|Vol. V, No. 4, Spring 1992|
by Robert Flanders
South from St. Louis past Festus and De Soto, past Old Mines and Potosi, through poor, rough Ozarks country some 75 miles, down winding Missouri Highway 21, is a neat rustic signboard which says, "Bellevue Valley, settled 1798." The valley, and Caledonia, its chief village just ahead, convey an old-fashioned country dignity, a sense of rural prosperity and civility that is uncommon among insouciant Ozarks landscapes.
I came to this town to complete study and documentation in preparation for its entry to the National Register of Historic Places -- the whole of the original town.
Caledonia is different. It looks different. Most obvious to the visitor perhaps is that it remains "unspoiled." Not only is it free of modern franchise glitz and roadside "conveniences," but it retains in its streets, lots, dwellings and public buildings, its barns, gardens, fences, walls, yards, and walks, the imprint of its history. Still evident in its landscape is the intention of its founders that it be spacious, rational, enlightened, and Protestant Christian. The view from the road hints at the heart of Caledonia's story, and that of the surrounding valley -- the story of its families.
Writing in the 1950s about her maternal ancestors, family historian Adella Breckenridge Moore said:
When my grandfather George Breckem'idge came to Missouri Territory from Tennessee [before statehood in 1821] he brought a very good library of books for that day. His books were mostly religious books and there were several Bibles. Also there were some law books ....grandfather took the St. Louis newspaper soon after coming to Missouri. Grandpa' s [log] house had a large living room and fireplace...on winter evenings grandpa would sit in the corner with a tallow candle in one hand and a book or paper in the other. When he would find some item of interest he would rap for silence and then read aloud....The smaller children did not like to stop their play but were afraid to disobey the signal....In less than two years George Breckenridge was made a county judge. He represented the county in the State Legislature in 1832-1833 when Daniel Dunklin fi'om Potosi was Governor....
George Breckenridge, we can imagine, was a model of the God-fearing, civic-minded, self-educated American republican whom Thomas Jefferson declared to be the soul of the nation.
This is a town, a valley, of the high Scotch-Irish. The very name Caledonia, Latin for Scotland, is a clue to the cultural intention of its pioneer founders. Avoiding folksy place-names, they chose a word that would be understood by those as learned and cultivated as themselves.
Driving the few streets, studying the old houses in detail, reveals many elements of tradition and taste retained from Virginia and the Carolinas, retentions not only of former places, but of former times -- the times when the American Republic was still young. Most noteworthy is the pervasive influence in the architecture of houses of the Greek Revival Style. One detail may exemplify many distinctives: virtually every house in the old town possesses a Greek Revival Style front door entryway. Even the one "Victorian" house has a transomed and sidelighted Greek Revival front door on its porch.
To those who have not looked at a lot of front doors this may seem a small thing; but for those of us who have, it is quite noteworthy. Over nearly a century of changing tastes and architectural styles--changes almost as quixotic as styles of clothing, decoration, or other modes of fashion-- the builders of Caledonia's houses cleaved to that chaste style of the early nineteenth century that Thomas Jefferson defined as proper for the Republic. The families that built those front doors must have been not only conservative in taste, but singularly devoted to a classical tradition in keeping with their Latin name, Caledonia (a rare place name for the United States).
The notion of a "high" Scotch-Irish subculture first occurred to me in relation to Caledonia's history. The energy, refinement, taste, cultivation, hospitality, respect lot education, sense of civic responsibility, love of freedom, and striving for a Protestant Christian decency seemed to have characterized those self-consciously Scotch-Irish rural and small town people. Adella Breckenridge Moore laid down the general lines of ethnic pride from which in part I draw the notion of a high Scotch-Irish subculture:
We have no record that George Breckenridge or Elizabeth Cowan Breckenridge were members of any church. [But] both Breckenridges and Cowans were of Scotch-h'ish Presbyterian blood....Scotch-IHsh parents want their children to marry other Scotch-Irish....Cousin James used to wonder why my grandfather Breckenridge came to Bellevue Valley to settle when he had surveyed land in four states and owned land at Old Mines and in Cooper County. My own opinion is that he wanted his growing children to marry into Scotch-lrish families. Palmer, James, and Smith Breckenridge married into Presbyterian families. Eliza, Melissa, and Milly Ann married sons of Robert Sloan [a Scotch-h'ish Presbyterian pioneer of Bellevue Valley]. So the plan seems to have worked.
Were there "low" Scotch-Irish, by contrast? The following observations, though doubtless lacking in clinical objectivity, provide insights into Scotch-Irish frontier societies in the Ozarks quite diffrent from that of Bellevue Valley. The famous Baptist missionary John Mason Peck wrote in 1818 of a visit in Wayne County, some 50 miles southeast of Caledonia: "They knew not the name of a single missionary on earth, and could not comprehend the reasons why money should be raised for their expenses or why ministers should leave their own neighborhoods to preach the gospel to the destitute." A similar obtuseness characterized their approach to all of life, said Peck:
They manifest the same backwardness in their business, a small crop or truck patch was the height of their ambition. Venison, bear meat, and hog meat cooked in the most slovenly and filthy manner, with corn bread baked in the form of a pone, and when coM, hard as a brick-bat, constituted their provisions. Coffee and tea were prohibited articles in this class, for had they possessed the articles, not one woman in ten knew how to cook them....A kind of half savage life appeared to be their choice.
The explorer-ethnographer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft made a similar judgement following an encounter with families of white hunters on the upper White River in present Taney County: "Learning and religion are alike disregarded and we are presented with a contradiction of the theories of philosophers of all ages,for we here behold the descendants of enlightened Europeans in a savage state, or at least in a rapid state of advance towards it."
In 1798, at the same time that Moses Austin burst in on the twilight of French-Spanish Louisiana to undertake his lead mining venture at Potosi, twelve miles to the north of the future site of Caledonia, Protestant American farmers from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia began to claim the fertile lands of the Bellevue Valley. They persuaded relatives and old neighbors still back east to join them. It was a process which continued for at least the succeeding three generations.
In 1816 Young Alexander Craighead opened a frontier store on Goose Creek in the Bellevue, and in 1818 platted the town of Caledonia around it. Local tradition maintains that he named it "for his native Scotland." Actually he was from Nashville, Tennessee; but he had impeccable high Scotch-Irish family credentials. A century earlier his forbear kin had trod the great Scotch-Irish migration route, first from Ulster to Pennsylvania, then south and west to Virginia, to North Carolina, and finally to Tennessee and Missouri. Craighead's father, grandfather, great grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all Presbyterian ministers. The father was a pioneer educator of Nashville. The sons were all cultivated and ambitious. Young Alexander was typical. When he came to the Bellevue Valley, he surely found it to his taste, a congenial and cultivated frontier settlement of people like himself.
In addition to Craighead's energetic enterprises, he carried on correspondence in both French and English, served as his learned father's confidant on matters both of philosophy and business and concerned himself with the education and careers of his younger brothers. In effect he was a frontiersman-bearer of American civilization in the new trans-Mississippi West. When he platted the town of Caledonia he was all of 26 years old.
The families Eversole and Peery were Virginians who became pioneer entrepreneurs of the Bellevue Valley. In addition to being farmers (almost everyone was a farmer in the pioneer Bellevue) they opened stores, built m ill s, and -- of great importance -- established an iron works, the Springfield Furnace, between Caledonia and Potosi.
Partners in the Springfield Furnace were Andrew Peery, Jacob Eversole and Martin Ruggles (of whom more later). Peery and Ruggles put up the money; Eversole built the plant. He was a wood-technic hydraulic engineer who, with his brother Abraham, had already erected large water-powered works in the Valley of Virginia. The three also erected a grist and sawmill nearby, which they soon passed to another newly arrived Virginian, Andrew Hunter, and his son John.
Of Peery little is known save that he too left a large estate at his death in 1831 (Martin Ruggles was the executor). Peery placed his two youngest daughters, Margaret and Malinda, as wards of Ruggles, their mother having died.
After Jacob Eversole moved further west, to Greene County on the southwest Missouri Ozarks frontier. His brother Abraham, also a mill builder, came to the Bellevue with his wife. Following the birth of their two sons, Hardin and William Goforth, the parents died suddenly in 1829. The orphaned boys were raised in foster homes. Only William G. Eversole remained in the Bellevue, and seems somehow to have learned his father's skill (or at least picked up his interest) in waterworks. He went to California c. 1850, but instead of digging for gold, he built sluices for miners and became a partner and officer in one of the earliest California aqueduct and canal companies. He soon returned home, but retained his lucrative shares in the company, doubtless a financial aid in purchases of land and the building of his fine house in Caledonia c. 1854.
Martin Ruggles was a New England Yankee from Massachusetts. Like many Yankees on the Missouri frontier, he seems to have had the entrepreneur's crucial edge of education, talent, ambition, and wealth. His own Spanish grant, S 1847, was one of the best in quality of soil. He was a first trustee of the Methodist Church property, and an elder of Concord Presbyterian Church. He also was first Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge. By the time of his death in 1840 he had become a money lender, with more than $9,000 out at interest and over $600 in specie on hand -- an unusual amount in that cash-starved time. His real estate holdings were substantial as well.
The Eversoles, Peerys, Ruggles, and Hunters laid foundations. In the next generation of their families, the weight of their wealth and influence showed up in town.
One of the most prominent of those kin of the second generation was a woman, Jane Alexander Thompson. The Andrew Peerys had known her family in Virginia when she was just a girl -- perhaps were related to them. A series of circumstances, including the premature deaths of the Peerys, was to bring her to Caledonia. Jane Thompson herself had lost her father, dead before she was born. She emigrated west with her people to Madison County, Illinois, where she was when Martin Ruggles called her down in 1831 to be a kind of frontier nanny to his wards, the Peery sisters. So she took charge of Margaret and Malinda Peery, then aged 18 and 13 years. Jane Thompson was 24. The relationship thus begun endured. None married; and they lived together until death parted them, a unique household of refined and wealthy Virginia ladies. Malinda Peery, the youngest, died first, in 1866; Margaret in 1873. In 1880, at age 73 Miss Jane returned to Madison County, Illinois, doubtless to be with kin (after 1854 it was less than a day's journey from Caledonia to Collinsville by train). She died in 1882, and her body was returned to be interred between the Peery sisters in the old Presbyterian cemetery.
Jane Thompson exemplifies the way in which kinship, death and inheritance, and the web of socioeconomic relationships bound up in those primordial life circumstances, effected worldly affairs.
The miller Andrew Hunter had a niece who was the daughter of his wife's brother. He had a niece who was the daughter of his brother's wife. The nieces were the same person: Jane Alexander Thompson. She was the daughter of Hunter's wife's brother William, who died before she was born. Her mother, Catherine Rutledge Brooks Thompson, after William's death married John Hunter, brother of Andrew. We need not set down her relation to her cousin John Andrew Hunter, the second miller at Hunter's mill; nor her myriad other Hunter, Alexander, Thompson, Rutledge, Brooks, Shields, or other familial kin. The double niece circumstance is perhaps enough to exemplify the labyrinthine character of clan interrelationships reaching back through the eighteenth century in Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Europe. Certainly they continued in nineteenth century Missouri.
Miss Jane Thompson was born in the Valley of Virginia in 1807, and came west in 1826, a part of what one family genealogist called "the great Hunter migration." Despite her youth and sex, she already owned land, a horse, and possibly other property which she !eft behind in Virginia. She was well educated, very intelligent, and astonishingly shrewd and hard-working. Jane Thompson seems to have been one of those persons born to manage and manipulate property. In the sheer number of her land transactions alone, few if any professional traders or speculators of her generation in Washington County would exceed her. Despite the legend that she "began with nothing," the probability is that she began with something and inherited more from many of those kin of hers, including those of Hunter's Mill; and that she was executrix and administratrix of many an estate, agent for many traders, and manager for many a kinsman and kinswoman. She surely managed the not inconsiderable property of the Peery sisters. For example, in December, 1843, Jane Thompson wrote to Abram James at the great Massey-James iron works west in Crawford County:
I am informed you are in want of hands. I have a Black man who has been employed at a Furnace as keeper, if such a hand would suit you please write me by mail and say what price you would give for his character and qualifications I refer you to Mr. L [?] Shaler who knows him well as Philip was hired at Springfi'eld Furnace where Mr. Shaler was founder. Most Respt Yours
Malinda Jane Peery By J A Thompson P.S. Philip is a good hand at any work if you are not in want of a hand to work in the furnace.
In the 1830s Jane Thompson bought out the store of James White, son-in-law of the famous John Smith T, and from then on ran a retail merchandising establishment. According to local tradition she built her great house in 1848. Such a fine house with a store integral to its design and with a separate entry on the facade is unusual, but somehow entirely appropriate to Miss Jane Thompson. She and the Peery sisters lived there alone, presumably with some or all of their slaves (several were children in 1860) but without other whites in the household. The sisters were domestic, if not quite domestics; one cared for the house, and the other the grounds, orchards, and gardens.
Miss Jane cared for business. By 1860 besides the store and house she owned 525 acres of land, 150 of them improved, valued together with her livestock and equipment at $8,600. In addition she owned five slaves (the sisters owned three more). Of 215 taxpayers in Bellevue Township in 1860, only three had total taxes above $50. Highest was her neighbor, James Evans, $90.74. Jane Thompson was second at $69.33. Further research might well reveal business relationships with Martin Ruggles, probably the capitalist par excellence in the valley. Indeed, one can imagine a pooling of the resources of many families through almost half a century in her capable hands, to the profit of many including herself.
Going up and down Main Street of Caledonia in the 1850s, one would have passed the houses of the Bellevue Valley's most prosperous families. First was the Thompson-Peery house. Jane Thompson's neighbor up the street was that highest taxpayer, James S. Evans. He also owned 1000 acres, 200 improved, valued with stock and equipment at $11,000. He owned sixteen slaves, the most of any person in the township. Her neighbor down the street, William Goforth Eversole (he bought his lot from her), owned 688 acres, 210 improved, with stock and equipment valued at $9,000. He also owned five slaves. These Main Street worthies among them owned 29 of the 203 slaves in the township, or 14%. Befitting their station, they lived in the three best houses in town. Equally worthy of note is that they lived in town. Other propertied town-dwellers included H.C. and William Lucas, combined holdings of 948 acres worth $5,800; and H.M. Long with 205 acres valued at $5,545.
Just out of town -- his farm bordered the village on the east --was the French Huegenot-descended John Amonette, 470 acres valued at $5,600. He owned five slaves. (The splendid Amonette house still stands east of the village a mile or so.) William Holman, scion of the venerable Woods-Holman family just southwest of the village, owned 752 acres valued at $7,850. Jane A. Thompson's cousin John Andrew Hunter owned 580 acres worth $11,300, and four slaves. Two other prominent families to enumerate in this portrait of family wealth are the Hutchings and Rutledges. Three Hutchings households totalled 10 slaves and 743 acres valued at a total of $5,720. Nancy and E.T. Rutledge together owned ten slaves.
The piety and energy of Bellevue Methodists, like that of the Presbyterians, was early and vigorous. The "father" of Bellevue Methodism was William Woods, from Greene County, Tennessee. Woods, who came in 1806, was a man of intelligence and enterprise who founded not only the Methodist cause, but one of the valley's most respected multi-generational families. He was not without a sense of cultural heritage, as is suggested by his own father's first letter written from Tennessee in 1807. "It was a pleasure...to know you was got to that part of the world [Missouri]," began his father, which I have some years thought the Best to move to, and to hear you are well pleased with it, and that you are amongst a number of my old acquaintances I ever took to be well-wishers to me, amongst whom I hope you will behave yourself well as becometh a young man who would obtain the esteem of every person around you...and be an Honor to your gray-headed father who is almost 72....My compliments to...Col. Crow, Capt. Bird, Capt. McMurtrey, and Capt. Wilson...[doubtless all Revolutionary Warveterans].
William Woods married the daughter of Captain McMurtrey, and did indeed see the others prosper and assume leadership roles in material and spiritual ways. Woods and his new wife organized a Methodist class and quickly drew upon the New Method to utilize lay talent to create an operative religious society, in substance a "church," despite the lack of a resident pastor. William was also an organizer and officer of a Washington County Bible Society in 1824, for which he kept an account of bibles sold or given away; and he was involved in the organization of a Caledonia Lyceum.
The William Woods family strove for betterment. In their large log house (the Woods-Holman house, southwest of Caledonia) his wife Elizabeth McMurtrey Woods gave birth to ten children who became a family of considerable cultivation and accomplishment. In 1839, for example, the eldest son Harvey wrote to his young brother James Monroe Woods in a vein his grandfather would have approved:
I would like to hear of your studying the different languages and if you will only have faith that what other men has gained you can gain you may at some future day be a conspicuous personage in the councils of the nation you will bear in mind the greatest...are self-made...as that perservance and industry in accumulating knowledge is seldom found in rich peoples children for the very reason that they are generally not raised to industry and to know that time is money.
Twenty-eight-year-old son Green Woods wrote home from Pocohontas, Arkansas in 1824 a detailed account of his current work stewardship. He was able to earn only $1.24 per day teaching subscription school, he reported, unfortunately paid him in doubtful Arkansas currency. But he hoped that by "using all the economy I can get along [and] be able to repay every cent I owe on earth...enough to settle off with Jane A. Thompson, Jas. Evans, and Dr. Lacy." He then observes, "I have got in the notion to marry at last;" but without ever mentioning the lady's name, returns to business:
I am studying stenography...you will see 1 have improved in my penmanship some--I commenced last night to relearn arithmetic----4 have forgotten more than 1 was aware of....The spirit of love runs through our school.... God has blessed me once more with peace."
Most of the families described above were interrelated by blood or marriage. A facet of the Thomp-son-Hunter relation has been described, but the total of their connections are prodigious. As for a few of the others: William Goforth Eversole married Rebecca Anne Rutledge; their son Dr. George Harrison Eversole married Mamie Amonette, daughter of John Amonette and Jane Hunter Fischer Amonette. Jane Amonette was the daughter of Jane Alexander Thompson's cousin John Andrew Hunter and his second wife Patsey Hutchings. Various connections of siblings in these three generations of the first half of the nineteenth century wove relations of blood and wealth which together with their concomitant institutional expressions in church, lodge, politics, slave families, and politics made up the high Scotch-Irish town and valley society of Caledonia and the Bellevue. That weaving of families was a part of the process by which a pioneer rural yeoman society began gradually to undergo the metamorphosis into a town bourgeois society.
In 1863 serious thought was given, despite the war, to establishing a school in Caledonia as a private business venture as well as for the public good. William Goforth Eversole, George Goodykoontz, James Carson, John Amonett, Albert Carr, James S.Evans, Munson Carr, and A.P. Marrow formed a joint stock company for the purpose. Several academy supporters were Presbyterians just then embarking on an ambitious building program of their own that raised a manse, 1867, and a new church, 1870-1872. Stewart McSpaden, a newcomer to Caledonia during the war, joined the group and proved an important recruit. McSpaden came from Tennessee to join his uncle Joseph, a wealthy farmer (fourteen slaves in 1860); but by 1865 young Stewart had struck out on his own and opened a store in Caledonia, the first step toward his becoming the town's leading merchant. He was to be superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school for 64 years, and secretary of the academy Board throughout its 35 year history.
In 1869 the Bellevue Collegiate Institute (BCI) opened its doors. From the beginning the school was coeducational, taking students from grammar school to a baccalaureate degree. It attracted an able faculty of both men and women, some local, some from elsewhere in Missouri, and some from the East and West Coasts. Yet the school remained small, apparently with fewer than a hundred pupils at any time.
BCI's leading light was Professor Willard Duncan Vandiver, another of Caledonia's stream of leaders with distinguished Scotch-Irish ancestry (this time on the mother's side). Vandiver was probably the first resident to possess a real college education -- a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri, conferred in 1877. He was named president of BCI in 1880 at age 26. He subsequently served as president of the state normal school at Cape Girardeau, was elected a U.S. Congressman, and became a popular and widely known Missouri orator. He was the undoubted author of the phrase, "I'm from Missouri; you'll have to show me." Vandiver married the daughter of the Caledonia Methodist minister, and taught Sunday School in the Caledonia Methodist Church (he had been converted to Methodism at a Central Methodist College revival). The Vandivers built the only Victorian house in the otherwise classicist town (though it had a Greek Revival front door on its Victorian porch!).
Vandiver was another in the high Scotch-Irish cultural streams of the Upper South transplanted to Missouri, with cultural roots similar to those of most Bellevue Valley people. Bom in the Valley of Virginia in 1854, his mother's families, the Glasses and Vances, had been Scotch-Irish immigrants from Ulster a hundred years earlier. They were pioneer Presbyterians whose names became well-known in Southern history. Neither wealthy nor poor, according to Vandiver, they were "middling" people who produced numerous clergy, several congressmen, senators, governors, and army officers "in every war this country has engaged in." His father came from "Old Dutch" families whose history mingled with that of the Scotch-Irish in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Mostly farmers and preachers, often Baptist, they "owned their own homes, had large families, and ranked with the well-to-do middle classes." Most owned slaves, but, he said, "they were humane masters and kind-hearted neighbors."
Vandiver's recruitment to Caledonia reflected the long and fruitful connection between the rural Scotch-Irish Protestant societies of southeast Missouri counties and similar ones of the Missouri Booneslick region -- Callaway, Howard, Boone, Cooper, and Saline counties. Early settlers there commonly had Kentucky, and ultimately Virginia and Ulster, origins. Through marriage, business, church, lodge, and political party, they wove networks to provide leadership for Missouri society, polity and economy. In the process, they profoundly influenced the very nature of the state.
Although this writing is more about beginnings than endings, readers might wish to know something of Caledonia's final course. What proved to be lasting about that rural kingdom of righteous intention.'? The story of the Eversole family brings us near the present. The first Eversoles, the millwright brothers Abraham and Jacob (note the significance of the given names) brought the first German-descended family to the Bellevue. In the second generation the Forty Niner William Goforth Eversole returned to the Bellevue with California gold and built a successful farming business and a fine Virginia-style townhouse in Caledonia. He married into the prosperous Scotch-irish Rutledge family and begat seven children. The four sons, when adult, became in turn a businessman, an attorney, and two physicians.
Only one, Dr. George Harrison Eversole, returned to the Bellevue after college to pursue a country medical practice and operate the family farm. He married Mamie Amonett, thus connecting the Eversole-Rutledge patrimony to that of Amonett-Hunter-Fisher-Hutchings, and occupied an 1890s Main Street house next to his father.
George and Mamie Eversole parented four sons between 1895 and 1903, the first Eversole generation of the 20th century. As their father doctored the countryside, raised thoroughbred trotting horses for the St. Louis market, started the first valley telephone company and "stuffed six barns to the peak with hay each year to winter the livestock involved," the sons grew up in the good valley in preparation for lives beyond it. Two graduated from the schools of law of the University of Missouri and Washington University to begin distinguished legal careers. One became a Missouri circuit judge. The other two sons achieved PhDs in physical chemistry, and had notable careers in industry. One worked in the Manhattan Project.
And what of home in Caledonia.'? James, the youngest, wrote in 1980 that the enormous expenditure on' their education had "netted [father] much satisfaction and the loss of his four favorite farmhands," no inconsequential loss, since "good hands were increasingly hard to come by." Father George died in 1947, mother Mamie Amonett Eversole in 1963; whereupon in order to keep the farm the brothers, themselves then past middle age, formed the Eversole Farm Company to operate the family lands. So the Eversole patrimony became an institution, the last of the old families.
Now, as the Bellevue approaches its 1998 bicentennial, Caledonia has found its place in the National Register of Historic Places. The society that built it and made it special is gone -- though the Methodist and Presbyterian churches continue. But the seasons roll peaceably across village and valley, as new each year as ever, framing images of the brooding ancient mountains. The valley and mountains are bound together in an eternal counterpoint of opposites, the one domestic and enticing, the other wild and forbidding. The mountain slopes are not distant; they rise abruptly out of the fields and meadows. After snow or in moonlight, the valley lies white and gentle while the mountains rise dark, massive, and close--ever close.
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