GEORGE BLISH, written by Nancy Prevost
The first of the name to come to America was Abraham BLISH (also written BLUSH), who was recorded as a resident of Duxbury, in Plymouth Colony, in 1637. He was one of the first settlers at Barnstable, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, by 1640. His first born son was named Joseph, born in 1648, and that name was carried on from generation to generation for over 150 years in the Barnstable area. Joseph Blish, the sixth of the name, was born 14 Apr. 1790 at West Barnstable, and married on 16 Oct. 1800 to Mehitable FREEMAN, daughter of Joshua and Mehitable (Blossom) Freeman. She was born 20 Mar. 1789 at Sandwich, Massachusetts. Unlike his ancestors, this Joseph Blish was not content to remain in the old colony. About 1810 or 1811, he went to Maine, probably alternating his time between the two locales.
George Blish, the son of Joseph and Mehitable (Freeman) Blish, was born 5 May 1816 at Pittston, Lincoln Co., Maine. He attended school there to the age of ten, at which time his parents moved to the town of Bath. Two years later they “broke up housekeeping,” his father going to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and his mother returning with the children temporarily to Sandwich, Massachusetts. Exactly what went wrong with his parents’ relationship is extremely hazy in available family accounts. They apparently did not divorce; certainly neither remarried. There are references to the two of them in some accounts that indicates that they were still a “couple” many years later, yet at the same time they seem to have led separate lives from that point on.
According to one source, about 1837 George and his parents, along with his brother Joseph (his sister Henrietta having married and established her home elsewhere), moved to a place called Gasconade, at that time in St. Louis County, Missouri. Presumably this is the present Gasconade, in Gasconade County, about 70 miles west of St. Louis on the south bank of the Missouri River. Joseph, who in 1811 had been described in Barnstable records as a farmer and tanner, seems to have acquired other skills in the time since. He worked in a flour mill in the Gasconade area at first, and soon afterward purchased a flour mill at a place called "Pin Oak," probably in Franklin County, which he and his son Joseph operated. He was a justice of the peace for a few years, and practiced medicine.
George, meanwhile, had made the acquaintance of a young lady named Irene YOUNG. She was the daughter of a local millwright, Elam Young, and his wife Irene (Eaton), born 10 Aug. 1818 at Williamsburg, in Clermont County, Ohio. The two were married on 31 May 1838 at Gasconade. They lived on a farm there near her parents for several years, and started their own family. In the early 1840’s, George worked at a Mr. Hawn’s flour mill, and about 1843 went to Pin Oak to help run his father’s mill. He and his family moved into a house on the bluff above the latter mill in 1844.
In 1845, George’s brother Joseph and family moved to LaSalle County, Illinois, and the mill was subsequently sold. That summer Irene’s sister Martha and her husband Harman HUSBAND came to visit for three weeks, and when they went on to see the Elam Young family, forty miles away, George went with them to try to find another place to settle. Soon after his arrival at Gasconade, George came down with cholera. Harman came back with the wagon to fetch Irene, but their little son David, about 18 months old, was sick with an attack of what was called the "Bold Hives," and she could not go. The infection invaded the child’s lungs, and he died three days later on 26 July 1845.
Meanwhile, Joseph Blish Sr. and Mehitable had been in St. Louis. They arrived for a visit back at Pin Oak, and when George finally returned, they all decided to move to Illinois, probably in hopes of a more healthful climate. It was already September by then, and Mehitable chose to spend the winter in St. Louis with her daughter Henrietta SISSON, and wait until spring to make the journey. The others set out on the three to four week trip to LaSalle County by ox-team, accompanied by a teamster named Foster.
Each day Joseph Blish rode ahead on horseback to find a place to camp or a house to stay in. He had reached a town near their planned crossing of the Illinois River by September 24th. By noon the next day, the Blish wagons had not yet appeared, and Joseph went in search of them. George’s three-year-old son Thomas had become seriously ill with chronic diarrhea, forcing the others to halt. Joseph had left his medicine bag in the town and had to ride back after it. It was night by the time he returned, and by that time little could be done for the child. He died at about 10 o’clock on the morning of the 26th. They bought a casket in the town and brought it back to camp, and the next day took him to town and buried him in a cemetery near the Illinois River. Thomas had been a bright little boy, and had talked often and with excitement of crossing to the Illinois side.
In October 1846, they arrived at the village of Earlville, where Joseph Blish Jr. had settled in the spring. George rented a farm nearby, where they resided for a year and three months. In 1847 he pre-empted 40 acres of prairie land and ten acres of timber about a mile apart in the vicinity of Indian Creek, a small town near Earlville. He rented in the area while building a home, and after about a year moved into his own place.
When word came of the discovery of gold in California, George decided he had to go and try his luck. Accounts date his first trip west as beginning in the spring of 1849, but it was probably spring 1850 instead. The farm was rented out and Irene’s brother Orson Young came out from Ohio to get her and the kids. They went to LaSalle, and from there by boat on the Illinois River to St. Louis where they remained for a week, visiting another brother, William Young. Next they went upriver to Cincinnati, and then by stage to Williamsburg township in Clermont County on the Little Miami River. On 5 Aug. 1850, Irene was enumerated on the 1850 Ohio Census there with her three surviving children: Henrietta, 11; Charles, 4; and Preston, 2. Three months later, she gave birth to her second daughter, Sarah.
George was gone from home for two years. Before returning to Illinois, he stopped in Oregon to see Irene’s parents, Elam and Irene (Eaton) Young, who had set out on the Oregon Trail from Missouri in 1847 with their three youngest sons, Daniel, James, and John. The Young family had a difficult trip, at the end of which they had gone to the Whitman Mission to help build a gristmill. The day after the notorious Whitman Massacre, which happened while they were up in the mountains twenty miles away preparing lumber, their son James had been killed about a mile from the Mission, and later the rest of the family had been held captive for nearly a month before being ransomed, and had lost nearly all they owned. At the time of George’s visit, they were living on a farm in Washington County, Oregon, where they had taken a donation claim.
Back in Ohio, Irene was having her own troubles. In the spring of 1851, four-year-old Charles died of liver trouble, the fourth of their children to die young. That fall, money arrived from George so they could go back home to Illinois. They went by wagon to Cincinnati where they stayed overnight, and took a train to Cleveland. They crossed Lake Erie to Detroit, took another train to Buffalo, crossed Lake Michigan to Chicago, and went by canal boat to LaSalle. There they stayed a week with George’s sister Henrietta Sisson, who had moved there from St. Louis, and afterward one of the Sisson sons took them in a covered hack to the Ferdinand Carter house near Earlville, where Irene had stored her things. Irene then boarded with a Mrs. Drew near the homestead, while leaving her daughter Henrietta with the Carters to attend school over the winter.
Henrietta left school in April in order to be closer to her mother. She related in later years that she then stayed with a Mrs. Gillet to help with the children. It had been a hard winter, and there was a heavy three foot snow lying on the ground. After a week or two, she could no longer bear Mrs. Gillet, and walked through the drifts and the melt to go back to her mother at the Drews’, only to find she wasn’t there. Irene had gone to the Carters’ to get her things and pick up some chickens, determined to move home by sled while the snow was still present to help them. The renters hadn’t left yet, and for a few days they were forced to share occupancy.
George arrived home in May. He put in corn and a garden, acquired 40 more acres of land to the north, and set out 100 apple trees. In October of 1852, he paid $150 to the county sheriff to redeem some land held jointly by himself, his brother Joseph, and a third party, that was apparently sold either to or for the trustees of the school in the local township, possibly in lieu of unpaid taxes. The following year he sold off everything including a span of fillies, and headed with his wife and children for Oregon.
Possibly because of the Young family’s experiences on the Oregon Trail and their later tragic encounter with the Cayuse Indians at the Whitman Mission, George took his family west by the water route. In September 1853, they went by train first to Chicago and then on to New York, where they boarded for a week. While they were there, their five-year-old son Preston, who was deaf, was hit by a delivery wagon that he could not hear, being knocked down and then kicked in the abdomen by a horse. He was at first senseless, and quite sick, but recovered after a few days.
The family departed from New York on the steamer "Prometheus." After a three week voyage they reached the Isthmus, where they proceeded across land by what was known as the Nicaraguan Route. The day after making landfall, they traveled up the San Juan River in small riverboats. It took part of a day and all night to get to Lake Nicaragua. There an entire day was spent transferring passengers and freight to a ship, and then another night to reach the landing on the other side. There was no wharf, and they had to disembark in the ship’s lifeboats. They slept the next night in hammocks, and the next morning at about 10 o’clock headed across the mountain trail on burros, reaching the other side in the evening. All the passengers stayed that night in a big shed. The next morning they were ferried in small groups via lifeboats to the steamer "Cortez," a large double-decker that lay anchored about a mile out. Again, the process took an entire day. The voyage up the coast to San Francisco took about three weeks. While they were crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec at night, off southern Mexico, they encountered a bad storm. A large wave broke one of the skylights, leaving the steerage passengers knee-deep in water. At San Francisco, the Blish family stayed for five days at the Keystone House. The town was mostly tents and board shacks, with plank streets. Most of San Francisco at that time was built on pilings over the bay, and where planks were missing, the streets were very dangerous. On the last day of November, they boarded the steamer "Columbia" for the next stage of their journey. On December 4th they were piloted over the Columbia River Bar to dock at Astoria, and conveyed from there to Portland aboard small river steamers in an all-night trip, arriving on December 5th.
Leaving his family at a hotel, George went on to the Young farm, returning the next evening with Irene’s brother Daniel driving an ox-team. The set off the next morning for the Tualatin Plains, arriving just before dark. There they stayed with the Young family over the winter. In the spring of 1854 George located a claim near the West Union church, and in March the family moved into a one-room house there. That fall he bought the Lennox place a mile away, settling it as a donation claim (Oregon City claim #3413) on 10 November 1854.
George and Irene had four more children born in Oregon, and stayed put in Washington County for a little over 25 years. In 1880, they moved to Whitman County in Washington Territory. After Irene’s death on 5 April 1888, George returned to Oregon for a time, living until 1891 among his children who had remained in Washington County. That year he went to stay with the family of his daughter Martha DAHLGREN at Tekoa, in Whitman County, Washington, and later lived with another daughter, Sarah QUIGLEY, near Diamond, also in Whitman County. He died at Diamond on 3 Dec. 1905, and was buried beside his wife in the cemetery at St. John, Washington. By faith, George Blish was a Baptist, having joined the church in Missouri in 1844. In Oregon, he was a "helpful worker" in the old pioneer church at West Union, Washington County. It is said that no matter how great his pain in his last years, he always had a pleasant word and smile for all.
Children of George and Irene (Young) Blish:
Contributed by Nancy Prevost - firstname.lastname@example.org, October 25, 1998.
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