BEECHER CITY —
If Griffin Tipsword, the first white settler in Effingham County, had walked up on the large gathering that celebrated a tombstone dedication for him Sunday afternoon, he would have turned around and walked away.
Kevin Robertson, who has studied Griffin’s life extensively, says his great-great-great-great-grandfather was a simple man who would have shied away from such a spectacle.
“He would have thought the first headstone put up for him was too elaborate,” said Robertson, referring to the small headstone that signified his burial site.
Griffin settled in the area in 1815 and passed away in 1845, the same year as his wife, Ruth, added Robertson. Referring to the simple times of the day, such festivities or the designation as the first settler in the area would have been beyond the scope of Griffin’s day-to-day life.
“He would’ve walked on past if he saw all this,” said Robertson. “I don’t think he knew at the time that he was the first settler. People back then didn’t put a lot of thought into that kind of thing.”
Tipsword has often been described historically as an outdoorsman after his time serving under General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Their path to settle in Illinois stretched from the East Coast, winding through Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. During his time in the wilderness hunting deer and co-existing with various Indian tribes, Griffin is said to have known Daniel Boone, according to Robertson. After encountering some resistance from Indians in Southern Illinois, the family fled north to where they settled just south of Beecher City, said Robertson, whose mother was a Tipsword. Having to change the family name from Sowards to Tipsword, which was necessary to evade identification by hostile Indians, actually led to a unique historical pinpointing of all people currently named Tipsword, he added.
“If your last name is Tipsword, you came from Ruth and Griffin Tipsword,” he said.
According to Charla Fischbach, who led the fundraising effort to buy a new headstone and is also a Tipsword descendant, the name Tipsword was also taken because “Griffin always saw himself as the tip of the sword for the western migration.” With the cemetery near where Griffin settled down a gravel road in a remote part of the countryside, the natural setting would probably still appeal to the frontiersman. The area around his family’s burial site is heavily wooded, which would have been perfect for Griffin, who “enjoyed the solitude of nature,” said Fischbach.
Many re-enactors, including Illinois Society Sons of the American Revolution and those who dressed in early 1800s attire, made it quite easy for the large crowd to step back in time.
“In school, I was always a history buff,” said Robertson. “This made history personal.”
The headstone that now identifies Ruth, Griffin and their children has an engraving on the back that signifies their trek across the country — from the Appalachian Mountains they crossed, to the Ohio River they floated down into Southern Illinois, to the log cabin they built from Central Illinois timber upon settling the area.
“Griffin always liked living on the edge of wilderness,” said Fischbach. “His family put everything in a wagon and took off for parts unknown.”
Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or firstname.lastname@example.org.