Most people would think that spending time looking for an old abandoned cemetery rather strange. But there are a few of us who think doing exactly that is more like a treasure hunt. Those who know me know that every road trip will likely include at least one cemetery along the way.
People would probably think it even stranger that I am not related to anyone buried in these cemeteries but I am still compelled to find them and research the people. “Looking for Dead Guys” has become my motto whether it is in my car or at the computer.
I will admit that this particular cemetery proved to be quite a challenge. I almost began to believe that nothing was left to find. But thanks to previous research done by family members and other historians, blind luck and following my gut, my efforts finally paid off.
I found the cemetery in a location that many people probably drive by every day, never suspecting what lies in the midst of the wooded area on top of a little hill in the middle of a field. As my daughter, Sarah and I climbed over the fallen logs and pushed our way through the bramble bushes, I was overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. These people were the pioneers of this area and certainly deserved a better remembrance than this little abandoned hill.
There was an attempt made to clean away the brush and return the stones to their proper places in 2003. The combined efforts of Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Burritt Township Supervisor, Roger McDougall and Boy Scout Buddy Crabb and his fellow troop members cleaned years of brush away to reveal the few remaining head stones. Buddy became an Eagle Scout and received an award from the Illinois Comptroller’s Office for his hard work organizing the clean- up.
But nature has once again reclaimed this woody hill and destroyed any progress that was made. It is now completely covered by long grass, fallen branches, and thorny bushes. But there are a few worn and broken stones with the names still etched on them.
Reverend William Stillwell started the first church in the Burritt Township and was buried on the western slope of the small hill. His broken stone leans against a tree no longer marking the place where he was laid to rest after his death in May of 1850.
Catherine Brainard, wife of Aaron Day Brainard, was buried there by her loving family when she died in December of 1855. The family had moved to Burritt area around 1847 from New York where Catherine and Aaron were born.
One of the earliest burials in the little cemetery was Catherine McIntosh who died on September 27, 1840 at just twenty one years old. Her son, Henry would join her when he died on September 23, 1841 and her husband, John S. in 1866. They were one of the first families to settle in the area that would for a short time be named the Manchester Settlement.
John Manchester, the patriarch of the family moved to the area from New Brunswick in Canada with his wife, Elizabeth in 1835. They would eventually have six children and be considering a leading family in the settlement. They opened a blacksmith shop located where Cemetery Road meets Trask Bridge Road. The settlement also had a wagon shop, an inn and a post office. Most of the original families moved away from Manchester and nothing remains to show that the town existed.
John Manchester died in his son’s Joseph’s home in 1859, not far where he had “pitched his tent when he came as a pioneer.” His broken tombstone is all that remains from the family that once was a founding family of the area.
The burial records of many children’s names bears witness to the harshness of survival in those early days of our county. Family records state that eleven year old Samuel M. Russell, son of Isaac and Comfort, was killed by a colt in 1845. Lydia, daughter of Isaac and Caroline Hance was only ten when she died in 1843. The family of Joseph and Mary Scott mourned their two month old little baby, Julius who was a twin to his sister, Julia Ann in 1844. The Scott family came from Ohio in 1838 and Joseph and his son, William would later serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. Joseph and Mary Scott had ten children which included three sets of twins. The family left the area after the war leaving their son at rest at the top of the hill to be found one hundred and seventy two years later.
I left the little cemetery no longer saddened that these people have been lost and forgotten. They are part of the history of their little settlement and of Winnebago County. They came from different states and some even from different countries to settle here much like many of us have. Their tombstones stones may be broken and worn down but these people will never be forgotten. There will always be someone like me who will feel compelled to discover and share their stories.
Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events