Saturday, May 1, 2010

Harriet Van Brocklin – Doing God’s work on the Prairie

Nestled between cornfields southwest of Freeport, Illinois, sits a lasting reminder that Harriet Van Brocklin was there, and that she had faith.

Harriet Searle Van Brocklin
It takes a special kind of person to be a pioneer.  Harriet’s husband, Conrad, was that kind of person, and while he stands out in his community’s history, it’s clear that Harriet was his kindred spirit in that respect.  Not just any young woman would leave “civilization”, as well as her family, and take her two babies to what was at that time the western frontier, and live among Indians and wolves.  But Harriet did, in the spring of 1836.  She was taking herself, and her children, to an area where there were no doctors, no neighbors, and what you had was what you brought.   For some time, the Van Brocklins were the only settlers in Florence township, in sparsely settled Stephenson county.  It would be a year and a half before another settler moved into the area.  How lonely she must have been.

But Harriet had brought faith with her.  She was converted as a child in New York, and her relationship to God was vitally important.  They held their own religious services, and had public services as early as 1846 in an old log school house near their home.  In 1852, Harriet organized a Methodist congregation, and by 1860 it was part of a circuit of 5 churches with two ministers.  In 1866, the Van Brocklin church building was completed, built on land donated at least partially by the Van Brocklins, with money raised by subscription.   In more recent history, services were still held every other week, sharing a minister with another congregation.  Harriet has long since gone, but her work lives on.

Van Brocklin's Day
On Yellow Creek they built a Church
And enemies said, "'twill be left in lurch,"
For the waters were high and the debt was large,
And God, they said, was against the charge.

But the day was bright and the sun shone clear,
And a pontoon bridge they crossed without fear;
And though the feet slipped the heart was true,
And they walked on ice to see the thing through.

The Elder preached well of Christ and love,
And carried our thoughts to temples above;
And when he stopped, Brother Best did write,
And soon the debt was out of sight.

Yea, more than asked, with a hearty will,
Because our God their thoughts did fill;
And thanks to friends and God we'll give --
Praise here, and then go home to live.

May angels often come and see
Repentant sinners bend the knee,
And new-born souls begin the song
They sing in heaven's assembled throng.
--J. Wardie
Freeport, Feb. 20, 1883


  1. And NOW I have photo envy! Man's ggg grandparents came to Illinois, McHenry County, close to the same time, I know they were there by 1843. No obits, no photos. And, you not only HAVE a photo, but a great one at that! Yep, photo envy!

  2. Thank goodness for cousins with photos who are willing to share ... You never know who is waiting just around the corner with a whole box of goodies :))

  3. What a great biographical sketch. It's hard to imagine having to take everything one needed, though with her faith, I'm sure she knew her needs would be met.