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Balemas Breese

1806 - 1887

I can see him standing 
by the fence arms on the rails
just looking around

Almost ninety years have passed since the little girl watched her father that January day in 1887. As Balemas stood there seeing the beauty of the rolling hills and the familiar farm lands that had been home for so many years, he surely knew he was seeing it all for the last time. It must have been a stilled moment, for it was to be the little daughter's only remembrance of her father. How is it possible to capture in mere words, the depth of character of this man who, in feeling the severity of his eightieth winter, made the decision to leave his home in Wisconsin, to turn southward, because he was certain his health would improve in a warmer climate. For Balemas, no better reason was needed except perhaps there would still be time for one more horizon. Beyond a doubt, Balemas' thoughts, as he stood there by the fence, would have gone back through the years to recall the chain of circumstances that had brought him to Buck Creek.

In the beginning

The first breath of life for Balemas was drawn from the early summer air of Mendham, Morris County, New Jersey, on the fifteenth of June Eighteen Hundred and Six. He was the first born son of Henry Breese and his wife of two years, the former Phoebe Hayden. Balemas was named for a relative on the Hayden side of the family, whose mother was of German extraction. Balemas had a sister, Mary Ann, born one year before him and two years later, there was a brother, Willis. After the birth of their third child, Henry and Phoebe Breese followed her parent's move to Washington County, Pennsylvania, where Henry, a blacksmith by trade, also helped manage the Hayden farm. Within the next seventeen years Henry and Phoebe had nine more children, and true to the custom, the children were named to honor favorite relatives. To keep the record straight, the children of Henry and Phoebe Breese were named Mary Ann, Balemas, Willis, Elias, Hosea, Joel, Israel, Silas, Phoebe Jane, Louisa and Henry. However, Joel and another son, unnamed, died in infancy. Washington County, Pennsylvania was the real beginning for Balemas, for it was here that he grew to manhood and it was here that he met Abigail, a daughter of Abner and Abigail Chase. Abigail was nineteen years old when she married Balemas and they may well have been friends from childhood, for the Chase family had arrived in Washington County early in the century, and like the Breese and Hayden families, had settled near the villages of Findley, Prosperity and Pleasant Grove.  

This was an area, seemingly set apart from the rest of the world, among  beautiful, soft hills. A peaceful place that even today, "restoreth the soul". This was a necessary ingredient in the lives of Abigail and Balemas, for time and again, and again, they would have to draw upon a source of strength far greater than their own.  For Balemas, the passing years were to be filled with almost every emotion known to man, but it would have been impossible for him to ever forget the day in Eighteen Hundred and Thirty, when Abigail married him and put her destiny in his hands. They shared heights of happiness and depths of despair and, though, the future was filled with promise, the present was filled with hard work and much faith. 

For awhile, Balemas and Abigail were content to stay in Pennsylvania and it was here that Phoebe, Lovina, Simon and Israel were born to them. It is extraordinary to think of these four as infants, as the sands of time ran so slowly for them, their combined ages would one day total three hundred and fifty-eight years.

During the early years of marriages, births and the constant efforts to provide for their families, the ties between Balemas, his sisters, brothers and parents remained strong. It is interesting to observe the characteristics within a family that hold them dear to each other, even though a time comes when decisions are made that result in separating them, one from another, for a lifetime.  In each generation, but never more apparent than in the children of Henry and Phoebe Breese, were the ones quite satisfied with their environment, while others became restless and ever trusting that just over the horizon was a better way of life. Counted among the restless were Balemas, Willis, Elias and Hosea. Nevertheless, these stalwart Breese brothers retained a close and valued relationship through their lifetimes. They would stay together through the years, until the day Balemas would stand alone at Buck Creek. 

Athens County, Ohio

 The first to venture forth from Washington County was Mary Ann and her husband, Henry Brown, late in the year Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-two. It was not long, however, before her brothers, Balemas, Willis, Elias and Hosea were looking toward the western horizon and deciding it was greener on the other side of the Ohio River. This was not new territory in some respects, as a few Breeses from other branches of the family were early settlers in the Ohio River Valley.  

In Seventeen Forty-nine, the Ohio Company, an enterprise for promoting settlement in the Ohio Valley, was chartered by England's King George the Second. The Revolutionary War defeated its purpose, but it was reorganized in Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-six by ex-officers of the Revolution. In Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-seven, Congress authorized the sale of one and a half-million acres to the Ohio Company for sixty-six and two-thirds cents per acre.

 A John Breese, a resident of Rhode Island, purchased two shares in the Ohio Company on August seventeenth, Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-two and subsequently owned land in Athens County. Although, it is doubtful if John Breese, himself, ever lived or even visited in Ohio, it was the beginning of Breese history in Ohio. 

The migration into Ohio continued as families sought out more room to raise the necessary crops and the inevitable children. In the latter part of Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-six, Willis and Israel arrived in Athens and purchased several parcels of farmland near their sister and brother-in-law. Less than a year later, they were joined by Balemas, Elias and Hosea; however, Israel soon returned to Pennsylvania to make his home. Upon his arrival in Athens, Balemas purchased eighty acres of farmland and in the following year he bought two more parcels of land from brother Willis. Elias, also, joined the group by settling in the same vicinity. Hosea, age twenty-two and still single, had a more important interest and on the seventh of August Eighteen Thirty-eight, he married Mary (Polly) Sargent. They, too, joined the Breese community that included the townships of Athens, Lodi and Alexander.

In Ohio, as elsewhere, the months turned into years and the children of Balemas and Abigail grew in stature and in number. Around the dinner table now, along with Phoebe, Lovina, Simon and Israel, were Mary Jane, James, George, Elias, Artlissa and Charles. There is a story, often told, of this lively family at mealtime. When conversation became too loud and animated among so many young-un's Balemas had a method that restored order.  A bullwhip snapped the air, Balemas bellowed, "Silence" and the meal would continue with propriety. 

There was another kind of silence that surely must have reached the hearts of Abigail and Balemas.  A silence that would go with them, everywhere.  They would be aware of it, especially among the laughing, happy children that surrounded them.  For it was the silence that came when Nancy Ruth could cling to life for only four days; the silence that grew when Clarinda left them after nine months' and the silence that deepened when Emily could give them only two months of her life.  When the day came for Balemas and Abigail to leave Ohio, it is obvious that they never left it entirely. In June Eighteen Hundred and Fifty, Balemas' and Abigail's daughter, Phoebe Breese gave birth to a son.  Phoebe had married Simeon Draper on February fifth, a year earlier. Baby James was their first child, but a fact of greater importance to Balemas and Abigail, little James was their first grandchild. 

By Eighteen Hundred and Fifty, many changes had taken place in the Breese households.  Geographically, the Breeses' of  Washington County, Pennsylvania and Athens, Ohio were separated by nearly two hundred miles.  Nevertheless, they stayed in close communication, for letters were written and these letters indicated that they visited one another with some frequency.  This was only the beginning of family separations, for the Breese brothers, in Ohio, were again looking to the horizon.  By Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-four, Balemas, Willis, Elias and Hosea had disposed of their properties and were soon on their way to the promising land of Wisconsin.

 Richland County, Wisconsin

The village of Richland Center, Wisconsin was first settled in the year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-one and by Eighteen Fifty-five, it had shown considerable growth, due in part, to the arrival of the Breese families.  However, Elias was not among them.

He does not seem to have remained in Athens, Ohio, nor returned to Washington County, Pennsylvania.  Research has not, to date, located his whereabouts during this time.  It is quite probable that he may have become ill and died before reaching Wisconsin. 

For Balemas, would it be realistic to say that here in Wisconsin was the new beginning?  Here was the place where all those futuristic promises would come true?  No need for anymore horizons?     

Balemas' brother, Hosea, may have been the first of the family to realize that this was not so.  He was bereaved of his wife, Polly, and it became necessary for his children to live among friends and relatives. Since Adversity seemed at times to be a member of the Breese family, it was accepted as inevitable and time never slowed because of it.  For almost five years, the brothers, Balemas and Hosea, lived just south of the town of Richland Center and Willis was farming in the area of Richmond.  Evidently Willis was doing very well, as his farm was valued at three thousand dollars in the year Eighteen Hundred and Sixty.   

Still living at home with Balemas and Abigail were their children, Simon, James, George, Elias, Artlissa and Charles.  On the adjoining property were Hosea Breese and his eldest son, Silas and beyond them, William F. Rose and his bride, Mary Jane Breese were in residence.

Mary Jane was not the only one of Balemas' and Abigail's children to marry since they had come to Richland County.  Israel married Lucinda Jane Basye on Christmas Eve in Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-seven.

Daughter, Phoebe Breese Draper and her husband, Simeon, had not yet followed the others to Richland Center and Simeon was fated never to reach there.  According to family legend, Simeon Draper became ill and died somewhere near the Chicago area, as he, his wife and children were making the journey to Wisconsin.  

Upon his arrival in Wisconsin, Balemas worked as a carpenter and lived in the village of Richland Center.  In April Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-one, he bought eighty acres at Buck Creek for two hundred dollars.  There, in a rustic, two story, full-log house, built to endure not only the whims of Wisconsin's winters, but for generations of Wisconsin's children, Balemas settled his family. 

So, here was home, here the children were growing up, some of them married with children of their own, but even here sadness came to call.  Elias, now sixteen years old, died on the nineteenth of July, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-one.  A most blessed miracle of life is the Balm that covers human tragedies and with God-given strength Abigail and Balemas would accept once more, another child going from their care. 

Personal upheavals were prevalent but an event of even greater distress, that touched everyone, came in the form of the Civil War.  Two of the Breese sons, Israel and James, served in the Wisconsin Infantry of Volunteers.  William Rose, the husband of Mary Jane and Edwin Handy, who several years later married Artlissa, also served in the Wisconsin Volunteers.  William Henry, a on Willis Breese, Balemas' brother, was in the same Company of Volunteers as Israel.  William Henry, though, was much less fortunate than the others, as he was fatally wounded during the civil uprising. 

There had to be times of happiness and of normal family living, but for awhile it must have been a precious commodity. On September Thirteenth, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-three, the second son of Israel and Lucinda Jane (Basye) Breese, John DeWitt Breese, died at the age of two years and one month.

The year Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-four struck a triple blow, for on February sixth, Eugene, the three year old son of William and Mary Jane (Breese) Rose, died; followed by the death of his mother, of consumption, on the second day of March.  Since the father, William Rose was still serving in the Civil War, this left his fifteen month old son, Orville, virtually an orphan.  So Willis' daughter, Louisa Breese, now Mrs. Alexander Basye, adopted the little one.  Sadly, it was a brief relationship, as three months later baby Orville died on the second day of June.  The following poem appeared in the Richland Center Newspaper in memory of the infant, Orville Rose.  It may well have been written by Seth Basye, father of Alexander Basye, as he was know for his writings and poetry.  

Why should we e'er be called to part  
From such a noble fare  
As one dear precious, darling babe  
Committed to our care.  
So short a time since he with us  
Amused in many playful things  
But true, alas that time has gone  
Ne'er to return again.  
Sleep on, sleep on, thou lonely babe  
With Mother, brother dear  
Until the final trump shall sound  
When we shall all appear.  


As the year Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-four came to a close, Abigail could review the past year with both a sad and happy heart.  She and Balemas had lost another daughter and two more grandchildren, but their sons, Israel and James, had returned home from the war.  

It would soon be fours years since they had moved to Buck Creek and ten years had passed since they had come to Richland County. Now, Abigail and Balemas could look forward to the coming year, hoping the pursuit of happiness was no longer a dubious preoccupation, but could become a realistic goal.  The years had been costly, for they had lost five children and three grandchildren since they had left Pennsylvania, what must have seemed, such a long time ago.   

On April Eighteenth, Eighteen Sixty-five, Abigail celebrated her fifty-fourth birthday. Then, on the fifteenth of May, everything changed quite suddenly when Abigail was stricken with acute peritonitis.  Twenty-seven days after her birthday, Abigail Chase Breese no longer was asked to endure anymore of the sorrows of this world.  She is buried in the Richland Center Cemetery surrounded by some of her children and grandchildren.  Her name appears on the headstone of her daughter, Lovina Breese Aber.  It is easy to believe that on that special day, Abigail once more gathered her children, Nancy, Clarinda, Emily, Elias and Mary Jane and the three grandsons, John DeWitt, Eugene and Orville, around her just beyond the most beautiful horizon of them all. 


For Balemas, it may have been a time of soul-searching and wondering if there was ever to be a silver lining to the dark clouds that never seemed to be far away.  At fifty-eight years of age, the fortitude of Balemas may have momentarily weakened with the loss of Abigail, but he had overcome adversity too many times to consider for very long that life held no further challenges for him.  The hopes, the dreams, the promises of the past continued within him and became the hopes, dreams and promises of the future.  Balemas, the beloved patriarch, was willing to fulfill the obligations he had assumed thirty-six years earlier, when the first child was born to him and Abigail.  So, time moved along and by Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-one, there had been some noticeable changes within the family.  Balemas, in observing these changes, would realize that his children not only were assuming the responsibilities he had cherished for so long, but in completing a cycle of nature, were absorbed in the development and well being of their own families.

Charles, the youngest, was now eighteen years old.  It was the ideal time for Hannah Turner Jones to enter the life of Balemas Breese.


One of eight children, Hannah was born in Ohio to Joseph and Phoebe (Shepherd) Turner on the Thirty-first day of December Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-nine.   They had moved to Richland County from Indiana in the late Eighteen-sixties and had begun farming near Rockbridge.  Hannah was the widow of Louis Jones, and the mother of five Jones children:  Martin, William, Joseph, Mary and James.

Amid protests from both the Breese and Turner families because of the thirty-one year age difference, Hannah married Balemas on the twelfth of February, Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-one, and she and her children moved to the Breese farm at Buck Creek.  Regardless of the few dissenters, it may well have been the happiest Balemas had been for a long time.  His Buck Creek farm had been growing lonelier by the year, as his and Abigail's children married and left to establish their own homes.  Now, Buck Creek once again heard the lively voices of children coming from the Breese household and it was to continue for many years. 

On Christmas Eve, ten months after their marriage, the first of their eight children was born to Hannah and Balemas and they named him Balemas, jr.  Then, there was Hannah, born thirteen months later, followed through the years by Enos, Martha, Silas, Abigail, Minnie and Levi. 

When asked how many children there were in the family, it was Enos, with a gleam in his eye and a grin on his face, that counted off on his fingers, "Well, to begin…there's Enos and B'lemas and Sis-in-between-us."  

Hannah's first family of children were not lost in the population explosion, but were raised by Balemas as his own children, except little Willie Jones died shortly after his mother's second marriage.  By the time Levi was born, only Joe and Jim Jones were still unmarried and living at home. 


In August Eighteen Hundred and Seventy, word had come to Balemas, Willis and Hosea from Washington County, Pennsylvania, of the death of their father.  Henry Breese had lived a full life for eighty-six years and eight months, but now it was over and he was buried in the little country cemetery at Pleasant Grove. 

Four years later, their mother Phoebe died on October sixteenth, Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-four, aged eighty-eight years, eleven months and one day.  She was buried in Athens, Ohio where she had lived for many years, even before her husband's death in Pennsylvania.  Although she is buried near two of her daughters, in the little churchyard cemetery, the gravestone appears lonely and apart from all the others, it is inscribed, "Phoebe Hayden, wife of Henry Brees.  Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." 

Then, there was the day in September Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-six, with the colors of autumn on the Wisconsin countryside, Balemas and Hosea stood side by side at the Indian Creek Cemetery.  As they buried their brother, Willis, they no doubt realized that the foursome of Balemas, Willis, Elias and Hosea, was now narrowed down to just the two of them. 

The void in their lives when Willis died may have been felt more strongly by Hosea than even Balemas, for he and Willis had lived on neighboring farms south of Richland Center, while Balemas' farm was north of the village.  With Willis no longer near for companionship, it is quite probable that Hosea took a closer look at the new lease-on-life marriage of Balemas and Hannah.  The idea of marriage must have appealed to him, for in March Eighteen Seventy-eight, Hosea married Susanna Kincaid.  Unlike, Hannah and Balemas, they were not prolific, but like them , there was a difference of over thirty years in their ages.

 Buck Creek

 A spring bubbles and pours forth clear, pure water from the hillside less than a mile above the Breese farm and becomes known as the North Fork of Buck Creek.  It winds it's way gently and lingering across the farm and rambles on down the hill to converge with the South Fork; where together they run a short distance to the Pine River. 

The village of Buck Creek was located at the confluence of the Creek and the River.  It was the community center for the families living among the hills and hollows of the area.  There was a church, a school, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a mercantile store and later, a town hall. Symbolically, the waters ran relatively smooth for Balemas and Hannah in the years Eighteen Hundred and Eighty through Eighteen Hundred and Eighty-six.  Naturally, there were a few ripples and even a strong under-current or two, especially when taking into consideration how many branches there were now from just the three families of Breeses that had come to Richland Center thirty years earlier.  It was a generally pleasant time for Balemas and Hannah, although it was the calm before the storm.  In the closing months of Eighteen Eighty-six, Balemas began to notice more than ever before, the bitter cold of winter.  How many times it must have crossed his mind that if anything were to happen to him, Hannah would be left to care for the children alone.  The eldest, Balemas, jr., was fourteen and the youngest, Levi, was only two years old.  Jim and Joe Jones were in their early twenties and it may have been some consolation to Balemas to have them still at home. 

It evidently seemed a natural conclusion to Balemas that a warmer climate would be kinder to his years and he decided upon Arkansas.  At the age of eighty years why would he make such a decision, when at the very same time, two of his sons, George and Charles with their families, were to leave Wisconsin to farm in Missouri.  Why did Balemas not go with them or they with him?  If Hannah, Hosea or anyone else tried to persuade him to remain in Wisconsin they were not successful. 

On the first day of January, Eighteen Hundred and Eighty-seven, the papers were signed and the farm at Buck Creek no longer belonged to Balemas.  It was to this farm at Buck Creek that he had brought Abigail and their children twenty-five years earlier and where Abigail had died only four years later.   Where his children and grand-children had played; where he had watched them grow up, and where Hannah came to live when she married Balemas and where their children were born to them.

It was on the farm where the five year-old daughter, Minnie, watched her father on the day they were to leave Buck Creek, and it was where she returned in memory ninety years later. 

"I remember Pa on the day we left Buck Creek.  I can see him standing by the fence, arms on the rail, just looking around."

 One More Horizon

 The Balemas Breese family arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas by train.  Before leaving home Hannah had cooked a turkey and packed other food for them to eat during the trip.  Their household furnishings and farm stock came on the same train in a freight car. 

Within a short period of time, Balemas had bought an eighty-acre farm near the little village of Mayflower in Faulkner County. Winter passed and Spring came to Arkansas and still Balemas did not respond to the milder climate, in fact, he had grown noticeably weaker. Suddenly, Hannah was engulfed in a virtual nightmare, for all of the children, with the exception of Joe Jones, became ill with malaria. 

No one could have foreseen such a terrible situation.  they were in unfamiliar surroundings, without friends or relatives, with little money and nine very ill children.  In the midst of all of this, Balemas' condition worsened and he died on the seventeenth of June Eighteen Hundred and Eighty-seven; two days past his eighty-first birthday.  He was buried in a small country cemetery nearby, with only a pile of rocks to mark the place.  Many years later, two of his sons journeyed back to Arkansas with the intention of placing a permanent gravestone, but could not find the exact location.

 The news of Balemas reached Richland Center, Wisconsin.  An excerpt from his obituary notice there described him as "an industrious, exemplary, worthy citizen and bore his part in the labors and privations incident to the settlement of a new county.  Several of his children and many friends still reside in this County, who will respectfully cherish his memory and regret that he went so far to find a grave among strangers."

 A grave among strangers?  Well, perhaps, in a sense.  When Hosea, just two months later reached out for that same ultimate horizon, who is to say that it was not as in the days of old, with Balemas, Willis, Elias and Hosea together again.  Someone who knew them may have believed this as indicated by a line of verse on Hosea's gravestone,  "God reunites in Heaven."


Hannah, fearful that she would also lose her children if she stayed in Arkansas, left her son Joe to care for the farm until she could make other arrangements and with a wagon loaded with ill children headed for her sister's home in Indiana.  The trip took six weeks and by the time they reached their destination everyone had miraculously recovered from the fever.

Hannah had been married to Balemas for sixteen years at the time of his death.  There were twenty-three more years allotted to her and the dilemma in. Arkansas was merely a testing of her courage and fortitude for the years ahead.

In time, she returned, left, then returned again to live near Buck Creek.  Finally, settling in Richland Center, she lived until the twenty-seventh day of September Nineteen Hundred and Twenty.  She is buried in the Richland Center Cemetery surrounded by three children, Balemas, jr., Hannah Breese Bell and Abigail Breese

Written by Dorothy Appleby Turner
All copyright laws apply. 


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