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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Irwin, Benjamin F. 'Benjamin F. Irwin and Ira Emerson to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon414.html


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308. Benjamin F. Irwin and Ira Emerson to William H. Herndon.

Pleasant Plains Nov 24 1866

yours Requesting of me the Mannors modes of Living advantages Disadvantages Dress Fashions &c &c &c, &c In Ills at an early day I now answer Beginning at say 1825 first as to advantages there was none but Disadvantages in Abundence and the first and one great Disadvantage to settlers to get was Milling done whitch was a horse Mill the only kind run by 2 or 4 horses each

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man generally having to furnish his own team often going ten Miles to Mills ridng one horse carrying a Sack of Corn or wheat and leading a horse Both harnessed ready to hitch to the Mill and to get the turn at the Mill the time of starting was about 12 at Night as by day light there was generally a days grinding on hand whitch would be about 20 or 25 Bushels of corn or wheat and the Bolting of Flour [1] was done by hand thus Mills was generally Built By Posts put in the ground 8 feet high and a Log Mill house on top such a Mill put on exhibtion in 1860 would be a Better show than Barnums Museum or Dan rices circus at that time Meal was often made by grating the corn on an oval piece of tin punched full of holes with a common nail and tacked on a Board another Method of getting meal was Substituted by Burning a hole out of the end of a solid Log sawed off say 3 feet Long 18 Inches across Burn out the end untill it would hold ½ Bushel then get an Iron ring Put on the end of a Pole an drive in an Iron wedge to use as a Butt and in this Mortar pound the corn into Meal or hominy thus kind of a Mill hundreds used and Lived happy and fine on the Meal this substitute was called a Mortar after a few years Inclined wheels and water Power took the place of the single Band Mills [2] But a short time previous to these difficulties some of the first settlers of sangamon County actually went to Madison County to Mill Distances of 80 Miles to get Meal or flour and the trip had to be made by crossing without any Bridges what would now seem to be Impassable streams at this time it was no uncommon thing to see men with Coon skin caps on for a covering of the head such sights would now frighten a Beholder But fashion had then no votaries the wimen Made all the clothing old fashioned wheels cards [3] and yarn Cotton and wool could be found at every house the wimen made their own sunday ware of Clothing whitch was Checked Cotton or flannen Dresses the fashion was tight sleeve Dresses four widths of Cloth made a Large 3 widths Dress often these Dresses for a fine article was checked of various Colors made of grass walnut or oak Bark was used for Coloring also shoe make [4] Berries it was in these days a Common thing to see the trees Stripped of Bark as high up as a woman could reach and every man seeing a tree Barked new what it was done for, Mens Clothing was Generally plain white or But nut yellow [5] mad with walnut Bark either Cotton or wool goods the Children as a common thing from early in the Spring, until fall wore nothing But a Shirt and many never had a Shoe the year round in verry cold weather they sat in the house to keep Comfortable if a woman got a calico Dress of any kind she was Dressed so fine the whole Neighborhood would Know it and at this time it took at least 10 Miles square to constitute a Neighborhood and a woman would thnk nothing of picking up a child and walk 4 or 5 Miles to visit a Neighbor Calico was the finest article used for a Dress a sun bonnet made of Calico Blue or checked

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was most common and a Gingham Bonnet was thought to be an extra fine article there was another stile of Bonnetts whitch was Super extra fine called Calash or Gig toped mad of yellow nankeen shaped Like a Buggy top hoops or Bows made of Ratan or cut out of hickory splits It would now Be amusing to see a yound Lady Rigged and start to church as they then did every thing was high and economy had to be used the women as Before said would walk 4 & 6 Miles to church carrying their Shoes and Stockings untill they got near the Meeting and then put them on and go into Company after Meeting they would get out the crowd and take off shoes and Stockings and go home Barefotted on Larger occasions the farmers would hitch a yoke of Steers to the wagon and the family would get in and ride to Meeting (I mean if the Distance was great say 8 or ten Miles) and have a good and happy time seeing old friends and forming new acquaintences for in those days friendship was genuine the churches was generally some school house say 18 by 20 feet Built out of round Logs a Board roof and the earth for a flooring the seats slabs 4 or 6 Inches wide with 4 Pins in them for Legs to support them the windows in these school houses was mad by cutting out one Log nearly the entire length of the house and hang a plank over it in time of a Storm the Preachers was generally plain homespun Men plain in every sence of the word always as plain Dressed as their Congregation they never attempted to make any display or show and then again their Manners and gestures was natural their Language was common and adapted always to the Intelligence of the hearers the Preachers of an early day Made human Nature their Study they understood man in all his relations and they adapted their discours or sermons to man as they found him in all his relations and surroundings the preacher would read his text and preach his sermon from it as a whole making generally no Divisions or subdivisions of the subject and still Bring out all its general Bearings and relations to the duties of man and close with an application or exortation which seldom failed of effect upon the congregation

There seemed to be a Divine agency or Power that attended the Ministry in these days that is not seen now they generally had the Confidence of all their Neighbors and as a Natural result had uncommon good order and Attention their Prayers were generally verry solem childlike and earnest no display of words or modulation of voice But the emenations of an earnest honest feeling heart such as truly Becomes an honest faithful embassador of Christ then prays and sermons were directly addressed to each person understanding so forcibly that they they could not shake it off and the result was many splendid revivals in every small congrations ministers in these days Did not generally take the stand to warn men or tell them of their wrongs but would go to them Individually and talk to them freely frankly and plainly and almost every one loved them for so doing if there was a Sick man woman or child ten Miles of a Preacher he made it his Business to visit them and see to there wants temperal as well as Spiritual and pray with them and objects of charity or Benovolent enterprises never failed of having their aid and Cooperation Preachers in these days were Industrious in every sense of the word and Bent all their energies to the encouragement of honest faithful Labor and rigid econimy they were faithful and Prompt at house raisings and in the harvest fields

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generally at Both of which some thing to Drink according to custom had to be on hand But they generally tried to Discourage the Idea of having whisky on such occasions and yet if the employer Did not furnish whisky he could not get his grain taken care of or a house raised and on such occasions all was willing to help and it was no uncommon thing for a man to go 8. or 10 miles to help a Neighbor harvest or raise a house all felt their Dependence in those days Corn huskins Rail Maulings wood Choppings and quiltings was a common thing in which all took a part at the work. the Closing scene of these tranactions of Course was a dance at Night in which the older ones took no Interest But the young made it up the manner of Dancing was entirely different from any thing seen Now there was no calling off 4 or 8 persons Boys and girls of Equal Numbers would take the floor and run the set off hand & at the sound of the fiddle each one would go to shuffling and kicking for Godsake they would keep it up all Night and in the Morning there was sore toes in earnest. each one would return home and go right to work the Women to carding and Spinning weaving &c which they all understood and the Boys to Ploughing hoeing Breaking flax or Picking Cotton there was no Dodging Labor and none tryed to evade it all looked upon Labor as being honorable the Fathers taught it and they Controlled their children then there was then with Boys But verry little swearing or fighting this was Left to men of years and you would never hear of such a thing as a Boy Bing Drunk or seldom swearing or stealing or Idling away their time often a 12 year old boy would make a good hand in a harvest field and again they all had to be in the field at that time by sun rise and there Labor untill sun Down that was the rule and each one governed himself accordingly in relation to Dress in Ills in early day there is an incident or two I will relate as showing the curiosity felt or Manifested in regard to Dress About the year 1825 or 6 two young men from Sangamon County R S Plunkett & N C Irwin went to St Louis and Bought a Black or Blue Cloth Coat at a Cost of about $40 each and one a pair of common Buckskin gloves these Coats attracted general attention and was the Subject of Remarks for Miles around the Stile of these Coats was high Stiff quilted Collers Close Bodied Short waist and pidgeon tailed, Previous to this the wedding Coats for young men was Blue Jeans home made and it is a Matter of fact these Coats and gloves was Borrowed as a wedding garment on Many occasions for Miles around another Incident I have from J H Matheny as furnishes a good Illistrations & some man at Springfield Ills about the same time got a Blue Cloth Coat the News spread about Town old and young heard of it and on a certain Sunday it was Supposed he would appear at Church in his New garment and children in the Neighborhood in groups assembled on the Road to Church to see the young man pass and get a Sight of a Black or Blue Cloth Coat a Menagarie or Caravan Passing would have Been no greater Curiosity to the children and in addition at that time Let a young gentleman or Lady come to church with an extra fine Rig the Minister was sure every time pay his Respects to pride for the opinion was general that pride and Industry was enemies and we was taught from the Pulpit that Laziness and Christianity did not go together I Neglected in its proper place to say we all Lived in Log Cabbins mad of Round Logs the cracks

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filled with Mud and Straw Mixed, some floored with Puncheons or slabs and others floored with Mother earth the chimblies was made of Lath or Split Strips Laid in Common mud and Plastered with the hand in side to protect them from the Sparks or fire and the Back and Jams was generally Laid with Rock. this Stile of Chimblies Never fails to carry off the Smoke admirably

Amen

NB Sutch is my recollection of the Early history of Ills
Ira Emerson
Preacher in charge
Pleasant Plain Ills

Billy I could write a volume But I think this is enough Ben Irwin [6]

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2775 — 84

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Wilson, Douglas L., ed.; Davis, Rodney O., ed.; Irwin, Benjamin F. 'Benjamin F. Irwin and Ira Emerson to William H. Herndon' in 'Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln' . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. [format: book], [genre: letter]. Permission: University of Illinois Press
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=herndon414.html
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