Transcribed and contributed by Bethel Baker Thoennes, via Elsetta Torres.
Included with this wonderful manuscript are records from Jonathan Baker's Family Bible.
Letter written to Mary Frances Brownell (Phelps) by John Randolph Baker, her grandfather
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
A Visit to Our New York Family, 1841-42
At the close of the decade, January first, 1842, we were all with Grandmother Kennicutt Elias Spier on the Sacondaga River. On October 19th, 1842, a little over five years after our arrival in Chicago in 1837, I had let Uncle Marks and William Harding occupy our house and we crossed the lake from Chicago to the south of the St. Joseph. We took the stage for Jackson and then the railroad to Detroit and from there to Buffalo, where we took the steamboat and from there to Fonday, where we took the canal.
A young man by the name of Berry took us to Uncle Kennicutt's where we had stayed overnight some five years before. Uncle James, in a few days, took us to Uncle Samuel Spaulding's, where we visited a few days and then we went to George Bacon's and to Harry Wadsworth's and then to all our old friends, who were glad to see us, both my friends and her friends. I presume to say that we visited in company with Grandma Kennicutt three or four weeks.
It was the hardest winter that I ever beheld, two winters in one. Brother Quinlan and Brother Squires were on Northampton circuit and they held a protracted meeting at Mayfield Corners, and much good was done. Several of the brethren went to Illinois the following year from Mayfield.
My brother Levi and Albert Denton and Hannah Howit returned with us and a little boy about ten years old. Father had sold the old farm and bought Johnson Cook's farm adjoining Deacon Howit's, two miles below Galway Corners near Uncle Joel Burr's. Sometime in March 1843 and in the month of April, Mother and Samuel came down also.
Winter remained on the lap of spring and such snowdrifts I never saw before or since. One mile east of Galway Corners it had drifted in the neighborhood of twenty feet deep. They excavated the road under the drift, if I recollect right, and when the snow melted it caused a flood, so that on returning to Sacondaga or Brother Benjamin's we were necessitated to cross the bridge at the fish-house and then again at Denton's Corners.
In the month of May I returned to Galway, as Father had employed me to saw up a lot of stove wood some eighteen inches long from big hemlock logs or trees and when the flax was fit to pull, he wanted me to pull it. I had left Mother and Samuel at Grandmother Foote's, a central place where she could visit her friends and mine.
While I was there I was quite ambitious to get such articles as I should need when I returned to Illinois, such as butte-rings and wedges, clevices and harrow-teeth and log chains. At Rochester on my way home I bought two rocking chairs, and two brass clock--one clock and rocking chair were intended for Father Foote's family. The four cost me some $12, $7 for the clocks and $5 for the chairs.
When we returned we went around the lakes on a propeller from Buffalo to Chicago at one half the expense as the way we went thru Michigan and across Lake Erie. We took the canal to Buffalo from Fonday. We had one small trunk and a square box of three or four feet. The expense of getting them to Chicago was less than the gain on the two clocks or the two rocking chairs. I charged Father Foote $5 for the chair and $6 for the clock. A clock peddler had sold one to old Mr. Osborn for $20 during our absence of ten months.
Old Uncle Aaron Foote died soon after our arrival there in November 1842. Brother Quinlan preached his funeral sermon from the text, "Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace." It was a very appropriate text, for he was a man of unblemished integrity, an old patriarch.
I will return to Galway, when I was sawing with a crosscut saw large logs two and a half feet thru, all alone and half a mile from any house. Lo and behold, a lady in the person of Mrs. Hewit called on me to sow some six acres of barley, as Mr. Hewit was sick and not able to do it. I left my work at once and accompanied her home where little Charlie, a little boy six years old, was all ready to follow me up with horses and harrow to cover up the grain as fast as sown.
He had a platform on the harrow to sit on, as his legs were small and not able to carry him in walking over the mellow ground twelve or fifteen miles, be the same more or less. When I got it spread over the ground little Charlie was at my heels covering it up. (I was at Bloomington, Illinois and stayed overnight with him, and he then had the reputation of being one of the first preachers in Bloomington, and now he is the president of the Baptist Chicago University.) The same field I sowed to barley eleven years before, this same field had been cultivated to corn, and I had helped hoe it two or three times in one season, as it was customary in those days.
Father gave me the wood and I found a good blacksmith who furnished good iron and made such articles as I wished him to make. I paid him in wood and with the money I got the clocks and chairs, I mean the money that I received for selling some wood.
Father only furnished the money to pay our fare, and as we began to think of returning to Illinois, Levi's wife wished us to go to Duchess county, but I did not feel able and she kindly consented to furnish a horse and buggy, so we concluded to go. We drove to Mr. Howard's in two days, 120 miles. Tommy and his sister were then living, but the old people were dead. Bill had gone a new farm south. The next morning we started early for sister Polly's or Uncle Lewis Baker's and we drove right by the house a mile and a half beyond. When we came to the Quaker meeting house, we knew that we had gone by the house, so we had to retrace our steps and got there at dusk.
We had a good visit at Aunt Polly Reynolds' and Uncle Benjamin Burr's. Uncle Aleck Allen, Uncle Charlie, and Amos and Uncle Benjamin Denton had died, and also Uncle Sam Allen and Harry Burr.
Return to Illinois
We then returned to Galway and soon returned to Illinois with an accession of one baby and one boy and two gentlemen. On Lake Michigan something got out of repair and the engine and the propeller suspended operations. We could hardly keep in our berths it rocked so. Some were much alarmed but soon it was repaired and we got through all safe.
We could not discover that Chicago had changed much since our first entering into that city six years before, and in fact it did not take a start until after the fire of 1849 had removed the shanties that were erected on leased land and very much retarded the growth of the city.
In 1849 Clem Goodwin and myself went to New York with a cargo of flour. At that time the population was less than 500,000. There was much cholera both in New York and in Chicago. When I returned, the Chicago of 1837 had gone up in smoke, which then had removed the obstacles for a big city. From that time on until 1871 the city had a marvelous growth, but until that date Chicago was hardly known by the civilized world.
But when it was understood by the nations of the earth that $100,000, 000 had been destroyed from a city two decades old, and I presume to say if the same increase to the city's wealth should be destroyed by fire, the loss would be more than $1,000,000,000. (This statement I believe I would sooner put it above than below, and I will write to the Inter Ocean to see how far I am out of the way. If it prove true that the wealth of Chicago has increased in a tenfold ratio in two decades, it can be ascertained as the wealth of any other city in U.S.A.)
We hired a team to take us home and we soon learned that the winter in Illinois had been as severe as in New York State. Mud Lake was frozen over so long that the fish died, for the want of air, by the wagon load.
Our rocking chairs and clocks added very much to our furnitures and the clear profit on the two more than paid all the freight on all our goods, but we suffered quite a loss from false brethren and one man who had wronged me agreed to submit our matters to three men, and what they awarded me he refused to pay and I sued him and he came off second best, but my experience is that the plaintiff and the defendant are both out of pocket nine times out of ten.
This reminds me of a story about two men who went to law. One of their names was Goose and the other Gander. Mr. Goose sued Mr. Gander for slander and one of the lawyers wrote to the lawyer on the opposite side as follows: Mr. Bentley, Dear Sir: I understand that Mr. Gander has commenced suit against Mr. Goose for slander. Now I propose to pick the Goose and you may pick the Gander.
The Judge of all the earth knows that I have tried to keep out of the law, and the above was the first case. When he refused to pay the award of the arbitrators I sued him and did not think it necessary to employ council, as it was a plain case. But the defendant had one, and not knowing the technicalities of the law, they nonsuited me, which threw the cost on me and then and there I proposed to fight it out on that line if it took all summer. Had he been a member of the church I would have reported him to the church, and if he refused to give heed to the church, then I would have treated him as a heathen man and a publican.
It would have been better to have paid me the award of the arbitrators, but as it resulted I had enough wheat to pay my council and all the expense of the first suit, and perhaps to pay the award of the arbitrators, but our lawyers were brothers-in-law, and they got greatly excited and called each other liars. Their names were Judge Wilson of Geneva and Joe W. Churchill of Batavia. Alfred Churchill, Joe's brother told me several years after that they were unreconciled to each other at that date.
Soon I had another case very similar to the foregoing one. I bought a half interest in a corn sheller of Mr. Blakesly. Joseph Whipple owned the other half. He was displeased and went and sold the corn sheller for ten dollars more than I gave for it, and all I asked of Joe was to refund my money of $25. He refused to do so.
It was to be left to two men, and if they could not agree they were to choose the third man. I had no other alternative, only the law which was designed for the lawless and disobedient. And my lawyer made a blunder and he nonsuited as in the foregoing case and the cost fell on me. I commenced a new suit and the next time I got a judgment for $25 in the justice's court. He appealed it to the circuit court, and he kept me out of it as long as he could, and then paid the judgment in the lower court, which paid only my lawyer.
Slavery Divides the M. E. Church and the Union.
In 1844 the great secession of the M. E. Church took place. Bishop Andrew had become connected with slavery by marrying a lady slaveholder in George, a widow lady, and such a case had never been known as a slaveholding bishop. There had never been a man elected to that office in the M. E. Church. There was no rule in the discipline against it, but the founder of Methodism had pronounced it the sum of all villainies, and no slave-holder could be tolerated at that date in any of the northern conferences.
After the assassination of Owen Lovejoy and other crimes which had been committed in the south, Wendell Phillips and Codding and other abolitionists had been lecturing all over the northern states for years, and the great mass of the people had got their eyes opened to the enormity of the peculiar institution. Harriet Beecher Stowe had shown up the most favorable side of slavery, but the slave-holders were unwilling to have their deeds of darkness brought to light by Uncle Tom's Cabin, which became very popular in the non-slaveholding states.
The right of petition in Congress was denied by the slaveholders and the fugitive slave law was very obnoxious in the north, and the great accession of slave territory by the annexation of Texas were all hastening the time for the dissolution of the Union, and the great secession of the M. E. Church.
It was said that Bishop Andrews wanted to resign but the southern delegates would not consent to it. The debate in the General Conference of 1844 was well calculated to burst asunder the strong ligaments which held the Union together. The big guns from the North and the South were arrayed against each other and their cannonading echoed in every nook and corner from center to circumference. I doubt not those Krupp cartridges penetrated the hearts of hundreds of thousands of our American citizens and from that hour slave-holding statesmen began their treasonable methods for a dissolution of the Union. It was a deep laid scheme by the rebel plotters to unite the South and divide the North, but how easy it is for the Almighty to subvert the plans and schemes of those in authority.
The administration of President Pierce and Buchanan, in their attempt to make Kansas a slave state, had so far succeeded. They supposed to have within their grasp their democratic governors whom they had appointed to do their dirty. Slavery, like the saloon, had a screen to keep out of sight their deeds of darkness in employing citizens of Missouri to go over the state line to vote for the Lecompton constitution. It was a fraudulent document which had the endorsement of slaveholders and border ruffians, and James Buchanan.
But their calculations were upset by Stephen A. Douglas, who had done what no other man could do in taking a brave stand against that iniquity. His influence secured a majority in the United States Senate against the Lecompton constitution. This was one of the first political defeats of the slaveholder and the second one in the M.E. Church.
The first victory in the M.E. Church was in the Baltimore conference. A Methodist minister in that conference became connected with slavery and they expelled him from the conference. He appealed to the General Conference of 1844, the same as Bishop Andrews. He was tried by a slaveholding institution, which had got to be a divine institution, like the liquor traffic of 1888. Its adherents quoted scripture to prove its divine origin. I began to believe that his Satanic majesty had become transformed into an angel of light, as his agents had become very familiar with scripture. They were sure that Uncle Tom's Cabin was very much exaggerated.
The General Conference whose delegates were from the free states treated the slaveholding bishop with much consideration and passed a very inoffensive resolution in virtually suspending him as a general superintendent of the M.E. Church as long as that impediment remained. They did not ask him to divorce his wife, but the southern delegates seemed to regard it in that light and their big Krupp guns were in great demand until the conference had authorized a division on certain contingences.
The contingences were not complied with, but they demanded their portion of the proceeds of the book concern and charters fund. They clamored for secession and made it a necessity, so as to secure their share of the above proceeds from the M.E. Church. Bishop Soul seceded also and made a speech in the conference.
I will give you the names of a few of the delegates both north and south: Capers, Longstreet, Bascome, Paine, Smith were from the south, and Olin Peck, Hamline, Early, Coleman, Akers, Derbin, Cartright, and John Clark from the north. Hamline's speech caused him to be elected bishop and several delegates from the south have since been elected bishops of the church South. Brother Grey, who remarried us at our gold wedding, has the debate of that conference and I borrowed the book of him.
There were giants in those days in the M.E. Church and also in Congress, among whom were Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Gen. Case, Old Hickory, John M. Clayton, Chief Justice Marshall, Rufus Choate, Silas Wright, John L. Crittendon have all passed away long since. John Wentworth, or Long John as he was familiarly called, represented Chicago some 10 or 12 years and John Farnsworth some 12 or 14 years. In 1844 James K. Polk was elected president of the United States. Henry Clay was my choice, but he had rather be right than president. Texas had been annexed, and John Tyler signed the bill and took a new wife.
It was soon ascertained that Father Foote and myself had farms among the choicest in the county, and when I valued it at $5000, I would have given one half of it to give freedom to the slave. I had proposed to Dr. Lord and others who were more radical than myself to colonize them by sending them to Liberia. I did not approve of stealing them from their masters and running them off to Canada, but I could not blame them for wanting their freedom.
I am not sure but what I was too conservative, and I hoped something would turn up to give freedom to the slave without bloodshed. I could not believe the South were in earnest when they threatened a dissolution of the Union, but when I saw such a disposition to enlarge slave territory in grasping more and more slave territory, in the acquisition of Cuba and California and Kansas, and the Dred Scott Decision, I got my eyes opened. I then said in my heart, "Thus far shall slavery go and no farther and let her proud waves be stayed." Then I saw no hope of a compromise I said in my heart, "Let us put down this slave-holders rebellion, if it takes man and the last dollar."
My faith never wavered but once. When Robert E. Lee in 1864 started North, McLellan, Hooker and Burnside had not been able to cope with Bob. E. Lee and the fact of his commencing an aggressive warfare by going up to Gettysburg and from there to the city of New York, where he would meet many of his old friends who had predicted the war was a failure. But Robert E. Lee met with his first defeat at Gettysburg and that was the pivot on which he had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. That was a glorious victory for freedom. The prisoners were paroled at Vicksburg about the same time when the back bone had been broken of the slave-holders rebellion, but its vitality lingered for a long time, like the salamander which holds on to life with a bull dog tenacity.
Old Grandpa Meade did extremely well, but we must not forget that all our victories come thru our Lord Jesus Christ. Napoleon Bonaparte did not believe this great truth until his last battle was fought at Waterloo with Wellington. Look at the success of Stonewall Jackson and General Grant. His soldiers were invulnerable and in olden time one could chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. Take Caleb and Joshua for an example. Such Christian soldiers do not fear the sons of Anak. See Havelock surrounded by the Sepoys, a handful against a great army.
Mill Creek Farm – Going to Court
Albert Peck told me a year ago that our old farm on Mill Creek was the best farm among all which they had bought and the most productive. I told him that I had known that for many years, but I had some trouble vacating and relocating the road running west. There used to be two roads running from the old crossing some twenty rods below the bridge. One ran some thirty rods below Mr. Ford's barn southwest toward Sugar Grove, and the other crooked about and steered for the north end of Ralph Houck's pond and thence a little southwest running north of DeWitt Baker's house twenty rods, and striking the present highway about north of Alonzo Yates' house.
I went and moved the fence where it now is and got the Englishman to dig ditches--two or three ditches running parallel some sixteen feet apart and throwing the dirt in between the ditches, and then I drew a plat of the field with the old road and the present one and the distance of each road.
And I got Fridley to assist me in the presentation of the plat to the county commissioners, Allen P. Hubbard and Mr. Johnson of Big Rock Creek. Akers and Kendall were on hand to have the road put back where it was before, but Allen P. Hubbard and Johnson decided the case in my favor and the other commissioner was for Akers and Kendall.
It would have taken off some fifty or sixty acres from the south side of my farm. David W. Anis told me in the year 1869, twenty-five years after it took place, that Allen P. Hubbard lost his election as county commissioner on account of his deciding in my favor, and he said it was a righteous decision. It would have been $3480 damage to me, as I had agreed to let Brother Levi have the strip of land for $2 per acre, providing I could not succeed in getting the old road vacated and relocated where it is not.
The shape of the piece of land cut off at that early day when good government land could be bought for $1.25 per acre and thirty years after the same land sold for $60 per acre. For 60 acres this would make $3600, $1.20 or two dollars per acre for 60 acres would make a loss of $3480, so you see that right instead of might prevailed and I will give God the glory. I soon after got a petition for a road to Nelson's Grove where it is now located. Uncle Tommy Night got up a remonstrance, but the commissioners decided in our favor, that is all who had timber in that grove, a half dozen of us or over.
This was an easy victory, as we had only one man to fight, but the other was one man against a township, and my victory in Sherman County, Nebraska was one man against a whole county. I conquered, but as the great Napoleon said after his victory at the Pyramids of Egypt, that a few such victories would ruin him. But it is $500 in our pocket in gaining a victory over the county and as for the school district being divided on the county line, we have all the advantages we had before from the school fund, and the advantage of sending children to the same school house without being taxed anything extra.
I have written to Charlie not to compel anyone to go around the school section until the railroad crossing are all in ample order, and then to accommodate as far as we possibly can without doing ourselves injury. I have no feeling of resentment to gratify toward any man living and, the good Lord helping me by the prolongation of my life until November 8th, 1911, myself and better half, I will kill the balance of my enemies by giving them all an invitation to our diamond wedding.
The will of the Lord be done, but if our lives are prolonged up to that date it will be far beyond the age of our progenitors on either side of the house. An uncle of mine has died within a year, over a hundred years old, and an old lady whom I have visited within a year was over a hundred and six. If such a providence should occur, it would leave me some two years younger than my uncle and my better half some ten years younger than the old lady spoken of. We are very well stocked with vitality. I have already o utlived all my progenitors, and am older than any of my brothers but one, and he died at the age of 85 years and a month or two over.
I will here say what David said to his son, Solomon, "Knowest thou the God of thy Father and serve Him with a perfect heart and willing mind. If thou seek him he will be found and if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off forever." This advice is intended for all our progeny. Don't delay. Seek him and he will be found of thee, but if thou forsake Him he will cast thee off forever and forever.
A lyceum was organized in Batavia and a number of lawyers and doctors and public debaters belonged. I was quite interest in it. I had never spoken in public debate but once and I made a perfect failure, as much so as the British nobleman in the House of Lords when he arose to address the audience with his maiden speech. He commenced twice by saying, "I conceive," which he repeated three times, when someone rose and said, "The gentleman has conceived three times and brought forth nothing." The audience excused him for his first failure, and when he tried the second time he made a success of it.
In like manner I thought I would try again when opportunity offered. The liquor question was discussed the first night, and the next question for discussion was, "Which is entitled to the most credit: Columbus for his discovery of America, or Washington for his services rendered to the thirteen colonies in their acquisition and maintainence of their independence?" I had been reading Spark's Life of Washington and Chief Justice Marshall and had my lesson well-digested, so that in case I was called on by someone as a substitute I would try again, and Lord Beaceonsfield's success became my own if the judges were not mistaken. James Rockwell and Cleveland, who invited me to accompany them home both informed me that my speech excelled them all.
In 1871 I went up to Deacon Evart's schoolhouse and listened to arguments for and against Woman's Suffrage. I was for it but had not prepared a speech and did not fire off a very big gun, but the next question was Nature and Art. I was on the side of Nature. Old Man Peck was the judge. The side that I was on beat, and James Harrington, who was on the opposite side from me told me that I beat them all.
This did not carry much weight with it, but when the disputants clamored to get me on their side, I began to think that any common school boy could by a little practice debate--but a good deal of practice would be far better.
As the darkey said in St. Charles, a public speaker in the first place must have something to say and after he has said it then take his seat. I am so filled with vanity that I believe I could make a speech in Congress which would be above mediocrity.
This I say to my progeny and the facilities for an education at this age is so much greater and knowledge is power.
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