Celebrating and mapping Tazewell County’s history

Jared Olar
Library assistant

The opening of Illinois’ Bicentennial Year A.D. 2017-2018 was marked across the state last winter with formal ceremonies in which local governments raised the official State Bicentennial flag. The chief flag-raising for Tazewell County took place on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn, in a ceremony organized and presented by the Tazewell County Illinois Bicentennial Committee.

Since then, the committee, made up of representatives of local communities and organizations, has continued to meet on a monthly basis to help with the ongoing celebration of the Bicentennial in Tazewell County. Among the events gearing up for the celebration of Illinois’ 200th birthday this December was an Illinois Bicentennial Tea, presented May 12 at the Pekin Park Pavilion by the Tazewell County Museum and the Pekin Woman’s Club. The event was attended by about 30 people, who listened to a historical address by Stu Fliege, director of the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.

One of the committee’s projects has been the construction of an online historical StoryMap of Tazewell County, an initiative of the Tazewell County Board. Janna Baker, Tazewell County geographic information system coordinator, has been at work on the StoryMap, adding the locations of county historical sites along with information about them that she has researched or that committee members have provided.

Shown is a screenshot of the Tazewell County Historical StoryMap, a local Illinois Bicentennial project that can serve as an information resource for local historical education. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY ILLINOIS BICENTENNIAL COMMITTEE

The sites on the Tazewell County Historical StoryMap are organized under four page tabs: Historical Places of Interest, National Register of Historic Places, State Historical Markers, and the Springfield-to-Peoria Stage Coach Road.

The Historical Places of Interest range from the sites of the county’s first courthouse in Mackinaw and the old French trading post in Creve Coeur early in Tazewell County’s history, to the location of the Little Mine Riot and the nation’s first Vacation Bible School (both of which happened in 1894), to the former Springlake Clubhouse (where infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone is said to have gone hunting) and the Deer Creek-Mackinaw Middle School World War II memorial.

The average Tazewell County resident is probably unaware that the county has 12 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Old Post Office, the Tazewell County Courthouse, and the Carl Herget Mansion in Pekin, the Dement-Zinser House and Denhart Bank Building in Washington, and the Waltmire Bridge across the Mackinaw about five miles south of Tremont.

Tazewell County also has four State Historical Markers, including one for the Riverboat Columbia Disaster of 1918 at the Pekin riverfront, and one for Fort Crevecoeur, which was the first European structure built in the future Tazewell County in 1680.

The StoryMap also traces the path of the old Springfield-to-Peoria state road, a stage coach route that the Illinois General Assembly established as an official state road in Feb. 1827, just a month after they had formed Tazewell County. The route is now known as Springfield Road, though it has been a long time since it has gone all the way from Springfield to Peoria. One fascinating historical detail is that Abraham Lincoln once owned land along Springfield Road in Tazewell County.

Even after the State Bicentennial Year concludes on Dec. 3, 2018, the StoryMap will continue to be available as an educational resource.

The Tazewell County Historical StoryMap may be viewed HERE.

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Trials of the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln

This is a slightly revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in May 2015 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Trials of the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Three years ago a book was published about a little known episode and an all-but-forgotten individual in Pekin’s history – an episode that helped confirm Illinois as a free state. The book was among the publications honored at the 2015 annual awards luncheon of the Illinois State Historical Society held April 25, 2015, at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

Entitled “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln – A True Story of Nance Legins-Costley,” it was written by local historian Carl M. Adams and illustrated by Lani Johnson of Honolulu, Hawaii. Adams, formerly of Pekin, now resides in Stuttgart, Germany, and was unable to attend the awards banquet in Springfield, so he asked his friend Bill Maddox, a retired Pekin police office and former city councilman, to receive the award on his behalf. Maddox is one of Adams’ collaborators and over the years has helped Adams in organizing his research.

Russell Lewis, former president of the Illinois State Historical Society, is shown with Bill Maddox of Pekin, following ceremony on April 25, 2015 in Springfield. At the ceremony, Maddox received an award on behalf on Carl Adams, whose book on Nance Legins-Costley was among those honored that day. PHOTO BY PEKIN PUBLIC LIBRARY ASSISTANT JARED OLAR

Carl Adams, author of “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln – A True Story of Nance Legins-Costley.” IMAGE PROVIDED BY CARL ADAMS

Adams has previously published two papers on the same subject: “The First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A Biographical Sketch of Nance Legins (Cox-Cromwell) Costley (circa 1813-1873),” which appeared in the Autumn 1999 issue of “For the People,” newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association; and, “Lincoln’s First Freed Slave: A Review of Bailey v. Cromwell, 1841,” which appeared in The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, vol. 101, no. 3/4, Fall-Winter 2008. In contrast to those papers, however, Adams’ 87-page book “Nance” distills the fruit of his many years of historical research, presenting Nance’s story in the form of a biography suitable for a middle-school audience and ideal for a junior high or middle school classroom.

Though Nance’s story is little known today, during and after her own lifetime her struggles to secure her freedom were well known in Pekin, and Nance herself came to be a well regarded member of the community. As this column had previously discussed (Pekin Daily Times, Feb. 11, 2012), Nance obtained her freedom as a result of the Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell, which Abraham Lincoln argued before Justice Sidney Breese on July 23, 1841. It was the culmination of Nance’s third attempt in Illinois courts to secure her liberty, and it resulted in a declaration that she was a free person because documentation had never been supplied proving her to have been a slave or to have agreed to a contract of indentured servitude. Breese’s ruling is also significant in Illinois history for definitively settling that Illinois was a free state where slavery was illegal.

IMAGE PROVIDED BY CARL ADAMS

Another significant aspect of this case is indicated in an 1881 quote from Congressman Isaac Arnold that Adams includes in his book. Arnold wrote, “This was probably the first time he [Lincoln] gave to these grave questions [on slavery] so full and elaborate an investigation . . . it is not improbable that the study of this case deepened and developed the antislavery convictions of his just and generous mind.”

Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates was also opposed to slavery and deeply admired Lincoln. Bates also knew Nance Legins-Costley, and, five years after Lincoln’s assassination, Bates made sure to include her in his first published history of Pekin, the historical sketch that Bates wrote and included in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, page 10. There we find a paragraph with the heading, “A Relic of a Past Age”:

“With the arrival of Maj. Cromwell, the head of the company that afterwards purchased the land upon which Pekin is built, came a slave. That slave still lives in Pekin and is now known, as she has been known for nearly half a century, by the citizens of Pekin, as ‘Black Nancy.’ She came here a chattle (sic), with ‘no rights that a white man was bound to respect.’ For more than forty years she has been known here as a ‘negro’ upon whom there was no discount, and her presence and services have been indispensible (sic) on many a select occasion. But she has outlived the era of barbarism, and now, in her still vigorous old age, she sees her race disenthralled; the chains that bound them forever broken, their equality before the law everywhere recognized and her own children enjoying the elective franchise. A chapter in the history of a slave and in the progress of a nation.”

Remarkably, Bates doesn’t mention how Nance obtained her freedom, nor does he mention Lincoln’s role in her story. He doesn’t even tell us her surname. That’s because the details were then well-known to his readers. Later, her case would get a passing mention in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, while the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial would provide a more extended treatment of the case. But in none of the standard publications on Pekin history is personal information on Nance and her family included.

“What I did figure out,” Adams said in an email, “was that all the stories of Nance were positive up until the race riots in Chicago in 1918-1919 followed by a rebirth of the Klan in Illinois, and stories of Nance and her family disappeared, before the age of radio and TV.”

Since she had been forgotten and scant information was available in the standard reference works on Pekin’s history, Adams had to scan old census records, court files, coroner’s reports and newspaper articles to reconstruct the story of Nance’s life and the genealogy of her family. He learned that Nance was born about 1813, the daughter of African-American slaves named Randol and Anachy Legins, and that she married a free black named Benjamin Costley. Nance and Ben and their children appear in the U.S. Census for Pekin in 1850, 1860, 1870, and even 1880 (though the 1880 census entry is evidently fictitious). The 1870-71 Pekin City Directory shows Benjamin Costley residing at the southwest corner of Amanda and Somerset up in the northwest corner of Pekin. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ben and Nance’s log cabin was adjacent to the old Bailey Estate, the land of Nance’s last master, David Bailey, one of the principals of the 1841 case in which Nance won her freedom.

On this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin, from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” a star indicates the location of the home of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley and their children.

In his email, Adams explains the challenge of “writing about the first slave freed by Lincoln, when no one even knows her last name. OK. How does one do that? Genealogy. It is close to impossible to trace the genealogy of a slave. Now what? Trace the genealogy of the people who claimed to own her soul. It took six genealogies minimum to figure out where Nance was and when back to the time of her birth. I did what Woodward and Bernstein did with ‘All the President’s Men’ – follow the money and the paper trail that followed the money, that’s how.”

Telling of how he became interested in Nance’s story and how he eventually came to write his book, Adams said, “In 1994 my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I was unemployed, and in debt and depressed because of all this. To distract my self-pity, I took an interest in Nance and slavery – who could be worse off than they? I tried free-lance writing, but in Greater Peoria, I couldn’t make a living at it. So research on a totally new story about A. Lincoln had to be a part-time, part-time, part-time ‘hobby,’ as my wife called it. That is why it took so long: five years of research packed into a 15-year period.”

“Nance deserves her place in history because of what she did, not what the others did,” Adam said. “At the auction on July 12, 1827, she just said ‘No.’ By indentured servitude law, the indenture was supposed to ‘voluntarily’ agree to a contract to serve. When Nathan Cromwell asked if she would agree to serve him she just said ‘no,’ which led to a long list of consequences and further legal issues in court.

“What makes her historically important was when she managed to get to the Supreme Court twice. In my history fact-check only Dred Scott had managed to do that and he lost. Then I discovered with primary source material that Nance had actually made it to the Supreme Court three times. The third time was never published nor handed down as a court opinion when the judge found out she was a minor just before age 14. This was truly phenomenal, unprecedented and fantastic for that period of history.”

As Ida Tarbell said of Nance in 1902, “She had declared herself to be free.”

Adams’ book may be previewed and purchased on Amazon.com or through the website www.nancebook.com.

#abraham-lincoln, #anachy-legins, #bailey-v-cromwell, #bill-maddox, #black-nance, #carl-adams, #david-bailey, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #ida-tarbell, #illinois-bicentennial, #isaac-arnold, #justice-sidney-breese, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #preblog-columns, #randol-legins, #russell-lewis, #william-h-bates

Illinois makes it to 10: the state’s first incorporated cities

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following up on our recent accounts of how Pekin became an incorporated town in 1837 and an incorporated city in 1849, this week we’ll scan a wider vista as we study the incorporated municipalities of Illinois.

The city of Pekin is just one of 1,299 Illinois incorporated municipalities, of which there are three kinds: villages, towns, and cities. Given the usual definitions of those terms, one might assume that the kind of municipality depends on population and geographical size – villages being little, towns being mid-sized, cities being largest. But size has almost nothing to do with it.

For example, Melrose Park near Chicago is a village, but has a population of about 25,000, while the southern Illinois municipality of Nason in Jefferson County is a city, but has only 236 residents, making it the smallest city in Illinois. Meanwhile, both Topeka in Mason County, population 71, and Normal in McLean County, population 54,264, are towns. The largest town in Illinois is Cicero, population 82,992, and the smallest town is Bentley in Hancock County, population 34.

The kind of municipality isn’t a matter of size. Rather, they are three forms of municipal government. The main difference is that villages and towns are governed by boards of trustees, while cities are governed by mayors and city councils. The city form of government may be aldermanic, commission, or mayor/managerial.

Remarkably, there are only three counties in Illinois that have no cities: Calhoun County, which has only five villages, all incorporated in the 1880s and 1890s; Henderson County, which has only eight villages; and Putnam County, which has only six villages.

But Tazewell County has five cities: Pekin, incorporated Aug. 21, 1849; Washington, first incorporated Feb. 10, 1857; East Peoria (formerly called Hilton), first incorporated July 1, 1884; Delavan, first incorporated April 17, 1888, and the youngest of our county’s cities, Marquette Heights, incorporated June 27, 1956.

As noted previously, the 1870 Illinois constitution eliminated the option of “town” as a possible choice when a settlement opts for incorporation, so afterwards there could be no new towns. Many Illinois municipalities started out as villages or towns, later adopting a city form of government, but many have remained villages and a few – only 19 – have decided to stick with their original town charters. Most municipalities (including Pekin) re-incorporated under the 1872 general law of incorporation.

Under current incorporation law, a locale must have at least 200 people to incorporate as a village and at least 2,500 to incorporate as a city. Even if the population later shrinks, the municipality need not give up its form of government, but the choice to unincorporate is sometimes made when a municipality declines.

Most of our municipalities were established after Illinois became a state in 1818, but a few settlements were incorporated when Illinois was a territory – and Illinois’ earliest incorporated settlement was Kaskaskia, the former territorial capital and first state capital, which received its original town charter from King Louis XV of France in 1725 during the colonial period.

Almost a year before Illinois statehood, Kaskaskia was incorporated as a town on Jan. 6, 1818. The following year the state capital was moved to Vandalia, and poor abandoned Kaskaskia eventually was almost completely destroyed by a flood in April 1881, when the Mississippi River changed its course. The 2000 federal census showed only nine people left in the bayou that is all that remains of the first state capital.

Another Illinois city, Golconda in Pope County, was already around by 1816 when Pope County was established. Originally called Sarahsville, the residents opted for the name “Golconda” on Jan. 24, 1817, and they received a town charter on March 1, 1845, becoming a city some time later. Thus, one must not interpret the date of incorporation as the same as the date of founding, because usually a community or settlement existed for several years, even a long time, before finally incorporating.

Of those municipalities that later became cities, Pekin was the 17th municipality to be incorporated since Illinois became a territory — but the earliest one of them to become an incorporated municipality was Shawneetown in Gallatin County, which became a village on Dec. 8, 1814, a town on Feb. 27, 1847, and a city on Feb. 22, 1861.

Old Pekin historical publications say Pekin was the 10th incorporated city in Illinois, a claim that can be confirmed by consulting Illinois state records and old published county histories.

The very first incorporated city in Illinois was Cairo in Alexander County, which was granted a city charter on Jan. 9, 1818. In those days, however, Cairo was really only a city on paper. The site was chosen for a city because, as the charter states, the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was thought an economically auspicious location. In those days, there seemed little grounds to hope for prosperity in a city on the shores of Lake Michigan (the railroad was still a new invention, and the St. Lawrence Seaway was yet future), and Illinois depended on the Mississippi for the movement of people and goods. Nevertheless, no one would be interested in living in the planned and platted city of Cairo for many more years to come. A new settlement at the site was founded in the 1830s, and so Cairo was given a second city charter on March 4, 1837.

Shown is a detail from an 1819 Illinois state law that lists several pre-statehood laws that had been passed by the Illinois Territorial Legislature. One of them, approved Jan. 9, 1818, was “an act to incorporate the city and bank of Cairo” — thus making Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois, then only a proposed city, the first incorporated city in Illinois.

If not for Cairo’s 1818 charter, the honor of being Illinois’ first incorporated city would go to (where else?) Chicago, which became a city on March 4, 1837, the same date as Cairo’s second charter. Chicago was originally incorporated as a town on Aug. 12, 1833. Coming in close behind Chicago as Illinois’ third city is Alton in Madison County, which incorporated as a city on July 31, 1837 (but became a town before Chicago did, on Jan. 30, 1821).

The fourth and fifth cities of Illinois were Quincy and Springfield, but were incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly on the same day, Feb. 3, 1840. Springfield, which incorporated as a town on April 2, 1832, had recently been designated as Illinois’ third state capital. It officially received its city charter on April 6, 1840.

Illinois’ sixth incorporated city was Nauvoo in Hancock County, which served as the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) until the Mormon War. Nauvoo became a city on Feb. 1, 1841.

Next in order came Galena in Jo Daviess County, the home of President Ulysses S. Grant, which was incorporated as a town on Jan. 7, 1835. The path that Galena was forced to take to acquire its first city charter was marred by political tumult and controversy involving a runaway town board. The General Assembly approved a city charter for Galena on Feb. 15, 1839, stipulating that the Galena town board had to place the proposed charter before their residents for a vote. The board members, however, usurped the role of the State Supreme Court and claimed some of the charter’s provisions were unconstitutional. Flouting state law, the board passed a resolution declaring that they would never obey the law requiring them to hold a town referendum on the charter. Legal action immediately ensued, leading to the state’s high court issuing a writ of mandamus (Latin, “we command”) on Nov. 16, 1840, ordering the Galena board to let their constituents vote on the charter. The board again rebelled. The scandal finally was ended by the exasperated people of Galena themselves, who voted out the old board on April 5, 1841. The new board members immediately agreed to hold the vote on the charter, which was approved by a vote of 196-34 on April 26, 1841. So Galena finally became a city. (The full account of Galena’s tortuous path to cityhood may be read in H.F. Kett’s 1878 History of Jo Daviess County.)

After the fireworks of Galena’s city charter battle, Peoria much more quietly became the eighth incorporated city in Illinois on April 21, 1845. Almost four years elapsed until Illinois got its ninth city: Rock Island, incorporated on Feb. 12, 1849. Six months later, in August of 1849, Pekin voted to adopt a city charter, making Pekin the 10th incorporated city in Illinois.

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William H. Bates’ list of Pekin’s ‘firsts’

This is a slightly revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in February 2015 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

William H. Bates’ list of Pekin’s ‘firsts’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, May 4, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the fifth video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. As people in the U.S. and Europe observe the 73rd anniversary of “V-E Day” (the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945), the video will be “We Were There: World War II.” The video is an Alliance Library System oral history that was filmed at the Pekin Public Library, Eureka Public Library, and Illinois State Library in 1992. Afterwards, the Pekin Public Library’s oral history production that recorded personal memories of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will be shown. Admission is free and the public is invited.

This subject of this week’s column deals with matters of peace rather than war. As this column has noted more than once, William H. Bates (1840-1930) was the first to publish a history of Pekin, which was included in several editions of the old Bates Pekin City Directories starting in 1870. Since Bates’ historical account was itself a landmark in Pekin’s history, it’s only fitting that one of the chief features of his account is that it highlights several of Pekin’s “firsts.” This week we’ll review Bates’ tally of Pekin’s firsts, which begins with:

The first election: According to Bates, the first local election took place in August 1826 at the Dillon home, where Nathan Dillon and his kin had settled. The area was then under the jurisdiction of Peoria County, for Tazewell County was not to be established by the Illinois General Assembly until the following year. “We are not informed who received a majority of the votes nor the number polled, but the day was a gala one and of sufficient importance to be commemorated by a banquet,” Bates writes.

The first death: After white Americans began to make permanent settlements in what would become Tazewell County, the first recorded death was that of Ezekiel Turner, who was struck by lightning in February 1825. To make a coffin, Turner’s companions felled a straight walnut tree, cut the trunk in half along its length, and then hollowed out the trunk.

The first settler: The first white settler in what would become Pekin was Jonathan Tharp of Ohio, who built a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that today is near the foot of Broadway, not far from where Pottawatomi Chief Shabbona and his family soon after set up their wigwams.

The first white child: On March 10, 1827, Joseph, son of Jonathan Tharp, was the first white child born in what would become Pekin.

The first steamboat: The first steamboat to visit Pekin chugged up the river early one morning in the late fall of 1828, the never-before-heard noises giving many of the sleepy settlers a real fright. Jonathan Tharp’s father Jacob thought the sounds signaled the end of the world, Bates says.

The first store: Pekin’s first store was opened in 1830 by Absalom Dillon, followed by David Bailey’s store later the same year. Also in 1830 was:

The first hotel or tavern, which was opened by Gideon H. Hawley, and:

The first church: Pekin’s first church building was erected by the Methodists on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol. The Rev. Joseph Mitchell was the congregation’s first regular pastor.

The first brick house: Pekin’s original homes were log cabins and wood frame houses, but by the 1830s some settlers began to build brick homes. The first one was the Mark residence at the corner of Court and Second streets. “We are not informed as to the time when it was built, but from the fact that it was raised to its present height in 1835, we presume it was erected as early as 1833,” Bates says.

Shown is the home of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp, who came here from Ohio in 1825. Tharp’s dwelling, located where the St. Joseph’s Parish Center is today, was one of the first two-storey brick houses in Pekin according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” According to W. H. Bates, the Mark residence was the first brick house.

The first town election: After the establishment of Pekin as a town, the first town election took place on July 9, 1835. Five men were elected as town trustees: D. Mark, D. Bailey, Samuel Wilson, J.C. Morgan and S. Pillsbury, with Morgan being elected as president of the town’s board of trustees.

The first bank: Bates writes, “The first Bank or Banking house in Pekin, was a branch of the Bank of Illinois, which was established in 1839 or 1840. John Marshall, of Shawneetown, President of the parent bank, was President; Charles Wilcox, Cashier; and William Docker, Clerk. It was located in the rear of Mark’s store, on Second street. About all that remains of the Bank to-day is the old safe, now used by P. A. Brower, in the office of the Illinois River Packet Company, on Front street.”

The first town seal: Pekin’s first seal was “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage,” formally adopted by the town board on Dec. 29, 1840.

The first distilleries: Formerly a major industry in Pekin, the first two alcohol distilleries in Pekin were located, Bates writes, “one immediately south of where the present alcohol works are situated; the other on the ground occupied by the Reisinger distillery of to-day. The latter outliving its usefulness as a distillery was converted into a slaughter-house, in which capacity it remained until the 9th of May, 1849, when, having become, in the opinion of the people, a nuisance, it was destroyed by a mob . . . .”

The first steam mill: Pekin’s first steam mill was built in April 1845 by Benjamin Kellogg near the river between Margaret and Ann Eliza streets. Kellogg’s business was destroyed by a fire in the fall of 1849.

The first jail: Pekin’s first jail — which Bates calls “the first calaboose” — was built in November 1849 for the cost of $48. The “calaboose” served the city until 1868, when it was destroyed by a fire started by some of its inmates.

The first mayor: After being incorporated as a city on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin elected its first mayor and aldermen on Sept. 24 that year. Pekin’s first mayor was Bernard Bailey, who was also the first mayor to resign, being pressured by the city council to leave in October 1850 “that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office.”

The first railroad: The last “first” that Bates included in his account was the beginning of Pekin’s first railroad. “On the 4th day of July, 1859, the first rail was laid and the first spike driven on the prospective Illinois River Railroad. . . . The leading citizens participated in celebrating the new enterprise on such an auspicious day as the Fourth of July. The road was never really completed until it passed into the hands of the present company, when the name was changed, and it is now the flourishing and well-managed Peoria, Pekin and Jacksonville Railroad.”

#benjamin-kellogg-jr, #bernard-bailey, #calaboose, #david-mark, #ezekiel-turner, #gideon-hawley, #illinois-bicentennial, #jacob-tharp, #jonathan-tharp, #nathan-dillon, #pekin-railroads, #pekins-first-town-seal, #preblog-columns, #rev-joseph-mitchell, #shabbona, #william-h-bates

Naming the last 18 Illinois counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A total of 84 Illinois counties were organized from 1790 (when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory) until 1839, when the Illinois General Assembly established a record 15 new counties in a single year.

The remaining 18 counties of Illinois were founded from 1841 to 1859, which averages out to one new county a year during that period. However, the establishing of those 18 counties didn’t happen that regularly, for seven of them were established in 1841: Grundy, Henderson, Kendall, Mason, Piatt, Richland, and Woodford counties.

Grundy County is named for Felix Grundy (1777-1840), a Tennessee senator who served as the 13th U.S. Attorney General. Henderson County was named for Henderson County, Kentucky, which in turn was named in honor of North Carolina pioneer Richard Henderson, a colleague of Daniel Boone who was involved in a land investment scheme that aimed to create a new state called Transylvania out of land that is now a part of Kentucky and Tennessee.

This 1905 map, from “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the final boundaries of Illinois’ counties with the dates they were first organized by the territorial and state legislatures of the Northwest Territory, Indiana, and Illinois.

Kendall County was named after Amos Kendall (1789-1869), who served as Postmaster General in the cabinets of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Mason County was named after Mason County, Kentucky, which had been named after George Mason IV, remembered as the Father of the Bill of Rights. Mason was one of the three delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 who refused to sign the new Constitution because it failed to safeguard the rights of the citizens and the states.

Piatt County is named after John Piatt, the father of one of that county’s prominent pioneer families. Richland County is named after Richland County in Ohio, which had been so named for its rich soil. Woodford County is named after Revolutionary War Gen. William Woodford, who died as a prisoner of war in 1780.

Four new counties were formed in 1843: Cumberland, Massac, Moultrie, and Pulaski counties. Cumberland County is so named because the Cumberland Road entered the county. The road in turn got its name from Cumberland, Maryland, which was named for the Cumberland range of the Appalachian Mountains, themselves named after the Cumberland mountains of northern England. (The ultimate origin of “Cumberland” is in the early medieval kingdom of Cumbria in Britain, so named because the kingdom’s inhabitants were Britons or Welsh, whose own name for themselves in modern Welsh is Cymry.)

Massac County, in southern Illinois on the Ohio River, is named for a French outpost called Fort Massac, constructed near the river in 1757 within the present bounds of Massac County. Moultrie County is named after Revolutionary War Gen. William Moultrie (1730-1805), who also served as Governor of South Carolina. Pulaski County is named after Gen. Casimir Pulaski, a Polish American who commanded U.S. cavalry during the Revolutionary War.

Saline County, named for the salt deposits found there, was established in 1847. Six years later, in 1853, Kankakee County was added, named for the Kankakee River. The river’s name is thought to derive from the Miami-Illini Algonquin term teeyaahkiki, meaning “open country” or “country exposed to view,” probably given to the area because it was a marshland.

The last two counties of Illinois, Douglas and Ford, were established in 1859, only two years before the start of the Civil War. Ford County was named after Thomas Ford (1800-1850), eighth Governor of Illinois.

Douglas County was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), the well-known and popular racist Illinois Democrat who argued that slavery should remain legal in a famous series of debates with Abraham Lincoln in 1858. Even with his pro-slavery views, Douglas nevertheless was staunchly pro-Union – in the first weeks after the Civil War began, Douglas called on his Democrat supporters to support the Union before he succumbed to typhoid fever on June 3, 1861.

For more information about the founding and naming of Illinois’ counties, see the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” available for study in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#abraham-lincoln, #casimir-pulaski, #george-mason, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-counties, #stephen-a-douglas

Illinois county names of the latter 1830s

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, April 6, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the fourth video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. As the nation this month marks the 153rd anniversary of the surrender of the Confederacy that ended the Civil War, the video will be “Illinois’ Memory of the Civil War,” 29 minutes in length and produced by the Illinois State Archives in 1992. Admission is free and the public is invited.

The formation and naming of Illinois’ 102 counties, which we have been tracing in recent weeks, was completed two years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Last time in this series, we had reached the year 1833, when Champaign and Iroquois counties were established. Six new counties were added three years after that: Kane, McHenry, Ogle, Whiteside, Will, and Winnebago counties.

Kane County was named after U.S. Senator Elias Kane of Illinois (1794-1835). McHenry County was named for Major William McHenry, (c.1771-1835), an Illinois legislator who had fought in several battles against Native Americans. Ogle County was named after Joseph Ogle (1737-1821), an Illinois pioneer who co-founded Illinois’ first Methodist congregation. Whiteside County bears the name of Illinois legislator and militiaman Samuel Whiteside (1783-1868). Will County was named after Illinois legislator and physician Conrad Will (1779-1835). Winnebago County was named for the Winnebago tribe of Native Americans who lived in Wisconsin and northern Illinois before being dispossessed and moved to reservations west of the Mississippi River.

Just one year later, in 1837, six more counties were added: Boone, Bureau, Cass, DeKalb, Livingston, and Stephenson counties. Boone County was named for the famous Kentucky frontiersman and trailblazer Daniel Boone. Bureau County was named after the French fur trader Pierre de Buero. Cass County was named after Lewis Cass (1782-1866), second territorial governor of Michigan and 14th U.S. Secretary of War.

DeKalb County was named in honor of Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, a Bavarian-French soldier who fought alongside Lafayette during the Revolutionary War and was killed at the Battle of Camden in 1780. Livingston County was named after U.S. Congressman and Secretary of State Edward Livingston (1764-1836). Stephenson County was named for Benjamin Stephenson (1769-1822), Illinois territorial delegate to Congress.

1839 was a banner year for the creation of new Illinois counties – the General Assembly erected 15 new counties that year: Brown, Carroll, Dane, DeWitt, DuPage, Hardin, Jersey, Lake, Lee, Logan, Marshall, Menard, Scott, Stark, and Williamson counties.

This map, from “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the boundaries of Illinois’ counties in 1839, when the Illinois General Assembly created a record 15 new counties in a single year.

Brown County is named for War of 1812 veteran Jacob Brown. Carroll County was named in honor of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was the only Catholic Christian Founding Father (the other Founding Fathers were Protestant Christians, Unitarians, or Deists).

As for Dane County, one may search a map of Illinois diligently but will not find it, because the county existed under that name for just one year. It was originally named in honor of U.S. Congressman Nathan Dane of Massachusetts (1752-1835), a principal drafter of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 who personally added the ordinance’s Article 6 that banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. However, the people of the new county were Democrats whereas Dane had been a Federalist, so a settler named Daniel Goode, a Jacksonian Democrat, petitioned to have the county renamed. Dane County thus became Christian County in 1840, named after the already-existing Christian County in Kentucky, which was in turn named in honor of Revolutionary War officer Col. William Christian (c.1743-1786).

DeWitt County, with its county seat at Clinton, was named for New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton of Erie Canal fame – the same man for whom Clinton County, with its county seat at Carlyle, had been named in 1824. DeWitt Clinton is the only man to have two Illinois counties named in his honor.

DuPage County takes its name from the DuPage River, which got its name from an old French fur trader of the 1700s named DuPage, who had operated a trading post near the place where the river joins the Des Plaines River near Channahon.

Hardin County was named after Hardin County in Kentucky, which was itself named for John Hardin (1753-1792), a noted veteran of the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War who was slain by the Shawnee in Ohio in April or May of 1792. With only about 4,800 inhabitants, Hardin County has the lowest county population in the state.

Jersey County was named after the state of New Jersey, from which many of the county’s settlers had come. Lake County got its name because it is on the shore of Lake Michigan. Lee County was named for “Light Horse” Henry Lee III (1756-1818), a Revolutionary War officer and ninth Governor of Virginia, father of Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee.

Logan County is named for Illinois pioneer and doctor John Logan, father of Civil War Gen. and U.S. Senator John A. Logan of Illinois. Remarkably, even though Illinois is known as “the Land of Lincoln,” none of Illinois’ counties are named after Abraham Lincoln – but the county seat of Logan County is named in his memory.

Marshall County is named in honor of the famous U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Menard County is named for Illinois’ first lieutenant governor Pierre Menard. Scott County takes its name from Scott County, Kentucky, which was named for Charles Scott (1739-1813), a Revolutionary War officer who became the fourth governor of Kentucky.

Stark County was named after Revolutionary War Gen. John Stark (1728-1822), who won a significant American victory at the Battle of Bennington in 1777. Williamson County was named for Hugh Williamson (1735-1819), a North Carolina delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Thus, by the end of 1839 Illinois had 84 counties. The Illinois General Assembly would organize the 18 remaining counties over the next two decades. We’ll conclude the roll of the names of Illinois’ counties next time.

#illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-counties, #northwest-indian-war, #northwest-ordinance

The county names of Illinois, continued

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll continue with our review of the names of the counties of Illinois, beginning with the three counties that the State Legislature established in 1824: Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.

Clay County was named after Henry Clay of Kentucky, a notable American leader during this period who served in both the U.S. House and Senate, best remembered for negotiating the important Missouri Compromise of 1820 that safeguarded the nation’s fragile equilibrium between slave and free states. Clinton County is named in honor of New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), who spearheaded the building of the Erie Canal that bolstered the U.S. economy.

Wabash County takes its name from the Wabash River, which was in turn named by the Algonquin-speaking Miami and Illini tribes. The Wabash forms a part of the Illinois-Indiana border. The Native American name for the river, Waapaahšiiki, means “water over white stones,” a reference to the limestone river bottom in Huntington County, Indiana.

In 1825, the Illinois General Assembly established 10 new counties – the most that had been founded in Illinois history up till then. The counties were Adams, Calhoun, Hancock, Henry, Knox, Mercer, Peoria, Putnam, Schuyler, and Warren counties.

This map, from the “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the boundaries of Illinois’ counties in 1825 — one year after the arrival of Jonathan Tharp at the future site of Pekin.

Adams County is named in honor of John Quincy Adams, sixth U.S. president. Calhoun County is named after U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who also became the seventh U.S. vice president. Hancock County is named for Founding Father John Hancock of Massachusetts, famous for his over-sized signature on the Declaration of Independence. Henry County is named after another Founding Father, Gov. Patrick Henry of Virginia who reportedly declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Five of 1825’s new counties were named after men who fought in the Revolutionary War. Knox County is named for Gen. Henry Knox, who became the first U.S. Secretary of War. It is noteworthy that there had formerly been a Knox County that included parts of Illinois, back in the days of the Indiana Territory – but with the formation of the Illinois Territory in 1809, the original Knox County became an Indiana county. Illinois’ Knox County of 1825 was never a part of the original Knox County.

Mercer County is named for Gen. Hugh Mercer. Putnam County – the smallest Illinois County, covering only 160 square miles – is named in honor of Gen. Israel Putnam, U.S. commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Schuyler County is named after Gen. Philip Schuyler, who also served as a U.S. Senator from New York. Warren County is named for an American patriot who was killed very early in the Revolutionary War, Joseph Warren.

Peoria County was, of course, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek, who formerly lived on the shores of Lake Pimiteoui (Peoria Lake).

Only two new counties were founded in 1826: McDonough and Vermilion counties. McDonough County is named after Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who commanded U.S. naval forces at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York, where the U.S. thwarted Britain’s final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812.

Vermilion County is named for the Vermilion River, a tributary of the Wabash River. This tributary was called the Piankeshaw by the Miami tribe, but European settlers renamed the river from the reddish color of the earth or chalk found in the bluffs above the river, which the Native Americans used for face paint.

Besides Tazewell County, three other counties were established in 1827: Jo Daviess, Perry, and Shelby counties. Jo Daviess County is named after Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, who commanded the Indiana Dragoons at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Curiously, although his last name was spelled “Daveiss,” in all of the places named for him the misspelling “Daviess” is used instead. Perry County is named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who led American naval forces to victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Shelby County is named after Kentucky Gov. Isaac Shelby, a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Two counties were founded in 1829: Macon County, named after Nathaniel Macon (1758-1837), sixth Speaker of the House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator for North Carolina; and Macoupin County, which is named from an Algonquin word that is believed to mean “white potato.”

The Illinois General Assembly formed two new counties in 1830. One of them, Coles County, was named for Edward Coles, second Governor of Illinois (1822-1826), who devoted his political career to the cause of the abolition of slavery, striving mightily to prevent the legalization of slavery and end the practice of indentured servitude in Illinois.

The other, McLean County, formed from Tazewell County the same year that Pekin was founded, was named for Illinois Congressman and Senator John McLean. McLean is geographically the largest county in Illinois, covering 1,184 square miles.

Illinois’ most populous county, Cook County (with a current population of about 5.2 million), was established in 1831, and is named after Illinois’ first Attorney General Daniel Pope Cook (1794-1827), a newspaper owner and editor who had advocated for Illinois statehood in his newspapers.

Also founded in 1831 were Effingham County, named for Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, who resigned from the British Army rather than fight against the 13 colonies; Jasper County, named for Revolutionary War hero Sgt. William Jasper (c.1750-1779); LaSalle County, named after the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle; and Rock Island County, named for Rock Island, a notable island in the Mississippi where Fort Armstrong was built in 1816 and an arsenal was established in the 1880s.

In 1833, the year after the Black Hawk War – Illinois’ final war against its Native American population – two more counties were added: Champaign County, named after Champaign County, Ohio, from which pioneers of the county had come (“champaign” in French means “battlefield”), and Iroquois County, named after the New York-based League of the Iroquois that had controlled the Illinois Country during their expansionist wars of the 1600s.

By this time Illinois had been subdivided into 60 counties. Another 42 counties would be established over the next 26 years. We will continue down the roll of Illinois counties next time.

#daniel-pope-cook, #gov-edward-coles, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-counties, #iroquois-league, #la-salle, #tippecanoe