Father Walker and Walkers Grove

History of Will County, Illinois Wm. LeBaron, Jr., & Co. 1878

It was one of these Methodist missionaries who became the first settler within the present bounds of Will County. This was the Rev. Jesse Walker a native of the State of Virginia, born in 1766, twenty-five years before the death of Wesley. He joined the church at the age of 20, and entered the ministry of the M. E. Church on probation, in 1804. He married the daughter of a wealthy planter who was heir to much property in slaves. These she manumitted, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, and as the wife of a Methodist minister, than to enjoy the ease and comfort which could be secured by the sweat of unpaid toil. Like Moses, she no doubt had respect unto the recompense of the reward, and, no doubt, like him, she had entered upon that reward and does not regret her choice. In 1806, Walker, accompanied by Wm. McKendree (afterward Bishop), came to Illinois–then included in the Territory of Indiana. They were highly pleased with what they saw, and at the next meeting, of the Conference were appointed to the circuit in Illinois. It is characteristic of the times, and shows how loosely the Methodist clergy of that day were held by worldly interests, that Walker returned home from the Conference about noon, commenced preparations at once for the journey, and by 10 o’clock of the next day, he and his family were on the way to their new field of labor and self-denial. The state of the country at that time rendered only one mode of travel possible–i.e., on horseback–and four horses were required for himself, family and possessions–one for himself, one for his wife and young daughter, one for his eldest daughter, a girl of sixteen, while the fourth carried, not his library, for an itinerant had only a hymn book and bible, but a small stock of Methodist books, the sale of which must eke out his slender salary. Such a mode of travel would not admit of carrying even a single Saratoga trunk, had such arks been at that time invented. Happily they were not needed, as the wardrobe of each member of the family consisted of only one suit besides the one worn, and these were spun and woven by the mother and daughter, and were of linsey-woolsey or jeans! Think of this, ye Flora McFlimseys!  Jesse Walker became an able and efficient preacher of Christianity in Illinois, although he had received but a very limited education. He was a man of strong, native intellect, ready wit and good sense–just the man for the place and the time. There are still some living who remember him well. In 1821, we find him reporting his labors to the Conference as a missionary among the Indians; and in this capacity he came to the vicinity of Plainfield in 1826, where, and for several subsequent years, there was an Indian village.  In 1827, he was Superintendent of the Fox River Mission, embracing a large extent of territory. He is said to have held the first camp-meeting in the State, and also to have preached the first Protestant sermon in St. Louis. In 1829, he had charge of the Des Planes Mission, and formed the first class at Walker’s Grove, where the settlement was made, just south of the present village of Plainfield. Father Walker’s labors as Superintendent of the Mission were not of course, confined to Will County. In the history of Livingston County, we find mention of his labors among the Kickapoos. The writer speaks of his success among this tribe as being considerable, resulting in many conversions. It is related of the converts that they were very scrupulous in the observance of the Sabbath, always returning from their hunting excursions on Saturday night. In this they were a good example to the whites, many of whom we have noticed start out to hunt on Sabbath morning. This writer also describes the kind of prayer books made use of, which consisted of black walnut boards on which they rudely carved the images and figures which represented their ideas, and these, it is said, they never failed to consult before going to rest at night. They did not forget their prayers, however sleepy and tired, as white Christians often do. To return to Walker’s Grove. The Pottawatomie Indians had one custom which is worth recording. They set apart a certain number of their women as council women, whose duty it was, whenever the head men held a council, to sit in an inner circle and silently to listen to all that was said, and record, in their memories, the decisions arrived at by their lords. They were not allowed to speak in the council, or to gossip about it among themselves or with others, and only to speak when called upon officially in relation to any matter thus recorded. It is said that these women were highly esteemed by the tribe, and were selected with great care, a fact which we can readily believe, for they must have been possessed of rare and admirable qualities. Many of these facts we have gathered from Mrs. D. C. Searles, who is a granddaughter of Father Walker and the daughter of James Walker, presently to be mentioned. We are also indebted to the book of Father Beggs –another pioneer preacher of whom we shall presently make mention–for some of the facts respecting, Father Walker. Father Walker died at Plainfield, in 1835, at the ripe age of 69. At a meeting of the Rock River Conference, at Plainfield, in 1850, his remains were removed from the old cemetery to the new one, and a monument placed over them with this inscription: “At the Rock River Conference, in 1850, his remains were removed to this place by his sons in the Gospel, who erect this stone to transmit his revered name to coming generations.” It is very much to be regretted that the manuscripts left by Father Walker, respecting his life and labors, which must have been of great historic value and interest, were burned, a portion of them in the fire which afterward consumed the house of James Walker; and such as were saved from that fire were consumed in the burning of D. C. Searles‘ house a few years since. While on the subject of Indians, we will relate an incident which occurred a little later. During the Black Hawk war, one of the council women of whom we have spoken, came to Mrs. James Walker, the daughter of Father Walker, who had been a teacher at the mission, and who was highly esteemed by the Indians, and left with her an infant boy, to whom she had given the name of Shon-on-ise, charging her that if she did not return she must be a mother to him, which Mrs. Walker, without much reflection at that time, promised. The council woman was then on her way to Milwaukee to attend a council. It so happened that she was attacked with cholera and died, leaving to Mrs. Walker the charge she had accepted. This duty she faithfully fulfilled, and the Indian boy was brought up in the family with Mr. Walker’s children, and received the same advantages of education as his own, and when he became of age was given a generous outfit. But Shon-on-ise at once showed the truth of the adage, “once an Indian, always an Indian,” for he immediately turned his pony’s head toward the setting sun and sought out his tribe in the Far West. Having the advantages of education, he became an influential chief among the Indian tribes, and made frequent visits to Washington in furtherance of their interests. On such occasions he always called to see Captain James and his foster-mother.

In this village, as elsewhere, the Pottawatomies were generally well disposed toward the settlers, giving them but little annoyance except when under the influence of good-na-tosh. This article, which, under another name, plays the mischief among, white people as well, was a source of great trouble and, indeed, of danger to the mission and the early settlers, and it became necessary to keep strict watch and to use arbitrary measures to keep it from them. On one occasion, Capt. James Walker, finding that by some unaccountable means the Indians had access to the contraband article, determined to find out how they got it. Being perfectly familiar with Indian customs, and speaking their language, he disguised himself in their attire and walking into their encampment or village, he seated himself among them, as he found them gathered together evidently for some special purpose. Presently a man stole in whom he recognized as an Indian trader from Fox River, and began to deal out the fire-water. He soon came to Capt. Walker, who jumped to his feet and called out the name of the trader, who exclaimed, “My God, Captain, is this you! ” The result was that the traffic ceased, for a time at least. But it is time to tell who Capt. Walker was.

Capt. James Walker had married one of the daughters of Jesse Walker. Although of the same name, they were not related. James Walker was a native of Tennessee, and came to Ottawa at an early day, where he became acquainted with Jesse Walker, and married his daughter, and accompanied him in his mission to Walker’s Grove. He brought with him a horse-power mill which he set up for temporary use, and proceeded at once to construct a sawmill and a grist-mill also on the Du Page. These rendered valuable service to the early settlers in this region. It is said, and no doubt truly, that the lumber for the first frame building erected in Chicago was sawed at this mill. This was erected by a Mr. Peck, on the southeast corner of La Salle and South Water streets, upon a lot which had cost the enormous sum of $80. We presume that the lot is now occupied by a better building, and that it has advanced somewhat in price. The lumber was hauled to Chicago by Reuben Flagg, Esq., mentioned below. On the organization of Will County, Jas. Walker was chosen one of the three County Commissioners, without opposition, and soon after was chosen to represent the county in the Legislature. He also served the county as Commissioner during the years 1845-8. Mr. Jas. Walker died in 1850, at the age of 57. He was a man of strong good sense, integrity of character, and enterprise and energy, and a consistent member of the Methodist Church.

Another Methodist pioneer preacher is identified with the early history of Plainfield and Will County, Rev. Stephen R. Beggs, who is well known throughout the county as one of the earliest itinerants through this region. He settled his family on the southeast quarter of Section 16 of the township, and built a log house, etc. He subsequently obtained the title to the same at the sale of the section under the school law. His house became historic, as we shall have occasion to mention by and by. Father Beggs still survives in a ripe old age, and is still able to put in his strong appeals in behalf of religion, temperance and justice. In 1825, a Frenchman of the name of Vetel Vermette, strayed into the same vicinity. He did not remain long and little is known of him.

In the Summer of 1830, Mr. Reuben Flagg left the State of Vermont with his family, and after a journey of two months arrived in the vicinity of Walker’s Grove, on the 9th day of July. He settled on the north east quarter of Section 10 in the township. On his way, he passed through a village consisting of about a dozen log cabins, a block-house and stockade. Such an obscure point, surrounded by low, wet prairie, barren sand and impassable sloughs, presented no attraction to the emigrant. No prophetic vision of the great city which afterward arose from the mud, and more recently from its ashes, had then troubled the brain of even the most enthusiastic squatter. Mr. Flagg found in the vicinity, besides the families of the Walkers and Vermette, two other settlers and their families. These were Timothy B. Clark and Thomas Covel, who had emigrated the same Spring from New England. Mr. Flagg was accompanied from Detroit by Jedediah Wooley, Sr., who bought out the claim of the Frenchman Vermette. It is an interesting incident that in 1832, Father Beggs, who was then Presiding Elder, held his first quarterly meeting in Chicago. The incipient city had by this time grown a little, but it had not yet become the greatest hog and corn market of the world, and it was thought necessary that some extra provision should be made for the Methodists and others that would congregate there upon the occasion. Accordingly, Mr. Clark above mentioned, hauled a load of provisions by ox-team express to Chicago to meet the emergency. A daughter of Mr. Flagg’s (now deceased), was perhaps the first white child born within the precincts of Will County, although several others claim the honor. To this settlement additions were soon made. We give the names, so far as we have been able to gather them, up to 1837, with the dates of their arrival, without vouching for their correctness in all cases. In 1832-3, Wm. Bradford, John Shutliff, David Smith, Chester Smith, Ralph Smith and Paul Kingston. Although there are several Smith families, we believe that these three were brothers.

In 1833-4, Alva Culver, Sereno Culver, Miles Royce, Chester Ingersoll, Jas. Gilson, Oliver Goss, Deacon Ezra Goodhue, Hardy Metcalf, Benj. Shutliff, Jason Flanders, John Bill, W. W. Wattles, Robert W. Chapman, John Kellogg, Rev. Alfred Greenwood, Wm. Sanborn, Benj. Highland, Thomas J. Lang, James Mather and Andrew.Carrier; in 1835, ’36 and ’37, Jonathan Hagar, Levi C. Aldrich, Fenner Aldrich, Samuel Sergeant, Wm. E. Morgan, J. E. Ambrose, Elder R. B. Ashley and sons, Bela Luce, Myron Piersons, S. S. Pratt, Dr. A. J. Corbin, Alonzo Ray, Rev. Isaac Foster, Winthrop Wright, Cyrus Ashley, David Rossiter, A. J. Hatch, R. D. Hatch, Hugh Alexander, George Burrell, Dudley Beckwith, Lorin Burdick and S. B. Tyler. Flanders, Lang, Sanborn and Goodhue came together from New Hampshire. Mr. Greenwood was the first Pastor of the Congregational Church, which had been organized by the pioneer home missionary, Rev. N. C. Clark, in September, 1834. It was composed of the following members at organization: James Mathews and Sarah, his wife; Ezra Goodhue and Martha, his wife; Andrew Carrier and his wife, and Oliver Goss and Mary, his wife; Ezra Goodhue, Deacon. The first resolution passed by this Church was a strong temperance one, and the first case of discipline was that of a brother reported to have sold whisky to the Indians. Mr. Greenwood was succeeded in 1836 by Isaac Foster, who was an able preacher and one of the blackest of “black Abolitionists” (of which we had a good many in Will County in the early days). He subsequently removed to California and took up the profession of law, and no doubt made a sharp and able lawyer. A characteristic anecdote is told of his California life: California, as well as other free States, had a fugitive-slave law passed in obedience to the slave power, which in those days was well-nigh supreme. In this case, however, the statute expired at a certain date by its own limitation. A “fugitive” was pursued to California and arrested.  Foster, being well known there as well as here for his anti-slavery principles, was appealed to for the management of the defense. In his investigations, he discovered that the act under which the claimant had proceeded would expire in a few days. He therefore obtained an adjournment of the case to the day subsequent to the expiration of the act. The other party little dreamed that there was a limit to their rights, and came prepared to insist upon their bond, like Shylock of old, was ready, and soon surprised the Court and the other party by the information that the bond, under which they claimed not only a “pound of flesh” but the whole man, body and soul, was worthless, and demanded the discharge of the prisoner. To this demand the Judge was obliged to yield. Well knowing that other proceedings would be instituted, the friends of the slave had made arrangements by which he was safely conducted elsewhere by the underground railroad, and beyond the reach of the man-hunter, who, in his rage at being, balked of his prey, challenged Foster to mortal combat. Foster declined on the score that it was none of his quarrel, but offering to get the negro to fight him if he wished.

James Mather built the mill at the upper end of the village, afterward known as McAllister’s. He left Plainfield in 1844, and has died, within a few years, in California. Wm. E. Morgan and Samuel S. Pratt, named above started the first cabinet shop in Plainfield, and we think in Will County; and Pratt, with Benj. Richardson, afterward started a cabinet and chair factory in Joliet. Oliver Goss and one of the Smiths were merchants. Jonathan Hagar was for a long time a merchant in Plainfield. He now enjoys the comfortable fortune which be has acquired by upright and diligent attention to business; a prominent man in the Congregational Church and in the prosperous town of Plainfield. He is one of the stockholders in the First National Bank of this city. Jason Flanders was a native of New Hampshire, came to the grove in 1834, was an industrious, honest man, and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He died in 1875, at the age of 66. Winthrop Wright has been a prominent man in the county, and was Supervisor of the town in 1855 and 1856. A. Culver was Supervisor of the town in 1852 and again in 1857.

Elder Ambrose organized the Baptist Church at Plainfield, and was succeeded by Elder Ashley, who organized the original Baptist Church at Joliet, of which we shall speak by and by. We are informed by Elder Ashley, who still lives in Plainfield, carrying the weight of 79 years, that himself and Elder Powell held the first protracted meeting in Chicago. Elder Ashley counts up more that eighty meetings of that kind which he has conducted.

Chester Ingersoll kept a hotel, we presume in “Mark Beaubien” style, in the early days, and laid out the first village plat of Plainfield in August, 1834. He was an active speculator, and subsequently resided at Lockport, where he held the office of Justice of the Peace. He was the Justice of the Peace who accomplished an official feat which has probably never been equaled. Justices of the Peace were legally competent to take the acknowledgments of deeds, etc.; and the law, as is well known, required that the officer should examine the wife separate and apart from her husband, in order to relinquish dower. Having sold a piece of land, Ingersoll, with an eye to thrift or convenience, took his own acknowledgment, and also that of his wife “separate and apart from her, said husband,” and certified to the fact under his own hand and seal, and the writer hereof put the deed and acknowledgment upon the county records. Just how he accomplished the feat, history is silent; but that he did it has long been a matter of record. There has been considerable litigation in the way of widow’s claim for dower on score of defective acknowledgment, but we think this one would defy the sharpest lawyer. Ingersoll emigrated to California just before the discovery of gold, and died there. Several letters from him are in the files of the Signal.

Of these early settlers in Plainfield and vicinity, three have been represented in the bar of Joliet by one son each, viz.: Hager, Flanders and Goodhue. Thomas Lang furnished us with two brave boys for Company D, One Hundredth Regiment–Sergt. George A. Lang, and John C. Lang, who was wounded July 22d, before Atlanta. The latter is now on the editorial staff of the Republican. James Mather built the mill at the north end of Plainfield, subsequently remodeled by the McAllisters. Later names and facts respecting the history of Plainfield are referred to in the town history. We are only attempting to record the beginnings of its history. One fact, however, of later date we will record. Such was the reluctance of the early settlers to launch out into the open prairie, that at the land sale in 1835, Judge Caton found two sections of land in the town of Plainfield still unclaimed, which he entered. These sections, 30 and 31, with a half-section in Kendall, make (next to that of C. C. Smith, in Channahon the largest farm in our county. The Judge opened the farm in 1838, and resided upon it until 1842 or 1843, and was a most vigorous granger during those years, and could often be seen driving his long ox-team and breaking-plow, barefooted, over his ample and fertile acres. In those years, he used to vary the routine of daily life with occasional pettifogging before Justice Hagar. We do not suppose that Mr. Hagar would claim that it was this experience which qualified him for Chief Justice of Illinois. The Judge still retains the firm, although Will County cannot claim him as a citizen. The property was many years in charge of his brother, Wm. P. Caton, who was eight years the Supervisor of the town and Chairman of the Board. Let us also note the fact that Plainfield was the first town that got a company (the old battery) into the late war from our county, and she also furnished the greatest number of volunteers, in proportion to her population, of any town, and she is also the only town in the county that has erected a monument to the memory of those who perished in defense of the Union. This monument cost $800.