A Publication of WTVP

A cross-country search uncovers new details about the family of one of early Peoria’s most prominent citizens.

I’ve been researching the life of Peorian Moses Pettengill (1802-1883) for many years. In 2013—much to my surprise—an obituary popped up in an internet search for his great-grandson, Laurence Cushing Hale (1917-2007), which included mention of his widow, Daisy Peirce Hale, in Concord, New Hampshire. A subsequent search located a street address and telephone number for contacting Daisy in the hopes of finding more information for a biography of Pettengill.

Sending a letter to an elderly widow seemed the best approach, rather than a cold call by telephone. However, my July 25, 2013 letter to Daisy was returned, the envelope marked “Return to Sender, Attempted, Not Known, Unable to Forward.” Life then got in the way, and my quest to find Daisy Hale was tabled.

A Promising Start
On March 11, 2014, my quest resumed, this time through a telephone call. Daisy’s caregiver answered, and my introduction included mention of Moses Pettengill.She replied, “Oh yes, Moses Pettengill.” This was a promising start, but contact with Daisy, she told me, had to go through her legal guardian, whose telephone number she provided.

The guardian returned my call the next day, leaving a message that she was willing to speak with me—adding that there was a “tremendous amount of Pettengill memorabilia” in Daisy Hale’s possession. Finally, on March 20th, we spoke at length. She agreed to my request to visit to see the collection, suggesting May would be a better time of year to get into the barn where the collection was stored.

I sent the guardian information about Moses Pettengill to share with Daisy, including material about the Pettengill-Morron House—his final home in Peoria on Moss Avenue, last occupied by Jean Morron, now owned by the Peoria Historical Society and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The mailing also included Pettengill’s Underground Railroad home site at Liberty and Jefferson in Peoria, listed in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program of the National Park Service. A brief biography of Moses Pettengill and information about the Peoria Historical Society was also included, along with a copy of my 2013 letter to Daisy.

On March 25th, Robert “Bob” Killion, Curator of Collection and Technology at the Peoria Historical Society, learned of my finding Daisy Hale and expressed interest in her Pettengill Collection, saying it would be an important addition to the Society’s holdings. He also made contact with the guardian, expressing his interest in viewing and acquiring the collection.

Daisy’s guardian wrote on April 28th: “Hi Barbara, I am having difficulty with Daisy and her willingness to allow anyone to come see her belongings. She is very elderly and very much a suspicious New England Yankee. I will be seeing her Friday and will let you know about the literature and letters received from you and Robert Killion. Robert states he is coming to NH June 7 & 8. I would suggest you coordinate with him to be here the same so that I can coordinate my time.”

Visiting Concord
The visit to Concord occurred on June 9th and 10th. Bob and his daughter Charissa were with me to meet the guardian at Daisy’s home, known as“Woodlands.” Regrettably, Daisy was now in the hospital. On the first day, we photographed and scanned everything that had been brought from the barn into a second-floor bedroom of the house, knowing we might never see it again. The collection included three oil portraits: one of Moses Pettengill; another of his second wife, Hannah Bent Tyner (which I was delighted to see, having known about them through earlier research); and one of Blanchard Pettengill, Moses’ adopted son and grandfather of Daisy’s husband, Laurence Hale.Woodlands had been built in 1927 by Laurence’s parents, Warren Freeman Hale and Annie TynerPettengill, daughter of Blanchard and his wife, Augusta Cushing White.

Day two: Bob and Charissa needed to return to Illinois. Alone in Daisy’s home, my work to document the collection continued. That afternoon, the guardian gave me a tour of the barn, which stored furnishings from the Brookline, Massachusetts home of Blanchard and Augusta Pettengill, as well as the Pettengill Collection that had been handed down through the family, moving from Peoria, Illinois to Worcester, Massachusetts with Blanchard, Augusta and their daughters, Annie and Mary. They lived with Moses and Hannah, and stayed on in the house after her death in 1884. In 1891, the family moved to Worcester, then in 1903 to Brookline. Annie married and left home. Mary stayed on in the Brookline house after the deaths of Blanchard and Augusta, and died in 1969. The Pettengill Collection was then transferred to Laurence and Daisy Hale in Concord, New Hampshire.

Good news was received on July 10th: the guardian told Bob that Daisy planned to give the Pettengill Collection to the Peoria Historical Society. Though Daisy wanted to come to Peoria with her caregiver to meet us and see the Pettengill-Morron House, she was in and out of the hospital since our visit in June, and with much regret, was unable to come to Peoria. On July 17th, she passed away peacefully.

Packing and Cataloguing
Weeks passed before learning that Daisy Hale’s bequest to the Peoria Historical Society had been approved. On February 10, 2015, the guardian contacted Bob, and another visit to Concord to pack the material was scheduled for April 8th through the 10th. The first day was spent packing. There was no time to sort and organize material—just time to pack, with a side errand for more boxes and tape. A visit to the attic and barn led to the discovery of more material, and on the morning of the second day, the three large oil portraits and nine boxes, weighing 519 pounds, were taken to UPS for shipping.

Day three was free to visit nearby Salisbury, birthplace of Moses Pettengill and his first wife, Lucy. There, we saw houses discovered during my 1996 research trip to Salisbury and Concord; at the time, I was totally unaware of Laurence and Daisy Hale. We toured the home built by Moses’ father, Benjamin Pettengill, in 1788, as well as a home built in 1785, where we saw a needlework sampler attributed to Abigail Pettengill, Moses’ sister.

The boxes arrived safely in Peoria. The three portraits underwent conservation work, and upon completion, were hung in the Pettengill-Morron House. Moses’ and Hannah’s portraits were painted in 1877 and 1878 in Peoria by Morris Clark, husband of Hannah’s niece, Katherine. Clark also painted a portrait of Col. Robert G. Ingersoll in 1877; along with Moses’ portrait, it was exhibited at the third annual Central Fair of the State of Illinois held in Peoria in September 1877. The provenance of Blanchard’s portrait (ca. late 1870s) is unknown.

My work to catalogue the Pettengill Collection commenced June 2, 2015 at Bradley University’s Cullom-Davis Library, where a room was provided for the project. The material in the collection, dating from 1777 to 2012, chronicles the activities of the family of Moses Pettengill, the last being Daisy Peirce Hale. It also includes material from related families—primarily those of Avery, Bent, Blanchard, Browning, Cushing, Hale, Peirce, Tyner and White—as well as friends and business associates. The collection includes: diaries; photographs and images of persons and places; artwork; personal, business and legal correspondence; personal writings; business records; real estate deeds; education records; church records; cemetery records; house building records; and ephemera.

Uncovering a Family’s History
Notable findings include a handwritten autobiography by Moses Pettengill dating from his birth in 1802 to 1872, and a “family record”—a genealogy handwritten in 1880 of his and Lucy’s immediate family (They were second cousins.). In his autobiography, Moses details the story of his nearly 2,000-mile, two-month journey by canal, steamboat and horseback, from Brockport, New York to Peoria and back, starting out in November 1833. He also describes his early life on the farm in Salisbury, his time as a businessman in Brockport and Peoria, as a temperance advocate and opponent to secret societies, as well as his work on the Underground Railroad and the 1834 founding of what later became the First Congregational Church of Peoria.

In the family record, Moses writes of his children who died in childhood: “Few parents were blessed with more promising children than Hannah Grant and Moses True. The former was remarkable for her years, in her womanly simplicity, loveliness and understanding as well as her hope in the Saviour. The son seemed possessed of the sturdy manly Pettengill character of the older ones. He too died trusting Jesus.” Of Lucy, their mother, who died in 1864, he writes that she was “refined and womanly” and “possessed of high moral and Christian principles. She was one of the most successful teachers in New Hampshire. As a wife and mother, she was faithful and ordered her household with much wisdom. As a Sabbath School teacher and church member in her new home in Peoria she ever evinced an earnest desire to do her duty to her scholars and her Heavenly Father. In the dark days of slavery, Mrs. Pettengill was heart and soul with her husband.”

His son Blanchard’s diary, dating from 1867 to 1873, tells of life on Moss Avenue: his chores, milking the family cows and taking them to pasture, plowing the cornfield, churning butter, sawing and splitting wood; his study of Greek and Latin at Peoria High School; attending Sunday school and prayer meetings in the evening; his friends and family; and life at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois (Class of 1873), where his uncle, Rev. Jonathan Blanchard, was president. On Moss Avenue, we learn they had a barn, ice house and pasture land; a horse, a pig, and chickens; and vegetable and fruit gardens. They lived in a cottage on the property when their frame home, built in 1863, was destroyed by fire in 1865. Blanchard tells of the commencement of the new brick house in 1867 and his work on the house. On a trip east in July 1871, he toured the Salisbury home of his father and saw the cherry tree Moses planted 60 years earlier.

Of the several photo albums, one gives us the first known image of Moses Pettengill, perhaps 40 to 50 years of age. There is a photo of Blanchard and Augusta, with daughters Annie and Mary, taken during the years they lived in Peoria. There is also a photo of Eugene Russell, about 13 years old, a former slave in Louisiana who had been a servant to a rebel officer before falling into the hands of the Union Army. Moses hired him in 1864 to work on the Moss Avenue property with the understanding that he should have one hour each day to study, beginning with Webster’s American Spelling Book. Eugene stayed on for about two years and afterwards, would return to the Pettengill house for supper with the family. He later moved to Washington DC, where he attended Howard University. There is also a stereoscopic image of the house Moses built on Moss Avenue, completed in 1868, providing for the first time the details of how it originally looked.

This first attempt to search for living descendants of Moses Pettengill proved most fruitful, adding immeasurably to previously known information about the family of Moses Pettengill… and there could be more. The initial shipment of the Pettengill Collection was followed six months later with additional findings, and if more material is discovered, it will be forwarded to the Society. In the meantime, work continues here in Peoria to catalogue the collection to make it more accessible to historians. iBi

Barbara Meyn is a Peoria historian and former trustee of the Peoria Historical Society.