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In a Land Not Sown The Life and Times of Jeremiah William Cory, Sr.

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In a Land Not Sown
The Live and Times
Jeremiah William Cory, Sr.
David A. Cory, M.D.

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Religion played an important part in the lives of the Corys. In the early days of Cory's Grove a log church was built, and Elder Isaac Walker Cory was the first minister. One of the first Sunday Schools in Polk County was established at the church, and the first Sunday School library in the county was created at the church when I. M. T. Cory carried the books sixteen miles across the prairie on horseback [14]. I. M. T. later came to be a minister in the Church of Christ [3] and served as chaplain of the Early Settlers' Association [5]. Early marriage records of Polk County show Rev. Jeremiah Cory, Baptist Church minister, being credentialed to marry in Polk County on March 16, 1850. Whether this is senior or junior is not stated; it is very possible that both were preachers. Jeremiah Sr.'s tombstone states that at the time of his death in 1860 he had been a deacon of the Baptist Church for twenty years and a "professor of religion" for fifteen years [27]. There is a record [26] of "Jerry Corey" (probably Jr.) speaking words of comfort at the funeral of a baby, a frequent event in the life of the pioneers, owing to difficult living condi- tions and disease.

Apparently, the religious practices of the Corys were subject to misinterpretation [24]. In the fall of 1854, two would-be pioneers from Illinois named W. J. Silvers and A. J. Barr traveled northwest from "Uncle Tommy" Mitchell's tavern in Polk County to camp in a grove near what they thought was an abandoned log cabin. They thought the local men were "rough looking" characters who probably had their eyes on the visitors' horses. Silvers and Barr had their guns at the ready when they heard the settlers pass by their campsite, and, according to Silvers, "Failing to find us, they went up to the deserted shanty, built up a fire and sang and yelled for a couple of hours. I have no doubt, if we had not been on our guard, our horses would have been missing, for those fellows were not prowling about in that manner for nothing." The following commentary provides another perspective on the story:

The run-in with the rough characters . . .is strictly ludicrous when viewed with some hindsight. It was probably like this: From the context, the first night's stop could only have been at Cory Grove, where the considerable settlement was made up entirely of the Cory family and their relatives. Far from being horse thieves, or rascals of any ilk, the Cory men were all devoted members of a fundamentalist religious sect, and several of them were ministers of that faith. In all probability the vacant cabin was their meeting house, where the Cory Grove Church now stands. And the singing and yelling merely the normal exercise of a "shouting" religion. The story points up the rugged appearance of the pioneers as well as the suspicious nature of the visitors from more civilized areas [24].

In addition to playing a key role in establishing the civil township of Elkhart, the Corys are also credited with founding the town of Elkhart, Iowa. The first Elkhart Post Office was established in section 2 of Douglas Township in 1853, probably by Jeremiah Cory, Jr. [15] Then in 1856, the town of Ottawa was laid out in Elkhart Township. Isaac Walker Cory [9] and I. M. T. Cory [1], among others [15], have been credited with laying out the town. The Elkhart Post Office was moved to Ottawa in 1856, but the town wasn't renamed Elkhart until 1884. Finally, in 1902 and 1903, the town was moved a mile west to be located on the Des Moines, Iowa Falls, and Northern Railway [13]. Many descendants of the early settlers of Cory Grove continue to live in and around Elkhart, and an annual Cory reunion has been held in Elkhart since the early years of the twentieth century.


Chapter 6
Story County, Iowa

O resistless restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
--Walt Whitman, "Pioneers! O Pioneers!"

Story County lies north of Polk County and was settled later. The pattern of settlement of Story County was the same as the settlement of Polk County, with the earliest claims made in groves along streams. The earliest settlers were Dan and Mormon Ballard, who in 1848 claimed land near the Skunk River in a grove that came to bear their name [1]. Squire Martin Cory settled in Ballard's Grove in the spring of 1850 [1], and made the third land entry in the county July 9, 1851. Another area of settlement occurred further east, along Indian Creek, a tributary of Skunk River. This is where Jeremiah Cory, Jr. made the fourth land entry in the county on August 20, 1851 [1,13]. The civil organization of Story County was approved by act of the Iowa General Assembly January 12, 1853, and completed on April 4, 1853 with election of county officials. The second election was held in August of 1853, and Squire Martin Cory received five votes for sheriff, coming in third in a three-way race.

Over the next few years, more members of the Cory family moved to Story County. The 1854 Iowa State Census shows Jeremiah, Sr., Jeremiah, Jr., and sons-in-law William K. Wood and Peter Gordy as heads of families in Indian Creek Township, while Isaac Walker Cory, Abraham Byers, and Lemuel Veneman and their families remained in Elkhart Township of Polk County. In addition, James Burbridge Cory appears as the head of a household in Story County in the 1856 Iowa State Census. Robert V. Cory, one of two sons of Jeremiah Cory, Sr. who stayed in Indiana when the family moved west, also bought land in Story County, but there is no indication that he ever lived there [13].

Just as they had named Elkhart Township in Polk County, the Corys made another attempt to honor their former home by naming a post office after the county seat of Elkhart County, Indiana. The Goshen Post Office was established in the northeast quarter of section 21 in township 82, range 22 in 1854 [3,5]. This quarter section had been purchased by Jeremiah Cory, Sr. in parcels of 40 to 80 acres between 1852 and 1853 [13]. Not surprisingly, Jeremiah Sr. was the postmaster. Whatever plans the Corys may have had for Goshen, Iowa, they were not to be, and the post office was moved to Iowa Center in 1858 [5].

Even though Goshen perished without a trace, Iowa Center is still in existence. The town was laid out in August, 1855 by Jeremiah Cory, Jr. and Tommy C. Davis. Davis and Cory had been in business on the site at least since 1854. They were "engaged in trade, displaying their goods, wares and merchandise in the log cabin in which Jerry's family lived, and for the time it was store, parlor, bed-room, kitchen, and hotel [3]." Salt, sugar, and molasses were stored in a small outbuilding. One day, Jerry Cory began to fill a jug with molasses for his brother-in-law, William K. Wood. The two struck up a hog trade outside the building, and by the time they returned, the entire contents of the molasses barrel had drained onto the ground. Episodes like this may have convinced Jeremiah Jr. to pursue farming and to leave Tommy Davis to mind the store. In the Iowa State Census of 1856, Davis is listed as a merchant and Jerry as a farmer.

Jeremiah Jr. did not give up on business entirely. He and his father were partners. The exact nature of the business is not explicitly stated in available documents.

The probate packet of Jeremiah Sr. contains the following list of assets which the two shared equally:

      1 pr. Fairbanks scales        13.00 
      1 two year old steer          14.00 
      1 one   "   " speckled steer   4.00 
      1 Rone bull                    5.00 
      1 yearling colt               35.00 
      1 parlor stove & pipe          8.00 
      Total amount of notes due 
      the firm of Cory and Son    2009.68 
      Total amount of accounts due 
      the firm of Cory and Son    1354.79
      Amount Total                3443.47 

Also in Jeremiah's probate documents is a note from Dolly asking a county judge to sell some timbered land and "the Iowa Center red mill" from her husband's estate+. We can infer from the list of assets that Cory and Son were involved in the livestock business. Dolly's note raises the question of whether milling was part of their enterprise.

Other family members definitely were involved in milling. Isaac Walker Cory built a water-driven corn cracker mill on East Indian Creek, west of Iowa Center. The mill was a failure, and "never done but little if any grinding [4]." Walker's brother-in-law William K. Wood had more success in the milling business. William, his cousin Christopher Wood, and Nathan Webb operated the first steam grist and saw mill in Iowa Center, which ran until it was taken down and moved away in 1869 [4,9].

Members of the Cory family participated in the first two Independence Day celebrations held in Story County. The first party was held July 4, 1854 at Iowa Center, a year before the town was formally laid out. John G. Wood, father-in-law to Malinda Cory and Abijah Curtis Cory, presided over the festivities, and Peter Gordy, husband of Cassie Cory, read the Declaration of Independence [7]. Jeremiah's business partner, Tommy Davis, produced a flag by using lampblack to paint an eagle on a white cloth. By his own admission, the result more closely resembled a crow than an eagle [7]. The 1855 celebration was held at Nevada, the county seat of Story County. A parade across the prairie was followed by speeches and a picnic dinner. There was "plenty of corn bread and great many other good things, and with a cask of home-brewed beer" and "a Mr. Cory from Cory's Grove beat upon a drum and was accompanied by a fife, making a good deal more noise than tune [11]." This may have been Isaac Walker, who still would have been making his home in Cory Grove in 1855. In any case, given the pious nature of the Iowa Corys, it is unlikely the cacophony he produced was in any way inspired by the cask of home brew.

Malinda Cory Wood apparently was in ill health at the time that she and William moved from Cory Grove to Story County in 1851. The nature of her illness is not known, but she did bear three sons, Curtis, Cory, and James, before her death in 1862 or 1863. It is interesting to note that W. K. Wood gained considerable prominence in Story County, but in his published reminiscences, little mention is made of his wives, of whom Malinda was the first of four. When her illness is mentioned in Payne's history of Story County [9], it is treated as but another hardship that the heroic Mr. Wood had to bear as he cheerfully walked mile after mile to obtain work and repeatedly plunged into raging rivers to rescue man and beast [6,10]. This is not to belittle the efforts of Mr. Wood, but we should pay tribute to the women who endured the travails of pioneer life with little recognition by a paternalistic society. Payne does note that Malinda was a good mother who made moccasins out of cloth and skins for her three young sons to wear in the winter. In summer they, like most children of that era, were barefoot. When the day finally came for the two older boys to receive their first pair of boots, purchased in Des Moines, they greased the leather with tallow in an effort to prolong the life of the boots. The boots were placed next to the fireplace to dry. When the boys thought the boots looked dry, they attempted to pick them up, but the boots had been roasted to a crisp, and crumbled in their hands [12].

It was in Story County that the life of Jeremiah Cory, Sr. came to an end on January 6, 1860. The census mortality schedule of Story County for 1860, which enumerates all the deaths in the county for that year, lists the cause of death as palsy after an illness of one day. In modern parlance, we would say he died of a stroke. Jeremiah is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Iowa Center. At the top of his headstone is a carving of an open book with the left page bearing the words, "Time How Short," and on the right page, "Eternity How Long." After more than a century, the words are barely visible. The remainder of the inscription is:

Jeremiah Cory Died Jan. 6, 1860 Aged 67 Yrs 3 Ms 21 Ds A Professor of Religion 15 yrs. Deacon of Baptist Church 20 yrs. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

Jeremiah died without a will. Probate documents indicate that he had accumulated little in the way of worldly goods during his lifetime, with the inventory of his personal property taking up only a half-page, consisting of a few basic items of furniture and household goods, a few tools, some livestock, a family Bible, a watch, some lumber, and three beehives.

Dolly died January 1, 1877 [8], but there is no stone for her in Woodland Cemetery, and further details of the place and circumstances of her death are unknown.

So ends the journey of a pioneer couple who brought their family across many rugged miles. They left behind no first person written record to give us insight into their thoughts and emotions as they carved out refuges in the wilderness of Ohio and Indiana, each time leaving the security of home to follow the mysterious call to the West, finally settling on the prairies of Iowa. We can only infer what their personalities may have been like--Jeremiah the devout, taciturn head of the clan, who relayed his disapproval of his son-in-law's financial affairs through Dolly, but also a man of ambition, forming a business with his son, acquiring land, preaching, and establishing a post office. And Dolly--"about the best woman in the world," enduring with patience the trials and tribulations of the pioneer life, foregoing education to raise a large family.



+ Dolly signed this note with an "X". Apparently, like many pioneer women, she had to forego literacy to learn the many household tasks required of her.

Chapter 7
The Indiana Legacy

A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
--Ecclesiastes 1:4, Revised Standard Version

Of the ten children of Jeremiah and Dolly Cory, only Abijah Curtis and Robert V. chose to stay in Indiana when the rest of the family moved to Iowa in the 1840's.

Abijah Curtis Cory was born in Pickaway County, Ohio on April 19, 1818. The name Abijah appears many times in the early generations of the American Corys [5]. The closest relative of Abijah Curtis to bear the name was his paternal uncle. A. C. Cory preferred to use his middle name and, mercifully, did not choose to pass on the name Abijah to any of his sons. There is no record of Curtis's boyhood in Ohio. He was thirteen years old when his family moved to Elkhart County, Indiana in 1831 [2]. Six years later, he made an entry at the LaPorte land office for 80 acres in Section 1 of Van Buren Township. He erected a log cabin on this land. In later years, he added another 80 acres to the farm, and built a larger house. On February 21, 1839, he married Sally Ann Mann in Elkhart County. Sally was not quite eighteen at the time of their marriage. She bore three children, Samantha, Almeda, and Alonzo. Sally died on February 14, 1845, probably from complications of childbirth (Alonzo was born February 1, 1845).

On January 4, 1846, Curtis was married for the second time, to Matilda Wood, widow of Charles Gunter [8]. Matilda was a granddaughter of Rev. William Wood, who was a Baptist minister and a founder of the town of Washington, Mason Co., Kentucky [3]. Matilda was born October 23, 1820, in Logan County, Ohio, to John G. Wood and Anna Kinneson. She and Curtis became the parents of nine children, four of whom, Ann Eliza, Carolina, William Luther, and John Albert, died in childhood. Those children surviving into adulthood were Adoniram Judson, Elizabeth, Jesse Franklin, Mary Malinda, and Paulina Celestine. Adoniram, known as Don, was named after the noted Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson (1788-1859), who translated the Bible into Burmese and wrote a Burmese dictionary [4].

The marriage of Curtis and Matilda was not the only one between the Cory and Wood families. On October 17, 1847, Matilda's brother William K. and Curt's sister Malinda were married and a year and a half later moved to Iowa.

In his later years, Curtis recalled with a touch of humor his days as a pioneer in Kosciusko County [2]. During his second winter as a land owner in the county, one of his horses stepped into a crack in the stable floor and was unable to extricate himself, finally dying of exhaustion in the effort. At that time there was a bounty on wolves, so Curt dragged the animal out into the woods to serve as bait for a wolf trap. While in the woods with the horse, he heard howls in the distance and saw forty pairs of glaring eyes coming toward him. Curtis made for an ironwood tree and made it half the twenty-five or thirty feet to the lowest limb when he lost his strength and slid back to the ground. By this time the wild-eyed creatures were upon him and passed by on either side. He was "scared within three-quarters inch of his life." However, instead of the pack of ravenous wolves he expected, he looked around to see a flock of wild turkeys being chased by an old hound.

Curtis made his living as a farmer and stock raiser, and had "as handsome farm as there is in the county [7]." Like other members of the family, he was a Baptist. He served as a school director and was a member of the Kosciusko County Pioneer Association [2]. He died November 22, 1892 at the age of 74 of "la grippe," an old term for what we now would call influenza [7]. The site of A. C.'s burial is somewhat of a mystery, although there is an unmarked mausoleum adjacent to the graves of other Cory family members in the Syracuse Cemetery. The stone of the foundation matches the stone in the bases of some of the Cory tombstones, and presumably this is where A. C. is laid to rest. Matilda survived Curtis by almost ten years, dying March 22, 1902 at age 81, and her body may also lie in the mausoleum.

One of the more colorful characters of the Cory family was Robert V. Cory. The enigma of Bob Cory begins with his date of birth. Census records are consistent with Bob being born in 1824 or 1825, but the inscription on his imposing monument in the Syracuse Cemetery indicates he was born July 2, 1822. In any case, he was born in Pickaway County, Ohio and in 1831 came to Elkhart County, Indiana with Jeremiah and Dolly and the rest of the family. On Oct 10, 1844, Bob married Elizabeth Gordy. They settled in Jackson Township just north of the Elkhart-Kosciusko county line adjacent to the farm of Bob's brother Curtis. Bob had two barns which stood about ten feet apart on his property. He boarded up the space between the barns and painted the following sign in large letters on the boards [1]:


Bob in fact did work successfully as an auctioneer in Elkhart and Kosciusko Counties in Indiana for over 30 years, although I don't know what kind of veterinarian he was. He developed a reputation for drawing large crowds at auctions with his sense of humor and his eccentricity [1]. He also lacked the piety of his father and brothers, being "of rough exterior and in no sense religious [1]." He was, however, the first to donate toward the building of the Solomon's Creek United Brethren Church near Syracuse [1]. His donation was seventy-five dollars, quite a generous sum for those days.

Bob and Elizabeth were the parents of eight children, Orange Lemon, Dorothy Jane, Jerome, Jeniza, Harvey Vaneman Lincoln, Partner, Alice, and James. Bob's will, drafted in 1869 [6], mentions all the children except James, who presumably died young. It appears that Bob expressed his sense of humor in naming his eldest son, but despite this, Orange Lemon went on to be a deputy sheriff in Kosciusko County, and fathered a family of eleven children [11].

Lucky Bob's luck ran out on April 23, 1879, when he committed suicide by taking an overdose of Fowler's solution, which contained arsenic and morphine [10]. Why the popular and successful auctioneer should have ended his life in this way is unknown, but alcoholism may have been a contributing factor. Family lore has it that after an evening spent in town, Bob was often too inebriated to find his way home. Fortunately, his horse knew the way, and could find the farm even if Bob couldn't. It was the job of Bob's son Harvey V. Lincoln Cory to put away the horse after these trips.

Harvey Vaneman Lincoln Cory was born June 7, 1860 [13]. He was named after a neighbor, Harvey Vaneman (variously spelled as Veneman or Vennaman). Since he was born during the presidential election campaign between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, we may infer that he was also a namesake of Mr. Lincoln. H. V. L. Cory was known as Lincoln throughout his life. Lincoln's religious standards were different than his father's, and the young man joined the Church of the Brethren at age 18, around the time of Bob's suicide [13]. In his will, Bob left a 103 acre parcel of land straddling the Elkhart-Kosciusko County line to Lincoln, with the provision that Bob's widow Elizabeth be allowed to continue to occupy the house in Elkhart County during her life, which ended in March 7, 1896.

When Lincoln was a lad two years old on his parents' farm, Paulina Celestine Cory was born September 26, 1862 across Turkey Creek on A. C. Cory's farm. Paulina Celestine (Sella) was the last of nine children born to Abijah Curtis Cory and Matilda Wood Gunter [2]. By the time she reached age nineteen, Sella had fallen in love with her neighbor and first cousin, Lincoln. Despite parental protests, Lincoln and Sella eloped and were married by a justice of the peace at Sturgis, St. Joseph County, Michigan, on January 20, 1882 [12]. They returned to Indiana to live on the farm left to Lincoln by his father, and there Sella bore six children--Van (born Oct. 13, 1882), Maud (March 23, 1884), Dean (July 1885), Tad (Aug 16, 1887), Fay (Sept. 29, 1889), and Lee (Oct. 28, 1891) [14]. In addition to farming, Lincoln carried on in the tradition of his father as a successful and popular auctioneer in the area around Syracuse.

Tragedy struck the young family on August 4, 1893. On that Saturday evening, Sella and Lincoln went into Syracuse for an ice cream festival. They returned to their farm and went to sleep in the barn where the family was temporarily staying while a new house was being built. Around midnight Lincoln was awakened by the struggles of Sella, who soon expired, apparently of heart disease, at the age of 30 [9]. The house was completed, just south of the Elkhart-Kosciusko County line and south of Turkey Creek, and is still occupied, although not by the Cory family, at this writing.

Lincoln's second marriage was to Sarah Viola Shelmadine, who assumed the role of mother to his six children. In February 1895, she bore the first of six more children, a girl named Eve. In July 1896, while Lincoln and family were homesteading in Kansas, son Guy was born. The family lived in a sod house in Kansas, which Viola tried to brighten up with flowers on the window sill. The homesteading attempt was a failure, and by the time Ruth was born in May 1898, the family was back in Indiana. The remaining children, Marie (born April 12, 1900), Joy, and Noble (1911), were all born in Indiana.

Lincoln was said to have been "a man of unusual temperament, looking on the bright and joyous side of life," [13] despite the setbacks he had suffered. The final tragic chapter of his life began in Goshen, Indiana on June 20, 1912, when the horse he was driving was frightened by an automobile and ran away, throwing Lincoln from his buggy. He broke his right leg and suffered internal injuries. He was alleged to have had a heart condition which, combined with his injuries, ultimately lead to his death July 12, 1912. His funeral was said to have been the largest held in Syracuse for many years, with over a thousand people coming to pay their last respects. Only about 200 of these could be seated in the United Brethren Church where services were held [13].

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