Franklin Lyman Olds was born on 16 February 1810, the first child of Gideon and Elizabeth “Betsey” (Lyman) Olds of Jericho, Chittendon County, Vermont. His parents were both children of families who had moved up New England to colonial western Vermont. There is no known previous usage of the given name Franklin in his family and it is possible he was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin by his parents, whose fathers had both fought in the American Revolution. It was a given name that would carry on down the generations.
Franklin’s family had moved to Norwich, Windsor County, Vermont, on the eastern edge of the state, by 1830, when his mother Betsey died there and was buried in Norwich’s cemetery. Life for the family went on without Betsey. Franklin may have initially been involved in a Norwich-area company called Burton Olds & Co. On 3 October 1833 Franklin was amongst many citizens of Norwich to petition the Vermont legislature to create a law to prevent cattle from running at large, or as they put it:
We the undersigned would humbly represent to your Honorable body, that great difficulties and damages are incurred by the Farming interest in this State in consequence of the prevailing custom of turning cattle except Yearlings to run at large in the Highways during the Summer and Autumn. And as the laws of the State are considered insufficient to restrain such cattle from so running at large, We do therefore pray your Honorable body that an act may be passed effectually to produce such restraint . . .
In 1834 he was again one of many petitioners; this time they asked for the legislature to allow an educational facility that would become Norwich University.
Norwich was a small town, so Franklin could have met Lucy Blood at almost any activity or location around the mostly rural town. On 26 November 1835, Lucy and Franklin were married in Norwich by Samuel Goddard. Lucy’s mother had also died prior to their wedding, but both their fathers were still alive. To date I have been unable to locate them on the 1840 federal census, and since it only enumerates each head-of-household, the young couple may have been living with a relative.
Franklin opened a general store in Norwich with his brother Erastus William Olds. They were known as F L & E W Olds.
Franklin was elected a Representative to Vermont’s General Assembly for 1856-57.
Through a digitized Journal of the House of the State of Vermont, I know he filed a report as part of the Committee on State Prisons. He was also a Representative while the Vermont legislature was considering moving the capital of Vermont from Montpelier to Rutland, as shown in the newspaper excerpt below.
As the general store in a small, mostly rural community, their fortunes boomed. On the 1850 census, Franklin was listed with real estate worth $570 and Erastus with real estate worth $1,000. By the 1860 federal census, Franklin was listed as having real estate worth $1,250 and “personal estate” worth $5,000. Younger brother Erastus’s real estate was a bit less expensive – still listed at $1,000, he was probably living in the same place as a decade prior – but Erastus was listed with the exact same personal estate as Franklin, $5,000. With personal estates together totaling $10,000, Franklin and Erastus made up the majority of the wealth on their census page, the entire total of personal estates only being $13,300.
As was common then amongst merchants and others who owned businesses that many people frequented, Franklin shortly became the postmaster of Norwich.
A storm was brewing in the divided nation, and the Civil War shortly broke out. As the war did not end in a few months as many in the Union thought, and then turned ever more bloody and expensive, the Union turned to new ways to fund the war and get soldiers to fight it. An increasing array of taxes were introduced and a draft was instituted. Too old to be drafted, Franklin and Erastus chose not to voluntarily enlist. But as merchants who were relatively wealthy for a small community, they were subject to a variety of taxes. They were taxed as “Retail Dealers” and individually taxed for the incomes from their business.
After the war ended, the taxes initially continued as the Union side tried to recoup some of the financial devastation war had wrought on the federal government. An increasing number of items were taxed, and that’s how I know that Franklin’s household owned a piano. As head-of-household, Franklin was the one who was taxed for it, but since it was a musical instrument, I have no way of knowing which member(s) of the household actually played it. I’ve always found this interesting, as I always enjoy learning more about the day-to-day lives of the people I research, but have found it especially so since I recently began learning to play the piano myself. It is nice to imagine a household filled with music.
On 8 November 1867, the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School was incorporated by the Vermont State Legislature, and it opened the following year. Franklin was on the Board of Trustees starting in 1868, listed with the honorific of “Esq.” (short for “Esquire”). The school created a rather melodramatic advertisement about its wonderful staff, perfect building, idyllic location, and specialization in classical instruction. However, the school did not last very long, closing in 1877; this was apparently at least partially due to regular staff turnover.
In the 1870’s, the general store caught fire. Erastus and his wife, who lived above the store, were wakened by a daughter who had spotted the fire and escaped. The store was rebuilt, but according to a local history of the area, Erastus ran it on his own from that point forward. By this time Franklin was at least in his 60’s, but continued on as postmaster for several more years. Under a federal act of 3 March 1883, c. 142, (22 St. pp. 600, 602,), first to third class postmasters were allowed to put in claims for readjusted pay if they had been postmasters certain years. (See a partial quote of the act in this transcript of a Supreme Court case regarding it.) Judging by the Serial Sets, a large number of postmasters did; Franklin was one of them. It took a long time for the federal government to go through all the claims, and while many of them appear to have been rejected, Franklin’s was one of the ones eventually accepted (see 1886’s Serial Set Vol. 2401 [House Executive Document 225], p. 73). He received an additional $92.80 in pay for having served as Norwich’s postmaster in 1873 and 1874.
Just a handful of years after retiring as postmaster, Franklin died in his beloved Norwich, on 4 January 1890. His widow Lucy died nearly exactly four years later, on 27 January 1894, in Norwich.
Original copies of the petitions mentioned early in this blog post are held by the Vermont State Archives.
The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, has a collection of school-related materials. An online list of schools represented in their collection is over here.
The NARA-Waltham branch (in Massachusetts) contains the original volumes of the 1860’s IRS tax lists for Vermont.
Ancestry.com has an extensive collection of scanned printed school materials that (at least for me) generally do not show up in my regular searches. Only by going to the category for school materials do I generally get any hits. Materials pertaining to the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School are amongst its holdings.