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 Smith.
(Postmarked) Savanna, Ill. (Postage) 25c.
May the 27th, 1838.
MR. DAVID PORTZ,
Boonsboro, Washington Co., Md.
Dear brother we now take up our pen to discharge a duty incumbant on us so long which we would have done sooner, but we wished to get settled before writing, so as to give as much information as possible. We shipped on bord the Paul Jones at Wheeling on the 5th of Aprile, reshaped on bord the North Star at Cincinnati on the 11th, and arived hear on the 20th, all in a tollerable good state of health except the diorhea which we all had except Henry who was mutch better all the way on water than we had any reason to espect.
Father sent his horses on land the horse gave out on the road and was left to die and the mare strade off after she arived heare; he got a comfortable frame house on landing at $10.00 per month and I have got now a house at $4 per month. Father has bought a lot in town at $50 with a good spring on it which will be not exceeding 20 feet from his door, with the intention of following his business.
But the most meloncolly part of the story is yet untold. Henry departed this life yesterday about 3 o'clock P. M. in one of his old spells which he had hundreds of time but it was evident that the Good providence determend that this should be his last, from the fact that all means which was in our power to use for his recovery prooved inafectual. During the whole of the journey he was well and stood the
249journey as well as any of us; about ten days after we arrived here he was taken sick though not as bad to all appearance as he was many times before, he bore his affliction with unuseual patience, never freted about his former home or absent friends, and died without a struggle or a grone. We can safely say that he sufered for nothing eather food or medicine, calculated to sustain life or cure disease which prooved to us more forseable than ever that when death comes it defiies all human means.
Its but justice to say that our neibuers ware as kinde and rendered all the assistance that they could. The affliction is great but we try, and we wish you to try to be reconciled from the consideration that he has exchanged a state of suffering for a state of rest. Thanks be to the God of heaven that we are all in the posesion of good health except Mother is poorly in consequence of waiting on a young woman who died today about 8 o'clock A. M. with the small pox. No other case is known as yet in town.
Our town is a flurishing little village the most easterly bend on the great Mississippi with a good landing for steam boats, two State roads running through it one from Galena to Chicago and the other from this place to Peoria on the Ills. river and a railroad laid out running through the town from Galena 30 miles above us on fever river to Chicago on Lake Michigan, 20 m above us are about being let out to be compleated the current year which makes this place a very eligible point for all kinds of business.
It is my desided opinion that if you would come here with a good set of tools you might do a great deal better here than you ever can expect to do in Md. we would all rejoice to see you and your family comfortably cituated here but I would not insist on your coming without mature deliberation altho I am perfectly satesfied withe the prospects of the town and country and the disposition of people.
Father is not satisfied with the cold climate which has been remarkably changeable some daies we have june heat and others as cold as March.
All kinds of business are good good mechanik can get [almost] any kind of price and the cash down.
I get from $2.00 to $2.50 for small jobs and 8.00 for a coat.
Mond. morning this morning I took (of) a coat for Mr. G. H. Bowen the principle merchant of the place and one of the proprietors of the town.
The last that father and you talked about has never come to perfection and probably never will. One year ago last fall there were but 4 log caben and now there are about 35 the most of which are genteel frames from I to 3 story high and 8 now under way lots in town are selling at from $50 to 600 and I think its haserding but little to sa that lots that could be bought for $150 now will bee worth $1,000 in five years. Brother Wagner and the company with him have all landed safely.
Give our best respects to all our enquireing friends particularly unk [uncle] W. McCoy. Write immediately on the reception of this and give us all the information posible and state how the climate in Md. since we left there.
No more at preasent but I remane your well wisher in hopes of meeting both in this and in another world.
(Signed) J. H. SMITH.
Jo davies Co.