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ROOT, Erastus Coleman

Erastus Coleman ROOT, deceased, for sixty years resided on the Marshall county line, but his house was just across the line in Peoria county, while his farm extended on either side. He was a man as well known in Marshall as in Peoria county. He was born in Roxbury, Delaware county, New York, July 26, 1805, and was the son of Jeriel and Sarah (COLEMAN) ROOT, both of whom were natives of Coventry, Connecticut, but who in an early day removed to Dutchess county, New York, and later of Delaware county in the same state. Here the family lived in proximity to Jason GOULD, of Gould’s Hollow, relatives of the celebrated Jay GOULD of latter day fame. In 1817, he concluded they could better their fortunes by going farther west, and we find them en route to Ohio, with two covered wagons, one drawn by horses and the other by oxen. In due time they reached Richmond, Ross county, Ohio, where they made their home for thirteen years. Our subject was twelve years of age when the family moved to Ohio, and it may well be surmised that his educational advantages were not of the best, but he made the most of his opportunities, and while his school life was of short duration, by reading and reflection he became a well-informed man.

In 1830 the family once more set its face westward, this time for the prairies of Illinois, of which much had been heard, and where land was cheap and very productive. The ROOTs were accompanied by Aaron REED, Joel HICKS, Samuel REED, Thomas MINER and George LEIGH. Reaching Peoria county, they made their first camp on the east side of the Illinois river at Peoria. The river was very low at the time and quite a number of Indians forded it and visited the new settlers. The company separated at this point, Jeriel ROOT and his family locating on La Salle prairie in Hallock township, on the northeast quarter of section 24, township 11, north of range 8 east. The mother died here soon afterward, and the father subsequently married Sarah MARKS. He died some years later at the residence of our subject at the age of seventy-seven years. His second wife also died there.

The settlement in Illinois, as stated, was in 1830. The winter following was one never to be forgotten by those old enough to realize or remember anything. It has always since been spoken of as “the winter of the deep snow,” and many stories are told of the hardships and sufferings of those residing in Illinois. Snow began to fall early in December and fell to a depth of three feet on the level and never passed away until the following spring. Wild game of all kinds perished with hunger and cold. With the aid of snow shoes men would walk on top of the curst, and many nimble footed deer were knocked in the head with axes in the hands of the settlers.

The subject of this sketch had reached his twenty-fifth year when the family settled in Illinois. At that time he was a bachelor, but soon after he became a benedict, being united in marriage with Miss Barbara A. REED, December 16, 1830. She was the daughter of Samuel REED, a native of Middletown, Delaware county, New York, born September 15, 1811, and a sister of Simon REED, one of the emigrants who came with the party. Erastus C. ROOT was third in a family of ten children, of whom but two are now living – Alfred, of Chenoa, Illinois, and his twin sister, Alma, now the wife of Timothy ATWOOD, of Fremont, Nebraska.

Soon after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. ROOT commenced their domestic life on a farm near that of her brother, Simon REED. There they lived until September, 1831, when Mr. ROOT built a log cabin on his father’s farm, to which they removed. One year later the cabin was taken down and rebuilt at a point on the river bank, the present site of the village of Chillicothe. In speaking of their residence at this point, Mr. ROOT said: “For nine months, my wife, myself and little son, constituted the entire population of Chillicothe. Not a house but one between Rome and the Hammett place.” In 1832 there occurred the Black Hawk war, and a stockade was built at Simon Reed’s, but Mr. TOOT sent his wife to Mackinaw for safety. In 1832 he entered the land upon which he resided. At that time there was a burr oak near by which had the bodies of three Indian children suspended in the branches, and beneath were found beads, brooches and bones fallen from other bodies that had been disposed of in a similar manner. In 1833 he fenced and broke twenty aces of land. In that year, Samuel T. McKEAN, who was the second settler at Chillicothe, built a cabin on section 28, and laid out two blocks of the town. In 1835 Mr. ROOT sold his farm for one thousand dollars to Mr. BIRD, who later sold it to Temple & Jamison, who laid it out in town lots.

After disposing of the Chillicothe tract, Mr. ROOT, with the proceeds of the sale, purchased the tract on which he spent the remainder of his life. This land is seven miles northwest of Chillicothe on the line between Peoria and Marshall counties, and lies within both counties. His first house was a log cabin, thirteen feet square, where he lived two years, when he erected a cabin eighteen feet square, one and a half stories in height. This was the home of the family until 1851, when the present residence was erected. On this place the family of nine children were reared, and all now reside within a few miles of the old homestead, and all well settled in life. The children living are J. Perry, who married Nancy BOOTH; James L., who married Harriet MONTGOMERY; Cyrus, who married Mary STOWELL; William, who married Mary Ann CALDWELL; Alonzo, who married Lillian ELLSWORTH; Charles, who married Ella CLEMMER; Erastus, single; Lovina, who married Loren WILSON, and Eliza, who married Newell NURS.

Mr. ROOT departed this life January 22, 1896. For about eight years he had been totally blind, but he bore up cheerfully under the affliction and never lost his interest in the current news of the day, which he would have read to him by some member of the family. Even upon his death bed he inquired the news, especially the actions of congress, desiring to know what action was being taken by that body. In religious belief he was a Universalist, having strong faith in the love and compassion of the Heavenly Father for the children of men. At the request of the family, his funeral sermon was preached by Rev. Thomas MARTIN, of the Presbyterian church, who was an old neighbor and knew well the life and character of the deceased. His sons acted as pall bearers, and the worn out body was laid to rest in Blue Ridge cemetery, the oldest burying ground in Peoria county. Mrs. ROOT preceded her husband to her heavenly home, having died October 6, 1881. She was a woman of strong character and sterling worth, greatly esteemed by all.

Politically, Mr. ROOT was a stanch and uncompromising republican and always liked to discuss political and religious subjects. A strong temperance man, he was for some years actively engaged in temperance work as a member of the order of Sons of Temperance, and represented that body in its grad lodge on one or more occasions. A member of the Old Settlers’ association, he loved to dwell on past events, and had a very retentive memory of the scenes of pioneer life in Ohio and Illinois. The first to locate in the northern part of Peoria county, he was the last to pass away. A man of peace, he never had a law suit in his life, and would rather be wronged than to wrong another. Successful in life, all that he had was obtained largely through his own efforts, assisted, of course, by his good wife, and in later years by his children. He was always abreast of the times in matters of public improvement and in labor saving appliances, and was the first man in his section to use the modern reaper. Physically he was a fine specimen of man, standing five feet, eleven inches in height. He was a man of good judgment and solid worth, and well deserves to be remembered by coming generations.

Extracted May 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.

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