Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.
By Jared Olar
For the first 19 years of its existence, from 1830 to 1849, Pekin was a pioneer town, with much of the character that is associated with the Wild West rather than a modern semi-rural Midwestern city. A Native American village even thrived near the new town until 1833, first located on the ridge above Pekin Lake and later on the south shores of Worley Lake.
However, as Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates tells in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory, it was in that first period of Pekin’s history that the crucial groundwork was laid for Pekin’s civic development.
Thus, Bates tells us that Pekin’s nascent economy got a boost in Pekin’s first year with the opening of two stores – one belonging to Absalom Dillon and the other to David Bailey – and a hotel or tavern operated by Pekin co-founder Gideon Hawley. Religion in the new town also made its debut in 1830, with the construction of Rev. Joseph Mitchell’s Methodist Church on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol.
The following year, Thomas Snell built the town’s first school house, located on Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary. Thomas’ son John was the school teacher. The same year, Thomas built Pekin’s first warehouse.
The most significant of 1831’s milestones for Pekin was the transfer of the county seat from Mackinaw to Pekin. When the Illinois General Assembly created Tazewell County in early 1827, Mackinaw was designated as the county seat because it was near what was then the geographical center of Tazewell County. But Pekin’s location as a port on the Illinois River meant Pekin was less remote than Mackinaw. That greater accessibility gave Pekin better prospects.
Another thing that may have played a role in the decision to move the county seat was a memorable extreme weather event: the incredible “Deep Snow” of Dec. 1830, a snowfall and sudden freeze that had turned life on the Illinois prairie into a desperate fight for survival. Pekin was closer to other, larger towns and settlements than Mackinaw, and therefore safer for settlers.
With such considerations in mind, the county’s officials decided to relocate to Pekin even though Illinois law still said Mackinaw was the county seat.
Pekin remained the de facto county seat for the next five years. During that time, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood presided over the Circuit Court in Tazewell County. Court at first took place in the Snell school house, but later would convene in the Pekin home of Joshua C. Morgan, who simultaneously held the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, Master in Chancery, and Postmaster. That house was later the residence of Pekin pioneer doctor William S. Maus.
The Black Hawk War, Illinois’ last conflict with its Native American population, broke out in 1832. The war lasted only a few months. It began disastrously for the Illinois militia with the debacle at Stillman’s Run in northern Illinois, where the untrained and undisciplined militia recruits quickly succumbed to panic and fled, leaving behind the few brave men in their number to be butchered and scalped. As Bates sardonically put it, “The balance of the command, so history hath it, saved their scalps by doing some exceedingly rapid marching to Dixon on the Rock River.” Among the fallen was Pekin co-founder Major Isaac Perkins.
The town of Pekin itself was not directly affected by the fighting, although the townsfolk did build a stockade around the Snell school house as a precaution, renaming it Fort Doolittle. The fort never had to be used, however, which was a very good thing, because, as Bates commented, it “was so constructed, that in case of a siege, the occupants would have been entirely destitute of water.”
Despite the war’s inauspicious start, the Illinois troops quickly gained the upper hand and Sauk war leader Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak) was forced to give up the struggle. The outcome of the war was the greatest calamity for the remaining Indian tribes of Illinois, who beginning in 1833 were almost to a man forcibly relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi – including the Pottawatomi and Kickapoo bands who lived in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s Pottawatomi were soon joined by the harried remnants of their kin from Indiana, whom state militia soldiers forced to march west from their homes in Indiana in 1838 along a route that is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death.
In July 1834, an epidemic of Asiatic cholera struck Pekin, causing the deaths of several pioneers, including Thomas Snell and the wife of Joshua C. Morgan. The victims were hastily interred in the old Tharp Burying Ground, the former site of which is now the parking lot of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.
Given the challenges and upheavals of the first five years of Pekin’s existence, it should not be surprisingly to learn that there are no surviving records of the town’s elections prior to 1835. On July 9, 1835, the townsfolk elected five men as Trustees: David Mark, David Bailey, Samuel Wilson, Joshua C. Morgan, and Samuel Pillsbury. Two days later, Pekin’s newly elected Board of Trustees organized itself, choosing Morgan as its president and Benjamin Kellogg Jr. as clerk.
One of the first acts of the new board was passing an ordinance on Aug. 1, 1835, specifying the town’s limits. At the time, Pekin’s boundaries extended from the west bank of the Illinois River in Peoria County eastward along a line that is today represented by Dirksen Court, reaching out as far as 11th Street, then straight south along to 11th to Broadway, then westward along Broadway back across the Illinois River to Peoria County. It is noteworthy that land in Peoria County has been included within the limits of Pekin ever since 1835.
Pekin’s first Board of Trustees continued to meet until June 27, 1836, when the county seat was formally relocated by Illinois law to Tremont, where a new court house had been built. Pekin then elected a new board on Aug. 8, 1836, the members of which were Samuel Pillsbury, Spencer Field, Jacob Eamon, John King, and David Mark. King was elected board president and Kellogg was again elected clerk.
Board members served one-year terms in those days, so Pekin held elections every year. Getting enough board members together for a quorum was evidently a real challenge. The board addressed that problem by passing of an ordinance on Jan. 4, 1838, stipulating that any board member who was more than 30 minutes late for a board meeting would forfeit $1 of his pay.
Another notable act of Pekin’s board around that time was a resolution of Dec. 29, 1840, adopting “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage” as the official seal of the town of Pekin.
Throughout these years, Pekin continued to see economic developments. The first bank in town, a branch of the Bank of Illinois, was established in 1839 or 1840 at the rear of a store on Second Street. There was not yet a bridge across the Illinois River, but ferries were licensed to operate. Alcohol distilleries also were established in the area that is still Pekin’s industrial district, and around those years Benjamin Kellog also built the first steam mill near the river between Margaret and Anna Eliza streets.
In spite of a scarlet fever epidemic in winter of 1843-44, these economic developments were signs of Pekin’s continuing growth and progress, notwithstanding the loss of the county seat to Tremont. The pioneer town was poised to attain the status and rank of a city.
By Jared Olar
The founding of Pekin was due to the influx of settlers of central Illinois during the 1820s, in the decade following Illinois statehood. This area’s newcomers in that wave of settlement were first attracted to Fort Clark (Peoria), but before long pioneers were establishing homesteads up and down the Illinois River valley in Peoria’ vicinity.
Pekin, as it well known, began with Jonathan Tharp’s homestead of 1824 on a ridge above the Illinois River, at what is now the foot of Broadway near downtown Pekin. Within a year, Tharp had been joined by several other settlers, including his own father Jacob Tharp (1773-1871) and brother Northcott Tharp, and his friend Jesse Eggman, all of whom arrived in 1825 and built cabins near Jonathan’s.
Most of what we know of Pekin’s “pre-history” during the 1820s comes from three sources: the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, William H. Bates’ 1870 account of Pekin’s history that he first published in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, and Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”
Jacob Tharp’s diary contains the earliest surviving reference to Pekin as “the Celestial City,” referring to the old pioneer tradition that Pekin had been named after Peking (Beijing), China. A transcript of Tharp’s diary was itself published on pages 565-562 of Chapman’s history, and Tharp’s account was substantially reproduced in the 1949 Pekin Centenary and the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volumes. Following are excerpts from Tharp’s diary, drawn from Chapman’s county history:
“. . . After a streak of bad luck, in 1825, [I] left Ohio, where I then resided, and traveled through Indiana with one ox-team, a span of horses, and a family of twelve persons, reaching the site of Pekin just before Christmas.
“Jonathan Tharp, my son, built the first house ever erected in the city of Pekin, in 1824, on the spot now occupied by Joshua Wagenseller’s residence. Jonathan’s farm embraced the land now covered by our heaviest business houses.
“At the time of my arrival, Jonathan was the only occupant. Their neighbors were Major Nathan Cromwell, living on the Hawley farm; Gideon Hawley, living on the Mackinaw side of Sand Prairie; Seth Wilson, living on John Young’s farm; John and Geo. Clines, between that place and Tremont; the Woodrows and John Summers, living in the Woodrow settlement; the Dillon family, after whom that township was named; the Hodgsons, friends and relatives of the Dillons; old Benj. Briggs, afterwards Sheriff; James Scott, who with Wilson, acted as constable in those days; and Wm. Eads, who was the first miller in this section of the State. He ran a ‘horse-mill,’ and ground only corn. On New Year’s day, 1827, I went to Fort Clark, now Peoria, where I found a few cabins occupied by John Hamlin, James Dixon, and others. Hamlin had a little store, and I bought groceries, coffee selling at 37 ½ cents per pound. On my way home I contracted for mast-fed pork at $2.50 per hundred. I soon built my cabin, placing it about half way between Joshua Wagenseller’s house and the present landing at the river.
“In the summer of 1827, the first consignment of goods was sent to Pekin, by one [Mordecai] Mobley, the land auctioneer. I received them, and so won the honor of being the first commission merchant. Most of the goods, however, went on to Mackinaw, which was the first shire-town. Pekin at this early day, was reported to be the best commercial point on the Illinois river. All goods came up from St. Louis, which was the great basis of supplies for the settlers.
“The Government surveys were made previous to 1828. This year we were cheered by a close neighbor, a Mr. Hinkle, who came to put up a trading house for Absalom Dillon. The goods came before the house was finished, and so my smoke-house was used for the first store. This season the Methodists established a mission, and their first service was held in Hawley’s house, on Sand Prairie. In the fall of 1828, Absalom and Joseph Dillon moved to Pekin, and ‘camped out’ for a while. Major Cromwell came in 1829, and bought out Dillon’s stock in trade, when those gentleman returned to the country. In the same year, Hawley and William Haines built cabins in our town. The inhabitants then consisted of Cromwell, Hawley, Haines, Dr. John Warner, the two Hiatts, Jonathan Tharp and myself. Mr. Clark made a raft of hewed puncheons, and started the ferry, placing a stake just below the present ferry landing to mark his claim.
“When the land sales were held at Springfield, there were several claimants for the Pekin town-site. On the first day of the sale the bidding ran high, and the land was knocked down to William Haines at $20.00 dollars an acre; but he did not comply with the regulations of the sale, and on the second day the same tract was sold for one hundred dollars per acre. The buyer again failed to comply, and the tract was once more offered on the third day. A man in Springfield, named Harrington, had in the meantime a deadly quarrel with Major [Isaac] Perkins, one of the principal claimants, growing out of some delicate question. Those were chivalrous days, and he determined on revenge. So he placed himself near the auctioneer, armed to the eyebrows, and when the coveted tract was put up, he bid one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre, and swore he would blow out any man’s brains who offered a higher bid. Major Perkins was stalking around the room, armed for battle and hunting blood. There was immense excitement, and death was felt in the atmosphere, but the tract was knocked down to Harrington. He complied with the regulations and walked out feeling sublime, but the Major and his friends captured the usurper, conveyed him to a room and persuaded him to make out deeds for the prize. From these papers the original title is derived.”
“In the spring of 1830, the proprietors surveyed and laid out the town, Perkins, Hawley, Haines and Cromwell being the active agents. Cromwell did the surveying. About this time Perkins sold out to Thomas Snell, from Cincinnati, Ohio. The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city. The elder Hiatt had a claim upon the Lake shore, but when the land sales occurred he forgot to bid, and Carpenter bought his tract, also buying eighty acres on the east side of said tract. The proprietors of the future city included these two tracts in the town-site. Mr. Hiatt was appeased with a pony purse of seventy-five or eighty dollars.
“After some property sales, the foreign owners were bought out and the entire city owned, body and soul, by five persons, namely: William Haines, Thomas Snell, Nathan Cromwell, William Brown, and David Bailey. The surveys were finally completed, and it was found that the lots had cost just twenty-eight cents apiece. The advertisement for the gale of lots was immediately made, to take place in April, 1830. The deed of partition was drawn up before the sale, and is the one now on record.”
Many additional details on Pekin’s founding were recorded in four pages of the original handwritten minutes of the stockholder meetings of the company that founded Pekin. From these minutes we learn that on Dec. 28, 1829, Cromwell was appointed to survey and stake out the proposed town, and Cromwell reported on Jan. 18, 1830, that “the survey of Said Town, is Compleeted (sic) and the Stakeing (sic) nearly done.”
On Jan. 19, 1830, according to the minutes, the company’s commissioners met again to decide on the name of the new town and to arrange the sale of lots to be announced in several newspapers throughout the Midwest. Isaac Perkins made the motion to vote on the town’s name, and three names were proposed: Pekin, Port Folio, and Portugal. According to old pioneer tradition, Nathan Cromwell’s wife Ann Eliza had proposed the name of “Pekin,” and that name garnered the most votes – and thus Pekin was born.
By Jared Olar
A total of 84 Illinois counties were organized from 1790 (when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory) until 1839, when the Illinois General Assembly established a record 15 new counties in a single year.
The remaining 18 counties of Illinois were founded from 1841 to 1859, which averages out to one new county a year during that period. However, the establishing of those 18 counties didn’t happen that regularly, for seven of them were established in 1841: Grundy, Henderson, Kendall, Mason, Piatt, Richland, and Woodford counties.
Grundy County is named for Felix Grundy (1777-1840), a Tennessee senator who served as the 13th U.S. Attorney General. Henderson County was named for Henderson County, Kentucky, which in turn was named in honor of North Carolina pioneer Richard Henderson, a colleague of Daniel Boone who was involved in a land investment scheme that aimed to create a new state called Transylvania out of land that is now a part of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Kendall County was named after Amos Kendall (1789-1869), who served as Postmaster General in the cabinets of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Mason County was named after Mason County, Kentucky, which had been named after George Mason IV, remembered as the Father of the Bill of Rights. Mason was one of the three delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the new Constitution because it failed to safeguard the rights of the citizens and the states.
Piatt County is named after John Piatt, the father of one of that county’s prominent pioneer families. Richland County is named after Richland County in Ohio, which had been so named for its rich soil. Woodford County is named after Revolutionary War Gen. William Woodford, who died as a prisoner of war in 1780.
Four new counties were formed in 1843: Cumberland, Massac, Moultrie, and Pulaski counties. Cumberland County is so named because the Cumberland Road entered the county. The road in turn got its name from Cumberland, Maryland, which was named for the Cumberland range of the Appalachian Mountains, themselves named after the Cumberland mountains of northern England. (The ultimate origin of “Cumberland” is in the early medieval kingdom of Cumbria in Britain, so named because the kingdom’s inhabitants were Britons or Welsh, whose own name for themselves in modern Welsh is Cymry.)
Massac County, in southern Illinois on the Ohio River, is named for a French outpost called Fort Massac, constructed near the river in 1757 within the present bounds of Massac County. Moultrie County is named after Revolutionary War Gen. William Moultrie (1730-1805), who also served as Governor of South Carolina. Pulaski County is named after Gen. Casimir Pulaski, a Polish American who commanded U.S. cavalry during the Revolutionary War.
Saline County, named for the salt deposits found there, was established in 1847. Six years later, in 1853, Kankakee County was added, named for the Kankakee River. The river’s name is thought to derive from the Miami-Illini Algonquin term teeyaahkiki, meaning “open country” or “country exposed to view,” probably given to the area because it was a marshland.
The last two counties of Illinois, Douglas and Ford, were established in 1859, only two years before the start of the Civil War. Ford County was named after Thomas Ford (1800-1850), eighth Governor of Illinois.
Douglas County was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), the well-known and popular racist Illinois Democrat who argued that slavery should remain legal in a famous series of debates with Abraham Lincoln in 1858. Even with his pro-slavery views, Douglas nevertheless was staunchly pro-Union – in the first weeks after the Civil War began, Douglas called on his Democrat supporters to support the Union before he succumbed to typhoid fever on June 3, 1861.
For more information about the founding and naming of Illinois’ counties, see the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” available for study in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.
By Jared Olar
On Friday, April 6, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the fourth video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. As the nation this month marks the 153rd anniversary of the surrender of the Confederacy that ended the Civil War, the video will be “Illinois’ Memory of the Civil War,” 29 minutes in length and produced by the Illinois State Archives in 1992. Admission is free and the public is invited.
The formation and naming of Illinois’ 102 counties, which we have been tracing in recent weeks, was completed two years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Last time in this series, we had reached the year 1833, when Champaign and Iroquois counties were established. Six new counties were added three years after that: Kane, McHenry, Ogle, Whiteside, Will, and Winnebago counties.
Kane County was named after U.S. Senator Elias Kane of Illinois (1794-1835). McHenry County was named for Major William McHenry, (c.1771-1835), an Illinois legislator who had fought in several battles against Native Americans. Ogle County was named after Joseph Ogle (1737-1821), an Illinois pioneer who co-founded Illinois’ first Methodist congregation. Whiteside County bears the name of Illinois legislator and militiaman Samuel Whiteside (1783-1868). Will County was named after Illinois legislator and physician Conrad Will (1779-1835). Winnebago County was named for the Winnebago tribe of Native Americans who lived in Wisconsin and northern Illinois before being dispossessed and moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River.
Just one year later, in 1837, six more counties were added: Boone, Bureau, Cass, DeKalb, Livingston, and Stephenson counties. Boone County was named for the famous Kentucky frontiersman and trailblazer Daniel Boone. Bureau County was named after the French fur trader Pierre de Buero. Cass County was named after Lewis Cass (1782-1866), second territorial governor of Michigan and 14th U.S. Secretary of War.
DeKalb County was named in honor of Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, a Bavarian-French soldier who fought alongside Lafayette during the Revolutionary War and was killed at the Battle of Camden in 1780. Livingston County was named after U.S. Congressman and Secretary of State Edward Livingston (1764-1836). Stephenson County was named for Benjamin Stephenson (1769-1822), Illinois territorial delegate to Congress.
1839 was a banner year for the creation of new Illinois counties – the General Assembly erected 15 new counties that year: Brown, Carroll, Dane, DeWitt, DuPage, Hardin, Jersey, Lake, Lee, Logan, Marshall, Menard, Scott, Stark, and Williamson counties.
Brown County is named for War of 1812 veteran Jacob Brown. Carroll County was named in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was the only Catholic Christian Founding Father (the other Founding Fathers were Protestant Christians, Unitarians, or Deists).
As for Dane County, one may search a map of Illinois diligently but will not find it, because the county existed under that name for just one year. It was originally named in honor of U.S. Congressman Nathan Dane of Massachusetts (1752-1835), a principal drafter of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 who personally added the ordinance’s Article 6 that banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. However, the people of the new county were Democrats whereas Dane had been a Federalist, so a settler named Daniel Goode, a Jacksonian Democrat, petitioned to have the county renamed. Dane County thus became Christian County in 1840, named after the already-existing Christian County in Kentucky, which was in turn named in honor of Revolutionary War officer Col. William Christian (c.1743-1786).
DeWitt County, with its county seat at Clinton, was named for New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton of Erie Canal fame – the same man for whom Clinton County, with its county seat at Carlyle, had been named in 1824. DeWitt Clinton is the only man to have two Illinois counties named in his honor.
DuPage County takes its name from the DuPage River, which got its name from an old French fur trader of the 1700s named DuPage, who had operated a trading post near the place where the river joins the Des Plaines River near Channahon.
Hardin County was named after Hardin County in Kentucky, which was itself named for John Hardin (1753-1792), a noted veteran of the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War who was slain by the Shawnee in Ohio in April or May of 1792. With only about 4,800 inhabitants, Hardin County has the lowest county population in the state.
Jersey County was named after the state of New Jersey, from which many of the county’s settlers had come. Lake County got its name because it is on the shore of Lake Michigan. Lee County was named for “Light Horse” Henry Lee III (1756-1818), a Revolutionary War officer and ninth Governor of Virginia, father of Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee.
Logan County is named for Illinois pioneer and doctor John Logan, father of Civil War Gen. and U.S. Senator John A. Logan of Illinois. Remarkably, even though Illinois is known as “the Land of Lincoln,” none of Illinois’ counties are named after Abraham Lincoln – but the county seat of Logan County is named in his memory.
Marshall County is named in honor of the famous U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Menard County is named for Illinois’ first lieutenant governor Pierre Menard. Scott County takes its name from Scott County, Kentucky, which was named for Charles Scott (1739-1813), a Revolutionary War officer who became the fourth governor of Kentucky.
Stark County was named after Revolutionary War Gen. John Stark (1728-1822), who won a significant American victory at the Battle of Bennington in 1777. Williamson County was named for Hugh Williamson (1735-1819), a North Carolina delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Thus, by the end of 1839 Illinois had 84 counties. The Illinois General Assembly would organize the 18 remaining counties over the next two decades. We’ll conclude the roll of the names of Illinois’ counties next time.
By Jared Olar
This week we’ll continue with our review of the names of the counties of Illinois, beginning with the three counties that the State Legislature established in 1824: Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.
Clay County was named after Henry Clay of Kentucky, a notable American leader during this period who served in both the U.S. House and Senate, best remembered for negotiating the important Missouri Compromise of 1820 that safeguarded the nation’s fragile equilibrium between slave and free states. Clinton County is named in honor of New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), who spearheaded the building of the Erie Canal that bolstered the U.S. economy.
Wabash County takes its name from the Wabash River, which was in turn named by the Algonquin-speaking Miami and Illini tribes. The Wabash forms a part of the Illinois-Indiana border. The Native American name for the river, Waapaahšiiki, means “water over white stones,” a reference to the limestone river bottom in Huntington County, Indiana.
In 1825, the Illinois General Assembly established 10 new counties – the most that had been founded in Illinois history up till then. The counties were Adams, Calhoun, Hancock, Henry, Knox, Mercer, Peoria, Putnam, Schuyler, and Warren counties.
Adams County is named in honor of John Quincy Adams, sixth U.S. president. Calhoun County is named after U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who also became the seventh U.S. vice president. Hancock County is named for Founding Father John Hancock of Massachusetts, famous for his over-sized signature on the Declaration of Independence. Henry County is named after another Founding Father, Gov. Patrick Henry of Virginia who reportedly declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Five of 1825’s new counties were named after men who fought in the Revolutionary War. Knox County is named for Gen. Henry Knox, who became the first U.S. Secretary of War. It is noteworthy that there had formerly been a Knox County that included parts of Illinois, back in the days of the Indiana Territory – but with the formation of the Illinois Territory in 1809, the original Knox County became an Indiana county. Illinois’ Knox County of 1825 was never a part of the original Knox County.
Mercer County is named for Gen. Hugh Mercer. Putnam County – the smallest Illinois County, covering only 160 square miles – is named in honor of Gen. Israel Putnam, U.S. commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Schuyler County is named after Gen. Philip Schuyler, who also served as a U.S. Senator from New York. Warren County is named for an American patriot who was killed very early in the Revolutionary War, Joseph Warren.
Peoria County was, of course, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek, who formerly lived on the shores of Lake Pimiteoui (Peoria Lake).
Only two new counties were founded in 1826: McDonough and Vermilion counties. McDonough County is named after Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who commanded U.S. naval forces at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York, where the U.S. thwarted Britain’s final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812.
Vermilion County is named for the Vermilion River, a tributary of the Wabash River. This tributary was called the Piankeshaw by the Miami tribe, but European settlers renamed the river from the reddish color of the earth or chalk found in the bluffs above the river, which the Native Americans used for face paint.
Besides Tazewell County, three other counties were established in 1827: Jo Daviess, Perry, and Shelby counties. Jo Daviess County is named after Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, who commanded the Indiana Dragoons at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Curiously, although his last name was spelled “Daveiss,” in all of the places named for him the misspelling “Daviess” is used instead. Perry County is named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who led American naval forces to victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Shelby County is named after Kentucky Gov. Isaac Shelby, a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Two counties were founded in 1829: Macon County, named after Nathaniel Macon (1758-1837), sixth Speaker of the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator for North Carolina; and Macoupin County, which is named from an Algonquin word that is believed to mean “white potato.”
The Illinois General Assembly formed two new counties in 1830. One of them, Coles County, was named for Edward Coles, second Governor of Illinois (1822-1826), who devoted his political career to the cause of the abolition of slavery, striving mightily to prevent the legalization of slavery and end the practice of indentured servitude in Illinois.
The other, McLean County, formed from Tazewell County the same year that Pekin was founded, was named for Illinois Congressman and Senator John McLean. McLean is geographically the largest county in Illinois, covering 1,184 square miles.
Illinois’ most populous county, Cook County (with a current population of about 5.2 million), was established in 1831, and is named after Illinois’ first Attorney General Daniel Pope Cook (1794-1827), a newspaper owner and editor who had advocated for Illinois statehood in his newspapers.
Also founded in 1831 were Effingham County, named for Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, who resigned from the British Army rather than fight against the 13 colonies; Jasper County, named for Revolutionary War hero Sgt. William Jasper (c.1750-1779); LaSalle County, named after the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle; and Rock Island County, named for Rock Island, a notable island in the Mississippi where Fort Armstrong was built in 1816 and an arsenal was established in the 1880s.
In 1833, the year after the Black Hawk War – Illinois’ final war against its Native American population – two more counties were added: Champaign County, named after Champaign County, Ohio, from which pioneers of the county had come (“champaign” in French means “battlefield”), and Iroquois County, named after the New York-based League of the Iroquois that had controlled the Illinois Country during their expansionist wars of the 1600s.
By this time Illinois had been subdivided into 60 counties. Another 42 counties would be established over the next 26 years. We will continue down the roll of Illinois counties next time.
By Jared Olar
In the last few weeks we have recalled how Tazewell County was founded and named, and how the county boundaries were redrawn during the 1830s and 1840s. As we noted previously, Tazewell County was named for a Virginia state governor and U.S. Senator named Littleton Waller Tazewell.
But what of the names of the other 101 counties of Illinois? Where did they get their names? Starting today and continuing over the next few weeks, we’ll present the counties of Illinois in order of their founding, telling the years they were established and the origins or meanings of their names. Most of our state’s counties were named for notable men of U.S. and Illinois history.
St. Clair County was established in 1790 when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. It was named for Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), first governor of the Northwest Territory.
Randolph County was established in 1795 during the time when Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory. It was named after Edmund Randolph (1753-1813), the first U.S. Attorney General as well as a U.S. Secretary of State.
Three counties were founded in 1812, three years after the formation of the Illinois Territory: Gallatin County, named for Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the fourth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (and the one who served the longest); Johnson County, named for Richard Mentor Johnson (c.1780-1850), ninth U.S. vice president and a U.S. senator from Kentucky; and Madison County, named for President James Madison (1751-1856).
In 1814, Edwards County was formed, named after Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) who later served as Illinois’ third state governor. The city of Edwardsville, county seat of Madison County, is also named after Ninian Edwards.
White County was formed the following year, being named for Isaac White (1776-1811), an Illinois settler who joined the Indiana Territorial Militia and was slain at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The next year, in 1816, Crawford County was founded, named after William H. Crawford (1772-1834), ninth U.S. Secretary of War and seventh Secretary of the Treasury.
Also founded in 1816 were Jackson and Monroe counties, named for Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe (it was Monroe who would admit Illinois to the Union two years later), and Pope County, named for Illinois Territorial Delegate Nathaniel Pope who played a central role in getting Illinois admitted as a state. Then in 1817, Bond County was formed, being named for territorial congressional delegate Shadrach Bond (1773-1832), who would be elected the first Illinois state governor just one year later.
Three new counties were formed in the preparation for Illinois’ admission to the Union as the 21st state in 1818, which explains the very patriotic names they were given: Franklin County, named after the famous Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; Union County, named in honor of the national Union of the states; and Washington County, named for the first U.S. President George Washington.
The year after Illinois statehood, 1819, saw the creation of four new counties: Alexander County, named for William M. Alexander, a pioneer settler of Illinois who was elected to the Illinois General Assembly; Clark County, named for George Rogers Clark who led the Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War; Jefferson County, named for Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president; and Wayne County, named for Gen. Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), who fought in the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War.
In 1821, the state legislature created seven new counties: Fayette, Greene, Hamilton, Lawrence, Montgomery, Pike, and Sangamon. The county seat of Fayette County is Vandalia, second Illinois state capital (1820-1839). The current state capital, Springfield, is also the Sangamon County seat of government.
Fayette County was named in honor of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French aristocrat who won the enduring love of the American people by aiding the nascent U.S. army during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette later was a leader of the French Revolution, whose hopes to create an American-style republic in France were dashed by the violent insanity of the Reign of Terror and the rise of the self-crowned despot Napoleon. Lafayette returned to tour the U.S. in 1824-25, visiting with Illinois Gov. Edward Coles and other Illinois dignitaries at Kaskaskia, the former state capital, on April 30, 1825. When the U.S. entered World War I to support the British and French in 1917, the U.S. Expeditionary Force formally proclaimed their arrival in France with the words, “Lafayette, we are here!”
Greene County was named for Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), a Revolutionary War major general. Hamilton County was named after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (Hamilton’s son William, a pioneer settler of Springfield and Peoria, was one of the dignitaries who met Lafayette at Kaskaskia in 1825).
Lawrence County was named for Capt. James Lawrence (1781-1813), commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake in the War of 1812, remembered for his command, “Don’t give up the ship!” Montgomery County was named for Gen. Richard Montgomery (1738-1775), a Revolutionary War leader who led a failed American invasion of Canada.
Pike County is named after the explorer Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), after whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. Finally, Sangamon County is named for the Sangamon River that flows through it. “Sangamon” comes from a Pottawatomi term, Sain-guee-mon, meaning a place where food is plentiful.
Four more counties were added in 1823: Edgar County, named for John Edgar (c.1750-1832), a very wealthy settler who served as an Illinois delegate to the Northwest Territory’s legislature; Fulton County, named after Robert Fulton, the famous inventor of the steamboat, which greatly aided Illinois commerce and transportation; Marion County, named in honor of Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion (c.1732-1795); and Morgan County, named after Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan who later served as a U.S. Congressman for Virginia.
That brings us to the eve of the arrival of Pekin’s first pioneer settler Jonathan Tharp in 1824 (the future site of Pekin was then in Sangamon County), which is a convenient place for us to pause. Next week we’ll continue with the three counties founded in 1824 – Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.
This is a slightly revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in March 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.
Redrawing the Tazewell County line
By Jared Olar
In the “From the Local History Room” column that ran March 9, 2013, we recalled the story of the old rivalry between Pekin and Tremont as the two communities contended for the honor and status of being the governmental seat of Tazewell County. It was due largely to that struggle that Tazewell County acquired its present geographical boundaries. As we noted previously, the county originally was much larger than it is today.
The trimming and shaving of Tazewell County during the 1830s and 1840s was just the last part of the process by which the county acquired its permanent shape on the map. When the Illinois General Assembly first created Tazewell County in 1827, the county was much larger than it is today. The frequent change in the county’s borders up to the year 1839 (prior to the Tremont-Pekin struggle) can be tracked by consulting the maps of Illinois found in one of the volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room: a 63-page booklet published by the State of Illinois in 1991 with the title, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties.”
This booklet presents the development of the counties of Illinois beginning in 1790, when the land that would become the State of Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. In that year, there were only two counties in Illinois: Knox County (not to be confused with today’s Knox County which borders Peoria County on the west), which included most of the eastern half of Illinois and parts of Indiana, and St. Clair County, which took up about the southwestern third of Illinois. The Illinois River served as the northwestern boundary of St. Clair County and part of the northwestern and western border of Knox County. Most of present Tazewell County was then a part of Knox County, with about a fourth of Tazewell including in St. Clair County.
By 1801, Illinois was a part of the Indiana Territory, and the county lines had been moved, with almost all of Illinois (including the future Tazewell County) encompassed by St. Clair County. The southern quarter of Illinois was assigned to Randolph County. Knox County, however, was almost edged out of Illinois altogether. Most of Knox County was in Indiana, and just a narrow strip along the eastern border of what would become the State of Illinois was all that remained of Knox in Illinois.
Eight years later, in 1809, Knox County was no more – Illinois had but two counties, Randolph in the south and St. Clair in the north. In only three years, however, the territorial counties had been re-envisioned, with the southern quarter of Illinois divided among St. Clair, Randolph, Gallatin and Johnson counties, and the northern three-quarters of the territory (including Tazewell) assigned to Madison County.
Apart from some border adjustments of the southernmost counties, that basic arrangement remained until 1815, when two new counties were created: White County in southern Illinois, and Edwards County, which was formed out of the eastern half of Madison County by drawing of straight north-south line right through the middle of the Illinois Territory. The remaining territory of Madison County included the area that would later become Tazewell County.
By 1817 – just a year before Illinois became a state – the northern three-fourths of the Illinois Territory were taken up by three large counties: Crawford County in the east (which was most of the former Edwards County), Madison County in the west (which was most of the former Madison County), and a new county named Bond, created by slicing a perfect north-south strip from Madison County. Most of Tazewell County was included in Bond County, while the western part of Tazewell was in Madison County. The western border of Bond County passed right through the future site of Pekin.
Four years later, in 1821, the fledgling State of Illinois redrew the county borders in the northern three-fourths of its territory, reducing Bond County to a tiny rump of its former area and creating several new counties. One of them, Sangamon County, extended from Sangamon County’s present southern border as far north as the northern border of Putnam County at the Illinois River. Within Sangamon’s boundaries was the future Tazewell County – and in the summer of 1824, along the northwestern border of Sangamon County at the Illinois River, Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin where the city of Pekin would later arise.
In 1825, Sangamon County was reduced in size, with its northern half being separated from Sangamon and administered from the newly created Peoria County. This unorganized territory was not a part of Peoria County, but it also was not a county in its own right and was administered from Peoria.
Finally, on Jan. 31, 1827, the State of Illinois created Tazewell County out of lands that not only included the whole of the present Tazewell County, but also encompassed territory from the former Fayette County (which territory is today the western half of McLean County) as well as the whole of the future Woodford County and parts of Mason, Logan and De Witt counties.
Tazewell’s first reduction in size came with the creation of McLean County on Dec. 25, 1830. At that time, Tazewell acquired most of its current eastern border. Tazewell’s territory then still included a good part of what would become Woodford and Mason counties as well as a northern slice of the future Logan County.
Tazewell County would retain that shape and size for much of the following 10 years, after which the Pekin-Tremont rivalry reduced Tazewell to its permanent boundaries.