Biography - Lawrence Fern

LAWRENCE W. FERN, a farmer living on a farm of' two hundred acres on section 5, township 12, range 4, Johnson County, was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1814, and was brought to the United States in the spring of 1820, when he was six years old. His father, James Fern, was a farmer, as was his father before him. Grandfather Fern married Sarah Boulden, who was, like her husband, quite well-to-do. They reared a large family and died in England.
Lawrence W. Fern is one of six children, four sons and two daughters, and the youngest of the family. His father and family sailed from Liverpool for New York with Capt. Collins, and were sixty-nine days on the way, on account of becoming lost in a dense fog. It cleared up, however, and the voyagers found themselves on the coast of Nova Scotia. They had a very stormy and dark passage, and frequently did not expect to escape ocean graves, and though but six years old, Lawrence W. remembers the ocean voyage. He was mature for his years, and one Sunday morning, while he was on deck reading the Scripture to his father, there came up suddenly from a clear sky a terrible storm, which, though of short duration, lashed the ocean into a terrible fury, and nearly engulfed their ship in the mountainous waves and chopping seas.
Mr. Fern was reared on his father’s farm in Otsego County, N. Y., where his parents, who were in comfortable circumstances and gave their children a good education, both died. Lawrence W. relates that when he was young he caught muskrats and sold the skins in order to get money with which to buy books, which his parents refused to purchase for him, they thinking he was reading too much. He had a natural taste for law, and though he never graduated from any law school, was admitted to the Bar when twenty-one years of age, after which he practiced his profession somewhat in New York, yet his vocation throughout life has been that of a farmer. He has also practiced law to some extent since he came to Illinois. He was a Major in the New York militia, his commission being dated August 28, 1834, and signed by Gov. William L. Marcy, and his Adjutant-General, Levi Hubbell. Mr. Fern left New York State in 1840, passing through Pennsylvania, and going down the Ohio River after stopping a short time at Pittsburg. He then went on south to Texas by way of New Orleans in pursuit, of health, being threatened with consumption. In the spring of 1843 he removed from Vienna to the neighborhood of his present home, having just previously come up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Vienna, and James Laskey had selected him as the teacher for the subscription school of this place. During the three years of his sojourn in the South he was engaged in teaching schools of the same kind., He was married January 2, 1845, to his present wife, Ellen Laskey, daughter of James and Rebecca (Dobbs) Laskey, both of whom came from Kentucky, where Mrs. Fern was born in 1821, in Wayne County, Her parents came to lllinois in the spring of 1832, starting with their teams from Kentucky late in the fall of 1831, and reaching Johnson County in March, 1832. On the way they remained some time in Saline with two sick brothers, one of whom died there. Coming to Illinois with ample means, they settled in the woods as squatters, camping in the woods until their log house was built. They purchased and had deeded to them when the land came into market two hundred and eighty acres of land, paying therefor $1.25 per acre.
When our subject was married he purchased an improved forty acres, which had upon it a log cabin such as were common in those days, in which they lived one year and then moved two miles to the southwest, where their son now lives. Lawrence W. was a surveyor by profession, and was elected County Surveyor, and in time purchased by deed one thousand acres in this section of the State, for which he was laughed at by his neighbors for being land poor. His taxes, which were but $1 in 1846, rose not many years afterward to $225, which in those days was considered an enormous amount to pay, especially when money was so scarce. He has deeded to each of his seven children a good farm, and for forty-five years previous to 1890 he paid on the average an annual sum in taxes of $45. Mr. Fern had not much means to start with, so he taught school winters, and his wife fed the stock and cared for the children, also driving of the wolves, which were numerous and fierce.
Mr. and Mrs. Fern have buried two children of their own and two by Mrs. Fern’s first husband, Simeon Ford, who died at the age of twenty-three years, leaving her with these two children to support. The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Fern has been blessed by nine children, four sons and five daughters, of whom the following are still living, namely: William J., who is a physician at Tunnel Hill, and has a wife, three sons and one daughter; Andrew J., a farmer on a large scale, who has a wife, five sons and three daughters; Sarah Ellen, wife of E. H. Lemons, a farmer of the vicinity, who has three sons and six daughters; Missouri Lucretia, wife of J. J. Whiteside, a merchant of Tunnel Hill, who has two sons and two daughters; Indiana Luvina, wife of William Simpson, who has five sons and two daughters; and Esther Frances, wife of Alfred Willis, who has two sons and two daughters. Mr. and Mrs. Fern have forty grandchildren, and twenty greatgrandchildren. Our subject has always been in frail health, and while he has never been able to do hard work, yet he has been a very active and industrious man. He has been a Mason over forty years, and has been a representative to the Grand Lodge. He is in politics a Republican, and in religion a Missionary Baptist.

Transcribed 15 Sep 2009 by Vera Burnham from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois, pages 446-447.

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