Tazewell County’s Old Settlers

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” devotes an entire chapter (Chapter VII) to the Tazewell County Old Settlers’ Association, a group that formally organized in Delavan in 1884. Even before then, however, it was already common to think and to speak of the earliest pioneers of the county as the “Old Settlers.” Thus, we see that the biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” frequently bestow the designation of “Old Settler” upon various individuals.

By 1884, according to Allensworth, many of the Old Settlers felt a desire to form a permanent association “to promote acquaintance and friendship among those who had lived in the county forty years, thereby cementing the ties which have bound the pioneers of the county together during that period, and to keep an accurate record of the birth-place and age at which each came to the county, as well as the date of the death of those who have passed away.”

The Old Settlers’ Association began with about a dozen members, who elected Ira B. Hall as their first president and Cyrus M. Kingman as secretary. The group would have an annual meeting or reunion at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan. An account of one of their meetings is found in an old newspaper clipping from the collection of Darlene Hamann of Green Valley. The clipping, dated Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1900, was reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2014, page 1030. Under the triple headline “Tazewell’s Old Settlers,” “They Assembled 400 Strong at Delavan Yesterday – 21 Died During Year,” and “Officers Re-Elected – Fair News,” we read the following:

“The feature of the opening day of the Tazewell county fair at Delavan yesterday was the gathering of the old settlers from all parts of the county. In round numbers there were 400 of the county’s ‘early birds’ on the grounds, renewing acquaintances and exchanging reminiscences. The organization has over 700 members and during the year 21 have been called to their reward. The morning was consumed by routine business and a number of very interesting short talks were made. President James Haines of Pekin, Ira B. Hall of Delavan, Judge N. W. Green of Pekin, and M. D. Pettett of Lincoln all spoke briefly. Mr. Pettett was 90 years old last May and is as spry as the average man of 60. Mr. Hall is 88 years old and has lived in the county over 60 years. The oldest woman present was Mrs. Margaret Young of Pekin aged 82. She came to this county in 1820. The business meeting was concluded by the election of officers for the ensuing year as follows:
“President – James Haines Sr. of Pekin; fourth term
“Vice-President – C. M. Kingman of Delavan; second term
“Secretary and Treasurer – W. F. Copes of Pekin; sixth term
“In the afternoon Judge William Don Maus of Pekin of Pekin delivered the address of the day. It was an eloquent and lengthy discussion upon the scenes and incidents of the times of the pioneers. The address was eagerly listened to by a great crowd of people and all expressed themselves as enjoying it very much.”

Allensworth wrote in 1905 that there was little change of the Association’s officers during the two decades following its organization. After the 1884 founding, Allensworth wrote, “The next year, Ira B. Hall was elected President and W. F. Copes, Secretary and Treasurer, which position he had held for nineteen years and is still in office. The same year, S. M. Woodrow was elected President and held the position about a year. Then Mr. Hall was elected to that office and held it for ten years. Mr. James Haines was then elected President and still holds the position.”

During the 19 years that Copes was secretary and treasurer, the Old Settlers’ Association had 768 members, 182 of whom had died by 1905, in which year there were 587 members of the rolls.

Among the Old Settlers of Tazewell County was a select group known as the “Snowbirds” — pioneers who had survived the unusual “Deep Snow” of the  extremely harsh winter of 1830-31. Shown below is a group photograph of the surviving “Snowbirds” at a gathering of the Tazewell County Old Settlers during a Tazewell County Fair in Delavan circa 1880.

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