Submitted by Frank W. Hamilton.
My Life and Times
Written by James Arthur Hamilton (1893-1938)
Having lived for three score and ten years and reminiscing back over these years, I will try to tell of the vast changes that have taken place since I can remember.
I don't have very much of the genealogy of our family. From what I can find, we are direct off springs of Alexander Hamilton who came from Scotland some time in the 17th century. I don't know if he was married before or after he came to the U.S. but he settled near Washington, D. C. and was the father of seven sons. When the sons began their migration to the West, four of them through the Northern states and three through the Southern states, the ones of the North were predominately professional people, while the ones to the South were farmers. They are said to be husky men of light hair and ruddy complexion and were very prolific having large families.
My grandfather, Harvey Nelson Hamilton, was reared near Knoxville, Tenn. He was married to Nancy Debney Leake in Roane, Tenn. on Feb. 28, 1850. My father James Rufus Hamilton, being the oldest son in the family, was born Feb. 12, 1853 in Roane County, Tenn. The rest of the family, namely Susan (Susannah W.), Samuel, (Sarah), Margaret and Clem were also born near Knoxville in Roane County, Tenn.
The 1860 U.S. Census in Roane Co, TN
shows the Harvey N. Hamilton thus:
Sometime after the Civil War started, my grandfather had to choose between being drafted in the Southern Army or going North and joining the Northern Army. He chose to go North and, at the age of 43, joined the Union Army. (He walked from Roane Co., Tenn. to Barboursville, KY with his brothers, William A., John and Alexander Hamilton and his nephews, William J., David J. and Samuel Hamilton, and all these men except Alexander Hamilton, enlisted in the 5th Tennessee Infantry, U.S.A. in Feb. 1862 at Barboursville, Ky. Harvey was assigned to Co. "D".
He (Harvey N. Hamilton) probably didn't realize at the time what a hardship his family would have, for the families of the men who joined the Union Army were so badly treated by others in the community that they were forced to move. So my grandmother, Nancy, and her five children (a baby girl, Margaret, was born before Nancy left Tenn.) along with the Samuel and Nancy Richardson's family came by wagon and ox teams to Southern Illinois. They settled about 5 miles south of McLeansboro. This trip took them about a month.
1870 Hamilton Co., IL Census:
[James Arthur always thought the Richardson's were Nancy's parents but records show Nancy's name on her marriage certificate as Nancy Dabney Leak(e)].
There was a young lad of military age in one wagon, and he is said to have dressed as a young woman for his safety as they made their way through the area where they were likely to run into members of the Southern Army.
There were no main roads, mostly just trails through woods which were at that time full of wild animals, so someone had to keep a fire burning through the night to scare the panthers away.
We will leave the Hamiltons awhile and talk about my mother. Likewise, they had to leave Missouri under the same circumstances. My mother's father was named Work S. Jones (in records his first name is sometimes listed as Workman or Worthy) and my grandmother was Julia Livinia (Gossadge) Jones. So both of my grandmothers came about 1862 to Southern Illinois and both settled in the same community where my father and mother grew to manhood and womanhood. They never saw either of my grandfathers, as they both had died or were killed in the Civil War. (Harvey Nelson Hamilton died April 17, 1863 in the Army Hospital at Nashville, Tenn. of "organic heart disease". He is buried in Stone River National Cemetery, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; grave #125 in Section N. And, the other grandfather, Work S. Jones enlisted in Union Service August 13, 1862 at McLeansboro, Ill. and was assigned to Co. "A", 87th Ill. Infantry Regiment. He died of disease on March 16, 1862 in Memphis, Tenn.) My mother also had one brother, Jim Jones.
After about twenty uneventful years, my father and mother were married some time in the early 1880s. (James Rufus Hamilton, age 30, and Mary Josephine Jones, age 22, were married October 26, 1882 at the bride's home in Flanagan Township, in Braden Valley. Samuel Hamilton, James's brother, was one witness to this marriage). They still lived in the same community where they settled till about 1888.
My grandmother Jones got a pension of 12 dollars a month. She saved enough to purchase some land. (Her daughter, Mary J. Jones on April 20, 1875, bought 92 acres of land from John Coker and wife. Mary had this farm before she and James Rufus were married. Later on October 31, 1892, seventeen years after James and Mary were married, James R. Hamilton bought 20 acres of adjoining land from Walter A. McElvain and wife. This constituted the 112 acre farm where the children of James Rufus and Mary J. grew up). Grandmother Jones was blind by this time, getting her eyes hurt chopping wood before my mother and father were married.
The farm mentioned above was ten miles south of McLeansboro and had a log house with a kitchen built on the side. After my parents moved to the farm, Hillary and Walter were born. Then, on Nov., 27, 1893, is where I came into the picture. I was there in the old log house that day but really I don't remember it.
After I was born, there came along two more boys and four girls. For my grandchildren and who may come along later, I will give my brothers and sisters names in order: Grace, Hillary, Walter, Arthur, Girtie, Rella, Tom, Clarence and Maude.
From now on, I will leave my family and concentrate on myself. I will try to tell under what hardships I grew to manhood. There was very little money to be had at that time, so we had to grow most of what we ate. As we boys got big enough to work in the field, we had plenty of horses and mules for horsepower. We would have 12 to 15 horses and mules to work, also 15 to 20 cows and lots of hogs and chickens to take care of. With all this livestock, here is how we did it. Hillary fed and took care of the horses. Walter and I had to feed the cattle and milk the cows. Dad would feed the hogs and Mother the chickens.
We would get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, do our chores, while Mother got the breakfast. This was done every morning regardless of how cold it was. We had no modern conveniences at that time. We would go to the kitchen and heat water on the cook stove to wash and get ready to walk to school. We only had six months of school a year and were lucky to get to go four or five months, but, believe it or not, we got a lot of good from it. We would kill four or five big hogs in the winter for our meat for the year; then we would cure and hickory smoke it and it was real good. Our potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and apples were put in a hole in the ground (deep, but not enough to freeze) and covered with straw before covering the produce with dirt and this would keep all winter. We also grew cane and would make enough sorghum to last a year. We really didn't have to buy very many staples articles.
In the spring of the year, we would save up the eggs for two or three weeks; also butter, and would feed a lot of hens till they were heavy. Then we would load up the old farm wagon with whatever else we might have, such as potatoes, apples, turnips, and any other surplus we might have. This would buy our outfits of clothing.
My mother and older sisters would get yards and yards of dry goods and made most of our clothes. The first pair of long pants I had, I was about 10 years old and my mother made them for me. As for the nine children of my family, there are three of us still living now in 1964.
The cash we got from raising mules, cows and horses and hogs. We would sell 20 mules each year and each would bring from $100 to $125 per head; hogs would sell for 3½ to 4¢ per pound, good cows from $25 to $40, and eggs from 10¢ to 12¢ per dozen. One winter I remember we sold corn for 25¢ per bushel. On winter week days, Dad would go to the woods and cut long poles, haul them to the house, and on Saturday, we boys would saw wood for the cook stove and fireplace, enough to last the next week. If we worked real hard, we might get to go rabbit hunting for a couple of hours on Saturday.
We had a big fireplace that took a lot of wood to keep the house warm. We would raise a lot of popcorn and about every night, the old corn popper was kept busy.
My father, being an ordained Free Will Baptist minister, was away a lot over the weekends, but when he was there, and when he wasn't, we would go to Sunday School and Church someplace most every Sunday. We either walked, road a mule or went in a road wagon.
We boys had a swimming hole in Hogg Creek, not far from the house, that we enjoyed very much. That is where I learned to swim by lying on a fence rail. After all the hardships, we were a happy family. True, we boys didn't see eye to eye all the time and that resulted in some fights, but they were soon forgotten.
I well remember the first real money I worked for. I helped a neighbor for a day and a half work in the hay harvest for 50¢ per day, and I had the sum of 75¢ to do with as I pleased. After I had grown up, many a day I worked for $1 per day.
The first real tragedy in our house was on Sept 12, 1912 when our mother died of a heart attack. After that, it was still nice to go home, but it was never the same.
After Mother died, I decided to go West and work for a while. I worked in Kansas in the wheat harvest. Got $9 per day, which was a lot of money then. After the harvest was over, I worked 18 months for a rancher-farmer for $25 per month. I saved enough money to come home and buy me a team of horses and farmed for one year but didn't make any money that year, so I decided to try something else. I tried for a job in a state mental hospital. I went to Richmond, Ind. at the salary of $22 per month. I started to work there on Nov. 2, 1916. It was there I met Georgie Dowell, who later became Mrs. Hamilton.
In April, 1917, World War I was declared. I would have been called to the army if I stayed there, so Aug. 20th, 1917, I enlisted in the U. S. Army at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. After basic training I was assigned to Wagon Co. 301, Quartermaster Corp and then sent from Jefferson Barracks to Jacksonville, Fla. (While in Fla., James Arthur had the flu during the major epidemic which swept the country. He talked about lying in the hospital and being wet with sweat hour after hour). And, later from there, I went to Camp Glascock at Jeffersonville, Ind. in April, 1918.
On July 17, 1918, Georgia and I were married at Hardinsburg, Ky. We lived in an apartment in Jeffersonville, Ind. till after the war ended. After 16 months in the Army, I was discharged from the army as a corporal. We went back to Richmond, Ind. and worked in the hospital 6 months and then came back to Illinois, where our first son was born on March 7, 1920. He died in infancy. In 1920, we moved to Thomsonville, Ill., where I tried farming again for one year.
On the 13th day of Nov, 1920, I took an examination for rural mail carrier at Benton, Ill., and was appointed carrier on March 1, 1921. I served as rural carrier, city carrier and clerk for the U. S. Postal Service for the next 36 years.
As I look back over the years, there has been many comical things take place. I remember an old lady on the route who said she had ordered her a pair of shoes for Xmas. She said she hoped that Sears Roebuck would put on an extra clerk so that she could get the shoes for Xmas. She would meet me regular every day to see if the shoes had come, so finally they came COD. I told her how much they were, so she said "You just wait right here till I go in the house and try them on and if fit I will pay for them". I had quite a hard time explaining to her that she had to pay me before I could give them to her. She said Sears Roebuck said that she could try them on. Another fellow had ordered from Sears and they sent him a card saying "you owe us 98¢". So he wrote back the next day: "Dear Mr. Sears Roebuck. Just got your card saying I owe you 98¢. Owing to the dry weather, my crops is burned up and my old sow had bad luck with her pigs, so cannot pay you just at present". Another man came to the post office to call for his mail. He name was Stanley Yaksieiccs. He was from the old country and hadn't been in the U.S. long, so I asked him to spell his name. He thought for awhile and said, "Y-a-k, Oh hell, I don't know" and walked out of the office.
I have been asked to do about everything you could think of. One woman said "Bring me some garden seed", or a man who met me most every day said, "I wish you would come out to the barn and help me tail up my cow; she is down and can't get up". Another woman said to me that "My neighbor down the road called me and said for you to take her this setting of eggs as her hen is going to quit her nest if she doesn't get some eggs". Another lady asked "Would you bring me two loaves of bread, or could I send this money order today, without the money as I will have it tomorrow", or the man who called for his mail and when asked for his name, he said "That makes no difference. If I have any mail my name will be on the letter!"
One lady had a quarrel with her husband, and he had gone to town without her that day. She wouldn't let him get garden seed for her, so when I came by she had a big list of seed for me to get and bring back the next day. I asked why she didn't send after them by her husband, as I knew he was in town that day. She said that he left home mad. I told her it was not an emergency and I would not bring them for her.
There were a lot of comical things that happened through the years, that I could relate here, but there were lots of sad things also. One morning I found an old lady lying in the barn lot. She had been there all night as no one was at home. She never regained consciousness. It was sad when the families who lost sons in World War II and the letters they wrote would be returned to their families marked "deceased".
I might say here, before I get away from the mail route, that I started at McLeansboro in 1926 and retired in 1955 and that there were only three of the families on my route #4 when I began. Children who were on the route when I started are about all married and have grown up children.
Now we will go back to when we moved to Benton, Ill. Fern, Franklin and Joyce were born there and Mae Dell, after we moved to McLeansboro. Although I had a regular income, it was not easy to raise and educate our children on my salary, as I had gone into debt to build a home, and, also I bought my old farm homestead. Just about the time the land was coming under control, the oil wells came along (1942-1945) and I am real proud that I could educate my children. I am real proud of all of them.
On April 5th, 1955, Georgia died and left me and the four children. It was hard to pick up and go on, but time heals. But you will never forget all the good times through the years. My children are married and have their own homes.
In 1959, I was called to work in a hospital at Alton, Ill. There I met Grace Alexander and on April 16, 1960, we were married at Alton, Ill. We are both retired and are secure and enjoying our senior years. If we live to be really old, it can't be many more years, but I can look back and thank the good lord for being so good to me. Maybe sometime in the future, some of this information will be of some benefit to my grandchildren.
Signed: James Arthur Hamilton
I would like to write a few more lines to what I have already written about living conditions in our home. We were about the average in our community, but we had no modern conveniences that we have today. Our bedrooms were unheated and in winter we slept under so many quilts and blankets you could hardly move. (James Arthur talked about waking up winter mornings and brushing snow off the blankets before coming downstairs. The log cabin had a loft with beds for the older children). We heated bath water on the stove and used a washtub for a bathtub. My mother made soap for the laundry. It will be interesting to the generation of today and in the future to know just how this soap was made. We used the wood ashes from the fireplace to make the lye. They were placed outside in a large container called a "ash hopper". All the waste fat and the meat we butchered was saved. Then in the spring when the weather was warm, we would put large buckets of water in the ashes and save the run off as lye. The lye and waste fat would be cooked in a large iron kettle outside. I have seen my mother make 30 to 40 gallons of soap at one cooking.
Our school (Braden Valley) was a one room country school School districts were laid off in three mile squares. The schoolhouse was built in the center of the square. We had 6 months of school a year. I have known boys and girls 20 years old to still be going to school. When you completed the 8th grade then, was about equal to a high school today. After all, people enjoyed themselves very much.
This being my 86th birthday, I will try to put down some things that happened in my lifetime. I was born in 1893 in a log house with a side room built on for cooking and eating. The log part of the house was very large with a big fireplace and one window. There was room for four double beds. Sometimes there were three or four kids in each bed. When I was about four years old the old log house was moved to another location and a new house built. It was two large rooms with a hallway between them and had an upstairs.
When I was small I had a little red wagon and we would play with it all day. One day when dad was gone, my older brothers decided they would break the little mule to work. It was only about three weeks old, so they took my little red wagon out in the pasture, hitched the little mule to it; the mule got loose and ran across the pasture, and pieces of my wagon was scattered all over the field. That was the end of my pride and joy. My dad believed in learning boys to work, so when I was about five or six, he made me a whip to drive the cow's home to milk, so I felt pretty important that I could do something. When I advanced to age eight, I had to learn to milk the cows and that was something I had to do as long as I was at home.
By this time I was going to school. It was a one-room house with homemade seats with no backs on the benches. There were large families then so about 35 to 40 kinds would be going to school and one teacher had to teach all groups. In the first of my school days, we had no outhouses, but there were a few acres of woods by the side of the school. The boys used one end of the woods and the girls the other side, so when nature called there was a mad rush to the woods, and sometimes they got there too late. On Friday afternoon we would have spelling matches or ciphering matches. That was always something to look forward to. About two or three times a year we would have a pie supper. The girls would tip the boyfriend off when her pie was sold so she could eat with him. The schoolhouse was used for a lot of other social events. When you finished the 8th grade, you were able to take a teacher exam. I think I did pretty good in my schooling, for when I took my civil exam, I made the highest mark.
The last day of school was always a big day. The kids would get a sack of candy and we would have a big dinner and all the parents would come. The ground to build the school was donated by Alf Braden, one of the older men. So, the school was named after him. He also donated the ground for the church and the church was named Braden Valley. The first church I remember going to was this church. They only had church once a month but there were five churches close enough to go to, so you could go every Sunday. Several churches had foot washing two times a year. I have attended them many times. On these days the crowd was so big not everyone could get in the house.
Getting back to the farm--we always got up at 5 and went and did our chores with feeding the animals. Mother would be getting breakfast and what a breakfast it would be. She would always have hot biscuits, sausage, ham or bacon, oatmeal and rice and, whatever else she might have at that season. We raised most everything we needed.
After Hillary and Walter passed the 8th grade, they passed the teacher's exam and started teaching in the country schools. I remember Walter got $22 per month for his first school. They wanted me to take the teacher's exam but I had no desire to teach, so I decided to go to the city and get a job. My first job was in Kansas City. I made $40 per month. That looked pretty big but I soon learned after I paid for a room and eats, I had nothing left. So I went from there to St. Joe, Mo. and met a man who owned a ranch in Colorado. I was eating one night and he came over and said he was looking for someone to work for him. He would give me $25 and raise me to $30 in the spring with room and board. I worked for him about five months. When the wheat harvest started I left him and went to Denver and got my train ticket back to Kansas. While on the train a man came to me and said he needed men to help in the harvest; he would pay $2.50 a day with room and board. I thought this was for me, so I hired to him. He had a trashing machine, so after the harvest I stayed with him on through the trashing season. After this, I decided to return home and try farming. But I only made about $100 for the year farming, so I decided to try for a mail route job. I made the highest score in the exam, so after about three months I was called to work in the postal service.
My first tragedy was when my mother died in Sept. 1912. But then about four years later, my older sister (Grace) passed away. I was then working in Richmond, Ind. and the family could not get word of her death in time for me to attend the funeral.
When I was young, I used to have to help mother pick the ducks to made pillows and beds. I can still hear those ducks squeak every time you got a hand full of feathers. Many times I have got a bite in the ribs from an angry gander. We would get about a half pound of feathers per duck, so you can see how many pickings you would have to do to make a 50 lb. bed!
I would like to tell you about the first time I was out of Hamilton County. Dad had bought a family surrey and we went on a trip to Mt. Vernon and Dix. We left home about daylight; we had a good team of horses. We got to Mt. Vernon as the sun was setting. We stayed in Mt. Vernon one night and went to Dix the next day, stayed two days and back to Mt. Vernon for another night and then back home. I was about 12 years old and thought we were lucky to have made such a big trip.
For Christmas in my boyhood, there was not much money so about November we would set rabbit traps. We would get 5¢ each for a rabbit, but if we skinned them, we would get 20¢ to 25¢ each for the hides, if we had a good one. And by Christmas, we might have about $1 to spend. We would get three or four packages of firecrackers at 5¢ each; three or 4 roman candles for 10¢ each, a box of sparkles for 5¢ each and a box of stick candy for 5¢. And that was about it. We would hang up our socks for Santa and get one orange and one apple and a 10¢ pair of gloves. We never got socks as our mother always knitted them for us. Once, I remember my sister, Rella, got a doll, and all her friends came over so they might play with her and her new doll.
There was never any showers for young people getting married, so my mother kept a large flock of geese and ducks to make a feather bed and two pillows for us when we got married. When the boys left home, my dad would give each one a horse.
The good Lord has been awful good to me. Now, after all these years, I can't thank him enough. I know time is running out but I am in no hurry to leave, but I want be ready when the time comes.
Signed - James Arthur Hamilton
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