Elderkin Family History & Genealogy

Civil War - Civil Union: 
The Story of David & Mary Elderkin

Chapter 1: Growing Up in Jackson's Grove, Illinois


Civil War-Civil Union
Prologue:  1600s-1842
Chapter 1: 1842-1862
Chapter 2: 1862-1863
Chapter 3: 1863-1882 Chapter 4: 1883-1912
Chapter 5: 1912-on


Descendancy Chart  (to come)

For Questions or Corrections, contact:
Susan Elderkin
[email protected]

Civil War-Civil Union is copyrighted 2003

Like his grandfather, and his grandfather’s grandfather, William Elderkin sought fresh pastures.  By 1840, the American frontier had pushed west into Illinois.  It is possible that on a scouting trip out west, the brothers heard of Will County, Illinois, from French Canadians or from New Yorkers, who made up a disproportionate number of Illinois residents in 1850.  Whatever the reason, the land there was more fertile and the growing season longer than that in Nova Scotia.  In 1841, William teamed with his youngest brother, Jeptha, to bring their families to Will County.[i] 

They settled in Jackson’s Grove, one township south of the growing city of Joliet.  The Elderkin name does not appear on any purchases of public domain land in Illinois, which indicates that the land the Elderkin men bought had been in private hands prior to their arrival.  Most farms were small by modern standards, usually around 80 acres, and could be cared for by one man and his sons or by hired men.  Most families also held a parcel with a few acres of timber for fencing and firewood.[ii]  This was good farmland – carved out of prairie, with deep rich soil ideal for growing corn, rye, oats, and vegetables.  Jackson’s Grove was also blessed with an ample supply of water and timber.[iii]  In fact, the county was formerly a famous Indian hunting ground, but by the 1840s, the settlers, with the help of the U.S. government, had pushed the indigenous people out of Illinois to Iowa and beyond.[iv]

Jackson’s Grove was a strong community with deeply ingrained values.  Its residents placed a premium on religion and education.  By 1833 there was a Methodist Church in nearby Elwood, and in 1852 a church was built in Jackson’s Grove.[v]  The Elderkins likely attended this church, which may have been later renamed Browns Church, where they were buried.

The local pioneers quickly established schools in each township, and by the 1870s, they boasted a 100% literacy rate.[vi]  The schools were built of logs, with split log benches, a stone chimney, and one two-foot square window for light.  In the early days, there were few books, so the students had to share books and read them aloud.[vii]

This educational environment must have been painful for two of William Elderkin’s children.  The effects of scarlet fever had left Julia deaf and mostly mute, and David hard of hearing and with a speech impediment.[viii]  In school, David’s classmates had to speak loudly to communicate with him, and he was known as a quiet boy with few friends. 

Though reserved and partially disabled, David was a hard-working boy.  His father and uncle needed him to be; they had few ready-made farm hands in the family.  Uncle Jeptha had six girls and no boys.[ix]  William brought with him his youngest son by his first marriage, William, who was 15 when they moved to Illinois.  But the older sons and daughters stayed behind in Nova Scotia. 

This arrangement probably worked until untimely deaths began to plague the family.  Jeptha’s oldest daughter Emma passed away in 1843.  William and Catherine’s two-year old daughter Louisa died in 1846.  What’s more, Jeptha’s second wife, Harriet, also died in 1846, probably in childbirth, only two years after they married.  Their only child, named Harriet after her mother, died a few months later.  The hardest deaths to deal with were probably those of William himself in September 1845, and his oldest son on the farm, William, Jr., in 1848.[x] 

Cholera ran rampant in Will County around this time,[xi] and it is likely that one or more of the Elderkin family members contracted the disease and did not recover.  It is also possible that certain family members succumbed to the scarlet fever that had struck the family.  Whatever the causes, these deaths surely took a toll on the family.  David was seven when his father died and ten when his brother passed.  His older brother, Charles, was only 15 when he likely inherited the farm.  Also at home was David’s youngest brother, Frederick,[xii] who was probably born shortly after the families arrived in Illinois, his older sister, Julia, and their mother, Catherine. 

Jeptha and his family lived on a neighboring plot of land.  He probably helped William’s family during this difficult time.  Catherine may have assisted in Jeptha’s household, although his girls were old enough by that time to care for themselves and feed their hungry and busy father.  The boys all worked hard as farm hands on their own land, and their uncle’s, throughout their teenage years.[xiii]

Despite the hardships, Jeptha prospered.  He added four more women to his household when he married for a third time in April of 1848.[xiv]  His new wife, Mary Anna Boice, brought her mother and her two young daughters to live on the farm.  In 1850, Jeptha’s farm was worth $1,200.[xv]  By 1860, the farm’s value had grown to $5,000 and his personal estate $1,000.[xvi] 

During those years, Illinois was the fastest growing territory in the world,[xvii] with plenty of non-farmers who needed food to buy.  In addition, the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and the Rock Island, Alton, and Michigan Central railways opened up a vast new network for agricultural products.  In response, farmers in Will County began to forgo the traditional wheat crop for higher valued agricultural products like cattle, hogs, corn and potatoes.[xviii]

This was all good news to Charles Elderkin, David’s brother.  In March of 1857, Charles married Julia Pinneo, a Nova Scotia girl from a prosperous, Will County family.[xix]  Charles settled his family in the nearby township of Wilmington and began to split his time between two farms.  The 1860 census places him on the farm near his uncle Jeptha, where his mother and siblings lived, and at the homestead of his new family.  By 1870, Charles’ property was worth $12,200.[xx]

Charles was young and amassing wealth as the threat of secession from the Confederate south began to intrude on their lives in Illinois.  Little did he or his brothers realize how profoundly the course of their lives would be charted by the brewing Civil War.  One brother stayed behind and became comparatively wealthy, another was injured and plagued by those injuries the rest of his life, and the third died after doing time as a prisoner of war.

Next- To Chapter 2

[i] David T. Elderkin pension file no. 462313, Special Examiners Report Exhibit A, deposition of David T. Elderkin by H.C. Harding, Finchford, Black Hawk County, Iowa, 18 July 1885.
[ii] Shaw, Dr. Fayette Baldwin, “Will County Agriculture 1830-1870” (selected portion of Doctoral Thesis, Harvard University, 1933), p. 3.
[iii] [Anonymous], The History of Will County, Illinois, Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. 1878, p. 551.
[iv] Stevens, W.W., Past and Present of Will County, Illinois, Vol. 1.  (Chicago:  SJ Clarke Publishing Co., 1907), p. 40.
[v] The History of Will County, Illinois, p. 549.
[vi] Ibid, p. 551.
[vii] Past and Present of Will County, Illinois, p. 46.
[viii] David T. Elderkin pension file no. 462313, Special Examiners Report Deposition H, deposition of Robert Spafford by J.J. Pururan, Elwood, Will County, Illinois, 7 October 1885 and Special Examiners Report Deposition G, deposition of William C. Grant by J.J. Pururan, Elwood, Will County, Illinois, 7 October 1885, among others.
[ix] Jeptha Elderkin household, 1850 U.S. census, Will County, Illinois, population schedule, Jackson township, page 205, family 19; National Archives micropublication M432, roll 133.
[x] Photos:  Tombstones of William Elderkin, Catherine Elderkin, William Elderkin, Jr., Louisa Elderkin, Harriet Newell Elderkin, Harriet Elderkin at Browns Church Cemetery, Will County, Illinois; photographed by Leona A Mathis.  Online <http://www.findagrave.com. Photos dated June 2002. 
[xi] Allott, Millie Y., 1860 Federal Census Will County, Illinois, (Will-Grundy Counties (IL) Genealogical Society, 1987), mortality index.
[xii] Letter from Jeptha Elderkin (Will County, IL) to Elijah Elderkin (Horton, Kings County, NS), 10 May 1851; held by Public Archives of Nova Scotia MG1 Vol. 254A and transcribed by Glenn Morrison at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, July 2002.
[xiii] David T. Elderkin pension file no. 462313, Special Examiners Report Deposition A, deposition of Jeptha Elderkin by J.J. Pururan, Joliet, Will County, Illinois, 6 October 1885.
[xiv] Elderkin-Boice marriage, 9 April 1848, License #950, Clerk of Will County Court, Illinois.
[xv] 1850 U.S. cens., Jackson Twp, Will County, Illinois, p. 205, family 19.
[xvi] Jeptha Elderkin household, 1860 U.S. census, Will County, Illinois, population schedule, Jackson township, page 241, Elwood post office, dwelling 141, family 135; National Archives micropublication M653, roll 238.
[xvii] Jensen, Richard J., Illinois: A Bicentennial History. (New York:  WW Norton & Co. and Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1878), p. 32.
[xviii] Shaw, “Will County Agriculture 1830-1870” p. 8.
[xix] Elderkin-Pinneo marriage, 4 April 1857, License #3060, Clerk of Will County Court, Illinois.
[xx] Charles Elderkin household, 1870 U.S. census, Will County, Illinois, population schedule, Jackson township, page 241, Elwood post office, dwelling 32, family 33; National Archives micropublication M593, roll 292.