Early Times in Illinois
A sketch of Unwritten History of Hamilton County
by William Bryant
[Reprinted by permission from Goshen Trails, April 1982]

Following will be found a history of Hamilton County, Illinois as written by William Bryant.  The body of his history is transcribed unabridged.

Contemporary in Hamilton County, were two men by the name of William Bryant.  Thus, making proper identification is desirable.  Amanda, was the wife of William Bryant, born in Illinois about 1815.  This family lived in Knights Prairie.  Their children intermarried with many families of that area, including Mellon, Harrelson, Flint and others.  The mother and some other members of this family were interred in the old Mt. Pleasant (not Cartwright Chapel) cemetery.

From the preponderance of evidence we must conclude that the author of the history sketch under consideration was the William Bryant, born in Virginia, about 1800.  He married May 20, 1833, Matilda Stephens, "the daughter of widow Stephens."  Matilda died in 1874, and her body was laid to rest in the Concord Cemetery.  Little Page Stephens, her brother and his wife, Amanda Melvina (nee Davis), were buried on the same lot.  The headstone inscription shows 1877 as the date of Matilda's death, but local newspapers reported her passing in 1874, and stated: "Few old ladies had more friends and fewer enemies that aunt Tilda." The husband died in 1882 and was buried in the Mary's Chapel cemetery.

This Bryant family once owned much land in the vicinity of the "Concord Meeting House."  On March 2, 1848, William and Matilda Bryant conveyed by deed a tract of land to the trustees of the Concord Methodist Episcopal Church.  Much later, in 1880, while the M. E. District Conference was meeting in McLeansboro, William Bryant, was licensed as a minister of the gospel.

Although advanced in years, William Bryant saw service in the Civil War.  He enlisted on October 19, 1861 and was discharged September 25, 1862.  He was in Company H, 6th Illinois Cavalry, and served as a farrier.

On February 23, 1879, William Bryant was again married to Hannah, the widow of John Duvall.  From this marriage we note that William's father was James Bryant and his mother was Eitha Hall.  As will be learned from Bryant's history, his uncle was William Hall, the father of James who served in the State Legislature from Hamilton County. 

Hannah (Hardister) Duvall, William's second wife, was the mother of a large and respected family.  A great many people in Hamilton County were and are descendants of John and Hannah Duvall.  One of her daughters, Julia Ann, became the mother of the late Rev. N. C. Henderson, a well known Methodist minister.  Another daughter, Mary, married John G. McIntosh.

A local newspaper, issued March 2, 1882, reported the death of William Bryant as follows: "Wm. Bryant, one of the pioneers of this county died at his home near Hoodville on last Friday of pneumonia.  Mr. Bryant was about 82 years old; he passed through this territory in 1812, or nine years before this county was organized.  He has lived in the county some 60 years.  For many years before his death he was a minister of the gospel and a friend of all moral enterprises."

According to Mr. Bryant's own account, as will be noted in his history, he passed through the county area before 1812.  A line from the poem by Mrs. Fannie M. Parker, written for the county centennial celebration in 1876, stated: "While Uncle Billy Bryant is the oldest settler found."

Hannah Bryant was known in the Mary's Chapel vicinity by many persons contemporary, as "Granny Bryant."  Family tradition states that while a young boy, William Bryant was stolen by Indians and lived among them several years, as was, by his uncle, ransomed from them with fifteen ponies.

When Mr. Bryant was preparing his history sketch a local editor stated: "Uncle Billy possesses great originality and our readers may expect something good."  Much of William Bryant's history, as well as the one done from the centennial celebration of 1876, usually referred to as T. B. Stelle's history was incorporated in the five county history done by the Goodspeed Publishing Company, in 1887.  

Now, on with the William Bryant's History.

Editor Era:

          In fulfillment of my promise of a few weeks ago, I proceed to give your readers, among whom are my dearest friends on earth, a sketch of the early history of Hamilton County.

          In October, 1809, I crossed the Ohio river at Shawneetown, and went to what was known as the Half Moon, a salt well, that being the only one in what is now known as the Saline Salt Works.  This Half Moon is located on the South fork of the Saline Creek, on the north bank of said Creek in  Gallatin County, about twelve miles north-west of Shawneetown.  On leaving this place, I started in a northwesterly direction, following the road that was then known as the Goshen road, leading to the Goshen hill, north-west of McLeansboro.  About twenty miles from the Half Moon, I reached a settlement which had been made by a man by the name of Hogg, in what was then White County, but now Hamilton.  Hogg's house was constructed of small poles, such as he could carry on his shoulders, and was about six or seven feet high in the walls.  Poles were used instead of rafters, and the boards were put on the poles to form the roof, and held in position by weights.  The ceiling was made of clap-boards and the floor was made of the earth on which it stood.  Four posts were drove in the ground near the center of the room, on which was placed a platform of boards, and this was used as a table; bedsteads of similar construction had been erected in each corner of the house; and all the furniture used was of equally uncomely manufacture, being made of an ingenious combination of clapboards, small props and hickory withes.  But the most attractive piece about that house consisted of a large trough, extending the entire length on the north side of the room, and having a capacity of between thirty and forty gallons.  Said trough was kept full of honey in the comb, and was covered over with boards.  That family didn't want for food, being constantly supplied with venison, buffalo, turkey-breast, etc., all nicely dried.  There was no bread, however, to be had.  I had near forgotten to describe the fireplace.  That necessary appendage was directly under an opening in the top of the house, and on the ground.  The fire was always made to suit the exigencies of the times in length and width.  Never since have I seen a family that seemed to enjoy themselves better than did this one, and I learned the truthful lesson that happiness does not consist in dollars and cents, or does it require mansions in which to dwell, a contented mind is a continual feast.

 The raiment of Mr. Hogg's family was made of the skins of wild animals, either with the hair off and the skin dressed or made soft and made up in their natural state.  Caps, made of the skin of the coon, fox, wild-cat or fawn, were worn instead of hats, and I have seen caps made of swan skins, with the feathers picked off and the down on the out side, with a coon's tail sewed on behind, so as to hang down the back.  The dresses of the ladies were made of the thinnest, finest skins, such as one or two year old deer, caught in the summer while the hair was red.  The most fashionable dress consisted of a skirt that come to the waist and was held up by what the ladies called a should strap; the dressing for the body above the waist consisting of the same material as the skirt, but was finished and trimmed in a more ornamental manner.

           There was also an extra touch to the garment in the way of a bead gown (what the ladies would now call a bush) and ornamented around the edge with a strip cut off of a coon or catamount skin, and trimmed in fine style.  The neck, sleeves and bottom of the dress was often ornamented in the same manner.

           When wash day came around, the tidy house wives were prepared wit a supply of animal brains, which they dried for the purpose, and kept on hand in large quantities, and after having removed all greasy spots from the clothing with honey, they would wash them out with warm water in which had been dissolved the brains, and wind up by rubbing them over the smooth end of a clap-board driven in the ground.  The rubbing process was gone through with once a week in order to keep them soft, but they were generally washed but once in two weeks.  A word in regard to the clothing of the feet.  After the skins of the male odder is dressed, the skin of the neck is very thick, and from this a kind of a shoe called moccasin was made, which fitted around the feet and ankle, and was fastened on with leather straps.  Moccasins were usually lined with soft fur of the rabbit or coon.  The wearing apparel of the men was made of the most durable material, such as thick and heavy buck-skin.            
         At that time wild game, such as deer, buffalo, elk, bear, and turkey were more plenty in this country at that time than tame stock and fowls are now.  Panthers, wolves, coons, wild-cats, catamounts, etc., were very numerous, and beavers, otters, minks and muskrats would be found about the creeks and ponds at any hour of the day.  Honey bees were plenty.

Go to Part II

 ęcopyrighted 2000 by Carol Lee Yarbrough

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