A York State Tramp

John Hubbard
John Hubbard (1804-1883)

No, not the man in this picture. This man is Tim’s great-great-great-grandfather, John Hubbard, a settler of Albion, New York. He and his wife, Lydia (Randolph) Hubbard, were the parents of four daughters and a son.

We have his personal copy of the Bible, with favorite scriptures cut out from a newspaper and glued on to the inside cover. And also some obituaries.

As I was carefully examining the deteriorating pages, a newspaper clipping fell out. After reading the article it made me wonder what about this particular story interested John Hubbard enough to cut it out and stick it in his Bible. The article also gives us a glimpse into life in the 1800s.


Receives Reception That Is Known to Few Wanderers

New York World

A tramp had just arrived in Albany. Nothing curious about that, but this is a curious tramp. He does his own cooking and consequently enjoys his food. Chefs were rare in the region he was brought up in. He doesn’t collect grub or yearn for drink or freight cars. He has been tramping through our New York lake region, which Americans would know so well and admire so much if it were across the water; and he has a passion, a mania, for little country schoolhouses.

He may look like a dust storm in breeches, but something in his appearance gains him entrance. Perhaps he has seen better days. He sits on the dais and near the desk of “teacher,” an honor that used to be confined to clergymen, school committeemen, visitors of due pomposity, village bigwigs on examination day, and prize scholars, likely, if of the inferior sex, to have “the stuffing” rudely elicited from them at recess by athletic scorners of learning. There sits calmly the pulverulent [sic] one, listening with a twinkle in his eye to the artless droning of those wondering children, even having “the cheek to talk to teacher,” who actually lets him make speech before he goes. A “ripping” speech, the spoken-to say, and how can there be better judges? Does not every maundering bore, every Brother of the Ass, every solemn stumbling, hemming, long-winded sumph flatter himself that he can “make a few remarks” to “the children” and enrapture those victims of the vanity and loquacity of their elders? And this long-legged dust-man pleased them. “Talked like an educated man, did he,” says the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union to Bill and Elizer Ann at supper: “must have fallen through the drink. I wonder at Miss Normal for permitting such a disreputable character to speak in a public school. There at least my darlings should be safe from contamination.”

On goes the dustman through the best sun-soaked days and noblest moonlit nights that ever shone. He breakfasts on his own bacon and coffee by rivers hazy with morning. On he plods, astounding and delighting schoolhouses, winning the scorn of passing wagoners for refusing a “lift.” At last he enters Albany, leaves off regretfully his career as a wandering scholar. For he is identified, presumably by the police, as John Huston Finley, who sports “a tilted trail proud as a cockerel’s rainbow tail;” who is laden with LL. D.’s and is a member of everything worth belonging to. There is no new compliment to pay him except to say that he knows how to plan and enjoy a vacation.

I found a John Huston Finley (1863-1940), but he was only 20 years old when John Hubbard died. Perhaps someone else tucked the article in the Bible after our John died. Or perhaps it was a very young Finley who had this adventure and this was one of the last things Hubbard cut out of the paper. But safe to say, the article was of interest to somebody!

19 thoughts on “A York State Tramp”

  1. Hi,
    How intriguing, it is a very unusual read, and it is a shame you may never find out why this was put into the bible. The piece certainly meant a lot to somebody, it really is a mystery.

  2. A clipping in a bible and it falls out, perhaps 150 years later for you to discover it. Thank you for sharing the article with us – really just a story of someone tramping through the woods, but someone who refused rides and loved visiting schools to help teach the kids his love of nature? And though “a dust storm in breeches ” the teachers were happy to have him speak to the children! He could’ve been the east coast’s John Muir if only…. well we don’t know! Love it!

    1. According to Wikipedia, “John Huston Finley (October 19, 1863 – March 7, 1940) was Professor of Politics at Princeton University from 1900 to 1903, and President of the City College of New York from 1903 until 1913, when he was appointed Commissioner of Education of the State of New York,” fitting the description of him in the clipping as “a tilted trail proud as a cockerel’s rainbow tail.” I wonder at what point during his distinguished career he decided to plan this unusual vacation, disguising himself as a tramp…

    2. It reminds me of finding a message in a bottle. (I sent one once and it was found by a girl in Wales – I was en route to Ireland.)
      Makes me think also of the Emir who disguises himself as a beggar to hear what people really think about life under his rule and how corrupt or otherwise is his administration.
      Good story.

      1. Yes! Or how King Henry V (in Shakespeare’s play) disguised himself as a common soldier in order to talk to his troops and find out what they were really thinking about him and an upcoming battle.

        Or that TV show I’ve never watched but have seen the ads for, Undercover Boss…

  3. To me it speaks of not judging. I was going to say, “a book by its cover”. But I think not judging sums it up.

    I like the person who clipped it.

    1. I think you’re right, it is a good lesson that things and people are not always what they seem to be. I wonder how the ladies with ruffled self-righteous feathers in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union felt when they realized who they were judging so harshly…

    1. Wonderful! It IS like a blog post “bookmarked” by someone. My aunts used to send newspaper clippings to each other all the time in the mail – the same idea. Who knows? Maybe someone mailed this one to John Hubbard! I only wished they had dated it and noted the newspaper it came from…

  4. Maybe John Hubbard wrote it? Or knew the person who wrote it? Whatever the origin though, it’s curious to find something in an old Bible that sets one wondering.

  5. It is fascinating to find things saved by our predecessors. I have saved a few articles and poems and put them in my journal. I wonder whether some day my great, great, great grandchild may wonder why those things are there. I love mysteries, but I prefer them to be solved.

    1. Hopefully you will leave more clues in a journal than would be found in a Bible. I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing, writing a journal for your descendants. If they’re like me, they will send you a grateful “thank you” back through time!

  6. What a fascinating clipping! Tramps seemed to have a certain romanticism about them years ago. It almost seems like being a tramp for a short period of time was a way for young people to “see the world.” It’s amazing that the tramp may have become a college president.

    1. That aura of adventure and romanticism must be why my dad wanted to be a hobo went grew up. 😉 That’s a good point you make, Sheryl, its probably the same restless spirit many young people have now – when I was a teen everyone talked about taking time off to hitchhike across Europe. In a way, hitching a ride in a car has replaced hitching a ride on a train.

      To read about how Sheryl’s grandmother felt about a tramp she encountered in 1912 follow this link:

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