Chapter 1:

  • Early life in Southern Illinois
  • -- Southerners the majority among the settlers -- absence of free schools -- population mainly agricultural -- woman's work on the farm -- pastimes and holidays -- quilting-parties, corn-huskings and apple-parings -- ( “Training day” ) -- Fourth of July and Christmas -- churches infrequent -- protracted meetings and revivals -- prominent preachers Doctor Bascom, the friend of Clay -- pulpit debates organization of the Campbellite Church -- teachers from Massachusetts -- progress in education since pioneer days -- wide-spread ignorance

I was born in Petersburgh, Boone County, Missouri, on the 15th day of August, 1838, of Irish-French ancestry. My father was a native of Lincoln County, Tennessee, but when quite a young man migrated to Petersburgh, as an employee of George P. Dorris, a merchant king of that day. Mr. Dorris had a dry-goods establishment in the town of Petersburgh, where my father met my mother, Elizabeth Hicks La Fontaine. Grandfather La Fontaine was one of the French Huguenots who settled in western Illinois and Missouri at a very early date. My grandfather owned large tracts of land in Missouri and many slaves. My Grandmother La Fontaine was a cousin of General Sterling Price, of Mexican War and Confederate fame. When my father and mother were married, [4] grandfather gave my mother, as a wedding-present, a colored man, his wife, and two children.

Soon after my birth, my Grandfather Cunningham, having liberated his slaves in Tennessee, removed to southern Illinois, and became urgent for my father to come to him to look after him in his declining years. Full of filial affection, father decided that he could not resist Grandfather Cunningham's appeal. He therefore disposed of his business, liberated his slaves, and returned to southern Illinois.

The country was new and population sparse; but my father, full of courage, made every effort to overcome all difficulties and hew his way to success. In his efforts he was ably seconded by my self-denying, loyal, and courageous mother, whose brilliant mind enabled her to devise ways and means of meeting every emergency. In a brief time my father became one of the most popular men in that locality, our home then being at Marion, Williamson County, where we resided during my childhood. Schools were very few, and we had only the advantages of itinerant teachers, who came and went periodically. Father and mother were so anxious for us children to be educated that they lost no opportunity of employing these teachers, as well as taking advantage of every other source of education for us.

Southern Illinois at that time was not so advanced in civilization as the far Western States of to-day. The wealth of the nation was not what it is at present. The earlier settlers of the border States and Territories of the West had not the modern inventions and improvements which have in later years so facilitated their settlement. The pioneers of the whole belt of country south of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad had accomplished wonders in the matter of clearing away the dense forests, draining the swamp-lands of that locality, making large farms, and building up towns and villages. Still, under the methods then employed, it was a slow process, and they were far behind in matters of education and [5] progress. Free schools were unknown, much prejudice existing against the education of the masses, through the influence of the Southerners, who were greatly in the majority among the settlers. People from the slave States opposed education on the ground that they could not “keep the niggers down if they had larnin‘.” They considered illiteracy their surest bulwark for the protection of their cherished institution.

With but one railroad — the Illinois Central--which runs transversely through the whole length of the State, communication and intercourse with the world was limited. Agriculture was the chief resource of the people. Every child was, to a certain extent, a producer, and children had to work part of each year before they had reached their teens. From early spring until the crops were in and the grain harvested the girls and boys had to assist in putting in the wheat and small grain that must be sown in the fall, and in gathering and garnering the corn and other products, and all without the aid of machinery. There were no McCormick reapers and harvesters, or Hough's ploughs and planters; but with oxen, mules, and horses men and boys ploughed all day long, while the women and weaker or aged men followed in the furrows, dropping the seeds by hand. The harvesting was done with cradle, scythe, or sickle, while men followed the skilful cradler, and by hand bound the bundles of rye, oats, and wheat. Others followed and shocked them in the fields till they had passed through the “sweat” and were ready for the thrashing-yard. Here was heard the stamp of many horses' feet, tramping out the grain on the smooth yard prepared for the purpose. The Ruths and Naomis were many, who gleaned the fields carefully after the men, to be sure that, as nearly as possible, every grain should be saved.

Besides the gleaning, the women and girls worked prodigiously to brew, bake, and cook for the harvesters, who went into the fields at five o'clock in the morning. The women had to rise long before that hour to give them their breakfast. [6] At ten o'clock came lunch, at twelve o'clock a dinner composed of every variety of meat and vegetables at their command, and at six o'clock supper for all the men who worked together in the harvest. Four meals a day cost these faithful women aching limbs and much fatigue that would now dishearten housewives. In addition, the young girls had to assist in carding, spinning, weaving, and making the clothes for the family, including those of the men. Ready-made clothes were little known even to well-to-do people. Such clothes were regarded with great contempt, as being made of “factory material” of inferior quality. “Very few pieces of factory cloth are a yard wide and all wool,” would be said depreciatingly. After all this work, it was not an unusual thing to hear the thrifty housewives say: “I have done very little this year. I have made only so many yards of jeans, blankets, flannel, cotton cloth, carpeting, etc. Not by — so many yards as last year.” Unless they could show an incredible number of yards of material manufactured, dyed, and then made into clothing they had not accomplished the full measure of their ambition.

It goes without saying that these women were more industrious, abler managers of domestic affairs, and better wives and mothers than a majority of the wives and mothers of this era. The multiplication of labor-saving machines and the introduction of luxuries which were unknown to our mothers have begotten a spirit of indifference and lassitude. Mothers now rarely feel it incumbent upon them to enlighten their marriageable daughters on the duties of wifehood and motherhood. Girls marry now expecting only indulgence from their husbands, and if children are born to them trained nurses are called to relieve the mothers of the care and responsibility of their babies. They are more interested in the preservation of their girlish figures after childbirth than in the welfare of their offspring.

Household duties devolved absolutely upon the female [7] members of the family, it being effeminate for any male member to perform any labor of a domestic nature. Many stalwart sons have stood idly by while their delicate mothers, wives, or sisters exposed themselves in inclement weather, milking the cows and performing the hardships which were considered woman's work. On the other hand, the men did not hesitate to insist upon the same mothers, wives, and sisters trudging up and down the rows, dropping and covering the corn with a hoe, or following the reapers, turning and raking the grain as it fell before the sickle. The blessed wives of pioneers fulfilled to the letter their marriage vows of devotion in “sickness and in health, for richer or poorer.” They were handmaidens when the family were in health, nurses and ofttimes physicians when any of the family were ill; even undertakers when death visited a household, unless, forsooth, that office was performed by some friend or neighbor.

Ex-President Roosevelt's heart would have been delighted with the large families which were the rule, and not the exception, in those days. I have often heard mothers say they had no more trouble in caring for half a dozen children than for one because, in either case, it took all their time to look after the home and baby. When there were more than one the children took care of each other, and they could only give all their time under any circumstances. These children were reared by their own parents, and not by indifferent, ill-mannered, unscrupulous servants, whose influence is so baneful in many of the homes of to-day. They were taught self-denial, and to help themselves and their brothers and sisters.

I doubt seriously if there is now half the happiness among the people generally that there was in those pioneer days, when all worked hard, and all enjoyed the holidays and merrymakings together. Old and young joined in the sports and pastimes with an abandon of enthusiasm which springs from healthy minds and bodies that have not been satiated by too much leisure and overindulgence. [8]

Amusements were often preceded by the accomplishment of something useful. If a piece of land was to be cleared, not infrequently the proprietor invited all his neighbors to give him a day of their services in felling and rolling the logs that he could not possibly handle by himself. If he had the money to pay men to assist him he could rarely get them, because there were few in the country who could afford to leave their own work to engage in the service of anybody for the low wages paid in localities where slavery did not exist. However, where persons had anything like a favorable standing in the community in which they lived neighbors would readily accept their invitation, and give an honest hard day's work to help each other with their clearing, harvesting, husking, or house-raising.

A few days before he was ready for the work the person desiring this assistance would mount a horse, and ride for miles from house to house, asking old and young men to come on a certain day to help him; and as the good wife had a very important part to play in preparing the feast for the occasion, the husband usually bore his wife's compliments to the female members of his friends' families and an invitation to them to come also. This invitation, these good women knew, meant that the wife wanted some assistance in her work.

The women held quilting-parties. A patchwork quilt was generally prepared thus for quilting: The lining was first laced in frames made for the purpose, the cotton laid smoothly over the lining, then the patchwork spread over and basted closely all around the edges. Then, with chalk and a line, the women marked out the designs for the quilting, fan-shaped figures being the most popular. After quilting one or two rows of fans, according to the size, the side frames were loosened, the quilted part rolled up, and the frame again fastened by placing a peg through the holes in the frames, thus allowing the quilters to reach another row nearer the centre, repeating the process until the whole of the quilt was quilted. [9]

Among so many there were often drones, or unskilled needlewomen. These went into the kitchen and helped the housewife cook the dinner and supper, an indispensable feature of the occasion. The young people many times remained for dancing or games, according to the scruples of the persons giving the entertainment.

The “corn-huskings” and “apple-parings” were evening affairs. A company of young men and women, in an evening from six to nine o'clock, would husk a hundred bushels of corn, and peel many bushels of apples, peaches, or pears, for drying. The young men paired off, as they are ever wont to do, each inviting the girl he fancied to sit beside him. They talked, they sang, and merrily chaffed each other as they rapidly husked the corn. Every time a red ear was found a scuffle ensued, as the finder claimed a kiss from his partner, who, with becoming modesty, resisted the attempts to kiss her. All enjoyed the fun at the expense of the blushing girl, who was always captured, and could do nothing but surrender. The “fruit-parings” were characterized by the same jollity and good humor. After the work was over everything would be set aside, and the merriest dances indulged in, lasting till the wee small hours. These. indefatigable people were as bright and ready for the fun at five o'clock in the morning as if they had neither worked nor danced a step. They would go to their homes and take up their duties the following day regardless of the fact that they had hardly slept an hour of the previous twenty-four. Toward the evening of the second day, however, they began to lag, and followed with avidity Franklin's maxim, “Early to bed,” etc.

The harvesting was done in much the same way: neighbors going from farm to farm, joining forces and despatching the work with great rapidity, the lads having many a frolic with the lassies in the light of the witching harvest-moon.

In case of intermarriage between members of the more wealthy families a series of parties and banquets would be [10] organized, and for a whole week following the wedding the neighbors would go from house to house, on horseback and in every conceivable vehicle, to attend the parties which were given for miles around. They gave themselves up to feasting, dancing, and merrymaking, troops of them staying all night at one house and the next day going to another, until they had finished their round of festivities.

New Year's Day, Washington's Birthday, Training Day, Fourth of July, or Independence Day, as it was sometimes called, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas were each observed universally and with prodigality of preparation and earnestness.

New Year's Day was celebrated generally by dinner-giving, much feasting, and dancing-parties in the evening. The custom of making ceremonious calls on New Year's Day did not obtain in this country until later years. Usually the evening was taken up with social affairs as a finale to the festivities of the preceding holiday week.

Washington's Birthday had its annual celebration by banquets, which were great events. Eloquent and patriotic speeches were made in response to the toasts. Thrilling stories were told of Washington and the battles of the Revolutionary War. A grand ball invariably followed the banquets, either at the mansion of some private individual or in a hall, and was attended by the eligible society people of every community. Extensive preparations, consuming much time of the most prominent members of society, were made for these celebrations of the natal day of the Father of His Country.

Training Day, which usually occurred in midsummer, was anticipated with the wildest enthusiasm and outbursts of patriotism. The few who were descendants of the heroes of the Revolutionary War, or War of 1812, or had participated in the Black Hawk or other Indian wars were the commissioned and non-commissioned officers of what might be called the [11] State militia. They imagined that annual meetings were quite sufficient to cultivate the proper military spirit and keep aglow the fires of patriotism in the hearts of the people. They were thoroughly imbued with the belief that-“To fight

Is the best office of the best of men;
And to decline when these motives urge
Is infamy beneath a coward's baseness.

They had implicit confidence in their prowess, and felt assured that, on their country's call, they could drop the ploughhandles, or whatever vocation they had, pick up their guns as did the men of Concord, and rout any foe. They thought little training necessary for longer service.

When the day arrived, at an early hour the whole population gathered in the villages. Red, white, and blue calico was displayed in great profusion. Flags and bunting not being so plentiful as they are to-day, the ingenious people used every symbol of love of country which they could conceive. I have seen home-made flags, supposed to be the correct copies of the national emblem, with red, white, and blue stripes and gilt stars on blue fields. Those truly patriotic people were unable to remember correctly the arrangement of the colors in Old Glory-so familiar to every child of this age of patriotic instruction, flag drill, and with the emblem of freedom waving above every schoolhouse.

All the treasures which had been preserved in families whose antecedents had ever been in the service in any capacity were brought forth and displayed on that day. The “sword of Bunker Hill,” and the rusty blades used in other engagements were brightened up. The guns and muskets were taken down from the racks made of antlers of the deer and elk, which were over the front doors of most homes. The guns or other implements of warfare were carefully cleaned and polished. Bullets were moulded by hand as if for actual warfare. Faded and moth-eaten clothes and sashes were donned with pride [12] by the scions of military heroes who figured in the early struggles of the republic. Drums and fifes which had been handed down through at least two or three generations played a conspicuous part in the marches that were the features of the day, the shrill notes of “Hail, Columbia,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “The Star-Spangled banner” stirring the latent patriotism in all hearts to the highest pitch. Falstaff's troop presented no more ludicrous spectacle than did some of these soldiers enlisted for a single day. I have vivid recollections of seeing these parades. The captains of the companies, mounted on fiery steeds unused to the sound of drum-beats and the whistling of fifes, employed desperate efforts to manage their horses as they rode up and down the crooked lines, shouting meaningless commands to the embryo soldiers. The latter, though hopelessly ignorant of tactics, were intensely in earnest in their manifestations of the spirit of patriotism.

Great rivalry existed among those who had, either by inheritance or experience, any knowledge of military tactics, as to who should be the commander-in-chief on these occasions, and bitter feuds frequently followed Militia or Training Day on account of the election of the commandant. The commander-in-chief was usually elected by the company or companies who belonged to the militia. Every one was glad when the day closed without personal difficulties or collision between the factions of the eligibles to the enviable position of generalissimo. Late in the evening, exhausted by the heat and fatigues of the day, they repaired to their homes to discuss the glories of the display, and their individual experiences and opinions of the thrilling episodes that had occurred during the momentous twenty-four hours.

No member of any family was left at home on Training Day, as it would have been an evidence of unpardonable indifference to the future of the country. The female members took special pride in the part their lords and masters had in the mimic maneuvers. They prepared splendid feasts, which [13] were spread picnic-fashion under shady trees then adjacent to all villages and towns. At high noon everything was suspended for an hour in which to enjoy the feast.

The Fourth of July, Independence Day, was the occasion of all occasions for jubilation and patriotic demonstrations. There were mimic military parades, firing of cannon, hoisting of flags, orations setting forth the deeds of valor of our ancestors in achieving American independence, barbecues, and feasts for the multitude. Dancing in the evening and all manner of demonstrations illustrative of the freedom and the happiness of the people were in order.

After the harvest and garnering of the grain came Thanksgiving, observed always by a feast. Everything that flies in the air, swims in the sea, grows out of the ground, or upon tree or vine, contributed to the abundance laid upon the table for the Thanksgiving dinner. In almost every home family parties gathered together to utter their gratitude to a bountiful Providence, and to feast upon the good things set before them. It must be confessed that there was sometimes indulgence beyond the proprieties.

But the holiday of all the year was blessed Christmas-tide, extending from Christmas to and including New Year's Day. For weeks before parents and children would lay aside, with scrupulous care and great secrecy, all they could for Christmas; and none was so poor as to be indifferent to the influence of the pretty custom of remembering loved ones with some token at Christmas.

We have watched the simple folk in their preparations for this day with moistened eyes, because of the touch of heavenly love that pervaded all their efforts. They little knew themselves how much of the love divine was portrayed in their vigilant efforts and tender care to obtain something with which to gladden the heart of some one of their cherished circle. From the sturdy, thrifty father and patient, tireless mother to the generous, loving children, all were busy with [14] plans and schemes to get the most and the best their scant stores could afford for Christmas morning, when, at early dawn, “Merry Christmas!” resounded through their homes.

We have seen children gathering nuts and carefully hiding them away; drying pop-corn ready to be popped white for the feast; selecting and putting away in the loft bright-red apples, to be given Christmas morning to father, mother, sisters, brothers, and friends. We have watched them awaken from their fitful slumbers, impatient to see what their gifts might be. Their fond mothers had perchance tucked them in their beds the night before with aching hearts, because they hardly knew how to provide satisfactory surprises for the early greetings of beloved children. Many a time these same devoted mothers have lighted the fire, and, while the children slept, have made sweet dough and cut with their dexterous hands “Jim Crows,” elephants, horses, cows, dogs, cats, and every device that could be called an image of a man, beast, or bird, baked them and slipped them into the stockings of the little ones. These, ignorant of the latter-day sweetmeats and bonbons, were as happy to find the crude imitations of animate objects as if they had found the most dainty delicacies. In a brief time thereafter the children would devour the men and the menagerie with the avidity of veritable cannibals, all the while making merry with their happy songs and talk.

In families better situated in life, by dint of industry for days and weeks before, useful and ornamental presents were gathered together. Slippers, gloves, mufflers, and lap-robes were fashioned by mothers, wives, sweethearts, and daughters for fathers, brothers, husbands, and beaux; while these manly fellows were generous and thoughtful for those who loved them so dearly. The poor in every community were not neglected, but came in for turkeys, rare viands, and clothing.

The merchants in small towns were the only ones who dreaded the Christmas holidays, because of the troops of [15] children, some of them in their teens, going from shop to shop crying: “Christmas gift! Merry Christmas!” and expecting something from each merchant. Marbles, toys, confections, ribbons, and trinkets were given sometimes, greatly to the loss of profit by the proprietors. This custom, through the increase of population, became such an intolerable nuisance that it had to be discontinued.

The tree was an important factor in the preparation for celebrating the advent of Christmas. A fine evergreen, of which there were giant specimens in the primeval forests that surrounded every town and hamlet, was cut down and brought to the largest private house, or to the church. It was put in place in a box or mound, which held it firmly. This foundation was covered with green boughs, or something representing grass. The decorations consisted of dried grasses, tinsel thread, pop-corn strung on string, red and yellow berries gathered in the fall from the berry-bearing trees in the forest, oranges, apples, lemons, and every variety of bright-colored chenille and knitting-yarn.

If the tree was in a home, every member of the family, on Christmas Eve, brought to the home their gifts, all wrapped up and marked for the persons for whom they were intended. Early Christmas morning, every one interested, including the servants, assembled. The oldest man in the family was dressed up in cotton batting or furs, and, wearing a mask and a fur cap, played Santa Claus. When all were ready, some one played a Christmas carol. Then Santa Claus, scissors in hand, proceeded to cut off the presents from the tree, and distribute them as they were addressed. The exclamations of delight with which the recipients received each parcel rings in my ears as I recall those happy occasions. After every one had displayed his gifts, a sumptuous breakfast was announced, and again all was merriment.

If the tree was in the church, the whole town joined in. Every man, woman, and child was remembered and something [16] for each out of the fund collected. The ministers announced the hour when all were expected to be present. They prepared an appropriate programme of recitations and carols, and closed with a benediction. For months good cheer and happiness seemed to follow such fitting observance of the anniversary of the birth of our Saviour.

A round of sleighing-parties, balls, candy-pullings, dinner-parties, and merrymaking consumed the whole time from Christmas Eve until January 2. Christmas Day was set apart for religious service, when the churches were decorated with evergreens and all the flowers possible to obtain. Among the vicious or lawless people it was a season of debauchery; tramping about over the neighborhood they went shooting, drinking, and yelling like heathen, whose pagan festivals were once observed during the winter season. The custom of decorating the homes seems to have been as old as time, and, in the scarcity of flowers in that climate, careful housewives used to gather and press the autumn leaves and grasses when they were in their glory, and then arrange them so effectively that they supplied every deficiency.

With me the memory of the Christmas holidays of my girlhood will ever be one of the most sacred and sweet of my life — from the larks of the school-children, when I was one of them, in barring in or out the teacher till he or she gave us a holiday and a treat, to the blessed Christmas morning, when we all flew into father's and mother's room screaming “Merry Christmas!” to find the thirteen pairs of well-filled stockings hanging round the broad old fireplace, and to receive the warm embraces of those revered and indulgent parents. I can never forget the happy time that followed in displaying our treasures, and in coming to the table to see father and mother open the numberless packages which we used to prepare for them. The hours we brothers and sisters spent in executing our surprises for father, mother, and each other, with the merry episodes, mishaps, successes, and pleasures, [17] will cling to me evermore. The madcap fun that we used to have, sleigh-riding with the troops of boys and girls who were our friends; the overturning of the sleighs; the scrambling to pick ourselves up, and the hurrying and scurrying to get home all right for fear of the disapproval of father and mother! The merry dancing and candy-pulling, when, with ropes of candy, we used to lariat some favorite schoolboy friend, and threaten his execution with the sweet cord, for some boyish prank he had played! How well I remember the sparkling wood-fire in the ample old fireplace, with rows of apples toasting before it, the great dishes of pop-corn, so white and fresh and tender, as it always is when popped in a covered kettle; the sweet, rich nuts and the amber cider for the evenings when we assembled in each others' homes for a good time, and to play games of forfeit and chance! For genuine pleasure, those times have never been surpassed by the stately occasions of maturer years, and, more. than once, my heart has longed for a reversion of time, and a return of those happy days.

The churches were few, some denominations, notably the Baptist and the Methodist, having only monthly meetings, beginning on Saturday and sometimes continuing for two or three days and even longer, but always until and including Sunday night. Persons from all over the country attended these meetings, coming great distances on horseback,in wagons, or in any other kind of conveyance at their command, and frequently on foot. In such instances the care of the shoes was the first consideration. Men and women would walk barefooted until near the church, when they would sit down and put on their shoes and stockings in order to appear properly dressed on their arrival at church. Every one seemed to have some pride, and worked hard all the time in order to appear as well as possible, and to accumulate property and establish good homes. The claim that one generation accumulates for the next to spend has been exemplified in many [18] instances among these worthy people, who struggled all their lives and passed away, expecting that their children would emulate their example. Unfortunately, the second generations have neither the energy nor the thrift to add to, or even to keep, their inheritance, and strangers now possess the homes of their ancestors. In August or September camp-meetings were held, always of two weeks duration. Some denominations owned a tract of land in a good neighborhood. Here, different members of the congregation built log houses. Sometimes a series of these one-story log houses, now denominated bungalows, belonged to the more wealthy of the assembly. Into these the families moved, taking beds, bedding, cooking utensils, crockery, table linen, and everything necessary for a comfortable sojourn in the woods. Large quantities of supplies were provided, including pickles, sweetmeats, honey, delicious butter, hams, vegetables, the best bread, and everything those dear mothers in Israel used to know so well how to prepare.

Around a great square of ground, like the barracks of a military post, these long rows of log houses were built. In the centre was a large tabernacle or mammoth pavilion, which was nothing more than a spacious roof supported by strong columns made from the trunks of giant trees. Every inch of the space beneath was seated like a church, except that the seats were benches without backs. At the east end of these pavilions was a broad pulpit. Here services were held daily for two weeks. The morning meeting began at nine o'clock with an intermission of half an hour at ten o'clock, and rarely closing before twelve-thirty. In the afternoon at three o'clock there was another meeting, and the evening service started at seven and never ended before eleven o'clock at night. Great revivals attended these meetings, and, doubtless, many people were converted and thereafter led better lives; and yet it now seems incredible that intelligent people could have been impressed by the illiterate sermons and riotous [19] services that often characterized the “protracted camp-meetings.”

As a youthful participant, my sympathies were always deeply aroused for the poor women who were the hostesses on these occasions. Multitudes came from every quarter, and many times, as a child, I have wondered if some of the ministers would or could perform the miracle of the loaves and fishes, to feed the hungry legions who congregated around the tables of the much-imposed-upon householders. For months beaux saved up their best clothes, and the belles their choicest finery, for camp-meeting. The best horses in the whole region were pampered and groomed so that they could be ridden to camp-meeting, as if they were to be exhibited at a county fair. On Sundays the townspeople as well as those in the country, all went carrying great baskets filled with eatables, as if going to a picnic, and, after listening to the ten-thirty clack service, groups of people could be seen sitting all around under the trees, feasting and enjoying themselves as on a holiday excursion. They would then wander up and down the banks of the stream of water — a requisite of an eligible site for camp-meeting grounds-or visit at the different camps. They started to return to the pavilion at the sound of the horn for three o'clock service. If disinclined to attend a second service, they continued to stroll about enjoying the beauties of nature. Under such favorable auspices, the young people frequently indulged in flirtations, as it was difficult to resist temptations of this character with such an environment. Innumerable weddings generally followed camp-meetings. Whether this was the outcome of dwelling together in love and harmony, or whether they did not give themselves time at any other season to cultivate the --affairs of the heart, I do not know. Sometimes it rained in torrents, and the discomforts the people endured were indescribable, and were enough to dampen the ardor of the most devoted lover or religious enthusiast. There are persons today, [20] however, who look back upon these occasions and the associations around them with sacred reverence and hallowed memories.

Sometimes the ministers who conducted the services were very able men and devout Christians, who felt that to worship God in the temple of nature was the highest privilege that could be given mortals, and some of their sermons were real inspirations. Reverend Doctor Bascom, of Kentucky, the friend of Henry Clay, was one of the most eloquent divines I ever heard. It was never necessary to request quiet attention of the vast congregations which assembled on an intimation that he was to preach. Spellbound they sat and listened to him, and were always deeply moved by the sublimity of his eloquence. If the sermons were not of divine inspiration they were from a mind and heart of finer mould than is often seen in this age of better opportunities of speakers and preachers.

It is told of Doctor Bascom that, after he was made chaplain of the Senate, through the influence of Henry Clay, he was so much elated over the elevation to the position that his first sermon was a failure. Mr. Clay was much chagrined, but in no sense felt the keen mortification which Mr. Bascom himself experienced. He returned to his lodgings, and prostrated himself in earnest prayer to be forgiven for his vainglorious attempt to preach with “Mr. Bascom” uppermost in his mind. In the afternoon Mr. Clay sought his friend, feeling great solicitude lest he were ill as the solution of the fiasco. As soon as he entered Mr. Bascom's apartments, the minister came forward to greet him cordially, saying: “My friend, I know what brings you here. I know how completely I failed in my sermon this morning. I was preaching Mr. Bascom in all his glory, but wait until next Sunday, and I will preach Jesus Christ crucified, and you will have no cause to blush for me.” And he fully redeemed his promise.

The gigantic form of Elder Heap looms up before me as I [21] look back through the veil of tears and time that has shut out those familiar scenes. He was one of nature's noblemen, and did the work of his Master most effectively.

Father Thatcher, that learned and eccentric Methodist divine, whose rugged character was reflected in a most remarkable physiognomy and physique, was another of that wonderful phalanx of men who preached and prayed and worked for the church in those days.

Father Thatcher was always so absorbed with some theological question or in the study of the Bible which he invariably carried with him (and generally in his hand), that he used to do some very funny things in his absent-minded way. On one occasion he was attending quarterly meeting, and was stopping with a good brother of the church near by. He had ridden his old white horse, which he insisted should be turned into a pasture. The horse got out and wandered off. Notwithstanding the fact that they all hunted for him, the old white horse could not be found by the boys of his host's family. Father Thatcher had to preach that day, so he forgot all about his horse being gone until, just as he was closing his sermon, he saw the animal pass the church-door, going down the road. Without finishing the sentence he was uttering, he called out: “Whoa, gray! Whoa, gray!” and down from the pulpit and down the aisle, out at the door he ran, calling “Whoa! Stop, gray!” until he reached the horse; then, taking him by the mane, heled him to Brother Marvel's stable, without remembering to go back and finish his sermon and close the service. For some time the whole congregation indulged in roars of laughter, until a good brother, taking in the situation, stepped into the pulpit and pronounced the benediction. On another occasion, as Father Thatcher was walking along the street, through the open door of a comfortable home he saw a good mother and daughters sitting sewing. He walked in, and they arose to greet him, but, without going through any ceremony, he dropped on his knees, [22] saying: “Let us pray.” In kneeling, he turned around so that his face was toward the door. The family hurried to get on their knees. While he was praying fervently for them, opening his eyes and looking out of the door, he saw a person passing whom he wished to engage to do some work at the church. Calling him by name, he said, “Hold on there, I want to see you,” and, suiting the action to the word, went out at the door and walked down the street with him. He did not finish his prayer, or again return, but left the family as much amazed at his abrupt departure as they had been at his call. Often, when his family were not on the lookout to tell him to come into the house on his return from appointments on his circuit, he would sit for hours in his buggy in front of his own door, where his faithful old gray had halted, absorbed in his Bible, oblivious to sunshine or storm, or to where he was. Once he lost his pocket-knife, which he used continually to sharpen his pencil, with which he made copious notes on the fly-leaves and margins of the books or Bible he happened to be reading. In closing his sermon one day with the following favorite stanza:

Refining fire go through my soul,
Scatter thy life through every part
And sanctify the whole,

he called out with almost the same breath: “If any of you have found a six-bladed penknife, it is mine, and I hope you will bring it to me.”

He always stopped with some member of his congregation in making his rounds. He appeared at the hour he chose, without any previous notice, announcing the moment of his arrival that he was hungry, or otherwise, and the hour he was due at the church, so that his host would know what he expected. His wonderful ability and marvellous understanding of the Scriptures drew about him large congregations of interested listeners. [23]

The great debate between Campbell and Rice made the deepest impression upon the whole country, and caused a division in the Baptist denomination, and the organization of the Campbellite Baptist Church. Of this there were very many adherents in southern Illinois, my mother and father being among the number. In fact, at one time this church had many communicants in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. President Garfield was a minister of that branch of the Baptist Church. . The ministrations and labors of these early Christian preachers were not in vain, and no locality in any State has to-day better churches or more devout Christians than has that section, which was once the field of itinerants and without many spires pointing heavenward.

The constant demands upon old and young for manual labor left little time for the schools; therefore no attempt to have schools more than a few months in the year was made. They were, however, public-spirited people, and southern Illinois came in for her share of teachers sent out by the governor of Massachusetts at the request of the Western States in the early fifties. I owe a debt of gratitude to one of them for her faithful training when I was very young. The august “Board” who examined these teachers were the finest specimens of the “broad and comprehensive” type so graphically described by Mark Twain. Miss C. amused my good-natured father excessively by a description of her experience before the “School board.” Among other things I remember she was asked: “Which is the largest river in the world?” To this she replied: “The Amazon.” Her interrogator frowned severely upon her, and asked: “Miss, what are you gwine to do with the Massassippi?” With consummate tact she quickly said: “I beg your pardon, I misunderstood your question. If you asked which is the largest river in the United States, the Mississippi, of course, and I am obliged for your kindness in correcting me.” His vanity was satisfied, and she was voted [24] the school, but not without another poser from one of the profound gentlemen. “Miss, is there anything impossible with God?” She replied: “Nothing.” He rejoined: “Well, now, I would like to know how God or anybody else could put two mountains side — by side without a valley between them!” She was warned not to “waste all your time over your books and a-larnin‘ the children, but get some of the wimmen where you stay to learn you to cook, and how to do something useful.” She was a bright, pretty girl of twenty, of just the spirit to be thrown among these good-hearted people; and, before the term was out, she had captured the affections of every one, and was regarded as a veritable Minerva, not only by her pupils, but by everybody with whom she came in contact. She was the leader in all amusements and everything which tended to improve and cultivate the people. After a few years of effective work, she married one of the leading physicians of the community, and reared an interesting family who are much beloved because of their mother.

There were ambitious parents who sent their children away from home to school or employed teachers from the East to reside in the family and train the children. I have thought sometimes that these children with poor advantages accomplished more than some of the children of the present, who have had “education made easy.” A people so heroic have kept pace with the march of time, and to-day every facility is offered for education in that community. Fine schoolhouses and good normal-school teachers are in every school district, their average scholarship being second to none in any of the States. They have nobly borne their part in carrying the burdens of church and state. On their country's roll of honor there are many familiar names of my youthful companions who, notwithstanding the vicissitudes and embarrassments that attended their earlier years, have arisen to distinction and leadership among the men and women of their day and generation. Magnificent, up-to-date schoolhouses, [25] with all the modern appliances for the various departments, have taken the place of the log schoolhouses, with the cracks between the logs chinked with pieces of wood and plastered over with mortar or clay, to keep out the cold in winter. The puncheon floors have been relegated to the wood-pile, to be succeeded by hardwood or tile floors. Fine desks, with chairs attached, have succeeded the puncheon benches, relieving the children from the agony of sitting on high, backless benches, with their feet dangling inches above the floor. On dark days, and in the evenings when lectures or entertainments are given, electricity or gas floods the schoolroom with light, displacing the “tallow dips” and oil-lamps which were so inadequate that there was no alternative but to dismiss the school if the clouds obscured the sun.

Many ambitious students of that time did as Mr. Lincoln did-gathered up old boards and pieces of wood which had resinous deposits, saving them carefully to burn judiciously in a fireplace, thus furnishing light by which to see to read at night. It was no uncommon thing to see grown men and women lying flat on the floor to enable them to see by the blaze of the burning boards.

The majority were unable to read and write, some learning to write their signatures by copying them repeatedly-after they had been written for them-until they could sign their names to important documents. One dear old man by the name of Harper, who was quite wealthy, accomplished this feat, though he knew no other letters of the alphabet. Soon afterward he was asked by a friend to indorse his note, which he did. His friend defaulted on the note and Mr. Harper had to pay it. He was much outraged, and declared he was sorry he ever learned to write his name, and he could never be induced to write it again for fear of incurring obligations, saying he preferred to make his “mark.”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December 25th (6)
January 1st (4)
July 4th (3)
December 24th (2)
August 15th, 1838 AD (1)
1812 AD (1)
September (1)
August (1)
January 2nd (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: