Charles Capps’s Business in London, England
Jabez’s father, Charles, was a merchant in London. He was born in England in 1770, where he lived his entire life. He lived in Westminster, just outside the city of London, in an area very close to Berkeley Square–1603 St. Lukes, Westminster, in the county of Middlesex. He also had a listing on 1399 Paul St. in London. Westminster contains many of the government buildings of England: the royal residence, houses of the supreme court of law, chief public offices of the executive government and the magnificent abbey of St. Peter. It was in this area that Charles had his clothing business, a vocation that was inherited by his son, Thomas (Jabez’s brother). Soon after the death of Charles, Jabez’s mother, Mary, traveled to the United States with some other children and took up residence with one of her sons in Springfield, IL. She was born in 1773 in London, died in Springfield, IL., in 1867. Jabez’s brother, Thomas–the only sibling to remain in England, remained involved in the family clothier business and became a very wealthy man. He was listed in London as a “wholesale clothier master”, employing 14 people. In a short article in the October, 26, 1897 edition of the New York Times, this was written:
Americans Heirs to Millions–Capps Family of Illinois Inherit a Rich Estate in England. Springfield, Illinois, Oct. 26, 1897–The Capps family, residing in Illiopolis, Springfield, Riverton, Vandalia and Mt. Pulaski, in this state, have just come into an inheritance of between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 through the death of a brother named Thomas Capps, in London, England, on Sept. 19. Among the beneficiaries of Thomas Capps are Charles Capps and J.M. Capps of this city and A.S. Capps of Riverton. The deceased was formerly in the wholesale cloth trade, having retired to a country seat in 1875. He was ninety years old at the time of this death.
Jabez Arrives in Boston on Oct. 17, 1817
JABEZ CAPPS, one of three principal founders of Mt. Pulaski, was born on Sept. 9, 1796, in London, England. At the age of 21 he left London, went to Liverpool and boarded the clipper-ship, Mary Ann, for the three-month journey to America. There were 150 other immigrants making the voyage. Jabez was enticed by the adventure of living in America, and wanted to make his own way in a new land. The ship, Mary Ann, docked in Boston, where Jabez remained a few weeks. Then he walked to New York City where he stayed for a brief time. Soon, with only seven dollars in his pocket, he walked to Philadelphia. After a short stay there, he walked 500 miles westward over the Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh, a 6-month trek, where he arrived in January of 1818. When the Ohio River opened in the spring, he worked his passage on a flatboat to Cincinnati. He waited in Cincinnati for a year for his brother, Ebenezer, to come from England. They put a stock of shoemakers’ tools and leather on a boat, went down the river to Louisville, sold the boat, put their tools in their packs and walked to St. Louis. The shoe business did not prove to be very promising, so they walked away from that, this time to the Sam Gamy prairie of Illinois. That was in early 1819. They found a few other settlers on the Sangamon River, where Jabez traded his watch for a claim. That was just the second year of the settlement of that part of the state.
Jabez and Ebenezer Arrive in Sangamon County, Illinois, in the Spring of 1819
They first stopped and stayed at Clark's Old Mill on the south fork of the Sangamon River. In 1822, a town had been laid out in the county with the name 'Calhoun'. Jabez and Ebenezer moved there in 1823, and this is when Jabez became the first school-teacher in the area. Jabez laid claim to property in Calhoun. He moved there and went in the general merchandise business. About this time, an effort was made to get an appropriation from congress for the Illinois and Michigan canal. John Calhoun opposed it bitterly, so the people of the new town had a meeting and changed the name of the town to Springfield, and it has been that ever since. In 1824, Jabez purchased a log house that belonged to Stephen Stillman, the first postmaster of Springfield, and opened up one of the first general stores in Springfield in which he sold a variety of the items needed by the early pioneers. This log-building store later became the first post-office in Springfield. It has been reported that Jabez also made a living by raising hogs and cotton, as well as trading horses.
Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield at the same time, and the two of them became very good friends. They actually first met in New Salem, where the young rail-splitter clerked in Denton Offutt’s store. They also lived very close to each other in Springfield, and Jabez’s family lived across the street from Dr. Todd’s family when Lincoln was courting the doctor’s daughter, Mary, before they were married. In his days as a Springfield merchant, Jabez joined Abraham Lincoln on his famous attempt to navigate the Sangamon River by flatboat in support of Congressional appropriations for a canal system linking St. Louis to the Great Lakes. Mr. Lincoln navigated the boat and a dinner was held that evening at Jabez’ house.
At one time, Jabez owned most of the present business portion of Springfield. He disposed of his own valuable property in Springfield before moving to Mt. Pulaski -- including two significant Springfield landmarks: the property upon which the present state capitol is located, which he traded for a cook stove, and the lot on the public square, which he traded for a side-saddle! This land involved Jabez in a lawsuit and Abraham Lincoln was his attorney. The land which holds Lincoln’s tomb was also among his holdings.
Jabez and Prudence Stafford are Married in 1828
In 1828, at the age of 32, Jabez married Prudence A. Stafford, who was one of his students in Springfield and who was only 16 at the time. Although she was only a member of the Capps’ family for eight years, her family heritage is a very important part of the Capps’ family rich heritage. Prudence and her family were Quaker, descendents of the earliest English settlers in Coventry, Rhode Island. She emigrated with her family from Vermont to Illinois as a young child.
Jabez and Prudence had four children:
Charles: born on January 31, 1830, in Springfield,
Illinois; married to Eliza McGraw
Ebenezer S.: born on February 15, 1834 in
Springfield; married to Eliza Freeman in
Thomas: date of birth unknown, but between Charles
and Ebenezer; died in early
Of the three living sons, all three married within two years of each other and each one married women with the name 'Elisa' or 'Eliza'!)
Jabez Moves to What will be Known as ‘Mt. Pulaski’ in 1836
In the same year that Prudence died, (1836), Jabez moved to a new location about 25 miles away. Nicholas Moore, one of the early settlers in the area, was in need of a physician’s service, so he rode to Springfield and brought back with him Dr. Alexander Shields. Dr. Shields boarded with Jabez in Springfield. On their return to Springfield, they spoke highly of the country that they had passed through and referred especially to a beautiful hill or mound between Lake Fork and Salt Creek. They thought this would be an ideal spot for a town site. Dr. Robinson, who had come from England in 1830, overheard the conversation and became intrigued. Jabez was interested in founding a new town on the proposed site, so in a subsequent visit, including Jabez Capps, Dr. Robinson and George Turley, definite plans were made for the new town.
As Michael Burlingame writes in Abraham Lincoln: A life,
The town’s [Springfield] mud was notorious. When wet, the black loam of central Illinois became knee-deep ‘Prairie gumbo.’ A woman from the East declared that nobody ‘can know the definition of ‘Mud’ until they come to Springfield. I think the scrapers and mats must be fast selling articles here.’ The family of Elizabeth Capps, who called Springfield a ‘low, muddy place where it was a common thing for carriages and horses to mire in the mud around the public square,’ left the city for high and dry Mt. Pulaski. Mud rendered the sidewalks, such as they were, impassable. The streets were even worse; in foul weather they “approached the condition of a quagmire with dangerous sink-holes where the boatman’s phrase ‘no bottom’ furnished the only description.” Not until 1870 was the town square paved, finally making its thoroughfares passable for wagon teams in winter. Garbage and refuse made the muddy streets even more repellant. The streets became the ‘dumping ground for the community rubbish so that the gutters were filled with manure, discarded clothing and all kinds of trash, threatening public health with their noxious effluvium.’ When the summer sun beat down on the privies, sinkholes, stables, abattoirs, and the like, the stench became overwhelming. The numerous ponds around town, which “furnished frog and mosquito music for the inhabitants,” were always “loathsome to the eye;” in hot weather they became ‘sickening to the smell.’ Equally noisome was the market house, which swarmed with green-back flies.
Abraham Lincoln did all of the legal work for the incorporation of the new town. Lincoln always stopped with Jabez when he visited the town, and one of Jabez' most valued treasures was a special photograph of the martyred president which was given to him by Lincoln himself. The town of Mt. Pulaski was officially recorded on August 17, 1836.
Jabez left a fairly established life in Springfield, bought a log cabin and relocated it slab by slab to what was then a fairly prominent geographic feature in the surrounding landscape—an elevated mound amidst open grassland and timber about two and half miles south of Salt Creek. Whether practical considerations played a role in Jabez’s chosen town site, or it was a result of his vision to build a shining city on the hill, he definitely had commercial interests at stake. Jabez and his two investors clearly anticipated new settlement moving inland from the prominent settlements along the Ohio and Mississippi. In newspaper articles written at the time of his death in 1895, it was noted that Jabez had been fascinated by early industrial inventions that he witnessed as a boy in London. This included a very early steam engine. So, he may have thought of Mt. Pulaski in 1836 as a place that someday would be linked to central nodes of transportation, whether a canal or railroad Mt. Pulaski began as ’Capps Headquarters’, an outpost that outfitted newly arriving settlers with supplies. Jabez later plotted Mt. Pulaski and sold off his land holdings. The first house in Mt. Pulaski was a log cabin built of logs hauled from the surveyed town of Albany and was used by Jabez as a store. He bought a stock of goods from Springfield and placed O.C. Stafford and his brother, Ebenezer, in charge. For the first year, these three men constituted the population of Mt. Pulaski. Across the street from the store where the old court house now stands was a den of wolves whose howls kept the lonely inhabitants awake many a night that first winter. It was said and popularly believed that no one could survive the terrible winters of Illinois upon the open prairie, and when Jabez Capps pitched his cabin upon the mount, his action was looked upon as foolish if not foolhardy. The inhabitants of the cabins scattered along the timber used to look toward the mount on bitter cold mornings and the smoke curling from the chimney of the Capps cabin, there was evidence that the occupants still survived.
Jabez and his brother, Ebenezer, made several trips by flatboat down the Illinois and Mississippi from Pekin to New Orleans, driving hogs from Springfield to Pekin, then slaughtering them and selling the pork to the Southern market. He said that the trip he remembered the most was one where he lost $30,000 because of declining prices.
Jabez Marries Elizabeth Baker in 1836
After Prudence died in May of 1836, Jabez didn't waste any time finding a new wife: he married Elizabeth Baker in September of that same year. Elizabeth was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Her father was Thomas Baker, who was also born in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1792. Her mother was Sarah Delay, who was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky in 1805. Her grandparents, Isaac Baker (b. 1758) and Phoebe Waddell (b. 1770), were both born Fredericksburg, Maryland.
Jabez and Elizabeth had ten children:
Prudence: Born on Dec. 18, 1841 in Mt. Pulaski,
Illinois; married S. Linn Beidler on
Mary: Born on Oct. 8, 1844 in Mt. Pulaski; married Michael McNattin
Benjamin: married Lucy McGraw in Mt. Pulaski on May 15, 1862
Maude: Married W.H. Stafford
In the 1880 census, it was recorded that Jabez had five of his children still living with him: William, (33), Jabez Jr., (28), Edward (26), Harry (20) and Maud (17). Jabez’s second wife, Betsy, died on May 8, 1877.
Abraham Lincoln Makes Frequent Visits to Mt. Pulaski
Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Illinois 8th Judicial Circuit, which traveled approximately 450 miles through 15 county seats in central Illinois during the 1840’s and 1850’s. Judge David Davis presided over these courts, which convened each year, two months in the Spring and two months in the Fall. In Mt. Pulaski, Mr. Lincoln enjoyed the hotel atmosphere in the late afternoons and evenings following the Mt. Pulaski County Seat Court sessions. However, he preferred the more comfortable lodging and meals in the local residences of Jabez Capps and Thomas Lushbaugh. Jabez lovingly remembered Lincoln’s regard and affection for his family. His son, John, wished to enlist in the War of the Rebellion, but was physically disqualified, but so earnest was he that he went on to Washington. Tears came into Jabez’s eyes when he was told of when his boy was ushered into Lincoln’s presence, the President sprang forward and grasped him by the hand to find out about the Capps’ family. Roger Capps’s grandfather, Walter, was born on January 3, 1866. Roger reports that his great-grandmother was pregnant with him [Walter] when she viewed the funeral train and attended President Lincoln’s funeral in April of 1865.
Jabez Lived and Worked into his 70’s in Mt. Pulaski, Died on April 1, 1896 at age 99
Jabez lived a very active life, working full-time until he was in his 70’s. He became a merchant and agriculturist, and in 1855 established ‘Capps Nursery’. He continued the business that he had started in Springfield, and he was involved in a wide-variety of civic activities: he was the first postmaster of Mt. Pulaski, receiving his appointment from President Jackson on March 2, 1839. He served in this position until January 7, 1854. He was elected county recorder in 1848. He helped build the Mt. Pulaski Court House in 1847.
Jabez came close to losing his life in the ‘sudden change’ of 1836. He had been in Springfield buying goods on the morning of January 20, 1836, and he started on his horse back to Mt. Pulaski. There was slushy snow on the ground and it was raining heavily. Soon after crossing the river, he heard the wind rise ominously. Suddenly the air turned bitter cold. He could see the soft snow harden under his horse’s feet. His drenched clothing instantly became stiff and cold with ice. He was greatly alarmed and knew that he must reach shelter at once. He pushed on to some cabins on Fancy Creek. He reached there after great difficulty and almost froze to death. He was taken off his horse with great difficulty. Many men and animals caught out in that amazing change never made it home.
Jabez lived to the ripe age of 99, and died on April 1, 1896, just 5-months and 8-days short of being 100 years old. Jabez was a highly-respected leader in his home-town of Mt. Pulaski. In addition to his many achievements, he was also noted for his concern for religious tolerance and political freedom, much of which he had ‘inherited’ from his French mother. She was born in England to French protestants who had taken refuge there from persecution.
Jabez Capps funeral notice:
Jabez Capps, aged 99 years, 6 months and 23 days. Died at the family home in Mt. Pulaski, Ill. at 10:30 am, Wednesday, April 1, 1896. Services and funeral occur at and from the residence. Friday at 2 pm. Rev. L. M. Robinson officiating. Interment in Mt.Pulaski cemetery. Friends respect- fully invited to attend.
Three of Jabez’s brothers were still living in Central Illinois when he passed away: Benjamin (75), Charles (81), and John (87). Nine of ten Jabez’s siblings (six boys, four girls) had followed Jabez to America. He was survived by six children, thirty-nine grand-children, and twenty-seven great grandchildren. Roger Capps of Portland, Oregon, notes that “in our ancestral line, his son, Ebenezer, my great-great grandfather was still alive when Jabez died, as was my grandfather, Walter.”
[Note: In the Mt. Pulaski History 1836-1986 Blue Book, additional information can be found about Jabez—some his accomplishments and town offices held in Mt. Pulaski.]
George Washington Turley and Dr. Barton Robinson were the Other
George W. Turley was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky on March 5, 1798, and came to Sangamon County near Lake Fork, Illinois, with his father and family in 1824. His father, James Turley, was born in Vermont, fought in the Revolutionary War and was awarded for his service a land grant in Kentucky. George was the first Justice of the Peace of Mt. Pulaski, serving in that capacity from 1835 to his death on February 28, 1865. He was the local authority on legal matters for the early settlers before lawyers began to trickle into the Logan County area. He married Margaret Scott and had three children. He tried several law suits in which Abraham Lincoln was a contesting attorney. Both of these law suits were in regards to litigation brought forth by Turley and others: In 1846 for the purpose of validating the Logan County election results for moving the Logan County Seat from Postville to Mt. Pulaski, and in 1854 for the purpose of attempting to invalidate the Logan County 1853 election results for moving the county seat from Mt. Pulaski to the new city of Lincoln.
Judge Lawrence Stringer writes that Dr. Barton Robinson was born in 1819 in New Malton, Yorkshire, England, and in due course graduated from a medical school in London. He came to America, joining his brother, James T., at Buffalo Hart Grove in Sangamon County in December of 1831. He married Mahala Barber and moved to Mount Pulaski in 1836, where he practiced medicine for many years. In 1858, Robinson moved his family, including his four sons, to Farlinville, Linn County, Kansas. Dr. Robinson moved his family—wife, Mahala, and two sons, Herbert and James—to Mt. Pulaski in 1836, upon his founding of Mt. Pulaski along with his two associates, Jabez Capps and George W. Turley. Dr. Robinson, with his brother James, along with Capps, Turley and five others, formed a company, hired Thomas Skinner (Sangamon County Surveyor) to survey the 160 acres that he had entered at the Sangamon County Land Office on July 5th (Logan County had not been formed, yet—that would be in 1839). “The certificate of entry was dated July 5th, 1836; recorded in Entry Book; entered—the S.W. ¼ township 18 North, Range 2 West of the 3rd P.M., containing 160 acres. Entryman: Barton Robinson.” Dr. Robinson’s two other sons, Herbert and Fremont, were born in Mt. Pulaski. As Emagene Green writes:
Dr. Robinson worked hard to make this new town a success, but he must not have found what he wanted there, because he moved his family to Linn County, Kansas, in 1858. Here, he resumed his medical practice among the communities of Goodrich and Parker. He acquired an interesting library and museum pieces that were lost in a tornado in 1902. Some of his heirs are still living on a portion of the 1,000 acres of land he and his sons homesteaded between Farlinville and Parker, Kansas. His oldest son, Herbert was a Captain in the Union Army and in 1874 was a Representative in the Kansas State Legislature.
[Roger Capps of Portland, OR.: Jabez Capps Family History; Mt. Pulaski Community Pride: Mt. Pulaski History 1836-1986; Judge Lawrence B. Stringer: History of Logan County, 1878; Emagene V. Green: Mt. Pulaski History Book-And She Held Forth Her Hand, 1961; Sharon Stone-Cook. George Washington Turley Interview, Sept. 30, 2009.]