Traveling north on I-55 (following nearby alignments of old U.S. 66), I exited and drove west on IL 104, then turned north on County Road 45 and drove through undulating countryside. Having visited the graveyard in the early 1990s, I easily noticed the white obelisk of my 3-great-grandparents, William and Achsa Colburn. Since my last visit, a plaque has been installed at the base of the stone, commemorating William’s father Paul. The family arrived in Sangamon County in 1821. That county was established in January of that year, and the first settlers of what became Springfield arrived in the spring of 1821. So the Colburns were among the first white population of the area, recently ceded by the Kickapoo tribe. (That tragic and racist element of my family history is something I feel I should acknowledge.)
Forty years ago this summer, when I was seventeen, I spent numerous happy mornings transcribing the 200 or so grave inscriptions in our family cemetery at Four Mile, about ten miles out into the countryside from Vandalia. (I wrote about that summer in a post here.) I loved being able to drive on my own, in my seen-better-days ’63 Chevy that had been my dad’s step-father’s. Usually I stayed barefooted, reasoning that summer mornings spent copying tombstone inscriptions in the soft grass really didn’t require shoes. During those summer days, I had an early sense that I would always love this place, Four Mile as well as the whole county, as an anchor and "sacred place" for whatever my life would be like. That has certainly been the case. The header photo of this blog, for instance, is a scene from Four Mile.
Thirty-five years ago this summer, I made almost daily trips to the state historical library and archives in Springfield, IL to research my first book, a history of my hometown Vandalia when it was the state capital. I had small grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund my work. I remember thinking that I-55 was so tedious: flat farm land for miles and miles. I knew that the Colburns were buried nearby but at that time I didn’t get off the interstate to investigate my family roots. From childhood, I knew that Lincoln and his colleagues were instrumental in getting the state government moved from Vandalia to Springfield, and so as a native Vandalian, it was a little difficult for me to work up a lot of love for Springfield, though I didn't resent the town, either.
Now, I've warmed belatedly to the Sangamon countryside, and I look forward to my next visit to little Loami. Bible readers may recognize the word as one of the prophet Hosea's symbolically named children, meaning "not my people." My new sense of emotional connectedness to the place is just the opposite: here is a place of "my people." The village even has a Colburn Park.
I write more about the Colburn family here. But the following account (quoted, along with others, in that post) is worth including here, too. From the 1876 Early Settlers of Sangamon County (p. 211), we learn about the difficult and tragic journeys of the Paul Colburn family:
“In 1809 the family moved to the vicinity of Hebron, Grafton county, N.H., where they remained until Sept. 1815, when Paul Colburn and his wife, his son Isaac with his wife and two children, his son William and his wife, they having been married but a few days, and his unmarried daughter, Isabel, started from Hebron in wagons to seek a new home in Ohio, at that time the ‘far west.’ On reaching Olean, at the Alleghany river, they found the river two low to bring all their goods on boards, as they had intended. They sold their wagons and teams, put the remaining good sand their families on a raft, and started down the river, reaching Pittsburg on the evening of December 24, 1815. ice was forming in the river, and they were compelled to stop there for the winter. While they were in Pittsburg, Paul Colburn was joined by his son Ebenezer, who had been serving in the United States army in the war with England, then just ended. In the spring of 1816, Isaac and Ebenezer went up the Alleghany river and made a raft of logs suitable for making shingles, and partially loaded it with hoop poles. They expected to have gone down the Ohio river in June, but the whole season was one of unusual low water, and December arrived before they reached Pittsburg with their raft. The whole party went down on the raft to Marietta, O., where they engaged in farming and other pursuits. Ebenezer was married in Marietta, and in the spring of 1820 Paul Colburn and his wife, Isaac and his family, and Ebenezer and his wife, embarked on a raft, leaving William to close up the business at Marietta. They landed their raft at Louisville, Ky., and left Isaac there to work up and sell their lumber. The other members of the family continued down the river to Shawneetown; Paul Colburn, his wife and daughter remained there. Ebenezer and his wife went on to join some relatives of her’s in Monroe County, Ill., about fifty miles south of St. Louis.
“In August of that year Isaac Colburn and his wife died at Louisville within days of each other, leaving six children among strangers, and on the first of November Mrs. Mehitibel Colburn died at Shawneetown. About the time of her death William Colburn embarked with his family on a boat at Marietta, floated down to Louisville, and took on board four of his brother Isaac’s children, one having died, and another been placed in a good home. He went to Shawneetown and joined his bereaved father and sister, arriving Dec. 24, 1820.
“In March, 1821, Paul Colburn, his daughter isabel, William Colburn, wife and three children, the four orphan children of Isaac Colburn, and a Mr. Harris, started in a wagon drawn by four oxen for Morgan county. They traveled through rain, mud and unbridged streams for about five weeks, which brought them to the south side of Lick creek on what is now Loami township, where they found an empty cabin. From sheer weariness they decided to stop, and Mr. Harris, the owner of the wagon and oxen, went on to Morgan county.
“Soon after their arrival Wm. Colburn gave a rifle gun for a crop of corn just planted, and in that way began to provide food. He secured a team and went after his brother Ebenezer, and brought him and his wife to the settlement, arriving in October, 1821.
“Having succeeded in bringing so many of his descendants to the new country, and witnessed their struggles to gain a foothold and provide themselves with homes, Paul Colburn died Feb. 27, 1825, near the present town of Loami.” (The source then lists his children and their information.)
|Power's "Early Settlers of Sangamon County" from 1876,|
and the 1881 Sangamon County history, rich sources
for these and other families.