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) BUFFALO GROVE, ILL.,
January 28th, 1840.
MR. DAVID PORTS,
Boonsborough, Washington Co., Maryland.
DEAR BROTHER, I am bound by the ties of humanity and friendship to write to you and let you know how we are doing We are all well and doing well considering the hard times. We received your letter last faul in which you stated your intention of comeing to Illinois this faul we received the intelligence with great pleasure and satisfaction and have maid what preparation we could for your comfortable receiption but we have looked in vane and our disappointment has given us uneasiness [?] and the last though not least has been your entire silance for the last year we wrote you a letter shortly before we received your last and another when we received yours and gave you my opinion as to the mode of traveling which is by water I consider it to be the less expensive, the spediest, the less hasardous, and imbracing the most comfort. The spring is desidedly the best time for comeing to this country I would not by any means advise you to some by land in the spring; you would have bad roads and high waters which would impede your progress and there by increase the expense: on the other hand you would have to travel through a sickly country which might hasard the health of yourself and family; Father has rented his property in Savanna for seven dollars per month and has moved to Elkhorn and built near us he has had bad health for the last two years though for some time past it has been good except a continual busing in his head which causes him to bee very faint at times. Mother has enjoyed good health with but few exceptions sins she landed in the country. Lavinia is well and has had generally good health sins she left Savanna She is out at work 3 1/2 miles from us in an agreable family at $2 per week where she expects to remain until March after that time she intends coming home and living with us when she expects by that time if no preventing providence occurs to have money enough to purchas 25 acres of land besids purchasing a hive of bees, a yearling calf and three hogs, keeping herself in good clothes and leaveing
255enough for commenceing the silk business in the spring which she intends doing. We have had 1 1/2 acres under cultivation the past season and raised the following kinds and quantities of sugar beet and mangle wortzel 200 bushels, rutabagoes 50, turnips 10, pumpkins and watermelons 4 wagon loads, cucumbers 4 barrels, potatoes 100 bushels, cabbages one waggon load corn 5 bushels. From this statement you may have some idea of the quality of our soil. You need not trouble yourself about locust seed we have enough of that here, but I would be glad if you could get some sasafras roots if they were taken up carefully and packed in moist dirt I think they would grow here I have heard many regret that there is none here all believe it would grow if it were introduced.
Coopering is in great demand, flour barrels are 50 cts. a peace and tight barrels with only one head are $2 if you come to this country you will not worst yourself nor ever have reason to regret your journey.
Although we are oppressed here by the hard times and scarcety of money still the ritchness of our soil, the low price at which it can be purchased, and the ease with which it can be improved and cultivated all conspire to entitle it to the appelation of the western paradice which it has received — a garden of delights greatly to be desired by the agricultural community of all sections who desire to make a livelahood by their occupation: and you know where the farmer can live no class need starve.
Give me an account of death and marriages that have taken place since we left and who has moved away. How is unkle McCoy getting along tel him we have not forgot him though we write not. Father and mother send their respects to you all. Give our respects to all who may think us worth enquiring after.
No more at present but remain your affectionate brother and sisters til death shall seperate us farther from each other than we are at preasant.
(Signed) JAMES H. SMITH.
(Signed) SARAH A. SMITH.
P.S. Write immediately on the receiption of this for if you do not we shall conclude that you have forgotten us and given up the idea of comeing to the northwest inform us how D. Hammond is coming on and what has become of Sarah Ann; Sarah Ann says if Otha James comes to this country he shall be her adopted son.
Elk Horn Grove Carroll County Jan. the 9th, 1841.