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Date: approximately 1803 until about 1820
The story of early settlers can best be told by repeating some of the contents of a hand written letter by John L. Ferguson Esq. of Marine. The letter was dated approx. 1 year prior to his death in 1876. John L. Ferguson was the son of Isaac Ferguson the first settler in Marine Township.
© 1875 John L. Ferguson
I was born about 4 miles northwest of Edwardsville in Madison County on the 20th day of November 1807 in a blockhouse near Indian Creek, about 1 ˝ miles from Jones’ Fort. The following spring the Indians became so troublesome that my father, Major Isaac Ferguson and my grandfather John Ferguson (then living together in the blockhouse) were compelled to move into Jones’ Fort for safety. My father came to Illinois in the Spring of 1804, with his wife, having been married in January of that year. He then stopped at Downing’s Station some mile south of the present site of Troy, where he remained about 1 ˝ years. There were a great many blockhouses built on Ridge Prairie about that time at different places. In the spring of 1805, my father moved into a blockhouse, about 1 ˝ miles north of Troy, on the place now owned and occupied by Jubilee Posey. At that place my father’s first child Melinda (now Melinda Kile, living near St. Jacobs) was born May 18th, 1803. He remained at that place with a man named Isham Revis in the same house until the winter of 1806 when my father’s family moved to the place where I was born. In the summer of 1808 my father left Jones’ Fort and assisted in building Hill’s Fort in what is now Bond County. Hill’s Fort was situated on the east side of Shoal Creek about 5 miles south of Greenville, the present county seat of Bond County. While there he raised a company of Rangers partly composed of Kaskaskia Indians. He remained in active service during the remainder of the war. We were attacked occasionally by the Indians up to 1813. In 1809 my father assisted, in fact, he had the entire supervision of building Shelton’s Fort. During the next summer he built Brazil Station, at a place then and yet known as Terrapin Ridge, being then and now the extreme southern part of Madison County. There were no troops regularly stationed at Brazil’s Station, it being only 5 miles from Shelton’s Fort where they could get assistance at any time if required. It was almost impossible for Indian’s to get to that station without being discovered by the soldiers from the forts more on the frontier. At that time there were no forts or lines of defense north of Jones’ Fort on Indian Creek and Hill’s Fort on Shoal Creek. As there were soldiers passing or always on the line between those forts everything south of the line was comparatively safe, except in the summer time when the Indians in small thieving bands would penetrate or go into the country considerably further south until Shelton’s Fort was built. My father always had his wife and two children with him as he considered them being more safe with him than when left in a fort garrisoned by a few men and many women and children. Though when in forts women could do as good fighting as the men and it was not an uncommon things in those days for a single lone woman with perhaps five or six children in blockhouses on the farms to successfully defend herself against five or ten Indians particularly if the attack was made in daytime which was generally the case as women and children were never left home alone at night if it could be avoided. All women on the frontier at that time learned to shoot. My mother was a good shot with a rifle and could shoot a deer or an Indian as well as my father. Her services were several times called into requisition on certain occasions during the war as were like services by many other ladies of those times. Previous to the building of Shelton’s Fort, there was a small settlement there, made in 1808. The first settlers were William Shelton, Augustus Shelton, Josiah Shelton, Thomas Shelton, Samuel Lindley, John Lindley, John Higgins, David Smeltzer, John Howard, Abram Howard, William Howard and Joseph Howard who all lived in blockhouses near each other and cultivated the land in common for the benefit of their families until Shelton’s Fort was built. After that time their families with many others lived in that fort until the close of the war.
In the year 1810 my father located his family permanently in Shelton’s Fort until 1813, though he did active ranger service outside the forts. In 1810 there was a regular line of forts commencing in Kaskaskia Fort Chartres, in Marion County, Whiteside Station in St. Clair County, Downing’s Station to the southern part of Madison County and Jones’ Fort in the northern part of Madison County. In the southeast part of Madison County on Silver Creek were Shelton’s Fort and Brazil Station and on Shoal Creek in Bond County was Hill’s Fort. It was the business of those rangers to be always on the march and occasionally visit all those forts and see that everything was right. Most of the time they were kept on the frontier watching for Indian signs and whenever they discovered any signs of Indians they followed up. If they could overtake them, the rangers invariably chastised them and sometimes wholly exterminated small bands.
The general orders for the rangers were from Gen’l Harrison of Vincennes, Indiana to whom all military messages and dispatches from this region of country had to be sent.
Carrying these dispatches was a duty that invariably fell to the lot of my father and with three of four [?] picked me it was a hazardous undertaking as the whole country between Mississippi and Wabash Rivers was always overrun by roving bands of Indians. About the close of our Indian war, Gen’l Harrison was Territorial Governor of Indiana. About that time there was an eccentric genius in the service with my father called Mike Dood. Many old settlers know the man and have probably heard the joke. He said he had never seen a Governor and as Maj. Isaac Ferguson had to see Gen’l Harrison on military business in a short time. Mike Dood insisted on being selected as one of his bodyguards. His wishes were gratified and the party of three men arrived safely in Vincennes. They immediately reported to Gen’l Harrison’s headquarters and after being introduced to the General, Mike walked around him several times, examined him from head to foot and said, “My Major, this is nothing but a man!”
From the time of my first recollection and particularly while living in Shelton’s Fort, there was more unity of feeling amongst the people up to 1814, than has ever existed since this country, their habits, manners, dress and customs, being the same and their social intercourse as that of one family. There were no distinctions between rich and poor, they were all alike. They all labored or cultivated the land in common, for the benefit of all and the only advantage one had over the other was that those who had the greatest number of children received the greatest reward. The only crops cultivated at Shelton’s Fort during the war were corn, potatoes (then called taters), cabbage and cotton, all the above crops grew fine, with little cultivation. The women picked, spun and wove the cotton for their own and their children’s clothes, and during the war none of them in the region of country ever wore anything except articles raised and manufactured at home. The men invariably dressed in buckskins, except shirts, which were made of cotton and of home manufacture. All the men, women and children wore moccasins in those times and if they had been worn by all classes, rich and poor, up to the present day, you would have seen a much less number of lame and crippled men and women, than are now seen on the streets every day, troubled or lamed with corns or bunions or both. You may say to yourself without fear of contradiction, that such gentleman and ladies were not raised in Indian wartimes and have never worn moccasins. Moccasins never produce such results and I do honestly recommend their use to all those who are thus unfortunately afflicted. As an infallible remedy for all such unfortunate deformities, I am aware that these remarks may be unpopular, yet I consider them true and can site many loving examples of old men and women, who have lived and dressed all their days in the old primitive style, yet perfect models of humanity compared with the present band box style of raising men and women.
I know from experience and general observation that boys of sixty years ago at the age of fourteen and fifteen years could endure and accomplish more than most young ones of the present can accomplish at the age of twenty one years owing I presume to their constant outdoor exercise and the plain substantial food on which they lived in the early settlement of the county.
In those days almost any boy of 10 years old, if he found a rabbit on the prairie, could run it down and catch it. At the present day, it would take a half dozen boys and that many dogs and the result could be uncertain. In fact, I believe that dogs, owing to high feeding and extra care taken of them at present, are degenerating in physical ability as much as men and boys and owing to the same cause. From the year 1810 to the close of the war, all the corn meal used in Shelton’s Fort was ground on a hand mill ox powered in wooden vessels. The people lived entirely on corn bread, hominy, venison, turkeys, beef and occasionally pork. Hogs being at that time scarce and as game of almost every kind was plenty and all sorts of vegetables grew abundantly when planted the people at the forts always had plenty of something to eat, and if they did get a little short in the provision line, five or six soldiers could go out and get a half dozen or more deer before breakfast. Beef was plenty as cattle were seldom stolen by Indians. Though Indians could not get them without shooting them, and for an Indian to fire his gun in day time anywhere near the fort was almost the same thing as sounding his own death knoll, so soon and certain was his fate.
The people of the fort lived in perfect harmony with each other and when one had plenty, all had plenty. In many instances you could see two or more families in one house with several children in each family and all eat at one common table (that is) for each member of the several families to take whatever they had to eat in their hands and use it to the best advantage under the circumstances. They were perfectly happy, from the fact that they knew no other mode of living, and probably at that time not many of them looked forward to anything higher than the privileges they then enjoyed. At that time we had no markets and had nothing to sell. We never bought anything from the fact that we never wanted anything, except what we could make.
The people were then generally happy and honest. I never heard of a theft or murder being committed by white men until I was twelve or thirteen years old and never hard of such things during war. Men were strictly honest and many of them religious. Were but few men that could make a false statement about anything, and if they did, that one offense generally cured them.
A man’s word was then as good as his note, and his house was all he had to care for. He was therefore very careful not to tarnish it by any ungentlemanly act.
There were a number of good religious women in Shelton’s Fort amongst whom was my mother. Although the opportunities for religious services in the fort were limited, yet there were many shining lights in the Methodist and Baptist churches who then worshipped together and why they will not do so now is a mystery. I cannot understand unless we come to the conclusion that they had better Christians in times of war, than they have at the present day.
In time of war you seldom ever heard a man swear an oath. There are not civil officers in our fort, yet as soon as the war ended, the Territorial Legislature in session in Kaskaskia passed a law (and enforced it strictly) fining a man or woman fifty cents for every oath sworn in public, and at the time there were no exceptions or executions or fines. That law was enforced until 1818 when Illinois Territory became a state. We had a law at the same time which was continued in force for several years after we became a state, making it a penalty from $3.00 to $10.00 for any person caught at work on Sabbath, and so far as morality is concerned we are certainly on the retrograde. Men now do with impunity, things that would have appeared horrible fifty years ago. Such things would have consigned the perpetrator to endless infamy. The world now is becoming so corrupt and selfish and the great mass ignoring or disregarding the common interest of the country and his fellowmen that we are on dangerous ground.
The first religious service, or first sermon, preached in Shelton’s Fort, was preached by Samuel Lindley, a Baptist minister, then a resident of the fort. The first marriage solemnized was between Joseph Ferguson and Virginia Smeltzer in 1811. The first death in Shelton’s Fort was Augustus Shelton who died in the year 1814. The first child born was Thomas Shelton (son of William Shelton) inn the year 1810. After that time they were so numerous as to escape my memory. We resided in the fort until the year 1813. We moved into a blockhouse near the fort in the spring of 1813 and that summer my father, Maj. Isaac Ferguson, built the first house ever built in Marine prairie on land in Section 33. After building it he did not dare to live in it for fear of the Indians who yet made raids on the frontier settlements. At this period we had very little protection. The greatest protection we had on the frontier settlement, of which Marine was one, was from the Kaskaskia Indians and a few soldiers.
After my father built, five other persons built houses in the fall of 1813, and they did not dare to live in them until the spring or early winter of 1814, when there was a permanent settlement made, consisting of about one dozen families as follows: Isaac Ferguson, John Warrick, John Woods, George Newcomb, John Ferguson, William Ferguson, Joseph Ferguson, Alston and Joshua Dean, Abraham Howard, Absalom Ferguson, Aquilla Delahide. All of these men made permanent settlements at the close of 1813 and the early part of 1814. In 1815, there were added Christopher Payne, Thomas Breeze, Richard Windsor, John Campbell and John Giger.
In 1816 came John Scott, John Laird, James Sims, Henry Peck, Andrew Matthews, Jr., James Matthews, Lefford French, James French, Abram Carlock and John Miller. In 1817 came John Dugger, Philip Searcey, John Cleveland and Albert H. Judd.
On the 19th day of September 1817, a company left their pleasant homes in New York City, and turned their course westward, to seek homes in the vicinity of Edwardsville, Illinois, where some of the party, the Masons, had been the previous year, and brought back favorable reports of the new country. Rowland P. Allen, his wife and son, George T., a negro boy, Henry and a negro girl, Jane, servants given to Mrs. Allen by her father in New York. Paris Mason, wife, a sister of Mrs. Allen, one child and two negro servants, James Mason and family, Hall Mason and family, Elijah Ellison, wife and Townsend, John and Jacob, his sons; Richard Ellison, Theophilus W. Smith, an able lawyer, and afterward a judge, with his family; William Townsend, Daniel Tallman and several young men composed this party of pioneers. They came in wagons to Pittsburg, Pennsylvannia and there purchased a large flat boat, in which they pursued their journey as far as Shawneetown, where they disembarked, continuing their travels by wagon to Edwardsville, where they arrived on the afternoon of December 23, 1817, and found a comfortable log house provided for their reception, where they spent the winter. In the spring of 1818, Rowland P. Allen and Elijah Ellison moved into Marine, and on section 28 built their cabins, entered the land together, enclosed the same and farmed in common for many years. Also coming with Allen and Ellison were John Barnaby, Jacob Johnson, the Balsters, Jacob Varner, Adam Kile, Sr., Adam Kile, Jr., John Kile and Jacob Kile. At this time the place was called Ferguson Settlement in Point Prairie.
In 1818 Capt. Curtis Blakeman and Capt George C. Allen arrived in Ferguson Settlement with seventy-two persons in one train on the 19th of July in that year, all of who settled here.
Capt. Blakeman brought with him a four-horse wagon driven by Henry B. Thorp, and a one horse rockaway driven by James Sackett. Elijah Blakeman, a brother of the captain, came with him in a two horse wagon, bringing a wife and five children. He improved a farm in section 32.
Capt. George C. Allen brought two teams, one driven by himself and the other by William Coon. William May, a carpenter by trade, resided here about the same time, but soon returned to his former home in the east. A few years later, William Goodsell and his family came from the east, but dying about three years subsequent to his arrival, his family returned to their former home.
During the fall of 1819 and spring of 1820, Capt. Justus DeSeelhorst, Capt. Lewis DeSeelhorst, Capt. James Breath, Capt. Presswick, Capt. David Mead, William C. Wiggins, John Shinn, Samuel Lawrence, David Anderson, Jacob Schneider, David Gooch, Ambrose Houser, Mathias Long, John Ambuehl, William Giger, Reuben Reynolds, Benjamin May, John Harrington, Whitmil Harrington, Frank Frisse, M. Botchford, Solomon Curtis, Wheeler Curtis settled in this settlement and after time changes were so frequent that it would be a difficult job for any person to keep account of the changes that did occur. From the year 1820, the place was always called Marine Settlement, taking its name from the character of former occupations of the men who made extensive and valuable improvements in 1819 and 1820, many of whom had been sea captains and a majority of the others had been sailors, most of whom made good, honest industrious farmers.
Some of these pioneer families reached the Marine Settlement by two different routes, for some traveled through Virginia, then by way of the Shenandoah Valley to Tennessee, through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky ferried by flatboats across the Ohio River to Shawneetown in southern Illinois. There they continued their overland journey in their conveyances such as covered wagons, two wheeled carts, horseback and rockaways to the prairie regions. The other route was to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia, where flatboats were secured and used to float down the Ohio River to Shawneetown traveling the overland trail by wagon to St. Louis then on to the prairie. This beautiful rolling land with bits of wooded area, the rich soil, the creeks with smaller streams containing a water supply was an inviting place for these pioneer home seekers.
Capt. Blakeman was born October 24, 1777 in Sheffield, England. When he arrived in Marine Township, he was a man of 40 years of age, who had received much wealth with his endeavors as a ship owner and a sea captain. Curtis Blakeman purchased one thousand one hundred and 20 acres in Township 4, North Range6. From what was researched for that time, land was sold for $1.25 per acre.
Land grants prior to the sale of land by the Federal Government were first, ancient land grants, or allotments, derived from former governments (French or British) or from the Indians, under act of Congress of June 20, 1788. There were no grants of this class within the present territory of Madison County.
Second, Donations to heads of families. Under the law of the 20th of June 1788, a donation of four hundred acres of land not given to each of the families living at either of the villages of Kaskaskia, Prairie de Rocher, Cahokia, Fort Chartres, or St. Phillips. The Commissioners construed this to provide for all those who had become heads of families from the peace of 1783 to the passage of the law in 1788.
Third, Improvement Rights. Under the law of the third of March 1791, when lands had been actually improved and cultivated, under a supposed grant by a commander or court, it was directed that the claim should be confirmed, not exceeding four hundred acres to any one person.
Forth, Militia Rights. Under the act of March 1, 1791, a grant of land, not exceeding one hundred acres was made to each person who had obtained no other donation of land from the United States, and who on the first day of August, 1790, was enrolled in the militia and had done militia duty. To our knowledge, through research, none of the above land grants existed in Marine Township. Research has shown that many more of the early settlers purchased land to large quantities from the Federal Government in 1816, in Marine Township.
In this settlement we had no markets, or took nothing to market until about the year 1815. We then commenced hauling the products of our farms to St. Louis. We hauled with ox teams and the roads were so bad that we generally took from four to five days to make a trip. In going to market, it never cost the people anything but passage, as they invariably took their provisions with them, and slep tin in their wagons, or carts, or on blankets on the ground. At that time, carts were generally used, as almost any man could take an axe, a handsaw, a drawing knife and chisel and make a cart in 3 or 4 days, as they were not to particular about having things polished as they are present.
About the year 1815, the first wheat was raised in Marine Prairie. It was then threshed on the ground with horses, on a place scraped off smooth for the purpose. It was then cleaned by standing in the wind and slowly pouring from some small vessel, and when there was no natural wind, two men could make a strong breeze with a sheet, or sufficiently strong to clean wheat or oats. After it was ready and hauled to St. Louis, wheat was wroth thirty seven and a half to fifty cents a bushel . Oats ten to fifteen cents per bushel and corn ten to twenty cents in the St. Louis market though I have many times seen corn sold in the country to newcomers for six to eight cents per bushel.
From the first settlement of the county until about the year 1820 the farmers labored under many disadvantages owing entirely to the inferior quality and make of the implements they were compelled to work with. Plows were made of wood, except the bar shear and two small rods which were made of iron. With these plows the land was generally broken up, but not turned upside down as it should be to cover the seeds and grass. About 1825 they made an improved plow, then known as the Carey plow, with half the mould –board made of iron. It was a decided improvement over the old plow. Until about the year 1818, all wheat and oats were cut previous to that time with sickles. I recollect, that during that year, Elijah Ellison introduced the first grain cradle lever saw, and it was then ascertained to be a much better plan of saving grain, that in 1819 and 1820 they became of general use amongst the farmers in this part of the county. The old plan of threshing wheat and oats continued until about the year 1837 when two different kinds of threshing machines were introduced and since that time the inventive mind of the Yankee has made many improvements on all those machines and invented and brought out many other implements of husbandry that probably had never been thought of at that time.
The corn crops in the early settlement of this county averaged much heavier than now (1875) but wheat crops are at least one third heavier than then, and the oats crop are heavier owing I presume to the better culture generally, by deep plowing and thoroughly pulverizing the land before sowing wheat or oats and by sowing better varieties.
Ever since I was a small child, I was told that the first town of Marine was south of the Marine Cemetery. Through research I have found that what they were referring to was really Marine Settlement that was not the same as the future village Of Marine. In fact, the original settlement of 1813 of the Ferguson, Kile, and Allen families was called Ferguson Settlement, this being some years prior to the arrival of the seagoing men of 1820. Definition of settlement according to Webster’s dictionary is: a group of settlers, colonists, etc: the place, tract of country, where they settle: their dwellings, etc collectively.
As these settlers arrived in the new land they live in tents and in wagons until such time as their cabins were built. The cabins were built of logs, normally one room and occasionally two and some lofts. They either had a log or sod roof. And all had a stone or rock fireplace that served a dual purpose for cooking and heating. The undertaking of building a home in the early days was a project that involved several months of work.
Within the Ferguson Settlement the first marriage was that of Lefferd French and Sarah Matthews in 1815. Elijah Ferguson, brother of Major Isaac Ferguson, was the first death in the year 1815. The first child born was Elizabeth A. Ferguson, the daughter of Major Isaac Ferguson, on March 14. 1814. Also married in the year of 1815 was John Barnaby and Mary Johnson
Major Ferguson, and the other settlers, coming as they did from the heavily timbered countries of Kentucky and Tennessee, all made clearings in the edges of the forest and there built and lived.
Rowland P. Allen was one of the first to build in the prairie and was laughed at for his willingness to haul building material, fencing and firewood so far, a distance of half a mile. But in a few years the older pioneers realized the advantages of a residence on the prairie and came out in to the sunshine.
Food for the early settlers was entirely off the land. The menu for the pioneers would be wild game, birds, fruit and berries. Their livestock was fed on the prairie grass and the off falls of the berries and nut trees. The livestock did very well on these foods. Two of the things that were rarely heard of by the early settlers was coffee and tea. On the other hand, honey of wild bees was in abundance and sugar was made in February from the maple trees. There were elk when the settlers came. Elk were killed around the Alton area with horns that were four feet long. There were no buffaloes, but the settlers found many horns that were perfectly sound. Deer were in abundance and panthers were plentiful. Wildcats would come and catch chickens in open daylight. One kind of wildcat was called the catamount and it was the most troublesome. Foxes were also very troublesome, they were gray as were the prairie wolves. The settlers would go after wolves on the prairie and run them down on horseback.
You would find otters on the creeks along with beavers. The beavers would cut down cottonwood trees that were six inches in diameter. Parrots could be found in hollow trees near the creeks. The parrots fed on cockleburs and used to crack small hickory nuts with their bills. They also had eagles and ravens. Robins and pheasants would come around the settlement. Waterfowl was very plentiful and you could see as many as ten thousand a day flying north in the spring of the year. Isaac Ferguson turned in 6 wolf scalps to a licensed county furrier in 1816 for which he received $.75 each.
These pioneers were forced to be self sufficient: create implements, manufacture clothes and household items, provide for basic medical needs, provide for the winter season and maintain family safety and unity. One small innovation was the flour mill. A large stump was rounded out with an ax and corn was mashed to flour with a pestle. This served as a mill (mortar).
One might note that many early settlers did not stay. It was a complete change of lifestyle for many of these people. It was very difficult to cope with the pioneer life and especially with the renegade Indians. Thus, many of the settlers returned to what they considered to be a more civilized lifestyle.
Those who remained at the settlement were found on tracts of land of ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, eighty, one hundred, and plus acres per settler. Also in the settlement were those that did not own a piece of land, but who lived on the land and worked the land for a prominent landowner.
Seeing some early photos of Marin and Marine Township and listening to a number of the older folk’s stories as I was growing up, there were always strong emphasis on stories that there were never any colored (black) people living around here. Research has shown that were was a colored settlement on land in Range 7, Section 8 and 15, beginning in 1818. The settlement amounted to about 300 people in the mid 1800s with their own school and two churches. These people, none of which were slaves, crossed the Silver Creek which was the only thing between their lands and the Marine township. They did indeed work with the settlers of Marine and did appear on many photos.
The Major Isaac Ferguson, his father, that he talks about went on to move to Texas and believe it or not at 70 was one of the first volunteers for the Mexican American War, they made him a captain and he died in Mexico City January 1, 1848
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