Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Pull of the West

Benjamin Franklin - yes, that Benjamin Franklin - was living in London in 1771, representing the American colonies to the ministers at court and to Parliament as the growing rift between Britain and her colonies widened. He had been in London for several years, and had developed a strong affection for life in England, but London's poor air quality and the government's seasonal ebb in activity during the summer months had also led him to a habit of traveling and touring around Europe at that time of year.

In 1771, he visited Ireland and Scotland, where he observed that, "Ireland itself is a fine country, and Dublin a magnificent city." But he also noted, "The appearances of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. They live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes. Our New England farmers of the poorest sort, in regard to the enjoyment of all the comforts of life, are princes when compared to them."

Being born in Boston in 1706, and having famously earned himself worldwide fame and a modestly comfortable living as a printer, public servant, and (though he didn't have this word at the time) scientist, the 65-year-old Franklin formed a ready opinion of why conditions were so much better in New England:

"I thought often of the happiness of New England, where every man is a freeholder, has a vote in public affairs, lives in a tidy warm house, has plenty of good food and fuel, with whole clothes from head to foot, the manufactory perhaps of his own family. Long may they continue in this situation!
"But if they should ever envy the trade of these countries [Ireland, Scotland, and England], I can put them in a way to obtain a share of it. Let them with three-fourths of the people of Ireland live the year round on potatoes and butter milk, without shirts, then may their merchants export beef, butter and linen. Let them with the generality of the common people of Scotland go barefoot, then may they make large exports in shoes and stockings. And if they will be content to wear rags like the spinners and weavers of England, they may make cloths and stuffs for all parts of the world.
"Farther, if my countrymen should ever wish for the honour of having among them a gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their farms and pay racked rents; the scale of the landlords will rise as that of the tenants is depressed, who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty, and abject in spirit."
(from The First American: the Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, H.W. Brands)

If our Callin Family History is correct, then my ancestor, James Callin, might have been among those people of Ireland, Scotland, or England when Franklin observed those conditions. If James had not already emigrated to the American colonies, a life like that of the New Englander Franklin described as compared to life in Britain would have most certainly been an alluring draw - alluring enough for a young man with no station or prospects to risk the ocean voyage, and enlist in the Continental Army a few short years later.

However, like most rosy comparisons, the Americas were already beginning to suffer from some of the conditions that Franklin observed in his travels. There were already so many land-hungry speculators on the continent that even an industrious investor like Franklin - whose connections in the Court had helped make his son the Governor of New Jersey - had trouble acquiring land to develop. There was growing pressure, even before the Revolution, to open up the land of the Ohio River valley for settlement, but the wars between England and France and the presence of displaced indigenous people in the area kept that land relatively free of settlers.

After the Revolutionary War, that began to change. James Callin appears to have claimed land grants which were made available to Continental soldiers by the new United States government, and his sons, James "2nd" and John, arrived in Richland county, Ohio, around 1810. It's hard for modern Americans to grasp the concept that this area was the "wild west" - but it really was, at the time. It was only about 200 miles west of Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, and about 500 miles west of Virginia, where James presumably arrived. His sons would have seen Ohio as the land of opportunity, adventure, and danger that James had seen in Virginia and Pennsylvania from his vantage point in Britain.

We don't know a lot for certain. George Callin's family history says this about James 2nd:

"James 2nd, with his family moved from Penn. to Ashland Co. and located on a farm about the year 1810. He was killed in an altercation with a man named Fowler who struck him over the head with a rifle, this occurred about the year 1820. He was buried in Oliversburg Cemetery."

(I should point out that Ashland county did not exist until after 1840; Milton township was located in the part of Richland county that was carved out to create Ashland county, though, and a lot of sources refer to the counties interchangeably.)

James and his brother John show up on the same page of the 1820 U.S. Census (with the spelling "Calan" or "Culan") in Milton township, Richland county. Directly below James, a "Sutton Fowler" (or possibly "Towler") is also listed. Mary Callin, James's likely widow, is listed in 1830 and 1840 Census records, as is Thomas Callin, presumably James 2nd's son. John settled on James 2nd's land with what George describes as a "life lease" of it, and he stayed until he died of tuberculosis in 1835.

In the 30 years between James and John's migration west and the 1840 census, the frontier moved considerably. Land negotiations with Native American tribes continued, and during the 1830s, territory in Iowa began to open up, with the first official settlers arriving in 1833 and the Territory of Iowa being established by Congress in 1838.

Like his father and grandfather, Alec Callin (James 2nd's middle son), felt the pull to move west. George Callin says that he "[m]arried and moved with his family and mother to Iowa about the year of 1840. The mother referred to was 'Aunt Mary', wife of James 2nd who was killed with a gun. She sold the farm and went with Alec to Iowa where she died some years later. Nothing has been heard from that branch of the family since 1845."

There are several records of land grants to an Alexander Callin, one identifying him as a resident of Muscatine, Iowa in July 1854, and showing that he purchased a plots of land in the young state. There is also a Mary Callin buried in a Muscatine county cemetery, having died in 1846. If we can assume this is the same family, we might yet learn more about this branch with more research.

Following behind Alec by a year or two, his younger brother, James (3rd), also moved to Iowa. Per George, again:

"James Callin with his wife and baby moved to Iowa where he died in 1844. William Callin, brother of Margret, went to Iowa and brought her and the two above named children home to Ashland Co. after her husband's death." 

(Yes, if you're paying attention, you are correct that James 3rd and Margret were 1st cousins. Her brother William mentioned here is my 3rd-great grandfather, and the father of the George Callin I keep citing.)

If we assume that James and Margret settled near Alec in Muscatine county, William would have made a 500 mile journey from Ohio to Iowa, to bring Margret and her two boys, Warren and William, 500 miles back to Milton. At an estimated 12 miles a day, over wagon trails and wilderness, this was easily a three month round trip for William. I don't doubt that such a sad and difficult errand had an impact on William, who had three small children of his own at the time. He had more than a month on his way west to compare the romance of the frontier with the reality of it, and to contemplate the contrasting draw of opportunity with the pressures of the swiftly crowding landscape of Ohio. And he had the month or more on his way back east with his sister and small nephews to think about the comforts of living in a more settled place with close neighbors and family.

We still don't know how well or how badly things went for the Callins who stayed in Iowa, but regardless of their fate, I don't doubt that this trip - just a few words in our family history, sketching out the barest details - played a huge part in how William decided to raise his family. After returning to Ohio, he poured his efforts into clearing farmland and educating his sons. He, along with his brother and certainly other neighbors, helped escaped slaves flee the south, and instilled in his sons the desire to fight for the Union cause. He became known as the strongest man in the county.

And I don't doubt that if Benjamin Franklin had traveled 100 years into the future from his 1771 vantage point, he might have marveled that someone from the "wretched hovels of mud and straw" could have arrived in his colonies, and in a mere two generations helped to create a whole new country. Franklin would have been thrilled, I think, to see his theories borne out and to see how much could be accomplished - just by following the pull of the west.

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