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History of the Family of John Rich

by Karen L. Piper



One thing of particular interest (from an historical side) is a copy of a talk given by Hosea Borum at the Rich Family Reunion in 1938 in memorial of Isiah Rich (John's son). Hosea was the son of Martha Rich and William Borum. Martha was one of the sisters of Isiah. He died in 1949. The Rich Family started the annual Family Reunion in 1938 due to the fact that Isiah and his wife Nancy both died in May, within 2 weeks of each other. Their children were devastated by the loss (as told to me by my grandmother, Nellie, one of their daughters) and started the annual reunion. It still continues today and is one of the big events in Williamson County in late August/early September. The talk is as follows:

"The history of Williamson County (Illinois) is a story of pioneer heroism and sacrifice. To the early settlers belong a great deal of honor and praise for their struggles and hardships, their courage and labor, there came into being one of the finest communities in Southern Illinois. We, the descendants of John Rich, feel very proud of the fact that we have a share in that history.

"Many of those who helped make the history of Williamson County came from the Southern States about the time of the Civil War. At that time the county was very thinly populated and practically a wilderness of uncleared lands. The hills and valleys were not only rich with soil producing an abundance of all kind of crops, fruits and vegetables, but the forests were filled with plenty of wild game. They also found the real pioneers of Williamson County -- those who had arrived earlier and had become established were ready to extend a helping hand to them and their families. One of these pioneer families were that of John Rich. John Rich was born in that part of Indian Territory which later became the State of Illinois. He left the area which was later named Hamilton County and he settled in present day Stonefort Township in Williamson County. He was married to Elizabeth Jane Willard. If all related to him by blood or marriage met at the same time, it would equal the entire population of the township in which he had settled. "After locating a stream of living water running out from under one of these giant hills, he and his wife built their first home - a one room mansion erected from the long straight timbers that grew near the spring, with the wife doing her share of the work. A few years later an additional room was built with the help of a nearby neighbor who lived six miles away. I am told that their first bed was made of papaw saplings which grew in profusion near the foot of the hill where they lived. The trunks of the papaw were used for posts, being very light in weight when seasoned and the bark was used to weave the springs for the bed. Are you surprised when I tell you that upon these springs were placed a feather bed of genuine feathers, plucked from the bodies of wild turkeys brought down by a cap and ball rifle? The ticking for these feather beds were brought, on foot, from a trading post on the Ohio River. We are unable to gain a more complete history of this home in which nine children were born.

"The oldest of the nine children of John and Elizabeth Jane Willard Rich was Mary Ann (Polly) Rich, who was married 25 Apr 1866, Wiliamson County, Illinois in early womanhood to William R. Rich. He was a member of the Illinois Tribe of Indians and was related by blood to Polly Ann. The story we must truthfully tell of him is not a pleasant one. He was said to ber very lazy, very quarrelsome and cruel; he often beat his wife and small son, both of whom lived in daily fear of him. He finally left Illinois, taking his wife and sone with him, for what was then called the 'Bad Lands' of Missouri. Nothing was heard of them for several years. Finally, George Valentine made a trip into Missouri in an effort to locate them. He learned that Bill Rich, in one of his moments of temper and rage, had killed Polly Ann, then dashed out the brains of his only son with an ax. For this, his neighbors very generously hung him to a tree. Thus ended the history of the oldest child of John Rich.

"The second child of John and Elizabeth Willard Rich was Tabitha. She was married first to S. C. Holderfield and to this union four children were born and there are several generations of the Holderfield family now living. After the death of her first husband, 'Aunt Tobbie' married George Valentine. They had one child, Martha Valentine who married Charles Carter and reared a family, but more than that is unknown to this writer. Charles and Martha Valentine Carter have passed away, as have George and Tabitha Valentine. 'Uncle George' was a very prosperous farmer of his day and the first machine for cutting wheat, other than the old scythe cradle, this writer ever saw was on his farm. It was drawn by two horses and elevated the sheaf from the cycle to a large platform which a man stood and raked the wheat off into piles large enough for a bundle. A man followed, tying the bundles by hand. 'Uncle George' used the machine for cutting buckwheat which he raised in large quantities in those days. He and 'Aunt Tobbie' were trulyreligious; they were good neighbors who lived a quiet, peaceful and happy life.

"Isiah Rich was the third child and first son born to John and Elizabeth Willard Rich. For several years it was the custom of Isiah's children to give him a birthday dinner; he would have been surprised, indeed, had they failed to do so! After his death there seemed nothing else to do but continue the custom as a memorial to him. Isian Rich grew to manhood amid the environments of a century ago and be sure they were not such as his descendants enjoy today! As soon as he was old enough he was taught the use of such tools as were used by the pioneers of his boyhood, principally the ax, the broad-ax and mallet. He became an expert with most of these and while still a very young man his services were in great demand for the building of barns, houses, schools and churches which were built with logs cut from the forest. It was said that Isiah Rich carried up more corners than any man of his time. A corner of a log building cannot be made to fit by doing the work on the ground. You must go up with the corner and notch the logs to fit as you go. Chimneys were built with clay and sticks in those days. Isiah was also an expert at this trade and for several years did little else except hew timbers for house and barn patterns and build chimney. After the advent of the Illinois Central Railroad into the county, he made thousands of railroad ties with his broad-ax. "The early home of Isiah Rich was furnished very much like that of his parents. The bedsteads were made of seasoned maple poles; the chairs were handmade with strips of bark from the elm or papaw trees used to bottom them. Later on he made some for use when company came; these chair were bottomed with white oak. "It was not difficult in those days to provide the table with all kinds of wild game and wild turkey were plentiful and Uncle Isiah was a crack shot with a rifle. This writer has seen him make a trip into the woods and return with as many as fifteen squirrels, all shot through the head. At that time Uncle Isiah was sixty-five years old. Wild honey was also plentiful. The trees were located in the summer and the finder's mark placed on it so no one else would cut it. It was the unwritten law of the woods in those days that no man ever bothered anything, whether it be cattle, hogs or trees, that had another man's mark on it. I remember Uncle Isiah's mark. It was an X with a bar beneath it. "As a young man he became interested in the church and became a member of the Missionary Baptist Church. He carried up a corner and helped build the Gum Springs Church house that housed a small congregation for several years. This church was built on what is called Tyler Ridge in Stonefort Township. It has since been moved about one and a half miles and is now known as Spring Hill Church. The records of this church and other interesting data is now in the hands of the Odum Family. Uncle Martin Odum was a neighbor of Uncle Isiah Rich and lived to be nearly a century old. In later years Uncle Isiah moved his church membership to the Cana Baptist Chruch where he attended for many years.

"Martha Louise Rich was the eighth child of John and Elizabeth Willard Rich. She was three years old when her mother died. Martha Louise was reared by another pioneer family by the name of Ward. In early womanhood, she married Alby Borum whose parents came to Illinois from South Carolina, making the journey on horseback. She was born during the first year of the Civil War and learned early in life to know what the pioneer daughters must contend with in order to have even the necessities of life. Her life had been one useful labor and of devotion to her family. Martha Rich Borum was an expert in cooking, carding and spinning, weaving cloth and many things the pioneers were accustomed to doing and which most of those gathered here today have never seen done and never will for the pioneer ways are about gone."

Hosea did not relate additional info on the other children of John and Elizabeth, but I thought the info on the type of life lived and skills needed and used was wonderful and enlightening.

Karen L. Piper