Was there something fishy about Illinois’ nickname?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Once upon a time, back in the Age of the Mississippi River Steamboat, there was a packet steamer that was named after the state of Illinois.

The boat, a side-wheeler, was designed and built in Pittsburgh, Pa., by Capt. Richard C. Grey, superintendent of construction of the Northern Line. She was a 523.77 ton vessel, 230 feet long, 36 foot beam, with a 5 foot 5 inch hold. Designed for speed, her cylinders were 22 inches in diameter and she had a 7-foot stroke, which is what made it possible for her to set a record in 1867 for the 700-mile run from St. Louis, Mo., to St. Paul, Minn., making it in just 69 hours and 48 minutes. Along with a sister steamer named after the state of Iowa, she was launched in 1860 and plied the waters of the Upper Mississippi for 12 years.

Since her sister ship was named after the state of Iowa, her sister was christened the Hawkeye State. And since she herself was named after the state of Illinois, she was given the name Sucker State.

No, really, that was her name.

“Sucker State.”

Because, though the nickname is rarely heard anymore, in 1860 it was Illinois’ best known nickname – even more popular than “the Prairie State,” which was the name of two other Mississippi River steamboats named after the state of Illinois back then, the first built in 1847 and the second in 1850. (These and other steamboat facts may be found in William J. Petersen’s paper, “Floating Namesakes of the Sucker State: Some Upper Mississippi Steamboats,” published 1940 by the Illinois State Historical Society in “Papers in Illinois History and Transactions for the Year 1939.”)

The Northern Line packet steamer Sucker State, which was christened with an old nickname of the state of Illinois, plied the waters of the Mississippi River from 1860 to 1872.

I know what you’re going to ask next. No doubt you’re wondering why our neighbors acquired nifty nicknames like the Hawkeye State, the Show-Me State, the Bluegrass State, the Hoosier State, and the Badger State, while good ole Illinois got stuck with “the Sucker State.”

One may be forgiven for supposing it has something to do with Illinois’ tradition of corrupt politics and government (a long history that our Illinois Bicentennial Series has shown to have begun in the days of the Illinois and Indiana territories). But no, that’s not the reason.

The probably unsatisfying answer to the question, “Why ‘Sucker State’?” is, “We really don’t know for sure.”

But historians have made a few pretty interesting guesses, and one of their guesses seems to be most likely to be the right one.

First let’s address what looks like the least probable guess. According to the website NetState.com, this guess is found in Malcolm Townsend’s 1890 “U.S.: An Index to the United States of America.” Townsend says that some people in his days sought the explanation of “Sucker State” in common lore about the old pioneers of the Illinois prairie. “Evidently, the prairies were filled, in many places by crawfish holes. Travelers were able to suck cool pure water from these holes using long, hollow reeds. According to Malcolm Townsend, whenever a traveler would happen upon one of these holes, he would cry out ‘A sucker, a sucker!’

This guess has little to go for it, being unsupported by earlier historical witnesses. There’s no good reason to believe the nickname derives from the literal act of sucking water (something that is hardly unique or distinctive about Illinois’ pioneers).

The most common explanation for the nickname was that which is given by Charles C. Chapman in his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 78:

“The low cognomen of ‘Sucker,’ as applied to Illinoisans, is said to have had its origin at the Galena lead mines. In an early day, when these extensive mines were being worked, men would run up the Mississippi river in steamboats in the spring, work the lead mines, and in the fall return, thus establishing, as was supposed, a similitude between their migratory habits and those of the fishy tribe called ‘Suckers.’ For this reason the Illinoisans have ever since been distinguished by the epithet ‘Suckers.’ Those who stayed at the mines over winter were mostly from Wisconsin, and were called ‘Badgers.’ One spring the Missourians poured into the mines in such numbers that the State was said to have taken a puke, and the offensive appellation of ‘Pukes’ was afterward applied to all Missourians.”

Townsend in his 1890 book mentions the same explanation: “An old miner said to them ‘Ye put me in mind of suckers, they do go up the river in the spring spawn, and all return down ag’in in the fall.’

In this guess, then, it’s not Illinoisans sucking water, but Illinois miners being compared to migratory sucker fish.

This guess is both earlier and more plausible than the above mentioned one. Even so, it may strike one as a bit too creative or strained – as if someone was trying a bit too hard to explain not only why Illinoisans were known as “Suckers,” but also why Illinoisans used the derogatory term “Pukes” for their neighbors in Missouri.

In questions like these, the earliest known explanation is not always the correct one, but it usually is. For this particular question, the earliest explanation is that given by Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford in his 1854 “A History of Illinois.” Ford said the first settlers of southern Illinois came to be called “Suckers” as an analogy to the “suckers” (young sprouts and shoots) of the tobacco plant.

“These poor emigrants from the slave States were jeeringly and derisively called ‘suckers,’ because they were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth; and when they removed to Illinois they were supposed to have stripped themselves off from the parent stem and gone away to perish like the ‘sucker’ of the tobacco plant. This name was given to the Illinoisans at the Galena mines by the Missourians.”

It is probably no accident that both Ford and Chapman mention the mines at Galena – it seems that really is where the nickname “Sucker” was first given to Illinoisans. Ford’s explanation appears earlier than Chapman’s explanation, which makes Ford’s explanation more likely – but it cannot be held to be certainly true.

As it happens, it was also by analogy that plant sprouts first came to be called “suckers.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says “sucker” is a Middle English word from the late 1300s meaning a young child who has not yet been weaned. By the 1570s the word had begun to be applied to plant shoots, since the shoots were like little “children” of the plant. Sucker fish aren’t mentioned in literature until 1753, and it wasn’t until 1836 that the American slang term “sucker,” meaning a fool, someone with childlike naïveté who is easily tricked, first appeared (and no, it was not in reference to Illinoisans).

Whether the nickname derives from reed straws, fish, tobacco sprouts, or fools, the Illinois General Assembly in 1955 decided the state should instead be known as the “Land of Illinois,” voting to adopt that as our state’s official nickname. Today “Prairie State” is still sometimes heard, but “Sucker State” is rare, heard very little outside the circles of Illinois historical study.

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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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Slavery cast its shadow upon creation of the Illinois Territory

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the course of our survey of the events of history that led to the creation of the state of Illinois, we have seen how the Indiana Territory was founded on July 4, 1800, encompassing territory that included the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and half of Michigan.

The first territorial governor, appointed Jan. 10, 1801, was William Henry Harrison, future hero of Tecumseh’s War and the War of 1812 and U.S. president. According to Illinois Gov. Edward Dunne’s 1933 “History of Illinois,” the entire Indiana Territory then held a population of less than 6,000 souls.

William Henry Harrison, first territorial governor of Indiana (which then included Illinois), would later briefly serve as U.S. President in 1841.

As a part of the Indiana Territory, Illinois was included in three counties – Knox County (made up of Indiana and eastern Illinois), Randolph County (southern Illinois), and St. Clair County (the bulk of Illinois as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota).

The Illinois Country was then peopled mainly by Native Americans and relatively small groups of French settlers. Dunne says there were about 1,500 French, but 2,500 Americans of British origin had already settled in Illinois by that time. Meanwhile, territorial leaders and land speculators were laying the groundwork for further westward expansion and encroachment upon Native American lands.

Dunne notes that when the Indiana Territory was formed, “All of Illinois except the land on and surrounding the French villages owned and occupied by the French, was an Indian reservation recognized by American law.” But as we have noted previously, from 1773 to 1819 a series of land purchases and treaties were made with the Illini, Piankeshaws, Kaskaskias, and Kickapoos that extinguished Native American title to most of the lands of future state of Illinois, opening the land to further European-American settlement. The future site of Peoria (then La Ville de Maillet) was included in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, and the future Tazewell County was included in the lands ceded to the U.S. by an Aug. 13, 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskias and a July 30, 1819 treaty with the Kickapoos (in the year after Illinois statehood).

On Dec. 4, 1804, Gov. Harrison proclaimed that the population of the Indiana Territory was high enough that its citizens could legally elect a representative legislature. Among the representatives elected the following month were Shadrach Bond from St. Clair County and Pierre Menard from Randolph County. Bond, who previously was elected to the Northwest Territorial Legislature in 1799, later became the first governor of the state of Illinois, while Menard would serve alongside Bond as the first lieutenant governor of the state of Illinois. Both Menard and Bond would have Illinois counties named after them, and Menard’s son Pierre Menard Jr. would live for a while in Tremont and serve as a sub-Indian agent at Fort Clark (Peoria).

According to Dunne, at the time of the Jan. 1805 Indiana territorial election, the population of Illinois proper was probably around 6,000 to 7,000 souls. The 1800 U.S. Census had counted 5,641 people in the Indiana Territory, including 2,458 in the area that would later become the state of Illinois.

Only four years elapsed from Indiana’s first territorial election until the territory was further divided in order to create the Illinois Territory in 1809, made up of the lands of the future states of Illinois, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota and Michigan. Ominously, the primary issue that led to Indiana being broken into separate territories was the one that would eventually tear the country in two during the Civil War – slavery.

As Dunne’s history explains, the early American settlers of the Indiana Territory “almost without exception, had come from Kentucky, Tennessee and other slave-holding states, and some of these American settlers had brought slaves into the territory from Southern states.” But Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which regulated all of the lands of the old Northwest Territory from which the Indiana Territory had been formed, expressly stated, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the said territory . . . .

As early as 1796, territorial leaders had petitioned the U.S. Congress to repeal Article 6, but Congress denied the request. A second petition to allow slavery, with language that called for gradual emancipation of slaves, was drawn up in 1801, but again Congress denied the petition. Undeterred, the pro-slavery group gathered in a convention in Kaskaskia, Ill., in 1802, where they prepared a “memorial” asking Congress to suspend Article 6 for ten years. Again the request was denied. Thwarted by Congress, Gov. Harrison and the Legislature attempted an end run around Article 6 by passing an unjust contract law that slave owners could readily manipulate to coerce their slaves brought into the territory to agree to continue to serve their masters.

Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the inhabitants of two of Illinois’ three counties petitioned to become a part of the new Louisiana Territory, where slavery was legal. Congress denied their petition. Two years later, a bill was introduced into the Indiana Territorial Legislature that would ask Congress to allow slavery in the Indiana Territory, but the bill failed to pass both houses.

According to Dunne’s history, by this time the settlers in the future state of Illinois had grown bitterly opposed to the “arbitrary rule” of Gov. Harrison and his appointees. Seeking a change in government for that reason as well as to find a way to get out from under Article 6’s anti-slavery law, in 1806 the Illinois settlers decided to petition Congress for the creation of a new, separate territory. Like the previous petitions, it was rejected. The same year, the Indiana Legislature held a special session to once more debate making slavery legal, but the outcome was inconclusive.

In 1807 the people of the Indiana Territory elected Virginia-born Jesse B. Thomas (1777-1853) as their delegate to Congress. Thomas, who would later serve as a U.S. Senator for the state of Illinois, secured his election as delegate by promising the separationist settlers that he would advance their cause in Washington, D.C. Keeping his promise, Thomas worked diligently to help advance an act in Congress to create the new Territory of Illinois. President Thomas Jefferson signed that act into law on Feb. 3, 1809, and the new territory was formally erected on March 1 of that year.

Dunne says that estimates at the time were “that there were 17,000 people east of the Wabash in Indiana and 11,000 west of that river in Illinois.” The following year, the 1810 U.S. Census counted 12,282 inhabitants in the Illinois Territory.

Illinois’ first and only territorial governor was Maryland-born Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), governing from Kaskaskia. He would be appointed to three consecutive terms as territorial governor, and later was elected Illinois’ third state governor.

Next time we’ll take a look at the momentous events of Edwards’ time as governor.

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Free State of Illinois: Gov. Coles calls for emancipation

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously in our ongoing Illinois Bicentennial series, we saw how the controversy over slavery affected the history and development of Illinois from the formation of the Northwest Territory in 1787 right up to Illinois statehood in 1818. In fact, the dispute between Illinois’ pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers played a role both in the breaking off of the Illinois Territory from the Indiana Territory in 1809 and in the race to achieve statehood for Illinois prior to Missouri.

This week we’ll recall how the issue flared up again during the tenure of Illinois’ second state governor Edward Coles (1786-1868).

About two years after Illinois became a state, the U.S. Congress agreed to admit Missouri and Maine to the Union simultaneously under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which sought to defuse tensions between America’s pro-slavery and abolitionist parties by keeping the numbers of new “slave states” and “free states” balanced. The Missouri Compromise stipulated that slavery would be illegal in any new states formed from the areas of the Louisiana Purchase north of Parallel 36°30′ North.

Looking ahead, we can see that although the issue of slavery continued to simmer in the next three decades, at the national level the Missouri Compromise had moved the issue to the back burner. This arrangement endured until 1854, when Congress passed Illinois Sen. Stephen A. DouglasKansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and made slavery possible north of Parallel 36°30′ North.

Douglas’ rival Abraham Lincoln sharply criticized the Kansas-Nebraska Act in his Peoria speech on Oct. 16, 1854, an important step on the road that would take Lincoln to the White House. The resulting outrage over the act on the part of the free states and the abolitionists led to the dreadful violence of “Bleeding Kansas” and, ultimately, to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and the final abolition of slavery in 1865.

In the great conflict over slavery, Illinois was ranged with the free states. As noted before, Article 6 the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had outlawed slavery in any territories or states that later would be formed from the Northwest Territory. But in its early history Illinois’ place among the slave states was somewhat dubious and precarious. Most of Illinois’ early settlers came from slave states and territories, and from 1796 to 1806 there were repeated attempts to legalize slavery in the Indiana and Illinois territories.

Although the pro-slavery forces in Illinois failed to legalize slavery, effectively the practice of slavery still went on in Illinois due to an indentured servitude law that made it possible for slave owners to pressure their slaves to agree to continue to serve their masters after coming to Illinois. In Jan. 1818, the Illinois Territorial Legislature sought to emphasize to Congress that Illinois would be a free state by approving a bill that would have reformed labor contracts to eliminate the practice of indentured servitude. However, Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), himself a wealthy aristocratic slave-owner, vetoed the bill, claiming it was unconstitutional – the only time Edwards ever exercised his veto power as territorial governor.

After Illinois achieved statehood, pro-slavery forces continued to strive to legalize it. In anticipation of Illinois’ admission to the Union, the territory framed a state constitution in Aug. 1818 – but it is significant that Illinois’ first constitution had a “loophole” of which pro-slavery leaders soon tried to avail themselves in order to legalize slavery. On the question of slavery, the 1818 constitution said, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall hereafter be introduced into this state otherwise than for the punishment of crimes.

In his 1933 history, “Illinois: the Heart of the Nation,” former Ill. Gov. Edward Dunne explained the loophole in Illinois’ first constitution in these words (pp. 240, 260, 262, emphasis added):

“The section of the constitution relative to slavery and prohibiting it in the state, as amended and finally passed, was a compromise between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery members of the convention. In effect, it practically admitted that the former indentured laws of the territory practically amounted to slavery, but provided that the children of indentured persons were to become free. Under that provision, no indentures made outside the state could be enforced within the state, but the constitution failed to bind the state not to make a revision of the constitution which would admit slavery. Notwithstanding that the constitution failed to have any provision in strict accordance with the Ordinance of 1787 relative to slavery, it was accepted and approved by Congress, . . .

“Slavery had already been introduced into the state. Slaves and indentured servants, who were in almost as abject a condition of service as slaves, were numerous in Illinois at the time this constitution was adopted and, noting the word ‘hereafter’ in the constitution, there was a rush to have indentured articles approved before the constitution went into effect. . . .

“To have framed a constitution favoring slavery, or one making no declaration on the subject, would have invited a denial by Congress of the application for statehood. Therefore, some declaration against slavery was necessary, but reserving a method of reopening the question, was devised and carried in the convention . . . .”

As expected, Dunne wrote, “That opportunity soon arose and was promptly seized by the pro-slavery element in the state.

It happened following the election of Virginia-born Edward Coles as Illinois’ second governor. In Virginia, Coles held a large estate and owned at least 20 slaves, and he served as President James Madison’s private secretary from 1809 to 1815 with a special assignment as ambassador to Russia. By 1814, Coles had come to oppose slavery, corresponding with ex-President Thomas Jefferson on the subject that year.

Edward Coles, 2nd Illinois governor, 1822-1826

After returning from his diplomatic work in Europe, Madison appointed Coles registrar of the federal land office in Edwardsville, Ill. After arranging matters at his Virginia estate, Coles struck out west for Illinois. On the way down the Ohio River, Coles made the decision to set his slaves free. “He promised them each emancipation from slavery,” Dunne wrote, “and 160 acres of land and help for farming, and they, of course, joyfully accepted their freedom and every one of them agreed to accompany him to Edwardsville. Before landing in Illinois Coles gave each of his slaves a written certificate of freedom and all settled around his home near Edwardsville.

Two years later, Coles and three other men entered the race to succeed Shadrach Bond as governor of Illinois. The other gubernatorial candidates were Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joseph Phillips, Associate Justice Thomas C. Brown, and Gen. James B. Moore – Phillips and Brown ran on pro-slavery platforms, while Coles and Moore were anti-slavery. Even though pro-slavery voters outnumbered those opposed to slavery, Coles managed to secure his election because the pro-slavery vote was split almost equally between Phillips and Brown, while Moore only won a few hundred votes.

Coles decided to force the issue of slavery on his very first day as governor in 1822, calling in his inaugural address before the Illinois General Assembly in Vandalia for the immediate emancipation of all slaves or indentured servants in Illinois. The pro-slavery members of the General Assembly responded by making plans to call for a new constitutional convention, with the unstated intention of crafting a constitution that would enshrine slave-owning as a right.

The resolution to put the question of calling a new convention to the people for a vote narrowly passed the Illinois House of Representatives by the slimmest of margins, and under extremely questionable circumstances. Initially the resolution failed by one vote when Nicholas Hansen of Pike County switched sides and voted against the resolution. But Hansen’s own election to the House had been marred by a vote-counting dispute – so his outraged pro-slavery colleagues expelled Hansen from the House and replaced him with his opponent in the election, John Shaw, who then obediently voted in favor of the resolution.

Even though the majority of Illinois voters and members of the General Assembly favored slavery, Dunne observed that, “The high-handed, arbitrary and unfair methods pursued by the House in evicting Hansen and securing thereby a two-thirds vote for the convention, disgusted many fair-minded citizens who had been tolerant of slavery.” Furthermore, although those who sought a new constitutional convention had the goal of turning Illinois from an officially free to an officially slave state, they were not forthright about their intentions, and that cynical approach probably cost them support.

Consequently, despite the numerical advantage and the initial momentum of those who wanted to call a constitutional convention, in the end their effort was resoundingly defeated on Aug. 2, 1824, by a vote of 6,640 to 4,972, “after a campaign of exceeding violence, lasting about eighteen months,” Dunne wrote. It had been an ugly fight, but Gov. Coles and his anti-slavery allies, including the influential journalists Morris Birkbeck and Daniel P. Cook (eponym of Cook County), managed to prevent the prospect of a pro-slavery constitution.

In retrospect, it can be seen that the very fate of the nation hung upon the outcome of Illinois’ convention battle – for if Illinois had switched from free to slave, the proponents of slavery would have gained permanent control of the U.S. Senate, “and no law thereafter could have been passed by Congress limiting or restricting slavery in the United States,” Dunne wrote.

The 1818 constitution limited governors to a single term, so Coles left office in 1826. Though he was able to defeat the convention movement, he was otherwise impotent against the pro-slavery General Assembly, which rejected all of his nominees to state office and ignored his legislative recommendations. Afterwards Coles was sued by the State for freeing his slaves without paying bonds of $200 to vouch for the good behavior of each freed slave. Even though he’d free his slaves before entering Illinois, the State initially won the politically-motivated suit – Coles would have had to pay $2,000, a great financial blow, but Coles appealed to the state Supreme Court and won on appeal.

Wearied by his bitter political experiences in Illinois, Coles returned to the East, finally settling in Philadelphia. He was gravely disappointed by his son Robert, who became a slave-owner and fought for the Confederacy – but he did live to see the abolition of slavery and emancipation of all slaves in the U.S. in the 1860s.

In 1929, a bronze portrait of Gov. Coles was erected in his memory in Valley View Cemetery in Edwardsville. Also, in recognition of Coles’ commitment to the abolition of slavery, the State of Illinois Human Rights Commission offers the Edward Coles Fellowship, a scholarship for law students.

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #daniel-pope-cook, #gen-james-b-moore, #gov-edward-coles, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-constitution, #joseph-phillips, #kansas-nebraska-act, #missouri-compromise, #morris-birkbeck, #ninian-edwards, #northwest-ordinance, #northwest-territory, #peoria-speech, #rep-john-shaw, #rep-nicholas-hansen, #shadrach-bond, #slavery, #stephen-a-douglas, #thomas-c-brown

Steamboat disaster on the Illinois River

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Steamboat disaster on the Illinois River

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last month Pekin and nearby communities commemorated the 100th anniversary of one of the most tragic events seared into Pekin’s collective memory: the Columbia riverboat disaster. On July 5, 1918, the steamboat Columbia sank on the Illinois River four miles north of Pekin when it struck a submerged tree stump, ripping a gaping hole in the hull. Out of 496 passengers, 87 died, including 57 Pekin residents.

It was the last large scale river disaster in our area – but steamboats had been plying the waters of the Illinois River since about 1829, when the steamer Liberty visited Peoria, so it should be no surprise that the wreck of the Columbia wasn’t Pekin’s first steamboat disaster. On July 12, 1892, the excursion steamer Frankie Folsom capsized during a storm on Peoria Lake while bringing passengers back to Pekin from Peoria. Most passengers escaped, but 11 died.

Pekin’s first steamboat disaster was on April 25, 1852, when the boilers of the Prairie State exploded, reportedly killing more than 100 passengers.

Pekin’s first riverboat disaster, and apparently Tazewell County’s first major calamity resulting in massive loss of life, was the 1852 explosion of the steamboat Prairie State, which reportedly killed at least 110 people. This photograph was reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

The story of this tragedy is told and retold in several of the standard works on Pekin’s history, but, surprisingly, none of those works gives the correct date of the disaster. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 History of Tazewell County, the 1949 Pekin Centenary, and the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial each claim that the Prairie State exploded on Sunday morning, April 16, 1852. The problem with that date is that April 16 was a Friday that year.

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (2004) gets closer to the truth, placing the tragedy on Sunday morning, April 24, 1852. However, that day was a Saturday. The correct date is found in “Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters” (1856), page 293, which says, “The steamer Prairie State collapsed her flues on the Illinois River, April 25th, 1852, killing and wounding twenty persons.” That date was, as Pekin’s history book states, a Sunday.

The number of dead reportedly was far more than 20. “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” page 176, tells the story in these words:

“. . . [T]the packet steamers, Prairie State and Avalanche, southward bound, landed almost simultaneously at the Pekin Wharf and collided. Both were carrying a high head of steam. As a result the boilers on the Prairie State exploded with terrific force. ‘It was the church going hour, but the worship of the Deity was changed to the duties of the Good Samaritan,’ according to Cole’s Guide. The 110 bodies that were recovered were placed side by side under the walnut and oak trees on the bank and every home in the vicinity became a temporary hospital. One rescued passenger, en route to Texas, reported that many of the victims he had seen on board were not recovered. A final count of those who drowned was never ascertained.”

That account repeats most of details and uses much of the same language of Allensworth’s 1905 recollection:

“The two steamers, the ‘Prairie State’ and the ‘Avalanche’ coming from the north, landed almost simultaneously at the Pekin wharf. They were evidently racing as both were carrying a high pressure of steam. The ‘Prairie State’ pulled out of the landing ahead of her competitor, and when nearly opposite our gas works, her boilers exploded with terrific force. This happened on Sunday about the time for the beginning of church services. The people went to the rescue of the injured, and the wreck of the ‘Prairie State’ was towed back to the wharf by the ‘Avalanche.’ Many bodies were recovered and laid side by side under the walnut and oak trees on the bank of the river. The citizens turned their houses into temporary hospitals in which the injured were cared for.

“Mr. James Sallee was a passenger going to Texas, and is authority for the statement that the boat was crowded with passengers, many of whose bodies were never recovered.”

The 1974 Sesquicentennial also more specifically locates the Prairie State’s explosion at “a point nearly opposite ‘gas house hill’ (in the area of 100 Fayette Street).”

The 1949 Centenary and the Sesquicentennial also repeat Allensworth’s account and recycle some of his words. The Centenary added the darkly humorous observation that, “Pekin’s population increased by a somewhat unusual method, when a large number of people literally ‘blew into town,’” explaining that many of the survivors decided to stay on in Pekin after their recovery.

One of the survivors, according to the Centenary, was “the grandfather of Paul Sallee, the present Pekin trouper,” who is called “a well-known area entertainer” in the Sesquicentennial. Paul Sallee’s grandfather, of course, was the James Sallee of Allensworth’s account.

#illinois-bicentennial, #james-sallee, #paul-sallee, #prairie-state, #preblog-columns, #steamboat-disasters, #steamboats, #wreck-of-the-columbia, #wreck-of-the-frankie-folsom, #wreck-of-the-prairie-state

The founding of Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

After Illinois achieved statehood, new settlers poured into central Illinois throughout the 1820s, making new homes for themselves in and around Fort Clark (Peoria) or clearing land for farms along the eastern shores and bluffs of Peoria Lake and the Mackinaw River basin. Those were the years that saw the arrival of Tazewell County pioneers William Blanchard, Nathan Dillon, and William Holland.

Another of those early settlers was an Ohio resident named Jonathan Tharp (1794-1844), who built a log cabin on a ridge above the Illinois River in 1824 at a spot that is today the foot of Broadway in Pekin. Tharp’s cabin was the seed that would sound sprout and grow into the city of Pekin.

The result of the wave of immigration of those years was that in 1825, a mere seven years after statehood, the State Legislature erected a new county, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek who had once dwelt in that place.

Tazewell County came along almost on the heels of Peoria County’s founding. As we have often recalled in this column, Tazewell County was established in 1827. It was Illinois’ 38th county – the 23rd county since statehood. At the time, Tazewell County was officially a part of Sangamon County, but was in fact under the governmental administration of Peoria County.

This detail from a map printed in the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the original boundaries of Tazewell County as established by the State Legislature in 1827 and 1829. The village of Mackinaw was chosen as the first county seat because it was then near the geographical center of the county.

The original plan was to name the new county “Mackinaw,” after the tributary of the Illinois River that flowed through it (a Kickapoo chief named Mackinaw or Machina also lived with his people in Tazewell County in those years). However, one of the county’s prominent pioneers, Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), a Virginia native, intervened to have the proposed bill to establish the county amended, so the new county would instead be named for U.S. Senator Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia. The first county seat was still named Mackinaw, though.

Following is the account of the founding of Tazewell County as found in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 207-209 (emphasis added):

“Tazewell county was organized by an act of the Legislature January 31st, 1827, with the following boundaries: Beginning at the northeast corner of township twenty, north of the base line, and range three east of the third principal meridian, thence north on said line to the north line of township twenty-eight north, thence west to the middle of the Illinois river, thence down said river to the north line of township twenty north, thence east to the place of beginning.

“In the act organizing the county January 31, 1827, an error occurred in describing the boundaries. This error was corrected by an act re-establishing the boundaries, passed January 22, 1829.

“The territory comprising the county of Tazewell formed part of the counties at the dates named in the several subdivisions of the State prior to the organization of the county, as follows:

“1809 — At this date Illinois Territory was organized, and was subdivided into the counties of Randolph and St. Clair. Tazewell was included in the county of St. Clair.

“1812 — Tazewell formed part of the county of Madison.

“1814 — Tazewell was included in the counties of Madison and Edwards: west of the third principal meridian in Madison, east of the meridian in Edwards.

“1816 — Tazewell was included within the boundaries of Madison and Crawford counties: east of the meridian in Crawford, west in Madison.

“1817 — Tazewell formed part of the counties of Bond and Crawford: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Crawford.

“1819 — Tazewell was included in Clark and Bond counties: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Clark.

“1821 — Tazewell formed part of Fayette and Sangamon counties: west of the meridian in Sangamon, east in Fayette.

“1827 — Tazewell organized January 31st: boundary defective.

“1829 — Tazewell boundaries defined, and error in law of 1827 corrected as above given. County originally created from territory then comprising part of the counties of Sangamon and Fayette:
west of the third principal meridian taken from Sangamon, east of the meridian, comprising 24 townships, taken from Fayette.

“1830 — McLean county was formed by taking off the three ranges east of the meridian and range one west of the meridian.

“1839 — Logan county was created, taking off three townships on the south.

“1841 — The counties of Mason and Woodford were organized, and Tazewell reduced to its present boundaries.

“The commissioners to locate the county seat were Thos. M. Neale, Wm. L. D. Ewing and Job Fletcher. They were by the act of organization required to meet on the third Monday of March, 1827, or within five days thereafter, at the house of Wm. Orendorff, for the purpose of locating the county seat, which, when located, was to be called ‘Mackinaw.’ Until county buildings were erected the courts were required to be held at the house of Wm. Orendorff. Election for county officers at the house of said Wm. Orendorff on the second Monday of April, 1827.

“All that part of Fayette lying east and north of Tazewell was attached to Tazewell for county purposes.

“In the year 1825 the Legislature created Peoria county, and attached to it for all county purposes all of the territory north of town 20 and west of the third principal meridian, thus including all the present county of Tazewell. Nathan Dillon, William Holland and Joseph Smith were chosen County Commissioners for the new county. The former two resided in this county. They held their first meeting at Peoria March 8, 1825.

“When the population of Tazewell was thought to be sufficiently large to regularly organize, an election was held in April, 1827, and Benjamin Briggs, George Hittle, and James Lotta were chosen County Commissioners. The Commissioners at once proceeded to hold a meeting and consummate the organization. This they did at the house of William Orendorff, April 10, 1827. . . .

“The county at this time was very large; even in 1829, when a new boundary was formed, it contained 79 townships. It has been divided for the formation of other counties so often that it has finally been reduced to 19 townships.

“The county was named in honor of Hon. John Tazewell (sic – Littleton), United States Senator from the State of Virginia. There is a county in that State which also bears the same name, these being the only two in the United States.”

#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #illinois-bicentennial, #jonathan-tharp, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-river, #nathan-dillon, #tazewell-county-history, #william-blanchard, #william-holland, #william-orendorff

Settlers pour into Peoria and Tazewell counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, March 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the third video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is 34 minutes in length and is entitled, “Farming in Tazewell County During the ’30s and ’40s,” presented by Tom Finson. Like last month’s Finson video, it includes vintage film footage from around the county. Admission is free and the public is invited.

For the pioneer settlers of central Illinois, farming wasn’t merely a business, but was crucial for a settler family’s survival. Our column this week recall the first of the post-War of 1812 settlers in our area.

The summer before Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union in 1818, a territorial census counted 40,258 souls living in the soon-to-be state – but the new state’s population rapidly increased over the next decade. Up to that time, American settlers in Illinois had come chiefly from southern states and had settled almost exclusively in southern Illinois.

But with the dawn of statehood a new wave of migration arrived, in which settlers from southern Illinois began to move north, joined by newcomers from states north of the Ohio River. These new arrivals to central Illinois came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs – and as we shall see, these newcomers included William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon, names prominent in early Tazewell County history.

As we saw previously, American soldiers built Fort Clark in 1813 on the ruins of the old French village of La Ville de Maillet, which Capt. Thomas Craig had burned the year before during an Illinois militia campaign meant to warn the Indians of Peoria Lake not to ally with Britain during the War of 1812 (but which likely had the opposite effect).

In relating the story of Craig’s burning of the French village, S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” says (italics as in original), “Capt. Craig excused himself for this act of devastation, by accusing the French of being in league with the Indians, with whom the United States were at war; but more especially, by alledging (sic) that his boats were fired upon from the town, while lying at anchor before it. All this the French have ever denied, and charge Capt. Craig with unprovoked, malignant cruelty.”

Craig’s accusation that the French Americans of Peoria Lake were in league with Indians hostile to the U.S. was based on the fact that the French not only lived peaceably with the tribes of the area, but even sometimes intermarried with them. But the tribes of Peoria Lake had declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy and were considered to be friendly until the unprovoked attacks of Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards and Capt. Craig.

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet essentially ended the French phase of the European settlement of central Illinois – afterwards only the French fur traders of Opa Post at the present site of Creve Coeur were left in the area. The early historians of Peoria and Tazewell counties tended to disparage the early French settlers of central Illinois, even to the point of claiming that they weren’t really settlers at all. For example, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” described the men and women of Opa Post in this way:

“These French traders cannot be classed as settlers, at least in the light we wish to view the meaning of that term. They made no improvements; they cultivated no land; they established none of those bulwarks of civilization brought hither a half century ago by the sturdy pioneer. On the other hand, however, they associated with the natives; they adopted their ways, habits and customs; they intermarried and in every way, almost, became as one of them.”

Chapman’s comments reveal that his disparaging appraisal of the French fur traders was due not only to disdain for the social class and lifestyle of a fur trader, but also the pervasive racist bias against Native Americans that spread westward with American expansion. Other influences included the age-old enmity between England and France that stemmed from the medieval Hundred Year’s War, with religious estrangement and animosity between Protestants and Catholics also thrown into the mix.

Those same attitudes toward the Indians and the French were also exhibited by Charles Ballance in his 1870 “History of Peoria.” In his history, Ballance argues at length that the French Americans of La Ville de Maillet were culturally and socially greatly inferior to the Americans of British origin who supplanted them, finding fault with the style of the homes they built and even denying the reports of the village’s former inhabitants that their settlement included a wine cellar and a Catholic church or chapel. Maybe behind Ballance’s common ethnic, racial, and social disdain for the Indians and French, there was an uneasy conscience over the fact that the city of Peoria of Ballance’s day only existed because the French settlement had been wiped out in 1812.

The construction of Fort Clark at the site of the French village in 1813 planted the seed of the present city of Peoria, for a new village quickly grew up around the fort (the site is today Liberty Park on the Peoria Riverfront, at Liberty and Water streets). According to Chapman, the fort itself burned down five years later. But in 1819, one year after Illinois statehood, the pioneer founders of Peoria arrived: Joseph Fulton, Abner Eads, William Blanchard (1797-1883), and four other men, who had traveled by keelboat and on horseback.

The next few years saw the arrivals of even more settlers. In 1825 the state legislature created Peoria County, which originally covered a large area of central and northern Illinois, including the future Cook County and the soon-to-be formed Tazewell County. Ten years later, Peoria was officially incorporated as a town, and by 1845 Peoria was large enough to incorporate as a city.

Three years after William Blanchard’s arrival at Fort Clark, he and a few companions crossed Peoria Lake to present-day Fon du Lac Township in Tazewell County, building a dwelling and growing crops south of the future Woodford County border. Here is how Chapman told the story of Blanchard’s earliest pioneer activities:

“Wm. Blanchard, Jr., is a native of Vermont, where he was born in 1797; left that State when seven years of age, and with his parents went to Washington Co., N. Y., where his father, William, died. When seventeen years of age he enlisted in the regular army, and took an active part in the war of 1812, serving five years, when he, with Charles Sargeant, Theodore Sargeant and David Barnes, veterans of the war, started West, coming to Detroit, Mich., thence to Ft. Wayne, whence they journeyed in a canoe to Vincennes, thence to St. Louis. From there they came up the Illinois in a keel boat manned by a fishing crew, and commanded by a man named Warner, and landed at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, in the spring of 1819.

“Crossing the river to what is known as the bottom lands they found a cleared spot, and with such tools as they could arrange from wood put in a patch of corn and potatoes. This land is now embodied in Fond du Lac township. Looking farther down the stream they found, in 1822, an old French field of about ten acres, on which they erected a rude habitation, and soon this soil was filled with a growth of blooming corn and potatoes. This was the first settlement between Ft. Clark and Chicago, and was the first dwelling erected. The site is now covered by the fine farm of Jacob Ames.”

In this map detail from an 1873 atlas of Tazewell County, the farm of Jacob Ames —
designated on the map as land owned by “Rachael Ames” — is shown in Sections 11 and 12 of Fondulac Township, around the area of Grosenbach Road. William Blanchard’s “rude habitation” is said to have been built in 1822 on land that later was included in the farm of Jacob Ames.

One year before Blanchard came to the future Tazewell County, North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823.

Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after Blanchard and long after the Frenchmen of Opa Post. The confusion arose from the haste with which Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error. The monument at Dillon’s grave erroneously pronouncing him the county’s first white settler stems from Chapman’s mistake.

But regardless who was first, Blanchard and Dillon both possessed pioneering courage and grit, paving the way for many others who were soon to follow.

Next week we’ll review the story of the creation of Tazewell County.

#capt-thomas-craig, #charles-ballance, #drowns-directory, #fort-clark, #french-trading-house, #illinois-bicentennial, #la-ville-de-maillet, #nathan-dillon, #ninian-edwards, #opa-post, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-settlers, #war-of-1812, #william-blanchard