Chapter Six

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The Orrin Sprague Story

Joseph Goodrich, if you remember, left for New York to bring his family back in September of 1838. After arriving he naturally began talking about what a wonderful place Prairie du Lac was. He spoke at length about how rich the soil was for farming and what a great opportunity for a new life this prairie would provide for those hardy enough to come. Many people listened with great interest, one of these people was Orrin Sprague.

Orrin Sprague was a blacksmith and farmer. He married Amelia Cady in 1828 and they made their home in Pennsylvania. Together they had 15 children over the years, but sadly a set of twins died at a young age. They lived in Pennsylvania until 1830, when he moved his wife and first born son to Alfred New York. Mr. Sprague worked to provide for his growing family, and upon hearing of the wide open opportunity in Wisconsin, he swiftly sold everything he could and moved his family to here. They arrived in November and needed to get themselves set for the winter without delay.

Mr. Sprague went straight to Peter McEwan and told him that Joseph Goodrich had sent him on ahead to set up a blacksmith shop and he was to give him some land for the purpose of building a shop and a cabin for his family. Taking him at his word Mr. Mc Ewen did just that and set out a plot of land in the southeast corner of section 27 of his own claim. Mr. Sprague got straight to work as winter was setting in and time was of the essence.

Having a blacksmith shop in the area was a great convenience to the local farmers. Prior to the shop being opened anything that required a blacksmiths skill involved a journey to either Kenosha or Racine. This was quite a trip and the result being lost time from home and the fields.

Well, when Joseph returned in the spring of 1839 he was not at all pleased to see that Orrin had come. You see the story is that these two men were not on the best of terms. While I’ve not discovered what the basis of the bad blood between the two men may have been. The fact was, Sprague was here and a blacksmith was needed in the community.

Ezra later told the story that the first lot sold after his father aquired title to his land was a lot sold to Mr. Sprague in Apirl of 1840. [I have not been able to pinpoint the location of this particular lot, nor have I been able to verify whether or not the blacksmith shop that sits on the Milton House property was in fact owned by Mr. Sprague. While he was the first blacksmith in town, he was not the only one.] 

Time passed, Milton grew and so did Mr. Spragues family and business which allowed him to purchase over 500 acres of land north of town in section 14 where he begin farming. Mr. Orrin Sprague died at the age of 77 while visiting his  one of his daughters in the state of Iowa. He was brought back here and laid to rest in the Otter Creek Cemetery.

*The picture above is not the property owned by Orrin Sprague*

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5 thoughts on “Chapter Six

  1. Pingback: Chapter Nine | Rock County

  2. Chelley Fallang Patterson

    Sharon – thank you for sharing these stories of the settlers of Milton. The stories about Orrin Sprague are particularly priceless to me! Orrin Sprague is my gggg-grandfather and I came across a similar version of the chapters you provided in 2003 when I started researching my dad’s lineage — an ongoing quest. When I read the biography of Joseph Goodrich from “The Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock County, Wisconsin” published in 1889 (pp 443-444) that gives the account of the Goodrich’s harrowing journey and mentions that the first deed Goodrich gave was to Orrin Sprague, my jaw dropped to discover so much detailed information existed about a close acquaintance (and “old enemy”) of an ancestor of mine. It’s one thing to find a census listing naming an ancestor, but quite another experience to find rich stories like this that name the ancestor, bring the past alive and lend credence to family lore!

    Regarding family lore, my mom was given a lathed, wooden potato masher by her mother-in-law (Violet Fallang nee Calhoun), which had been passed down to Violet from her pioneer ancestors, who’d purportedly brought this potato masher with them across the country in a covered wagon. Who knows? Maybe the potato masher, which now sits in my kitchen, belonged to Orrin and Amelia and was something they carried with them on the journey from Alfred, New York in November 1838. Until I found these stories about Orrin and his family, it was hard to believe the lore could be true. As a girl, my mother read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to us at bedtime so that we could have an appreciation of pioneer life. That was great, but it was still hard to imagine some nameless ancestor crossing the country in a wagon train — or why a potato masher became a family heirloom. These stories of the logistical and interpersonal trials and tribulations of Rock County pioneers changed that for me. Now, I know the potato masher’s provenance is plausible because a journey similar to the one documents for Joseph Goodrich did begin in November 1838 for Orrin, Amelia and their five children James Horton (b abt 1829), Charles Peckham (my ancestor, born 9/22/1831), Eliza (b abt 1833), Reuben (b abt 1836) and baby Louisa (b 1838). Soon they had their sixth child and the first white child born in the village of Milton, David Leroy (April 30, 1840). They would have another eight children in Wisconsin. Sixth of these survived — Eliza (b abt 1843), Isaac (b abt 1845), twins Lucinda and Marinda (b abt 1846), and twins Orrin Jr and Austin (b abt 1852). Another set of twins, a boy and a girl born between the other sets of twins, died in infancy about 1849. By 1850, the Sprague’s had been joined by Amelia’s twin spinster sister Emily and their mother Anna Cady (nee Seeley). Anything that survived that 1838 wagon trip would indeed be a prized possession and likely passed down along with it’s story. I can just imagine Amelia giving it to her daughter-in-law, Ida who married second born Charles Peckham Sprague, with a reminder to use it in good health and take care of it because it was hauled all the way from New York in a wagon, which unlike Joseph Goodrich’s misfortune didn’t end up tipped over in a river!

    Hearing about how Joseph Goodrich and my ancestor, Orrin, were at odds with each other adds spice and intrigue to the family history. We will probably never know what caused the rift between the two (the typical sources of conflict between grown men being money, politics, religion, or women) resulting in them to be described as “old enemies.” We also don’t know if they managed to eventually forgive and forget their differences. For me, it is hard to fault Orrin for wanting to join all those moving from Alfred west — and for setting out ahead of Joseph Goodrich and the winter weather. Yes – I am biased not wanting my ancestor to be painted as a villain and wanting to learn about and focus on his virtues. Both Orrin and Joseph seem to have been good men in their own rights – trying to do the best for their families and to overcome the challenges of pioneer life, which they both certainly faced. For instance, a biography of Joseph Goodrich states that “he was not always successful in his business operations here [Allegheny County, NY]. A raft he was taking down the Susquehanna, was stoven to pieces, and almost entirely lost. By this, the avails of his industry were much reduced; and he would have been compelled to dispose of his property to satisfy his creditors, had not a relative, learning of his misfortune, proffered him pecuniary aid. The financial difficulties of 1836, and the failure in the crops of the following year, together with his own somewhat embarrassed circumstances, first directed his attention to settling in the Western country.” One can only speculate as to whether the difficulties Goodrich faced in Alfred with his business and finances were at all related to the difficulties between Goodrich and Sprague.

    I am still researching Orrin’s ancestors, but have learned a lot about the ancestry of his wife, Amelia. She was the eldest daughter of Curtis Cady, who was very involved in establishing a community, church and school in Brookfield Township in Tioga County, Pennsylvania beginning in about 1809. Amelia and her twin sister, Emily, were the first white children born Brookfield on February 11, 1811. So she was no stranger to pioneer life. Amelia’s mother, Anna Cady (nee Seeley; b December 23, 1782 in Litchfield, CT; d Rock Co, WI) was also an early pioneer. She was the daughter Ebenezer Seeley (1755/6-1837, also born in Litchfield, CT), who served throughout the Revolutionary War in Sheldon’s Light Horse, a Connecticut company, a portion of the time under Washington. Ebenezer left Connecticut with his wife Mehetable (aka Mable; nee Todd) between the births of their sixth (1793) and seventh (1795) children and resided for a time in Painted Post, NY before settling in Deerfield township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania where in 1810 he erected the first saw mill and took up the Quaker faith. Anna would have been a girl of eleven or twelve when the family left civilized Litchfield for Painted Post, a crossroads in the wilderness that was first settled less than a decade earlier in 1786. By 1812, according to the tax record, Ebenezer Seeley had 466 acres, a horse, four oxen and three cows for which he paid $5.22 tax. His daughter Anna was married to Curtis Cady, the mother of twin daughters — the couple had two cows for which they paid 11 cents tax.

    Ebenezer was the gg-grandson of Capt. Nathaniel Seeley, who was killed in the Great Swamp Fight of Narragansett in 1675, and who was son of Capt. Robert Seeley (1602-1668), who came from England in 1630 in the Winthrop fleet and was an early Puritan settler in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Robert Seeley helped establish Watertown, Wethersfield, and New Haven. He also served as second-in-command to John Mason in the Pequot War. I often wonder if the pioneering spirit of the early puritan pilgrims was passed down through stories, DNA or both to the pioneers on the vanguard of the western migration.

    Sources of the above details: “History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania” (W. W. Munsell & Co., New York : 1883); “1897 Tioga County History: Chapter 34 – Brookfield Township,” which can be found at http://www.joycetice.com/1897/1897toc.htm; “Being a History of the Family of Ebebezer Seelye[and Mehetable Todd] Who Came to Tioga County in 1779” by Mrs. E. H. Owlett, Wellsboro, PA (1937, Commercial Press, Elmira, N. Y.); “DEATH OF HON. JOSEPH GOODRICH.” The Sabbath Recorder, Oct. 31, 1867, Vol 23, No 44, p 174; and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Seeley.

    Two other things I love about Orrin’s life story is that he was a gifted blacksmith who made fine plows and the father of three sets of twins. My dad’s brother (Duane Fallang of South Dakota who passed away in 2016), also a direct descendant of Orrin was a modern-day blacksmith and not only fixed farm equipment, but shaped and welded beautiful wrought iron objects (tables, wall sconces and more). I think Orrin would have been proud. Regarding Orrin’s and Amelia’s twins, I often heard as a child that there were lots of twins on my dad’s side of the family. When I started research this branch and found Orrin and Amelia and discovered they’d had three sets of twins and that Amelia herself had a twin sister named Emily), the family lore about a propensity for twins was substantiated. Now I can tell my sister’s twin girls about the other twins in their family tree with more than vague references and hearsay!

    I’d love to know any other local history of the offspring of Orrin and Amelia who were born in Wisconsin
    — Charles Peckham Sprague, son of Orrin and Amelia, who was in Jefferson County and married to Lucretia M. Adams by 1860 (she migrated west from Vermont with her parents Horatio and Eliza Ann (nee Morril) Adams and had a brother, Elijah). CP and LM Sprague had moved to Oshkosh by 1870 and back to Jefferson by 1880, where his occupation is listed as blacksmith like his father.
    — Ida C. Sprague (b 1858 to Charles P and Lucretia) married in 1876 to Sylvester Dopp in Jefferson County. Four years later, in 1880, Ida C. and her 1 year old daughter Ida Amelia are l and living in Jefferson with her parents CP and LM Sprague. (There is family lore that Sylvester Dopp ran off.)

    Cheers,
    Chelley

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    1. rockcountyourstory Post author

      Thank you for your comment and all the information. I find Orrin Sprague a real interesting character. As a matter of fact I am not done with his story. I am determined to find the property that his blackksmith shop was on. I think I know where it is but I need to verify it. He worked very hard and in time owned a good deal of land around the county. My Mothers grand father bought Orrins farm after he died. I think one of my great, great uncles married one of his daughters. I haven’t verified that yet deeply but it’s interesting. Thank you for all the information!!!

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