Prairie Albion: An English Settlement in Pioneer Illinois

Prairie Albion: An English Settlement in Pioneer Illinois

Prairie Albion: An English Settlement in Pioneer Illinois

Prairie Albion: An English Settlement in Pioneer Illinois

Synopsis

Originally published in 1962, this story of the English Settlement in pioneer Illinois is compiled from the eyewitness accounts of the participants. The founders, Morris Birkbeck and George Flower, as well as their associates and the many visitors to their prairie settlement, wrote mainly for immediate and sometimes controversial ends. Charles Boewe has selected excerpts from letters, descriptions, diaries, histories, and periodicals within a chronological framework to emphasize the implicit drama of the settlers' deeds as they searched for a suitable site, founded their colony, and augmented their forces with new arrivals from England. No less dramatic is the subsequent estrangement of the two founders, the disillusionment of many of the English settlers, the untimely death of Birkbeck, and the financial ruin of Flower.

Excerpt

When this book was completed in 1961, I was aware that lacking in it were the voices of the women who participated in the settlement on the English Prairie. They were wanting because at the time women's writings were unavailable. the transformation of our society during the past thirty years that has to some extent rescued women from the neglect of history has brought forth one book relevant here: Eliza Julia Flower, Letters of an English Gentlewoman: Life on the Illinois-Indiana Frontier, 1817-1861 (Muncie, 1991), edited by Janet R. Walker and Richard W. Burkhardt .

Eliza Julia Flower's known letters are few in number and cover only the period 1833-59, but Walker and Burkhardt have set them in a rich matrix of related material, interspersed with their own commentary, to illustrate the many hardships and occasional pleasures of domestic life on the prairies. Though never intended for publication, Mrs. Flower's letters bear comparison with Christiana Holmes Tillson's A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois (Carbondale, 1995), the memoir of a woman pioneer of about the same period but farther north, in Montgomery County. They were not, however, as mirthful as those of that other prairie "raconteuse," Eliza W. Farnham, whose Life in Prairie Land (Urbana, 1988) took place still farther north, in Tazewell County, also in the 1830s.

Unfortunately, Eliza Julia Flower was demurely silent on the one thing we might most like to know. This is whether, as Morris Birkbeck's vivacious ward, she truly was the cause of the bitter estrangement between Morris Birkbeck and George Flower when she chose to marry the latter. Two things about her are clearly established in this book: she was by all accounts a beautiful woman (her portraits in old age notwithstanding), and she genuinely loved her husband. the strength of her character is illuminated as we watch her go without complaint from being the gracious hostess of the Flowers' Park House mansion to being . . .

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