The bulk of the early American settlers arrived around the start of the 19th century, and in this general influx was a group of settlers of German, Swiss and Dutch descent. These people migrated to the western sections of the county and settled along the banks of the Whitewater. George Frederick Bollinger, who came from Lincoln County, North Carolina, and established a settlement at Burfordsville (then called Bollinger’s Mill) was a leader among the German settlers. He seems to have encouraged numerous others to migrate from North Carolina to settle the fertile bottom lands of Whitewater.
The Millers Arrive
Whether George Frederick Bollinger was responsible, wholly or in part, for the Millers migrating to Missouri from Lincoln County, North Carolina has never been definitely established. Bollinger and a companion seem to have made the trip from North Carolina to Cape Girardeau District in 1796 or 1797 at which time Louis Lorimer, Spanish Commandant, apparently promised Bollinger a large grant of land if the latter would bring a certain number of colonists into the district. Bollinger returned to North Carolina about 1798, and in the following year, accompanied by about twenty families, set out with his wife for the new territory. Goodspeed’s History of Southeast Missouri, in recounting the migration of this group, lists the Miller family among them:
“The journey was made in wagons. The company crossed the Mississippi River at Ste. Genevieve on the first of January, 1800, and proceeded to the Whitewater along which stream they made their settlements. In this colony were Mathias Bollinger, William Bollinger, Henry Bollinger, and Phillip Bollinger, Peter and Conrad Statler, Joseph Neyswanger, Peter and George Grount, John and Isaac Miller, Frederick Limbaugh, Leonard Walker, and Frederick Slinkard. All were either German or Swiss, and all spoke the German language….”
The above contention that the Millers were in this first contingent arriving from North Carolina is apparently in error. Definite proof of the date on which the Millers arrived in Cape County is afforded in the hearings before the Board of Land Commissioners appointed to adjust the Spanish land claims in the Louisiana Territory. According to the testimonies of Isaac Miller (a son of John Miller), George Frederick Bollinger, and Joseph Neyswanger (Niswonger), the Millers settled in Cape County in October 1803.
The evidence is also very strong that George Bollinger may have accompanied John Miller and his family to the Spanish Territory in 1803, for in 1802 the former returned to his old home in North Carolina to obtain the services of a Protestant minister for the new colony on the Whitewater. Bollinger and the preacher, reverend Samuel Weyberg, returned from North Carolina about the same time that the Millers arrived from Lincoln County, Bollinger’s old home. Quoting from Houck’s History of Missouri:
“At the request of the German settlers in Cape Girardeau District, the Rev. Samuel Weyberg, a preacher of the German Reformed Church came to Upper Louisiana… In 1803, he met Major George Frederick Bollinger, one of the earliest settlers of the Cape Girardeau District, who had returned to his old home on a visit and was delegated by his neighbors to secure a minister for the settlement. At his solicitation, Weyberg returned with him, traveling from North Carolina on horseback through the then almost unbroken wilderness. On his arrival in the country late in the year 1803 and when it was already well known that the country had been or was about to be ceded, he preached one of the first protestant sermons, certainly the first German Protestant sermon, in Upper Louisiana, at the house of a German settler about one mile below where the city of Jackson now stands.”
The fact that John Miller arrived in the new land about the same time that Bollinger returned from North Carolina, suggests more than mere coincidence. The journey from North Carolina through the wilderness was a hazardous one even to the seasoned frontiersman, and presumably, it would have been necessary for John Miller to have had an experienced guide. George Frederick Bollinger could well qualify for the latter, for he had twice before made the journey.
Cape County in 1803
When the Millers arrived in Cape Girardeau District in October 1803, they found the area frontier wilderness – with the exception of a few scattered settlements. The village of Cape Girardeau had not yet been laid out, although several “trading houses” and blacksmith shops existed on the site in addition to the residence of Louis Lorimer, Spanish commandant of the district. The city of Jackson was non-existent, not being established until nearly 10 years later. About sixteen miles northwest of Cape Girardeau was the “Byrd settlement” on the waters and tributaries of Byrd and Cane creeks. A rather compact settlement had been established by the Randall family about eight miles (13 km) west of Cape Girardeau and about two miles (3 km) east of Gordonville. Other settlements were scattered over the county. The Lorimer mill stood on Cape La Cruz (later Cape La Croix) Creek south of Cape Girardeau. Other mills were located upon the present sites of Dutchtown, Gordonville, and in the Byrd settlement.
The German settlement on the Whitewater was one of the most conspicuous in the western region of Cape County. The center of activity for the inhabitants of this section was “Bollinger’s Mill” (now Burfordsville) where George Frederick Bollinger operated the largest mill in the district. The Whitewater settlements were accurately described by Timothy Flint, a traveling preacher in the early days. Quoting from Houck again:
“Flint was greatly interested in the German settlement along Whitewater about six miles west of Jackson, formed during the Spanish government. He says ‘the people have in fact preserved their nationality and language more unmixed than even in Pennsylvania.’ At a meeting in the woods at which he was present, among 400 assembled there, not more than half a dozen were of English decent, and while all understood familiar and colloquial English and could express themselves therein, they did so ‘with a peculiar German accent, pronunciation and phrase.’ Living along a clear and beautiful stream in the forest, having but little communication with other people, according to Flint, they preserved the ‘peculiarities in an uncommon degree.’
“They were all Lutherans, and anxious for religious instruction, although every farmer had his distillery ‘and the pernicious whiskey dribbles from the corn.’ But Flint laments that they did not want religion to interfere with the ‘native beverage’ of the ‘honest Dutch’, and they argued that ‘the swearing and drunkenness of a Dutchman was not so bad as that of an American.’ Their horses were large; they themselves were of gigantic size, and they were prosperous farmers. The descendants of these North Carolina or Whitewater Dutch have now, however, become completely Americanized and forgotten their old tongue, although in many homes the ancient German bibles are yet to be found.”
The Millers became a part of this community, although they located four or five miles (8 km) further up the Whitewater. And at the time of the transfer of the territory to the United States, these settlers in the western section of Cape Girardeau County constituted one of the farthest western settlements in America.
The Ancestry of the Millers
Although the Millers became a part of a community composed almost entirely of Swiss-Germans, the Millers seem to have been of Scotch-Irish descent. Unfortunately, a positive record of John Miller’s ancestry in North Carolina has yet to be found, so definite proof of the above fact is lacking. However, family tradition has steadfastly placed the family as Scotch-Irish. Moreover, the German language was never known to have been native to the members of the pioneer family, although it was in general use among the German settlers along the Whitewater.
The explanation of the Scotch-Irish Millers living side by side with a large group of Swiss-Germans who conversed in their native tongue goes back to the previous home of this pioneer family near the Catawba River in Lincoln County, North Carolina. An account of the early German settlers in North Carolina reveals the relationship with the Scotch-Irish elements, who, as well as the Germans, originally had migrated to North Carolina from Pennsylvania:
“There were also a large number of German colonists in the interior of North Carolina. They did not, however, as in South Carolina, come from the seacoast, that is directly from Europe, but they had trekked from Pennsylvania. They arranged themselves on vacant lands to the eastward and westward of the Yadkin River, while the Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania who had lived on friendly terms with the Germans in that province, soon followed the southward and occupied vacant lands mostly to the westward or southward of the German settlers, along the Catawba River. The Germans on the Yadkin, in the course of time, went westward and settled also on the Catawba, becoming quite as numerous as the Irish, and with them going westward again from there.”
“The Germans usually left their home, i.e., Pennsylvania, in autumn after all the harvesting was over and the proceeds of the year’s labor were in hand. They arrived at the new settlements just before the commencement of the winter season, bringing with them the means of passing through the winter without hardship. The first of the pioneer trains came about 1745; the large migrations did not begin until 1750.”
It is entirely plausible that the Millers may have belonged to the Scotch-Irish element in Lincoln County, along the Catawba. The fact that the Millers arrived in the new land in October 1803 – before the winter had set in – may be of some significance in view of the practice of their German neighbors to migrate “after the harvest.”
Little is known of John Miller before he came to Cape Girardeau County in 1803. A monument erected to his memory in the Miller cemetery places his birth date as 1763. However, all available evidence seems to demonstrate that he was born somewhat earlier – as the succeeding sections will indicate. At the time of the Revolutionary War (1776–1782), he was a young man in his early twenties. Whether or not he participated in the war for freedom has never been determined. However, Lincoln County, North Carolina saw considerable portions of the war, and one of the decisive battles of the war in the southern colonies at King’s Mountain was fought scarcely twenty miles to the south of the Miller home.
Whether John Miller was then a resident of Lincoln County is shrouded in mystery. Census statistics indicate that the family, in 1790, lived in Lincoln County and was listed in the “4th Company”, probably for militia service. Also listed as belonging to the “4th Company” were Jacob Miller and Henry Miller and their families. In all probability, judging from the coincidence of their names and those of John Miller’s sons, these men may have been brothers of John.
Martha Clay Miller
It seems that John Miller married rather early, possibly before he had reached twenty years of age, for his eldest son was born during or before 1774. John Miller’s wife was Martha Clay who has been rather tentatively identified as a first cousin of the American statesman, Henry Clay. For many years, family tradition has held that Martha Clay had been a sister or half sister of the illustrious American. However, according to the Genealogy of the Clays, Henry Clay had no sisters who grew to womanhood, and his half brothers and sisters were named “Watkins.”
Martha Clay was the third child of Edward Clay, brother of Reverend John Clay and Magdalene Trabue. Although the name of Martha’s husband is not given, she is presumed to be the one whom John Miller married. At least, John and Martha may have thought enough of the connection with the Clay family to name one of their sons “John Clay Miller”, possibly after the Reverend John Clay.
The Children of John Miller
Martha Clay bore John Miller twelve children. In all, there were eight boys and four girls. The boys were Jacob, Isaac, Henry, Abraham, Dan, Joseph, Nicholas, and John Clay. The girls were Hannah, Katie, Sophia, and Susie. It has never been determined definitely how many of these children were actually born in Missouri. From the evidence available, it seems that all the children with the exception of the youngest were born elsewhere than on Cape County soil.
The earliest record of John Miller and his family is found in the 1790 United States Census taken in Lincoln County, North Carolina. At that time, there were eight persons in the family. They included John Miller, Martha Clay Miller, one boy over sixteen years, two boys under sixteen, and three girls. According to these figures, the oldest child, Jacob Miller, had already passed his sixteenth birthday in 1790, and when the family arrived in Missouri some thirteen years later, Jacob could hardly have been younger than 29 years of age. Joseph Neyswanger, testifying at the land hearings on behalf of Jacob, said that the latter had a wife and one child when he settled his tract, indicating that the latter was already a householder.
The next available record of the family comes from a census of Cape Girardeau taken by the Spanish Government. In 1803, DeLassus, the Spanish governor of the territory, had a census taken which divided the inhabitants into three age classifications. The first class included persons under 14 years of age, the second included persons between the ages of 14 and 50 years, and the third class, all persons over 50 years old. This census indicates that there were 13 persons in the Miller family in 1803 – an increase of five over 1790. The following table shows the enumeration:
John Miller had eight sons in the family in 1803, five of whom were over 14 years and four of whom were under that age. Thus, the eight boys of the family had probably all been born in North Carolina.
However, the 1803 census accounts for only four women, Martha Clay Miller and three daughters. It has been definitely established that there were four daughters in the original family. The inference is plain that one of the daughters and the youngest of the children must have been born after the 1803 census was taken.
Isaac Miller was also a grown man when the family arrived in Cape Girardeau County, for it was necessary for him to have been of age in order to file a claim for land. Neyswanger, testifying on behalf of Isaac at the land hearings, stated that the latter had a wife and two children when he settled on the Whitewater on a tract next to that of his father. This wife, who was Isaac’s first, died in the winter of 1807 or early in 1808.
The statistics in these census enumerations of both 1790 and 1803 point conclusively to the fact that John Miller must have been born earlier than 1763 in order to have had a son sixteen years of age in 1790. It is more logical to assume that John Miller was closer to 50 than 40 year of age when the family arrived in Missouri, for all of the children, except possibly the last, had been born.
These census statistics are further borne out by the testimony at the land hearings. Joseph Neyswanger, on behalf of John Miller, at the hearing in 1808 testified that the latter then had a wife and twelve children. This number is one more than that of the census of 1803, indicating that the youngest child was born somewhere between 1803 and 1808.
George Frederick Bollinger in his testimony for John Miller given in 1806 said that when the latter came in 1803 he had a wife and nine children. While this statement seems to contradict the 1803 census which reported eleven children, Bollinger evidently did not include Isaac and Jacob into his calculations, for these sons had families of their own and lived on their own lands. Had Bollinger included these two, his report would have tallied with that of the Spanish census.
According to family tradition, four of the twelve children were deaf and dumb. They were Abraham, Dan, Joseph, and Hannah. The cause for this deafness has never been explained. These deaf mutes in the first family had a way of conversations all of their own. James Henry Miller remembered conversing with his deaf great uncles who were very old men when he was just a lad.
All of the twelve children did not remain in Cape Girardeau County. Nicholas Miller migrated to Illinois, but there is no information as to where he settled, whom he married and whether or not he left any descendants. Jacob moved to the vicinity of Bloomfield about 1825, being one of the pioneers in Stoddard County. He settled in Pike township which, at that time, consisted of that part of the county “east of the Castor River.”
The first election in Pike township was held at Jacob Miller’s home. According to Goodspeed’s History of Southeast Missouri, some of the children and grandchildren of Jacob Miller became rather prominent in the city of Bloomfield. It is reported that about 1848, “Daniel Miller” began business “in a building where the post-office (1888) is and his brother, Henry Miller, opened a store on the site of the Vindicator office.” These men may have been sons of Jacob, for it seems that he may have named them after his own brothers, Daniel and Henry, who had remained in Cape County.
Henry Miller is also mentioned as one of the twelve jurors of the first Circuit Court held in Stoddard County on March 21, 1836. He also served as county treasurer for some years beginning in 1846. Henry and Daniel Miller served as trustees on the Bloomfield Educational Society, an organization which established a two-story frame school building and operated a seminary beginning in 1853.
Others who were either sons or grandsons of Jacob Miller were: Pitman Miller, Sheriff of Stoddard County, 1848–1852; Elijah Miller, merchant, who opened a business in Bloomfield about 1858 or 1859 in partnership with John L. Buck; Elijah Miller was also part owner of the Bloomfield Vindicator during the years 1878-1880; George F. Miller, who received a contract from the county court in 1867 to rebuild the Stoddard County Courthouse; and Henry E. Miller, who was County Treasurer, 1868-70.
The remaining ten children made Cape County their home. Two of these, Abraham and Dan, did not leave any children, although Dan had married a woman by the name of Nancy Killow. From the remaining eight sons and daughters of John Miller, namely, Isaac, Henry, Joseph, Hannah, Katie, Sophia, John Clay, and Susie, comes the large Miller family of Cape Girardeau County. The descendants of these children will be discussed in Chapter 2.
The Miller Land Grants
In 1803, when John Miller made his way up Big Whitewater to select certain of its fine bottom lands as a suitable place to locate, the entire region was under the jurisdiction of the Spanish government and continued so until 1804 when Louisiana was transferred to the United States. In reality, the Louisiana Territory had been assigned to France in 1800 upon the insistence of Napoleon at the Treaty of San Ildefonso. However, actual transfer had never been made, even as late as 1803 when France agreed to sell Louisiana to America. Consequently, all land concessions continued to be made under the jurisdiction of the Spanish.
The amount of the grant was regulated by the wealth and importance of the settler, the size of his family, and his ability to cultivate land. Unless he had performed some special services for the Spanish government, the size of the grant usually did not exceed 800 arpens. The settler did not receive absolute title to the land that he claimed until he had inhabited, cultivated, and possessed it for a period of ten years.
John Miller and his sons, Jacob and Isaac, received permits from Louis Lorimer to settle on land in the Whitewater bottoms. The tract which John Miller claimed was nearly two square miles in area while Jacob and Isaac each claimed tracts of 350 arpens. Although these lands were settled by the Millers in October 1803, they were not surveyed until January 1806.
When the Louisiana territory was ceded to the United States, the transfer immediately raised the question of the validity of the Spanish land titles. During the Spanish regime, wild uncultivated lands had been granted to settlers, many of whom, like the Millers, could now show no clear title except that of habitation and cultivation. Large concessions in many instances had been obtained through perjury and fraud by land speculators just prior to the transfer of the country, and the outgoing Lieutenant-Governor, DeLassus, made large grants to his family and friends. The transfer of the territory to the United States immediately raised the value of all lands west of the Mississippi. There were claims and counter claims. Protests were hurled against the large land concessions, and many claims were branded as false.
To cope with the situation, Congress passed an act in 1805 to settle the titles. This law granted immediate title to all persons or their legal representatives who were resident in the territory prior to October 1, 1800. It also provided that persons “either the head of a family, or twenty-one years old”, who had settled in the territory prior to December 20, 1803 and who had cultivated a tract could receive title to the same, not exceeding a mile square or 640 acres (2.6 km2), provided such a person claimed no other tract by virtue of a French or Spanish grant. The Miller land claims came under the latter group, since they had settled their lands scarcely two months before the deadline fixed by Congress.
To ascertain the validity of all claims, the act further established a Board of Land Commissioners who were to hold hearings throughout the territory. They were empowered to summon and examine witnesses, obtain and investigate all records, and “to decide in a summary way, according to justice and equity, on all claims filed with the register and recorder” of lands.
As a result, the Miller land titles were uncertain for a number of years. On May 1, 1806, the first hearing was held in the City of Cape Girardeau. George Frederick Bollinger speaking on behalf of John Miller’s claim of 1324 arpens testified that the latter had settled the tract in October 1803 and that he had “actually inhabited and cultivated” the land continuously since that date. This testimony was further substantiated by Joseph Neyswanger who testified before Commissioner Frederick Bates on May 30, 1808. When the Board rendered its opinion of December 22, 1809, it contained a recommendation that the claim to be disallowed.
The claims of 350 arpens of land of Isaac and Jacob Miller were also substantiated by Joseph Neyswanger. However, Neyswanger’s statements indicate that Isaac and Jacob did not settle their tracts until 1804. Isaac inhabited and cultivated his land while Jacob sold his improvement and moved to another tract which he purchased. The Board in its opinion of December 22, 1809, likewise rejected these two claims.
No reason is cited by the Board for the rejection of the three Miller claims. In the case of Isaac and Jacob Miller, it seems clear that their claims were rejected because they had not settled their tracts until 1804. However, it seems that the only ground on which John Miller’s claim could have been disallowed was that insufficient proof had been given of permission to settle by Spanish officials.
For three years longer, the Miller claims hung in balance until Congress in 1812 passed another land act which liberalized some of the previous restrictions. All claims were granted which had not been confirmed because permission to settle by the Spanish officers had not been proven. Thus, John Miller’s claim was recognized, and he received title to 649 acres (2.63 km2) of land in the Whitewater bottoms as per the limit allowed by the act of 1805. In 1814, the claim of Isaac Miller was recognized when Congress granted title to all claims which were not confirmed merely because they were not inhabited on December 20, 1803. However, for some reason or other, Jacob’s title remained unsettled.
The claim of Jacob Miller was not cleared until 1835, about twenty years later. The Federal government, it seems, was making a final attempt to clear up all existing unsettled Spanish land titles, and Isaac Miller took advantage of it to prove his brother’s claim. At a hearing January 30, 1835, he testified that his elder brother, Jacob, had settled this tract in 1803 and immediately made numerous improvements thereon. Joseph Neyswanger also appeared and testified that Jacob made his home on the land in 1803, and that he had continued to cultivate the same until he moved away many years later. No mention was made by Neyswanger that Jacob sold his farm and moved to another tract as in the previous testimony. On June 16, 1835, the board of commissioners confirmed Jacob Miller’s claim. Thus, it took thirty years before the Miller titles had been entirely clarified.
According to the old land grants as given in an old play book of Cape Girardeau County, the northern edge of John Miller’s 640-acre (2.6 km2) tract was about one quarter mile south of the present site of Millersville. Attached to the southeast corner of this grant was a smaller tract of about 300 acres (1.2 km2) which is listed as belonging to Isaac Miller. These tracts encompassed fine bottom lands on both sides of Big Whitewater, for the stream flowed directly through the John Miller tract for considerable distance and then formed a natural boundary between the holdings of father and son. (See map later in this chapter.)