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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 1999

Captain Joseph Naper

Joseph Naper and his brother John were of Scottish descent. They were merchants from Ashtabula, Ohio and together they owned the Great Lakes schooner, The Telegraph. In 1831, Joseph Naper laid claim to a parcel of land along the DuPage River and with several other families established Naper’s Settlement. In time, the settlement became Naperville, Illinois, one of the fastest growing areas in the entire state.

However, there is still a Naper Settlement and the Illinois St. Andrew Society will hold a quarterly meeting there on October 10. The Settlement consists of a number of buildings including a log house, fort, blacksmith shop, print house, firehouse, schoolhouse and chapel.

One of the houses is the Martin Mitchell mansion built by George Martin III in 1883. “The house was originally named Pinecraig because the Martin girls planted pine trees around the site. ‘Craig’, a Scottish-Welsh term, means hill or mountain.” Martin was a Scottish immigrant married to Sibelia Riddler and they raised four children.

George Martin III was born in 1826 and took over the running of the family farm with his mother when he was only 15 years old. He was always a farmer, but also became a successful businessman. “It was in the development of the brick, drain tile and stone business that brought George the most success.” His company became one of the largest tile factories of its kind in Illinois. In the 1850's George Martin III opened a quarry. His quarry is now a paddleboat pond on the Riverwalk across Aurora Avenue from the mansion.

“Sibelia Riddler Martin was born in 1834 in Aberdeen, Scotland, to Reverend and Mrs. Alexander Riddler. The Riddler family moved to Montreal, Canada, and a year later to Peoria, Illinois, where the parents were active in setting up two Baptist congregations. When Sibelia was 6 years old, her parents died within weeks of one another, probably of cholera which was epidemic, and Sibelia was placed in a ladies’ boarding school where she received a liberal education. On finishing her education, she went to live with her uncle, John Riddler, and his wife in Naperville. It was there she met George Martin III and married him in 1854. She died on December 19, 1907.”

One of the children born to Sibelia Riddler Martin and George Martin III was Caroline (Carrie) Martin Mitchell. In her will, she stated that Pinecraig reflected the “character and staunchness of the George Martin family in the early days. It is my earnest hope and desire that the home in which I lived be preserved as a museum and the land about it used for park or municipal or public purposes by the City of Naperville.”

Hard to believe that this metropolitan area once belonged to the Prairies of Illinois.1

More information can be found at the history of DuPage county site.

The Prairies of Illinois, Reverend Thomas Leake 1893

The following excerpts are taken from an article written by William Mullen and published in the Chicago Tribune. Date uncertain.

“Oh! Those early years! Their memory is full of brightness to me. From April to November the prairies were a perpetual flower garden of every-varying hue. Wild game was abundant; in summer and autumn the groves were full of fruits and nuts; nearly all the year round the streams furnished fish for our tables. Those who maintained their homes through industry and frugality might gain wealth, while those who lived in idleness or unrest come to poverty.”

By 1893, most of the tallgrass prairie, which once covered 70% of Illinois, about 40,000 square miles, was gone. It had been plowed under, destroyed by pioneer plows. The plow was to prairies what the chain saw is to rain forest. In about 50 years, from 1830 to 1880, Midwestern pioneers plowed under nearly all of the great tallgrass prairie.

An acre of healthy prairie might hold 200 or more different plant species, 250 mice and 10 million insects. A square yard of prairie soil might hold 26 miles of thickly matted, interlaced roots, some thicker than baseball bats, most as fine as hair. A single gram of soil might hold 2 million protozoa and 58 million bacteria.

The landscape was home to roving herds of plant-eating bison, elk and deer as well as their meat-eating predators - wolves, coyote and fox. It teemed with badgers, raccoons, rabbits, ground squirrels and mice, as well as countless species of birds, most notably millions upon millions of prairie chickens. Many of these animals are extinct or nearly so in Illinois.

The slow-moving, oxen-pulled wagons were especially vulnerable to the most defining feature of natural prairie ecology - fire. Every year in early spring and late autumn, dead prairie growth is tinder dry. Sparks from the lightning bolt or a campfire could set off a howling firestorm that would sometimes race hundreds of miles before petering out, consuming all plant and animal matter caught in its path. Fire is what kept the great prairie system pure, free of salient weeds, shrubs and trees that were always trying to invade. The thickly matted root system of prairie plants insulated itself from the fire above ground, so that two inches beneath the surface, nothing was disturbed. The prairie plants thus sprang into renewed life every spring.

By 1840, the state was filling up with settlers from every corner of the U.S. and Europe. They were people acutely aware that this prairie land was going to be their main chance in life. They transformed a natural wilderness into the world’s most bountiful agricultural region. Only about one percent of Illinois’ original prairie survives. The one part of the land that was not plowed was the cemeteries. Most of the tallgrass that now survives is contained in these ancient cemeteries.

The earliest-arriving pioneers stuck close to familiar woodlands that followed river banks, or to the scattered groves of trees that dotted the prairies like islands rising from the sea. Later arrivals were forced to settle ever farther into the treeless veld, some stranded as much as 40 miles from the nearest timber.

No one will ever again know what a real prairie environment was like, with grasslands stretching across 360 degrees of horizon, often without a tree in sight. Few descriptions survive of what it looked like in pre-settlement days.

M. W. Ross wrote to his lawyer in Scotland in 1836. He had just spent 10 months homesteading 125 acres in Kane County and his lawyer was to pay off some long-standing debts Ross owed to people in Aberdeen. He wrote: “Although it may appear egotistical and vain, I must inform you that I assume a rank in society here far above any I hoped for. I now feel the benefit of public respect, and it is my utmost ambition now to merit it. We have had the misfortune to lose a daughter this winter; poor little babe suffered from the cold, which was intense. Mrs. Ross’ health has been extremely delicate since its death and unless a change for the better happens soon I shall be obliged to take her south.”

The Prairies of Illinois, Jane Cade Patton

Here is what Jane Cade Patton wrote in her memoir in 1900. In 1854 she, her husband and small children had just arrived at their 160 acre homestead at Paxton. They were almost two miles from the nearest treeline. “We brought two cows, four horses, chickens and turkeys. We got to our future home in the afternoon, in time to unload our goods and put up four beds and the cook-stove. We had brought lots of things cooked and had a turkey for our first meal in our new home.

“In the after part of winter, Obe Marlatt went to Bloomington after plows to break prairie... well, that spring it was to break prairie with our own four-horse team and an ox team. The man broke by the acre, $2.50 per acre, broke and planted sowed corn, about 140 acres, and raised the best vegetables of all kinds - melons and pumpkins by the wagonload, and the best corn. We sold one hundred acres of corn to cattle feeders for next fall for five hundred dollars, and was pleased with our years’ work. In the Spring we built two rooms to our house, and dug a cistern, fenced in a garden, and put an addition to the stable.”

Jane Cade Patton also revealed the frontier spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. She became a midwife and nurse and talked of preparing many of the bodies buried in Prospect Cemetery. Her memories are studded with accounts of women dying in childbirth, husbands killed in farm accidents and children left crippled or dead from mysterious “fevers and agues’.”

Unaware of the germ theory of disease, sometimes people died in plague-like epidemics of malaria, diphtheria, cholera, scarlet fever, polio and even salmonella from tainted milk, meat or brackish pond water. Many suspected the prairie itself of giving off noxious vapors.

In such moments, settlers, usually deeply religious, looked to the Bible for solace. In 1884, Patton’s beloved 26-year-old son Charlie, who had been helping her operate the homestead after her husband’s death, died of typhoid fever. For a long time afterward, she wrote, she continued to set a place at the table for Charley and wait to see him come downstairs for breakfast, “but he never came, and his laughing blue eyes never greeted me anymore.”

At Charley’s funeral, the preacher quoted Peter 1:24. It is especially apt for people who lived and died in the prairie, and perhaps not a bad one for the prairie itself.

For all flesh is as grass,
and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away,
but the word of the Lord endureth forever.

Lanark, Illinois

My family recently visited Lanark, Illinois, and found that it was an early Scottish settlement. It is located some 100 miles directly west of Chicago. The town has a nice library and we would like to give special thanks to Janie Dollinger who told us about the founding of the city.

“Lanark is a lively, progressive rural city located in Rock Creek Township on fertile high rolling prairie land. The town’s first name was Glasgow, but since there already was a town by that name in Illinois, it was changed in 1859 when the town was platted to Lanark after Lanark, Scotland, the home of the bankers who furnished money to aid in building the Western Union Railroad.”

David Becker, the first settler arrived in 1844 and was determined to build his home “away out on the prairie.” At the time it was believed that “no civilized white man or woman could withstand the exposure and winds of an open, unobstructed prairie plain.” “Soon after he staked his claim, the virgin soil was turned over by the breaking team and plow of E. Spaulding and L. T. Easterbrook.”

Edward Dicey, Esq., was the American correspondent of the London Spectator and he visited Lanark on May 15, 1862. He wrote: “Lanark, like all western cities, is built upon the simplest of plans. The owners or projectors of cities, buy a certain number of acres, draw out a plan of the town, dividing it into streets and lots...” “The map has been drawn out by a Scotch [sic] clerk in the service of the railroad, who had also the naming of the streets and to display his nationality he had given Scotch names - Rose, Argyle, Forth, and Moray, and Macs innumerable and only condescended to American prejudices so far as to permit there being a Main and a Chestnut street.”

The article written by Dicey is quite long, but his comments about the Civil War were interesting. “In this out-of-way spot, as everywhere I have been, the war was the one subject of thought and talk. A report came while I was at Lanark that Richmond was taken...at once the stars and stripes were hoisted in honor of the event.” “It was striking, too, to observe how thoroly [sic] all the people were ‘posted’ on the events and politics of the war. Lincoln and McClellan (from his connection with the Illinois Central) were known personally...”

“This progress westward across the prairie is the great fact of American history; and if you want to understand the present episode of the Civil War, you must remember this progress is still going on without ceasing. The growth of Lanark is one little incident in the history of the West, and it is as such that I have dwelt upon it.”
                                                                               --An English Traveler.2

Visit the City of Lanark webpage for pictures and more information.

From the Editor

My family and I recently drove to Mount Carroll, Illinois, to attend the wedding of our grandson, Scott. In our spare time, we found a lot of Scottish history at Savannah, Mount Carroll and Lanark, Illinois.

Driving west for 125 miles, you think of Scottish pioneers who crossed these prairies in search of a new life. You try to imagine what the prairies were like as you view the fields of corn waiting to be harvested.

We will share some of these stories with you in coming issues — stories of wealth and generosity as Scots gave back to their communities. We will tell you of the first woman to enter Northwestern University. She was of Scottish descent from Mount Carrol.

Mary and I also recently attended the placing of the Senate Resolution establishing National Tartan Day at William and Mary College. It was an impressive ceremony attended by some 70 people from all parts of the U.S. By the time you receive this newsletter, I will have made a quick trip to Edinburgh and London. More about that trip later.

We appreciate your support of our newsletter and hope you will continue to share with us your Scottish stories.


1.  Naper Settlement, a 19th Century Village, compiled by Sharon Frolick, 1999.
2.  Carroll County-A Goodly Heritage, E. George Theim, Editor.

Note: Visit the Lanark Public Library’s page

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546