Thursday, January 05, 2006

Robert Smith Mabry, Jr.: Growing up in Marion County, Illinois (1825-1850)

As I posted previously, Robert Smith Mabry, Sr. and his family moved from Pittsylvania County, Virginia to the Logan County, Kentucky/Robertson County, Tennessee area in about 1812. Robert Smith Mabry, Jr., youngest son of Robert and his wife, Rebecca Adams, was born in Logan County, Kentucky on December 27, 1825. In about 1827, when young Robert was only two, the Mabry family moved west again, settling in Marion County, Illinois. That is where Robert grew to adulthood and started his own family.

Robert Jr.'s mother, Rebecca, died in January 1828, shortly after giving birth to daughter Susan. Robert Smith Mabry, Sr. was left to take care of his youngest children alone (although he probably had considerable assistance from the older children). He married a second time, to Penelope Hinds, in 1839, when Robert Jr. was 14. Robert's younger brother George was born in about 1840.

As I noted before, Robert "Mayberry" was the schoolteacher in the one room schoolhouse in Racoon Township when it was erected in 1832. Young Robert Jr. most certainly had a basic education, at least enough to learn reading and writing. Most of his time was likely filled by working on his father's farm in Racoon Township.
1875 Plat Map of Marion County. Robert Smith Mabry Sr. had land in Township 1 N, Range 2 E, Section 16. This is east of Centralia, in Raccoon Township. A map of this area shows that it is still primarily farmland today. (Data from the Illinois land Sale Database)
Life was not limited to hard work, however. "Brinkerhoff's History of Marion County Illinois" (pp.105-107) goes into great detail about the passtimes of young men, particularly wrestling, shooting and horse racing. If Brinkerhoff is to be believed, all the contestants had a healthy spirit of fair play and the best prize was simply to be named champion:
The favorite pastime among the boys and young men were running, jumping, wrestling and shooting, which last sport was often curtailed by a scarcity of ammunition, a supply of which must at all times be kept on hand as a protenction for the fmaily form Indian stragglers, and for the stock from the "varmints" [. . .]
Wrestling was of thee kinds and no rules goverened either except a general fairness. The favorite was "side holts," in which, after it had been agreed as to who should have the "under hold," the champions stood side by side with one's right arm and the other's left around the waist of the opponent. [. . .]

In the fall of the year shooting matches were often indulged in open to all, in which the best shot took one hind quarter of a beef, the second best shot took the other, while the third and fourth best took the forequarters, respectively, while the fifth best shot received the "fifth quarter", as the hid and tallow were alled. Cattle being so cheap, the prize was not of so much value as the reputaiton of being the best shot.
In those pioneer times the men and boys would help their neighbors to build new cabins and barns.
A day of toil and a day of jollity was oftne ended with a dance or a party for the young people, either in the new house or the home of some neighbor, where true fronteir hospitality was dispensed with a lavish, if uncouth, hand. [. . .] Corn bread, bear meat, venison, pork, beef, one or all, the succulent succotash, i.e., green corn and strong beans cooked togeether, Irish and sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash as a "sass," or in pies, with milk or tea from the root of the sassafras, wild honey or maple molasses furnished a meal that fitted the needs of the hardy backwoodsman, and one to which he did ample justice.
Robert Smith Mabry, Sr. died in about 1842, when Robert Jr. was in his late teens, and it is unclear what happened to the family farm. When the 1850 Census was taken, 24 year old Robert was living with his brother Joel in Pulaski County (at the southern tip of the state). He probably worked on his brother's farm.
1850 Census, Pulaski County, Illinois, p. 320b, listing Joel Mabry and family.
Map of Pulaski County. Joel Mabry owned land in Township 14S, Range 2E, section 25 (near Grand Chain).
Shortly after the census was taken, Robert moved to Fayette County, just north of his old home in Marion County, joining his older brother Dudley.

More to come . . .

*Brinkerhoff's History was published in 1909 by B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. This is a very romantic view of life on the frontier.

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