by Phil Reyburn

In preparation for the city’s centennial, local historian Earnest Elmo Calkins set out to identify and write short sketches of Galesburg’s original settlers. The criterion to be part of this honor roll was that families had to have arrived in 1836 or 1837, or if they came later to have been an original subscriber to the colony. The preliminary list was published in the April 11, 1936 edition of the Register-Mail. Calkins noted the "tentative catalogue" contained "numerous errors and omissions." He, therefore, invited the community to contact him with corrections.

Regarding A. H. Follett and family, no information came forward, leaving Calkins to write: "Only the name of this family has survived." Other than being part of Reverend Gale’s original colony, nothing was known about the Follett family. However, a happenstance Google query I conducted recently began a two-week search which solved the identity of Abram H. Follett and his children. For sixty-eight years the Folletts remained a name on a list and nothing else. Obviously not as well known to us as the Averys, Churchills, Coltons, Farnhams, Ferrises, Loseys, and Wests, they nevertheless were an integral part of the pioneer settlement that is today Galesburg, Illinois.

Abram H. Follett was born April 30, 1808, in Pittstown, Rensselaer County, New York where he received common school education. By age 17, he sought a trade and entered an apprenticeship to become a tailor. After three years, he moved to Essex County, New York. There he met and married Loraine E. Meacham on February 1, 1829.

Subscribing to Reverend George W. Gale’s plan to establish both a community and a manual labor college, Abram and Loraine with their four children came west to the Illinois prairie in 1837. By the close of that year, 232 men, women, and children had made the trek from their homes in the East to the temporary settlement called Log City. Here they awaited the construction of permanent structures. These emigrants comprised the original pioneers of the Gale colony.

On arrival, the task of building a community began. The merchant, Chauncey Colton, erected a store. The Ferris family established an early mill. The skilled craftsmen were soon plying their trades. When Abram Follett abandoned being a tailor is unknown, but census records reveal that he took up fanning in Illinois. The fledgling village probably had little need of a tailor. With the addition of three more children over the next five years, farming the rich prairie soil provided a better way to support a family of nine.

Not part of the circle that proposed and developed Galesburg and Knox College, Abram Follett and his family were, however, part of that invisible element which organizers need to fulfill their dreams. For 15 years, from 1845 through 1859, there was a Follett child in attendance at the Knox Academy. None, though, went on to college. When a city band was formed in August 1843, Abram was an original member. Mayor Sanderson, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Old First Church in 1887, cited the Folletts among the church founders who no longer resided in Galesburg.

The 1852 Henry County, Illinois personal tax index listed Abram owning land in Weller Township. The Galesburg directory for 1857 showed him living on Monmouth Road west of Academy. The directory revealed his three adult sons still lived in the community. Melville, the oldest, worked as a clerk. John was employed as a miller. William, the youngest, was a city constable.

Henry County tax records reveal that in 1857 Abram also owned land in Cornwall Township. The township history states Abram Follett was one of the area’s early settlers. By 1858, John and William had also moved to Henry County. Both men, now married, took up farming along with their father and Melville, who was still living at home.

During the 1850s northwestern Illinois was caught up in the growing abolitionist controversy. Free-soil sentiments ran high in Galesburg, with the citizenry providing the first trainload of supplies to reach Kansas. John felt strongly enough about the issue that in 1856 he "took part in the Kansas war under Jim Lane…. " When hostilities between the North and South finally broke out in April 1861, Abram’s three boys were caught up in the fight.

Mell was the first to enlist, signing up on September 4, 1861 for Company A, 42nd Illinois Infantry. He kept a diary from January 24 through November 7, 1863. At times it must have seemed like a small world, for Mell records that on February 4th he saw Captain [Ebenezer] Tracy Wells of the 89th Illinois Infantry. Captain Wells grew up in Galesburg and graduated from Knox in 1855. The 42nd saw action at Island No. 10, Stones River, and Chickamauga. At the latter fight Mell Follett was "hit in the left limb at the knee...." The wound was severe enough that Abram went to Chattanooga to nurse Mell and finally bring him home. He was discharged June 10, 1864 due to his wound.

John too joined the service, volunteering in Galesburg on September 19, 1861. He was mustered into Company H of the 33rd Illinois Infantry. The 33rd had an unusually high number of educated men, many graduates from the Normal College in Bloomington; and consequently, it was known as the "Teachers" Regiment. The captain of John’s company was George E. Smith (Knox 1861). The company’s first lieutenant was Emmett B. Chambers of Knoxville. John and Emmett both attended the Knox academy in 1851. John eventually attained the rank of second lieutenant.

The 33rd saw limited action during the war, but did take an active roll in Grant’s campaign to capture Vicksburg. In March 1863, John wrote his wife that he recently visited with a number of Galesburg boys, naming William Henry, Thomas Harrison, Merritt Clark, Robert Avery, John Burlingame, Lyman West, and Henry Losey. All were members of Company A, 77th Illinois Infantry. In another letter home John mentions the regiment’s supporting artillery was an Iowa battery commanded by Bill Gay of Galesburg. Gay had attended Knox College.

With Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more men in July 1862, William came forward and enlisted on August 11th in Cambridge. He would be part of Company C of the 112th Infantry or the "Henry County Regiment." For the next nineteenth months the 112th saw considerable action in Kentucky and East Tennessee. In May 1864, the regiment became part of Sherman’s command in the campaign against Atlanta. On the afternoon of May 14th, the 112th took part in attack on the Rebel line at Resaca, Georgia. In the ensuing charge William was hit in the chest by a piece of bursting shell and killed instantly.

After the war, John sold agricultural implements in Cambridge. Unlike his father, who was a staunch Republican and a Congregationalist, John’s short biography states he was an independent and an "infidel." Mell returned to Galesburg and worked as a store clerk. He eventually took a position as a postal clerk in Moline, Illinois. From 1882 through 1885, Mell was the Moline City Clerk. He died in Chicago in January 1903.

With the move to Henry County, the Folletts had cut their ties with Galesburg and the Gale colony. Any reason given for their move would be pure speculation, and none will be ventured. Abram and Lorraine would live out their lives in Henry County, both dying in 1895. They are buried in the Grandview Cemetery in Cornwall Township, where Abram was the sexton for a number of years.

Brought to the prairie of Illinois as children, Abram Follett’s three boys were educated and grew to manhood in the village of Galesburg. They sat with other families in the pews of the Old First Church, listening to the sermons of Gale, Blanchard, and Beecher. And when called to defend the Union and put down secession, the sons and grandsons of the founders stepped forward. In the camps, trenches, and battlefields of the War, wherever they crossed paths, they renewed friendships and recalled their youth from days long past.

Since 1836, tens of thousands of people have made Galesburg there home, some living their entire life here. Others, like the Folletts, after a period of time moved elsewhere. Most left little or no lasting impression on the community they called home. Familiar faces to their contemporaries, time almost blotted out the Follett family’s place in Galesburg, until no one recalled anything but their name.