Memoirs of the Bruce Family
August 6, 1851
Written by William Bruce, Age 75
Extracted from “A History of Bruceville, Indiana”
My first recollection that I have of my ancestors was hearing my grandfather, James Bruce, telling that himself and a younger brother, George Bruce, came from Scotland about the year 1740. My grandfather located in Winchester, Virginia. He was a house carpenter by trade, and I have heard him say that he built the first frame house that was ever built in that town. About the year 1744 he married a Margaret McMahon and moved to the north branch of the Potomac in Maryland. He continued there, following his trade and farming until he raised a large family of children.
My father, William Bruce, was the eldest. He was born the 14th day of February, 1745. He had two sons younger than my father and six daughters, viz., Elizabeth, who married a man by the name of Thomas Anderson; Margaret, who married David Cox; Jane was married to a William Marshall; Nancy, that married Samuel Percifull; Ann, who married Samuel Glass; and James, who married one Polly Runyan, and George, that married the widow Biggs.
My father married a widow Percifull, and the youngest daughter, Sally, married a Joshua Carmen, a Baptist preacher, a man of excellent character and a considerable speaker. He moved to the state of Ohio about fifty years ago, raised a large family and died at a good old age-about eighty-five. From the above enumerated uncles and aunts there has sprung an almost innumerable multitude. They mostly moved to Kentucky at an early day and settled in Nelson County.
My father, soon after marrying my mother, moved to Monoghahela and settled about fourteen miles above Pittsburgh, between the mouths of Peteso Creek and Newels Store, now Elizabethtown. It was then the haunt of Indians and forts were the only place of safety for the families of those hardy pioneers. I had two sisters older than myself, that were born in the fort, and myself, the third child, soon after they ventured to their farms. I was born the Sixth of August, 1776, one month and two days after Independence was declared. I can, with the Apostle Paul, say that I was free born, while our forefathers had to obtain their freedom by their blood and treasure.
During the Revolutionary War, my father was frequently called upon to perform military service. The first that I recollect him talking about was being stationed at a place then called Catfish Camp, called after an old Indian chief, near a place now called Washington, and not far from a place on the Monongahela then called Red Stone. My father served then in the capacity of lieutenant. The next service he performed was under General George Rogers Clark. He commanded a company under the veteran soldier to Louisville; was absent from home some five or six months.
As to my mother’s family, I have a very imperfect knowledge. Her maiden name was Polly Lucas. Her first husband was Richard Percifull. After his death she married my father. My grandfather by my mother’s side was William Lucas. What my grandmother Lucas’ maiden name was I never learned, as she died about my first recollection. My grandfather Lucas died before I was born. All I know of him is that he was a seafaring man. I recollect an Uncle Robinson Lucas and two aunts. They married two bothers, William and Dennis Murphy; moved to the state of Ohio at an early date.
As I before observed, I was born at a time that tried man’s soul. None but a man that has no fear of Indians but their prudence would venture to risk his family where the prowling wolf and subtle savage roamed. Then the Whig and Tory often lived in one fort. But it happened that my grandfather and father were true American Whigs. I fortunately partook of the same spirit and have retained it to this day.
When I was about nine years old my father sold his plantation on the Monongahela and moved to Kentucky-I think it was the fall of 1784. We landed at the mouth of Bear Grass. Louisville was then a small village and there was a garrison with some United States troops kept there. We lived there that winter and in the spring of 1785 moved on the waters of Cox’s Creek named after my uncle David Cox, that had settled there a few years previous (now Nelson County). My father bought two hundred acres of land and commenced making a farm. The first settlers had just ventured from their forts. I recollect having to stand and watch while my father was at work with his rifle well braced standing against a tree close at hand.
About this time Colonel Issac Cox was killed by the Indians while out surveying on a branch called Powelsbern waters of the East fork of Cox’s Creek, and about four miles from where my father lived. This made quite a stir in the neighborhood and men were stationed at different places along the frontier settlements. That was the last murder that was committed by the Indians between Salt River and Bardstown. From that time on until the close of the Indian war, after General Anthony Wayne gave them such a scourging, times gradually became more safe and the settlements were pushed on to the Ohio River.
At the age of 22 I was married to the third daughter of Captain Charles Polke of Shelby County, and the youngest of four children of his that were taken prisoners by the Indians. When they took and burned his fort he had been called away with his company of militia from Simpson’s Creek, where his fort stood, to succor the forts on Bear Grass, as it was believed that the enemy in a large body was about making a descent on the forts in that quarter from the sign that had been discovered, but the wily savages after they found that the principal part of the men had been called away, changed their course and near 100 of them attacked Polk’s station, killed several and took the rest prisoners after burning the fort.
Among the prisoners was my mother-in-law and the four children above mentioned, to-wit: William Polk, who has been a very conspicuous character from the early settling of Knox County, Indiana, until his death about eight years ago, having filled various important trusts. He was one that helped frame the first constitution for Indiana in 1816; commissioner of the Michigan road for a number of years, frequently served in the legislature of the State and was registrar of the Land Office at Fort Wayne at the time of his death.
The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Captain Spier Spencer, who fell in the battle of Tippecanoe of the Indian fighting notoriety, whose death was much lamented. The second daughter, Nancy, married Peter Ruby. Some of her children are still living in Knox County. The third, Sally, became my wife October 23, 1798.
I then bought me a small tract of land on the waters of Cox’s Creek, Nelson County, Kentucky; made a small farm when an older claim took it away from me. I then packed up what little plunder I had, my wife and four children, on horseback and moved to Vincennes, Knox County, Indiana. In the spring of 1805; rented five acres of ground to raise corn for which I paid twenty-five dollars cash. Pretty tough times.
That summer I purchased two hundred acres of ground on which Bruceville now stands, built a cabin, and in October the same year, moved to it. I had a few white neighbors scattered about and quite a number of red skins hunting and traveling through all parts of our country, the Delawares, Miamis, Shawnees, Potenatomies, etc.; but at that time they were entirely friendly and continued so until Tecumseh commenced collecting them at Tippcaenoe in 1809, -10, and -11, when we had to be more on our guard. In 1811 the expedition to the Prophet’s Town started up the Wabash.
The summer before I had been ordered by William Henry Harrison, Governor and Commissioner in Chief of the Northwest Territory, to bring my command of militia to Vincennes and to remain there twenty days, as it was then thought that the Indians intended to make a descent on Vincennes, and continued there twenty days. And as I was the oldest was called to take command of the company that was called from our battalion, and as I could not go as an officer, I turned out a volunteer in the spring under Captain Tousaint DuBois, and a more patriotic man did not live; loved by his men and true to his country.
Some years after, he was drowned on the road from St. Louis home; regretted by all who had the slightest acquaintance with him. The army marched about two miles above Terra Haute and there built Fort Harrison and called it after our patriotic General. We were about one month erecting the fort. When completed, the army pursued its route up the Wabash to beyond the mouth of Big Vermillion where the spies and six of Robb’s company were ordered back by General Harrison, myself among the number, to have the militia in a state of readiness; kept scouts passing every day from Wabash to White River lest the Indians should fall in rear of the army and surprise and butcher the frontier settlements, as Harrison was well acquainted with the Indian character, caused this precaution.
The battle was fought the seventh of November, 1811, when our poor men were badly handled and the Indians worse. The night of the battle, myself, in company with my lieutenant, now Esquire Wilkins of Merom, Sullivan County, encamped about one and one-half miles west of where Edwardsport now stands, having been on the lookout between two rivers. After a few months of calm, the difficulties broke out afresh. The citizens had to build stockade forts for the protection of their families.
We suffered many inconveniences from being so crowded together, nevertheless, we were quite peaceable and happy. Nothing like enemies without to make peace within. The fort I lived in was on my own place. Some of the nails made of white oak picket, I believe is in existence yet. When peace was again made, it terminated the third frontier life that I had experienced, and I hope the last.
My family still increased until the year 1818 when I had the misfortune to lose my companion. She died after giving birth to our fifteenth child, eight boys and seven girls, eleven of whom were living at the time of her death. She was a pious and worthy member of the Baptist Church, and had been for a number of years, and not a doubt remains with me but that her pure spirit winged its way to the climes of immortal glory.
In 1819 I married my second, Hetty R. Holmes, daughter of William and Elizabeth Ann Holmes; they moved from North Elkhorn, Fayette County, near Lexington, Kentucky. My present wife is still living, a healthy woman in her 57th year. She has had ten children, 7 boys and 3 girls, 9 of which are still living.
As I have given a general history of my ancestors as far back as I have my recollection, I will give a more particular detail of my brothers and sisters together with my immediate family and their fruitful increase. My eldest sister married one Joshua McDonald. They are both dead. Some of their children live in this state. My second sister, Margaret, married John Spencer, oldest bother of Spier Spencer that fell in the battle of Tippecanoe. They had twelve or fourteen children, some living in Terra Haute and near, but most of them in Boone County in this state.
My sister is still living, now in her 77th yea, two years older than myself. My brother James that was 15 months younger than myself, married Polly Proman in Kentucky; moved to Rough Creek, Breckenridge Coutny, Kentucky, had a large family; they mostly reside in the same County. As I have before informed you who I married and when I moved to this state and where I settled, I will now inform you of the increase of my family.
In the first place, I had twenty-five children, fifteen boys and ten girls, sixteen of which are now living; five died in their infancy; four since they arrived to maturity. My oldest son, Charles P. Bruce, married Angelina C. Wright in the state of Ohio, by whom he had four children. After her death, he married Nancy P. Harrison, daughter of Joshua Harrison of Montgomery County. His last wife has had ten children; ten of the fourteen are still living. Charles died last summer.
William D. Bruce married Betsey Polke, had six children, four of which are still living. He died fifteen years ago this month. His widow married again, lives on the Illinois River, state of Illinois. My eldest daughter, Delilah, married John A. Holmes, bother to my second wife. They have had twelve children, eight of which are now living. They live in Ogle County, Illinois, near Buffalo Grove Post Office. My third living son, Spier Bruce, married Rachel Chambers, by whom he had nine children; three are dead and she, also. His second wife was Widow Lite. They live in this county. My second daughter, Polly, married Squire Bruce; they also live in Ogle County, Rock River, Illinois. They have had twelve children, seven of whom are living. My third daughter, Betsey, married John LaFollette. They live in Putnam County in this state, had twelve children, eight of whom are now living. Lucinda, my fourth daughter, married John H. Scroggin. They had six children; one dead, he died also, about three years ago. She is a widow; lives in Bruceville. My fourth son, Henry H. Bruce, married Jane Singleton; they had four children; three of them are living. She died and he married his second wife, Mary Ann Cooper; has one child; lives in Kansas on the Missouri River, state of Missouri. My next daughter, Kitty Ann, died in her fourteenth year. My fifth son, Issac D. Bruce, has had three children, one dead; he is now in California, if living. My fifth daughter, Sally, married Vincent S. McClure; they have had four children, three living. They live near Shaker Prairie, this county. My eldest son, Weston H. Bruce, (by my second wife, and my sixth married son), married America Singelton; had two children, lived in Kansas, Missouri, died about two years ago. His widow married again and now lives near Nishnabattery on the Missouri River. My seventh married son, James C. Bruce, married Martha Elliott. They have one child; live about one mile from Bruceville. Harvey J. Bruce, my eighth, married Mary Rader; has five, all living. His place joins mine. My sixth Married daughter, Nancy Ann, married James F. McClure; has ahad five children, three of whom are living; lives in this county near Shaker Prairie. John h. Bruce, my ninth married son, married Angelina Threlkeld; live about three miles from Bruceville. Elnor, my seventh married daughter, married William Simpson; had three children, two living. They live about three-quarters of a mile from Bruceville. I have my three youngest with me, Margaret, my youngest daughter, David C. and William D., the second William born about four days before his brother William died. He was fifteen years old the twelfth day of August, 1851 and is now six feet high and pretty well proportioned.
I have been blessed with healthy, economical, industrious wives, otherwise my lot would have been more severe. I have always been blessed with sufficient food and raiment to get along comfortably, never burdened with wealth nor distressed with penury. My sons and sons-in-law have all been sober, industrious men, all doing reasonably well. They, along with their wives, are almost all professors of the Christian religion and most of them belong to the Christian congregations of the Disciples.
The living members of my family are sixteen children, seventy-two grandchildren, husbands and wives; 17 great-grandchildren; myself and wife; making a total of 117; 30 dead.
Thus far the good Lord has brought me and prospered me. I have always endeavored (as far as my fallible nature would permit) to pursue an upright and honest course and the Lord has been my helper and in His merits is my trust. I am now at the advanced age of 75 years, and have never been one day without something to eat and reasonable raiment-“Blessed be His holy name.” I have enjoyed uncommon health, never been confined to my bed an entire day in my life, although I feel the outer man decay very sensibly, yet my health is uncommon good. My action is gone, my energy is failing fast, my sight has become so dim that I do not know one of my family half way across the house, but still can see to read and write without my glasses.
How great the blessing is. About the year 1800 my first wife and myself united with the Baptist Church on Cox’s Creek, Nelson Co., Kentucky, (William Tulo). We continued our membership there until the spring of 1805, when we received letters of dismission and moved to Knox County, Indiana, (then Territory). About the fall 1807, as well as I recollect, we collected twelve or fourteen scattering Baptists over as many miles around and were constituted a church by John Taylor and William Keller of Kentucky.
The Constitution took place at my house on the tract of land that Bruceville now stands on. We called it the Wabash Church. We still gathered a few by letter, some by baptism. Our first preacher was a William Braselton, quite a speaker, but possessed of considerable enthusiasm. When the Shakers located themselves in this county, he was carried off by them and we were very happily rid of him and wife. We increased until we were strong enough to build us a comfortable log house to worship in, on the same ground that the Presbyterian brick house now stands on the road leading from Bruceville to Vincennes.
Some years after, a number of my first wife’s family and other Baptists moved on Mariah Creek and concluded to be constituted a church there, when my wife and I received letters of dismission and was constituted a church, called it Mariah Creek Church. Our membership continued there until her death in 1818. The church prospered greatly for several years after. I think that when a few of us at Bruceville (say nine) petitioned for letters of dismission, that as well as I recollect, the church book numbered 170 members, but suspicion got afloat that we intended to be constituted on the scripture without any other creed or confession of faith. The spirit of persecution commenced and on the day we were constituted, some twenty or more of their members broke off from them and were constituted with us.
From that time the old members kept leaving them and our congregation increased under the ministry of Brother David Warford first and Brother Maurice R. Trimble next, until our church numbered over one hundred. We let off constitution and parts to several constitutions. We still numbered over one hundred. The good Lord still blesses us with prosperity under the ministry of Brother Wolf who preaches for us once a month. But the persecuting spirit of a few of their leading members of poor old Mariah Creek Church against us and others that think the Scriptures sufficient rule for faith and practice, has reduced them to a mere skeleton.
Thus far I have given a correct history of my ancestors and my own family as my imperfect memory will allow, together with the length of time and the want of records will allow, and only have to regret that my progress in the line of life has been so small.