Monday, October 31, 2016

Where Did Our Early Settlers Come From?

Where did the early settlers of the Sutton area come from?

We’ve had this conversation a number of times. We’ve talked about the Germans from Russia. I’ve made sure the Swedes are recognized. And we’ve mentioned the Iowans, the Pennsylvanians, the Ohioans and others from Back East. Let’s dive into the topic a little deeper this month.

The first settlers in our area were Luther French and Peter O. Norman who lived in dugouts along School Creek. French was the first settler in Sutton Township, Norman was a short distance down the creek, the first settler in School Creek Township.

The main wave of settlers from the east began arriving in the Spring of 1871 establishing a community named School Creek, soon renamed Sutton. The Swedish wave came a year later in 1872 with the establishment of a Lutheran Church in the short-lived village of Huxley in the middle of Section 6 in Sutton Township. That upstart moved a half mile west along the Burlington tracks to become Saronville.

Our main source will be the 1880 census for School Creek and Sutton Precincts. Census day for the tenth census was June 1, 1880. Jacob Steinmetz was the enumerator for School Creek Precinct; James E. Marsh covered Sutton Precinct. Steinmetz found 772 people in 141 households in School Creek Precinct. Marsh had 1627 individuals in 307 households.
Census data contains a treasure trove of information and the raw material for stories about people of the past. We used the 1880 census for School Creek and Sutton Townships.

The household count is squishy. There was a count of dwellings and families those were handled ambiguously. A household included borders, servants, brothers and sisters, widowed mothers and in-laws. (Sutton households displayed a particular fondness for a teenage svenska flicka as a servant in large families – Swedish girls.)
John C. Merrill was an early Sutton grocer. He was born
in Ohio, wife Hattie in Pennsylvania. Three kids were
born in Ohio, two in Nebraska. Their servant was a
Swedish girl and a 16-year old border was a clerk from
New York. All living in one household in Sutton in 1880.

Some “households” were unusual and can skew our analysis. P. T. Walton’s household included his wife, 2 sons, 2 daughters, 4 servants, a clerk and 46 borders – he ran a hotel. Some of the borders were likely “transients” caught in Sutton on census day, but many were certainly residents of the hotel with local jobs (painter, blacksmith, shop keeper, etc.).

A disclaimer is needed. The arbitrary nature of defining house households and the likelihood that my counting was not flawless preclude any guarantee that these figures are perfect. Anyone is welcome to check my work and get back to me.

Each decennial census collected a unique set of information about the population. Our objective here is to identify the birthplace of the residents. We’ll count the number of people born in each state or foreign country and also track the heads of households as an approximate family count.

Census data gives a rough history of a family. We know the birthplaces of the father and mother of a typical family, the birthplaces of each of their parents and the birthplaces of each child. So we can see where the earlier generation was born and learn where the family lived over time as we see where the kids were born.

For instance, my great grandparents were both born in Indiana. The 1880 census found them in Sherman Township just south of Edgar in Nuckolls County. Beginning in 1880, people were asked for the birthplace of their parents. James Rowlison’s parents were both born in Virginia; Rhoda’s father was born in Maine, her mother in Indiana. For those following the string of these articles, Rhoda’s father Isaiah Walton was the subject of a recent article; he is buried in Marshall Union Cemetery here in Clay County completing the Maine-Indiana-Nebraska path his eventful life took.

James and Rhoda Rowlison’s 1880 census entry shows their first son born in Indiana, four kids born in Missouri, a daughter in Iowa, and another daughter in Nebraska. It’s not apparent in the census but the Nebraska daughter was born near Peru in Nemaha County.

Later census data show that the Rowlison family added a son while in Nuckolls County, another son and a daughter while on farms near Edgar in Clay County and the eleventh child born in on a wheat farm near Hoxie, Kansas. Some may remember the baby of that family as Ethel Oakley, wife of long-time (1922-1955) Clay County Clerk Roy Oakley.

Just by reading census date it is possible to reconstruct a rough history of the traveling of that family.

But back to northeast Clay County and School Creek Township.

Foreign-born residents outnumbered U.S. born folks 462-310, and 106-35 in heads of households. The influence of foreign households was even greater as 150 of those 310 U.S. born were Nebraska-born children, most in those immigrant households, but we’re counting them as domestic residents. Not at all surprising, Russian born immigrants were the most populous with 283 people in 49 households plus kids born since immigration.

Peter and Sophia (Ochsner) Griess were among the first of the German
immigrants from Russia in 1873. The first son was born in Russia then four
in Nebraska. Two Russian-born teen girls were servants in the household.
People identified their place of birth and that of their parents for the census taker. The Sutton area Germans from Russia are listed as Russian born. Without any additional information, anyone examining the School Creek census of 1880 concludes that there were lots of Russians around here. Newspaper items of that time and well into the 19th century also referred to these people as Russians. They self-identified as Germans from Russia, but that took a while to catch on.

Swedes were the second most populous group with 33 households with 122 people born in the old country. Again, there were Nebraska born youngsters in those families as well as kids born in other states, i.e., Illinois.

The center of this Swedish settlement was around Saronville and Verona and north to Eldorado. School Creek Township catches the northeast quadrant of that area; we’ll find more Swedes in Sutton Township but likely a near equal number settled in Eldorado and Lewis.

Similarly, while the early Germans from Russia settlement centered in School Creek, their settlement area included the town of Sutton, Sutton Township and into Fillmore, Hamilton and York Counties. Several families including Yost and Pauley families landed around Harvard.

The north end of Sutton, that part north of Ash Street is in School Creek. There were native born residents in town and on farms. Twenty-one residents came from New York, 29 from Ohio, 31 from Iowa, 17 from Pennsylvania, 20 from Wisconsin, 17 from Illinois and 13 from Indiana. The rest were scattered.

A common Swedish immigration route was through Illinois. City dwellers congregated in North Chicago and Swedish farmers initially came to Henry, Knox and Mercer counties in western Illinois, just southeast of Davenport, Iowa. Typically, they stayed for a short time before heading further west for open country and cheaper land. Though a few stayed longer. Andrew and Charlotte Israelson immigrated from Sweden to Illinois in 1852, had 12 kids and then moved on to Saronville in 1878.

Andrew and Charlotte Israelson immigrated from Asby, Östergötland, Sweden to Illinois in 1852. Twelve children were
born in Illinois where three died young before the family moved to Sutton Township near Saronville in 1878. 
Other foreign born settlers in School Creek came from Germany (21), Ireland (14), Switzerland (9), England (6) plus a few from Canada, France, Scotland and Denmark.

Sutton Township had a little more than twice the population of School Creek with 596 foreign born and 1031 born in the U.S. including many in households of the foreign born.

Again, the Russian born dominated the foreign born with 222 followed by 126 Swedes. Six heads of households and a total of 21 listed Germany as their birthplace. At least I counted them as from Germany. Birthplaces of Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Hessen, Wittenberg and other city-states appear on the census forms. The unification of Germany did not occur until 1871 so immigrants on the 1880 census often identified with their original homeland rather than a thing called Germany.

There were 48 English born in Sutton Township in 1880, 46 from Ireland, Canada was listed by 41, Scotland (19), Holland (15) and others from Norway, Denmark, Austria, Turkey, France and one Hungarian.

Any questions? Or didn’t you notice the Turkey thing? John Grosshans, a Sutton grain dealer and his wife Christina were born in Russia. Three of their children, Christiana, age 30; William, age 28 and John age 27 listed Turkey as their place of birth. Five younger children were born in Russia.

John Sheridan was born in County Westmeath, Ireland immigrating to Illinois
in 1871 after attracting the attention of English authorities investigating
Irish independence activities. He met his wife Ellen in Illinois and they
began their family near Sutton by 1880.
About a dozen families made a different stop between Russia and Sutton much like the Swedes in Illinois. Jim Griess told this story in his book, “The German Russians: Those Who Came to Sutton.” Mr. Johann Bette had immigrated to the United States in 1849, twenty-four years earlier than the migration we’re more familiar with. He was from the village of Johannestal near Worms and Rohrbach where Sutton’s Black Sea immigrants came from. Bette settled on an island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio becoming wealthy with his vineyard.

Johann Bette returned to Russia on a visit in 1872 and told of the wonders of the United States. His visit was noticed by the Russia authorities who did not want the German population riled up about leaving. His hosts learned that the authorities wanted to question Bette. They thought it better if he could avoid that. His spiffy American suit made him much too conspicuous so they gave him some more appropriate attire and helped him across the Austrian border.

The privileges granted by the Czarina Catherine and Czar Alexander to the German colonists were abrogated about this time and Bette’s story was fresh in the minds of those seeking to leave. About a dozen families in the Sutton area in 1880 had parents and perhaps a kid or two born in Russia then one kid born in Ohio and younger kids born in Nebraska. That’s just families who had a child born in Ohio. We should suspect that many more made that temporary stop. Surnames associated this story include Urbach, Popp, Schnell, Deines, Brehm, Geilman, Seeter, Orie and Schaffer.

As for the U.S. born in Sutton Township, 216 were Nebraska born. These are all the younger children of families. There was no Nebraska born head of household in the area in 1880. Why? A bit early for that. Nebraska had been a state for only 13 years though a territory since 1854 and no Nebraska born had started a family here.

There were 165 Illinois natives in the township and 123 from Ohio. Other common birthplaces were Wisconsin (117), Pennsylvania (109), New York (91), and Iowa (76). There were fewer from each of 23 additional states, even California, District of Columbia and almost all states in the northeast.

What’s missing can be almost as interesting as what is found. There were two people from Mississippi and two from Louisiana plus some Texas-born in a few farm families. But that’s about it from the states of the Confederacy. There were no Sutton residents in 1880 from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama or Florida.

Nathan Tyler and Leonard Jarrett (Sybil’s father) were Confederate soldiers who arrived later but all in all, rural Nebraska was Union country.

Sutton merchant Marcus Wittenberg appears to be the sole Hungarian immigrant
in the Sutton area. Like many, he immigrated alone. His wife Rachel was born in
France. Their daughter Belle's 1895 wedding dress was a recent donation to the
Sutton Museum.
Before the Civil War, Nebraska and Kansas marked a kind of dividing line – remember the Kansas-Nebraska Act? A quick check of a couple of townships in Jewell County across the Kansas line, in Sedgwick (Wichita) and in Neosho County near the southeast corner of Kansas also did not turn up southerners in 1880. Was a little surprising.

For this article we’ve relied almost exclusively on the 1880 census which is readily available. I access it via my account but there are other means. With a bit of research time collecting and sorting data and then with a minimum of inferences, we can learn quite a lot about the make-up of the population of the Sutton area 136 years ago. And while plowing through that information it is amazing how many additional tidbits appear that entertain and distract.

I may have mentioned this before, but we are always looking for more people to join us at the Sutton Museum and help us collect and preserve Sutton’s story. If the prospect of digging into stories like those in this article, or other aspects of Sutton’s past interests you, please let us know. There is much more to learn than we have the time or the skills to uncover. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

This article first appeared in Sutton Life Magazine in October, 2016. For further information about the publication contact or call 402-984-4203.

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