The life and death of Major Isaac Perkins

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in August 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

The life and death of Major Isaac Perkins

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the pioneer settlers of Tazewell County was a man named Isaac Perkins. Though little remembered today, he was a figure not only in the county’s early history but also played a role in the founding of Pekin and took part in an important formative event in Illinois history. In this column, we will sketch Perkins’ life with the help of publications in the library’s Local History Room collection and materials supplied by Cathie Butler Pipkins of Olympia, Wash., a descendant of Isaac Perkins’ youngest son James.

Isaac Perkins was born in 1795 in Livingston County, Kentucky, one of the seven children of Solomon and Elizabeth (Miller) Perkins. Solomon was born in western North Carolina in the 1750s and died around 1809 in southern Illinois. He is mentioned in early Illinois history as the first permanent settler in the Cave-in-the-Rock area of southern Illinois in the early 1800s.

On Nov. 7, 1813, in Pope County, Ill., Isaac, then 18 years old, married Jane Barker (1797-1862), daughter of Lewis Barker, a neighbor of Solomon Perkins who, like Solomon, had been born in North Carolina and settled in Livingston County, Kentucky, before coming to Cave-in-the-Rock. During the War of 1812, Barker had served as a captain in the Wabash Territory Illinois Militia, and in 1818 he was elected the first Illinois state senator for Pope County. In that year, Barker’s son-in-law Isaac Perkins served as a Justice of the Peace in Franklin County, Illinois. Isaac and his wife Jane had eight children. In the 1820s, Solomon Perkins’ sons Elisha and Isaac moved to the future Tazewell County, arriving about a year after pioneer settler Nathan Dillon. Elisha’s wife Susannah was a sister of Isaac’s wife Jane.

In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 205, Charles C. Chapman says, “In 1824 Nathan Dillon was followed by his brothers with their families, who settled on the creek around him. Then came George and Isham Wright to Hittle’s Grove, Esau and William Orendorff to Sugar Creek, Isaac Perkins, Hugh Woodrow, William Woodrow, Samuel Woodrow, John Summers, Jacob and Jonathan Tharp, Peter Scott and others, came into Sand Prairie in 1824.”

Chapman elsewhere mentions the appointment of Isaac Perkins as a county election judge for Sand Prairie precinct, and that Isaac’s brother Elisha built one of the first mills in Sand Prairie Township. It was Elisha who laid out the now vanished town of Circleville in the northeast corner of the township. Upon their arrival in Sand Prairie, Isaac and Elisha had built crude cabins in Section 1. Elisha remained in that location, while Isaac acquired extensive land not only in Sand Prairie but also at the future site of Pekin.

In 1825, Isaac served as a Justice of the Peace for Peoria County, when then included the territory that would become Tazewell County. After the creation of Tazewell in 1827, Isaac was the county’s first Recorder of Deed, and the very first legal document in the Recorder’s office, dated July 6, 1827, bears his name (A digital image of this document may be seen at http://www.tcghs.org/photo0500.htm).

In 1829, Isaac was one of the four original plat deed owners of Pekin. The other three plat owners were Gideon Hawley, William Haines and Nathan Cromwell. It was Cromwell’s wife Ann Eliza who chose the name “Pekin” for the Town Site on the Illinois River that the four men had platted out. Ann Eliza was a sister of Isaac Perkins’ wife Jane Barker and Elisha Perkins’ wife Susannah Barker. Nathan Cromwell, reportedly with the assistance of his wife Ann Eliza, named the city streets in the original town of Pekin after the wives and daughters of the first settlers here. Susannah Street was named for Elisha Perkins’ wife (although in his list of Pekin’s feminine-named streets, Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 Tazewell County history garbled Isaac with his brother Elisha).

The early publications on Pekin and Tazewell history usually refer to Isaac as “Major Isaac Perkins.” Genealogical researchers of the Perkins family plausibly explain that he probably acquired that rank from an otherwise unknown tour of duty with the Illinois State Militia. Isaac’s only known military service, however, was as a Private in the Black Hawk War of 1832, when he served in the 5th Illinois Regiment Brigade of Mounted Volunteers under the command of Major Isaac Stillman and Major David Bailey.

Stillman and his men, including Perkins, engaged Black Hawk’s forces on May 14, 1832, in the first battle of the Black Hawk War, known as the Battle of Sycamore, or better remembered as Stillman’s Run, which took place at a location about midway between Dixon and Rockford in Ogle County. Chapman tells the story of the battle on pages 258-261 of his 1879 history. Having unwittingly made camp near Black Hawk’s warriors, Stillman’s ill-trained and undisciplined men were immediately thrown into a panic and complete disarray, and the battle, such as it was, quickly became a chaotic retreat (hence the mocking name, “Stillman’s Run”). Black Hawk’s warriors easily slaughtered, scalped and beheaded the few soldiers who attempted to make a stand. Among them was Private Isaac Perkins. His youngest child, James, was then only three months old.

Coming upon the gory scene the next day was a state militia brigade led by a 23-year-old captain named Abraham Lincoln, who with his men gathered the remains of the fallen and buried in a common grave at the battle site, near a creek that consequently was named Stillman’s Creek. In 1901, a monument was erected at the site, which today is at the east end of the town of Stillman Valley.

See also “Eyewitness Accounts of Stillman’s Defeat

StillmansRunMonument

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