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The English Eldreds
Eldred was the name of several kings of the Saxons in the eighth and ninth centuries. An Eldred was King of Chester, A. D., 951 and an Eldred ancestor was Saxon Archbishop of York (and Canterbury) in 1066 and according to the historian Thiery he cursed William the Conqueror. The Eldreds were holders of lands in Wilts, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Gloucester, Shropshire, Yorkshire and other counties at the time of the Domesday survey (A.D. 1085) and prior to that, in the time of Edward the Confessor.
The Eldred Family is a very ancient English Family, and one of only a few English Families that can trace their ancestry back to the early Saxon settlers from the European mainland. Although today members of the Family are found in England, America, Canada, the West Indies, South Africa and Australia, records of the family reach for more than 12 centuries back into the past. The oldest record that can be authentically connected to living members of the Family, is the death record of John Eldred, of Corby, Lincolnshire, England.
Another John Eldred the Great-great grandson of the afore mentioned John Eldred, was known as John Eldred The Great of Great Saxham, in Suffolk County England. Tradition says that he purchased the Great Saxham estates because of his belief that his ancestors, as Saxon kings, had owned and utilized the same lands for their home.
John Eldred was born at New Buckenham in Norfolk, England in 1552. He was an apprenticed Clothworker in the City of London in the 1560's and in 1583 two other eminent Clothworkers, Sir Edward Osborne and Richard Staper, sent him on a pioneering voyage to the Middle East in the ship TIGER. She went to Tripolis (now Trablous in the Lebanon) whence the expedition went overland to Aleppo and down the Euphrates to Felugia. From there they went to Baghdad and on down to Basra, names that are all too familiar today. He returned to Aleppo a year later with a vast cargo consisting mainly of nutmeg and cinnamon. He then stayed another three years in the Middle East, traveling widely and setting up various trading bases, before returning to London in 1588, having made himself a very rich man: not only that, but famous too. It had been a pioneering voyage of outstanding importance for English trade such that Shakespeare alluded to it in Macbeth (Act I, Scene 3: "Her Husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the TIGER").
Meanwhile Eldred continued his career as one of the great merchants of the City of London. He received a Grant of in 1592 and bought the manor and advowson of Great Saxham in 1597, where he built a large house known locally as "NutmArms eg Hall". Sadly, it was burnt down in 1779. He had become Treasurer of the Levant Company in 1592 and, along with another five Clothworkers, he was a subscriber to the first voyage of the East India Company, whose Royal Charter of 31st December 1600 conferred upon it the sole right of trading with all countries Iying beyond the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan.
By now he was 52 years old but he would continue to be active for the rest of his long life. He was on the Court of the East India Company for over ten years; he had shipping interests including the ownership of privateers; he invested in Henry Hudson's voyage in search of the North-West Passage; he was a contractor and commissioner for the sale of lands, and a farmer of Customs. He was appointed to His Majesties Council for the Virginia Company of London.
John the Great’s eldest son was born in June 1590, so that he presumably married shortly after his return from the Levant. His wife was Mary, daughter of Thomas Revett of Rishangles in Suffolk. His firstborn son died in infancy; but the second, Revett, grew up and was made a baronet in 1641. John passed away in January of 1649 in Surrey leaving behind a large family and a legacy that would survive for centuries. When John’s son Revett died without issue in 1653, the estate of Great Saxham passed to the family of John Eldred, Revett's next brother. This became extinct in 1745, when the property was sold. 'Nutmeg Hall' was burnt down in 1779; the present hall was built by the new proprietors in the closing years of the century.
John the Great’s grandsons would be the first Eldreds to sail for the new world.
In the church of Great Saxham there is a monument to the memory of John Eldred erected by his son Revett; also a bust with a mural tablet bearing the inscription :
The Holy Land so called I have seene, And in the Land of Babilon have beene, But in that Land where glorious Saints doe live My soul doth crave of Christ a roome to give.
The Eldreds had made a name for themselves in England. It is not known why they decided to leave the comforts of the lives they had built to travel to the unknown territories of the New World, but their sacrifice helped shape the heritage and history of the East Coast, Greene County Illinois and beyond.
There showed up at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts at about the same time three Eldreds Samuel, Robert, and William. Robert and William were brothers. Samuel on the other hand appears to be more distantly related. He ends up in Connecticut and many of his descendants spell their name Eldridge or Eldredge. It is important to note that there were instances of men being born with the name of Eldred and being buried with the name of Eldredge on their gravestone indicating the misuse of their name within a single lifespan.
Robert we first learn about from the boat “Rose” of Yarmouth, England in a log entry dated April 11, 1637. Also on the Rose were William Lumpkin and Nicholas Nickerson as well as their families. William Lumpkin along with four other men by the names of Thatcher, Crow, Howes and Samuel Rider, were granted land January 17, 1639 by the Plymouth Colony for the founding of the town of Yarmouth, Massachusetts. The Nickerson family would later join the Lumpkins in Yarmouth and shortly after 1643, Robert Eldred would also migrate to the growing town. Robert would marry Nickerson’s daughter Elizabeth on October 31, 1649.
Going back through our line of descendants, we return to William Eldred who first appears on public record in Barnstable County, (Cape Cod) Massachusetts in the Yarmouth register with a date of March 3, 1645. Two years later he would marry Anne Lumpkin, the daughter of William Lumpkin, and they would eventually move to the farm adjoining their In-Laws in the nearby town of Dennis. There is still a brook on the property named Eldred’s Brook. In 1657, William was named Constable and surveyor of highways, a post of great importance in those days. His wife Anne would pass away in 1676 and a mere three years later, William also passed away in the same area that they had spent the bulk of their married life together.
One of their children, Samuel was born in 1659. At the age of 17 in 1675, he fought against the Indians at Mount Hope and for his services, received 4 pence and 10 shillings. Samuel married Keziah Taylor in 1689 and raised his family in Yarmouth. After Samuel’s death in 1705, his children were assigned the task of distributing public lands.
One of Samuel’s sons Jehosaphat was born in Yarmouth in 1683. He married Thankful Rider in 1709. Sometime between that year and 1716, they moved to Falmouth, Massachusetts. It is said that Jehosaphat and several other men had come to the area from somewhere off the “Cape” and some, including our descendant decided to stay and eventually bought land from the Indians near the shores of Buzzard’s Bay. Falmouth was founded in 1686 and this is where Jehosaphat stayed and raised his family. One interesting thing to note is that in the year 1750, a new church was built where a total of 33 pews were placed on the main floor and in the gallery. The pews were numbered and sold according to wealth and societal status. Jehosaphat’s son William is noted as owning the third pew indicating his importance within their society. Jehosaphat died in Falmouth in 1765 and was laid to rest in the “Old Burying Ground.”
The next in the line of descendants was Jehosaphat II who was born in Falmouth in 1716. He would marry Elizabeth Swift in 1747 and in 1755 migrated to Warren, Kent County, Connecticut where he purchased farm land and raised his family. In 1777, he was appointed by the town of Kent to a committee that oversaw the needs of Revolutionary War soldiers and their families. He died in Warren in 1801.
Jehosaphat III was born at Warren in 1769 and married Polly Langdon but it is unknown as to when. He was deeded 100 acres of land in Kent by his father in 1792 and purchased 77 more acres in Kent in 1804. He engaged in farming and bee keeping on his property and was considered a man of means. Two years after increasing his land holdings in 1806, Jehosaphat decided to uproot his family and move them to New York. He would sell his lands and lease out his bees to two men, Horace Weston and William Egles. There is even a lease agreement on file that cites Eldred as allowing them to keep the four hives for the duration of eight years, when he would return to retrieve his bees and one half of any increase.
His brother Moses Eldred moved to the town of Winfield, New York in Herkimer County in 1805. Jehosaphat would follow him shortly after that and quickly purchased a large quantity of land. Soon, many of their brothers and other family members also migrated to the area as shown by the public records of Winfield and the surrounding towns. Jehosaphat III would be the first generation of Eldreds to call Illinois his home, but that is another story altogether.
Greene County Bound
Born in 1796 in Connecticut Ward Eldred had his eye on Illinois while it was still a territory. He and his cousin Swift traveled by foot from their home in New York’s Mohawk Valley to Illinois in 1818. In the months just before statehood, they surveyed land in northern Madison County (presently Greene County ) before returning to New York.
The Eldreds had waited for assurances that Illinois would not enter the union as a slave state before committing themselves to moving west. A letter from Madison County resident George Churchill to Swift Eldred, dated 1818, addresses this concern. Churchill had made his acquaintance with Swift during the Eldred visit, and informed Swift that the state constitutional convention has “decided against slavery in general,” although the presence of previously owned slaves was as yet undecided. Churchill is optimistic about the prospects for Yankee settlement. He hopes for “Yankee Fashion” ballot- based elections and for ridding the new state of the “little remnant of slavery.”
Ward married his first of four wives in January, 1819 and promptly returned to west central Illinois with his brother Elon and a herd of sheep that the two had driven from Ohio. In March 1820, his father Jehosaphat, and a clan of twelve other family members journeyed from New York to Illinois, settling west of Carrollton and awaiting the creation of a new county with newly surveyed land. A family anecdote says Jehosaphat’s youngest son Silas, who was only ten years old at the time, decided that he was not going with the rest of the family. His father told him that he could stay if he wanted but was quite sure that when Silas saw them leaving on the boats that he would change his mind and catch up with them. Much to his father’s chagrin he did not and the family had to double back a considerable distance to get Silas.
Early in 1821, the Illinois legislature created seven new counties, dividing Madison County in the process to create Greene County. Before the land sale, the purchasers had made an agreement between themselves that they would not bid against each other. Instead the land choice would be based on who was first to arrive in the county. Land was sold in lots of no less than 80 acres or 1/8 section for no less than $100. Jehosaphat and Robert Hobson each claimed to be the first to arrive and should therefore receive the best piece of ground. According to the 1879 Greene County History, the Eldreds arrived at the sale late and had an abundance of money. It is said that their saddle bags of gold and silver were so heavy that it required two men to carry them into the land office. Jehosaphat and Robert Hobson failed to come to an agreement before the sale and the result was a bidding contest. Jehosaphat became the purchaser at $150. This price so enraged Jehosaphat that he told Hobson that he would bid against him for any piece of land he wished to buy, ensuring he would pay a like amount. Friends interfered and Jehosaphat agreed that if Hobson paid him the $50 he would allow him to purchase the Land.
Jehosaphat Eldred and his sons William and Ward purchased Greene County land in January. Ward purchased five 80 acre (one eighth section) tracts in Sections 17 , 20, and 21 of Carrollton Township. Some of this land today is still owned by the Eldred Family. His family probably made their initial homestead in Section 21. His second son, James John Eldred, was born in 1828.
When Polly Langdon-Eldred died in October of 1822, she was buried on the Eldred’s Farm just west of the Rainey memorial statue north of Carrollton. The grave has long since been plowed under. With the passing of his wife, Jehosaphat moved to Galena, Illinois, during the lead mining excitement and went into extensive operations. He also established a stock farm at the mouth of the big Sandy Creek in Scott County. Upon his death in 1842, he left his vast holdings to his children and they drew legacies from his estate at Galena.
The Center for American Archaeology suggests habitation of the future James J. Eldred House property during the 1820’s, primarily due to the discovery of domestic debris from that decade during the 1990’s excavations. Deed records indicate, however, that the school board commissioner did not sell the property until 1833, and it is likely that the 1830’s occupants owned ceramics and pearl ware dating to the mid-to-late 1820’s. Any 1820’s homesteaders would have been a squatter without title to the land, and such evidence as has been discovered is from excavations made within the walls of a later structure.
The land on which the Eldred House would be built was owned by one of the early settlers of Bluffdale, Richard Robley, several years after his migration with an idealistic group of New Englanders. In the late 1820’s several Vermont families, including the Robleys, Spencers, Brushes, and Russells, moved to Greene County and named their new settlement Bluffdale. Richard Robley first purchased 80 acres of land in Section 9, just north of the future Eldred House, in 1823. He later purchased 80 acres in Section 15 to the east. The state legislature designated Section 16 land for schools in 1829, but amended the law to allow the sale of such lands in 1831. In 1833 Robley purchased 310 acres of the south half of Section 16 from the Illinois School Commissioner, Samuel Smith, but apparently deferred payment. In 1836, Robley sold the land to Hiram R. Brown, who paid $752 for it and who may have built a dwelling on the site or occupied a Robley-built structure with his wife Hanna. During the Brown ownership, Ward Eldred’s family lived across the road in Section 21. In 1838, the families likely contributed to the construction of distinctive limestone fencing that ran for seven miles along the Bluffdale road. Road widening and paving in the 1930’s destroyed a majority of the fencing.
When Ward Eldred purchased the land in the Illinois River Valley from Hiram R Brown in April 1840, he paid $4000 for the 310 acres in Section 16 and 160 acres in Section 17, adding to his extensive holdings in the area. The increased value of the land is probably due in part to the presence of a residential structure and possibly other support structures on the property. This coincides with archaeological evidence pointing to a structure on the site occupied during the 1830’s.
Ward Eldred’s first two wives had died before he purchased the Section 16 property in 1840. He would marry twice more in the coming decade while raising cattle and growing crops on his lands. All four wives died during childbirth. The 1850 Census reveals Ward, at age 54, as the head of household, which also included his son James (21) along with four younger brothers and a seven year old sister, Evaline. The widower lost his own life in 1851 after contracting erysipelas (acute skin disease) while driving cattle during a flood in the Illinois bottoms. After his father’s death, James John Eldred purchased his older brother Ward’s interest in the Section 16 property. James had married Emeline Smead, the sister of his fathers fourth wife, in February 1851, and the couple probably lived in the old Eldred Home. During 1851 the Eldreds completed a new four story limestone barn west of the house.
Ward had need of such a structure, and had been gathering stone, flooring, and shingles for this purpose. At the time of his death he owned 194 head of cattle, 70 cows, 58 calves, 30 horses, and five oxen and goats. He sold cheese to the major market in nearby St. Louis and grew wheat and corn. James J. Eldred inherited the cheese making equipment and raised a variety of livestock and crops. The farm flourished and the Eldreds had four children by 1860. In addition to the immediate family, the Eldreds also supported two domestics, and his seventeen year old sister Evaline. Three farm laborers assisted them in the growing of their crops. As the nation headed to civil war, Eldred’s personal prosperity had led him to plan and erect a new limestone farmhouse.
The James J Eldred house completed in 1861 was probably the most elegant residential structure in the region and is an important surviving example of Greek Revival architecture transplanted to the Illinois bluff. Combining the stylistic values of neoclassicism with traditional local materials, Eldred created a county estate home that became a center piece of regional social life during the 1860’s and 1870’s.
James and Emeline Eldred raised children, managed a farm, and regularly hosted social gatherings. The prime years of the Eldred House were not all gaiety and light for its owners, however. All three Eldred daughters died at home: Alma at age 4 in 1861, Alice at 17 of tuberculosis in 1870, and Eva at 17 from the same cause in 1876. The unpredictability of agricultural life left James Eldred’s finances strained at times. In 1870, for example, a private tutor of the Eldred children sued Eldred for non-payment. He faced another suit in 1900, owing money to John Snyder of Carrolton in a case apparently involving a lease on Eldred property that was settled out of court. James, now 52, shared farming duties with his son Ward, 25, and also housed a 38 year-old cousin named Albon E. Wilson, a teacher at the old Columbiana School at the Illinois River ferry landing on the Greene County side of the river. Wilson was James Eldred’s cousin, and discussed purchasing land from James as early as 1880 to settle a debt. Not quite ready to sell, Eldred nevertheless felt the strain of maintaining his holdings. Wilson’s journal notes that in January 1880, “James was wounded yesterday with a pain in his back, was not able to be out all day to attend to his work.” In addition to teaching, Wilson helped on the farm and assisted in the sale and transport of Eldred’s crops.
Wilson moved and started a grocery business in Carrolton later in 1880, and the Eldreds began to sell land the following year. George Garretts bought 40 acres in Section 17 that year. In March 1883, floods sent many bottom dwellers away from the area and threatened crops. The Eldreds still retained their reputation as social hosts, receiving attention in April for another successful party, but as with several other land owners in that area, 1883 represented a diminishment of their agricultural efforts at Bluffdale. James J. Eldred, Jesse Flatt, Roswell Flat, Ellen Hermans, and Anton Brichge all had “significant chunks of land” seized, presumably for debt. Albon E. Wilson gave up the grocery trade as he became engaged to the wealthy Cassie Robertson. He purchased title to farmland including the majority of Eldred’s in April, 1883. Wilson paid Eldred $8000 for the old Eldred property in Section 21, married Robertson the next day, and began managing the Bluffdale farm from the old Ward Eldred homsted. While James and Emeline Eldred lived at the James J. Eldred House until James death in1911, they sold their house and Section 16 property to Wilson for $12,000, in 1901. By that time the Wilsons were living in Carrollton and the farm was managed by Lawrence Wagener. Wagener who went to work on the farm in 1883 as a teen was assisted by his cousin Meek. Wagener moved onto the property in 1896, raising his family there as he managed Wilson’s agricultural affairs. Before Albon Wilson died in 1912 he signed over the property to his wife Cassie. The Wagener and Meek families continued to live on and manage the farm until her death in 1936.
Upon Cassie Wilson’s death, the property went up for sale. Robert H. Levis of Godfrey bought 1,517 acres for nearly $27,000. Levis bought and sold several pieces of land in the area in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but the house and immediate property remained in his hands until 1995. Levis made the farm part of a budding absentee agri-business enterprise, eventually naming it Bluffdale Farms, Inc., with on-sight tenants as managers. Levis’ farm managers did not use the J.J. Eldred House as a residence but rather the more modern 1918 house across the road. The only upgrades that occurred to the house during the 20th century have been the addition of two 15 amp fuses. The only occupation of the house during the Levis ownership appears to have been a pair of families seeking refuge from a 1943 flood and archeologists during the nearby Koster excavations in the 1970’s.
Over the years the house became an informal repository for farm equipment. The great flood of 1993, advocated the creation of an information center and a scenic byway in the area. After three years of negotiations, a non profit organization, The Illinois Valley Cultural Heritage Association (IVCHA),
was granted custodianship of the house in June, 1995. IVCHA hoped to restore the house and use it for a visitor’s center for the area. By the time Bluffdale Farms (Levis family) donated the property, the building was in disrepair but the structure itself was sound.