Humphrey’s Ford History

Humphreys’ Ford was on Big Muddy River, about a mile downstream from the mouth of Pond Creek, and near the center of section 11, Blairsville Township. In later times, the loop of the river at this point came to be known as Vancil Bend. The ridge from Herrin’s prairie brought the first marked route through the county, the French Grande trace, to that crossing of the river. When Americans began to settle Illinois, coming across the Ohio River ferries, the main route from any point south of Shawneetown crossed Big Muddy at this point. High water interfered with the flow of travel to Kaskaskia and the northwest, so the federal government arranged for a permanent terry.

Charles Churchill Humphreys (1781-1842) came from Philadelphia about 1808 to build and operate the ferry. His brother, Edward Humphreys, was receiver of the United States land office at Kaskaskia and doubtless secured the appointment. Payment for the ferryman’s services was made with many acres of public lands, much of which Mr. Humphreys failed to take.

When water was high, power for the ferry was secured by taking advantage of the stream’s flow. A cable was stretched across the river between two trees. Two large rings were strung on the cable, a rope attached from the bow of the boat to one of the rings, another rope from the stern to the other ring. This held the boat parallel to the cable. It the bow rope were made shorter and the stern rope longer, the boat formed an angle with the flow of the stream. The velocity of the water was sufficient to shove the ferry boat across, and for the return trip the lengths of the two ropes were reversed. Mrs. Humphreys often ran the ferry when the men were busy. Such gravity ferries are still used in the Philippines, running like shuttle cocks.

In 1810, Mr. Humphreys found a wife to share his lonely outpost. She was Mary Elizabeth Stewart, born in Kentucky in 1795. On their wedding tour the young couple visited Mammoth Cave and wrote their names upon its walls, as so many bridal couples have done since. But the fifteen year old wife found the log house on Big Muddy a part of the frontier. Neighbors were far away, Indians and bears were plentiful. Many times the peaceful chore of milking could only be done while Mr. Humphreys stood guard with his long rifle. But Mrs. Humphreys cousin, young John Boles, lived with them. Two men, two guns and the dogs were sufficient protection. Tactfulness had its place too, and when an Indian came to bargain for hog meat, Mr. Humphreys accepted the proferred rattlesnake, skinned and dressed and ready for the pot, as a fair exchange.

Mrs. Humphreys, who was known as Polly, once nursed a Shawnee through an illness and he stayed with them for a time. Three Kickapoo Indians attacked the house, but the Shawnee joined forces with the occupants and offered such a warm reception, with Mrs. Humphreys to load the guns, that the Kickapoos left in a hurry. Indian hostilities increased as the War of 1812 progressed, and at times Mr. Humphreys sent his family to Jordan’s Fort for greater safety. Finally rumors were so threatening they all abandoned the ferry and started to Kaskaskia. On the way they met a number of horsemen who had been sent as escort by Edward Humphreys. When the county was quiet, the family returned to the Big Muddy River, where they were living when John Browning took the census of 1818. Later they moved to Six Mile prairie and lived on a Franklin County farm near the Jackson County line.

The Humphreys family were people of consequence in Philadelphia, where Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Hamilton were intimate friends of Charles Humphrey’s parents. Mrs. Humphreys was called to console Mrs. Hamilton the day of the fatal duel. After Samuel Humphreys died his widow married Captain Collie Taylor who had a ship in the English trade. The captain took his step-sons on alternate voyages, and a pirate captured the vessel when Edward Humphreys was a passenger. A hidden gold piece served as the boy’s ransom, and he was landed safely with Captain Taylor. But that voyage ended their ocean trade, and the Humphreys brothers came west to seek their fortune.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Humphreys had two sons and eleven daughters. Of fifty grandchildren, six are living. One grandson, Chris C. Humphrey of Herrin, nearly duplicates his grandfather’s name. He repeated the double initial by naming his son Champ Clark Humprey.

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(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939, on sale at the Williamson County Museum)