The Leverett Family, Early Settlers

(this article appeared in the Warren Sentinel-Leader, Warren IL, Wed. Oct. 1st, 1930)


Professor James Walker Leverett came to Warren in November 1855 and his father, Joseph Leverett and family arrived in the summer of 1858. Prof. Leverett married Harriet Maria Tisdel, a niece of Freeman A. Tisdel, at Warren on Sept. 1, 1856. The Professor's sister, Sarah Fuller Leverett, married Charles Boone, of Warren.


The Leveretts trace their ancestry to the Norman Conquest. In this country they go back to Alderman Thomas Leverett of Boston, England, who arrived in Boston, Mass. on September 4, 1633 on the good ship Griffin.  He was characterized as "a Lincolnshire gentleman of character and substance", and an able lawyer.  Mention is made of his taking the initial step in the beginning of the free school system in Boston, and he was active in municipal affairs.  Sir John Leverett, son of this Thomas, was Major General of the Massachusetts Militia and Governor of the Colony from 1673 to 1679. The Governor's grandson, John Leverett, was appointed Judge of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, the Colony, in 1702, and resigned to become the eighth President of Harvard College, which office he held from 1707 to 1724. Joseph Leverett, the Warrenite, was of the tenth generation of his family in the United States.


Harriet Maria Tisdel, who married Prof. Leverett, traced her ancestry to Elder William Brewster, who came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower, and to his son-in-law, Governor Thomas Prince of the Colony.


Joseph Leverett was the son of William Leverett (1773-1801) and Lydia Fuller, his wife, and was born at Brookline, Mass., Sept. 4, 1804. He died in Warren, Ill., on Feb. 3, 1878. The children were William, Sarah F., Joseph (the Warrenite), Thomas, and Washington and Warren, twins. The father died when Joseph was three years old.  The widowed mother married Josiah Griggs, and had two sons, John W. and George Griggs. When Joseph Leverett was six years old he was sent to his aunt Walker, his mother's sister, at Livermore Falls, Maine.  The little boy was in charge of a friend, during this long journey, until within a few miles of his destination, when he trudged the rest of the strange and new way alone.  He was adopted by the Walkers and grew to sturdy manhood at Livermore Falls, taking advantage of the meager school opportunities in this sparsely settled district.  The locality was in its era of pioneering. Of Joseph Leverett, it might be said, that most of his seventy-four years were spent as a pioneer, in which he attained a competence through "hardknocks".


Joseph Leverett was of a quiet, reserved, reflective nature, a person of very few words; industrious, resourceful, tall of stature, muscular and able to hold his own with others.  He learned the woodman's craft and became, also, a carpenter and farmer.  "He did considerable logging for clearing land, and, also got out and hauled, to Portland, Maine, eighty miles away, ship timber, mostly spars and masts.  The masts were from sixty to one hundred feet long, and were considered difficult and dangerous to haul on account of the crooks in the road and short hills which were liable to throw the logs on a balance so as to endanger lifting of the hind cattle (oxen) off the ground. The long timbers would bring one hundred dollars each, which paid very well those days, if no mishap befell."


Joseph Leverett was a member of the Maine Militia for five years (1825-1830) and served as a lieutenant for two years.


In 1828, at the age of twenty-four, Joseph married Mary Turner, daughter of Ebenezer and Mary (Polly) Sumner, his wife, at Livermore Falls. The young people were well mated, each being the complement of the other, and each possessing gifts to supplement the other. They held, in common, a love of truth, justice and an ardent desire to acquire knowledge.  Their children inherited many of these qualities and had few undesirable traits to combat and overcome.


Mary Turner came from a long line of strong, thrifty, practical New Englanders, who were fearless in sentiment and action.  They were early in the Colony of Massachusetts. Her grandfather, Edward Turner, was in the Revolutionary War. Other members of the Turner family achieved distinction in various lines.


Joseph Leverett, esteeming knowledge, contributed to its spread wherever possible. He aided two colleges and gave his own children educational advantages open to but few during their growing years.


The children of Joseph and Mary were:


William, the first child, born at Livermore Falls in 1829, died near Quincy, Ill. during the cholera scourge of 1854.


James Walker Leverett, the second child, who later became a Warrenite, was born at Livermore Falls, Maine, on Nov. 19, 1830 and died at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 25, 1916.


Ebenezer Leverett, the third child born at Livermore Falls, 1832-1911, was a farmer at Denmark, Iowa, for most of his life.


Frances Ellen Leverett, (1835-1892) the fourth child, born near Quincy, Ill., moved to Warren in 1858, with her parents, and married Israel White, of Delta, N.Y., where she made her home.


Sarah Fuller Leverett, the fifth child of Joseph Leverett, was born near Quincy, Ill., in 1838, and died at Warren in 1919, the wife of Charles Boone. The marriage was in Warren in 1859.


George Leverett, the youngest child, was born at Livingston, near Quincy, Ill., in 1840. He lived in Warren for a time. After his marriage in 1861 he went to Edwardsville, Ill., where he engaged in the abstract business and surveying.


In 1834 Joseph Leverett sold his farm in Maine, and with his family, joined the uncle and aunt Walker, Turner relatives, and others, on an overland journey of over 1600 miles from Livermore Falls to near Quincy, Ill., where the party arrived Oct. 23. They proceeded to construct shelters for man and beast, make furniture, etc., and to prepare for agriculture.  The farming district was sparsely settled with many pioneers from Maine. School districts were established, the public furnishing the shelters, while the teachers charged so much per pupil, did their own collecting, and generally boarded about the neighborhood, a week with a family. The Leveretts' school was chiefly due to the donations and influence and efforts of Joseph Leverett. Among teachers in the early 1840s was Parker Godding. He later settled as a druggist in Warren, with store in the stone, or Ireland, building on Main Street, and was the father of  Jonas, Henry W., Marcellus and Luther Godding.


Prof. J. W. Leverett described the school facilities as follows:


The teacher "pointed to the letters of the alphabet with a small pen-knife, and to the rules of the school with a birch stick. The log school house, about two miles from us, had a log left out on one side for light. The inside was furnished with a broad board fastened to the wall and slanted a little for a writing desk, and a bench for a seat, made from a slab or hewed from a split log. The lucky ones got seats, and usually studied and did their writing stunts with faces turned towards the wall. The rest of the seating was of benches made of slabs or split logs, without backs. This was a model of seating common in that locality."


With such school advantages, supplemented by the parents' oversight and encouragement, the boys of the Joseph Leverett family were able to enter Shurtleff College at Alton, Ill., the oldest school of higher learning in the valley of the Mississippi. James Walker Leverett passed through the Junior year at Shurtleff, and went to Madison University, now Colgate, at Hamilton, N.Y., graduating in 1855 with the degree of Master of Arts. About this time the father, Joseph Leverett, sold his property near Quincy, and moved to Denmark, Iowa, where facilities were exceptionally inviting for the education of the younger members of the family.


The young Master of Arts was on the look out for a position as a teacher in a seminary or academy. It is not known just how he heard of Warren, but Thanksgiving of 1855 found him there. He wrote of it as follows:


"After some consultation with the Warrenites, we concluded to finish the basement of the Baptist church for a school room...the school was commenced under the name of the Warren Academy, the 3rd of January 1856, with about fifty students, who made very satisfactory progress, and closed...with a Literary Exhibition which was well received...The Summer School was taught by Miss H. M. Tisdel, while I went to Denmark, Iowa, and worked at carpentry to raise money to run the winter school. Before commencing the winter school, Miss Harriet Maria Tisdel (niece of Freeman A. Tisdel) and myself were married (on Sept. 1, 1856) and ran the school in partnership for six months. Mrs. Leverett (my wife) continued the school during the summer (of 1857) and I worked at carpenter work and did some farm work (about Warren). The Academy was a success except financially, which was so marked that we concluded to let others try the Academy business."


"Horace Woodworth, pastor of Baptist Church persuaded me to go into the Academy business the year of 1858-9, thinking he could make a success of it, and I consented to run the higher department for a dollar a day and let him have all he could make above that sum – Mr. Woodworth did not do so well, but stood to his contract." This ended the Academy of the 1850s.


Chambers Encyclopedia of 1871 says: - "In 1858 large deposits of gold were discovered in the region of Pike's Peak; and during the first four years after the discovery there were shipped more than $30,000,000. It abounds in rich gold-bearing quartz. The mining country is 5,000 feet above the sea."


Those who read the "Tisdel Sketch" in the Warren Sentinel-Leader of May 28, 1930 got the impression that the exodus of Warrenites in 1859 was made with the intention of locating at Salem, Nebr. But an account by Prof. James Walker Leverett, before me, shows this supposition inaccurate. The Warrenites knew of the Pike's Peak excitement and prepared to profit by it. Prof. Leverett wrote:


"The spirit of adventure asserted itself in a number of people of Warren, through the persistent cry and appeal of gold at Pike's Peak in 1859. In lieu of cash past due on a note made by one of the party, the Academy Principal (James W. Leverett) took a portable saw-mill in payment, and joined the others on their way west.


"The company...gathered an outfit of 18 yoke of oxen, 3 yoke of cows,  6 two-horse wagons, one low-wheeled logging wagon, 2 high-wheeled logging carts coupled together to carry the boiler, one span of mules and a broncho. One wagon was entirely loaded with flour, the rest with eatables, cooking apparatus and mill fixtures. Several young men went as teamsters or passengers, so there were fifteen in the crowd."


It seems impossible to get a full list of the party, but Freeman A. Tisdel, Sr., Freeman A. Tisdel, Jr., Deloit Tisdel, H.C. Jennings, Oliver Jennings, James Walker Leverett, Anson D. Rising (Tisdel's son-in-law), Sidney Vandervort, Joshua Vandervort, James Sperry, and Murray Washburn were eleven of the fifteen.


Continuing the narrative – "For a few days we had to feed our cattle hay and grain. In about a week grain was sufficient. We crossed the Mississippi at Savanna, Ill., to Sabula, Iowa. The Iowa sloughs had more than a local reputation at the time...In navigating these sloughs we found that our high-wheeled rig, with the boiler for load, had enough leverage above the mud to wade through comparatively well, while the two-wheeled truck invariably had to be dug out and dragged through.


From Des Moines we began to meet trains (teams), with Pikes Peakers returning, who usually gave us all the way (road or trail), and had very little to say. Farther on we would occasionally meet three or four teams in company, who informed us that Pike's Peak was a 'humbug'. By questioning, we found they had not been far west of the (Missouri) river. Farther along we found the returning ones thick and more sociable – even inviting themselves to sup and to breakfast with us, with a remarkable ability to wait on themselves.


"On the last day of our trip on the Mormon Trail (so-called because it was the overland route taken by the Mormons on their journey to Utah), we met 200 teams returning. Crossing the Missouri River in Nebraska City, we turned to the south, satisfied that we could not reach Pike's Peak with any provisions to live on. We went on to Richardson County, Nebr., where we set up our (my) saw-mill – here it remained five years.


Some of the young men who went with us as passengers returned to the east, but most of them remained; some taking up land and some working at trades. Part of the company in 1860 went to Pike's Peak, but returned after one season, and became citizens of Richardson County. Two of them were sent to the Legislature at Omaha.


"The 'Pike's Peak or Bust!' legends on the out-going wagons, together with the returning one 'Busted!' made some amusement at the time. Yet it gave...them a view of life which, in most cases, was for their good; developed energies that they did not know before they had."


James Walker Leverett remained at Salem, Nebr., engaged in the operation of his saw-mill and in constructing buildings. Mrs. Leverett established a private school for a time.  Their baby, Cora Leverett, born in Warren on Oct. 24, 1858, died on August 11, 1859, shortly after the mother and child had joined the husband at Salem. She was buried on the prairie, her grave starting Salem's Cemetery...


The children of James W. and Harriet Maria (Tisdel) Leverett, besides Cora, were:


Mary Belle Leverett, born in Salem, Oct. 16, 1860, married George P. Sanford, now deceased, and she resides at 829 Sixth Ave., Council Bluffs, Iowa.


Fred Eugene Leverett, born in Salem, on Dec. 31, 1861, lives at Ann Arbor, Mich., Route 3.


Thomas Tisdel Leverett, named for his grandfather Tisdel, (a brother of Freeman A. Tisdel) was born at Salem on August 24, 1863, and lives at Watertown, South Dak.


William Joseph Leverett, named for his grandfather and great grand father, was born in Warren on Sept. 1, 1867, and lives at 1295 East Pierce Street, Council Bluffs, Iowa.


Frank Stowe Leverett, born at Hillsboro, Wis., on Sept. 28, 1869, is living in Portland, Oregon (now in 1930).


Clarence Leverett died in infancy at Garden Valley, Wis., on Sept. 28, 1871.


Carrie Gertrude Leverett, the eighth child of Prof. Leverett, was born at Garden Valley, on March 4, 1873. She is Mrs. A.W. Augur, of 5610 Dorchester Ave., Chicago, Ill.


The Civil War found Prof. Leverett at Salem, with a large family of little ones. Settlers at Salem, which was on the Missouri border, were alarmed in 1863 over the Indian raids in eastern Nebraska, and James W. Leverett slept with a gun at his side. He enlisted in the Home Guards at Salem.  Men tried to protect Salem, through which Indians, bushwhackers and jayhawkers rode, yelling and firing their guns. Prof. Leverett determined upon the removal of his family to Warren, for safety, and while engaged in the moving, was raided by Bill Anderson's Guerrillas, who took personal effects to the value of about $225, and some prized Tisdel-family pieces, but overlooked $1800 in currency the Professor was carrying. The family reached Warren in the fall of 1864. Leaving his family thus sheltered, Prof. Leverett enlisted and did a year's service in the Civil War, in Alabama and Mississippi, in Co. 1, 6th Illinois Cavalry.


The Civil War ended, James Walker Leverett returned to his family in Warren, and became part owner of the Warren Independent, with Herst C. Gann. The Professor looked after the "literary part of the paper." The name was soon changed to Warren Sentinel.


In the spring of 1868 James W. Leverett, leaving his family in Warren, joined with Joel Webster Parker in merchandising at Hillsboro, Wis. Parker, it will be remembered, was Warren's first merchant, and an uncle of Manley Rogers. The Parker sketch was given in the Sentinel Leader of June 25, 1930.


Leverett's family joined him as soon as baby William Joseph and his mother were able to journey. Leverett found unwholesome influences among the youth at Hillsboro, and, to protect his children – who were ever his first consideration – he withdrew from the Parker partnership, and settled on a farm at Garden Valley, Wis., where they stayed for two years.


In the mean time the health of Joel Webster Parker declined, and a change seemed imperative. Parker determined upon a slow-moving overland trip in a "buggy" from Hillsboro to Sioux Falls, South Dak. The ever-loving and considerate nephew, Manley Rogers, accompanied Parker on the trip. Parker steadily improved as the journey progressed, and felt strong enough to engage in the lumber business in 1879, in that new location. Here, in Sioux Falls, he was joined by James Walker Leverett, as a partner, in 1882. The partnership lasted into the panic of 1893, when Leverett withdrew, and moved to Sabetha, Kansas, and there continued in the lumber trade, being a partner with his friends, the Slosson brothers. Here, in Sabetha, the Leveretts remained for thirty months, when he went into the furniture business at Horton, Kas., for two years. This business he traded for a fruit farm in St. Clair Co., Mo. After living for six years on the fruit farm, the parents were induced, by some of their children, to retire and settle, near them, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.


Mrs. James Walker Leverett's health declining, due to bronchial troubles, the winters were spent in California, Texas, and Alabama. The fiftieth wedding anniversary was a glad celebration on Sept. 1, 1906. Prof. Leverett wrote, at this period, "We are still here and waiting till the shadows are a little longer grown, hoping that our descendants may have less of hard times to contend with, and that they may be satisfied that we have not lived in vain (we) having endeavored to teach them to find a way, or make one, to success."


The shadows overtook Joseph Leverett, the father, in Warren, on Feb. 3, 1878, just two weeks in advance of his 50th wedding anniversary; Mary (Turner) Leverett, the mother, in Delta, N.Y., on Oct. 3, 1881; Harriet Maria (Tisdel) Leverett, the Professor's wife, at Claremont, Cal. on Dec. 21, 1909; James Walker Leverett, in Council Bluffs, Ia., on June 25, 1916.


James Walker Leverett held many public offices in various places. He was a delegate to the Nebraska Constitutional Convention at Omaha, in July 1864. He declined to run for the Nebraska Legislature. He was a well-rounded man, of a practical turn, and could do many things well. He had remarkable strength, both physically and mentally- as well as morally. He had facility and originality of expression in speaking and writing. He was encyclopaedic in general and special information. He made a study of the Bible for a life time, and wherever he lived, was a hard and constant worker in religious fields, establishing Sunday school, and ably assisting the clergy. Often he conducted lay services, in the absence of the clergy.


Mrs. James W. Leverett (see Tisdel) was a highly trained woman of talent and good endowments.  She graduated from Ingham Collegiate Institute, at LeRoy, N.Y. She had a gift for imparting knowledge, and did valuable service in teaching in the pioneer days. She was a loving and devoted wife and mother.


Professor Leverett went through the panics of 1827, 1857, and 1893, and the depressions of 1872 and 1907. Referring to his life, he wrote – "We have thus been most of our lives on the frontier, among the first settlers, and have contended with the difficulties attending new settlements....Perhaps the rough experiences were as good for the younger ones."


One of the Professor's children wrote: - "Father and mother placed character above material prosperity, and tried to do as much good as possible in the world. They were always doing kind things for people...and their influence cannot be measured. They were cultured and refined, loved the companionship of fine people, books and flowers. They particularly admired scenic beauty....They were ideally happy together.


As we review the life of Professor Leverett we are struck with his many changes in location and occupation. Yet these very changes permitted him contact with multitudes of people, over whom he exercised an uplifting influence. The Leveretts were vigorous in body, mind and character. Warren was benefitted by their sojourn within her borders.


-Jay M. Whitham.



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