|Taken from Naperville Centennial, 1831-1931, Copyright 1931, Fort Payne Chapter - Daughters of the American Revolution, Naperville, Illinois. Transcribed with permission by Diane Bauer.
Through the kindness of Mrs. Wm. P. Wright, nee Ida Sleight, we are able to reproduce letters written in 1834-'36 by the founder of the Sleight family, Morris Sleight, to his wife back in Hyde Park, New York, while he was out in the wilds of Chicago and Du Page County, prospecting for a new home and selling goods to the merchants through the middle west.
My Dear H.
Chicago, Ill. July 9th, 1834
To give you a minute description of all passing events as they occur only for the space of one week, would make a small volume. In a letter I can only mention a few. I have a thousand ideas and at the time I am determined to communicate them to you, but when I sit down to write, I forget them -- however I do have one that I do remember. Mr. Douglas and myself started a week ago tomorrow for Fox River with the stage with the idea of being about three days. We left our baggage at the Hotel at Chicago and I remember of having a very dirty shirt when I returned today. I am very much pleased with the land about Capt. Naper's settlement, 28 miles west of Chicago and with the whole country, after going twelve miles west of the place. I am highly pleased with Michigan, but I am delighted with Illinois. Mr. Steven's account I think is not exaggerated. The first view of a Michigan Prairie is delightful after passing the oak openings and thick forest, but the first view of a Illinois prairie is sublime. I may almost say awfully grand, as a person needs a compass to keep their course, but the more I travel over them the more I like them. There is a great
variety of flowers now on the prairies, but they tell me in a month from this time they will be prettier. I have sent you a few of them with Mr. Douglas which will be all faded by the time you get them, but they will be interesting to you as you will be sure they were picked from the prairies of Illinois. There is a number of other kinds on the dry prairies, some
resemble sweet williams, some pinks, sunflowers and almost every variety that grow in our gardens. In crossing the prairie about two miles out of Chicago this morning we started a dear little gazelle, but the little thing hid itself in the long grass, and we could not find it.
I wrote Mr. Russel yesterday by mail from Capt. Naper's settlement on the River Du Page. That letter and the accounts Mr. Douglas will give you -- will show you how we spent out last week. Mr. Douglas has made a purchase on the Du Page River joining Capt. Naper's, and I have the refusal of the place adjoining. Should I conclude to take it before I leave this country. It is a beautiful place, well timbered and watered, it has one of the best springs close to a beautiful building spot imaginable, and the Du Page River is a small but pretty stream, runs near the door. It has now on it a double log house and fifty or sixty acres of wheat, corn and oats. It looks like an old farm as does the whole country around it. It likewise has on it the fort and block houses used in the late Indian war. They are
now used for a barn yard. I suppose on this place there is from 150 to 200 acres inclosed and a chance to inclose 500 acres more of as good land as ever laid out doors. This pre-emption I can get for $1,000. I suppose the improvements have cost six or seven hundred. None of the land has come in market yet nor will it under two or three years. It is not surveyed, but the pre-emption law has passed, which gives the person that occupied the
land, up to the 13th day of June last, the right to take 160 acres of land at $1.25 per acre. This they take where there is timber, and a good building spot, and good springs and plenty of stock water. This place has all those advantages spot, and good springs and plenty of stock water. This place has all those advantages. The prairie adjoining such places
they suppose can be got yet for some time after the land comes in market for $1.25 per acre. This is the best country I have ever seen for a poor man or a rich one, an industrious man or a lazy one. I see no kind of business but looks promising, and I believe the country is perfectly healthy. I do not know nor see what can make it otherwise. The place I
mentioned above has but one disadvantage -- it is 28 miles to Chicago and 40 miles to Ottawa. The proposed canal will run from Chicago to Ottawa, the head water of Illinois, and the place lays eight or nine miles from the west of the canal. It has the advantage of grist mills and saw mills, within half a mile, also a store and tavern and a thick settled
neighborhood. As people build in the groves you cannot see many of your neighbors -- I will not say houses yet, but cabins. In a few years I think I can say Mansions.
My Dear H.
Naperville, July 8th, 1836
I arrived in Chicago on the first of July -- I only remained one day and two nights, I then, as my goods had not arrived, took the stage for Napers Settlement and arrived here in time for the celebration. There assembled between three and four hundred people, had a dinner, and the usual forms and ceremonies, at the church on Cottage Green, and ended with a ball in the afternoon and evening. All passed off quietly and without any accidents. I day before yesterday started for Juliett in company with Mr. and Mrs. Douglas and Mr. and Mrs. Merritt in Mr. Douglas two horse wagon. We got there about noon and returned here again yesterday about 12 o'clock. It is a very pleasant ride. The roads are excellent and the different views of the timber, prairie, river etc. are magnificent. The country is improving beyond account. Illinois is what I always thought it would be. I don't think there is or can be a land in the world with more sunny spots. Juliette is destined to be a place of much consequence. It is the brightest link in the chain of canals, joining the lake with the southern rivers. The village plot is very handsome and the water for drinking is very fine. They have the finest of building stone in inestimable quantities when cut and polished they look like marble. They have built a number of fine store buildings already, and more are under way. There is already in Juliette some 60 or 70 houses, and as many more
being built this season if they could procure lumber fast enough. There is so much building going on everywhere that it is impossible to get material.
It is astonishing with what ease and dispatch these prairies are converted into farms. I believe if every settler that has come in this country had persued the same course of farming that Mr. Douglas has, that a stranger passing through would say the country had been settled 20 years. Mr. Douglas has the credit, and I think deservedly, of being the best farmer and the most industrious man in the country. I have heard that Mr. D. was not liked by the settlement, and I now see why it is so. He takes a straight forward course and attends to his own business and does not mix much with the first settlers, who spend much of their time in idleness and dissipation. The first settlers are also very strong Jackson men. Mr. D. is opposite. Those men cannot stand civilizatiion. They are selling off their claims to Eastern people, and making claims farther north and west. It is astounding to see what beautiful springs of water, of purest kind are found bursting out on the prairies on almost every claim that is made, that before the prairie was worked they concealed.
I yesterday contracted with a man to cut and spit 5000 rails and I shall also contract to have a house put up on my claim, out from the village. My property here is as in all other places of the country where I have any, becoming valuable. Too much so to live so far from it. With good luck three or four more years will make me as well off for property as I desire to be. My property in this county would not be appraised at this present time for less than $5,000. Which is almost as much again as I thought it was worth before I left home. I should think seriously of moving to this country yet this fall, if the work I have now put out could be accomplished in season for the undertaking, but I fear it will be too late to do so after I return.
I am now going out in company with Mr. Douglas to view my claim and pick out a spot to set my farm house. My mansion will set near the village on Cottage Green, the name they have given my property in the village. They think they will get another county and have the county seat, if so the public square will come on my property. Tell the little ones I shall be
home as soon as possible. I expect to find more letters when I return to Chicago.
My Dear H.
Chicago, July 17th, 1836, Sunday 11 o'clock
I told Mr. Russel in my last letter, that I should perhaps tell you something in my next that might interest you. I think it will interest you, for I believe you all know that I had given up all idea of ever moving to Illinois. So I had, so far as talking or setting time or making date, but in my own mind no longer than I could procure the place that suited me,
and in case you all remain willing to move. I will undertake to tell you that I have bought the place that suits me better than any other I have ever seen. It is no more no less than the one occupied by Mr. Douglas. I suppose you know that I owned the front of it before. I bought that part of him last year. He has a frame house on it 40 feet front and 32 feet
back with a cellar 18 X 40 -- it is all enclosed and very complete, but nothing entirely finished inside. It is all sided and shingled with pine and lath, lime and stone on the lot for finishing a part of it this Fall, which Mr. Douglas has done for me. He will remain on it still Spring. I sold him the claim I bought of Captain Naper, with the exception of the
village lots. They are in front of the hotel or Pre-Emption House and all the claim I made myself on the big prairie. The place I get of Mr. Douglas will make, with what I had before, about 400 acres all in a body and about 200 acres broke and about 125 acres now under crop. 20 acres more in all I want broke and that is fenced. $200, will now fence every foot of the balance. Tis then capable of raising grain and cutting hay enough to keep
2000 sheep or any quantity of cattle or raising grain to any extent. I think it is one of the best farms in the northern part of Illinois. It is believed that the crop on it now is worth $2,000. Mr. Douglas reserves them. I have made arrangements with Mr. D. to put in for me a pretty large piece of wheat, as I thought it would not be possible for us to come on
till Spring. I suppose there is on the place 20,000 young locust trees. I worked part of the day trimming them but it wants a man to work three or four days at them. They are from 2 to 4 feet high. They stand quite thick, altho Mr. D. has transplanted a great many. The house which now stands in a beautiful place near the road and an excellent spring of water.
Will answer our purpose well for as long a time as we may wish. Or until we can build our palace on the spot that I have pitched on and is now by the villagers called "Cottage Green." It is now under a beautiful crop of Spring wheat. Everybody in the neighborhood appears delighted that I am coming. They have had some doubts as I wrote Mr. Douglas last winter to sell part of my claim. But those doubts are all removed. My dear H., do
not think that because I speak so confidently about moving here, that I will do so, moving here whether or no, the choice for coming, now is and always will remain, yours. You shall not come here to live unless you choose it.
I have what I suppose is now considered a large price for it, as it is yet only a claim, or it is as near a pre-emption as anything, for I believe it will be considered so at the next sale. There is nobody here, or at Chicago, but is confident I will get it at government price. I am willing to run my risk.
I find everything I have done in the country is doing admirably, and everything I do here is sure, and besides I can do more business in this country in one week than in Hyde Park in two years. My property is a fortune already, and only look at the time it has making. One year and two months since I left home before. With the same luck, two or three years
more, I shall have as much as I desire. My goods are all sold with the exception of three or four barrels of oil. I yesterday exchanged some for 80 acres of land within four miles of the 160 acres I owned before west of the Aplain River. This is deeded land. They say I have made an excellent bargain. I am better pleased with the Western World now than ever.
Mr. Douglas and daughter all send their love. Mrs. D. says she thinks now you will come -- she is now perfectly reconciled to stay and does not need to return only on a visit. They are all as healthy as pigs. I could not purchase Mr. Douglas' place without her consent. She is very partial to it, but likes the claim Mr. D. bought of me very well. They have timber out for another house and will put it up yet this season. Mr. D. has a
team and will go on with it. There is already nearly 30 acres broke.
N. B. I will write to the children separately and enclose this.
Yours dear H.
No envelopes used in these letters
25 cents postage. No stamps.
Addressed to Mrs. M. Sleight, Hyde Park, Dutchess County,