History of Mrs. G.H.(Martha JaneWilkinson) Hatch


Primarily this is the history of Mrs. George S. Hatch. However, the story of her life cannot be fully understood without considering the history of the community and county in which she lived. Her history is the history of the river towns, the railroad, war, and other contributing factors in the history of Missouri.

Before going into the history of Mrs. George S. Hatch something should be said of John Wilkinson, her father, because he was such an influential person of Southeast Missouri. “At The age of four years John Wilkinson was brought to the United States by his parents from Yorkshire, England. The family located first in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He served his apprenticeship as ship builder in New Albany, Indiana, and in the year 1835 supervised the building of the steamer ‘Laurel’, owned principally by his father and himself. The boat made one trip between Louisville, Kentucky and Alton, Illinois and on her second trip sank at what was later called Wilkinson’s landing, Mo. Wilkinson built himself a shanty on the riverbank near the wreck from the old lumber and set to work chopping cordwood. Not being able to purchase a team he conveyed his wood to the landing in a wheelbarrow, and when the snow fell he used a sled drawn by himself. He built up quite a trade selling cordwood to steam boats. Twenty years after, he was the largest wood dealer on the Mississippi River. He kept 40 to 50 hands constantly employed until the commencement of the Civil War. Later he invested in a water power mill on Apple Creek, two miles from Altenburg, Mo. He ran the first circular saw mill ever erected in Southwest Mo. He owned land in Illinois and Texas besides his possessions in Missouri. He was three times married.” (Taken from the History of Missouri).

Martha Jane Wilkinson was one of the children born of the second marriage of John Wilkinson. Her mother was Elizabeth Lawson before her marriage. Martha Jane was born June 21, 1856, in a log cabin on the bank of the Mississippi River. When she was four years old, her mother died. They were moving into a new colonial type house of the time. Negro slaves cared for her until her father married two years later. When she was nine, her father adopted a cousin, Eliza Howard, of the same age. Up to this time Martha Jane had no playmates except the Negro children of the slaves. A governess, Kate Bowers, was hired to live in the house and tutor the girls. The girls were also taught to make talon candles, cord wool, use the spinning wheel and weave cloth. They learned such household chores as sewing, cooking, cleaning and milking.

At nineteen Martha Jane was sent to Alton High School at Alton, Illinois, for six months. It was at Alton that she met and became engaged to James McPike. Shortly before her wedding her father died in Texas of pneumonia. Martha Jane and Eliza Howard had a double wedding when they were twenty years old. The ceremony was held in the house parlor. One of the finest steamboats on the river landed there so that the Negro waiters might serve their wedding dinner. The wedding couples then went via steamboat to St. Louis, Mo. and from there to Alton, Illinois.

Martha Jane was married only about four years when James McPike died. She was left with two little daughters. After the death of her husband, she left Alton, and came back to Seventysix to live with her brother and stepmother. Seventysix was just two miles south of Wilkinson’s Landing. As she had no income she rented and operated a hotel at Brazeau, Mo. While at Brazeau, she met and married George S. Hatch, a young schoolteacher. The following year Mr. Hatch taught in the high school at Chester, Illinois. Mrs. Hatch with her two little daughters moved back to Seventysix to live with her stepmother. On the weekends Mr. Hatch would travel thirty miles down the river in a skiff, so he could visit his family. A steamboat would take him and the skiff back to Chester on Sunday. Of this marriage five children were born.

After teaching at Chester, Mr. Hatch gave up school teaching. He took charge of the store, boat landing and post office in Seventysix so competition was great. Large stock buyers often drove stock from Cape County to this Perry county landing. The boat landing did a thriving business until the Frisco Railroad was built in 1904. Much of the shipping was then done by rail. Before the railroad was built, all of the travel in this community was done with horses. Long trips were usually made on the steamboat. The landing keepers and their families, as well as the men who shipped stock, were allowed to ride the boats free of charge. Mrs. Hatch and her family had many nice trips to St. Louis and Cape Girardeau on the steamboats. Mrs. Hatch says that she has never eaten finer meals anywhere than those served by the Southern Negro cooks on the steamboats. The time flew by as many interesting things could be seen at the different landings. The passengers were entertained by the Negro deck hands loading stock. Between landings the deck hands would shoot craps on the lower deck. Passengers on the upper deck would throw pennies, nickels and dimes just to see the Negroes scramble for them. There was a good orchestra on the boat for those that cared to dance while others participated in card playing for amusement. The racing of two boats to see which would get to a landing first was another form of amusement for the passengers. The first boat to get to a landing would get all of the business at that landing.

During the years that Mr. Hatch lived at Seventysix he acquired much of the surrounding land. He decided to set out an orchard and soon found that the river hills were quite suitable for raising fruit. It was not long until Hatch’s Orchard was one of the largest in Perry County. At one time there were two hundred acres in peaches, apples, pears, plums, and small fruits. Mr. Hatch employed about twenty hands to care for the orchard. Being able to ship the fruit via train was much faster than on the steamboat and the spoilage was less. The best fruit was shipped to St. Louis, while the second grade fruit was sold to neighbors or was dried in a dry kiln by the women and children before being sold. Big money was make on the fruit until new diseases and pests began to come. Spraying them became a necessity. Other orchards sprang up in the surrounding country, which made competition greater and lowered prices. Many of the orchard growers from Cape Girardeau County came to Mr. Hatch before setting out their orchards.

Mr. Hatch later opened a quarry. He supplied a paving company with rock. The riverbank at Seventysix was paved with rock to stop encroachments of the river. Much valuable land was caving into the river.

When the trucking business started from the inland towns, the river and railroad town lost business, as there was no shipping and trading from these places. As a result they became less prominent. Seventysix was one of these towns that declined in importance.

Mr.. Hatch died November 16, 1936 at the age of 76. At the time Mrs. Hatch was eighty years old. She was an active woman up until about seven years ago when she closed her home and went to live with her daughters. Until then she cared for her own house and made her own garden, raised flowers and chickens and even canned all of her vegetables and fruits. She did sewing in her spare time. Her health was excellent until about three years ago. She had a stroke and now must be content to sit in her rocker reading and watching the activity going on around her. She is ninety-five years old, but still remembers many interesting things about the days of slavery. She can even remember when the steamboats passed her house carrying soldiers during the Civil War. She was always a hard worker, but in spite of modern day conveniences still thinks they were the happier days.

** Martha Jane Hatch died December 1951