Primary tabs


Susan Short May.


The following narrative written by Mrs. Susan Short May, historian of the Rochelle Chapter, D. A. R., is an interesting study of the early days in our State.

My father, John Short, was born in Groton, now Ledyard, Connecticut, May 4th, 1800. His mother, Margaret Grates Hakes (or Haikes) was of Welch descent, his father, John Short, 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. "Departed this life March 14th, six o'clock P. M. Raymond Surre, aged sixty-three 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 seventy-four 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 20th, 1798, to his "Dear and Ever Loving Wife." In this letter he says, "We arrived here the first day of this 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 Keneback. 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. My grandmother married Col. Morgan, of Ledyard, Connecticut, and died in the Morgan home in 1859, her husband preceding her many years.

My father after his school days were over, served a long apprenticeship with a carpenter, and became a skilled mechanic. His wonderful chest of tools was a delight to my childish eyes; for, when he learned his trade, there was no milling work done, and all mouldings, panelings, and headings, were made by hand. Because he was a skilled workman, he had opportunities to see many lands, going with contractors, if my memory serves me right. 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 Janiero with passengers, and from there to England. Some of the passengers, however, are bound to New York, and 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, A. D. 1831, in New York City, "according to the usages of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America, by one R. Castel, Pastor of 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, and the particular spot where he took up his residence was probably decided by the circumstance that a number of New York city people, who had preceded him a few years, were settled near the


juncture of Blackberry creek and Fox river. This place was called Yorkville. It is now in 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 Pottawatomie 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 this county. By the time father reached Yorkville, the Indians had disappeared, though stories of their deeds were still plentiful, and an Indian trail was clearly to be seen running through our farm. The only Indian that I ever saw was Shabbona's widow, who was grown old and fat, and was being transported about the country in a wagon.

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

At the juncture of Fox River and Blackberry creek he looked at "claims," and finally bought "Horatio Johnson's claim" for $425.00. At this time the land had not been surveyed and it was not till 1844 that he received his deed from the government. The records show that about this time, 1843-1844, he bought various pieces of land from different people, amounting in all to two hundred forty acres, and that he received from the government a deed for this amount of land in eighty acre tracts. Twenty years afterwards he sold the farm for forty-seven dollars an acre to a Mr. Palmer, whose son now owns it, and says that he would not put it on the market for two hundred fifty dollars an acre. The southwest part of the farm was prairie, the northwest, through which Blackberry creek runs, was timber, mostly hickory and oak.

Having bought this claim, and left one hundred fifty dollars to put in crops and build a cabin, father returned


to New York, by way of the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The 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 Reany, 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 and loaded one wagon with dry goods and groceries. I have heard my mother tell that they brought with them rice, tea, coffee, flour, salted meats, and loaf sugar, which meant great cones of hard sugar, weighing many pounds, 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 of some dark wood, parlor chairs of curled maple, and a very large mahogany bureau with brass handles, a looking glass in a gilt frame with acorn pendents across the top, and another mirror in mahogany frame, of all which treasures only a few pieces are now in my possession. More important than parlor furniture, however, were Dutch ovens, copper tea kettles, cranes, andirons, and other appliances for cooking in a primitive way, for the house into which mother must bring her household possessions was a log cabin without fire place and with 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 it to her. She had to cook out doors, until the fire place 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 24th, 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, but I was much disappointed in not finding my crops put in according to agreement. My log cabin they built, and quite an indifferent one it was. I have, however, built me a frame house, which I convert this winter, the upper part for a grainery, the lower part for a shop to build my sled, sleigh, harrows, yokes, ploughs, etc., for I have concluded in my old age to turn farmer, which I think I can do as well as one-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, and you can not buy a pound of butter or cheese within forty miles, and then you have to pay from forty to fifty cents for butter not fit to eat, and from eighteen to twenty cents for cheese."

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

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 great need of a place for teamsters to stop. The business of keeping tavern was very hard on mother, with her increasing family, but she worked bravely, and everyone 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 ice house. Father built a fire in the oven, pulled out the ashes, and then mother baked her bread and pies. In the ice house she kept hams, which she had cured herself, sides 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. Then my father decided to rent the tavern and move into 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 W. 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.

He 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. It was drawn by four horses, 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 his whip, and then everyone who was on the stage route, if the weather was not too cold, 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, and 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 or Ottawa.

The first school which I can remember attending was a tuition school, taught by a dear, lovable woman, probably not over twenty-five years of age, who we were permitted


to call "Aunt Polly." The school room 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. We sang:

"Before all lands in east or west,
I love my native land the best."

And we also sang, or rather intoned, the kings and queens of England:

"Plantagenets they in 54, to which prefix 11,
Just number sovereigns eight of yore
To war and conquest given."

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

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

The second church was Baptist, and 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 horse back, and carried his remedies and instruments in saddle bags. 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, no servants. Everyone helped her neighbor, and 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 home-made writing desk with lock and key, with a row of pigeon holes for papers over it. The letters, I think, were all kept inside the desk. My father was the postmaster, and he laid strict orders on us children, never, never, to go near that desk or touch one of the papers, and we never did, for his word was as much law unto us as Uncle Sam's to him.

My father held the position of postmaster only part of the time, but always, when we lived in Bristol, he was justice of the peace, with power of attorney, and his office for many years was 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 side saddle. The young people of the town, men and women, gathered in the square and started off for a merry good time, but 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 Fourth of July. The orchestra consisted usually of a bass viol and two violins.

Quilting parties were the vogue, the women working in the afternoon, and the men coming 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 the anvil. About noon a procession was formed mostly of farm wagons and pedestrians, headed by one Col. Willet, 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, and everyone seemed to be happy in meeting his neighbor.

I remember well the year 1849, when the "gold fever" broke out, and everyone who could 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 cannot recall one person who went from our village and returned with much gold. A few made their homes near San Francisco, and by farming or practicing a profession were able to make a fair living. But most of those who returned were sad sights, so that when anyone looked especially frazzled, he was said to look "like a returned Californian."

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

The Underground Railway had a station in Bristol. At Mrs. 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 to 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 did as I was bid without question.

Lincoln and Douglas! Who can ever 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 Gen. 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 for 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, and 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 can not 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 close this, wishing our country continued prosperity and trusting that love of home and country may continue to be instilled into the young.

I respectfully submit this narrative.


Historian, Rochelle Chapter D. A. R.

February, 1913.