Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Old Bible Yields New Discoveries: Part I

The collection at Clarke House Museum contains a large family bible, acquired in 1983, which was a gift from the Evanston Historical Society as NSCDA-IL sought items to fill the period rooms being restored on the museum's first floor. The bible, published 1835 by H. & E. Phinney, Coopertsown, New York, came to the museum with no provenance. The accession record gives little more than a brief physical description and notes the bible “contains family records of the Solmes family, residence unknown”. No research was ever done on the Solmeses and the bible became an overlooked fixture on the parlor étagère, blending into the overall exhibit.
A Canadian family's history is hidden between the pages of an overlooked artifact on display at Clarke House Museum.
  Solmes Family Bible in the collection of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois at Clarke House Museum.

During a recent collections inventory it was discovered that the Solmes bible contained more than just the family record. At the front of the bible, glued inside the cover, were two blue and gold foil heraldic shields next to which was written “Barker Family Crest.” On the opposite fly leaf, written in pencil, “D. B. Solmes Book Feb, 8th 1869”. Tucked between its pages, untouched for decades, were an 1851 memory verse slip from the Wesleyan-Methodist Church, several c.1880 newspaper clippings of sermons by Rev. Dr. Talmage of Brooklyn, New York ; and a letter dated October 8, 1880; and — all clues to the story of D. B. Solmes and his family.

Treasures found just inside the front cover. Above: Text next to the shields reads "Coat of Arms or Crest of the Barker family." Below: "David Barker Solmes Book Feb 8th 1869" written in pencil on the fly leaf.  Someone, perhaps a child, attempted to replicate the capital "D".

Part I:  The Barker-Solmes Family
David Barker Solmes, the owner of the bible, was born May 20, 1817 in Solmesville, Ontario, Canada to Richard Solmes (1787-1867) and Lydia Cronk Barker (1783-1851). He was named for his maternal grandfather, David Barker (1730-1821), a native of "New Port," Rhode Island. The elder David had grown up on a120-acre New Port estate, the second generation of Barkers to be born in the colonies. He married Lydia Shove (1746-1804), also a Rhode Islander, on March 11, 1762 in Swansea, Bristol County, Massachusetts. The couple set up house back in New Port where they welcomed their first nine children: Samuel Shove (1763), Asa (1765), Edward (1766), David (1768), Pheobe (1770), James (1772), Elizabeth (1774), Sarah (1776; delivered in Dartmouth, Massachusetts), and Rebecca (1779). The growing family moved to Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York around 1780 where son Abraham (1781) and daughter Lydia Cronk (1783), the mother of David Barker Solmes, were born.

David Barker (1737-1821), colonial loyalist and maternal grandfather of the bible's original owner David Barker Solmes. Sketch is believed to have been based on a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

David Barker was a loyal subject of the British Crown and a devout member of the Anglican church. During the Revolutionary War, Barker supplied provisions to the British forces. Once this act was discovered, his property in Poughkeepsie, New York was confiscated by supporters of independence. Barker decided to join Major VanAlstine's party of Loyalists and remove to Canada in 1783 at the age of 51. His wife and the elder children accompanied him and the family departed from New York harbor September 8, 1783. The journey to an unsettled part of the Canadian countryside would be long and arduous. Fearing for the well-being of their younger children, the Barkers left them in the care of with relatives in the newly formed United States. Lydia Cronk Barker, just a year old when her family emigrated to Canada,  was one of the children left behind. According to family history she and her siblings grew up in either Poughkeepsie, New York or New Fairfield, Connecticut. The Barkers' last child, a son named Caleb (1786), was born two years after the family had settled into their new home in Ontario.

Although his property in Poughkeepsie, New York had been confiscated, Barker still had substantial means.  He brought seventeen thousand dollars with him and, although being near the point of embarrassment when he left New York, was able to bring along some valuable family heirlooms  including a Scotish-made clock and cabinet with secret drawers. These both are still owned by Barker descendants today. Each member of Major VanAlstine's party received 200 acres of land which they drew by ballot. David Barker's allotment was an area in Adolphustown, Lennox-Addington County, Ontario located between Hay Bay and the Bay of Quinte in the third concession, which became known as Barker's Point (now Thompson's point). David Barker first built a small log house, then erected a larger home along with other outbuildings which is believed to still stand today.

An early 20th century photograph of what is believed to be the Barker home in Ontario, Canada built c.1785-90.  
Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

A generous father, Barker gave each of his daughters, whether married or single, a large farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Daughter Lydia Cronk Barker eventually joined the family in Ontario and married her first husband Rueban Cronk who died sometime before 1814, giving her no children. At age thirty-one Lydia married Richard Solmes (1787-1867), a local farmer, on November 16, 1814. Richard and Lydia set up housekeeping in the village of Solmesville, part of Sophiasburg, Prince Edward County, Ontario. The couple welcomed their first three children: Rueban Cronk (1815), David Barker (1817), and Mary (1819). In 1821, the patriarch of the family, grandfather David Barker, died at his home at Barker's Point at age ninety-one. Two years later, Richard and Lydia Solmes completed their own family with the birth of daughter Lydia Margaret in 1823.
Monument to David Barker and Lydia Shrove erected by the United Empire Loyalists in the Old Meeting House Yard of the Adolphustown Friends. Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

David Barker Solmes  grew up to become a farmer and member of the Wesleyan-Methodist Church. He married Susan Lazier (1818-1853) on October 2, 1838 at Prince Edward Island, Ontario. The bible was probably presented to the couple as a wedding gift. On September 14, 1841 David and Susan welcomed their first child, a daughter, named Olive Rebecca. The young Solmes family attended the Wesleyan-Methodist Church in Demorestville, a small village of 300 within the township of Sophiasburg, Prince Edward County, Ontario. The congregation sat under the spiritual instruction of Irish-born minster Reverend William Pooley (1820-1896). [Learn more about Rev. Pooley and the Solmes family's spiritual life in Part 2.]

Susan and David welcomed a son, David Bishop Solmes, January 12, 1853. Unfortunately, baby David only lived five months and fourteen days, dying June 26, 1853. His mother, Susan Lazier Solmes passed away just two months later on August 8th. Left a widower with a twelve-year-old daughter, David Barker Solmes was remarried June 15, 1854 to Mary Eliza Stimson (1832-1900) in Hallowell, Ontario. The couple had seven children: Sarah Jane (1854), Jennie (1856) Rueban Clayton (1858), Franklin Stephenson (1860), a son with initials JWM (1860), Lillian M. (1863) and Richard Russell (1866). David Barker Solmes died at age eighty-two in Solmesville, where he had spent his entire life, on January 30, 1900. His widow, Mary Eliza, lived just six more years before passing away April 14, 1906.

The Solmes family bible passed to David Barker Solmes’ eldest daughter, Olive Rebecca Solmes. She is the addressee of the 1880 letter found within its pages and probably the one who tucked the Talmage sermons inside for safekeeping. [More on these items in Part 3]. It is yet unknown how the bible made its way to Illinois and into the collection of the Evanston Historical Society. The only connection to the Chicago area found to date is through Lydia Margaret Solmes Caniff, David's younger sister, who died in Chicago April 24, 1900. Lydia is probably the "Auntie Caniff" referred to in the 1880 letter written to Olive. The bible has a $5.00 price mark on its fly leaf and may have been picked up at a sale before it was accessioned into the Evanston Historical Society's collection.

Today, the Solmes family bible is on exhibit in the Clarke House Museum parlor. The bible's family registers and other contents can be viewed in person by appointment. If you have additional information on David Barker Solmes and/or his descendants, please contact Clarke House Museum at

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Passport Application Reveals Physical Description and Signature of Robert George Clarke

Unfortunately, Clarke House Museum has no portraits of the immediate members of the Henry Brown Clarke family. The only image known to exist  is the exterior view of Clarke House taken around 1865, which is in the collections of the Chicago History Museum. This image, however, shows what might be several of the Clarke children from a distance on the steps of the west portico.

The museum must rely on written descriptions to paint a mental picture of what the Clarkes looked like. We know what the Clarkes' third son, Edward, looked like from his military records but until now, we had no indicators as to the appearance of the Clarkes' second eldest son Robert.

A passport application filed by Robert George Clarke on November 9, 1868, several days before his marriage to Clara Gage, reveals interesting information about this appearance. Robert, age 30, stands 5'-6 1/2" tall with brown hair, grey eyes, and medium complexion. His face is oval with a prominent nose, medium-sized mouth, and round chin.

Robert G. Clarke Passport Application. November 9, 1868.

The passport application was filed for a trip abroad, presumably for the couple's approaching honeymoon following their marriage on November 15. In it, Robert gives the following testimony:

I Robert G. Clarke do swear that I was born in the city of Chicago Cook County state of Illinois on or about the seventh day of May An. [Anno or year] 1838 that I am a natural born and local citizen of the United States and about to travel abroad with my wife Clara G. Clarke. 

Signature of Robert G. Clarke

His brother-in-law, Franklin B. Williams, signs the following affidavit:

I Franklin B. Williams do swear that I am acquainted with the above named Robert G. Clarke and with the facts above stated by him and that the same are true to the best of my knowledge and beliefs.

Signature of Frank B. Williams

The passport application was signed by Notary Public A. E. Guilds.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John Jones and the Illinois Black Laws

Contributed by Clarke House Museum intern Julia Mikula.

 As we come to the end of Black History Month, we note the state of life for African Americans during the period that the Clarke family lived in Chicago. From the 1830s until the end of the Civil War, Illinois was both a refuge and center of discrimination for blacks. While freedom could be gained in Illinois, its full enjoyment was not guaranteed. The 1850s, especially, were a tumultuous time for people of color in Chicago, which soon became a center of civil rights debate.
Under the Illinois Black Laws, any black resident without a certificate could be arrested as a runaway slave.

 At the dawn of its statehood, Illinois adopted legislation called the Black Laws, also known as the Black Codes. The Black Laws, passed in 1819 and in effect until 1865, included a number of restrictions on black residents. Among the restrictions was the requirement that all black residents carry a certificate of freedom (commonly referred to as "free papers") issued by the government and register personal information with the court clerk; any black resident without a certificate could be arrested as a runaway slave.1
Certificate of Freedom for John  Jones, 1844. This document identifies him as a resident of Illinois and a free person of color "entitled to be respected accordingly, in Person and Property, at all times and places, in the due prosecution of his Lawful concerns." This entitlement was severely infringed under the Illinois Black Codes.
Although Illinois was a free state, the Black Laws took measures to ensure that slaves did not earn their freedom in Illinois. In addition to the requirement that all black citizens needed a certificate of freedom, the Black Codes threatened fines for anyone who brought slaves to Illinois and freed them.2 On top of these restrictions, blacks were unable to vote, sue whites or testify against them in court, or bear arms.3 In short, the Black Laws officially made blacks second-class citizens.

John Jones (1816- 1879) Image courtesy of Chicago History Museum.
Of course, black Chicagoans challenged the Black Codes, and one of the most prominent opponents was John Jones. Jones was born in Green City, North Carolina to a free mulatto mother and a white father who apprenticed him to a white tailor, Richard Clere.4 When the tailor died, Clere’s family tried to claim Jones as their slave, but Jones attained a certificate of freedom in 1838.5 Jones moved to Chicago in 1845 and set up a successful tailor shop at 119 Dearborn Street.6 

Once established in Chicago, Jones began to fight for equal rights for people of color. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act, giving slaveholders the right to seek runaway slaves in the free states, but the Chicago City Council largely disapproved of the ordinance.7 Jones joined in protest of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and he and six other men set up a Liberty Association to watch for slave catchers seeking runaway slaves.8 Jones and his wife Mary brought fugitive slaves and such antislavery activists as John Brown and Frederick Douglass into their home.9

In 1864, the Chicago Tribune printed Jones’ pamphlet entitled The Black Laws of Illinois and a Few Reasons Why They Should Be Repealed, and Jones spoke to General Assembly members about why the Black Laws should be eliminated in Illinois; his efforts succeeded in March 1865 when the Illinois General Assembly voted in favor of removing the codes.10

John Jones went on to be elected as the first black Cook County commissioner in 1871, serving a second term from 1872 until 1875. During his time in office Jones helped pass legislation which outlawed segregation in local schools. His tailoring business continued to thrive and was operated by his son-in-law after his death May 31, 1879. His is buried in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery.

John Jones refused to allow the discrimination of African Americans to continue unchallenged in Chicago and throughout the nation. His efforts brought about real change in Illinois, moving the state ever closer to true civic equality. This Black History Month, we remember and thank John Jones for his contribution to bringing rights of free citizenship to all people.

1 Elmer Gertz, “The Black Laws of Illinois,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 6, no. 3 (1963): 463-464.
2 Gertz, “The Black Laws of Illinois,” 465.
3 “Early Chicago: John Jones,” WTTW, accessed February 15, 2012,,4,3,4.
4 Christopher Robert Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century: Volume 1, 1833-1900 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 62.
5 Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, 62-63.
6 Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, 71-72.
7 Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, 100.
8 Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, 101.
9 “John and Mary Jones: Early Civil Rights Activists,” Encyclopedia Chicago, accessed February 15, 2012,
10 Reed, Black Chicago’s First Century, 141-142.

Reed, Christopher Robert. Black Chicago’s First Century: Volume 1, 1833-1900. Columbia,
MO: University of Missouri Press, 2005.
Encyclopedia Chicago. “John and Mary Jones: Early Civil Rights Activists.” Accessed February 15, 2012.
Gertz, Elmer. “The Black Laws of Illinois.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 6, no. 3 (1963): 454-473.
WTTW, “Early Chicago: John Jones.” Accessed February 15, 2012.,4,3,4.

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