Why they called the private ‘Major’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Twice before in this column space, we have spotlighted the life and death of one of Pekin’s co-founders, Major Isaac Perkins, who was killed in the battle known as Stillman’s Run on May 14, 1832, during the Black Hawk War. We first looked at Perkins in a column published on Aug. 3, 2013, and again examined Stillman’s Run in a column published last summer, on July 25, 2015.

This is the signature of Major Isaac Perkins on the pages of minutes from the 1829-1830 planning meetings for Pekin's founding. Perkins was one of the four original platholders of Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY  OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

This is the signature of Major Isaac Perkins on the pages of minutes from the 1829-1830 planning meetings for Pekin’s founding. Perkins was one of the four original platholders of Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Our first look at Major Isaac Perkins presented some of the findings of the genealogical research of the family of Cathie Butler Pipkins of Olympia, Wash., who is a descendant of Perkins’ youngest son James. (Incidentally, Pipkins is the sister of Tim Butler, Illinois House Representative for the 87th district, which includes the part of Tazewell County where their ancestors Isaac and Jane Barker Perkins were pioneer settlers.)

But despite great progress in reconstructing Isaac Perkins’ life and ancestry, one question remained unanswered: Why did the standard histories of Tazewell County and Pekin refer to him as “Major” Isaac Perkins when he had only the rank of “Private” during his Illinois State Militia service in the Black Hawk War?

Pipkins recently emailed the Pekin Public Library with the news, “Mystery on the ‘Major’ title solved!”

In her email, she wrote, “According to the index card catalog at the Illinois State Archives in Springfield, he was commissioned as Major of the Illinois Militia, Peoria County Battalion, 22 Sept. 1826. Source: Illinois Executive Record, 1818-1832, Vol. 1, p.138. Also, in the Governor’s Correspondence, Vol. 2, 27 July 1827, there’s a record of Isaac Perkins as Major commanding the Peoria odd battalion.”

Prior to Pipkins’ discovery, the best guess is that Perkins had held the rank of Major during earlier militia service. That’s exactly what the information from the State Archives shows.

Pipkins also found some records that document another detail of her ancestor’s life mentioned in old Tazewell County histories – namely, that Perkins had served as Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds.

“Also, in the index file is a record of his nomination as recorder for Tazewell Co. He was commissioned as Tazewell Co. Recorder on 14 Feb. 1827. Source: Illinois Executive Record, 1818-1832, Vol. 1, p.151. His resignation as Tazewell Recorder is noted in the Senate Journal, 1828-29, p.165, but no date is given on the index card of which I have a copy.”

Another fascinating record of Isaac Perkins’ family is the obituary of his daughter Elizabeth “Lizzie” Perkins Uhl High, who died April 15, 1898 in Peoria and is buried in Springdale Cemetery. Her obituary was published on two successive days, in the April 16-17, 1898, issues of The Peoria Herald. The obituaries help shed further light on the experiences of Tazewell County’s pioneers. Here is the second one, headlined, “Funeral of Mrs. High – First White Child of Tazewell County is No More.”

“The funeral services of Mrs. Elizabeth High, wife of J. R. High, and the first white child of Tazewell county, was held yesterday afternoon at the home, 302 Hayward street, Rev. L. Kirtley, of the First Baptist church, officiating. The services were largely attended by many of the real old settlers of this city and from around her old home at Circleville, Tazewell county. She was the first female white child born in Tazewell. Her father, Major Perkins, helped drive out the Indians during the Black Hawk war. [Note: Though Perkins was killed at Stillman’s Run, the result of that war was the clearing of all Native American tribes from Illinois.] She was born between Pekin and Circleville, October 21, 1827, and was married about forty years ago. Her father conducted a relief station at Circleville. The Indians murdered the travelers, but never harmed Major Perkins or his family. Several times little Miss Perkins was stolen from the family, but was never harmed. She was returned in a few days loaded down with beads and presents.”

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