Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Illinois Pioneers Traveled by Sailing Schooner as Well as by Prairie Schooner

While most local citizens are aware that Joseph Naper founded what became known as Naper's Settlement and was later incorporated as Naperville, few people are familiar with the details of Joe's journey.

We usually picture wagon trains heading west, also known as "prairie schooners." But Joe had an actual schooner. Father Robert Naper was a ship builder and Joe and several of his brothers followed the family trade, building, owning, sailing - and wrecking - many different ships.

Joe sailed a regular run in Lake Erie from Buffalo to Cleveland, housing his young family in a small town near Dunkirk, New York. His brother John, also a ship's captain, operated out of Ashtabula, Ohio, where father Robert settled when the boys were young. Friends and family from both New York and Ohio joined their settlement journey, including sister Amy Murray's family; Amy's married daughter, Sarah; Sarah's in-laws; and several others.

While the exact dates are uncertain, we know the journey started in Buffalo around May 30. They traveled to Ashtabula to pick up more settlers and then sailed across Lake Erie, navigated up the St. Clair Flats to Lake Huron, swung around Mackinac into Lake Michigan and anchored offshore near Fort Dearborn about mid-July. It took another three days by wagon to reach the DuPage River.

Not all of the families stayed at Naper's Settlement. Some moved on to Wheaton, Plainfield and Lockport while others stayed in Chicago.

Joe sold his share in the Telegraph, the schooner that transported the
settlers, but John continued as a ship's captain for several years before
becoming a full-time farmer in what would eventually become Lisle.

The month of May was designated as Heritage Month in Naperville a few years ago, with events and activities happening all month long. Event hosts include:

* City of Naperville
* DuPage Children's Museum
* Naper Settlement
* Naperville Park District
* Naperville Public Library and
* North Central College.

There's still two weeks of Heritage Month Activities if you want to check out the calendar at NaperSettlement.org.

For kids interested in learning more about the schooner journey, or for adults who like a quick read, Kate's book "Ruth by Lake and Prairie" tells the story from the point of view of Naper's twelve-year-old niece, Ruth Murray. The book has a "Little House" feel and is available from the book's website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Anderson's Bookshops and Naper Settlement.

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