Albert Britt, an American that was. Sometimes, it seems as though you are being led to write an article. Like tracks in the snow, you are obliged by an innate curiosity to follow. So it is with Albert Britt and the Britt family. Over a period of a couple of years, one print in the snow after another, I have been lead down the trail. I bought a used copy of his book, An America That Was. Inside the cover was the following handwritten inscription:

"This Book a Birthday Gift from Bernie Sonderegger. June 2, 1965. Frances Patterson Johnson. Albert Britt is the younger brother of Charles Britt. Charlie married Rene Wallace, Mother's first cousin."

It took me a little while to realize that this Charlie and his brother Albert, were only two of six (or seven) children in the Britt family. One of their sisters was Francis "Frannie" who was my wife's great grandmother, making Albert Britt, my wife's great, great uncle. Francis Britt was born September 18, 1859 in Kelly Township. She would become the wife of Daniel Henry Adcock, February 14, 1878. Francis and Daniel had a daughter named Bertha Jane Adcock, born November 8, 1882 who would marry Fred J. Brown on June 20, 1906. Fred and Bertha Jane would have a son named Harry Everett Brown, born March 25, 1907. Harry would marry Grace Clute and they would have a daughter, Louise Brown, who in a moment of weakness consented to be my wife.

Recently, I was able to study the old Britt family Bible. It not only includes a family record but also a letter from the Charlie Britt, mentioned above, to Bertha Jane Adcock Brown, my wife's grandmother, referencing a letter he had received from Albert Britt. Charlie is asking Bertha, his niece, about family history and early Kelly Township history for Albert, who "Šis preparing a history of the Tylerville community for a New York publisher." The letter was dated October 22, 1951.

Of course, this letter and the family history in the Bible caused me to dig out Albert's book about growing up in Kelly Township. In his book, he refers to the family Bible that records his birth. It does indeed: "Albert Britt born November 26, 1874 in Town of Kelly, County of Warren."

"I was born in a town that didn't exist, although it had a name; it was called Utah, Illinois.Š" With that admission, Albert Britt begins his story of growing up in our backyards. Utah Illinois, for those of you not well versed in the trivia of local history was (or almost was) a place in Kelly Township, in Warren County. Albert Britt is a distant relative of my wife but sometimes I feel that this is redundant after saying he was from Kelly Township. It seems to have been a close-knit group.

I did an article about Utah a couple of years ago, entitled " The Town that Never Was" and it relied on some of Albert's information. It was intended to be at least a little humorous. It provoked a letter from a Terpening. The Terpening name goes back in Warren County as being among the earliest settlers. There is even a beautiful, quiet Terpening cemetery in Kelly Township not far from the location where Utah was never at. My wife has relatives buried there. As I said, it is a close-knit group.

The Britt family was recent of England. Albert relates the story that the American "Britt"s were originally "Brett" who changed the spelling to accommodate American tastes. However, his Grandfather Foster, who remained in England, declined to acknowledge that change and continued to address his letters to his daughter "Mrs. Edward Brett."

The Kelly Township Britt family had its roots in Sussex, "back of Hastings", England. Edward Brett was one of the hoard of landless lower class that had no opportunity to advance himself in his own country. He was born July 24, 1831. In 1853, he set sail for America, steerage class, at the age of 23. Edward was single, and first settled in New York, working as a "hired man" on a farm apparently known as "Head of the River." He chose to settle there as a brother had traveled to America a year earlier and had settled in the vicinity. Later, they traveled west, looking for work, and an opportunity for cheaper land. They ended up in Oquawka, along the banks of the Mississippi. Oquawka was a booming river town, with great expectations for the future. Work was available. The river was the highway of commerce, pine logs from the north, sent floating down the river in large rafts, to become houses in the prairie land. Oquawka did not anticipate the humbling fate that the railroad would deal it, deciding to go elsewhere.

After five years of working in America, and saving all he could, Edward Britt returned to England, again, in steerage class, to reunite with the love left behind­­ Sarah Foster. Sarah had remained in England, working and saving her money, and waiting for Edward's return. Like Edward, she was born in Sussex, on May 4, 1833. Edward Britt and Sarah Foster were married June 16, 1858 in the parish church at Mountfield, according to the Britt family Bible. Albert Britt wrote that Sarah's father was a steward or estate manager for a Colonel Nicholls and was a clerk of the parish church at Mountfield.

Again, Edward crossed the Atlantic, this time with his wife, and his future sister-in-law, Martha Mepham who would marry his brother Jim. According to Albert Britt, his grandmother Sarah Foster Britt never said much about their trip across the Atlantic, in third class­­ not steerage this time.

The arrived in Oquawka in 1858. Jobs were plentiful and pay was good compared to the opportunities left behind in England. They left Oquawka in March of 1859 and moved eastward to Warren County. They rented their first home from Captain Kelly, who had been with the British Merchant Marine. He is buried in Hope Cemetery, with a stone reflecting his seafaring life.

Edward and Sarah became parents of six (or seven) children over the next few years. Frannie, my wife's great grandmother was the first. The Britt family Bible dutiful records "Frannie H. Britt. Born September 18, 1859 in Town of Kelly, County of Warren, State of Illinois." Fred E., Philip F., Charles E., Mary J. and Albert Britt were to follow in sequence. Albert was last and his record was squeezed in at the bottom of the Family Record page of the Bible. On the reverse side is a full blank page for Family Record on which Albert's birth could have been recorded without being crowded. However, it contained one entry: "Infant daughter died at Birth." There is no date, no indication when the loss occurred. Albert Britt makes no mention of this infant sister in his book. He simply reports that he was the sixth and last child.

Edward and Sarah Foster Britt are buried in the quiet, small Terpening Cemetery in Kelly Township. Sarah died December 17, 1899 and Edward on May 11, 1911. Edward paid ten dollars in 1893 for their place in this peaceful cemetery that is still cared for. Proof of payment still rests, carefully folded in the family Bible. All in all, not a bad price for nearly 100 years of care.

Albert Britt was destined to become a graduate of Knox College in 1898. In 1925, he was to return to Knox as its 10th President. He had the position of President until 1936. During his term, he negotiated the consolidation of Lombard University and Knox College. Albert Britt also published numerous books, was a magazine editor and probably did many other noteworthy items if I spent a little time on research. "An America That Was" is worth the read if you are interested in what this part of the country looked like through the eyes of a young lad in the early 1900s. If you have ancestors who were early settlers in the area, you may find them here as well. As I said, Kelly Township was a close-knit group. I'm guessing that if your family was a longtime resident of Kelly Township, if you weren't related to the other old settler families, your in-laws were.

Albert Britt included a dedication in his An America That Was to his grandchildren: "That they, too, my know The way be which we came." Albert Britt, another Storyteller, an American that was.

Posted to Zephyr Online October 16, 1998
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