EARLY SETTLERS OF DE WITT COUNTY
A - M
Names In Alpha Order
John and Rebecca Barr
The following biography was published in the Clinton Weekly Register, Clinton, Illinois, Friday,
June 9, 1876, as part of the national centennial celebration.
A copy of the paper was furnished by Phyllis Lynch.
John Barr was born in South Carolina, Chester county, in 1799, and Rebecca was born in the same
place in 1806. In 1808 they moved with their parents to what was then called East Tennessee,
and in 1810 moved to the territory of Indiana, where they remained until they were married.
John married Comfort Marvel, in 1822, and Rebecca married Prettyman Marvel, brother to John's
wife, in 1823. The two families then concluded to seek a home in a new country, and each
getting a yoke of oxen and an old cart, on the 1st of December, 1824, they started for Illinois.
All the creeks were so high that they could not be forded, and when they came to a stream they
had to unload their carts, put poles across the top of the cart beds, pile their goods upon the
poles, and swim across with the oxen hitched to the carts. They arrived at Springfield on the
1st of January, 1825. Springfield at that time consisted of five or six log cabins. They
crossed the Sangamon river and found a settlement, and there stopped for the winter. They got a
house to live in, and as they had no money, the men made their living by splitting rails and
gathering corn. When spring came they rented a farm from Thomas Prim, fourteen miles below
Springfield, where the town of Athens now stands. There they raised a splendid crop of corn.
When it was raining or too wet to work in old ground, they would take their oxen and break up
prairie for their neighbors, this way earning enough to keep them going.
After they had laid their corn by, they started farther out on the frontier to hunt up a
location for themselves, and as they had no horses to ride they traveled on foot. They first
went to Pekin, then to Mackinaw, and from there to Sugar Creek, and then to Kickapoo Creek, in a
grove called Big Grove, where they laid claims, it being fifty miles from where they raised
their crop. They moved on their claims in February, 1826, and cut the first stick out by white
men in that section of the country. They put up a little shanty and covered it with puncheons.
As the snow was about a foot deep when they built, they happened to build in a little hollow,
and when the snow melted one night they found a little brook running through the shanty next
morning, but as they had no carpet down, no great damage was done. The men being away, the
women went to work and made a dam above the house and succeeded in turning the course of the
water. After they had got their corn and other articles to their new home, they went to cutting
logs and splitting boards for a cabin. As they did not have many bands to help raise the house,
the logs were small. When they got up the square of the house, they moved into it one rainy
evening. To protect them from the rain, they put a pole across the cabin the length of a
clapboard from the wall, then they put on a row of clapboards, one end extending from the wall
and the other laid on the pole.
Up to this time the two families of Barr and Marvel had lived together as one family, but they
now separated, each having a cabin. Their neighbors at that time were Felix Jones and Samuel
Cutwright. Considering that they had quite a settlement, they made application for a preacher.
Old Peter Cartwight came to visit them. He was their first elder, and he sent them a preacher
by the name of Wm. Sea, with whom they were well satisfied. When Mr. Sea came he formed a class
of six members--John Barr and his wife, Prettyman Marvel and his wife, Ezra Knapp and Tarnsy
Cline. After a while other families came in and meetings were held in the cabins of the
settlers, and they claim that there was more real heartfelt worship in those days, when they
knelt on dirt floors, than there is now in their grand church edifices, with cushioned seats and
As they got time they put floors in their cabins, which they made by splitting small logs in two,
smoothing off the split side and laying that side up. To construct a loft, they [aid a few
poles across the cabin, and upon this they laid strips of linn bark, the smooth side down.
Bedsteads were made by taking one stout pole and boring two holes in it, into these holes
driving a side and end rail, the other end being edged into the cracks in the wall, while for
cords they laid clapboards across from the wall to the side rail. That style of bedstead did
them very well until they got more stylish, when they made a four-post bedstead out of poles and
used hickory withes for cord.
Their greatest trouble was in getting their corn ground. The nearest mill was about sixteen
miles below Springfield, making it fifty miles from the Big Grove settlement, and as a
consequence they did not often go to will, but lived most of the time on meal beaten in --
mortar or grated on a grater, with hominy made by boiling corn in lye, by way of variety. Deer
and wild turkeys were plenty, so they did not lack for meat, and for a number of years their
cabins were never out of venison. They found plenty of honey in the woods, which constituted
their only supply of "sweetening." As there was no market for grain, the early settlers did not
farm very extensively, but contented themselves with raising enough grain for their own
consumption and some to spare new-comers when they came in, whom they were only too glad to aid
and encourage. If a man met with misfortune, the neighbors rallied around him and helped him up.
For three or four years Indians were plenty, but they did not disturb the settlers. The wolves
were the greatest pest they had to contend with, and the only way they could save their sheep
and pigs from them was to make a tight rail pen with a cover and drive their stock into it at
After several years John Coppenbarger put up a horse mill on Salt Creek, and milling was then
thought to be quite convenient. Then a man by the name of Sugars built a water mill on
Kickapoo creek, which gave them a mill within eight miles, and when Jerry Greenman and Thomas
Dunham opened a little store where Waynesville now stands, it was thought that the country was
getting quite civilized and had all the conveniences that could be asked for. The first goods
Barr and Marvel bought after they came to Illinois they bought of Greenman, and it was a
piece of cloth to warm honey in to squeeze it out of the comb, and they also used it a great
deal to boil hominy in. They did not buy many groceries those times. Honey took the place of
sugar, and for coffee they would parch wheat and grind it in a coffee mill, and sometimes used
burnt crusts of broad. For tea they used spice-wood, sassafras, red root and sycamore chips,
thus having a large variety, if not very fine quality.
The deep snow fell in the winter of 1830-31, and was three feet deep on the level, and in some
places drifted to the height of twenty-five feet. It was almost impossible to got around, as
there was no use in trying to break roads for they would Fill up immediately. Deer were very
plenty that winter, and before the snow got too deep for the horses, the settlers caught great
numbers of them. The deer were very fat, and the snow so impeded their traveling that a man on
horseback could easily run them down. Mr. Barr says he could get on a horse and easily catch
two or three deer in an hour, tic them to his horse's tail and draw them home. The way they
tied them to the horse's tail was to split the under jaw of the deer, draw a piece of hair
through and tie it, and the deer would follow. He remembers of going out one day and starting
up about fifty deer in a drove. He soon caught three of them, tied them to his horse's tail and
took them in home. During the latter part of the snow the deer got so poor and weak that the
dogs caught and killed many of them. It was a hard winter on deer and turkey, and they were
never so plenty after it.
As showing the hospitality of the early settlers, Mrs. Marvel relates that they lived at what
was called Pilot Grove, on a trail that was much traveled in those days. Near their house was a
sloughs in which the teams of the travelers almost invariably mired, when her husband would take
his oxen and help them out, and then the travelers would stay over night, sometimes there being
five or six of them, and no charge was ever made for their entertainment.
Prettyman Marvel died July 23d, 1842. Mrs. Marvel lived a widow for five years, when she
married Thompson D. Gambrel. Comfort, wife of John Barr, died in 1865, and Mr. Barr never
remarried. Mr. Barr is 77 years old and is a stout and hearty man, with the exception of being
subject to rheumatism. Mrs. Gambrel is 70 years old and is an unusually hearty woman. John
Barr is the father of nine children, six of whom are still living. Mrs. Gambrel was the mother
of eleven children, ten of whom lived to marry and have families, and seven of whom are still
Hugh L. Davenport
The biography that follows was published in the Clinton Weekly Register, Clinton, Illinois,
Friday, May 5, 1876, as part of the national centennial celebration.
A copy of the paper was furnished by Phyllis Lynch.
Born in Casey county, Kentucky, April 20, 1812. Removed with my father to Illinois in 1824,
landing six miles west of Springfield on the 4th day of May. Springfield had been located about
one year before our arrival, and then had eight or ten houses, one small store, and a man by the
name of Herndon had a barrel of whisky and a few notions, which he called grocery, and two
brothers named Capps kept a shoe shop, some groceries and a kind of a hardware store. Colonel
Cox put up a Tavern made of round logs, as that was all the building material used in those
times. It was the best house in town, being a double house about forty feet long by eighteen
feet wide, with a log partition in the center, and a porch the fall length of the building,
which was a favorite place for the Colonel and his guests to sit on and talk over future
expectations. When we came there we had few accommodations, as the country was thinly settled.
The settlers generally settled two or three families in a place, for one to three miles apart.
There were two families between my father's and Springfield. On the west, up Spring Creek,
there were three families - Edward Robertson, William McMurry (who lately died in Clinton) and a
man named Ditson, an eastern man. The people all settled along The timber for convenience,
as they had no means for building or fencing other than what the timber afforded them. The
early settlers were universally poor, some only having two horses or a yoke of oxen and an old
wagon. Such a thing as money was seldom seen, our business being transacted altogether by
trading. This was as beautiful country to look at as man never beheld, the prairies being
covered with bright-colored flowers from early spring until the frost The flowers were covered
with wild bees who made a large amount of honey which was obtained by the settlers by cutting
down the trees in the hollow trunks of which the bees made their hives. Truly, this was a land
of milk and honey. We had many inconveniences to contend with, such as going seventy-five
and eighty miles to will and about the same distance for our salt and other heavy articles, and
on these journeys we had to cross streams over which there were no ferries or bridges, often
having to make log rafts to ferry our goods across. We would make a raft by getting a number of
logs together and fastening them by means of poles and pins, then take our goods out of the
wagons and take the wagons apart and pile goods and wagon on the boat, and then with long poles
propel the raft across the stream, leaving our teams to swim across in the rear of the raft.
When we camped out at night we went to sleep to the music of howling wolves and yelling Indians.
The first mills started about Springfield were run by horses, and were poor institutions; but
they were all we had and people came from all parts of the country to them, often having to stay
three or four days to get two or three bushels of corn ground, camping out at nights. In the
years 1827-8-9 and up to 1831 we had powerful revivals of religion under the preaching of Peter
Cartright and other pioneer preachers, the people generally engaging in the cause of religion,
which caused peace and harmony to prevail among us.
In the fall of 1829 my father removed from Springfield to the north side of Kickapoo creek (then
called Big Grove), about half way between where Atlanta and Waynesville are now located. This
territory was then in Tazewell county, Pekin being the county seat. Pekin was then a small town,
and for a short time was my home. I bought goods of Col. Tom Snell's father, who then had a dry
goods store there, and Tom as a clerk, and when he stood up straight his head was even with the
counter. Ashen we came to Kickapoo creek the country was very thinly settled, and Springfield
and Pekin were our nearest trading points, Springfield being our post-Office, and it was called
fifty miles away. Our neighbors were, on the east, Ezra Knapp, a fine citizen from the east,
called "a Yankee," and on the west were Thomas Davis, Benjamin Shipley and Timothy Hobiett, who
then made up the Meant on the north side of Kickapoo. On the south side were John Barr,
Prettyman Marvel, James Barr, Gabriel Waft, Benjamin Day, Abraham Onstott, Thomas Glenn and John
Glenn his father, Samuel Glenn, the Scotts, Josiah Clifton and Matthew Martin, and up at the
head of Long Point then lived Uncle Samuel Spencer, and I believe lives there yet. We had all
the hardships usual to a new country, such as no stores or mills. The first goods that were
ever sold in this part of the country I hauled for a man by the name of Jerry Greenman, who kept
them in a log house owned by a man named Davis, and Thomas Dunham was his clerk. I hauled the
first load of his goods from Pekin, on the Illinois river, and one article was a barrel of good
old peach brandy, which found some warm friends soon after its arrival. Where these goods were
sold in a short time there sprung up a small town, which was called New Castle, which was
located near where Atlanta now stands. In the year 1831, I think, a man by the name of George
Isham laid out the town of Waynesville on the south side of Kickapoo creek, and a man named Post
kept the first goods there, if my memory is correct.
In the spring of 1831 I was joined in marriage with Miss Joanna Watt, daughter of Rev. Gabriel
and Elizabeth Watt, and I give the incidents of my wedding to show how weddings were conducted
in early times. It has been estimated by Thomas Dunham, one of my young associates, that there
were at least one hundred guests at my wedding, but I will put the number at seventy-five. Then
people traveled almost entirely on horseback, and there were in attendance people from twenty or
more miles away, while there was an universal turnout of our neighbors. I was married by a
Baptist preacher, and the day I was married a gang of Indians came into the neighborhood, and
the company and I got on our horses and chased them away, as we did not allow them to hunt about
our farms, for they scared our stock and caused them to be wild. The day we were married some
thirty or forty persons, all on horseback, accompanied us to my father's house to take dinner
with us. On the way we were met by a large company of young folks, also on horseback Two of the
company had each what was called a "castor bottle" rolled with old bourbon whisky, which was in
use those days by all classes of society. The crowd that met us fell back in the rear of our
procession, while the two young men with the bottles passed on each side of the procession,
which was in double file, and presented their bottles to each one as they passed. Arriving at
my father's we all partook of a bountiful dinner and passed the rest of the day in merriment.
In the fall of 1832 1 removed to near where Marion now stands, that territory then being in
Macon county, Decatur being the county seat. It then went by the name of Fork Prairie, on
account or lying between the north and south forks of Salt Creek. I bought a cabin a man had
built and left for Thomas It Davis-,i@ and a claim of one hundred and sixty acres which land I
then entered, the land office being then located at Danville. When I moved into my house it had
one-half the floor laid with puncheons, and the other half no floor in. I used the latter half
of the cabin for a corn crib, putting in about 300 bushels of corn, which I hauled from Kickapoo
creek, about twenty-five miles away. Our outfit for housekeeping was not of the finest kind,
consisting of a dry-goods box for a chest, and I made me a splendid table and a pair of
bedsteads. The table was split out of a large black-oak tree and hewed smooth on one side by
the same ax that felled the tree, and four legs were put in by boring holes with an auger.
The bedstead was made of three poles, the bark being peeled off, I then bored two holes in one
post, which received one end of each rail, and bored a hole in the end and side wails of the
house, which received the other ends of the rails and made the frame of my bedstead; then I
laid a pole along the back part of the frame, and my cords were split boards riven with a froe;
so you see it was not a spring bedstead, but it answered the same purpose. Our neighbors were
few; Davis lived about half a mile away, on the place now occupied by Samuel Trego, near Marion,
his being then the only family on the north side of the south fork of Salt Creek as high up as
Burley's Grove, Dennis Hurly then living on the southwest of where Farmer City now stands. On
that side or the creek next came Jas. Morrison, John Miller, and Benjamin Lisenby, who was about
four miles south of where I lived, and these we called our near neighbor. There were three
families on the south side of the north fork-Alexander Dale, Josiah Harp and Charles McCord.
These, I believe, include the entire settlement of both sides of the north and south for of Salt
Creek as high up as what was then called Buckles' Grove (now Leroy). During the fall and
winter I made rails and put up a log stable and smoke house and dug a well, and in the Spring
broke up twenty acres of ground.
In the summer of 1835 I sold my farm to Hiram Chapin, and in the winter of the mm year I removed
across the north fork of Salt Creek to where I now live, making it a period of over forty-one
years that I have lived at my present place of residence. And here I would remark that my wife
was the mother of fourteen children, six girls and eight boys, all living but one son, who died
when he was four years old. My wife and I lived together for over thirty-seven years, she
departing this life in the fail of 1867 for a world where all is happiness and peace. When I
moved where I now live, in 1835, Decatur was our nearest post-office, and we seldom got any mail
except it was upon important business, and then the postage on a single letter from Kentucky was
twenty-five cents. We had no blacksmith shops and our horses had to go barefooted. The nearest
mill was a horse mill which required four horses to ran it, and it was eight miles away, being
run by Samuel Spencer, at Long Point. In the winter the prairies would be almost entirely
covered with ice and our teams would slip and fall on the ice. On the sloughs we would have to
take the sacks of corn off our horses and drag them across, and then pull the horses across by
their bridles. Sometimes we would cut up our blankets and tie them around our horse' hoofs to
make them stick to the ice. So you can see that milling in a wild country was no small job.
And now I will tell you something about the deep snow that fell in the winter of 1830-31. I was
then living in the Big Grove on Kickapoo. It began to snow, I think, on the 8th of December and
fell until about a foot deep and was fine sleighing for a week, and then there came another fail
of snow about a foot deep, and so on until it got about three feet deep on a level in the timber,
and around the outer edge of the groves it was from four to twenty feet deep, and turning very
cold at time. Several settlers from the vicinity of where Clinton now stands were over to a mill
about two miles west of where Waynesville is now located. The weather was mild and it was
snowing fast. They got their grists ground and started for home. At that time there was no
house from the timber on Kickapoo to Tenmile creek, near Clinton, a distance of about twelve
miles. When they got about three miles from the Kickapoo timber it snowed so fag that they
could not see any distance before them and their team (two yoke of oxen) gave out. The wind
changed and they got lost. The snow was from two to three feet deep and it began to get very
cold, and their clothes were frozen hard on them. They could not we any timber and did not
know which way they were going. Finally they unyoked their oxen and let them go their own way.
One of the oxen started on a straight course and they followed him until one of the party, John
Clifton, gave out and laid down. The other two dragged him through the snow and cuffed him
about to keep him awake. About sunset it quit snowing and they could see the timber and a house
about three miles away, and their ox was going straight towards it, but it was still getting
colder and their pilot gave signs of giving out, They drove the ox in front of them, following
in his trail and dragging their comrade, the ox going a few rods and then stopping to rest,
while they rubbed their comrade and cuffed him to keep him and themselves from freezing. About
dark a crust had formed on the snow hard enough for a man to walk upon, so they got their sick
commander up on his feet, and leaving the ox walked upon the snow. The sick man was the first
to get to the house, he being the lightest, while the others would occasionally break through
the crust down into four feet of snow, causing them hard labor to regain their footing on the
crust so that they were nearly frozen to death by the time they got to the house. The house was
that of John Robb, who then lived on Rock creek, four or five miles cast of the site of
Waynesville. They got their oxen to the house in about three days, but their sled and meat lay
where they left it until the next spring. The names of the three men were Josiah and John
Clifton and David Noflet. The snow was so deep, and their sharp hoofs penetrated the crust so
easily, that we would ride up to them and jump from our horns back upon the back of the deer and
cut their throats with a hunting knife; they were very plenty and we could kill all we wanted.
Our corn was generally out in the field, and we had to wade through the snow up to our waists,
gather it in sacks and carry it on our shoulders to feed our stock and make hominy or pound it
in a mortar. The wolves grew fierce and attacked men, killed calves and sheep, carried off
small hogs, came close to our houses in daytime and killed our dogs.
My occupation has always been that of a farmer, rail-splitter and prairie-breaker. I have made
more rails, I think, than ever Honest Old Abe Lincoln ever made, but if any of them were ever
taken to Europe it was through mistake for some that he made, as there were a great many shipped
that were said to have been made by him that he never saw. I never held any office of much
importance. I have four commissions from the Governor as Justice of the Peace, which office I
have tried to fill to the best of my ability. I have Filled many petty offices, from a corporal
in a military company to school trustee. In an early day I was appointed by the County
Commissioners an overseer of roads. rely district then embraced most of Harp township and the
north part of Creek township, and I worked from 75 to 100 hands. I opened the first road from
Clinton to Marion, cutting the timber from Morison's mill to the east line of Harp township.
While I was corporal we had to muster three or four times a year, and once a year had a grand
muster at the county seat, when every able bodied man between the ages of 18 and 45 years had
to appear at the county seat armed and equipped. When we got to Decatur we were ordered to form
in companies and march out on the Field in order to give the officers a chance to show off their
military tactics. There were probably 2,000 of the rank and file, and we marched a mile or so
north of Decatur, where we camped. A picket Mw was thrown out around the entire camp, which
picket was made up out of the corporals of the different companies. We were placed three or
four hundred yards from the camp and ordered not to lot anybody pass in or out of camp under
penalty of death or imprisonment, and we were to march to and for on our beats and keep a sharp
lookout as I was marching along agentleman stood up before me and looked me straight in the
face. I ordered him to halt, which he refused to do; then I ordered him to advance three paces
and give the countersign, which he also refused to do; then I called upon him to give his name,
which he refused; then I raised my rifle and fired, and he fell. Two of my comrades came
quickly to my assistance, and after consultation we came to the decision that the corpse was a
lazy prairie ground squirrel. It caused considerable excitement in camp, and we soon had a field
officer galloping out to inquire into the matter, and the result was a polite request from the
commanding general that we should no more disturb the sleep of the brave soldiers by firing our
rifles. The legislature soon after passed a law that the militia should not be called out in
time of peace, and that ended my military career.
At some future time I may give you other incidents of the early settlement of this county.
H. L, Davenport.
EDMUND W. FRUIT
The following article appeared in the 19 January 1900 issue of the Clinton Register.
SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE. Much Achieved By a Tunbridge Township Farmer.
Edmund W. Fruit was a caller at the REGISTER office Tuesday, and in talking of his early life in
DeWitt county gave some interesting facts, as well as thoughts that would be very valuable to
young men, if acted upon.
Mr. Fruit was born in Christian county, Ky., Sept. 21, 1823, and is in his 77th year. While he
is nearly four score years, he has the appearance of being much younger, though no man in the
county has been more active through his whole life. His parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Fruit,
came to Illinois, settling in what is now Tunbridge township in 1834, this county being a part
of Macon county. Edmund was 11 years old at that time and had attended school about three
months. When the family came to Illinois, he had to assist his father in making a home in the
then "Wild West," and had no opportunity to attend school. He remained with his father until
20 years old when he traded a horse for 40 acres of land, which is now a part of his homestead
near Kenney. This was the beginning of the building up of a landed estate that consists of
over 2,400 acres of as fine land as there is in DeWitt or any other county. The highest he paid
for any land was $85 an acre. He does not own an acre in any other county, and none of his
farms are over two and half miles from market. He owns near Kenney 1,400 acres that can be
traveled over without stepping foot on land owned by another. He says that he would not take
$100 an acre for all the land he has. He says he may not live to see the time it is worth that
amount, but his children will. He thinks the people do not realize what Illinois land will be
worth. Mr. Fruit's wealth shows what can be done by industry, and economy. When Mr. Fruit
bought his first 40 acres, he made rails and fenced it. Then he borrowed $50 to buy 40 acres
joining, making 80 acres. Then he built a log house, made his beds, tables and chairs, and the
doors were hung with wooden hinges that he made. He says the mistake many young men make is in
buying fine furniture, an organ or piano before they have their home paid for. He thinks there
is ample opportunity for young men to accumulate property in Illinois if they are industrious
and use good judgment.
He personally oversees his vast estate, and asks only grain rent except for lots and pasture
land. He does not ask grain rent because he thinks the farmer who does his work well, and for
causes he cannot prevent, his crop is short or a failure that he should be made to stand the
whole loss. He says the man who owns the land is usually more able to stand the loss than the
man who rents it. Though Mr. Fruit has done such a large business, he has never been a party
to a lawsuit. He always fills out two leases, one of which he gives to the tenant, so that he
may know at any time just what he has agreed to do. In this way there is no cause of
misunderstanding, hence no lawsuits.
Mr. Fruit's life has been such that young men can learn a lesson from it that would be valuable.
In addition to being industrious, and economical he has never gone in debt beyond his means.
He has never used tobacco in any way, and was never under the influence of liquor. He strongly
condemns anyone who is not honorable and upright; and believes people should not encourage those
who are inclined to be reckless and not economical by giving them credit beyond a reasonable
limit. He is ready to help those who help themselves, and there is perhaps not a more lenient
landlord in DeWitt county.
A few years ago Mr. Fruit decided to retire from active farm life and bought a fine farm of l75
acres joining Kenney and built a fine residence at the north limits of that town. Besides his
landed interests he owns business property in Kenney. At a fair estimate, his property is worth
$200,000. The accumulation of this vast estate is due to Mr. Fruit's foresight, industry and
economy. Beginning his business in a log hut with puncheon floor, furnished with rude
furniture made by himself he made money by attending strictly to business; and by putting his
surplus into land he was able to add a farm to his estate every few years. His age marks the
growth of his county. He knows its progress better than compilers of its history write it. In
the sixty-five years he has lived in it, he has witnessed the beginning of and growth of Clinton
as well as other places in the county. Where Clinton is was then prairie, and his father built
the first house which was across the street west of the city hall. He thinks part of the
building now there is a part of the house built by his father.
While Mr. Fruit has never been active in politics he has always been a Democrat, and his advice
has often been sought by those more active in political work.