Martin Powell Crossett

     Great Great Grandfather

 

 

 

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Here 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 about 1885):

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.

Bull tongue plow

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.

Sod house

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.

During 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.

Martin 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.

Our 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.

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