Thursday, August 25, 2011

Morton Smith's Dad Was a Grain Dealer in Rural Illinois for a While?

I have to admit I don't know how to fit this piece of evidence into the 'pre-history' of Morton Smith. We know for certain that Morton Smith's father was Rupert Henry Smith, born in Montreal around 1871 who met and married a Mary Funk of Illinois in Philadelphia in the year 1897. The problem I have is fitting in this bit of information from the ancestry information regarding the Funk side of his family. Apparently his mother Mary came from a wealthy agricultural background and Morton Smith's father seemingly got into the grain business in Illinois:

In the autumn of 1864 Mr. Funk and Miss Mary Rich, of Streator, were united in marriage at the home of the bride's parents, H. and Mary (Strockbien) Rich. Eight children bless their union, namely: Elizabeth, now the wife of E. S. Kempton, of Adams, Livingston county, Illinois; Amelia, Mrs. William H. Hendricks, of Sandwich, Illinois; Ella, who married Frank Egan, of Ottawa; Mary, wife of R. H. Smith, a member of the firm of Funk & Smith, grain dealers of Streator; Lydia, Fannie and Sylvia, who are at home; and Frank, who is a high school student.

It just seems startling to me that Morton Smith's dad was became a grain dealer for a while. Yet all indications are that his mother did indeed come from Illinois and from this sort of a background. They had to have met somehow.

But how did a twenty something year old boy from Philadelphia end up falling in love with a girl from rural Ottawa, Illinois? College seems the most likely bet. My guess would be the University of Illinois but it could have been at an Ivy League school just as well. Still, the idea that Morton Smith's dad was a grain dealer for a while just doesn't make sense. He was on the corporate letterhead presumably at H J Smith & Sons making stain glass windows in Philadelphia. Yet as we have seen his brother Ernest was really taking the lead in the company. I haven't even figured out who was the older brother.

The one thing I can say for certain is that these 'grain dealing' companies seem to have been rather informal institutions. In the description of Mary Funk's father for instance we see that he made a fortune with a similarly named enterprise:

Upon his return to this state from California John Funk resumed agricultural pursuits, to which he gave his attention until he reached his majority. Then, going to Streator, he embarked in the lumber business, selling out his interest in the same in 1870. His next venture was to become a member of the firm subsequently known as McCormick & Funk, grain dealers, and in this enterprise he met with great success. At the close of a year and a half he bought his partner's interest and moved the buildings and business to Long Point, Livingston county, IlHnois. He remained there for eighteen months, then leasing the property and returning to his father's old homestead near Streator. He assisted in the management of the farm during the last years of the elder man's life, and continued to carry on the place until 1888. For the last eleven years he has lived in Ottawa, and has occupied the residence on Columbus street which was formerly owned by his sister, who died a number of years ago. He is the owner of one thousand acres of excellent farm land in Valley county, Nebraska, and of a valuable improved homestead of two hundred and forty acres near the town of Wallace, LaSalle county. Many of the leading industries of Streator found an influential friend and supporter in Mr. Funk. One of the founders of the Streator Coal Company, he was a stockholder and a director of the organization for years, and was a director and vice-president of the Streator Bottle and Glass Company for several years. In political principles he is clear-minded, and, though he never sought or desired public ofTfice, his friends and neighbors frequently brought forward his name as a candidate for local positions, with the result that he was elected and served as one of the trustees of Streator, as assessor of the town, and as assessor of the town of Bruce, and held various other offices, acquitting himself in a creditable manner.

John Funk was Morton Smith's grandfather on his mother's side of the family. His mother had seven brothers and sisters who all seemed to have stayed in rural Illinois. Morton Smith certainly seems to have been set for life. Yet the Great Depression might have wiped out a considerable amount of that wealth.

I still can't imagine Morton Smith's dad being in the grain dealing business for the first part of the twentieth century. I think I will have to call some of his relatives in Ottawa, Illinois to straighten this story out.

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