PAUL PRATT

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 61-62

PAUL PRATT  is the oldest resident of Evanston, and one of the earliest surviving pioneers of Cook County.  Fifty years ago and more he was one of the most familiar characters in the northern part of the county, he and his ox-team being well known to every family along the north shore.  He was born in Weston, Middlesex county, Massachusetts, September 11, 1807, and is a son of Paul and Lydia (Gates) Pratt, both of whom lived and died in Weston.  His father was one of the sturdy Massachusetts “minute-men” who rushed from “every Middlesex village and farm” when Paul Revere made his famous ride, and did valiant service in defense of his country at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.  He was a farmer, following the occupation which had been pursued in the same locality by many successive generations of his ancestors.

The subject of this notice grew to manhood in his native place, and with the exception of two years spent in the state of New York, continued to reside  there until 1839.   At that date, having married, he determined to seek his fortune in the West, and started for Chicago.  He traveled by stage as far as Albany, thence by way of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to this port.  He located on the same ground where he now resides in Evanston, and engaged in farming and gardening; he also cut considerable timber, which he rafted at the lake shore and floated to Chicago.  A large share of the timber which entered into the construction of the first Government pier was furnished by him.  His brother, George, was drowned while assisting in this work.

When he first arrived in Chicago the only means of crossing the river was by a ferry-boat, by which a single team was transported at each trip.  In the spring of the year the country roads were often so miry that it was impossible to drive a team into town, and he was often obliged to leave the oxen at the present location of Lincoln Park and carry his flour and other provisions to that point.  Even in the present precincts of Evanston the roads were sometimes impassable, but he improved them to some extent by cutting brush and placing it across the way, thereby forming a rude corduroy.  Some of this material is still found by workmen making excavations for street improvements.

Mr. Pratt made a squatter’s claim to a large tract of land, including the site of the North-western University, and when this land was surveyed and offered for sale he purchased it from the United States Government, paying $1.25 per acre.  There were but two houses within the present limits of the city of Evanston when he located there.   These were occupied by the Colvin and Hathaway families, both of whom long since removed from that locality.  With those exceptions, his only neighbors were Indians and French traders.  He built a log house at the present intersection of Ridge Avenue and Leon Street.  Ten years later this was replaced by a small frame dwelling, which still stands there.  Another source of income to Mr. Pratt was charcoal, of which he burned a considerable quantity and sold it in the Chicago market.  He continued his occupation as a gardener till the rapid march of immigration made it necessary to subdivide his farm and dispose of it for building lots.  In 1859 he went to Pike’s Peak, spending eight weeks in crossing the plains from Kansas City with ox-teams.  There was not a house on the site of the present city of Denver at that time.  Not finding the prospects for miners encouraging, he returned to Evanston after a few weeks.

In 1838 Mr. Pratt was married to Miss Caroline Adams, whose birthplace was Oxford, Massachusetts.  She was the daughter of Rev. Ephraim Adams, a Presiding Elder of the Methodist Church, who was stationed for some years at Truro, on Cape Cod.  He sprang from the same family which included two Presidents of the United States and a number of other prominent statesmen among its members.  Mrs. Pratt was born March 10, 1816, and died August 23, 1895.   She was quite active until a short time before her death.  She was the mother of four children, of whom the following is the record: Adaline, Mrs. H. E. Peck, resides at Ottumwa, Iowa.  Susan, wife of Louis Leonhardt, of Evanston, is the first white person born in that place, the date of that event being September 18, 1840.  Charles E., who served three years in the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, is now a resident of Bushnell, Missouri.  The youngest, Willard Irvin, served two years in Company C, Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry.  After taking part in many hard-fought battles, he was captured at Dallas, Georgia, and incarcerated in Andersonville Prison, where he languished for seven months.  When finally exchanged, he was so reduced by starvation that he was unable to walk to the boat which was to convey him to the North.  The watch which he carried from home and secreted beneath his blouse while in captivity he gave to one of his comrades who assisted him to reach the vessel.  He was sent to the hospital at Indianapolis, and the family, who had given him up for dead, caused him to be brought home, where he survived but five weeks.

Mr. Pratt has seventeen living grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.  He has been a life-long supporter of the Democratic party, though never an aspirant for public office.  Though advancing years have unfitted him for further usefulness, he still retains an active mind, and his memory concerning many of the occurrences of pioneer days is as clear as if they had transpired but yesterday.

                                -- Submitted on 9/26/99 by Sherri Hessick ( slhessick@crosswinds.net )