Lee County Biography

CHARLES A. BECKER

Palmyra Township

7 January 1810 - 27 Feb 1859


Charles A. Becker now deceased, was one of the honored pioneer settlers of Palmyra Township, where he located in 1839. Upon the farm which he there developed he continued to make his home until his death, which occurred February 27, 1859. He was born in Nordhausen, Prussia, Germany, January 7, 1810, the city being that to which Martin Luther once fled to escape from his enemies. There Charles was reared to manhood and learned the jeweler's trade under his father, John Becker, a jeweler who was also born, reared, lived and died in Nordhausen. Our subject was the second child of the family numbering four sons and two daughters. He had acquired an excellent collegiate education and just before attaining his majority, knowing that he would have to enter the German Army or escape to this country, he decided on the latter step, and after securing the consent of his parents, bade them adieu and sailed from Bremen to Philadelphia, Pa. He first located in what was then New Holland, Lancaster County, Pa., from whence he removed to Reading, that State, where he followed his trade as a jeweler and clock-maker.

It was while in Reading that Mr. Becker was joined in wedlock with Miss Mary Kessler, a native of that city, born January 30, 1813. Her parents, Charles A. and Catherine (Ritter) Kessler, were natives of Saxony, Germany, and Berks County, Pa respectively. The father acquired a university education in his native land and when a young man crossed the Atlantic to the United States. He traveled through the South for some time and after locating in Reading married Miss Ritter. In the War of 1812 he fought for the flag of his adopted country. In connection with his brother­in-law, John Ritter, he established the first German newspaper in Reading, known as the Reading Adler, which paper is still in existence, being now carried on by a kinsman. For sixty-five years it was conducted under the firm title of Ritter & Co. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kessler died in Reading, Pa., the former when his daughter, Mrs. Becker was only ten years old. His wife reached a very advanced age and died in the faith of the Lutheran Church, to which Mr. Kessler also belonged.

On leaving the East, Charles Becker located in Cleveland, Ohio, where he engaged in business as a jeweler and watch-maker for some time. Many of the watches which he sold in those days were imported from Switzerland, He came to Lee County in 1839, and made a claim of one hundred and sixty acres on section 9, Palmyra Township, for which he paid $650. The land was in its primitive condition but the site which he selected was a favorable one and is bordered on the south by the Rock River. With characteristic energy he began the development of the land and at the time of his death had a fine farm, well cultivated and improved, and a comfortable and commodious residence. He had brought with him to the county many of the appliances of his trade and in the i early days followed that vocation for some time. For two years he engaged in business in Dixon. He was the first watch-maker and jeweler west of Chicago and as he had no competition all work in his line was brought to him, his income thereby being materially increased. He was a successful business man, enterprising and progressive, and won a well deserved prosperity. With his fellow townsmen he became quite popular and at his death left many warm friends. He took an active interest in all public affairs and the community found in him a valued citizen.

Mrs. Becker acquired her education in her native city and is a lady of much force of character, capable and energetic. Since the death of her husband she has carried on the farm successfully with the aid of her children and has also increased it in extent by the additional purchase of a sixty­four acre tract. She is a consistent member of the Lutheran Church, to which Mr. Becker also belonged. Their family numbered eleven children but Francis and Elizabeth are now deceased. Charles has also passed away. He was a Corporal in the service during the late war and at the first attack on Vickburg was shot. A few days later he died on the 8th of January, 1862, at the age of twenty-three years and was buried opposite White River on the bank of the Mississippi. He was a brave young soldier and his death was sincerely mourned by many friends. The other members of the family are Mary, wife of James McGinnis, a farmer of Palmyra Township; Sarah, widow of William Briner, who served in the late war as a Major and was an insurance agent of Reading, Pa., where he died in 1891, and where his widow still resides; Julia, wife of Christian Kauffman, a druggist of Avoca, Neb.; Cecelia, wife of Patrick Hall, a farmer of Cass County, Neb.; Francis, who married Ella Heaton and operates the home farm; Fannie, wife of James Brooks, a grain merchant of Avoca, Neb.; Pauline, who lives with her mother, and Lizzie, wife of Dr. David Meese, a physician of North Auburn Neb. The Becker family is one of the worthy families of Lee County, its members being held in high regard by all who know them for they are men and women of sterling worth and integrity of character.

Lee County Portraits & Biographical Pg 241 1892
Charles A Becker born 7 January 1810 Nordhausen Germany died 7 Feb 1859 Lee County IL
Mary (Kessler) Becker born 30 January 1813 Reading PA d/o Charles A. and Catherine (Ritter) Kessler

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If we could have foreseen that the incidents in the lives of the pioneer families of Palmyra would be of special interest, more pains would have, been taken to preserve letters and papers relating to their early life in this vicinity. My account will necessarily be rather meager and unsatisfactory, as the time to gather material is so limited.

My father, Charles A. Becker, was born in Nordhausen, Prussia, Germany, Jan. 7th, 1810 the fortified city to which Martin Luther once fled to escape his enemies. My father was educated there and learned the watchmaking and jewelry business under his father, John Becker, jeweler. On attaining his majority he came to America and located in Reading, Penn. While there he became acquainted with my mother, Miss Mary Kessler. They were married in 1833. Two years after they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where business was very flourishing until the panic of '37, when banks failed, merchants broke up, and business being in a very depressed condition my parents resolved to seek their fortune farther west; my father was a heavy loser by the Mormons, Here I must digress a little in order to tell how they happened to make this part of the west their destination. Father had become acquainted with a number of Polish exiles who had been officers in the Polish army, were taken prisoners and given the choice of being exiled to Siberia or America. Naturally they chose the latter: when they landed in America the U. S. government gave each of them a home of eighty acres near Rockford, Through them and others (Bishop Chase among them) my parents heard glowing accounts of this "paradise of the west." I would like to give in detail some of the interesting events which happened on their six weeks journey in a covered wagon to Chicago, but fear it will take too much space, however, one or two little incidents may not come amiss. At Fort Defiance, Ind., they had the opportunity of seeing several hundred Indians assembled there. At that time the Indian still had some claim to the title of "noble rod man," among them some magnificent specimens of Indian manhood, their limbs showing to good advantage as they stalked majestically around in almost an entire state of nature. Then as our travelers journeyed through the Maumee swamps, lost their way, stopped to hunt deer, of which they saw a number and only succeeded in shooting one, after a long but in the main enjoyable journey, with various mishaps, they reached Chicago, then a town of about seven thousand inhabitants Some prominent business men tried to induce my father to locate there, as there was a very good opening for a watch- maker, and offered him several lots for two hundred dollars a lot oh Clark street, one of the main thoroughfares in Chicago. Seeing that he was determined to push on they advised him to go to Dixon instead of Rockford, as he had intended, as at the former place there was no watchmaker and the land much more desirable, which he accordingly did, as it was his idea to take up some land as well as follow his business. The morning following his arrival in Dixon having moved into the store just vacated by Mr. Bowman on Water street, the business street of Dixon at that time he had hardly put up his sign before people began to flock in, when he did a brisk business in repairing and selling clocks, watches and jewelry. He had brought a large supply of goods along and had no trouble in disposing of it. People came from thirty and forty miles to get work done, and friendships formed at that time have lasted to the present day; at that time all within a radius of twelve and fifteen miles were considered neighbors.

My parents had pictured to themselves just the kind of place they would like to settle on and make their home: after having looked around for some time in vain they by accident heard of the place on which my mother still lives, six miles west of Dixon. On her first glimpse of the place she said, "This shall be my home," an has never had reason to be dissatisfied with her choice, albeit at that time it had only its beautiful situation overlooking the river and fertile ground to recommend it, with the exception of a small log house with a solitary cat for an occupant, there were no improvements on the place if one can call a most lone- some cat an improvement and yet in a manner it was, as it gave them a very warm welcome and at once made the place seem like home. My father bought the claim of Mr. Lunt, a nephew of Mrs. Sigourney the poetess. They moved out as soon as the necessary arrangements were made, but for two years my father still kept his business in Dixon. At the end of that time when he spoke of removing entirely to his farm Father Dixon made him a very generous offer: he wanted to make my father a present of a lot if he would only build on it and stay there. He did not avail himself of the kind offer, however, as he thought his health was better on the farm. My parents enjoyed their homo very much after being unsettled for so long, never tiring of rambling along the shores of the ever beautiful Rock river especially so then, as its waters were so crystal clear and the scenery along its batiks so varied and charming. From the house one could command an extensive view of the beautiful stream, dotted here and there with well wooded islands. On the rise whereon stood the house were many very large and noble oak trees, which much to my regret were mostly cut down in those early years, being so convenient for firewood. They did not stop to think that such magnificent oaks could not be replaced in their lifetime. But to proceed. They put up a log addition and were soon settled in their very comfortable though unpretending abode Had it not been for my father's business it would have been a much more serious affair, making ends meet; as it was, they were in very straightened circumstances, there being almost no money to be had. My parents understanding very little of farming did not immediately make it a success, although the soil needed very little encouragement to produce the most astonishing results; immense crops were raised with very little labor. It was in truth a genuine paradise in almost every respect. The greatest drawback was the distance to market and the lack of schools which latter as the years rolled by troubled my parents not a little.

One can imagine there were very few luxuries in those times, but they never (as do the people in the far west now) had to suffer for food they had that in abundance, game of all kinds was plenty. I have often heard my mother tell as an instance of the ease with which game was secured how my father went out to a small grove just east of the house in the morning before starting for town and shot eighteen prairie chickens, the ignorant birds merely flying from tree to tree to escape him. The poor things, alas! have since learned greater caution, and it would take more than one morning's work to secure much less than half that number. A beautiful and now impossible sight was seeing the most graceful of all wild creatures, the deer, come bounding down across the prairie to drink at the river, and the ease with which they cleared the high rail fences used in those days. Even as late as '53 and later deer still inhabited' the woods a mile from their place. My mother has told us how amused she was one day at her son Charlie, then a boy of about sixteen years, and a young German by the name of Boehma. who was staying here at the time. Mr. Boehma went out hunting one morning and came back after a few hours proudly displaying a deer as the result of his good marks-manship. Brother Charlie said very unconcernedly, I am going to get one also,'' and started out. He had been gone but a short time when he returned triumphantly carrying the deer he had shot. Of course no one here thought he would get one.

Within my recollection small bands of Indians still roamed through the country and I well remember how frightened we children were one time when a dozen or so Indians, men, women and children came up from the river to our home on a begging expedition. The young Indians of about ten years of age carried bows and arrows; they asked if they might shoot a chicken or two. On being given permission they soon knocked over several, being very expert with their primitive weapons. These bands of Indians were harmless excepting for their thieving propensities. We still find many perfect specimens of their handicraft, one of my nephews finding a very tine sharp stone hatchet such as I have never seen in any collection of Indian relics.

In those first years the lack of certain things was sadly felt. One time when my parents felt the need of coffee particularly and had for some time been without, they received a most acceptable present of a large package of coffee from one of their nearest neighbors, one of the members of whose family had been to New Orleans and brought back a fifty- pound sack of the precious stimulant, which they very generously shared with their neighbors. Such open handed generosity was proverbial among the early settlers, each and all sharing in a most liberal manner. Some Kentuckians who were living here when my parents came, brought venison and other things a number of times, and would have felt insulted had they been offered pay. Although Dixon and vicinity had rather a hard name at that time, on account of horse thieves and other desperate characters, there was no petty thieving done, doors were left unlocked and clothes hanging out over night with perfect safety, the floating population being intent on larger game, and would have scorned to steal trifles. The people who came to take up land and settle were all of the most respectable class and a great many of them cultivated and refined.

In 1853 my father, whose health began to fail, made a visit home to Germany. He remained a short time in New York before taking passage for his journey across the ocean, with relatives of my mother, John Roebling, the engineer that built the suspension bridge across the Niagara river and afterward the famous Brooklyn suspension bridge. The Roebling family and other relatives showed my father every attention and made his visit with them very enjoyable. After being away five months he returned home and commenced the erection of a stone home just west of the log house. I have forgotten to mention that he spent three winters previous to this time in Chicago, working at his business of watchmaking. Chicago had grown so rapidly and he was offered such inducements to go into business there, that he embraced the opportunity of making more money than he could in this vicinity, and which he greatly needed, as he had a growing family to support, and the farm did not bring in a very large income, there being very little sale for farm produce: butter and eggs were a drug on the market, one egg in the winter of '93 in Dixon bringing more than a dozen in those days, as my mother frequently sold eggs for two cents a dozen, or at that rate, as she took thread in payment. My mother and aunt had some experiences that will never have their counterpart again, it is to be hoped. My father at one time having quite a siege with the fever and ague, which was very prevalent at that time; the supply of wheat ran out, consequently bread was an absent quality, and at last my mother and her sister becoming desperate attempted to thresh some unbeknown to my father. The threshing in those primitive times was done by means of horses treading it out. They worked hard all day and succeeded in getting seven bushels, which on the following day they took to Wilson's mill, fourteen miles distant, on Buffalo creek.

My father was much distressed when he learned how they had worked, but was powerless to remedy it, and they all enjoyed the bread that was very literally "earned by the sweat of the brow. They moved into the new house in the fall of '54. My father went out of the business of watch making then and devoted the time when he felt well enough to gardening, which he greatly enjoyed and was very successful with, the market begun to improve and pears sold readily for two dollars a bushel and currants at four dollars a bushel, the size and amount of fruit would be unbelievable in these days, bushels of immense and luscious peaches went to waste, strange as it may appear, they not selling as well as did currants and apples, probably because more people raised them. As time went on my father's health failed rapidly, he having injured his knee, bone consumption set in. He suffered great agony at times. Having heard of a renowned physician in Chicago Volenta by name a Hungarian, he went to that city and stayed several months, but the doctor gave him no hope. They formed a warm friendship, and Dr. Volenta came to Dixon to see my father, more as a friend than physician, and it did him much good to see him. The neighbors always kind and during my father's illness doubly so came in many times to help wile away the time; and especially were they indebted to one, William Graham, for making many an otherwise weary hour pass pleasantly, he had such a store of amusing anecdotes to relate and bad traveled quite extensively, so it was a never failing pleasure to see him. And Dr. Everett, dear to all the hearts in the community, came to cheer my parents in their trouble, his very presence brought healing to mind as well as body. In '59 my father was relieved from his suffering, and my mother was left to care for a large family. She has told us many times of the unfailing kindness of neighbors and friends in helping her. The different merchants in Dixon also, never hurried her for payments that she found hard to meet, they favored her in many ways and were unfailingly kind and considerate in their dealings with her. Time has dealt very gently with her and she has lived to a good old age and takes much pleasure in recalling old times. She never became wealthy, but has a good, comfortable home, free from encumbrances, and her children and friends hope to have her with them many years yet. 'Thus ends my, at best, very incomplete account of my parents' early life in Palmyra. (Recollections of Pauline Becker)

Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County by Inez Kennedy 1893

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