A Letter Home - pertaining to Vredenburgh's of Somerville, NJ and Springfield, IL

Source: Honeyman, A. Van Doren ed. 1915, A Jerseyman in Illinois in 1838: Somerset County Historical Quarterly, Vol. IV, p. 194-198


The following interesting letter was addressed to "Charles Corle, Esq., Beekman's Mills, Somerset County, New Jersey," from Spring Creek, Illinois, under date of Dec. 22, 1838, and was recently found among the papers preserved by the late Hon. Calvin Corle, of Neshanic. Charles Corle was the father of Calvin, and, with his brother Samuel, purchased the Beekman Mills in Hillsborough township where, in connection with milling, they farmed and kept store. Charles was born in 1798 and died in 1857. Being a justice of the peace, he was in later years known as "Esquire Corle."

The writer of the letter was Jeromus Vanderbilt Van Doren, who was born in 1792 at South Branch, Somerset County, and was, therefore, in 1838, forty-six years of age. He had married, in 1814, Catherine Slover. His father was Joseph Van Doren, a soldier of the Revolution, who was a miller, and died wealthy in 1801, at the age of fifty-three. Joseph's daughter Maria, sister to Jeromus, married Dr. Peter Vredenburgh, of Somerville, one of whose sons was the late Mr. LaRue Vredenburgh of that place. Jeromus lived in the homestead at South Branch until he went West in 1838, and had at least two children, Maria and Adaline.

Mention is made in the letter of Joseph, brother of Jeromus. He removed about the same year (1838) or a year earlier, from Bridgewater township, Somerset County, N. J., to Sangamon County, Ill., where he died in 1845. He was a soldier of the War of 1812 and was in the Mormon contest in Illinois in 1844, when the "prophet," Joseph Smith, was shot by a mob. His son William (William Lawson Van Doren), also mentioned in the letter, left New Jersey in 1824 for Ohio; in 1834 went to Springfield, Ill.; in 1845 to St. Louis, and in 1850 to California, where he finally died, in 1886, at Petaluma. He has children living, one John S., real estate dealer, being a resident of Los Angeles. The letter follows:

"I promised when I left you that I would write you on the road, but matters did not work altogether to my mind, and I got out of humor and hurried along with all the speed I could. I had 16 in the family to support, and 7 horses, besides toll, and you may think that was any way agreeable. We met with no bad luck on the way; all kept their health, and I my stomach. We had considerable amusement on the road. In every village they would banter me for trade. I could have had $130 for my gray horse a number of times, but did not like to spare him for fear of being detained on the road. Soon after we crossed the Ohio river a man followed five or six miles with eight horses, and swore he would trade me my choice of them for the gray, but he and I could not agree. Then I showed him by sorrel mare, which I assured him was the best blood New Jersey afforded, and we made a trade for one of his Virginia-bred mares, he giving me $25 difference. That mare I traded here for a bay horse, cow and calf , and $5. The horse I sold at auction for $61, six month's credit.

"When we arrived at my brother Joe's, we stopped twelve days to rest, then having been 28 days on the road. There I traded my gray horse to Doc Van Harlingen for a large gray horse; an exact match to yours. He gave me $10 difference. (I forgot to mention that I had foundered him on the road). He kept the gray a few days, and then I met him again and traded the bay mare I got of N. Dilts. Even then I traded the gray horse to an Englishman for another gray, and got $13.25 difference. I then traveled very civilly through Indiana, and crossed the Wabash into Illinois, when we came to the first prairie, fourteen miles. I got lost from my caravan, being ahead of them, and I got into one of those tremendous mud holes, and liked to have drowned by horse in the mud. I then traded my gray horse for a sorrel horse, and I have him yet. He is young and fine, and runs away with me and the wagon almost every time I drive him. I sold my big gray horse at auction for $79.62.

"We arrived in Springfield, Illinois, 9 th August, 42 days passage, but had pleasant weather, sometimes rather warm, and very little rain. I believe all who came with me like the place very well; I have heard none of them wish themselves back again. Mindert and Henry are very comfortably situated, on the prairie nine miles from Springfield, in a good frame house belonging to Doc Vredenburgh's son. I am along the edge of timber one mile from them, with William, son of brother Joseph. I had bad luck just after I arrived here. The horses of John Vredenburgh ran away with the wagon, and , I believe, broke one bone of my leg, and that has kept me very close until now. I have been to Fairview. Rockafellow is settled there. I saw a man from Fair. who told me that Rockafellow was doing well; he had charged him $3 for putting one pair of shoes on his horse. Mindert has plenty of work, and knows how to charge.

"I purchased 216 bushels of corn the other day at 25 cents per bushel. I have rented a mill, and will commence operation as soon as there comes rain. Tell George I want him to do his duty towards me, and pray that I may have plenty of water. As for grain, I can get an abundance; logs by the hundred. Toll for grinding wheat 1-8, or 20 cents per bushel; corn 1-6, or grind two bushels for three bushels toll. Milling is the best business that is done here. Merchants do well; they charge what they please, from 100 per cent to 350. Almost everything is double to New Jersey prices. Tell Major Latourrette that I have not been to Pike county yet; intend to go as soon as the weather will permit. It has been very cold and dry here since the last week in October. We have had a dozen snow storms since, but no rain of any account. The crops of corn are abundant this season, and the most of it out in the field yet, except what has been used for feed. Wheat, rye, oats and hay plenty. Wheat $1; rye 50 cents; oats 25 cents. I want you, Esquire Charles, when you go to Somerville, to let Dr. Vredenburgh know that I am well, and have been so ever since I have been here, with the exception of my leg and a small touch of the quinsy sore throat. I want to hear from you about Taylor Todd, etc. My respects to all inquiring friends. Tell them I have not bought yet; will buy in the Spring.

"The land in this county is taken up, and the holders are asking $5 per acre. There is half a section lying adjoining William L. Van Doren and Robert Canfield, of Morris county, New Jersey, and John Vredenburgh, which I am told can be bought for $1,600; forty acres timber, the remainder prairie. Rails can be bought for $2 per 100, delivered o the ground. Timber, I think, is more plentiful here than in Jersey, and those who have it do not value it. They are mostly from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. Wood seems to grow very thrifty. Indiana beats all countries for wood I ever saw. I would not have a wood farm there as a gift. I like Ohio very well. The part where Jim Latourrette is, is a fine country; it is a beautiful land. I saw Philip Post and heard from old Henry Deatsworth there. I have since heard that Henry Deatsworth has arrived at his son's, near Fair View, which is 84 miles from Springfield. I want to go to Fair. again in the Spring. I saw Dominie Wilson when I was there. They all had arrived there safely. Mr. Wilson was busy in building a house; he had Matthew Suydam and all the carpenters he could raise in the place. They haven't their church raised yet. It was ready to raise when I was there. They could not get a mason to lay the foundation; there is but one in that place, and he charged $2 pr. day, and found; they in this place work by the yard. They have 37½ cents pr. yard for plastering rooms. They have no pennies in this country. If you want to buy anything you must buy a pickaune worth. Salt is worth $2½ pr. bushel; molasses $1. The rivers are so low that nothing can be got nearer than St. Louis, 100 miles from this place. Thomas Lewis, brother to the Lewis in New Brunswick, is making a fortune in Springfield selling boots and shoes.

"I wish you had your old-fashioned hats here, for the people wear all sorts and sizes. I have had to buy one pair of boots since I have been here. Money is worth 25 per cent. The lawful interest is 12. Money is very scarce here, and I believe some have paid as high as 50.

"This a cold-water country; the people all are temperate, and, I must say, well informed; a great deal more so than I expected. I had formed a pretty good idea of the country; found it pretty much as I expected, except the prairies, which beat my expectations. When we entered the first prairie at Paris, we could see no land. If we looked in the direction we were going, it looked exactly like a sea of grass; nothing could be seen but the sky and the grass. We saw no wolves, and only heard them one night, after we crossed the second prairie of 16 miles. We crossed eight or nine before we arrived at Springfield. The greenheaded flies, mosquitoes and gallinippers were very troublesome to man and beast. They almost ate our horses up; we had to cover them with sheets. Where the country is settled there are very few, or I do not know how the horses and cattle would live.

"You must try to get out here next Summer and see this country. I think there are fine chances here as yet for a fortune. I have been trying to purchase a mile on the Sangamon river, which always has plenty of water, but, when I came to close my bargain, I found that I should have trouble to get possession of it, so I backed out. In the course of another year it can be had. I should like to have hold of that property. There are 700 acres of land with it, which is more than I want. It is eight miles from Springfield. Water power is hard to be got at. I wish you would send George here, that he and I might go and shoot you a parcel of prairie hens. They are plentiful, and are fine eating. We can shoot plenty of them and not go far from the door. I have heard that Abm. Low and Major Latourrette have been in Ohio. Why did they not come further, when they were over the worst? Isaac McKinney has moved to Ohio. He might as well come here, unless he was out of soap when he got in Ohio. Please inform me what kind of circumstances he started with, and what was his place of destination. I do not know when I shall return to New Jersey. I want my buildings up before I shall think of it"