The Grandfathers
Vol.I, The Hall and Overstreet Families
Carrol Carman Hall, Springfield, IL, 1981

Section VII
Chapter 24, Page 251

A family mystery story …..
     the grandfather who disappeared

Emeline Pestel (Hall)+
1850 - 1937

  This is a Grandmother accounting
which tells of a girl who became
an orphan … was raised in a
foster home … and in 1872 became
an important member of the Hall
family ……

his family caught in legal tangles

John Pestel
1819 - c. 1859

The Grandfather Who Disappeared ++

'John Pestel was born in Germany, attended school in that country and in accordance with the laws of his native land also served his time in the German army.

'When about twenty-six years of age he bade adieu to friends and native land and sailed for America, landing in New York, whence he made his way to Pennsylvania.

'There he found the acquaintance of Miss Hannah (Joanna) Hailer, (1819-1856) and they were married. The lady was born in the Keystone state.

'After his marriage John Pestel followed carpentering in the east for a time and later he removed to Springfield, Illinois, where he worked at his trade for about a year. He then rented a small farm and engaged in tilling the soil in connection with his carpenter work.'

To Athens

'Subsequently, however, he removed to Athens, where he was employed in a tan yard for about a year. Later he bought thirty-six acres of land adjoining the village.'

According to his son, 'he was actively identified with early progress and improvement in this portion of the state, contributing through his building operations to the substantial development of Menard county. 'He was an early settler and reliable business man and all who knew him respected him.' (This was the judgement of his son, based on his boyhood memories.)

To continue the narrative:

Acts of Mercy

'About 1852 (1851) there was a cholera epidemic at Athens and he and his wife assisted materially in the care of the sick. There were many deaths from the disease and many people were afraid to nurse for fear of contracting the cholera, but John and Hannah Pestel, with marked unselfishness, and heroic sacrifices, did what they could for their neighbors and friends. They lost one of their own sons (Charles) from the cholera. +++

'After living upon their farm near Athens for four years, John Pestel lost his wife and becoming despondent on account of his great bereavement, he left home and was never heard from again!'

A marker for John and Hannah may be found in the Old West Cemetery, Athens. Hannah died in February, 1856.


With the scant evidence at hand and remembering family stories, it appears that John Pestel went back east, presumably to New York City to greet friends arriving from the old country. New York City, then as now, was a notorious place for street gangs, which set upon strangers, beating them, often killing them, with robbery as the principal motive. This could have been the fate of John Pestel as evidence indicates that he was a responsible man and one not to be neglectful of his family. (However, the reader should weight this against a family property story told later in this section.)

There were five Pestel children:
John Henry Pestel, 1846 - , in later life a successful farmer-merchant at Oakford, Illinois. He was twice married (1) Nancy Jane Atterbery c. 1895 and (2) Tillie (Lounsberry) (Kendall) Pestel, 1859 - 1945. ++++
Louis Charles Pestel died in infancy (cholera).
Emeline Pestel (Hall), 1850 - 1937.
Mary Pestel, died as a child.
Anna Pestel, 1856 - 1928, married Charles N. Buchanan, 1853 - 1917.

A Long, Good Life

It was through Emeline Pestel that the writer's branch of the Hall family became infiltrated with German blood. Prior to her marriage to James Newton Hall, my grandfather, the blood line had been essentially English. She was to live to be eighty-seven years of age.

The four children of John and Hannah Pestel who were orphaned by the strange series of events, were placed in foster homes. John Henry Pestel was placed in the family of W. D. Hutchinson who farmed in the Petersburg - Oakford area. Emeline was place in the home of William and Mariah Primm in the Athens area. We shall hear more of this Primm family later. Emeline remained with the Primm's until her marriage at age 22.

Anna and Mary Pestel were first with the Primm family. Mary died soon after and apparently Anna Pestel was in one or more other homes prior to her marriage.


The acreage owned by John and Hannah Pestel adjoined the village of Athens and as the community grew, its value increased. This situation now leads us to the next chapter of the 'family mystery story' and it shall be titled the 'Old Doc Primm Case.'

Doctor T.J. Primm of Athens was never its most popular citizen in the minds of the Hall family. There was a persistent story that he had cheated Emeline Pestel (and other members of her family) out of her inheritance. He was always referred to as:'Old Doc Primm!)

An investigation of the Menard county court records from 1850 through 1882 reveals that there is some substance to the accusation although not in the same way that the family members understood it. +++++

Doc. Primm, a bachelor, who accumulated considerable money and property during his lifetime, was legally right in the matter of the Pestel property - but it is evident that he took advantage of a situation that he knew about. Whether it was morally or ethically acceptable is another question and one for His Maker to decide, as all parties involved have long since passed away.

The Legal Story

From the very old, brittle original papers found in the Circuit Clerk's office of Menard county at Petersburg we learn:
On July 27, 1850, Hannah Pestel borrowed $200 from A.B. Hall by a mortgage on the land in question. *

The terms of the mortgage were for four years - four notes each for $50 - a note due each year.

The mortgage was a legal one in which she agreed to relinquish her 'dower' rights, etc., in case the terms of the mortage were not met.

On July 29, 1850 the mortgage was recorded.

On July 1, 1853 Abner Banks Hall assigned the mortgage to T. J. Primm. (Hall apparently had received only one of the $50 payments but his transaction with Primm was suitable to him and he no longer figures in the case.)

January 30, 1855, the county clerk attested a copy of the mortgage and recorded the assignment.

In 1856, Joanna Pestel died.


May 16, 1857 T.J. Primm files the mortgage which includes a map of the plot. His fee was 85 cents.

On the same date, T. J. Primm files a Bill for Relief against John Pestel, the husband and father, and against the then living children, as heirs of Joanna Pestel, dec'd. The defendants were asked to be brought to court and summons issued for them. This request was followed.

In November, 1858 John Pestel through his attorney denied the obligation to the estate on the basis that 'Joanna Pestel' as his wife could not have entered into the transaction as described without his consent. On this basis he asked that the litigation cease.

On month later, December, 1858, T. J. Primm presented an amendment to his original petition, correcting the legal description of the land, which had apparently been in error when the mortgage was recorded. This request was granted.


On April 14, 1859 the final hearing on the matter was held in court. The Pestel family was represented only by an attorney. The Master in Chancery was ordered to sell the property to the highest bidder, to advertise its sale in the county newspaper and to post notices in the four most prominent places in the county. Time and date of the sale was set. **

The property was sold in August, 1859 and so reported to the Court in the Fall Term, October, 1859. Of course, the highest bidder was T.J. Primm who for $212.30 and some costs now owned the property. Thus, for perhaps less that $400 he obtained 40 acres of land adjacent to Athens, which was increasing in value.


Sometime after 1858, John Pestel vanished and was never heard from again. The four minor children were placed in various homes (there were no legal adoptions) and the case was legally closed.

From the foregoing discussion it is apparent that Dr. T. J. Primm was legally in the right. However, as a leading citizen in a small community of a few hundred people, he would have known of the affairs of the Pestel family; the vanished father, the death of the mother; the placing of the children in foster homes, without contact with each other. With a German immigrant as a father and children without legal assistance, the posting of notices and ad in a newspaper (The Menard Index) was meaningless. Primm was surely aware of the circumstances and evidently took full advantage of them.


The Pestel property came to light again in the October Term of the Menard County Circuit Court in 1882. At this time Primm was that a Bill of Deed be given by the Court as the result of his legal actions against John H. Pestel, et. al, a quarter-century earlier. By 1882, the property was to be divided into town lots, Athens was booming. In the day before insured titles, Primm was not able to give clear title to would-be purchasers of the lots.

By 1882 John H. Pestel would be considered legally dead; one of the minor children, Mary, had died and the three remaining heirs were adults, married, and legally able to fend for themselves.

During the 1882 litigation the Pestel heirs, then living, filed cross bills, challenging Primm's rights to the property. The Court ruled against them although they were given the right to appeal, which was never done.

Thus, the case ended --- or did it?

The Sequel

Sometime later, James N. and Emiline (Pestel) Hall, the author's paternal grandfather and grandmother, were in Athens doing their 'trading' at Seligman's store.

On this day, as Grandfather passed the doorway in which Dr. Primm was standing, he was accosted by the doctor with this statement, "I'd like to give 'Em a lot!"

This, of course, was a surprise, but the Doctor persisted.

Asked to explain his generosity, Primm replied, "Emeline was raised by our family and I feel close to her." ***

My grandparents accepted the gift of a city lot which had been carved out of the controversial Pestel property.

The Doctor gave no lots to the other two surviving members of the Pestel family, Henry and Anna. ****

The family always considered this 'conscience' money on the part of Doctor Primm.

The reader is left to make his or her own decisions on this.

Grandma was able to have a 'horse and rig' of her own from the sale of the lot!

Grandma Hall

This was the grandmother born in 1850 and who lived until 1937. A grandmother who remembered when tomatoes were called 'Love apples' - they were not eaten because they were thought to be poisonous and were placed on fireplace mantles for decorations. Grandma Hall knew her Bible, word-for-word and from cover to cover.

The Civil War was a vivid memory to her; as a young girl she was in the float from Athens that paraded by the home of Abraham Lincoln on South 8th Street in Springfield during the campaign of 1860. The float carried 31 girls, clothed in matching dresses, each depicting a state in the Union.

To the author she was a living link to the pioneer past and to her family, a steadying hand in times of trouble, and to her husband, the loyal wife, who contributed greatly to the family's well being. *****

While my good mother and her mother-in-law, Grandma Hall, were staunch friends during their lifetimes; Horrors! She shocked mother - during the long winter evenings down on the farm grandma smoked a pipe along with granddad!

Brother and Sister of Emeline (Pestel) Hall

Henry John Pestel1845 -
    m. 1. 1876- Nancy J. Atterbery, - 1895
    m. 2. 1896- Tillie (Lounsbury) Kendall, 1859 - 1945
Anna (Pestel) Buchanan1856 - 1927
    m. Charles N. Buchanan - 1855 - 1917

+Wife - James Newton Hall, 1849 - 1928
++as recounted by his son, John Henry Pestel in: Miller's, History of Menard County, 1905.
+++see: Account of Nancy Hall (Moran) in Children of Abner and Jane (Overstreet) Hall.
++++Henry Pestel in the Agricultural Census of Menard county, 1880, owner 88 acres of land valued at $2,000. He was a merchant at Oakford, owning a principal business building there.
+++++the writer is indebted to Mrs. Irving S. Hurwitz of Petersburg for her assistance in obtaining these records.
*A.B. Hall, a family member, discussed in another section of the text.
**Primm's lawyer was W.H. Herndon of the firm Lincoln & Herndon.
***T.J. Prim was a son of Thomas Primm who made a home for grandma.
****as related by my father and uncle, Carlyle Hall
*****Read: Grandma's Turkeys - in the appendix of this history.



Copyright 2007 Jeanie Lowe & contributors
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Illinois Ancestors