The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

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

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of two videos about Pekin’s first astronaut Lt. Commander (ret.) Scott Altman. The videos are a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

First will be a 35-minute video of Altman’s keynote address at an April 1996 meeting of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards will be a showing of the footage of Altman’s recent induction into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, a video 20 minutes in length.

While the Bicentennial Series videos next week exemplify the astounding technological progress of the modern age, this week’s “From the Local History Room” column looks back to an important aspect of the push for moral and cultural progress in Illinois. This will we will take a trip back to the days of the slavery abolition movement, which made its mark in Pekin and Tazewell County, as it did in many other communities in the Northern States. The “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” volume presents an enlightening narrative of that important time in our local history.

As we have seen from earlier columns in our Illinois Bicentennial Series, although Illinois was a “free” state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois. In our area, according to the Centenary (p.15), “Pekin was a pro-slave city for years. Some of the original settlers had been slave-owners themselves, and the overwhelming sentiment in Pekin was Democratic. Stephen A. Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln, was the local hero, although Lincoln was well-liked, and had some German following.

Lincoln, of course, was one of Illinois’ leading abolitionist attorneys and politicians, and in 1841 he argued and won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that secured the freedom of “Black Nance,” a Pekin resident who was the former slave of Nathan Cromwell, whose wife Ann Eliza had chosen Pekin’s name. On Oct. 6, 1858, Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin and addressed a large crowd in the court house square. (Trumbull would later co-author the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery.)

It was largely due to the influx of German immigrants into Pekin, many of whom had fled religious persecution in their home countries, that abolitionist sentiment began to flourish in our city. Many Baptists were abolitionists, and in 1853 a German congregation of Baptists organized in Pekin – the origin of Pekin’s Calvary Baptist Church.

Among Pekin’s abolitionist leaders, according to the Pekin Centenary, was Dr. Daniel Cheever, who engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad), by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada. Other early Pekin settlers active in the abolitionist movement were the brothers Samuel and Hugh Woodrow (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife, and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s). The Woodrows aided runaway slaves at their homes in the vanished village of Circleville south of Pekin.

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Illinois cities such as Pekin and Peoria were divided between the pro-slavery element, who favored the Confederacy, and the abolitionist and pro-Union element. In the early days of the war, a secessionist organization calling itself the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (which was something of a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan) boldly worked in support of secession and slavery. The Centenary says the Knights were “aggressive and unprincipled,” and “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid.”

This detail from an 1877 “aerial view” map of Pekin shows the building, marked by the number 55, where the Union League was organized on June 25, 1862.

To counter the dominance of the Knights and promote the cause of the Union, a secret meeting was held on June 25, 1862, above Dr. Cheever’s office at 331 Court St., where 11 of Pekin’s early settlers formed the Union League to promote the cause of Union and abolition. The anti-slavery Germans of Pekin quickly became active in the League. Soon a chapter of the Union League was organized in Bloomington, and then an important chapter in Chicago, where John Medill, founding publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a leading member.

Very soon the Union League had “swept the entire North and became a great and powerful instrument for propaganda and finance in support of the War” (Pekin Centenary, p.21). After the war, the League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

The 11 founding members of the Union League were the Rev. James W. N. Vernon, Methodist minister at Pekin; Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

The building where these 11 men gathered in June 1862 was later the location of the Smith Bank and Perlman Furniture in downtown Pekin. Perlman Furniture burned down in 1968 and a few years later Pekin National Bank was built on the site. Plaques commemorating the Union League’s founding are displayed inside and on the outside of the bank building.

A historical plaque on the outside wall of Pekin National Bank at the corner of Court and Capitol streets in downtown Pekin marks the site where the Union League of America was founded. IMAGE COURTESY OF ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

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Jacob Tharp’s memoir of Pekin’s founding

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The founding of Pekin was due to the influx of settlers of central Illinois during the 1820s, in the decade following Illinois statehood. This area’s newcomers in that wave of settlement were first attracted to Fort Clark (Peoria), but before long pioneers were establishing homesteads up and down the Illinois River valley in Peoria’ vicinity.

Pekin, as it well known, began with Jonathan Tharp’s homestead of 1824 on a ridge above the Illinois River, at what is now the foot of Broadway near downtown Pekin. Within a year, Tharp had been joined by several other settlers, including his own father Jacob Tharp (1773-1871) and brother Northcott Tharp, and his friend Jesse Eggman, all of whom arrived in 1825 and built cabins near Jonathan’s.

Most of what we know of Pekin’s “pre-history” during the 1820s comes from three sources: the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, William H. Bates’ 1870 account of Pekin’s history that he first published in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, and Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

The 1860 diary of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp (1773-1871), shown here, is one of the most important primary sources for the history of Pekin’s founding.

Jacob Tharp’s diary contains the earliest surviving reference to Pekin as “the Celestial City,” referring to the old pioneer tradition that Pekin had been named after Peking (Beijing), China. A transcript of Tharp’s diary was itself published on pages 565-562 of Chapman’s history, and Tharp’s account was substantially reproduced in the 1949 Pekin Centenary and the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volumes. Following are excerpts from Tharp’s diary, drawn from Chapman’s county history:

“. . . After a streak of bad luck, in 1825, [I] left Ohio, where I then resided, and traveled through Indiana with one ox-team, a span of horses, and a family of twelve persons, reaching the site of Pekin just before Christmas.

“Jonathan Tharp, my son, built the first house ever erected in the city of Pekin, in 1824, on the spot now occupied by Joshua Wagenseller’s residence. Jonathan’s farm embraced the land now covered by our heaviest business houses.

“At the time of my arrival, Jonathan was the only occupant. Their neighbors were Major Nathan Cromwell, living on the Hawley farm; Gideon Hawley, living on the Mackinaw side of Sand Prairie; Seth Wilson, living on John Young’s farm; John and Geo. Clines, between that place and Tremont; the Woodrows and John Summers, living in the Woodrow settlement; the Dillon family, after whom that township was named; the Hodgsons, friends and relatives of the Dillons; old Benj. Briggs, afterwards Sheriff; James Scott, who with Wilson, acted as constable in those days; and Wm. Eads, who was the first miller in this section of the State. He ran a ‘horse-mill,’ and ground only corn. On New Year’s day, 1827, I went to Fort Clark, now Peoria, where I found a few cabins occupied by John Hamlin, James Dixon, and others. Hamlin had a little store, and I bought groceries, coffee selling at 37 ½ cents per pound. On my way home I contracted for mast-fed pork at $2.50 per hundred. I soon built my cabin, placing it about half way between Joshua Wagenseller’s house and the present landing at the river.

“In the summer of 1827, the first consignment of goods was sent to Pekin, by one [Mordecai] Mobley, the land auctioneer. I received them, and so won the honor of being the first commission merchant. Most of the goods, however, went on to Mackinaw, which was the first shire-town. Pekin at this early day, was reported to be the best commercial point on the Illinois river. All goods came up from St. Louis, which was the great basis of supplies for the settlers.

“The Government surveys were made previous to 1828. This year we were cheered by a close neighbor, a Mr. Hinkle, who came to put up a trading house for Absalom Dillon. The goods came before the house was finished, and so my smoke-house was used for the first store. This season the Methodists established a mission, and their first service was held in Hawley’s house, on Sand Prairie. In the fall of 1828, Absalom and Joseph Dillon moved to Pekin, and ‘camped out’ for a while. Major Cromwell came in 1829, and bought out Dillon’s stock in trade, when those gentleman returned to the country. In the same year, Hawley and William Haines built cabins in our town. The inhabitants then consisted of Cromwell, Hawley, Haines, Dr. John Warner, the two Hiatts, Jonathan Tharp and myself. Mr. Clark made a raft of hewed puncheons, and started the ferry, placing a stake just below the present ferry landing to mark his claim.

“When the land sales were held at Springfield, there were several claimants for the Pekin town-site. On the first day of the sale the bidding ran high, and the land was knocked down to William Haines at $20.00 dollars an acre; but he did not comply with the regulations of the sale, and on the second day the same tract was sold for one hundred dollars per acre. The buyer again failed to comply, and the tract was once more offered on the third day. A man in Springfield, named Harrington, had in the meantime a deadly quarrel with Major [Isaac] Perkins, one of the principal claimants, growing out of some delicate question. Those were chivalrous days, and he determined on revenge. So he placed himself near the auctioneer, armed to the eyebrows, and when the coveted tract was put up, he bid one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre, and swore he would blow out any man’s brains who offered a higher bid. Major Perkins was stalking around the room, armed for battle and hunting blood. There was immense excitement, and death was felt in the atmosphere, but the tract was knocked down to Harrington. He complied with the regulations and walked out feeling sublime, but the Major and his friends captured the usurper, conveyed him to a room and persuaded him to make out deeds for the prize. From these papers the original title is derived.”

“In the spring of 1830, the proprietors surveyed and laid out the town, Perkins, Hawley, Haines and Cromwell being the active agents. Cromwell did the surveying. About this time Perkins sold out to Thomas Snell, from Cincinnati, Ohio. The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city. The elder Hiatt had a claim upon the Lake shore, but when the land sales occurred he forgot to bid, and Carpenter bought his tract, also buying eighty acres on the east side of said tract. The proprietors of the future city included these two tracts in the town-site. Mr. Hiatt was appeased with a pony purse of seventy-five or eighty dollars.

“After some property sales, the foreign owners were bought out and the entire city owned, body and soul, by five persons, namely: William Haines, Thomas Snell, Nathan Cromwell, William Brown, and David Bailey. The surveys were finally completed, and it was found that the lots had cost just twenty-eight cents apiece. The advertisement for the gale of lots was immediately made, to take place in April, 1830. The deed of partition was drawn up before the sale, and is the one now on record.”

Many additional details on Pekin’s founding were recorded in four pages of the original handwritten minutes of the stockholder meetings of the company that founded Pekin. From these minutes we learn that on Dec. 28, 1829, 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, according to the minutes, 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. Isaac Perkins made the motion to vote on the town’s name, and three names were proposed: Pekin, Port Folio, and Portugal. According to old pioneer tradition, Nathan Cromwell’s wife Ann Eliza had proposed the name of “Pekin,” and that name garnered the most votes – and thus Pekin was born.

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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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How did Pekin get its name?

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in December 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

How did Pekin get its name?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The question of how Pekin got its name is shrouded in a haze of mystery and legend, but the resources of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room can help bring the question into better focus.

All the standard reference works on the history of Pekin and Tazewell County affirm that Pekin was named in 1830 by Ann Eliza Cromwell, wife of Major Nathan Cromwell, one of Pekin’s earliest settlers. However, early accounts disagree about the year she gave Pekin its name.

Local historian Fred W. Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places,” says, “After the completion of the plat of the new town in 1830, Mrs. Nathan Cromwell, for reasons still obscure, gave the city the name of PEKIN, and thus it has remained to the present,” adding in a footnote, “It is speculated, and a common legend in Pekin, that the city was so named by Mrs. Cromwell on the belief that the site was exactly opposite the site of Peking, capital of China.”

The first known published sketch of Pekin’s history is found in the 1870 Pekin City Directory of W.W. Sellers & W.H. Bates, which says: “In 1829 a survey of ‘Town Site’ was made by William Hodge of Blooming Grove, then County Surveyor . . . The survey made, and the town laid out, Mrs. Cromwell being called upon, exercised her share of women’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.”

During the 1800s, “Pekin” was the standard English-language spelling of the Chinese capital, Peking or Beijing.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” substantially repeats the same account, though he dates Hodge’s survey to 1827 (apparently a printer’s error for 1829). “Doubtless with a prophetic eye [Mrs. Cromwell] could see a brilliant future for their town in the not far distant time, and, therefore, gave to it the name of Pekin, we suppose after the celestial city of that name,” Chapman comments.

The story that Pekin was named after Peking (Beijing) appears to be an authentic tradition handed down by Pekin’s original settlers. Chapman quotes from the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, who came to Pekin in 1825. In his diary, Tharp gives an account of how the town’s proprietors (including Major Cromwell) surveyed and laid out the original town in 1830, and comments, “The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city.” His comment seems to be the earliest allusion to the story that Pekin was named for China’s Celestial City Beijing. “The Celestial City” has long been one of our city’s appellatives.

However, these old accounts do not mention the “common legend” to which Soady refers, that Mrs. Cromwell believed Pekin was on the opposite side of the earth from Peking. Perhaps that legend is only a later embellishment of the original tradition. It is worth noting, however, that Pekin, Ill., and Beijing are at about the same latitude on the globe – about 40 degrees for Pekin, about 39 degrees for Beijing.

Our city is not the only U.S. community with that name, nor was it the first. For example, Pekin in Washington County, Indiana, got its name around the same time as Pekin, Ill. There is also a small eastern Ohio community called Pekin, located near Minerva in Brown Township, Carroll County. Ohio’s Pekin may have received its name prior to 1815, judging from a statement in the 1921 “History of Carroll and Harrison Counties, Ohio.” Is it just a coincidence that Pekin, Ohio, is also at about the same latitude (39 or 40 degrees) as Pekin, Ill., and Beijing, China?

Several of our city’s first settlers came from or through Ohio – but did any of them know about Ohio’s Pekin? Could that have been what suggested the name to Ann Eliza Cromwell? It might be a worthwhile project for a contemporary researcher of our local history to investigate that question.

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Early historical accounts indicate that Pekin, Ill., was named for the capital of China, Beijing or Peking. During the 1800s, a common English-language spelling of China’s capital was “Pekin,” as shown in this detail of a map from an 1874 grade school geography textbook, “Monteith’s Independent Course — Elementary Geography,” by James Monteith, page 62.

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