Caldwell, Daviess and Livingston Co. History

Grand River, Steamboats and Slaves

Aged Colored Man has Lived in this County for 89 Years.

Charles Ballew, who lives with his son, William Ballew, porter at O. P. Clark's Pharmacy, is celebrating his 91st birthday today [October 26, 1927]. "Charlie" as he is known by almost all of the old residents of [Chillicothe], was born back in slave days in Henderson county, Tennessee, October 26, 1836. For eighty-nine years he has been a resident of Livingston county.

He was brought out to Missouri by "old boss," as he affectionately calls his old master, John Conway Ballew, along with his parents, Arthur and Harriet Ballew, and their other children, William and Paralee Philadelphia, and four colored women. Ballew, who was an itinerant Methodist preacher, had married a wealthy Virginia widow, and for a while the family lived in Adair county, Tennessee, but later came out to Grand River township, Livingston county, where Ballew bought land from Benj. Fewell.

According to Charlie, who was too young to remember when they came out to Missouri, for he was just two, but from family talk, he says they came out in covered wagons, his father driving two yoke of cattle to their wagon. "Old Boss" and "old Misses" rode in a one seated vehicle something like a spring wagon. Two log houses were built, one for the owners, one for the slaves. They were warmed in the winter by stick chimneys which also served for the cooking.

Charlie seemed to be a favorite with the old gentleman and his wife, for as he says, "They were mighty good to me. They did not have any children and they used to have me eat with them. Old misses learned me to read. She wanted to teach me so I could be a preacher. She said she wanted me to go to Liberia to preach." Now old Charlie is a pretty good fellow, but those who know him well, think there would have been a good farmer and miller wasted, if his old misses had succeeded in turning Charlie out as a missionary to the Liberians.

"In those days," said this old colored man, whose mind is as alert as if he were half his age, and whose other faculties are still unimpaired with age, "we lived mighty simple. We raised about everything we ate. Didn't have any meat, except hog meat -- hazel splitters, we called them.

"We could kill lots of game, which gave us a change. Wild pigeons were thick around this country when I was a boy. They had a big roost down in Carroll county just over the line, and they would go north in the morning from that roost and back south in the evening just as regular as a clock and they would follow about the same track. I reckon there were just thousands of them. Hunters would come up from Howard county and spend several days shooting pigeons. They would go back with wagons loaded with them.

"We had lots of wild honey -- it was found in bee trees, and big bottom hickory nuts, too. These brought up hunters from Howard also. Howard county was a way ahead of us in those days," the old man recalled. "It was about fifty years ahead, I think. We had to go clear down there for our flour."

Charlie's "old boss" was indeed good to them, for when he died in 1848 his will provided that "At death of my wife, E. D. Ballew, it is my will and desire that my man servant, Arthur and Harriet, Charles, William and Paralee, one family, should be emancipated and made free. And after the death of my wife, Elizabeth D. Ballew, my whole estate or property, both real and personal, that is to say my land and houses, horses, cattle, sheep, hogs and plantation utensils I give and bequeath to Arthur to him and his heirs forever."

John C. Ballew had promised Charlie's father if he would come out to Missouri with him and stay with him peacefully as long as he lived that he would do a good part by him. The above quoted will show how well the old minister carried out his promise, for he had a big farm.

Charlie married Caroline Herriford, and after farming until his children were old enough to go to school he came up to Chillicothe to live in order to send his children to school. He worked on the Pres Minor farm for a little while and then got a job at Milbank's Mill where he worked faithfully for forty-two years, quitting his job as packer only three years ago.

While he was still residing in Grand River township, the Chillicothe to Brunswick railroad -- now a part of the Wabash system -- was built through this county, 1868-70, and Charlie worked with his team running a scraper. He well remembers seeing some of the steam boats that formerly sailed up Grand River from the Missouri River. Some of them went as far as Utica landing.

"I remember seeing several cotton boats, for we grew cotton here in those days. My mother raised it, carded it and spun it. I used to hand her the threads as she worked. One boat I specially remember was a nice one, side-wheel, 300 feet long. It went up to Utica, and they all got to dancing on board with the town folks and stayed too long and the river got low. They got down as far as our house and got hung up. They had a terrible time getting loose. Finally a big rain come along and swelled up Locust Creek and that helped to float her off. 'Duroc' was the name of one boat. 'Falcon' and 'Lake of the Woods' were other boats I remember seeing."

When asked about the steamboat which sank near where the town of Bedford now is, and which is reputed to have given its name to the little village, he said, "I always heard Bedford was named for that boat. For a long time one of the houses in the town had a window in it that had come from the steamer."

Charlie says he would like to live back in the good old days. "People nowadays are not like what they used to be. They are getting awful, robbin' folks, killin' them, and holdin' up banks. Too much goings on to suit me," concluded this old fashioned colored man, who has seen much history made in his four score and eleven years of life.

Questioned as to the length of time he had been a reader of the Tribune, he replied, "I took the Grand River Chronicle as long as it was published, and I have been reading the Tribune ever since it started."

Besides his son, William, he has four other children living, Mrs. Ida Demery who lives in California, Mrs. Della Thompson of St. Louis, Henry of St. Louis, and Nolan of Kansas City.

SOURCE: Chillicothe Daily Tribune, October 26, 1927.