Illinois county names of the latter 1830s

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The names of Illinois’ counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the last few weeks we have recalled how Tazewell County was founded and named, and how the county boundaries were redrawn during the 1830s and 1840s. As we noted previously, Tazewell County was named for a Virginia state governor and U.S. Senator named Littleton Waller Tazewell.

But what of the names of the other 101 counties of Illinois? Where did they get their names? Starting today and continuing over the next few weeks, we’ll present the counties of Illinois in order of their founding, telling the years they were established and the origins or meanings of their names. Most of our state’s counties were named for notable men of U.S. and Illinois history.

St. Clair County was established in 1790 when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. It was named for Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), first governor of the Northwest Territory.

Randolph County was established in 1795 during the time when Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory. It was named after Edmund Randolph (1753-1813), the first U.S. Attorney General as well as a U.S. Secretary of State.

Three counties were founded in 1812, three years after the formation of the Illinois Territory: Gallatin County, named for Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the fourth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (and the one who served the longest); Johnson County, named for Richard Mentor Johnson (c.1780-1850), ninth U.S. vice president and a U.S. senator from Kentucky; and Madison County, named for President James Madison (1751-1856).

In 1814, Edwards County was formed, named after Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) who later served as Illinois’ third state governor. The city of Edwardsville, county seat of Madison County, is also named after Ninian Edwards.

White County was formed the following year, being named for Isaac White (1776-1811), an Illinois settler who joined the Indiana Territorial Militia and was slain at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The next year, in 1816, Crawford County was founded, named after William H. Crawford (1772-1834), ninth U.S. Secretary of War and seventh Secretary of the Treasury.

Also founded in 1816 were Jackson and Monroe counties, named for Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe (it was Monroe who would admit Illinois to the Union two years later), and Pope County, named for Illinois Territorial Delegate Nathaniel Pope who played a central role in getting Illinois admitted as a state. Then in 1817, Bond County was formed, being named for territorial congressional delegate Shadrach Bond (1773-1832), who would be elected the first Illinois state governor just one year later.

Three new counties were formed in the preparation for Illinois’ admission to the Union as the 21st state in 1818, which explains the very patriotic names they were given: Franklin County, named after the famous Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; Union County, named in honor of the national Union of the states; and Washington County, named for the first U.S. President George Washington.

This map, from the “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the boundaries of Illinois’ counties at the dawn of statehood in 1818.

The year after Illinois statehood, 1819, saw the creation of four new counties: Alexander County, named for William M. Alexander, a pioneer settler of Illinois who was elected to the Illinois General Assembly; Clark County, named for George Rogers Clark who led the Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War; Jefferson County, named for Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president; and Wayne County, named for Gen. Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), who fought in the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War.

In 1821, the state legislature created seven new counties: Fayette, Greene, Hamilton, Lawrence, Montgomery, Pike, and Sangamon. The county seat of Fayette County is Vandalia, second Illinois state capital (1820-1839). The current state capital, Springfield, is also the Sangamon County seat of government.

Fayette County was named in honor of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French aristocrat who won the enduring love of the American people by aiding the nascent U.S. army during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette later was a leader of the French Revolution, whose hopes to create an American-style republic in France were dashed by the violent insanity of the Reign of Terror and the rise of the self-crowned despot Napoleon. Lafayette returned to tour the U.S. in 1824-25, visiting with Illinois Gov. Edward Coles and other Illinois dignitaries at Kaskaskia, the former state capital, on April 30, 1825. When the U.S. entered World War I to support the British and French in 1917, the U.S. Expeditionary Force formally proclaimed their arrival in France with the words, “Lafayette, we are here!”

Greene County was named for Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), a Revolutionary War major general. Hamilton County was named after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (Hamilton’s son William, a pioneer settler of Springfield and Peoria, was one of the dignitaries who met Lafayette at Kaskaskia in 1825).

Lawrence County was named for Capt. James Lawrence (1781-1813), commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake in the War of 1812, remembered for his command, “Don’t give up the ship!” Montgomery County was named for Gen. Richard Montgomery (1738-1775), a Revolutionary War leader who led a failed American invasion of Canada.

Pike County is named after the explorer Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), after whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. Finally, Sangamon County is named for the Sangamon River that flows through it. “Sangamon” comes from a Pottawatomi term, Sain-guee-mon, meaning a place where food is plentiful.

Four more counties were added in 1823: Edgar County, named for John Edgar (c.1750-1832), a very wealthy settler who served as an Illinois delegate to the Northwest Territory’s legislature; Fulton County, named after Robert Fulton, the famous inventor of the steamboat, which greatly aided Illinois commerce and transportation; Marion County, named in honor of Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion (c.1732-1795); and Morgan County, named after Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan who later served as a U.S. Congressman for Virginia.

That brings us to the eve of the arrival of Pekin’s first pioneer settler Jonathan Tharp in 1824 (the future site of Pekin was then in Sangamon County), which is a convenient place for us to pause. Next week we’ll continue with the three counties founded in 1824 – Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.

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Illinois in the Old Northwest

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we saw in this column last time, the vast Illinois Country – encompassing far more than the land of the future state of Illinois – passed from British to American control as a result of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign of 1778-1779.

But Clark, as a patriotic citizen of Virginia, didn’t seize the Illinois Country simply to increase the size of the nascent United States of America. As a Virginian, Clark achieved his conquests on behalf of his native state – he had this vast territory organized as “Illinois County,” a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry – of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame – appointed Col. John Todd as the military commandant and first county administrator, governing from the county seat at Kaskaskia (future first capital of the state of Illinois). As a reward for the help they gave Clark during his campaign, Virginia granted full citizenship to the French Canadiens and Indians of Kaskaskia and Vincennes (in the future state of Indiana).

While Clark’s exploit effectively neutralized the threat of Britain opening a western front against the United States during the Revolutionary War, nevertheless the leaders of the other 12 states – who also harbored hopes and ambitions to expand their states westward – resented Virginia’s land-grab.

So it was that in 1784 Virginia’s leaders were persuaded to cede Illinois County to the government of the U.S., which was then organized and loosely linked under the Articles of Confederation, which was the constitution of the U.S. prior to 1789. Virginia’s Illinois County thus ceased to exist after a mere six years. Not only Virginia but every state gave up their expansionist dreams and agreed to allow the Congress of the confederated states to determine what was to be done with the newly acquired lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.

Congress made that determination for the area north of the Ohio River on July 13, 1787, when the Congress of the U.S. Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, erecting the Northwest Territory, a vast area encompassing the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance – the one lasting achievement of the Confederation Congress – set up a process to enable parts of the Northwest Territory to be formed into smaller territories that could then later become new states of the union. The new territory’s first governor, appointed in 1788, was Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), who had served as President of the Confederation Congress when the Northwest Ordinance was passed.

Arthur St. Clair was President of the Confederation Congress of the United States and was appointed first governor of the Northwest Territory, which encompassed the lands that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Northwest Territory was made up of land that the British king had set aside as the Indian Reserve – a region for Native Americans forbidden to American colonists of European descent. Despite the king’s proclamation, however, settlement in the Indian Reserve still went on. When the United States secured their independence in 1783, Britain ceded all of that territory west to the Mississippi to the new nation, and the movement of land-hungry settlers soon increased, inexorably dispossessing the native peoples.

Nevertheless, Britain continued to maintain forts in the Northwest Territory. With British help the Indians of the Ohio and Illinois countries valiantly resisted American control of the Northwest Territory during a 10-year conflict known as the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795). In 1785, a group of nine tribes and tribal confederations in the Northwest Territory – including tribes from Illinois – banded together for mutual defense, forming the Western Confederacy. The confederacy included warriors from the Huron, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Miami, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Cherokee, the Council of Three Fires (Ojibway, Ottawa, and Pottawatomi), and the Wabash Confederacy (whose members included the Piankeshaw). The Western Confederacy’s objective was to maintain the Ohio River as the boundary between themselves and American settlers.

Little Turtle, a chief of the Miami, was one of the main leaders of the Western Confederacy during the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795).

Most of the fighting in this war took place within the future state of Ohio, but the prospects for further European-American settlement in the Illinois Country depended on the war’s outcome. The most memorable event during this conflict was the Battle of the Wabash on Nov. 4, 1791 – more usually known as St. Clair’s Defeat or the Battle of a Thousand Slain. Historian Landon Jones has dubbed this battle “the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military.”

As the Northwest Indian War continued, in the fall of 1791 Northwest Territorial Gov. St. Clair mustered a force of 2,000 poorly-trained men for a planned attack on Kekionga, capital of the Miami tribe, located near modern Fort Wayne, Ind., but by the start of November desertion and supply problems had shrunk St. Clair’s forces to about 1,120. On Nov. 3, St. Clair’s army encamped near modern Fort Recovery, Ohio, and the headwaters of the Wabash River. Meanwhile the Western Confederacy’s chiefs – Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa) of the Miami, Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah) of the Shawnee, and Buckongahelas of the Lenape – gathered a force of 1,000 Indians, and on Nov. 4 they led a surprise pre-dawn attack on St. Clair’s camp, inducing a panic in the U.S. Army’s troops that quickly turned into a total rout. When the battle was over, a thousand of St. Clair’s men were dead and only 24 of the survivors were uninjured, while the Western Confederacy lost only 50 warriors – the greatest victory Native Americans would ever achieve against the U.S.

Following this setback, the U.S. mustered a new, well-trained army, and the tide of war turned in the U.S.’s favor. The Western Confederacy was decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 – and Britain declined to help Blue Jacket’s fleeing warriors. The following year, the native tribes of the Northwest Territory signed the Treaty of Greenville, recognizing U.S. control of the Northwest Territory and giving the U.S. most of Ohio and a part of the Illinois Country (including important sections of land at the future sites of Chicago and Peoria and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers). The same year, Britain signed the Jay Treaty, agreeing to give up their forts in the Northwest Territory.

With the end of the Northwest Indian War, the Ohio Country was rapidly flooded with new American settlers, and the way was prepared for inevitable expansion into Native American lands in the future states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. As Ohio’s population soared, the Northwest Territory was divided: on July 4, 1800, only five years after the war’s end, the Indiana Territory was formed, encompassing territory that included the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and half of Michigan. The first territorial governor was future War of 1812 hero and U.S. President William Henry Harrison, who negotiated numerous treaties with the Indians while he was governor. The remainder of the old Northwest Territory, encompassing a part of Michigan, would continue to be known as “the Northwest Territory” for only three more years – in 1803, the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union, and the rest of the Northwest Territory was reassigned to the Indiana Territory.

As a part of the Indiana Territory, Illinois was included in three counties – Knox County (made up of Indiana and eastern Illinois), Randolph County (southern Illinois), and St. Clair County (the remainder of Illinois as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota). The Illinois Country was then peopled mainly by Native Americans and relatively small groups of French settlers, but territorial leaders and land speculators were laying the groundwork for further westward expansion. In the period from 1773 to 1819, a series of land purchases and treaties were made with the Illini, Piankeshaws, Kaskaskias, and Kickapoos that extinguished Native American title to most of the lands of future state of Illinois, opening the land to further European-American settlement. The future Tazewell County was included in the lands ceded to the U.S. by an Aug. 13, 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskias and a July 30, 1819 treaty with the Kickapoos (in the year after Illinois became a state).

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