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Lambert: Only Hearty, Skilled Pioneers Need Apply

The first band of folks to settle Walkers' Grove had to be made of hearty stuff to endure the hard work and occasionally harsh climate.

The Inquiry

Besides the extended Walker clan, who were the other families who lived at the Walkers' Grove pioneer settlement?

The Facts

Although staked a claim in 1828, little more was completed to establish a permanent settlement that year. Instead, the men returned to Ottawa and prepared to return the next spring to the site that is . Over that winter, the three Walker men recruited others whose skills would be useful.

The First Two Years

In 1829, the Walkers set out in the company of Timothy Clark and his three eldest sons, as well as bachelors Thomas Covell and Jedediah Wooley.

That first year, land was cleared of trees for a small field of crops. The felled trees were cut into logs and left “to season” for the construction of a few, crude cabins. The work required the strength and skills of many strong men. The combined experience of the first men was essential for the new settlement to prosper.

Joseph Walker was the blacksmith — the most important trade on the prairie. A blacksmith not only made all of the necessary tools and implements, but could repair them as well. 

James Walker possessed the energetic skills of both farmer and millwright.

Timothy Clark was a carpenter builder who had come to Illinois from Ohio in 1820. He settled in Ottawa by 1827, and left his wife and youngest children there when he joined the Walker clan.

Thomas R. Covel, also from Ohio, settled first in Alton in 1824. Within two years, he had moved to LaSalle County along a creek that now bears his name. There, he built a water-powered mill. It's likely Covel provided guidance to James Walker when the first mill was erected on the DuPage River.

Jedediah Wooley was a land surveyor who had recently arrived at Ottawa when the Walkers were pulling together their group. He provided the skills needed to survey and document the land claims made by the Walkers and others along the DuPage River.

Despite their best efforts, the men did not have the provisions or substantial shelter completed to remain here through the winter of 1829-30. So, they returned to their families at Ottawa.

The following spring, the men ventured back to their claim. John Cooper and his new bride, Rhoda Clark (eldest daughter of Timothy Clark), joined them. The first women at Walkers’ Grove included Susannah Walker, Jane Walker and young Rhoda Cooper.

The work of settlement was difficult and tedious. Men and boys erected shelter, plowed the land, and tended crops and livestock. Women, who labored alongside the men, also cared for the young children in the most meager conditions.

As the settlement took shape, Jedediah Wooley left and settled outside of Fort Dearborn (present-day Chicago).

When Reuben Flagg and his family arrived in July 1830, he reported that three families, occupying three or four small cabins, lived at Walkers’ Grove. Those families included the Walkers (Joseph in the company of James, wife Jane and their children, and Jesse and Susannah with their daughters); Timothy Clark with his three eldest sons and daughter and son-in-law; and Thomas Covel, a bachelor. 

By mid-summer, the settlement was home to fewer than 25 people.

That same summer, Joseph Walker returned to Ottawa, gathered his family, and departed for southern Indiana.

In September, the settlement witnessed its first birth: Samantha Flagg.  

As , Timothy Clark and his sons returned to Ottawa, where his wife was expecting another child. 

The Settlement Grows

Other robust souls joined the settlement throughout 1831. However, Albert Clark, the young son of Timothy Clark, died in the spring of 1831, marking the first death at Walkers’ Grove. 

Based on several accounts, the following families were living at Walker’s Grove in April 1832, when the Black Hawk War erupted: Jesse Walker and family; James Walker and family; Timothy B. Clark and family; John Cooper and family; Thomas R. Covel and family; Reuben Flagg and family; the Rev. and Mrs. Stephen Beggs; Chester Smith and family; William Bradford and family; Peter Watkins and family (which included his adult sister); Samuel Shively and family; James Mathers and family; Levi Arnold and his wife; Elisha Fish and family; Oliver Goss and his wife; James Gilson and family; the Rev. William See and family; and ; as well as the widower Robert Chapman with his adult daughter; and bachelors James Turner; Orrin Turner and John Shutliff.

Later that year, James Turner married Peter Watkins’ sister. The joy of that first marriage at Walkers’ Grove turned to sadness when Mrs. Turner died soon thereafter.

Within nine months, the population of the settlement had tripled. More settlers swarmed into the region after the Black Hawk War ended in September 1832.

When John Barber and his family arrived late that summer, they found the settlement to be “too crowded” and soon moved northeast, settling Barber’s Corners (present-day Boughton Road and Route 53, Bolingbrook). 

By the middle of 1834, the population of the area known as Walkers’ Grove had swelled to nearly 150 people. While some settlers moved elsewhere, others put down roots. No doubt, the steady influx of new settlers encouraged Ingersoll, and to pursue the establishment of their new towns that, in a short time, would become Plainfield.     

Tim March 01, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Thank you for continuing this series on the history of Plainfield, Mr. Lambert. It is refreshing to read something on this site that is based on fact. I hope one day soon you take over as the editor of this Plainfield patch. Your professionalism is appreciated, and is obvious in your writing.
Baba O'Riley March 03, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I agree with the previous post. It is a great story of historical fact. Having grown up near the site of Walkers Mill I have always had an interest in the early history of the area. There are several old woodlots that have never been disturbed and are as they were when settlers first inhabited the area. Ive also found many artifacts in those areas. I really like the old map also. Good work Mike.

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