A Good Deed Rewarded: St. Clair County, Illinois, 1901

Article Covers
St. Clair, Illinois, United States
Year range
1901 - 1901

The following Thrall family story has often been told but never written down, as far as I know, other than in the following three brief items. The versions are by “Uncle Charlie’s” sister-in-law and by his brother and good pal Harold. From internal evidence these events likely occurred on a farm within a few miles at most of Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois, the night of July 4-5, 1901.

[In the handwriting of Elizabeth Schriber Thrall 1884-1979.]

Uncle Charlie Thrall [Charles Haven Thrall 1883-1968] died in peace recently, but when he was earning college tuition working with a threshing crew as a 17 yr old he flattened out a bullying tormentor with the side of his pitch fork. Very early the following morning he awakened on his grain sack bed in the barn loft, to see black Jim sitting on the edge of a sack, peering into the semidarkness.

“What you looking for, Jim?”

“Well, sir, old Cap was pretty drunk coming from town about midnight, said he’d pin that upstart kid with his pitchfork, & leave him there to rot. I’m watching for him here, & Zeke is at the barn door on the other side.”

“But why are you doing this? You hardly know me.”

“No sir, but when our fathers came up from the south after the war, they couldn’t read or write or figure. Your father took them & some more darkies into the basement of his church, & taught them how! Our fathers couldn’t pay your father, so Zeke & I thought we’d pay by taking care of you.”

[Two sets of rough penciled notes in the handwriting of Charles’s brother Harold 1885-1966 add some details. Although not pulled together in a full account, these notes were surely made a bit closer to time of the happening.]

Charlie with threshing machine Asked by negro who was his father. Helped Charlie Told of his father being taught by Chas’s Dad.

threshing crew 3 negroes on stack CHT & Tom no drink. Old Englich wanted to make them drink Canvas the machine & gather up the grain Hit Charlie hard & knocked him down & CHT beat him? pitch fork Off at 5:00 for 4th Fireworks CHT did not go to town Bellville but slept on oat bundles Woke up aware of someone near — negro at loft window you treated sailor bull [bill?] rough [right?] with pitch fork Negroes heard the drunken fellow threatened CHT We don’t forget what yr father did for our fathers years ago Who had rented a little old store room & taught their fathers when they came up fr the South

[A generation earlier, as a trial member of the Southern Illinois Methodist Episcopal conference, Charles’s father Leonidas W. Thrall was pastor in Freeburg, St. Clair County, about eight miles southeast of Belleville, for the year beginning October 1873. He attended college at McKendree in Lebanon; his biography in the college’s 1928 centennial history states that “Before his graduation he taught a school for colored children at Lebanon.”]


born 20 October 1883, Grayville, Illinois

married 22 July 1881 Ingraham, Clay County, Illinois Gertrude Gerking, daughter of George Washington Gerking and Kate Jones, born 22 Jul 1881, Ingraham, Clay County, Illinois, died 20 Jan 1950, Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois -- 1 child

died 18 January 1968 Pontiac, Livingston County, Illinois

ANCESTORS: We know all eight of his great-grandparents and perhaps as many as 12 of his 16 great-great grandparents, as well as many more distant New Englanders. The story for his mother Edith Flint Thrall is here.

COUSINS: Of Charles’s four siblings and one half-sibling, four had children.