Saturday, September 05, 2009

Paul Pratt Jr. 11 Sept 1807 (8 Sept 1812) – 17 Mar 1896

My 3rd gt-gd-father on my maternal side is Paul Pratt Jr. Paul was the 12th child born into a family of 14 children. His mother, Lydia Gates, was the second wife of his father, Paul Pratt Sr. His father was “one of the sturdy Massachusetts ‘minute-men’ who rushed from ‘every Middlesex village and farm’ when Paul Revere made his famous ride, and did valiant service in defense of his country at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill. He was a farmer, following the occupation which had been pursued in the same locality by many successive generations of his ancestors.” 1 Paul’s father died in 1829 while he was still considered a child (age 17). He is listed in the Weston, MA court records regarding the assignment of a guardian to him and his other younger siblings.

Paul married Caroline Adams Woodward in 1837, although no marriage record has been found. She was from Oxford, MA and perhaps the marriage took place there. She had previously married Chauncey Woodward on 12 April 1836. He died within the year. Apparently shortly after the marriage the young couple moved to New York, the whereabouts unknown. Their first child, Adeline Pratt was born there in 1838. Actually census records indicate Vermont. No record of her birth has been found. Paul and Caroline returned to Weston, MA in late 1838. In 1839 the decision was made to GO WEST. “At that date, having married, he determined to seek his fortune in the West, and started for Chicago. He traveled by stage as far as Albany, thence by way of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to this port. He located on the same ground where he now resides in Evanston, and engaged in farming and gardening; he also cut considerable timber, which he rafted at the lake shore and floated to Chicago. A large share of the timber which entered into the construction of the first Government pier was furnished by him. His brother, George, was drowned while assisting in this work.

When he first arrived in Chicago the only means of crossing the river was by a ferry-boat, by which a single team was transported at each trip. In the spring of the year the country roads were often so miry that it was impossible to drive a team into town, and he was often obliged to leave the oxen at the present location of Lincoln Park and carry his flour and other provisions to that point. Even in the present precincts of Evanston the roads were sometimes impassable, but he improved them to some extent by cutting brush and placing it across the way, thereby forming a rude corduroy. Some of this material is still found by workmen making excavations for street improvements. Mr. Pratt made a squatter’s claim to a large tract of land, including the site of the North-western University, and when this land was surveyed and offered for sale he purchased it from the United States Government, paying $1.25 per acre. There were but two houses within the present limits of the city of Evanston when he located there. These were occupied by the Colvin and Hathaway families, both of whom long since removed from that locality. With those exceptions, his only neighbors were Indians and French traders. He built a log house at the present intersection of Ridge Avenue and Leon Street. Ten years later this was replaced by a small frame dwelling, which still stands there. Another source of income to Mr. Pratt was charcoal, of which he burned a considerable quantity and sold it in the Chicago market.” 1 His son-in-law, Louis Leonhardt was listed as a coal salesman in the 1870 census. Perhaps Paul got into this endeavor because of him or perhaps he helped Louis into it. Either way they apparently made a good living from it as well as the farming.

In 1859, according to his biographical sketch “he went to Pike’s Peak, spending eight weeks in crossing the plains from Kansas City with ox-teams. There was not a house on the site of the present city of Denver at that time. Not finding the prospects for miners encouraging, he returned to Evanston after a few weeks. “1

Paul lived to be 90 years old. He spent the majority of his adult life in the Evanston, Illinois area. There are streets named after his family. He owned the land where Northwestern University now stands. His cabin and later his house were located at the corner of Leon and Ridge Ave in Evanston. I try to image the changes he saw in his lifetime; from 1839 when he, his wife and young daughter arrived in Grosse Pointe through the Erie canal; where his cabin was one of only three cabins in what would become Evanston; to the horror of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; to the rebuilding of Chicago for the next 25 years. He and his wife, Caroline were truly western pioneers. They left the comfort, civilization and family of Massachusetts for the unknown but limitless possibilities of the western frontier. I wonder if they ever regretted coming so far? When his brother, George died in 1839 while floating logs down the Chicago river I wonder if there were thoughts of returning to Massachusetts? I think perhaps his journey in 1859 further west to Colorado may have been his wanderlust coming back. Maybe there was something better further west. Apparently he felt where he was was better than what he saw.

I am most proud of my heritage from this man and his wife.

The picture above was found in the book, Evanstoniana, an informal history of its families and architecture.

1 Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended(Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 61-62

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