Copies of these letters are printed in the Transactions through the courtesy of Mr. J. W. Clinton of Polo, who contributed the following explanatory note:
The following letters written from Ogle and Carroll counties between 1838 and 1857 came into the possession of the Polo Historical Society in January, 1905. The letters were written to David Ports, a cooper, who resided at the time in Washington county, Maryland. The letters were preserved by him and brought to Carroll county many years later. At his death they fell into the hands of his son, Otho J. Ports, now a resident of Hazelhurst, Illinois. From him they passed into the possession of the Polo Historical Society as stated above.
The letters throw considerable light on the modes of travel from the east to the west as well as the conditions of the country seventy years ago. In those days there were three routes of travel from New York state, Pennsylvania and Maryland to Northern Illinois: By boat on the Great Lakes to Chicago; by wagon trains across the intervening states of Ohio and Indiana, and by steam boat from Pittsburg down the Ohio, up the Mississippi and then up the Illinois to Peoria or Peru and thence overland or up the Mississippi to Fulton or Savanna and thence across country to eastern Carroll or Ogle counties.
The first settlement made in Ogle county was made at Buffalo Grove, near Polo, between Christmas, 1829 and early in January, 1830, by Isaac Chambers, a Virginian, who came to the country by way of Springfield and Peoria, and John Ankney, a Pennsylvanian, who probably came by the Ohio and Mississippi to Galena.
Samuel Reed and Oliver W. Kellogg from New York state probably came overland. Kellogg came to Illinois in the twenties and before settling in Ogle county had lived for a short period in Galena and at Kellogg's Grove in Stephenson county. Reed had followed his father west stopping on the way in Ohio a year or more. Both Reed and Kellogg arrived at Buffalo Grove in April, 1831, and might perhaps be said to be the first permanent settlers in Buffalo Grove, as Ankney moved to Elkhorn Grove after the Black Hawk war of 1832 and Kellogg bought Chambers' claim in April 1831.
In those pioneer days in the Rock River Valley letters played an important part in the settlement of the country and no doubt such letters as Smith's and Wallace's brought many settlers from Maryland and New York to Ogle county.
To illustrate: Samuel Reed, Sr., came from New York to Peoria county in the twenties. His son, Samuel, came to his place in the early spring of 1831 and thence north to Ogle and Carroll counties in search of a better and healthier location. Buffalo Grove seemed to offer all that he demanded. He was soon followed by a brother-in-law, Cyranus Sanford and he by his sons, all from Delaware county, New York. In '34 and '35 others from Delaware county followed. In 1835 John Waterbury and Solomon Shaver came from the same county to view the country and the next year they with a company of sixty-nine others, all from Delaware county, came to Buffalo Grove as settlers. In the settlement of Mt. Morris, about the same course of events occurred. In the summer of 1836 Samuel M. Hitt and Nathaniel Swingley, from Washington Co., Maryland, arrived in Ogle county at what is now Mt. Morris. They were pleased with the country and in the autumn returned home and the next year the Maryland colony landed at Mt. Morris. In subsequent years the communications thus established brought many settlers from Delaware Co., New York, and from Washington county, Maryland. So true is this that today the Marylanders and their descendants are far more numerous in Ogle and Carroll counties than the settlers from any other single state.
The copies here printed were taken and compared with the originals by Evangeline Holmes.
Letter from James and Sarah Smith.
(Postmarked) CHERRY GROVE, ILLS.,
13th. July, 1844.
MR. DAVID PORTS,
Boonsboro, Washington Co., Md.
DEAR BROTHER. I take up my pen to answer your letter dated Aprile last which bares to us inteligence of a most melancholy carrecter. To hear of the distress of one who would have divided the last dollar he possessed to relieve my distress, without being able to offer any relief produces feelings which may be immagined but not discribed. We are all as well as usual. Sarah Ann had a bad cough las winter during her confinement, which has left a pain in her left side and breast and racked her constitution considerably.
You say you desire comeing out next Spring which if you postpone longer Sarah Ann will dispare of ever seeing you.
You have resolved to come foul or fair this I am glad to hear. In reference to that my advise is this: embrace every opertunity of selling all the property you can for money and lay that by to defray your traveling expences and the rest sell at publick sale except what you need on the road and if you cannot pay all pay all you can and come for if you can pay them after you get here sooner than by staing there (which I believe you can) your creditors will loose nothing and you will gain by coming for it is my opinion from what you say of the hard times that a poor man in debt in Maryland must remain so a long time. I will now answer one question which is the hardest of all you ask namely what fortune I have made here in order that you may have a correct idea of my preasant circumstances. Will say I bought — town lots in a nice vilage for 185 dollars on condition of the proprietor digging a well. I also bought 5 acres of timber & 40 of prairie for 40 dollars and a log cabin for 20 dollars; this town property I fenced which cost me $52 on which I built a frame house cost $450 more here you see my condition living all the time from hand to mouth in the meantime the proprieters failed to dig the well which I was not able to do. I had to haul my water a mile after a triel of four years I got tired and determined to leave for Cherry Grove and make a farm my house I sold for $125 timber for 32 fence for 30 log cabin for 8 and prairie for 30 in brakeing of prarie which was to have been paid the 20th. of this
258month but this I have been cheeted out of by the man of whom I bought saying that he never sold it to me but gave it to me on condition of my improveing it which I did not do.
Last faul I came on my clame for which I paid $40 and raised a hewed log house 17 1/2 feet square but was unable to finish it and built a log cabin. James William was born. (Father's house is now occupied next spring he expects to go to Savanna and live in his house where you will land if you come by water which I think would be your best rout. The best cituation in this country for you at this time is Mt. Carroll whare you can get 20c per barrel shop and stuff all found you whare they can use 100 per day house rent about as you pay in Maryland grosaries & clothing as cheap or cheaper superfine flour $1.75 per hundred.) I had like to forgot to tel you that I am nearer out of debt than I have been for five years past I have a waggon, a yoke of oxen, a cow and calf and a yearling filly, a fifty dollar note paiable Jan. 1st, 1846.
If after you arrive here you should wish to make a farm I can furnish you with a prarie clame on which there is a good spring one mile nearer timber than I am a fire wood anough your lifetime.
You may perhaps wish to know how you can fence a farm without timber I am fencing mine with sod 2 1/2 rods of which I can make per day this is faster than I could make a rale fence at the distance I am from timber. Lavinie had 5 acres of timber land in Elkhorn Grove which her husband sold for 86 bushels of wheat but never got a deed during her life time and she dicing without heirs prevents him from geting it the law this state gives it to father, you and Sarah Ann the man from whom the deed is comeing says he will make father a deed and he sais you shall have his shear.
There is a three cornered piece torn out of this letter at this point the gist of which may be easily determined from what remains.
Illinois nead not discourrage you. I have worked...able but I have been cheated out of it still I do not...this country nor dispair of making a living if the life...self and family is spared. Go to no expense of buy a waggon or...Get to Wheeling the best way you can from there I think your whole...will not exceed...to Savanna provisions and all.
Come out next Spring, if reddy or not reddy, but if you should not like the country do not blame me the winters are very cold and the wether generally changeable we have had frost every month in the year for two years sinse I have been here but still we have good crops.
We have had a great deal of wet wether for two months past which opperates against the corn preventing the people from plowing it as they aught but wheat and oats look very promiseing.
No more at preasent but remain your firm friend and well wisher July the 5th, 1844
(Signed) J. M. AND SARAH SMITH.
N. B. I have nothing nor father either which we could turn into money or we would gladly send you some money to help you out you say we nead not make any preparations for your reception this we