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"ONE TOWNSHIP'S YESTERDAYS"
By Edwin Corwin
XIX. HARD TIMES IN THE '30s
"We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right."
... Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
THE FOURTH DECADE of the Nineteenth Century brought hard times. Hard is a mild term to apply to that period of American history. Times were unreasonably tough. The country survived, and the first settlers of Union Township got on their way and arrived, but were scarcely settled before the worst of the storm broke. And there followed one of the most distressing periods in the entire history of the nation, in some respects even more disastrous than the panic of nearly one hundred years later, from the ravages of which we are now (we hope) convalescing.
By coincidence, or more likely by some immutable law of supply and demand, the '30s of the two centuries of our national growth found the financial structure of the country dangerously vulnerable, weak, shaky; and in both crises the "way out" was managed by quite similar expedients.
What led to the great crisis which came in 1837? Various abnormal conditions, evil practices, and schemes that "would not hold water," just such fallacies as preceded the crash of 1929. The craze for investment had gone far beyond safe limits in every branch of industry, and a mania for speculation had set in. Men borrowed at extravagant interest rates and to mortgage future earning power in proportion to their most ardent anticipations. Many a prominent enterprise was swamped in irredeemable obligations.
"Impelled by buoyant confidence in its apparently inexhaustible resources," says Katharine Coman, "the men of the new frontier scoffed at financial limitations." ignoring the bitter experience of inflation and collapse in the Eastern states twenty years before. Western financiers chafed at the restraints imposed by the National Bank. They proposed the overthrow of this Eastern institution, to open a free field to state banks of issue.
In Tennessee, wildcat banking had gone to unprecedented extremes. President Jackson was from that state. He stood for a sound and uniform currency, and vetoed a bill to recharter the National Bank. At the most inopportune time, the bimetallic system was altered ... for the worse. Workable gold was discovered in the mountains of North Carolina and Georgia, giving some reason to believe that the domestic production of this metal might supply the money needs of the country. The amount of pure gold in the eagle was reduced; the coinage was debased. Certain supporters of the administration policy flattered themselves that they were restoring to circulation the "dollar of the fathers," the silver dollar proposed by Hamilton, but under the new ratio silver was undervalued and disappeared from circulation. Not enough gold could be coined to meet the money demand. Paper currency in some form was inevitable. Banks were chartered in the West and South without let or hindrance. The volume of the currency was trebled. Bank loans were extended at an even more rapid rate. "Speculation was outstripping the available capital of the country. Land jobbers borrowed freely of the banks in expectation of speedy returns. Many of the ‘coon box banks, organized since 1830, were loaning irredeemable currency to land speculators, who presented it at the government land offices in defiance of the law, and the United States Treasury was glutted with this depreciated currency. So affairs went on, from bad to worse, until the rocks of shipwreck loomed directly ahead.
In October, 1836, while the first comers to Union Township were busy getting ready for their initial winter in this region, financial depression overwhelmed the English business world, American obligations were called in, and the banking houses of New York and Philadelphia became seriously embarrassed. The New Orleans banks were the first to break down. By a general failure of cereal crops in 1835 and again in 1837, the crisis was extended to the Northern banks. In May, 1837, the banks of New York City suspended, dragging down in their failure many business houses. Bankruptcies became common. Real estate depreciated vastly in value. A great number of men were thrown out of employment. The outraged public became dangerous, and the militia was called to protect the terrified financiers. The Philadelphia banks went next. The panic spread like an epidemic. Banks toppled and fell by the hundreds. Everywhere outside of New England the collapse was complete.
Specie disappeared from circulation entirely. Local paper currency replaced the smaller coin, but was worthless beyond the range of immediate neighborhoods. All public improvements were suspended. Many states defaulted in paying the interest of their debts.
Late in the panic, the tempest broke in full force over Kentucky. And finally the period of stress came to an end. It rang the death knell of an orgy of reckless speculation. Five years of financial depression had swept the country.
The unemployed crowded the cities. All classes curtailed expenditure; the demand for goods was thus greatly reduced, Capitalists declined to loan money on any terms. In 1838, specie payment was generally resumed, but the relief was short-lived. The following year, hundreds of more banks closed their doors, and the business world was not again in working order until 1842.
It was the administration of President Martin Van Buren, a Democrat from New York State, that was marked by the panic of 1837. He had succeeded Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee Democrat, that year. The independent treasury was established during the Van Buren regime.
That panic was the most disastrous that the American people have experienced up to 1929.
Every bank in the country suspended specie payments, thousands of leading merchants and manufacturers were forced to the wall, and the business of the country was utterly demoralized. Hard times came, with a vengeance. Van Buren faced the storm with great courage.
The wild spirit of speculation that had seized the people was the chief cause of the panic, though there were others more subtle. The wildest schemes were hatched. Prices rose. Wages were high, then ceased to be. Great manufactories were begun and never carried out. Scores of towns were laid out in the West, and many of them were never built up. The sale of public lands ran to a high figure in 1835, and banks sprang up like mushrooms. Inflation! Worthless paper money! Railroads, canals, and all manner of internal improvements were projected. Men became intoxicated with dreams of becoming rich in a night. Then the crash and the aftermath: wreckage, desolation, despair! Such was the great industrial depression known as the Panic of 1837.
The Golden Age.
After the storm came the sunshine. A new era began, a "golden age." The prosperity that followed the panic was tremendous, and lasting. During the twenty years' interval between the crisis of 1837 and that of 1857, the industrial development in this country was the most remarkable in the nation's history. The wealth of the country was quadrupled in this era. In the older and mare industrial sections of the Atlantic seaboard, the accumulation of property was greatest at the beginning of the epoch, but the agricultural communities of the Mississippi Valley made rapid gains and in the second decade doubled the amount of wealth per inhabitant.
The brunt of the storm was not borne to any great extent by those who came first to Union Township. Currency conditions and banking troubles did not worry them so much; people in the towns and more populous communities suffered more. The pioneers of Union Township were too busy establishing homes for their families to be deeply concerned in the financial strife, the money craze, and the disastrous errors of the world outside. They were in a little world by themselves. That world was as they made it. God-fearing people, they strove to make it the best that knew how. And thus they were spared the demoralizing, soul searing effects of the great panic, for which no doubt they humbly gave thanks to the Power above who guided them in their endeavors here in the wilderness.
|XX. DAYS OF '36|
". . . a glimpse of the days that are over."
... Thomas Moore
THOSE DAYS OF '36? What were they like? Let us pause for a fleeting glimpse of events in general that transpired in the world outside at a time when the first permanent white settlers of Union Township were entering the backwoods to establish their homes.
That year, Andrew Jackson, "the people's man," and the first of the Presidents to rise from the ranks of the common folk, was finishing his term of office. And that year, also, Martin Van Buren was elected to succeed "Old Hickory." William Henry Harrison; Whig of Ohio, in turn succeeded Van Buren, in 1841. The campaign that assisted Harrison into office is known to every school child, with its emblems of "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" and its shouts of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Harrison was the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. His tenure of office as President was brief, for he died suddenly the year that he became the country's chief executive.
The Black Hawk War in the Northwest was past. Black Hawk, a former pupil of Tecumseh, was now chief of the Sac and Fox tribes. War had been waged over land cessions. Closer was the Second Seminole War in the South, beginning in 1835. The Dade Massacre occurred that year. Other events of '35 included an attempt to assassinate President Jackson, the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, the mobilization of Texans to repel a Mexican invasion, the organization by Chicago of a five department, and the opening of her first bank, a great fire in New York City, and the President's announcement of the extinction of the national debt.
In the days of '36, faint echoes came to the first permanent white settlers in Union Township, of such events as these in the world at large:War with Mexico. The declaration of independence by Texas. The bold fighting of the Texans. Davy Crockett and the massacre of the Alamo. The establishment of the Republic of Texas, of which General Sam Houston became President. Indian wars in the South; trouble with the Seminoles and the Creeks. Arkansas admitted into the Union. Wisconsin formed as a Territory. Martin Van Buren elected President. The anti-slavery question was assuming vast proportions. Philadelphia was now lighting her streets with gas. In Centreville, Michigan, machinery was cutting tobacco very fine for chewing purposes. In Pennsylvania, experiments showed anthracite to be more satisfactory than wood for locomotive fuel.
The following year, 1837, the Seminole War was renewed and continued; by the end of the year the rebellious Indians had been subdued. Osceola was imprisoned and died. Michigan was admitted into the Union. Samuel F. B. Morse had interested Congress in his telegraph, and it was on its way toward a great future. Morse first conceived the idea in 1832, while en route from Europe to America aboard the packet-ship "Sully."
On March 4th, 1837, the town of Chicago was incorporated as a city. Fort Dearborn was abandoned and later demolished. Indians from Chicago were going west. Johnson Brownlee was connected with the land office at Winamac, and during the time of this affiliation he said he must have made as many as fifty trips to Chicago with money. Arriving in Chicago, he would deposit his money boxes with the bank, then drive to his hotel. "After the money was counted the next morning and he had procured a receipt for the same," says McDonald, "he started on the return trip. In all the numerous trips he made over that very sparsely settled country he never met with an accident and was never molested in any particular."
Tells of Chicago.
"Chicago became a village of whites in 1833," McDonaid relates. "In 1837 an unofficial census showed a population of about 4,000. The official census of 1840 showed a population of 4,853, so that about the period of Mr. Brownlee's visits there the population was not far from 10,000. Old Fort Dearborn was still standing at that time, and the Chicago of today (around 1908), the zenith city of the unsalted seas, a city of more than two million inhabitants, was a typical frontier town. It was reached by the lake by small sailing vessels, and overland by stage coaches, etc. There was not at that time a railroad pointing in that direction." Steamboat navigation was still an experiment; the telegraph was not in use; there were no reapers and mowers, no sewing machines and none of the numerous labor-saving machines that since have come into general use. The countless marvelous uses for electricity were then undreamed of.
These are just sketchy pictures of the times that witnessed the coming of the first settlers and their early efforts to prepare for themselves homes and a livelihood in the wilderness.
|XXI. WESTWARD HO?|
"All the past we leave behind... Pioneers! O pioneers!"
... Walt Whitman.
WESTWARD, EVER WESTWARD, the white race pressed on ... beyond the old frontiers, establishing new frontiers, then pressing onward again beyond those .., into the wilderness where dwelt the "savage" peoples. The first corners to Union Township, though many of them did not journey directly westward on the last stage of their migration, were of the westward moving stock. Their forbears came originally from the East and from beyond the waters of the Atlantic.
Where actually did those hardy, venturesome families originate? Who were they? And why did they start migrating to begin with? In answer, one prefers to repeat words that cannot well be improved on ... the words expressed some years ago by Phebe Thompson Willey.
Speaking of those who came first to this region, she says that "as all good tales begin, “Once upon a time”a long time ago their forefathers concluded they must find a place where they could indulge in freedom of religious convictions as well as develop their best efforts in a material way. So more than one hundred years ago, nearer one hundred and fifty, (now perhaps more than that), a number of them took their small possessions and with their lives in their hands, embarked for the New World--the Land of Promise and freedom.
"From the highlands of Scotland came James Brownlee, who married Jean Rankin in Pennsylvania. From these descended the Brownlees of all Indiana and many other states. They were stalwart Scotchmen-James was 6 feet, 4 inches, as was also his son James who served in the first Indiana Assembly. They were Covenanters of the strictest faith and practice.
"From the north of Ireland came Patrick Logan who married Nancy Sallie Harper also of Pennsylvania. Patrick Logan was a typical Irishman and brought with him a fiery temper, a rich brogue and abundant wit as the present generation of Logans in this county exemplify. He was a Covenanter, but became a Newlight Christian in Rush County, Indiana, where he is buried. "Christopher Elias Dickson, tall and stately left his Jersey Island home for the new west. He married Phebe Lewis-Bayless. From these are numbered the Dicksons of this county.
"James Thompson, a shepherd lad from the lowlands of Scotland, left his sheep and stole passage to the New World, coming to Maryland in time to help build the White House, as an apprentice. He afterwards became a Baptist preacher. He was drowned in Blue Lick Creek, Kentucky. His wife was Ann Perry, cousin of Oliver Perry.
"John Lewis added Welsh blood to this Anglo-Saxon mixture. These five pioneers were helpers in gaining independence in the American Revolution. Not satisfied, these people kept pushing westward until they settled Rush and Fayette counties, Indiana. In Ohio they were joined by the McDonalds. In southern Indiana the Voreises from Holland and the Houghtons from England entered the clan. These families married and inter-married until it is a real crossword puzzle to decipher the degree of relationship among their descendants, though it is safe to say very few have married blood relations.
"In 1835 and 1836 again loading their covered wagons with their families and household belongings they, the second generation, began trekking northward, landing in midsummer 1836 near Maxinkuckee lake in what is now Marshall county. The graves of these pioneers are scattered throughout Union, Green and Center townships. Their names appear in all the records of the early days in the county. These names cannot be rubbed out of the stirring records of the past century."
The westward movement began early in the Nineteenth Century. "The first decade of our national history," says Katharine Coman, "witnessed a great wave of migration into the trans-Alleghany territory. The era of the trapper and the trader, of the ‘long hunter' and the self-appointed Indian fighter, had passed. The experimental stage was at an end, and now that some measure of peace and security was attained, men of wealth and breeding began to move into Kentucky and Tennessee, taking their families and household goods, together with slaves and capital sufficient to exploit the natural resources of the country. The pioneer farmer gave way to the planter, and tobacco culture and stock raising on a large scale superseded the primitive industries of the back woods.
"Many soldiers of the disbanded army, finding it impossible to regain industrial foothold in the Atlantic states, came into the newly acquired territory to take up their bounty lands and make a fresh start in life; and emigrants from Ireland, Great Britain, and Germany crossed the sea in ever increasing numbers, seeking among the people that had broken free from Old World trammels opportunity to earn a living as independent farmers.
"Speculators, too, crossed the mountains, bearing titles more or less valid to vast tracts of virgin forest, hoping to reap fortunes from the inevitable rise in price."
Washington had protested against the rage for land speculation. He urged that Congress should "fix such a price upon the lands ... as would not be too exorbitant and burthensome for real occupiers; but high enough to discourage monopolizers."
Agriculture was generally declining throughout the North Atlantic section. In Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, the barren hill farms "afforded but a meager reward to labor by comparison with the government lands still available in the Mississippi Valley, and by consequence the young men of energy and ambition were drawn to the West, ‘to the fertile prairies of Illinois and Indiana and the alluvions of Ohio'.
Harriet Martineau visited New England in 1835, the year the first emigrants were preparing to locate in the Union Township area. She "heard frequent lamentations over the spirit of speculation; the migration of young men to the back country; the fluctuating state of society from the incessant movement westward; the immigration of laborers from Europe; and the ignorance of the sparse [country] population:"
The quarter section farm tilled by the owner and his sons was the typical enterprise in the free territory north of the Ohio River, but the prospects of the thrifty pioneer were no less brilliant. Miss Martineau was assured that "a settler cannot fail of success, if he takes good land, in a healthy situation, at the government price. If he bestows moderate pains on his lot, he may confidently reckon on its being worth at least double at the end of the year; much more if there are growing probabilities of a market." Cultivated land in Illinois was then selling at thirty dollars or even one hundred dollars per acre.
In this part of the West, means of transportation were then at hand "in the vast system of, lakes and rivers that brought the remotest sections of the great interior valley into communication with the sea. The Great Lakes were inland seas, while the Mississippi River and its tributaries furnished 16,674 miles of steamboat navigation."
Those who first carne to Marshall County, or their parents, according to McDonald, were originally mostly from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the coast states, and were of Scotch, German, Irish and French descent. "Upon the opening of the great Northwestern Territory, of which this was a part," he says, "they began moving westward, and, striking the Ohio river at various points, floated down on rafts and boats of rude construction to various settlements, such as Marietta, Cincinnati and other points where they could move out into the country both south and north.
"The first settlers here were from southern Ohio and Indiana and northern Kentucky. Butler and Preble counties, in Ohio, and Rush, Fayette, Franklin and Union counties, in southern Indiana, furnished nearly the entire emigration the first eight or ten years."
The ancestors of these settlers were from afar. Some heritage of spirit, originating no doubt in an ancestry dwelling beyond the Atlantic many years before, was brought by these resolute people into the wilderness.
The Rugged Pioneer.
The late Dr. B. W. S. Wiseman, in his prologue to Culver's celebration of the Indiana Centennial in 1916, pays tribute to "the white settler, coming from across the ranges beyond which the broad Atlantic grieves against the coast. With his fibre is knit the conquest of many a wilderness, many a foe. Those feet of his are wide-wandering; in his heart is a thirst of new empire; on his brow and in his eyes of the northern sea's fearless blue or the storm-sky's steel gray are the look of victory. He knows no dread of loneliness, nor winces in the thick of carnage; the twisted, gnarled and rooted fastnesses of the Western jungles daunt him no more than did the wildest foam and fury of the sea. There is no possibility of turning him back. He is fate. He is as inevitable as moonset or the approach of day. His small scattering bands are the first restless ripple of that oncoming tide of civilization whose might and power are urging him forward.
"He is clothed in staunchest homespun; he carries knife and axe and rifle; wife and child he brings. His jangling household gear is on the back of the horse beside which he walks, warily the mount of the last cavalier that picks its way through the trackless forest, lifting broad hoofs, ironshod, over jutting ledges and matted roots of trees.
"And still those elder wars bequeath him their heritage of battle; he strives with a lurking foe that crouches in the shadow 'round his path, or he bands together to drive out the possessors of the soil."
As for the wily red man, he viewed the westward movement of the whites with trepidation. The great migration presented to him a sinister aspect, of which his "untutored mind" was quite aware. He was impressed by the strength evident in the onward marches of the pale-faced people. Something of this feeling on the part of the native is expressed in the lines from Longfellow's "Hiawatha," wherein the red man says:
" ‘I behold the westward marches
Of the unknown, crowded nations.
All the land was full of people,
Restless, struggling, toiling, striving,
Speaking many tongues, yet feeling
But one heart-beat in their bosoms.’"