Dempsey and Sarah Pope’s Soft Place to Land

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Landing

When pilots and astronauts descend from the sky, they hope for a soft landing, a landing without difficulty or harm. Dempsey and Sarah (Edwards) Pope’s landed in Blue Mound Township in 1827. ¹ While men like Dempsey were looking for new earth to uproot and put down seeds, women like Sarah were looking for a soft landing, a place to put down permanent roots and raise their children in peace and prosperity.

North Carolinians, the Pope’s left Wake County, arriving in Robertson County, Tennessee, in 1823; he had purchased ninety-eight acres on the Red River. ²  But, word traveled fast; there was fertile land in Macon County, Illinois. Uprooting their growing family, Dempsey and Sarah were the first settlers to put down roots in the Mosquito Creek area of Blue Mound Township.

Courtesy of Pixnio

Illinois is known as “The Prairie State.” ³ The Pope’s arrived to find tall prairie grass. Underneath the sea of grass was a rich land, far richer than the land in North Carolina, land drained by nutrient-sucking tobacco and cotton plants grown by planters of the day. Driving where the Pope’s once lived, it’s hard to imagine the prairie grass extending for miles. In present times, the land is flat with furrows plowed by farmers for better than two hundred years. At one time, trees lived on a third of the land in Blue Mound; much of them are gone today. Blue Mound Township, named for the cone-shaped gravel hill, rises 80 feet above the surrounding farmland. ⁴ The Popes could see the distant blue mounds from their home, usually covered by a profusion of blue flowers in the spring and summer. ⁵ Mosquito Creek is a small rivulet of water running through the land.

Map of land purchased in Section 20, Township 15N, Range 1E

Eight daughters were born to the Pope’s, six while they lived in Wake County. ⁶ As the Pope’s moved west, there must have been something in the air or water, for their first two boys were born in Tennessee. Their last two boys were born in Macon County. Willis Zachariah Pope supposedly was the first child born in Blue Mound. ⁷

In the beginning, their home was likely simple. The boys weren’t old enough to help lift the huge logs needed for a sturdy-hewn log home. The prairie land was difficult to plow. Often soil stuck to the cast-iron plow blades. As time went by and more people settled in the area, there were bound to be sturdier homes and barn raisings using the lumber in the township. Farm implements improved. By 1850, farming was easier. Three of his boys still lived at home, their help relieving Dempsey’s aging body that had seen more than seventy years on this earth. Two of his girls helped their mother, Sarah. Dempsey and his boys raised sheep and pigs. Their cows furnished milk and butter for their families. The rich land provided wheat, oats, and Indian corn in abundance. Orchards gave up their sweet fruit in the fall; life was good. The Pope’s found their soft place to land.

Then life as they knew it changed. Dempsey died one winter day on 17 Dec 1853. ⁸ He was seventy-six years old. His boys saw that the farm would go on; they fed the animals and sowed and harvested the crops. But Sarah would miss him. He wouldn’t be there to support her when their two boys, James and Zachariah, died in the Civil War due to illness. Perhaps it was a blessing for him that he left so soon, but not a blessing for her. Sarah lived another twenty-one years, passing on 11 Feb 1874. ⁹ She joined Dempsey, buried in Pope Cemetery, located on Pleasant View Road in Blue Mound.

Twenty-nine years after Dempsey’s death, William David Pope, Dempsey and Sarah’s grandson, took his family by wagon to Fort Scott, Kansas. The land was richer, far richer than the land in Illinois, land beginning to tire after years of wheat, oats, and corn sucking the nutrients out of the soil.


¹ John W. Smith, History of Macon, Illinois, from Its Organization to 1876  (Macon, Illinois: Rokker’s Printing House, 1876, 1876),  274

² Robertson, Tennessee, Deed Books, S: 325-326, Dempsey Pope sold 98 acres of land to Robert B. Gordon, 16 Jan 1826; digital images, Familysearch.org, “Index to deeds, 1796-1965,” Familysearch.org (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 23 Oct 2021). 

³TALLGRASS PRAIRIE 2014 Eco-Meet Varsity, https://www.mvs.usace.army.mil/Portals/54/docs/recreation/lakeshelbyville/Education/Tallgrass%20Prairie%20Study%20Guide-Varsity%202014.pdf

⁴Blue Mound, Illinois, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Mound,_Illinois

⁵Illinois Genealogy Express, Townships, http://www.usgenealogyexpress.com/~il/macon/maconco_townships.html

⁶A total of twelve children were born to the Popes. Daughters Martha Patience, Mary, Tabitha, Sarah, Ellen Elizabeth, and Leacy were born in Wake County, North Carolina. William and James Madison were born in Robertson County, Tennessee. Willis Zachariah and Zachariah were born in Blue Mound township followed by Penelope and Nancy Matilda. James Madison Pope was my husband’s great-great-grandfather.

⁷William E. Nelson, City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois: a Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement (Chicago: Pioneer Pub., 1910), Page 386. 

⁸ “Find-A-Grave,” database (http:www.findagrave.com : accessed 2 Jun 2013), Dempsey Pope, Memorial #44535724.

⁹ “Find-A-Grave,” database (http:www.findagrave.com : accessed 2 Jun 2013), Sarah Edwards Pope, Memorial #44535744. 

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