John Drinnin & Christina Acker
(Below from Document recieved from Louise Drinnin from Blending of
the Soil Prepared by Grace Drinnin Gerrard of the Joseph Drinnin
line of the family.)
John Drinnin was born June 24, 1812, in Ireland. One source
states the location as Queen's County (now called Laois County);
another source says he lived near the seacoast town of
Queenstown (now called Cabh). Possibly that was where he left
from to venture to America, not where he was born. His parents
were John Drinnin and Margaret Murphy Drinnin.
In 1828, when John was 16 years old, he and his mother, and a
brother and sister, were living with an older brother who was
married and had a baby just old enough to crawl.
Life in Ireland then was not easy and many times the families
lived together, all in small thatch-roofed cottages, with maybe
two rooms and a loft. They possibly had a small plot of land
where they planted the main crop, potatoes. They probably had a
cow for milk, some pigs, and a few chickens. Many times the pigs
and chickens were kept in the cottage during the night. The home
was heated by an open peat fire in the hearth. The peat was cut
in strips from the bogs on their land and dried in the sun
before it could be burned. They did all of their cooking on this
England had taken over much of the farmland in Ireland then and
rented it back to the farmers for a high cost. Families were
fortunate if they could pay their rent and have enough left to
get them though the winter and plant the next year's crop.
Grandpa loved his little nephew, and the little boy loved him.
He always played with the baby when he had any spare time. One
day when Grandpa came in from working in the field to eat
dinner, and was on the front porch washing in the basin, the
baby heard his voice. Thinking that his uncle was going to play
with him, the baby crawled out the door without anyone seeing or
John stepped backward with his heavy work boots and stepped on
the baby's hand. The baby began crying and John felt terrible
and was going to pick the baby up and try to comfort it. The
father came out to see what happened and, thinking that is was
John's fault, became very mad and belligerent, called John a
clumsy clod, and struck him, knocking him off the porch onto the
ground in the front yard.
The family were all gathered around the baby, concerned how bad
he was hurt, and did not notice John, as he picked himself up,
walked down the lane, and kept walking to the nearest sea coast
Left for America
There he made friends with some sailors, who took a liking to
him and hid him on their ship that was bound for New York.
He remained hidden until they were out to sea, then bargained
with the captain to work for his passage across the ocean. When
they arrived in New York the sailors helped him so when they
left Grandpa had a place to stay and a job. He was sixteen years
old, and couldn't read or write.
Just three years earlier, in 1825, the Erie Canal had been
built. John soon moved upstate to Buffalo, New York, where he
purchased boats and teams of mules and began his own freight
hauling business. The canalboat held several wagon loads of
freight and was towed by the mules walking on the canal bank or
The Erie Canal
The original canal was 363 miles long, running from Buffalo to
Albany, New York. It was 28 feet wide at the bottom, 42 feet
wide at the top, and 4 feet deep. It could carry boats that were
80 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a draft of 3.5 feet. A
series of locks raised or lowered the canal boats about 600
A larger canal was soon needed, and in 1835 the New York
legislature passed a law providing for improvement of the canal.
There were toll charges on the new canal, and freight charges
for carrying goods were $22 a ton when the canal opened, but
fell to $4 a ton in ten years.
Travel on the canal was slow in the early days. Someone once
wrote that passengers traveled a mile and a half an hour on the
Erie Canal for a cent and a half a mile.
Married in 1840
In 1840, while living in Buffalo, John met and married Christina
Acker. Grandma had immigrated to the United States from Germany
with her family.
Moved west to
Still a farmer at heart, in 1844 John was lured west, taking his
young wife and growing family with him. Grandpa sold his mules
and boats and prepared to move to Illinois, to purchase land and
begin a new opportunity.
The man who bought the mules and boats paid Grandpa one half of
the price, with a promise to pay the remainder the next day. The
purchaser turned out to be a swindler, and moved the mules and
boats across the border into Canada during the night without
paying. Grandpa couldn't do a thing about it since they were out
of the USA. He had his wagon and oxen bought, but the extra
money would have come in handy.
The wagon train went to Chicago, where Grandpa left Grandma and
two little girls, Margaret, age two; and Christina, one year
old, at a hotel while he went on in the wagon.
John and a few other men drove their teams of oxen across the
wilderness of the new land from Chicago to Stark County,
probably following the Illinois River part of the way. After
establishing a claim on land and building a log cabin, he went
back to Chicago to bring his wife and daughters. They traveled
overland in a covered wagon drawn by two oxen.
Bad luck again!
The price of the land was 75 cents per acre. The round trip from
Chicago and back took six weeks, and when the farmers went to
make the last payment on the land they found out that the agent
was a crook and they couldn't get the land until they paid
another 75 cents per acre. The poor boys didn't get a receipt I
guess, and therefore Grandpa began farming with a cash flow of
They moved into the log cabin somewhere on a hill north of the
land grandpa bought. Grandpa worked for 50 cents a day cradling
wheat and grubbing timber. He was the first to clear the spot
where the Toulon Cemetery lies. When he got enough money he
built a two room house on their farm, and they lived in this
home until they died. As time went on, they built on to the
house, bricking one add-on. They also acquired a total of 640
acres of farm land.
Joseph Henry Drinnin born
The same year that they moved to Illinois, their next child,
Joseph Henry, was born August 5, 1844, in the log cabin that
John had built. Joseph Henry is your 2nd great grandfather.
Other children were: William, March 9, 1847; Mary Ann, May 14,
1849; Sarah, July 23, 1851; John III, October 19, 1853; and
Martin Andrew, February 5, 1856.
Helped establish Toulon, Illinois
This was raw land, and the new inhabitants were many times
bothered by Indians of the area. John and Christina helped to
establish the new settlement, and soon towns began to grow. The
closest town to their farm was Toulon, of which they took an
active part in helping to grow and prosper. John and Christina
were both Catholics and supported the Democratic political
Progressive crop marketing methods
In 1848, work was completed on the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
This canal ran from Peoria to Chicago, and allowed farmers in
the Illinois river valley to ship grain and other products to
eastern markets by way of the Great Lakes. During the 1850's,
railroads were built to carry farm products to market.
Considerable sized estate
The 1870 US. Federal Census shows that John, 57 years old at the
time, owned real estate worth $7,800 and personal property worth
$5,720. He was a United States citizen, but still could not read
or write. This information reveals that John Drinnin possessed a
considerable sized estate when compared to other land owners in
Stark county in that census.
John and Christina loved living and farming in the rolling hills
of north central Illinois, and they spent the rest of their
lives on the farm that they had laboriously created out of the
John died September 16, 1880, at the age of 68; Christina died
September 27, 1903, at the age of 81. They are buried in the
Toulon, Illinois Cemetery.
"Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Across the Western Ocean
Their bellies full
And their spirits free
They'll break the chains of poverty
And they'll dance"
---Phil Chevron, The Pogues, 1988