[Photo from an oil painting owned by the Quincy and Adams County Historical Society]
Christiana Holmes Tillson in her book, A Woman's Story of Pioneer Illinois, left a rare and rich narrative of her family's early years in Illinois. Her commentary has unintentionally left us with a significant historical document that reflects a microcosm of Illinois in 1822-1827. As a well- educated New England woman, born in Massachusetts on October 11, 1798, she married John Tillson in October, 1822, and immediately set out with him for her new life in the small log cabin he had built in Montgomery County located in southern Illinois.
The focus of her writing is in detailing her trip to the frontier and the first few years of her life here. She wrote her memoirs late in life (1870) to depict for her daughter the dramatic changes in society since her pioneer experiences. The manuscript she left provides a unique glimpse into her struggles as a pioneer housewife. Abundant anecdotal stories enliven the portrayal of life as she encountered it and enrich the reader with another dimension of frontier history from a woman's viewpoint. Our author left us a priceless perspective into her 19th Century world on the frontier landscape.
Originally published in 1872 (or 1873) as Reminiscences of Early Life in Illinois, by Our Mother, it was rescued from obscurity by Milo Milton Quaife and the R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company of Chicago, who printed it in 1919 as part of the Lakeside Classics. Although the 1919 edition is rather scarce, we are fortunate that Southern Illinois University Press in Carbondale has reprinted her book, with a new introduction by Kay J. Carr.
The Tillson family (children Charles, John, Robert H. and Christiana) moved to Quincy in west-central Illinois in 1843 where the children grew to adulthood. John Tillson, Jr. (1825-1892) became a very prominent citizen of Quincy. He served in the Civil War and became Brigadier General of the Tenth lllinois Infantry. General John Tillson wrote an important early history of Quincy entitled, History of the City of Quincy, Illinois. As the son-in-law of Governor John Wood he inherited a vast knowledge of the early settlement of Quincy.
Christiana Tillson died on May 29, 1872 in New York City. Her funeral was held at the John Wood Mansion at 12th and State Street in Quincy on June 2nd at 3 p.m. She is buried in the Tillson family plot on the south ridge of Woodland Cemetery in Quincy.
Quincy Public Library, Quincy, Illinois