Early Illinois Women

Sophia May Chase: A Remarkable Woman of the 19th Century (continued)

by Mira Baz

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  1. Introduction

Part 2. The Chase Family moves to Ohio

In the year 1818, Philander Chase's wife, Mary Fay, died of a failing health, leaving him three sons; George, age 21 (1797-1836), Philander, age 20 (1799-1824), and Dudley, age 2 (1816-1907). During this year, the future Bishop was elected for the Bishopric of the Episcopalian diocese of Ohio. He made a journey on horseback from Ohio to Philadelphia for the consecration, which did not take place until February 1819 due to opposition. Here he saw Sophia, whom, according to her daughter Mary, he had known in Poughkeepsie, and they became engaged. The following year, by Bishop Philander's request, she went to Worthington, Ohio, accompanied by her brother Henry. They were married on July 4, 1819.

The Bishop had taken in Mrs. Russell, his widowed niece, who took care of young Dudley as well as her own daughter before the Bishop's marriage, the two elder sons being in college. Sophia raised Dudley as her own, the family living in difficult conditions and very little income. The situation became more difficult two years later, when she gave birth to Henry (1821-1896). The Bishop was then forced to accept the offer for the presidency of a college in Cincinnati. He removed his family to Cincinnati, where they lived for two years, and where Mary, their only daughter, was born (1822-1904). His son George, much to the Bishop's distress, had started getting into "the habit of taking opium" and alcohol since he left college in New York to live with his wife Eliza in Vermont. The duration of this addiction is not known.

During this time, the need for training young men for the ministry grew, and the churchmen suggested that young Philander, the Bishop's son, now deacon, make a trip to England for an appeal to receive help for building a religious college. Young Philander, who died in 1824 of the growing illness, was taken to bed and disabled from making the journey. The Bishop took this responsibility upon himself, with a heavy heart at the thought of leaving his ill son. He removed his family once again, this time to New York. Sophia at the start of a pregnancy, the young Dudley and Henry, and little Mary, rode with him in a carriage driven by two horses to Kingston, which they reached on September 15, 1823. They were to stay with Sophia's mother until the Bishop's return from England. Sophia's family strongly opposed his voyage overseas, fearing the definite perils of the trip, but settled the matter upon seeing his strong determination for the call of duty.

During his absence, which lasted until the summer of 1824, the Bishop's son Philander died, and Sophia gave birth to another son, who was named Philander (1824-1872) in the memory of their loss.

The Bishop's letters from overseas narrated to Sophia the details of his business and its success. In each of them, he instructed his wife on the education of his children, telling her to read to them from the Bible and from his own letters, as in the following from Liverpool dated October 30, 1823:

"Tell my dear son Dudley that he must be a good boy and learn his book: that he must pray God to bless him with an obedient disposition, that nothing can make me and his Heavenly Father frown upon and punish him more surely than to learn his disobedience to his Mother, Grandmother, aunts or uncle George. Make him read "The Lessons" with the same constancy they were read at home, make him learn his Catechism and Collects: and in every respect try to improve himself. If in these things he obey his loving parents he shall not be without reward. And what can I say to near dear Henry? Don't let him and Mary forget me. Say ten thousand things in your own good way. Promise Henry that if he shall have learned to read by my return, he shall have the finest Book I can purchase for a shilling in all Old England."

And of his daughter he wrote in the same letter:

"Dear Mary! Thy image is constantly before me. Thy smiling face has danced in the mists which float on the broad Atlantic, and dispelled the gloom they were calculated to inspire."

Sophia, alone, took care of the children in the middle of the toils of this busy life. The family, grieving over the loss of Philander, kept "together under the benefit of lay reading," she wrote to her husband on July 28, 1824. She being the dedicated wife and mother that she was, whole-heartedly supported the Bishop in his endeavors, writing to him in the same letter: "I will not murmur at the providence that keeps you from us but pray and trust that He will complete the good work begun and return you prosperous.... Our dear children are well and enjoy themselves and still love to talk of papa."

Leaving the other end of the Atlantic, the Bishop arrived in Kingston in August of 1824, after forty-three days on board the ship Orbit. He transported his family back to Worthington, Ohio. Laura Chase Smith, the Bishop's grand-daughter, in her The Life of Philander Chase, describes the journey back home:

To cross the mountain with a family in 1824 was more trouble and took a longer time than to go to Europe and back in a steamer of the present day [1903]. One month was occupied in reaching Worthington from Kingston. The pleasant home in Worthington [built by the Bishop himself] was embosomed in trees, twenty and thirty feet high, covered with wild grapes, purposely left for shade and beauty. One may imagine the pleasure of the children and their elders to be at home under their own vines. The peaches were ripe and the apples red and yellow in the orchard. (192)

The Bishop's house was "the domicile for the teachers [of the school] and small boys; and all ate at one table" (Smith 198). The family's life in Ohio is later recalled by the adult Dudley Chase, the Bishop's son:

"Provisions were cheap and plenty when they were accessible, which the state of the roads did not always permit, or the waters were too high or too low to grind the grist. Thus sometimes we were compelled to feed on the unground corn or wheat which was prepared with art unknown to cook-book.... We had occasional visits from the outside world, as when the Convention held their sittings near; then the boys could try to mettle of the parsons' horses, stabled in the Bishop's spacious barn....

Of sports, besides the usual games, there were creek and mill-dam where we could bathe and skate. In the forest there were numberless squirrels and fur-bearing animals and at the right season millions of wild pigeons feeding on the beechnuts; and on the boundary fence facing the forest were often to be seen, attracted by the ripening corn, flocks of large fat, wild turkeys -- fine sport for those who could or were allowed to use the gun; and those who could not, by combining forces, could build a log-pen in the forest about four logs high, cover its top securely, dig a trench underneath leading upwards into it, and, by strewing corn into this and outside, the simple turkey would 'walk into the parlor,' but never thought to bend its neck to creep out whence it came in, and would be trying to fly upwards to get out, while others hearing his cries would join him, and so several at a time would be trapped.

The Indians taught us how to call the male bird when in the spring he was heard from a great distance, by imitating the cry of the female, by means of the hollow bone of the bird preserved for that purpose, and thus being ourselves concealed, to bring them within easy gun or arrow shot."

Continue to:

  1. Kenyon College
  2. Illinois and Jubilee College
  3. Epilogue


  1. Piatt, John James. How the Bishop Built His College in the Woods. The Western Literary Press, Cincinnati: 1906.
  2. Smith, Laura Chase. The Life of Philander Chase. The Knickerbocker Press, New York: 1903.

Contributing Library:

Cullom-Davis Library, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois

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