrude eventually met and married Fredrick Ulmer.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Gertrude became the parents of three children. The most famous of the three was Fredrick who was instrumental in a bombing raid on Tokyo and later became curator of the Philadelphia zoo. I wrote about his exploits sometime ago. Click on “A Tribute to an Unsung Hero” if you’re interested in learning more about him.

Unfortunately, I only got to know one of the three. Ruth Ulmer married Ed Morris around the same time as I entered this world. She, and most of my siblings and cousins are a good bit older than I; thus, when our family visited my aunts and uncles, my cousins were off raising their own families.

I finally got to meet Ruth about three or four years ago. She is a delightful woman and full of information about our family’s history. Her brother Fredrick died a number of years ago, and her brother Leeds, passed on a few weeks ago.

Uncle Lewis and Aunt Nellie were childless. That’s why I have two brothers named Lewis.

I apologize for rambling about my family, but one picture leads to another and one sentence tends to do likewise.

My original intent was to point out the clothing worn in that first picture. It was not at all unusual for adults of that time to dress up for events that seem trivial in today’s society. For instance, it was not unheard of for men and women to put on their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes to ride a Greyhound bus to another city… or simply to take a shopping trip to the downtown department stores.

Airplane trips were a big deal back then and anyone in less then business suits or dresses would have been totally out of place.

On the day the group photo was taken, my parents were joining the others for a meal at a restaurant. Notice I did not say ‘fancy’ restaurants. There were very few of that variety back then. There were very few of any variety in those days. Most women were called ‘housewives’ and they stayed home and cooked for their families.

One fancy restaurant reasonably close to where my Uncle Lewis lived was the Smithville Inn in Galloway Township. The siblings and their spouses may have been headed there, but I have my doubts. That place might have seemed too expensive to my frugal parents.

In any case, about fifty years later, my wife and I, along with a group of nephews and neices went there for dinner. We wanted to celebrate our little family reunion by dining in the ‘Leeds Room’ which was named for Jeremiah Leeds… an ancestor who once owned most of what is now Atlantic City.

Our attire clearly demonstrates how times have changed.

From fine dining to casual

From fine dining to casual

There are many who would point out that the clothes we were wearing when this photo was taken would be considered by many to be the Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes of the twenty-first century.

My, how times have changed!


August 12, 2008
Jeremiah's Legacy

Jeremiah's Legacy

I attended a memorial service for a long-time friend and listened with interest as different people shared their memories of a fine woman. Betty Chernak died of cancer after a long battle, but the prolonged illness did allow her to say her goodbyes and left her family with memories that would’ve been much more bitter had she died suddenly.

My mother died suddenly and it’s taken me years to get over the shock.

There’s so much we can do to soften the blow for our loved ones… even if we go suddenly. My bride’s father took that route. He decided he was too old to live alone and sold the house he and his deceased wife had built many years prior. He moved into an assisted living facility. He still had his car and his independence.

A few years later, he concluded that he was no longer safe behind the wheel and gave his car to a nephew. He rode the facility’s mini-bus to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments… when his daughter wasn’t available to assist him.

Eventually his age caught up with him. He made the arrangements to give up his apartment and move into a nursing home. He also took the time to get his financial house in order to make the settling of his estate easier for his heirs.

Poppo Workman will long be remembered because he cared enough to make his death easier for his children to handle… but he’ll also be remembered for the many other things he did during his lifetime.

The photo at the beginning of this is located in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jeremiah was an ancestor of mine and was obviously remembered for things other than his final days. In fact, he left his land to his children who eventually sold it… for less than $2.00 per acre. But that was probably big money back then.

I think we all want to be remembered beyond the grave. But, in truth, how many of us are? Most ‘common’ people are quickly forgotten. But so are most members of the ‘nobility.’

Some people commit terrible crimes so that their names will live on for centuries, but, fortunately, they are in the minority.

I hope my writings pop up from time to time as do the writings of another of my ancestors. Daniel Leeds was a prolific writer, but even then, he had to depend on his quarrels with the Quakers to really make a name for himself.

Dean Martin’s had his own thoughts on the subject.

And Bob Hope took an approach that made him famous… although I wonder how many youngsters would recognize his name.

I’m in Columbus, Georgia right now and don’t have ready access to a reliable Internet connection. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my promise of “Something NEW every day.”