Plain speaking, God fearing, farmers, early Wesley

Sandy Vasko

    This is the first in a series documenting the earliest history of the townships we call home. Much of the early history of our townships is documented by Will County historian George Woodruff in 1878.
    Wesley Township is our focus today, so set the way back machine to 1832 to see what's happening there.
    The truth is, before the Black Hawk War, Wesley Township was occupied by only Native Americans. Chief Shabbona may have set up his village very near Wesley.
    At any rate, white men were afraid to settle there. It wasn't until after the Black Hawk War that white men ventured into the Township.
    Woodruff writes, “Before the Black Hawk troubles, probably, no white man had ever considered the part of the county now called Wesley Township his home, no traces of white men's cabins, or other improvements being detected two years later.
    “John Williams, who still resides in the township, says that, when he first visited the place, in the fall of 1833, there were no indications that it had ever before been inhabited except by Indians, and that his little cabin, erected at that time, was the first domicile of that nature ever erected there.”     
    John Williams built his cabin in 1833, and the following year came back to occupy it. The same year George Beckwith, Andrew Pettijohn and Absolom Heyworth, all from Indiana, also took up occupation.
    In 1835 David Blackwell, who along with being a farmer, was a Methodist preacher, came to Wesley. It was he who organized the first Methodist congregation, which is still in existence today.
    At first Wesley Township was part of Wilmington Township, but in 1850 it was separated out. The residents named it Wesley, after the great Methodist preacher of the day.
      One of the stories which survives from the earliest days is the standing joke about “Kilpatrick's currency.” It seems that William Kelley purchased a piece of land from Wesley resident John Kilpatrick. He paid $800 in gold for it, or to be precise in Mexican gold coins.
    Kilpatrick used the coins occasionally to pay a neighbor for seed or blacksmithing. Once in a while he took some into Wilmington to pay his bills at the store. Most of the coins remained in the locality for quite a time, with many residents owning one or two.
    After a year or so, it was discovered that every one of the coins were counterfeit.
    After all that time what was to be done? Kelley had believed them to be real when he paid for his land, and Kilpatrick thought the same thing. It was all too complicated so the residents of Wesley decided to act as if the coins were real and use them as currency anyway. “Kilpatrick's currency” came to mean anything that looked too good to be true.
    In the 1860 election, Wesley residents overwhelmingly voted for Lincoln by a margin of 102 to 28. When the war broke out, Wesleyites provided more than their share of volunteers.
    Perhaps this means that these truly religious people were against the institution of slavery. I like to think it did.
    In 1862 the Wilmington Independent received a letter to the editor about a war meeting held to encourage enlistments at a school house in Wesley.  It was this sort of plain speaking that characterized the early Wesley pioneer.
    The irate resident wrote, “The meeting was organized by appointing a President, who called to the stand a Mr. Lake of Kankakee City, and a wonderful story Mr. Lake told us; in such choice and elegant language, too.
    “He told us that this was the most badly conducted war the world ever see, that the Generals were “pumpkin heads”, and the President was a small remove from idiocy, or rather a vacillating parasite.
    “He berated the Democratic party in the most abusive and ungentlemanly style, making that party responsible for the bad conduct of the war, and yet before he closed said they (the Democrats) were powerless in every branch of the Government.
    “He told us that everything was wrong. Soldiers on the field were dying because their Generals do not provide for them, and yet under all these discouragements and with such a prospect before them young men must enlist, and the people must foot the bill.
    “Now, it ain't for me to say, but my opinion is that if this is a fair sample of war meetings the sooner the drafting process commences the better. If the object of a war meeting is to pour out such abuse upon those who have and are giving their sons and brothers, their money and aid, in every way for the support of the Government, the sooner these meetings are put down the better.
     “If the object is to weaken the confidence of the people and of the army in the Government and our military commanders, and thereby discourage enlistments, the sooner the whole affair drops, and we all go where the refined Mr. Lake wishes that our Generals now in the field would go - to the Devil -  the better. Just inflate the people with partyism, instead of patriotism, and you will soon see young men and old, enlisting for the war on the other side.”
    Plain speaking was not the only attribute of a Wesleyian, they were certainly not a crowd to mess with. We read the following in the Wilmington Advocate, “A lighting rod man is dead. It was in Wesley. He sold a farmer one of his lightning rods on trust. Two weeks thereafter the barn protected by the rod was struck by lightning and burned up.
    “The lightning rod man presented his bill, nevertheless, with characteristic assurance. He was shot nine times, and then died under protest. Gone to collect his bill of Benjamin Franklin.”
    Of course farming was everyone's occupation in Wesley so the papers were full of hog statistics and such.  And also things like, “Chester Main, in Wesley, has a perfectly formed chicken, nearly three weeks old, which has four legs and feet, the last two being just back of those proper. It only walks upon two at a time, but seems to have the use of all four.”
    And when a farmer joke was told, it seems that it always happened in Wesley, “In a rash moment a Wesley farmer offered his children 10 cents a quart for potato bugs. He has his choice now to suspend payments or mortgage his farm” or “A Wesley farmer sprinkles his tomato vines with whiskey; the worms get drunk, drop off and either break their necks or cripple themselves so that life is a burden.”
    So what did Wesleyites do for fun? Well let's see, there were the temperance lectures. We read in the March 8, 1873 Wilmington Advocate, “At the Main schoolhouse in Wesley, a series of lectures have been delivered on the temperance question, by Mr. Fay Martin. He confined his remarks principally to the adulteration of liquors.
    I guess it wasn't drinking that bothered them, just drinking bad stuff that was the problem.  
    Early Wesley Township then and now are about the same, peaceful, quiet and rural. A great place to be unless you are a lightning rod salesman.