Pekin’s seeds of faith

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

Pekin’s seeds of faith

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Having taken an overview last week of the early development of the exercise of religious faith in Illinois, this week we’ll take a closer look at seeds of faith in Pekin’s early history.

The first white settlers in Pekin, the Tharps, arrived in 1824 and 1825. “The Tharps had become Methodists before they left Ohio, and so Jacob Tharp welcomed a circuit-riding Methodist minister, Reverend Jesse Walker, into his log cabin in 1826 to conduct Town Site’s first preaching service,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial.

In his 1879 History of Tazewell County, page 580, Charles C. Chapman quotes from the diary of Jacob Tharp: “However, in the same season [1826], but I cannot now remember whether before or after Dillon and Hinkle’s goods arrived, the Methodists had established a mission or circuit for this part and range of the country. Religious services by that persuasion were first held at my friend’s, Gideon Hawley, on Sand Prairie, when I first met our preacher, Jesse Walker, and invited him to give us a discourse at the ‘Town Site.’ He thought it unnecessary, as no body but myself and family, and my son Jonathan and family, resided there, but I insisted and he complied. We had quite an audience. Pekin then giving promise of being something in the future. Some came to examine the site, some to do some trading, and some to look at the river and to fish, etc. The meeting was held in my house.”

From that seed grew Pekin’s first Methodist church, which met informally in members’ homes until the 1830s, following the 1829 arrival of “fiery, plainspoken Joseph Mitchel,” who was installed as the church’s first minister.

“. . . it was under Reverend Mitchel’s guidance,” explains the 1974 Sesquicentennial, “that Pekin’s first church building was erected in the 1830’s on the north side of Elizabeth between Capitol and Third Streets. In an attempt to raise funds for the proposed two-story building, Jacob Tharp returned to Ohio, where he managed to raise $100. Unfortunately, he spent $200 on the trip, so only the lower half of the building could be completed. The congregation fondly called the building the ‘little brick church,’ but in later years it became known as the ‘foundry church,’ apparently because of its proximity to such an establishment.”

The old First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pekin, shown here, was built in 1867 at the corner of Broadway Road and South Fourth Street. At that time the previous Methodist church’s bell, which had been looted from a Catholic monastery by Pekin soldiers during the Mexican War, was sold to St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish and installed in that church’s bell tower.

Several other Christian and non-Christian faiths also established a visible presence around this general period of time, including Catholicism, which had retained a presence in central Illinois since the days of the French missionary explorers.

“Early records indicate that Pekin residents sought a Catholic Church as early as 1839; and it is reported, but not authenticated, that a St. Stephen’s Chapel was built shortly thereafter,” says the Sesquicentennial. In fact, the structure (apparently made of logs) was dedicated to St. Lawrence, not St. Stephen. “Pekin: A Pictorial History” says that around 1850 the Catholics of Pekin moved to Flint’s Hall on lower Court Street, where the first regular Masses began to be offered by Father John C. Brady.

In 1863, Father Jerome A. Ryan of Peoria presided at the laying of the cornerstone of St. Stephen’s Chapel at the corner of Second and Susannah. That served as the original church for St. Joseph’s Parish, which served the English-speaking Catholics in town. (German-speaking Catholics would build their own Sacred Heart Church in 1872.) The original St. Joseph’s Church was replaced in 1904, and that church in turn was succeeded by the present structure in 1969.

Pekin’s old Methodist Church and the first St. Joseph Church were linked by a stolen Mexican convent church bell, as related in Chapman’s 1879 history, page 585:

“The bell, which for years was mounted in the tower of the old frame church, and which rung and toled (sic) alike in joy or sadness, for marriage or funeral, was presented to the Trustees of the Church by the following gentlemen: Samuel Rhoads, Colonel Frank L. Rhoads, William Tinney, and John M. Gill, and was captured by them when in Mexico, in the Mexican War. They took it from the tower of a Roman Catholic Monastery, at Vera Cruz, packed it in a flour barrel with straw, and brought it home with them to Pekin, and presented it the Methodist Church of this city, where it, with its old cracked chimes, made singular music for the masses in its ringing for service or fire. But the old bell wearied of Protestantism, and in the year 1867 was sold, with its full consent, to the English Roman Catholic Church of Pekin, where its peculiar tones may be heard at five in the morning, calling its devotees to the early mass. And thus the old bell has returned to its early faith and original creed.”

The late Lanson Pratt of Pekin collected this old photograph of the Mexican “Convent Bell” that was stolen by Pekin soldiers from a Mexican Catholic convent church during the Mexican War and brought sent by them to Pekin in 1847. The soldiers gave the bell to Pekin’s Methodist church, but when the Methodists built a new church in 1867, they sold the bell to the Catholic Church. The bell rang from the steeple of the St. Joseph Parish church until 1904,

The Mexican convent bell remained in use at St. Joseph’s Church until the construction of a new church in 1904. What became of it after 1904 is unclear. Local historian William H. Bates said in his 1916 “Souvenir of Early and Notable Events” that, “The bell is still in possession of St. Joseph’s Society,” and the 1949 Pekin Centenary said only that it is “now no longer in use.” A May 16, 1978 Pekin Daily Times article says it was stored for a while in the church attic at St. Joseph’s Parish, and Lanson Pratt’s nephew Edward Neumann of Delavan says the parish had talked of donating it to the State of Illinois. The 1978 Pekin Times article only says that “its current location could not be determined.”

Next week we’ll recall some of the stories of Pekin’s pioneer Methodist pastor, “fiery, plainspoken Joseph Mitchel.”

#convent-bell, #father-jerome-a-ryan, #father-john-c-brady, #foundry-church, #illinois-bicentennial, #jacob-tharp, #little-brick-church, #mexican-war, #old-methodist-church, #preblog-columns, #rev-jesse-walker, #rev-joseph-mitchell, #so-called-st-stephens-chapel, #st-joseph-catholic-church, #st-lawrence-chapel

Memories of Pekin’s Mexican War veterans

Here’s a chance to read again a somewhat revised version of one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Memories of Pekin’s Mexican War veterans

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following last week’s column on the Black Hawk War, and with Veteran’s Day coming up next week, let’s spotlight a few items in the Pekin Public Library’s local history room collection that can help us learn something of the role Pekin residents played in another conflict from earlier in our history – the Mexican War (1846-1848), a conflict between the United States and Mexico that led to the U.S.’s acquisition of vast areas of the Southwest.

Previously, this column has recalled the story of the old church bell of Pekin’s Methodist church, which soldiers from Pekin had looted from a Catholic convent or monastery in Veracruz, Mexico. Upon their return to Pekin, the soldiers presented the convent bell to trustees of the Methodist church. The Methodists made use of it until the need arose for a new church, which was built in 1867. At that time, the bell was sold to St. Joseph’s Parish and was installed in the tower of the Catholic church, where it remained until the construction of a new church in 1904.

According to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” the soldiers who took the bell from Mexico and donated it to the Methodist church were Samuel Rhoads, Frank L. Rhoads, William Tinney and John M. Gill, all members of Pekin’s own Company G of the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. (As previously noted in this column, “Uncle Bill” Tinney later became a hotel operator, police magistrate and justice of the peace in Pekin, as well as Tazewell County Sheriff.) Other trophies of war seized by Company G included the wooden leg of Mexican Gen. Santa Ana, which Gill brought back to Pekin and later donated to the State of Illinois – it is still displayed in Springfield.

Later, a Pekin World War I veteran named Lanson H. Pratt (1872-1939) was inspired to research and write a book about the Mexican War and Company G. Pratt apparently never finished his book and his manuscript has been lost, but in researching the book he gathered several old photographs and engravings which were inherited by his nephew, Edward Neumann of Delavan. Mr. Neumann graciously supplied the Pekin Public Library with copies of his uncle’s photos and engravings.

In his notes, Pratt identified his photos and engravings as portraits of Pvt. Frank L. Rhoads, Sgt. John M. Gill, 2nd Lt. William A. Tinney, Pvt. Thomas B. Briggs, Pvt. Abraham Waldon, Col. Edward D. Baker, Gen. James Shields (Illinois Brigade), Major Thomas L. Harris, and two portraits of “1st Sgt.” Samuel Rhoads (who became a member of the Pekin Methodist church choir after returning from the war). Also among Pratt’s collection is a photo of the old convent bell.

The 1870 Pekin City Directory’s history of Pekin mentions the convent bell on page 24, but does not name the soldiers who seized it and brought it back to Pekin. The directory also includes a muster roll of the members of Company G on page 23, naming Tinney as “2d Lieutenant,” Gill as “1st Sgt.” and Samuel Rhoads as “3rd Sgt.,” and listing Privates “Franklin Rhoads,” “Thomas B. Briggs,” “Abraham Waldron.”

According to the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, Company G had been organized in Pekin under Capt. Edward Jones, an attorney, whose name heads the 1870 directory’s muster roll. “On the 7th day of June, 1847,” the directory says, “Company ‘G’ of the Fourth Illinois volunteers in the Mexican war, returned to Pekin, after one year’s service under General Scott. They were mustered in at Alton in June of the previous year, and formed a part of the regiment commanded by Col. Edward Baker, referred to elsewhere. The entire company survived the campaign except Lieutenant Leonard A. Knott, who died of yellow fever on board ship while crossing the Gulf of Mexico homeward bound.”

Knott had been a Trustee on the Pekin Town Board – Pekin was not to become a city for another two years.

Of the soldiers and officers whose images had been collected by Lanson Pratt, Baker, Shields and Harris were from Illinois but did not come from Pekin and did not belong to Company G. Chapman’s Tazewell County history briefly mentions them on page 124:

“Other bright names from Illinois that shine as stars in this war are those of Shields, Baker, Harris and Coffee, which are indissolubly connected with the glorious capture of Vera Cruz and the not less famous storming of Cerro Gordo. In this latter action, when, after the valiant Gen. Shields had been placed hors de combat, the command of his force, consisting of three regiments, devolved upon Col. Baker. This officer, with his men, stormed with unheard-of prowess the last stronghold of the Mexicans, sweeping everything before them.”

Shields, who once fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln, would later fight “Stonewall” Jackson during the Civil War and was the only Union general ever to defeat Jackson in battle. He was featured at the Old State Capitol in Springfield as the Civil War “General of the Month” for June 2012.

A final note on the old convent bell: What became of it after 1904 is unclear. Local historian William H. Bates said in his 1916 “Souvenir of Early and Notable Events” that, “The bell is still in possession of St. Joseph’s Society,” and the 1949 Pekin Centenary said only that it is “now no longer in use.” A May 16, 1978 Pekin Daily Times article says it was stored for a while in the church attic at St. Joseph’s Parish, and Mr. Neumann says the parish had talked of donating it to the State of Illinois. The 1978 Pekin Times article only says that “its current location could not be determined.”

#convent-bell, #frank-rhoads, #gen-james-shields, #john-gill, #mexican-war, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #samuel-rhoads, #santa-anas-leg, #uncle-bill-tinney