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History of My Own Time

William Otter Sr.
Mayor, Emmitsburg, 1835

In eighteen hundred and twenty four I removed from the city of Baltimore to the country, and fixed myself and family in the town of Emmetsburg, in Frederick county. At which place I am still residing, and very probably shall finish my days here.

The very first job I done in my line of business was to plaster the Seminary of Learning near the town, then under the Superintendence of the Rev'd. John Dubois, the present Bishop of New York. While that work was going on, I had many good hands at work under my charge, and one day one of my journeymen happened to take a seat at the breakfast table which did not exactly suit the views of an Irishman of the name of McHenry, who thought that he was the rightful owner of the place at the table, which my journeyman had by mere accident taken possession of, McHenry he began to jaw about his place, as he called it, and threatened that he would turn any body out of the room that in future would trespass upon his right in enjoying his place at the table: this menace raised my blood and I began to let him have a squall, and as my journeyman was a man who had not been by nature an athletic and robust made man, on the contrary he was delicate made and very modest, I saw the necessity of taking his part; and I walked up to McHenry and to quiet the matter, just now to put me out instead of my journeyman, and he without any further ceremony up with a bowl full of hot coffee and throwed it into my face; this I considered as a war of defense on my part, and as soon as I could see, I seized a hold of McHenry and hoisted him up and threw him lengthways upon the table, after two or three ups and downs I landed him among the fish, plates, and bowls, on the table, just the right way, and the way they were mashed and ground to pieces was a caution. This all happened in the absence of the Rev. Mr. Dubois. On his return home, a complaint was lodged against us as disturbers of the peace and quiet of the institution; the Rev. Mr. Dubois he held an enquiry into the matter, found McHenry guilty; gave me an honorable discharge, and enjoined it on McHenry on fine of forfeiting his birth, if ever he said another word to me or any of my hands while I was there.

The next thing that happened, that had music in it, to me was, I plastered a house for a Mr. J. S. in Adams County; the way it happened was—one Sunday morning Mr. J. S. started to go to church, I was laying on the porch reading, and amusing myself. The madam had put over the fire (which was a very fine one) the dinner-pot; when she had the dinner on she laid herself down on the bed to take a nap: the chimney caught fire, at this juncture; J. S. happened to look behind him and seen that the house was on fire, he wheeled about and came running back as hard as he could, he run past me into the house and run into the bedroom to secure his valuable papers;—the noise he made in the haste wakened his better half, she rose up and in her raising herself up she asked him in these words, "why Johnny are the humblebees after you" bumble bees, said he to her, the house is on fire. She got out; and at the remark he made, I jumped up and ran out to see how the matter was. And I saw that it was confined to the chimney; I told her the chimney only was on fire; she went to the kitchen and got the salt box and landed the box and the salt into the fire; and the steam put the fire out in the chimney. After the danger was all over Mr. J. S. told me that he never had experienced a severer fright in his life.

I once was called upon by the Reverend Louis De Barth, superior of Conewago, to do a job of plastering for him in his room; it was in the winter, and he considered it a particular job: he told me he would give me one dollar and fifty cents per day, and that I must hang on until it was done. I began the job and gave it the first coat, and when that was done, I told him that it would take about two days to dry, during that time I proposed to him I would go home, and when it was ready for second coating I would return and do it—with a view to lighten his expenses; to which proposition he objected, upon the ground that I would not return, and said that he would find me another job during the time allowed for drying. So I asked him what it was; he told me I should go along with him, and he led the way into the cellar; the repository of his wine, cider, apples and so forth: to stop rat holes in the wall. He gave me privilege to use any thing, in any manner I pleased; so I began to stop rat holes, and while my laborer was bringing me stuff, I sat myself down on a lot of sand, and began to dig in it with my trowel, and at last I dug up a longed necked bottle, neatly sealed up. I held it up to the light, when the laborer came into the cellar, I asked him what he thought it was, he said it was wine, we agreed to decapitate the bottle and test its contents, and when we had drank it, sure enough it was wine of a very fine quality; he then asked me what was to be done with the bottle. I told him we would break it up and stuff the pieces of it into the rat hole, and in the course of an hour another bottle shared the same fate as the first, and after awhile we slaughtered a third one; by the time we had finished a third bottle, old Bunty he got pretty boozy, we also tried a few of father De Barth's apples; the cider we never disturbed it while we were stopping rat holes, we held the wine too high to have any thing to do with cider, and in the course of that day we finished stopping rat holes.—While we were in the cellar, father De Barth was called away and was absent about a day and a half; in that time I closed up all the rat holes in the cellar, and had tore away a book case which he wished removed in his room. While I was in the act of tearing away the book case I found two parcels of money wrapped up in paper, and they were both labeled in a language foreign to my own. I opened them and the one contained eighteen French crowns, and the other had five pieces of gold, the value of which I also did not know; after I had seen their contents I wrapped them up again, and put them into my pocket until he should return; upon his return, I handed the money to him, he said that they were left by some of the Priests who had been there before him, and said that he knew nothing of it, he gave me five dollars for my finding it; in the morning after, he and I went into the cellar to see how I had stopped up the rat holes, he examined all as he went along, until we came into the wine cellar, he jocularly observed to me, that he hoped that I had not found out his wine. I laughingly replied, oh yes, I had found it out; he asked me did I drink any, I told him I had drank two or three bottles of it, he told me that was right, as he had given me full privilege to help myself to any thing that was in it.

I then put on the second coat in the room, and whitewashed it; after I had finished my job, father De Barth he planked down the cash, and I put out.

The next thing that came into the way that afforded me fun, was while I was plastering the big house for the Sisters of Charity; an Irishman who had just landed from the sod, who, was in the employ of the Sisters of Charity as a farm hand, came to me one day, to the house from the field next to the house, where he was engaged in harrowing, he had there came across a terapin, which was a novelty to him, he took a stick and stuck it to the spot where he found the terapin, to find it again, said he to me, Bill I found a horse's foot down here and it is alive yet. I went with him to the field and when we came to the marked spot, the terapin was gone. We hunted about, and at last I found it. I invited his attention to him and he acknowledged that was it, why said I to him, my dear fellow this is a terapin; said he I was sure it was a horse's foot, and observed that he had never seen one before.

I once worked at a job of plastering for an old gentleman near Waynesburg, who was excessively close and stingy. I let a war hawk slip at him, and he never felt it, but the sum and substance of the business is, that I got four chickens to eat and he got the broth; it was got up under the following circumstances: he happened to have an attack of diarrhea, and he complained to me about it. I sympathized with him and told him that I had suffered many inconveniences arising from it, and began a prescription for him; I advised that he should go to Waynesburg and get a box of Anderson's pills, and take three of them for a dose, he asked me where he could get them, I told him at Mr. Charles Smith's store, and if they did not operate in two or three hours, to repeat the dose and take three more, so off he started, got the pills, and took them as I had directed him, and they did not meet his wishes; I advised the other dose, he took them and they produced the effect desired. I then, to get a mess of chicken, advised him to take chicken broth; he had a chicken killed, we got the chicken for breakfast, and my patient took the broth. I suggested to him to have two more chickens killed, and to continue to take broth to work off the medicine he had taken, and as he had experienced a considerable relief from the first, he had two more chickens killed, and he stuck to the broth, and at dinner we ate the two chickens. I liked the sport of eating the chickens, and he was fully as well pleased as I was with broth, he expressed great satisfaction at the effects produced. I thought to spin my yarn as long as I could. I told him that if he would have another chicken killed and take the broth of that, that I would ensure him a sound man. So we had the chicken for supper and he held on to the broth, and it produced a very happy result. He allowed that he never experienced such efficacy of medicine in his life. I finished my old tunker's job, he paid me for doing it, and I put out home.

About this time I opened a shop in Emmetsburg, and, as my circumstances were of an ordinary character, I had to buy my liquors by the gallon. I used to get them from ________, he was very kind to me; others that I also held in esteem, who are, in the main, pretenders only. At length my good old friend told me he had a ten gallon keg; that I should take the whiskey by the keg; that he would lend me the keg; that it would come cheaper to me than by the gallon. I told him I was agreed, that if he would let me have the keg I would take good care of it. I then bought of him by the keg for better than a year. One day he suggested the idea to me that I should buy the keg from him. I told him it was hardly worth while, that I had it cheap fence near the house. At last they seen that it was the gobler; they came to the conclusion that it was the smoke that had brought him down the chimney. They took him and placed him on the roost again from whence he came, when all was quiet. I slipped out from the place of my concealment, and seized the gobler a second time and souzed him down the chimney a second time, left them to enjoy the sport, and put out.

While I was engaged in plastering at the college, Mr. Dubois requested me to take his horse and ride over the mountain to Mr. Reed and Bonebreak to engage for him two kilns of lime. On my way there I overtook a white man and a black man. The black man's arms were tied behind his back with a silk handkerchief. I asked the white man as I came up to them, if he had caught a runaway? He said no, that the black man belonged to him. I asked him the reason why he had him tied? He said that he had him tied for fear of his making his escape from him on the mountains. I asked him how far he was going on that road? He told me he was going as far as Mr. Fisbury's, that he had some business there to settle. He asked me if my name was Otter? I told him yes, Otter was my name. I suppose, said he, you don't know me? I said to him that I did not. He asked me if I ever had worked at Millerstown? I told him I had. He then asked if I ever knew one George McCullough that worked there? The moment he mentioned his name I recognized the man, and answered him that I knew him. He then told me that he had caught that negro coming down the mountain, and that he believed him to be a runaway. He asked me what I would give him for him haphazard? I told him that I had no notion to buy him, not knowing if he was a runaway or that there was any reward on him. He told me he wished me to ride along to the tavern and try to get out of the negro what he was and who he was. I went with him to the tavern, and when I was there I called the negro out and asked him who he belonged to? He told me that he belonged to one Mr. Gelwicks, in Virginia. I asked him how many children Mr. Gelwicks had? He said he did not know. Said I to him, you belong to no such man at all; and asked him to tell the truth, to whom he belonged? He said, well I belong to Mr. Goldsborough. To find my lad out, said I, does he live in the town or country? He told me Mr. G. lived in the town. I asked him how many slaves has Mr. G? He said he had a good many. How many, said I, to elicit a positive answer from him? He said he did not know rightly how many he had. I observed that it was not worth while to say another word to him as he was determined not to speak the truth about it. I took him into the bar room, and told George McCullough that I could get nothing out of him. He swore he would take him on to Baltimore and sell him. I told him that he dare not do that, for the laws of the country would punish him for such an act. He asked me to tie him, for, said he, you know more about it than I do. I told him if he would get me a rope that I would tie him. He asked the landlady for a piece of rope. She said she had none, but allowed that she could let him have a piece of home-made linen, if that would answer. I told her it would. She produced the linen, a strip about as broad as my hand, and I tied the negro's arms on his back.

While I was tying the negro's arms I told him to try to make his escape from that man, for sure as guns he would take him to Baltimore and sell him to the Georgia traders, and if he effected his escape to take refuge in the mountains. He got considerably alarmed at the piece of intelligence which I had imparted to him. He promised faithfully that he would try to make his escape and flee to the mountains. I took him after he was tied into the bar room. George McCullough called for something to drink. I drank, and in turn called for half a pint of whiskey, which made my good old friend pretty well how come you so. I inquired at him where he was going to. He said he was going across the country, to a Mr. Fisher's. I wanted to go to Mr. Bonebreak's to buy lime; we went together until we came to the lane that leads to Mr. Fisher's. I bid him good bye. I pursued my road, and he steered his course for Mr. Fisher's. In about one hour's ride I came to Mr. Bonebreak's the man from whom I wanted to buy my lime. I went into the meadow where they were making hay, and I asked if Mr. Bonebreak was there? They told me no that the old man was not there, and that his two sons were in pursuit of a runaway negro who had bent his course toward the mountains. I asked them how the negro was dressed? They said that he had no hat on, and that he had two rags on his arms. I asked which way he went? They showed me the course, and I hitched my horse and started after the boys across the country. I went about half a mile, and I met the boys on the back track. I asked them if they had caught the negro? They said that they had not. I asked them the direction he went? They showed me, and I put out after him with a dog of the spaniel breed to assist me in the pursuit, and on whom I mainly depended as he was one among the finest of that species of dog. I got on his track, and pursued him to a large barn at the foot of the mountain, the barn was of logs, and rather in a state of dilapidation. The gable ends were both open, and as I got up at the one gable end he got down at the other, and he made for the woods, and I hissed my dog Ponto on him, and as soon as the hiss was out of my mouth, my dog flew at him, and seized him, and held on to him until I came up to him. When I came up to him I said well you are here. He said yes. I asked him how he got away? He said that man whose captive he was, called at a house and asked if Mr. Fisher was at home, and being informed that he was not at home, he hitched the black man to the post where horses were generally hitched, at the piece of linen which I had tied his arms with, and Mr. McCullough laid himself down on the bench, and the weather was very warm; he fell asleep, and I began chopping the linen backwards and forwards until it broke in two, and when I was free I started off and run through the orchard as hard as I could run, and lost my hat in the orchard, and did not take time to pick it up. I asked him how he liked to go home? He said he did not care much about it. I asked him if the dog had bit him? He said no, that he held him by the trousers. He admired the dog's performance, and allowed that that dog was worth money. I said yes he was so. I then asked him, if ever he had been at Emmetsburg? He said he never was there, but that he knew a man there. I asked him who that man was? He said Mr. McBride, the constable. I asked him where he learned to know Mr. McBride? He said at his master's house, that Mr. McBride had often been there. He still stuck to it that he belonged to Mr. Goldsborough. I found that the black rascal was determined to lie. I marched him off to Mr. Bonebreaks. I engaged my lime, and then started off and crossed the mountain that night with my runaway lad. I cautioned him not to try to run away from me that if he did that my dog would tear him to pieces. He said he would not make the attempt. I told him if he did not that I would not tie him. So I marched over the mountains free from any fetters. When I came home it was past one o'clock at night. I gave him something to eat, and put him and the dog Ponto in a room and kept him there until morning. In the morning I walked down to Mr. McBride's to walk up to see the black boy. When he came into the room where he was I asked Mr. McBride if he knew that negro? He said he did, that he belonged to Mr. H, in this county. I gave the negro his breakfast and locked him and Ponto, his companion, up in a room, mounted my horse, rode to Mr. H's house, and asked him if he had based my suit of action. The squire asked him if that was his advertisement and the reward therein offered? He said it was, but plead that he never put them up; to which I observed that I never had put it up, but that it was up now. The squire gave me a judgment for ten dollar against Mr. H., and when I had judgment against him he paid me like a man, and thus ended this spree.

I once got a parcel of conies, and they were, as all are, very pretty animals; and they are somewhat mischievous. I had to barricade the warren for fear of their being torn by dogs; and while I was engaged as above stated in repairing their warren, a certain Mr. M. M. came along, and he fell in love with their appearance, and asked me how many of them I had? I did not tell him the exact number. Said he to me, making the question as impressive as he could, well Bill, what will you take for a him and a her? I told him that I would take one dollar for a him and a her, repeating, his word. He allowed that a dollar was too much for a him and a her. I told him that I would not take any thing less for them.

Now for the celebrated Woodsborough spree, which took me a full half a day to get through and a good part of the night into the bargain. The way it commenced was as accidental to me as it was to the hands who were involved in it. It happened the day after the election in eighteen hundred and thirty four. As I was going on to Mr. Bowers to plaster his house for him, the town of Woodsborough lay in my way, and when I came to the town, I stopped at the tavern kept by the widow Yantis. Little did I think when I stopped, of cutting a single caper. As soon as I had put foot into the tavern, the political inquisitive fellows asked me the result of the election in the Emmetsburg district, I told them that the Jackson party had lost ground. That piece of news pleased some, and others again it did not please. There were in the bar room two Clay men, who had not yet gone home from the election, they were a little touched with Jackson tea, and a Jackson man, who also had a rip. He was a hanger on, for the whole three were farmers.

The two Clay-men appeared to be very liberal in their manners, and the Jackson-man was a very close, stingy, miserly sort of a fellow. One of the Clay-men asked the other who I was. He told him I was Otter, from Emmetsburg, the plasterer. He took a look at me, and allowed that I was very big fellow. He felt his keeping as I have already said. He told his comrade, notwithstanding my size, that he believed that he could whip me. All this conversation I over-heard, but never let on I heard them. I thought to give him a hint. I told one of my comrades that the Clay-men, at least all those whom I knew, were such rascals, that the Jackson-men had no chance any more among them. He took the bait intended for him. He got up and said that was a lie, there were as good Clay-men as Jackson-men. I told him if there were any such, that I never knew them. His comrade begged him not to mind it, that he knew that I meant no harm in what I said, and that he knew me very well, which interposition of his comrade in my behalf, only had a tendency to raise his dander the higher. He said that he could whip me, even if I was as big as the house. I told him that I could not fight, and never did intend to fight, but I can beat any Clay-man belonging to the party in the whole United States, at butting.

This wide spread banter he could not brook. He pronounced it a lie. Those who wanted to see fun, urged him to take a butt with me. He said he was no bull, and could not stand it. Well, said I, I cannot stand fighting, so there is no danger of our hurting one another. He still kept harping on his favorite theme, that he would like to have a crack at me. At length some of the fellows worked upon him to give me a wiper. Well, said he, I don't care, I will take a butt with you anyhow. Well, said I, take off your hat. By this time I was fully determined to give him a good one. I caught hold on his two ears, and he caught hold on mine, and I gave him a rouser that sent him heels over head on the floor. This created a good deal of laughter among the spectators of the scene before them.

This performance raised his dander to the highest pitch, and I complained of my head very much. They urged him on to take another crack, and wanted to persuade him to try it again. I told them that I would rather not, that as soon as I butted one man down that I felt offish, and invited him up to the bar to take a drink, and make good friends. No, said he, I am not satisfied, you must give me another chance. I still pretended to be rather off, and told him that if he would treat I would give him another chance. He agreed to treat with a view to get another butting. I begged of him not to butt too hard. He said by swearing an oath, that he would butt all he knew.

We took our usual ear hold, and I butted all I knew and laid him flat on the floor a second time. When he got up, he appeared a little bewildered. His laboring under a kind of stupor, which was occasioned from the blow I gave him, gave his general phiz rather a comical kind of appearance, which created a great deal of laughter, sport, and much amusement to the company. I called on him to pay the treat he promised, and he swore he would whip me. He paid the treat, rolled up his sleeves, and was for making at me. I told him that if he struck me, that I would have another butt at him. His comrades persuaded him not to mind it. I got him up to the bar, and got the old Jackson-man, whom I have taken notice of in the commencement of the story. The company all were agreed that I should make that old fellow treat in turn. That he would drink until all was blue, when he could drink for nothing. So I asked him to drink, and sure enough he took his horn like a man. As it seemed by consent of the whole company, that I should get him to treat, I called in vain, he refused to treat, and said he had drank enough, thanked me, and did not wish to drink any more. I told him in terms not to be misunderstood, that if he did not treat in turn and that the whole company, that I would be under the necessity of giving him a butting. He said I had better not. I told him that it was the sense of the whole company, that he should treat or take a butting.

He said he had sufficient. Well, said I, are you going to treat or not. He answered me he would not treat. Well, said I, then you must take a butting, and I caught him by the ears, and gave him a tremendous butt and knocked him as stiff as a poker. He fell against the wall, and as he was in the act of falling, his eyes rolled in his head and a good deal of the white in them appeared. When he recovered a little, he went in quest of a magistrate to have himself righted. The squire refused to give him law for the butt he got, and I am at a loss to determine whether butting would at all be recognized in law, or not. The law defines an assault and battery very clearly, and am rather inclined to think that in its definition it does not reach butting, and I am sure that butting is no species of felony of any kind whatever. What the real cause was that he could get no law to protect him I cannot tell. But the way I sent him against the wall was a caution. When I had stiffened my old Jackson-man, I turned on my Clay friend again. They urged him to give me another flyer at butting, that he should not think himself conquered. He allowed my head was too hard for his, and that inasmuch as I had failed in making the old Jackson-man treat, that I should pay a treat myself. Agreed, said I. Come all ye that thirst, and I treated the whole company. I told him that I was very glad that the old Jackson-man was gone, that my head felt like a poor man's garret, that it was full of lumber. Yes, and God knows, says he, my head aches too. The company agreed that we should take another butt, and by mutual consent then should give it up. I told them that I was agreed, that my head could not ache worse after it than it does at present. They got him worked up to the sticking point, and we took another whack, and I knocked him against the bar table as stiff as a poker.

We all went up to the bar, and I insisted that it was his turn to treat the company, to be even with me, that the company drank last at my expense. We all came to the conclusion to give Mr. Lind, also a tavern keeper in Woods-borough, a call, and wind up our spree there. Mr. Lind lived about a quarter of a mile from Mrs. Yantis, and as soon as the idea was suggested to go to Mr. Linds, all hands were immediately agreed to the proposition. The two Clay-men felt a disposition to take a gig and ride down. I was full of frolic, and wished to shew out some of the blossoms of the wild oats, which I felt at this time disposed to sow, being a Jackson-man myself, and the whole mess of us on a Jerry. I proposed to the two Clay-men that if they would pay me a bottle of French brandy when we came to Mr. Lind's tavern, that I would take the gig shafts and haul them down through the town myself. As soon as I made this proposition to haul them down myself, they agreed that they would pay me the bottle of French brandy. The bargain was struck, the gig was brought before the door. As soon as the gig was ready, I got into the shafts in good earnest, to let them see that nothing was wanting on my part. The passengers took their seats. The one he folded up his arms and laid them across his breast, his legs crossed, and leaning backwards as if determined to enjoy the ride in luxury. The other was more of a romp, he made no particular parade about the contemplated ride. After they were seated, I enquired of them in these words: "Gentlemen are you ready," they responded in the affirmative. Said I stop a little till I spit in my hands, and, as I made the motion, aided by a small jerk at the shafts, and letting them go at the same time, my passengers took a sudden notion to go up, instead of down town, and heels over head they both went out of the hind part of the gig, and as the gig turned a summerset, one of them, the fellow who sat careless, seized the springs of the top part of the gig, landed himself by the aid of the spring and his powerful exertion, on his feet. Said he, that goes "pretty and nice." The other one fell on the back part of his head, neck, and shoulders and was terribly staved. He laid senseless on the street for a short time. We carried the old fellow into the tavern, sent for Dr. Sinners to examine him, he came, had no idea of our spree, allowed to wait a while, to see what the probable result might be. He left us, and after a short time came back, we then told him of our performance. He said, under such circumstances, the better plan was to let him remain as he was, labouring under some excitement, kept up from the free use of brandy and allowed, if necessary, to take some blood from him in the morning. Then came the time for censure, some said I done it purposely, and I alleged that I was not well broke to the shafts, and, for myself, ascribed the whole to the want of a belly band, so ended that spree, and it was the last. In it I sowed all my wild oats. I have arrived at an age when all men become grave. I feel that time is making his inroads on me as well as all other mortals, being now in the forty-seventh year of my age. In the course of my mechanical pursuits as a plasterer, working as master of my trade, I have kept a record of every house I plastered, as well as all other buildings, such as churches, colleges, academies, and so forth. I began for myself in the year 1810, during which time I plastered two hundred and three houses, including thirty-two churches, five colleges, two academies, and one market house, and all the money that they came to, was the neat sum of fifteen thousand three hundred dollars, and am still a poor man, without my earnings, having a large family, which run away with the beans to support them.

In the spring of eighteen hundred and thirty-five, the citizens of Emmitsburg conferred on me their best gift, elected me burgess of the town, by a very handsome majority over my opponent, and have, as far as my ability allows, discharged the duties entrusted to me, without favor, affection, or partiality.