Tazewell County’s Civil War artifacts are coming home

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Program Coordinator

Almost 45 years after Tazewell County’s collection of Civil War artifacts were carried away in the back of a mysterious blue pick-up truck, the collection will soon return to Tazewell County.

Just a few weeks ago, on Tuesday, April 11, Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, Tazewell County Auditor Brett Grimm and Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower issued a press release making the joint announcement that the county’s Civil War artifacts, which were taken from the courthouse in July 1978, had been located and will be coming home to Pekin.

The Pekin Daily Times article published 21 April 1990 lists some of the Civil War artifacts that formerly were displayed in “Historical Hall” at the Tazewell County Courthouse, but were transferred to the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Springfield. With the permanent closing of the GAR Museum in Springfield, Tazewell County’s Civil War artifacts are coming home and returning to the custody of Tazewell County.

It turns out that since 1979 the missing artifacts had been in the keeping of the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum in Springfield, which closed permanently on Friday, March 31. The National WomeFred n’s Relief Corps, which had operated the museum for 82 years, decided in early March to close the museum and have its collections moved to the John A. Logan Museum in Murphrysboro, Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Tazewell County Clark’s Office completed the digitization of the official minutes of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. The digitization of the county board minutes made it possible for Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society to compile all of the references to the old Courthouse Historical Hall museum and the former Tazewell County Historical Society, which she published in the March 2023 issue of the TCGHS “Monthly”. Rynerson’s compilation was then posted and shared here at “From the History Room” on March 2.

That provided the impetus to renew the search of the county’s missing artifacts. The last time the artifacts are mentioned in county board minutes was on 15 Aug. 1968, when the board directed the Tazewell County Clerk to have the collection “sorted, packed, and stored in a bonded warehouse, at County expense, until such time as arrangements can be made to have this collection placed where it can be properly displayed and protected.

Ten years after that, the Civil War artifacts that formed a significant portion of the county’s collection were removed from the courthouse. In the April 11 press release, Ackerman reported, “In 1983 then Sheriff James Donahue opened an investigation looking for the missing artifacts at the request of then Tazewell County Board Member Paul Grethey, but no new information was discovered at that time. Testimony was taken into the record from several county employees that the artifacts had been taken by a mysterious person from the Courthouse in July of 1978, reportedly to an unknown state museum.

In disappearance of the artifacts was the subject of some Pekin Daily Times articles published on 21 April 1990, by Times staff writer Joe Lerner. The articles’ headlines were, “Who stole the War? – Search for missing Civil War memorabilia goes hither and yon with few answers,” “Whose blue pickup?,” “Where’s Santa Ana’s wooden leg?,” and “A list of the relics on display.”

Lerner’s articles came in the wake of the early 1990 rediscovery of a small collection of the Tazewell County Courthouse’s Civil War artifacts, which were found on display in the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum in Springfield. The GAR museum then returned those artifacts to the county.

But what of the main Civil War collection? The GAR museum in Springfield could not approve transfer of any other artifacts unless Tazewell County could produce a complete, valid inventory – and by 1990 the old records of Pekin’s Grand Army of the Republic chapter, Joe Hanna Post #117 (which disbanded in 1989), as well as the records of Pekin’s Women’s Relief Corps Post # 236 (auxiliary to Joe Hanna #117), were gone. Lost too was an inventory of what remained of the courthouse’s Historical Hall collection that had been prepared in 1983 by late local historian Fred Soady.

According Lerner’s main article, in the late 1970s the Women’s Relief Corps of Pekin “raised concern that the irreplaceable treasures would mildew in the dampness of the courthouse basement,” where the collection was stored.

WRC Post #236 then contacted the Springfield corps chapter to “take a few of the items to its museum for ‘safe-keeping,’ according to Lois Didier of Chicago. Didier, a past national corps president and co-manager of the GAR Museum in Springfield, said a portion of [the] Tazewell County collection was transferred to the museum in the late 1970s by station wagon.

The GAR museum’s inventory of its Pekin artifacts said the museum obtained the “Pekin Collection” in 1979. Sheriff Donahue’s investigation, however, obtained statements from a number of witnesses who reported that a blue pick-up truck arrived at the courthouse in July 1978.

Lerner reported in his article “Whose blue pickup?” –

“The driver reportedly presented the late Irv King, the county’s former maintenance supervisor, with what sources said King told them was an ‘official-looking order’ authorizing the driver to remove a host of items from the basement storage area. . . . the driver of the truck knew where to go and exactly what items he wanted. His destination supposedly was Springfield.”

The GAR museum’s accession inventory of the “Pekin Collection” includes the following description:


“This collection appears to have been the property of Joe Hann GAR Post No. 117, Pekin, IL. It was placed in the Tazewell County Courthouse, in two storage rooms in the basement, in 1957. It was later taken by the Joe Hanna WRC No. 236, Pekin, IL and sent to the GAR Memorial Museum in 1979 for safekeeping. Some of the collection may have come in at other times but have been accreted to 1979.002 for ease of access. Several items have labels that indicated they were loaned to the Joe Hanna GAR Post by W. H. Bates. Several others have labels that say they were donated by Clifford Oswald but it is uncertain if they were donated to the GAR Post or directly to the Museum.”

Based on what we know, or think we know after all these years, the best that can be determined is that presumably the pickup driver had come to transfer the Civil War artifacts to Springfield as a part of the abovementioned arrangement between Pekin’s and Springfield’s WRC chapters. It seems Pekin’s WRC did not notify the Tazewell County Board of the arrangement, however.

And with the county unable to produce a complete inventory for the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum to examine, there the matter rested from 1990 until this spring, when County Clerk Ackerman began to pick up the loose threads of this tale. Discovering that the GAR museum likely had perhaps all or a good portion of the county’s former GAR artifacts, and finding that the museum was closing and was moving its collections to a new home, Ackerman set out to have the GAR transfer its Pekin artifacts back to Tazewell County.

Ackerman notes that the GAR Museum Accession Inventory List of their “Pekin Collection” matches and corroborates the museum’s older “Items Received From Pekin, Illinois 1979” listing. Both inventory lists establish Tazewell County’s ownership of the materials, he says.

With these detailed inventory listings now in our possession, the most important of which was the GAR Museum Accession Inventory, and now with knowledge of the location of the artifacts, we reached out and the GAR Museum has been extremely receptive of our request for the return of the artifacts to Tazewell County,” Ackerman said in the April 11 press release.

He added, “If this discovery of these inventory list had been delayed by just another week, these artifacts would have been impossible to recover because of the formal closure of the GAR Museum and future movement of the displays to other museums. The timing of this entire effort has been amazingly lucky,” he added.

We have been reassured the Tazewell County Civil War artifacts will be returned at a date yet to be determined, but before August of this year,” he said.

The Civil War artifacts total more than 70 cataloged items, including:

1849 Springfield musket

1855 Colt 6 shot revolving carbine

1864 Burnside rifle

1847 Springfield musket

1852 Sharps carbine, “captured at Bull Run by Confederates, reissued at Richmond Arsenal, picked up on the Antietam Battlefield.”

Cavalry Saber “used by a member of Wharton’s Texas Rangers. Plowed up by a Mr. Thomas 20 years after Battle of Shiloh.”

Schenkel rifled cannon shell

Grapeshot from Fort Donelson

Belt with cap box and bayonet scabbard

Union Canteen found at Battle of Shiloh

Watch found at Battle of Corinth

Saddlebag

1840 Musician’s sword

Since these artifacts are invaluable, and because the collection includes firearms and other weapons, Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower will have a unit to drive to Springfield to collect the artifacts and drive them back home to Tazewell County. After their return, the Sheriff’s Office will securely store the collection while the County Clerk and Auditor, assisted by Susan Rynerson, create an inventory of the materials returned. Arrangements for public display and viewing will then be made.

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Lincoln in Pekin: What was ‘the Pekin Agreement’?

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

President Abraham Lincoln’s long road to the White House began in his days as a circuit-riding lawyer over the prairies of Illinois, leading him first to the Illinois General Assembly and then to the U.S. Congress. One of the stops on Lincoln’s road was Pekin, where Lincoln was involved in a political pact known as “the Pekin Agreement.”

Lincoln’s first political campaign was 28 years before he became president. In 1832, he was one of 13 men seeking a Sangamon County seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Lincoln only garnered 657 votes, however, for his service in the Black Hawk War had limited his ability to campaign.

Two years later, Lincoln again sought the same seat in the Illinois House, coming in second and losing by only 14 votes. In that election, Lincoln ran as a member of the Whigs, a conservative party that was one of the predecessors of the Republican Party. Trying a third time for the same seat in 1836, Lincoln was victorious, defeating 16 other candidates (including four of his fellow Whigs). Lincoln was reelected to the Illinois House in 1838, but came in fifth in a very crowded field in 1840, losing to another member of the Whig Party.

Three years after that, Lincoln first began to set his sights on a national office, hoping to win his party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 7th Congressional District of Illinois (which then encompassed the counties of Sangamon, Morgan, Scott, Cass, Menard, Tazewell, Logan, Putnam, Woodford, Marshall, and Mason).

It was Lincoln’s political ambitions in 1843, and those of two other prominent Illinois Whigs, that led to “the Pekin Agreement.”

The agreement was a pact arranged at the convention of the Illinois Whig Party, which was held in Pekin on 1 May 1843. At the Pekin convention, the Illinois Whigs were divided among the supporters of Lincoln, Gen. John J. Hardin, and Edward Dickinson “E. D.” Baker, each of whom hoped to be the candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat. For the sake of party unity, it was apparently agreed that the three men would serve only one two-year term in Congress. Hardin got their party’s nomination coming out of this convention, while Lincoln’s resolution was approved that Baker should be the party’s nominee in the 1844 Congressional election.

In this detail from the front page of The Illinois Gazette of Lacon, 6 May 1843, are found the substance of ‘the Pekin Agreement’ that members of the Illinois Whig Party approved during their party convention in Pekin five days earlier.

After Baker’s term, however, the Pekin Agreement collapsed. This is how the “Papers of Abraham Lincoln” database describes the agreement, how it fell apart, and the affect it had on Lincoln’s career in politics:

“At a Whig convention in Pekin in May 1843, an agreement was made between Lincoln, Edward D. Baker, and John J. Hardin that seemed to establish a one-term limit on the prospective Whig congressmen. Hardin and Baker having each served one term, Lincoln believed that the 1846 nomination should have been his. While Lincoln set out to solidify his support in the district, Hardin proposed that the convention system for the nomination be thrown out in favor of a primary election. Lincoln rejected Hardin’s proposal on January 19, 1846, and Hardin subsequently declined the nomination entirely.”

That paved the way for Lincoln’s election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He served a single term in Congress, from 1847 to 1849. Five years later, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House in 1854, but chose not to take his seat because by then he had his eyes on a seat in the U.S. Senate. But neither in 1854 nor in 1858 (the year of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates) was Lincoln able to win a Senatorial seat.

In the end, Lincoln’s single terms in the Illinois House and U.S. House, his network of friends and supporters, and the chaotic, tumultuous political climate in a nation torn by the slavery question were enough for him to win the presidential election of 1860. Among other factors, the Pekin Agreement of 1843 played a role in helping him get to Congress in 1847.

The proceedings of the 1843 Illinois Whig Convention were published 6 May 1843 in The Illinois Gazette of Lacon. A transcription of the Gazette’s text is available at the “Papers of Abraham Lincoln” site and is reposted here for convenience:

Proceedings of Whig Convention at Pekin, Illinois regarding Candidates for Congress, 1 May 1843

WHIG CONVENTION.

At a meeting of the delegates, representing the counties composing the seventh Congressional District of Illinois, held in Pekin on the first Monday of May inst., the following persons appeared as delegates from their respective counties, to wit:
Sangamon—A. Lincoln, N. W. Edwards, A. T. Bledsoe, S. T. Jones, Benj. A. Watson, Walker Davis, James H. Maxy, and James H. Matheny.
Morgan—Ranson Vanwinkle Jr., E. T. Miller, Francis Arnze, James Berdan, Cornelius Hook, William Brown, James Harkness and J. D. Rawlings.
Scott—William Gillham, Samuel R. Simms, James M. Ruggles, and E. B. Kirby.
Cass—Harvy O’Neil, and Edward R. Saunders.
Menard—Francis F. Reignier, and Geo. U. Miles.
Tazewell—Josiah L. James, Philo H. Thompson, Catsby Gill and John Durham.
Logan—Peter G. Cowardin.
Putnam—William Everett.
Woodford—William R. Bullock.
Marshall—Robert Boal.
Mason—Francis Low.
The convention was organized by the appointment of Josiah L. James Esq. President, and E. B. Kirby Secretary.
On motion of Mr. Edwards,
Resolved, That the convention now proceed to the choice of a candidate for Congress.
Mr. Lincoln stated that he was requested to withdraw the name of Mr. Baker from before the convention; after which the convention proceeded to ballot, when it was ascertained that there was a unanimous vote for GEN. JOHN J. HARDIN of Morgan county.
E. D. BAKER Esq. was unanimously appointed the Delegate from this District to the National Convention, and FRANCIS ARNZE his substitute. It was voted that in case neither of them were able to attend that they be empowered with authority to appoint a substitute.
On motion of Mr. Durham, it was unanimously
Resolved, That our Delegate to the National Convention be instructed to vote for HENRY CLAY for President.
The following preamble and resolutions were introduced by Dr. Robert Boal, and passed by ayes 18—nays 15, to wit:
The delegates now convened, anxious to avoid any possible mischief which may originate amongst Whig friends by adopting, as a precedent, the system of instructing the delegates to Congressional Conventions to vote for particular men—and believing, this practice, if permanently adopted, will induce aspirants for office to press their claims, (personally, or through their friends) at local meetings in such a manner as greatly to embarrass the action of such conventions, and to distract the Whig party, and believing further that a convention, instead of being an electoral college to count votes, and making proclamation of the name receiving the highest number, should be a deliberative assembly, which after full consultation amongst its members, should proceed to select that man (from all the men of the District) the most likely to harmonize the whole party, and render the most efficient service to the country.
Therefore, to avoid all collision betwixt political friends, and to secure harmony.
Resolved, That for the future, we advise our political friends to avoid efforts to procure public manifestations of local preference, as such manifestations will always embarrass the deliberations of a convention, before which every man should appear as his character and talents may entitle him.
Resolved, That for the future, we recommend to the Whigs of the 7th Congressional District, that primary assemblies, be held in the several precincts of each county to designate the individuals who shall compose the county convention to select delegates to the District convention; which delegates shall not be instructed to go for any particular man, but shall be left free to choose that man as the candidate, who shall upon full consultation, be esteemed the most likely to render useful service to the country and give satisfaction to the District.
Mr. Lincoln introduced the following resolution, which on motion of Mr. Ruggles was adopted, ayes, 18—nays, 14, to wit:
Resolved, That this convention, as individuals, recommend E. D. Baker as a suitable person to be voted for by the whigs of this district, for Representative to Congress, at the election in 1844, subject to the decision of a District Convention, should the whigs of the district think proper to hold one.
Mr. Brown introduced the following resolution, which was adopted, to wit:
Resolved, That the whigs of this district be requested to hold their next convention for the nomination of a candidate for Congress, at Tremont, in the county of Tazewell, on the first Monday of May next.
On motion of Mr. Durham it was
Resolved, That William H. Wilmot, B. F. James, John Durham, Alden Hull, and C. Gill, of Tazewell county, be appointed a district committee for the district, to call conventions when necessary, and to attend to such other matters as concern the whigs of the whole district.
On motion of Mr. Ruggles, the Chair appointed Messrs. A. Lincoln, E. D. Baker, J. J. Hardin, Wm. Brown and A. T. Bledsoe, a committee to prepare and publish an Address to the Whigs of the Seventh Congressional District.
It was Resolved, That the proceedings of the meeting be signed by the President and Secretary, and published in the several Whig papers of the district.
On motion, the convention adjourned.
J. L. JAMES, President. E. B. Kirby, Secretary.

[Note: The Gazette’s reference to “S. T. Jones” of Sangamon County is apparently a mistake either for Strother G. Jones or Stephen T. Logan. Likewise, “William Everett” of Putnam County is probably a mistake for “Wilson” Everett.]

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The Tazewell County Jail of 1892

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Shown here is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence that was built in 1891-1892 at the present site of the McKenzie Building next to the Tazewell County Courthouse. This jail was built while Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich was Tazewell County Sheriff, and it is possibly Sheriff Friederich standing in this photo.

Over a year after Tazewell County was erected by the Illinois General Assembly in 1827, the county’s first jail was constructed at Mackinaw, the county seat, at a cost of $325.75. That first jail was a two-story building made of hewn timber, 16 feet square, and at the time was thought to be the strongest – and the costliest – jail built by the pioneers of Central Illinois.

That didn’t stop the jail’s first prisoner, a horse thief named William Cowhart, from escaping from it, though.

Later on in the county’s history, after the struggle between Pekin and Tremont over which town would get to be the county seat was finally settled in Pekin’s favor in 1849, a new county jail was constructed at Pekin in 1852 at a cost of $7,000. It was from a tree in front of the 1852 jail that the outlaw William Berry, leader of the Berry Gang, was lynched on July 31, 1869. The lynch mob had been enraged by Ike Berry’s killing of Tazewell County deputy sheriff Henry Pratt earlier the same month.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an “Aerial View of Pekin,” a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings — at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc. Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence (which was replaced in 1892 — today it’s the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s). Since this map was drawn in 1877, it’s only eight years after Bill Berry’s lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth. Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail — there’s no telling which of them was Berry’s gallows tree.
This detail of the 1892 Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin shows the foundations of the 1892 jail next to the old 1852 jail.
This detail from the 1898 Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin shows the county jail six years after it was constructed. There is no more trace of the old 1852 jail.

That jail building was replaced in 1892 with a new jail and sheriff’s residence, a limestone and red-brick edifice constructed at a cost of $20,000 on a site adjacent to the 1852 jail. This new jail structure was built while Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich was Tazewell County Sheriff. Friederich was sheriff from 1890 to 1894.

The 1892 Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, shown in a colorized photograph from an early 20th century postcard.
The 1892 Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence as shown in a postcard that was mailed in 1914. (This is the same kind of postcard as the colorized one shown above — the image is identical.)

Because the job of county sheriff included the duty of overseeing the county jail and the prisoners held there, the old practice was for the sheriff and his family to live in the jail. As a rule, county sheriffs were married men for the practical reason that his wife would be hired by the county board to be the jail’s “matron.” Her main responsibility was cooking the meals for the jail inmates.

Sometimes there would be a county sheriff did not live in the jail – for example, Sheriff James J. Crosby (1930-1934) – in which case it would be the chief deputy and his family who will live in the jail and directly oversee jail operations. The last county sheriff to live in the jail seems to have been George Saal, who served two non-consecutive terms, 1950-1954 and 1958-1962.

These are the Tazewell County Sheriff’s who served during the years when the 1892 county jail was in use:

Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich (1838- )          1890-1894

John Edmond Stout (1856- )                                        1894-1898

John D. Mount (1860-1925)                                        1898-1902

Robert Ingersoll Clay (1869-1920)                             1902-1906     1918-1920

James Alfonzo Norris (1855-1939)                             1906-1910

Christian A. Fluegel (1863- )                                       1910-1914

John Lee Wilson (1864- )                                             1914-1918

Athol Sebree “Pat” Whitmore (1889-1960)            1920-1922

Emil Neuhaus (1861-1941)                                          1922-1926

Ernest Leroy Fleming (1873-1955)                              1926-1930

James Jackson Crosby (1855-1939)                            1930-1934

Ralph Croy Goar (1896-1976)                                     1934-1938

Guy Emmet Donahue (1892-1958)                             1938-1942

William Grant (1881-1947)                                         1942-1946

Herbert Hirstein  (1947-1988)                                     1946-1950

George Leroy Saal (1918-1996)                                  1950-1954     1958-1962

Ray Owen Crafton (1904-1981)                                  1954-1958

George H. Sweeter (1907-1964)                                 1962-1964

Arch E. Bartlemay (1919-1987)                                  1964-1970

Notable moments in the history of the 1892 Tazewell County jail and sheriff’s residence include:

  • The Little Mine Riot (6 June 1894) near Wesley City. The mob leaders of the riot were arrested by Sheriff Friederich and held at the jail before they were convicted and sent to the state penitentiary in Joliet.
  • Albert Wallace’s murder of his sister Belle (Wallace) Bowlby, for which he was sentenced to death and was hanged by Sheriff Stout on a gallows built outside the jail on 14 March 1896. This was the last legal hanging in Tazewell County.
  • Inmates attempted to break out of the jail in Oct. 1899 by sawing through the bars.
  • Samuel Moser murdered his wife and three children with extreme brutality and fled to Utah, where he was captured. Sheriff Mount was granted extradition and personally went to Utah to retrieve Moser, who was sentenced to 23 years at Joliet (where Moser later hanged himself).
  • The Oct. 1902 attempted escape of James Hastings, a Galesburg shoe store thief. While Sheriff Mount walked Hastings to the jail, Hastings broke free and ran through the Block & Kuhl store, making it several blocks and hiding in a barrel, where the Sheriff found him and hauled him to a jail cell.
  • The jail escape of William Eddie, alias William Young, who was caught in Springfield in May 1903 and brought back to the Tazewell County jail.
  • The death of Sheriff Robert I. Clay on 4 Sept. 1920. Clay suffered a gunshot wound to the knee during a gun fight with bootleggers in Wesley City, and the wound became infected causing the sheriff’s death. Clay is the only Tazewell County sheriff to be killed in the line of duty.
  • An attempted jail break of four prisoners, Mack Houchins, Frank Milton, Dan Cassey, and Thomas Erb, in March 1910. In an elaborate plan, the four fashioned their own jail cell keys, sawed bars, and picked at plaster around a jail window, with the intention of murdering Sheriff Norris and escaping. Norris became aware of their plans and allowed them to break into a jail corridor, where he and his deputies awaited them with revolvers drawn.
  • The May 1913 arrest of Ruby Miller for “white slavery” human sex trafficking.
  • Sheriff Wilson’s appointment of his daughter Frances as a deputy in 1916 – the first woman to serve as a Tazewell County sheriff’s deputy.
  • The arrest of Nick Kepper for the murder of “bootlegger king” Tom Miller of East Peoria on 19 Sept. 1927. Kepper was sentenced to life in prison in the state penitentiary.
  • The 1 Sept. 1932 death in his jail cell of Martin Virant, who was suspected as a material witness or accomplice in the murder of Lew Nelan at an East Peoria speakeasy. Virant had been severely beaten during interrogation by Sheriff Crosby’s deputies and had succumbed to his internal injuries. Two or more deputies then faked a hanging of Virant’s corpse. The incident sparked months of outrage and an attempted to impeach the sheriff and his entire force, but in the end no one was held accountable for Virant’s murder or the cover-up.
  • The murder of Betty C. Crabb of Delavan in March 1938, a scandal that is the subject of Norman V. Kelly’s book “Shadow of a Nightmare.”
  • The Aug. 1951 escape of two boys who had been arrested for breaking windows at a Delavan school. The boys ripped out some bars and got out the back door. Sheriff Saal apprehended the boys only four blocks away.
  • The March 1956 escape of three teenage boys, who were being held at the jail for stealing a car in Anderson, Indiana. The boys used a broken broomstick and a wire coat hanger to jimmy the locks of the detention room and then stole a deputy’s car. The escapees were apprehended less than two hours later in Springfield.
  • The Jan. 1957 murder of Mackinaw Night Marshall Charles H. Norris by three young men, who got hold of Norris’ own gun and used it to shoot him.

The above list of sheriffs and summary of notable events is drawn almost entirely from Susan Rynerson’s series on Tazewell County’s sheriffs that ran this year in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society’s Monthly newsletter.

The old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, as shown in a 1949 photograph.

By 1960, the county was in need of a new and larger jail facility. Therefore, during George Saal’s second term as sheriff, the county began the construction of the McKenzie Building. The new facility was built at a cost of $1 million over a three-year period, from 1960 to 1963, to serve as the site of the new jail as well as certain county governmental offices. For many years after that the south half of the McKenzie Building housed the jail and the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department – but gone were the days of the sheriff and his family living in the same building as the jail. In 2003 the jail and sheriff’s department moved to the current $16.5 million Tazewell County Justice Center located at the corner of Capitol and Elizabeth streets.

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Dreadful tornado smashes through central Illinois

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Dec. 2013, before the launch of this weblog.

Dreadful tornado smashes through central Illinois

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Buildings Twisted and Torn from their Foundations,” the newspaper headline said, describing a “DREADFUL TORNADO” that tore through Washington – the worst one that had ever struck the community in living memory.

It could have been a headline from November 2013 (nine years ago last week), but in fact this was a story published in the 20 May 1858 edition of the Washington Investigator.

That 164-year-old news report was featured in the Jan. 2009 newsletter of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. In this week’s From the Local History Room column, we’ll draw upon the society’s newsletter to help us recall that harrowing event as seen through the eyes of some of Tazewell County’s early settlers.

This detail of a page from a May 1858 edition of the Washington Investigator shows part of a news article about a tornado and storms that hit Washington and other communities in central Illinois that year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Unlike the twister that left a trail of devastation in Tazewell County on 17 Nov. 2013, the tornado that hit Washington on the night of 13 May 1858, was accompanied by a severe thunderstorm that continued through the early morning hours of May 14, causing extensive flooding throughout the area. Eyewitness accounts from central Illinois residents indicate that the storm system that generated Washington’s 1858 tornado also sent rain, hail, high winds and tornados through many communities in Tazewell and McLean counties.

The severest gale of wind, accompanied with rain and hail, visited our town last Thursday night, that has ever been known to the oldest inhabitants,” says the report in the Washington Investigator.

The report continues:

“About half past 6 o’clock the wind began to blow from the northwest, where a dark, heavy cloud had been hanging for sometime. It continued to increase in intenseness for near a half hour, accompanied with torrents of rains and volleys of hail. A little past seven o’clock it lulled away, the rain in a measure ceased, but devastation and ruin were the visible traces of its angry visit.

“Notwithstanding the fierce wrath of the storm had found its crisis at about seven o’clock, had visited almost every habitation in our town with a destroyer’s merciless intent, leaving them more or less scored and bruised, yet the heavy clouds poured down their torrents of rain, the forked lightning hissed its fiery course in vivid awfulness athwart the sky, the winds howled about the dwellings, thrashing trees and shrubbery with destructive violence till between two and three o’clock Friday morning when a calm began gradually to reign over our storm-scathed village.”

The Washington Investigator’s report then provides an extensive inventory of destruction in Washington and nearby communities – buildings moved off foundations, roofs torn off, doors smashed in, church spires demolished, barns wrecked, board sidewalks ripped up and blown away, fences blown down, bridges destroyed, orchards stripped.

“A small frame house in the east part of [Washington], occupied by Mr Creismann, was carried about ten feet from its foundation, and set down again, before him self and wife could get out of it. . . . A tree standing on the edge of Farm Creek, in the neighborhood of the depot, some two feet in diameter, was twisted off about ten feet from the ground, and the upper portion hurled some distance along the bank. The bridges on the north and south of town have been swept away by the flood; leaving no ingress for teams in either direction. A horse was found dead in the creek just below the flouring mill; supposed to have been blown into the water and drowned.”

At the town of Cruger, the tornado arrived just as a train was pulling into the east end of town, blowing the train off the tracks and dumping it upside-down into a ditch filled with two feet of water, but amazingly only four of the passengers were reported to have been hurt.

The widespread destruction left many people injured. Remarkably, Washington escaped with no fatalities, but reports from elsewhere mentioned persons killed or missing. The Washington Investigator says:

“At Kappa a number of dwellings were torn to pieces. Three persons killed – a man in attempting to save his house from blowing over, was crushed beneath the falling timbers of his house, which contained his wife and child – all killed . . . Two men were killed a short distance from Eureka . . . A rumor reached here, the truth of which we are unable to substantiate, to the effect that a house containing a family of several persons, situated on the prairie, about two miles north of the head of Walnut Grove, was missed from its accustomed locality, when some persons went in search of it. They visited the spot where it had once stood, and found nothing but the fallen chimney. They followed the direction the storm had taken, but no trace of the lost house or its occupants could be discovered.”

Other storm deaths included a number of people who drowned in Peoria Lake – the storm came through while they were boating on the Illinois River. Some of the survivors were rescued by the crew of the Samuel Gaty, “which had lain at Pekin during the heaviest part of the storm” and then came up the river and took aboard “the wrecked passengers of the Obion . . . among which were three ladies – one, Mrs. Tew, of Pekin, was very feeble from long exposure in the water,” according to the Washington Investigator report.

The storm appears to have extended over a territory of more than 25 miles in width,” the report says, “but where it commenced or where it ended in its devastating journey, we have no means of stating at our present writing. The dismay and suffering, loss of life and property, and the consequent lamentation, marks the progress of this sweeping tornado, as one that has scarcely, if ever been equaled in Illinois.

#2013-tornado, #creismann, #obion, #preblog-columns, #sam-gaty, #samuel-gaty, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tcghs, #tew, #the-washington-investigator, #tornado-of-1858, #tornado-of-2013, #washington, #washington-tornado

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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Jefferson Frizzel and Peter Logan, Tazewell County’s first African-American landowners

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Last week we told the story of how Nance Legins-Costley became one of Tazewell County’s earliest African-American homeowners through her purchase of her home lot in 1849.

Remarkable though Nance’s achievement was, other African-Americans owned land in Tazewell County well before 1849. For example, we have previously noted an early Tazewell County settler named Jefferson Frizzel, who was living in Pekin with his wife and children at the time of the 1850 U.S. Census. Frizzel, who came to Tazewell County circa 1833, is identified in census records as “mulatto” (being of both black and white descent).

Frizzel is shown in federal and state land records to have purchased land in Tazewell County on 22 June 1836, 18 March 1837, and 1 Nov. 1839. That would seem to make Frizzel the earliest known African-American to own land in Tazewell County. He and his family are enumerated as Pekin residents in the 1850 U.S. Census, but do not appear in Tazewell County after that.

Earlier this year, however, Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society conducted extensive research in the life and family of Peter Logan, a former slave who settled near Tremont in the 1830s. The fruit of Rynerson’s research was featured in the April 2022 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly (pages 328-330), and earlier this month Rynerson spoke about Logan’s life and accomplished during a special Juneteenth Weekend event at the Tazewell County Courthouse on Saturday, June 18.

As Rynerson has shown, Peter Logan was born into slavery in Virginia about 1780. In her TCGHS Monthly article, Rynerson says Logan is mentioned in Emma Scott’s “Early History of Washington, Illinois, and Vicinity,” where Scott says Logan “was owned by a man in Arkansas, who gave him a chance to buy his own freedom and also that of his sister Charlott (sic) and her daughter Nancy . . . . They came and located near Tremont, where he was for many years in the employ of the Dillons and was known for miles around as Uncle Peter Logan.” Rynerson also notes that Scott describes Logan’s sister Charlotte as an excellent cook and says Nancy was a very good student at school.

Among the documents pertaining to Peter Logan’s life that Rynerson located is a deed of sale dated 14 Jan. 1837 whereby Logan purchased land in Sections 22 and 29 of Elm Grove Township, Tazewell County, for $880. Logan built his homestead in Section 22 at what is today the corner of Franklin Street and Springfield Road. He used his land in Section 29 for timber – that land was along Mennonite Church Road just north of Red Shale Hill Road.

By this deed of sale, dated 14 Jan. 1837, Peter Logan of Tremont became the earliest known former slave to become a landowner in Tazewell County. (Image from the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

This land purchase made Peter Logan the first former slave to become a landowner in Tazewell County. Frizzel had purchased his land about six months earlier than Logan, but it is not known if Frizzel had ever been a slave.

Rynerson found that Peter Logan was enumerated in the 1840 U.S. Census as head of a household that included a woman (probably Charlotte) and a younger woman (probably Nancy). Nancy is the Nancy Hurst who married George Williams in 1845 in Tazewell County. Peter and his sister Charlotte are listed in the same household in the 1850 U.S. Census, but Charlotte died on 31 Oct. 1857, so Peter is found living alone in the 1860 census. His sister Charlotte Hurst was buried in Dillon Cemetery. (Rynerson also has conducted further research on Nancy’s family, but so far has only brought them down to the late 19th century.)

After his sister’s death, Logan began to sell off his land. In March 1859 he sold all by 10 acres of his homestead to Thomas A. Prunty. In 1860 Logan sold the timber lot in Section 29, but the following year that lot was quit-claimed back to him, and he kept the ownership of that land until his death.

In the early 1860s, Logan left Tazewell County and moved to Peoria, where he died 21 March 1866. He was almost certainly buried in Peoria’s Old City Cemetery. Most likely his grave was destroyed or built over after that cemetery was closed.

In his will, Peter Logan named the famous Peoria abolitionist Moses Pettengill as the executor of his estate. He left all his estate to his niece Nance (Hurst) Williams, his only living heir. Pettengill oversaw the sale of Logan’s timber lot on 14 June 1866. Logan’s probate file shows that his coffin was built by J. R. Ziegler, the funeral hearse was provided by B. O. Warner, and his grave was dug by Alexander Forderer, sexton of Peoria’s Old City Cemetery.

The detail of a deed of sale, dated 14 June 1866 and located by Susan Rynerson, shows that Peoria abolitionist Moses Pettengill, executor of Peter Logan’s estate, sold off Logan’s timber lot in Elm Grove Township, Tazewell County, after Logan’s death. (Image from the TCGHS Monthly)

One of the most remarkable things Rynerson discovered about Logan were memories of David A. Strother of El Paso, Illinois, that were printed in the 27 July 1900 edition of the Weekly Pantagraph of Bloomington. Strother (who is famous as the first black man to vote in an election following the passage of the 15th Amendment) indicates that Logan’s niece Nancy Williams had informed him in 1896 that her late uncle Peter “was one of the station men of the underground railroad.”

That is the only historical notice that Peter Logan had been involved in the activities of the Underground Railroad in Eastern Tazewell County. But considering Logan’s life story, where he lived, and his association with the Dillons and with Moses Pettengill, it would hardly be surprising that Logan, who had known slavery firsthand, would be active in helping his brothers and sisters to free themselves.

These clippings from the 27 July 1900 Weekly Pantagraph of Bloomington, found by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, tell of an 1840 incident when escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad were captured in Tazewell County, and testify to Peter Logan of Tremont’s activity as a station man on the Underground Railroad. (Images from the TCGHS Monthly)

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Tazewell County ‘Old Settler’ Ann Eliza Kellogg

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in December 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

Tazewell County ‘Old Settler’ Ann Eliza Kellogg

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

In the late 1800s it was somewhat common for local historians to compile and publish collections of biographies of the notable people then living in the area. Such a publication often would be called a “portrait and biographical record.” There was one for Tazewell and Mason counties in 1894.

Given the culture of the day, naturally we find that most, sometimes all, of the biographies in these books were of prominent men. It’s somewhat interesting, then, that the extended biographies of the “Old Settlers of Tazewell County” found in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” include several of the county’s prominent women.

One of those women whose biography is featured among the “Old Settlers” was Ann or Anna Eliza (Hawley) Kellogg. Her biography, on page 75 of the “Atlas Map,” consists of two paragraphs:

“Mrs. Anna Eliza Kellogg, the subject of this sketch, was born in Tazewell county, Ill., January 7, 1827. She is the daughter of Gideon and Elizabeth Hawley, who were among the first white settlers of Tazewell county. Mr. Hawley was a native of the state of Vermont, and Mrs. Hawley of Kentucky. They were both good and useful citizens, and did as much to settle and improve Tazewell county as any other citizens. They passed through many hard and trying times and experienced a great many privations, which, however, turned out for the benefit of others. They raised a large and respectable family of children, nine in number, five of whom they have had the misfortune to bury; four are now good and useful citizens of Illinois and Iowa. Mr. Hawley, after living a long and useful life, died in October, 1852. Mrs. Hawley still survives, and is now a resident of Iowa.

“Mrs. Kellogg is supposed to be the third white child born in Tazewell county, consequently she has been identified with the county all her life. She received her early education in the common schools of Tazewell county, which at that day were very meagre. In March, 1843, she was joined in marriage to Mr. William Anderson, who was a kind and affectionate husband for about fifteen months, and then departed this life, leaving his wife the mother of one infant child, who soon followed its father. On July 23d, 1845, Mrs. Anderson was again joined in marriage to Robert Kellogg, her present husband. Mr. Kellogg was born in Columbia county, New York, in 1818, and emigrated to Illinois, and settled in Tazewell county, in 1836. Mrs. Kellogg has seen Tazewell county emerge from almost a wilderness to be one of the proud and heavily populated counties in the great state of Illinois. Mrs. K. is a woman of clear intellect, and has always been industrious and economical, and has done her part to make life a success. She is well and favorably known for her charity and benevolence to both the church and the great human family. She has taken great pains in raising her family and preparing them for future usefulness. She is held in high estimation for her many good qualities by all who enjoy her acquaintance, and she is a most excellent lady and citizen.”

Curiously, Ann Eliza’s biography does not mention where she lived, but the “Atlas Map” elsewhere lists her second husband Robert as a farmer in Section 32 of Dillon Township, south of Dillon on the southern border of the township.

This detail from the 1873 map of Dillon Township shows the farmstead of Robert and Anna Eliza Kellogg in the southwest of the township. Their farm in Section 32 was several miles east of Green Valley.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “Tazewell County History,” page 420, includes a brief biography of Ann Eliza’s brother Norman C. Hawley, born June 6, 1837 in Cincinnati Township. Chapman writes that Norman’s father Gideon “was a native of Vermont, and his mother, Elizabeth (Caldwell) Hawley, was born in Kentucky. This couple came to the State in 1819, and were among the earliest settlers in Tazewell county.

Chapman also notes that at the time of Jacob Tharp’s arrival in Dec. 1825, Gideon Hawley was “living on the Mackinaw side of Sand Prairie.” In the spring of 1830, Hawley was one of the four men who surveyed and platted the town site of Pekin. Hawley was also one of the first settlers of Sand Prairie Township, and “died on the farm where Jas. Hamson now lives,” Chapman writes.

Hawley family histories relate that Gideon Hawley was born Aug. 13, 1797, in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, a son of Gideon and Levina (Darrow) Hawley. He died Oct. 16, 1852, in Sand Prairie Township, and is buried in Hawley Cemetery, which is located several miles south of Pekin off South 14th Street.

As for Anna Eliza’s husband Robert, he died April 15, 1896. Anna Eliza date of death is uncertain, but she must have died before the 1880 U.S. Census, because the census that year lists Robert as a “widower.” He and Anna Eliza had three sons and three daughters: William L. (born Oct. 22, 1849, in Tazewell County, died in 1929 in Muscatine, Iowa),  Mary E., Charles E., Fannie, Laura, and Albert.

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The adventures of Joel Hodgson

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in January 2015, before the launch of this weblog.

The adventures of Joel Hodgson

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Coming to Tazewell County with the first wave of white settlers during the 1820s and 1830s was a resident of Ohio named Joel Hodgson.

A relative of the Tazewell County pioneer family the Dillons, Hodgson first visited what would become Tazewell County in the autumn of 1821 as an advance scout for a proposed “colony” or settlement of Ohio residents. Nothing came of those plans, but Hodgson returned on his own account in 1828 with the intention of settling in Tazewell County permanently. Several of his Hodgson relatives also came to Tazewell during those years.

Joel Hodgson, born Nov. 17, 1789 in Guilford County, North Carolina, was a son of Thomas Hodgson and Patience Dillon. He married Elizabeth Castor (1796-1875) and had several children, including sons Eli and James, and a daughter named Malinda who married Aaron Dillon. An account of his adventures, written in 1885 by Eli Hodgson and Zimri Hodgson of Ottawa, was included in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” on pages 701-703. Here are excerpts from that account:

“In 1831 Joel Hodgson emigrated from Clinton County, Ohio, to Tazewell County, Illinois, bringing with him a quantity of timothy, clover and blue-grass seeds. After subduing the wild sods of the prairie he sowed a few acres with his favorite grass seed, which is supposed to be the first importation of these grasses to this country. . .

“At the same time Joel Hodgson brought about a bushel of one kind of the choicest peach seeds, which he generously distributed among his widely scattered neighbors who would plant and cultivate. The soil and climate proved to be congenial for raising this palatable fruit, which was true to its kind, and for a number of years bountiful crops of peaches were the result.

“Previous to this, in the autumn of 1821, a number of families of Clinton County, Ohio, proposed to emigrate to some western location, in sufficient numbers to support a school, church, etc., and deputed Joel Hodgson and Luke Dillon to explore the then wild and unoccupied Northwest, and select a location for the colony. His colleague having been taken sick, Mr. Hodgson resolutely started alone on horseback. He equipped himself with a good horse, saddle and bridle, a packing wapello well fitted with dried beef, crackers and hardtack. His other equipments were the best map he could then get of the western territories, a pocket compass, flint, steel and punk-wood with which to kindle a fire, as matches were not then known. He carried no weapon, often remarking that an honest face was the best weapon among civilized or savage man. After crossing the state of Indiana, then a wilderness, he entered Illinois where Danville now is, and here found a small settlement and some friends. Here he made a short stay, then took a northwest course to reach the Illinois river, his map and compass his only guide. He put up usually where night found him. Striking a fire with his flint, steel and punk, wrapped in his blanket, and with the broad earth for a bed, he reposed for the night. He stated that his horse became very cowardly, so that he would scarcely crop the grass which was his only sustenance; he would keep close by his master, following him wherever he went, sleeping at night by his side, and would not leave him at any time. With no roads but an occasional Indian trail, through high grass and bushes, over the broad limitless prairie, or along the timber belts, casually meeting a party of Indians, with whom he conversed only by signs, it is not surprising that horse and rider should be lonely, suspicious and fearful. The Indians were friendly, offering to pilot him wherever he wished to go, but were importunate for tobacco and whiskey; in vain, however, for he carried neither. He reached the Illinois river, he supposed, just below the mouth of the Kankakee, and followed down on the south side till he reached the mouth of the Fox River, and recognized it on his map, the first time he had been certain of his locality since he left Danville. He explored each of the southern branches of the Illinois for several miles from their mouths, passing up one side and down the other. He thus explored the country to Dillon’s Grove, in Tazewell county, near Fort Clark (Peoria). There, as he expected, he met a few settlers, old neighbors of his from Ohio, the first white men he had seen since leaving Danville. He then returned by way of Springfield and Vandalia, to Danville, where he made a claim on government land which he afterwards purchased.  He returned to Ohio and reported that he found no suitable location for the proposed colony west of Danville.

“Some might think it rather singular that a man of his resolution and sound judgment should pass through the best part of the State of Illinois, the best portion of the West, and as good a country as the sun shines on, and then make such a report. But those who saw it as he saw it can properly appreciate his decision; and the fact that he made such difference between then and now. Surrounded by the solitude which even his horse felt so keenly, he was not in a mood to take in the full value of a prairie farm, and the wild region was not then understood. There was supposed to be an almost fatal deficiency of timber, and the coal-fields were hidden in the bowels of the earth. The prairie was supposed to be so cold and bleak in winter as to be uninhabitable, and that not more than one-tenth of the country could ever be utilized. . . . There was no civilization here. The deer, the wolf and the Indian held a divided empire, and, to the solitary traveler, it seemed that generations must pass before this immense solitude could be made coeval with the converse and business of a civilized people . . . .

“Our explorer eventually changed his opinion, for, in 1828, he purchased a farm in Tazewell county, and removed there three years later, having in the autumn of 1828 taken a trip through the country similar to that in 1821, when some few settlements and more experience softened the aspects of the then changing wilderness, and convinced him of the feasibility of settling the prairie region. His colleague, Luke Dillon, with a number of their friends, emigrated to Vermillion county, Illinois, and settled near Danville, and Mr. Hodgson himself designed settling on his purchase of the same place, but the milk-sick disease broke out among cattle on his lands, causing him to change his mind, as above stated. He remained on his purchase, near Pekin, until his death in the autumn of 1836, leaving a widow and nine children, of whom four sons and one daughter yet survive. Similar adventures were made by other parties, cousins of Joel Hodgson, about the same time, and under much same trying circumstances.”

Joel Hodgson died in or near Pekin on Oct. 25, 1836, and was buried in Dillon Cemetery. That autumn was one of grief for the Hodgsons, for Joel’s daughter Malinda also died in 1836 just 10 days after her husband Aaron and five days before her father.

The gravestone of Tazewell County pioneers Joel and Elizabeth Hodgson is shown in this Find-A-Grave photograph.

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Jesse Black, pioneer of Sand Prairie

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in December 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

Jesse Black, pioneer of Sand Prairie

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Locally prominent in the legal profession during the first three-and-a-half decades of the 20th century was Jesse Black Jr., an accomplished attorney and judge in Tazewell County circuit court.

Jesse Black Jr., born 1870 in Green Valley, was one of the key players in the drama of the jail beating and death of Austrian immigrant Martin Virant, which was serially recounted in this column in 2012 and 2013. Black was one of the attorneys who successfully defended the county deputies whom Virant had publicly accused of beating and torturing him.

Prior to the Virant case, Black had served as a judge, and before that he served a single term in the Illinois House of Representatives following his election in 1899. Jesse Black Jr. died Oct. 11, 1935, at age 64.

Though he was a “Jr.,” he was the grandson, not the son, of Jesse Black Sr.  His father was William Black, born 1849 in Pennsylvania, the son of Jesse Black and Mary J. Johns. The elder Jesse Black was one of the prominent pioneer settlers of Tazewell County, though he arrived in a later wave of migration.

This detail from an 1864 plat map of Sand Prairie Township shows the land of Jesse Black Sr. in Section 28, located to the northwest of the present site of Green Valley.

In his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 980-981, Ben C. Allensworth included biographies of three generations of the Black family – Jesse Sr., William, and Jesse Jr. The biography of the senior Jesse is somewhat lengthy and traces the Black family genealogy to its American founder, Jacob Black, who came to America in 1679. Following are excerpts from Allensworth’s biography of Jesse Black Sr.

“Jesse Black, who must ever be regarded as one of the most liberal-minded and helpful of the pioneers of 1854, and to whom his fellow farmers in Sand Prairie Township are indebted for an example of moderation and well-earned success, is perhaps as well informed concerning the early days of this section as any settler who owes his native allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania. . . .

“When Mr. Black arrived in Tazewell County, the Government land had all been taken up, but a spirit of newness characterized the country, the entire prairie being without a tree of any description and fences being as yet strangers to the landscape. On their way to the nearest trading posts, the settlers took the shortest cut across lots, for established roads were also matters of the future, and ownership seemed to be more in the nature of a selection than of purchase. At that time, Mr. Black was twenty-nine years old, and in a position to appreciate any advantage that life might hold for him.

“The subject of this sketch was born in Huntingdon County, Pa., February 7, 1825, the son of Jacob, and grandson of John Black, both natives of the Quaker State. His great-grandfather, also John, was born in Easton, Pa., and removed to Crawford County, Ohio, where he engaged in farming. At one time he was the owner of the land on which the city of Bucyrus now stands. Going still further back it is learned that Jacob, the founder of the American branch, emigrated to America, on account of religious persecutions, in 1679. Mr. Black’s father, Jacob, was born near Williamsburg, Pa. His mother, formerly Sarah Neikirk, and his maternal grand-father, Abram Neikirk, were also natives of the Keystone State. On October 20, 1846, Mr. Black was married in his native State to Mary J. Johns. She was also born in the Keystone State, on January 28, 1830, and several children had been added to the family ere the overland journey was undertaken in 1854. Very little money remained in the father’s pockets, when he arranged to purchase the first farm of 160 acres, but the indebtedness was entirely met by the proceeds from the first crop of wheat, which far exceeded his expectations, and which was followed by others equally profitable and encouraging. He continued to reside in the same place until 1883, when he purchased several hundred acres with the fruits of his toil, making in all an imposing tract of fertile land. . . .

“For many years Mr. Black has been prominent in the Old Settlers’ Club of Tazewell County. His activity in the Methodist Church covers many years, and was particularly noticeable during the construction of the present church edifice, in which he is a trustee. Eleven children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Black: John W. (deceased), William, Sarah J., Henry (deceased), Almon, Francis M., Newton, George (deceased), Charles, Edward and Jessie May. Mr. Black is a stanch Republican, and though never an office-seeker, has served as Supervisor of his township. He is a noble, upright man, sympathetic and generous, and as he comes and goes in the community of which he is an integral part, enjoys the consciousness of a universal and an abiding good-will.”

Jesse Black Sr. died on Feb. 3, 1907, on his farm in Sand Prairie Township. He and his wife Mary are buried together in Green Valley Cemetery.

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Dunham and Crigler’s pugilistic encounter

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in April 2015, before the launch of this weblog.

Dunham and Crigler’s pugilistic encounter

By Jared Olar

Library assistant

The old published histories of Pekin and Tazewell County preserve the memory of both mundane and remarkable doings and events of the people who settled and lived in our area – names and recollections of pioneers, lists of mayors and other elected officials, narratives of the beginnings and development of churches, commerce and recreation, etc.

Also interspersed among these old histories, however, are the occasional colorful anecdote that helps to bring to life the manners and customs of days gone by.

One such anecdote may be found in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 893-894. There Allensworth relates the story of a physical altercation that happened in 1855, involving two residents of central Illinois named Jacob Dunham and T. B. Crigler. Here follows Allensworth’s tale, which he titled, “THE ‘BEST MAN’ WON”:

Two men fight in this vintage illustration.

“Among the early settlers of Tazewell County, as among those in the early history of the West generally, a question of physical prowess was one which involved those characteristics found among the men of brawn, so necessary in those days to overcome the foes from without which so menaced industrial and civic progress, and which were important factors in making the wilderness blossom as the rose.

“The test of physical strength and skillful use therof often became a question as between different individuals, in order to determine a point of pride as to which of the two was the ‘best man.’ While the expression, ‘best man of the two,’ may do violence to the most approved forms of grammatical speech, it was then in common use, and everybody understood its meaning. As to who was the ‘best man’ would be settled upon any one of several different occasions. Two men in the same community, aspiring for this honor, would meet at a barn-raising, a log-rolling, a corn-husking, a public sale, a public muster, a circus, and oftimes one of the pugilistically inclined celebrities would quietly hunt up the ‘other fellow,’ and they would proceed to have it out.

“A notable instance, illustrating this spirit of the times, came under the observation of the author, in Mackinaw, in the summer of 1855. Jacob Dunham was a resident of the western part of McLean County, and was noted for great physical strength and his skill as a boxer, as well as his physical courage and disposition to engage in a rough and tumble fistic encounter. He was about five feet eleven inches in height, weighed probably 195 pounds, and was of muscular rather than adipose build. He prided himself upon being the best man anywhere in that part of the country. T. B. Crigler was a resident of Little Mackinaw Township. He was not known as a fighting man, particularly, but had never been worsted in any personal encounter that came his way. He was about six feet high, raw-boned and long-armed. In his physical makeup he was inclined to be muscular rather than fat, and probably did not weigh over 175 or 180 pounds.

“Dunham came to Mackinaw one day in the summer of the year named, and inquired about this man Crigler, saying he had heard that Crigler was ‘best man’ anywhere around in those parts. As chance would have it, Crigler was in town and the two men happened to meet at the gate going from the street to the barn yard of what was then known as the Baber Hotel. Dunham was accompanied by some friend, and inquiry was made of Crigler as to his name. After being informed that he was facing the man he was looking for, Dunham said to Crigler: ‘I understand they say you’re the best man in this part of the country. I’ve been wanting to see you for some time. I understand that people generally think that you can lick anything around here, and I just thought I’d come down and settle the thing.’ Crigler replied, substantially, that he was not a fighting man, and had nothing against Dunham; he had never seen him before and saw no use in having a row, anyway.

“The controversy went on along this line for a short time until, in reply to something Crigler said, Dunham called him a ‘d—-d liar.’ No sooner was this said than Crigler’s left arm shot out straight from the shoulder and caught Dunham on the side of the head. This blow was followed up by another on Dunham’s left jaw, and he went to the ground, without so much as having hit Crigler at all. Crigler, after the fashion of the day, proceeded to pound him until Dunham yelled ‘enough,’ when Crigler immediately ceased punishment. This was the usual way that these encounters ended. As soon as the under man in the fight cried ‘enough’ it was understood that the struggle was at an end. If the victor in such cases had persisted in punishing the man that was down, after he had surrendered, he would have been in danger from swift and forcible intervention upon the part of the onlookers.

“As soon as Dunham arose from the ground, he offered his hand to his opponent, remarking as he did so, ‘Crigler, you’re the best man and you’ve licked me.’ The proffered hand was taken by Crigler. The momentous question had been settled, in the most approved way known to those times, and the men were ever afterward good friends.

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