Courthouse time capsule refreshes memories of Pekin’s founding

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Quite a lot has happened in Pekin in the 192 years since Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at a spot that is today the foot of Broadway. Many of those events have been documented in books, newspapers, and photographs, but most have been forgotten – and even what has been recorded often suffers from gaps of detail that might be of interest to us today but didn’t seem important enough to our ancestors to record.

Last month’s opening of the Tazewell County Courthouse 1914 time capsule, however, is enabling local historians to refresh many of our memories of the county’s and Pekin’s history. Among those refreshed memories are forgotten details of the story of Pekin’s founding which never made it into the history books.

One of those details is the fact that if a crucial vote of stockholders had turned out differently, we might today be living in the city of “Port Folio.”

That and other fascinating details are found in a four-page document that was one of several items included in the 1914 time capsule but not listed among the contents of the courthouse cornerstone printed in the “Historical Souvenir” published for June 21, 1916 dedication ceremonies. Apparently it was decided to include this document and several other items only after the “Souvenir” was already printed. When the time capsule was opened last month, this document was found within a stationery envelope of Pekin attorney John T. Elliff. Typed on the envelope was this description of the document’s provenance: “The within paper left in the office of the late William Don Maus and now in possession of John T. Elliff, Atty., Pekin, Ill.” William Don Maus (1836-1901) — not to be confused with Pekin’s pioneer physician Dr. William S. Maus (1817-1872) — had come to Tazewell County with his father in 1847. William Don Maus moved to Pekin in 1854 and became an attorney in 1857, later serving as a county judge in the 1860s.

The document in question dates from 1830 and contains handwritten minutes from the stockholder meetings of the company that founded Pekin. The minutes were taken at meetings held from Dec. 28, 1829, to Jan. 19, 1830, and then formally attested and signed in March 1830. The information in the minutes substantially corroborates the accounts of our city’s founding that may be read in the standard published works on Pekin’s history. Some of the specific traditions about Pekin’s founding are not substantiated by the minutes, while other quite interesting details mentioned in the minutes go unmentioned in the standard Pekin histories.

To illustrate that point, let’s first review what Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates (who seems to have selected most of the contents of the 1914 cornerstone time capsule) had to say about Pekin’s founding in his account which was printed in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, pages 9-10.

“At the land sales at Springfield in the fall of 1828, the ‘Town Site’ was purchased by Maj. Cromwell for a company composed of himself, William Haines, William Brown, Thomas Snell, Peter Menard, Dr. Warner, A. Herndon and —- Carpenter, of Sangamon county, and the purchase was divided into twelve parts. The question as to who should possess so important a piece of ground as the present location of Pekin created considerable excitement and the feeling rose to such a pitch at the land sale that pistols were drawn and bloodshed seem (sic) inevitable. The parties above mentioned, were successful, however, and the matter was amicably adjusted. . . .

“In 1829 a survey of ‘Town Site’ was made by William Hodge of Blooming Grove, then County Surveyor. The compass run without variation and, in the absence of a surveyor’s chain, the town lots were measured with a string.

“The survey made, and the town laid out, Mrs. Cromwell being called upon, exercised her share of woman’s rights in that early day by christening the embryo city of the new Celestials, PEKIN. Why she thus named it the legendary history of the days gone by fail to record, and we can only surmise that in the plenitude of her imagination she looked forward to the time when it would equal in size that other Pekin – the Chinese City of the Sun.”

Many of the details in Bates’ account are supported by the testimony of the minutes, but many other things of which Bates tells aren’t mentioned in the minutes at all. For example, the names of company members Cromwell, Haines, Brown, Menard, and Carpenter appear in the minutes (which give Carpenter’s first name as William), but Bates’ account doesn’t mention other settlers who have long been known to have been important members of the company, such as Major Isaac Perkins and Gideon Hawley (called “Isaac Pirkins” and “Gidian Holley” in the minutes).

As for the skirmish at the land sale, related in Jacob Tharp’s 1860 diary as well as the 1949 Pekin Centenary and 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volumes, perhaps understandably no reference to it appears in the company minutes, nor is there any mention of the purchase being divided into 12 parts. The minutes merely state that the land be surveyed and laid out into lots, and that Major Nathan Cromwell was appointed “to survey said parcels of land, and lay it off into Town plat and forme (sic) as the Commisioners (sic) present did devise and agree upon.” The minutes record the surveying of “Town Site,” calling for the hiring of “Chain carriers and Stakers” to “afsist and Compleet said Survey,” but the name of the actual surveyor, William Hodge, isn’t mentioned, nor is anything said in the minutes of the unavailability of a surveyor’s chain making necessary the use of string.

This image, photographed by the author with the assistance of David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, shows a detail of page two of the minutes of the settlers' company that founded Pekin telling how the town got its name. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

This image, photographed by the author with the assistance of David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, shows a detail of page two of the minutes of the settlers’ company that founded Pekin telling how the town got its name. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

The minutes are especially valuable for providing specific dates for key events in the process of Pekin’s founding. Later sources generally give only the year or the season of the year in which these events took place, and sometimes these sources even give the wrong year. The minutes make clear, however, that it was on Dec. 28, 1829, that 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, 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. That same day, the commissioners directed Cromwell to have the town plat “recorded according to law,” and then chose two of its members as officers of the corporation. Brown was named treasurer as well as the land agent for the stockholders, and Haines was named secretary.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact mentioned in these minutes, however, is the account of the naming of Pekin on Jan. 19. This passage of the minutes is worth quoting in full (spelling, capitalization, and punctuation as in the original):

“on motion of Isaac Pirkins, to Chainge the name of Town Site to Some other name. the votes where Called to decide, whether – Pekin – Port-Folio – or PortuGall – Should be the name of the contemplated Town. and after the votes being legally takeing and Counted, it appeared that a large majority announced the name of said Town to be forever hereafter Known by the name of Pekin.”

The minutes say nothing about Ann Eliza Cromwell choosing the name “Pekin,” but given the unanimity of the early sources that “Pekin” was her idea, there is no reason to doubt that tradition. The early sources and standard histories say nothing, however, about “Pekin” being just one of three possible choices – and consequently we don’t know who wished the new town to be named “Port-Folio” or “PortuGall” (Portugal).

How very different Pekin’s history would have been had “Port Folio” or “Portugal” beat out “Pekin.” There would never have been a Pekin professional baseball team named “the Celestials,” no Chinese-themed downtown theater, and instead of the “Pekin Chinks” and “Pekin Dragons,” we might instead be rooting for the Port Folio Financials or the Portugal Galos (Roosters).

Full images of the 1830 minutes document, along with a complete transcription of the document’s cursive script, may be examined below. The Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society will also feature the document and a transcription in its monthly newsletter.

Shown are the first and fourth pages of the 1829-1830 minutes detailing the actions taken by Pekin's first settlers to organize and found a new town in Tazewell County. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Shown are the first and fourth pages of the 1829-1830 minutes detailing the actions taken by Pekin’s first settlers to organize and found a new town in Tazewell County. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Shown are the second and third pages of the 1829-1830 minutes detailing the actions taken by Pekin's first settlers to organize and found a new town. On page 2 is the account of the vote that gave the town the name of Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Shown are the second and third pages of the 1829-1830 minutes detailing the actions taken by Pekin’s first settlers to organize and found a new town. On page 2 is the account of the vote that gave the town the name of Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Town Site  Tazwell County, Ill., December 28th – 1829.,

	In Conformity to appointment William
Carpenter, William Haines, and Isaac Pirkins, being
a majority of the Commifsioners appointed by the stock
-holders of the property Known by the name of Town Site
Meet and proceeded to buisinefs as followes.

1 – first, ordered that the lands, and parcels of lands, be
  surveyed and laid out into Town lots.
2 – appointed Nathan Cromwell to survey said parce
  -ls of land, and lay it off into Town plat and forme
  as the Commisioners present did devise and agree upon
  and ordered that the necefsary Chain carriers and
  Stakers be employed to afsist and Compleet said
  Survey.
3 – That in Compliance with an article, signed
  by said stockholders, regulating themselves
  in the further prosecution of their joint interests
  ordered and appointed the 18th day of January 1830
  to be the day for the Said proprietors to meet and
  adopt Sutch measurers as a majority of them
  present may think Consistent with the best interest
  of the proprietors of said property.

  Adjorned
  Till January    Signed
  18th 1830 meeting
                      First

Monday  January 18th 1830.  Town Site

1 – Persuent to ajournement the Stockholders of
  the property Called Town Site, meet at the place and time
  appointed and proceeded to buisinefs as followes –
      William Haines
      Isaac Pirkins       Commisioners present
  reporte as followes, that the survey of Said Town, is Compleeted
  and the Stakeing nearly done, designating the plan of the
_____________

Town, with a plat of the same.

	on motion of William Brown, the proprietors present
proceeded to buisinefs – after Some explination, and inves
-tigation, it was agree to adjorne to Tuesday the nineteenth
inst at ten in the morning. at Town Site.

2 – Tuesday, January 19th 1830
  Persuant to ajornement the Stockholders meet and prosee
-ded to buisinefs.
3 – on motion of Isaac Pirkins, to Chainge the name
  of Town Site to Some other name. the votes where Called
  to decide, whether – Pekin – Port-Folio – or PortuGall – Should
  be the name of the contemplated Town.
	and after the votes being legally takeing and Counted,
  it appeared that a large majority announced the name
  of said Town to be forever hereafter Known by the name
  of Pekin.
4 – on motion of Sgt. Griffin, for Peter Menard, to offer for
  Sale the lots of the Town of Pekin, it was ordered that the
  Same be offered for Sale on the fourteenth day of Aprile
  next at the Town of Pekin. Tazwell County Ill. And that the
  Same be published in a paper Edited at Sprinfield Sangamo
  county, in one at Gelena. Jo davis County - in one at Vandalia
  Fayett County Ill., in one of the papers at Saint Louis – in one
  at Nashville Tennesee – in one Louisville Kentuckey, in one
  at Indianoplis, in one at Da ton Ohio, the Same to be
  inserted in the Springfield and Saint Louis papers till the
  twelfth of aprile next – the Editors of the other mention
  -ed papers to give three insertions and send their accou
  -nts to Springfield for pament.
5 – on motion of Nathan Cromwell to record the Town
  of Pekin, it was ordered that the Town plat of Pekin be
  recorded according to law.
6 – on motion of William Brown – for Treasuer –
  William Brown was nominated and duly appointed, and auther
  -rised to receive all moneys notes and other property that
_____________

  may be paid for lots purchaised of Said proprietors.
7 – on motion of Gidian Holley, for Secetary –
  William Haines was nominated. And duly appointed
  and autherrised to Keep a regular record of all buisi
  -nefs and papers belonging to the proprietors of Said Town
  of Pekin, and account for the Same, makeing a dividend
  of all moneys, notes, and other property, that Shall be
  received in payment for the use of said proprietors.
  every two months. the same to be subject to the dispo
  sition of each and every proprietor for Settlement
  at Some regular appointed time.
    The Treasuer and Secetary Shall have a reasonable
  Compensation for their Services.
8 – on motion of William Haines, for agent –
  William Brown, was nominated by William Haines, and
  Duly appointed agent for the Stockholders of Pekin
9 – on motion of Gidian Holley for defraying
  the expences that Should a crew by Surveying and
  plating said Town, and the Chaining and Stakeing out
  said Town – it was ordered that the persons thus enga
  -ged Should exhibit there bills for the same to the
  Proprietors for payment the day of Sale.
10 – on  motion of William Haines for granting pre em
  -tions, Orrin Hamlin, David Bayley were allowed to
  Select lots and build on the Same and hold Said lots
  as a right of preemption, the Same to be Considered and
  valued by the price of Simmilar lots sold at the Sale.
[11 – on motion] of William Brown to adjorne - ,
                               t we adjorne till the thirteenth day
                               ten in the morning at the Town
[of Pekin.]

[Signed]                Nathan Cromwell
                               Clerk for the above meetings
_____________

March      1830, Tazwell County, Ill.

	We the undersigners do hereby Cirtify that all
the within written preambles and adoption have
been duly and regularly Subscribed in conformity, to
the full intent and meaning of an article of an agree
-ment entered into by the joint Stockholders of the
property, or Town of Pekin, and that the Same had
at the time of its doing been unanimously adapted
by us, the owners and part proprietors of Said Town
and that amajority then and there did adopt all
and every one of the within articles.    intestimony
we hereunto Subscribe our names –

			Nathan Cromwell
			William Brown
			Isaac Perkins
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