The Life of John Choisser

by Mary Ann Duval

Introductory Comment by Bill Choisser

Mary Ann Duval was a granddaughter of John and Nancy Choisser, a daughter of their son Timothy Choisser. She can be found on the Choisser Family Tree at III.F. The time this story was told is not known, nor is the date of her death, though correspondence exists from her as late as 1933. She was born in 1864, so would have been about twelve years old at the time of Nancy Choisser's death.

We do not know who transcribed this account, but from the title they gave it, we would presume they were a niece or nephew of hers.

Aunt Mary Ann Duval's Version

John Baptiste Choisser was born in France [unlikely, as he was baptized in Montreal - ed.], and his father and brothers were lost at sea. That left John and his mother and sister. John was so hotheaded and had such a high temper he used to jerk his sister's arm every time she aggravated him. One day he pulled it out of place and they never said anything about it and her arm gradually withered and became useless in later years.

The family owned a general store before the death of the father and brother so the mother stayed on in it with the other two children and hired a young man to take care of the stock and keep the books. She finally married him, and John and he never got along very well. One day there was an argument between the two of them regarding the bookkeeping, and the inventory of the store, and in self-defense John hit his step-father in the head with a heavy crockery pitcher he grabbed from the shelf, and he thought he killed him. He told his mother about it and she decided that he better get away from there so she sewed $250.00 in the lining of his clothes and packed his little trunk and he sailed for Montreal where he lived with the Indians for three or more years. [More detailed research indicates the store was in Montreal and the place he left for was Illinois. - ed.]

When at the age of 35 or 40 [26 - ed.] - he was the captain on a river boat hauling livestock and produce down the Ohio River to New Orleans. At that time there wasn't any levee at Shawneetown, and only three houses, one of which was a lodging house for sailors and deckhands. It was operated by a woman and her husband, and the woman had a 14 [16 - ed.] year old sister, Nancy Sutton, who lived with them and was forced to do all the hard and dirty work and she was very unhappy. One day when John Choisser's boat stopped at Shawneetown, he saw Nancy and fell in love with her although he was over twice her age. At one of the three houses in Shawneetown there was a justice of the peace and they went to him and were secretly married. They decided to keep the marriage a secret until his return trip from New Orleans, which would take from 4 to 6 months. He told Nancy that when he came back he would bring everything they would need to set up housekeeping. So the following day he left for New Orleans. In a few weeks' time, Nancy knew she was going to have a baby because of her dizzy spells and sickness every morning. Her sister soon found out about it and she accused her of being pregnant by that old Frenchman that had been there, so then Nancy had to tell them she was married to him. They told her that he would never come back to her. She waited for him and in six months' time he returned and he brought everything to set them up in housekeeping - real silverware, a churn with copper bands on it, and all the other furniture they would need. The Indians had told him about the salt lick and salt springs down below Equality, and he had hunted buffalo and deer through this country too, and had always noticed how the cattle went there to drink. So, he decided to reclaim the salt. They packed up all their belongings and moved off into the wilderness, where they built a house and started cutting timber to build the troughs. The troughs were used to carry the salt brine from the springs up in the hill, down to the valley where the big iron kettles were fired by the slaves to evaporate the water from the salt. After the salt was dried, they'd pack it in bags and haul it to Shawneetown by ox cart to be shipped up or down the Ohio River.

On one cold and rainy night, a train of covered wagons came by that were heading for the west on the Old Goshen Trail. The were attracted by the red flare in the sky caused by the fires under the iron kettles, so they turned in to get dry and warm themselves as there were quite a few women and children in the wagon train.

They gathered around the fires so close that the slaves couldn't feed the fires and they gradually were going out and the salt was neglected. John came home from Shawneetown, and as was said before, he was hot-headed and quick-tempered, and he flew into a rage and wanted to know who was responsible for having his men feed and water the horses instead of minding the fires. A young fellow with a gun and about half drunk stepped forward and started an argument which ended with John reaching over his head for one of these huge sticks of firewood that was corded up high, and brought it down on the young fellow's head so hard that it killed him. The wagon train got going then, and they put the dead man in one of the wagons and took him to Shawneetown and to get the sheriff. In the meantime John told Nancy to give him his great-coat, which was the style in those days, and it had about three separate capes to it. He told her he was going to the high knoll and wait for them to come and get him. If the sheriff came along he would surrender, but if a posse came he would shoot it out with them, for he would never be arrested. When the sheriff came within hearing distance John told the sheriff to lay down his gun and he would come out peaceable, but he wouldn't surrender his gun.

So the sheriff took him to Shawneetown, and he was set free because he acted in self-defense. As the salt mines prospered, the settlers decided to ride to Springfield and buy up this land they had homesteaded. They rode horse-back all the way to Springfield and bought this land for from two to four dollars an acre, and the deeds were signed by Abraham Lincoln. John never heard from his mother again, but years and years later some man that claimed he was a solicitor from Montreal looked him up, but John would not admit that he was the man he was looking for because he always had the fear of what had happened to his step-father hanging over his head. John and Nancy Choisser both lived to a ripe old age - he died at the age of 87 [75 - ed.], and she died at the age of 68 [81 or 82 - ed.]. They had 13 children - 12 boys and 1 girl and from these 13 children there are over 500 descendants up to the present time, scattered all over the United States and Canada.

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