DEMPSEY N. SOLOMON, one of the oldest settlers of the county now living in the village of Palmyra, was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., January 11, 1821. His father Lewis Solomon, was born in Franklin County, N.C., in 1778, and the grandfather of our subject, who also bore the name of Lewis, was a revolutionary soldier in North Carolina. The father of our subject was reared and educated in his native county, and had but scant opportunities for an education, but being an excellent scholar with a special aptitude for mathematics, made unusual progress in his studies. He resided in his native State until 1813, and then accompanied by his wife and children, emigrated to Kentucky. He bought a tract of timber land upon which he paid part cash, but on account of the depreciation of currency, he lost largely and giving up his property, he emigrated to Illinois in 1825, making the entire distance of land with one horse attached to a cart, and two pack horses (one of them blind), on the backs of which a portion of the household goods were packed. In this way they made the entire journey. The male members of the family who were old enough, walked the entire distance, and they camped along the way.
The Solomon family arrived at Jacksonville, November 2, and found it a village of one frame house, and three or four log cabins. Fifty cents constituted the contents of the family exchequer. They moved into a vacant log cabin located near where the Dunlap House now stands. It had neither floor nor door, and the father split clapboards and made them a door which he hung upon wooden hinges, and also hewed out puncheons for the floor. The land surrounding Jacksonville was owned by the Government and was for sale at $1.25 per acre; but as Lewis Solomon did not have the money, he could not buy. In the spring of 1826 he rented a tract of land south of Jacksonville, and lived there until 1827, when he settled in what is now Macoupin County, North Palmyra Township. He built a log cabin which was chinked with chips daubed with mud and had a chimney built of earth and sticks. No sawed lumber was used in the construction of this building. The floor was of puncheon, and Mr. Solomon rived the boards of which the door was made, and it was hung on wooden hinges. The clap-board roof was held in place by weight poles.
At that time, deer, wolves, bears and panthers were to be found here the former being abundant. For years there was no railroad and the people lived on the products of their farms. Coffee was a luxury which could be partaken of only on Sunday morning. The mother of our subject used to card and spin and his sisters worked at the loom, and thus the entire family was clothed. In the course of time Alton became quite a market, and the settlers took their grain there. Hogs were taken to St. Louis where they would sell at $1.50 to $3.00, dressed weight.
As improvements came, the father erected a dwelling house which was weather-boarded, and in it they resided until his death in 1849. He was a man of rare good judgment and common sense, and at that period in the history of the county, few men possessed more business ability than he. His integrity and honesty of purpose was never questioned. He was an active and useful member of the Baptist Church, which he joined under the mistration of that noble man and eminent pioneer divine, Elder Peck. In February 1849, he was called to part with his wife and he survived her only a few months, when, on the 28th of July, he passed form life to the realms of eternal rest. The maiden name of the mother of our subject was Sarah Bowden, and she was born in Franklin County, N.C., being the daughter of John Bowden. Lewis Solomon was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace soon after the organization of the county and many of its legal documents are signed with his name.
We will now turn to the more direct personal history of our subject. He was in his fifth year when he came with his parents to Illinois, and remembers well the incidents of pioneer lie here, especially his early school life, which was in one of the first schools ever taught in this part of the county. It was taught in a log house which had no window, but part of a log was taken out on one side of the house and a piece of board was hung over the opening on a leather hinge, so that it could be raised to admit light whenever the weather was favorable. The seats were made of puncheons and had no desks in front.
The boy assisted his father on the farm and also learned of him the shoemaker's trade. After doing a days' work on the farm, he would spent his evenings on the bench, and by making shoes he earned the money to enter the first tract of land he ever owned. It was in the year 1839 that he entered the land which was located on section 20, North Palmyra Township. Here he commenced to work when he reached his majority and here he settled at the time of his marriage. After a year spent upon the new farm, the young couple returned to the old home to care for the parents. In the spring of 1850 they returned to their own farm, but in 1854, Mr. Solomon placed it in the hands of a tenant and moved to Cummington, now a part of Palmyra, and engaged in the mercantile business, which he had carried on, with the exception of one year, up to the present day.
In the spring of 1855, Mr. Solomon laid out the southern part of the village of Palmyra, and during the same year opened a store, the first one ever started in Palmyra. He took as his partner, J. F. Nifong. He has been extensively engaged in farming all the while and has nearly one thousand acres of farming and pasture land, besides his town property. On the 4th of June, 1846, he was married to Elizabeth C. Newell, a daughter of James and Ann Newell. This lady was born near Franklin, Ky., and has the following children: Mary J., wife of Z. C. Ridgeway, of Palmyra; Sarah A., wife of William C. Martin, who is a partner with Mr. Solomon in merchandising; George W., Salome F., who married Dr. R. M. Wilson, of Lincoln; Charles D.; Minnie F. wife of Dr. Marvell Thomas of Gillespie, and Carrie Josephine who resides at home.
The political record of Mr. Solomon begins with his vote for Martin Van Buren, and he is and always has been a Democrat. During the late Civil War, he was a stanch supporter of the Government, and assisted in raising a company for the suppression of the Rebellion. He was appointed Assessor for the county in 1843, and soon after was elected School Director, and served as Supervisor several terms until in 1878, he declined further service in this line. He served as School Director of South Palmyra Township for twenty-two years. He is a member of Palmyra Lodge No. 463 F. & A.M. and joined the Masons in 1849, he was made a Mason at the Mount Nebo Lodge No. 70. Mr. and Mrs. Solomon are members of the Christian Church with which they united themselves in 1867, and their oldest daughter belongs to the same church. Our subject was the first Postmaster of Palmyra and served in this capacity until the breaking out of the war. The social success of Mr. Solomon is the natural sequence of his genial nature and the prosperity which has attended his efforts is the result of integrity and honesty rather than a love of worldly gain.