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The old town of Prairie du Rocher has undergone, perhaps, fewer changes than any other locality of Randolph County. Its foundation dates back to the early part of the previous century. Its growth has not been rapid. The French population of which, its inhabitants were at first entirely composed, has here retained its distinctive character more closely than elsewhere, and a considerable proportion of the present residents of the village are descendants of the families who were identified with its history a century ago.
The Blais family is one of the oldest in the town. The first of the name to make his residence in Prairie du Rocher was Blais, a Frenchman whose ancestors had emigrated from France to Canada, sometime before coming to the Illinois country. He devoted himself to the quiet pursuit of farming, the common occupation of the inhabitants, and was a leading man of the village. He reached an extreme old age, and died in the year 1783. One of his sons was Antoine Blais, who married Teresse De Choche, Gabriel De Choche, the father of the lady in question, and the grandfather of the present Antoine Blais, was a native of France, and an old resident of Prairie du Rocher. Antoine and Teresse Blais had been born and brought up in Prairie du Rocher. They had six children, of whom only four grew to maturity. Antoine, who received his father’s name, was next to the oldest in birth, and is now the only surviving one of the family in his generation, all his brothers and sisters being dead.
Antoine Blais was born in Prairie du Rocher; on the twenty-seventh of August, 1809. He was brought up in the village, and received his early education in the subscription schools held in the town. At the age of seventeen he left home, and went to Ste. Genevieve, Mo.; and there learned the trade of blacksmith. Two years after he was in St. Louis, Mo., a place at that time of small size in comparison with its present proportions, and here he followed his trade. He went to St. Louis in 1828, and remained there four years, till 1832. At this latter date he returned to Prairie du Rocher, put up a shop, and engaged in the black-smithing business. In July of the same year his marriage took place to Miss Lucy Conner, a daughter of Henry Conner, one of the early Sheriffs of Randolph County, United States Marshall under the administration of John Quincy Adams, a prominent Whig politician, and a leading man in public affairs. Mr. Blais‘ residence, for several years, in Prairie du Rocher was unmarked by any event of unusual importance. Fourteen years after his marriage, in 1846, his wife died.
In the year 1849, Mr. Blais formed one of a party, numbering also among its members Drs. Smith and McDonald, and several others from Prairie du Rocher and vicinity, which set out for California to swell the throng of enterprising and adventurous men which that year crowded the Pacific Coast, incited by the hopes of fortune held out by the wonderful stories of the golden wealth of California. The party was six months in making the over-land journey, beginning the trip in April and arriving in California the following October. An ox team carried their outfit, and their progress was necessarily slow. Mr. Blais at once went to work mining gold upon his reaching the mines. He continued in California till 1851, and at that time had succeeded in accumulating about five thousand dollars, meeting with better fortune than the average of California adventurers. In 1857 he sailed from San Francisco on his homeward journey. Crossing the Isthmus he reached New Orleans, where (with little doubt, through the rascality of the keeper of the hotel) he and his partner were robbed of the greater portion of their hard-earned money, while at dinner. Mr. Blais returned to Prairie du Rocher, and there engaged in the merchandising business, buying out the store of a friend who was contemplating a visit to Europe. A few months after his return from California, Mr. Blais married his second wife, whose maiden name was Mary M. Phegley, the daughter of Abraham Phegley, a native of Kentucky.
Mr. Blais has since been engaged in the mercantile business at Prairie du Rocher. His partner was Mr. J. D. Sprigg, who was long known as one of the active business men of the place. In 1860, Mr. Sprigg, retired from the business with the purpose of devoting his attention to agriculture. Mr. Spriggpurchased his interest in the concern and from that time carried on the business alone till 1866, when a partnership was again formed between Mr. Spriggand Mr. Sprigg, the latter having grown tired of the monotony of farming. Mr. Sprigg died in 1871, and Mr. P. W. Unger took his place in the firm, since which time the business had been carried on with little change. The store, the property of Mr. Sprigg, in which the business of the firm is carried on, is the largest and most commodious building for the purpose in Prairie du Rocher, and was built in 1870. Mr. Sprigg‘ second wife died on the thirty-first of December, 1866. He was married for the third time, in 1867, to Mrs. Margery Conner, the widow of his brother-in-law by his first wife.
With the exception of less than a decade, Mr. Blais long life of sixty-six years has been spent in Prairie du Rocher, of which he is now one of the oldest residents. He is favorably known throughout the County as a business man of reliability and enterprise. He commenced his career without a dollar, and his accumulations have been the result of his individual efforts. He started out in his political life with a vote for Andrew Jackson, for President, in 1832. Afterward Mr. Blais became a member of the Whig party, voting for Harrison, Clay, and other Whig candidates. On the decline of the Whig organization, Mr. Blais united with the Democracy, and has since continued to act with the Democratic Party.
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Mr. Gilbert Blais was born December 20, 1840, in Prairie du Rocher and after going to school, spent his youth on the farm of his mother. Here he learned all the secrets of successful farming and was finally able to go to farming on his own account. He now married Miss Mary E. Louvier. She was a native of Prairie du Rocher, where she was born on the Commons on January 24, 1849. Her father was Henry Louvier.
The couple then entered upon that life of farming, and the improvement of their land, which went on uninterrupted until the death of Mr. Blais. This occurred February 1, 1887. The results of their efforts were so marked that they came to win a farm of 120 acres of the choicest land and improved in every respect. Five children were born to them, one son, Thomas G., and four daughters. Olive O., Leona E., Anna S. and Zoe L. The family includes also a daughter of Mrs. Blais by a former marriage, Mary G. Kerr.
Nor had they been idle socially, for they were well known in a circuit of many miles and beloved of a wide circle of friends. The husband was a devoted Catholic, and the wife has at various times done a good deal for the Church. She is a member of the Altar Society. After the death of her husband she took up the management of the farm, continuing his good methods and keeping the family together.
Every home is a universe in miniature. Here, too, powers and influences of great moment are continually at work. But within the family the forces making for great and lasting ends spring forth from moral and spiritual sources and lie in the soul of the man and woman. Thus, the most beautiful aspects of the family radiate from its relations to the Church, this everlasting fountain of peace and happiness. Without this inestimable feature social standing and industrial capacity dwindle into insignificance, and with it relatively un-acquainted human beings rival mighty potentates and emperors.