"Pioneer Polly" Latta (Branch 1)

The following article was submitted by Barbara R. Smith, and is a composite of three stories about Polly from the following source: 977.14H2a, 1872 History of Champaign & Logan Co's of Ohio.

Mary A. "Polly" Latta, third daughter of Robert and Isabella Johnston Latta [Branch 1, family 7], was born March 21, 1805 near Bellefontaine, Ohio. Her family moved to Champaign County, Ohio, when she was nine years old and here she grew to young womanhood.

At eighteen years of age, Polly was a well-built girl, with dark hair and eyes, intellectually bright and having a lovely disposition, as an admirer remembered fifty years later. Today those attributes alone would have been enough for most any young man looking for a life partner. However, in 1823, a man's desires were shaped by more practical considerations, such as an ability to flip a pancake and land it in the pan unbroken, mend a man's buckskin hunting over-garments, knit and darn woolen stockings, and most importantly of all, to be a good spinner.

In the early days of the settlement of this country every home had a weaver's loom and a small spinning wheel for each woman or girl in the family. These "little wheels" were used for spinning flax and tow and cotton which was carded with hand cards after the seeds were removed by the younger children. Each family also had at least one "big wheel" on which they spun the wool into yarn. The yarn was wound onto reels which were about three feet in diameter. On the front of the reel was a wooden instrument which operated much like the minute hand of a clock. The hand went around once each time the reel completed one hundred and twenty turns, and upon completing a full revolution it made a loud crack which indicated that a "cut" had been made, or one hundred and twenty threads were on the reel. A dozen cuts a day was considered a woman's task. The common wages paid to a good spinner were fifty cents a week. If the woman spun more than a dozen cuts she was entitled to additional pay, but if she spun less than twelve cuts she was "docked" in proportion to the number she was short.

Since being a good spinner was so highly regarded, young women strove to excel in that endeavor and spinning parties became very popular. At a flax-pulling frolic or a house-warming, Polly Latta had few equals. Human nature being what it is, there soon evolved an air of contention over how many cuts Polly could or could not spin in a day's time. Soon a time and place were chosen and Polly set herself the task of doing the greatest amount of spinning in one day that had ever been done by one person.

On the appointed day, Polly, her mother Isabella, and a large number of neighbors assembled at a log barn belonging to Col. Kelley, where all was in readiness. The first whirr of the spinning-wheel was heard the moment the sun made its appearance on the eastern horizon, and it ceased not for a minute until the sun had disappeared behind the distant hills of the beautiful Mad River Valley. Isabella and another lady provided food and drink so that Polly would not have to pause in her spinning. Mrs. Archibald Hopkins reeled the thread as the spools were filled.

Noon arrived and Polly had not finished half of the promised work. Her attendants now hung quilts and blankets over ropes to form a more private area where she would not be hindered by the crowd of onlookers. As evening approached, Polly and her mother feared that she might not accomplish her goal. Polly now put forth all her energy and the wheel hummed and whirred faster than ever before. As the last rays of the setting son shone on the round logs of that now extinct barn, the last "crack" of the reel was heard to announce the completion of the forty-eighth "cut" and the fourth dozen. The pioneer girl was victorious, and that triumph helped shape her future.

News spread quickly and an account of the great feat was published in a newspaper, giving the name and residence of the spinner. William Darnall, who was a schoolmaster, read the account and determined to meet the best spinner of the time. Although Polly had many admirers, she eventually did choose William and they were married April 15, 1826. They had been happily married for forty-three years when Polly died November 30, 1869 in Hancock County, Illinois. According to her husband, she was a prominent member of society in their community, a good partner, a kind mother, and benevolent sister. She was the mother of nine children and had sixteen grandchildren.