PIONEER LIFE IN EGYPT
Pub. Golden Era; No. 36, September 4, 1874
This famous lecture by Rev. Braxton Parrish was delivered at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Benton on Monday, August 3, 1874. This complete lecture was contributed by Sheila Cadwalader after I posted the excerpt from the Golden Era. Rev. Parrish's complete lecture is posted here and has been enhanced with a few graphics. CLY
From the Era:
Nearly all our readers have met that venerable pioneer, Hon.
Braxton Parrish, until recently of our neighboring county of Franklin. Judge Parrish was born in North Carolina in 1795 and
never attended school but three months in all his life, and that three
months was devoted to the old Dilworth spelling book, a work which can
by but a few of our readers. He
used to work on a farm at one hundred dollars a year.
But we will give the account in Judge Parrish’s own language, as
we find it in the Benton Standard, being an extract from an address
delivered at that place, August 3rd, under the auspices of
the Franklin County Literary Society.
Judge Parirsh’s experiences are those of every other pioneer, to
a greater or less extent, and the history of the early settlement of
Franklin County is the history of the early settlement of Hamilton and
the other Egyptian communities.
From the Franklin Co., IL Literary Society: Braxton Parrish was an early resident of Franklin County, a circuit riding Methodist preacher, and very much respected by our ancestors; for proof of this reverence you need only check any Franklin County census record and see the many families who named their children Braxton or Braxton Parrish.
"Ladies and gentlemen: I confess that I stand before you tonight feeling considerably more embarrassment than I usually experience, and that embarrassment is greatly heightened by the reflection that nothing could be more dissimilar than the education, dress and manners of the audience, and the rough but big hearted pioneers with whom my earlier years were passed, and of whose experience I propose to speak.
Permit me, at the outset, to say that I am here by the special request of
the president of the Franklin County Literary Society, and that I am very
sure that I cannot, in the limited time I will occupy, by any means speak
fully on all the topics mentioned in the announcement of this address in
your local paper. I will give
you my own experiences and observations, and by those you may get a very
tolerable idea of the troubles that attended that hardy race of men and
women who came here in my day; and you may, also, learn something of the
trials of all the first settlers in a new country.
I was born in North Carolina on the 24th day of October, 1795. When but an infant, my parents moved to South Carolina, in what was called the Newberry district. We remained there until 1811 or 1812. To that place cling my first recollections, and there my youthful mind received its first impressions. When I first knew my father he was, as matters then went, well off, and was deputy sheriff of the Newberry district.
He was a very generous man and could not refuse his friends such favors as they might ask. He went their securities, generally, and as the result, he was broken up. Somewhat disheartened, he sold out, with a view of going to Louisiana. My mother did not want to go there, and finally after much entreaty, prevailed on him to go back to North Carolina. In 1815, my father died, leaving a widow and eight children, and I the eldest. I never knew what became of the estate. In 1819, I left the state. These facts will give you an idea of the chances I had for education. We had no free schools then, and but little interest was felt upon the subject of education. It was supposed to be the duty of every man to educate his own children, and the general impression seemed to prevail that it was entirely superfluous to educate the children of the poorer classes to any degree whatever. My own education in schools, during life, amounted to three months, and that time was devoted to the old Dillworth spelling book. After my father's death I worked for my mother and sisters. The first year I worked for wages, and for the entire year's labor received $100.00 and during that time I only lost three days after deducting half Saturdays that I walked home, ten miles. This $100.00 went to the support of my mother's family, which with the labor of my brother, Thomas Parrish, who recently died in Jackson County, Illinois, and that of the other children, made them a living. After working that year for the $100.00 I bought my mother a small farm in Lincoln County, NC and settled her and the children upon it. The next two years I worked for shares of crops, all of which went to the support of my mother and family. I left my crop on the field the last year for them, and hired to a man for $7.00 per month, to drive a team from North Carolina to Boone's Lick in Missouri, as I desired to see the country and do what I could for myself. When we got to Reedieville, near Stone River in Tennessee, the winter set in very hard, and the family concluded to remain there all winter. My employer paid me off.
I bought what was then called a wallet, being a piece of cloth sewed up with an opening in the center like saddle bags. In this wallet I placed what little extra clothing I had, and with but very little money started with my wallet on my shoulder afoot for Boone's Lick, my original destination. As I walked along, the reflection came upon me, that here I was a young man, twenty-four years of age, with the whole world before me in which to make a living, my mother and children comfortably situated, while the old man, my late employer, with a large family of girls, and very short of means, was encamped in a strange country, exposed to the hardships and rigor of a long winter. So strong did my sympathies work on me, that, after and hour's walk I turned about and went back to the old man and voluntarily gave him all the money I had except $5.00. The old man shed tears from the depth of his gratitude, and I felt that indeed " it is more blessed to give than to receive." I then went down Stone River, about three miles, and got employment at a sawmill for the winter. It had an old fashioned water mill with an upright saw. The next summer I worked in the vicinity for a carpenter named John Farr, and received in payment for the summer's work a horse. That fall after getting the horse, I set in to work at the still-house of Joseph Ballow near Reedieville. Then we did not think it any harm to make liquor and drink it too, in moderate quantities, and nobody drank to excess in those days, but we did not make such poison, as they manufacture nowadays.
During the fall of 1820, while at work
at the still-house, Margaret Knox, a young widow, and sister-in-law
of my employer, came from Franklin County, Illinois, to visit him, in
company with her father, John Thompson, and strange to tell, we, that
winter, got bewitched with one another, and on May 12th, 1821, were
married. I had no property in
the world but a change of clothing and a horse, saddle and bridle, and
what little effects she had were back in Franklin County,
Illinois, for the reasons then that her father, mother, relatives
and property were here, she wanted to come to Illinois.
I had seen the constitution of the state, and being disgusted with
slavery, I wanted a home in a free state, and consented to move here.
I came to this country on horse back, and hunted over the entire territory, which now composes the counties of Franklin and Williamson, to find some sort of a carriage to take back to bring my wife here, but I could find nothing less than a four-horse wagon. I had no team to take such a vehicle, and if I had, we had nothing back there to haul in it. So I put a saddle and bridle on a horse which my wife had here and led it back to where I left her. We packed up what goods we had, put them and two little boys that my wife had by her former husband, on the two horses. My wife and I walked and led the horses, thus burdened, every foot of the way to Illinois.
I was a recent convert to religion, but had no bible. I inquired of my wife if they had any bibles in Illinois. She said no. Coming through Nashville, Tenn., on our way here, I saw the sign of a bookstore. I thought I would go in there, but said to my wife there was no use, as I had no money to spare to buy one. She said, “Go in and price them,” which I did. The cheapest one was $2.50, such a one as you could now get for 25 cents. I was afraid to buy it for fear our money would give out. She said, “buy it and trust to Providence for means to get to Illinois.” We would not have had money enough to get here, but for the fact that on the other side of the Ohio river we were overtaken by a man named Heath, an entire stranger. From his conversation, I soon learned that he was a recent professor of religion also, and strong in the cause of his Master. When we came to part he insisted that we should go with him and rest a day or two. That the Lord had blessed him with plenty, and he wanted us to go and share it. We went him, as he lived only a short distance from our direct route, remained with him three days and nights, and when we got ready to leave, he filled our wallets with bread, meat and honey, and came with us to the river and paid our ferryage across the Ohio to the Illinois shore. When we left I thought very strongly of my wife’s remark in Nashville to “buy the bible and trust to Providence.” When we got as far as the neighborhood of Alexander McCreery, in this county, we met McCreery in the road. He was well acquainted with my wife, and she introduced me to him as her husband. I then had my bible under my arm. McCreery asked me many questions as to my future intentions. McCreery was then, for the country, a rich man, but was something of a scoffer of religion and religious people. A short time after, McCreery, in going through the neighborhood collecting his interest, etc., said “he had met a poor devil coming into this country to make a living with a bible under his arm, and he thought he had better have a grubbing-hoe on his shoulder.” The remark soon came to my wife’s ears, and she was much exercised about it, but I pacified her by telling her that that was a very natural conclusion for a worldly minded man to come to. When I arrived here I had but 18 3/4 cents in money—it troubled me to know how to dispose of it to the best advantage, more than any money has ever troubled me since. We settled about six miles east of where Benton now is, in the winter of 1821-22; went right into the woods and cut logs and hauled them up on what was than called a “lizard,” a kind of dray made out of the forks of a tree. After getting the logs dragged up, the next thing was to get them put up. We invited in the whole neighborhood, far and near, and got the services of six women and four men. The men kept up the corners, and the women lifted the legs up to them, and we done an admirable job. We put up the walls cabin fashion, weighed down the reef with polls, cut openings for door and fireplace, all in one day. The next day we moved into it, on the frozen earth among the chips and snow. Soon raised a wooden chimney, daubed with mud, as high as the mantel piece. We split trees and made puncheons for a flare, laid it down and then we felt pretty comfortable. My wife says “now I can spin on this floor,” and by the light of the fireplace. I took the cards and she the wheel and we soon had three cuts of cotton yarn spun. We then had prayers, and in that rude structure, erected in the woods, surrounded by howling wolves and panthers, we went to bed, slept soundly and were supremely happy; such happiness as comes to but few of us in a life time. After this, we built the chimney out with sticks and mud, and daubed the cracks of the cabin. My wife carrying me all the mixed mud for that purpose. While we were working at it, it snowed so hard that I could hardly see her to the clay hole. I wanted to quit, but she said no, and we finished it that night. We made a door shutter out of clap-boards, fastening them on with wooden pins, as nails were not then to be had nearer than sixty miles. We made a table out of a slab split from a walnut tree. Our bedstead was nothing more than a platform made on forked sticks; and all our furniture and utensils were of like character, such as we could make ourselves with the aid of an augur and axe. And yet we had plenty to eat.
said, we had plenty of everything to eat, but how to get money was the
problem—we had none. Notes
were given for money, but for raccoon skins, or articles of personal
property. I remember that I
once went down to Dorris’ store, at old Frankfort, to get some
domestics for my wife, who was sick.
I told Dorris our condition; that we had been sickened, got hare
of clothing, and asked him how I could pay him for the cloth that we
need so much. He asked me,
“Are you a hunter?” I
said, “No, sir.” Says
he, “Will you hunt?” I
said “Why do you want to know that?”
“Well,” says he, “if you will hunt and let me have all the
skins and deer-hams you get, you can have what you want.”
I agreed to his proposition, and bought twenty-four yards of
cotton domestic at fifty cents a yard.
When I took it home I told my wife how I got it.
She shed tears, and said now we were in debt—that we would
never get out. This
affected me somewhat, but I told her that we did not get the goods
before we needed them, and I thought there would be some way provided to
pay for them. This was in
the winter and the weather was very severe.
The next morning I was up before daylight to go hunting. When I reached Middle Fork creed it was frozen over, but I
found an air hole, or open place in the ice, found an air hole, or open
place in the ice, and while looking at it I spied an otter stick his
head up, but before I could shoot it dodged under the ice.
The water was clear and I could see it swimming under the ice.
I followed it down the creek until I saw it go into a hole in the
bank under the water. I
then went back home and got some tools and my dogs and went to digging,
and soon unearthed and captured three large otters.
The skins were then worth $4.00 apiece.
So that you see I paid for the cloth I bought by one hunt before
breakfast. I took the skins
to my wife and told her we would now get out of debt.
She said she would never distrust Providence again.
At this time I could not read or write intelligently, nor cipher
any; but by the light of the fireplace, after working hard all day, I
tried to improve myself in reading, writing and arithmetic and by
perseverance in this way, I got a very fair knowledge of these branches,
though, of course, by no means perfect.
I cleared my own farm; out and split the rails and carried them on my shoulder and made a fence, as I had no wagon to haul them. There were no plows to be had nearer than Shawneetown, fifty miles away, and I had no money to buy one had they been nearer. I borrowed a “ bull-tongue” plow of my father-in-law, stocked it myself. It had no iron about it, except the plow and bolt—had a wooden clevis, wooden single-tree, etc. For harness I had shuck collar, hickory bark traces, raw deer-skin back band, and hickory bark lines. With this rigging I broke my ground, and covered my corn with a cooper’s adze, having no better tool for the purpose.
One night a trifling dog I had eats up my dear-skin back band.
I went into the house and got my gun to shoot him to get his hide
to make another back band, but the dog seemed to know what was up, and
got away from me, so I had to make another deer-skin one.
With these implements we made corn in abundance.
The nearest mill in the country was on the Wabash river, near where
Carmi now is. I once took a
load of corn to that mill and had it ground,--we had no wheat in those
day—and on our return we upset in a small creek, which was swollen by
a freshet, and lost the meat of our meal.
We then concluded that we would go back there no more, and had to
resort to other means to make meal.
For the most part we beat out our meal in wooden mortars, but
finally I rigged up a kind of hand mill of my own, out of a couple of
old stones that I procured down at the old Jordan’s Fort, in
Williamson county. The only
objection I had to this arrangement was that I had to grind every time
before eating; it was either grind or no bread.
During one summer the meal that we groused on our little hand
mill had got to tasting bad, and it was a long time before we found out
what the matt4r was. At
first we attributed it to the corn, but upon taking up the stones, we
found the furrows in them full of white wood lice that had gone in
between them to eat the meal. They
had been shortening our bread for a long time.
I have heard since that these lice are very good for the yellow
jaundice and I suppose they must be, for we have not, to this day been
troubled with that disease.
Among the more prominent settlers when I came to this country were Alexander
McCreery, Henry Yost, Nathaniel Jones, Nathan
Clampet, John Crawford, James Aikin, Herrin Taylor, and two old men
named Webb, living in Webb’s prairie.
West of Benton lived John Browning and Mr. Hutson; Frissell
and Estus lived in Frizzell’s prairie, and Michael Rawlings is
this prairie above, which now ears his name, and in Garrett’s
prairie lived the man whose name, it bears, and in Frankfort a few
families, tighter with Simon Hubbard who was then circuit clerk,
county clerk and probate judge—and, I believe, also, master in
Chancery. We were all
personable, friendly and happy, and neighbored from Mr. John
Browning’s in Frizzell’s prairie, and we all strove, by all means in
our power, to assist each other in the difficulties necessarily
attending out settlement here; and those old pioneers living left
descendants worthy their noble sire and I feel the highest degree of
satisfaction in saying that those descendants are to this day, the pride
of our country. Take the
Webbs, Brownings, Crawfords, and other names I mentioned, and you find them
today the most respected of our citizens, and who have kept pace with
all the advancements of this progressive age; and I feel happy in the
further reflection of all of my own family have been and are esteemed as
honorable men and women.
The first Methodist class-meeting was formed at Nathan Clampet’s at the place where Dr. Carter now lives, in 1822, and was composed of seven persons. We had rails for seats, and on one occasion when more came than was expected. Mr. Clampet rolled in some large pumpkins and made seats out of them. I can’t remember where the first school house was built. My children went to the Dillon settlement school, a distance of four miles. When I was elected county judge, about 1826, the county was $300 in debt, and we thought that was terrible. We had no court house then nor was there a bridge in the county; and it was a question how to raise funds to pay the debt and build a court house. We finally raised the taxes from 20 to 30 cents on the $100, which created much dissatisfaction.
doubt wonder why the early settlers all made their farms on the high and
poorer lands. The reason is
obvious. The low grounds
were too wet and miry, and on the prairies the green-headed flies were
so numerous and severe that the settlers could not live with them. At sun up they would rush from the prairies to the woods and
up above here in the prairie Mr. Rawlings, at certain seasons, had to
build fires to keep the flies from eating up the cattle.
wonderfully the county has long proved none but the old pioneers can
fully realize. Today we are
surrounded by the advantages attendant upon a high state of culture, and
more than average degree of wealth.
Yet occasionally we see an Eastern man who turns up his nose at
us and calls this a rough country.
He ought to remember that we made this country while the one he
came from was made by hands a century before he was born.
This reminds me of the story I have heard of the Eastern woman,
who in answer to an inquiry as to the character of this country said:
“It was a paradise for men and dogs, hell for women and oxen.”
The experience I have detailed is not my own alone, but that, in a degree, of all of the early settlers here. Now you have school houses, churches and all the attended blessings of a highly cultivate people and we only refer to the past that our specialties of the present may be heightened, and that when we hear others sneer our limited advancement, looking back to our starting place, we may see how far we have really traveled upon the road of progress, profoundly we have been moved by the impulses of the age. In one area I think we have not advanced. In the old times, if a man committed a crime we turned out to hunt him; a scoundrel we kicked out of decent society. That is not always true now, I am sorry to say. But the old man will not cavil with the age that in so many respects if superior to his own. My friends tomorrow I leave this court, to go to my daughter’s, and may never see you again, but my kindest wishes will ever be with you.
Do not entirely forget the old man, but give him such
remembrances so you think his character as a man, a pioneer, and a
citizen is entitled him to.
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Song: Heard From Afar