Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Rebecca Crouch Papers
Rebecca Crouch (b. ca.1840), Beck to her friends and family, moved to Richmond, Minnesota, in the late 1870s to take up a fresh start with her new husband Samuel (b. ca.1829) and his son from a previous marriage, Willie (b. ca.1865). Until that point, Beck's family, which included her parents and siblings Sam and Emma, was not firmly rooted, having ties to Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, while her sister Emma lived in Tennessee. Sarah Jones, a relative, initially joined Beck in Minnesota, but returned to the east to tend to her ailing father.
Having reached Richmond in fine fashion by train, Beck was excited to be in a new place, far further west than she had ever been. There, she and her husband purchased a large farm near Mantorville, approximately seventeen miles from Rochester, and soon settled into life in the small community. With her self-confidence and a personality that no one could resist, according to her, she became the light of the area, maintaining a respectable social reputation while keeping a busy schedule. Her duties included being a wife and mother, member of church committee, and a seamstress, which seems to have been her primary job, but she was also an avid gardener and of course, she carried on a lively correspondence with her dear family back home. Beck had promised her mother a letter twice a week, and though at times, she professed to being so overwhelmed by work that she could not write, she made up for any gaps on the following days, usually with an apology and a remark about her readers having to bear a day without a letter from their dear Rebecca.
Beck's self confidence -- or high self opinion -- emerged in a number of different ways. When visiting her stepson's class one day, embarrassing him thoroughly in the process, she crowed over the fact that the teacher reported a drastic improvement in Willie's work since Beck had come to live with them, and even more that the teacher "did not like Willie before Beck was in his life, but now she thinks that he is a very nice young man." In a less favorable light, Beck's self-confidence could lead to harsh judgments of others. She regularly criticized her relative Hattie, who she says "is lazy and will not make a good wife," and she was equally critical of her Norwegian servant who she also considered "lazy." Beck would rather do the work herself, she wrote, than have her servant do it, and besides, she was certain that Norwegians "play dirty tricks" and it is "so hard to break them in."
Although she was used to the harsh winters of New England, Beck found the climate of the upper Midwest almost comically unendurable. In letter after letter to her family, she complained that the weather is the worst people have seen in twenty years. At one point, in a three letter span she says this is the worst day they had ever had, and while she insists that this day could be no worse, the next letter only unravels more tortures. Beck's dramatic assessments of her surroundings lends a dark humor to her reports that people in Sleepy Eye, Minn., and the Dakotas were freezing or starving to death.
Eleven years older than Beck, and previously married, Samuel was quite a contrast to his wife. Crouch owned a relatively large farm, large enough that he had several of his sons helping him out, though Beck wrote "they are not worth half as much as him or Mr. Bessey," Crouch's right hand man. "His oldest boy gets seventeen dollars," Beck complained, "and that price is not justified to his work." For all the hard work he put in, however, and for all his success, Beck complained regularly that he failed in one important task: writing to her parents. While she complained that "it is so hard to find time to write," even while she scribbled away, Samuel simply refused to get out a pen and pad. In several of her letters, Beck described her husband asleep at her side in the living room, seated in a chair, out for the night. Not writing.
Beck's sister Emma had at least three children, two boys (Julius and Percy) and a girl (Jessie), and her family appears to have been quite prosperous -- Emma reported that he husband earned twenty-thousand dollars a year. Like Rebecca, Emma did needlework in addition to raising her children, and she was a member of the community in Fairmont, Tenn.