Home of Benjamin McNitt

46. Group of Stubborn Idealists

A weather-worn old house a scant mile from the hamlet of Shawnee, between Niagara Falls and Lockport, is a symbol of much history.  The coming of Benjamin McNitt and his large family to this place is a part of the story of fabulous land speculations after the Revolution: a story of the development of the Republic now much neglected.

Few members of the family tarried in Niagara County longer than twenty-five years, but in that quarter-century strongly individual traits developed, often sharply antagonistic.  Son differed with father and brother with brother, always in insistence upon ideals that had strangely dissimilar aspects for each.  The fiery hue of some of their disagreements is still discernible after more than a century.

The old house, where the aging widow of Adam Flach now lives alone, was built by Benjamin McNitt on eighty acres of land for which he paid $400 to the Holland Land Company on October 1, 1830.  It was a very good house then, carefully planned with interesting detail in the interior woodwork, and with fireplaces adorned with well-designed mantels.  According to the building practice of the 1830s, the house points the gable of its main section toward the highway it faces on the north.  It still has the old parlor entered by the front door, with a considerably larger living room behind it.  Next the living room in a wing of a story and a half is the combined dining room and kitchen.  Back of this room is another which may once have served as a summer kitchen,

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or a pantry or milk-room.  There is a bedroom on the main floor, and room for four more upstairs.  The house is not as large as the one Benjamin's great-grandfather, Barnard McNitt, built at Palmer, or the one his brother James built near Salem, New York, but it is none the less interesting in itself.

Two visits to the old place have revealed its steady decline.  The first was in October 1917; the second in August 1950.  After the interval of a third of a century the house gave the same impression as when first seen: that it was waiting, unaltered except by the elements and by careless use, for someone to come back to it.  No owner since 1855 has changed it, and there it stands in a kind of mute discouragement, as though its real owners had gone away temporarily and had forgotten to return, while strangers passed in and out, feeling they had no right to disturb the arrangement of the rooms.

Benjamin painted his house white, and it is evident no one ever has painted it since.  Most of the same small panes must still be in the windows.  The odd bits of farm hardware hanging on nails on the woodshed wall look as though they had been there since Benjamin put them up for convenient use.  The barn at the rear also seems unchanged except for the process of decay through a century.

To this once pleasantly substantial home my grandfather Frank McNitt brought his bride Martha Smith from Ohio about 1850, and it was here my father was born on Christmas day, 1854.

All the land in western New York, bounded by a line running north and south a little to the east of the present city of Batavia, once was owned by the Holland Land Company, formed by a group of bankers and other investors in Amsterdam.  The land earlier had been the Massachusetts Reserve; Connecticut had the land south of Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio, called the Western Reserve.

Robert Morris, the rich Philadelphia merchant who helped more than any other to finance the Revolution in its darkest days, had visions after the war of a speculative fortune to be made in trading in new lands beyond the frontier.  With two partners he bought the Massachusetts Reserve -- or most of it -- and other lands including great stretches in what we know as the District of Columbia.

Because he had staked his own fortunes in the Revolution period and come through successfully, Robert Morris thought he could safely risk everything in times of peace, when vast areas of good land could be had at a few cents an acre.  He undertook more than he could manage, for he had heavy taxes and interest to pay.  One partner turned dishonest.

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Morris sought to borrow large sums from the Dutch bankers who had profited from buying up State debts later assumed under Alexander Hamilton's plan by the Federal government.  Theophilus Cazenove agreed for the Dutch bankers to put up  75,000 for one million acres, and to advance  37,500 against half a million acres more.  Morris had desired a loan, but the deal turned out to be a sale, with the Amsterdam investors gaining a small empire at approximately a shilling and sixpence per acre.  Cazenovia, near Syracuse, was named for Cazenove.

Robert Morris, often compared for his financial genius with Washington as military leader and Franklin as statesman of the Revolution, lost his whole fortune.  Quickly forgotten by most as a broken speculator, he was thrown into a debtors' prison by the action of a small creditor, and remained there three and a half years.

The Dutchmen completed their deal with Robert Morris at the end of 1792, and then spent several years in getting ready to sell their land.  At the outset, half-townships and whole ones were offered in blocks; before long, small tracts were made available to farmers at from $2 to $5 an acre.  The Amsterdam company established an office in the little settlement named for the Dutch town of Batavia, in a stone building that is now a museum.  In 1827 David E. Evans became the last managing agent; within ten years he sold the remaining land.  Paul Evans wrote the history of the Holland Land Company not many years ago as a thesis for his Ph. D. degree at Yale, and his work was published as Vol. XXVIII of the Buffalo History Society Publications.

Benjamin McNitt bought eighty acres from Robert Morris' empire from David Evans in 1830, and on April 28, 1835, he bought seventy acres more for $395.75.  Benjamin's second cousin, John Wilson McNitt, lived in the small neighboring community of Sanborn and traded in lands throughout the period.  He may have initiated purchases from the Holland Land Company, and dealt in farms after newcomers had grown tired of them.  Possibly he was instrumental in persuading Benjamin to leave his first farm of sixty acres in Cayuga County to try his fortunes on a new tract to the westward, to be had for about $5 an acre.

The virgin land was not troublesome to break to the plough; it was almost as level as a floor.  It lay twelve miles east of Niagara Falls.  When his neighborhood was cut away from Niagara Township to form the new township of Wheatfield, Benjamin was the second to be elected town supervisor and member of the county board.  His eldest son Sylvester, who married Susan Brown in 1838 and bought fifty acres out of his father's farm on the day after Christmas in 1840, was elected supervisor for several terms.

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We shall return to Sylvester presently.  In order to keep the chronicle in the line of events as they came along we had better have the beginning of a story related by Mrs. Eva McNitt Eggers, youngest daughter of Elijah McNitt, one of the strongest-willed of Benjamin's sons.  Mrs. Eggers was the only person of her later period to remember all the details she related for this chapter: a story that would have been lost but for her telling it shortly before her death in 1949.  Her daughter Florence, a high school teacher at Sand Springs, Oklahoma, transcribed her recital.  It opens thus:

At some time in the 1830s, Peter, Pardon, and Sylvanus McNitt, sons of Benjamin and Rebecca Worden McNitt, migrated westward from Niagara County.  They settled at Walnut in Bureau County, Illinois, about a hundred miles west of a little place called Fort Dearborn, now known as Chicago.  In 1843 they were joined by another brother, Elijah, who was my father.

Elijah's coming was the result of an unhappy incident.  He had been attending a medical school in New York up to the time he came home to his father's house for the Christmas holidays in 1842, a tall young man of twenty-two.  On Christmas eve the Presbyterian minister joined the family festivities.  In the course of the evening -- evidently unused to drink -- he became intoxicated and behaved in a manner my father Elijah thought most unbecoming.  As outspoken as all the McNitts, Elijah criticized the minister sharply to his face.

His tongue loosened, the minister had made disparaging remarks about the morals of some of the women of the community.  His language was so plain it was even obscene.  Elijah would not allow women to be attacked in his presence without making hot objection.

But his father Benjamin was of the old school that believed ministers could do no wrong; he thought them entitled to deference.  Perhaps he made allowances because a generally good man had gone wrong from drink served in his own house.  [Hard cider then was the wine of the country.]  He commanded Elijah to apologize to the minister.  Young Elijah refused.  That same night he mounted his horse and left to join his brothers in Illinois, leaving his medical course unfinished.

Elijah arrived at Walnut, Illinois, in the spring of 1843.  On Christmas day of that year he married Francina Montgomery, and they made Bureau County their permanent home.  Elijah used his medical training to help the sick in the community.  He was a cabinet maker and carpenter as well as a farmer, and several buildings he erected are still standing at Walnut.

We shall make a pause in Mrs. Eggers' story to observe that the clash on that unhappy Christmas eve did not turn others against the ministry.  Hiram McNitt, one of Elijah's younger brothers, became a Baptist minister in Ohio; nothing more than that is known of him.  One of Sylvester's granddaughters, Lillie McNitt, was to be ordained a minister.

Elijah never wrote to his father from his new home in Illinois.  Late

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in 1851 he learned that Benjamin had suddenly been taken very ill with congestion of the brain, and realizing at last that he wished a reconciliation he went back to Niagara County.  He was too late.  His father, a hale sixty-six at the time of the unexpected illness, had died on December 19.  Could Elijah have reproached himself for allowing the feud to sadden the closing years of his father's life?

Sylvester was appointed administrator early in 1852, and he divided the personal property, buying from other heirs f or $1,800 their respective interests in the remaining 100 acres of the farm.  The heirs retained by a specific clause in the deed a perpetual interest in the private cemetery of the family: a plot sixty-two feet square lying on a low knoll to the left rear of the house, 200 yards or more away.  With the lot they retained lasting rights to a lane eight feet wide, leading from the cemetery to the highway.

Among the items of personal property listed in the inventory of Benjamin's effects were a spinning wheel, a walnut table, six flag-bottomed chairs, a plank-bottom settee of windsor type, blue tableware, a cherry bureau, a cherry candle-stand, one "furniture wooden clock" (probably tall), andirons, a Bible, an arm chair, and several candlesticks.  The list also mentions three horses, several cows, a number of sheep and pigs, carriages, wagons, and farm tools.

After Sylvester had settled with the other heirs he and his wife Susan deeded forty acres to Franklin and Cordelia, his brother and sister, for $1,280.  Frank bought ten acres on March 18, 1853 from William M. Worden, husband of Cinderella McNitt, and on December 22, 1854 he bought his sister Cordelia's interest in the forty acres for $300.  Restless and ambitious, Frank soon decided to try his luck in Michigan, whither some of the family already had gone: Sylvester, Cordelia, Margaret, and Emily; on April 3, 1855 he sold his fifty acres to Daniel Duffenbacher for $2,250.  Then with his wife Martha and their two babies, Alice and Henry, he moved to the township of Bowne in Kent County, Michigan.  Later he set up a permanent home in Lisbon, sixteen miles northwest of Grand Rapids.  The family grew with six more children: Clara, Seward, Edith, Dora, Eva, and Verner.  More will appear later about the eight, of whom only Eva survives.

Sylvester, the eldest brother, had not waited as long as Frank to remove to Michigan.  He had been an active trader in real estate, buying and selling many farms, but no doubt believing he had exhausted the possibilities he sold out and moved westward early in 1853 to Hartford.  The country was new, and as a surveyor he helped lay out the frontier township.

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Samuel McNitt, a lively patriarch at ninety-six, called up memories of his cousin Sylvester when I last saw him in Ravenna, Michigan, in 1917.  The story conveys a great deal.

"There was a man," he declared with emphasis.  "When I visited Sylvester once, he showed me a stack of notes an inch thick.  Every one of them had been given him on an accommodation loan to some friend who needed money badly.  He didn't expect to get anything back on most of those notes, and he wouldn't dun anybody.  He liked helping people in trouble."


 
 

Sylvester McNitt's house

 In 1844 Sylvester bought a family Bible -- six years after his marriage -- in which records of births, marriages, and deaths were entered for many years.  The Bible is still cherished in one of the Hartford homes, and from it Cecil Hoover Lightner has provided the account to follow:

Sylvester, eldest son of Benjamin and Rebecca Worden McNitt, b. January 11, 1818, m. on January 18, 1838 Susan Brown, b. March 12, 1819, d. February 12, 1896; he d. November 7, 1864.  Their children:

1. Orville Fernando, b. November 4, 1838, m. December 4, 1862 Lenora Percifal; two children: Mrs. Lizzie McNitt Gunn, and Lillie McNitt, who became an ordained minister.

2. Evaline Isabel, b. February 12, 1840, m. on February 18, 1858 Valentine Stratton; four children: Mrs. Eva Stratton Smith, Mrs. Ellen Stratton Walker, and two who died in infancy: Flora and Walter.

3. William Benjamin, b. March 17, 1841, m. Phenie Percifal, d. October 18, 1874.

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4. Child not named, b. February 5, 1842, did not live.

5. Emily Angeline, b. January 26, 1843, d. September 8 of same year.

6. Livera Marion, b. March 24, 1844, m. on February 20, 1884 Kate Barrett; three sons: Frank, Edward, and Harold McNitt.

7. Charles Lysander, b. August 15, 1845, m. Mollie Dolan; three children: Allie, Ellsworth, and Susan McNitt.  The two last named are living.

8. Thaddeus Theodore, b. October 18, 1846, m. on December 4, 1879 Emma C. Charles; one daughter: Mrs. Carrie McNitt Bayliss; Thaddeus d. April 15, 1921.

9. Julia Ettie, b. May 26, 1848, m. Ezra Curtis; six children: Alvah, Odie, Barney, Ollie, and Grover Curtis, and Mrs. Bertha Curtis Brague; Julia d. 1916.

10. Jane Ann, b. May 13, 1849, m. 1st Herman G. Adams; four children: Mrs. Maude Adams Dillenbeck, and Archer, Len, and Bert Adams; m. 2nd ----- Hubbard and had son John.

11. Jeanette, b. June 10, 1850, d. February 26, 1851.

12. Alpheus Augustus, b. December 16, 1851, m. Emma Havens; three children: Dr. Leslie McNitt, Dr. Nellie McNitt Warren, a graduate chiropractor active for forty years, who specializes in after-treatment for polio victims, to whom regular physicians often send patients because of her skill in restoring use of arms and legs; and finally William McNitt.  Alpheus d. May 28, 1922.

13. Archibald Elon, b. January 4, 1853, m. November 27, 1884 Marian Slayton; son Carl McNitt died in infancy.  Archibald d. in 1932.

14. Flora Ardella, b. July 17, 1854, m. on September 25, 1876 Marion F. Hoover; two children: Laure Hoover and Mrs. Cecil Hoover Lightner; Flora Ardella d. February 4,1928.

15. Sylvester Franklin, b. January 13, 1856, d. as a little fellow of three and a half on July 18, 1859 by falling into the well.  He was named for his father, and likely, for his uncle Frank McNitt.

Mrs. Nellie Warren of Hartford, Michigan, relates a story of her grandfather not likely to be forgotten.  The husband of Sylvester's eldest daughter Evaline -- Valentine Stratton -- was invalided home in 1864 from service in the Union Army, with a fever that developed into typhoid.  When Sylvester heard of it he dropped his work to care for Valentine himself.  So excellent a nurse was he that he saved the life of his son-in-law, but in doing so he fell a victim to typhoid himself.  His condition grew worse as the presidential campaign of 1864 advanced.

A State Rights Democrat, Sylvester deplored the war, and was embittered by Valentine's illness and his own.  While news of the election outcome was awaited, Sylvester said wearily on the eve of November 7: "I don't want to live until sunrise if Lincoln is elected again!"  He died before dawn.

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Except for Andrew and two or three daughters who had married and continued to live in the Shawnee neighborhood, virtually all of the family of Benjamin McNitt had taken flight westward by 1855.  Before we return to Mrs. Eggers' narrative for a further account we shall pause for a little story of the two visits to Benjamin's home in 1917 and in 1950.

The crossroads hamlet of Shawnee comprised in 1917 scarcely more than a tiny country store and postoffice -- a museum piece that must have been there from the beginning -- besides a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse, and a few dwellings.  The farm was reached by driving half a mile south and a scant half-mile to the west.  Facing north toward the road stood the neglected house.  At the back was a willow tree, once tall and spreading but now crippled through the loss of branches broken off by storms.  At the left side of the house was a gnarled and twisted old quince tree, laden with yellow fruit.  On the other side was Benjamin's apple orchard, in a late stage of decrepitude.  Beside the orchard stood another and smaller dwelling, untenanted, that may have been built for Sylvester when he married.  It still was waiting for the white paint no doubt promised when it was erected.

A woman was digging potatoes in the garden near the house.  She explained that her husband, Adam Flach, had only recently bought the farm from Miss Sarah Hittle, and that under the press of wartime conditions in 1917, they had been unable thus far to make the repairs and improvements they planned.  She pointed to a small and very neglected clump of undergrowth on the only knoll in the landscape.  There was the private family cemetery.  When her husband bought the farm, Mrs. Flach said, the deed given by Miss Hittle had stipulated that the little plot and the lane to the highway were reserved in perpetuity to heirs of the McNitt family.

For many years the cemetery had been unvisited and untouched.  The neat white picket fence had fallen down when the posts decayed, and the sections had been allowed to remain where they fell.  Thick bushes had grown up.  Amid the tangle, standing erect in the center of the plot, the visitor found a marble slab with this inscription:

BENJAMIN McNITT
Died December 19, 1851

Aged 66 yrs., 11 mo. & 10 D's
Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an
hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.

All about were smaller headstones, some of them leaning, some of them fallen to the ground.  Here Benjamin, born January 9, 1785, had

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buried his wife Rebecca, children and grandchildren.  The quick and energetic had gone away and forgotten them all.

On the return in 1950, Shawnee was found to have prospered in the intervening thirty-three years.  The tiny store had gone to make room for a busy gasoline station and provision shop, and the smithy had disappeared.  Homes had multiplied in numbers.  But the old farmhouse was almost the same as before, except older and lonelier-looking.  Mrs. Flach had been a widow for several years.

She volunteered to show the interior of the house to her visitors.  The parlor and living room still had their original fireplaces, standing back to back and venting into the same chimney.  No doubt cheerful fires were blazing in both on that Christmas eve in 1842, and the warmth of the rooms quickened the intoxication of the minister unaccustomed to drink.  Amid friends the preacher had said things impossible for him to say at other times.  From this warmth and cheer the son Elijah had gone abruptly, never to return in his father's lifetime.

Out of doors, the scene had changed but little since 1917.  The big willow tree was still alive but hardly more than a tall and shattered stump.  Only three or four of the apple trees remained.  The quince tree had been cut back, and with renewed life was beginning with vigor a fresh career.  The unpainted small house was missing.  It had been removed to an adjacent plot, set on a masonry foundation above a basement, and painted.  Then in the succeeding years the white paint had grown old.  As for the little graveyard, it looked wilder than before, and may not have been visited in thirty-three years.  What may one expect?  The plot belongs to the McNitt family; passing owners of the farm may wonder at the neglect, knowing they themselves are not responsible for it.

We now are ready to resume with the narrative of Mrs. Eva McNitt Eggers, transcribed for us by her daughter Florence:

When Elijah had completed his visit to the old home after the death of his father, his sisters Emily, Cordelia, and Margot accompanied him on his westward trip as far as Hartford, Michigan, where they stopped with their brother Sylvester.  All three married soon afterward.  Margot outlived her husband John Warren, and later went to Illinois to live near her brothers.

Sylvanus was a soldier in the Mexican War, I believe, and so got to know Texas.  Some time later he settled at Lampasas and operated a lime kiln.  When the Civil War broke out he became a Captain in the Confederate Army.  Sylvanus was a larger man than his tall brothers, with red hair and blue eyes, but unlike some of them he was slow in speech and motion.  He was married to his cousin Phoebe Worden.  They had three children, Andrew, Benjamin, and Helen, and descendants still live in Texas.

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Pardon did not remain in Illinois; he moved to Michigan and all trace of him was lost by the others.  From pictures of him I have seen, I believe he was tall and blond.  The family said he was a shy man, not fitted to frontier life.

When the Civil War began, Peter McNitt organized a company in his neighborhood for service in the Union Army, and was its Captain.  He fought all through the war, and at the close returned to his homestead at Walnut.  A Republican Peter disagreed (after the manner of McNitts) with his brother Elijah, a State Rights Democrat, in their arguments over the war and politics.  Elijah never had been in sympathy with the war and had stayed at home, caring for Peter's farm as well as his own.  He was at the head of the Democratic party in Bureau County when it represented only a very small minority.

I have heard him quote: "He is but a slave who dare not be in the right with two or three."  He was so sure he was right that he had not cared when neighbors called him a Copperhead.

Peter, who had fought for the Union, was equally sure he was right.  His disagreements with his brother Elijah were so painful that he sold his farm and left, estranged, to buy a farm at Red Cloud, near the Republican River in southern Nebraska.  Contact between the families of Peter and Elijah was kept up by Manley McNitt, Peter's only son, and Charles McNitt, son of Elijah.

On the death of his first wife, Deborah, Peter took a second wife who was much younger.  Then followed a break with his son's family, and Peter and his new wife moved into the territorial Southwest.  Later he returned to his son's home in Nebraska to die.

Here Mrs. Eggers' narrative must be interrupted to tell more of Peter McNitt learned from my father, and from his sister, Mrs. Eva McNitt Freeman.  In addition to managing his farm at Red Cloud, Peter conducted a kind of tourist camp for settlers moving westward in covered wagons, some of them headed no doubt for California.  After my father reached his majority he attended the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876; then thinking life on the plains might improve his health, he accepted a bid from Uncle Peter to come out from Lisbon, Michigan, to Red Cloud to help run the tourist camp and trading post for a while.

Of his uncle's party spirit, he recalled Peter's saying humorously: "I would vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Republican ticket."  If some of us are now opinionated, we may recognize an old family trait.  When Peter grew older and became a widower, according to my father's version, he arranged to give his farm to his son Manley with the understanding he might live with Manley and his family and be cared for the .rest of his life.  But Manley's wife did not like farming, and so persuaded her husband to sell the farm his father had given him, move into the

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village of Red Cloud, and buy a store.  Manley also became postmaster and held the office for years.

Peter was unhappy in Manley's new home; he felt unwanted.  He married a young wife for consolation, and trouble naturally followed.  According to Mrs. Freeman, who had the story from her father, Peter and his new wife went soon to New Mexico, almost without resources.  My grandfather Frank became concerned about his brother and went to visit him.  Finding Peter almost destitute in a shack without furnishings, Frank bought some of the things needed to live with a degree of comfort.  Then as Mrs. Eggers has related, Peter eventually gave up the struggle to make a new life and returned to his son Manley to be reconciled and to die.  You shall learn more of Peter McNitt in his earlier and more vigorous years as we continue with Mrs. Eggers' narrative:

All the McNitts in my father's generation were well educated, but I do not know where they got their learning.  [They were inveterate readers.]  There were two distinct types, physically, and these types have a tendency to reappear from time to time in succeeding generations.  Type one is the tall man -- over six feet -- rugged and muscular, perhaps described as rawboned, with high forehead, large, prominent features, blue eyes, and red or sandy hair.

Type two is shorter and may be described as "square": square head, jaw, cleft chin, and broad, square shoulders; erect in bearing with elastic step, and with blue eyes and light or sandy hair.

My father Elijah belonged to type one and looked so much like his cousin Samuel McNitt of Trent and Ravenna, Michigan, that they could have passed for twins.  He was six feet two inches tall and never weighed more than 180 pounds.  He was a champion wrestler and like Abraham Lincoln he had a "no fall" record.  The ambition of his sons and nephews was to throw Uncle Lige, but they never succeeded though they tried shortly before the time of his death in 1888 at the age of sixty-eight.  He had dark red curly hair and rugged, prominent features.

Earlier, a Dr. Bayard had come to Walnut from Cayuga County, New York, and my father assisted him in the practice of medicine for some time.

I never saw my father without a full beard, and at sixty-eight his teeth were firm and white.  His personality commanded utmost respect and admiration from his children, and while his authority was unquestioned, I never heard him raise his voice in anger.  He was an idealist, positive in his opinions, and a leader in civic affairs.

His brother Peter was just as idealistic and just as positive in his convictions, hence the rift between them.  Only those who lived in the period after the Civil War could appreciate the bitterness over political ideals.

Peter McNitt was of the square type physically, with blond hair and very blue eyes.  He was always clean-shaven, and wore his Civil War uniform with dignity.  He was known in our part of Illinois as "Captain Mac."  He was a fluent debater, and conducted lyceums and singing schools in the

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neighborhood.  [And he always carried a tuning fork in one of his pockets in later years, ready to lead in group singing.]

In winter he taught in schools -- where the big boys had been in the habit of throwing out the teachers.  But no one ever threw out "Captain Mac."

Elijah McNitt
Samuel McNitt
As I remember Uncle Frank, he was a middle-aged man a few years younger than my father when he came to visit us in 1883 with Aunt Cordelia and Aunt Margot.  [Elijah was born in 1820; Frank in 1827]  Uncle Frank as tall as my father.  He had bushy, sandy hair turning white.  He and my father had endless discussions on all manner of subjects, seldom agreeing, but always amiable.  Father told him about the estrangement with Peter, which was heavy on his heart.  I do not know what they said, but I know that after talking it all over with Uncle Frank, Father seemed relieved in spirit.

The fourth of July came along during this visit.  One very vivid memory is of my father playing the bagpipe, while Aunt Margot, then a heavy woman but light on her feet, danced the Highland fling.  Just a little girl then, I thought it would be fun to explode a firecracker under Uncle Frank's chair as he leaned back in it, sitting on our porch.  He was so startled he fell backward to the ground, but wasn't hurt.  I was in disgrace with my family for a while after that.

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I have a feeling that Uncle Frank never quite approved of the free and easy life in our home.  Of a more serious type and more conservative, he seemed not quite to understand the freedom of speech and the gaiety of our home life, and the hosts of friends and neighbors coming and going.
Thus ends Mrs. Eggers' narrative.  Knowing my grandfather, I am sure he enjoyed the life in his brother Elijah's home and by no means disapproved of the gaiety.  But like others of us, he may not have been at ease with strangers and may have kept silent while the friendly neighbors were trooping in and out.  Nor can I believe he disapproved of the little girl who honored him with the attention of an exploding firecracker under his chair, though he may have had momentary misgivings.  His wife at home kept a very decorous household, and while the young people in it had gay times, Grandfather had most of his fun visiting his relations and arguing with them.

Elijah's youngest daughter Eva married Charles Eggers when he was twenty-one and she was still younger.  They sold the farm given them by their families and used the money to get more education.  When the money was used up both had first grade teachers' certificates -- the highest required for teaching in public schools.  Both taught through school years and attended Valparaiso University in Indiana in summer.  Meanwhile they were raising their first daughter, Jessie, who is now Mrs. C. A. Peterson of Helena, Montana.

On January 1, 1904 they entered the U. S. Indian Service as teachers, and were assigned to the Chippewas in northern Minnesota.  After eight years there, broken only by a visit to Florida where their daughter Florence was born, they were transferred to Oklahoma.  There Charles Eggers was in charge of an Indian boarding school, while his wife taught.  Except for three years with the Sioux in Montana, their work was with various tribes in Oklahoma.  In the last ten years of his service, Charles Eggers was in administrative work, and when he retired in 1933 he was superintendent of the Shawnee Indian Agency at Shawnee, Oklahoma.  He had been ordained a Baptist minister while in service, and after retiring he became pastor of the Council Valley Church, north of Cushing.  Because of failing health he gave up the ministry in 1946, and died March 27, 1948.  Mrs. Eggers taught Bible study classes in Cushing for over ten years.  Her daughter Florence lived with her until her death in 1949 at nearly eighty.

Elijah McNitt, born August 13, 1820, married Francina Montgomery of Wheelersburg, Ohio, on Christmas day, 1843, and died November 6, 1888, at Dixon, Illinois.  The children of Elijah and Francina included

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seven daughters and four sons.  Mrs. Eva McNitt Eggers, with whose story we are now acquainted, was the youngest of the daughters.  The sons were Charles J. McNitt, Peter, Franklin, and Stephen.

Elijah had a great deal of family sentiment mixed with his stubbornness.  Because of the bitter estrangement with his father on account of the inebriated minister, he pointedly did not name his first son Benjamin, and chose the name Charles instead.  The other sons were given family names.  Peter and Franklin were named for two of his brothers, and Stephen was named for an uncle.

This youngest son, Stephen D. McNitt, was born January 22, 1864; he married Delia E. Warren (1864-1927) in Muskegon, Michigan, and returned to Illinois, where for several years he was a salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine Company and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, living in Rock Falls.  In 1905 he removed to Ravenna, Michigan, where he bought 240 acres of land and engaged in fruit-growing and dairy farming until his death on April 7, 1942.  Stephen and Delia had one daughter: Mrs. Emily Frances McNitt Cryderman, who lives near Ravenna.

Elijah McNitt and his brothers made up a group of men as individualistic and as rugged in their convictions as can be found anywhere.  Each insisted upon his right and duty to make manifest his passionate idealism and to stick with it regardless of griefs.  None was influenced by any of the others.  Two of them, Northern Democrats, refused to have any part in the Civil War.  Two others, Republicans, were in uniform: one as a Captain and one as a private.  A fifth brother was a Confederate Captain.

With opportunities for higher education lacking in a family so large, Elijah came near a medical degree and practiced informally on the frontier anyhow; Frank had a natural inclination toward medical science and experimentally doctored himself to advanced old age.  Peter had a strong liking for music, and with modern opportunities he could have developed his flair into that of a cultivated appreciator, at least.  And Elijah played the bagpipe.

They were men of vivid personality.  They were amiable though contentious; when ugly error raised its head, each in his own way sought to smite it down.  No compromise with error!  They were potential ruling elders in the disguise of agnostics.  Two hundred years earlier they would have ridden with the stern horsemen in the Pentland Rising and at Bothwell Bridge.

(end of page 117)


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