Susan (Short) May Reminiscences

Pioneers of the Early Days on Fox River

Personal History of Early Bristol Settler

Published in the Kendall County Record, May 28, 1913
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson

My father, John Short, was born in Groton, now Ledyard, Connecticut, May 4th 1800. His mother, Margaret Gates Hakes (or Haikes) was of Welsh descent. His father, John Short, was of Irish descent.

My mother was born in New York City in 1809, the ninth child, and the youngest of the family. Her father, Raymond Surre, was born in Lyons, France, in the year of our Lord, 1751. Father "Departed this life March14th, six o'clock P.M. Raymond Surre, aged 63 years, of an apoplectic fit, in which he lay but six hours." Her mother was Susan Dorothy Dabele, born in 1767 (in Westchester County, or on Manhattan Island.) She died in Bristol, Kendall County, Illinois, September 27th, 1841, "of bilious typhus fever," aged 74 years.

My father spent his youth and early manhood in Groton, Connecticut. His father was captain and master of a sailing vessel, sailing from Stonington or from New London, I do not know which. I have in my possession a letter written by him from Demarara (Dimmerara) October 20, 1798 to his "Dear and Ever Loving Wife." In this letter he says, "We arrived here the first day of the month after a long passage of two months. Had I known we were coming here and to be gone so long, I would not have come, but the voyage was altered after we got to Kennebec (Maine.) We expect to sail from this place in a fortnight. We stop at Turk's Island for a load of salt. If we are not taken, expect to be home in January." The letter closes, "I remain yours till death parts us." I have not been able to find a record of his death, but I think it must have been in 1804 or 1805.

After his school days were over my father served a long apprenticeship with a carpenter and became a skilled mechanic. His wonderful chest of tools was a delight to my childish eyes. When he learned his trade, there was no milling work done, and all moldings, paneling, and beadings were made by hand. Because he was a skilled workman, he had opportunities to see many lands, going with contractors. I have a letter written by him from Buenos Ayres, April 9th, 1826, to his "Honored Parents." In this letter he says, "With pleasure, I improve a few moments in writing to you by a British Brig bound to Rio Janeiro with passengers, and from there to England. Some of the passengers, however, are bound to New York. By them I expect you will receive this letter. There is an American brig here now, but where she is bound for from this port, I do not know. If she sails for the States, I shall probably write by her, for it is a great chance if you ever get this letter.

My father and mother were married on the third day of January 1831, in New York City. They were married in the Canal Street Presbyterian Church in the City of New York.

My mother was the widow of John K. Reaney, who was purser of the U. S. ship "Hornet" that was lost in the Gulf of Mexico. The date I do not know, but it must have been in or near 1827.

The motive, which brought my father to Illinois, was probably the spirit of adventure. The particular spot where he took up his residence was probably decided by the circumstances that a number of New York City people, who had preceded him a few years, were settled near the junction of Blackberry Creek and Fox River. This place was called Yorkville. It is now Kendall County.

The first settlers in the territory now known as Kendall County were mostly from the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, with a few from South Carolina. They were of a roving disposition, remaining but a short time, and were succeeded by settlers from the east.

The Pottawattomie chief, Shabbona, and his friends protected the whites from the hostile Indians. And while many buildings were burned, it is believed that no white man was killed by the Indians within the limits of the county. By the time father reached Yorkville, the Indians had disappeared. However, stories of their deeds were plentiful, and an Indian trail was clearly to be seen running through the farm. The only Indian that I ever saw was Shabbona's widow, who was grown old and fat. She was being transported about the country in a wagon.

My father came to Illinois in 1836, traveling by rail, canal, steamboat, stage and horseback. He kept a detailed account of his journey in a little diary, which I have in my possession.

At the juncture of the Fox River and Blackberry Creek he looked at claims and finally bought Heratla Johnson's claim for $425.00. At this time the land had not been surveyed. It was not until 1844 that he received his deed from the government. The records show that about that time, 1843-4, he bought various pieces of land from different people. The total amounting in all to 240 acres and that he received from the government a deed for this amount of land in 80-acre tracts. Twenty years afterward he sold the farm for $47.00 an acre to a Mr. Palmer, whose son now owns it. His son says he would not put it on the market for $250.00 an acre. The southwest part of the farm was prairie, the northwest, through which Blackberry Creek runs was timber, mostly hickory and oak.

(Editor's note: the farm described above is the present site of Countryside Center in Yorkville)

Having bought this claim, and left $150.00 to put in crops and build a cabin, father returned to New York, by way of the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Next year he returned with his family to find the cabin only half-finished and barely habitable. The family, which my father brought to their Illinois home, consisted of my mother, my half sister, Mary Reaney, my sister. Emeline, and a baby, Julia. They traveled by canal boat and stage and were many weeks reaching Chicago. In Chicago, my father bought horses and wagons. He loaded one wagon with dry goods and groceries. I have heard my mother tell what they brought with them, rice, tea, coffee, flour, salted meats, and loafsugar, which meant great cones of hard sugar weighing many pounds. They brought all kinds of garden seeds, apple seeds, and locust seeds. Besides provisions they also brought with them their best furniture, a three-ply ingrain carpet, a high post bedstead and some dark wood, parlor chairs of curled maple. Also a very large mahogany bureau with brass handles, a looking glass in a gilt frame with acorn pendants across the top, and another mirror in a mahogany frame. Of all of these treasures, only a few pieces are now in my possession. More important than parlor furniture, however, were Dutch ovens, copper teakettles, cranes, andirons and other appliances for cooking in a primitive way. These were necessary because the house in which mother had to bring her household possessions was a log cabin without a fireplace and a roughly laid floor. It took some time and cost many tears before mother could become adjusted to conditions in the "black walnut house," as father had described to her. She had to cook outdoors, until the fireplace was constructed, and the smoking from the fire made tears flow still more freely. The children, too, would run away and be almost lost from sight in the tall prairie grass.

November 24, 1837, my father wrote a letter to his half brother, William Morgan, which is in my possession. He says "We are all enjoying good health and are well pleased with our situation. We arrived here on the 17th of June, after a pleasant passage of one month and seven days. However, I was much disappointed in not finding my crops put in according to agreement. They built my log cabin but it was quite an indifferent one. I have, however, built me a frame house. I will convert the upper part into a granary and the lower part into a shop this winter. I will use the shop to build my sled, sleigh, harrows, yokes, ploughs, etc., for I have concluded in my old age to turn farmer. I think I can do as well as half of them here at any rate. They are generally a pretty poor set of farmers here. Many of them raise large crops and leave them to spoil in the fields. You cannot buy a pound of butter or cheese within forty miles, and then you have to pay from 40 to 50 cents for butter not fit to eat, and from 18 to 20 cents a pound for cheese.

The frame house referred to above is still standing on the Palmer farm. The heavy timbers and hand made lath are among the objects of interest about the farm.

I was born in 1839. In 1844, father rented the farm and built a small house in the Village of Bristol, a mile away. Then he started a larger house which he was persuaded to turn into a tavern, for there was a great need of a place for teamsters to stop. The business of keeping a tavern was very hard on mother, with her increasing family. She worked bravely, and every one of us had to help her in some way. Meals were served at all hours of the day and far into the night, for travelers on their way to Chicago or Ottawa had to start early in the morning and be on their way home late at night. The stage changed horses at our barn, and sometimes drivers, too. "Long John" Wentworth of Chicago, and Judge Caton and Judge Dickey of Ottawa were the only notables that I remember as our guests.

Part of the equipment of this old time hostelry was a brick oven and an icehouse. Father built a fire in the oven, pulled out the ashes, and then mother baked her bread and pies. In the icehouse she kept hams, which she had cured, a side of beef, butter and lard.

As soon as mother could spare my older sisters she sent them to a private school in Chicago, kept by Misses Smith and Thatcher. My father decided to rent the tavern and move to Chicago where we could all have better school advantages. So we were loaded up in lumber wagons and started out.

Father had bought a cottage at 79 West Monroe Street. My sister Julia and I went to a public school on the south side, the principal of which was Mr. Ingalls. The second summer of our stay in Chicago, the cholera broke out, a disease that my father stood in great dread of, so that we at once packed up and moved back to Bristol.

Leaving Chicago did not disturb father much. He was confident that Chicago had no future. It would be impossible, he used to declare to put up large buildings there like the buildings in New York, for Chicago was mostly swamp and no solid foundation could be secured.

Father died in 1881, having lived to see some of the marvelous growth of the city of swamps, but no city was ever to him like New York.

Aside from lumber wagons, the only way of reaching Chicago or Ottawa was by the Frink and Walker Stage Line. The stage was of the old fashioned type, with boot at the rear for baggage. Baggage was also piled on top. Four horses drew it, and the horses were changed at Bristol at our tavern. As soon as the stage driver neared the village he blew his horn and cracked the whip. Then if the weather was not too cold everyone, who was on the stage route, ran to the front door, opened it, and watched the stage go by. The stage accommodated nine people, ten if one sat with the driver. Everyone watched to see who would alight.

The stage left our tavern early in the morning and my mother was a frequent passenger, for she had to get our groceries, and other supplies in Chicago and Ottawa.

The first school, which I can remember attending was a tuition school, taught by a dear, lovable woman. She was probably not over 25 years of age. We were permitted to call her "Aunt Polly." The schoolroom was one room in her brother's house. The little children sat on a low bench without a back, which ran through the middle of the room. The older children had desks. She taught both patriotism and history in rhyme

The first teacher in Bristol was Rhoda Godard, who taught in 1844. The public school law was not in force until about 1848.

The first church built was a Congregational Church. It was destitute of paint, both outside and in. The walls were ceilded, not plastered, and the room was heated with a box stove. The stove held great pieces of wood and the heat was not very evenly distributed. Afterwards this building was used for a schoolhouse. The first public school was taught here in 1848.

The second church was Baptist. One of its early pastors was the father of General Schofield, of Civil War fame. I remember that there was a flutter among the girls, a few years older than I when young Schofield was expected home from West Point.

Dr. Wheeler was the first physician that was employed in our family. He rode many miles on horseback, and carried his remedies and instruments in saddlebags. It was customary then to bleed people for various ailments. I remember seeing my mother bled many times, but no one else in our family. Quinine, calomel, rhubarb and castor oil were always at hand, and were used heroically in turn, as the case seemed to require.

There were no nurses, no undertakers, and no servants. Everyone helped her neighbor. They often rode many miles to perform such offices as are now almost wholly in the hands of professionals. My mother was often called to administer to the sick and care for the dead.

The first Bristol post office that I can remember was in our living room in Bristol, in a small house, which stood and still stands, on the south side of the public-square. The "office" was a homemade writing desk with lock and key, with a row of pigeonholes for papers over it. The letters, I think, were all kept inside the desk. My father was postmaster and he laid strict orders on us children, never, never, to go near the desk or touch one of the papers, and we never did. His word was as much law unto us as Uncle Sam's was to him.

My father held the position of postmaster only part of the time when we lived in Bristol. He was justice of the peace, with power of attorney during the entire time we lived in Bristol. His office was for many years in our living room. If it were possible to settle a suit without cost, he always did so. Whenever he performed a marriage ceremony, whatever the groom gave him he promptly turned over to the bride. For making out deeds and settling estates, he received the usual compensation.

One of the favorite amusements, when I was quite a little girl, was horseback riding. Our family brought with them from New York a very handsome sidesaddle. The young people of the town, men and women gathered in the square and started off for a merry good time. By the time I grew old enough to ride, the sport had ceased to be popular.

Card playing was not regarded as a respectable form of amusement until after the fifties. Dancing was indulged in a good deal by those not members of the church, and dancing often went on till daybreak, especially on Washington's birthday, or the Fourth of July. The orchestra consisted of a bass viola and two violins.

Quilting parties were the vogue. The women would work on the quilt in the afternoon and the men would come in to supper.

Our festive days were the Fourth of July and Washington's birthday. The Fourth of July celebration began very early in the morning with the firing of an anvil. About noon a procession was formed mostly of farm wagons and pedestrians headed by one Colonel Willett, carrying the flag. The Declaration of Independence was read. The Star Spangled Banner was sung. A big dinner was served either in the tavern or on the lawn. Everyone seemed to be happy in meeting his neighbor.

I remember well the year 1849, when the "gold fever" broke out, and everyone started out for California. Just west of our house was a place used commonly by the travelers as a camping ground when night overtook them in our village. Often three or four wagons were assembled there. Most of these companies were very poorly equipped for the long journey before them. Mother often invited them into her house and gave them the privilege of using her cook stove to prepare the next day's food. Sometimes the wife was driving one team and the husband another. I can not recall one person who went from our village and returned with much gold. A few made their homes in San Francisco, and by farming or practicing a profession were able to make a fair living. Most of those who returned were sad sights. Such that when anyone looked especially frazzled, he was said to look "like a returned Californian."

My father was an old line Whig. When the party was disrupted, after much reading and thinking he went over to the Democratic Party. Although he never as a great politician.

The Underground Railway had a station in Bristol. At Mrs. (Dr. Calvin) Wheeler's I used to see clothing for men, women and children, kept in readiness when they should stop there on their way north to Canada. Once, on seeing a Negro pass the house, I called my father to "look." He kept his eyes steadily on his paper, and told me to run into the kitchen. I did not understand why, but as usual I did as I was bid without question.

Lincoln and Douglas! Who can write the story of that time? The Douglas Invincibles, with their torches and banners. The Lincoln Wide Awakes, with theirs. The speeches, the crowds, the processions and many times the drunken rabbles. These were in the foreground of those stirring times.

I heard Douglas in Chicago, and I heard General U. F. Linder address the Invincibles, but Lincoln, I never saw or heard.

Then came the Civil War, with all its horrors and heartaches. The women worked together scraping lint from old linens, and preparing boxes and boxes full of things to use in the hospital or for the comfort of the soldiers in the field. My mother's specialty in the way of provisions was pickled eggs. Party lines and church lines were forgotten and all worked together for the good of the soldiers. Most of the soldiers were very young, led into the army many times by the lure of martial music and brass buttons.

If you heard of any poor fellow who didn't seem to have anyone to think about him, you sent him books and papers and letters, whether you knew him or not.

Every unmarried woman had a large war correspondence. When the boys came home on a furlough there was great rejoicing. When they were sent home sick, they were given every attention.

We were all glad when the "cruel war" was over. Illinois gave many of her sons, and for a time, mourning was in our fair state.

Now we are so prosperous that the younger generations cannot conceive what the older generations had to contend with. Yet, as I look back, I think we were just as happy then as now. So I will close with this, wishing our country continued prosperity and trusting that love of home and country will continue to be instilled in the young. Signed Susan Short May, Historian, Rochelle Chapter D. A. R. February 1913.

Last Modified on 2013-02-24 15:22:32-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson