The English Settlement

223 South 5th Street, Albion, IL 62806
Washington-Painter House (Medium)

History

In 1816, George Flower and Morris Birkbeck, both affluent Englishmen, became interested in emigrating from England to America and establishing a colony of their countrymen.

Morris Birkbeck, who came from a well‐to‐do Quaker family in Surrey, was a well‐educated English gentleman farmer of a 1,500 acre leased estate called Wanborough. He resented his lack of political franchise in England and his obligation to support the Anglican Church, of which he disapproved.

George Flower was the son of Richard and Elizabeth (Fordham) Flower of Marden Hall, Hertfordshire, England. Richard was a man of considerable influence in England where he became wealthy through the operation of an extensive brewery. The Flower family also had a strong desire for independence, with liberal tendencies, a dislike of cities, and a deep sympathy for the working class, particularly farmers. Richard Flower commissioned his eldest son, George, then in his late twenties, to investigate possibilities for emigrating from England.

In April 1816, George Flower left Liverpool for New York. He made a long circuitous trip on horseback from New York to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington and Nashville, culminating at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, where he spent the winter months. By spring, he was convinced that the best place for the English Settlement was not in the established east or the south, but in the west, on the American prairies. He learned that Mr. Birkbeck and his party had arrived in Richmond, Virginia where he hastened to join them.

Because Birkbeck had previously met Edward Coles, an American diplomat, and through him had become interested in the prairies of Illinois, Birkbeck and Flower were in agreement and decided to leave at once for the west. After an arduous stagecoach ride to Pittsburgh, they traveled overland on horseback through Pennsylvania to Chillicothe and Cincinnati, Ohio and across Indiana, ending their travels at Vincennes on the Wabash River.

While at Vincennes, George Flower was married to Eliza Julia Andrews, a member of Birkbeck’s party and caretaker of the Birkbeck children. Earlier in the journey, Miss Andrews had also been proposed to by Mr. Birkbeck, a man many years her senior. Many historians believe this marriage began a rift between Birkbeck and Flower which would ultimately affect their proposed settlement. It should be noted that George Flower was already married at the time of his marriage to Eliza Julia. He had been married in England to his cousin Jane Dawson. Many years later when this fact came back to haunt Flower, the Illinois State Legislature would grant him a divorce from Jane Dawson.

The party settled temporarily in Princeton, Indiana, while Birkbeck and Flower continued to hunt for the prairies they sought. They traveled to Harmonie in Posey County, Indiana and to Shawneetown in Gallatin County, Illinois, garnering information, then back up the Illinois side of the river until they came to a series of prairies. They came upon Boultinghouse Prairie in Edwards County and chose it as the location for their proposed colony of Englishmen. Thereafter it was known as English Prairie.

It was agreed between Mr. Flower and Mr. Birkbeck that Mr. Flower should return to England to induce immigration to their chosen spot in Edwards County and help with planning transportation for interested settlers, while Mr. Birkbeck was to attend to procuring the necessary lands and otherwise prepare for the reception of their countrymen.

In March 1818, the first party of 88 emigrants embarked from Bristol, England. In this group were 44 farmers from Morris Birkbeck’s Surrey area of England and the rest were tradesmen and mechanics from London and other parts of England. This party of emigrants is known as the “Lawrence and Trimmer party” as they were led by capable bachelors, James Lawrence and Charles Trimmer.

A month later, in April 1818, a second load of more than sixty emigrants departed Liverpool, England in a chartered ship. This group included members of the Flower, Fordham, Shepherd and Woods families. The Shepherd family had served the Fordham‐Flower family for three generations and refused to be left behind in England.

The rift which had developed between Birkbeck and Flower, for whatever reason, divided the settlers into two factions. As a result of the rift, two settlements were begun in 1818 about two miles apart. George Flower founded Albion (which is the poetic name for England) and two miles west of Albion Morris Birkbeck founded Wanborough (which was the name of his former estate in England).

The two villages and the area around them became known as the “English Settlement”. Over the next several decades, English immigrants continued to arrive, many of them relatives of those who had come earlier and wrote home of their successes in America. One of the first immigrants, John Woods, published Two Years Residence on the English Prairie in 1820, which was intended as a guide for those who were immigrating.

Wanborough as a town, unfortunately, lost its heart with the accidental death by drowning of Morris Birkbeck in 1825 while crossing the Fox River in returning from New Harmony, Indiana. Today, all that remains of Wanborough is a cemetery, the final resting place of many of the early pioneers of that settlement. During the few short years that Birkbeck lived in the English Settlement, he did much to promote its settlement to English immigrants by publishing two books in 1818. He was also instrumental in the anti‐slavery movement, writing essays under the pen name of Jonathan Freeman. He is largely credited for Illinois remaining a free state in the general election of 1824.

As for the Flower family, they expended a considerable fortune in establishing and defending the settlement at Albion. Their home, Park House, was located due south of the courthouse and one mile south of Albion. At the time it was built, it was said to be the finest home west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was destroyed by fire in the 1860s.

In 1849, with most of the family fortune gone, George and Eliza Julia Flower moved to New Harmony, Indiana and became innkeepers of “Flower House” in one of the former Rappite dormitories. They continued operating the inn until 1855 or early 1856 when they moved to Mt. Vernon, Indiana. By 1861, their health was fading quickly. At the home of their daughter, Rosamond Agniel, on January 15th, 1862, both George and Eliza Julia died in Grayville; she in the morning and he toward evening.

Directions to here:

The Washington Painter house is located on South Fifth Street. Walk west down Cherry Street from St. John’s Episcopal Church, and the next street you come to is Fifth Street. Cross Fifth and turn left. Walk south on Fifth and cross Walnut Street. Continue south. This block between Walnut and Terminal Streets is longer than most Albion blocks. In the middle of the block, you will see the Washington Painter House, surrounded by a custom made wrought-iron fence. It is a two story house.
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Directions to next site:

The rest of the tour is more accessible (and quicker) by utilizing a vehicle. The old Albion Cemetery is located at the intersection of North Fifth and Pine streets. To reach it form the courthouse square, travel on the street to the west of the courthouse. That is Fifth. Proceed north to the second stop sign. The cemetery is located just northeast of the intersection.
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