Montgomery County, IL
REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD SETTLER
Henry Hill Family
Written by Peter B. Hill and Originally Donated by Mrs. Perry Smith
published in ISGS Quarterly, Volume X, No. 4, Winter 1978
Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Joe Rose
*Please be sure to perform the research to verify all data for yourself*
By Mrs. Perry Smith: "The story which follows was written by Peter B.HILL who was born in Kentucky. His oldest brother, John HILL, was my husband's great-great-grandfather and was born in South Carolina. Peter HILL married Penny SCRIBNER, daughter of William. They obtained their license to marry 17 January 1829 in Bond County, Illinois. They lived in Shelby County, Illinois at first, then in Nokomis area of Montgomery County, Illinois. Their children were Thomas John, Elizabeth (married William HALLER), Lewis Richard, (married Mary Matilda WHITMORE), Henry, Mary (married Richard D. GIPSON), Chloe (married Dr. Joseph FELLERS AND John G. WILSON), Faitha P. (married James A. NOLAN), Nancy Jane (married Robert W. NUTT), Dorcus (died young), Dorothea (married George W. (TURFLINGER), and Jefferson (died young). On the bottom of the first written sheet of these reminiscenses is a note, "Born April 14, 1808, died April 25, 1875" which dates are evidently those of the writer's life, Peter B. HILL. Such an article is entirely unusual. It was probably read at the semi-centennial celebration of Hillsboro in 1873. It is quoted in full, in the exact language of the pioneer."
"My father, Henry HILL, emigrated to Illinois Territory with his family in the year 1816. Stopped in Bond County near the crossroads at what is now called Zion camp ground. My father, Levi CASEY and John LEE went with all their force to what is called the Hurricane near VanBurensburg. Built a camp and went to work to build a house for my father. Got the house raised, covered and floored. Came back and all hands moved to our new home and lived in camp until the house was daubed and chimney built of stick and clay. Then we moved in the house.
"This cabin was built of round logs (size 16 by 18 feet) and the first cabin built on the Hurricane. Then they went to work to build a cabin for John LEE, the same size and the same material, they went immediately to build for CASEY. Completed his the same way as the others. All hands then went to their respective homes, and when land was surveyed and the counties laid off, my father and John were in Montgomery County and CASEY in Bond County.
"Our neighbors then were Indians. The Kickapoo tribe lived all through this part of the country. Some Pottawatomies, some Osage. They came to see us every day. Deer, turkey were very plentiful, bears, panthers, wild cats, and wolves were very numerous, especially the two last named. Good fat venison, turkeys, and honey wasn't noticed, only when it came to the table we could rub it on anything we wanted to or rub anything in it we wanted to. My father was a miller. He furnished the meal. He had to go to the American Bottom seven miles from St. Louis and pay one dollar per bushel for corn and travel during the night in warm weather on account of the horseflies. We were all poor people.
"With the next Spring we planted a crop of corn. It was either late planted or an early frost for it was badly frozen. This was in the year 1817. We did our own grinding of this crop. Our mill was a block of wood four feet long with a hole burnt in one end and a long pole fastened at the fore end, two forks put under in the proper place and a head on the end. A handle worked through the hole and it made good meal if attended to.
"To bake this meal the women put the meal in a bread tray poured in water and stirred it with their hands. The coals of fire being hauled out, the skillet was brought. With their hands the dough was patted in the skillet leaving the print of their fingers in the bread. I imagine I would like that kind of bread yet. If anyone came to visit us from Madison County or any other place, something extra had to be gotten up. The big oven was brought to the fireplace and the dough made as before described, only some hog's fat and a little salt added. It was put in the oven in dodgers about four around the oven, and one in the middle in three or four pound lumps. This we called fatty bread. Something else had to be done for our visitors. They had to have coffee. It was made in this way: take a lot of parched wheat, put it in a piece of deerskin and pound it with the tomahawk until it was ground. Put it in about a five gallon pot, boil it sufficiently and pour it in other tin cups around the table. Our plates were pewter. My father, traveling around, two or three years after settling here bought one set of teacups and saucers, and one set of plates. Six was a set in those days. When father brought them home, the people told us we couldn't use the plates. They would dull the knives so we couldn't cut with them.
"My mother was very fond of tea. She made the tea about the same way as coffee, but of garden herbs, sage, isup, ditney and we gathered weeds in the prairie which made a very pleasant tea. Sassafras, sycamore chips and so forth all made and drunk as coffee.
"I will say something about dress. We wore leather deerskin on our feet and on our person. Moccasins, pants and hunt shirts comprised the common dress. Men wore them to meeting not for fashion but because they had nothing else to wear. They would carry their guns to meeting with them and set them back of the cabin or against a tree. I never saw but two girls wearing leather dresses. It was a very common thing when newcomers came into the county, they would be forced to cut their wagon covers and bed spreads to make shirts to work in before they could raise flax and cotton. They could make out after that on leather.
"Our cabins were pretty much all of a size (16 x 18). When it was time for meeting, they would all go to meeting in these cabins. If it was warm weather a great many came barefooted. The family, a loom, spinning wheel, winding blades and congregation all in one cabin. The preachers knew their business. Their mission was to do good, and build up the church. They looked through a different kind of spectacles those days. They were plain, sociable and friendly. Their dress was plain home-made jeans. They were about one month coming ˜round, Their circuits were very large, and they got little pay, but never said, "If I don't get a good support, I won't preach. They thought it their duty to preach. They never considered it as a trade to make money. Many women would walk three or four miles to meeting; tie up their shoes and stockings in their handkerchief till they came near the house, then put them on. The first preacher who came dressed a little extra was named FOLKS. He rode with Martin GILLS and the old Methodist women thought it wouldn't hurt them, and they had better say nothing about it so it stopped there. The preachers as well as others saw hard times.
"The people couldn't half work on account of flies. They could only plow mornings from daylight till the sun was up from half to one hour high. Travel had to be done in the night.
"Finally Saul BECK built a horse mill near, or a little south of where Greenville now stands. It was run by a band made of rawhide. We would get ready about sunset and start for the mill. Four of us would go all on horse back each with about a three bushel sack of corn under him. Sometimes we had to stay two days and nights and when it came our turn would hitch up. We might go about two or three rounds when the band would break. Then it was necessary to alight and mend the band. We did from twelve to fourteen hours grinding. If we finished at daylight, we had to stay until night to start home.
"When harvest came the people would all come, the women with their needles and thimbles for quilting, young folks for flax pulling. Now for getting done by dinner, and then draw out the fiddle and dance till midnight, barefooted. Next day, somewhere else and so on every day in the week. A keg of whiskey at every place. Then clean off a floor on the ground, put the wheat on the floor and tramp it out with horses. Then take a riddle made of wooden splints, one man would let the wheat down through that riddle and two men with a sheet or blanket would blow the chaff or straw out. Our mills were nothing but corn crushers, one run of stones found lying round in the prairie and made by most any person that would undertake the job. The mills had no screens or anything to take the round lumps of dirt out. So it was not very nice when ground, either to look at or taste of.
"Our salaratus soda and cream of tartar was simply hog's fat. Later we got able to ride to meeting in ox wagons and ox carts that were best when people got married. There were no hardware stores and no furniture stores. Our tables were puncheon and bedsteads were made by poles placed in holes in the wall, and one leg at the other end to prop it up.
"Game and bees were so plentiful the boys would tree a coon, cut the tree down and apt as not to find bees in it as well as coons. They found bees in different ways. Sometimes by bear signs--scratching and gnawing at the place where the bees went in. Sometimes by the bees coming out when the sun would shine. They would chill and fall on the snow around the tree.
"Our log cabins were so low the first rib was often the door head. Clapboard shutters, wooden hinges and in every case a hole sawed out of one corner for the cats to pass. There was a story told of a man by the name of Fields GARVIS who went to one of these low cabins. He had to stoop to go in, and when he raised up he was in the loft. I am not responsible for this story. I did not see it, though I don't doubt it in the least. It could have been the case in many places. He was the tallest man I ever saw. These cabins had no windows.
"After awhile I got up to be of right smart size, weighed 130 pounds. Had that was mine: two ponies, two dogs and one rifle gun. As that was more than everyone had, I thought I was pretty well off. I thought if I had a wife I would be independent so I got married. Then I could see that I needed everything but a wife. I owned nothing but what I have mentioned, and not one dime to buy with, so I had to sell my gun--that was like pulling teeth, but I got fourteen dollars for it. I took the money, went to Greenville to a store kept by William DURLEY in a very small log cabin--the same cabin that the three BLANCHARDS, Samuel, Seth and Elisha kept the first store in at Greenville. I bought one large wash pot, one dinner pot, one skillet, knives, forks and spoons, a pair of cotton cords, and my money was gone. I came home and my father gave me three dollars. I got on my pony and rode four miles south or southwest of Greenville to a cotton gin where I bought forty pounds of picked cotton. Then we were fixed for living.
"Our two first bedsteads: one of these fashionable one leg bedsteads, the other was constructed by laying clapboards across two small benches. Later we moved a short distance but did not move the bedsteads. Our next two was a one-legged affair and a rail frame. Turned upside down the standards served for legs. On this I layed boards. I enjoyed as much good sleep and good rest as if we had been sleeping on a fifty dollar bedstead.
"When I first heard of cutting wheat with a cradle I didn't know nor could I think what it was. I had never heard anything called a cradle--only something to rock babies in. I saw in an advertisement of a furniture store, "cribs for sale, and wondered what they could be. I asked several people what they were but they knew no more than I did, and I never heard anything called "crib--only a corn crib. I never knew it was to crib babies in. I will tell you what we cribbed our first two or three in--half of a bee gum.
"Our plows were the old Barsheers with wooden mouldboard. Great many without a scrap of iron from the plowshare to the bridle bits, shuck collars, largehames with a hole through the hames to attach a rope or rawhide, and often wooden clevis.
"We gradually grew out of these old fogy ways as conveniences presented themselves to us, and we became able to take hold of them. The first school taught on the Hurricane was in the year of 1822 by Abraham HATCHET in a small log cabin. Now we live in an age of improvements, schoolhouses, churches and all kinds of agricultural implements, breaking plows, cultivators, riding plows, drills, corn planters, reapers, threshers, steam boats, railroads, telegraph and so on, and if you can understand me, you can see how the country has improved since 1816.
[Source: Transcribed from: Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume X, No. 4, Winter 1978 - Transcribed by Joe Rose]
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