Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ruth Grows Up - The Rest of the Story

March is Women’s History Month. I used to do more marketing around that theme when my first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, was still newish, even though Ruth is only twelve in the story. I rarely talk about Ruth as an adult, but it seems fitting for the occasion.

I couldn’t believe it until I did the math, but it’s been seventeen years since Ruth by Lake and Prairie was published! Drawing on all the history I could find, it tells the journey to settle Naperville, Illinois. I chose Ruth as the main character because the children of Joseph and John Naper were only preschool-aged. Ruth is their niece and was also on the voyage, so it made more sense to use her as the main character.
Briefly, if you don’t already know this story, in 1831, Joseph Naper planned a community in Illinois. He gathered friends and family from New York and Ohio, including his brother, John Naper, and brother-in-law, John Murray, who was Ruth’s father. It was a four-week journey, most of which was spent sailing the schooner, Telegraph, through the Great Lakes to the Chicago settlement and then another three days overland to the DuPage River.

Bits of the story have come to light from odd sources over the years. Ruth’s older brother, Ned, gave some newspaper interviews when he was one of the last surviving original settlers. Some of the other families passed down details but didn’t stay in the area, so their contributions are harder to track down.

I have found nothing directly from Ruth like an interview or a diary. The Warren girls (of Warrenville) told a story about calling on a neighbor with Ruth. She shows up as a probable “female” in early census records and is later listed by name.


At twenty-three, Ruth married Harlyn Shattuck. Harlyn was part of a large family who had staked out land in Boone County, near Rockford. While Harlyn was clearing the land and building the farm, Ruth seems to have lived in Naperville at the New York House hotel, possibly working for brother Ned who was the owner. (Full disclosure: My notes are still packed away and I’m recalling this without confirmation.)

Eventually, Ruth and Harlyn moved out to the farm in Boone County where they raised their children Murray, John, Olive, Willard, and Orris. Nephew Byron Johnson became part of their family after the death of Ruth’s younger sister. Cordelia had given birth to her second son, Edgar, in December of 1846, but the baby died at the end of January and Cordelia followed a week later. Ruth and Cordelia’s father, John Murray, also joined the household for a while after his wife, Amy, passed away in 1856.


I never mention it in a presentation for children, but Ruth’s adult life must have been difficult. In 1845 alone, she lost toddler daughter Lovisa in July and baby daughter Louesa in September. Another daughter, her last child, died in 1863, just before her first birthday.

Ruth did not live to make old bones, either. I don’t know any details, but she died in July of 1864 at the age of 45 and is buried in the Shattucks Grove Cemetery in Boone County. This was during the Civil War and her son, Murray, named for her father’s family, had joined the 9th Illinois Cavalry in January of that year, along with several of his Shattuck cousins.

When fleshing out Ruth’s character for the book, I speculated that Ruth was family-oriented, the center of hearth and home. As evidence, I look at the care she provided for her nephew and her father and the fact that, after her death, the family seems to fall apart. Harlyn remarried, to a widow named Lucretia Orton Hall, and this second family shows up in Boone County history for generations while Ruth’s children scattered.

John died in 1872 at the age of 23, leaving a widow but no children. Military records list Murray as a deserter in September of 1865. He died in 1925 at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane in Minnesota. Orris married and settled in South Dakota. Willard, who was named for Willard Scott, stayed somewhat nearby in Kane County. Olive was the only one who remained in Boone County.

When I was writing Ruth by Lake and Prairie, I tried to find descendants to see if they had any knowledge that was handed down rather than published in books and records. There wasn’t much that was new, but I did correspond with a couple of great-grandchildren, which was great fun! I’m sure Ruth would be happy to know they still think of her.

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