Alexander County

Biography - Alfred Safford

ALFRED BOARDMAN SAFFORD, deceased, whose portrait appears in his work, was born in Hyde Park, Vt., January 22, 1822. When fifteen years of age, his parents removed to the then so called far West — to Illinois, where they preempted a Government homestead in the primeval prairie, at Crete, thirty miles south of Chicago. That year, 1837, Chicago became a city with a population of between three and four thousand. Who to have looked upon the low, flat, muddy surface of the Chicago of that time, would not have been hooted at as a false prophet, had he foreshadowed the wonderful growth and business capacity of the Chicago of to-day. With the exception of a small hotel located at Blue Island, twelve miles from Chicago, there was scarcely a house, as a waymark, the entire distance to Crete, where one or two New England families had previously located. There was a public thoroughfare leading from Chicago to Southern Illinois. The sparse settlers along it, remote from each other, received their meager supplies from what were called the "Hoosiers," who, making Chicago an objective point for the sale of their products, peddled them out on the way to those who sought after them. These "Hoosiers" seemed a curious folk to the New Englanders. They traveled in covered wagons, often as many as fifteen and twenty in file, and a distance of from one to two hundred miles. They made campfires out of what, it now seems a mystery, since the prairies were almost destitute of trees. They cooked their own food and usually slept in their wagons. The supplies they brought were smoked bacon, corn meal, flour, potatoes, and, in their season, apples and peaches. There was great advantage in several teams traveling in company. In seasons of heavy rains, the roads were almost impassable, and it often required a frequent doubling up of teams to extricate the wagons from a slough, into whose black, heavy mud they had settled to the hub. Then the tediousness of a long, slow journey was greatly ameliorated by the social evenings the teamsters would spend around the camp-fire, and their frugal meal, composed of fried bacon, corn dodgers, and black coffee. They all wore homespun, and made clothes of blue or butternut colored jeans. With all of their uncouthness and illiteracy, they were an honest people, and they were certainly benefactors to the new settlers who had to build their log cabins, plow, sow and reap before they could become self-supporting. These efforts were often retarded months by prostrating fevers, which not unfrequently incapacitated, in turn, or at the same time, every member of a family. The habits of industry and of frugality that were prominent factors in the boyhood training of Mr. Safford, shaped his useful and successful career as a man. His opportunities for an early education were limited to a public country school, which was a crude affair as compared with the country schools of the present time. Mr. Safford's mother had a great desire that her children should be well educated, and there was no sacrifice among the many she was called upon to make which she made more cheerfully than when she could provide good books for them, or give them opportunities for study. She used to stimulate them to read, by reading to and with them^ and she used to talk with them about the lives of the great and good benefactors of the world. And in every way she strove to incite them to seek after such knowledge as would enable them to do more for themselves and for others. When Mr. Safford was about eighteen years of age, he expressed a desire to study law, and the noble mother, ever on the alert to gratify every worthy aspiration of her children, made the way clear for him to follow out his inclination. He went to Joliet, Ill., and studied in the office of his cousin, William A. Boardman, Esq., at that time a prominent lawyer of that town. He proved a very apt student and gave promise of a brilliant career in the profession. But when he put the knowledge he acquired to a test, he found the practical application of it very distasteful to him, and he very soon abandoned the practice of law to enter upon mercantile pursuits. In this line of business he was very successful. First, because he gave to it his undivided attention, and second, because he was sincere and truthful; and third because he was genial and courteous to all with whom he came in contact. After doing business for several years in Joliet, he went to St. Louis, Mo., where he continued in trade for five or six years. While living in St. Louis, a very severe scourge of cholera was visited upon the city. While some of his associates in business were carried off by it, he did not abandon his post, nor shrink from giving aid to those who were attacked by it. He always felt that his immunity from the disease was largely due to the fact that he had no fear of it; he did not deviate from his regular habits and kept his mind constantly occupied. But during his residence in St. Louis, he was brought to the verge of death by an attack of small -pox; he attributed his recovery to the considerate, tender care that was given him by friends. In 1854, a bank was established in Shawneetown, Ill., and he was appointed cashier of it. The only communication that Shawneetown had with the outside world, at that time, was by boats that ran upon the Ohio River. It not unfrequently happened that runs were made upon the bank, and at most unpropitious times, when the Ohio was at low water, and communication in consequence obstructed for days and sometimes even for weeks, by boats getting stranded on sand bars. It was upon such an occasion as this that a carpet-bagger made his appearance, and demanded the redemption of several thousand dollars of the bank's paper.

Specie had been sent for and was expected on a boat that was stranded, and in order to gain as much time as possible, the money was counted out in the smallest coin, from 10 cents upward, that the bank had on deposit. So much time was consumed in the counting of it that before the man left with his weighty load the boat arrived with Re-enforcements that made the bank secure against a repeated run on it. There were some very primitive experiences connected with banking in that section of the country at that time. There was a man in the neighborhood who had accumulated something of a competency. He could not read nor write, and he had great distrust of those who could. He said he did not want his sons to go to school, for if they were educated they might become great rascals. He kept his money buried, but he lived in constant fear lest some one would find it. One day he came to the bank and asked to see Mr. Safford, and with great secrecy divulged to him the nature of his errand. He wanted to know if he might, after unearthing his money, bring it and deposit it in the safe. He came and deposited it in installments, slung in bags across his saddle. He wanted it all counted, but he did not want any writing to show the amount on deposit. Shawneetown was a border town between the North and South. The inhabitants were largely composed of Kentuckians, Tennesseans and Missourians. Although there was a public school fund, there had never been a public school in the town. The one log schoolhouse it once had was burned to celebrate the victory of Gen. Jackson in New Orleans, and none had ever been built to replace it. Mr. Safford immediately went to work to get the public school funds in available shape. A public school was opened by Mr. Safford's sister in the Presbyterian Church. There was considerable opposition to it, and it was called the "Safford Ragged School." But it increased from six pupils the first week, to fifty the first mouth, and to the ingathering of all the children within a few months. Mr. Safford advanced the money to build a schoolhouse, and from that time to this Shawneetown has had as good public schools as are to be found elsewhere in the State. In 1858, the bank was removed from Shawneetown to Cairo, Ill., and Mr. Safford was still retained as its Cashier. When the civil war was inaugurated, Cairo sprang at once into importance; soldiers poured in from past and West; every available building was seized upon for military purposes. Hospitals increased from one to many, and the din of battle was soon heard. The first engagement occurred at Belmont, twelve miles distant. All day cannonading was heard, and the excitement and anxiety was intense among those who watched and waited. Gen. Grant was stationed at Cairo at this time, and commanded at the attack upon Belmont. A confidence and friendship sprang up between Gen. Grant and Mr. Safford that lasted until the latter's death. He was one of the first to appreciate the skill and predict the future brilliant career of Gen. Grant. Even before the battle of Belmont, he wrote to his brother, then living on the Pacific coast, that if such a man as Grant could be put at the head of the army the success of the Union arms would be secured. While Mr. Safford did not take an active part in the war, the great and innumerable services he rendered those who did will never be forgotten as long as memory lasts in regard to those trying and eventful times. Mr. Safford was possessed of a judgment so candid, and of a mind so comprehensive, that his counsel was often sought after by those in responsible official positions, and his pecuniary aid was called into requisition from the highest to the lowest in command and service. Mr. Safford always responded so readily and generously, and withal so quietly, to calls for help that those most closely associated with him knew nothing of the amounts in money that he gave and advanced to soldiers. And it was not until after his death that unpaid notes revealed all that he had advanced to them and their families. It was said of Mr. Safford, that if any one asked a favor of him that he could not grant, that his refusal was so courteous that the man went away feeling almost as happy as if his request had been granted. As the war advanced, the opportunities were often very great to take advantage of some speculation that had the prospect of great gain in it. But Mr. Safford, when approached by those who were eager to have his clear-sighted business judgment brought to bear upon a scheme of such promise, was often heard to say, "No, it shall never be said of me, whether my country wins or loses, that I speculated upon her misfortunes. What I make shall be done upon an open-handed, unswerving business basis." It will never be known, except by those who drew upon his bounties, how Mr. Safford upheld and strengthened the endeavors of those who worked in the hospitals and cared on the battle fields for the dead and the dying. He could not go into the midst of suffering himself. The writer well remembers taking him into a hospital, but before he had passed through one ward he became deathly pale and sick, and had to be helped out. But he was in the closest sympathy with those who did devote themselves to the work, and he gave unsparingly to help carry it on. Mr. Safford always identified himself with the best interests of the community in which he lived. As soon as the country was restored to peace, and life and business moved on in its usual channels, he bent his efforts toward building up first-class public schools in Cairo. The best of teachers were selected, schoolhouses were built, and the public schools of Cairo became the pride and boast of its inhabitants.

The poor widows and orphans found in him an abiding friend, they came to him for advice, and if they had a pittance to be cared for he was the one to whose keeping it was intrusted, He was the first to establish a Savings Bank in Cairo, into which the mites of the working people could be put with safety, and thus help to encourage them to save, rather than to squander their earnings. When festal days occurred, it was Mr. Safford's custom to see to it that there was none so poor and friendless in the community as to be forgotten. He gave often without the recipients knowing the source from whence it came. He was one of those rare characters who lived to do good and to make others better and happier for his having lived, but so modest and unselfish was he that he wanted no praise for what he did, and his only reward was the consciousness that he had done good. Mr. Safford's position led him in close contact with young men, and his living example was an inspiration to them. He was the soul of industry; he never delegated to others duties that belonged to him. He never was in debt; when his means were limited, he lived within them. He never used intoxicating drinks in any form. He never indulged in the use of tobacco in any shape. He was temperate in all things, and his habits and tastes were all simple. He was never happier than when he saw others prosperous, and he contributed to the success of a great many young men by encouraging them, and by helping them into good business habits. Ml-. Safford was very jovial and fond of playing jokes upon others, but he could take a joke as good-humoredly as he gave it. He abhorred shams and pretensions. The writer was with him once at a hotel where there was a family who put on a great deal of style and made themselves rather conspicuous in many ways. He remarked in regard to them: "They can afford to put on airs; the man has recently gone into bankruptcy, but we who pay our debts as we go along, need to move on quietly." Mr. Safford's love for children and the ready confidence they gave him, spoke volumes for the beauty and tenderness of his nature. When quite a young man, his greatest pleasure in winter was to get a spacious sleigh and fill it with children unable to indulge in such pleasures, for a merry ride, and all his life he was ever mindful of ways to make children happy. Although married twice, he was never blessed with children of his own. He cared very little for society, but his home was everything to him, and was the center of genuine hospitality. Mr. Safford took no interest in party strifes, but was devoted to his country and its welfare, and he was always firm in his support of such men for office as he believed would best serve the public weal. Mr. Safford left his home in July, 1877, for a rest of a few weeks in New England. He spent a week at the seashore with an enjoyment of old ocean that was refreshing to witness. He was very fond of nature, and seemed a boy again in the buoyancy and freshness of his spirit, when in close communion with her. His face was so expressive of geniality, that strangers were invariably attracted to him. He had the tender, shrinking nature of a woman, with all of the finest, noblest traits of a man. He was most loyal in his friendships, and it can be truly said, that he had no enemies, but a host of friends; he was so just and true in his dealings with men? that they could afford to differ from him in opinions, and yet harbor no feelings of ill will or distrust toward him. After leaving the seashore, Mr. Safford went on a visit to his native State. He seemed in perfect health. Along the journey he called the frequent attention of those traveling with him to the beauty of the scenery, his soul seemed attuned to all beauty in nature, and to all goodness in mankind. The day after his arrival, he was constantly occupied in rendering kindly services to those about him. He drove with an aged relative to the beautiful cemetery in Burlington. She said to him while driving, do you not have a dread of death? No, he replied, it is inevitable, and comes in the order of nature, and when it calls me, I shall be ready and willing to meet it. This remark was made in the forenoon, and at 10 o'clock in the evening, he had passed on to that bourn from whence none return. He went for a stroll in the evening, accompanied by his cousin, and fell insensible on the street in a fit of apoplexy. He was taken to the home of his cousin, where he was visiting in Burlington, Vt., and regained consciousness so as to speak to those about him, but soon sank into a swoon, and passed away as calmly as if falling into a peaceful sleep. He had often remarked that it would be his desire to die in harness, and so it was; up to the last hour, he was useful and happy in conducing to the happiness of others. Not alone did those who were nearest and dearest to him, feel that his loss was irreparable, but in business circles, in the Odd Fellows Lodge, to which he was attached, in the public schools, and in all places where there was need of aid to further noble effort, he was missed and mourned.

"So calm, so constant was his rectitude, That by his loss alone we knew its worth, And feel how true a man has walked with us on earth.”

Extracted 31 Mar 2017 by Norma Hass from 1883 History of Alexander, Union, and Pulaski Counties, Illinois, Part V, pages 56A-56E.


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