THE WESTWARD TREK – DANIEL ORCUTT – PART III

 Ten years ago I knew nothing about Daniel Heath Orcutt, my maternal 3x great-grandfather.  Research revealed an American Pioneer and adventurer. Putting his life in historical context gives his story much more depth than merely reciting dates and names. I hope my family and readers gain an appreciation for the difficult lives and journeys of the ancestors featured in my blogs.

LAND AND OPPORTUNITY

Land, opportunity, and adventure enticed many residents of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states  to leave their homes and head west in early 19th century. Daniel Heath Orcutt was no exception. Viable farmland in New York was more expensive and limited than in western states and territories. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 facilitated travel to the west. Daniel seized the right time and circumstances to build a new life for himself and his family in Illinois. He was a man who yearned for change his entire life and found it difficult to settle down in one place.

Daniel Orcutt - The Trek West from Lake Pleasant N.Y. via Erie Canal, Great Lakes to Naperville, IL. Image courtesy of Googe Earth

Daniel Orcutt – The Trek West from Lake Pleasant N.Y. via Erie Canal, Great Lakes to Naperville, IL. Image courtesy of Googe Earth

In 1831, at age 22,  Daniel Heath Orcutt was single and lived in Lake Pleasant, Hamilton County, New York. He married Angeline Perkins in 1833 and a year later they had their first child, Ann Maria. By January 31, 1836, a son joined the family, Nelson Orcutt. In that same year, 27 year-old Daniel and 23 year-old Angeline Orcutt headed west.[1] The decision to leave their families and all that was familiar to them would have elicited mixed emotions. There was the thrill of an adventure and the fear of the unknown. They might never see their families again and they didn’t know what difficulties awaited them.  The History of Du Page County describes the first pioneers of Illinois:

“It was a serious matter – a trip in those days. The present magnificent postal system was entirely undeveloped and no railroads bisected the country. If they severed connections with the old home, there was really little prospect of their seeing their relatives for years if ever. What courage and devotion combined with absolute love, those pioneer brides must have possessed!”[2]

A description of Hamilton County in the 1837 Gazetteer of the State of New York  provides insight why Daniel probably didn’t want to farm in his hometown.  “A wild and sterile desert, with an occasional oasis, of tolerable fertility.”[3]  Not only did the Lake Pleasant area offer little arable land, but also the general population was growing. The Federal Census of New York for 1830 showed a 40% increase in population from 1820, for a total of 1,918,608.  By 1835, the population was 2,174,517.[4] The average cost for an acre of land in New York was $12.49 in 1835.[5]  Daniel Orcutt needed space to farm and Illinois had just acquired federal lands appropriated from native Americans. In 1833, the Treaty of Chicago permitted the United States acquisition and settlement of the last remaining Indian lands in Illinois.[6] The United States government enticed settlers to the west by offering cheap land. Federal land sold for $1.25 per acre; it was also tax exempt for five years after purchase.[7] At those prices, the Orcutt’s could buy a farm and establish a future for themselves. Did they consider the tribes who lost their lands?

There were several sources where Daniel could learn about the new lands. Gazetteers published positive reviews of the territories and new states. J. M. Peck’s New York Gazetteer for 1834 claimed, “No state in the “Great West” has attracted so much attention, and elicited so many enquiries from those who desire to avail themselves of the advantages of a settlement in a new and rising country, as that of Illinois; and none is filling up so rapidly with an emigrating population from all parts of the United States, and several kingdoms of Europe.” [8]

Maybe Daniel H. Orcutt read Pecks “New Guide for Emigrants to the West.”[9] The guidebooks offer suggestions for both the emigrant as well as the traveler. J.M. Peck prided himself on his personal knowledge of the settlements in Illinois and Missouri, as well as other western areas. He spoke as an authority on Illinois and his guidebook extolled the virtual paradise that awaited the newcomer. How could Daniel resist such glowing reports of what awaited him in the west?

“These [river] bottoms, especially the American are the best regions in the United States for raising stock, particularly horses, cattle, and swine. Seventy-five bushels of corn to the acre is an ordinary crop. The roots and worms of the soil, the acorns and other fruits from the trees, and the fish of the lakes accelerate the growth of swine. Horses and cattle find exhaustless supplies of grass in the prairies; and pea vines, buffalo grass, wild oats, and other herbage in the timber, for summer range; and often throughout most of the winter.”[10]

Lists of flora and fauna are detailed and if there is a deficiency in one area, a positive comment offers a resolution. “In general, Illinois is abundantly supplied with timber and were it equally distributed through the State, there would be no want. The apparent scarcity of timber where the prairie predominates is not so great an obstacle to the settlement of the country as has been supposed. For many of the purposes to which timber is applied, substitutes are found.”[11]

Peach and apple trees did so well in the Illinois climate that the author recounted “I have measured apples, the growth of St. Clair County, that exceeded thirteen inches in circumference.”[12] Cider making possibilities, for those who couldn’t dispense without it, awaited the patient farmer. Or, if your preference was wine, then the abundant wild grapes offered an alternative libation. “The indigenous vines are prolific and produce excellent fruit. They are found in every thicket in the prairies and barrens, and climbing to the tops of the very highest trees on the bottoms,” …”The editor of the Illinois Magazine remarks, ‘We know one gentleman who made twenty-seven barrels of wine in a single season, from the grapes gathered with but little labor, in his immediate neighborhood.”[13] The descriptions are so positive that the reader in the east would have felt compelled to catch the next boat.

Peck’s description of garden vegetables again offered advantages as well as disadvantages compared to other climates, but the positives were always greater. “Garden Vegetables can be produced here in vast profusion, and of excellent quality…Our Irish potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes are inferior, but not our cabbages, peas, beets or onions. A cabbage head, two or tree feet in diameter including the leaves, is no wonder on this soil. Beets often exceed twelve inches in circumference. Parsnips will penetrate our light, porous soil, to the depth of two or three feet.” [14]

Daniel was a farmer and Peck’s accounts of crop yields would have been hard to resist. Corn crops produced fifty bushels to the acre, and in some cases 75-100 bushels! Wheat is listed as a “good and sure crop”. It weighed “upwards of 60 pounds per bushel, and flour from this region has preference in the New Orleans market and passes better inspection than the same article from Ohio or Kentucky.”[15] How could any prospective farmer resist the abundant harvest and bright future proposed in Peck’s guide book and his Gazetteer?

If the productive land didn’t sell the reader on their  future, then there were other enticements such as improved health. Daniel suffered from asthma and his obituary stated he left New York for the West to improve his health. The “New Guide for Emigrants to the West” noted the “medicinal waters” found in different parts of Illinois. [16]  Peck’s Illinois Gazetteer describes “diseases” as follows:

“Diseases. The more common diseases of Illinois are intermittents, [illness marked by episodes of fever] frequently accompanied with bilious symptoms [jaundiced associated with  liver disease]. Those which prove fatal in sickly seasons are bilious remittents. More than one-half of the sickness endured by the people is caused by imprudence, bad management, and the want of proper nursing….Families are seldom sick who live in comfortable houses with tight floors and well ventilated rooms, and who upon a change of weather, and especially in a time of rain, make a little fire in the chimney, though it may be the midst of summer. I have seen but few cases of genuine consumption. Affection of the liver is more common. …Fewer die in infancy than in the old states. Finally, I am prepared to speak decidedly in favor the general health of Illinois.”[17]The lure was difficult to resist and the Orcutt’s succumbed to it as did thousands of other settlers.

TRAVEL TO THE WEST

How did the Orcutt’s travel from Hamilton County, New York to Naperville, Illinois in 1836? Fortunately for them and many other travelers, the Erie Canal opened in 1825. Then Governor Dewitt Clinton championed the project from the onset and pushed through legislation for funding. Although referred to as “Clinton’s Big Ditch” and  dubbed “Clinton’s Folly”, it was a success. [18] It was a new route to the expanding West. “The canal’s opening ignited the first western great migration. Thousands of settlers skirted the natural barrier of the Allegheny Mountains and moved to the fertile lands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and beyond.” Think of it as “America’s First Super Highway” as it cut the travel time from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes in half. A traveler avoided the rough ride in a stagecoach on a rutted, muddy road and saved time.[19]

It is intriguing to envision the experience that Daniel and Angeline might have had on a  line boat as they traveled from New York to Illinois. First, they had to travel about 50 miles from Lake Pleasant to the nearest access to the Erie Canal at Little Falls.

Little Falls, NY - 1852, From: Meyer's universum, edited by Charles A. Dana, NY. Picture courtesy of  The    Erie Canal/www.eriecanal.org

Little Falls, NY – 1852, From: Meyer’s universum, edited by Charles A. Dana, NY. Picture courtesy of The Erie Canal/www.eriecanal.org

Upon arrival, they probably boarded a working boat (or “line boat”) which carried both freight and people. Many emigrants headed west used these boats to transport themselves and their goods.

The freight these boats carried was usually lumber, gravel, or agricultural products going east, and manufactured products (stoves, nails, cloth, etc.) going west.[20]    The line boat cost 2 cents per mile, and sometimes one cent. The lower price reflected the accommodations and were less comfortable. The usual speed of the boat was about 4 miles per hour.[21]It was 276 miles from Little Falls to Buffalo New York. Once the family arrived in Buffalo, they probably transferred to a lake boat. A Chicago pioneer, J.M. Hannahs, described his trip to Chicago in 1836.

“At Buffalo we went on board the steamboat Oliver Newberry for Detroit. Steamboats in those days only ran through to Chicago about once in three weeks. At Detroit, we took passage on the schooner Edward Bancroft, which proceeded to Black River, now Port Huron, and there loaded with lumber for Chicago. On the Canada side of the River above Detroit were many windmills, and above Lake Clair, on the same side, for many miles were little log houses of uniform construction, which were built by the British Government for their Indian friends. From Port Huron, we ran through stormy Lake Huron and anchored at Mackinaw. On the high bluffs stood the fort, manned by soldiers, and there were various missionary stations, and hundreds of Indians having a fleet of beautiful bark canoes, which, together with the wild scenery on the island beyond the fort, were objects of great interest. Those bark canoes were an important part of navigation in those days on the Great Lakes. From Mackinaw through the straits to the eastern shore of the territory of Wisconsin we coasted along for hundred of miles in full view of the dark, uninhabited and forbidding forests of that now great State, until we came within about 100 miles of Chicago, where we found ourselves scudding before a northeast gale with a heavy sea, which pursued us into Chicago; or rather, to the bar at the end of the piers, which were then under construction, and where we stuck fast. We were nineteen days on the passage to Chicago.”[22] The increasing number of emigrants to Illinois and Wisconsin eventually led to a daily line between Buffalo and Chicago, but when the Orcutts traveled in 1836, they were still infrequent.

If the Orcutt’s managed to get a direct lake steamboat from Buffalo to Chicago, their trip would have been much shorter. The Illinois Gazetteer lists travel from “New York to Buffalo, 5 days. From Buffalo to Chicago, by steamboats fitted for lake navigation, 8 days.”[23] The last 35 miles to Naperville would have taken 2 days by horse and wagon. I wondered, did they purchased these items once they made it to Chicago? How much did they transport with them on their journey? They traveled with a baby and a toddler; were they accompanied by a family member or friend? Did they know someone in the Naperville area? The 1840 census for Du Page county lists a Stephen Perkins living not far from Daniel and Angeline Orcutt. Angeline’s maiden name was Perkins, but I haven’t been able to prove a connection to  Stephen.

NAPERVILLE, DUPAGE COUNTY, ILLINOIS

When Daniel and Angeline Orcutt arrived in Naperville in 1836, it was sparsely populated. Chicago, 35 miles distant, was just a small town. According to the 1834 Gazetteer of Illinois, Chicago contained “three houses for public worship, an academy, an infant and other schools, twenty-five or thirty stores, many of them doing large business, several taverns, mechanics of various kinds, a printing office, which published the ‘Chicago Democrat,’ and ten or twelve hundred inhabitants.”[24] By 1836, Chicago had grown to a population of 3,280 and is still noted as a “village” in the “History of Du Page County”.[25]

What did Naperville offer the new immigrant? It offered land at $1.25 per acre under the Pre-Emption Act of 1834. One of the original settlers, whom Naperville was named for,  Captain Joseph Naper, claimed 160 acres for just $200.[26]. Daniel Orcutt also took advantage of the inexpensive land and purchased 320 acres for $400. Although Daniel arrived in Naperville in 1836 he didn’t purchase his land until January 14th, 1843.[27]    His neighbors didn’t buy their land either until after 1841. Were they “squatters” who farmed the land until compelled to buy?  The Preemption Act of 1841 “permitted “squatters” who lived on federal land to buy it for the low price of $1.25 per acre before it was offered for sale to the general public. There were stipulations the “squatter” had to meet and Daniel fulfilled those. He was a head of household, a citizen, and  had resided on the land for at least 14 months.[29] The Illinois land tract books show that Daniel Orcutt claimed the land on January 14, 1843. He obtained a title to the land on May 1, 1845.

Manifest Destiny resulted from the Preemption Act of 1841[30] and Daniel Orcutt typifies the “American Pioneer” who settled the expanding American West. He took advantage of the opportunities offered to improve his circumstances.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up  the value of  land in the Naperville area today. Those 320 acres would be worth over $96,000,000 based on current land values in the Naperville area![28] The farm is now a residential area outside of Chicago.

Daniel Orcutt - Google earth map of his property today. Image courtesy of Google Earth

Daniel Orcutt – Google earth map of his property today. Image courtesy of Google Earth

On December 12, 1837, Angeline gave birth to their third child, Henry Orcutt.  A fourth child, Clinton Delos Orcutt, joined the family on November 3, 1840. I often wondered about the origins of his name, but after reading about Governor Clinton of New York, I surmised that Daniel Orcutt named his son in honor of him. The Governor promoted building the Erie Canal, which made it possible for Daniel Orcutt to achieve one of his dreams, to obtain land in the west.  A fifth and last child, Jennie Martha, was born on February 28, 1844.

The farm purchase was just the first step to productivity. Peck’s Guide for Emigrants outlines the additional costs incurred by the farmer.

  • “Cost of 320 acres at $1.25 per acre…………………….$400
  •  Breaking up 160 acres prairie, $2 per acre………….$320
  •  Fencing it into four fields with a Kentucky fence of eight rails high, with cross stakes…………..$175
  • Add cost of cabins, corn-cribs, stable, & c. …………..$250
  • Making the cost of the farm [total cost]………………………………$1145″

A single crop of wheat could pay for these costs if the harvest were a good one. [31] When the Orcutt’s arrived in  Naperville in 1836, it  had four stores, a saw and grist mill, a school, twenty-five families, and just 250 inhabitants.[32] Nearby Chicago  was the largest commercial town in Illinois in 1836 and offered markets for the nearby farmers to sell their grain. Since there was no railroad at the time, the farmers hauled their crops by horse and wagon.

Daniel Orcutt - Illinois land purchased 1845. Maps provided with permission from HistoryGeo.com. Copyright 2015, Arphax Publishing Co.

Daniel Orcutt – Illinois land purchased 1845. Maps provided with permission from HistoryGeo.com.
Copyright 2015, Arphax Publishing Co.

Daniel Orcutt - location of his farm in Du Page county. Maps provided with permission from HistoryGeo.com. Copyright 2015, Arphax Publishing Co.

Daniel Orcutt –  farm location in Du Page county. Maps provided with permission from HistoryGeo.com.
Copyright 2015, Arphax Publishing Co.

Daniel H. Orcutt toiled on his farm for 14 years. He plowed the furrows for his crops, planted the seeds, toiled in the fields in all kinds of weather, hoped for a good harvest, year after year. Daniel traded in his farm tools for mining tools with the discovery of gold in California. In 1848 gold was found in the Sacramento Valley; it sparked the Gold Rush. For more than a year, Daniel might have read  repeated newspaper headlines,  with such phrases as “from the gold regions,” and “Ho for the gold regions” and “California gold.” [33] Wanderlust, adventure, and fortune beckoned again. In the spring of 1850 Daniel heeded the call. He left his wife and five children, ages 6-16, in search of  a new opportunity. Would he find gold or was it an ill-fated quest?

© 2015 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.


[1] Bateman, Newton, ed., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Du Page County, (Chicago, IL:Munsell Publishing Company, 1913), 625; digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books: accessed 10 February 2015).

[2] Blanchard, Rufus, History of Du Page County Illinois, (Chicago, IL:O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers, 1882), 632; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org:  accessed 17 March 2015).

[3] Gordon, Thomas F. Gazetteer of the State of New York comprehending its Colonial History; General Geography, Geology, and Internal Improvements; Its Political State; A Minute Description of its Several Counties, Towns, and Villages; Statistical Tables, with a Map of the State, And a Map of Each County, (Philadelphia: T.M. and F.G. Collins, Printers, 1836), 476; digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books: accessed 10 March 2015).

[4]  New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer. New York: New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 2014.

[5] Wallis, John Joseph; Sylla, Richard E.; Grinath, Arthur Land, Debt, and Taxes: Origins of the U.S. State Default Crisis, 1839-1842; pdf,   https://www.frbatlanta.org/documents/cenfis/…/11sov_debt_Wallis.pdf

[6] http://history.illinoisgenweb.org/timeline.html

[7] Peck, J.M. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West Containing Sketches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, with the Territories of Wisconsin and Arkansas, and the Adjacent Parts.(Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1836), 141-143;  digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books : accessed 9 March 2015)

[8] Peck, J.M. Gazetteer of Illinois in Three Parts: Containing a General View of the State, a General View of Each County: and a Particular Description of Each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, Etc. – Alphabetically Arranged, (Jacksonville: R. Goudy, Printers, 1834), Introduction; digital images, Google Books (http://Google.com/books: accessed 9 March 2015).

[9] Peck, J.M. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West Containing Sketches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, with the Territories of Wisconsin and Arkansas, and the Adjacent Parts.(Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1836), 141-143;  digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books : accessed 9 March 2015)

[10] Ibid, p. 257

[11] Ibit p. 262

[12] Ibid p. 273

[13] Ibid p. 272

[14] Ibid p. 274

[15] Ibid p. 274-275

[16] Ibid p. 271

[17] Peck, J.M. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West Containing Sketches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, with the Territories of Wisconsin and Arkansas, and the Adjacent Parts.(Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1836), 44-45;  digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books : accessed 9 March 2015)

[18] Eye Witness to History. Web. 21 March 2015.   http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/eriecanal.htm

[19] Ibid

[20] Erie Canal. Web. 22 March 2015.    http://www.eriecanal.org/boats-2.html

[21] Ibid

[22] Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Web. 20 March 2015.  http://www.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/documents/hgl/default.asp?ID=s029

[23] Peck, J.M. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West Containing Sketches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, with the Territories of Wisconsin and Arkansas, and the Adjacent Parts.(Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1836), 58;  digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books : accessed 9 March 2015)

[24] Peck, J.M. Gazetteer of Illinois in Three Parts: Containing a General View of the State, a General View of Each County: and a Particular Description of Each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, Etc. – Alphabetically Arranged, (Jacksonville: R. Goudy, Printers, 1834), Introduction; digital images, Google Books (http://Google.com/books: accessed 9 March 2015).

[25] Blanchard, Rufus, History of Du Page County Illinois, (Chicago, IL:O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers, 1882), 151; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org:  accessed 17 March 2015).

[26] Naper Settlement, http://www.napersettlement.org/index.aspx?nid=184

[27] United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books, 1820-1908,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-32470-15178-90?cc=2074276&wc=M771-JM9:356162801,356168201 : accessed 25 March 2015), Illinois > Vol 6 (Chicago) > image 39 of 201; Records Improvement, Bureau of Land Management, Washington D.C.

[28]Web. 25 March 2015.  http://www.landandfarm.com/search/IL/Naperville-land-for-sale/

[29]“Premption Act of 1841”.  Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 20 March 2015.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preemption_Act_of_1841

[30] “Manifest Destiny”. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 20 March 2015.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny

[31] Peck, J.M. A New Guide for Emigrants to the West Containing Sketches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, with the Territories of Wisconsin and Arkansas, and the Adjacent Parts.(Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1836), 313;  digital images, Google Books (http://www.Google.com/books : accessed 9 March 2015)

[32] Peck, J.M. A Gazetteer of Illinois, in Three Parts: containing a General View of the State, A General View of Each County, and a Particular Description of Each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, Etc; Alphabetically Arranged.  (Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1837),  259: digital images, Google Books (http://Google.com/books : accessed 25 March 2015)

[33] Unruh, John D. Jr. The Plains Across The Overland Emigrants and The Trans-Mississippi West 1840-60. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 62.


Genealogy Sketch

Name: Daniel ORCUTT
Parents: John ORCUTT and
Philinda HEATH
Spouse: Angeline PERKINS
Children: Ann Maria, Nelson, Henry, Clinton, Jennie Martha
Relationship to Kendra: 3rd great-grandfather

  1. Daniel ORCUTT
  2. Clinton Delos ORCUTT
  3. Edith ORCUTT BEATON UTENDORFER
  4. Anna Jane BEATON HYDE
  5. Jean Ann Marie HYDE HOPP EICHORN
  6. Kendra HOPP SCHMIDT

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About treeklimber

An interest in history and travel lends itself to a passion for genealogy. The more I research, the more I realize there is to discover. It is a never-ending puzzle.
This entry was posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to THE WESTWARD TREK – DANIEL ORCUTT – PART III

  1. chmjr2 says:

    Great post and research. This was a lot of work on your part. So did the family get rich on the gold rush?

    Like

    • treeklimber says:

      Thank you. Daniel made enough to buy much more land in Iowa. I need to finish his story but get caught up in the research. I was fortunate enough to find journals documenting his trip west. My dilemma is always how much historical context to include.

      Like

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