Item #7215 John Gipp[s] Diary, Morton, Illinois, year 1854. Tazewell Co., Ill. [pencil title on first leaf]. John Methuen Gipps.
John Gipp[s] Diary, Morton, Illinois, year 1854. Tazewell Co., Ill. [pencil title on first leaf].
John Gipp[s] Diary, Morton, Illinois, year 1854. Tazewell Co., Ill. [pencil title on first leaf].
John Gipp[s] Diary, Morton, Illinois, year 1854. Tazewell Co., Ill. [pencil title on first leaf].

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John Gipp[s] Diary, Morton, Illinois, year 1854. Tazewell Co., Ill. [pencil title on first leaf].

Morton Township, Tazewell County, Illinois, 1854–1856. 4to (12.5” x 4”), brown paper covers. 148 pp. manuscript on leaves with pre-printed dates for 1854, but multiple year entries appear under most dates. The final 21 pp., which do not bear printed dates, used as a ledger. CONDITION: Good, damp-staining and moderate wear to covers and the first few pages, contemporary tape reinforcing spine; contents generally clean, no losses to the text.

The diary of an English emigre and early settler in Illinois who records attending Abraham Lincoln speeches and numerous railroad meetings and celebrations. Gipps is known to have been sued by a man who retained Lincoln as his attorney, and later became a successful brewer in Peoria.

Born in England, John Methuen Gipps (1819–1881) was the son of a rector and studied law at Cambridge University, graduating in 1838. Gipps worked as a wine-merchant before going bankrupt in England in 1842. Around 1845, he emigrated to the U.S., settling in Morton Township, Tazewell County, Illinois, where he purchased 160 acres and established “Gipps Grove” estate, becoming a farmer and Morton’s first grocer. In 1852, he married an English woman, Ellen Davidson, with whom he had two children, Bessie W. and George H. He appears to have opened his store as early as 1854, and is known to have worked as a merchant until as late as 1859. Gipps’s diary primarily comprises brief notes on his farming and business activities, as well as trips he takes to Chicago and locales in Wisconsin. While most entries are business-oriented, at other times he expresses strong opinions and insights. On 16 October 1854, Gipps records going “to Peoria to hear [Stephen] Douglas speak.” At this event, Gipps would have also heard Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, and Lincoln and Douglas debate. Lincoln’s speech, which opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that was co-authored by Stephen Douglas, proved to be an important moment in Lincoln’s political rise and led to the formation of the Republican Party. The extensive number of railroad-related activities he records, which take place in both Peoria and Washington, are likely connected with the construction of the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad, which was laid in 1855 and connected Peoria to the Mississippi River.

Lincoln Day by Day (1960) records the future president’s intention to speak at Peoria on 4 October 1856, but does not confirm that he did. Gipps’s diary indicates that Lincoln did in fact speak that day at nearby Fremont. Gipps attended and noted the weather was “very hot.” The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (2008) reveals that the future president was also involved in at least two lawsuits involving Gipps, one of them during the period of this diary. One of these lawsuits related to Gipps giving a Mr. Butcher a promissory note for $634 and securing the note with a mortgage on 160 acres. Gipps also owed Butcher $500 and secured that debt with a mortgage on the same land. Gipps failed to pay, and Butcher retained Lincoln and petitioned the court to foreclose on the mortgage. When Butcher discovered that Gipps mortgaged the land to others, he added other defendants to the suit. Gipps argued that Butcher was indebted to him because Butcher had bought a piano and a colt at an execution sale against Gipps with the intention of allowing Gipps to redeem the property. However, Butcher sold the goods to others. Several of the defendants defaulted, and the court ruled for Butcher, awarding him $1,000. Gipps failed to pay, and Butcher bought the 160 acres for $1,066.40.

In 1864, Gipps purchased master-brewer Andrew Eitel’s brewery in Peoria and established the first of many financial partnerships with W. H. Hine and William Howe. In 1871, he moved to Peoria, just a few miles from his farm. From 1864 to 1881, he established four more partnerships, including the Gipps and Co. “Eagle” Brewing Co. in 1875. Organized by Gipps, Willis H. Ballance, Sr., and Leslie Robinson, the Gipps Brewing Co. was located on the Peoria riverfront and began producing its famous Amberlin Beer. Gipps served as President until he died in 1881, and in 1885, a new, modern brewery was constructed. George H. Gipps, son of John Gipps, continued the Gipps Brewing Co. for a period before leaving to become Secretary at Peoria’s Union Brewing Co. In 1900, George left Union Brewing Co. to take over as Manager of the Terre Haute Brewing Co. in Indiana.


4 Jan. 1854 “Went to Peoria with turkeys &c. Bought groceries.”

5 Jan. “Killed 22 hogs.”

7 Jan. “Went to Post—saw Basel about store. Heard from mother.”

24 Jan. “Went to Peoria… Went to Smith’s surprise party.”

25 Jan. “Went out sleighing with Ellen. Wareham came yesterday nearly killed me got into a deep bank had to wade out 12 feet deep, linchpin will not stay in a minute.”

9 Feb. “Went to Peoria…invited to Railroad Ball. Returned same day.”

14 Feb. “Went to Peoria. Railroad festival.”

16 Feb. Went to Peoria… Bought canaries…broke down buggy.”

18 Feb. “Wrote officer (offer for land).”

23 Feb. “Killed 11 hogs. Wrote mother.”

1 Mar. “Examined trees in orchard by store.”

3 Mar. “Sold butter at 20, eggs at 20.”

4 Mar. “Went to Washington [Illinois] about carpenter. … Canary laid 1st egg. … Pruned 1st row of apple trees. 2nd canary laid 1st egg.”

5 Mar. “Hire Mary 1 year, $13 a month.”

6 Mar. “Captain heard from Smith. Railroad meeting at Peoria. Crawford came.”

7 Mar. “Return from Peoria. Paid $50 into bank.”

8 Mar. “Transplanted apple trees & took blue grass sod.”

9 Mar. “Got cherry trees and planted when out in garden.”

10 Mar. “Went to Nebraska meeting.… Sold corn in Peoria, got coal.”

17 Mar. “Cut brush and commenced smoking meat.”

19 Mar. “Fetched house bees.”

25 Mar. “Grafted plum trees in garden. Fixed garden fence & gathered up hay seed & wheat.”

31 Mar. “Went to Washington & Trowbridge. Afterwards to Stricklands for Maple trees.”

2 Apr. “New man (Mayo) commenced & moved into store, commenced plowing today.”

3 Apr. “Went to election.”

5 Apr. “Planted out peach trees in avenue.”

7 Apr. “Heard from County surveyor.”

8 Apr. “Went with Ellen hunting turkeys.”

11 Apr. “Started for Peoria (Chicago).”

12 Apr. “In Peoria waiting for boat. … started at night for Chicago by Young America.”

14 Apr. “Got to Lasalle…started by train at 10 for Chicago.”

15 Apr. “Arrived at Chicago at 4 o’clock in the morning. Stayed at Fremont, the worst and most uncivil house I ever was at. Looked through stores.”

17 Apr. “Commenced buying. … Went to theatre with Crawford in the evening.”

19 Apr. “Bought bonnets, clothing & boots and shoes.”

20 Apr. “Bought mowing machine.”

21 Apr. “Arrived at Lasalle…went on board the Garden City at night.”

22 Apr. “Got goods shipped on board the Garden City. On board which we remained all day.”

24 Apr. “Got three loads of goods home. Heard from New Orleans about wine.”

12 May “Left for Chicago in the Brunette[?] arrived at Lasalle at 7 o’clock. Started for Chicago at past 10 and arrived there at three. Went to the Matteson, got no room.”

14 May “Left by steamer Traveler at 8 o’clock for Sheboygan, where we arrived at 10 o’clock. Went to the Warren House. Poor accommodation. Sheboygan a woebegone Dutch hole.”

15 May “Left for Fond du Lac at eight by Plank Road. Stopped to dine at Kellogs, miserable house. Got to Fond du Lac at 4. Went to the Lewis House and got good accommodation. Fond du Lac [is] a nice growing town.”

16 May “Left Fond du Lac for Menasha [Wisconsin] by steamer Peytona at 5 o’clock; Went up Lake Winnebago to [?] and thence to Mensha… the town [Mensha] and hotel, a miserable house.”

18 May “Got to Milwaukee about six in the morning and left for Chicago at 9.… Arrived at Chicago about five in the afternoon. Called at Port Washington, Waukegan, Racine and Southport. Went to Matteson House. … Went to theater [and] saw Miss Davenport & liked her much.”

20 May “Started from Chicago by Aurora Road for Lasalle. [I] like that road much better than Rock Island.”

26 May “Boris worked on road and broke up potato patch.”

27 May “Busy in store. … Bought Arabian liniment [for] $15.”

30 May “Got papers about road from Parker.”

16 June “First brick of new house laid.”

18 June “Gave possession of store to Bassett… John drunk & did not work.”

26 June “Abolition meeting.”

27 June “The old hypocrite Grandall [?] for my butter and then [?] to take it because it was too much trouble after keeping it at his house all the morning.”

16 July “School teacher came to board.”

20 July “John brought molasses.”

26 July “Bees came out, re-hived them.”

1 Sept. “John cut weeds or potatoes & got whiskey.”

16 Oct. “Went to Peoria to hear [Stephen A.] Douglas speak.”

20 Oct. “Heard news of capture of Sebastopol [during the Siege of Sevastopol, 1854–55].”

13 Nov. “Mrs. D. to railroad celebration at Washington.”

4 Dec. “Miller sent for me to Peoria on a threatened warrant. Pemberton went with me. Commenced moving into [my] new house.”

13 Dec. “Cut up pork and made sausage.”

18 Dec. “Very cold, 24 below freezing.”

22 Dec. “Bought [a] new buggy at $160.”

16 Jan. 1855 “Settled with Boris for work up to this day. He owes me $175. … Christian killed his pigs. Crosby came for school money. Christian quit working today.”

3 Jan. 1856 “Took home bricklayer.”

15 Jan. “Sheriff came about money for costs.”

16 Apr. “Quite sick with dysentery.”

6 May “Sent for men to dig cellar.”

31 May “Planted potatoes opposite [my] store. Furnished shearing sheep. Heard from mother.”

20 June “Went to Washington to [a] Railroad meeting.”

21 June “Held Railroad meeting at Library.”

23 June “Morgan and party surveyed Railroad by [my] store.”

25 June “Took honey from bees.”

30 June “Davis’ calf got drowned in the well.”

4 Oct. “Went to Fremont to hear [Abraham] Lincoln.”

9 Oct. “Went to Republican mass meeting in Peoria.”

10 Oct. “Railroad men dined [with me].”

A very good record of the Midwestern frontier, scarce for its time and place.

REFERENCES: Miers, Earl Schenck. Lincoln Day by Day (Washington, D.C., Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960); Stowell, Daniel W., ed. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008); “History of Gipps Brewing Co.” at Give Me Gipps online; The Northern Star, Vol. V, No. 223 (London, 19 Feb. 1842); “The Toledo, Peoria, & Western, The Peoria Way” at k3railroads online.

Item #7215


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