The Legend of the Balm of Gilead Tree

His name was Thomas Redway. He headed west from Connecticut with his family, driving a team of oxen and herding a flock of sheep with a staff cut from a tree.

Stories from early settlers say that when he reached what is now the southwestern part of Onondaga County in the State of New York, he found a hillside area above a small wooded lake.  He said, “Here will be my home” and stuck the staff into the ground.

Family history says Thomas settled on the site in 1806 and built a one-room log cabin where he lived with his family. The cabin was eventually replaced with a larger house, and the house that sits on the property today was built sometime around 1867.

The staff that he stuck in the ground sprouted, sending out roots and leaves, growing for 173 years. I don’t know how big it was when it finally fell, but in 1937 it measured 23 feet in circumference waist high, and 27 feet just above the ground.

It stood well over the farmhouse that my dad grew up in, fifth generation to live on Thomas Redway’s homestead.

My family has numerous photos going back three generations of Thomas’s descendants standing in front of the enormous tree. The photos below are of my grandmother taken around 1937, when a Syracuse Newspaper published a story about the tree.

BALM OF GILEAD TREE IN PAPER b

BALM OF GILEAD IN PAPER 3

BALM OF GILEAD TREE

Here are pictures of the tree towering over the house.

BALM OF GILEAD IN PAPER 3

BALM OF GILEAD 2

The tree finally fell September 14, 1979, taking a part of my family history with it.

BALM OF GILEAD IN ROAD SEPT. 14, 1979 D

My brother, my dad and my son

BALM OF GILEAD IN ROAD SEPT. 14, 1979 A

BALM OF GILEAD IN ROAD SEPT. 14, 1979 G

© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2014

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5 thoughts on “The Legend of the Balm of Gilead Tree

    • Thank you Pastor J. There are some stories that make me wish I could go back through history and experience them first hand. This is one of those stories. I can’t help but try to imagine the trip west, that first log cabin, what the area was like all those years ago.

      Now it is mostly cleared farm land, with large patches of woods on the hillsides. Was it mostly woods back then? How much did Thomas Redway have to clear to make his homestead? Were there other settlers in the area? It was only twenty years or so after the American Revolution – were there Native Americans in the area? A twenty minute car ride to the northeast and you arrive at the Onondaga Indian Reservation. Were there any living in this area then? Did Thomas meet any of them?

      I know there used to be a family cemetery just a tenth of a mile or so down the road to the south of the old farmhouse. A farmer that owned the land in my dad’s lifetime removed all the headstones to farm the land. I am not sure why he was allowed to do it, but there is no evidence now that it was ever there. When I was a child, that small hillside was an apple orchard, used for grazing sheep; but I remember my dad talking about the man that had torn out all the headstones, not caring that people were buried there.

      Bits and pieces of history like that, especially American history and family history make me wish I could go back in time and see them in person. What an experience that would be!

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    • Thank you Butch. As a child I never really thought about how big or how old that tree was. I remember playing among the exposed roots with a cousin’s set of Matchbox cars, using it to shield our eyes for a game of hide-and-seek. I had heard the story that it was grown from a staff carried all that way by my ancestor, but I guess I never really understood the importance of that. But, after reading the news article a few years ago, I found myself fascinated with the story behind it.

      My grandmother sold the old farmstead shortly after my grandfather died in the late 60’s because the house was huge and too much for her to care for, but I have many happy memories of the place.

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