The Pioneer Life of Adam Allen - April 2014

I always have been fascinated by our early settlers. I think sometimes the trials and tribulations that they had to endure go unappreciated today. This month's article we will discuss the life of Adam Allen. Who is that you might say? Yes, this is a name that you probably won't be familiar with. You won't find any historical markers discussing him and you won't find any stories about him along with some of our great persons of our community. He is not the first settler in our county either, but his story is interesting and worth exploring.

The dangers that followed our early pioneers were tremendous. Our entire county was almost one unbroken wilderness, in which were numerous Indians, wild deer, bears, panthers, wild cats, rattlesnakes, wolves, owls, turkeys, opossums, raccoons, and porcupines.

Every day life for our pioneers was about survival. If you managed to defend yourself against the Indians and wildlife you still had to find and prepare food. You had to secure a safe place for water, which is why Blue River Township was important because of the Blue River running in that area. Six Mile and Nameless Creek also ran through the township. You had to maintain shelter, and then you had to hope that you didn't catch one of the many diseases that existed. Luckily for Hancock County our diseases were not as bad as other areas of the country, but our pioneers still had to be cautious of ague, bilious fever, milk-sickness and others. But the pioneers were motivated by the firm foundation of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

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The pioneer story of Adam Allen begins in December 1827. That is when Adam and his family settled in Blue River Township, close to Nameless Creek, which is Southeast of Greenfield. Adams wife's name was never told. It was also not known as to how many children they had. Only one child was mentioned by name, Thompson, who appears to be the eldest son. He had at least two brothers.

Now you have to understand that at this time Hancock County is a year away from even being its own county; and they were still a part of Madison County. Hancock County had not even voted in a Presidential election. The population of the entire county was 400. Can you imagine? Today we have 400 people living within a city block.

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He described his home as a small log cabin made from the trees that he cut down with his own hands. Half of the floor was rough slabs, the other half was simply earth made smooth and pounded firm. The fireplace and chimney were very rude, made of rock, mud and sticks. It had a loft and no windows. The logs were stuffed with moss and mud. Doesn't sound very nice to me!

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There were no public roads in the township. There was only a simple path he blazed through the woods that led to a distant neighbor. His neighbor, James Wilson, was luckily less than a mile away. Pretty close for that time. Mr. Wilson had settled in the area two years prior to the Allen family

Although life was tough for the Allen family there were some positive resources at their disposal. When they arrived the whole surface of the earth was covered with undergrowth, which consisted of spice brush, pea vines, and coarse grass. Once cleared, it made for perfect grazing for cattle, pigs and horses. Adam noted that he never had to pin his pigs "until a few days before killing time."

There was an abundance of wild gooseberries, plums and ginseng. Adams son Thompson remarked "he would gather these items and would dry them for the market which the items would sell for about twenty-five cents per pound."

In 1822 Thomas Phillips established a Blacksmith shop along the Blue River. The first school house was built in 1823. There would eventually be nine school houses. The first grist mill was erected in this area in 1824 by Joshua Wilson. Other mills would follow. Also in 1824 Elijah Tyner erected the first store in the county.

During the summer and fall when the corn was ripening a daily chore for the family was chasing all the critters away from eating their crops.

Adam had a plow that was an old wooden mold-board kind. He cut his wheat with a sickle, and either carried or hauled it on a sled, then threshed it out with a flail on a dirt floor. If the wind was blowing, he would clean it by standing and slowly pouring the wheat to the ground in a small stream, letting the wind blow the chaff away. If there was no wind, then two persons with a sheet would fan while a third poured the wheat.

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For several years they had no cook stove. All the cooking was done by a fire. Anyone remember a Johnny-cake board? Well apparently it was more popular than a tea kettle.

They did not have any apples, peaches, or tame fruits, but substituted pumpkins which they would make into pies. This was a popular treat if someone would come to visit on Sundays.

On one occasion Mr. Allen went out to a mill on Flat Rock, and brought home with him about half a bushel of apples, the first ever seen by the children. The mother gave each of them one apple, and put the rest away in the loft, telling them that they couldn't touch them because she was going to make pies. But that night Thompson heard the noise of the boards rattling only to find his younger brother snitching an apple.

In 1830 Adam recalls a man moving into the township asking what the name of the creek was that was nearby. Adam replied to the man that as far as he knew the creek never had a name. The traveler questioned Adam, "so it's a nameless creek?" Folklore tells us that name still remains today.

In 1844, Thompson Allen wrote that "I commenced teaching school." He taught at District School #4. At that time the pay for teaching was about thirty dollars per term of sixty-five days, and about ten dollars of it being public money. The laws at that time did require teachers to have certificates, but the examinations were not that rigid.

Thompson wrote that on one occasion a student had broken the rules. His punishment was to go outside and climb up in the dogwood tree. He then detailed another boy to stand at the foot of the tree to make sure he stayed. Sounds like fun punishment to me!

Thompson would go on to marry and is known to have at least one child. A son named James K Allen who also would follow in his father's footsteps and become a teacher.

The family history ends before it mentions what eventually happened to the rest of the Allen family. It would be assumed that they continued living the pioneer life until they died. Unfortunately I did not have time to research cemetery records of that township to see if Adam Allen or anyone else in the family is buried there. But it's pretty safe to assume that they are.

Even though we don't know the exact ending to the Allen family story what we do know provides us with enough information to get a good idea of what early pioneer life was like. Can you imagine what it would have been like to live with the threats they did? Live without electricity, or even a stove? Does your house have a compacted dirt floor? The winters had to be extremely tough times.

So the next time you're sitting in the comforts of your own house take a second to picture the life and times or our pioneer citizens and how hard they had to work and what amazing people they had to be in order to survive and clear a path for us here today in Hancock County.

 

Greg Roland

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