This is the story of why Jerome Pierpont, my 3x great grandfather, dropped out of school but then eventually learned to write. It’s a story of bullies and love. These stories were told by Jerome to his granddaughter Florence (Bailey) Longwell in 1939 when he was 90 years old. She recorded them and they eventually made their way to me many years later.
Jerome was born on 12 Feb 1849 in Greenup, Kentucky, the son of Lott Pierpont and Nancy (Hawks) Pierpont. In 1855, when Jerome was just six years old, his mother died, and a few months later his father remarried, resulting in a large blended family. At this time, the family lived on wild game and corn bread, made from grinding home grown corn on a small hand mill. Soon though, Jerome’s family moved to Ohio. There, children at school teased Jerome, calling him a “Kentucky Corn Cracker”, and so he stopped going to school. His overworked stepmother didn’t try to make him go. Since he wasn’t attending school, he began working with his father at age 10, cutting wood for use in iron furnaces. At sixteen, his father “gave him his freedom”, and from then on he worked on his own to support himself, traveling far and wide to find work.
In 1870, Jerome was in Straitsville, Ohio, building railroads. At the place where he boarded, Martha I. Davison was working as a cook, not far from where her parents lived. After meeting Martha there, Jerome decided he wanted to correspond with her, so he went to a writing class and finally learned to write. In 1873, Jerome came to Licking County where Martha lived, and they married in April of that year.
I really love this story. Who wouldn’t love the story of a great grandfather who was so drawn to his wife-to-be that he learned to write just so he could correspond with her? And unfortunately, I can relate to the teasing and bullying Jerome experienced when he moved to Ohio. Although my experience probably wasn’t as bad, throughout junior high, all of the boys in my class called me “Cheater” (ironically, because I was one of the smarter kids), and there were certainly days when I didn’t want to face them and the name-calling. Being teased for being smart may not be the worst thing in the world, but at that age, I think most of us just want to fit in, and being different in any way, and especially being constantly reminded of your difference, can be really hard. I wish that this is not an experience I shared with any of my ancestors, but unfortunately kids have always been capable of being incredibly cruel to each other.