Stephenson County, Illinois Genealogy
Settlement Begins in Earnest
The real history of the county begins with 1836. It was the first year that any considerable number of immigrants arrived; three mills were established, blacksmith forges began to glow, and news from the outside world began to trickle in where the solemn stillness of the prairies had prevailed before.
Few who have not lived through these days, or heard the tales of their privations related around the winter hearthstone by their elders who were witnesses of the scenes, have any conception of the trials they were called upon to endure that we of today may enjoy not only the comforts but the luxuries of life.
The earliest settlers were compelled to travel sometimes as far as fifty miles to mill and frequently had to wait several days for a turn at the grist. During the week of absence the wife and little ones at home knew not that the father would ever return, nor how long they must remain on short supply before he came to replenish their scanty larder. Corn pounded with a wooden pestle in the hollow top of a stump was for days all that stood between them and starvation. Store tea and real coffee were luxuries too far beyond them to enjoy only in dreams. Parched peas, beans or barley served as substitutes for the latter drink and the former was supplied by the roots of sassafras and leaves of the wild raspberry. Meat was for weeks, often months, only a memory and an anticipation. When game was not to be found pounded corn and water constituted the entire bill of fare.
Sometimes the entire stock of implements on the farm was an axe and a hoe. By paying in labor, a newcomer could have his prairie sod turned over by a heavy plow with a wooden mould board tipped with an iron shear and drawn by five or six yoke of oxen; an operation that is now accomplished by a gang-plow, the plowman comfortably seated on his machine holding the lines over three or four fine horses, with another team tethered to his plow dragging a harrow over the newly turned soil-one man doing in one day more than in former times he could have done in ten. Wonderful ingenuity was displayed by the pioneers in making the most of scanty opportunities. No harrow being at hand, no money to buy if the article were in being, with no tool but the ever present axe he made the forest supply his need. The limbs of small trees were fastened together forming a drag that reduced the mellow, virgin soil to a condition to bring forth bountiful crops. It is well remembered that when the first iron plow made its appearance it excited great derisionwas pronounced worthless-wood always had been used since our primordial ancestors had abandoned a flint blade or a clam shell for a crooked stick drawn by a bullock or his spouse. The first thresher that made its appearance in Stephenson county in '38 was even more of an innovation. It would provoke as much derision now as it did excitement then. It was propelled by four horses and was considered a marvel of speed in those days when threshing was done by flail, and winnowing by nature's breezes. The greatest deprivation was the lack of schools. Most of the settlers had left homes in old and thickly settled portions of the country where schools and churches had long been considered indispensable adjuncts of daily life. The pioneers were a more devoutly religious class than we of today. Their faith was of a simpler, more trusting sort than ours. Mysteries that we are prone to question, asking for an explanation that "Science" can accept, received their unquestioned acceptation as matters of fact. Newspapers were seldom seen and the only source of information was when a chance visitor happened along with news of the outer world to exchange for that which had occurred in the neighborhood since the last visitor had happened along that way. In sickness there was no doctor within miles and perhaps nothing with which to pay him were there one near. The grandmothers, however, had a number of simple remedies that were enough, with the vigorous constitutions, to bring the patient safely through. As in all new countries, before the swamp lands were drained and put under the plow, fever and ague were the prevailing ills that beset mankind and the pioneer merchant kept in stock salts, senna, calomel and quinine, which were the extent of the materia medica of many of the practitioners of pioneer days. But they extracted as much happiness out of life as we do to-day-their wants were few and all supplied which is not true of many of us who live like nabobs as compared to them. Nervous prostration was a malady not heard of while dyspepsia was an unknown quantity on the frontier. Furs were often the only covering for the head in many localities, as were deerskins for the body, while calico at two shillings a yard was more of a luxury and harder to get than silk is now.
But withal they had their merry-makings, their quiltings, their husking bees and log raisings, extending a hospitality that for heartiness might well be imitated even now. The sterling worth of those hardy pioneers has left its impress upon the generations that have taken up the burden where they have laid it down, and the principles of honesty and morality that they inculcated will be a power for good in their children's children for generations yet unborn.
Thirty-seven was a year of great progress for Stephenson county, if not for the country at large. As there were no banks within its borders and the settlers had little if any cash they had nothing to lose. There was no chance of loss when the only capital was brain and brawn, and bank failures could not affect the income from a fertile soil. Although the county felt the reflex action of the hard times in the falling off in immigration for a few years following, no one within its borders felt the effects of the panic as the older communities did.
Amongst the most prominent additions to the population in '37 was Dr. Thomas Van Valzah, of sturdy Pennsylvania Dutch stock, who settled at Cedarville, bought land of John Goddard and established a grist and saw mill. This was for a time run by hand but later water power was installed. The same year Thos. J. Turner built a grist and saw mill at the mouth of Rock Run, and William Kirkpatrick erected a similar one on Yellow Creek where a corn cracking machine was installed. Another notable character whose advent to the county is of the same date, was Maj. John Howe who had served in the legislature of New York. He was the first attorney and counselor-at-law to settle within the borders of the new county. He filled creditably the offices of commissioner and county judge and late in life removed to Wisconsin where he lived until called to his last reward. Rev. Philo Judson the same year acquired the distinction of being the first ordained minister to take up his permanent abode in the new county. Among other names which were that year added to the honored roll may be found Babbitt, Bailey, Bollinger, Brace, Brewster, Burbridge, Chambers, Corcoran, Dodds, Dwelly, Edwards, Farwell, Forbes, Fowler, Frettville, Gable, Gaylord, Giblin, Gillett, Graham, Green, Guyer, Haight, Harmon, Hill, Howard, Howe, Johnson, Kleckner, Lashell, Lewis, Lloyd, Macomber, Milburn, Moore, Morton, Musser, Niles, O'Brien, Osborn, Perry, Price, Reed, Reynolds, Rickert, Snyder, Tharp, Thomas, Thompson, Tompkins, Turnbull, Wallace, Webster, Welles, Wilcoxon and others not at the moment to be recalled.
The first marriage license to be issued in the county was to George Place arid Eunice Waddams who were made one by Levi' obey, Justice of the Peace. William Ensign opened a school in the residence of Mr. Timms at Burr Oak Grove, the first in the county after its organization, while a few months later Nelson Martin opened the first temple of learning in the county seat. Several years prior Miss Jane Goodhue had taught a few pupils at Ransomburg when that metropolis was in the height of its career.
Father McKean is said to have been the first minister whose voice was lifted up in the new county seat, and the following year a Catholic church was established in Rock Grove township, by the Mullarkeys, and at Dublin in Erin township, by the colony of devout Irish immigrants who had settled there.
On May 24th, a few weeks after the county was organized, Harvey M. Timms put in appearance at the home of his parents in Burr Oak Grove, the first birth in the new county, while the drowning of Milburn and Reed near Ridott were the first recorded deaths.
The year '3S, like the preceding one, was a year of great increase in Stephenson county. On the fifth of the preceding December the county commissioners entered into a contract with Mr. Thomas J. Turner for the erection of a frame court house and a log jail. Julius Smith got out the timbers during the winter and with the opening of spring the work of erection began and was pushed through as rapidly as the facilities of the times would permit. Prior to the completion of the court house Judge Stone convened court in the residence of O. H. Wright in the rear of his store. Mr. L. O. Crocker, the first assessor, was inducted into office this year and Hubbard Graves made the first collection which amounted to less than a hundred dollars, showing the assessed value of all property in the county then to be between twenty-one and twenty-two thousand dollars. This year, too, witnessed the erection of the first school in Freeport, the beginning of that splendid
system, of public education of which the city and county may well be proud.
Hiram Eads this spring built what for that time was a very pretentious hotel, and held. a grand opening on the Fourth of July, inviting the entire county to partake of his hospitality that day free of charge. That they were well served and did ample justice to the fare needs no comment here. The spirit of loyalty and patriotism that distinguished Stephenson county during the war was not lacking in this early clay. The Reverend F. C. Winslow was especially active in promoting this, the, first celebration in the county of the nation's natal day, and had as energetic helpers Benjamin Goddard, Isaac Stoneman, O. H. Wright, Allen Wiley, William Baker, At°. Johnson and the Truax boys. Reverend Winslow trained the choir which rendered a number of patriotic songs of the Revolutionary period and an ode especially composed for the occasion. The ceremonies were held in Benjamin Goddard's barn with O. H. Wright as orator of the day, and we may well believe that the eagle's wings were spread to as wide an extent as at any time since, and with as much genuine and hearty applause.
Among other events of thirty-eight, worthy of special mention, may be recounted the first wedding in the new county in which a minister of the gospel officiated, when Thomas Chambers and Rebecca Moore were the contracting parties and the Reverend James McKean tied the nuptial knot. The ceremony was performed in John Moore's cabin in Rock Grove township, and although the cabin was small it accommodated a large concourse of friends that had gathered from twenty miles around. Another event that might be mentioned is the first temperance lecture in the county if not in the northwest. It occurred at Cedarville and was delivered by L. W. Guiteau who was one of the earliest advocates of temperance in the land. When it is considered that about the same time the temperance movement had its first beginnings, and that the first pledges permitted a patriotic drunk on Christmas, New Years, general muster and training days, the importance of the above event stands out more prominently in the perspective of the past.
To the roll of newcomers of this year may be added Allen, Bradford, Brazee, Brendall, Brown, Bogenreiff, Carter, Clay; Cowan, Davis, Forsythe, Fowler, Gaylord, Gitchell, Gore, Ham-mond, Hunt, Kinney, Lathrop, Liebshuetz, Lloyd, Loring, Lucas, Perley, Pitcher, Preston, Rand, Rosenstiel, Scott, Sisson, Stebbins, Strockey, Thompson, Walsl., Warren, Wright, some of whose names are mentioned before as their relatives had preceded them.
Prior to '39 postal facilities were meagre, Thomas Crain carrying mail once or twice a month. A stage line had started but not until the establishment of a post office in the summer of that year was the carrying of mail anything but a hap-hazard arrangement. With regular communication with the outside world established, books and papers became more numerous and life began to take on more of the comforts and conveniences of the older states whence the early settlers had come.
The spring of this year witnessed a unique event, not only in the county but to the country at large, in the coming of a colony of Norwegians to settle in Rock Grove. It was the first colony of that nationality to venture to our shores, the forerunner of a large and thrifty element that has been largely instrumental in developing the great northwest.
On August 29th of this year the first term of the Circuit Court convened with the Hon. Daniel Stone of the 6th Judicial District on the bench; Hubbard Graves, sheriff and John A. Clark, clerk; John C. Robey and William H. Hollenbeck were appointed deputies, while the first grand jury consisted of John Howe, Luther F. Hall, Samuel F. Dodds, Levi Wilcoxon, Joseph Lobdel, Pells Manny, A. B. Watson, Mason Dimmick, Levi R. Hull, Robert Barber, Newcomb Kinney, Jonathan Corey, Phillip Fowler, Thomas Crain, Loring Snow, Eldridge Farwell, Giles Pierce, D. W. C. Mallory, Job S. Watson, J. K. Blackamore, Thompson Wilcoxon, Edward Marsh and Alpheus Goddard.
The petit jury was composed of Frederick D. Bulkley, John Goddard, John Vanepps, Rodney Montague, Mason Dimmick, J. H. Barber, James Hart, Bartholomew Fletcher, Samuel Nelson, James Canfil, Thomas Early and Joseph Green.
The first case tried was Asa B. Ames versus Jacob Stroder, on appeal. The case was dismissed with costs on the plaintiff. The first indictment was against John O'Connor and Jackson Bushkirk for the then prevalent crime of horse-stealing. The court appointed Thompson Campbell and John C. Kimble to defend, who adopted the usual tactics-took a change of venue-and the case was removed from the Stephenson county courts. Another offender called to answer the same charge did not fare so well but was given four years at hard labor in the old penitentiary at Alton where later Confederate prisoners were confined during the Civil War. Court lasted but one day at this term and only two days at the next term of April 7th, 1840, while the term convened on the 7th of the following September adjourned the third day. Quite a contrast to the later years when sometimes one term had hardly adjourned before the next begins.
A partial list of the newcomers of '39 includes such names as Anderson, Babcock, Bardell, Boyden, Berry, Bordner, Bree, Brown, Canutson, Cockrell, Corwith, Covertson, Cox, Curry, Drummond, Epley, Fair, Fisher, Flower, Flynn, George, Gibler, Gund, Hawkins, Hawley, Hoebel, Howard, Judkins, Karcher, Langdon, McElheny, McGee, McKee, Mallory, Marlowe, Muller, Oleson, Pattee, Patten, Pratt, Preston, Price, Shoup, Smith, Stabeck, Stoskopf, Templeton, VanMatre, Watson and Zimmerman. There are others as prominently connected with the county affairs whose names for the time have escaped the compiler.
Of those coming to the county during the few years subsequent to '39 and still counted as old timers the following will be found to be a partial list: Andrews, Babb, Baldwin, Barber, Barkalow, Bennett, Bolender, Clarke, Ditzler, Eddy, Ferry, Foster, Frybarger, Gossman, Hammond, Hinds, House, Hulbert, Ilgen, Illingworth, Knese, Lamb, Lovdel, Loyer, MacGinnis, Maurer, Muller, Naramore, Norris, Parriott, Post, Reitzell, Reybolt, Rush, Schermerhorn, Scott, Shively, Shockley, Tower, Wilson, Wohlford and Woodman.
By 1840 Freeport had grown to be a town of some sixty houses and fifty families. There were four stores where groceries and dry goods were sold and a number where wet goods were the only stock in trade. Drinking and gambling had increased to such an extent that Rev. Winslow and John A. Clark began a crusade against the twin evils and became the forerunners of the cause that has flourished since.
Events moved more slowly during the first years of the forties, and immigration fell to a low ebb, owing no doubt, to the stagnation that followed the panic of thirty-seven. While the effect was felt but little here, the states drawn on for immigration felt the depression and there was a falling off of newcomers.
The year forty-two witnessed the advent of another desirable colony to the county-a party of twenty-two from old England-that settled in Ridott on a tract of land selected for them by a forerunner who had come out the year before. For a year they lived in communal relations when they divided their proceeds and each began carving out a fortune for himself. Most of them succeeded to a flattering extent and accumulated a competence for old age and handed down to the next generation a heritage of worldly goods as well as a good and honored name. Some few of the original colony survive and will be mentioned more at length elsewhere in this work.
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