Civil War - Civil Union:
Chapter 3: Starting a Family (1863 - 1882)
Civil War-Civil Union
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
Civil War-Civil Union is copyrighted 2003
Come August 1863, David had some major adjustments to make. His mother and brother were dead and the sounds of the war roared in his damaged ears. Moreover, he also had the uncomfortable task of facing his neighbors, whose sons were still fighting as a part of the 100th Regiment. He put his energy into farming, and then to finding a wife.
Mary Jane Finity was 18 years old when David returned from his short stint in the war. She grew up in Monroe County, Illinois, as the second oldest daughter of Michael and Mary Finity, both of Ireland.[i] They had eleven children,[ii] who they raised in the Irish-dominated enclave of New Design Township[iii] in southern Illinois. Early on they sent their oldest daughter, Maria, to Will County to study. Later, other members of the family joined them in Joliet. But some of the younger sons stayed home, continuing to farm in Monroe County well into the 1900s.[iv]
The Will County Finitys included Maria and Michael, who both played roles in Mary’s courtship with David. In 1862, Maria married Rhulof Bush, one of David’s childhood friends who sometimes worked in the fields with him.[v] Michael met David before the war, and lived about eight miles from him.[vi] Each would play a prominent role in trying to help David and Mary later in life.
Mary was short in stature but physically and intellectually capable. Her grandson, David MacDuff Elderkin, describes her as, “formidable and affectionate.”[vii] She was a take-charge woman, called “shrewd”[viii] by one who met her. Perhaps these qualities appealed to her prospective husband, for on April 5, 1866, David Troop Elderkin and Mary Jane Finity were married in Wilmington, Will County, Illinois.[ix]
They quickly set to establishing a family, and on April 7, 1867, they had their first son, William W. Elderkin.[x] At the same time, they decided not to settle permanently in Will County. Were the memories of dead family members too strong? Was there disdain in the community towards David because of his quick exit from the war? Or did they simply not own land? David was, after all, the youngest living son of his father, so it is quite possible that he was farming land wholly inherited by his brother Charles.
In 1868 David, Mary Jane and baby Willie moved to Union Township of Black Hawk County, Iowa.[xi] Migration to Iowa was actively being promoted during that time, and Black Hawk County was filling up with homesteaders.[xii] David probably brought their possessions and livestock by wagon, and called for Mary and Willie to arrive by train. There were two potential routes (see illustration) and the Burlington Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad[xiii] stopped just one and a half miles from Finchford in Union Township.
Their original home was probably small and crude. (A neighboring farmer, Charles Gerholdt, originally built a one room house, 12 by 16 feet, then built a better house later.[xiv]) They began to farm 80 acres of Section 18 near the town of Finchford.[xv] A passel of kids followed about every two years: Silas David on March 29, 1869; Louisa Rose on February 9, 1871; Charles C. on June 14, 1873; Lily M. on April 8, 1875; and Belle M. on May 31, 1878.[xvi] The final child was Amos Arthur Elderkin, born on October 4, 1883.[xvii]
Mary was fortunate to have a healthy group of children. She buried none of them during childhood – long odds during that era. The children likely attended the one room school in Finchford. The school was sometimes so cold that their lunches froze in their dinner pails. The teacher had to build a fire each day and carry water, in addition to teaching up to 45 students in a range of grades. The kids either walked to school, or were driven by oxen or horse. This could be daunting, as winter snow drifts could exceed four or five feet.[xviii]
In the late 1870s or early 1880s, a smallpox epidemic closed the school. A neighbor, “Aunt Kate,” contracted smallpox while visiting relatives in Minnesota. She was put in a “pest house” but escaped during a spell of “madness” and returned home on the train. She stopped in several places on the way from the train station, infecting numerous people.[xix] The whole town of Finchford was quarantined, but fortunately, the Elderkins got through the epidemic unscathed.
Mary and David Elderkin could have been the first to farm their 80 acres. If so, they had to contend with prairie grasses that had long, thick roots that Eastern hand plows could not break through. This was brutal, back-breaking work, and many settlers hired laborers to turn their prairies. For some, it was cheaper to buy already-improved land.[xx] The Elderkin farm was somewhat sandy, but would have been adequate for growing corn and raising hogs. Unfortunately, in 1873, a grasshopper plague decimated all crops and vegetation in its path[xxi]. This must have been a lean year for the residents of Finchford.
Like all pre-industrial farmwives, Mary must have been a busy woman. In addition to caring for the children, she likely sewed all their clothes by hand, cooked large meals for David and the hired men in the fields, tended to the vegetable garden and stored food for winter. She pickled, preserved, canned, dried, boiled, salted and smoked any number of foods. Mary and the girls would have hung apples to dry on the clothes line, dried corn in the oven, and stocked away food in large stone crocks.[xxii]
The kids surely assisted around the farm as well. Younger children dropped corn and potatoes into the rows, while the older ones covered them up with hoes. They might have stayed home from school to chase blackbirds away from seedlings or pulled weeds for hog feed.[xxiii] And the girls would certainly have helped their mother with household tasks.
Thomas Howell/Michael Finity household, 1850 U.S. census, Monroe County,
Illinois, population schedule, New Desire Precinct, p. 81, dwelling
1249, family 1265; National Archives micropublication M432, roll 121 and
Michl Finnerty household, 1860 U.S. census, Monroe County, Illinois,
population schedule, F.3.L.R.9.W township, page 123, Waterloo post
office, dwelling 916, family 916; National Archives micropublication
M653, roll 212.