Thursday, September 9, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Records of the Olden Time

Can you do a Scottish brogue?  Can you at least listen with a good Scottish brogue?  Just imagine that this is being read by Sean Connery or Liam Neeson....

Samuel B. McLaughlin

The subject of the following sketch comes from an old Scoth covenanter family that some 250 years ago lived on the coast of Scotland and followed the occupation of millers as had their fathers before them. It was a time of bitter religious persecutions. When Catholics were in power they persecuted Protestants without mercy, whipping, branding and murdering, and when the disciples of Calvin obtained the upper hand they paid off in like kind. The McLaughlins were Covenanters, and would not belie their religion. Through persecution and threatened death they clung to their faith, and when grim old Claverhouse, who was never known to show mercy, ordered the head of the family to recant, he stoutly refused, and told Black John to do his worst. Eleven times they strung him up, but life did not desert him, and still he refused to give up his religion. But it was not the Papist leader's purpose to take his life. Good millers were scarce and could not well be spared, so they left him more dead than alive, swearing to return again. Far in the distance across the blue channel the Irish coast was visible. The miller knew his vindictive enemies would surely return and then unless he recanted no mercy would be shown, so making his arrangements hastily and secretly, he embarked in an open boat with his family and such goods as he could carry and bade adieu to his native land forever. He found an asylam in Ireland, where he lived and died, with his wife also. The family here became farmers, and nearly a hundred years later one of the name, bidding his relatives adieu, sailed for the new world and settled in Virginia. Of there history there little is known in detail. The name is prominent in the annals of the time, and several members served in the war of the Revolution, fighting manfully on the side of the Colonists. After its close they drifted to the "dark and bloody ground," and one became a noted Indian fighter. After the border tribes were defeated and dispersed they settled down to peaceful persuits, one branch locating on Green River, where on the 17th day of Feb., 1813, Samuel B., the subject of this sketch, was born. His father was a tanner and likewise cultivated a small farm. The country was new, the people poor, and though soil and climate were unsurpassed, the imperfect means for tilling the earth made life one continuous struggle for existance. Imagine the artistic steel plows of to-day transformed into a clumsy affair, with a short beam, a blunt iron point, and a wooden mould-board, warranted never to scour, and you have the "Clipper" plows of our forefathers. It was commonly drawn by a mule, the lines and traces made from homespun and twisted hemp, passing through the wooden hames and tied with a knot; a shuck collar, and the whiffletrees fastened with withers of hickory bark to the plow. Wagons were unknown, a clumsy sled being the only means of conveyance in summer or winter. Good schools there were none. During the winter months some tramping pedagogue would gather a few scholars, and ply the birch and ferrule in some out of the way cabin until cleaned out by the larger boys, which usually happened about the middle of the term, when there would be no more school that year. The knowledge obtained under such circumstances could not be great, yet he learned sufficient to transact ordinary business, and it must be a sharp one who can profit by his want of information. The food of those days was plain and simple, corn bread and bacon, or "hog and hominy," formed the living of rich and poor, the luxuries of wheat bread and home-made coffee being indulged in only once a week -- on Sunday mornings. Very little sugar or coffee was used or to be had if desired. Books and newspapers in that benighted region were unknown, and information from the outer world came through those adventurous voyagers who made annual trips by flatboat to New Orleans, and for six months thereafter were the self-appointed oracles of the village. When sixteen years old his father promised, as a reward for extra labor, that all the corn raised, besides filling a certain crib, should be his. It may be believed the weeds had little show that season, and his labors were rewarded with a surplus of 150 bushels. A Christmas, and then left me. On this day commenced what has ever since been remembered and designated as the neighbor, the proprietor of a keel-boat, was going on his annual voyage to the gulf, and young McLaughlin bargained, in consideration of the aid he should give, for ten feet of space therein. In addition to his share of the corn, he loaded it with a thousand hoop-poles, while his mother sent along a venture of chickens, ducks, etc., with many admonitions as to the careful expenditure of the proceeds, which were to be laid out in such products as most delight the maternal heart. The question of getting the hoop-poles on board involved much thought and labor. A team to haul them to the boat was out of the question, so a place was selected as near the river as possible, and then cut, conveyed by hand, and rafted to where the boat lay, four miles below. For a sixteen-year boy this was an undertaking, unaided, of no small magnitude, but it was accomplished after infinite labor and pains, and the craft was got afloat. All went well until it struck a sand-bar, and refused to budge another peg. Throwing off his clothes, although it was November, he swam ashore, walked four miles to where a six-foot brother-in-law lived, and by their united efforts at lifting and pushing, the raft was afloat again. The venture was a success, the corn, hoop-poles and chickens finding a ready market, and with the proceeds laid out in a suit of store clothes, some sugar and coffee for his mother, a drawing knife for his father --a wonderful implement in those days-- he returned to enjoy his well earned laurels, and relate his surprising adventures. For the next three years he lived at home. When 19 he started on horseback for Illinois, ostensibly to see the country, but in reality to find the possessor of a pair of bewitching eyes that had stolen his heart away and had it in her keeping. Both were found, and during the season he was married to Rachel L. Hammett. His choice was a good one, and to her industry, frugality and careful management he is indebted for much of his success.

After the wedding he went back to Kentucky with his wife and worked on a farm, built a boat, etc., in which he returned to Illinois in 1833 with ten dollars in his pocket. He took up a claim above Chillicothe, put a cabin of primitive construction, which to its owners seemed a palace. The floor was made of puncheons, the roof of shakes, and the windows of greased paper. Wooden stools sufficed for chairs, a store box in which their goods were packed answered for a table, and the cradle --soon needed, was hallowed out from a log of wood. In this primitive style many of the now wealthy families of Marshall county began housekeeping. During the winter he cleared fix or six acres of land, which with the aid of his wife he planted to corn and potatoes. A severe cut in the foot disabled him, but the corn was properly cultivated and produced a good crop, though he was obliged to labor supported by a crutch. They lived here four years. Markets were too distant and transportation too expensive to make the raising of grain profitable, so he turned his attention to raising cattle and hogs, marketing the latter with Jabez Fisher at Lacon. It was a great event to him, when after paying all his debts he had a clean surplus of $50 left. He has sold wheat for 15 cents and corn for 8 cents a bushel. Occasionally a trip was made to Chicago, loading in with grain and out with lumber, salt and household necessaries. When lands came into market there was difficulty in raising the entrance money --many losing their homesteads. McL had little money, but he had two yoke of oxen and a cow, with which he started for Galena, hoping to convert them into money. A cash customer could not be found, and he sold them on credit with the solemn promise that payment should be sent down before the sales. There were no banks or express and the money must be risked by mail, carried by a tow-headed boy on a blind horse for a hundred and fifty miles. But those were days when men were honest and women virtuous, and the cash was duly paid according to promise, and safely arrived. The homestead was saved, and from this time prosperity was theirs, and riches came almost unbidden. In due time the old cabin gave way to a showy house with all the modern improvements. The home made chairs were replaced with costly mahogany; the old spinning wheel to a thousand dollar Knabe piano; the puncheon floor to costly carpets; the gourd cup and tin plates to cut glass and china. He owns nearly 1300 acres of land, is out of debt, has corn and wheat in the crib, hogs in the pen, and "cattle on a thousand hills." To himself and wife thirteen children have been born, nine of whom survive. Their names are Martha J., John B., Andrew J., Jefferson M., Jeanette C., Susan R., Samuel A., Harriet A., and George W. Are members of the Presbyterian church. He has filled various local offices, and is a good neighbor and citizen.

This is from Records of the Olden Time; or Fifty Years on the Prairies by Spencer Ellsworth. You can read or download the entire book as a PDF here.  Within its pages, I have found information on several ancestors from multiple family lines.  If you have connections to Illinois, its worth checking out!  May it prove to be a treasure chest of information for you as it has been for me.  (^.^)

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