Shortly after undertaking the present work we addressed a note to Judge
Rockwell, for his early experiences, etc., in the early settlement of Mason
county, and received the following reply:
“Troy, New York, June 20, 1876.
“Dear Sir: At this distance from Havana, and without memoranda or reference, I
feel quite unable to give many dates or recall events of forty years ago, even
in a satisfactory manner to myself. There are others, whose residences at or
near Havana, almost and some of them quite, date back as far back as my own,
who, having access to papers and records, can furnish material from which to
compile an early history of Mason county, better than myself. With its more
recent history you yourself are well acquainted.
The best part of my life -- that portion which should be given to active
business enterprise, was spent in Havana. It was not as fruitful of desirable
results as I wish it had been, for if I had the ability, which I do not assert,
I certainly had not pecuniary means to build up a new town in a new country.
When at the age of twenty-six years I landed in Havana from the steamer “Aid,”
the last boat up the Illinois river for the season of 1835, Major Osian M. Ross,
was living at Havana, a man of means and large experience and proprietor of the
town, ready and willing, to expend money, time and influence in building it up.
He promised much which I have no reason to doubt he would have fulfilled had he
lived, but death removed him and left more than half of Havana the property of
an estate with minor heirs, nearly one-half of the town being sold to a Peoria
firm (whose names do not occur to me at this moment) one of whom soon died, and
their portion became also involved in the affairs of another estate, with no one
connected with either trying to build up the town, but both trying to draw from
it a support to live elsewhere.
Daniel Adams and Abel W. Kemp and their families landed at the same time, all of
us having started, with Orin E. Foster and wife (the late Mrs. E. Low) from
Demorestville, in Upper Canada, to settle somewhere in the great west, and in a
warmer climate than Canada. Mr. Adams, on a return trip to Canada, on business,
lost his life by a ruffian mate on an Ohio river steamboat, near Louisville,
Kentucky. You know Mr. Kemp’s present residence.
You ask the place of my birth: I was born in Benson, Vermont, on the 14th day of
February, 1809. Benson, Whiting and Middletown, Vermont, were respectively my
home until my 18th year, when my father removed to Watertown, New York, where I
was a clerk in the extensive store of L. Paddock, until my 22d birthday. I was
offered a partnership in Demorestville, Canada, with Mr. James Carpenter, who
had been in business there a number of years, and was well established. I
accepted , and became a member of the firm of Carpenter and Rockwell.
In 1835 I sold out my interest in the firm to my partner and life long friend,
and took my savings and started to seek my new home in the great, and the then,
far off west.
Of the time and the money which I spent from my slender means for years, to make
Havana and Mason county desirable to live in, it dos not become me to speak.
Havana seems to me yet more like home than anywhere else I go or live; not
because there is no other place equal to it in this part of the country, but
because I lived there so long, and because there are so many much less desirable
My official positions have been few and unimportant, with perhaps the exception
of County Judge, in w which I tried to serve the good people of Mason county
honestly and faithfully to the best of my ability, for one term. But “that was
the day of small things,” when one man and one clerk, partially assisted by two
to hers, did so much work for so little pay, and when t he county court thought
a prompt discharge of duty and economy in county expenses were cardinal virtues,
and when taxes were but a fraction of what they are now; and yet the county had
the same public buildings it now has, the county orders were as good as gold.
Time have, indeed, changed.
Hoping that success may attend your efforts to publish a history of Mason county
and Havana, from their earliest settlement.
I am truly yours,
N. J. Rockwell,
J. Cochrane, Esq., Havana, Ill.
Contributed by: Jeanie Lowe