great-great grandfather Wilhem Heinrich Schlichter was born in the
German state of Hanover. He emigrated to the US around 1845, entering
through New Orleans (like the Jockisches
before him), coming up the Mississippi River, probably by steamboat, to
St. Louis, then following the Sangamon River in Illinois to Blue Mound
township, Macon County. His name had been recorded as William Henry
Sleeter probably when he disembarked in New Orleans. Like many other
German immigrants, this was the name he continued to use legally, but
according to records of the church he helped to found in 1855, he and
his family retained the name Schlichter within the German community for
several years. All we know about Wilhelm’s family is that he had a
brother Charles, who immigrated with his wife, two daughters (Dora and
Augusta), and another child to St. Louis. In a 1931 newspaper
interview, Augusta Sleeter Albers recalled that on the death of her
mother in 1857, the family moved to Macon county, but they were too
poor to make ends meet, so the children were sent to live with
grandmother Amelia Louisa Fahrenhorst was born June 19, 1828 in
Westfalen (a German state); she was one of four children of Hannah
(born 1794 in one of the German states) and Johann H. Fahrenhorst (born
1804 in Westfalen). (I thought I saw in a note somewhere that Hannah was a Neintker.)
According to Fran Collord, Johann Fahrenhorst and a friend Friedrich
Nientker immigrated to Blue Mound township in 1939; four years later
the rest of the Fahrenhorst family joined him. He met them in New
Orleans and brought them up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, then by
ox team to Blue Mound township. In 1846, according to Illinois marriage
records, William Sleeter married Amelia Fahrenhorst.
arrivals to Macon County during the 1840s were from German states,
often coming in a group from the same place, traveling with a leader.
They left for a variety of reasons. German states were in the throes of
revolution. While liberals were pressing for unification of all German
states under a democratic government, conservatives wanted unification
of fewer states under the Prussian monarchy. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV
of Prussia had cracked down on the liberals. Burgeoning
industrialization allied a growing middle class with the monarchy,
putting artisans out of work and squeezing farmers. On-going war meant
that young men faced the possibility of conscription into the military.
Massive harvest failures in 1846 and 1847 led to famine. By 1848,
several German states were in revolution. Hanover was an independent
kingdom until being conquered by Prussia in 1866, but according to
Frizzel shared the general conditions of political turmoil, poverty
among peasants, and military conscription.
offered a compelling contrast. German writers who had been to America
were publishing glowing accounts of opportunity available in places
like Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin, and letters written by German
immigrants to family members back home reinforced this perception. .
The best-known and most widely published account, Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerikas,
written by Gottfried Duden and published in 1829, eloquently
romanticized the bounties and freedoms of farm life in Missouri.
Tolzmann, in his history of the German-American experience, notes that
some idealistic Germans wanted to establish a new Germany in the U.S.,
where they attempted to concentrate German settlement; Texas was the
main place where this was attempted. In addition, individual states
worked with transportation companies to recruit immigrants, mainly
farmers. German immigrants seem to have come in groups with a leader;
Jonathan Wagner in A History of Migration from Germany to Canada, 1850-1939,
briefly notes that German immigrants went mainly to the U.S. rather
than Canada because of how U.S. states worked with transportation
companies to publicize, recruit, and create transportation packages.
Eventually Germans became the largest ethnic group in the U.S.
But let’s back up a bit historically, since the general area these German immigrants entered had not been uninhabited. The land where the Sleeters came was located in what had been Kickapoo territory until 1822. (Macon County, Illinois, is indicated by a star on the map to the right). The Kickapoo (Kiikaapoi), an Algonquin tribe that is related to the Fox, Sac, Potawattomie, Menomonie, and Shawnee, had moved from around Ohio and Michigan to Wisconsin due to wars with other tribes, which was fallout of westward pressure due to European invasion, according to Kickapoo tribal history.
In 1816, according to John W. Smith’s History of Macon County, Illinois, the Lorton brothers built a trading post near what is now Decatur, not far from where my great-great grandparents set up farming thirty-something years later. The trading post conducted a thriving trading business with the Indians for several years, until the Indians left. Actually, Indians didn’t just leave -- the U.S. government pushed the Kickapoo (and other tribes) out. In 1818, Illinois became a state. When states were admitted into the Union, government activity in expelling indigenous peoples and replacing them with people from Europe or of European descent went into high gear. In 1819, the Kickapoo signed a treaty ceding their land to the U.S. government, having lost battles with the U.S. This particular treaty was one of twelve treaties the Kickapoo made with the U.S. government between 1765 and 1862. After signing it, they retreated to Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas; many fled the U.S. altogether, relocating in Mexico. By 1822, only about 400 Kickapoo were left in the state. In 1834, following the Fox and Sac Black Hawk Wars in Wisconsin, the U.S. military forced the remaining few Kickapoo out of Illinois, in order to ensure the state’s attractiveness to whites.
1824, the first white residents (the William Warnick family) arrived in
what would become Blue Mound township. Whites continued to arrive in
expanding droves throughout the 1830s; in 1830 Macon County had 195
residents (all white), and by 1840 that number had increased to 531.
During the 1830s (prior to the Homestead Act of 1862) the U.S.
Government General Land Office opened millions of acres of land for
purchase. In addition, the Preemption Act of 1841 was a U.S. federal law approved law that permitted squatters on government land who were heads of households, widows, or single men over 21; citizens of the U.S. or intending to become naturalized citizens; and people who had lived there for at least 14 months to purchase up to 160 acres at a very low price (not less than $1.25 per acre) before the land was offered for sale to the public. Land in Illinois was available only to whites; the significance of this is discussed in more depth on this website elsewhere. To help
enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, in 1853 the state legislature passed a
law prohibiting Negroes from moving to Illinois. (Over the years, the
prohibition wasn’t enforced consistently, and it was eventually
repealed in 1865.)
By 1850, twenty years before Boody itself
was established, William Henry Sleeter had started to farm on the 40
acres he purchased (with cash) from the U.S. Government. (I suspect
that he arrived in America with some economic means.) He and Amelia had
two children at the time. Her family (the Fahrenhorsts) lived in the
next 40 acre lot, and the Nientkers lived on another adjoining lot, as
shown in an excerpt from an 1874 plat map to the left. Jim Pistorius,
a descendent of John Pistorius who came to Boody from Germany in the
mid-1850s, wrote that the land was fairly wet; draining it was a chore.
As native prairie, however, the land was richly fertile. Farmers
initially planted potatoes, then corn, which they were unsure what to
do with (corn is not native to Germany), so they made whiskey with it
and took it to St. Louis to sell. Wheat turned out to be a very good
crop. The farmers also raised livestock.
1853, William Henry purchased an additional 160 acres from the U.S.
Government, again paying cash. According to agricultural economist
Folke Dovring, in 1850 average farmland value in Illinois was $8 per
acre, which in 2007 terms
would be $197 per acre. Using that estimate, William H. Sleeter had
paid about $39,400 for the 200 acres he purchased. The Civil War
(1861-1865) turned out to be an economic boon for grain farmers in the
Midwest by boosting demand. Crop prices and land values in Illinois
rose throughout the war.
Sleeters eventually had ten children. Four died of typhoid in
between January and May of 1862 (including their oldest child Hannah,
who was 13 when she died). Apparently, according to McAndrew, the
winter of 1862 was particularly cold and epidemics including typhoid,
swept through Civil War Camp Butler in Springfield, Illinois, that
winter. Two years later, another child died in infancy. However, five
children survived to adulthood, including great-grandfather William
Phillip, who was born in 1858.
the 1850s, William Henry Sleeter helped to establish two important
community cultural institutions: a German Methodist church and a
school. In 1830 the first Methodist Church in Blue Mound township had
been established. By the 1860s, according to Smith’s History of Macon County, Macon county had 13 churches, including 7 English and 2 German Methodist churches and circuits, all with regular pastors.
after founding the church, William Sleeter, Ira Warnick and William Evans
organized the first local school, according to the Daily Review in Decatur. Apparently the curriculum was in English (early teachers' names were Augusta Wood, John Lynch, and Miss Jeremy Cotton, and Mrs. Smith),
even though German language schooling was becoming common
in the Midwest. Augusta Sleeter Albers attended the
school in October - February of 1857-58, and 1858-59, graduating at age
13. She recalled much about it. About 31 children attended with her,
ranging in age from 6 - 20. At the time, reading was less important to
survival that knowledge gained through farm work; only the “more
fortunate” children attended school. Children, and particularly the
older boys, were needed for work on the family farm, so they attended
only when they could. The curriculum came from the “Blue-Black” speller
and McGuffey’s readers. Since there was a long gap between terms (mid-February
through mid-October, when children worked on the farm), children
returning in October had usually forgotten most of what they had
learned the year before. According to Augusta Sleeter Albers, until the
church was built, a little one-room building on the Sleeter farm
housed the church, the school, and community social activities. It was
constructed of rough boards turned out in a local sawmill. It had small
windows since glass was expensive, and consequently was always dark.
The room was furnished with a teacher’s desk opposite the door, two
rows of backless benches fashioned from logs, and a large heating stove.
William was an accomplished woodcarver. In a book of family memories of
the Pistorius family, who arrived in Boody a few years later and
eventually had many children who stayed in the area, William carved a
large wooden elephant that children liked to climb up onto, and that
served as a landmark for a period of time.
John Fahrenhorst died in 1859. Hannah Fahrenhorst moved in with William and Amelia. William died (probably of a heart attack) in 1866 at the age of 43, and was buried in Salem cemetery. (The Zion church that he helped to establish did not establish its own cemetery right away; in January 31, 1882, William’s two adult children John and Charlotte granted a strip of land for a road connecting the church and the cemetery.)
Augusta Sleeter Albers, pictured to the left a year before she died at the age of 97, married Henry Albers of Boody. Her father Charles lived with her and Henry for several years, presumably until he died in 1881. His headstone is shown below; we are not sure why his name is spelled Shleeter. According to Augusta, her sister Dora Sleeter eventually married a Bowman; this could have been John Bowman of South Wheatland, Macon County, Illinois.
One of Amelia Fahrenhorst Sleeter’s sisters, Henrietta, married Fred Bailey of Boody. Their picture, taken at their 50th wedding anniversary, is shown below.
The children of William and Amelia Sleeter were:
100 Years to the Glory of God. (1955). Zion Chapel Methodist Church. RR 2 Macon, Illinois.
n.a. (1931). Augusta Sleeter Albers. Newspaper article, copied with out citation, in the collection of Ronald T. Sleeter, Decatur, IL.
Boody School. (1913). The Daily Review, September 19.
Collord, F. (date). letter to Ron T. Sleeter.
Dodd, J., Liahona Research. Illinois Marriages 1790-1860. Provo, UT. Retrieved May 28, 2008 from http://www.ancestry.com.
Dovring, F. (1977) The farmland boom in Illinois. Illinois Agricultural Economics 17 (2), 34-38.
Duden, G. (1829). Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerikas. J. W. Goodrich (General Editor), G. H. Kellner, E. Nagel, A. E. Schroeder, & W. M. Senner, Eds and Translators. University of Missouri Press.
Frizzell, R. W. (2007). Independent immigrants: A settlement of Hanoverian Germans in Western Missouri. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.
Kansas Kickapoo Tribe. http://www.ktik-nsn.gov/home.htm
McAndrew, T. M. (2008, May 15). Camp misery. Illinois Times. Retrieved September 27 from http://www.illinoistimes.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A7575
Pistorius, J. A. (Ed.) (1990). The Pistorius family memory book. Unpublished, original located in the Zion Chapel Church library, Boody, IL.
Smith, J. W. (1876). History of Macon County, Illinois, from its organization to 1876. Springfield, IL: Rokker’s Printing House.
Tolzmann, D. H. (2000). The German-American experience. New York: Humanity Books.
U.S. Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880.
U.S. General Land Office Records 1796-1907. Provo, UT. Retrieved May 27, 2008 from http://www.ancestry.com.
Wagner, J. F. (2005). A History of Migration from Germany to Canada, 1850-1939. University of British Columbia Press.