Peleg Austin & wife Abiah Knapp Austin were my fifth great grandparents on my dad’s side. They were grandparents to Lucinda Griffin, whose story will come later.
An Austin family history was written by Edith Austin Moore. She included a letter received in in 1929 from Lillian Manchester, which is the source for this story.
Peleg Austin was born in Vermont, the son of English parents. In the 1790s, he and his brother became the first white settlers in Franklin County, a wilderness area in upstate New York along the Quebec border. The Austin pioneers were “thrifty, hard-working men and women of character and beauty.”
Abiah Knapp suffered teenage heartbreak, from which she never fully recovered. She loved a medical student named Wyman, described as “a bold and adventurous youth, could swear and shoot, and had no money but plenty of brains.” Wyman asked Abiah’s stern clergyman father to marry them, but he refused. The relationship ended.
Several years passed, and Abiah’s parents feared she would become an old maid. Tired of their comments, one day she snapped that she would marry the first man who proposed. And that…was Peleg Austin.
Eight years older, Peleg was “uneducated and rough. But he had land, some money, was religious and upright, honest and a hard worker and quite dependable.” Unfortunately for “the dainty little Abiah, cultured, refined and beautiful”, Peleg was also “a man homely enough to stop a clock.”
A few years later, they settled in the frontier several miles further west. “Wild Indians” would come daily to their home, sometimes entering and stealing any provisions they could find. Eventually, “the hardships and terrors of the wilderness was more than the delicate Abiah could stand.” She never grew to love Peleg, and combined with her broken heart Abiah “became mentally unbalanced in a mild, harmless way.” Three of her dozen children were born after this happened.
Abiah died at a daughter’s home at age 86. Peleg, who also served in the War of 1812, died at 95. They were buried together at a cemetery in Moira, New York.
Although I sympathize with Abiah, this story leaves me wondering. What if the preacher Knapp would have been more lenient? Or Wyman, a bit less callow? What would have happened if Abiah hadn’t made such a rash promise? Or if the unattractive backwoodsman Peleg had lacked the courage to propose?
Would I be here?