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 1500 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 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 about 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, a crossing that took 50 days.
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. During this trip he visited with many intellectual and influential men, evaluating settlements and studying America. 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 was about to return to England when he learned that Mr. Birkbeck and his party had arrived in Richmond, Virginia where he hastened to join them.
The Birkbeck party consisted of Mr. Birkbeck, a widower aged 54, his two daughters aged 19 and 16, and two of his sons aged 16 and 14; Miss Eliza Julia Andrews, 25; Elias Pym Fordham, aged 29, nephew of Elizabeth (Fordham) Flower (George’s mother); and two servants. 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 over land 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. Earlier in the journey, Miss Andrews had also been proposed to by Mr. Birkbeck. Many historians believe this marriage began a rift between Birkbeck and Flower that 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.
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 the 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. Remaining on the Prairie, Birkbeck entered the necessary land grants of almost 10,000 acres at $2 per acre. Birkbeck began at once to build cabins for his family, and temporary accommodations for those who would later join the settlement. At the same time, Elias Pym Fordham begins construction for the Flower homes.
In March 1818, the first party of 88 immigrants 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. Capable bachelors, Charles Trimmer and James Lawrence, led them. This party of immigrants is known as the “Lawrence and Trimmer party”.
A month later, in April 1818, a second load of more than 60 immigrants departed Liverpool England in a chartered ship. This group included the Richard Flower family; Maria Fordham, sister of Elias Pym Fordham, George Flower and his two sons; the John Woods family; and the Shepherd family of 4 whose family had served the Fordham-Flower family for 3 generations and who refused to be left behind.
The rift that 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 2 miles apart. George Flower founded Albion (the poetic name for England), and Morris Birkbeck founded Wanborough (the name of his former estate in England) some 2 miles west of Albion. 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 with their success in America.
One of the first immigrants, John Woods, published “2 years residence on the English Prairie” in 1820, intended as a guide for those who were immigrating. Wanborough as a town, unfortunately, lost its heart with the death of Morris Birkbeck who drowned on June 4th, 1825 while crossing the Fox River returning from New Harmony, Indiana. He and his son Bradford had gone to New Harmony to deliver a packet of letters to Mr. Owen who was to take them to England. 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, “Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois, with Proposals for the Establishment of a Colony of English”, and “letters from Illinois”. Both of these books were widely read both in England and America. Birkbeck 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 August 2nd 1824 when the citizens were asked whether to call a state convention in which Illinois might scrap her old Constitution, based on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which declared that the Northwest Territory should be forever free from slavery.
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 1 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 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 earlier 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 towards evening. They were laid to rest side by side at Oak Grove Cemetery at Grayville. They had wanted to be buried in Albion, but the January weather, and poor road conditions made that impossible.
The mission of the Chamber of Commerce is: To serve the Edwards County Community by promoting and supporting new and existing business development in order to strengthen our local economy and improve the quality of life of in Edwards County so that its citizens, and all areas of its business community, shall prosper always bearing in mind that, “As the community thrives so does its businesses.”