3 - MARRIAGE AND THE JOURNEY TO ILLINOIS
When our school term was completed, I bought a horse and departed for Erie County within seven miles of Erie City. I arrived there after three days of tedious journey carrying all my belongings by my stead. It was Friday that I arrived at my destination. The following Wednesday I was tied up by the bonds of matrimony to a dairyman's daughter. We immediately began our wedded career upon a dairy farm which we rented upon shares. The owner furnished everything. Each was shared a half of the income of the farm.
By close application to our work, we prospered quite well for that day. We contracted most of our butter to a steamboat company at a shilling a pound. Being a friend of the Captain, we had our butter tubs returned. The Captain was also part owner of the boat.
We continued to farm here until the spring of 1851. At this time, our prosperity was only sufficient to give us a good living with no surplus to warrant us in buying a farm. Our attention was directed to Illinois by a friend, John Graham, who had been in Galena, a mining town in the western part of the territory, for about two years. He gave very glowing accounts of the country which rather discouraged us with our farming in Pennsylvania.
I had just made an excellent investment in a great Yellow Poplar tree, which had been damaged near the root, and which had been for sale for a couple of years for the sum of five dollars . Those who had examined it were afraid to risk an investment of five dollars, fearing that it was unsound. Manny Wilkin, a "made for sale" between Erie and Buffalo, who was acquainted with a bellows manufacturer who used great quantities of Yellow Poplar in his business, and it was this man who bought the lumber of my tree. It cut into twelve six foot lengths and the narrowest plank would barely fit between a wagons standards. The tree brought me just under forty gold sovereigns, or two hundred dollars . How we appreciated this amount of cash, having decided to emigrate to Illinois, this amount of money, coming almost unexpectedly, gave a good deal of encouragement.
There were four of us climbed into our wagon, the two children, my wife, and myself as we started on our long journey to the prairie region beside the great Mississippi River. Nature was spreading her green mantle over the hills and plains and the air was filled with the song and twitter of myriad's of birds. Though we were tired of farming under so many difficulties of the east, we were at the same time sorry in leaving our native land, our native state. The corn planting season was on for it was the month of May. As we passed over the quadrate roads of the swamps, the croaking of the frogs was quite deafening. The pioneers were busy out in the fields, planting corn with hewn.
We had much amusement, especially in Indiana, in helping to pull travelers out of the mud holes. I had a small link chain which had a grab hook on one end. This seemed to be a new thing in this country and was very much appreciated by those fellows who had only the old fashioned log chain. We found as many as twenty wagons stuck in the mud in one place. It was on such occasions that we were given a professional exhibition of profanity. Many were surprised that it was unnecessary for them to hook onto us to help them through the mud holes. The fact was our load was much lighter than it appeared to be and our team was one that was much coveted by the passersby.
Arriving at Freeport we were accosted, in a friendly manner, by a wide awake businessman desiring to know our place of destination. Upon being acquainted with our circumstances, he volunteered the suggestion that a few miles further on we should find a vacant house in what was known as the Porte Plain, that it would be all right to occupy the place without fear of molestation till the return of the owner, who was one of the many of the gold seekers who had gone to California from this part of the country. Fortune surely smiled upon us, the house was indeed deserted. It nestled close beside a hill that towered high above the surrounding country which lay gently undulating for many miles in every direction except west; and in that direction it was quite hilly along the streams which flowed into the Mississippi - a days travel westward. It was the landscape that gladdened the hearts of those who had wrestled with the stones, the timber in the hills of Pennsylvania, all of their lives.
The second year found us on an eighty acre farm all of which was broken. For rental, we gave the owner one-third of the crops produced. The following spring we bought an eighty-acre farm, who without a house upon it. We secured a house that was about four miles away. I advised the neighbors that we would have a bee and proceeded to get the house raised, ready to move, at the appointed time. The neighbors responded generously. Many had yokes of oxen. There were eighteen yoke of them on the job. The first stop we made was at a spring at which place we had our dinner, this was only about a mile and a half from our destination. We had the house on its foundations at four o'clock the same day. This was a performance that most of the good people of the vicinity had not seen before. Naturally it excited a good deal of interest, and there were quite a number who came to see us do the work from many miles away.
Our farm, we obtained by trading our fine sorrel mare that we had brought from Pennsylvania, which was valued at two hundred and fifty dollars, the price of the farm. That same spring we traded the other mare for a yoke of oxen, also two yearling colts for another yoke of oxen. Later we got two yoke of steers to use for the breaking of them. All of these oxen we used on a twenty-six inch break. That season we pulled thirty acres of our own eighty acres, and eighty acres for a neighbor, for which we were paid two and a half dollars per acre. The newly broken ground was not planted until fall when it was sown to wheat.
We had the misfortune of becoming involved in litigation over the thresher we had sold previous to this time. The trouble was over collections and disbursements. My partner was the treasurer and myself the collector. When it came to the final settlement, my partner held that he had paid certain notes out of his own funds - notes against the partnership, and at the same time, denied certain payments which I had made to him - though we had had a witness to the transactions; one of our help who had a share of the earnings in the excess of the stipulated amount. When it came to trial, he produced witnesses who swore falsely, and which outweighed my evidence with the judge. It turned out to be a most unfortunate partnership - it was simply a case of robbery in which I lost about a thousand dollars in the whole affair. This was the last business partnership I was ever in. We lost the farm that we had put a lot of hard work on in the year we owned it, in the preparation of it for the crops the following season.
The summer following this time, a neighbor and myself worked together in building barns in the neighborhood, in this we worked extremely hard. We cut the sills and sleepers from the timber which was about eighty rods distance. We built three barns that season the dimensions of which were 40 by 60 feet on the ground and a height of 20 to 22 posts, 22 foot posts. We found it necessary to hire considerable help while engaged in the roughest work. For the three barns we received nine hundred and sixty dollars, averaging a little less than one and a half dollars per day for each of us for the season's work. The going wage for carpenters in that part of the country then was one dollar per day with dinner furnished by the employer. Though our earnings were meager, it helped us a great deal in getting out of the lawsuit trouble.
The following winter I taught school in the district at the salary of eighteen dollars per month but without board in this case. Fortunately, I could live at home. Our school was quite a nice brick building compared to the schoolhouses I had taught in Pennsylvania. I had forty pupils, quite encouraging for this pioneering country. I was examined by the Board of Directors who certainly didn't worry me by their system of examination. The term for three months seemed mighty short to me, while needing the money so very much. The Chairman of the Board was the paymaster. The money came from Galena for disbursement for school expenses.
The next spring we bought forty acres of land for which we paid two hundred fifty dollars; one half the amount paid down, and the balance to be partly paid by carpentry work. We built our house from materials from a neighbors house, which he purchased with the farm. He wanted to move it, but when he attempted to move it, he found that it would necessitate more hard work and expense than he cared to put into it. Consequently, we got a very cheap house by reason of our neighbor's laziness.
There was an abundance of float lead in this part of the country, so during the spare time of summer we prospected for this mineral. Occasionally one would come across a packet that would yield a hundred dollars or so. Generally, it was not a very profitable use of time, however, it would bring a little cash just when it was needed most. At this time, corn was very cheap - fifteen or twenty cents per bushel being the prevailing price of that staple cereal. The price of wheat ranged from thirty to forty cents per bushel. All of this produce had to be hauled to Galena to market, a distance of twenty-five miles but with all the hard work we had, and the misfortune of the lawsuit, we rejoiced that we were in this great land of promise. We could see that success was to be had ultimately by intelligent and energetic work.