Tell me about that house . . . Part Two

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

405 Willow Street, showing the western exposure.

As we continue this week with the history of 405 Willow St., let’s take a look at what the old Pekin city directories tell us about who has lived there over the years, and compare it with the sales history of the parcel of land where the house is situated.

First, here is a list derived from the city directories, showing those who have been heads of household or who have resided at this address.

1861: Eden John F., laborer, res. Willow, ns., 3d d. e. Fourth; Flanagan Christopher, laborer, res. Willow, ns., 2d d. e. Fourth; Regentz Julius, carpenter, res. ne. cor. Willow and Fourth

1870-71: Meints Runt., blacksmith, res ns Willow 2 d e Newhall (Fourth); 

1876: Smith Dietrich C. (T. & H. Smith & Co. and Teis Smith & Co. and Smith Plow Co.) res ne cor Willow and Newhall.

1887: Smith Dietrich C. (Teis, Smith & Co.) (T. & H. Smith & Co.) (Smith, Hippen & Co.) (Pekin Plow Co.) res. 501 Willow

1893: Smith D C (Teis Smith & Co), v pres and mngr P P C, h 405 Willow

1895: Smith D C ( Teis Smith & Co), v pres and gen mgr P P C, h 405 Willow

1898: Smith Dietrich C., pres. Teis Smith & Co., and v.-pres. and mngr. P. P. Co., r 405 Willow

1903-04: Smith Dietrich C., pres Teis Smith & Co., and v.-pres. and mgr. P. P. Co., r 405 Willow

1907-08: Smith, D. C., retired, r 339 Buena Vista; address of 405 Willow not listed and presumably vacant.

1908-09: Vacant

1912: Bleeker, Mrs. Anna, r 405 Willow; Bleeker, Miss Blanche, steno W. A. Potts, r 405 Willow

1913: Mrs. Anna Bleker, 405 Willow; Smith, D.C., retired, and Mrs. Caroline, r 339 Buena Vista. (Reardons live next door at 407 Willow)

1914, 1915, 1916: No listing, presumably vacant; William J. Reardon at 407 Willow

1921: WILLIAM J REARDON Attorney-at-Law. Practices in all Courts. Office in Kuhn Bldg. Res. 407 Willow. Cttz. phone, office 309, res. 924-Y; Bell 53-R; Reardon, Mrs. Marie, r 407 Willow

1922: REARDON WM J (Marie A) lawyer 355 Court tels 309 Bell 126 r 405 Willow

1941: REARDON WM J (Marie E; 1), Lawyer, Marshall Bldg 340 Elizabeth, Tel 99, h405 Willow, Tel 1255

1943: Reardon Marie Mrs, 405 Willow

1966: Reardon Marie E (wid W J) h405 Willow

1968: Vacant

1969: Marshall Eug V (Eliz O) Emp Central Ill Light (Peoria Ill) h405 Willow St (Byron J. Oesch, neighbor, 409 Willow)

1970: Marshall Eug V (Eliz O) constn supt Central Ill Light (Peoria) h405 Willow St (Byron Oesch, neighbor, 409 Willow)

1999: Marshall Eugene V, Marshall Richard J, 405 Willow

2000: Marshall Eugene V, Sisco Nancy B, 405 Willow

2001 and 2002 : Nancy B. Sisco, Tita D. Sisco, 405 Willow

2003 and 2004: No listing

2005 and 2006: Marshall Eugene V, 405 Willow

The current owner appears in city directories at this address from 2007 to the present.

As we can see, despite some gaps in the chronology, the city directories provide a fairly complete list of residents or heads of household for this location. And from this list we see that the sales history from the County Assessor’s website is gravely mistaken to place Eugene V. Marshall’s purchase of the house in 1900, which is when 405 Willow St. was owned by Dietrich C. Smith.

One thing the directories cannot tell us, however, is when the house was built. The directories also don’t tell us the owners of the house or its lots, how many times the house has been sold, nor all the names of those who have lived in the house. For that information we must consult other records.

The current home owner has provided a copy of an old title history for this property that was prepared in the 1980s by the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds office. The title history begins on 24 Feb. 1836 with David Bailey, who was one of the five co-founders of Pekin in 1830, and comes down to 7 May 1984 when Eugene V. Marshall and his wife owned the house at 405 Willow St.

This house is located on Lot 4, Block 18, in a part of Pekin known as Bailey’s Addition because it was originally owned by David Bailey. (As we noted last week, this is the same David Bailey who was a party in the landmark Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell in July 1841.)

Following is a table derived from the title history. It should be kept in mind that the owner of the land often did not live there, and in several instances this land was temporarily held by land agents, loan companies, or attorneys involved in deed transfers.

Grantor                                                Grantee                                           Date

David Bailey                                        John B. Newhall                               24 Feb. 1836

Thomas C. Wilson Sur.                   The Public                                        24 Feb. 1836 (Plat recorded)

David Bailey                                        Samuel G. Bailey                             16 Jan. 1837

Emily B. Bailey                                   B. S. Prettyman                                10 Sept. 1850

Emily B. Bailey                                   Gideon H. Rupert, et al.                 2 Jan. 1851

Rupert & Haines                               Peter Zeer                                        11 Jan. 1853

Peter Zeer, et al.                               Adam Moerlan                                10 Aug. 1853

Peter Zeer & wife                             Menne F. Aden                                 2 Jan. 1855

Abner Mitchell & wife                    B. S. Prettyman                                6 July 1857

William Mitchell                               B. S. Prettyman                                6 July 1857

Erastus W. Mitchell, et al.             B. S. Prettyman                               11 Aug. 1857

Menne Aden                                     Arend Behrens                                14 Nov. 1860

Stephen O. Paine                             George R. Laughton                        26 Dec. 1865

Sarah E. Barber & husband          William S. Kellogg                         30 Dec. 1870

William E. Hassan                             William S. Kellogg                         22 March 1871

Menne F. Aden & wife                   Dietrich C. Smith                          8 May 1871

D. C. Smith                                       Teis Smith                                        24 Dec. 1874

Edward Pratt Shf.                             The Public                                       8 Jan. 1878 (Levy)

D. C. Smith by Assignee                Smith & Luppen                              8 Jan. 1879

Frederick Smith, et al.                     Dietrich C. Smith                           15 Jan. 1879

E. F. Unland, et al.                            The Public                                       14 April 1901

Dietrich C. Smith & wife                A. L. Champion, Tr.                        10 April 1907

A. L. Champion, Tr.                          Jesse Cooper                                    4 Aug. 1908

Jesse B. Cooper & wife                   Edwin A. Forrest                              27 July 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              D. F. Lawley Tr.                               27 July 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              Pekin Loan & Home Ass’n              18 Sept. 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              William A. Potts                               11 Nov. 1911

William A. Potts & wife                  Blanche Bleeker                             15 Nov. 1911

Blanche Bleeker                              Pekin Loan & Home Ass’n             17 Sept. 1914

Blanche Bleeker                              W. J. Reardon                                30 Jan. 1915

W. J. Reardon & wife                     Union Cent. Life Ins. Co.                1 Aug. 1929

W. J. Reardon & wife                     Viola Osterman                                1 Aug. 1932

Viola Osterman                                 Marie Reardon                              1 Aug. 1932

Marie Reardon & hus.                   Pekin Loan & Hom.                        15 April 1930

William J. Reardon, et al.             Eugene V. Marshall & wife           5 Sept. 1967

Eugene V. Marshall & wife           Peoria Sav. & Loan                         13 Sept. 1967

Peoria Sav. & Loan                           Eugene V. Marshall & wife           28 Jan. 1982

Eugene V. Marshall & wife           Eugene V. Marshall & wife           7 May 1984

A comparison of the title history with the record of the city directories shows that the owner of the property has been the head of household since at least 1876. The names found in the 1861 and 1870-71 directories only lived at this location but never owned the land or whatever house or houses then stood there.

Next week we’ll delve into records that tell us the approximate date when the house at 405 Willow St. was built and what the house looked like in the past.

This title history for Lot 4, Block 18 in Bailey’s Addition of Pekin traces the sales history of the lots on which the house at 405 Willow St. stands, from 24 Feb. 1836 to 7 May 1984.

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Tell me about that house . . . .

The Pekin Public Library’s program on Saturday, 11 March 2023, about tracing a house’s history in Pekin, has elicited a lot of interest. For those who were unable to attend the program, the fruit of our research on the history of the house that we featured in our program will be presented here in a series of articles, beginning today and continuing each week.

A video of the program is also available at the library’s YouTube channel.

Tell me about that house . . . .

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

In November 2022, the Pekin Public Library invited the public to submit nominations from those who were interested in learning about the history of a particular house in Pekin. One of the main purposes of this program was to demonstrate the steps in the process of researching of house history in Pekin, and to show what resources are available at the library to aid in such a project.

We received seven nominations. Using a very scientific process . . .

. . . one of was selected.

The winner was 405 Willow St. Sara Hutchison nominated this house: “I went inside once 20+ years ago and it was obviously a really impressive house in its day. Seems like it would have an interesting story.

In this case, appearances are not deceiving. She’s right about this house being impressive in appearance, and that it has an interesting story. In researching this address, we learned that it is one of Pekin’s more historic homes. In telling the story of that house, one will also tell some of Pekin’s own story.

405 Willow Street, showing the home grand front porch which faces south.
405 Willow Street, showing the western exposure.
405 Willow Street, showing the eastern exposure.

To find out about this house’s history, the first step is to find it on the map.

The next step is to visit the website of the Tazewell County Assessor:

The county assessor’s website provides several pieces of important information, including two important items that will be necessary to research the sales history of the house and the land on which it sits. One is the Parcel ID, which in this case is 04-04-35-150-001. The other is the parcel’s legal description:

SEC 35 T25N R5W BAILEYS ADDN LOTS 3 – 4 & 5 BLK 18 NW ¼

This information is necessary to do a title search at the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Office, which will produce a complete record of the times that this parcel of land and any structures on it have changed hands. Title histories for property in Pekin begin as early as the establishment of Pekin as an unincorporated settlement in January of 1830 and come down to the most recent sale.

Now, the Tazewell County Assessor’s website will also provide a sales history for parcels of land in our county, but such histories only go back to 1900, and they are often list sales out of their proper chronological order. That is just what we see for the website’s sales history of 405 Willow St. Here is what the assessor’s website provides as a sales history – with a few parenthetical remarks to show dubious or confusing list entries (next week it will become evident why those entries are dubious):

1 Jan. 1900                         Eugene V. Marshall (!!!)

6 March 1957                     Marie Reardon (??)

23 July 1957                       George Bundy (??)

25 July 1957                       Lillie Bundy (??)

14 Sept. 1967                     Marie Reardon

7 Feb. 1977                         Lillie McCarrick

1 Oct. 1987                         M. Ellan Brooks

26 May 2006                       Kathleen Milkereit

According to the assessor’s website, Milkereit sold this house to the current owner for $150,000.

The current owner has supplied us with a sales history from the Recorder of Deeds Office. The history reaches much further back in time than the year when the house at 405 Willow St. was built. Since the parcel’s legal description says the house is in Bailey’s Addition, it is no surprise to find that the first legally recorded owner of this parcel was David Bailey, one of the five original plat-holders of Pekin and one of the principals in the landmark 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell which secured the freedom of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) and her three eldest children.

Next week we will consult our old Pekin city directories to see what we can learn of who lived in this house.

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Joshua C. Morgan, Pekin’s first Town President

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

One of the most prominent of Pekin’s community leaders in the earliest years of its existence as a pioneer settlement was Joshua Carmen Morgan (1804-1849), whose name appears repeatedly in the early records of Pekin’s history. He was born 15 July 1804 in Xenia, Ohio, eldest son of Isaac and Margaret (Carmen) Morgan, who were natives of Virginia and Kentucky, respectively.

Turning to William H. Bates’ first-ever history of Pekin (which was included in the 1871 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory), we find the several notices regarding Joshua C. Morgan, all of them relating significant facts in Pekin’s early history.

First, on page 12 Bates informs that Morgan held most Tazewell County offices from 1831 to 1836:

“During the time intervening between the removal of the County Seat from Mackinaw to Pekin in 1831 and its removal from Pekin to Tremont in 1836, the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder, and Master in Chancery were held by Joshua C. Morgan, who was also post-master. He lived with his wife and four children, a brother and a young lady, and transacted the business of all his offices, in two rooms of the house now occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. His house was also a great resort for travelers, and our informant says: ‘I have spent the evening at his house when the entire court and bar were there with many others.’”

While we can be grateful that Bates provided us with this description of Morgan and his important role in Pekin’s and Tazewell County’s early days, nevertheless there is a problem with his statement that Morgan’s house was “now” (i.e. in 1870-71) occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. On page 46 of the same directory, Bates says Dr. W. S. Maus then resided in a home at the northeast corner of Logan St. and Park Ave., a very unlikely location for the home of one of Pekin’s earliest residents during the 1830s. However, Bates also mentions on page 46 that Dr. J.S. Maus then resided at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and Capitol, a far more probable site for Morgan’s home.

The unnamed informant’s recollection of seeing the entire court and bar being entertained in Morgan’s home means that the notable visitors to his house would have included men such as David Davis, John T. Stewart, and Samuel Treat, and later Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.

The very next paragraph of Bates’ history of Pekin, also on page 12 of the 1871 city directory, named J. C. Morgan among the settlers who had arrived in Pekin prior to 1831 and who had survived the “Deep Snow” of 1830. In addition to this information from Bates’ account, federal land records show that Morgan obtained letters patent for grants of land in Tazewell County on 15 Oct. 1834, 22 Oct. 1835, and 1 Nov. 1839.

At the bottom of page 12, Bates devotes a paragraph to the Black Hawk War of 1832. He does not mention, however, that Joshua C. Morgan himself served in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War. The Illinois Secretary of State’s Illinois Veterans Index says Morgan served in the 5th Regiment of Whiteside’s Brigade, with the rank of Quartermaster, having entered the service at Dixon’s Ferry in what is now Lee County.

On page 13, Bates devotes a paragraph to the terrible cholera outbreak of July 1834 that carried away many of the pioneers not only of Pekin but other parts of Tazewell County:

“With the opening of July, 1834, Pekin was visited by the Asiatic Cholera, and for a time the village was enveloped in a pall of gloom, sorrow and despondency. Quite a number of prominent (sic) citizens, among whom we find the names of Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cauldron, Thomas Snell, Dr. Perry, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. J. C. Morgan, and many others, fell victims ere the terrible malady took its departure.”

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history, page 566, relates these same facts in very similar wording (showing that Bates’ account was Chapman’s source).

Mrs. J. C. Morgan was Almeda (Moore) Morgan, who had borne Joshua two daughters, Julia and Caroline, and two sons, Isaac and Frank. Joshua remained a widower for less than a year, for Tazewell County marriage records show that he remarried on 23 April 1835 to Elizabeth Green Shoemaker, who bore him five sons and two daughters, Alphonso, Jerome, Spencer, Charles, Sidney, Florence, and an unnamed daughter who died in infancy.

On 2 July 1835, the residents of Pekin voted to incorporate as a Town, which gave Pekin to right to govern itself through an elected Board of Trustees. This event, however, is not mentioned in Bates’ history of Pekin. As we have previously related, for some reason the incorporation vote was not legally recorded. (Morgan, as we have seen, was then the Recorder of Deeds.) That omission made it necessary for Pekin’s officials to ask the Illinois General Assembly to retroactively legalize the incorporation of the Town of Pekin, which the General Assembly did by a special act passed on 19 Jan. 1837.

Be that as it may, on page 13 of the 1871 directory Bates tells us the results of Pekin’s first Town election:

“‘July 9th, 1835, agreeable to notice given according to law, in the Court House, in the Town of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois, for the purpose of electing Five Resident Freeholders of the Town of Pekin, as Trustees of the same, who shall hold their office for one year and until others are chosen and qualified.’ The vote given was for D[avid] Mark, 24; D[avid] Bailey, 24; Samuel Wilson 17; J. C. Morgan, 22;  S[amuel] Pillsbury, 24, and S. Field, 12. The five gentlemen first mentioned were elected, and the members were qualified before Alden Hull, a Justice of the Peace. On the 11th of the same month, the Board of Trustees was organized, J. C. Morgan being elected President, and Benjamin Kellogg, Jr., Clerk.”

Probably the most important act of Morgan’s administration as Pekin’s first Town Board President was the removal of the County Seat from Pekin to Tremont. The primary reason for the relocation of the County Seat was the then-prevailing opinion in the General Assembly that a County Seat ought to be geographically central within a county’s borders. Tazewell County was much larger when first erected in Jan. 1827, but by 1835 the county was much smaller due to portions of Tazewell County being reassigned to newly erected counties. Another consideration was that Pekin in the 1830s was something of a swampy place and (especially after the 1834 cholera outbreak) was regarded as sickly.

Bates tells the story of the removal of the County Seat to Tremont on page 14, and concludes his account with:

“The last meeting of the first Town Board was held on the 27th of June, 1836, at which meeting Joshua C. Morgan having removed the courts to Tremont, resigned, and Samuel Pillsbury presided.”

After that, Morgan no longer appears in Bates’ narrative of Pekin history. Although he is known to have acquired additional land in Tazewell County in late 1839, at some point after that he must have joined his parents and other relatives in Lee County, Illinois. He died in Palmyra in that county on 12 July 1849 and was buried in Prairieville Cemetery near Prairieville in Lee County. His widow Elizabeth later moved to Seward, Nebraska, where she died on 20 Oct. 1900 at age 85. She is buried in Clarinda Cemetery, Clarinda, Iowa.

The gravestone of Joshua C. Morgan, who served as Pekin’s first Town President, in Prairieville Cemetery, Prairieville, Lee County. Photo by Michael Kuelper.

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Nance Legins-Costley, Pekin home owner

By Jared Olar
Local History Specialist

Earlier this year, another important part of the life of Nance Legins-Costley was uncovered by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. As was announced in the May 2022 issue of the TCGHS Monthly (pages 348-349), Nance became the owner of her own home during the approximately five decades that she lived in Pekin.

Rynerson made this discovery on Saturday, 19 March 2022, while engaged in research in early Tazewell County land deeds. There she found a deed of sale dated 19 July 1849, by which “Nancy Costley” purchased the land that her home occupied, Lot 6, Block 26 in the City of Pekin, from William and Caroline Cromwell for the price of $10.

This deed of sale, dated 19 July 1849, conveyed Lot 6, Block 26 in the Original Town of Pekin from William and Caroline Cromwell to Nancy Costley, for the price of $10. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

This deed of sale is significant not only for the new light it sheds on Nance’s life, but also for the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County – for it means that Nance had achieved the status of homeowner a mere eight years after the landmark case of Bailey v. Cromwell which had confirmed Nance’s freedom and that of her three oldest children. It also means Nance was one of the earliest African-American landowners in the county.

It’s also interesting and significant that the deed of sale was made out to Nance rather than to her husband Benjamin. Illinois coverture law at that time, however, considered that the land became Benjamin’s by virtue of his being the head of the Costley household. That law was changed in 1861 such that wives would retain title to their land rather than it passing to their husbands.

It is also noteworthy that Nance bought her home from William Cromwell and his wife Caroline, because Nance had lived and worked in the Cromwell household from 1828 until 1836, when her purported master Nathan Cromwell (one of Pekin’s co-founders and father of William) attempted to sell Nance to David Bailey for $376.48. It was Bailey’s refusal to pay that amount (because Nance had again asserted her freedom) that led to the legal process that culminated in the Bailey v. Cromwell ruling of 23 July 1841.

The Pekin city directories for the years 1861, 1871, and 1876 show the Costley family living at the location of Lot 6, Block 26 in Pekin, which is the southwest corner of Somerset and Amanda streets. Rynerson noted, however, that it appears from the map of Pekin in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas that Lot 6 had been covered by the widening of Somerset Street by that time.

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.

Nance and her family left Pekin and moved to Peoria in the late 1870s, but Rynerson found that in 1868 the Costleys lost possession of their home lot due to delinquent property taxes.

Although William Cromwell sold the lot to Nance for only $10, the county decided to assess the value of the land at $200 – no small amount for that period, which would mean an annual tax assessment that Nance and Ben were too poor to be able to pay. The 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register newspaper listed “Benj Costly” as owner of Lot 6, Block 26, and owing $6.44 in back taxes for the years 1856 and 1857. The taxes were listed as delinquent again in 1860.

This detail from the 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register lists Benjamin Costley among those owing back taxes to Tazewell County. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

Eventually the county auctioned of the Costleys’ home lot to pay off the delinquent taxes. On 10 Oct. 1868, the Tazewell County Sheriff deeded dozens of parcels of land – including Lot 6, Block 26 – to Benjamin Bourland of Peoria. Bourland acquired title to the lot for the price of $9.

In 1875, Bourland quit claimed the land to someone named Eggleston, and then in 1883 (by which time the Costleys had been living in Peoria for at least three years) the Tazewell County Clerk transferred this lot to Joseph Dietz.

Despite their land being sold out from underneath the Costleys, there is no evidence that the Costleys were evicted from their home. It seems rather that as long as the county received its property tax revenue, the Costleys were left unmolested. It is known from William H. Bates’ 1870 history of Pekin that Nance herself was esteemed in the community: “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 on many a select occasion,” Bates wrote.

During the course of the 1870s, some of the Costley children (by then adults) moved to Peoria, and toward the end of that decade their parents joined them there also. Benjamin Costley first appears in the Peoria city directories in 1880, and he died in Peoria in 1883. Nance followed him in death almost 10 years later, in 1892. She, Ben, and their son Leander were buried in Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria.

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The descendants of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin and Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

This week “From the History Room” will commence a systematic genealogical account of the family of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892), known to history as the first African-American slave freed through the agency of Abraham Lincoln. As we have noted in previous posts at this blog, Nance and her husband Benjamin Costley (c.1812-1883) are known to have had five daughters and three sons. This account of Nance’s family begins with her parents and siblings, and we then will proceed from Nance herself through the generations down to our own generation.


First Generation

Randol Legins, b. c.1772 in Laurens Co., S.C., d. c.1817 in Ill.; m. Anachy (‘Annica,’ ‘Anne’), b. c.1774 in Laurens Co., S.C. Randol and Anachy brought to Ill. 13 Apr. 1810 by their master Nathaniel Green, who then placed Randol under a 16-year contract of indenture and Anachy under a 25-year contract of indenture. Green and his servants lived at Green’s Old Ferry (Willard’s Ferry) in Union Co., Ill.


  • Ruben (‘Ruby’) Legins, b. c.1808 in Va., m. Elizabeth Hayse, b. c.1806 in N.C. Ruben and Elizabeth may be the R. F. Ligan, 41, and Elizabeth Ligan, 40, mulattos, in the 18 Oct. 1850 census returns for Sumter, S.C., listed with mulatto children Ann E. Ligan, 12, James R. Ligan, 5, Eliza J. Ligan, 2, along with James Hayse, 80, mulatto (prob. Elizabeth’s father).
  • Charles Legins, b. c.1809 in Cape Girardeau, Louisiana Territory (later Mo.). Circa 1813, at the sale of Nathaniel Green’s estate, John Earthman purchased the contract of Green’s indentured servant Charles Legins, 4, for $220, separating him from his parents and his brother Ruben.
  • Nance Legins, b. Dec. 1813 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill., d. 6 April 1892 in Peoria, Ill., buried in Moffatt Cemetery, Peoria. [See next]
  • Dice (‘Dicey’) Legins, b. c.1815 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill.; m. 24 Aug 1835 in Sangamon Co., Ill., Major Cartwright. Dice Legins-Cox and her older sister Nance Legins-Cox, indentured servants (slaves) of Col. Thomas Cox, were auctioned 12 July 1827 in Springfield, Ill. Dice’s contract was purchased by Sangamon Co. Sheriff John Taylor.

Second Generation

Nance Legins, daughter of Randol and Anachy Legins; b. Dec. 1813 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill., d. 6 April 1892 in Peoria, Ill.; m. 15 Oct. 1840 in Pekin, Ill., Benjamin Costley, b. c.1812 in Ill., d. 4 Dec. 1883 in Peoria; Nance and Benjamin both buried in Moffat Cemetery, Peoria. Records starting with the 1850 census consistently give Nance’s place of birth as Maryland, but Ill. Supreme Court document say she was born in the Illinois Territorial Capitol building in Kaskaskia – Nance prob. came to think she was born in Maryland when she was a child servant in Illinois working for Maryland natives. In addition, in the marriage records of some of her children, Nance’s maiden name is given as “Allen.” Nance’s surname changed several times as she went from master to master, but “Allen” may have been a name of Nance’s own choice. On 12 July 1827 in Springfield, Ill., Nance Legins-Cox and her sister Dice Legins-Cox, slaves of the late Col. Thomas Cox, were auctioned by John Howard – Nance was purchased by Nathan Cromwell for $151, but refused her consent to the contract of indenture and was punished severely. She then challenged her servitude in a habeas corpus hearing in 1827 and in the Ill. Supreme Court case Nance, A Girl of Color v. John Howard (Dec. 1828), but was ruled to be the ward and servant of Cromwell, who brought her to Pekin in 1829. Cromwell sold Nance to David Bailey of Pekin, of an abolitionist family, but when Nance protested that she had never consented to indentured servitude, Bailey allowed her to live as a free woman in her cabin off the southwest corner of his property at Amanda Street, and he declined to pay off the promissory note to the Cromwell estate after Cromwell’s death in 1836 since Nance said she was free. The Cromwell family sued Bailey in Circuit court in Cromwell v. Bailey (1838) and won, but Bailey appealed the ruling to the Ill. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Bailey v. Cromwell (1841), in which his attorney Abraham Lincoln argued successfully in favor of Nance’s freedom. In his 23 July 1841 ruling, Justice Sidney Breese affirmed Lincoln’s legal reasoning that stressed the language found in the Northwest Ordinance and the Illinois Constitution, that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist” in Illinois. This reinforced Illinois’ standing as a free state and helping to close the indentured servitude loophole by which the institution of slavery was allowed in Illinois. A year before her case went to the Ill. Supreme Court, Nance married Benjamin Costley of Pekin, a free black with whom she had already had two daughters, Amanda and Eliza Jane, and a son, William Henry. (In the marriage record, Nance’s name is given as “Nancy Cromwell.”) Because Illinois law then mandated that the children of an indentured servant also were indentured servants, Breese’s ruling secured the freedom not only of Nance but of her children. She and Ben went on to have three more daughters and two more sons. The Costleys lived in Pekin (where she was known to the white settlers as ‘Black Nance’) until the 1870s, when they moved to Peoria, where Ben died in 1883. Nance is found living with her youngest son James Willis Costley in Minneapolis, Minn., in the 1885 Minnesota State Census, but records afterwards show her living again in Peoria with her eldest child Amanda and Amanda’s husband Edward Lewis in an upstairs apartment at 226 N. Adams St., where Nance died in 1892. She and her husband Ben, and their son Leander, were buried in the defunct Moffatt Cemetery on the south side of Peoria.


  • Amanda E. Costley, b. 3 July 1834 in Pekin, Ill., d. 5 Feb. 1900 in Peoria, Ill., cause of death: heart disease, dropsy and bronchitis; m. 24 March 1858 in Pekin, Pvt. Edward W. Lewis (son of Ambrose and Phillis Lewis), b. c.1831 in Petersburg City, Va., d. 1 April 1907 in Peoria, cause of death: dropsy; both Amanda and Edward were buried in Springdale Cemetery, Peoria (no grave markers). They had issue five sons and also adopted a dau. After Amanda’s death, Edward m. 2nd. (her 3rd. m.) 15 April 1903 in Peoria, Mary Victoria (Morgan) (Harper) Cornish (dau. of George and Mary Morgan), b. 25 Dec 1854 in Paris, Mo., d. 9 March 1927 in Peoria; buried in Springdale Cemetery, Peoria.
  • Eliza Jane Costley, b. c.1838 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown. Listed as “Eliza Jane Costley,” age 12, second daughter of Benjamin and Nancy Costley of Pekin, in the 12 Dec. 1850 U.S. Census. She may be the Eliza Jane “Castle” who m. 18 Aug. 1859 in Tazewell Co., Ill., Cornelius Sheridan.
  • Pvt. William Henry (‘Bill’) Costley, b. c.1840 in Pekin, Ill., d. 1 Oct. 1888 at Rochester State Hospital, Rochester, Minn.; buried in Rochester State Hospital Cemetery under name “William H. Crossley”; m. c. 1880 prob. in or near Davenport, Iowa, Mary Rebecca (Webster) Marshall, b. July 1847 in Cincinnati, Ohio, d. unknown, ex-wife of Charles H. Marshall of Davenport, Iowa; had issue one dau.; m. 18 Oct. 1883 in Davenport, Iowa, Margaret A. (‘Maggie’) Hartman, dau. of Joseph H. and Mary Jane (Cox) Hartman, b. c.1857 in Plymouth, Hancock Co., Ill., issue of this m., if any, unknown.
  • Mary Jane Costley, b. c.1842 in Alton, Ill., d. unknown, m. 1st. 25/28 Dec. 1866 in Tazewell Co., Ill., Pvt. George W. Lee, son of (NN) and Mary Ann Lee, b. c.1845 in Peoria, Ill., d. prob. betw. the 6 July 1870 U.S. Census and the date of Mary’s 2nd. m., no known issue; Mary Jane m. 2nd. (also his 2nd m.) 2 Jan. 1873 in Peoria Co., Ill., Joseph Brandon of Peoria, b. c. 1837 in Virginia, and had issue two sons; Mary Jane m. 3rd. (his 1st. m.) 22 Feb. 1881 in Peoria, Ill., William Johnson of Peoria, son of Ed and Nancy (Apperatha) Johnson, b. c.1848 in Virginia, no known issue; Mary Jane m. 4th. (his 2nd. m.) 3 Jan. 1887 in Peoria, Ill., Benjamin B. Miller of Washington, Ill., son of Wiatt and Mina Miller, b. c.1819 in Kentucky, no known issue.
  • Leander B. (‘Dote’) Costley, b. c.1845 in Pekin, Ill., d. 6 March 1886 in Peoria, Ill., cause of death: lung fever, buried in the defunct Moffatt Cemetery, Peoria, Ill.; unexecuted marriage license 2 June 1873 in Pekin, Tazewell Co., Ill., between Leander Costley and Eliza Haines; m. 8 July 1876 in Peoria, Ill., Sadie Chavers (or Chafers) of Peoria, prob. dau. of James W. and Louisa (Gaines) Chavers; but not married long, as by 8 June 1880 U.S. Census Leander was living alone and listed as single. Issue, if any, unknown. Living at 575 Hale St., Peoria, at time of death.
  • Harriet E. (‘Hattie’) Costley, b. c.1847 in Alton, Ill., d. unknown; m. 5 Feb. 1878 in Peoria, Ill., Richard H. Taylor, b. c.1852 in Jersey Co., Ill., son of John C. and Mary (Trokey) Taylor of Jerseyville, Ill.; issue, if any, unknown.
  • Eliza Ann (‘Annie’) Costley, b. April 1850 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown; unknown if she ever married; enumerated in Pekin in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Censuses, and in Peoria in the 1870 U.S. Census as single and a domestic servant in the home of her oldest sister Amanda and Amanda’s husband Edward Lewis.
  • James Willis Costley, b. Oct. 1852 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown; m. prob. Mary [Smith?], b. c.1863 in Arkansas, prob. dau. of (NN) and Hannah Smith; James moved to Minneapolis, Minn., by the time of 29 May 1885 Minnesota State Census, in which “James Cosley” is listed with “Mary Cosley“ (apparently James’ wife), “Hannah Smith” (apparently Mary’s mother), and “Nancy Cosley” (James’ mother Nance); issue, if any, unknown; James last appears on record in the 1910 Minneapolis City Directory, working as a porter and living at 1325 S. 4th St.

To be continued in two weeks . . . .

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‘Black Nance’ and her son, Private William H. Costley

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Four years ago, “From the History Room” shone the spotlight on William Henry Costley, a forgotten figure of Pekin’s past whose remarkable life story serves as a historical link between Pekin and the origins of the annual “Juneteenth” celebration.

We told the story of Costley, a Civil War soldier who served as a private in one of the Union Army’s Colored Troops regiments, in a column entitled, “Bill Costley – Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth,’” which first ran in the Saturday, June 20, 2015 Pekin Daily Times and later was republished at the Pekin Public Library’s “From the History Room” weblog. It was the third of four columns that have featured the members of the family of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin, an African-American woman mentioned in Pekin’s historical records as “Black Nance,” who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln (through the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey vs. Cromwell).

The story of Nance Legins-Costley’s steadfast struggle to obtain freedom for herself and her children is told in the 2014 book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln – A True Story of Nance Legins-Costley,” which was written by local history Carl Adams, formerly of the Pekin area but now residing in Maryland. The Pekin Public Library has a copy of Adams’ book that may be checked out, and a second copy is in the Local History Room collection for in-library research.

Bill Costley was Nance’s third child and eldest son. U.S. Census records indicate that Bill was only about a year old when his mother won their freedom through Bailey vs. Cromwell. Through his research, Adams learned that during the Civil War Bill served in the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), which was one of the regiments sent to the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865, landing at Galveston, Texas, on June 19 and announcing that the war had ended and all of Texas’ approximately 250,000 slaves were free. The four-day celebration of emancipation that ensued is the origin of Juneteenth.

The gravestone of Private William H. Costley in Rochester, Minn., misspells his surname “Crossley” and gives an erroneous estimate for his year of birth. Costley, who was born and lived much of his life in Pekin, was one of the witnesses of the first “Juneteenth” on June 19, 1865.

More recently, Adams interest in the life of Bill Costley has motivated him to get involved with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Members and supporters of NJOF aim to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday to be observed every third Saturday in June. “Since they are not asked for a day off work, nor on a Monday, they have hopes,” Adams said in a recent email to the Pekin Public Library.

This year NJOF kicked off their month-long observance of Juneteenth with nationwide flag-raising ceremonies on Monday, June 3, said Adams. The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room also features a Juneteenth display all this month.

In related news, The Randolph Society, an honor society with a mission of recognizingd prominent individuals who have lived in and contributed to Randolph County, Illinois, has made Bill Costley’s mother Nance Legins-Costley a 2019 Randolph Society honoree. Nance was nominated early this year on Feb. 8, and the formal induction ceremony was held March 10 at the Randolph County Courthouse in Chester, Ill.

The Randolph Society chose to recognize Nance because she was a Randolph County native, having been born in Dec. 1813 in the boarding house of land surveyor Col. Thomas Cox of Kaskaskia, then the capital of the Illinois Territory. Nance’s parents, Maryland-born slaves named Randall and Anachy Legins, were legally classed as indentured servants of Cox, but effectively were Cox’s slaves. Nance later lived in Springfield after Cox moved there in 1822. In 1827, however, Cox’s estate was seized and auctioned off to pay his debts. At that time Nance and her sister Dice were both sold, and Nance was acquired by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, one of the men to whom Cox owed a great deal of money. Cromwell brought Nance to Pekin soon after that, in 1827 or 1828.

Under Illinois law, an indentured servant had to agree to the contract of indenture. However, Cox’s mother Jane later gave sworn testimony in court that she overheard Cromwell ask “Nance if she would go and live with him and said Nance refused and presented she would not.”

This refusal of Nance to agree to her indenture contract in 1827 was key to Lincoln’s eventually winning Nance’s freedom in 1841. Her last owner David Bailey could not provide evidence that Nance was really indentured to serve him, so the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that she was free – and since she was free, that meant her children Amanda, Eliza Jane, and Bill were not born of an indentured servant and therefore were free as well.

Pekin pioneer David Bailey, who belonged to a family of abolitionists, was the last owner of Nance Legins-Costley. Bailey let Nance and her family live as free persons while Abraham Lincoln steered through the Illinois court systems the legal case of Bailey vs. Cromwell. The freedom of Nance and her three eldest children was confirmed when Lincoln won the case in 1841.

The Randolph Society has published a biography of Nance Legins-Costley at its website. The biography, based mainly on Adams’ book “Nance,” may be read at

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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, then resided in Germany (but now is in Maryland), 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.


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 or through the website

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When Pekin was only a town

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

For the first 19 years of its existence, from 1830 to 1849, Pekin was a pioneer town, with much of the character that is associated with the Wild West rather than a modern semi-rural Midwestern city. A Native American village even thrived near the new town until 1833, first located on the ridge above Pekin Lake and later on the south shores of Worley Lake.

However, as Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates tells in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory, it was in that first period of Pekin’s history that the crucial groundwork was laid for Pekin’s civic development.

Thus, Bates tells us that Pekin’s nascent economy got a boost in Pekin’s first year with the opening of two stores – one belonging to Absalom Dillon and the other to David Bailey – and a hotel or tavern operated by Pekin co-founder Gideon Hawley. Religion in the new town also made its debut in 1830, with the construction of Rev. Joseph Mitchell’s Methodist Church on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol.

The following year, Thomas Snell built the town’s first school house, located on Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary. Thomas’ son John was the school teacher. The same year, Thomas built Pekin’s first warehouse.

The most significant of 1831’s milestones for Pekin was the transfer of the county seat from Mackinaw to Pekin. When the Illinois General Assembly created Tazewell County in early 1827, Mackinaw was designated as the county seat because it was near what was then the geographical center of Tazewell County. But Pekin’s location as a port on the Illinois River meant Pekin was less remote than Mackinaw. That greater accessibility gave Pekin better prospects.

Another thing that may have played a role in the decision to move the county seat was a memorable extreme weather event: the incredible “Deep Snow” of Dec. 1830, a snowfall and sudden freeze that had turned life on the Illinois prairie into a desperate fight for survival. Pekin was closer to other, larger towns and settlements than Mackinaw, and therefore safer for settlers.

With such considerations in mind, the county’s officials decided to relocate to Pekin even though Illinois law still said Mackinaw was the county seat.

Pekin remained the de facto county seat for the next five years. During that time, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood presided over the Circuit Court in Tazewell County. Court at first took place in the Snell school house, but later would convene in the Pekin home of Joshua C. Morgan, who simultaneously held the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, Master in Chancery, and Postmaster. That house was later the residence of Pekin pioneer doctor William S. Maus.

The Black Hawk War, Illinois’ last conflict with its Native American population, broke out in 1832. The war lasted only a few months. It began disastrously for the Illinois militia with the debacle at Stillman’s Run in northern Illinois, where the untrained and undisciplined militia recruits quickly succumbed to panic and fled, leaving behind the few brave men in their number to be butchered and scalped. As Bates sardonically put it, “The balance of the command, so history hath it, saved their scalps by doing some exceedingly rapid marching to Dixon on the Rock River.” Among the fallen was Pekin co-founder Major Isaac Perkins.

The town of Pekin itself was not directly affected by the fighting, although the townsfolk did build a stockade around the Snell school house as a precaution, renaming it Fort Doolittle. The fort never had to be used, however, which was a very good thing, because, as Bates commented, it “was so constructed, that in case of a siege, the occupants would have been entirely destitute of water.”

Despite the war’s inauspicious start, the Illinois troops quickly gained the upper hand and Sauk war leader Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak) was forced to give up the struggle. The outcome of the war was the greatest calamity for the remaining Indian tribes of Illinois, who beginning in 1833 were almost to a man forcibly relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi – including the Pottawatomi and Kickapoo bands who lived in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s Pottawatomi were soon joined by the harried remnants of their kin from Indiana, whom state militia soldiers forced to march west from their homes in Indiana in 1838 along a route that is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death.

In July 1834, an epidemic of Asiatic cholera struck Pekin, causing the deaths of several pioneers, including Thomas Snell and the wife of Joshua C. Morgan. The victims were hastily interred in the old Tharp Burying Ground, the former site of which is now the parking lot of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.

Given the challenges and upheavals of the first five years of Pekin’s existence, it should not be surprisingly to learn that there are no surviving records of the town’s elections prior to 1835. On July 9, 1835, the townsfolk elected five men as Trustees: David Mark, David Bailey, Samuel Wilson, Joshua C. Morgan, and Samuel Pillsbury. Two days later, Pekin’s newly elected Board of Trustees organized itself, choosing Morgan as its president and Benjamin Kellogg Jr. as clerk.

One of the first acts of the new board was passing an ordinance on Aug. 1, 1835, specifying the town’s limits. At the time, Pekin’s boundaries extended from the west bank of the Illinois River in Peoria County eastward along a line that is today represented by Dirksen Court, reaching out as far as 11th Street, then straight south along to 11th to Broadway, then westward along Broadway back across the Illinois River to Peoria County. It is noteworthy that land in Peoria County has been included within the limits of Pekin ever since 1835.

This detail from an 1864 map of Pekin has been cropped to match the town limits of Pekin as they stood in 1835 — extending from the west bank of the Illinois River eastward to what is today 11th Street, and from Broadway north to what is today Dirksen Court. Many of the 1864 streets did not yet exist in 1835, of course.

Pekin’s first Board of Trustees continued to meet until June 27, 1836, when the county seat was formally relocated by Illinois law to Tremont, where a new court house had been built. Pekin then elected a new board on Aug. 8, 1836, the members of which were Samuel Pillsbury, Spencer Field, Jacob Eamon, John King, and David Mark. King was elected board president and Kellogg was again elected clerk.

Board members served one-year terms in those days, so Pekin held elections every year. Getting enough board members together for a quorum was evidently a real challenge. The board addressed that problem by passing of an ordinance on Jan. 4, 1838, stipulating that any board member who was more than 30 minutes late for a board meeting would forfeit $1 of his pay.

Another notable act of Pekin’s board around that time was a resolution of Dec. 29, 1840, adopting “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage” as the official seal of the town of Pekin.

On Dec. 29, 1840, the Pekin Board of Trustees officially adopted an American eagle like the one shown on this mid-19th century quarter as the seal of the Town of Pekin.

Throughout these years, Pekin continued to see economic developments. The first bank in town, a branch of the Bank of Illinois, was established in 1839 or 1840 at the rear of a store on Second Street. There was not yet a bridge across the Illinois River, but ferries were licensed to operate. Alcohol distilleries also were established in the area that is still Pekin’s industrial district, and around those years Benjamin Kellog also built the first steam mill near the river between Margaret and Anna Eliza streets.

In spite of a scarlet fever epidemic in winter of 1843-44, these economic developments were signs of Pekin’s continuing growth and progress, notwithstanding the loss of the county seat to Tremont. The pioneer town was poised to attain the status and rank of a city.

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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 sale 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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