THE WETHERSFIELD COLONY.
The direct settlement of Henry County is largely attributed to the location of colonies. These were mainly from New England, and brought with them all their New England foresight, energy, and frugal thrift ; and to the Wethersfield colony, possessing all these attributes, the present prosperity of this portion of the county may be traced.
As .has been noticed in these pages, Mr. Pillsbury, and his associates, Slaughter and Pike, were commissioned by the New York Association, in 1835, to select a location for the. "Andover Colony." Upon the return of Mr. Pillsbury in the Fall of that year, he was written to by the Rev. Dr. Caleb J. Tenney, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, concerning the location of another colony in the region of country in which the lands of the Andover Colony were situated, and an interview requested. The result of this interview Ied the Doctor to project another colony, to be styled the " Wethersfield Colony," and to be located near the former. Dr. Tenne y was an eminent divine, and well acquainted with the prominent men of that day who would be likely to favor an enterprise by which religion and free education might be successfully planted in the great Mississippi Valley, and he addressed many of them. in relation to this matter.
These efforts led to a meeting in the Congregational Church at Wethersfield, some time in the Autumn of 1835, the exact date of which can not now be obtained. Here the enterprise assumed. a tangible shape, and at a subsequent meeting an organization was effected.
As the names of the protectors of this enterprise will be of interest to many of the citizens of the county, and valuable as an item of history, they are here given. They were : Dr. Caleb J. Tenney, Selden Miner, Roger Wells. Martin Kellogg, John Francis, Chancey Coleman. Weltha Willard, Rev. John Marsh, Joshua Goodrich, George Wells, Horace Blaine, Henry Robbins, Col. Sylvester Blish, Rev. Samuel Redel, William Butler, Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, Miles Adams, Elizur Goodrich, Samuel Galpin, E. Porter,
Rev. Horace Hooker. William Tenney, George Shipman. Russell H. Nevins, Timothy Stillman, Allen Talcott, Rev. Geo. A. Calhoun, Francis Loomis, Edward Payson, D.D., Rev. Geo. Stebbins, Rev. John Woodbridge, Gersham Buckley, Geo. Buckley, Gardner Spring, D.D., Merritt Butler, Osmond Harrison, Rev. Harvey Tolcott, Jeduthan and Jonathan Hubbard, Sullivan Howard, Geo. Richards, Jasper Gilbert, Rev. Alpha Miller, Nathan DeWolf, J. L. Belden. Nathan Kelley. Stephen Topliff, Dr. A. Welch, Geo. B. Holley, Rev. Chancey Booth, Richard T. Haines, Rev. Ralph Emerson, Robert Gipson, and a few others whose names cannot now be obtained.
This Company was styled. the Connecticut Association.'' The stockholders resided at different points from Maine to New York, some of whom were quite wealthy, and others were very prominent in the religious world. The great temperance agent will be recognized in Rev. John Marsh, Dr. Payson was a distinguished Christian minister, and Rev. Gardner Spring was an eminent divine at the head of one of the most aristocratic Presbyterian churches in the nation.
The stock of the compan y was fixed at $250 per share, and entitled each shareholder to one hundred and sixty acres of prairie land, twenty acres of timber, and a town lot. During the winter of 1835–'6 one hundred shares were taken, and $25,000 paid into the treasury. In February, 1836, a " committee of purchase" was appointed, consisting of Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, Col. Sylvester Blish and Elizur Goodrich. The first of these was selected on account of his having some experience in matters of this kind ; the second, on account of his energy and prompt business habits, and the third because he was a competent surveyor.
The route of this committee was through Baltimore ; over the moun tains to Wheeling ; down the Ohio River by steamboat to its junction with the Mississippi ; thence up that stream to the Illinois River ; up that to Peoria, and thence to Knoxville, Henderson Grove and Andover, at which latter place was a house or two, but no inhabitants, nor did any arrive until July following.
Arriving here, neither feed nor horses could be obtained, and they were compelled to walk some twenty miles, over to " Barren Grove "—with only a deserted cabin on the way, in Sugar Tree Grove—along the south side of which they commenced to select the Company's land. Rev. Pillsbury and Col. Blish were sanguine of the future of Illinois, and, owing to the previous knowledge of the former, were not long in finding the " desired haven." The surveyor did not partake of their unbounded confidence, and trudged around locating the selections they made, until they had, at .different times, succeeded in selecting and entering ninet y-nine quarter sections of land, in Townships 14, R. 0 and 15, R. 5—the first entry being made May 7, 1836.
The purchase was made from the Government in the name of Goodrich and Blish, who deeded the land in trust, for the purposes of the association ' to Chester Bulkley, secretary and treasurer, who afterwards deeded to individual members, or to those who purchased of the company.
The following Spring, March. 1887, an additional quarter section was added, making the entries a round hundred. This committee returning, another, consisting of Rev. Joseph Goodrich, John F. Willard and Henry G. Little, was appointed to survey and lay out a town plat, and to divide the timber land into twenty-acre lots. On November 11, 1836, Mr. Willard and Mr. Little reached the lands purchased by the company, with the intention to at once lay out the town and the timber lots. They found in the grove, one and one-half miles northeast of the purchase, a cabin, and the family of Mr. John Kilvington. of whom mention is made in the early history of Kewanee. This afforded a home for the party. An effort was at once made to obtain the services of the count y surveyor, who lived thirty miles distant. to perform the task, but the attempt proved fruitless, as he could not accomplish it until the following Spring. They returned to French Grove, in Peoria Count y , where Mr. Little had taken a cabin, and secured the services of Surveyor Nelson Simons, well known to many citizens of this county. The returning party consisted of John F. Willard. H. G. Little, Nelson Simons, William Wheeler, W. T. Little, Sullivan Howard and Simeon B. Stoddard, who reached, on foot, the purchase, on the evening of November 16, 1836. The two following clays were spent in surveying and locating the tracts. Toward the close of the second. day the party, with the exception of Willard, who remained to build a cabin, started for "Fraker"s Grove." twelve miles distant. As it was very misty the night was intensely dark, and they lost their way. By removing the glass from the face of their compass, so they could feel the hands on the face, they with great difficulty regained their course, and reached their destination about midnight . Awakening " Old ManDunbar," as he was called, from his slumbers, they were given food and shelter in the only cabin in this vicinity.
Willard worked two weeks at his cabin, boarding at Mr. Kilvington's, some two miles distant. When he had completed it, in company with N. Butler and Joseph Goodrich, he " bached " it through the Winter. He hauled his hay from where Sheffield now stands, and obtained the greater portion of his corn in Peoria County .
During the Spring of 1837, the services of the County Surveyor were obtained, the timber divided into twenty-acre lots, and. the town of Wethersfield laid out. " In the month of April," as now appears on the county records, the streets were laid out at right angles, and were six rods—ninety-nine feet—in width. The blocks contained four lots of two and one-half acres each, except those immediately on the public square designed for business lots, and containing one-fourth acre each. One block was set apart for a public square, and one for Academy and College purposes, but the former of these only appears on the town plat.
Two lots, one on the east and one on the west, were set apart for cemetery purposes. It will be noticed this village was a counterpart of that of Andover . Counting from north to south the streets bore the names of North, Mill, Church, North Main , South Main , College and South streets. Running east and west the y were named East, Edwards, Dwight, Willard, Tenney, Hollis, Payson and West streets. It will also be observed the names of divines entered largely into this list, Edwards and Dwight being in their day presidents of Yale College , and Tenney and Payson having a national reputation.
The food of the colonists was exceedingly coarse and rather scanty. Coffee, cornbread and pork—pork, cornbread and coffee, constituted the chief variety ; but what was lacking in quality was made up most abundantly in the amount consumed. The appetite of the frontiersman is not generally so dainty as voracious: Excellent air and abundant exer cise atoned for all tastes. The mill proved disastrous financially to the colony, involving it some $4,000 in debt, besides the amount paid on its completion.-$5,000. No one could be found to purchase such an incumbrance, and after various changes, it was sold to Jeduthan Hubbard for $2,000, thereby making a clear loss of $7,000. It had been most bene ficial, however, in supplying a dire necessity to all this country. A most interesting incident occurred in its erection and continuance, which the reader will find recorded in these pages in the chapter headed " Interesting E yen ts."
As the indebtedness of the colony had. to be met, but little more than eighty acres of prairie land was given to each-stockholder in addition to the town lot and timber land.
Out of the nearly sixty members of the association only four came personallv to aid in the organization. These were Col. Blish, Francis Loomis, *Sullivan Howard, and Charles Richards. Selden Miner was represented by two sons, and. Gardner Spring, D.D., by one son. Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury was already at the head of the Andover colony, where for many years he was the most prominent man in it. He was married here, Dec. 18, 1837, to Miss Caroline Miller. On Auust 22 previous he performed the first marriage ceremony in the colony (also the first in the county), being the nuptials of Lewis Hurd. and Caroline W. Little, a sister of Henry G. and W. T. Little. They are still residents of W ethersfield. James E. Carson opened a temporary store in the Winter of 1889-40, but suspended operations in less than one year. In the Spring of 1845, Garey E. Smith opened the first store proper.
He was followed by Daniel McClure, who established his trade in 1849. The following year William Blish opened a stock of goods, and was followed by others in quick succession, when the advent of the railroad and the consequent opening of Kewanee, caused a general removal of all such commodities to that locality.
The earliest school was taught by Parmelia Stewart, daughter of R. R. Stewart, of Geneseo. She is now Mrs. Dr. Hume of that cit y. She taught in what is properly known as the "Old Log Church." Afterwards a school-house was built a little south of this latter building, and school was held there for a few years. The next move in this direction was the purchase of the old Baptist Church, which is still used. About ten or twelve years ago, a new edifice was constructed, and is now used in connection with the former, for educational purposes.
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