ere we begin to focus more closely on
our immediate family. When I first started tracing our ancestry I came
up against a blank wall at this generation. Great grandfather Eric's
death certificate indicated that his father's name was William and that
he was born in Virginia. His mother's maiden name was Minerva Sweet.
Look as I might I could find no William that fit. I was contacted by
David Weston Crossett who was also searching for his grandfather by the
name of William. When I mentioned my problem he thought he had heard,
not of William from Virginia but of Minerva Sweet. He consulted his
records and found that she was indeed married to a Crossett; Martin
Powell Crossett of DeKalb County, Illinois. Whoever provided the input
for the death certificate had no real idea who Eric's father was. This
taught me to accept documents like that with a grain of salt. Having
found Martin, the whole Crossett genealogy opened up, so I have a
special place in my heart for him and David.
Here he is in later life (probably
We unfortunately do not yet have a picture of Minerva
who died in 1872.
It is frustrating to realize that the
closest to us of all Jacob Jr's boys is the brother about whom we know
the least. We do know that he and Minerva had five children, two boys
and three girls.
- Eric Smith
Crossett, b. March 1837 m. Charlotte Loretta Barnett
- Mary Crossett, b.
January 12, 1841, m. Peter Norton Welch
- Martha E.
Crossett, b. 1845
- Lydia E. Crossett,
b. 1848, m. William A. Hall
- Russell Dunning
Crossett, b. June 1850, m. Hattie E. Welch
I think it is likely that
Matha's middle name was Ermine. Eric named one of his daughters Martha
Ermine. Possibly Eric's sister died young. Eric was born in Warsaw, New
York, just east of Orangeville where Jacob settled. The couple moved
west soon after and Mary was born in Illinois in 1841. In 1837
Martin had bought land in Michigan. He probably sold it or traded
for a farm in DeKalb County, Illinois. He was the first of the boys to
buy land in the Northwest frontier. He remained a farmer all his life.
Farming in Illinois in 1841 was not a simple matter. A
man did not just buy a farm and start working it. He first had to
create it out of prairie. Prairie land is now almost gone. Then it
was a widespread grassland with occasional copses of trees. In the
spring it would be covered with a variety of native flowers in
profusion. Travelers said it was the most beautiful thing they had ever
seen. This grassland had been growing there for thousands of years
untouched by any plow and grazed by buffalo. Native tribes hunted and
lived there. All this ended when the country was homesteaded by the
"sodbusters". The sod was thick and netted so as to defeat a
normal eastern plow. They used a prairie plow or "bull
tongue" which was large and supported by wheels in front.
It cut a broad but shallow
furrow half way down in the sod rather than turning over the
whole turf. This made the grass die faster but they still
needed to repeat the process. Plow animals had to be big and
strong; generally oxen. Wood was scarce in the prairie, so wooden
or brick house construction was expensive or impossible. Houses
were frequently made from sod.
These places, called "soddies" had the advantage
of being easy to heat in winter and cool in summer, but they also had
problems with insects and mice. It took about an acre of sod to make a
house. Outbuildings would be more simple and functional. Later
versions had wood floors and plastered walls. Water came from wells
powered by the familiar windmill. Wind was never wanting. In fact,
prairie fires were a regular occurance. The cycle of growth and grazing
and fires burning off the dry grass kept the prairie in good health. If
lightning didn't start them, Indians would. In any case, a sod house
was good protection. Of course, once the railroads and canals were
built, building materials became more available. A farmer could then
begin to build up his farm, put up a good house and barn, and
perhaps buy more land and get his crops to market.
The main crop grown in the Illinois prairie was
wheat. Corn also grew in some of the more southerly prairies. In 1839
settlement and farming began in earnest and by 1859 the area was a
major source of the nations wheat supply.
the years leading up to the Civil War Illinois was part of the struggle
about whether slavery would be extended into new territories. Southern
Illinois, the part called, for reasons still not clearly
understood, "Little Egypt" was a more forested country and on the
rivers. Access from the southern states was easy. Many more slaves were
imported there by southern immigrants. However, crops which needed
slave labor to grow such as cotton do not grow well in Illinois and the
practice did not catch fire like it did in Missouri and "Bloody
Kansas." The politics, however, were heated and Illinois
produced the well known Senator Stephen Douglas and of course
Abraham Lincoln with whom he famously debated. Fifty years later
William Jennings Bryan sprang from Little Egypt. He lived next door to
some Crossetts. We do know that when war broke out, Illinois was
squarely on the Union side.
lost Minerva in 1872. At that time Russell still lived with them and
worked the farm. Sometime in the 70s they moved to Nebraska where they
are found in the 1880 census on Russell's farm. Martin died there in
1891. His burial place is as yet unknown.
story moves on to Martin and Minerva's eldest, Eric Smith Crossett who
met a pretty widow, moved back east, and entered the Union army.