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History of the Old Stonington Colony
 
Updated 29 Nov 2014
 
Note from P. Davidson-Peters: The following narrative was written and presented at the town's centennial celebration by William Edward Peabody who lived in the colony and his cousin, Rev. Arthur Chapman. William Starr Peabody was the father of William and was the main carpenter.

My thanks to his great granddaughter, Patricia Damery, who identified the authors and also shares a drawing her grandfather, William Lloyd Peabody, made of the colony house from memory. It is believed William Starr Peabody lived in the home after it was used to house families coming from the east.

In the following, WS Peabody is referred to as "father." This William Starr Peabody and his wife, Sarah, had eight children, six of whom reached adulthood. This history was originally submitted by Sally Andrews Neely, a direct descendent of Esther Randall & Allen Breed Peabody, and Lucy Breed & Samuel Peabody of the original colony. The highlighted names included in the narrative are listed in the census records and can be located in the extracted census records I compiled for 1850 Christian Co., IL and 1850 New London Co., CT.

Additional family stories written by Patricia Damery regarding the Old Stonington Colony can be enjoyed on her blog, "Family Stories About The History of Old Stonington Colony," Patricia Damery is an author, lecturer, Jungian Analyst & Biodynamic farmer whose books, Snakes; Farming Soul, A Tale of Initiation; Goatsong; and Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, are available at Fisher King Press, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or by visiting her website Patricia Damery.com

 
 

In 1833 Thomas P. Chapman came to Illinois to visit relatives in Fulton, Warren, and Knox Counties. He was very much impressed with the country and told the people back in Connecticut about the country being so nice. About a year later Deacon Samuel Peabody visited in Fulton Co., he too coming from CT. He also was impressed with the country, and retold the Chapman story on his return.

Mr. Chapman and the Deacon talked the matter over and formed a plan to have a colony come to IL and settle; it took all right with the people, and sixty families at North Stonington CT pledged themselves to move to IL. Land could be bought at $1.25 per acre, and in order to supply the needs of the proposed colony it would require 11,000 acres.

Dr. Rev. GB Perry and Thos. Hewitt were elected as a committee to come ahead and locate a body of land sufficient for the colony. They could not find enough land in one body, in the above named counties; they then traveled south in the state and finally selected land enough for the proposed colony near what is now Stonington. Even here a few pieces had been entered already, but the settlers were willing to sell out and agreed to give up possession. 1837 was the time when the colony was to move west to their new homes.

Back in CT, the proposed colony laid out a town site of 160 acres, and named the town Stonington, after North Stonington CT. The first of the colonists started early in the spring of 1837, their route was to NY, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, St Louis, Alton, then by prairie schooner to the Stonington area. Their trip was part of the way by railroad, and part by boat on river and finished in wagons across the prairies. Old Stonington Colony House - Drawn by William Lloyd Peabody from memory (Contributed by granddaughter Patricia Damery)

The first of the Colonists who came was Thos P Chapman, wife and four children; B.F. Chapman, wife and two children; Nicholas Sanders, wife and four children; Capt WS Peabody; ES Peabody; Amos Peabody; Alvira Peabody; Allen B Peabody, wife and two children' Frederick Fitch; Rev Alvin Ackley; Thos Skiff and wife. Then two years later came more of the Colony; Deacon Samuel Peabody, wife and widowed daughter; Mary Palmer and three children; Samuel N. Peabody, Deacon Peabody's youngest son. Horace Morgan and wife; Rev Parris Pray, wife and one child; Mrs. Button and her daughter, Sarah K, who afterwards married Capt WS Peabody. There were a number more of the colony who came, but I could not get their names.

A dismal prospect for the Colony. It took four weeks for them to complete their trip from CT and six weeks longer for their goods to reach them as they were carried on up the Illinois River to Peoria, which caused delay. They soon began constructing houses, but the first was made from small logs and the cracks were filled with wooden chunks and mud, but the house building was a very difficult task, as their nearest mill was 20 miles away. They used the broad ax to hew out the sills and posts, the joyces and studding sawed out with the use of the whip saw. Perhaps there are some who do not understand what a whip saw is. High trussels are made and the log is rolled on top of these trussels. One man stands on top of the log and one underneath, they pull the saw up and down through the log, and in this way they sawed out their floors, joyces and studding every piece was worked out by hand. The siding was all drewwed by hand, and also the flooring was dressed and matched. It took two men to prepare the flooring, one man to push the plow and one to pull, and in this way they made their matched flooring.

All the window sash and doors were made by hand, the glass was bought at Springfield, some 35 miles away, and this was the way their first homes were built. Many lived in little huts until they could get material to build better. The first good building was built and called the Colony House. The main part was 20 X 48 feet, two stories, with an L 18 X 20, and that two stories. This was to accommodate those who came later. They used what they called a cornfield bed; throwed beds down on the floor and sometimes 20 or 30 women would sleep in one room and the men in their cornfield bed in another room, and in this way they were able to accommodate all of the Colony until they could do better. They gave up the idea of building a town as it required all their energies in getting something to eat and wear. Meat, corn and bread were the staple foods of life. Game of all kinds was very plentifully, a hunter sometimes would come to you and ask if you would like a nice saddle of venison, which is dressed deer. Then the party would ask "Do you have it with you?" "No, but I though I would go out tonight and kill a deer."

Wild turkeys were in abundance, a nice large turkey that would weigh 25 lbs could be bought of the hunter for $.25. Deer and wolves were seen on these prairies quite often in herds of 15 or 20 in a herd. They began their farming, and this too, was a very difficult and discouraging job, as their tools were very crude. Their plow was of a wooden board, and a cast iron point, never thought of it ever scouring from the start, they only ploughed small patches. Just for some corn and wheat, they cut their wheat with a hand sickle, and beat the grain out with a flail. When flailed out, they separated the grain from the chaff, then they would take a bucket full of grain and chaff, hold it up and let it run out of the bucket and the wind would blow the chaff away. They would wait for a good windy day for separating the grain so as to use if for bread.

They would have to go to a water mill near Springfield over 20 miles away. Ox teams were used to do all of their hauling. A neighbor would load up his wagon with wheat and corn in the early fall of the year for the Colony, and start to the mill with two or three yoke of oxen, and bedclothes, for he would have to be gone some five or six days, before he could get his grinding done. This was much more difficult to get their bread stuff than we have today getting our supplies.

The bread question with the colony was a very difficult matter as I have stated before, the mill was some 20 miles away. Corn was the only available grain. It was all right in summer and early full and before the corn was thoroughly dry in the fields rain came and the streams were swollen, no roads and no bridges anywhere. They went into the fields and husked out the corn, they would then dry it, and when dry enough would shell the corn by hand. Then as soon as the wheat and corn were ready they would hitch up three yoke of oxen and start for the Archer water mill on the north fork of the Sangamon River. The trip to the mill took about seven days. Then each family would get his meal and flour. The meal was all sifted and salted so as to keep it fresh coming from the mill, it was one of the important items of life.

The next thing, they had to have a mill in the colony. Deacon Peabody put in $1000 and two other men put in $500 each. Leonard Lilly, a mill wright and blacksmith, from Fulton Co induced them to make it a steam powered mill, and he went in as third owner. The mill was in operation in 1842 and was considered one of the best improvements of the day. I am not sure as to whether this was the mill where the farmer sent his boy with a grist of corn to the mill, with the corn in one end of the sack and a rock in the other end to balance it across the horses back.

As the colony became more settled in homes, they began farming in more of an extensive way, getting more teams, and better tools to farm with. They used oxen mostly for their heavy work, such as breaking up this new prairie. They used some four to six oxen yokes on a large plow that would cut a furrow 26 inches wide. It would require a great deal of work to prepare this ground for seed. It would take about three years for the sod to rot so as to be thoroughly pulverized. This soil was very rich and productive.

They began to raise more corn and grain of different kinds, also more hogs and cattle. The cattle were turned loose upon the vast prairies to get their own living after April 1st. Hogs were out on these prairies and also in timber, gathering "mast" as they would say such as hickory nuts and acorns, and such other food as they could find to subsist on during the summer season.

In the fall, they would then put the animals up in pens and fatten these hogs for market and their own use. Their nearest market was St Louis. The neighbors would all together and put their hogs in one drove and start for St Louis. Several men would go along to drive them and one man wagon and team would go along so that if a hog should give out, they could load him into the wagon and haul him until night. The next morning he might be able to travel. It took several days to drive these hogs to St Louis, one man on horseback would act as advance agent and go ahead and look for a place to stop overnight. This was somewhat of a task as not many families were situated so as to accommodate so many.

A little incident happened along with these drivers, one of the hog drivers was very fond of coffee and would drink some 8 or 10 cups of coffee at one meal. The next year the advance man would go ahead as usual to find a place to stay overnight. He tried at a farmhouse where they had stopped the year before and asked if they could stay that night, as they had a large bunch of hogs. The lady of the house asked if they had the big coffee drinker with them, if they did, she did not have coffee enough in the house. So he assured her that the coffee drinker was not with them this time. Sometimes they would have to wait some days in St Louis before they could get them butchered as that was their custom to weigh these hogs after butchering - weigh them dressed.

Hog cholera was not know in those days. They told a little story on a preacher who lived close to the timber and let his hogs run and they would get nice and fat on mast and then he would kill enough of them to supply his family a whole year. A party reported that the preacher stole his hogs for family use. The preacher heard of it and sued the accuser for defamation of character. After a hard fought legal battle by the preacher's attorney, Judge Robbins of Springfield said the preacher proved that he had been killing his own hogs all the time. Several years before he had put some brood sows on Brushey Branch or they had gotten away, they stayed together and multiplied and the preacher never killed near all the hogs that really belonged to him. The verdict was one cent damage to his character.

The question was asked quite frequently why did not those pioneers make more money with land and corn so cheap and stock fattened so easily, which was answered very readily by saying that the more land a man had at that time the worse off he was. A man might own a thousand acres and be able to cultivate but one hundred acres, and in this case he had to pay taxes on nine hundred acres he could not use. Although many hogs were raised driving them to St Louis was tedious and expensive process. It took about two weeks to drive the hogs through to market. When you got to St Louis, if the weather was warm, you might have to wait two weeks for cooler weather so as to kill them, as they would be weighed after being fully dressed. There was no ten cent corn in St Louis to feed these hogs on, as it was very high and board was not to be had for a song at St Louis hotels.

The neighbors cooperated and joined to drive their hogs to market, each man paying his share of the total expense in proportion to the number of hogs he had in the bunch. And in this way, it became possible to make a little money on hogs, one reason that the early settlers did not get rich is that they came about 20 years too soon. They had to wait about that long for transportation. Until the Illinois Central Railroad was built and then everything changed with the railroad came improved farm machinery and then the colony began to boom.

The first birth in the Colony was Julia Sanders, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Sanders. Soon after a daughter was born to Thos Skiff and his wife. The first death in the colony was the oldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Sanders, carried away by measles that was contracted while she was on her way from CT. The first marriage was that of Harriet W Chapman, daughter of Thos P Chapman to James S Grant, the ceremony being performed on March 4, 1840.

The bread question was a great proposition as their nearest grist mill was 20 miles away, called the Bob Archer water mill. Corn was about the only available grain and it was all right in late summer or early fall, but later the rains came and not having any roads or bridges it made it very difficult to go to the mill as streams were swollen. In the fall, as early as it would do, they would go into the fields and gather a few bushels of corn, dry it so as to shell and the whole family would get at the shelling of the corn preparatory for the mill. Soon two neighbors would hitch up their three yoke of oxen and go to the water mill. All the neighbors would put in their grain to have it ground to last all winter. It would take some five or seven days to complete the round trip to the mill, each family would receive his grist, then they would sift all the meal and salt it a little so as to keep it sweet until used up.

Going to the mill at such a long distance was a very important item of farm life. They met and decided they must have a mill. In these early days help was very scarce. As to mechanics, they were hard to find. My father, WS Peabody, was the chief contractor and builder for the colony and he had to get the best help he could secure. I heard WS Peabody tell of hiring a man who was very handy with tools to help him in his carpentering shop and when not building, put him to work on the farm, he paid him $18.00 for one months work and sold two four year old steers at $9.00 each to pay him one month. Good milk cows with a young calf at her side could be bought for $6.00. The colonists soon began raising sheep, the women folk could spin and weave. They would take the wool to Springfield and have it made into rolls of one-half inch through, about two feet long. Then the women would take these rolls and spin them into yarn to knit socks and stockings for themselves.

Then they began to raise flax thackle put it into threads and with their cotton warp would weave on their looms into cloth to make all their dresses and men's clothes. They were all made by hand, in this way they saved many a dollar which they would not have saved if they had bought ready-made clothes. The women were great workers as well as the men there were no lazy ones among the colonists. They were all good and industrious people. When one neighbor got behind with his work on account of sickness, all the neighbors would go to this place and do all his work up in one day.

They were very kind and sociable to each other. They did all of their own doctoring with herbs and poultices, they seemed to be quite successful. Taylorville was the first nearby town and that was twelve miles away. The territory was laid off in large counties. Sangamon County included all of Sangamon, Montgomery, Morgan, Menard and Macon, also a part of Christian. Afterwards the counties were made smaller and Christian Co was for having a county seat, three places were striving for it. One was Stonington, where the colony was located. Allerton some three miles northeast of Taylorville, on the farm that Josiah Hall owns and the present county seat of Taylorville. A man by the name of Taylor owned eighty acres and he captured the town and the tract was laid off in town lots, the original town 28 blocks and four and one half blocks and named Taylorville after this man Taylor who won the county seat.

After it was incorporated, one man was elected assessor, and he assessed the whole county without a single deputy. His name was Sanford Petty. He held the office for many years. He was crippled in one leg. County officers were elected: county Judge, County Clerk, sheriff, Representative to the Legislature. A story was told on three candidates who were campaigning the county for votes. County Judge, County Clerk and Representative. As automobiles were not in use in those days, they traveled on horseback. They came up to a voter by the name of Elijah Palmer, each one passed the time of day, and was very glad to see Uncle Elijah as he was generally called, and began soliciting him for a vote, stating each office they wished to run for, and uncle Elijah was rather slow in his talk. He says to them, "Where is your bottle?" No sooner than he had said it, each man pulled out of his pocket a pint bottle of whiskey and offered it to Uncle Elijah, and he replied in his long and slow drawn out words, "That is all I want to know of you. I wound not vote for one of you." They discovered they had pulled the bottle on the wrong man this time.

These candidates afterwards told the story, which amused them very much. The man Uncle Elijah Palmer told of seeing a flock of deer, describing the position of the flock pointing to the east, west and north. A party asked Uncle Elijah which one did you shoot at? "I did not shoot at any particular one, I just shot at the flock." He was so excited, he forgot to take aim. Many incidents happened along in the early days.

A county superintendent was elected to look after the schools in the county. There were not so many in the county, name was Samuel Sisna, he was the first county Superintendent and it was the custom for the county superintendent to visit all the schools in the county at least once a year, and as many times as he wished. This man went to visit a school where a young lady was teaching her first school, and she did not have very good control over the governing of her pupils. They made quite considerable noise moving around talking with each other, and when the opportune time came this young teacher asked the Supt if he would like to make a talk to the school, he arose and said, "I have visited schools all over the country, and this is the damdest school I have ever visited." He was a man how liked his tea very well and he was very well tanked up this day.

The old Stonington Baptist Church was organized in October 1837. The charter members were eleven to wit: BF Chapman and Nancy his wife, Elvira Peabody, Allen B Peabody, Elias Peabody, Amos Peabody, Martha A Chapman, Harvey C Chapman, Nicholas Sanders and wife Sarah, and Elijah Palmer, all but three of the charter members were from the Peabody families. In 1839 there were several more families of the promised colony from CT, who brought letters from Stonington Baptist Church to join the Stonington IL church. They were Deacon Samuel Peabody and his wife Lucy, Mary Palmer and three children, Jos H Jessey, and Abbie Palmer, Samuel W Peabody, Horace Morgan and wife Mercy, Rev Parris Pray and wife Almira, eleven more to join the church by letter. These eleven were all my relation, making nineteen out of 22 members of the Stonington church.

In October 1842, Rev Gideaon Perry of Alton IL formerly of North Stonington CT, and Amos S Dodge of Jerseyville, IL came to Old Stonington to hold a protracted meeting. The services were held in the Old Colony house in which Grandfather Peabody lived. Grandma Peabody and Aunt Mary Palmer had both died just previous to the holding of these meetings. Grandma Peabody lost her eyesight from sickness several years before coming to Old Stonington. Aunt Elvira Peabody kept house for Grandfather Peabody. After the death of his wife, Lucy, Rev GB Perry, before he commenced his meeting, told my father, WS Peabody, that he wanted him to go along Browns Branch , close to where the meeting was held, and select a nice place to make a pool for baptizing. My father wanted to know why he wanted a pool before there was any chance of using it, he thought it was time enough to get a pool when there was a prospect to use it. Rev Perry told my father that he expected to baptize him in that pool before the meetings closed. My father thought there was a very poor prospect, but before the close of the meetings, he did baptize my father and mother.

The country was very sparsely settled at this time, and people came a long distance to attend these meetings. It was no unusual thing for people to come fifteen and twenty miles to attend these meetings and stay with a\the few neighbors in the new neighborhood, as every one kept open house. They came in large lumber wagons, some came with ox teams hitched to a lumber wagon. Vehicles with springs in these days were not thought of. These meetings resulted in 24 conversions which was added to the church. I cannot give all the names, but will as far as I can. WS Peabody and Sarah his wife, James S Grant and Harriet his wife, Thos P Chapman, Wm S Frink and his wife and two daughters Sarah and Lydia, Thos S Leechman and wife and one daughter, Alexander Leechman and his wife Harriet, Hester Alexander and wife and her sister.

The Frinks and Alexanders lived several miles NW of Taylorville, some twenty miles west of Old Stonington. The Leechmans lived three miles SW of Taylorville. John D Brown and Mary his wife, Mrs. Leonard Lilly, Rosana Lilly, Sam S Hanner, Leonard Lilly was the man who run the mill, WS Hammer was sheriff of Christian Co and was county clerk of Macon Co, and was also county judge some years ago and died in Macon Co, Decatur IL. A few more names I can add. Wm Morton, Cymbal Moore and son, John NB Chapman. In the spring of 1843, these baptized members organized a Sunday School with John D Brown as Supt and he was Supt for more than 15 years. They hold their Sunday School in the winter time.

The church was not very well fixed in finances, and was not able to support a minister all the time. The members would make up a little purse and occasionally give the preacher a donation. They would all turn in and take all kinds of cooked victuals, meats, cakes, pies, bread, preserves, jams, jellies, and set a big table and eat it all up so when the donation party left the preacher, there was nothing left for breakfast the next morning.

My uncle Rev Parris Pray preached to the church a number of years and his salary was to be $50 per year, but some years he did not receive all of his salary and he had to go out and do farm work for all the neighbors. A little incident happened one time in one of these meetings, on Sunday morning, there were two men by the name of John Brown, one a day laborer, and was know as Brown, the Single Maker, and one of the members was called upon to lead in prayer, and he was making splendid prayer, but was quite interested in the Brown that was not a Christian, so in his prayer, he prayed for the salvation of John Brown, not thinking of the other Brown. He then seemed to think that the members might think something was wrong with Deacon Brown, and coming to himself a ways into his prayer, he says, "I mean John Brown, the Single Maker."

Another little incident happened when the church was small in number as well as not having much money, they could not support a minister all the time, so they were only supplied with one occasionally by different ministers. There were two members in the church by the name of Chapman, one Thos., the other Tyler. The latter was an ordained preacher, but as the boy said, he did not practice it, but was a splendid exhorter and could make fine prayers, and was quite often called upon to perform this function, as it was the custom quite often to lead them in prayer. This Sunday they were to have a new preacher and Thos Chapman was always wanted to be first to get acquainted with the new preacher, and as he only got the names of a few, as he was late in coming and after finishing his sermon, he called on Brother Thos chapman to lead in prayer. He looks round and say "Bro. Tyler Chapman does our praying"

Thos Chapman was sometimes a little absent minded, he was a great man to walk when going to neighbors or church, so one Sunday he rode a horse to church and when church was over members came out and Bro Chapman was very much interested in some of the men as they were going his way he walked along with them. He lived a little over a mile from where they held services and as he reached home, his wife says "why Mr. Chapman, where is your horse?" He says, "Pox take it", which was his by-word. "I have hitched it down to the school house." So he had to walk back to get his horse. In the early days, they had but few fences, and often when stock was out at large, they sometimes would get into crops. Thos Chapman had a small patch of corn and Deacon Peabody's hogs got into his patch a few time, which made Bro Chapman out of humor. He said to his wife "Martha, go into the house, I want to swear." She says, "No, Mr. Chapman, you must not swear. I will damn Deacon Peabody's hogs."

In 1843, a committee was appointed to see after the building of a church. The committee appointed WS Peabody, SD Brown, WS Frink, AB Peabody and PS Leechman. Not raising sufficient funds, it proved to be a failure. In 8163, the building project came up again twenty years after the first move to build. WS Peabody, ML Sanders and AB Chapman were appointed to be the building committee. The first church was built and dedicated 22 years after the first talk of building. Many different preachers have been pastors of this church. The first was one Amos Dodge pastored in 1843 and died March 19, 1844. February 1846 Rev Parris Pray was engaged to preach for them at a salary of $50. In 1848, the Taylorville Baptist church was organized from members of the Stonington Baptist church. In 1849, Rev Parris Pray was engaged to preach one half time at Stonington and one half at Taylorville for $100 each church paying $50.

In 1851, Rev BF Chapman was chosen to preach at Stonington Church. In 1856, Rev BB Bunnelle was the preacher for one year. In 1857, Rev Frederick Wiley was with them till April 1861, when Rev EP Parker was their next preacher. The next one was Rev Coon who preached for a time. Then came Rev AM Cockran. He preached until 1867, then Rev SM Wells was their preacher until 1869, when JM Maxwell was engaged one year. In February 1870 the Assumption Baptist church was organized from members of the Old Stonington Baptist Church. April 1870 Rev GA Pesse was engaged to be pastor of the Stonington Church.

The first school was taught in a private house one room 14 X 16. The school was small as there were only a few children, only about 8 of school age. Some of these children were taught at home by their parents. The first school house was built in the summer of 1850. The territory of the school district took in something over three miles square. Chas Burkick was the first teacher who taught in the new school house. WS Peabody was one of the first directors in the district, he was elected in 1850 and held the place until 1870, when his son WE Peabody was elected to take his place and he held it until 1895, so father and son were directors in the district 45 years.

 
1850 Christian Co., IL Census
1850 New London Co., CT.
In Celebration of Lughnasa: Family Stories About The History of Old Stonington Colony by Patricia Damery (Outside Link)
 
 


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