Genealogy Trails

Hardin County, Illinois

Memoir from Fern Vere Bradley, the daughter of

William Richard Bradley and Mary Louisa Vallow Bradley

Transcribed by Leslie Riney from the original document contributed by: Brad McGuire

To any and all of those who might be interested: ---

Since the good Lord has seen fit to allow me to live five years longer than is counted a normal lifetime, before I leave this planet to begin the better life (I hope!), I would like to set down some of my afterthoughts on the living I have enjoyed here.  In other words, a short history of my life, as it started, (with a little of my "fore-bears"), continued thru the 75 years I can now claim, with some of my own thoughts on various subjects as I go.

July 10, 1895--I was born in the M. E. parsonage in Elizabethtown, Ill., to take my place as the seventh daughter of William Richard Bradley and Mary Louisa Vallow Bradley.  Tho I was the seventh in line, I myself never saw but three of my older sisters, the other three having already passed to the "Great Beyond" before my birth.  My father, Rev. W. R. Bradley, was in his third year as pastor of the Methodist Church of Elizabethtown, and since the Annual Conference then met in September, he was moved from E'town (common shortened form used by most of the town's population) less than three months after my birth, and it was around thirty years before I ever saw my birthplace again.

We were moved to Ramsey, Ill., a town about the same size as "E'town", but with one redeeming feature as far as my mother's opinion went at least.  That was that Ramsey had a railroad running thru the town, with at least one train a day in each direction which would take on passengers.  E-town was on the Ohio River, but had no railroad, and my mother was not a good water-traveler.  We were allowed to stay in Ramsey only two years, so my memories of the town and the people are very hazy indeed.  I made my second move at the ripe old age of two years and around three months, and went to the town of Staunton.

Staunton was a bit larger than E-town or Ramsey, and also had the added advantage of having a 3-year High School, which my sister Leona made good use of.  My oldest sister, Elsie (eldest of the family, which meant 14 years older than I) found a very good music teacher in Staunton, which pleased her very much as music was almost her passion even then.  Another advantage in which we all enjoyed in Staunton was a much larger parsonage with one bedroom downstairs and three upstairs.  Since I was still not much more than a baby, I slept in the same room with my parents, however, until the eighth one arrived not many months after we settled down.  Since she was the eighth girl, and also since my mother still had a tragedy which had happened to the daughter of some very good friends of hers and "Papa's" shortly before they left Ramsey, they gave the new baby the name of the friends' deceased daughter who had been killed by falling off her beloved horse during the last summer we lived there. and --out of their own imaginations they tacked on a second name just as weird as the first.  Anyway, like it or not, their eighth daughter became Knois (pronounced just as the last syllable of Illinois) Octavia Bradley.  How glad I've always been that I was lucky enough to come in as the seventh in line.  Sometimes I wonder if Providence looked ahead and saw what embarrassing time the poor child would have with that name to explain on an average of every two years as our Methodist preacher father moved whenever the "Presiding Elder" (and the parishioners either where he had been, or those of the church where he was going) decided it was time for W. R. Bradley to move.  Whether that helped to bring on an early death for my only "little sister" or not I'll never know, but anyway, she only lived fourteen months when God took her.

We stayed at Staunton only three years, which meant that I was only five when we were moved again.  Even so, I have several very vivid memories of Staunton none of them particularly important but a few which I shall set down here.  The first concerns our next-door neighbors, the only next-door ones we had since the church was on the other side of us.  I don't recall their names, but I do recall that they were German-Americans, and did not belong to our church.

Since I have arrived at the ripe old age of more than three score and ten, I have decided its time that I should try to write down some of the early events of my life, either as I myself recall them or as I have heard others tell the story.  Having spent the first five years of my life in the 19th century, and being the seventh daughter of a father who was already thirty years old when he married, I have heard many tales of things that took place before I was born.

Papa was born in 1850, the eldest son of parents just recently moved into Ill. from Kentucky.  His father was a farmer in Marion County, having come over into Illinois with a train of pioneers from Kentucky, following an earlier group of neighbors.  Most of the group settled in and around Skillet Fork Creek--the creek having been named from the fact that the first settlers lost both a skillet and a fork when they camped overnight on the creek banks, before they made final settlements a few miles farther on.  The community in which Papa's parents lived centered around Old Siloam Church, as most early settlements did, and for many years the church attendance came from a radiius of miles around: so far, in fact, that most had to start early in the morning to reach Old Siloam in time for morning service.  Since the minister only visited each of the churches on his circuit one Sunday a month, it was customary to hold both morning and afternoon "preaching" on the Sunday he was there.  Hence, it meant that only those parishioners living within the radius of not more than two miles or so could hope to get home, have dinner, and get back for afternoon service.

Therefore, those fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending on the viewpoint) to live within that radius developed a custom of taking in turn the responsibility of entertaining the entire congregation for Sunday dinner, on the monthly preaching day.  Since everyone came by wagon, each member brot along feed for his team, but the families ate with the host member, although in the cooler season nearly all brought something to add to the meal.  Papa said that there were one or two houses within the two mile radius that were more popular than others, as Sunday eating places, simply because their owners were financially able to furnish short sweetening for the coffee, which others could not afford.  The common people were forced to serve their guests that which they themselves used called long sweetening.  "Short sweetnin" as they pronounced it, was our very common necessity, now known as "sugar", (and considered as a staple food and very much taken for granted on the modern table).  But sugar back in the middle of the 19th century was a luxury, only to be found on the table of the well-to-do families.  Others used the common home-grown, or home-produced, sweetening which we call sorghum, and which we would never dream of using to sweeten our coffee.  But for the prospect of getting short sweetening in their coffee the preaching days were always much better attended when it fell the turn of the more well-to-do to entertain the members.

Of course, even for the affluent, entertaining from ten to fifteen families for dinner meant not only an all day baking for the womenfolks of the host family on Sat., but missing the morning service on Sunday, since nobody --rich or poor--had any form of refrigeration, another modern convenience now taken for granted.  Bread had to be baked -- biscuits baked for those who scorned "lightbread" -- and cornbread for those who turned up their noses at either of the others: plenty of cake and pie on hands: as well as huge kettles of meats and vegetables prepared in the early morning hours of Sunday.  Rarely did the day's hostess attend a morning service, and rarely did she enjoy the afternoon preaching!  But such responsibilities usually only came about once a year, while the other eleven meeting days she could hope to enjoy as a guest of some other poor soul.  And for most of the homemakers of that day and age, "meeting days" were almost their only chance of getting to visit with their neighbors to exchange the usual chitchat.

Papa had many other stories of customs and happenings of the early days--some about when he followed the hounds, as they called it, when he got up in the middle of the night after hearing the baying of somebody's foxhounds and went to where he could see them on the scent.  Only he knew exactly whose dogs they were, just as you and I know our friends' voices, and knew also just about where to stay to watch them on their trail.  One time when he and a visiting cousin had gone out to watch the hounds on a bright moonlight night, and they were sitting on top of a high bank overlooking the road where they expected to see the hounds come by, they were rather surprised when suddenly a large hog came out of the brush and lumbered down the road, followed in a few moments by the hounds.  Not far behind the dogs came the hunters, who asked Papa and his cousin "Did you see a black bear go by here, ahead of the dogs?"  Much surprised they said "yes, but we thought it was old man Rogers black hog out again."   For awhile after that Papa was careful to take his gun with him when he "followed the hounds"!  Bears were wild, and unafraid!

Papa started teaching school when he was around twenty, and his first teaching certificate, if you could call it that, was issued by the "deestrick school board" where he applied for his job.  He kept the certificate, which we found years later among his papers, and the spelling in it would shame a second-grader of today, but it was sufficient authority to give him the right to teach thrity to forty children their "readin', ritin' and rithmetic'" on whatever days their pa and ma could spare them to go to school.  I don't know how much they learned under Papa's teaching, but I do know that Papa himself was almost a perfect speller, and far better than many modern scholars in simple arithmetic, though his own education stopped with the day he got too big to go to the district school, except for one term up at what was then the Illinois Normal School at Normal, Illinois.  He was almost wholly self-taught.

Papa began preaching about 1875, first as what the Conference then called an "Exhorter", which meant that he was given an exhorter's license by the Quarterly Conference of his own local church.  After a year or two of filling in for various pastors he was license by the District Conference to serve as a "Local Preacher", which meant that he was expected to do certain required studies, and also serve in about the same capacity as what is now called our "Supply Preachers".  In 1881, I think it was, he was admitted to full membership in the Southern Illinois Conference, of the M.E. Church, where he served as a full-time pastor until he took retirement status in 1927.  During this time he served what were called circuit charges, which meant that he usually had one church in a small town, where the circuit parsonage was located, and anywhere from two to five in the rural area surrounding.  These might be two miles from town, or they might be as much as twelve miles away, so it was absolutely imperative that he maintain a horse and buggy, since cars were not only unheard of for pastors of circuits such as he served, but also unheard of for ministers of city churches until just a few years before he retired.  So, in addition to his family, he had the upkeep of his horse and buggy to bear out of his munificient salary--a salary which never exceeded eight or nine hundred dollars a year.  Out of this, he not only fed a family which ranged at any one time from three to six (out of the eight daughters he and Mama had, only four of us lived to adulthood), clothed us all (usually out of hand-me-downs from any and all donors among the good women of the churches.  Mama was a good seamstress, though she seldom got the chance to test her knowledge on new materials, but she was a whiz at making-over somebody else's castoffs.), and gave the four of us at least an education as good as the average girl of our times got, or as much as we would take.  Three of us taught--Elsie, the oldest, had one year of college at Papa's expense, then taught for three years and saved to give herself another year, majoring in music, in which she graduated from McKendree College.  Degrees were not considered then.  You graduated when the professors thought you knew enough in your subject to go out into the world and make a living with it.  She married immediately after finishing her college work.

They were very industrious people, however, and believed in making every moment count.  Therefore, since their own religious group had no church in Stauton, Sunday was just another day in the week to them.  What they did in the line of work bothered noone, except for one job, which--as my preacher-papa used to say (and truly meant) "Thank God it only comes on one Sunday out of the year".  Because in the fall, they would take at least one Sunday to butcher the hogs which was the bulk of their meat for the rest of the year.  So--on that particular Sunday they were up at the crack of dawn doing all of the preparatory jobs--gathering up the wood for their fires, deciding just which animals they would kill for themselves, and which they would divide among the various kinfolk who always came in to help.  Just about the time our Sunday School people began to gather in to the church was when the real "fun" began.  From then on until long after both Sunday School and the following "church service" were over, the music of our congregation and/or choir mingled with the music of the hogs trying to escape their fate.  Papa had a good preaching voice, and he also had a good sense of humor, so at times he simply rested his voice while he gave way to his sense of humor, which gave his congregation a chance to let off steam, also.  Other pastors before him had tried to force a change of days onto our neighbors' custom, and failed to budge them.  They worked six days a week on the "paying" job, so Sunday was their only day to do such things as butchering, etc., so--butcher on Sunday they did, whether the Methodist liked it or not.  I sometimes have thought that the squeals of their hogs trying to escape their fate was what caused me practically to turn myself inside out every time I looked at fresh meat.  It took me several years after I was married to get to where I could clean a chicken, and I never yet have ever killed a chicken.

At the end of our third Conference year spent in Staunton the Presiding Elder said it was time to move on to another little town, known as Medora, about forty miles away.  All of the charges Papa served back then had from one to four other churches included in the "charge".  Usually these outlying churches were in strictly rural areas, so of course Papa had to have a horse and buggy, since nobody, but really NOBODY!--had a car in those times, and especially no Methodist preacher!  Also, the only way to get his horse and buggy moved onto the next charge would be for Papa to drive it thru, sometimes taking one or more of his family of females with him.  Since paved roads thru rural areas were not even heard of then, and since Mama, being a thrifty soul, believed in packing all she possibly could in the buggy in order to save on freight charges, usually it was Papa, Elsie, and Gladys who made the trip through by buggy, while Mother, Leona, and I went by train.  On the trip between Staunton and Medora, Gladys begged so hard to be allowed to take her pet cat with her that Papa finally gave in, and fixed a cover for a basket for old "Tanner", much to Elsie's disgust, I'm sure.  I remember I cried to go in the buggy with Papa and Gladys, even promising to hold the cat basket part of the time, but Papa was afraid I would take cold and get sick on the way.  Then I was the "sickly" one of the family!

Anyway, Gladys got her cat all the way to Medora, where for once we were allowed to stay on the charge for four years.  One of the two charges Papa served during my years of living in the parsonage where we actually didn't have to move for four years.  I really think it was not so much because Papa was so popular as a preacher, but because it took all of his spare time for four years getting all of the repairs done in the parsonage.  Papa was not too bad as a preacher, but he was tons as a carpenter, and his parishioners soon found it out, plus the nicest part of it being that all his work cost the church was the price of the materials and quite often the dealers would donate them.  So if Papa was allowed to stay long enough, when he left he left a parsonage in first-class repair, plus newly painted inside and out, as well as newly papered walls.  All that along with a good garden every year, plus as many flowers as anyone else in town could boast of kept him a busy man.   The last two summers of our four years in Medora he made a deal with the town hotel to furnish four bouquets of flowers every day but Sunday, for which they were to pay the munificient sum of five cents a bunch.

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