INTRODUCTORY NOTE BY J. N. GRIDLEY: Many farmers' wives are driven to insanity by overwork, the monotony the loneliness of country life. The city lady, who, with pity, and sympathy, looks out of the window of the palace car, upon the wife of a poor farmer, standing, in faded calico garments in the doorway of a cheap isolated farm house, would prefer death to the existence of the object of her commiseration. But the life of the country women of today, is certainly a better life, than that of a wife of a pioneer. The pioneer is fond of dangers, and adventure; his daring spirit is exhilarated by the chase of the deer, and the hunting of wild animals; he enjoys some degree of sociability with his comrades in the popular wild west sports of drinking liquor, gamming, fighting and running horses. But what of his wife who has left far behind, her father, mother, brother and sister, church and school privileges, to march on toward the setting sun to find a shelter in a log hut, in which she welters in summer, and chills in winter; where she is stricken in autumn, with the deadly malaria, far from medical assistance and without suitable care? Is there anything in this life, of comfort or cheer?
Thinking that a sketch of early life, written by a woman would be of much interest, I addressed a letter to my friend, Mrs. Emily Burton, asking her to become a contributor to this series of sketches. Her father, Hon. James M. Robinson, left his home in central New York in the year 1833 with his wife and baby, for the land of the Illini, with his family and household effects packed in to a wagon, drawn by oxen; passing through the wild frontier town of Chicago, he wended his way slowly over the prairies, till he reached the northwest corner of what was then Sangamon county, in the valley of the Sangamon at a point within a mile or two of the present east line of Cass county. Here he unloaded his wagon, prepared a shelter, and near by, on Clary's Creek he soon established Robinson's Mill, which soon became well known far and near, as a familiar land mark; and here his children were born and grew to manhood and womanhood. One of them, his son Charles C., who lived for more than twenty years six miles east of this city, is well and favorably remembered by a majority of our present residents.
Mrs. Burton's communication, came in the form of a letter with the request that I take therefrom the material for the construction of a sketch, but I at once decided to produce it as she had written it without alteration, being satisfied it would prove more satisfactory to the readers of these sketches, than anything I could write, from its contents.
Deshler, Neb., Feb. 1, 1906. Hon. J. N. Gridley, Virginia, Ill.
I received your letter of January in due time, and have waited for the papers containing the historical sketches before replying.
Your letter was a pleasant surprise, I assure you. Aside from the pleasure given by your kind mention of my father and my brother Charles, your name on the corner of the envelope awakened a train of delightful associations that carried me back to the "noontime and June time" of life, and even before I had finished opening your letter, I was in the beautiful country around Virginia, visiting at my brother's house, enjoying his sweet, congenial company, and that of his cheerful family, and partaking of their honey and their fruit. How long and many the years seem since I visited there and was happy! "The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." And being there, how easy to be transported to Chandlerville to the blessed haven of my father's roof, or to stroll about the hills, and dream the dreams that come but one in our three score years and ten.
In the time that has elapsed since the receipt of your letter, I have been trying to recall dates and events, and any matter that I thought would be of use to your Society. In this matter of dates and events, I hope to get some assistance from an aunt, my father's sister, and only member of his family living, who is now in the eighties, but bright and active in mind. This aunt, then young and beautiful, left civilization behind and came with her parents, who in less than a year followed their favorite son, my father, to the wild west - still supposed to be infested by Indians, rattlesnakes and panthers. This aunt, Mrs. Cyrus McDole, lives at Petersburg, in Menard county. I will also call on Mrs. Talbott, my oldest sister, and oldest of our family, who was born in Tompkins county, New York and who while yet a mere babe of scarce two years, made the journey with our parents in a two horse wagon drawn by oxen, across the wilde stretch of country between New York and Illinois.
My father and mother - what brave hearts they must have had! It seems to me that not Nogis, nor Togos, nor Oyamas could be braver - made the journey in 1833.
My father's full name was James Madison Robinson. He was the son of Ebenezer and Lucy Robinson and was born near Ithaca, Tompkins county, New York, June 14, 1809. My grandfather Ebenezer Robinson, was a thrifty farmer of unusual intelligence, who owned his home, and had surrounded himself with many conveniences. Thus my father in setting his face westward had the courage of sacrifice.
My mother was a native of the same state and county, and was born April 25, 1809, being a month and nineteen days my father's senior. She was the daughter of Joshua and Rachael Jay, and was married to my father, March 17, 1829.
Joshua Jay, my grandfather, was a cousin to the renowned John Jay, and an old family Bible records that he was born 1765 - he was, therefore a lad of ten years when the revolutionary war broke out. In that momentous year, of 1775, he was riding to mill horseback, with a sack of grain in front of him, and was overtaken by three men, also on horseback. The one in the lead was on a white horse, and was very tall and straight. He rode up to my grandfather's side, and putting one hand gently on his head, asked him his name and where he was going. "My name is Joshua Jay, and I am going to mill, sir." "You are a fine lad, and will no doubt make a fine man, good-day," and the three rode past leaving the boy behind. He learned afterward that the one on the white horse was Washington, and, that he was on his way to Boston to take command of the American forces. In the light of what Washington afterward became, my grandfather loved to tell this to his children, and they, to their grandchildren.
In making their way to central Illinois, my parents passed through a muddy, desolate looking village of only a few houses on the shore of Lake Michigan, called Fort Dearborn. Twenty years later my father went with a drove of cattle to that place and found it a city. That insignificant village had become Chicago. My father brought back gifts to his family, and while distributing them said: "Oh! Oh! If I could only have seen into the future, and stopped right there in the mud of Fort Dearborn, what might we not have enjoyed by this time?" That was in 1853. The Board of Trade had not then come into existence, "municipal ownership" was not even a myth, strikes were unheard of, traction companies, telephone companies, and trolley lines were yet to be, an automobile would have frightened men as well as horses, the great stock yards were not there, nor the evidences of many other "trusts," - or he might have expressed joy for his own sake, and for the sake of his children that he had been able to live in tranquillity, out of sight and hearing of the mad rush of "frenzied finance."
What lured them on so far south of that place I cannot recall, but they made their first halt, to stay, near the border line between the counties of Menard and Cass, a mile or so from Clary's Creek on the Sangamon river bottom. They built their first fire on the site of what was afterward the town of New Richmond, where the thick stout grass was taller than a man's head, and as the flames lit up the wild place, I have heard my mother say that my father sat down on the tongue of the wagon with hope and courage for the moment all gone, and that in cheering him she cheered himself, and they resolved to conquer the wilderness with no turning back. They had been months on the road.
About where they passed their first night, with no shelter but what the wagon gave, a rude log hut was erected with a dirt floor, and one small window that for a long time had no glass. A heavy quilt served many weeks for a door shelter. The logs to build the cabin were cut from the trees along the Sangamon river. The water and the timber of that river decided the location of the cabin, for the river water was all they had to use at first. Afterward a spring was found that gave a purer supply. In this cabin not many weeks after their arrival, their first son was born. Dr. Chandler, of Chandlerville, was in attendance on my mother during this trial of strength and courage, and in gratitude for his great kindness, my brother was named Charles Chandler. And for thirty-five years Dr. Chandler was not only our family physician, but a highly respected and beloved friend. He was known and sent for far and wide, and his kindness, manliness, and integrity no doubt, won for him the same reverence in many homes that he held in ours.
May 16, 1835, my father entered 40 acres of land in the western part of Menard county. This was two or three miles east of New Richmond, and was divided almost diagonally by Clary's Creek. September 9th, of the following year he bought 40 acres of David Atterberry. This forty joined the other on the north and was almost wholly on the right, or east bank of the creek as it ran at that place. In the northwest corner of this forty, and on the right bank of the creek, Robinson's mills, saw mill and grist mill were built, in 1836. The next year, 1837, he bought the 40 acres joining this on the west, so that he had 120 acres in one body. In 1839 he bought another 40, but it was in the section south of him, and in the southeast part of the section. This made him the owner of 160 acres of rich land.
In those days the "timber" hugged the streams closely, and to be away from creek or river was to be in the prairie grass, or on the bald bluff. The growth of trees on the bluffs, whose shade and nuts were such comfort and delight to us children, was nearly all after my parents came. The bluffs were bare, or showing only patches of low brush when they first saw them, and nothing was more of a marvel to them than this growth of trees. They often spoke of it, and told us how the country looked when they first saw it. All one wilderness of grass, and so full of danger from fires in the late summer and autumn that "fire guards" were as necessary to safety as the fire department of a city. Often and often they told us of the wonderful prairie fires that spared nothing, man nor beast, nor young tree in their track. Many a time my father helped fight fire to save a neighbor's grain, or hay, or stock, till he was as black as smoke and soot could make him. Wood and water, the first settlers were obliged to have, and this is why the land along the creek and river bottoms was entered, and turned into homes, before the fine grain lands, that proved such a source of wealth to those who came later. But my father looked with a miller's eye, and would have searched for water to turn his wheels had he come late or early.
About a quarter of a mile from the mill, and east, at the foot of the hills that were mountains to our child eyes, my father reared a double log house, roomy and by comparison with other homes around it, comfortable. It had a wide fireplace and an "up stairs." I have a distinct memory of it. There was a neat cave that served for a cellar, a good well with an old-fashioned sweep, and an orchard on the slope of the hill, whose Jennetings, bell flowers and "little Romanites" helped with nuts to brighten winter evenings.
Here my father and mother passed some of their best days. Here six children were born to them, and here they wept over the little girl that died. Hardship and toil there had to be, and privation. But they had the joy of liberty. There was no exacting sweat-house master over them. Their children had the hills and streams and birds and flowers, and all the wonder and beauty of the change of season in such places. the pawpaw leaves along the creek bottom still glow for me in October sunshine; the mulberries, the wild plums, crabs, and hawthorn blossoms, shed their fragrance and bear fruit for me. Still do I taste the nuts - hazel nuts, hickory nuts, big and little, butternuts, walnuts, chinkapins and pecans - and keep in mind the smooth and peculiarly shaped stone that was used instead of a hammer to crack them with, and the place where they were thrown in piles to dry awhile before being stored away for the winter. We children ranged the hills and slopes for hazel nuts, but my father made a business every fall of going with the "big wagon" for hickory nuts and pecans. For the finest big hickory nuts and pecans, he went to a place on the Sangamon called the "Big Bottom." When we went there, we took our dinners and stayed all day. How delightful to have our father with us, helping to gather the nuts! Often if the day was chilly he would build a rousing fire of leaves and sticks for our delight, taking care always that no damage was done. I have come to think that children who grow up without the joy of gathering nuts and wild flowers, grow up deprived. I would not exchange the picture memory draws for any however famous painting by the great masters.
My parents, like their neighbors, kept their flock of geese and their flock of sheep. The geese had their yearly or more frequent pickings, when pillows and feather beds were added to; and often one or two of their number; roasted before the fire in the fireplace, contributed to the cheer of Christmas and other holidays. the sheep were driven to Clary's Creek and given a good washing before the yearly shearing; and the wool cut from their backs with such dreadful looking shears, was tied up in large sacks or old sheets and stored away wherever room could be found for it, till wool picking day. And wool picking day was quite a "function." Between it and one of Mrs. Bradley Martin's "functions," there is all the difference between pioneer life and a society grown corpulent with wealth, and hard put for a new amusement. On wool picking day the neighbor women and children, who had been invited, gathered in and arranged themselves in a circle around a large pile of wool that occupied the center of the room, and each one helping himself to a portion, picked burrs, sticks and trash out of it, till it looked clean and fluffy, and then tossed it on to a sheet spread out for that purpose. In due time a good dinner, and perhaps a good supper too, rewarded the pickers, for let us not for a moment imagine that people did not have good dinners in those days. Nice light bread, luscious "corn pone," potatoes, cabbage, beans, peas in their season, meats nicely browned, mince pies, pumpkin pies and fruit sauces of various kind, from fresh fruits in summer and dried fruits in winter, were to be found on the tables of the thrifty country folks; and for such occasions as wool picking many dainties were prepared, such as pound cake preserves and puddings.
The picking was only the beginning of work on the wool. The next task was to card it into rolls. this was nice work that not every woman was skilled in, but one way or another every family managed to do its own carding. Next came the spinning and winding into skeins, and this work of spinning usually fell to the girls or young ladies of the family. Girls may be happier now with their music practice, their Battenburg and golf, but they were very happy then. Being one of the younger members of the family, all work of this kind was taken out of the home before I was old enough to be useful, but I remember how pleasant the buzz of the wheel was to me as I watched my sisters in their tidy dresses hold roll to the spindle, give the wheel a touch with their wheel pin, walk backward as far as they could and keep the wheel going, then forward again to wind up the thread, perhaps singing, or reciting some poem all the while. I had a great desire to be able to turn a roll into thread, but I was born too late. After the yard was in the skein, came the coloring, and what discoveries in chemistry women made over their "bluedye" kettles, and in their experimenting to get madder, and copperas shades. If I remember right, I think they got green, by steeping peach tree leaves and mixing the liquid with the blue dye. Next came the weaving; and gave forth flannels and linseys, and jeans of two colors, sheep's gray and blue, all of which had to be cut into garments for men, women and children, each seam sewed by hand, many of them back-stitched and pressed, and much of the sewing done by candles or a grease lamp.
The changes that have taken place since then surpass the tales of the "Arabian Nights." We press a button and machinery is set in motion, that obeys every wish, performs labors that might puzzle the "slaves of the ring or lamp," relieves both men and women of drudgery, lights our dwellings, annihilates distance and enables us to talk with friends on the other side of the earth. No fairy tale can equal it. Women "back-stitch" no more. The sewing machine is a common household utensil, and above it is a gas jet or an electric light that turns night into day. Chemists get all the colors of the rainbow from coal tar and blue dye and madder tints as obtained then seem to belong to a rude age.
My father kept sheep for several years after the work of converting the wool into cloth had ceased to be a household industry. He sheared the sheep and sent the wool to Bale's Mill at Petersburg, to be exchanged for pretty "pressed flannels" that went far toward making the family elegant as well as comfortable. Well do I remember the first "pressed flannel" my father brought home from the mill at Petersburg. One "bolt" was green and the other black. The green was too pretty to go round - each one wanted some garment from it - and my school dress had to be made of the black, but my father said it was pretty and I was not unhappy.
Robinson's Mills became famous. People came from far and near with grists to be ground and logs to be sawed. They came from fifty and seventy-five miles away. My father worked day and night. There was always too much waiting for the mill to rest. And the poor miller! God bless him, with his powdery curls and his sweet reasonable temper. He certainly had a pleasant way with him, and men called him "Jimmy" as if from real affection.
It was often into the small hours of the night before he could leave the mill, and because of this my mother kept the house as quiet as possible in the mornings, and never allowed him to be awakened until just in time to eat his breakfast. One night when he was at the mill watching the hopper, and being wearier than usual had grown a little drowsy - a great many wagon loads of grinding had come that day and he had helped carry the bags up the steps - he heard a strange moaning sound that did not come from an empty hopper nor from any piston rods, cogs or belts. He heard it more than once and turning his eyes in the direction of the sound saw two figures draped in sheets coming stealthily up the mill stairs. They looked very tall and were disguised by dough faces. My father seized a large iron bar, of use about the mill, and made for them with it lifted to strike. My father was a strong athletic man of good size. The two figures tore off their dough faces, flung the sheets to the floor, and revealed two young fellows that my father knew well and who were often about the mill, one of them Amos Ogden, the name of the other I cannot recall certainly, but think it was Amos Garner, who afterward became a Methodist exhorter and preacher. They begged "like good fellows," and said they were only in for some fun. My father advised them not to indulge in that kind of fun any more, as they had found out how dangerous it might prove. They were glad to be let off so easy for they had seldom seen my father roused to anger as he was then.
Later on my father was so fortunate as to find a trusty Scotchman, named Steven Burrill, who relieved him of part of this night work at the mill. Then his evenings were given to reading; he read much aloud to his family, and of the best. He was fond of a good story and wept over the pathetic parts in a way that made it very real to his listeners. I may as well say here that he had some of the classics, both in history and in poetry on his book shelf, and pored over them often, dividing his enjoyment of them with his family. Among the poets were Shakespeare, Burns, Pope, Cowper, Milton, and a beautifully bound volume of selections from poets of New England. This volume contained many favorites with us children, among them I remember "Fannie Willoughby" (author forgotten), Marco Bozaris by Halleck, Bryant's "Melancholy Days" and others. My mother early encouraged us to memorize beautiful poems. She was very fond of Cowper and I early learned to love "The Task", reading with her. And many times did we children laugh with our parents over "John Gilpin's Ride." Among the historians he had Rollins, Josephus, Plutarch's Lives, and a cyclopedic history of noted Greeks and Romans, with pictures from which we younger children gleaned more than from Plutarch's Lives. He had also "Dick's Works," Olmsted's "Letters on Astronomy," Abbott's "Napoleon" and other works that I cannot remember. Brother Seth and I read Abbott's "Napoleon" when we were very young, and I was never able to quite overcome the bias it gave me in favor of Napoleon. My father took Harper's Monthly from the very first number published till his home was broken up in 1865. he took the Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Ledger before its degenerate days. When George D. Prentiss had a column in it, and "Fanny Fern" wrote her spicy articles for it - articles, I believe, that went as far toward rousing women, and men also, to the true dignity of womanhood, the sacredness of motherhood, and the justness of freedom for the mistress, as well as for the master of the home, as did the deeper reasoning and greater eloquence of Susan B. Anthony and Mrs. Stanton; because her words reached many a home in which Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton were strangers. The two Cobbs, Sylvanus senior and Sylvanus junior, Emerson Bennett and Mrs. Emma D. E. N. Southworth wrote for these two papers. The two Cobbs and Emerson Bennett have passed to oblivion; we would search for them in vain in book catalogues. Mrs. Southworth is still writing, or was at least until very recently, and is widely read and known; but critics do not giver her a high place. Yet by reading the Cobbs I learned to hate religious intolerance, and religious hypocrisy. With Emerson Bennett I roamed the forest, learned the ways of Indians, their trickery and their faithfulness, their courage and their wariness, and fostered a love for the romantic that has sweetened life all along the way. By reading Mrs. Southworth I learned more of Southern life in slavery times than I could have got by reading and history. Some of her stories give far truer pictures than "Uncle Tom's Cabin." the negroes as a rule sang at their work, danced at night and were happy. They did not realize their state till taught by the white man. At any rate her glimpses of Southern life are pleasant and were enjoyed by our whole family. My father thought the Saturday Evening Post one of the best newspapers in the land, and I can remember after I was ten years old having often a playful squabble with him as to which one of us should be first to open it.
My mother was just as fond of reading as my father, and he always read aloud at night while she sewed or mended, unless interrupted by company, or some other unusual event. In this way we children were taught to be quiet and attentive. Often after supper while my mother was busy at the housework he would have a little game with us children, "Blind Man's Bluff" or "Puss Wants a Corner," romping and running as boisterous as any of us; but when my mother was ready to sit down, we were delighted to be still and listen. When my brother Charles was old enough, my father delegated much of the reading to him, and often required one of my older sisters to take the book and rest him.
All this reading and pleasant family life was round a wide open fire-place, with andirons to hold up a good stout fore stick, and generous room for a huge back log and a plentiful supply of smaller wood between back log and fore stick, that cracked and blazed and gave forth light and cheer that steam heated houses can never know. Two grease lamps supplied the light to read and sew by, and every morning those lamps had to be cleaned with nice care. My mother was very particular. Every family that did not borrow of their neighbors had candle molds in those days, and molded their own candles from beef tallow. Pretty brass candlesticks and snuffers ornamented the mantles in many homes. But it took much polishing, I remember, to keep the brass shining. In our home the candles were used mostly "to run around" with, or to help out a lamp when extra light was needed.
Not often did an evening close round my father's hearth without a collation of nuts and apples, and now and then a treat of "layer raisins." He was very fond of them and bought them by the box. They were always passed around in the box, so as not to disturb more than were eaten. That was before the age of "shoddy" and "graft" set in, and the bottom of the box was where it should be - so very different from strawberry boxes of the present day - and the last layer of raisins was as firm as the first.
My parents had neighbors - neighbors without stint it seems to me; I can remember the names of many of them. the Lynns, the Hickeys, the Ismaels, the Dicks, the McHenrys, the Lounsberrys, the Ogdens, the Jones', the Watkins', the Overstreets, the Armstrongs, were all my father's neighbors, with whom he exchanged kindnesses and with whom he met at times in a social way. My parents were both socially inclined, and took moderate part in apple bees, quiltings, house or barn raisings, dances, picnics, or whatever brought the people together, except horse racing. This my parents disapproved, the more especially as it was usually accompanied by whiskey drinking and betting. My mother was bitterly intolerant of drunkenness. For the man under the influence of alcohol she had neither pity nor kindness. My father while using his influence against it by example as well as by works, was more patient, and looked upon the drinking man as more victim than aggressor.
Camp meetings were a kind of social gathering in those days and took place about once a year, in the early autumn, bringing more people together than perhaps any one cause. But my parents thought the religious fervor roused by the preacher's words and the singing in the center of the crowd, more than off set by the rowdyism on the outskirts, and if they attended these meetings it was more to study human nature than to take part, or encourage them.
Most of the preaching at that time was done by "circuit riders," preachers, whose regular charge was in some town, but whose duty it was to devote certain Sabbaths to the people of the surrounding country; and it was not unusual for the speaker to announce at the close of the sermon that there would be meeting at the same place the following Sabbath, when some brother in the audience, perhaps, would address them. this brother, not an ordained preacher, was called an "exhorter." some of these, both circuit riders and exhorters, were sharp-witted and ready enough of tongue, and with these my father loved to have a bout at argument, "to try their metal and see how much they knew," he used to tell my mother when she chided him. He seldom failed to go to hear a good talker, of whatever denomination, but never let a chance slip to joke a Methodist preacher about his fondness for "yellow legged chickens." These meetings were held in schoolhouses, or out of doors in the shade of trees. Well do I remember, during what was called a "revival," the passionate appeal to sinners, made by preachers, exhorters, and brothers in the church, to come forward to the mourner's bench and be saved, thus escaping outer darkness, and everlasting hell fire; and I recall my childish wonder at seeing men and women, some of them no longer young, rise and go forward, and kneel - some of them quietly, some of them sobbing; and then my childish terror at seeing first one and then another start up, shouting and lifting their hands, calling on the Lord to come right then and save them, or falling over prone upon the ground, utterly overcome.
Peter Cartwright was a preacher and circuit rider of great fame in those days, and more than once must have come near enough to Robinson's Mills for my father and family to go and hear him. But it was after we had left there and were living at Bath that I remember seeing and hearing him. As I recall him a gray-haired man, not tall, but well built, with good chest and shoulders, a fine head, with a keen eye and a square jaw. He had that ease of manner that comes to the man, who being round has found that round niche or hole that fits him - in other words, the masterful manner that comes with long practice crowned by success in a chosen work. His sermon was gloomy, an arraignment of the infidel, and disappointed me, as I was expecting something bright and witty, of both of which I new he was capable, knew it from what I had heard of him.
No and then my father invited the preacher home with him to dinner and took pleasure in entertaining him, though he was not a member of any church, nor was my mother. They were not bound to any creed, but held that the Universalist has the most rational belief.
The dances of those days were not such rude attempts at pleasure and sociability as one might be led to think. For there were certainly good fiddlers and callers then, that a later time has not surpassed. "Fiddler John Jones" was almost as far famed for his music and good calling as preacher Cartwright for his oratory. He was head musician at the "balls" in Petersburg and other towns; and in the country around, wherever young people were assembled to "trip the light fantastic toe" "Fiddler Jones" was in demand, though on account of the many calls on his skill and time, he could not always respond. He had a voice, that without being loud, penetrated every part of a ball room; his enunciation was distinct, and his time perfect, so that the dancers seldom made a mistake, and he knew so many changes that they did not tire, and too often did not "go home till morning." My oldest sister, Evalyn, now Mrs. Talbott, was just blooming into young ladyhood, and was one of the belles of the county when "Fiddler Jones" was so popular. She wrote to an aunt - I wish I could state in what year, but it must have been in 1845 or ‘46 - "I went to dancing school last winter, and old Bell died last summer." "Old Bell" was a favorite cow. this dancing school was conducted in a schoolhouse, and Mrs. Talbott thinks young people have seldom had such a skillful teacher, or such entrancing music to practice by. My father thought dancing in moderation excellent for young people; it was one of the best means, he said, of acquiring physical grace, and of imparting ease of manner. And he thought it good even for the elderly, keeping the muscles supple, and the heart young. He was very fond of the Opa reel, and took pleasure in guiding unsophisticated youngsters through its mazy delights. I have danced in the same set with my father, and not one of his children but could say the same.
This memory of him in the dance with us, and entering into the spirit of it with the zest of youth, so far from detracting from his dignity as a father, fills my heart with loving gratitude for the sweet sympathy that doubled our joys by sharing them. As I think of him, my father would have been a parent to satisfy, almost, the ideal of Froebel, the founder of the kindergarten, whose wisdom the world is just beginning to comprehend. As I see him with us in our play, once more I must say, "God bless him."
Equally did he sympathize with us in our tasks. he heard us read and spell and questioned us on all our lessons. Often he took the spelling book, "Webster's Elementary," and pronounced words for us to spell till my mother would declare that he was wearing us out. But we had wonderful staying powers in such exercises and could hold our own with him, spelling as long as he could "give out." He had no patience with careless spelling and expected us to learn the "hard pages" as well as the easy ones; and we did. He had his reward; we were a family of good spellers. Ptyalin, phthisic, tyranny, mortgage, physic were just as easy as grease, fleece, tare, fair, stare, requiring no more strain on the attention. Owing to this practice and the love of it, our mates and their parents sometimes thought we got more than our share of head marks and other school honors, and on our account one teacher, a Mr. Walker, was confronted by the school board one afternoon, just about spelling time, and accused of partiality to the "Robinson children," and told that he would better give up his job. Many of the children were frightened, I among them, and very glad that I could shrink close to my older sister, Lucy, and be soothed by her. this was in the McHenry schoolhouse, and the chairman of the board which came that day, was Murrill McHenry. Mr. walker resigned his office of teacher, then and there, and the next day came to my father's house to tell us children good bye. We were fond of him and for us younger ones it was a tearful farewell. As a parting gift he gave me a Mcguffey's first reader. How happy I was and grateful! How well I remember the little green-backed book, crisp and clean and new. Pretty it was, with pictures illustrating the lessons, and with all the strides in book-making for children, some of them beautiful, almost ideal, that little book is not greatly surpassed. So far I had never been put to reading, not a line, but I could spell metheglin, cinnamon, incomprehensibility and so on, and pronounce each syllable and group of syllables as I spelled, and when that dear teacher was gone I sat down in a little splint-bottomed chair, before the fireplace, and read the first lessons of the little book aloud, delighting and surprising my hearers almost as much as myself. I can still repeat some of the lessons. Did my father have to look at that book and enjoy it with me when he came; Ah! sweet the memory of his interest in it, his real enjoyment of it. We never attended school in that school house district again. When we went to school again it was at the Kendall schoolhouse, about a mile and a quarter northeast of our home. My father was not strict with his children. He was always willing to reason with us, ready to compromise if need be, and seldom opposed us in our little plans for work or pleasure, unless he could show good cause; but there were two rules that he did not want infringed upon - when school time came we had to be ready to start; when we came home we were to tell no "tales." Neither of which seemed "rules" to us. It was our delight to go to school, and save one we never had a teacher that we did not love and honor with all our hearts, consequently what we had to tell was not "tales" and could be listened to. "Tales" interpreted, meant fault finding. My father believed those children who were allowed to stay out of school of their own accord, or who were kept at home to work, greatly wronged, and was in favor of a compulsory school law. He impressed upon us constantly the necessity for diligence in study, and the bad consequences to ourselves and even to others, if we wasted our precious school days. Nothing gratified him more than to know we had deserved the teacher's praise. He used all his influence for good schools and urged the need of making generous contributions for that purpose. He encouraged us to never mind the weather, and we didn't. We enjoyed rain and shine, snow and sleet, and with it all we enjoyed the contents of our dinner basket.
Here I am reminded of the Davidson family and the Holland family, who were neighbors of my father, but whose names I failed to include in the list. It is a pleasure to recall them. Robert Davidson and wife were excellent people, notwithstanding the fact that "Uncle bobby," as he was called, was accused of being too strict on Sunday to be consistent with his week day conduct; too strict, it was said, to allow his two little orphan granddaughters to whistle or play with dolls, or even walk about the yard. Whether justly accused or not, he raised a family to be proud of. There was a son, Robert, and two daughters, Margaret and Mary. Margaret taught the Kendall school, to which we were transferred. She was a young woman of sterling worth, commanding figure, bright, witty and of pleasing manners - she had almost every quality that goes to make the good teacher. Mary, a tall, shy, studious, conscientious girl, was beloved by the little scholars, because she helped them with their lessons and took much charge of them, protecting them against the rude and thoughtless ones. Robert was a fine young man. he kept a store at Robinson's Mills, after it had been laid out in town lots, and a post office established there; both of which events took place after my father had left the Mills. Before this our post office was Petersburg, ten miles away. This store was kept in a room that had been used by Egbert Buckley as a carpenter shop. In this store I made my first purchase. I bought a pair of "side combs", choosing them myself. Robert told my mother that I picked the best pair in the show case. Instead of making me proud, this mortified me. I thought I had been guilty of bad manners, in choosing the best ones. The Davidsons moved to Monmouth, Warren county, Ill. Margaret had married a Mr. Sterret, also a teacher, and they and Margaret's sister Mary became teachers of the highest position in the Monmouth schools, and afterward in the college at Galesburg, Ill. To me, Margaret Davidson is a name denoting dignity and worth.
To the Kendall school came the children of Henry Holland and wife, three sons and three daughters. The parents were highly respected by my father and mother, and the children, especially the daughters, were much beloved, and almost as free in our home as in their own. All of them grew up to be well respected men and women, and some of them very prosperous. They were our playmates.
The Kendall schoolhouse was a type of the school architecture of that time. It was built of logs, and the chinks between the logs rudely stopped with clay. The seats were benches without backs that reached the length or width of the room, and were made of heavy slabs with holes bored in each end for legs, that protruded more or less above the top of the seat. A wide board that like the benches reached the length of the room, was fixed up against the wall at what was considered the right height, and with the proper slant, and here on one of the long benches, managing as best they could to get feet and legs over it, and under the slanting board, the pupils sat to write. They wrote with quill pens, and the teacher's patience as well as the metal and condition of his penknife were often greatly tried in keeping these pens in order. In my memory of this schoolhouse it is always summer, the door is wide open, the floor is clean swept, the walls hung with blossomed boughs of dogwood, wild cherry, crab apple and hawthorn, and sprays of glistening oak and sassafras. And O, that sassafras! For what did it not serve? Its green and brittle shoots were bonbons, its buds were spice of the most agreeable flavor, its young leaves were food, its bark was chewing gum, and its roots surpassed young Hyson or gunpowder! What need of sandalwood or spices from the orient?
The girls in pairs took turns in sweeping a floor, and were allowed unrestricted freedom in adorning the walls with boughs while all vied with one another in beautifying the teacher's desk or table with violets, sweet williams, hawk's bills, lady slippers, Dutchman's breeches, ferns, and bluebells. As it is always summer, so it is always afternoon, and the scholars with faces washed clean at the "branch," and hair made smooth with "side combs" after boisterous play, are swaying to and fro on the high benches absorbed in their spelling lessons. Two freckle faced boys, John and Alvin Harman - how well I remember them - are on the floor reciting their "a, b, abs." "B-ah, a-ah, b a-ah; c-ah, a-ah, c a-ah; d ah, a-ah, d a-ah." The sound is monotonous, the soft, cool air scented with flowers is irresistible, and one little girl goes fast asleep and drops her spelling book. Startled by the sound, she gathers it up hastily, receives the teacher's chiding meekly, and with a shame-faced air proceeds to study her lesson. There were long rows of spelling classes, and much strife in getting head marks; emulation in reading, and in quickness at answering mental Arithmetic problems. Outside there were joys without number; the brook, or "branch" from which we constantly chose a new set of "jackstones," game of the five mystic pebbles; the trees - oak, elm, hickory, red bud, paw paw, sycamore, maple, hackberry, willow - all dear to the children, their very names beloved; the teeter board in the fork of the great oak, so near the schoolhouse that its branches shaded the roof, the play houses, with the corners of rooms marked by the position of young trees or saplings, with stump or log for table, and carpeted with leaves gathered by the boys and sewed together with Spanish needles - a bearded grass that grew in the moist glades; with drinking cups and bowls fashioned also out of leaves, and held in shape by Spanish needles. There are school houses now from Maine to California, every two miles, of wood, or brick, or stone, painted, well lighted, with varnished desks, and seats made according to hygenic rules; and supplied with Courses of Study and other aids for the teacher; and for the children, with books so beautifully illustrated and printed, with matter so appropriate and well chosen, that they are almost a marvel of perfection; but who can doubt that a schoolhouse situated as the one described, however rudely built, where children may learn of trees and running brooks, and of all creatures that do inhabit them - squirrels, birds, bees, flowers, vines, and even toads, frogs, and snakes - who can doubt that such a schoolhouse is a true seat of learning, in some respects, surpassing in far off good results, many a trig brick structure of the present day, whose imposing front looks from some bare, windy hill near its fostering town.
For half, yes one-third the millions that are appropriated by governments for a "big navy" the grounds about every schoolhouse could be made into little parks, beautified with trees, gardens, beds of flowers, and even artificial brooks and lakes - with every charm for children, thereby fostering influences that would lead toward that universal peace men talk of in high flown words, whose meaning is drowned by the clang of the hammer that is fashioning, by their sanction, the latest and most formidable warship yet devised.
My mother was equally interested with my father in all matters of culture and education; and was not behind him in requiring of us strict attention to duty, and in reminding us that the reward is to the diligent. She quoted from franklin's sayings, and from the proverbs of the Bible often, that she might inspire us to greater effort. Sweet the memory of my mother, and I find no higher reason, no more convincing argument - reason and argument unanswerable - for the advancement of woman, for perfect freedom for her as for man, than his memory of my mother.
As for roads when my father came to Illinois, there were none. The traveler took his bearings from the sun and the course of streams, and struck out with only his courage and common sense to guide him. When he came to sloughs, he clucked up, went in and trusted to luck not to get mired down. When creeks crossed his path, there were no bridges, and he found the shallowest looking place he could, and plunged in, hoping to escape quicksands and drowning, and come out safe on the other side. If his hope was realized he found the same place when crossing again; and others seeing his tracks followed where they led. Such a crossing was called a "ford", and was named for the nearest inhabitant sometimes for the nearest town. One man followed the other's track, and gradually the safest, smoothest route for wheels, and the shallowest, most gravelly fords were found. There was no "marked" roads, and no bridges to speak of, except near the towns, as late as 1860. When rivers impeded the way, a rude ferry boat, with a man unambitious enough to attend to it, carried people over. But often the traveler had to spend a quarter of an hour or more, hallowing the ferryman to his post of duty. Unambitious though the ferryman was, he had to keep up a pretty good fight part of the year with mosquitoes and malaria. After the prairie sod was broken up and converted into cornfields and wheatfields, and fences built around men's farms, teams could no longer "pick their way," but were confined to the lanes, and often had a long hard pull for three or four miles at a stretch through mud, deep enough to test the singletrees, and tugs, and even today good roads in Illinois and most other states are still in the future - at present reflecting the poverty of road districts, townships and counties, and the indifference of the state, or national government.
My father took great interest in public questions, and I can not remember when free trade and tariff, free soil and slavery were not discussed in our home. My earliest recollection is of the talk of the Mexican war. The battle was over but the disturbance it caused had not quieted down. The military spirit still rules and "training days" were set apart, when men donned uniforms and shouldered muskets for drill in marching and handling arms. My father had no musket, and took no part in this practice, but his brother-in-law, Seth Buckley was a "train band captain," and had a sword and musket with bayonet; and his uniform with "gold" buttons and epaulettes, was both gorgeous and fearful to our childish eyes.
My father read The Federalist, and admired the arguments in favor of the adoption of the constitution. My uncle, Seth Buckley, admired Jefferson's criticisms of the constitution, and his plea for state rights, and partook of his fears of a centralized government. Seth Buckley married my father's sister, Caroline, and lived in the house that was afterward owned and occupied by John Bonnet at Robinson's Mills. It was but a few steps from my father's house, and the two families read the same books and newspapers, and discussed them together. Seth Buckley was a democrat, my father a whig, but their affections for each other was something out of the common, and is pleasant to remember. My mother and all the family shared in this affection, and when a second son was born to my parents he was named Seth in honor of this uncle. Mr. Buckley left Robinson Mills about the time my father died and moved onto a farm five miles northwest of Petersburg, near which the town of Atterberry has since been built. Here he died while yet a young man, and my aunt after a widowhood of eight years was married to Cyrus McDole. Mr. and Mrs. McDole lived on the farm for many years and prospered well, but as old age approached they left it to younger hands, and are now passing the pleasant days of a well earned leisure in their beautiful home at Petersburg.
As has already been stated in the beginning of this sketch, my father's parents, with what family they still had under their care, followed him to Illinois in less than a year. This family consisted of three daughters, Eliza, Harriett and Caroline, and one son, Joel. A married son, Daniel, came also with his young wife. My father had one other brother, Charles. He was a well-to-do lumber merchant at Ithaca, New York. He was not tempted to try the West till several years later when he went to Saginaw, Michigan. My grandmother Robinson died within a few years after coming to Illinois, and my grandfather married a Mrs. Ogden, a widow a few years younger than himself, as second wife. When I first knew my grandfather he was a cripple from paralysis, and could not walk even with crutches, without a hand to steady him. He was a reader and a thinker, and at times took pleasure in putting his thoughts on paper. After the stroke that bound him to his easy chair, a prisoner, his chief solace was in books.
he had the Bible at his tongue's end, and could quote an apt verse from any part of it to strengthen his own position or, weaken that of an opponent in an argument. He had a large, fine head, and was a handsome cheerful old man. Once on being introduced to the young schoolmaster of our district, named Joseph Craig, who was a favorite with all his scholars, and a good looking, unpretending sensible young man, my grandfather noticed that he had a small head, and his first words were, "Little head, little wit." Young Craig, not in the least disconcerted, answered readily, "Big head, not a bit." My grandfather was so pleased with the answer that he laughed heartily and extended his hand for a warm shake, and was ever after the firm friend of the young man. Our step-grandmother was beloved by us children - for us, the "step" had no meaning. Her love for my grandfather, her patience with his ailments, her untiring devotion during his years of helplessness endeared her to my parents, and at my grandfather's death, in 1853, she was welcomed to our home, loved and petted, and made happy by the little attentions that children with willing feet and hands can give. She had children of her own and spent part of her time with them, but she was sure of her welcome in my father's house when she chose to come.
After my mother's death, my aunt Caroline, who was the "youngest and the dearest," of the family, lived with my parents until her marriage. The two other sisters, both fond of books and study, taught school and were self-supporting, intelligent young women. After they were married, Eliza to Horatio Purdy, and Harriet to John Norris, they lived on farms near my father.
My father's brother, Joel, studied law, and to help himself through the long wait that the law entails before granting any measures of success to its votaries, he also taught school. He was teaching in Sharpsburg, Bath county, Kentucky, in 1842, or perhaps a year later, when having incurred the enmity of one of the young men of his school, by administering some punishment, he was waylaid by him as he was leaving the schoolhouse that night and killed. The young man had been dismissed with the rest but instead of going home he skulked near the schoolhouse, and as my uncle, after locking the door, passed around the corner of the building, he struck him a death blow with a heavy stick. The young man was brought to trial, but he was the son of wealthy parents and was cleared. My uncle left a wife and one child.
My uncle Daniel Robinson lived near my father on a farm that bordered on Clary's Creek. He became subject to periods of insanity while yet in his prime, and these periods coming on more and more frequently, his condition became so serious that he was sent to the asylum for the insane at Jacksonville, Illinois, but he received no benefit, his case was a helpless one. For several years before he died he became harmless and at times seemed rational, talking of the past as if he remembered. He was grateful for the liberty to come and go, and was a pathetic figure at our fireside, at his son's, or at his sister's. For many years my father gave his brother and his family what care and help he could.
So far as I know the children and grandchildren of my Uncle Daniel are prospering well. Thus it will be seen that my father in his western home, was not long without the cheer, the strength, the joy, and the demands for sympathy, that spring from the ties of kindred. But outside the pale of kindred my father was in deep sympathy with men, and formed strong and lasting friendships with many with whom he came in contact. He was never indifferent to his neighbors' ills, and if he could lighten a man's trouble or help him out of a strait, he was pron to do so, often to his own hurt; for by rendering financial aid he was obliged to pay more than one "security debt." Judging, as a child may judge a parent, the most beautiful trait in my father's character was this sympathy with man, this willingness to hearken to a man's trouble, this readiness to try to make his neighbor as happy as himself.
My father took his turn at being school director, and did what he could for better schools, and more worthy teachers. In 1844, he was justice of the peace for Menard county; whether he held the office for more than one term, I do not know, but the title of "squire" hung to him for several years.
In 1846, while still at the Mills my father was elected to the Illinois state legislature as representative from Menard county. While at Springfield, he formed not only an acquaintance but a friendship, with Abraham Lincoln, Judge Logan and other prominent men. He had a warm admiration for Lincoln, and never tired of telling of his wonderful gift of "seeing right through a man," and of his equally wonderful gift of getting the best of his opponent in an argument. My father loved to repeat incidents and stories that he had heard Lincoln relate, and as this was before Lincoln had been thought of for senator, or dreamed of for president, my father must be credited with some degree of discernment - he saw the greatness of the man. He was present in Springfield once when Douglass was holding a conference with his political friends. The Lincoln and Douglas debates had been arranged, and someone asked Douglass if he had agreed to debate the questions of the day in public with Lincoln, rather holding out the idea that his triumph over Lincoln would be an easy one. Douglas replied that he had so agreed, and added "Gentlemen, I would rather meet any other man." In 1858, when Lincoln was making the run for senator against Douglass, he spoke to a crowd in the open air in a grove of black jack oaks, just outside the town of Bath in Mason county. My father was living in Bath at that time, and he took his family to hear him. "He is a great and good man," he said. Mr. Lincoln's subject was the Irrepressible Conflict, the Sophistry of Squatter Sovereignty, and the dangers attendant upon a "House Divided Against Itself." After the speaking there were introductions and hand shakings, and my father presented my mother and us children, and Mr. Lincoln walked back into the town with us, conversing as he went on the political situation. But even he, perhaps, did not realize how fast the cloud of war was rising.
My parents were acquainted with Jack and Hannah Armstrong, whose son, Duff Armstrong, was cleared of the charge of murder by Lincoln, when he was a practicing lawyer in Menard county. They lived in Mason county, just across the border line of Menard, near the mouth of Salt Creek, thus their home was not many miles from ours, but there was never any intercourse between the two families. Hannah Armstrong was a bright, fine looking woman, deserving of better things than fell to her lot, and those who knew her rejoiced for her sake when her son was cleared, that if either must be infringed upon, it would better be justice than mercy.
In 1848, or it may be earlier than this, while they were still living at Robinson's Mills, my father made a visit to New York. He did not go alone, he took my mother with him. The visit meant more to her than to him - all her kindred lived there. What they said of the journey back and forth I can not recall, but know that the visit tended to convince my father that he had made no mistake in coming to Illinois.
The following year, 1849, he bought a farm on Sangamon river bottom and sold out his interest in land and mills at Robinson's Mills. Not being able to get possession that spring and being obliged to give possession, he moved to a rented farm about three miles northwest of Petersburg, where we lived neighbors to David Panteer, James Berry and McGrady Rutledge, father of Ann Rutledge, for whom Abraham Lincoln is said to have cherished so deep and noble a passion. I remember that my father held McGrady Rutledge in high esteem, and knew there was an Ann Rutledge, but whether she was dark or fair, tall and stately or petite, I am unable to recall. When reading Miss Tarbell's Life of Lincoln, I was surprised to learn that I had once lived so near to one whom he had admired and loved. Not to be able to recall her seemed a lost opportunity and still seems so. I recall much more readily the fine strip of woods in which the schoolhouse was situated, and the grapevine swing that caused a shock to many a youngster's nervous organization as he realized the awful height to which he had been sent by some of the good-natured "big scholars" at noon or recess.
The following spring, 1849, we went to the farm near Oakford. This consisted of 240 acres, one of 80 of it bought from John Norris who lived just across the road from us, not a quarter of a mile away. Afterward another 80 was added, making 320 acres. I know now that this was a fine estate, most of it rich bottom land, that produced some of the tallest, most heavily eared corn, and some of the best wheat in the world, with abundance of timber on the higher land for fire wood and fence posts. Here was a continuation of the pleasant family life round a wider hearth, in a larger, more convenient house, with kitchen, dining room, spacious living room, and sleeping rooms. Not long after we came to this home the kitchen fireplace was boarded up, and a cook stove was set upon the hearth. This was a great innovation. At first my mother feared the flavor of the victuals would be spoiled; but she soon learned that a great labor saving invention had come into he hands, and fully appreciated the blessing. This house fronted south upon a lawn set with shade trees and shrubs. An orchard of apple, peach, cherry, and pear trees made a leafy background. The view of the timber along the Sangamon was fine. The storm clouds seemed to us children to hang dark above this timber. There did not seem to be so many cyclones and destructive storms in those days, and we were not so fearful but that we could enjoy the grandeur of the cloud with its awful lightning, and as the storm broke we loved to watch the rain rushing before the wind across the low land to the hills. Here we had fish in abundance, pike, perch, cat, and buffalo. My father kept bees. My mother made butter, that for looks and fragrance and taste was surely "premium" butter, molding it into balls, and packing it into kegs or small barrels for market. I think the top price for this nice butter never exceeded a "bit," 12½ cents. My father made a drying kiln, and I their season the whole family helped at drying apples, peaches and cherries. He took much pains with his orchard, grafting, budding, pruning and - hoping. No peaches have ever tasted as did the luscious, pink meated "clings" my father used to raise and I have seen few that could surpass them for looks. The California fruit shipped here in baskets, though promising much to the eye, is a disappointment to the taste. This will not be the case, probably, when Luther Burbank's methods have become common property.
Here my father was "the man with the hoe" instead of the man with the grain sack. He loved a garden and to see him make the rows of lettuce, beets and cabbage look almost as pretty as the rows of pinks and roses was unalloyed pleasure. My mother was very fond of flowers; my father enjoyed her pleasure in them.
Here we children had the same wide range for nuts and a still wider one for wild fruits and wild flowers. What child could forget the dog-tooth violet, the Indian pink, the Johnny-jump-up, the hawthorn, the crabapple, the strawberry and the blackberry that grew among those hills? Nature, in all her magic chemistry and various mixtures, has not surpassed the flavor of the wild strawberry. And can a boy's triumph in his first brace of quails or prairie chickens, as he swings toward home with his gun on his shoulder, surpass or even equal the girl's, as with rosy cheeks, tired feet and a good appetite, she enters the door with a large heaping bowl of wild strawberries, ready hulled for the table? She sees the snowy cloth spread for dinner and swaying in the breeze in the cool dining room, and her mother's smile and words of praise as she takes the bowl and places it on the table is a great reward. She feels that she has crowned this meal with a beautiful dessert. Her own saucer full of berries, smothered in cream and sugar, and her father's call for a second helping, are exceeding recompense for her labors. My mother often had five daughters in the berry patch at once, though one was too small to be of much service; but she was allowed to carry her little bowlful home and get her praise with the rest. There were times when she had to be carried herself part of the way. With four good pickers, it will be seen that my mother could have berries for the table and some to make "reserves" or jam - though Mason jars had not yet come into use.
Around the fireside of this home the social nature of my parents had greater room to expand. They loved to have their friends with them, and did have them to dinners and suppers, and now and then to a dancing party for the young folks. They were not unmusical - both could sing. My father had many favorite songs; one was "The Disappointed Philospher." Some of the words and tune have not gone from me:
"When first I came to be a man
Of twenty years or so,
I thought myself a handsome youth,
And fain the world would know.
In best attire I stepped abroad,
With spirits brisk and gay."
In the end the philosopher loses some of his gaiety. My mother loved old ballads and used to sing, among others, "Barbara Allen," The Highland Chieftain," "Boneparte and Louisa," and "The Outlandish Knight," the latter beginning:
An outlandish knight to the North seas came,
And he came a wooing to me;
He said he would take me unto the north lands,
And I should his fair bride be.
A broad, broad shield did this strange knight wield,
Whereon did the red cross shine,
But never I ween, had this strange knight been,
To the fields of Palestine.
Thy sire is from home ladye,
He hath a journey gone,
And the shaggy blood-hounds are sleeping sound,
At the foot of the postern stone.
Go bring me some of thy father's gold,
And some of thy mother's fee,
And steeds twin of the best in the stalls that rest,
Where they stand thirty and three.
I mounted on the steed milk white,
And he on the dapple gray,
And we forward did ride, till we reached the seaside,
Three hours before it was day.
Pull off, pull off, thy bonny green plaid,
And deliver it unto me;
Six maids have I drowned where the billows sound,
And the seventh one thou shalt be.
Pull off, pull off, thy brooch of gold,
For comely it is to me,
And thy kirtle of green is too rich I ween,
To rot in the salt, salt sea.
If I must pull off my bonny green plaid,
Pray turn thy back to me,
And gaze on the sun that has just begun
To peer o'er the salt, salt sea."
he turned his back on the damsel fair,
And gazed on the bright sunbeam;
She grasped him tight with her arms so white,
And plunged him into the stream.
Lie there, sir knight, thou false hearted wight,
Lie there instead of me,
Six maids has thou drowned where the billows sound,
But the seventh hat drowned thee.
With gasping breath he fought his death,
And uttered an Ave Marie,
And I fastened on my brooch of gold,
As he sank beneath the sea.
For this strange knight dead, no prayer was said,
No convent bell did toll;
He went to his rest, unshrived and unblest,
Heaven's mercy on his soul!
Long, long she lived but lived unwed
Did this maid with raven hair,
For if lovers came wooing they went away sad,
Till her face became wrinkled with care.
My sister, Evalyn, had a sweet voice and in those days sang the "Irish Emigrant's Lament," "Ben Bolt," and "The Old Oaken Bucket."
Around the fireside of this home we read "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and wept over the woes of its hero, and the death of little Eva and ever after cherished in our hearts a deeper hatred of slavery. Here more and more we came to appreciate the newspapers and magazines that came to my father through the mail.
In 1900 while visiting my son in Chicago I went with him to see Hull House, the famous settlement on Halsted street, presided over by Jane Adams. Halsted street is a part of Chicago's "east end," and therefore the place chosen for a settlement. Miss Adams was away on a tour of recreation, but another lady with sweet manners showed us through the building and answered our questions. Everything about Hull House appeals to the artistic taste. Its modest elegance is a part of the uplifting influence on those who are so fortunate as to be gathered within its walls. When we came to the living room, was I surprised when I saw a high paneled mantle, without any carving of any kind, and on its shelf at either end a tall brass candle? Was I shocked to look up and see the wooden, almost "sagging" beams of the ceiling instead of the calcimined or paper covered plaster? A few pictures hung on the walls, in a niche, as if made for it, was a tankard of exquisite shape, beautifully ornamented. A large, straight backed settee was at one side of the fireplace; not against the wall, but drawn diagonally in front of it, so that those sitting upon it could get full view of the fire. I do not think I was surprised or shocked to see these things, but those who read this sketch may be, when I say that the living room at Hull House, though a model of the house beautiful, was so like the living room in my father's house on this farm, that I was transported and stood as one in a dream. But the costly tankard, the niche for it, the rugs on the floor, and the windows placed wherever light could give beautiful effect, recalled me. Nothing in the city, not even the libraries and parks, nothing save the great lake itself gave me more pleasure than Hull house; it seemed to prove to me that it is not distance altogether that "lends enchantment," and causes me to cherish the vision of my father's living room. It was beautiful in its simplicity, and was one of the sweet influences of our lives.
One more item in our education I wish to speak of before I hasten on, lest my story become of burdensome length. As I have already stated our home was less than a quarter of a mile from that of my uncle, John Norris. My aunt had no children of her own, and often had as many of my father's house full, as could be spared at one time, to stay with her. She was an omnivorous reader and an excellent story teller. Her mantel shelf was adorned with books instead of bric-a-brac. I can remember the titles to some of these books: Lalla Rhook, Lady of the Lake, Pope's Essay on Man, Night Thoughts, Thompson's Seasons, Pleasures of Hope, Scottish Chiefs, Our Village, Alonzo and Melissa, and Children of the Abby. My father said "Hat" should have been professor of history or literature in some college, instead of a pioneer farmers wife. But her talents were not wasted even here on the "frontier," - she had a gift for entertaining children; and gathered at her fireside, on one occasion or another, - when my uncle was away, when she was in need of help, or when she had planned some games - we children, with perhaps several from other families, listened to fairy tale and myth, and stories from history: The Forty Thieves, Beauty and the Beast, Sinbad the Sailor, The Sleeping Princess, The Boy Who could Not Shudder, Robin Hood and Little John, Blue Beard, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Diamonds and Toads, riddles and rhymes from Mother Goose, and tales of Indians from Cooper and other sources, as well as deeds of valor performed, not only by Washington and his men, but by Greek and roman and heroes of all ages. While the stories were being told, often a heap of potatoes or eggs would be roasting in the embers before the fire, to be eaten with salt when the stories were done. For these nights beside her hearth, I hold this aunt in blessed memory. Besides enriching our minds, they make life a joy by satisfying the fancy, which faculty of the brain most parents, and until of late years, most teachers have held in such slight consideration as to give it but a passing smile. Indeed time was when ti was thought a duty to suppress the fancy of the child, by forcing upon its mind "solid" and solemn facts; which was equal to feeding beefsteak instead of milk to babes.
My aunt taught the school in our district for a few terms, using the largest room in her house as a school room. Later, a good school house was built on my father's timber land, between our house and her own. My father was a neat hand with tools, and he helped to build this schoolhouse, taking great pleasure in trying to make the desks and seats nice and comfortable. After it was finished we felt the pride that people do in a nice, new, roomy dwelling after living in a little shabby one. We had many night spelling matches in it and no doubt improved our English more than we know of.
This home was consecrated to my parents by the marriage of their oldest daughter, Evalyn, to Robert A. Talbott, of Springfield, Ill., and of their second daughter, Lucinda, called Lucy always in the home, to James D. Roodhouse, of White Hall, Green county, Ill., and also by the leaving home of their son Charles to go with a company of young men, and some not so young, to California. the year of his going was 1851. The gold fever was still at its height. He was only eighteen. My mother grieved, my sisters wept, especially Lucy who was nearest his age. She hung upon his neck and begged him not to go. Many dangers, indians, lack of food, scarcity of water, and often sickness, and homesickness, beset those who crossed the plains in those days.
One of the leaders of this company was "Jake" Armstrong. Some of the company my mother thought rude companions for the young, and feared for the morals of her son. But my father said, "He must see the world for himself, let him go. He has headed right so far, and will not be easily led astray."
The company took cattle, horses and provisions. they bought one cow of my father, a fine animal named Star, because of a white spot in her forehead. We three younger children did not like to see her go, neither did she like to go. She got away the third time and came back, the last time after they had reached Beardstown. We rejoiced each time, thinking, "Now they will let her stay;" but her fate was in their hands, and the last time they drove her away, my little brother and I peered sadly through the fence, far down the road, saying we thought it was wicked to take cows and horses from their homes.
I cannot remember when a postoffice was established at Robinson's Mills, but know that letters came to that point from my brother Charles, and that we younger children made frequent trips there, always hoping for a letter to keep my mother in heart.
During my brother's absence, in 1853 I think, my father, grandfather, and my father's sisters were gladdened by a visit from my Uncle Charles Robinson, of Ithaca, New York. My father's pleasure in this visit is still vivid in my mind. My uncle was older than my father, but they had been "boys together," and later students and young men together, and the tie between them was as strong as kinship and congenial tastes could make it. When my uncle returned to New York he took my sister Helen, third daughter of my parents, with him to attend school and see a little of the world. It was a fine opportunity for her and my parents were grateful.
I have neglected to mention the fact that the year previous to my uncle's visit, my parents made another journey to New York. It was their first experience in railroad riding, and they had much to tell of the whole trip when they returned, - of the changes from stage to river boat, from river boat to cars or lake boat, - it was very interesting, fully as wonderful as a fairy tale to us children. My father came back with the idea that the people of the East were narrow in their ways of thinking and living, as compared with the people of the west, and consequently less progressive. He said they were "picayunish," and departed farther from Webster in their pronunciation of English than the people of Illinois. Altogether he thought it an excellent thing for people to have an undeveloped region to spread out in. Narrow quarters, with the necessity for little economies, pinching, always pinching expanses down, gave him a choking sensation. He thanked God for the prairies and big rivers of the west.
One wintry night in December, 1855, two muffled wayfarers, there were no "tramps" then, knocked at my father's door and begged a night's lodging, saying that they had traveled far, and were hungry. My father consulted with my mother and she decided that it would be very inconvenient to feed tow hungry men as the supper things had just been put away, and the women folks had just come in for their evening by the fire. My father delivered this message at the door. They said they would be willing "to eat anything," and sleep anywhere. My father reminded my mother that it was snowing and blowing and growing colder fast. She told him to invite them in; he did so and asked them to remove caps and overcoats and comforters. Without a word of thanks they removed their wraps and took the offered seats by the fire. My father gave one look, and rushed toward them saying in a husky voice, "you rascals, you!" My mother screamed and ran into the arms of one of them; that one was my brother Charles. He had been gone four years, and had come back, not the owner of a gold mine in accordance with his boyish dream, but unspoiled, unsullied by his contact with the world. And my parents felt that they were blessed.
In 1856, my father thought it best for all concerned to leave the farm in charge of his son Charles, and of his son-in-law, Robert Talbott, and move to Bath, Mason county, Illinois. he left the farm pretty well stocked, and the house pretty well furnished.
He purchased a flour mill at Bath and was again the "dusty miller". His partner was _____.
The year after we moved to this place, my parents gave their third daughter, Helen, in marriage to W. I. Robbins, of Petersburg, Ill. This left their family reduced to three, namely: Clarinda, called Clare or Clara in the home, the youngest born, aged nine years; Seth, aged eleven; and myself, aged thirteen.
It was while we were living here that the Illinois R.R. was extended so as to run through Bath, and on to Chandlerville, and later carried on to Virginia and Jacksonville. My father entered into a contract to furnish a specified number of wooden ties for the laying of this road, and with the help of his son Charles fulfilled his part of this contract, but the road changed hands and he never got his pay.
Bath was often spoken of as a "hard little river town," "seedy," "nutty," and so forth, as if it were a sort of Sodom or Gomorrah; but good and worthy people lived there. J. M. Ruggles and family, Richard and Benjamin Gatton and their families, the Beasleys, Jerry Burlingame and wife, Jerry Taylor and wife, the Guests and others that I cannot recall at the moment were all as fine people as one would meet any where.
We children found no lack of joy here. There was always the beautiful river with its steamboats, barges, canal boats, skiffs and canoes, and not the least important, the ferry boat, that took people across to Snicarte Island. We had boat rides in all weathers, and if there were any black-hearted villains lurking on the river banks, we never ran across them. We found instead luscious grapes and persimmons that became luscious if we waited for the frost to touch them. But the school here was not what my parents wished for us and in 1859 they moved to Chandlerville.
Chandlerville was an ideal village. The people were thrifty, intelligent, social, and not given to gossip to the degree that most villages are. My father bought a cottage that we soon made neat and comfortable, and engaged in the milling business. Besides the free school here, there was an excellent private school taught by Scharlotte P. Butler, a graduate of Oberlin College, Ohio. We had had dear teachers before her, we had dear teachers after her, but she was the loveliest, and inspired us with the deepest thirst for learning She has "passed beyond;" but the memory of her still blesses and uplifts her pupils.
In 1861, came the shock of war. My father while opposed to slavery was not an uncompromising abolitionist. He did not believe in adding to the crime of slavery, the crime of cruel war. He contended that war was the most unreasonable and expensive way of righting the wrong. He grieved over the situation and hoped to the last that actual war would be averted. When he knew it was inevitable, he said we had the right man at the helm.
In our village from 1861 to 1865 there were but few signs by which one could know that a war was going on. All the arts of peace were practiced with even greater prosperity than before. There were a few signs that brought the matter home to us. Young men from some of the families we knew enlisted; Doctor Charles E. Lippincott who went as captain of a company, and was afterwards colonel, then general. Lippincott, was our next door neighbor, and we saw his wife and two little sons wave him a last goodbye.
There was a Soldier's Aid Society, where lint was scraped, and such garments as it was thought a soldier might need were made, and where these with packages of coffee, tea, sugar and dried fruits, with cakes and cookies and everything love and tenderness could think of, were packed into boxes and sent to the south.
In 1861 my father sold his farm near Oakford to Charles Skaggs; and his son-in-law and daughter who had lived upon it, bought a farm in Logan county, Illinois, and went there to live. His son Charles, now a married man, moved to a farm in Cass county.
In 1863 my father made a trip to California; and soon after his return he went to Nebraska to look at the country with a view to investing in land if he was pleased. He was not only pleased but charmed. The great prairies seemed to call him. His prophetic imagination enabled him to see them dotted with groves, villages, fine farm houses and barns. What he saw of crops there satisfied him, and he bought a farm of 160 acres on the Nemaha bottom, twelve miles southeast of Pawnee City in Pawnee county; and went to work to build a house on it. It was to be a good house when it was all done, of eight rooms. After getting things under way he sent for his son-in-law, W. I. Robbins and family to come. Mr. Robbins had failed to prosper financially, and this was my father's way of helping him.
In the fall of 1864 Mr. Robbins went to Nebraska with two teams. Mrs. Robbins and myself drove one of them. We started October 4. The weather was Indian summer in its balmiest mood. The air was indeed an elixir of life. Through Illinois from Chandlerville to Keokuk, Iowa, we saw fine country. It was the same all through Iowa, and on the morning of October 16, when we looked on Nebraska for the first time, with just enough frost in the air to give the grass a sparkle, and produce what I have since learned is a mirage, we felt like shouting. The first view of the ocean could not be broader, more billowy, more thrilling.
That was out last day of travel. We reached out destination that night. There was one good sized room in my father's house so near done that it would do to live in, and we felt happy and fortunate when we were established, and heard our fire roaring, and the kettle humming.
The next year my father returned to Illinois to settle up his affairs and make arrangements for moving to Nebraska; and late in the spring accompanied by my mother and youngest sister he left Illinois behind.
My parents had one more happy summer together. They could not know it was their last. My father did not take my mother to live in the new house on the Nemaha; that was for his daughter and son-in-law. There was a mill about three miles west of his farm, known as Freese's Mill, and thither he was drawn as by a magnet. Nothing made such sweet music in his ears as the whirr of a mill. God bless him! Turning the finest grain the earth produces into flour to feed the world, - was it not, will it not ever be a noble calling?
He rented the mill and a house nearby and that was his home. That busy happy summer went all too soon. My mother was preparing for a Christmas dinner when she was taken with what seemed a severe cold, but which proved to be acute pneumonia, and died within forty-eight hours, December 23rd, 1865. For her children, neither for those who stood beside her bed to receive the last precious look and word, nor for those to whom the news was borne on wintery winds, was there any Christmas joy that year. And the season for many years was to them a time consecrated in part to sorrow.
My father's life was maimed; his hopes were scattered, and his loneliness seemed greater than he could bear. Within a year's time to relieve this loneliness he made a second marriage. He married a widow named Thompson, a woman near his own age; but the union was not a happy one; and in a short time they separated by mutual agreement. Here I leave my father's sorrow sacred within his breast, as I know would be his wish.
Soon after the event just related he sold his farm on the Nemaha to John T. Brady and Byron Collins, and bought a fine quarter of land near Sabetha, Kansas.
In 1867 or ‘68 he returned to Illinois, still engaging in business, and facing life with a heroic spirit. Part of the time he was planning and working with his son Charles, and part of the time in affairs entirely his own.
In the fall of 1870, a few days before Thanksgiving, he came to my home near Lincoln, Illinois, for a visit and for a season of needed rest. He was not well. His malady proved to be Bright's disease. He was in need of tender nursing. Physicians were called. I gave my whole time to his care, and my husband was like a son to him. But the end was near. He bore his pain with fortitude. Once, on the 23rd of December, he gave way to tears, saying, "Mummie died five years ago today," Mummie was a term of endearment for my mother. We wept together and were comforted. The end came February 22, 1871. With loving hands we laid him to rest in the beautiful cemetery at Lincoln, Illinois.
Of the seven children reared to maturity by my parents, my mother saw them all in homes of their own but one; my father saw them all established for themselves.
These in order of their birth were: Mary Evalyn, born at Ithaca, New York, 1831. Attended select school at Petersburg, Menard county, Illinois, for three years after leaving the country schools. While at Petersburg she was an inmate of the home of Major Hill and his most capable and excellent wife. She was married to Robert A. Talbott, 1851. Mrs. Talbott has been a widow since 1892. Her home is in Lincoln, Ill., though she spends much of her time with a son in Hebron, Nebraska.
Charles Chandler, born at New Richmond, Cass county, Ill., November 25, 1833. He was fond of study, and longed for college; and so did my father for him, but circumstances at that time would not permit him to gratify the cherished wish. Charles was married to Julia Pothecary, daughter of Dr. Pothecary, whose home was near Virginia, Illinois; October 9, 1859. He died January 19, 1881,aged 47 years, 1 month and 24 days. His widow and part of her family are at present living in Portland, Oregon.
Martha Lucinda, born at Robinson's Mill, August 9, 1836. She was a good student, a good ball player, a fast runner, and fond of all out door sports. Like Charles, she was deprived of college or seminary advantages because of my father's circumstances at the time when she could have profited by them. She was married to James D. Roodhouse, of White Hall, Greene county, Ill., 1853. She has been a widow since 1902. Her home is in Fort Scott, Kansas, but she spends part of her time with a daughter in Pomona, California.
Helen Mar, born May 5th, 1837. With needle and thread and shears she was the genius of the family. She attended school in Ithaca, New York, under the care of her uncle, Chas. Robinson, of that city. She was married to W. Irving Robbins, of Petersburg, Ill., 1856. Her home has been in Chicago for many years.
Emily Caroline, born February 14th, 1843. Attended Select School at Chandlerville, Ill., West District School and Presbyterian Female Academy of Jacksonville, Ill. Was married to C. C. Burton, of Lincoln, Ill., February 6th, 1865. Mr. and Mrs. Burton are at present living on a farm in Thayer county, Nebraska, where they have lived since 1886. Sixteen years of this time Mrs. Burton was engaged in school teaching.
James Seth, was born May 6, 1845, was a graduate of Illinois College, of Jacksonville, Illinois; graduated in 1864. Studied law at Ann Arbor, Michigan, was married to Miss Jennie Dustin, of Pittsfield, Pike county, Illinois, 1865. Began the practice of law in Lincoln, Nebraska, 1868. Was eminently successful in his profession. Was candidate for governor of Nebraska on the Greely ticket, in 1872; but the people wanted nothing so sensible as that ticket advocated. In 1876 on account of his wife's failing health, he moved to San Francisco. the climate aggravated a throat trouble to which he was subject, and he died of quinsy, October 19, 1878, at the early age of thirty-three. He had already taken a high position at the Bar in San Francisco. I have forgotten to mention that he was a partner of Attorney O. H. Whedon while in Lincoln, Nebraska. They were struggling young lawyers together, and warm friends. Mr. Whedon is one of the successful lawyers of the state.
Eliza Clarinda, born May 4, 1847. Attended select school at Chandlerville, Ill., and after going to Nebraska, was a pupil in the "college" at Pawnee City. This was an excellent school under the charge of Professor McKenzie and wife. Was married to H. H. Sisson, of Lincoln, Ill., 1867. Mr. and Mrs. Sisson came to Nebraska in 1885. They lived on a farm for several years, but are now residing in their pleasant home at Hebron, the county seat of Thayer county.
I have found the writing of this sketch fraught with both pleasure and pain, but on the whole it has been a labor of love.
Most sincerely yours,