Armstrong Genealogy

Armstrong Family Information

jump to the Armstrongs of Reading Township, Livingston County, Illinois

Armstrong Coat of Arms

According to Armstrong clan legend, which was first related to me through my grandfather and mother and since heard virtually verbatim from dozens of other sources, the Armstrong name can be traced back to a man named Siward Beorn (possibly Fairebeorn or Fairburn, literally white bear).

When Siward’s king was dismounted in battle (reputedly the Battle of the Standard in 1138, at Northallerton in Yorkshire) Siward lifted him bodily onto his own horse. Not a mean feat considering a man in full armor weighed upwards of 300 lbs… Impressed and grateful, the king asked “What is your name, Sir Knight?” “Siward Beorn” was the reply. “No longer!” declared the king, “Henceforth you shall be known as Siward the Arm Strong!” (cf “Fortinbras”). A wonderful story which has, alas, not stood up to scrutiny.

[Author’s note– I had the word “scrutiny” hyperlinked to a page that unfortunately is no longer available It documented certain descrepencies of dates that cast doubt on the Seward Beorn legend. If it is to be believed, however, the king would’ve been David of Scotland. Doing a Google search on “battle of the standard” produces a lot of very interesting results, none of which mention the incident with Siward. When reading them one needs to bear in mind that the Scots lost that battle and that history is written by the winners.]

The origin of the clan name notwithstanding, by the 16th century the Armstrongs were indisputably the most powerful of the notorious border raider (reiver) clans that terrorized the Debatable Lands of Scotland’s southern border with England. It was said that the Armstrongs could field 3,000 armed horsemen at a moment’s notice. The coat of arms above is tame compared to the coat of arms which hung in the entryway of George Arlie Armstrong’s home– Three “braced arms in armor” as above, but the uppermost brandished an armored leg severed at the thigh and dripping blood. This latter coat of arms appears to have originated in Ireland.
The reivers have obtained a certain romantic folk hero status, a lá Robin Hood, and are mentioned in many Scottish ballads as well as in the poems of Sir Walter Scott:

“Ye need not send to Liddesdale,
For when they see the blazing bale,
Elliotts and Armstrongs never fail”
—from The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Much of what is known of the Armstrongs and the other reiving clans was recorded by English historians who would hardly have been objective in their portrayal of a dangerous enemy. The English of that era did not exactly fit the picture of noble chivalrous behavior often painted in popular history either, given to treacherous acts of betrayal and practitioners of horrific forms of torture. This isn’t to imply that they were any worse than the rest of Europe in that regard, the Middle Ages were brutal times and torture was a common political tool.

Were the reivers noble freedom fighters or murderous cattle thieves? I’ve yet to find an objective source for an answer to that and there may not be one. Much depends on point of view– one side’s sainted patriot is the other side’s sniveling traitor.

Whatever your viewpoint, it was once advised “lock up your cattle and your women when the Armstrongs ride”. During the clan’s heyday the words ride and raid were synonymous and the Armstrongs were considered “ever-riding”. Such were the depredations of the reivers that their legacy may be found today in the words bereave and blackmail. A thorough, if somewhat Anglocentric, account of my Armstrong ancestors can be found in George McDonald Fraser’s The Steel Bonnets.

Notable among the Armstrong reivers was the unfortunate Johnnie “Gilnockie” Armstrong, immortalized in the Scottish folk poem The Ballad of Johnnie Armstrong.

From [link is extinct]:

And so, comes the story of Johnie Armstrong of Gilnockie. JOHNIE OF GILNOCKIE AND LANGHOLM CASTLE, second son of the chief, lived near Canonbie. Rich and powerful, he may have made his money fighting the Turks at sea. Is that what he did? Return home and build himself a fortress on the east bank of the River Esk? The ruins of Gilnockhall can still be seen at the north end of Canonbie. Some say Johnie ran a protection racket from Canonbie to the gates of Newcastle city – though not one record of this exists. One thing is certain, by 1530, he had grown too rich and powerful for the liking of the young James V of Scotland…. And so James ordered Johnie north to meet him. Johnie saw the royal invitation as a sign of favour – perhaps to hunt in Teviotdale. Instttead, it proved a death sentence.

Ambushed and captured in the wilds of Moss Paul, the Laird of Gilnockie and about thirty of his men were taken to a graveyard at Carlenrigg… and there they were hanged. Executed by a teenage King without a trial. Today, a stone marks the spot where the Armstrongs were foully betrayed. This site is cared for and owned by the Clan Armstrong Trust.

The raiding continued, with many Armstrongs changing allegiance. Some are recorded as Englishmen in the state papers, even though they held lands in Scotland. Some years later, at the Battle of Solway Moss, the Armstrongs never forgot the betrayal of Johnie. When the same James Vth prepared to do battle with the English just north of Carlisle, the borderers who knew the area and could have helped to save the day, were noticeably absent. They were either to be found not fighting – or fighting on the side of the English. They received lands at Gilcrux in North Cumbria for their services.

(Gilnockie Tower image above created from original found at Clan Armstrong Centre)

Johnnie’s exact words to James V are reputed to have been “I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face, but had I known you would’ve taken me this day, I would’ve lived in the borders despite King Harry and you both”.

When there was no fight to pick with the English the reiving clans feuded fiercely amongst one another. In truth, they weren’t above raiding on the Scottish side of the border when it suited their purpose. The incessant raids and unrest in the borderlands made it next to impossible for the people of the area to build or acquire much material wealth or even lay in winter provisions– other than the reivers themselves, of course. This, in turn, forced otherwise peaceful clans into reiving simply to survive. A vicious cycle that lasted for generations.

After his coronation in 1603, King James VI of Scotland (James I of England) decided that the reiver’s relentless border incursions would make him unpopular in London. He undertook a brutal campaign of what today would be called “ethnic cleansing”, appointing Sir William Cranston to oversee the execution of all that lived within 2 miles of the border. Armstrongs were tortured and hanged by the score in Edinburgh and Carlisle.

With their leaders executed, their lands confiscated and the entire clan “put to the horn” (outlawed), by 1620 the surviving Armstrongs had largely fled the region. It must be understood that the term outlaw originally meant to be declared literally outside the protection of law. Outlaws had no rights whatsoever and no action taken against them was considered a legally punishable offense.

Some went to Australia and New Zealand and some, like Johnnie Gilnochie’s grandson William of Brookboro, settled in County Fermanagh in Ireland. The exiled Scottish reivers became the Scotch-Irish (“Ulster Scots”) of Northern Ireland. The depopulated border lands were given primarily to the Buccleuch (Blaylock, Blacklock, literally “black lake”) clan– Even though the Buccleuchs were also reivers and closely allied with the Armstrong and Johnstone clans (it was a Buccleuch that organized the successful rescue of William “Kinmont Willie” Armstrong from Carlisle castle), they didn’t share the Armstrong’s fate.

In the 1730s, William of Brookboro’s descendant Joseph, along with cousins John and Archibald Armstrong and possibly some brothers and sisters, left Ireland to seek their fortunes in the New World. High taxes, religious persecution (they were Scotch Presbyterian) and the fact that their 100 year leases in Ulster were coming to an end were probable motivations. With no loyalty to the land their great-grandparents had been so violently exiled from and little allegiance to Ireland, the Scotch-Irish were possibly the first large group of immigrants to completely embrace the idea they were citizens of this new land instead of merely displaced Europeans.

They headed for the outskirts of “civilization” where they could be self-sufficient with a minimum of official support (and interference). This made them largely responsible for their own defense and is likely the reason the Scotch-Irish rose to such prominent roles in the French-Indian and Revolutionary wars.

The descendants of Joseph and John and Archibald today number in the thousands and include Gen. George Armstrong Custer of Little Bighorn fame, Edwin Armstrong, inventor of FM radio, Neil Armstrong, the first human being to walk on the Moon (he carried a fragment of Armstrong tartan with him onto the lunar surface) and Tour-de-France winning cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

With the possible exception of astronaut Neil, the most famous American Armstrong would have to be the late jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Was the great Satchmo also descended from the notorious Scottish reivers? I posed that question in an email to the keeper of Louis’ family genealogy. Her reply was that she didn’t know how her family came by their surname, so the jury is still out on that. If anyone can provide enlightenment, please contact me.

Though I have no idea how or even if they’re related to my particular line, I’m going to add a couple more names to the list:

  • Michael Joseph Armstrong, victim of the attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11/2001.
  • Eugene “Jack” Armstrong, murdered by cowards in Iraq, 9/20/2004.

To their families and friends I can only offer the Armstrong clan motto:

Invictus Maneo: I remain unvanquished

The Armstrong Family of Reading Township, Livingston County, Illinois

The rest of this page is devoted to the particular Armstrong line that came to Reading Township, Livingston County, Illiniois, in the mid-1800s. The story of these Armstongs was recounted by the late LtCol George Edward Armstrong in his autobiography The Last Leaf. LtCol Armstrong’s work is a wonderful account of growing up on a farm during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, outside of a handful of galley copies, to my knowledge it has not been published. The following is excerpted from The Last Leaf. Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong (fondly remembered by your webmaster simply as Uncle Bud) cautioned that the research was not his own– it was originally done by genealogist and researcher George Irgang, other references to the late Mr. Irgang’s research can be found here— and he didn’t guarantee its accuracy. My own humble research has tended to largely confirm it, except where I’ve added corrections I offer it here as fact. Items in blue and set off with [] brackets are my own addenda. Including the author there are four George Armstrongs referenced in this writing. LtCol Armstrong uses his own convention in referring to them, which he explains in the text. I shall refer to them as follows:

George, 1826 – 1864
George Asa, 1864 – 1942
George Arlie, 1895 – 1985
George Edward, 1920 – 1992

From The Last Leaf by LtCol George Edward Armstrong, USA (ret.):

2). The First Generation…… Joseph & Jennet of Pennsylvania

Joseph Armstrong was born about 1711 in North Ireland. In 1731, he emigrated from Fivemiletown, County Fermanagh (now known as Fermanagh District, Northern Ireland), about five miles from Brookeborough, settling in the Cumberland Valley, at that time in Franklin County, PA. He purchased his land from the Penn Properties. The earliest date which shows positive possession of land is 1737 but his first warrant, numbered 9, was dated August 26, 1751 and can be found in Survey Book A66, page 255, Pennsylvania Land Office, Harrisburg. This warrant antedated the town of Chambersburg, or Falling Spring, which was laid out in June 1764. He acquired other land in the vicinity as well, eventually owning over a thousand acres. That land is now part of St. Thomas Township, Franklin County and lies along the south slope of North Mountain near the present town of Edenville. It is well located, slightly rolling, very fertile soil watered by a spring fed stream then called Armstrong’s Run (now known as Wilson’s Run). That part which extended up the mountain was heavily wooded and was termed “mountain land”. The Joseph Armstrong farm is well-marked with a roadside plaque placed by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, just east of Edenville on the Chambersburg-Edenville road.

Joseph was active on the frontiers in the French and Indian Wars and was a captain in the Provincial forces, serving almost continuously from 1755 to 1758. He was with his relative Colonel (General?) John Armstrong of Carlisle, PA at the destruction of Kittaning, was Provincial agent at the building of the Great Road from Ft Loudon to Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh), and represented Cumberland County in the Assembly from 1756 to 1758.

He also acquired a large plantation in Orange County, North Carolina (Chapel Hill is the largest city in Orange County and thus may be the county seat.). From this fact it appears that he may have been at sometime in NC where a great many Armstrongs settled and to which many of them removed from PA.

Joseph’s wife was Jennet Stewart. They had five sons, John, Thomas, Joseph, James and William and two daughters, Catherine and Margaret.

[Jennet Armstong has long been said to have been a Stewart but as far as I know no documentation of her maiden name has been found. Jennet, or Jinnet, is a variation of Jane.]

John, Thomas and Joseph were with their father, Captain Joseph, at the destruction of Kittaning in 1756. Kittaning today is a city of over 5,000 in population. It is in Armstrong County, PA, on the Allegheny River, about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. In 1756, it was probably a French fort. John later removed to NC where he rose to Lt. Col. in the Continental Line of NC. William may have accompanied John because he became a Capt. in the same organization. Son Joseph became a Col (?) in the PA Forces during the Revolutionary War. (The PA militia under Col. John Armstrong? The PA Continentals under “Mad” Anthony Wayne?). Son James was killed in that war. Thomas did not fight in the Revolutionary War but remained at home.

[The statement that James was killed in the Revolutionary War appears to be incorrect. He was wounded at the Battle of Stono Ferry (South Carolina) in June of 1779. In 1783 he was granted 7,200 acres of land “within the limits of the lands allotted the officers and soldiers of the Continental Line, by Law, 1783, Oct. 14: Oct. 22.” for his 84 months of service.]

Son Joseph is buried in the cemetery at Rocky Springs Presbyterian Church just outside the boundary fence of Letterkenny Army Depot, north of Chambersburg. That church, built about 1732 or 1733, has been preserved by the DAR and Joseph’s grave has a DAR flag holder beside it. The church, as of 1978, still held religious services once a year – not really for religious reasons, but to preserve its tax free status as a church rather than as a historical site.

Joseph Sr. died at his residence in January, 1767. I have no knowledge of his burial place.

3. The Second Generation. Thomas and Mary of PA

Thomas Armstrong was a man of wealth and distinction in the community. He was born in 1734 and died Sept. 26, 1776. I have no record of his wife except that her first name was Mary.

According to his father’s will (we do have a copy), Thomas inherited “that tract of land situated lying between Robert Elliot’s and William Rankin’s in Hamilton Township.”

Thomas and Mary had five children. Their names were Jane (who married John Blackburn), Sarah (who married Hugh McClelland), Joseph, William and Thomas.

4. The Third Generation Thomas and Margaret of Ohio

Judging from the date of his birth, June 16, 1775, and date of his father’s death, Thomas was obviously the youngest of Thomas and Mary’s five. This may also partially explain why young Thomas moved west to Ohio. “That tract of land…” his father had inherited probably was not large enough to support more than one family and, since the European custom of primogeniture was still largely adhered to at the time, the tract most likely went to the oldest son, probably Joseph.

In any event it appears that Thomas moved to Ohio, somewhere near the village of Tarlton, about 12 miles east of Circleville, near the end of the 1700’s or early 1800’s. He married Margaret Patten in 1802 (I have been told that Thomas married Margaret as she stepped off the boat from Ireland) and they produced nine children – James, Nancy Ann, Elizabeth, William, John, Thomas, Mary, Margaret and George, in that order.

[While the above may be true, my own research points to Margaret Patten being born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There is a “Matthew Patton” listed in his Uncle Joseph’s will, I have yet to establish if he’s connected to Margaret.]

I have no record of what Thomas did for a living in Ohio but it is a reasonably safe conjection that he was a farmer. That is what his forebears had been and was the principal reason for westward movement at the time.

I also have little knowledge of the life and movements of the nine offspring except that some of them – Thomas, George and two or three of their sisters moved on to Illinois.

[Family lore once again proves accurate– I could only account for one sister in Livingston County, Mary M. Armstrong Bussard, until Joan Johnson of the Streatorland Historical Society discovered the story of Elizabeth Armstrong Flannigam (Flanigam), which may be found on her tombstone page. At least one of Elizabeth’s children is buried in the Defenbaugh Cemetery.]

Any farm land Thomas and Margaret may have owned in Ohio probably passed to William and/or John (the oldest son, James, died in 1827).

There was a photo (daguerrotype?) of a Thomas Armstrong stored in an upstairs closet in the house where I was raised (Streator, IL) but I do not know whether it was of great-great grandfather Thomas of Ohio or his son who moved to Illinois. All I remember of it is that the subject wore a full bushy beard and moustache which seemed to be reddish brown in color.

[This house burned to the ground in the 1940s, see Mud Lane. I assume that the mentioned photograph burned with it. The elder Thomas was well into his 60’s when Daguerrotype photography was first publicly demonstrated in 1839, I have to conclude that this photograph would have been of the younger Thomas.]

Great-great grandfather Thomas died Jan. 12, 1856. His wife, Margaret, who was born June 14, 1783, died on May 5, 1866.

5.The Fourth Generation. George & Roseann of Illinois

My great-grandfather, George, born on Christmas Day, 1826, was the youngest of Thomas and Margaret’s nine children.

I have no knowledge of when he (or his brother), Thomas, either moved to IL or how long they were there before George bought the 160 acres on Mud Lane (Streator, IL) in 1853.

[A George Armstrong purchased a 40 acre 16th section, “SWSW, Section number 15, Township 26N, Range 06E.”, on July 4th, 1851. That would be located in Indian Grove township, near the present town of Fairbury in the southern part of Livingston county. George was a common name in the mid-1800’s, at this juncture I have no idea if this George Armstrong is the same George Armstrong discussed here.

It appears that George was the first of the Armtrong siblings to leave Ohio for Livingston County, sister Mary showed up shortly afterwards. Brother Thomas appeared in the area a few years later, 1856 or 1857. With Thomas and Mary came their Bussard spouses– Thomas Armstrong was married to Marie Bussard, Thomas’ sister Mary was married to Marie’s brother Jacob Bussard. Whenever they arrived, it’s likely they traveled from Ohio on the Cumberland Road (later US 40 and now roughly paralleled by Interstate 70). I’ve compiled what I know of the descendants of Thomas and Maria Bussard Armstrong and made it available through the “A” Surnames page. My search for descendants of Jacob and Mary Armstrong Bussard (Bossart in the original German, the name also appeared with other phonetic variations) came to a dead end. Only one of their at least 3 children, Ozilla, survived to adulthood. Ozilla married Archibald Whitesel, they had no children.

George, Thomas, and Mary’s sister Nancy Ann Armstrong was married to Daniel Keller Defenbaugh, Daniel and Nancy’s son George, a blacksmith by trade, appeared in Reading Twp. about the same time that George Armstrong did and they may have traveled together. At the time Illinois was considered the “wild west” and the journey was somewhat dangerous and arduous, there was safety in numbers.
Daniel K. Defenbaugh’s mother Elizabeth Keller Defenbaugh also emigrated to Reading Twp. She died in 1863 and is buried in the Defenbaugh Cemetery. 

When the area was first homesteaded in the 1830’s (see the “Origins” page) it was felt that land that didn’t support trees wasn’t suitable for farming and the tough prairie sod was unworkable with the tools of the day. In the late 1830s John Deere’s sodbusting steel plow opened Illinois’ vast prairies to crops and changed this perception. Prairie became more desirable than timberland to farmers because it didn’t need to be cleared of trees before it could be planted. By the time George et al arrived in Livingston County around 1850 the ideal place for a farm would be an expanse of prairie with a creek or river for water and drainage and a stand of timber for fuel and construction material. The 160 acre quarter-section that George bought from Hugh Grant in 1853 fit the bill perfectly– prairie with a year round creek and a dozen or so acres of timber along the northern property line.

In 1858 Hugh Grant became a Commissioner of Highways for Reading Township (along with Samuel Woolvertin and J.G. Defenbaugh). He died in 1868 at the ripe old age of 46 and is buried in Moon Point. His tombstone is now either gone or among the illegible “Unknowns”.]

He married Roseann Julien on June 7, 1863 and they had one son, George [George Asa] (my grandfather) who was born April 12, 1864. Great-grandfather George went off to the Civil War (59th Illinois Infantry) for a few months but as far as I know he was never in battle. He died July 10,1864, shortly after coming home from service, when his son was about 3 months old. Roseann was born July 3, 1828 and died July 30, 1902. Both are buried in Moon’s Point Cemetery, south of Streator, IL. His brother, Thomas (1815 – 1864) and Thomas’s wife Maria [nee Bussard] (1815 – 1893) are also buried there. As far as I know there are no photographs of either George or Roseann so I have no idea of their descriptions.

[The scant informaton I’ve uncovered about George’s Civil War service does not exactly fit the story above– 59th Infantry, Company F: Armstrong, Geo. D., recruit, enlisted ________, discharged Nov. 28, 1862, disabled. This is the first and so far only reference I’ve ever found that George had a middle name, I have no idea what his disability was.

Roseanne (Rosanna) Julien (Julian) was the third of Richard and Jane Carrol Julian’s 14 children. I was working on compiling her genealogy until I located an extensive Julian family website. Roseanne is ref #665 on that page.

Roseanne’s brother Rene also lived in Livingston County, owning land about a mile east of George’s (on the N. side of what is now Rt. 17, about 1/4 mile west of the intersection of Rt. 17 and Rt. 23). He passed away in LaSalle County in 1922, I presently don’t know where he’s buried.]

6. The Fifth Generation. George [George Asa] and Hannah M. of Ilinois

My grandfather, George [George Asa] (hereafter I will refer to him as Granddad, or Grandpappy – the latter being what my sisters and I called him behind his back), was originally named Asa, if the family story about it is true. Allegedly, the name was changed to George [George Asa] after his father died. He lived on the farm with his widowed mother, Roseann, and eventually took over operation and control of the farm at age 21.

[This conflicts somewhat with information found in a document written by George Asa’s granddaughter Margaret Armstrong Covill: “{George and Roseann Julien Armstrong} had one son named Asa but the father died during the baby’s early months and the baby was renamed George… Roseann received her dower rights of 1/3 and the rest was put in trust for the young George who was placed under the guardianship of Daniel Defenbaugh and {his wife} Nancy Ann Armstrong”. I’m not sure what to make of that, George Asa’s aunt Nancy Ann Armstrong Defenbaugh and her husband Daniel visited the Reading area on more than one occasion and probably for extended periods of time, but they lived in and are buried back in Ohio. Daniel K. Defenbaugh’s flintlock rifle is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Margaret’s statement is bolstered by the claim made in the 1930s by Milton Defenbaugh that with the exception of Frank Teegarden (buried in Moon Point), the entire student body of Reading’s school in 1874 consisted of Defenbaughs– including the teacher. George was 10 years old in 1874, had he been living in the area at the time he’d have been in that class. It is possible, however, that as a cousin Milton thought of George as a “Defenbaugh”.]

His schooling took place in the one-room country school in the village of Reading, which at that time was a rather important railroad town with three hotels, some stores, a grain elevator and other business establishments. In this regard it should be borne in mind that the city of Streator was not even founded until 1867, three years after Granddad was born. I have never known why the village was called Reading while the railroad station there was called Moon. Both were always Reading to us.

[One of Reading’s three general stores was owned and operated by George Asa’s uncle Jacob H. Bussard.]

I have heard that Granddad completed six years of schooling. He certainly must have learned well because in later years I remember his working alongside a surveyor, Jim Goldsmith, and readily calculating areas and distances using mathematical formulas.

[According to his son George Arlie Armstrong, George Asa dropped out of school in the 6th grade after coming to the conclusion that breathing the same air with other children in a classroom was unhealthy. My personal opinion is that he quit school shortly after his return to Illinois from Ohio.]

Physically, Granddad was about 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 175 – 180 pounds. His wedding picture showed him with dark hair, mustache and goatee. I personally remember him as having white hair and a brush type mustache which he never shaved off as long as I knew him.

On December 25, 1888 (1887?) Granddad married Hannah Margaret Plowman, who we always called Grandma.

Grandma was born February 2, 1864, the oldest of three children of Apollas Findlay Plowman (“Grampa Great” to us).

[Apollas Findlay “Fin” Plowman actually had 4 children, all of them with his second wife Fredrika Shoeneman Plowman. In addition to the three discussed below, there was Edward L. Plowman, 1871-1897. Edward married Minnie E. Ryan in LaSalle Co. on 2/21/1894. They had one daughter, Freida, 1895-1922. Three years after her husband died, Minnie married Henry Drummet of Long Point, as far as I know they had no children together.

Minnie Ryan Plowman Drummet and daughter Freida Plowman Sandry are both buried in the Plowman plot in Riverview Cemetery.]

Her birthplace, I think, was the village of Dimmick, IL, somewhere near the city of La Salle. A popular story in the family is that, as a youngster, Grampa Great was a playmate of Wild Bill Hickok who was also raised near Dimmick. The Hickoks were reported to have been a rather strange lot; good people but reserved and suspicious of everyone. They would pass neighbors in their buggy and exchange greetings but keep their eyes on the neighbors until they were out of sight.

[Margaret Armstrong Covill used to relate that her grandmother Hannah Margaret Plowman Armstrong had once shown her the foundation of the Hickok’s home, I believe in Troy Grove, Il. She also said that according to Hannah “the Hickok brothers” had once escorted the Plowman family on a trip to Peoria to provide protection from hostile Indians. Wild Bill’s father was reputed to have kept a team of very fast Kentucky horses, just the thing for riding escort.

My correspondent with the Streatorland Historical Society provided some insight about the Hickoks that may explain their suspicious ways– Their home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, making them conspirators in what was then a criminal enterprise. If caught they could be punished with confiscation of property, hefty fines and possible imprisonment. Slavery was the hot-button issue of the day, they could also face vigilante retribution. Since an offhand remark by friends or neighbors could result in their arrest or worse, it’s not surprising they kept to themselves.]

Granpa Great outlived three wives and is buried with them in Riverview Cemetery in Streator. I think the second wife, Fredrika Scheneman, who died in 1876 was Grandma’s mother. Grandma dropped out of school after the fourth grade to keep house for her father and help raise her younger brother, William Tecumseh Sherman Plowman (Uncle Sherm, how’s that for a name?) and sister Calnetta (Aunt Net).

[Findlay Plowman, a diabetic, died of gangrene of the leg after refusing to have it amputated– He told the doctors that he’d “be damned” before he’d let them cut off something he’d been born with.]

A popular family story (fact? legend? myth?) has it that the Plowmans were a contrary lot. Any time one of us began acting up as youngsters we would be accused of “showing our Plowman blood.” There was indeed a strong trait of contrariness in both Grandma and Aunt Net, evidenced many times in their lives. Grandma was particularly nasty with my mother, of whom she did not approve.

[Although family lore tends to paint Findlay Plowman as contrary and foul-mouthed, independent evidence indicates that he was a charming and quite personable rascal. Accounts I’ve received about “Grampa Great” match exactly what my mother used to relate about him. Children found him fun to be around and the fact he was married three times indicates the ladies did too.

Some of the negative lore may be explained by the fact that George Asa Armstrong was himself anecdotally noted for a legendary streak of “bullheadedness”. George Asa was a very religious and proper man, it may be that he found his father-in-law’s more freewheeling ways offensive to his Fundamentalist Christian sensibilities. The author prefers to believe that he takes after gr-gr-grandfather Fin. Your mileage may vary.]

One of the stories about Aunt Net has it that after her husband’s death (he was Robert Wreith and they farmed, unsuccessfully, near Decatur City, Iowa for some years) she came back to Illinois and hired out as a housekeeper. For a while she kept house for Jim Goldsmith, a wealthy bachelor (widower?) farmer and surveyor near Long Point, IL. One day when Jim lit up his pipe, Aunt Net informed him she did not permit smoking in “her” house – whereupon he dismissed her and continued smoking his pipe wherever he pleased. I do not personally recall any particular incidents involving Uncle Sherm, but there probably were some. I can’t complain about Uncle Sherm though – he bought me my first airplane ride. Five dollars for 15 minutes over Streator in a Ford Trimotor plane about 1929.

[Sherman Plowman’s tombstone in Streator’s Riverview cemetery simply says Sherman W. Plowman, but his marriage record lists him as W.T. Sherman Plowman. He married Gertrude Lehr on Aug. 1, 1900. They had at least three children– Mildred, Lloyd, and Gordon.

Gertrude left Sherman at some point between 1910 and 1920, the 1920 census finds her as a “boarder” in Chicago, her occupation listed as saleslady. Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th century was a Mecca for single women looking for jobs. I have no idea if they ever formally divorced, in the 1930 census he’s a widower living in Reading Twp. with his son Gordon (also listed as a widower) and (widowed) servant Mary Kinkade. As Sherm and Mary were often seen together at social functions she may have been more than just a “servant”, although that’s nothing but conjecture on my part.]

Granddad and Grandma had 3 sons – Ronald Ray (Uncle Ray) born January 26, 1890, Cecil Wayne (Uncle Cecil) born March 26, 1892 and George Arlie (my father) born April 6, 1895. Uncle Cecil died, allegedly of tuberculosis (I personally think it was cancer of the stomach or pancreas) on June 22, 1910. Uncle Ray died July 16, 1965.

[I have no idea what LtCol Armstrong based his opinion on, George Arlie said that Cecil died of “TB” and the cause of death listed on his death certificate was “consumption of the bone”. In the late 1960’s I was prowling around in the old horse barn (torn down circa 1980) of the Armstrong homestead and noticed something shiny in the detritus on the floor. George Arlie almost went into shock when I showed it to him– It was the back to his late brother Cecil’s gold pocket watch. He recalled vividly the day his brother had dropped his watch on the barn floor and a horse stepped on it before he could pick it up. It had been lying there for 60 years.

George Asa Armstrong passed away on Jan. 21, 1942, long before your webmaster’s time. He was hard of hearing in his later years, giving rise to a mannerism still imitated by his descendants two and three generations removed– A signature cock of the head and squinting expression accompanied by “I didn’t hear what it was you were a-sayin'”.]

Like the first Thomas Armstrong, Granddad was a man of wealth and distinction in the community. The distinction lasted but the wealth did not. In addition to being a farmer, landowner and builder, Granddad became a banker. He and two partners founded the People’s Bank of Streator [I believe this became the Union National Bank of Streator]. I do not know when it was founded but in the middle to late 1920’s it failed and Granddad lost most of his fortune, paying off depositors. By about 1938 or 1939, he and Grandma had to sell their beautiful brick home in Streator and move back to Mud Lane where they lived in a very old house without running water or inside toilets. That house was located about where my cousins John and Ardith Armstrong (Uncle Ray’s daughter) Norris later built their home.

George Asa’s oldest son Ronald Ray Armstrong married Lola Mortland, who was (I believe) from Manville, Il. They had one daughter (details for this living person withheld). She had a son and a daughter. Ray passed away in 1965, Lola in 1983, they’re buried in Riverview Cemetery, Streator. The beautiful brick house that Ray lived in, about a half mile west of George Asa’s home, still stands and is now occupied by Ray’s grandson.

George Asa’s youngest son George Arlie married Ethel Muriel Corron (or Kern). George and Ethel had 3 children– Margaret Mary in 1919, George Edward (“Bud”) in 1920, and another daughter (details for this living person withheld) in 1923. Margaret had 3 daughters and one son, one of the daughters died in infancy. George Edward had 2 daughters. George and Ethel’s youngest daughter had one son. Their children now have grandchildren and great- grandchildren of their own.

Ethel passed away in 1975, Arlie in 1985. Although George and Roseann Julien Armstrong’s bloodline continues, now into the 7th generation of descendants, the Armstrong name has “daughtered out” in this line.