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                                   CAPT. WILLIAM N. BRAINERD
                                    Cook County, Illinois


Information contributed for use in Cook County ILGenWeb by
        Sherri Hessick, added May 2001.


Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County,
Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended
(Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 65-67.

CAPT. WILLIAM NEWELL BRAINERD was a well known resident of
Evanston, prominent in public affairs in Chicago, and
numbered among the leading men of that enterprising city.
He was born in De Ruyter, Madison County, New York, January
7, 1823, and came of an old New England family.  His
grandfather, Nathan Brainerd, was a native of Connecticut,
and operated a stone-quarry near Hartford.  He reared a
large family, and lived to an advanced age.  His son,
Jonathan Brainerd, the father of our subject, was also a
native of the Nutmeg State, and in early life became a hat
manufacturer.  He married Sallie Gage, who was born in
Dutchess County, New York, and was a daughter of Justus
Gage, also a native of the same county.  By occupation Mr.
Gage was a farmer.  His wife was a maiden of twelve summers
when, in1777, she witnessed the Wyoming Massacre.  She had
two brothers killed in that massacre, and one brother, who
also aided the Colonies in their struggle for independence,
reached the advanced age of one hundred years.

In 1831 Jonathan Brainerd removed with his family to
Painesville, Ohio, where he engaged in the manufacture of
hats for one year.  He then returned to De Ruyter, New York,
where he carried on sheep-raising until 1849.  His death
occurred in the Empire State in 1856, at the age of
sixty-one years.  His wife survived him some years, and
passed away in Chicago, at the age of sixty-eight years.
They were members of the Universalist Church.  Their family
numbered seven children, two sons and five daughters, of
whom two are yet living: Lydia J., now the wife of L. W.
Walker, of Petaluma, California; and Harry G., of Englewood.
The subject of this sketch spent his boyhood days with his
parents, upon the old home farm of his grandfather Gage.
His education was acquired in the common schools and in the
De Ruyter Institute of New York, and at the age of eighteen
years he began teaching school, which profession he followed
for several years.  When his time was not occupied with his
school duties, he studied law, and afterward engaged to some
extent in legal practice, but, on account of throat
difficulty, he was forced to abandon that work.  He then
went to Rome, New York, where he was engaged in a forwarding
and shipping house for five seasons.  When the Mexican War
broke out, he tried to enlist, but the ranks were
overcrowded, and his services were not accepted.

In October, 1850, he left Rome, New York, for California,
and sailed from New York on the Pacific mail steamship
“Georgia” to Chagres, at the mouth of the Chagres River, on
the Isthmus of Panama.  There were some four hundred
passengers on board.  On landing at Chagres, ten of the
number, including Mr. Brainerd, hired a canoe with five men
to take them and their baggage to Gorgona.  The canoe,
drawing eighteen inches of water, was hollowed out of a
solid mahogany tree, and carried ten men and two thousand
pounds of baggage, besides the five natives.  Before
starting on the trip, the latter removed their clothing,
and, dressed only in nature’s garb and a Panama hat,
proceeded on their way.  They rowed eighteen miles to Gatun,
where they camped for the night, and then with poles
propelled the boat to its destination.  The weather proved
most delightful.  There was gorgeous tropical scenery on
every hand; monkeys scampered among the trees; and that trip
up the river was remembered by Mr. Brainerd as one of the
most pleasant incidents of his California journey.  When
they reached the place of landing, the baggage was packed on
mules, and the passengers walked twenty-five miles to
Panama, but this arduous task made some of them ill, Mr.
Brainerd among the number.  They waited ten days in Panama
for a steamer which came around Cape Horn, and by boats they
were taken to the vessel, which anchored about a mile from
shore.  They carried the United States mail, and landed at
San Blas, Acapulco and Mazatlan, Mexico; and at San Diego,
California, reaching San Francisco in December, 1850.

On arriving, Mr. Brainerd and three companions obtained some
mining and cooking utensils, a tent, etc., and then went to
Sacramento on the old steamboat “Senator.”  There they hired
a two-horse team and wagon to take them to the mines.  They
went to Condemned Bar, on the North Fork of the American
River, thirty-five miles from Sacramento.  They paid their
teamster five cents per pound for hauling their baggage and
supplies, while they walked.  The weather during the winter
of 1850 was dry and delightful for winter mining, there
being no rain for four months.  They made from $10 to $15
per day, washing the surface dirt from the banks of the
river, where it was deposited among the rocks.  Mr. Brainerd
’s Panama fever compelled him to leave the diggings, and he
went to Sacramento about March 1, 1851.  After recovering
from his illness, he bought a mule and express wagon and
went into the produce business, furnishing hotels,
steamboats and boarding-houses with vegetables, which were a
very great luxury at that time. The wholesale price ranged
form ten to twelve cents per pound, except for onions, which
brought about $1 per pound.  The first onion Mr. Brainerd
ever bought weighed a half-pound, and he paid seventy-five
cents for it.  He ate it sliced in vinegar, when recovering
from the Panama fever, and said it was the finest relish
that he had ever had.  He continued in the produce business
until May, 1857.  In April, 1856, he was elected Treasurer
of Sacramento and served one year.

During the winter of 1853 Mr. Brainerd returned to the
States, and, with some others, went to Peoria, Illinois,
where they purchased a drove of cattle, and fitted out a
train to cross the plains to California. They started the
last of April, 1853, and crossed the Mississippi River at
Burlington, Iowa.  Mr. Brainerd there left the party and
returned to Syracuse, New York, where he married Melinda B.
Coley, May 4, 1853.  With his bride, he went by steamer from
New York to California, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and
resided in Sacramento until May, 1857.  While in the West,
Mr. Brainerd belonged to a military company, and did some
fighting in California.  He was made Captain of a company of
the Committee of Vigilance, composed of seven thousand
prominent citizens, mostly from San Francisco.

Mrs. Brainerd is a daughter of Col. George and Hulda
(Norton) Coley, of Chenango County, New York.  Her
grandfather served as Quartermaster under General Washington
in the Revolution.  Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs.
Brainerd:  Hattie Belle, who died in infancy, in Sacramento;
William Vallejo, who died in 1887; and Frances Marion, wife
of Edwin C. Belknap, a hardware merchant of Chicago.  Mrs.
Belknap has a daughter, Charlotte.  Mrs. Brainerd is a
member of the Methodist Church.  The Captain was an Odd
Fellow, and a member of the Western Association  of
California Pioneers.  He also belonged to the Union Veteran

In May, 1857, Mr. Brainerd went to Syracuse, New York, and
in June, 1858, removed to Chicago.  He joined the Board of
Trade, and engaged in the grain and produce business.  In
the summer of 1860 he went to the gold mines of Colorado,
but the trip proved an unprofitable one.  On his return he
again joined the Board of Trade.  He filled many of its
subordinate offices, was Vice-President for three years, and
during the greater part of 1872 acted as President, when the
building was being rebuilt after the great Chicago Fire.  In
1866 he removed to Evanston, but continued business in the
city.  In May, 1873, he was appointed Illinois Canal
Commissioner by Gov. John L. Beveridge, and served two
terms, or until the spring of 1877.  The Copperas Creek Lock
and Dam were built during that time.  In March, 1883, he was
appointed Railroad and Warehouse Commissioner by Gov. John
M. Hamilton, and served until March, 1885.  For eight years
he was on the Committee of Appeals for the inspection of
grain, which position he held until August, 1893.  In
politics he was a Republican, and was Trustee of the Village
Board of Evanston for three terms, and for three years was
Town Collector.

The life of Captain Brainerd was a busy and useful, and also
an eventful one.  He personally knew many of the pioneers of
California, among whom were many noted characters, including
Gen. W. T. Sherman, H. W. Hallock, John C. Fremont, John A.
Sutter, Col. John D. Stevenson and Lieutenant Derby.  The
path-finders and guides of the plains were Kit Carson, Bob
Carson, James P. Beckworth, “Peg-leg” Smith, James Bridger,
and James W. Marshall, who discovered gold in California.
Mr. Brainerd also knew men who became prominent in affairs
later on, including Gov. John Bigler, Edward Gilbert, Gen.
John D. Lippincott, Gov. J. Neeley, Johnson, Leland
Stanford, Calhoun Benham, William Penn Johnson, Judge David
S. Terry and David C. Broderick.  He also knew many of the
prominent Mormons. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the
Mormon prophets, each bought a hat of his father, in 1831,
at his store in Painesville, Ohio.  Many interesting
incidents made up the life of Captain Brainerd, and it is
unfortunate that he never completed his reminiscences, which
were begun at the request of  a Sacramento literary society.

He died at his home in Evanston, May 19, 1894.

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