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McLean County, Illinois
History and Genealogy



ESEK E. GREENMAN, one of the earliest pioneers of McLean County, came to this section Aug. 29, 1829, and after following farming the greater part of his life retired from active labor and removed to Leroy, where he is now living in the enjoyment of a competency.

He was born three miles from Waterford, Washington Co., Ohio, Jan. 23, 1816. His father, John Greenman, was a native of Providence, R. I., and his grandfather, Jeremiah Greenman, was of Welsh birth and parentage, and came to the United States when a young man. He was accompanied by two brothers, and they located in Providence, R. I.

During the struggle of the colonists for independence he was a commissioned officer [ed., Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman] of the Revolutionary War, and was taken prisoner by the British at the battle of Quebec. After being released he engaged in farming pursuits, and subsequently emigrated to Ohio, and spent the last years of his life inWashington County.

His son John, the father of our subject, was a young man when his parents removed from Rhode Island to Ohio. He had received a good education in his native State, and taught school in Washington County before his marriage. After this event he located on a farm, but still devoted the greater part of his time for twenty years to the profession of a teacher.

In 1826 he removed to Waterford, where he leased a hotel and ferry, which he operated for one year, then removed three miles up the river, where he purchased sixty acres of land, and lived until 1829. Early in August of that year he started for the West, accompanied by his wife and nine children, together with Seth Baker and family. The entire journey was made overland with teams. Mr. Greenman had one pair of horses and a wagon, and Maj. Baker, one yoke of oxen and a horse in lead. They camped and cooked by the wayside, and the journey, especially through Indiana, was slow and tedious. In places the sloughs were so bad that all the animals were required to pull one wagon through.

Each cheerfully assisted the other, however, and they arrived at Blooming Grove on the 29th of August, halting at the home of their former neighbor, and the brother of Maj. Baker, Dr. Isaac Baker. After looking around three or four days they found a vacant double log house in the grove, four miles south of the present site of the city of Bloomington. Into one end of this Mr. Greenman removed with his family, while the other was reserved for school purposes, Mr. G, officiating as pedagogue.

In November following James Allin, a merchant from Vandalia and proprietor of a store at the south part of the grove, came along looking after his interests there and to seek a new location. He made a claim to the land which is the present site of Bloomington, and induced the father of our subject to remove his family there, and in consideration let him have the west half of the southwest quarter of section 4, Mr. Allin reserving twenty acres off the east side for the purpose of laying out what was the original site of Bloomington. This sixty acres is on the east side of Madison street, and within one block of the court-house.

Mr. Greenman built a double log house between Washington and Front streets and near Madison, and this was the second house put up on the original site of the city of Bloomington. Mr. Greenman also entered a tract of eighty acres on what is now section 6. This transaction took place on the 22d of February, 1830, and our subject has in his possession the receipt for the money, which was signed by William L. D. Ewing, Receiver, who was afterward Governor of Illinois. In this house Lydia E. Greenman, the sister of our subject, taught the first school opened in Bloomington, in the summer of 1830.

The father of our subject, in the meantime, assisted Mr. Allin in the store, which he had moved there in the spring, and in the fall and winter he taught a term of school two and one-half miles southwest of the future city. In the spring of 1831 he sold his land and removed to DeWitt County, entering a claim three miles south of Waynesville. He removed there with his family, and in October of that same year was seized with fatal illness and died.

The family then returned to McLean County and entered eighty acres of land two and one-half miles southwest of Bloomington. There was a log cabin on the place, into which the family moved, but on account of the severity of the weather soon left it and rented a house in Bloomington. In 1833 the mother of our subject was again married, to Dr. Isaac Baker, and spent the last years of her life at his home in Bloomington. After the death of her first husband she kept her family together until they were all able to care for themselves.

Esek E. Greenman was thirteen years of age when he came to McLean County with his parents, and fifteen when his father died. He remained with his mother two years afterward, and then went to learn the trade of a carpenter and joiner, at which he served until the summer of 1835, when he went to Dixon's Ferry, now in Lee County, Ill., and after following the business of helping build cabins on Old Man's Creek, shortly after the Black Hawk War, proceeded from there to Plattsville, Wis., where he entered the lead mines and remained one and one-half years.

He then returned to Bloomington for a year, and was variously employed there and elsewhere until 1838. He then went to Cedar County, Iowa, in company with two brothers, where they entered two claims, broke and fenced the land, built a cabin and made other improvements, and then, leaving one brother in charge, our subject and the other went into Davenport to earn money by which to secure their purchase.

Our subject was then taken sick, and finally returned to Bloomington. His mother then sold the land near there and gave each child his share of the estate. Esek E. and his brother again started for Iowa with teams, and while on the way ran across a mill site on Skunk River below Augusta, in Des Moines County, Iowa, and concluded to stop there and build a saw and grist mill. This was in 1840, while Iowa was yet a Territory.

In June, 1843, our subject sold his interest in the mill, and returning to Bloomington, purchased a carriage and proceeded to Chicago, where he purchased a stock of dry-goods and notions, and starting homeward peddled them through the country. Late in the fall of 1843 he stopped with Hiram Buck, the popular landlord of the Leroy hotel, and Mr. Buck induced him to settle at Leroy and establish a store. Mr. Buck offered to board him for $1 a week as long as he would stay.

Mr. Greenman formed a partnership with S. D. Baker, and with $250 worth of goods on hand, and another $100 worth purchased in Bloomington, on credit, and a good team, started in business here Feb. 13, 1844. They operated together for fourteen years, carrying a general stock of everything required in those days, from a thimble to a grindstone, and accumulated sufficient means so that in time our subject purchased a farm of 240 acres a few miles west of Leroy. He still remained in town, but controlled his farming interests for about two years, and then engaged in the grocery trade.

In 1868 he sold out and retired from active business with a fine competency, which will enable him to pass the remainder of his days surrounded by all the comforts of life and many of its luxuries. The third year after Mr. Greenman commenced renting his farm he made a lease with George W. Segler, and Mr. Segler has now occupied the place for the long period of nineteen years, as tenant, which probably has not a parallel case in McLean County.

The marriage of Esek E. Greenman and Miss Martha Pearce was celebrated Feb. 14, 1848. Mrs. G. was born in Mechanicsburg, Champaign Co., Ohio, Feb. 27, 1831. She became the mother of eight children, and departed this life July 14, 1864. Only three of their family are living: Mary Belle is the widow of Scott Crumbaugh, and resides with her father in Leroy; John E. and Charles E. are also at home. Mr. Greenman was formerly a Democrat in politics, but has been a Republican since the organization of this party. He has been Postmaster of Leroy, was a member of the School Board for nine years and School Treasurer six years. Socially he belongs to the Leroy Lodge No. 221, A. F. & A. M. [ed., Ancient Free and Accepted Masons], Bloomington Chapter.

During his long residence in this vicinity Mr. Greenman has fully established himself in the confidence and respect of his fellow-townsmen, and has assisted materially in the growth and development of Empire Township. He has been a man of excellent judgment and foresight, and whether at carpentering or mining, teaching, farming or in trade, he was uniformly successful, and whenever he encountered difficulties did not allow them to overcome him, but returned to the attack with renewed vigor. He displayed rare judgment in his mining operations and seemed to have an intuitive knowledge of the richest leads. When he and his partner first began they followed the suggestions of the latter and dug without results, but when they changed to where Mr. Greenman believed they would find a rich vein of ore it proved as he had predicted.

Mr. G. was at Belraont when it was the capital of Wisconsin, and traveled over a considerable portion of the three States of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois before there was any railroad or even a wagon track. He has witnessed strange scenes, remarkable changes, and no man has viewed with more satisfaction the growth and development of the Great West.

The mother of our subject, before her marriage, was Miss Ruth White, and she was born in Barnard, Vt., Dec. 31, 1793. Her father, Deacon David White, a member of the Presbyterian Church, was born in Hardwick, Mass., when he removed to Vermont in 1799, and from there to Washington County, Ohio, where he died in Waterford Township, Nov. 13, 1840. His wife died Nov. 21, 1841.

Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 305. Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards.


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