The William P. Blanchard family is a historical account written by Mrs. J. E. Merritt in 1906, chronicling the journey of William P. Blanchard and his family as they settled in Peoria County, Illinois, in the 1830s. The family left Kentucky to find a larger scope for expansion, and after exploring the West and North of Lawrence County, Illinois, they purchased a quarter-section of land in Prince’s Grove and began their new life. The family endured many hardships, including a severe winter, but eventually built a log cabin and established themselves as pioneers in the area. The Blanchard family was active in their community and known for their hospitality, with their home serving as a gathering place for religious services and family reunions. The article honors the bravery and perseverance of the pioneers who paved the way for future generations.
By Mrs, J. E. Merritt, 1906
The next family that I am to write up is that of William P. and Mary Blanchard, They did not settle immediately at the Grove, but so near that it might be termed in the suburbs. In the early thirties Mr. Blanchard, finding his large family in need of a larger scope for expansion, made an exploring expedition to the West and North of where he was then living in Lawrence County, Illinois, to which place they had come from Kentucky in their early married life. On this trip he visited Prince’s Grove and vicinity. He ventured prairie-ward, selecting a quarter-section of land two miles west of the Prince farm, which he afterward bought. To his mind there were already about as many settlers here as the grove would supply with fuel, little dreaming that the whole country contained but a few feet below the surface, good coal sufficient to supply fuel for all who would ever live in it for generations to come. In 1835 he with his two oldest boys, John and Marshal, started for the place destined to be their future home, But the winter was a very severe one. They were delayed on their way and did not reach their destination until March, 1836. They went into camp near the place now owned by Mr. Wash. Mott and began industriously to prepare for the family. Mr. Prince, ever ready to accommodate new comers, rented them some land for wheat, corn, potatoes and other vegetables. They endured many hardships, at one time being reduced to a diet of bran bread, owing to the difficulty of getting grain ground. But “Stick to it” was their motto and finally logs were ready for building, rails for fencing, the vegetables were growing nicely, and Mr. Blanchard with the boys turned his face Southward to fetch Polly and the babies. As rapidly as possible he closed up his business at home, took leave of old friends of long and pleasant associations, who were assembled to see them off, and again turned to the North, The sight of this caravan of pilgrims bound for a new country would be an interesting one today. The train was lead by a huge Virginia schooner drawn by five yoke of oxen, John driving. If that old Virginia wagon were here to-day it would be a curiosity equal to the log cabin, It was made of strong, heavy timber, so braced and fastened together that it could scarce break if rolled down a mountain side. The end gates were high, with sides sloping toward the center; on each side of the bed was a box for tools or other articles that might be needed by the way; at the back was a large feed box. The wagon was painted blue and covered with 25 yards of linen spun and woven by Mrs. Blanchard and her daughters. In this wagon was stored food to supply the family for several months, two spinning wheels, a large quantity of wool for carding, household goods of various sorts, and Mrs. Blanchard and the small children. Next came Mr. Blanchard driving the hogs and sheep, assisted by three of the boys; and in the rear came the young ladies of the family mounted on horses, driving the cattle and loose horses. If this caravan should pass through the streets of our village to-day, it would create more excitement than a procession of automobiles.
In this order they slowly advanced until on June 16, 1836, they arrived at the camping ground. The first work after arriving was to unload the Virginia schooner, set it on blocks and convert it into a sleeping room for six of the boys. It took the whole family to lift it off the running gear. An old settler told me the other day that same old Virginia schooner was the one which took Daniel Prince and his family to Missouri.
The work of making the new home was vigorously pushed by the father and boys, and soon music different from that of the birds in the tree-tops was heard in the camp,—that of the busy spinning wheels,—for cloth must be made for clothing for the entire family. And if the young ladies wanted silk or fine Jackonette, or any other finery for dresses, they must first make home made cloth to exchange for the other. We must not get an idea that our early pioneer girls had no love of finery or the privilege of dressing nicely if they wished. Almost every family gave their girls the privilege, after the household had been supplied, of making cloth to exchange for store goods, an opportunity which most of them quickly improved.
Mr, and Mrs. Blanchard ‘s family were happy because they were busy. For four months they remained in camp in White Oak, By that time a cabin of hewed logs 16 x 16 feet had been built on the prairie land. In October they struck camp and moved into the log cabin. How this family of father, mother and eleven children, four of them grown, managed to live in this little cabin is hard to tell. But you may be sure the family were all safely housed at night with the latch string always out for any belated traveler, and there were many such who were fearfully afraid of the wolves, especially the Eastern people, unused to these howling creatures. None were ever turned away, but every one was made welcome to a good comforter and a bed by the great log fire place, an invitation gladly accepted by many a weary traveler.
In this little log cabin a little girl was born May 24, 1837, less than a year after Mr, and Mrs. Blanchard had settled in Peoria County. Two other children were born later, making fourteen in all. There are four of these children still living, Of the descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard there are living to-day, four children, thirty-four grand-children, one hundred twenty-seven great-grandchildren and thirty-one great great-grandchildren, two hundred in all, scattered all over the United States, and some even as far away as India.
Mr. Blanchard was one of the first men elected to the office of magistrate in this township. Although coming from a slave state and a slave owner’s family, he was an old line Whig, and a staunch abolitionist, taking his stand with the Republican party when that party was organized. He and his wife were active Christians and as soon as they were able to do so, opened their doors for religious services, large congregations from far and near often assembling in their home to hear the gospel preached. All who wished to remain for afternoon services were invited to do so and were freely fed and made as comfortable as possible. In the early fifties a family reunion was held on the home farm, The fourteen children were all present, the youngest being about four years old, Not once had death entered their circle, In all there were about fifty present. It was a day of gladness and feasting. Soon after one of the boys went West in search of gold, followed a year later by a younger brother. They never returned, One found a grave at Olympia, Washington, the other at Astoria, Oregon.
In the fall of 1855 Mr. Blanchard bought a home in the Village of Princeville and moved his family there. Here he and his wife lived until they exceeded their golden wedding anniversary by three years. In 1868 Mrs. Blanchard died suddenly, followed a year later by her husband who died after a protracted illness,—and two more of Princeville’s pioneer settlers had gone to their long rest.
All honor to the brave and noble men and women who were not afraid to brave the dangers, endure the hardships, deny themselves the comforts and associations of their early homes, that we, their descendants, might have a broader scope, greater opportunities and more freedom in a better country.