James A. Godard Reminscenses

Reminiscences of an Early Settler

James A. Godard Relates Incidents In Connection With Bristol, Occurring Between 1833 and 1855

Published in the Kendall County Record, November 8, 1911
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson

I have been requested to give some of my early recollections, as well as some of my pioneer father, Chancy Y. Godard, as related to me, of the early history and surroundings of Old Bristol. I will begin with a little of the early history of Chicago, as my father's early career began there, in 1833, the next year after the Black Hawk War. Joliet and Marquette, French missionaries and explorers first visited the site of Chicago, in 1673. In 1685, a fort was built there, commanded by an officer in the Canadian service. Before the end of the 17th century the Jesuits made it a mission post. Indian hostilities prevented further occupation until the United States government established there the frontier post of Fort Dearborn in 1804, which was destroyed by the Indians in the War Of 1812. The fort was rebuilt in 1816, when a permanent settlement began. In 1830, the entire population was only 70 persons, but in 1835, a town was organized.

In the spring of 1833, my father and his older brother, William, were living in Chautauqua County, New York. They were single young men, and being desirous of seeing some of the "Wild and Woolly West," started for Illinois on horseback. You will remember Black Hawk the famous Indian chief of the Sac and Fox Indians born in 1767. He joined the British in (The War Of) 1812. Opposing the removal west of his tribe, he fought against the United Stated in 1831-1832. He died in 1838.

When my father and his brother got as far as White Pigeon, Michigan, their limited funds were exhausted. My uncle was a carpenter by trade, and my father was used to scoring and hewing timber, so they took a barn to build to replenish their funds. After this they resumed their journey on to what is now South Chicago. The people there told them it would be folly to take their horses to what is now Chicago, as there was no feed to be had for them. They found a man that would take their horses, but had no money. They took his note in payment for the horses and saddles and went on to Fort Dearborn, which was occupied by our soldiers.

There was only a log cabin hotel kept by a Frenchman. They hired out to Clybourn and Company to get out timber on the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Indian name for the two branches of the Chicago River was "Two Skunks." It was here that they helped build the first piers for boats to land. After working two weeks my uncle was sick with the ague much of the time, it being all swamp, and they decided to quit the job. They then started on foot for the Fox River country, by way of Plainfield.

On arriving here they found but few white people and many Indians, now friendly. They camped in the ravine near the east side of the Blackberry Creek, back and west of Fred Palmer's present barn. (This would be the western edge of what is now Countryside shopping center and subdivision.) Father and his brother, William, were there all summer. The saw few white people or settlers. They did the first plowing on that farm and put in some winter wheat. Then they decided to go back to Chautauqua County for the winter and return in the spring.

They went to South Chicago to collect the money on the notes taken for the horses, but found the man flat on his back with the ague. He had not been able to work all summer. The man said he had no money, but would give them the same horses and saddles back again. So the took them and rode back to Chautauqua County. They left with more money than they started with in the spring plus the same outfit.

In the spring of 1834, they returned by boat to Illinois, found their claim had been jumped and lost it, as there was no laws or order here at that time. They made another claim where Herman Ebrecht now lives. In 1836, father returned to Chautauqua County and married Rachel Ann Green. They came back to Illinois and lived near the old Boyd farm. They remained there until 1840, when on account of the severe ague, chills and fever, my mother had, returned to Chautauqua County, where all our folks lived.

But father could see no country as good to him as the Fox River country so he came back every year until the spring of 1844. At this time, my father, my mother, and I, left New York for good in a "prairie schooner" and came to Old Bristol. My grandfather, Aaron Godard, then lived in part of the house now owned by Mrs. Flynn. My Uncle William married in 1842. He lived in a house built on the corner of Center and Colton Streets. George D. Richardson and his father-in-law, Wells, kept the only store in Bristol. Rulief S. Duryea had a store on the hill on the south side near where the old (Solomon) Heustis tavern stood. Duryea, having come from New York, gave the name of Yorkville to the south side. (Editors note: Solomon Heustis who came from the New York City suburb of Yorkville is also given credit for naming Yorkville. The latter version seems more plausible.)

John Short had the only tavern in Bristol. All taverns then had a bar and sold liquor. Formerly every house you came to along the road was an inn. They were so far apart. You did not have to ask if they would entertain you, but were welcome to such fare as they had.

James McClellan entered and received the title to nearly all the land around Bristol and vicinity. Later in life, he was known as "Deacon" McClellan. McClellan was the foremost in laying out the village of Bristol. He donated the present beautiful park and established the first Baptist Church. Many other enterprises of that date originated with that grand old man.

The village of Bristol was named after Lyman Bristol, a very energetic, ambitious worker at that time, who had a contract for a deed from Deacon McClellan for a part of the village plat and some of the farm land. Bristol was not an able financier and failed to comply with the terms of his contract, which was forfeited and part of it assigned to others.

Titus Howe built the dam across the Fox River and built the flouring mill, which was sold to the Blacks. Walter VanEmon's father was one of the first settlers on the south side of the river. The early settlers located near the timber and made claims long before the United States surveyed the land government. The land south of the Indian boundary line was surveyed in 1836. The land north of the line, along the Fox River was surveyed about 1840.

Among those who settled early in Long Grove were the Harris, Matlock, Moulton, Ives, Cook, Bristol, Schneider, Pope, and Hollenback families. George M. Hollenback is said to have been the first white child born in Kendall County.

On the Bristol side the following, among others, were there in 1844. Robert MacMurtrie came to Bristol from Scotland in 1838. He was known as the "village blacksmith" for over forty years. John Short, who kept the old tavern. Others were, George Johnson, David Johnson, James McClellan, old George Lowry, Nelson, the Kings, who lived on the hill where C. E. Jessup now lives (called the "Kings Palace," the finest house in town), Alden, Craters, S. D. Craw, Lyman Lane, Dr. Seely, father of Edmund Seely, Dr. Holden, and Elder Scofield, a Baptist preacher, the father of General Schofield of the Civil War.

I believe the old Congregational Church, lately torn down and moved away by C. E. Jessup, was the first church erected in Bristol. The Pavilion, or Long Grove Academy (so called) was the first school on the south side of the river. A little red building on the corner of Bristol Avenue and Somonauk Street was the first schoolhouse on the Bristol side. Afterwards the building was used as a blacksmith shop and later was moved farther north and used as a part of Jacob Wheeler's residence. Afterward there was no school building until the old schoolhouse was built some time in the eighteen fifties. School was held in any place that they could obtain a room.

In June 1845, my father moved his little family, my mother and me, up on the prairie, about three and one-half miles northwest of Bristol, on the town line between Little Rock and Bristol Townships into a little one-story lean-to building with no floors laid, just barely enclosed. I well remember that ride across that grand old prairie, about six miles wide and ten miles long. It was a perfect mass of wild flowers of a greater variety than I have ever seen growing on any prairie since. It was all wild, very little of it was cultivated. Few settlers or neighbors were on the whole prairie. If memory serves me, the settlers were. Henry Hibbard was our nearest neighbor. He was the father of Mrs. George Fisher who lived in a little 8 X 10 foot preemption house. Others were Henry Parsons, a family of Smiths, the Windetts, Warren Wilbur, Truman Hathaway, Colonel Willett, Simeon Prine, I. L. (Israel Lum) Rogers, Isaac Grimwood, W. W. Marsh and Archibald Sears. These men and their families comprised all the settlers between the Blackberry and Big Rock Creeks. (Editor's note: I will add another name to the list. My ancestor, Matthew Patterson, arrived in Bristol Township in 1837. The "Patterson Homestead" was located on the east side of the Blackberry Creek. Its southern boundary was present day Galena Road.)

There were three grand old settlers on the west side of Big Rock Creek whom I must mention. They were Cornelius Henning, Marcus Steward and David H. Shonts.

After living two years on the land my father entered from the government, he sold it to Reverend W. F. Kendrick and moved half a mile farther east on land my grandfather entered. When I was six or eight years of age, there was no school nearer than three and one-half miles east or west. At this time, Emily Kendrick, afterward the mother of Charles E. Lane held school in a room in the house we sold to Reverend W. F. Kendrick. The next two years, I walked three and one-half miles to school, either to Big Rock or the Blackberry Creek. After that they formed another (school) district out of the two townships and built the schoolhouse about a quarter of a mile west of our farm.

In the time intervening from 1845 to 1855, this prairie was settled by the best class of settlers and neighbors that ever settled on any land under the American flag. Men like Archibald Sears, Darius Bennett, B. H. Eldridge, Wheeler, Fargueson, L. W. Page, J. S. Cornell, Reverend W. F. Kendrick, Reverend Heman S. Colton, W. H. Healy, Curtis Beecher, Colonel Willett, Robinson, Orson Dolph, William Sanders, Waldo W. Marsh, Isaac Grimwood, William Grimwood, Josiah Atwood, James Eccles and Henry Parsons. None of them are now living.

In 1853, the Chicago & Aurora railroad (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) was built to Mendota. Before that time, all grain sold (only wheat) had to be hauled by team to Chicago. The trip occupied about four day's time. Wagons would frequently get stuck in the mud three or four times crossing the low marsh prairie this side of Chicago. At that time grain was bagged. When the wagon became stuck in the mud. Drivers would have to unload the wagon, carry the bags of grain on their backs to a dry spot and load up again. When they finally arrived in Chicago the typical going price was fifty cents a bushel.

Little or no "hard currency" (gold or silver) existed in circulation. Sellers would have to take their pay in "wild cat currency" which was liable to be worthless. (Editor's note: bank regulation was virtually non-existent. People would start a bank, issue their own currency which could only be converted to gold or silver at the issuing bank. No other bank would accept the currency for gold or silver because they had no way of knowing if the currency had any value. Bankers hoped their currency would be accepted by the public but never redeemed or converted to hard currency. Thus, they weren't likely to make conversion of their paper currency easy. To discourage conversion, they frequently would establish the bank miles from civilization. Hence the term, "wild cat bank." Meaning the banks were so far from civilization only the wildcats were around. Everyone carried a Bank Note Reporter revised semi-weekly. (The Bank Note Reporter was supposed to keep everyone informed regarding the current standing of the issuing bank. Was the bank still in existence and the currency redeemable or had the bank failed? Of course, the transfer of information was so slow and poor; frequently when a bank failed it would be several weeks before the word of their failure was generally disseminated.)

The early settlers had a tough time to make a living and were extremely poor. My father in 1843 had to borrow a coat to go to town to attend his father's funeral. We had nothing better than a heavy lumber wagon to go to church and Sunday school. I went barefoot during the summer time until I was fourteen years of age. All settlers for six or eight miles around attended church. A sermon was preached in the morning, then luncheon, and preaching again after lunch. All carried their lunch. There were no Baptist and Congregational Churches in Bristol at that time. The attendance was much larger than at the present time. But I am getting down to civilization and better times, within the knowledge of many now living, and will close.

Respectfully yours, J. A. Godard

Last Modified on 2013-02-24 15:21:27-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson