Randolph County, Indiana
Edward Edger led what might be accounted as the most varied, and indeed, the most romantic career of any man who ever resided in Randolph County.
A full history of his life would be a reminiscence to the old and a sermon to the young. It would show the hardships and trials of early days, the toils and struggles
of our fathers, and cause us to appreciate all the more our inestimable privileges, which are but the results of their labor.
The Union City Times-Gazette
Tuesday, July 25, 1944
The Life And Times Of Edward Edger
– by Philip Kabel
He was born in Derry County, Ireland, March 10, 1804. In June, 1807, when he was but three years old, his parents, with their eight children,
left Ireland for free America, and landed in Baltimore on the 9th of September, it requiring over three months to make the voyage in the sailing vessels of that period.
They settled first in Augusta County, Virginia, where they remained one year. They then moved to Bourbon County, Kentucky, where they remained
fifteen years, or until 1823, when all the family except young Edward moved to Castine, Darke County, Ohio; he being twenty years of age, and liking Kentucky, remained there.
After his family moved away, he began life as a flat-boatman and a pilot on the Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, continuing in this business
for seven years. At that time there was nothing more romantic than these trips up and down those rivers, especially the Mississippi.
They loaded their flat-boats far up the river with such products as they could obtain, and floated with the current down to New
Orleans where they disposed of their cargo and their boat as well, and were compelled to return on foot or horseback to their northern homes. He made many
such trips, and each one was full of such daring adventures that they would now read like fiction.
After he began life as a regular pilot, these trips were, of course, discontinued, but piloting in those days was not devoid
of spirit and adventure. Many times he related the story of his marvelous escape from the “Tennessee.” This was a large passenger vessel, and he was its pilot.
As it came up the river on March 8, 1828, it ran against a snag and was soon so full of water that it went to the bottom, more than one
hundred persons being drowned, but being young and active, he managed to secure a board, and on this he floated many miles down the river, until he was at last able
to push ashore a long distance from the wreck.
Not long after this he came north, and settled in Ohio. Being about New Madison a large part of the time, he became acquainted with
Miss Jane Gray Putman of that place, and there on the 12th day of November, 1833, this couple were made one in law, one in love and affection.
To them were born thirteen children, all of whom are deceased except “Aunt" Belle who for fifty-three years taught the kindergarten in our schools.
Elizabeth married John B. Goodrich and was the mother of the Goodrich brothers; Mary Jane
married Henry Taylor Semans and was the mother of Carl, Ed and Harry (Bun) Semans;
Sarah married John W. Macy and was the mother of Shields, Ralph, John W. Wacy, Jr., and Kate (Macy) Miller;
Harriet married Calvin W. Diggs and was the mother of Nellie (Diggs) Beals and Mary Jane Diggs.
More that one hundred Putmans served in the patriot army during our war for independence, Henry Putman and his seven sons being
in the battle at Lexington, the father being killed there.
The very mention of the name of Israel Putman was like the sound of a trumpet, and it was long a matter of controversy whether
Putman or Prescott commanded at Bunker Hill. His cousin, Rufus Putman, was sent by Washington, at the close of the revolution, to explore the Northwest. He is called
the father of Ohio, and his memory is held in veneration in that state.
The name of Brigadier-General Rufus Putman is found as one of the charter members of the Society of the Cincinnati.
The descendants of John Putman, the immigrant ancestor, are said to be entitled to the arms reproduced, which are blazoned:
Sable, a stork argent between eight cross-erosslets fitchee argent; Crest, A wolf's head gules. Motto: Deum non altum timeo.
In 1837 Edward Edger and his wife moved to Deerfield, Randolph County, Indiana, where he opened up what is known as a “general store,”
in which business he was engaged until 1854. No sooner had he moved there and had become known than he was, as the old settler expressed it, “the big man of the place.”
He was one of the cleverest and most accommodating of men and everybody soon got acquainted with the “new store man,” and this enabled him to do what was considered
then as a great business. The story of his life can be best told in his own words.
“When I came to Deerfield, just three families resided there; Henry Taylor, Henry Sweet and Jonathan Thomas. Henry Sweet was a
blacksmith, Henry Taylor had a few groceries in a log cabin there, he also sold some whiskey, and professed, besides that, to keep a hotel, too.
Curtis Butler had been doing business there, and had been Acting Postmaster at that placed. Deerfield was by no means as
unimportant place, in fact, small though it was, and deep buried in the thick forests of the Mississinewa. Although that valley had been settled more
than twenty years, yet along its entire course, little Deerfield was its only town, and its only post office, and the only one between Winchester and Fort Wayne.
But Mr. Butler had moved to Marion and left the post office in the hands of William Odle. The amount of business may be judged
by the salary of the office, which was seven dollars per year. It rose afterward to one hundred sixty dollars per year.
I was appointed Postmaster soon after my arrival there. Shortly after that, and for two or three years, an immense business was
done in Randolph and Jay counties in the entry of land, especially in Jay county, and vast sums of (silver) money were sent by John Conner, the mail carrier,
to Fort Wayne.
He used to have two horses, one for the mail and one for the money sack. He would have, sometimes, as much money (silver)
as two of us could well throw upon the horse's back. Sometimes he would lead the horses and walk.
People would “book land” and leave the money with me, and I would send it by Mr. Conner. He has taken thus as high as $6,000.00
or $7,000.00 at one trip. We used to hide it in a hole in the ground, beneath the puncheon floor under the bed.
We handled in that way, in all, receipt for the money, and take Conner's receipt, and he would pay it at Fort Wayne and obtain
the patents and bring them to me, and I would deliver them to the parties concerned, and they would pay at the rate of one dollar for eighty acres for our services.
Mr. Conner carried the mail for more than a quarter century, up to 1861, his appointment having been made about 1835.
The mail routes at that time were as follows: Richmond to Fort Wayne, via Winchester, Greenville to Winchester.
There were perhaps others. The mails were carried once a week from Winchester to Fort Wayne and back. Conner had to lie out
in the woods one night on his trip going to and coming from Fort Wayne. The operation would not be considered very safe now, especially with hundreds and
sometimes thousands of dollars in conveyance, but Johnnie Conner was never molested.
Between Winchester and Deerfield was a dense forest and much swamp land. There were only two settlers between Elias Kiser's
(one mile north of Winchester) and Deerfield; Samuel Cain and John Kimear.
Mr. Cain lived two miles and Mr. Kimear three and a half miles, south of Deerfield.
A large part of the land on both sides of the road northward from Winchester to Deerfield was held by James G. Birney,
a non-resident, and the country remained unsettled for many years. Deerfield became as important trading point, and it was for years a lively place.
David Connor, the Indian trader, left his post east of Deerfield some years before I came, though I think not very long.
I traded with the Indians for furs, as also in succeeding years for cattle and hogs. I traveled extensively, to Green Bay
and the Northwest dealing in furs and in general trading, visiting every northern state as well as some of the southern states.
The Deerfield trade at one time extended over Jay and Blackford counties, and even much farther than that. I have sold as
high as fifteen thousand dollars of merchandise in a single year, and have taken in as much as seven hundred dollars in one day. One day I bought one
hundred sixty saddle hams that had been killed the day before. Hunting was good, as there had fallen a snow several inches deep, a tracking snow,
so called, because the hunter could track the deer in it.
The principal furs were coon, mink, muskrat, wildcat and catamount.
Wolves and bears were common, and there were many deer.
Deer-skins were of different prices, from fifty cents to one dollar.
“Short-blues,” deer killed in the fall with short hair and skins with a bluish cast, were one dollar.
In early time great quantities of 'tree-sugar' and molasses, and venison hams used to be wagoned to Cincinnati; and
salt and iron kettles would be hauled back. I sold four tons of sugar kettles in one winter.
The cost of hauling was great. At one time a quantity of salt that was worth eighteen dollars in Cincinnati, cost
twenty dollars it get it hauled from there to Deerfield.
Four-horse teams would take two or three days to get from Winchester to Deerfield. Teamsters would cut a road and then throw
brush across to hide it so nobody else would see the track, and the ones who made the opening might have the use of it for several trips.
I had the first cook stove in the county. It was brought from Cincinnati. It cost one hundred dollars in silver at ten per cent
premium, equal to one hundred ten dollars in currency.
Considerable flat-boating down the Mississinewa was done after I came to Randolph.
At one time the task of taking several loads of charcoal down the river was undertaken. A German, named Keizer, who was poor,
wished me to advance goods to him and take charcoal for security. I would not, but Mr. Searl let him have the goods and took Frederick Miller as security.
The charcoal was burned, the boats were built and caulked, with tow, and the charcoal was loaded on the boats, as also the
good which Mr. Searl furnished to Keizer on Miller's security.
I had about two wagon loads of furs which I put on one of the boats, and I steered the boat on the trip down the river.
Mr. Holly steered another of the boats.
We came to Mr. McKinney's down below Fairview, and Holly's boat got fast on a bar. Mr. McKinney came out with his rifle and
threatened to shoot if we attempted to jump his dam. We did attempt it, however, and he did not shoot.
But the boats could not cross the dam, and the merchandise was a total loss, except my furs, which I sent back by wagon to Deerfield.
Mr. Searl lost about two thousand dollars, which came near breaking him up. These boats were loaded at Reitenour's mill below Deerfield,
a point at which many boats received their cargo.
At another time Joseph Hinchey and I took a boat load of flour and salt down the river. He and I built the boat and we jumped
four or five dams. One of them was Connor's, which was only a brush dam, and not hard to pass. When we got to the “Feeder dam” for the canal, they asked
ten dollars to go through, and it would have taken all day to clear out the logs so as to permit the boat to pass. I offered one dollar for a man to come
on the boat with me and help me jump the dam. A man accepted the offer; we performed the feat and got the boat over safe. The boat was taken to
Logansport, and the cargo was sold mostly to the Indians.
This was in 1839.
Deerfield was for years a noted place of business. At first the trade was to and from Cincinnati by wagon, afterward
to the canal at Piqua.
We used to trade largely in swine. I once drove a herd of hogs from Kentucky to South Carolina, beginning to sell them
in North Carolina and so onward until they were all disposed of.
Once in driving swine from Deerfield, two thousand in the drove, there came a terrible freshet. We swam Greenville creek twice.
The hogs swam the creek. We lost none, but some we had to pull out by the ears. The trip to Cincinnati took twenty-one days. There were about ten hands
with the drove. I got for the hogs six dollars net.
I once traveled six weeks in Kansas, sleeping in a wagon the whole time. My companion most of the time was an
Indian, who was a trusty, faithful man.
When a young man I traveled through the south, working at my trade; as also I was pilot on a steamboat from New Orleans to
Louisville, spending five or six years in these ways. During these trips I passed through parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia,
Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. When a boy sixteen years old, I went as an apprentice with my master, Benedict Thomas, to Texas, from Georgetown,
Kentucky, with a fair boat load of furniture, saddles, bridles and dry goods.
We took them on a flat-boat to the mouth of the river, on a keel-boat to Nacogdoches, and thence by wagon one
hundred sixty miles to the old Spanish fort, between the two Trinity rivers. He traded in goods for mules and horses and Spanish hides.
He stayed in Texas, and sent me to New Orleans to exchange the animals and hides for mahogany, coffee, molasses, and sugar, which I did
and returned home on foot. Another man came with me. We bought knapsacks and started, being twenty days on the road, and sleeping in
the woods or with the Indians.
We got provisions from the Indians – meat, bear meat and venison, and also hominy, sweet potatoes and corn-bread.
We passed through the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations.”
Edward Edger was not always engaged, even in those days, in business pursuits exclusively.
In 1843 he was elected to the legislature from this county, and served with great credit to himself and his constituents.
In 1845 he was a candidate for re-election, and he and Judge James Brown had a tie vote. He voluntarily withdrew and permitted
Judge Brown to take his seat.
In 1854, he moved to Winchester, residing here continuously until his death, which occurred December 12, 1883.
After moving to Winchester he engaged in the mercantile business for a time, but soon became known as a buyer of
grain; being associated first with John B. Goodrich and afterwards with H. T. Semans, but the last twenty years of his life were spent in
retirement, surrounded by his loved ones, he being especially fond of his grandchildren, some of whom were with him most of the time.
When he was laid to rest in Fountain Park cemetery it was meet and proper that the Masons should have charge
of the ceremonies, as he was doubtless the oldest Mason in Indiana, having received the degrees of this order in Richmond, Kentucky, in June,
1825, making nearly sixty-eight years of continuous membership, and received the Royal Arch degrees at Richmond, Indiana, in 1834.
Winchester Lodge No. 56 F. and A. M., was organized in 1844. He was at that time living in Deerfield, but
became a charter member of this lodge and was elected its first Master. In 1829, he sat as a Mason in the lodge at New Orleans when the
great LaFayette was welcomed to that city, and throughout his life he never lost his love for the Order or his affection for the brethren.
His life was a real example of Masonry.
Contributed by Billy
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