Union County Illinois Genealogy Trails





Reminiscent--About Pioneers

 Transcribed and submitted by Darrel Dexter

            Pittsburg, Pa.—Editor Gazette—The pioneers of Southern Illinois were of superior blood, possessed of wonderful energy and talents.  As a child I have seen spinning wheels, looms, flax brakes and spinners in the homes of the Sumners, Hartlines, Fricks, Lamers, Rendlemans, and others.  I have worn jeans (now called Scotch homespun woven loosely) made near Cobden by Mrs. John D. Lamer.  I think one of her daughters, Mrs. Lucinda Green or Mrs. Jack Sumner, at Cobden had the old wooden loom on which it was woven.  Why can’t the children of these energetic pioneers raise cotton, wool, and flax, and with the improved weaving machines of today establish a factory, even if it is only a stocking factory.  The great Massachusetts cotton and woolen factories, also the great shoe factories, which I wrote up, began with limited means.  The Elgin watch factory started with small means, wanted to locate at Anna, liked the name, then chose “Lady Elgin.”  The man who made the factory a success was P. S. Bartlett, who sold watches all over the world.  He told me of Marshall Field, Pullman, Gen. Grant, and others who were invited to Elgin to inspect and invest.  They asked Mr. Bartlett what assurance there was that the investment was wise and safe.  He showed them a machine which made it possible to produce the best of watches at a small cost.  General Grant took stock, Pullman more and Field and others still more.  “I am only a poor boy from Union County,” but I will invest a small sum in stock of a Union County stock factory.

            Daniel Davie had a cotton gin and press for baling the cotton at Anna in 1865 or before.  In that year I hired to pick some cotton one day.  Old Yankee Robinson’s circus was coming and I had absorbed the description thereof on the flaming circus bills.  Messrs. Davie, Finch, and Shick had a large field of fine cotton out at the lime kiln.  They saw I wanted any cents about as much as a healthy eight years old boy could want it, and told me to _______ day I would and pick where the others were so ___ off by myself and picked ____________________ out the seeds.  Then I went in the lime kiln with my cotton in bags, with an empty stomach and a big headache.  Uncle Dan and E. H. Finch laughed at me until I was made enough to fight, when the noble prince of good fellows, Cyrus Shick, said, “Frank, Mrs. Shick can make some fine cool pillows out of that hand picked cotton,” and gave me fifty cents and putting me on a wagon sent me home.  A few days later Uncle Dan Davie took me to see the gin and press for baling the cotton, and a big boy, not well adjusted in his think tank, pushed me down into some thirty feet of ginned cotton.  I yelled as I went down, and Uncle Dan ran below and digging into the cotton pulled me out unconscious, and we looked like two angora goats in full fleece.  He nearly broke his boot sole kicking that half wit.

            This cotton gin and press was south of the old hospital building (a hospital for soldiers during the war of the Rebellion) and I think there is a refrigerating plant where it was located.  Uncle Dan also had the first brick kiln and built the first brick mansion in Anna, at the then east end of Main street.  My father owned a story and a half frame dwelling and about four acres of land just south of Mr. Davie’s residence.  His son Sam and I roamed the “wilds” of the woods lot from his home to the lime kiln and with our brows, made from the hickory barrel hoops, and arrows spiked with sixpenny nails sharpened, defied anything on earth, even Indians.  Uncle Dan had the first flour mill and saw mill in Anna, and his father, W. Davie, had the largest store situated just west of the I. C. R.R. and north of the adjoining Main street.  He also had a harness, saddle and ship factory in the old hospital building mentioned.  Mr. Samson taught the first school I attended in Anna in a church in the southwest part.  There in 1867 Miss Eva Kratzinger taught in the hospital building.  One day my father, who was a physician, east when a young man, found a family down stairs on the north side of the building had small pox.  That ended my school days in Anna for my father moved to his land adjoining Cobden.

                                                                                                            F. M. Sperry
(Jonesboro Gazette, Jonesboro, Illinois, Friday, 2 Apr 1920)


    “When I was a young men out in McLean county, Illinois,” said Elnathan Rockwell, an octogenarian of New York, “I walked for miles through a deep snow to see my girl one night, and more snow began falling so heavily that I couldn’t get home across the prairie and had to stay at her folks house all night.  There was nothing strange in that, as settlers were few and far between, and it was common for neighbors to stay all night with one another.  There was nothing strange either in my having on a pair of buckskin breeches, for cloth was a scarce article with us in those days, and what we had was home made.  Deer were plentiful, and buckskin clothing was common wearing apparel in winter.
    “The pair of breeches I went sparking in that night was made from a skin that hadn’t been properly cured, and it was a little green yet.  My girl’s folks had moved from their first log house into a new one, and as their new house, like all dwellings of the prairie pioneers, had but one apartment, they made a shakedown for me in the vacant log house.  I laid my buckskin breeches on the floor by the side of my bed.  Some time during the night either the family dog or a wolf or two, scenting the green buckskin, came into the cabin, stole my breeches and took them away somewhere and ate them.  I saw the tracks in the snow inside the log house, but the falling snow had covered them up on the outside.
    “It as terribly cold, and all I could do was to lie in bed and wait for developments.  I should have been up and eating breakfast long before daylight, and daylight coming and I not having put in an appearance yet, my girl’s mother came out to see what was the matter.  There was a great commotion when she found out, for there was not another pair of breeches within four miles, except her husband’s and he wanted his himself.  The consequence was that I had to be covered up in the old log house until he could go all the way through the snow to our house, four miles, get my father’s breeches, and come back with them to my relief.  In the condition of the prairie, the snow being two feet deep, this trip took nearly all the rest of the day, and my father had to go to bed until I got home with his breeches.  By the time I got there mother had a pair of new buckskins nearly ready, and everything was all right.
    “Not long after that I fixed it so there would be no danger of my getting into such a scrape again.  I married my girl and we went to keeping house right away.  Our house was a log cabin I had built.  It had no floor but the ground, and the door had a big deerskin fastened up over the opening.  There was a window in the house.  It was a piece of paper greased with coon’s oil and tacked over a hole in the side of the house.  Our bedstead was made by boring two holes in one of the logs in one side of the room five feet apart, into each of which holes the end of a rail was fitted.  The other end of each rail was supported by a crotched stick as high from the ground as the hides were.  Split rails were laid across the slats, and the bed was made up on them.  In the daytime the bedstead was taken down and stood up in a corner out of the way.  Our table was a puncheon split out of a log that was four feet across.  The plank thus made was three inches thick with a hole bored in each corner for sticks to be driven in for legs.  Our two chairs were made in the same way.  All of this timber, the logs for the house, the rails for the bedsteads, and the material for the other furniture was black walnut, and would be worth a small fortune now.”
(Jonesboro Gazette, Jonesboro, Illinois, Friday, 31 Dec 1920; transcribed and submitted by Darrel Dexter.)

The Essex Family

 Transcribed and submitted by Darrel Dexter

In a paper by William R. Sandham read at the meeting of the Stark County Old Settlers Association in Toulin, Ill., Sept. 25, 1918, he gives a history of the Isaac B. Essex family which is of decided local interest.  Isaac B. Essex came with his wife to the western part of what is now Stark County in 1828 and opened up a home in the wilderness.  They were of Virginia ancestry.  In 1835 they sold this home and bought 700 acres of land in Rock Island County where they moved.

Mrs. Essex died in 1859.  The quotations following are where the local interest comes in, and an account of Mr. Essex's death appeared in the Gazette at the time:

Soon after the death of his wife, Mr. Essex visited a son near Helena, Arkansas.  There he became acquainted with Mrs. Elizabeth J. Carver, to whom he was married after consulting his sons, January 3, 1860.

Mr. Essex and his second wife lived on the farm in Rock Island County until 1865.  He then gave 500 acres of his land to the sons of his first marriage and rented the other 200 acres.  Mrs. Essex wanted to move back to Arkansas.  Mr. Essex did not want to live in what was once a slave state.  They compromised and moved to Union County, almost in the extreme south part of Illinois.  They bought a farm near Dongola, on which they lived until the death of Mr. Essex, caused by being injured by some cattle which were fighting and which he tried to separate Nov. 7, 1877.  The body was taken to his old home in Rock Island County and buried by the side of his first wife.  He willed the land in Union County to his second wife and the land in Rock Island County to their children.

Isaac B. Essex and his first wife had seven children, three of whom were born in what is now Stark County.  He and his second wife had five children.  All of the children of the second marriage are still living, Levi Essex and Mrs. Isabelle Dillow live in Union County, Illinois, Mrs. Ida Stelke and Mrs. Emma Blessing live in East St. Louis, Ill., and Mrs. Anna Smith lives in New Albany, Ind.  Mrs. Elizabeth J. Essex, the second wife of Isaac B. Essex, aged 89 years, was living at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Isabelle Dillow, in Dongola, Illinois, when this sketch was written in September, 1918.

Isaac B. Essex was a man of considerable education and general information.  He was always an advanced leader in promoting all good work in the communities where he lived.  Mr. Essex was greatly interested in the improvements of all kinds of farm livestock, especially when he lived in Rock Island County.

A large part of the material used in preparation of this sketch was obtained from manuscript left by Isaac B. Essex, now in the possession of his daughter, Mrs. Emma Blessing, of East St. Louis, Ill.

(Jonesboro Gazette, Jonesboro, Illinois, Friday, 25 Oct 1918)

Old Grear Family Documents

Transcribed and submitted by Darrel Dexter 

                        Ex-Mayor John Grear, who has been in business in Jonesboro very nearly 50 years, has without a doubt sold and repaired more watches and clocks than any other man in Union county; and his hands have not yet lost their cunning nor his eyes their keenness to penetrate the mysteries of a time piece and find out what ails its “innards” when it goes wrong.  To use a once favorite slang expression, Mr. Grear has fixed many a man’s clock.

            A visit to the veteran’s snug quarters west of the Masonic hall on one of these gloomy winter days will interest anyone who is a good listener and cares for stories of the good old days in Jonesboro, for Mr. Grear has a good memory and is a good talker.  He has a great many old books, papers and documents of various kinds filed away, having always, with the instinct of the historian made it a point to preserve such relics.  The Gazette was allowed the other day to rummage through these musty records and found a number bearing upon the family history of Mr. Grear.

            His father, George Grear, served twelve years in the United States army, retiring with the rank of major.  On the 4th day of August, 1819, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Indiana State Militia by Jonathon Jennings, “governor and commander in chief of the State of Indiana,” as Jennings was the first governor of that state, and the capital was at Corydon, on the Ohio River below Louisville, Ky.  On the 26th day of July, 1820, Governor Jennings commissioned George Grear a captain in the Fourth Brigade of the militia of the state.  Two years later found him a citizen of Union County, Illinois, but with the same thirst apparently for military glory, for on May 13, 1823, we find he commissioned an ensign in the Tenth Regiment Illinois Militia by Governor Edward Coles.

            “How does it come that you never went to war?” we asked.

            “Well,” replied the ex-mayor, “I had fully determined to go to the Mexican War.  We had talked the matter over at home, whether Jake or I should go, and it was settled that I should be the one.  One of us had to stay at home to take care of the family.  So one day I came up to town to enlist and the very first man I saw in the ranks was my brother Jake.  Consequently, I never went to war.”

            Mr. Grear’s first commission as mayor of the city of Jonesboro was issued by Governor William H. Bissell and is dated April 22, 1858.

            Among the old documents we found a land grant printed on heavy parchment, issued to Charles Brown of Union County.  It is dated October 10, 1840, and bears the name of Martin Van Buren, then President of the United States.

            As may be inferred, ex-Mayor Grear is getting well along in years.  But he is well preserved, active, genial, and sociable, and we believe no man in Jonesboro takes greater pleasure in entertaining his friends.

(Jonesboro Gazette. Jonesboro, Illinois, Saturday, 10 Jan 1903)


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