Harriet Melvina Herr Story

Whatever It Takes!
Memories of Harriet Melvina Herr (1852 -1938)
By Dorothy Joy Liscum

From Germany in 1831 came a family of 3 sons and a daughter – people who wanted a new start in a new land.

The father Fidel Herr and the mother Mary Ann, brought the young people to the Detroit area where land could be obtained for a nominal sum.

It’s not known where the older couple, the parents settled, but the son named for his father, Fidel Jr., bought a farm near Plymouth Road or Ann Arbor Trail in the area then known as Perrinsville.

They had all looked at the area around and near to Detroit, but because it was wet and swampy and would need a lot of preparation before any crops could be planted, they decided to go out further and search for better farming land.

Two brothers looked still farther going west and south from Fidel Jr.’s farm and found some land that was sandy and seemed well drained so they decided to get that land.

Their sister, Clarissa, kept house for Joseph and Enos in a log cabin built by these brothers.


None of the three ever married. Their farm was at Cowan Road, near Newburg Road in Wayne County.

They all worked hard – and in later years, a 2-storied brick home was built and the log cabin was torn down.

Before leaving the log cabin, this I must let my readers know that the fireplace was designed to accommodate a large log brought into the house through the front door, across the living room to the fireplace. Here the forward end of the log was fired from the existing bed of coals and as it burned, the opposite end was pushed gradually into the fire, until all was consumed. Naturally someone had to watch this fire, but the brothers considered this method easier than cutting the log into sections fitting the inside of the fireplace.

Fidel Jr. married a 16-year old girl named Joanna Willsey and they lived in a log cabin on his farm in Perrinsville. There was very little money in the household – Joanna was able to make only six flannel diapers for her first child and cut up her wedding dress to make other clothes for the child.

Her children arrived at regular intervals, Theresa called “Tet,” Harriet Melvina (called Viny), a son named John, another daughter named Marietta (also called “Met.”), a son named Wm, and last a daughter named Jessie.

As a young man, John enlisted in a company going to help fight in the Civil War.

He did not write many letters home, and after not hearing from him for a long period, his father instituted a search through a third party, who was recommended to him, as being able to trace young men in the war. John was at last found to have been ill with diarrhea, a common ailment among soldiers, and because he either got no medicine or it was too late when he got it, he died according to a letter received from another soldier who knew him.

The log cabin the family lived in had two floors. The second story floor was of logs, laid side by side, and all the children but the youngest at the time slept in the upper room. It was warmer than the first floor – and too the children could be sent up there when company came.

My grandmother Viny told me they nearly always had bread made of corn meal, besides corn meal mush for breakfast, corn meal being less expensive than white flour. However,
when there were guests for meals, Johanna, Viny’s mother, evidently did have some white flour to use, and would make biscuits to serve the guests.

The children being relegated to the upstairs while the company was fed, would hope desperately that some of the biscuits would be left for them to eat at the children’s meal. They could look down between the logs in the second floor and would watch the plate with the biscuits. If any were left, it was a happy time – but often there were no biscuits left for the children.

Theresa married Minot Weed who had been in the Civil War. After the war was over, they moved to the Kalkaska, Michigan area to a farm. They had one daughter who died as a young woman.

Harriet Melvina met a good looking young man at Nankin Mill and later married him. His name was James K. Joy, son of Bennett Joy, whose home was at Grand River and Telegraph Rd. Bennett and family having come there from New York State.

James was next to the youngest of a family of 12 children. When he and Melvina married, he bought a farm on Plymouth Road, two miles east of the city of Plymouth.
He did not have enough cash to pay for it so he worked hard to make payments to the previous owner.

There were two parts to the farm – one part was on the south side of Plymouth Road, and the other on the north side and the larger. After a few years the smaller part was sold that on the south.

James and Viny had a daughter born in 1873 named Lydia Olivia, then in three years a son named Mark.

These children attended school at Newburg, and then went to Plymouth High School.

However, the boys were only 8 and 6 years old when their father sickened and died of typhoid fever

This left Viny with three children to raise, and a farm to pay for – she had to practice all kinds of economies.

She hired a man to do all the heavy work on the farm until the boys were old enough to do it.

One of her economies was to cut a pencil in half, and each boy got a half to do his lessons.

Also they ate sandwiches spread with lard for school lunches. After all butter could be sold or traded for groceries so it was not used much at home.

Lydia finished high school and took teacher’s training and became a teacher.

Jim and Mark worked on the farm and Viny, their mother, kept house for them, until Jim, who was courting a neighbor girl, Ella Beckhold, after 3 years, decided on marriage.

Then Viny, who believed strongly, that 2 women could not live in the same house, moved to Plymouth – there she bought or rented a 2-story house near the railroad tracks, and took in boarders.

In order to make the most of her location, Viny rented rooms to two shifts of railroad men, the day shift would rise, eat breakfast and leave, then Viny would whisk around to the bedrooms, pull off the sheets the day workers had slept in and put on the sheets that the night workers had slept in the day before and make the beds for those who would any minute come in and want to get their sleep before night fall.

When these men got up and had their meal, Viny would hurry around and remake the beds for the day men who would be coming in any time to go to bed.

No one knows how she did it, but she did it for a number of years, perhaps 5 or 6 – when she changed her habits, sold the boarding house, bought a neat little white house on Ann Arbor Trail, and keeping one steady boarder, she moved to an easier life.

Her daughter, Lydia, still teaching, moved in with her, also, and things were better for Viny.

Lydia had a suitor, a railroad worker, James McNabb, who had invented a gadget for use on the railroads. He was a good looking man and he admired Lydia greatly

She, however, was very hesitant about consenting to marriage, as he was nine years younger than she. The old belief was that the men should be older than the girl he married, and Lydia was very sure their marriage wouldn’t work. He finally convinced her he was only interested in her, and always would be, and they married. She was 34 and he was 25.

They, Lydia and James, moved to Biddle Street in Detroit and after a year, they persuaded Viny to come and live with them.

She felt she would have nothing to do there, but did go – and being Viny, she went out and found herself an occupation that kept her busy for years.

She called on folks selling magazine subscriptions. She got acquainted – told folks about her son, the farmer, who raised exceptional potatoes. cabbages, apples, and chickens!

She then took orders for the farm products, along with the magazine subscriptions, and sending Jim the orders, he and his wife Ella got them ready and Jim delivered them.

Viny also took orders for dressed chickens for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day,
sometimes as many as 25 for each of these days.

Jim would kill the chickens, Ella would dress them and then on the day before the holiday, he’d deliver the chickens to the delighted customers that Viny had found. He’d also bring in apples, potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. There were no freezer or refrigerators on the farms in those days – however, it was usually cold enough to preserve the chickens for the three days necessary before serving them on the holiday. Ella was especially worn out after cleaning and dressing 25 chickens in a day.

A monumental job! Jim would be worn out after his day in the city delivering the farm products.

One Christmas, while Viny was selling subscriptions, the company she worked for, put out a brochure, saying anyone of their salespeople who sold a certain large number of
subscriptions, could earn a gold watch made by a well known reliable company.

Viny worked very hard that year and earned two of them, giving at Christmas, one watch to Jim and one to his brother Mark. Jim and Mark carried those watches proudly the rest of their lives, Jim living to 96.

After Viny gave up the subscription business – she was still living in Detroit with Lydia and her husband James.

The year 1910. was to be a red letter year for her. Her son Mark and wife Bertha Ostrander, who already had a son and a daughter, in January, brought triplets into the world, two girls and a boy.

In 1910, multiple births were rare beyond twins. No incubators were invented or any other mechanical aid – so it was a world shaking event.

The children were born in a farm house on 7-Mile Road near Northville and weighed from three to four pounds each and were so tiny.

With baby’s normal clothing so much too large for them, it was necessary to adjust, or resewn, the clothing prepared for the one baby that was expected.

The news media wrote about the triplets, came over and took pictures of the children sleeping on pillows in a very warm room.

The January 10th birth date meant .that home fires had to be kept going day and night, never allowed to get below the warm temperature needed by the babies.

Many friends, relatives, and strangers sent gifts. It was a frantic household, with everything centering around the babies’ health and welfare.

Viny came and stayed and helped greatly. The other grandmother, Mrs. Ostrander, also came and helped.

By July the babies were so nearly normal in size and development, everyone was happy about them.

That July, Jim’s wife Ella, gave birth to a fourth child, a boy, named Charles, so Viny came over and assisted Ella for a month.

When Lydia gave birth in early September to her first child, a daughter named Edna Joy, later called Joy, so Viny then went to help Lydia.

So in that year of 1910, Viny became grandmother to 5 children. When the triplets were two years old, diphtheria was more or less epidemic and the one boy named Everett got the disease and passed away. At age five, one of the girls, Lewanda, also passed away with a kidney ailment.

The remaining triplet Lydia is living in Plymouth, Michigan with her husband at this writing.

In the remaining years of Viny’s life, she became more frail and yet using the best of her strength, she visited at her children’s homes and helped them in every way possible.

Ella always worried when Viny came to her house, thinking she would overdo – Ella had five children, and a big garden, lots of work, canning, sewing, and caring for the younger children – with three meals a day for 7 or 8 people. So Viny’s help was appreciated and needed.

Frail as she was in her later years, Viny lived to be 86 and then just slipped away one day.

She left her three children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as follows:

Lydia Joy married James A. McNabb
Edna Joy McNabb married Richard Brown

James Joy married Ella Beckhold
Dorothy Joy married Dale Liscum
Marian Jane Liscum married R.C. Harper
Lois Joy Liscum married William Dexter
Warren Joy married Ora Goers
James C. Joy married Marian Gustafson
Carol Avis Joy married Norman Balone
Ruth Joy married Leo Douglas
Paul M. Douglas married Judy
Charles Joy, not married
Roy Joy married Marie Goodman

Mark Joy married Bertha Ostrander
Leon Joy, died at one year old
Leona Joy, died at 19 years old
Everett Joy died at two years old
M. Lewanda Joy died at 5 years old
. . Lydia Joy married Burton Greenman
Viola – deceased
Fred Geng
Estelle Joy Geng

We are indeed very fortunate and thank our family member, Lois Dexter, for providing
us this early narrative account of Herr family in Michigan, which her mother, Dorothy Joy Liscum (1902 – 1996) wrote based on stories her Grandma Viny Herr told her as a young girl.

Some clarification, however, is needed:

Parents, Fidelius Herr (1782 – 1862) and second wife Mary Anna Hauser (1793 – 1868) brought children, “Fidele, 21, Marianna, 4, Barbara, 7, Theresa, 18, and Johanna, 21, over from Baden on the good ship General Hamilton which docked in New York Harbor on October 25, 1831.

Traveling onto Nankin Township, Michigan, father Fidelius staked the 80 acres family farm out on the Rouge River, near the intersection of Newburgh and Warren Roads in Westland, Michigan.

Fidele Jr., Theresa, and Johanna were children by first wife, Maria Anna Schmidt who had passed away in Achern in 1817, and Marianna and Barbara by his second wife, Marianna, who came to America..

Another daughter Karoline (1803 – 1876) did not emigrate on the first voyage but later came over with her husband, Anton Wunsch, in 1838 to settle at Plymouth, Michigan and later Ada, Kent County, Michigan.

The three younger children, two sons and a daughter, Dorothy talked about were Ignatius (Enos) (1831 – 1912), Joseph (1834 – 1916), and Clarissa (1835 – 1911).

They were born later in Nankin Township, never married and lived on the a farm they had acquired apart from the family homestead Fidele Herr Jr. inherited from the parents. .
Viny’s parents Fidele Herr Jr. and 18-year old, Joanna Euphemia Wilsey (1826 – 1910) married on January 1, 1844 and they had children:

John H. Herr, a cannonaire private in Company G, 1st Michigan Light Artillery who died August 31, 1864 near Kennesaw Mountain GA on Sherman’s march to the sea.

Theresa Hannah Herr (1848 – 1935), who married Minot Weed.
Marretta C. Herr (1850- 1922) who married Alburtus Barnes, and,

Melvina Harriet Herr, or “Viny” as Dorothy called her grandmother, the baby of the
Herr family and heroine of this story.


History of Spectacle Island, 1634 – 1743

Compiled By Ledyard Bill, Edited by Rodger M. Wood

The early history of Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor and my Bill’s Family roots are
closely interwound.

The island was first mentioned in Boston town records on the 4th of March, 1634-35, when together with Deer Island, Hog Island, and Long Island, it was granted to the town of Boston for the yearly rent of four shillings for the four islands, or a shilling each island.


Very soon afterwards, the town allotted the island to different inhabitants, who paid a small annual rent, to insure the benefit of the free school.

Covered with trees and timber, Boston settlers used the island as a source of firewood.

Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop reported a tragedy which occurred there
during a cold New England winter.

“On the 13th of January, 1637 -38, thirty persons of Boston went out on a fair day to
Spectacle Island to cut wood, the town being in great need of it. The next night, the
wind rose very high to the northeast, with snow, and afterwards at the northwest for
two days. It was so cold that the harbor was frozen over, except a small channel. These
thirty adventurers met with bad luck, for twelve of them could get no further home
than the Governor’s Island, seven were carried in the ice in a small skiff through Broad
Sound to the Brewsters, where they had to stay two days without food and fire, and get
home by the way of Pulling Point, and many of the others, after detention, had their
limbs frozen, and one of them died.”

On the 19th of April, 1649, ten persons “bound themselves and their successors to pay sixpence an acre p’ yeare for their land at Spectacle Iland., forever to y’ use of the schole,
Y” soe it may be proprietye to them for euer, and they are to bring in their pay to the townes treasurer the first day of February for eu’r or else there land is forfeit into the townes disposing.”

These persons did not pay their rent as promptly as they should, and some of them conveyed their rights to others,

History of Spectacle Island, 1634 – 1743

A compulsory order was passed at a 1655 town meeting to levy and the constable collect the large arrears due.

It was not until the 11th of March, 1666-1667, that the town relinquished all its rights in the island to the planters and made void the agreement about the annual rent of sixpence an acre for the benefit of the school, on condition that the back rent should be paid up in full to that date.

About this time, my 8th great grandfather, Thomas Bill, a lighterman or operator of a 17th century barge, began to purchase up the rights of several owners.

In the year 1666-67, Josias Cobbam Jr of Boston sold him a piece or parcel on the southerly bend of Spectacle Island, containing three acres, or thereabouts, bounded E by the sea, W by the land of Daniel Turell and of Thomas Bill, N. by the cove, S by the land of Ralph Mason, etc. (Suff. Deeds, 8:315)

On the 3rd of March, 1667-8, Daniel Turrell of Boston and his wife Mary for 6 pounds sold Thomas Bill of Boston 2 1/2 acres on the southerly bend of Spectacle Island,
(Suff Deeds, 8:217)

On the 31st of August, 1678, Ralph Mason and his wife Annie sold Thomas Bill 8 acres (Suff Deeds 9:418).
By these purchases, Thomas Bill had acquired title to full half of the island.

On the 25th of January in 1681, he transferred his thirty-five acres to his son, Samuel,
my 7th great grandfather, a butcher, who had previously purchased five acres from John Salter and other parts from several other persons.

Boston land records showed Samuel Bill bought up all the other interests and by 1681
owned the title to the entire island for a total investment of 177 pounds..

In 1693, Drake called Spectacle Island, “Samuel Bill’s Island.
(Drake’s History, Boston, p 817).

In 1681, the island was covered with oak and heavy timber, and was valued for its nearness (4 ½ miles) to market.

During the period, 1684 – 1685, Samuel Bill became uneasy about his title to the
island property and obtained a confirmatory title that is reprinted below from
“a big Indian.”.

History of Spectacle Island, 1634 – 1743

“To all Christian People to whom these presents shall come. Josiah, son and Heyer of Josiah otherwise called Wamputuck, late Sachem of the Massachusetts Country in New England sendeth Greetings: –

Know ye that I the said Josiah, son of Josiah, for diverse causes and good considerations me thereunto moving and in particular for and in consideration of a valuable consideration of money to me in hand payd before the ensealing of this deed by Samuel Bill of Boston Butcher, Have with knowledge and consent of my wise men and Councellors William Ahoton, Sen, William Ahoton, Jun, and Robert Mamentaug, Given, granted, sold, enfeoffed, and confirmed, and by these presents Do fully freely and absolutely give grant, sell, enfeoffe, convey and confirme unto the sayed Samuel Bill his heyres and Assignes forever one certain Island Scituate in the Massachusett Bay rights priveledges and appurtenances, thereunto in any commonly known and called by the name Spectacle Island in the present possession the same Bill with all wise
appertaining and belonging. To have and to hold the same and every part and parcel thereof unto him the said Samuel Bill his Heyers and Assigns to his and their sole use and
benefit in firm and indefeasible estate of inheritance in fee simple forever – And the said Josiah for himself his heyers Executors Administrators and Successors doth hereby covenant and promise to and with the said Samuel Bill his heyers and Assigns that at the time of ensealing and delivery of these presents that (according to Indian right and title) he is the sole owner and proprietor of the said Island and hath full power and authority to sell and convey the same as abovesayd and the sayd bargained Island with all its priveledges, rights, and appurtenances belonging, will and sufficiently warrant and defend against himself his heyers and successors and against all and every other person whomsoever having, claiming, or pretending to have or claim any Indian right, title, or interest in or to the same or any part or parcel thereof.

In witness whereof the said Josiah and his councllors above sayd have hereunto put their hands and seals this thirtieth day of April in the year one thousand six hundred eighty-four.

Josiah his mark –o {seal}
William hahaton {Seal}
Old William A Ahaton {Seal}
Robert Mamentong Z {Seal}

Signed sealed and delivered in presence of George Meriott and Experience Ffisher
Josiah, Indian Sachem, and his Councellors acknowledged this to be their Act and Deed, May 1st 1684 before me”
William Stoughton
Suffolk Deeds 13: 172, 173

History of Spectacle Island, 1634 – 1743

Samuel Bill remained in full possession of Spectacle Island until his death on
August 18, 1705, when it was bestowed to his widow Elizabeth for her lifetime and
at her death to his son Samuel.

While he had a Boston house and garden on Black Horse Lane and was a butcher in Boston, there are indications in his will that Samuel had another house and raised cattle and sheep on Spectacle Island.

Samuel Bill’s will is dated August 13, 1705 and was proved September 20, 1705.

He gave his wife Elizabeth the use of all his real estate as long as she shall remain his widow, but should she marry, then the use of only one-third part. “To my son Samuel Bill, I give all my island known as Spectacle Island (in the various deeds) and all my stock of cattle upon it, he paying to my son Richard Bill six pounds a year out of the income thereof during his natural life. To Samuel he also gives two negro men. To Richard he gives his house and garden in Black Horse Lane, in Boston, “which was my father’s and also 200 pounds current money, when he finishes his apprenticeship.

After the payment of debts, the remainder shall be divided equally between his two sons, Samuel and Richard.

The Executors were his son Samuel Bill and William Welstead, to the latter of whom he gave five pounds.

The witnesses were Doctor Oliver Noyes, Robert Staples, and John Vallentine. (Suffolk Probate 16:46.)

Mrs. Bill remarried but in the course of events she and her new husband died, and the title of the island passed on in full to the son, Samuel Bill, my sixth great grandfather, in accordance with the will of his father.

While the Boston fire of 1711 destroyed his Boston residence and he had a house on the island, it is not known whether this Samuel Bill ever moved to the island.

We know, however, somebody had to care for the seventy-six sheep, two cows, two negro men, a boat, an old mare, and family hog, together with sundry tools on the island, which Samuel left in his will at death in 1733.

History of Spectacle Island, 1634 – 1743

Samuel Bill was bothered by financial problems and used Spectacle Island as leverage to make himself solvent again.

In 1714 an indenture was made, whereby Samuel Bill, of Boston, victualer, and Sarah, his wife, mortgaged the 60 acres on two heads of all his Spectacle Island for a 200 pound loan at 5 per cent interest to Andrew Fletcher, Addington Davenport, Thomas Hutchinson, John Wood, and Edward Hutchinson,

Still hurting financially, on July 30, 1717, Samuel Bill and his wife Sarah, for 100 pounds in bills of credit, conveyed to the Treasurer of the Province, Jeremiah Allen, Esq. a portion of land, being part of the southerly end of Spectacle Island, so called, and is bounded northerly by said Bills land, ten feet to the northward of the cellar wall lately built there, to erect a house for the Province, to entertain the sick, and is on the cleft or
brow of the southerly head or highland of said island forty- four feet wide, and from thence to run on a line about south southwest ninety feet, where it is also forty-four feet
wide, and thence to continue the line on the easterly side straight down to the sea and from said ninety feet on the westerly side to widen gradually on a straight line to the sea or salt water, where it is to be sixty feet wide, together with the liberty of landing on the southerly beach point and thence to pass and repass to and from the said granted land.

The Province continued to hold this portion of Spectacle Island for the purpose for which it was acquired until about 1735, when the General Court appointed a committee to buy a more suitable place for a hospital on Rainsford Island.

Prior to that, on the 18th of March in the year 1729-1730, Samuel Bill sold Spectacle Island, containing by estimation 60 acres, more or less, with the dwelling house, barn, and standing thereon, saving and reserving from this grant and sale, that part of said island which the said Samuel Bill conveyed to Jeremiah Allen, Esquire, Treasurer of the Province, July 30, 1717. to his brother Richard Bill (Suffolk Deeds, 44, 115)

February 17, 1738-9, William Foye, Province Treasurer. By virtue of a resolve of the General Court, passed in the session in November, 1736, for 130 pounds, conveys to Richard Bill, of Boston, all the interest of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in and to Spectacle Island, including the buildings where the hospital now is, being the same premises which were conveyed to Jeremiah Allen. Treasurer, by Samuel Bill and Sarah, his wife, both deceased, by their deed of July 30, 1717 (Suffolk Deeds, 57:162)

Richard Bill came into full and absolute possession of the island.

On the 18th of February, 1742 -3, Richard Bill sold the whole of Spectacle Island to his son-in-law, Joshua Henshaw Jr.

Source Material
History of the Bill Family, Ledyard Bill, editor, Alvord Printer,15 Fulton Street. New York, 1867, pages 46, 49 – 54, 105 -113.

Bill Family Genealogy

John Bill (1593 – 1638) – settled in Boston in 1633 with wife Dorothy Tuttle
Thomas Bill (1618 – 1696) – first owner of Spectacle Island
Samuel Bill (1654 – 1705) – second owner of Spectacle Island
Samuel Bill (1683 – 1733) – third owner of Spectacle Island before selling to brother
Richard Bill (1685 – 1757)
Samuel Bill (1720 – 1804) Elizabeth Bill + Joshua Henshaw (owner)
Samuel Bill (1743 – 1797)
Samuel Bill (1777 – 1840)
William Bills (1820 – 1900)
Sarah Eunice Bills (1857 – 1937)
Fred Fidele Herr (1881 – 1943)
Helen Sabine Herr (1907 – 1991)
Rodger Michael Wood