Stephen Bemis (1804-1889) was one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Fitchburg, MA in 1831, and at the 50th anniversary he was one of the three survivors. He moved to Illinois after his second marriage, and raised wheat in the Rock River region, which occupation he continued until his death.
Draper – History of Bemis Family p. 29
Born in Westminster, MA, March 20, 1804, died at Oregon, Ogle Co., IL March 1, 1889. He had three brothers that grew to manhood, William, Samuel, and Zaccheus. Six sisters, Sophia, Dolly, Hanah, Sylvia, Achsah, and Betsey. Achsah died in Chicago at the home of her son, George P. Baker in 1893 at 86 years.
His brother, William, resided at one time in Orehill, Conn., and it is quite certain William visited him in Ogle County, the date was about 1855. It is also reported 1891-2 he had a son living in the state of Oregon, one daughter married a man by the name of Warner.
His brother, Zaccheus, was buried in a well by accident at West Cambridge, MA, May 9, 1849.
At the age of three years his parents moved to Ashburnham, MA, at the age of 16 year he removed to Fitchburg, MA, and was apprenticed to a chair maker.
In 1833 he moved his own family from Fitchburg to Big Flats, near Elmira, New York, and in August 1838 came to Illinois accompanied by the family of Henry Farwell, Mrs. Bemis’ brother, the father of John V. Farwell, the widely known merchant of Chicago, his first wife, Mariam Farwell being the sister of the elder Farwell. They traveled by boat from Buffalo to Detroit, making the rest of the journey by wagons. They settled at Lighthouse point near Daysville in Ogle County, near that of Mr. Farwell, now owned by Col. Frank O. Lowden and there acquired a tract of government land at the regular price of one dollar and twenty five cents per acre. He removed to Oregon, IL in 1883. This family knew of the hardships of pioneer life and soon the mother succumbed to the rigors of this new climate.
He built a frame dwelling on the sight of the present Bemis dwelling. About 1850 he erected a brick house which was later partly torn down for the rebuilding, so that virtually the same house now stands, on the Clinton Bemis property, but now owned and occupied by his son Joseph.
To this union were born three children, namely Stephen Allen, of St. Louis, MO, who left Ogle County when a young man; Judson Moss Bemis, of Boston, MA, who left about the same time as his brother, and Mary of Sycamore, IL, wife of Nathan Lattin.
Stephen Bemis, Jr. married for the 2nd time on April 4, 1840, Mary Early Neville (b. May 3rd, 1822, in Pickway County, 12 miles from Columbus, Ohio, who came to Ogle County with her mother, then Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart (d. Sept. 6, 1860). Her father’s name was Henry and her parents were previous residents of Harper’s Ferry, VA. She was a descendant of Johannas Oehrle, of Wustenberg, Germany, who came to America, landing at Philadelphia, August 24, 1750. Mrs. Mary Neville had one son, William Neville, now deceased who was a small lad when she married Stephen Bemis. She died at Oregon, IL July 3, 1886 at the age of 73 years.
In 1849, Stephen Bemis in company with John V. Gale, John B. Chaney, lawyer, George Shipman, Sr., and Mr. Richard Mulkins, Sr., with Capt. Hancock, general manager, with two ox teams started for the gold fields of California, landing there September, 1849, and there met his brother, Samuel. Samuel later resided in Colorado and died there in 1878. At St. Joseph, MO, the United States troops held them for a time on account of Indians and their lack of ammunition, later 100 soldiers accompanied them from St. Joseph to Fort Larimee, Wyoming. They were drilled to resist the attacks of the Indians and from there another detachment of 100 soldiers accompanied them to the end of the journey. John Chaney, a member of the party, died at Fort Larimee.
An incident is told of Mr. Bemis that one of the dogs that accompanied the party got footsore and fell behind, and while the rest of the party slept that night at the camping place, he hoofed it back sixteen miles for the dog and carried it forward to meet the party in the morning. He returned from California in the fall of 1851 by the way of the Isthmus of Panama.
Stephen Bemis was a Baptist, his father was a Universalist. He was one of the founders of the First Baptist Church at Fitchburg, MA in 1831, and at the time of the 50th Anniversary 1881, at which event he was present, he was the only surviving member. Late in life he became a believer in the Second Advent doctrine. He also was one of the organizers of the Brooklyn Baptist Society here in Ogle County and would walk from his farm residence to the little school house, where the meetings were held, a matter of six or seven miles to attend their meetings. He always preferred to walk rather than ride.
Stephen Bemis was a successful farmer while here in Ogle County, but before coming west his occupation was that of a chair maker. He made many of the chairs used by his neighbors here in Ogle County.
From the Ogle County History:
John V. Farwell, the Chicago merchant says “The Farwell and Bemis families came to Ogle County in 1838 from New York in a “Praire Schooner” arriving at our destination, (this farm lays south east of Oregon, now owned by Colonel Frank O. Lowden, ex-Governor of Illinois, adjoins the Bemis farm) the 20 foot square log house instead of being prepared for our reception, was filled with garden truck, and our moving “Prairie Schooner” had to do as our habitation, until the house was cleaned and renovated.
The next vivid picture upon the canvas of my memory is composed of two families in our log house, fourteen in number, all but my mother and baby sick with chills and fever, and the doctor sitting on a trunk in the center dealing out medicine. Father was completly overcome with the dismal picture and proposed to mother to go back to our old home in New York. Mother replied, “We have come here to make a home for ourselves and our children and God helping us, we will stay and accomplish our purpose,” only one of the fourteen found a grave before a commodation log house was built, so each family had a roof of its own.”
Submitted by Sue Cramer