THE COLBYS COME TO SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

This is the corner of Golf and Meacham Road.  It is one of the busiest spots in Schaumburg Township.  But, when Ebenezer Colby paid cash on September 1, 1845 for the land patent on this property at the United States Land Office in Chicago, it was nothing but open grassland as far as the eye could see.

Ebenezer Colby was born October 16, 1788 in New Hampshire.  His wife, Abigail Hurd Willey, was born on January 19, 1791 in the same state. They married March 3, 1811 and had their children in Manchester, Vermont.  The children were born between 1812 and 1831 and included Abigail, Ebenezer Franklin, Lucy Philenda, Rachel Horatia, Marietta Belinda and Almira “Myra”.

The family, including Abigail’s husband, James Taylor, lived for a time in western New York and moved to Illinois in 1843.  Ebenezer or, Eben, as he was often called, soon became active in politics when he joined Thomas Bradwell as delegate from the Salt Creek Precinct to the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1844. (The Salt Creek Precinct was a large regional designation that was so named in the 1830s and 40s because of Salt Creek that runs through the northwest suburban townships of Palatine, Schaumburg and Elk Grove.)

By 1845 the Colbys had purchased their Schaumburg Township patent and were farming their land in Section 12, which is in the upper right portion of this 1842 map.  They bought the parcel that is the left half of the lower quarter and is a total of 80 acres.

In 1847 Eben continued his political prominence when he was elected one of five delegates to the Illinois Constitutional Convention in Springfield.  Interestingly, according to Marilyn Lind, in her book Genesis of a Township, Mr. Colby promoted a resolution that eventually passed and allowed for 5000 of the 50,000 copies of the Constitution to be printed in German.  Could this have been a reflection of the high percentage of German settlers in the Schaumburg Township area? Additionally, he also was one of seven “nays” in the final vote on the constitution. This begs the question, why would he have opposed it?

Mr. Colby also began to immerse himself in various posts in local government as township supervisor, assessor and chairman.  This was no strange consequence as his neighbor, Daniel H. Johnson, had served in the post of township supervisor before him.

Prior to his tenure that ran from 1851 to 1855, the township originally went by the name of Township 41N/ Range 10E–as is noted on the map above.  It’s not exactly a catchy name.  At some point, in the years he was in office, a lively, charged meeting occurred that seemed to have pitted the German contingent of the township against the “Yankee” contingent.  The intent was to choose a new name for the township.  The Germans were passionate about the name “Schaumburg” which was the area in Germany they hailed from.  The Yankees opted for Lutherville or Lutherburg, which may have been a nod to Martin Luther.  After much discussion, Fredrick Nerge of the German contingent–and for whom District 54’s Nerge School is named– “hit the table with the firmness of an old German soldier and shouted: “Schaumburg schall et heiten” or “Schaumburg it shall be.”   (History of Schaumburg, 1850-1900)

We don’t know how long the Colbys remained in Schaumburg Township but, at some point they moved to Elgin, most likely maintaining their property here for a few years.  It had to have been sometime in 1855 after he’d finished his service as a Schaumburg Township government official or in the following year of 1856.  We know the latter date because, in the book, Death Records in Elgin, it states that Abigail Colby died in Elgin on November 11, 1856. She was subsequently buried in the Channing Street Cemetery in Elgin.

We also know that sometime in 1851 or 1852, the Colby’s daughter, Myra, pictured above, began attending the Elgin Seminary.  E.C. Alft’s Elgin:  An American History states that “the Elgin Seminary was established in the spring of 1851 by the Misses Emily and Ellen Lord.”  On May 18, 1852 she married James Bradwell and, according to E.C. Alft’s Elgin:  Days Gone By, she “created an Elgin sensation in 1852 when she eloped, her father and brother giving chase with firearms.”

Ultimately, the marriage proved to be successful and, in fact, Myra completed legal training with the hopes of serving as a practicing attorney.  It took until 1892 for her to become one of the first–if not the first–woman in the state of Illinois to be admitted to the Bar.  Various sources differ on who attained this dramatic achievement but it is a definite possibility that it was Myra.

Meanwhile, Eben Colby continued his residence in Elgin after his wife’s death and was listed there in the 1860 census.  He was 73 years old and his profession was listed as “carpenter.”  He was living with Emily Burlington, “a female black laborer” (who was mentioned as such in the 1850 census) and a 65 year-old widow named Malinda Hall.  It is also worthy to note that on the 1861 Van Vechten plat map for Cook County, the Colby property in Schaumburg Township had been sold and was now in the hands of J.T. Thomas.

Eben then, at some point, made his way to Fort Dodge in Webster County, Iowa where his daughter, Marietta “Mary” (Colby) Haviland lived.  We then meet up with him again in the same book where we last saw his wife, Abigail.  It is there, in Death Records in Elgin, that he is listed as having died on September 4, 1869 in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  He was 80 years old, 10 months and 12 days.

The family obviously regarded him highly enough to have his remains sent back to Illinois to be buried in the same block of the Channing Street Cemetery as his wife, Abigail.  It could have been their daughter, Myra Colby Bradwell, who was living in Chicago with her husband, who was also an attorney, and probably able to afford the cost.

Unfortunately, the Channing Street Cemetery no longer exists so we cannot capture a photo of the Colby’s gravestones.  In 1889, twenty years after Eben Colby’s death, when most remains from Channing Street were reinterred in the new Bluff City Cemetery, it is noted in the records that the Colbys did not make the move.  It is quite possible there was no gravestone for the couple and their grave site could not be determined or, very little remained if there was.

Suffice to say, the Colbys definitely made their mark on Schaumburg Township–from purchasing the available land patent, being actively involved in state and local government, to parenting children who were notable in their own right.  It was an active time in the early, formative years of Illinois and, even though the Colbys were not young people when they arrived, they made the most of the time they had.  Without Mr. Colby and his participation, Schaumburg Township might, in fact, be Lutherburg Township.  And try to imagine that on the Schaumburg Township sign on Illinois Boulevard!

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “THE COLBYS COME TO SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP”

  1. Diana Dobrovolny Says:

    About three years after the wall came down my sister snd I took my mother to Germany to see her heritage. We found living relatives on her mothers side by the north sea but none of her father’s side that had been behind the wall. We had no real itinerary. One day drining from one side to the other we turned a corner of a mountain and found the small village of Schaumburg. Like a story book. We drove to the top and found an inn. It was 10am. The desk person welcomed us. We exchanged stories of my mothers German family and our US Schaumburg home. The inn keeper pulled out a book and showed us Mayor Atchers signature. They said there had been a small ceremony to become sister cities. I don’t remember the date but we all shared a glass of wine at that early hour and had an enjoyable time. So thankful my mother spoke German or we would not have learned so much. I am not sure how to attach pictures here. I will send them to you, Jane

  2. Katy V Says:

    Thank you for posting! It amazes me to consider the chain of events that lead us to where we are. Schaumburg’s humble beginning’s are no exception. Love the blog.

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