INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - December 7, 2005
Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. You
all know about warm fuzzys and will agree when this mouse says there are
warm fuzzys all around us - we just need to see and feel them. Well, there
are lots of warm fuzzys in the kitchen! The windows are now in place to
keep the wind and cold out and an enclosed stairway to the servants' second
floor is finished. Ol' Henry loves the kitchen fireplace the very most
with its kitchen fire that never seems to go out. This is the cooking
fire that Great-great-grandfather Ezra told about when he spoke of cooking
good food. It's a fire that's sometimes starts big and dies down to a
small, toasty fire of coals and the cooking begins. This small, toasty
fire is Ol' Henry's most favorite spot to be near for a nap!
The other day while Henry was hanging out in his hidey place there was
all this clatter at the back door. It was George, Elizabeth, Joe, Sid
and Jim toting a very large bench into the orientation room! Ol' Henry
listened as Elizabeth talked and learned that this bench is known as a
settle. Henry also learned that this very high backed, movable piece of
furniture was placed in front of the fireplace where it helped hold heat
from the fire. The family sat or "settled down" on the settle
and the almost 6 foot high back served as a screen to keep the heat of
the fire in the room and kept them warm.
The settle that is now in "my" house was made around 1790 to
1810 and is an exemplary piece. Now, Ol' Henry is just a mouse, ya' know,
and doesn't know a lot of big words, but this big word means that "my"
settle is of such quality that it could be used as a model for reproductions.
This historic piece is a gift by a friend to the Stephenson House in memory
of his wife. The settle is very special and the Stephenson House is very
fortunate to have such a good friend. Thank you from all of us.
The Stephenson House Board invited the members of The Friends of the Col.
Benjamin Stephenson House to join them in a Holiday Open House on Sunday.
Traditional decorations of holly, winter greenery and flickering candles
created a beautiful setting as the proud Board members showed off Ben
and Lucy's home. Ol' Henry sure was impressed! This mouse has watched
every day as "my" house has gradually returned to its charm
of 1821. The Holiday Open House was the day when Ben and Lucy's home truly
went back in time while good friends gathered to admire it and absorb
its history. A warm fuzzy for you from the Board.
There is good news from the researchers! They are closing in on Ben and
his whereabouts in the early 1800s! The pieces of the puzzle "Where
Was Ben In The Early 1800s" are finally falling into place. Julia,
the Stephensons' first child, said she was born at Harpers Ferry, Jefferson
County, Virginia in 1803. Court records were finally located that officially
placed Ben in Jefferson County in 1804, 1805 and 1806 and Harpers Ferry
is in Jefferson County. Looks like Julia was correct on her birthplace.
During this time Ben bought small parcels of land and also worked as a
court appointed commissioner. The job of commissioner in Virginia was
very similar to Ben's job as Sheriff in Randolph County in the Illinois
Territory. The commissioner or sheriff was responsible for advertising
property to be sold at auction by the county for back taxes or default.
OK! Ben, Lucy and baby Julia lived in Jefferson County from 1803 to 1806.
In 1806 they went to Wellsburg, Brooke County, Virginia, to live as Lucy
had come of age to inherit from the estate of her father, "Indian"
Van Swearingen. At that time Ben and Lucy sold almost all the land she
inherited. A good guess is that they were gathering up all the cash they
could to buy land in the Illinois Territory. Their son, James, was born
while they were in Wellsburg in 1806.
Lucy and her brothers must have engaged in some trading of their inheritance
from their father, "Indian" Van. Illinois court records show
the Stephensons owned slaves listed by name and were willed to Lucy's
brothers in "Indian" Van's will. Now, by 1806 Lucy had inherited
land from her father's estate, which she had sold for cash. With money
in their coffer they moved to Logan County, Kentucky.
The 1807 Tax List for Logan County, Kentucky, shows Ben owned three parcels
of property, seven blacks, (two over age sixteen,) and six horses. Ben
and Lucy lived in Logan County for over two years before moving to the
Illinois Territory. Ben was known as a prominent citizen of Russellville
and was a charter member of their Free Masons Lodge.
In 1809, when the Illinois Territory opened, President Madison appointed
Ninian Edwards as Territorial Governor. He in turn appointed his friend,
Benjamin Stephenson, Sheriff of Randolph County. On August 17, 1809, Ben
and Lucy attended to their last legal matter in Logan County, Kentucky.
On that day they sold their home and its 1000 acres of land for $2,500.
located on the Old Whipperwill River . They were on their way to Kaskaskia
in the Illinois Territory and eventually to Edwardsville.
Hey, that toasty kitchen fire is calling Henry and there are some sweet
crumbs left from the open house that are also speaking to Henry. It is
time for a tasty snack and then a short nap. Carol and Mary are so nice
to make sure Henry gets a treat after a party!
See ya' later,