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Erie Cemetery History Project

Joseph Fenton (1794-1874)
Elizabeth (Durrell) Fenton (1800-1879)
John D. Fenton (1832-1916)
Marcia (Wonser) Fenton (1840-1906)
Myra B. Fenton (1859-1860)

Although the name of Fenton has been given to a neighboring hamlet and township, the history of the Fenton family is important to the history of the community of Erie. The following is taken from a Whiteside Counnty history, circa 1911:

"No history of Whiteside County would be complete without extended mention of John D. Fenton and the family of which he is a representative, for the name has figured in connection with the development of this part of the state from the time when the first white settlers founded homes within the borders of the county...

"Fenton township was named in honor of his father, Joseph Fenton, who was a native of Burlington county, New Jersey, and was of Irish descent. When a young lad of 9 years he was bound out to a master whom he served as an appretice until he had attained his majority. When his term of indenture had expired, he went on a flatboat to New Orleans, making the long trip down the Mississippi River at a time when all the produce was carried in that manner to the southern market. Following his return to the north he was married to Miss Elizabeth Durrell, also a native of Burlington county, New Jersey, and of Danish lineage. She was reared in a Quaker family but was not regularly bound out as was the custom in those days, for the Quakers did not believe in that practice. Following his marriage, Joseph Fenton carried on farming in the east until his arrival in Whiteside County, Illinois. He became the first settler of what is now Fenton township, that district being named in his honor. He was a quiet home man who avoided all political contests and devoted his energies to caring for his family and making for them a comfortable home. In the early days many hardships and privations were endured such as are incident to settlement upon the frontier. Their remoteness from cities of any size or importance made it difficult for them to obtain supplies and they had to depend largely on what was raised. Mr. Fenton raised what was known as razorback hogs but he found no market for them for some time and he had to dispose of his meat by selling one hog at a time. He made his sales to miners working in the first lead mines near Mineral Point, Wisconsin. There he received at first one doller and a half per hunderd for the meat but later had to sell as low as fifty cents per hundred. In the early days their threshing was done by oxen, tramping out the grain on the floor of the barn. Grain was hauled to Chicago where wheat sold for twenty-five cents per bushel and sugar cost twenty-fice cents per pound. The family home was a little log cabin, fourteen by twenty feet, with a puncheon floor, and they resided in this primitive dwelling for about fifteen years, or until 1850, when a house of sand and gravel was built. It is the only one in the county and is still standing today, a mute remider of the pioneer times and a silent witness of the facts which have shaped the history and molded the policy of the country.

"Alfred Fenton, a brother of our subject, was the first white male child born in Whiteside county, his natal day being May 13, 1837. In the family were the following: Elwood W., who in 1850 went with his brother, Joseph R., with two yoke of oxen, to California, where they arrived after travelling five months, spent his last days in Amador, that state; Josephy R., who, as stated, made the trip with his brother, died in Berkeley, California. John D. was the next of the family. Elizabeth died in New Jersey when about three years of age. Robert S. died in Erie. Alfred W. died in Erie in July, 1888. Mary E. is now the wife of R.E. Medhurst, a machinist of Erie. Sylvester H. and Henry C. are both residents of Erie. The father died upon the home farm, which he had developed from the wild prairie, passing away September 28, 1874, at the age of eighty years and seven days. His wife passed away in January, 1879, at the age of about eighty years.

"John D. Fenton was born near Mount Holly, Burlington county, New Jersey, November 10, 1832. On the 7th of October, 1835, his parents arrived in Whiteside county with their family of four children. They made the journey westward by canal to Buffalo, thence by schooner to Chicago, and from that point proceeded with two yoke of oxen and a "prairie schooner" to Dixon's Ferry, where a party of ten spent the night of October 6, 1835, in a little log cabin. The next day they arrived in Whiteside county, which was then a part of Jo Daviess county. Chicago was at that time a little town of no industrial or commercial importance and much of the site of the city which is now thickly covered with business blocks and residences was a swamp marked "bottomless." After reaching this county the father homesteaded a claim of about two hundred acres situated in Fenton township yet a part extending over the boundary line into Erie township. It was upon this farm that John D. Fenton was reared and experienced all of the hardships and trials incident to pioneer life. He wore the coursest kind of cowhide shoes for which he had to pay three dollars a pair, and at times he would go barefooted for want of the necessary foot covering. Everything in the home was made by hand, including all of the clothing for the children, and in the early days Mr. Fenton went to bed many a time in order to have his mother mend his only suit of clothes. It was very difficult to gain supplies of any kind, not only because money was scarce but also because the towns kept such a limited stock of goods, everybody depending upon what could be raised for the necessaries of life.

"Mr. Fenton continued to work upon the home farm until about twenty-four years of age, assisting in the arduous task of breaking the sod and cultivating the prairie. He worked for neighbors at fifty cents per day and in 1857 was paid in money that proved to be almost worthless, bringing about 15 cents on the dollar. Thus his wages were diminished although he had been nominally paid fifty cents per day for chopping wood. At twenty-seven years of age he was married and began farming on his father's old homestead, which he continued to cultivate for several years. He then came to Erie and taught a district school at twenty-five dollars per month. He walked three miles and back each day to teach. He has since resided in Erie township. The only educational advantages which he was afforded came to him after walking to Erie to become a pupil, in the little log schoolhouse where the season covered the three winter months. He read law under Judge C.C. Teats but was not admitted to the bar. He has, however, practices commercial law and has been executor and administrator of many estates. He is always found to be thoroughly reliable and no trust reposed in him has ever been betrayed in the slightest degree.

"On the 14th of March, 1859, Mr. Fenton was married to Miss Marcia Wonser, who was born in Ellisville, Illinois, Marcy 7, 1840, and came here from Fulton County, Illinois, in February of 1840, with her parents, Milden G. and Ruth M. (Churchill) Wonser. Her father died in 1883 but her mother, who was born March 12, 1813, died the evening of April 3, 1908, at the age of ninety-five years. The death of Mrs. Fenton occurred April 17, 1906, after they had traveled life's journey together for forty-seven years. She was a remarkable lady, had been a faithful companion and helpmate to her husband and wherever known she was held in the highest esteem. By her marriage she became the mother of three children but Myra Blanche, the eldest, died in infancy. Celona Isabelle engaged in teaching school in early womanhood and was a graduate of Fulton College. She became the wife of James P. Hubbart, of Erie township, and died December 18, 1899, leaving one child, Beryl Elizabeth. Ruth Elizabeth, the youngest of the family, is a teacher in the public schools of Erie and resides with her father.

"Mr. Fenton cast his first presidential vote for Millard Fillmore and has been a stalwart republican since the organization of the party in 1856, always voting for its presidential candidates save in 1872, when he voted for Horace Greeley. He is now recognized as an independent and progressive republican. He does not believe in blind allegiance to the party but stands for improvement and progress in politics as well as along other lines. He served on the village board of Erie for a number of years, filling that position at the time the village was incorporated. He has also been president of the village a number of terms and constable for several years, while for some time he served as school director and for twenty-four years has filled the office of justice of the peace, although this service has not been consecutive. He was notary public for about 40 years and in 1887 was appointed to fill a vacancy in the position of supervisor, after which he was elected and served for 10 consecutive years, acting as chairman of the board for one year. He was also candidate for the legislature from this district and stood second highest in the convention. Undoubtedly he could have won the nomination had he announced his candidacy earlier. He served as deputy sheriff for two years under E.A. Worrell, beginning in 1870, and in all his public service his duties have been discharged with promptness and capability that have won him high commendation. He has been a correspondent for the Morrison Sentinel since 1880 and of the Sterling Standard for a number of years. Although his opportunities and advantages in youth were very limited he made steady progress throughout life, is a thinker and student and takes a very philosophic view of many of life's important problems. He is today a broad-minded, intelligent man, of high purposes and lofty principles. Respected and honored by all who know him, he well deserves mention in this volume, for his life work forms an important chapter in the history of the county where he has now lived for seventy-three years."