Remembering Jacob Hunter (II) and Mary Moore Duncan Hunter and Their Times

By Leona Newton White
March 30, 1968

Leona Newton White’s handwritten notes were provided to the Jacob Hunter Trust by James Mason, grandson of Leona Newton White and son of Pauline White Mason.   [   ] marks surround additions made for clarity.

One hundred and fifteen years ago my mother [Lucina Evaline Hunter] was born and was the seventh child of Mary Moore (Duncan) Hunter and Jacob Hunter who came with their parents to settle in ILL in 1816.  My grandmother [Mary Moore Duncan] was two years old at that time.

Jacob Hunter (II)My Grandfather [Jacob Hunter (II)] died at 66 years, long before my mother was married, so I never saw him.  But, my mother told me he was of small stature and one of his arms was smaller than the other.  But, he had great strength in it and was a very hard worker.  She said he had the kindest disposition of anyone she ever knew and had beautiful blue eyes.  He was Scots-Irish and was greatly beloved by his family and all.

My Grandfather took up land and built a log cabin about 1830 and I have heard my grandmother tell so often of her first home.  It was a well-built cabin of one room tightly chinked and daubed.  The chinks were small slabs of wood laid like this between the logs  [drawing] and then it was daubed with clay between the chinks and on the outside just a solid strip of clay, and when it was dry, a white wash was made of water and lime and this strip was painted with it.  The lime hardened and kept the clay sealed so the rains would not wash the daubing out.  Every once in a while it had to be daubed and white washed again.

The furniture of his cabin was two benches made by sawing the desired length of a log about 14 or 15 inches in diameter and putting strong wooden pegs, two at each end, for the legs a little wider at the bottom than where they were driven into holes bored or burned into the half log.  One log would make two benches.  And watch out for the splinters, as they had no way of smoothing them only with a hunting knife or a hatchet.  The bed was a strong forked pole set firmly in the floor of the cabin, which was of earth, packed hard.  Then one pole was laid in the fork of the pole set in the floor.  It was about seven feet long and the other end rested between the logs of the cabin.  That was the length of the bed.  Another shorter pole was put in the same fork and went into the other wall in the same way.  And there was the side and end of the bed the side of the cabin made the other side and head and poles were laid across them and strong rope of leather thongs were woven back and forth from pole to pole and made a support for the mattress, which was made of torn corn shucks.

The sheets and pillowcases were cotton grown on the place and spun into cloth on a loom.  The blankets were made of wool-sheared from their own sheep and washed, carded, and spun.  And the feather pillows were plucked from their own geese.  For a table they had a large wooden box about 30 X 30 X 30 maybe larger or smaller.  They obtained them from the merchants at Marion, ILL.  As all of their merchandise came in wooden boxes as paper boxes were unknown.  Then she had a smaller wooden box fastened to the wall with pegs leaving the top open toward the room.  In this she kept two pewter cups, two pewter saucers, 2 pewter plates, and two pewter spoons and a earthen ware vegetable dish and meat platter.  Her cooking pots were a skillet and lid, a deep iron pan with three iron legs and a lid that sat over it and was somewhat concave.

She cooked on the fireplace, which also heated the cabin.  The fireplace had an iron crane built into the wall which would swing over the fire or outside over the hearth.  Vegetables and meat were cooked in a pot swung to it.  For using the skillet and lid the fire was burned until there was a good bed of coals and they were raked out on the hearth and the skillet was set over them with what ever they had to cook in it.  Then the lid was put on and more live coals heaped on the top of it.  They baked anything they wanted to bake in the skillet and lid.

Mary Moore Duncan Hunter (Aunt Pop)Grandma [Mary Moore Duncan Hunter] got a yard of bright red calico (a treasure in those days) and made a curtain to hang over the front of the box where she kept her pewter.  It was opposite the door so it could be seen as you came in.  She said she was so proud of her home as it was so much nicer than the other young married women’s houses were.  Later on they built a larger two-room house with a lean to (a large porch enclosed) and two large rooms upstairs.  And I think my mother was born in the new house. [This new house is pictured on the Jacob Hunter Trust letterhead and is posted in the Gallery section of the Jacob Hunter Trust website]

During my mother’s girlhood they grew the cotton and made the cloth from it for all of their clothes and house linen.

My grandmother bought the first sewing machine in the country around then and people came from far and near to see my mother sew on it, as she was the one that did the sewing.

My grandmother also bought the first kerosene lamp.  She rode into Marion on horseback one day and they had got the first shipment of lamps.  And she bought one and some kerosene and was scared to death that it would explode before she got it home.  Everyone was afraid of it for it was something new and they didn’t know much about it.  When they would fill the lamp they would take the lamp and set it on a stump about 200 feet away from the house and pour the oil in it very carefully and then walk very gently back to the house with it.  And when it was lighted they all sat as far away from it as possible, afraid it would explode.  They used candles for light and they also made them out of taller [tallow].

All of the stockings were knit and by the time a girl was eight or nine they could knit their own stockings.

Soap was made from old meat scraps and lye.  And the lye was made by a deep V shaped trench made of small saplings and filled with ashes from the fireplace with a tub or pail set at the low end.  And when it rained the water would soak through the ashes and drain in the pail.  And it was pure caustic lye that was saved and when you had enough to fill a twenty-gallon iron pot you put the lye in the pot, and to so many gallon of lye, they put so many pounds of old grease, meat scraps, and old meat skins and boiled until the lye ate all the meat and it was a thick soapy mixture.  Then it was allowed to cool overnight in the pot and the next day was cut in squares and laid in the smoke house to dry.  It was used for baths, face soaps, dish washing, and laundry.  There was always a liquid left in the bottom of the kettle that was too strong with lye to harden.  And it was used to scrub the floors.

My grandfather [Jacob Hunter (II)] had a little store at his home where he kept a few things that couldn’t be raised on the farm, such as sugar, coffee, turpentine, soda, sulfur, coal oil, axes, hatchets, and knives and a few other things.  He went once a year to Shawneetown for supplies making the trip by ox wagon.  And it took several days for the trip.

At that time there was a stock law and all the cattle and horses, hogs, and sheep were not kept in fields but went all over the country.  Only the cultivated land was fenced with split rails and they had to be so high that the stock couldn’t jump them or they would ruin the crops.  Splitting rails was a winter job.  And it was a great honor to be a good rail-splitter then as it is to be good at sports now.  There was plenty of game then and the men took pride in their firearms and marksmanship.

The crops were mostly cotton, corn, and tobacco, and very little wheat as there was no way to harvest it at that time except with a cradle, a scythe with wooden arms to catch the wheat, and when there was enough in the cradle it was tied in a bundle with some of the wheat straw.  So folk didn’t have biscuits very often, usually for Sunday or if special company came for a meal.  They ate cornbread, hoecake, and mush.

Tobacco was the money crop and was very hard work, for it had to be worked and watched from the time it was planted until it was sold.  First a big brush pile was burned and then the ground spaded and pulverized until it was loose and mellow.  Then the seeds were sown.  When they were at the right stage they [the young plants] were set out in the well-prepared rich ground.  Then the work started.  It had to be hoed, the suckers kept pulled off, and the worms pulled off.  If they ate a hole in the leaf it was a damaged leaf and only the best brought a good price.  Then, just at the right time, the leaves had to be stripped and tied in bunches called hands, then hung in big tobacco barns, cure-fired by building a fire on the dirt floor of the barn and keeping it at the heat—night and day for so long.  That is just some of the things that had to be done besides worrying every time a cloud came up all summer for fear there would be hail in it and that would ruin your whole summers work.

My grandfather [Jacob Hunter (II)] died before the children were all grown and at fourteen years of age my grandmother would tell her girls, now you are old enough to buy your own clothes.  This is your home but you will have to clothe yourselves.  My mother [Lucina Evaline Hunter] didn’t want to hire out to work in other peoples home when they needed a hired girl, so she would put her out a tobacco patch.  Her brother and her sister each had a patch and they would work together and help each other.

Everyone that died got a new dress.  Someone would go to town and get the material and two or three of the neighbor women would make the dress, sometimes working all night.  White was the favorite kind, although if the person was old it was usually black.  I will always remember my Grandma Hunter’s burying dress.  It was a soft white wool.  She was 80 when she died and I had never seen her wear anything but black, grey, or dark blue.

During my mother’s childhood there was no church building in the settlement and my grandfather’s home was the meeting place to hold church.  My grandfather and grandmother were both members of the Primitive Baptist Church.  And later a log church was built on five acres of land that my grandfather donated to the church.  After their marriage, both my father and mother united with the Primitive Baptist Church.

In 1884 the old log church was torn down and a large frame church built.  Two of my mother’s nephews were ministers there.  Charley and Bill Weaver, sons of my mother’s oldest sister.  Later the church bought land in Johnston City and bought the Methodist Church house and moved it across the street to their lot.  The old church was torn down after they sold it.  And, they held services in Johnston City for several years till most of the old members died and finally the Methodist Church bought it and tore the old church down.  And used the ground for a parking lot for their church.

A short distance S.E. on a little knoll is the Hunter Cemetery with large cedar trees in it.  The first people that were buried there were my great grand parents Manuel Hunter and his wife. [We don’t believe this is correct. Jacob Hunter buried many people in unmarked graves that died of cholera in this cemetery and we believe Manual’s first wife, Judith Lee was buried in 1852] At that time every family had their own burying place although anyone was welcome to bury their dead there without cost.  There are some in the Hunter graveyard that are no kin.

My mother went to the Lee School, a one-room log house, about two miles from her home.  I remember a good conduct award she received at that school.  And all were taught by one teacher.  At that time during the winter the roads got so muddy the animals couldn’t pull the wagons through the mud.  And if anyone died during the muddy season they had a hard time getting them to the graveyard to bury them.  Sometimes they had to put them on a big sled, as it would not mire like a wagon, and everyone that went had to walk.  If the weather was bad sometimes only men could go to the burying, and in cases like that, they only held a short service and prayer at the graveside.  Then when the weather got warm, so people could get out, the family would set a date for the funeral to be preached and word would be sent around that at a certain time the dead person’s funeral would be preached at the church.  Sometimes it would be several months after their death.

Each farmer had to keep his fields fenced and it was an all year round job keeping the fences repaired for every big wind would blow the rails off.  And they had to be watched to keep the stock out of them.  If there was a rail fence dividing two neighbors farms and they were honest men and played fair and each did their part about keeping the fence repaired, well and good.  But, if one didn’t supply their half of the rails and do half of the work there was sure to be trouble.  And it usually ended in a lawsuit and enmity between former good friends.  Then the one that wouldn’t do his part of the work rather than help the neighbor keep his fence up would set over just far enough to build his own fence.  Thereafter, they didn’t speak to each other and the ground between the two fencerows was called a devil lane.  And with a name like that—all of us children wouldn’t go near them.

There were no hospitals when my mother [Lucina Evaline Hunter] was a child and it was five miles to the nearest doctor.  And a Dr. was not called unless the patient was near death.  When anyone became ill it was the neighbors job to help care for them.  Some of the folk would go see the Dr. and describe how the sick person was feeling, if they had a fever, if their head ached, if their stomach or bowels cramped, if they had an appetite, if they were sick on their stomach, if they had pain anywhere, and if their tongue was coated were the usual questions the Dr. would ask.  Then from the answers he got the Dr. would make his diagnosis and send medicine with directions how to take it.  Neighbors would come in and help take care of the sick night and day and each one had his own diagnosis of the case and usually had a home remedy of their own and each one’s remedy was usually used along with the Doctor’s pills.  It is a wonder any survived.  The sicker the person the more people came to help take care of them and sometimes the house would be crowded with neighbors.  Their hearts were right even if their nursing wasn’t.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us and it was so then.  Scarcely a winter came that two or three wagons would go around the country taking up a collection for some needy family.  There was no work but farming and a lot of families lived on rented farms and farmed on shares.  And if the man of the house got sick they had a hard time.  But, there was always a neighbor that knew when they were in need and would get his wagon and start out and in a day’s time would take them enough food to get them through the winter.  Everyone knew who needed help and would take things to them.

It was not all hard times and work and they made their work easier by sharing it.  The land had to be cleared of trees and brush before it could be cultivated.  So the owner would grub out the brush and small trees, then cut the large trees and trim off all the limbs and saw the big logs in about 10 foot lengths until his field would have big logs all over it.  Then he would pick a day in winter when there was no farm work to do and invite all the neighbors in for a log rolling.  The logs were big and green and heavy and it would take several men with cant hooks to roll all the logs in big piles and set them afire.  The stumps would be left until they got dry and rotten enough to burn.  Sometimes it was several years before a field was completely clear of stumps.  And the bad thing about it was each year the stumps would put up sprouts, which had to be chopped off each year.  It was a boy’s job and hard work and a job the boys hated.

The women got in on the log rolling for they were all invited too, to help cook the big dinner which usually consisted of fried ham, chicken and dumplings, turnips, cabbage, kraut, hominy, dried peas, or beans.  Sometimes dried green beans, pumpkins pie, also dried apple-fried pies, along with jellies, jams, pickles, and all grown on the farm.  Usually there were several of these log rollings held each year at different farms until the land was cleared.

Then the hog killings were held in the same way.  A large family would kill 10 or 12 fat hogs each year.  There were a lot of wild hogs during my grandfather’s time.  They lived on acorns and roots, but the meat was not very good, although some ate them when times were hard.  The meat was said to be stringy and tough with a strong taste.  My grandfather kept his brood sows penned up during the winter but turned them out to forage in the spring.  He liked to feed his hogs with corn to fatten them before he killed them; and would call them up to the house at evening to feed them.  The wild hogs found out when he called.  There was food, so if he didn’t stand guard, the wild hogs would run his hogs off and eat the corn.  He figured out a way to out-smart them.  All winter when he left the house to feed his hogs that were penned up, he sang a certain song just as loud as he could.  And, next year when it was time to fatten his hogs, all he had to do to get them to come was to start singing that same song.  His hogs would hear it and know it meant feed.  And, the wild hogs didn’t bother him anymore.

Then when a person wanted to build a barn, they got the logs and every thing ready and the neighbors all came in and helped build the barn in one day.  Another big dinner for the women to cook.

And the women had their workings too.  They would put in a quilt and have the women in for an all day quilting.  No men.

The young unmarried folks had their workings too.  There was not always a lot of work done, but it gave the young folk a chance to get together.  Sometimes in the summer it would be an apple cutting where the girls and boys would meet at some one’s place and peel and slice apples which would be put out next day to dry for the family to use next winter.  In the fall it would be a husking bee where they would get together and shuck corn.  But the best time was when a boy shucked a red ear of corn and that gave him the privilege of kissing any of the girls he wanted.

Then in the winter they had sleigh rides on a big home made sled that would hold six or eight couples.  And spelling matches at the schoolhouse.  And there were a lot of good spellers then, for the good spellers ranked high in the neighbor society.  Then, what everybody liked best were the singers.  They would decide to have a singing at someone’s house and two or three of the boys would get on their horses and start out going from house to house inviting.  You didn’t have to have an invitation to be welcome to come.  If you got wind of it, that was an invitation.  The house would be crowded with old folk and young.  Some one of the good singers would have a tuning fork to get the pitch, and away they would go.  Someone would ask for a special song and they would all sing it.  They would sing for about two hours for nine o’clock was late bedtime.  Then overshoes and shawls and hoods would be put on and they would light their lanterns and leave to meet again when someone else had a singing.

Those ancestors of ours worked hard and lived hard, but one thing they had, and that was faith in God, a love for his church, and reverence for his name.  They lived in peace with each other as a general thing, although some of their feuds were long and bitter.

They expected and had an independent life, had respect for the rights of their friends and neighbors, shared their joys and sorrows, and always helped in time of need.  We as descendants of them should be thankful for the heritage they gave us.  For they were the vanguard of the western civilization and made it easier for the ones that followed them.

I am proud of the family of which I came, and honor the ones who came to this country when it was still an English colony seeking independence and fought in the Revolutionary War, the French and Indian War, the war with Mexico, and the War Between the States.  And in each war it was this country they were fighting for.  I had one brother in World War I, two sons, a niece, and three nephews in World War II, and two grandsons have served four years each in the Navy and a grandson who served four years as a Marine.

Leona Estella Newton White was born on Jan 5, 1886.  She was the daughter of Lucina Evaline Hunter (b. 3-30-1853 d. 11-12-1933) and George Augustus Newton (b. 9-23-1846 d. 11-8-1921).  She married Edgar Madison White (b. 4-18-1881 d. 9-19-1943).  Leona was killed, along with her daughter Helen Marjorie White, by a tornado that devastated Marion, IL on May 29, 1982.