Winnebago County, Illinois
The following pages were written for the perusal of the author’s family, with no expectation of giving them to the public in book form. But for some time past I have felt it my duty to put it into book form, hoping that it may prove gratifying to my old friends to call to mind some of the scenes of trial, privation and inconvenience we suffered; but above all, the hopes, the pleasures and the comforts we enjoyed with the dust of the valley, and the few of us who are left can truly say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”
In these pages many recollections of frontier life in different localities are sketched. The climate, the soil, society, schools and churches, in many places in Kentucky, Illinois and Nebraska are described, and I hope it will interest all persons who are looking for facts instead of fiction. It is written in old style, without any attempt at literary merit. Its details may be regarded as the truth in every sense, and hoping that it may be useful in leading some precious souls to the Truth as it is in the Redeemer of the world and the Fountain that is open to all, I offer it to your kind perusal, trusting you will not criticise too closely its many defects.
RECOLLECTIONS OF ROCKFORD AND OUR NEW HOME ON THE PRAIRIE
In June, 1850, we sold our new home at Paynes Point and bought some new land farther east about five miles, and a piece of land in the suburbs of the beautiful city of Rockford, and built us a nice house, and thought we would settle down there and enjoy social and religious life in' our declining years, as we had battled long with frontier life.
When we first knew Rockford it was nothing more than the Rockyford of Rock river, with a few log houses near it, but now it was a beautiful city. But I remember that those log houses, some of them, were built and occupied by praying people, one by Brother and Sister Samuel Gregory, another by Brother and Sister David Beers. Another faithful servant of the Most High was Sister Enoch. Long and fervently did she pray and labor for the prosperity of Zion, and especially the church of Rockford, and the Lord permitted her to see it bud and blossom as the rose, and she passed over in triumph to the Promised Land.
Those five persons constituted the first class organized at Rocky Ford in 1836. It was formed by Bro. Wm. Royal, then traveling on the Fox River Mission. If I mistake not he formed a class at Belvidere, and Brother and Sister Mason formed a part of that class. How faithful and diligent were our frontier ministers in limiting up the lambs of the fold, forming classes, and appointing leaders who, like good shepherds, led them to living streams and into green pastures, while they inspired them to faithful endurance, amid all the difficulties and hardships of frontier life, and together they were enabled to hold up the standard of truth, which is mighty, and will always prevail. Great will be their reward.
These dear brethren at Rockyford had their family altar erected in their little log cabins, and had their weekly prayer meetings. They poured out their souls to Him who heareth and answereth the fervent prayer of faith, and sent them a preacher. Brother Royal sought and found them, and left them an appointment: this encouraged them very much. The first I learned of them, as a regular charge, was in 1838, then it was embraced in the Chicago district, Brother John Clark, presiding elder, L. S. Walker, preacher in charge. These brothers did much to sustain Methodism in Rockford that year. I have heard Brother Gregory speak of them and many others of the early Methodists of Rockford.
The preaching of the Word was blessed, the class increased rapidly, and when Brother Bolles had charge of the circuit they had a gracious revival, and they were enabled to build a nice brick church, and there are still many of the standard-bearers holding onto to the faith once delivered to the Saints.
The first winter I lived in Rockford was a season of great revival in the First Methodist church, as yet the only one there. There were scores of souls brought into the fold of God that winter; many are now pillars in the church.
Brother Reed in charge, preached in the power and demonstration of the spirit. Every word seemed to be seasoned with grace and sanctified to the hearers' benefit, saint and sinner, and the work prospered, and the people devised great things, and soon the Court Street church was built, and then the Third Street, and now another in South Rockford, and their membership now numbers about twelve hundred persons. Soon they will need another.
These churches have been blest with seasons of revivals. May the Head of the church still be with them, and the heralds of grace preach the pure old Methodist doctrine "Salvation by faith on the Son of God," and there will be a sacred hallow shedding its sacred influence over the surrounding country, from the Rockford station. It is a beautiful growing city, and I attribute much of its prosperity and success to the piety of its early inhabitants. To God be all the glory!
After we got settled in Rockford, we did not feel altogether satisfied. We felt as though we were not occupying the right ground exactly, and concluded to come out and improve our new land. It was situated in the southeast part of White Rock Township, about six miles north of Lane Station, and one mile from the road leading from Lane Station to Rockford. We built a small house and moved into it. There were but a few neighbors, no class, and not even a school house to worship in. At Lane Station there was a small class but no church, they worshipped in the district school house. We were again on missionary ground. We handed our letters back to Paynes Point charge, and the friends gave us a warm welcome. I told the Doctor this looked like frontier life again. " But," said I, "we will have a church here some time." And he replied, "It does not look much like it now." "I have seen worse chances than this for a church," I again said. " Oh! ye of little faith, believe and ye shall receive."
That fall there was a school house built in the adjoining district, and in the spring we prevailed upon Brother Wordsworth, whom I mention in the preceding chapter, to give us an appointment and see if we could get a congregation. He left an appointment, and the seats of the school house were comfortably filled, and they manifested so much interest that Brother Wordsworth left another appointment, although he had to travel thirteen miles. The congregation increased, and he continued his appointments, once in four weeks. In the winter following, he labored in the revival at Paynes Point. In the spring he sent us another appointment, and by this time there were a good many moved in, and our school house was filled. Brother Wordsworth was quite encouraged, and said he wished some of the circuit preachers would take us into their charge, either the Lane charge, or Lynnville charge, which lies still north of us.
The doctor saw the preachers on both charges, and urged them to come and preach for us, when they thought it impossible. Brother Wordsworth would say to us sometimes, " Well, Brother and Sister Roe, this seems something like your early pioneer life, does it not? away out here, without any church or any of your classmates?" I replied, "Yes, it does, but we are on the stepstone of better days; we shall have a meeting house here sometime." He and the doctor would laugh at me and say, by way of encouraging me, It is a long way ahead; I fear we wont get one in Lane." "You'll see,'' was my reply, " I have faith to believe."
The first year we were here, Father Hayes built across the road from us. This was a comfort to us, for they were old and tried friends of ours in this new country, although we had lived most of the time ten or twelve miles apart. Brother Hayes was a member of the Paynes Point charge, and had given liberally to the building of the new church at that place, as well as ourselves. To live so near together was a privilege that we enjoyed. Their children were settled near, and made a good share of our congregation.
That fall the doctor and I went to our last quarterly meeting at the Point, and besought Brother H. L. Martin to represent us at the Conference and try and get us attached to the Lane charge. Brother Hannah was sent to that charge with an appointment for Roe's school house. He preached for us once in two weeks,
He formed a class, and there were twelve persons united. He labored with us two years with great acceptability.
Brother Wardsworth promised us a protracted meeting, and I think in the latter part of October he commenced the meeting. Brother Hannah preached and Brother Wardsworth exhorted and conducted the prayer meetings; he also visited every family within two miles of the school house, and there was a great turn out of attentive hearers, and the seed fell in good soil, and produced good fruit, and there was a general awakening and quite a number of converts, among them Brother and Sister Emory Hayes, Sister Elizabeth Hayes, Brother Hiram Hayes' wife, and one of Father Hayes' daughters who lived at home, Miss Minnie, and John Gilcrist, a young man who lived at Father Hayes', Brother David Hayes' wife, Mary Ann, and our youngest daughter, Frances Maria Roe, united with us, and we felt it quite an accession to our little class. Father Hayes was like the good old patriarch, ready to say, " Now, dear Lord, let me depart in peace, I have seen all my children converted. "Oh! what joy we felt in this token of mercy; and now when I talked about a meeting house, they were not quite so doubtful.
Bro. Hannah was with us two years, and labored faithfully in word and doctrine, and now the brethren began to talk of building a church in Lane—they had built a small parsonage.
Bro. Brookens came on the circuit and went to work with his usual zeal and energy, and had a protracted meeting at the school house that winter. It was attended with much good, there being several conversions. Among them were, John Conlin, Bro. and Sister Mills, who united with our class. The next year Bro. Brookens returned to Lane and had a protracted meeting in the basement of the church, that part of the edifice being completed - the upper portion was not yet finished. The meeting resulted well, there being a number of conversions.
The next year Bro. Plum labored with us, but there was no revival that year. The next year, lamented Bro. Crackeren labored with us, preached faithfully, but no revival. The year following Bro. Page was with us. He was a fine speaker and a strong reasoner. He commenced a protracted meeting in our school house. The weather was very unfavorable, yet much good attended the effort. There were three conversions, and four accessions by letter from the Congregational church.
During those years we had three quarterly meetings in our school house, the first, while Bro. Hannah was with us, Bro. Kease presiding elder. I well recollect a remark he made when we drove up with a two-horse wagon with a table and the preparations for the sacrament, quite like old frontier life. The doctor was away from home, and as he was steward and class leader, I felt it my duty to prepare and take those things.
The next was while Bro. Brookens was with us, Bro. Jewett presiding elder. He was there in due time. I saw him take his shawl, roll it up, and put it into the window opposite the stand where a pane of glass had been broken out. Oh! how mortified I felt. I offered a fervent prayer to the Lord to open the way whereby we might have a comfortable place to worship in. He could not preach with that cold air rushing in upon him; but oh! what a sermon he did preach for us, with his blanket shawl for a defense. I then began to talk more earnestly about building a meeting house, but it was thought quite impossible, while they were building at Lane.
The next quarterly meeting was held while Bro. Page was with us, Bro. John Gibson, presiding elder. The school house was too small, and we went to a beautiful grove near by. Bro. Gibson preached in the spirit, and the Word was borne home to the hearts of some. Bro. Page called for mourners and there were a few went forward for prayers. This was the last quarterly meeting Bro. Gibson held on our circuit.
Previous to this meeting there was a subscription paper circulated for a meeting house in our neighborhood, as the Lane church was finished and dedicated. The doctor told the brethren and friends that he would give one hundred dollars and a site on the northwest corner of his farm if they would accept of it, and the subscription was circulated with the view of its being built there, and there were twelve hundred dollars subscribed, and a building committee appointed, but they concluded that the doctor's site would not answer; they would have to have a north or west front, and they preferred a south front. And now Bro. H. Hayes offered a site for a south front, and he being one of the building committee, he took the oversight of the building, and it was hurried to speedy completion.
The conference of 1864 sent our much esteemed friend and Bro. L. S. Walker (of early memory) to the Lane charge. He came on and we welcomed hint with all our hearts, and it brought the fond recollections of former days, when the Lord was precious, and we enjoyed sweet Christian communion together, as well as social relations with him and his dear family when they lived in the little brick parsonage near our home at Light House Point. We prayed most fervently that the Lord would make them useful on our charge. He commenced his labors with a Christian confidence and a sweet reliance on Hint who had been his shield and strength for lo these many years, hoping and praying that the Lord would revive his work all through the charge. There were then four appointments.
Our church was near completion when he arrived, and he did all in his power to forward it, and it was finished and dedicated on the 12th day of January, 1865. The dedication services were conducted by Rev. M. Raymond, of Evanston. There was a power in his sermon that reached every heart. The house was crowded.
The building committee reported a deficiency of $1,200. This was in consequence of the rise in building material and the price of labor. It was made up in a short time, and the dedicatory ceremonies was conducted in the most solemn manner, and I felt that the house was the Lord's, and my heart said, -Amen; praise the Lord! I have seen the desire of my heart. And I felt in that hour that the Lord would revive His work in that sacred place.
Bro. Walker made an effort just then for a protracted meeting, but owing to bad weather, and other obstacles, it was not prosecuted, although there was some good done. We passed through that conference year with a good state of religious feeling, our congregation increasing all the while.
Bro. Walker preached many faithful sermons for us, and the conference of 1865 returned him to the Lane charge. He was well received and preached with great earnestness, and seemed to have the weight of souls on his heart. He promised us a protracted meeting in the fall, but there were hindrances with the farmers until about the 20th of January, '66, then our meeting commenced. The preaching and praying were fervent, the congregation increasing, and was mostly made up of the heads of young families and young people. There were many of the congregation who were powerfully awakened, but were not willing to come out and take a stand for the Lord. Bro. Walker told them from the pulpit, what he thought, and urged upon them the great responsibility that rested upon them while they stood in the way of others. Our beloved Bro. Begle was with a local brother who belonged to the Lane class, also Bro. Haymaker; they both labored with great acceptability. These local brethren had labored with great success in our other protracted efforts, and while Bro. Walker urged these responsibilities upon the congregation, having given the opportunity to kneel at the altar for prayer Bro. Win. H. King walked forward to the altar, and said, " Now, my dear friends, I want you to pray for me, I am in earnest, I want to seek the Lord, I fear I am in the way of others, and if so, I want to get out of the way." And as he advanced still nearer the altar, he said, " Now, my dear friends, if you follow me, you will follow me to the good world, for by the grace of God I mean to find it." And he knelt down, and one after another and still another of his friends followed him, until there were quite a number. Then the congregation knelt in fervent prayer. Oh! what earnestness was felt and manifested there on that sacred spot which had so lately been dedicated to the Most High. Oh! what emotion filled the hearts of those who had watched every expression manifested by those dear friends and kind neighbors whom we had prayed for so long and felt so anxious they should come and taste the joys of pardoning love, and what joy we felt, as one after another they arose and spoke of the goodness of God in sparing them; to see that sacred sight and then speak of the joys of salvation and their resolutions to serve the Lord all their days. The cloud was broken, and victory was on Israel's side.
From that time on for as much as five weeks, the altar was crowded with mourners every night. We held noon-day prayer meetings, and they were precious seasons. There we heard the young convert tell of the joy in believing on the Lord Jesus, and hear one after another say, "The Lord has converted my children, my father, my mother, my sister and brother and my neighbor." And so on; and there wrestle "Jacob-like" until the blessing came, and the Saviour gave its His new and best name, Love.
The work went on and on, until every house in the neighborhood became a house of prayer; and the accessions to our class were over seventy persons, and we hope they will live faithful and be triumphant in death. Some of the converts joined other churches, the Baptist and the Presbyterian.
Bro. Weller, the Presbyterian minister, came up from Lane, and preached for us several times, and when the meetings closed there were three classes formed and prayer meetings appointed for different places, where there were several conversions. Two years have elapsed and the most of them are faithful members yet, and to Him who bath loved us and washed us in His atoning blood, be Glory and Dominion forever!
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