La Salle County IL
To My Nephews and Nieces
Dear Nephews and Nieces:
I feel constrained to write these few words of our adventures found in life's journey by me and my two cousins, as the following lines will relate, a true story of us three boys. Jim, Dick and Alf Nettleingham.
On the above date, when you, prompted by a loving kindness, surprised me with a magnificent present. Which I could the more easily write, you wished for something to read from me written on that tablet. Allowing that some of the sixty-five or seventy nephews and nieces, who so kindly gathered at the old home on that occasion, might not know much as to how the origin of the little army of nephews and nieces gained recognition in and around the place. I was tempted, as being the very last survivor of the trio, to jot down the birthday and babyhood, with the nursing that we received, when bourned into this great nation. The real facts of the trip which you may now read, though some of the boys have passed on.
…Experiences of… THREE GREEN ENGLISH BOYS.
The day dawned the early morn was cold and cloudy, though calm, with a very slight frost, which cleared away as the early hours rolled slowly by. As for me, I was, as usual, slow and silent, but notwithstanding there lurked a feminine affection, very slightly visible in the demeanor of certain member of the household domain, but this particular day seemed though in a very little space of time the skies cleared to brilliancy, doomed to go on record as a day of family freak, to surprise the senior member of the ancient family, located on this identical spot in the year of 1857, about the 20th of May, after battling with the waves of the old Atlantic ocean for 28 days in an old sail ship. Steaming the sea storm of wind for seven days and night without a recess for a single minute, wherein we might clutch our arms around the empty bread basket with the old ocean had insisted should be contributed to the fish, though it had been gotten down a fellow's throat with the very strongest effort, and a very slight hope of ever keeping it out of sight for any stated time. And after the last mite has again come to light, the poor landlubbers seem to have a notion that their shoes and stockings should come off that way.
But, O be joyful, for we are going to the land of the free, and in behalf of the tree pilgrims, of which I was the youngest. I must confess that we felt our freedom long before we saw the land, in most every sense of the word. For on the old ocean we had freed ourselves mostly of every vestige of food taken either in the stomach or pocket; for at least three days after we left the port of London, until we got in sight of New York. At which sight our spirits run high, but our pocket supplies had run very low, our clothing very shabby and our shoes nearly gone. With true sense of gratitude for all past blessings, who would not rejoice at the sight of land once more? But fate's cruel freak had in store for us a terrible test of faith and unfailing energy. For though land was now in full view a head wind sprung at sunrise, but every heart was cheered by the sight of land once more.
But how soon joy is turned to sadness and laughter into tears and sad wailing. Just at this moment our good old ship was on fire, and only saved from destruction by the cool way in which the fire alarm was carried to the first officer on the quarter deck by one of these three boys.
By a desperate effort on the part of the sailors and a few cool headed passengers the blaze was brought down. Now there was a scene on that ship not to be soon forgotten. One could scarcely move, men crowding, women crying, children clinging, sailors swearing, fishes flopping, and the wind blowing. Steadfastly we neared the port of New York where our ship safely reached that Sunday night.
The next day we three young, strong, hungry boys were urged on by the sober fact that we were in full possession of seven dollars to furnish us with rations from New York City, NY to Northville, Ill. The journey took seven days, but as the sailor says, "luck was on our side," To lengthen our memory and to strengthen our minds a generous old lady
Of New York, who was very large in size as well as in liberality, possibly could tip the scale at 250 pounds, a very motherly old dear, dealt us out four loves of bread and three pounds of cheese, and kindly explained to us that the full value of it in American money was seven dollar. Which we promptly paid, and boarded a boat bound to Parmont. Very soon we learned to be thankful that she did not gobble us down for green Englishers. However, we ate very freely that evening of our bread and cheese. But as economy and luck are neighbors we met them both on that trip from New York. On reaching the end of the boat's journey we all boarded an overloaded emigrant train bound for Dinkirk. It pulled out and ran for a few hours, when something about the gearling of the engine busted, and there we laid for several hours in a dense forest. We learned for the first time that we had drawn to hard on our pantry supplies. That dead old mother of New York said your train would get to Chicago Wednesday night, but the old broken down train man told us that we could not get there until Friday night.
We did not get there until Sunday night. So you see now that our two and a half loaves of bread with the cheese should have been divided into 15, or rather 45, meals to give us three meals a day. We were neither of us good on figures, so we ate by guess, and we never ate when the other passengers did. In order that our poverty might not be known, while the other passengers took their regular meals, we three boys sang old English songs to the amusement of the entire company of passengers and the whole train crew. On Friday morning, very early, our very last morsel of dry bread went down, while we cherished the hope of getting to Chicago that night. But luck being on our side, we didn't get into Chicago until Sunday night. At the regular breakfast meal Friday morning we sung a long sailor's song of thirteen verses, and so escaped the watchful eye of what I think was a real Christian family, consisting of father, mother, and three very fine girls. One of these girls had been closely watching us that morning, and had told the others that those three boys did not eat but once yesterday and that she had not seen them eat anything yet today. On that report her mother sent her over to us to inquire into the matter. She put her questions pretty straight, and Jim, being the oldest, she tackled him, but the boys turned her over to me for a reply, for she was on business and meant to succeed. And all three of us were feeling the need of another loaf of bread badly, and as she smilingly asked me, "When will you eat your dinner." Well you see I didn't look at the other boys, but pushed my thoughts down into the real affections, which gave the power to very pleasantly smile and say, "After we sing another song." She tried to smile on us, and then returned again to her mother and sisters, who had quite a chat together. Well, we sung the song, while mother and sisters, who had quite a chat together. Well, we sung several more and the usual supper time came. This time we were caught, for they had all kept a strict watch on us, so the two oldest girls came down the car to us and said you have not ate your dinner yet, for we have all been watching you. Now why don't you eat" O, I said, "because we have no grub". Well, them two girls did not laugh, but they did nearly cry. After they had made several efforts they swallowed down the big unpleasant lump in their throat, and then said we are almost without victuals, but we will get to our stopping place tonight and will give you what we have. But we said, "No, thank you, don't give us and have to go without".
They went again to their mother, and she insisted that we should have half of their store, which gave each one a half slice of bread and butter, and that would have been our last bit until the next Tuesday. But as I have said, luck was on our side. You will say so too after I have told you that I have seen the tears come in the boy's eyes when I have been telling our friends in Illinois how that English family was determined to feed us on the very last morsel that they had. With all of us penniless and thousands of miles from any living persons that we knew and in a strange land. But they left that train about 8 o'clock that evening, and we never heard of them since, but we still came on toward Chicago with our songs at meal times, and a very hungry feeling at other times.
But on Sunday we did not sing songs, because it was wicked to whistle or sing songs on Sunday.
On that Sunday, about six o'clock at night, our train stopped at Chicago, that long looked city, in the good and friendly land. We three hungry boys started at once to find the railroad leading to Somonauk, on which we had next to travel. The pious people of Chicago would tell us nothing, save one big fat fellow, who, with blueblazer accent, very faithfully promised to put us in the lock-up if we didn't get out of that place.
We got out quick, but feeling like the fellow caught fishing in a private fish pond, rather damp. But luck was now on the wing and coming our way, for the wind had gone into the northeast, and blew up pretty cold,
We tried to get a lodging place of the night, but being out of money we could not pay. The people of that great city did not entertain strangers, and did not think that we might be angels, so they took us not in. We walked out into the cold street again. But cold charity was beginning to get hold of us.
Now, who could have blamed those three boys if they had set down and cried for our dear old home, sweet home? But strong faith still said in a low voice that luck is coming our way. We cheered each other as we walked out onto that cold street, where we walked until every house was closed for the night. Then we looked for some sheltered place to lay down, for we were now very tired, and most awful hungry.
Now we began to strike luck, for there was a lump piled up in the street, and a team had been fed at a wagon near by, and littered some hay on the street. We scraped up the scattered hay and made a little nest for cousin Jim, as he was thinner clothed than either Dick or Alf. He laid down on the little lot of hay and Dick laid down near to him on the warm side of that lump of boards in the cold street. There was not room enough for three at that place, so Alf looked for a suitable place, and got one, only not quite so good, and turned in for a rest. I prayed as usual, and we all lay down and slept.
But there were some other creatures of God's creation on the street that cold night, and they, too, was hungry. As with us in luck, for while we were peacefully sleeping a cow came that way and ate up what hay she could get of Jim's nest. She then, rooted him over with her nose, and so pulled out all the hay and ate it, and in licking her tongue around him she woke him up, and he found himself to be very cold. He tried to get warm but could not. Now the night was very dark, as there was no gaslights, and they did not know just where I was, so the hunted till they found me, and then woke me up. I was pretty sound asleep, and they asked me what to do; I said tuck him up with the hay; then he tried to tell that a ku-ku-ku-cow had come and eat it all up, and O how that poor boy did shake with the cold, and after I was thoroughly awake I became quite alarmed at his condition, and suggested that we get out and walk a few miles, but they were thinking that we might get lost, for it was yet pretty dark, but I said we can keep on a straight road, and we did so, we walked clear out of town for a long ways, and we all got warmer, and we came to a light board fence, and there it seemed to be warmer than in town, and we being all very tired set down, and as another poor fellow said one time, we longed for daylight, but sleep, to a tired person seems to be irresistible, and so we all set napping on the roadside.
Then a man with a team and a load came by, and stopping his horses called out, "Hello, boys, what ye doing there: you'll freeze." It was now daylight, but not sunrise. We got up and went over to the man, and he looked at us for a while, and neither spoke. Well, now we saw that our clothes and hats and the hair on our heads was covered white with frost, and that man was amazed as he looked on us, and expressed his pity for us, and said that he was a hired man, and that he was strapped or he would help us out.
That not being the first time we had hear that expression of poverty we had many a good laugh over it as we walked back to town, as being all of us strapped, but he gave us some good counsel, and then drove on. So you see luck was our way again.
But just wait a little while and you will see what was yet in luck for us, and then you will with us bless the giver of all good gifts. Well, we pulled on our old English pluck, never die unless you get killed or run over by a cart load of fools, but never for lack of courage. Well, the sun rose full south in this country to us, but very bright and clear, and quite a while before we got back into town the frost was all gone off from our clothes, and men ever where were going to their place of work, some of them running, some of them walking, some going and some coming, and we were well back into town and the long hope for as usual came in the unexpected way, yet very gratefully received and most heartily appreciated, for this streak of unexpected good luck can hardly be expressed in words to fully express the gratitude those three hungry boys felt in their words to the giver of all good gifts, and we felt that we could praise God forevermore for the luck that came our way at that time of our real need.
Now in that thick covered street of pedestrians at that early hour of the day, at least fifty yards away, we saw a very large brindle colored dog coming our way and direct to meet us. We see that he had got something carrying in his mouth, and our hungry stomachs and quick eyes soon say that relief was nigh, and as his honorable dogship drew nearer and nearer every step we soon matured our plans of attack. But Jim said we couldn't get it away from that dog. Well, he was a powerful and vicious looking fellow, but Dick and Alf had no fears of defeat, for they had fought dogs before, and one dog could not frighten them, so Jim soon in for the fray, and said what's your plan of attack, Alf. I said be quick, boys, he is nearly here, and coming pretty fast. My plan was already matured, and we carried it out to the letter. Jim was placed near the sidewalk, but in the road, and was to keep about four or five steps in advance. Dick was to take his position about six yards from Jim and out in the street right opposite to Jim, with Alf about half way between them, but about eight yards in the rear, so as to form a triangle. We got into positions at once, and the dog trotted right in between us, and the signal for actions was, now when the dog gets right in amongst us we will all of us holler out "drop it", and holler loudly. So when Mr. Doggie was right, we all three yelled a tremendous yell, "drop it." The echo of that yell went ringing down the street with an unearthly sound. The poor dog dropped a balogna from his mouth seven inches long. He seemed to take a leap and cleared the ground at least ten feet for his first
jump, and the people near to us gave a similar jump. The people ran to their windows and doors at the alarm. All eyes were turned towards us from every direction, while we calmly picked up the balogna and stood and cut it into three equal parts and chewed it down, and we thanked God for it. And I always shall. That was the first bite or taste we had in our mouth since Friday about 5 or 6 o'clock, until now Monday morning about 6 o'clock. But the poor dog, what became of him? Well, the last we saw of him he was leaving tracks in Chicago with his tail sticking straight out, his head well up, his ears flapping as he run and his eyes and legs making a hasty retreat for a place of safety. There was a streak of dust down the street as far as you could see, and the dog still running, but where he stopped we never knew.
Luck was still our way, and after we tucked in that balogna, and the people had concluded that we were not dangerous chaps after all, and quiet had regained the usual sereneness. The street once more had become quiet, and we had gone a block or two when an overloaded man asked us to help him carry a trunk a little way, which we did. Feeling glad that we could help somebody, but the good fellow would give us a quarter, though we strongly protested, but he insisted. We took it and with a thankful heart'. We started with that quarter to buy out the first bakery that we came to, and all that we could get for our money and have what we called a good tuck out. On the street we saw laying a half pint glass bottle, very dirty, and alone, and we had pity on it and picked it up and went to a pump in the street and washed it clean. Then we went to a shop where they had bread in the window for sale, and the brave man inside the shop seemed to know just how much money we had, and said that the bottle full of schnapps and the roll of bread was just a quarter.
The roll of bread was about 8 inches long and would possibly weight
four ounces, but we did not buy it by weight. It was very small, that I know, but we sat by the pump and cut the roll of bread into three pieces and poured the bottle of schnapps on the bread. We was very soon on the outside of it all, and this was about six o'clock Monday morning, and that was all the grub we got that day, but when a fellow is in luck he can appreciate anything in a small line. The sun was now getting a little warm, and so was my mother's son. But if she had know her son's conditions at that moment she would have been no doubt in tears, while he was now learning the rough side of this life in Chicago. But we had now learned that crying for spilt milk was no remedy for the cramps of the gout. We got ourselves down to business, and went to the baggage car to get our two trunks and an old country flour-bushel sack, which were all stuffed full to the bustling point with our traps. We could not get them until about 10 o'clock, and we did not know where to go to get our next train. All we knew by letter was our instructions was, "Come from New York to Chicago, then to Somonauk, and walk to Northville, LaSalle." No county distinctions was given or any railroad initials. So here was the baby without a diaper, a nasty thing for boys to find out the ways of.
There is nothing like luck, so we carried them trunks on our backs from 10 a.m. till about 4 p.m., hunting a train to take us to Somonauk, and everybody we asked told us that there was no such a place having a railroad in it. But Alf stuck to it that there was, the other boys could not read. Jim knew the alphabet, but Dick did not, and they said that I must be mistaken. I said I am not.
Now it was very hot in those streets the 18th of May, and past 3 o'clock p.m., and we were hot, tired and hungry, three things in careless hands that would bust any harmony. But we piled our stuff in a lump on the street and sat down to rest awhile, and to consult with our judgment; whereupon Dick said, I will stop here and watch the stuff while you two go and find the train. Alf said he is right, but I will be buggered if I
will go any further till you find the right place. Alf said, O cheer up, old brick and come on, but when I looked at Jim I thought that he was crying. Then Dick said I will lay here by this stuff till it rots and I die, but I won't go any further till you find the right place.
Go with him, Jim; I know he will find it if it can be found; ain't he been right all the way we have come from home. Then Jim said, can you find it, Alf? Come on, I said and we will find something. I had started on alone, and a drayman met me and said, "De ye want a dray boss? Where are ye going' to?" I said to Somonauk, and "Ye'll be after going from the depot down there, won't ye," he said, and sure enough we were only about a block and a half from the old Union depot. Dick heard the talk and was cheered up by it, but he would not take his work. Come on, we said to him, but he said not till you know it is the right place. So I left them and went to inquire, and found it to be the right place. Now don't you think we had luck our way, for we went in with our baggage, got our tickets as far as our money would take us, which was only to Sandwich, and after we had got our tickets we sat down against the wall, and a little way from our stuff, and being so near tuckered out, and the battle still going on in the hidden parts between the big and little intestines, we dropped over on the floor for a sleep. This sort of hunger is quite different from going on only one day without grub. You can try it if you have any doubt.
But there is not bounds to luck when it is once started. So while we slept our stuff was all taken away, and a big fellow woke us up and said your train is just starting. Jump on, jump on quickly; and so we did. We were only half-awake, but when the conductor came for our tickets he looked at us rather cross and said you have no business on this train; this will take you to Canada. You will have to get tickets and Go back to Chicago and when I stop again you will be 24 miles from that place.
Well I said, can't you get us back there again for we ain't got no money, and ain't got no grub and we ain't had much all day. Then he became interested in my yarn, but I don't think he believed it at all, as it did look a little too salty. But he said, I will help you out, boys, and he did, for he got us back to Chicago just in time for us to run and jump on board the C. B. & O., which was our train. When a fellow is in luck knee deep, and keeps slipping down into it, his ideals will get aroused and he will want to know if luck has any real sound bottom, or whether it is not a twin sister to chance. If so our chance now would seem to indicate that it was two to one, that we would have a little more of just such luck before we got any more grub.
Our train now was rolling on towards Somenauk. If we could not ride the whole distance we felt sure that it would go to that haven of rest, and we could follow in the wake. However, about 11p.m. we were let off at Sandwich. It was dark and quite cold again that night, but the station agent at this place, a Mr. Freek, was surely a white man and had a heart of pity. We think so, at least, for twas we stood there in the dark and shivering with the cold and not knowing where to go (there was only business houses there then), and expecting another night's rest on the warm side of a soft stone or frosty clod, he came to us: everybody else was gone. He soon learned our bearings, and very kindly unlocked the door of the waiting room and went out and split some wood and made a nice warm fire and brought in some wood and said that we might stop there till morning.
So we soon laid down on the floor, closed up to the stove and there we laid peacefully sleeping the sleep that bring rest and comfort for a weary traveler, and it was just getting daylight when we woke up. He had carefully charged us of the danger we would meet with on the road to Somonauk; the next station and we met them as he had said.
Somonauk was reached by us on foot and no one was up yet, and we did not know where Northville was, so we walked off rather slowly until we saw some smoke coming from a chimney. We made for that house, and the man was out by the door, and we asked the way to Northville, and was told that it was seven miles, and we pulled into it, thankful get onto the last stretch of our journey. We soon met a man on the road who we asked of again, and he measured up the distance by several good long Yankee guesses and presumed it was over eight miles, probable ten, and that took nearly all the wind out of the top story of our lungs. We walked on in silence for awhile, when a man came along without any shoes on his feet and we thought he was a beggar, but we asked him the distance to Northville, and he said about three miles, and then we thought he was a liar, and we walked a long way and met no one. In passing by a house we saw the people eating their breakfast, and that bought on that destressing desire for victuals. Alf said to the boys, "I am going in there and a crying or begging", and so I did, for I was unearthly hungry.
So I went to the door and the man got up from the table and came out to meet me at the door, and I asked could I get a bit. But he said who are you and were are you going? I said to Mr. Middleton's, George Middleton's. Well, he said, O you will get all you want to eat there; it's only about a mile to George Middleton's, and you can get all you want there. Well, I was just a little bit provoked, and I very rashly thought,
O you miserable cuss. But I calmly said, will you please to give us a drink of water; he said "there is the well, you can get it". That man's name was Rogers, and lived at that time where Mr. Grandgeorge is living now, on the old state road, about two miles north of Northville and four or five miles from the George Middleton farm.
But to some people there is nothing like luck. So we all took a drink of water, and that may be the most expensive gift that gentleman ever gave to a starving man or boy. We came on and left him to enjoy his grub, while our faith and our hopes were growing stronger every step now and about 10 o'clock that Tuesday we got to Mr. George Middleton's. Mrs. Middleton and her niece were watching the road for us, and saw us at some distance from the house, and came to meet us, and they greeted us like friends though we had never met before in the world, except the niece. They shook our hands and kissed us for joy, like a very long absent friend. As for me it was the sweetest kiss I had received since leaving London, and the entire family has had a large place in our affections every since. We had been there about ten or fifteen minutes when Mrs. Middleton asked us when we ate last, and we said last Friday, and of course she thought that was spoke in fun. We soon corrected the answer, as we had not counted in what the dog had donated, although he had done far better by us than Mr. Rogers. But we said that we got a bite early Monday morning, but did not tell the whole story just then. I did not want my folks to know how badly we had suffered for food and shelter. We thought that they had enough of their own troubles.
But as oil will float on water, so good deeds will shine with all colors of the rainbow, and bad deeds cannot be hid and that we all know, so no- one had spoken of the kindness of Mr. R. towards the green English boys; and one day five years afterwards Mr. Eliza Knight spoke of it to me and for the first time I told the whole story.
After Mrs. Middleton learned our needs and that it was not all a joke, that good old soul went right to work and get out a fine dinner for us, and it was only the middle of the forenoon. She cooked a large dish of fat pork expressly for us, and we ate every slab of it. And she offered to cook more. She said that she never felt better paid for cooking a dinner in her life, for the boys ate everything with a good relish, and eats so heartily. Just as soon as we were through with that meal we went out to the fields where all hands were planting corn, and there was where our fun began. We worked till noon and went to dinner with the rest, and here John Nettleingham introduced us to Mr. Middleton and family as his two brothers Jim and Dick, and his cousin Alfred, or Alf. We stayed with them and finished planting corn. It was a very late spring. So we planted corn, played sailor and circus, sun sailor's songs, and some people laughed who the neighbors said had never done anything but swear. And it was said that the boys had brought a revival into the place of mirth and joy such as was never before know to exist there. But we were poor in pocket but rich in fun. John took me to the store and rigged me up at the outlay of $20.00 and that was what I started on. We all started to work on Monday. My first work was done for Mr. Henry Elerding, digging out the foundations of the present Elerding mill, at $15.00 per month. Jim went to Mr. Hardel's at $15.00 per month; Dick at Mr. John See's at $16.00 per month. We soon had friends everywhere, and people come for miles to see and hear us, our Sunday of meeting together, which occurred about every four weeks.
But I will not bother to tell you any more of our luck, as we believe that faith is far better than luck, as faith brings home and hope begets love and when pure, drives away fear, and no one needs to fear starvation.
A good man has said, "I have been young but now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging for bread.
Yours very respectfully,
PS Our clothes were found to be safe at Sandwich when we went there after them.