Posted By: Suzan Hamer (email)
Date: 8/20/2020 at 14:12:56
I found amongst my papers, collected from various family members since 1980, this 9-page handwritten report of the Coffin family's journey from Massachusetts to Iowa, the frontier at the time, and their pioneer life there.
I have no idea where the pages come from and the writer is unknown to me, but refers to "Grandmother Coffin" and "Uncle Baker," so I'm assuming it was a grandchild of Clement Coffin, and a niece or nephew of Henry Baker.
It was written 91 years after they arrived at what was to be named Coffin's Grove, so I'm figuring it was written around 1930. For some reason, the handwriting seems to me to be that of a woman; I could be wrong. Some of the details about building don't seem to me to be something a woman of the time might be familiar with. Do you know what a "frow" is? I had to look it up.
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"In 1835, Clement Coffin moved with his wife and five children from Williamsburg, Mass. to Lewanee Co., Michigan, where they remained until the summer of 1840.
In the latter part of June they started on a 500-mile journey with ox teams to that part of Delaware Co., later to be known as Coffin's Grove township.
It took about three weeks to make the journey and everything went fine until they reached Dubuque. On the 4th of July, 1840, they crossed the Mississippi river on the ferry boat. There were two boats plying, one each way. They were propelled by horse power. One of the wagons was so heavily loaded that, the river being low, it taxed the paddle wheels to the utmost and the boat was twice grounded. Once for four hours they worked to get it off a sandbar and finally landed at the big slough. Grandfather had to double teams and drive across and although he came very near being swamped, he was finally able to pull through onto dry land.
The ferryman was from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon in carrying the family and teams across the river.
Ten miles out from Dubuque, they stopped for the night with a family named Snodgras. Grandmother Coffin was ill that night with a fever and did not rise from the bed without help for six weeks. She lay on a bed in the wagon during the long ride from Dubuque to Ead's Grove. Grandfather had made arrangements with Capt. Eads to occupy a part of his double log house through the winter. He was not as favorably impressed with the location of Ead's Grove as with the one which now bears his name. So he went into Dubuque and pre-empted it, moving there at once. Some hunters from Galena, Ill. had built a bark roofed, unhewn log house, or cabin, 14 feet square on the place and with some repairs, grandfather thought it might be utilized for a dwelling.
He hired a man to help him for a few days and their first work was to roll together a log pile, set fire to it, then throw on rocks to burn to make mortar.
They cut down a tree and with a frow [tool for cleaving wood by splitting it along the grain] rived out enough white oak stakes to make a water-tight roof. A window was made on the south side by cutting out a piece of log and putting in three panes of glass. A door was hung with wooden hinges and provided with a wooden latch and string.
The cabin was pointed and chinked inside and out. A large fireplace was built with a broad hearth and there laid down a bass wood puncheon floor. The loft was reached by a ladder which, when not in use, was turned up by the wall to economize space. A small roofed house was built in which to keep potatoes and vegetables. All was completed in a few days, even to a shed for the cattle.
The 12 of November, ninety-one years ago, they began living in the new home. They were 10 miles west of any human habitation and 10 miles from the nearest neighbor.
In Feb. 1841, the Paddlefords moved to Honey Creek, three miles distant, and in April three families settled in the Grove, each within half a mile. They were Henry Baker, Hiram Minkler and Charles Osborne.
In 1840, going from here to Dubuque, the pioneer could travel all day long without meeting a single human being, unless it might be a wandering Indian, or seeing the smoke of but two log cabins and those in the distance.
The pioneer always went prepared to camp where night overtook him, if need be on the broad prairie; if possible he made shelter.
About five days were consumed in making the trip to Dubuque and back again with oxen.
Grandfather subscribed for two newspapers: the Dubuque Miners Express at $2.00 and the New York Weekly World at $3.00. The nearest post office was at Dubuque and mail was received by chance opportunity, word being left with Judge King, the postmaster, to send by anyone coming this way. If often pased through several hands before reaching its destination. One day a man came from Cascade. He had been in Debuque the day before and brought two letters and a bundle of papers the first the folks had received in three months (Read page marked X) [See below].
The first 10 years of its existence, this part of the country was settled slowly. Consequently the general aspect of the country changed but little.
During that time several towns came into existence west of Dubuque, one of them was Delhi, which became the country seat.
In 1845, the mail route was extended west to Independence via Quasquelon. This was highly appreciated, being the first connection of the frontier with the East, or as you might say, "the outside world." Every Monday morning Mr. Smith [could this be my grandfather John Eligius Smith, who later settled in Coffin's Grove?] started out from Duqbuque with a small brown pony and a light one-horse wagon, carrying the western mail, making the trip out and back in about three days. In the third year after its establishment, the road was contracted for a twice a week mail, and thereafter the mail was carried in a covered hack, sometimes called a jerkey, drawn by a span of horses.
Later, in 1850, when they had morning and evening mail from the east and the west, the office at the Grove of which Grandfather was postmaster for 14 years, was made a distributing office for Mt. Hope, Forrestville and Strawberry Point on the north and Quasquaeton and Marion on the south. Usually they looked over two 4-bushel bags, crowded full at each mail, and when, as was sometimes the case, the mail had been delayed, they had ten 4-bushel bags to look over! Many of these letters floated over on the Pacific Ocean, rounded Cape Horn in a sailing vessel and entered the Golden Gate, at San Francisco from which place they were sent to their destination and many a miner stood in line and waited patiently four long hours to receive a missive from the States.
Game was plentiful in the new country. Prairie chickens were here by the thousands and in their season, water fowl of many kinds were numerous. A few elk still ranged along the river bottom; deer, bears, wolves and smaller animals were numerous. Delicious wild berries grew along the edge of the prairie and in the timber wild fruits of good but limited varieties were abundant. The groves were alive with beautiful birds, filling the air with the sweetest of songs. Some of their species are entirely extinct here. From spring to fall, the prairies were covered with great patches of beautiful wild flowers, several kinds of them are no longer found. In the autumn, the richest hues of every color were blended in the foliage.
The first marriage in Coffin's grove Tp. was that of Joel Bailey and Arabella Coffin. Their license was issued from the District Court. The service was by G.D. Dillion, Justice of the Peace."
The text below is on the page marked X mentioned above.
"In the summer of '41, in mid harvest time, a Mr. Hensley of Ead's Grove came to see Grandfather. He said that Robert Hutson had been in Cascade the day before and met a man there from Dubuque. The man said that Judge King had told him that there was a paper in the office addressed to Henry Baker, of Coffin's Grove, and on it was written "Mother is dead." Uncle Baker said he could not bear the suspense of waiting, he must get the paper. The next day he started on horseback for Dubuque.The day following he returned somewhat after night fall and came in smiling. The paper had been sent by his sister, a girl of thirteen, and on it she had written: "Mother has been very sick but is better. Your Uncle Horace Garlick's baby is dead. The paper had been folded so that it read "Mother is dead." Uncle Baker did not regret his 104 mile ride for a newspaper."
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