Transcribed and contributed by Bethel Baker Thoennes, via Elsetta Torres.
Included with this wonderful manuscript are records from Jonathan Baker's Family Bible.
Part II: A Visit to Our New York Family, 1841-42
Part III: Silver and Gold, Farming, and Life
Letter written to Mary Frances Brownell (Phelps) by John Randolph Baker,
Property of Mrs. S. C. Hollister
Entered from a typescript of the original,
in the possession of Ann Baker Phillips,
and loaned to her cousin, Bethel Baker Thoennes, September 28, 2000
The Bakers and the Burrs
I was born in Cranberry Creek Township, Montgomery county, New York state, the 25th of February, 1812. My father,
Johnathan Baker was born in Duchess county New York in the year 1773, and my mother Esther Burr was born in Connecticut in the year 1777
and died in 1843. I have not the date of the death of my grandfather on my father's side, but Grandmother Baker died 1830 or 1831.
I never understood that any of the Baker family were noted for their patriotism and I did not think that I was myself
until our governor, Silas A. Holcomb of Nebraska complimented my patriotic letter very highly as it met his hearty approval. His welcome
letter led me to conclude that what patriotism I had I inherited from my mother.
I had forgotten that my old grandfather, Nathan Burr and Joel Burr were both under Washington at Valley Forge and in
the battle of Trenton where one thousand Hessians were taken prisoners, when France recognized our independence and volunteered in helping
us to obtain it. Thus you see my belligerent proclivities all came from Mother. Aaron Burr was an adjutant or aid-de-camp under Washington.
His challenging Hamilton to fight a duel was very common in those days. General Jackson and Henry Clay and many others had done the same,
but that was the great mistake of his life. If he had followed the example of Hamilton in elevating his pistol to an angle of forty-five
degrees they would have come off with honor.
Aaron Burr was a celebrated lawyer and when he was charged with treason in
Kentucky, he made his own defence and was acquitted. I suppose that Hamilton might have criticized the judge or jury, but at any rate he
lost his popularity. He had come within one vote of being president of the United States. Thomas Jefferson was the only one more popular
than he. How are the mighty fallen! The loss of his only daughter broke his heart. She was compelled to walk the plank on a piratical
My Uncle Benjamin Burr, the father of Walter Burr and father-in-law of Aunt Chloe Burr, employed him on a land suit
against old Archibald Campbell and got a judgement against him. Young Archibald married my cousin and one of the sisters was the mother of
Bishop Foss and another sister was the mother of Duncan Green. In 1835 I went monthly to hear Elder Foss, the bishop's father preach. It
was some four miles from where I was at work during the summer for Thomas Howard, who lived on the Sharon Turnpike. It was a beautiful
country some fifteen miles north of Uncle Lewis Baker’s residence, where sisters Polly and Martha resided a few years after. Elder Foss
was far in advance of the age and his elevating and very instructive sermons were the best that I ever listened to.
Our marriage connection with the [Aaron] Burr family is very remote. My cousin married his wife's brother. Duncan Green
married Aunt Chloe's sister and Aunt Chloe married my own cousin, Harry Burr, the brother of Aaron and Walter.
I had supposed that Aaron Burr, the lawyer and politician, married Johnathan Edwards' daughter, but it was Father Aaron
Burr, who was a great theologian and scholar. He was the president of Princeton University, the predecessor of Witherspoon.
My father was a very diffident man and he could neither read nor write. Mother was fond of telling stories and the
younger children, and especially John Randolph would listen attentively with both ears and mouth open. When my digestive organs were in
much better condition than at present and when my school mates came home with me I could entertain them for hours with the stories Mother
had read from books or papers of which there were few at that day. The first spelling book was Noah Webster's and in 1817 the lessons
were not simple as at present.
My oldest sisters were converted in 1818 and repeated over the commence of the prayer, which was as follows:
“O Lord, anoint Samuel. Keep Daniel out of the lion's den. May John be in the spirit on this the Lord's day." I will
explain--the P.E.'s name was Samuel Draper, his subalterns' names were Daniel Brayton and John Lovejoy. Myself and Polly would hold
meetings on the woodpile and sometimes we would get a shower bath from some one. This we did not regard as persecution, as it did no
My sisters, Hannah Ann and Phoebe were good Christians and also Mother, and their example was worthy of imitation,
which made a good impression on my young heart and like several of my children I was religiously inclined and was conscientious, more so
than most boys my age. I recollect even when I became a lad of fifteen years I went to Deacon Mead to buy a calf and asked him the price
thereof and he said $1.50. I told him I thought the calf was worth $2.00. "Well, it may be so," said the old man and he took it. Thirty-two
years after when I went to another deacon to buy a valuable mare and I made the same inquiry. He told me $60 and if he had said $75 I would
have taken her, as she was worth as much as her mate, which I had paid $87.50 for. The $60 horse was the best blooded mare and her colts
were very valuable.
Coming to Chicago
Sixty years ago the 11th of next September we left the land of our birth for the promised land which was extolled so
highly. We arrived in Chicago the ninth day of October. They claimed for it a population of 4000. There was but one building and that cost
a $1000. It was the McKenzie warehouse. The big fire of 1871 burned it into lime, but the balance had been burned in 1849.
We had come all the way by land except crossing Lake Erie. Toledo was claimed by Ohio and Michigan. Jackson Park was a
marsh, a sluggish stream which had no beginning or end with a small fifty-cent bridge which we declined to cross, as we preferred the lake
shore, and if we had had a strong north wind such as we had in October 1897, while we were sleeping in our covered wagons, an even dozen
of us, we might have shared the fate of Pharaoh and his hosts. But as we were Israelites in principle and practice by embracing their faith
or the faith of Father Abraham, and we have since escaped “the pestilence that walketh in darkness and the destruction that wasteth at
I have passed the fifth milestone since I was an octogenarian and my better half is an octogenarian lacking seven
months and five days. There are very few left in Chicago that were ready to greet us in 1837. John Clark and family and several others
have all gone to the spirit land, and but few, comparatively, of the 4000 are left to tell the story.
Forty years ago Uncle Clark occupied the first M. E. [Methodist Episcopal] Church in Chicago on Wabash Avenue, and he
was one of the most prominent on Rock River Conference. His wife was Father Foote's sister and my old school teacher. In the summer of
1818 when I was in my sixth year, she tied me to a peg in the entry, I having to stand on my tip toes. I got in a hurry to go home as my
position was not an enjoyable one and so I pulled out the peg and started, peg and all, for home. But when I had gone forty rods or so she
captured me and took me back and restored the peg to its proper place. She then released me on the promise of good behavior. Soon after,
she dismissed the school at night while I was asleep, and about dusk I awoke and went out doors somewhat bewildered when I saw the teacher
and sisters watching and laughing at my expense. Some nineteen years later I married her niece and when we met in Chicago some twenty-two
years after, I had then become a man and had put away childish things.
Uncle Clark soon returned from Illinois conference with Brother Stebbins and we had a jolly time listening to them tell
about swimming their horses in Lake Michigan where now is a public park. The Michigan Central some thirty years ago made a breakwater and
Chicago fire furnished material to fill up the lake out to the breakwater. Surplus earth from the canal was also used for filling.
The growth of Chicago on the east has been slow compared with the north, south, and west. The nine-mile prairie five
years ago was all covered with buildings. When we crossed it in 1837, it was ankle deep with mud, and Father Foote's team floundered and
fell down and I put my team ahead of his several times. Uncle Clark accompanied us to Fox River to Brother Latham's, a little south of
Eastern cemetery and we looked for a house for ourselves and families.
Traveling to Chicago through Michigan
In 1837 the 11 of September we left the land that gave us birth, twelve in number, with two span of horses and two
wagons and we covered about twenty-eight miles a day until our arrival at Buffalo. Here we put all on board of Uncle Sam, an old steamer
and in forty-eight hours landed at Toledo, a small town at the mouth of the Maumee river. At that time both Ohio and Michigan claimed it,
but it was settled by arbitration. It was then a very sickly region with ague and chills and fever.
We slept in our wagons across Lake Erie, as we had all the way while on land on the way to Buffalo, and there the roads
were good. Michigan, like Illinois, was sparsely settled. There were beautiful oak openings and a number of fine prairies but not so large
as in Illinois. There was more timber and better quality and many ponds and marshes, which made it more unhealthy in an early day. There
were quite a number of very fine grist mills in different localities and quite a number of flourishing towns in embryo, some making a
greater display on paper than on land, both in Michigan and in Illinois. Tecumseh was a beautiful location for a town, and five years
later while riding by stage on the line of the Michigan railroad, we came to Jackson and there first took the care to detract from there
to Buffalo by steam, and from there to Fonday by canal.
But to return to our first voyage through Michigan by land, crossing the Black Swamp we found the road intolerable,
the soil black and deep and the trees large and close together. The large wolves were howling for prey all night. We crossed Cold Water
Prairie and White Pigeon. At last we came to Michigan City, but the buildings were not painted and they were mostly made of wood. In going
from here to Chicago we found it very difficult to get through the drifts to the lake shore. We finally camped for the night at Calumet
some twelve miles from Chicago. The next day we crossed what now is called Jackson Park. It was then an unsightly place. The Calumet river
was a sluggish stream well adapted for alligators if it were in Florida or a southern latitude, and no Jackson Park is the wonder of
wonders of all the universe.
Chicago in 1837
In 1837 we arrived in Chicago about eleven o'clock in the morning on the ninth day of October. It was then a small town
of 4000 people. Such towns were rated much higher by at least twenty-five per cent above their real population. I do not believe there was
but one building in Chicago and that was Kenzie's warehouse, which cost over one thousand dollars. It was so in Omaha to a great extent
twenty years ago. There were small frame, and a few log houses, and very few, if any, brick buildings.
I believe one million dollars would have bought the whole city for the next ten years. Long John, if alive, would be
more competent to judge of its value in this early day than myself as I do not know what real estate ranged at at this early day. The
warehouse was pretty expensive, as it was built on piles and vegetation. On our arrival the ninth of October, the country was as green as
a lake and the prairie, where Chicago now stands, was covered with water, in some places ankle deep. And in crossing it we had to double a
number of times in crossing Chicago prairie.
In 1849 the Chicago of 1837 was mostly consumed by incendiary fires, and a much better class of brick and stone
buildings were put up, many fine public houses and elegant private residences and elevators and mammoth railroad depots. Our late Civil
War gave the city a new impetus but never until after the great fire of 1871 (when one hundred million dollars worth of property was
destroyed in forty-eight hours) did the whole universe wake up to the importance of this giant city of the occident. The people have
flocked here from all quarters of the globe. It has Phoenix-like sprung into being as one of the first cities of the United States. In
1870 it numbered 297,0000. St. Louis then numbered 300,000 and now the latter city is less than 500,000 and Chicago, including her suburbs,
numbers 2,000,000 and it is soon destined to be one of the great cities of the world. In the time of the Black Hawk War, 1832, it was
known only as Fort Dearborn. It does appear to me that Christianity and civilization have made a more rapid advancement than ever before.
Since that date, 1832, finishing the Erie Canal was considered a great work, but the ship canal which is being
constructed to connect the Great Lakes with the Father of Waters is a far greater work as to its results, one being national and the other
is local. In 1832 there were but a few miles of railroad in the world. In 1842 the Michigan Central was running to Jackson with flat rail.
The New York Central was not finished to Buffalo until 1845, myself and better half and a child three years old returned on the canal
boat. The telegraph soon made its appearance and reapers and mowers all sprang up at once and culminated in the World's Fair in 1893.
We found Aunt Clark and John Emery, her only son in comfortable circumstances and expecting Uncle Clark soon from
Illinois conference at Griggsville, Schuyler county, Illinois. We went down towards Jackson Park and got a load of wood and bought a cook
stove and provisions. We got permission to occupy a log house which was vacant on Michigan Avenue. It was isolated and alone, not being
near any other buildings.
We left our family for a week or ten days while we were hunting us up a future home. We were accompanied by Uncle Clark
who was then Presiding Elder of the Fox river district, which included all the northern part of Illinois. We concluded to take each a
small load of goods with us as we intended to locate somewhere in the neighborhood of Fox River. St. Charles was then in advance of any
town on Fox River above Ottawa. Elgin had only one log entertainment house on the east side of Fox River. In coming out from Chicago I saw
in the road a prairie chicken and with my shotgun I fired and one shot took effect and put out both eyes. It was the first one I had ever
seen and soon after we called at a Mr. Giles, who displayed a sign as an entertainment house. I gave him the chicken and he made us
We were delighted in listening to Uncle Clark's stories and adventures among the Indians of the Northwest. He said a
Mormon missionary gave them a lecture, and after he had got through he gave permission for anyone to speak who wished to do so and an old
Indian rose and said, “May we speak?” The missionary said he could. “Well,” he said, “a great while ago the Great Spirit write a book and
the devil be mad and he write a book, and he be ashamed of his book, and he bury him in the ground, and a few years ago Joe Smith find him
and dig him up.”
I will give you one more, of a Quaker who was going through a grove when a man rode up behind him and demanded his
horse. And he turned upon the man and looked him in the eye and said, “I know thee. I am well acquainted with thy father.” And the man
put spurs to his horse and made for the woods and the Quaker went on his way unharmed and rejoicing that he had fooled the wicked one. His
explanation was that he knew him to be the child of the devil and that his father was the devil.
This reminds me of being introduced by my cousin, William N. Burr, to old Mr. Randall as a thorough Methodist. The old
man looked at me sneeringly and asked me if I believed there was a devil. I told him that I did and he said, “Who made him?” I told him he
made himself a devil. He then told me that I did not know as much as his yellow dog. An intelligent Presbyterian once told me that he
believed that God made the devil just what he is. I would as soon believe that God makes drunkards. I am glad to know that whatever God
makes is good, and He so pronounced it.
At night somewhere about the twentieth of October 1837 we arrived at Father Latham's at the head of the Big Woods in
the county of Kane and state of Illinois. The next day Father Foote, Uncle Clark, and myself went to Elgin, a small town on Fox River ten
or twelve miles above Batavia. Kane County built a new courthouse near where the Swedish church now stands. James Harrington, with a large
family, had built a nice log house near the spring.
Our first judge was Ford, who was soon elected governor. He wrote a book called Ford’s History of Illinois. I have one
and could have sold it for twice what it cost ten years ago, as there was then a great demand for them in Chicago. It was during his
administration that the repudiators of our state indebtedness got defeated in disgracing our state with such villainy, as they had already
annexed the obnoxious clause to our state constitution. It was termed the “Black Laws of Illinois” but it remained a dead letter. The debt
had accumulated to $18,000,000, and there were one hundred counties, including Ford county, or $180,000 to every county in the state.
Poor financing and larceny have done the same for us in Sherman County, Nebraska, but more of the latter than the
former. Two railroads of seventy-five mile track came to our rescue in 1885 and 1886 and saved us from bankruptcy, so it is history
repeating itself. We fortunately escaped repudiation and bankruptcy, as did Illinois in 1842 and 1844, when Governor Ford and his
coagitators confronted the Shylocks and drove them back to their native hell.
British capital was so much needed it was then furnished to complete the Illinois and Michigan canal and the Illinois
Central Railroad by giving every alternate section of land twenty miles wide to its builders. They were all English capitalists, or a
controlling majority of them, and the state of Illinois was to receive seven percent of the gross earnings of the road. And it was
expected years ago that the annual income there from would be sufficient to pay all the expenses of the state government and that the land
donated would build the road. Those two great improvements gave Illinois and Chicago a new inspiration, and from that date to this Illinois
has been on the upgrade.
At that date I owned a farm on Mill Creek, on the road from Geneva to Blackberry (Elburn), and a timber lot in Nelson’s
Grove, all of which I then valued at $2500-- one half of which I would have paid rather than have the state repudiate her debt. The
governor’s inaugural address gave me a new hope that that would not be done.
The agitation of the slavery question in the New England states was like throwing a firebrand into a magazine of powder
among the slaveholders. The found it difficult to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law in some districts in the north. The great irrepressible
conflict had commenced in earnest.
A man by the name of Lovejoy had begun to publish in St. Louis and abolition paper. His press was soon destroyed, and
he sent for another which was ordered shipped to Alton, Illinois, where he hoped to find protection from a bloodthirsty mob, but it proved
to be the reverse. A few only stood by him on its arrival, and his bitter enemies were in arms to protect their peculiar institution from
the disclosures of their deeds of darkness from the light of day. Lyman Beecher was one of his warmest advocates for a free press and a
free people. His enemies were not prepared for such a forward step in civilization and Christianity. They shot him dead and threw his press
in the river.
I had been a Henry Clay Whig Colonizationist, and from this time forward I was more radical. At the same time I wanted
the slaveholders to have all their rights under the constitution. But I could not go as far as some did to advise a runaway slave to go
back to his master and be a good servant, but on the contrary to encourage him on his way to freedom. I would then just as soon have
stolen a horse from a slaveholder as his slave.
I had heard of Abraham Lincoln as a man of great ability and honesty of purpose. He was a captain in the Black Hawk
War, and I began to see the beginning of the end. A dissolution of the Union was threatened a long time before their threats were carried
into execution. My fourth and fifth decades will give in detail the causes of the war and the final results.
The successor of Judge Ford is now one of the judges of the Supreme Court. Judge Caton and Judge Dicker, successors of
Judge Ford are, if alive, both judges of the Supreme Court. They were model judges all three of them. There are many now living in Kane
county who remember them.
Late in the fall of 1837 we found a vacant store where Father Foote’s family, and the writer and his better half
commenced housekeeping. It was a log house with stick chimney in a small town at the mouth of Mill Creek, called Clybourneville. Allen P.
Hubbard was the proprietor of the town and had 640 acres of about one third timber land. He had a hundred acres under cultivation, which I
took on shares.
There were no Indians in the county. The Pottawotamies had been removed the year before across the Mississippi, but the
skeleton of their chief’s mansion remained as a relic of antiquity. Wauponsie was their chief. The Indian town was one and a half miles
above Aurora, five miles below Clybourneville, where we got out mail, which the postmaster has since told me he could carry in his hat.
In Clybourneville there was one dwelling house that Mr. Hubbard occupied, two stores, and one log house and one log
store and one frame building. Father Foote rented the frame dwelling for $5.00 per month and the writer paid one dollar per month for the
log house. I had forgotten, there was a tailor shop kept by an Englishman by the name of Stownell. He was a good tailor. He had been up in
Wisconsin in Walworth County, a little south of Geneva Lake. He boarded with Allen P. Hubbard while in Illinois. He owned a timber claim
in the Big Woods, some twenty acres, and Father Foote and myself had bought thirty acres adjoining.
We had secured all the prairie on Mill Creek, one half mile east and one fourth mile west of Mill Creek, and we wanted
to extend our claim farther west. But Joseph McKee and James Risk had claimed some 800 acres including Ralph Houck’s, Tyler Mark’s, all
above the road running north and south, and McGuire’s, Dewitt and James Harrington’s one fourth, and Frank Curtis’s one fourth section.
I was, as well as Father Foote, anxious to see a little more of the world before we made any improvements. We had got
in a number of logs to Mr. Hubbard’s mill. Father Foote took some land of Hugh Gibson, and I had taken Allen P. Hubbard’s 100 acres, the
same more or less, and we concluded after we had put in our spring crops to explore the country east, north, and west, and if possible
find timber and prairie adjoining.
But the spring was wet and backward, and wooden moulboard plows required much
coaxing, and a man needed the patience of Job and a paddle in one hand, and every few rods must scrape off the apparent greasy subsoil
from the wooden moulboard, for it was impossible to get a polish as we do now.
Deer and wolves were quite plenty and the latter demonstrated their audacity in chasing a dog. I believe the two would
have given the dog a good drubbing had not we come to his rescue just in time to save him. They had it back and forth several times when
the wolves retreated. The dog pursued and unless the owner followed up the dog the wolves would wheel upon the dog and it would not have
taken them long to have made mince meat of the old black dog. And one came to my house on Mill Creek and took a pig away from its mother.
They got so bold and hungry they attempted to crowd open the door for admittance when my friend Nelson fired at the spot, and after
that all was quiet. In the morning he found a dead wolf at his door. I would not dare venture as far as General Putnam did in going into a
den among the rocks with a burning flame in one hand and a fuse in the other. When near enough, it was said that her eyes were like balls
of fire. He cracked away at her and touched her nose with the burning torch and found her dead.
I believe I would have tested my courage in the way he did with a man who had challenged him to fight a duel which gave
him the choice of weapons. He took two kegs of powder and the one that remained the longest seated on the keg after the torch had been
applied was the best fellow. The challenger began to grow uneasy as he saw the fire approach the keg, and jumping up he said he could see
no good reason for sitting on that keg and thereby committing suicide. The old general could sit back and not get alarmed, for it was
nothing but a keg of onion seed. Please excuse this digression.
In June 1838, after our spring’s crop was all in and a good garden planted we started with all our outfit for two
weeks’ voyage of exploration for Geneva Lake or Henry Stownell’s one half section in Walworth County, Wisconsin, as he had made a
proposition to me that if I would make improvements equal to his he would give me one undivided half of 320 acres, and when it came
into market each to pay for his part. This proposition I accepted afterwards.
We concluded to make our future home in Kane County, Illinois. We had explored the country east, north, and west
in pursuit of good prairie land adjoining timber, but others had got in before us. Our route had been from Clybourneville to Geneva Lake,
Wisconsin, Walworth County, west through Rock County to Rock River, where we stayed over night with a bachelor at a place then called
Wisconsin City, below Janesville. In the morning we ascertained that Wisconsin City was located on the west of the river where were no
buildings erected up to that date, only a city on paper.
We left in the morning for Beloit, some six miles below on the state lien between Illinois and Wisconsin at the mouth of
Turtle Creek, where a good grist mill had been erected, and perhaps a dozen new houses not painted. Soon we came to Rockton at the mouth
of Pecatonica River where more mills were being constructed. From Rockton a few miles brought us to Roscoe, where Abel, a Methodist
brother, lived, to whom we had an introduction from Uncle Clark.
Those claims we desired were all taken, and a very steep price was asked where timber, water, and prairie were lying
contiguous to each other, and we concluded to explore the Pecatonica, and after careful deliberation we concluded to return to Fox River
Valley, and I soon accepted Henry Stownell’s offer. Father Foote was undecided what to do, and I soon went up to cut my hay with Stownell,
and while there we got the news that our land was advertised to be sold.
Stownell had no money to deed his land with and McNamary had offered to deed it on halves and he let him do it, and I
had no alternative only to let him. Henry Stownell gave me his twenty acres of timber in the Big Woods as good as a $100. That gave me
some thirty acres in the Big Woods and Father Foote twenty acres, and then we bought fifteen acres more in Nelson’s Grove. I had five and
Father Foote ten (Big Woods is a big woods southeast of Aurora. There is also a town by the name of Big Woods.)
Then I secured of McKee and Risk some 300 acres more. Then I sold Harding his one fourth and Ottaway his and Ralph
Houck ten acres, so as to give him the pond. McKee and Risk only charged me the breaking of two acres, and William Harding paid me $25
for an eighty rod strip on the creek to the township line, as far east as my northeast corner, and as far west as the road which runs
north and south--some forty acres in all. The balance I charged him nothing for. Ottaway, on the Ralph Houck one hundred acres, built
all the line fence between us, and old Mr. Houck gave me $1000 and $55 more to me for eleven acres more.
My farm and Father Foote’s were the cream. His on the east side was better than mine, but take them all in all, there
was not much difference. I believe we were both agreed that our own individually and collectively were the best. Albert Peck told me one
year ago that the farm they bought of us was the best, that it produced the best of any of their farms. They were among the choicest farms
in Kane County.
Father sold his for $40 per acre in 1857, and I sold mine for $60 per acre in 1872 by throwing in five acres of timber
land after the timber was cut off.
It was quite an undertaking to venture two or three miles from the timber land, and I very much doubt whether Father
Foote would ever have ventured so far from timber as Nelson’s grove, had I not taken the lead. He remonstrated against it, and I believe
if I had gone to Wisconsin he would never have settled on the prairie where he did, had he not seen me so resolute and determined to
conquer all difficulties and obstacles in the way.
Mr. Boardman, who had charge of the new grist mill on the east side of Batavia wanted me to board his men. I had laid
in heavily in buying potatoes and pork and I had a fair crop of wheat. This was in the fall of 1839, and the times became so hard that
Boardman dismissed his men. I went to John Peter Schneider’s saw mill and traded off a lot of fine pork for lumber and sold my horses to
Father Foote and bought me two yoke of oxen. I would go every day with cart and oxen to Schneider’s saw mill, some fifteen miles the
round trip, and get a load of slabs and unload them where the barn and shed now stand.
Father Foote was breaking prairie south of the old frame house. He had one span of horses on ahead of two yoke of
cattle. He had one yoke of his own and one yoke of mine, and I believe I hauled the slabs with one yoke of oxen. I bought the lumber in
the log, and I hauled the slabs first, as I wished to have them to make a slab shanty where I could keep my cattle.
It took three or four loads to build it, and after getting my slabs on the ground one pleasant day in June 1839, I set
the posts, three on a side, and went to work nailing on the slabs, with nothing on my feet but a fine pair of boots. I had a sharp ax
and I was hewing a knot off of the slab when my ax glanced and the bit of the ax struck my left foot between my big toe and the second,
and almost went through my left foot. I thought it a mere mosquito bite as I looked at it. For a moment the blood was white, or the color
of water, and my foot was benumbed and soon the blood began to flow. I looked and saw Father Foote going south. Little John Foote was
riding the nigh horse and he would soon have been out of sight. As he was going down hill I called to John and he heard.
Before their arrival it began to grow dark. I got as far as the west side of the house. I hopped some ten rods and I
put down the cut foot. The blood would spurt, as when a hog is stuck with a knife. My boot was filled with blood, and it was fortunate
that Father Foote was so near to save me from bleeding to death, for as soon as he came he told me to stick my foot toward the sun, and in
doing so I was so frightened that I did not think to bind my handkerchief around my foot, which would have stopped it at once. He took me
home and Mr. Boardman sewed it up and put on a bandage with whiskey and wormwood. In a week’s time I was hauling lumber one load a day. My
cut prevented my breaking forty acres, but Father Foote did the more. I broke only eight acres.
The house was in good shape to live very comfortably without being plastered, but it was planked and battened on the
inside. A mild winter followed, but late in the fall a fire came and burned up the shanty and a large stack of hay. A good friend in
Blackberry kept some of my cattle, and my cellar was full of pumpkins and lots of oats in the bundle which was hauled some six miles, also
a thousand pumpkins, which was very acceptable for milch cows, oxen, and hogs. That year I worked some of Judge Wilson’s farm at the head
of the Big Woods, the old judge whose daughters married Dr. Lord, Dr. Miller, James Risk, Lawyer Churchill and his brother.
(If I keep within the limits of this third decade of my narrative it is all that can be expected of an octogenarian.)
I will return to an unfortunate occurrence that took place in the fall of 1837 at the head of Big Woods. Nothing had
been done to improve the roads, to the best of my knowledge. While on the way out with our second load, which included all but our
families, who were left in a log cabin on Michigan Avenue near the lake shore, where Uncle Clark and Brother Wilcox, the elder and
preacher in charge of the Chicago district, would venture into the lake to take a Turkish bath when the weather was pleasant.
When we returned to get our goods in the warehouse, and after we got them on the wagon, I was left alone with a fine
barrel of apples. Soon the clerk returned suddenly, but found them unmolested. I had learned from Mother Eve’s experience not touch the
forbidden fruit, and since that time I have been offered a bribe of $500, but the good Lord kept me from taking it in answer to prayer,
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
You will recollect, dear children, at our golden wedding I made a statement in replying to Brother Gray, that I had
never stolen one cent from Sherman County, Nebraska. But few can say that and tell the truth who have held office in that county up to
that date, November 8th, 1886. I learned a question when a boy that I much desire to have all my progeny learn, and the question is, “What
is the chief end of man?” The answer is “To glorify God that we may enjoy Him forever.” That I learned was done by keeping His
commandments. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” says the blessed one, and it would be a hell on earth to take bribes or cohabit with
Were it not for restraining grace, I might have been a gambler. When a boy fifteen years old, my cousin who had been
working on the Erie Canal came with a pack of cards, and I soon learned from their example to play cards, but just for amusement. We were
absent from each other a short time, when we met again. They had become experts at playing, and they would cheat and lie and swear to it.
Their example convinced me that card playing was evil and from that day to this I have given up card playing.
I was once in company with a gentleman who said, “Now is the time to make your fortune.” We came up where a man was
turning a big wheel. I put on five cents and the wheel stopped on the figure where I had put the five cents. That corresponded with the
number on a three dollar fiddle, which the man handed me.
A strange feeling came over me. I thought I had an elephant on my hands, and I offered to take seventy-five cents for
it, but no one took me up. Someone stepped up and offered $2.00 for it, and the man who was looking at it gave me the seventy-five cents,
which I took and was glad to get it off my hands. My card playing took place between 1822 and 1832, which will be in my second decade, and
I got the fiddle some forty-five years later in life, so you see I have got over my limits.
To return to the fall of 1837, in November we got along very well until we got to the head of the Big Woods, where my
father-in-law got stuck in a bad sink hole. I had got over all right, and as I often had done here before. I took off my team to hook the
log chain to the end of the tongue in front of his. The mud and water was knee deep in places and quite cold, and the horses got so far
ahead I could not hitch the chain and I could not back them, so I pulled them around and they plunged through the mud and mire.
I let go the lines, rather than be dragged through the mud and water up to my knees, expecting they would stop when
they got over the pond. Their names were Kate and Doll, and the former could outrun the latter, and the result was that the whiffletrees
came in collision with Doll’s hind legs and spurred her up for a five mile run. They went toward Warrenville and I followed them on foot
to that place, and Mr. Smith kindly offered me his span of grays for myself to ride. His son and I looked until dark and could not learn
of their whereabouts, so I returned to the Big Woods and stayed all night with Brother Arnold and slept very little.
I very much regretted our travelling on the Holy Sabbath. I regarded it as a judgment upon us for travelling all the
way to Illinois in disregard of “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
I was fearful that my team had got down in some slough where I would find them dead next morning. I started very early
next morning for Warrenville and found them grazing in the hazel bushes about a mile west of Warrenville. They were close together,
completely stripped except one collar. They were only a few rods from a clump of small trees where they had wallowed and left the harness
on the ground somewhat dilapidated. I followed their track where they had left the road some two miles back and found everything but a
clevise bolt. Repairing the harness and all together the damage did not exceed one dollar. Doll’s hind legs were bruised, but in a few
days she was all right. I paid Brother Arnold’s little girl in five cent pieces, two of which would pass for a shilling or twelve and one
In the spring of 1838 I tried to make some maple sugar, but made very little. In 1839 I rented one yoke of oxen to
Judge Wilson for $5 to assist in doing his spring work, and he tried to get me to vote the Democratic ticket. The candidate was Martin
Van Buren, but I voted for William Henry Harrison.
In the year 1840, a few days after we moved to Boardman’s Mill, a little boy nine or ten years old, Mrs. Boardman’s
nephew, was taking a horse to the river to water, and on returning while exercising him in the yard with one hand in a noose at the end of
a long rope, the horse threw him down and ran. The boy was dragged for some distance and killed.
Uncle Clark bought a few acres of Father Latham and built him a log house. He preached Old Uncle Enos’s funeral sermon
and Uncle Spier came out about the same time that Wendell Phillips was opening the eyes of the people to the enormity of the great evil of
American slavery. Owen Lovejoy and Codding and many other lecturers were denouncing it as the sum of all villainies. The Underground
Railroad through Ohio and Illinois was a successful operation, and the Washingtonian movement, and the slaveholders were threatening a
dissolution of the Union.
Our dear little Helen Eliza died fifty-three years ago today, February first, 1841. She was one year and nine months
and eight days old.
In 1840 was the most exciting election for president of the United States that I had ever seen. Up to that date hard
cider and log cabins were the order of the day. Old Hickory had vetoed the United States Bank and he had removed the public deposits to
the different state banks which had been chartered. Wild cat was as plenty as grasshoppers in a famine year, like 1873 when turkeys could
be raised at a great profit. Harrison was elected by a big majority, but he only lived one month after he was inaugurated. John Tyler went
back on his past record, like Johnson he became a democrat and he was despised by both parties, and so was Johnson and John Farnsworth,
and all others who change for the loaves and fishes. Poor Marty was snowed under.
About this time there were a great many horse thieves and counterfeiters on the Kishwaukee and it was very difficult to
convict them. The people took liberty from what Judge Ford said in open court, which was as follows: that in case of anyone stealing or
counterfeiting during his absence in the discharge of his duties, he would on his return assemble his friends and seek summary vengeance
by making application to Judge Lynch.
The regulars soon took one who was suspected and whipped him. His name was Dave Driscoll. They compelled him to make
disclosures. This angered him, so that he went and shot the captain of the company. He then made his escape, but his father and brother
had been old criminals in Ohio and acknowledged that they had secreted stolen property.
There were fifty men selected, one half with blank cartridges, so that no one knew who shot them, as each man’s gun
was loaded by someone else and no one could know whose gun was loaded with blank cartridges. Father Foote’s cousin told us all about it,
he being one of the regulars, who were the best class of men in the country. They gave them one hour to get ready and then the fifty men
all fired at the drop of some signal. I do not recollect what, as it is fifty years ago since he stayed overnight with us in Kane County,
Father Foote and myself and your mother were on a committee to try old Brother Adams. A subject for dissection had
been stolen from the grave at Sycamore. Her father’s name was David Churchill. I was acquainted with him.
One of Dr. Richards’ students stole the body of a young married lady from the grave, and a committee came to demand
the body, and the doctor would not give her up. They knew he had the body, as they found some of her red hair, but one of the students
had hidden the body in the grove below St. Charles and the same student lived long enough after he was shot to tell them where it could be
found. He and the doctor were both shot but the student died in a few days, but the doctor lived one or two years. The ball went through
There were some forty persons from Sycamore who tried mild means at first, but the doctor would not give heat to moral
suasion. He and his students were all armed and equipped and were determined to set on the defensive. He was the aggressor, as he offered
a reward of free lectures to those students who furnished subjects for dissection. It had become hazardous to get them any longer in the
vicinity of St. Charles, where the business of dissection had been carried on four or five years with impunity.
Helen Eliza was born the 23rd of April 1839 and died February first, 1841. She was the only blue-eyed child we ever
had, and she was the pet of the whole family, and when taken from us when only one year and ten months it was the hardest Providential act
which had ever come upon my family, and with Father Job I said in my heart, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away and blessed be the
name of the Lord.”
The following July, just five months from the day Helen Eliza died, Samuel was born, and when nine months old he was
troubled with bilious diarrhea, which resulted in epilepsy, spasms at first, but when three years old they became incurable. He lived
until sixteen years old and then went to meet his little sister whose residence was with the angelic hosts, where the wicked cease from
troubling and the weary are at rest. His Testament was his pocket companion.
Part II: A Visit to Our New York Family, 1841-42