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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Tazewell County’s Revolutionary War soldiers

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Later this month, the nation will observe Monday, Feb. 15, the third Monday of the month, as President George Washington’s Birthday. The federal holiday today is commonly called Presidents Day since President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is Feb. 12 while Washington was born Feb. 11 on the old Julian calendar (Feb. 22 on the reformed Gregorian calendar). Washington is famed and revered as the first president of the United States of America, and also for his crucial role as the heroic commanding general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

Almost all combat and military activity during the War of the Revolution took place within the borders of the 13 English colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. Illinois in those days was under the control of the British Crown, having formerly been a French colonial territory chiefly inhabited by Native American tribes and small groups of French fur traders. Compared to the great and memorable battles in the 13 colonies, military activity in the territory that would later become the state of Illinois was negligible. American Revolutionary forces did, however, succeed in seizing control of the Illinois territory through Col. George Rogers Clarks’ Illinois Campaign in 1778-1779, securing the western frontier of the nascent American republic against British attacks from that direction.

Though there were few American soldiers then living in the future state of Illinois, a large number of Revolutionary War veterans subsequently settled in Illinois and are buried here. One of the volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection is titled, “Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in Illinois,” published by the Illinois State Genealogical Society as a part of the nation’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. This volume lists all Revolutionary War veterans known to be buried in the state. Among them are eight veterans buried in Tazewell County (none of them served directly under Gen. Washington, though).

To be clear, there are other heroes of the War of the Revolution who lived for a while in Tazewell County but moved on to other parts of the state, or to other states, and therefore aren’t buried in Tazewell County. However, these are the eight veterans buried in this county:

• Private James Campbell, died 1832 in Tazewell County, listed on Tazewell pension rolls
• Private Isaac Fletcher, born Oct. 26, 1763, in Westford, Mass., died Feb. 1838, married Ruth Pierce; served in Massachusetts as a substitute for his brother Levi who was ill; wounded and honorably discharged in 1782
• Private Elliot Gray, born Sept. 17, 1755 in Pelham, Mass., died March 1841, buried in Deacon Cemetery, Groveland, married Hannah Crawford; served in Massachusetts in the company of Capt. Elijah Dwight
• George Henline Sr., probably born in Virginia, died 1850, buried near son in Gilbert Cemetery near Armington; came to Hittle’s Grove, Tazewell County in 1828; fought in the Battle of Blue Licks, Ky., on Aug. 19, 1782
• Samuel McClintock, born 1763 in Augusta County, Va., died after 1840; served three times in 1781 in three different companies, was present at the Siege of Yorktown
• Private Norman Newell, born Aug. 28, 1761, died April 6, 1850, married firstly to Rosetta, secondly to Lucy Frisbee; served in the Connecticut Continental, in Capt. Ezekiel Curtis’ company, for eight months in 1777
• Private Levin H. Powell of Tremont, Ill., born 1763 in Loudoun County, Va., died Nov. 28, 1836, second wife named Elizabeth Cohagan; served in Virginia and South Carolina 1780-1783, discharged in Richmond, Va.
• Private David Shipman, born Aug. 15, 1765, in Virginia, died Aug. 11, 1845, buried in Antioch Cemetery near Tremont; served in 1780 in Capt. Robert Craven’s Rifle Company

The adventures of the last named Private Shipman and his manumitted former slave Moses Shipman were the subject of two previous From the Local History Room columns, on Sept. 21, 2014, and Jan. 4, 2014.

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