George Washington Smith.

A history of southern Illinois : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interests (Volume v.1) online

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the western rivers was reducing the time and danger of the journey
to the west, and at the same time increasing the comforts of travel.
The government offered land at $2 an acre with the privilege of paying
one-fourth cash and three-fourths on time. Many travelers through
the west, upon returning to New England and to the middle and
southern states, gave flattering reports upon the richness of the soil,
abundance of game, and the superiority of the climate.

In the older states to the east of the Alleghanies, the war produced
many conditions which favored the movement of immigration into the
west. New England had previous to the war been a commercial sec-
tion. They built ships and engaged in the carrying trade. Manu-
facture was not then regarded as a line of industry. The embargo, the
non-intercourse act, and the war made the New Englanders a
manufacturing people. When the war was over, men could not easily
adjust themselves to the new conditions. Wages were low, work was
scarce, and business deranged. Under these conditions people were
easily persuaded to cast their lot in the rising west. The route of
travel for the New Englanders was usually up the Mohawk valley, by
Oswego, up Lake Ontario, over the Niagara portage, down the Alle-
ghany river to Pittsburg, and thence down the Ohio. Another route
for the Chesapeake region was up the Potomac, across the mountains
to Wheeling, and thence down the Ohio. For the people of the Caro-
linas the route lay across the mountains into the upper valleys of the
Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and thence to southern Indiana,
Southern Illinois or to Missouri.

Not only was there a large immigration from the Atlantic states
into the newer western states, but from the close of the Napoleonic
wars in Europe, there was a steady stream of immigration from Eng-
land to this country. In 1815 England's debt had reached the enor-
mous sum of 831,000.000, specie payments were suspended, and the
paper money was rapidly depreciating. Prices were soaring upwards,


the harvests were bad, and legislation was against the poor. The
"Corn laws" were passed in 1815 which provided that no corn (grain)
should be imported until the price should reach 80s per quarter. In
case one's income from his labor would not support him, he must be
supported from the "poor rates." Thousands of soldiers and sailors
who had helped to win England 's victories in the past fifteen or twenty
years, were then without employment. Of 644 ships in England's
navy, 530 went out of service. The use of machinery was another cause
of idleness everywhere, and riots were the order of the day. There
was great need of reform in the political world. Some boroughs with
not more than a half dozen voters would send two representatives to
parliament. Some great cities like Manchester and Birmingham were
without representation in parliament.

Many prominent Englishmen attempted to right the wrongs. Among
those who were struggling to better the conditions in England at this
time was one William Cobbett, the publisher of a vigorous little news-
paper called the Political Register. In addition to publishing the
Register, he was a pamphlet-writer and for his strong denunciation
of the wrongs perpetrated on his fellow countrymen, he was arrested,
fined, and imprisoned. At the end of two years he was released upon
bail and came to America and settled on Long Island. While here, in
1818, he wrote a pamphlet or book, descriptive of this country, dedi-
cated to his friend Timothy Brown, Esq., of Peckham Lodge, Surrey.
In the dedication he says: This book "I dedicate to you in testimony
of my consistent remembrance of the many, many happy hours I have
spent with you, and of the numerous acts of kindness which I have
received at your hands. You were one of those who sought acquaintance
with me, when I was shut up in a felon's jail for having expressed my
indignation at seeing Englishmen flogged in the heart of England,
under a guard of bayonets and sabres, and when I had on my head a
thousand pounds fine and seven years' recognizances. You at the end
of two years took me from the prison, in your carriage, to your house,
you and your kind friend Walker, are even yet held in bonds for my
good behavior, the seven years not being expired."

This Mr. Cobbett lived on Long Island, and in 1818 was engaged
in the culture of rutabagas. It seems, also, that Mr. Cobbett was very
busily engaged in trying to prevent Englishmen who arrived in Boston,
New York, Baltimore, and other ports, from coming into the western
country. Just what his motives were we may not know, but it has been
surmised that he was in the employment of speculators and others who
were interested in keeping the immigrants, those from England as
well as those who were leaving the Atlantic coast, from coming into
this western country. In the preface of the book above referred to,
he says: "Yet it was desirable to make an attempt, at least, towards
settling the question, whether the Atlantic or the western countries
were the best for English farmers to settle in."

In 1816 to 1817 several men of prominence in England agitated the
idea of coming to America. It was just while this stir was going on
in England that Edward Coles, embassador from the President, James
Madison, to the Czar of Russia, while on his return trip, spent several
weeks in England (probably in the spring of 1817). There he met
Morris Birkbeck then a man fifty-four years of age. He was at that
time the lessee of a large estate called Wanborough, near London. He


was greatly interested in Mr. Coles' description of the prairies in this
western country. He and George Flower, who was also a man of cul-
ture and means, determined upon the planting of a colony in the broad
prairies of Illinois. Mr. Birkbeck sold out his lease for $55,000 and
sailed from London in April, 1817. George Flower had preceded Birk-
beck the previous year (1816), and had visited the western prairies,
and returned to Virginia where he passed the winter of 1816 to 1817.
During this winter he was much in company with Thomas Jefferson,
to whom he had letters of introduction from La Fayette. When Birk-
beck landed at Norfolk, Virginia, in the month of June, 1817, his friend,
George Flower, joined him and they proceeded west to the Illinois
country by way of the Ohio river, and Vincennes. From here they
went into the prairie afterwards called English Prairie. These two
Englishmen each planted a colony. Birkbeck called his settlement
Wanborough after his old home in England; Mr. Flower called his
Albion, which is an old name for England. The former settlement
was about two miles west of Albion.

These settlements came to be known as the "English Prairie Settle-
ments" and were visited by all the travelers whether seeking homes
in the new state or as mere passers-by viewing the new country. It
also bore the name of "The Marine Settlement" on account of the fact
that many of the settlers in that locality were once mariners.

Birkbeck bought sixteen thousand acres of land in the immediate
locality of Albion, and hoped to sell a large portion of it to actual
settlers. Mr. Birkbeck was a highly educated gentleman and yet was
not afraid of manual labor. Mr. Flower settled what afterward came
to be Albion though he himself lived a mile or so distant at what was
called "Park House," a country seat after the style of the English
country residences.

George Flower returned to England in 1817 or 1818 and brought
to this new English settlement his father, Richard Flower, his mother,
his sisters and two brothers. His family reached Lexington, Kentucky,
in the late fall or early winter and remained here till the next June,

When Mr. George Flower left the English settlement to return to
England for his father and other members of the family, it was under-
stood that Mr. Birkbeck would purchase land for Mr. George Flower
and have a residence by the time he should return. In June, 1819,
when George Flower landed at Shawneetown the entire family walked
to Albion, a distance of forty-five miles, and upon arriving at Albion
found no house of any kind in which they might live. It seems that
an estrangement had grown up between Mr. George Flower and Mr.
Birkbeck which was the occasion of there being two settlements, Albion
and Wanborough.

While living at Lexington the father, Richard Flower, wrote to
friends in England in answer to certain questions in which these peo-
ple were interested. In speaking of slavery he says: "It is this that
keeps the wealth of Europe from pouring its treasures into the fertile
regions of Kentucky and the industry of thousands from approaching
the state. It would be painful to relate all the horrors I have beheld
in slavery under its mildest forms. Whites, full of whiskey, flogging
their slaves for drinking even a single glass. Women, . . ., smart-
ing under the angry blow, or the lash, . . . lacking food in the


midst of abundance, and clothing insufficient to satisfy the demands
of even common decency."

On August 16, 1819, the same gentleman writing from "Illinois,
near Albion," describes the new home. He speaks particularly of the
improved state of health of all the people of the settlement. He urges
immigration to the western prairies rather than to stop on the Atlantic
shores. The prairies were easily broken and the grazing was abundant.
Servants were scarce on account of the ease with which young women
found husbands. Female help commanded from $8 to $10 per month.
On the English prairie which stretched from the Little Wabash east-
ward to the Bonpas creek, a distance of sixteen miles, and extending
north and south four miles, there were sixty English families and
about one hundred and fifty American families. Counting five per-
sons to each family we have one thousand and fifty inhabitants of the
English prairie in 1819. "As to the reward of his industry, every
farmer who conducted a farm in England, may here become the pro-
prietor of his own soil with that capital which affords him only a
tenant's station, a precarious subsistence in his own country; an in-
ducement, I should think, sufficient to make thousands follow our steps,
and taste the blessings of independence and the sweets of liberty."
On the subject of slavery Mr. Flower speaks with the earnestness of
a Phillips, a Garrison, or a Giddings. ' ' One human being the property
of another! No! ... I rejoice, my dear friend, in the choice the
English have made of a free state ; and am certain we shall be able to
cultivate from the services of free men, cheaper than those who culti-
vate by slaves." In this same letter Mr. Flower says "the log cabins,
the receptacles of the insect tribe are no longer erected. I have had
the pleasure of laying the first brick foundation in Albion ; it is to be
an inn where travelers, I hope, may find rest without disturbance from
insects. We have also nearly completed our market house which is
sixty feet by thirty. A place of worship is begun. ' ' Services were held
each Lord's day by some member of the colony. It was the intention
which was aftervard carried out to establish a reading room in the
church building which should be open on Sunday afternoon.

The following is a list of prices prevailing in Albion in 1819: A
fine turkey, 25c; fowls (chickens), 12c; beef, 5c; eggs, 12^0; cheese,
30c; butter (scarce), 16c; bacon, 15c; flour, $9 per bbl. ; deer (whole
carcass including skin), $1.50; melons, 12i/ 2 c; honey, $1 per gal.;
whiskey, $1 per gal. ; fine Hyson tea, $2 per Ib. ; moist sugar, 31c ;
coffee, 62c; fish, 3c.

On January 18, 1820, Mr. Richard Flower writes again to friends
in England. He speaks of the drouth of the preceding autumn and
says they have few wells and are obliged to buy water at 25c a barrel,
brought from a neighboring spring. Farm laborers are scarce. For
Christmas dinner they had a company of thirty-two at Park House,
the Flower homestead. They danced to the music of instrument and
song. The Sunday service was attended by forty or fifty persons, and
in the afternoon the library and reading rooms were quite well

Mr. Birkbeck, whose residence was a couple of miles west of Albion,
at Wanborough, was also busily engaged in opening up his lands and
providing for the comfort and advancement of those who might settle
near him.


This settlement was visited by a Mr. Hulme, an Englishman, in
1818-19, the next year after the founding. Birkbeck was then living in
a log cabin with his two sons and two daughters. The cabin cost $20.
He was beginning a more pretentious home near the cabin. Mr. Birk-
beck had about him no settlers except his own laborers and some
American neighbors who had settled near his lands. Mr. Birkbeck, at
the time, had no land in cultivation except for garden purposes. He
had occupied his time since arriving in building houses, barns, mills,
fences, etc. His fences Mr. Hulme describes as follows: "He makes
a ditch four feet wide at the top, sloping to one foot wide at the bot-
tom, and four feet deep. With the earth that comes out of the ditch
he makes a bank on one side, which is turfed toward the ditch. Then
a long pole is put up from the bottom of the ditch to two feet above
the bank; this is crossed by a short pole from the other side, then a
rail is laid along between the forks."

Two years later Mr. John Woods, an Englishman, seeking a suit-
able home in the new country, visited both Albion and Wanborough.
Of the latter place he says there was a store or two, twenty-five cabins,
a tavern, several lodging houses, several carpenters, bricklayers, brick-
makers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, sawyers, a tailor and a butcher.
At this time also they were building an oxmill (tread mill), a malt
house, a new brick tavern, and several new houses. They were also
digging wells. Mr. Birkbeck had by this time finished his frame house.
Wanborough was just in the edge of a small woods. The town was
laid out in blocks by streets running east and west and north and south.

Albion, two miles east of Wanborough, had at this time, 1820,
twenty cabins, a place of worship, a market house, two taverns, two
stores, a surgeon, carpenters, brick-makers, bricklayers, wheelwrights,
blacksmiths, sawyers, a shoemaker, and several wells.

Four miles east of Albion was the Bonpas bridge across the Bonpas
creek. At this point was a water sawmill, a tavern, and a store with a
few cabins. The mill was owned by Messrs. Le Serre and Grutt, lately
from the Channel islands.

Mr. Woods settled in W T anborough and owned farms in the neigh-
borhood. In speaking of stock running at large, he says: "Beasts,
sheep, and pigs are all marked in their ears, by cutting and notching
them in all possible directions and forms, to the great disfigurement
of some of them ; yet these marks are absolutely necessary in this wild
country where every person's stock runs at large; and they are not
sometimes seen by their owners for several months, so that without
some lasting mark it would be utterly impossible to know them again.
Most people enter their marks with the clerk of the county in which
they reside. . . . The county clerk's fee for entering a mark is
12i/ 2 cents."

These English settlers were a very thrifty people and the popula-
tion grew rapidly. In the vote for or against the slave proposition in
1824, there were five hundred and eighty votes, which would represent
a population of nearly three thousand people. The settlements are of
considerable interest since it is generally conceded that no other man
did more than Mr. Birkbeck to save the state from the curse of slavery
in 1824.



The constitution of 1818 did not require the governor to reside at
the capital only during the session of the legislature; so, as soon as
the legislature adjourned, Governor Bond returned to his farm near
Kaskaskia, and there he lived as a retired gentleman, entertaining his
friends in the simple sports with horses and hounds. The constitution
forbade his succeeding himself. He therefore secured the federal posi-
tion of register of the land office, which he held for several years.

By the census of 1820, Illinois had fifty-five thousand two hundred
and one inhabitants and the population was increasing rapidly.



With the first political maneuvering in the spring of 1822, began one
of the most momentous conflicts that was ever fought out on the soil of
the great Prairie state. There was no dearth of ambitious men, and
candidates were plentiful. There were four candidates for governor.
They were Edward Coles, James B. Moore, Joseph Phillips and Thomas
C. Browne.

The last named gentleman was an associate judge on the supreme
bench. Phillips was chief justice of the same court. Moore was major
general in the state militia. Coles was at this time register of the land
office at Edwardsville.


Mr. Coles was a Virginian, having been born in that state December
15, 1786. He received a very liberal education in William and Mary
College, though he did not graduate. Mr. Coles had all the breeding of
a Virginia gentleman. His father was a colonel in the Revolutionary
war and counted among his immediate friends and companions such
prominent men as Patrick Henry, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, the Ran-
dolphs, and others not less prominent. Young Coles, after leaving col-
lege in his senior year on account of his health, spent the next two years
at his father's home, Enniscorthy, an old Virginia estate, in company
with the above named statesmen and in constant reading in his father's

His father died in 1808 leaving the son the estate and the slaves.
President Madison had been won by the polish, education, and character
of the young man, and offered him the position of private secretary.
This was accepted, and thus he spent several years of his life in the very
midst of the stirring times of the War of 1812. During these years of
life at the national capital he became deeply interested in the problems of
slavery. His correspondence shows him to be a profound student of
social problems. Jefferson opened his heart to the young man on this
great question and no doubt the stand that Jefferson took against slav-
ery greatly strengthened young Coles in his convictions of the sacred-
ness of human freedom.

In 1815, he resigned his position as private secretary to the President



and traveled extensively in the west to determine where he might like to
settle. He drove with horse and buggy, accompanied by a servant and
a saddle horse, over the states of Qhio, Indiana, and Illinois. From St.
Louis he went to New Orleans, and from there to Savannah, Georgia, by
water, and thence to his estate in Virginia.

In the summer of 1816, the President found it needful to send to
Russia a special envoy upon a diplomatic mission of great delicacy.
Edward Coles was selected for the mission. He performed this service
with great distinction. He returned by way of Prance where he was
presented to the French king, Louis XVIII, and was fortunate to meet
General LaFayette at a dinner given by Albert Gallatin, minister to
France. In London, Mr. Coles met many prominent Englishmen. It


was here he met Morris Birkbeck, founder of .the English Prairie set-
tlements. On his return to America, he visited Illinois again in 1818.
He was in Kaskaskia when the constitutional convention was in session
and remained and used his influence to prevent the insertion of a clause
permitting slavery. He returned to Virginia and made preparations to
move to Illinois.

On the first of April, 1819, he started from his Virginia home for the
newly admitted state of Illinois. With him he brought his slaves left by
his father's death some four or five years before. At Brownsville, Penn-
sylvania, he bought two large flat bottomed boats upon which he em-
barked with all his earthly belongings, including twenty -six slaves.

The second morning out from Pittsburg he called all his slaves
around him and informed them that he now gave each of them his free-
dom. He told them that they were at liberty to go on down the river
with him or return to Virginia. If they went with him he intended to
give each head of a family one hundred and sixty acres of land and
would help them in other ways to get started in the world. Mr. Coles
desired to study the effect of the news upon them and said: "The ef-
fect upon them was electrical. They stared at me and each other, as


if doubting the accuracy or reality of what they heard. In breathless
silence they stood before me, unable to utter a word, but with counte-
nances beaming with expressions which no word could convey and which
no language can describe."

At or near Louisville, Kentucky, he sold his boats and sent his goods
and newly freed slaves to Edwardsville by land. Before disembarking
Mr. Coles issued a certificate of emancipation to his slaves. Of this
matter we shall speak in the future.

When President Monroe heard that Mr. Coles was corning to Illinois
to live, he gave him the appointment of register of the land office at
Edwardsville. This he held till he was elected governor in 1822.

It will be seen that Mr. Coles was comparatively a newcomer in Illi-
nois when the canvass began for governor in 1822. It is said, however,
that he was a very successful electioneerer. His position in the land of-
fice was of great value to him in that it threw him in touch with all the
settlers from that part of the state. He was always well dressed, courte-
ous, and dignified. It was understood that Coles was an anti-slavery
man, while his chief opponent, Mr. Justice Phillips, was in favor of that
"peculiar institution." Moore was also anti-slavery, while Browne was
for slavery. The vote for Coles and Moore, the anti-slavery candidates,
was 3,332, while for the other two it was 5,303. This shows that on a
test of the slavery and anti-slavery sentiment the vote was overwhelm-
ingly for slavery. And so the slavery party elected the lieutenant gov-
ernor and other state officers as well as a majority in both branches of
the general assembly. Daniel P. Cook was elected to congress against
John McLean. Mr. Cook had served the state in congress and voted
against the Missouri compromise. The great measure had been supported
by Senators Edwards and Thomas, of Illinois, and the people were con-
siderably wrought up over the subject.

The legislature convened at Vandalia the first Monday in December,
1822. This was on the second, and on the fifth the newly elected gover-
nor gave his inaugural address. This speech by the governor recom-
mended First, that the legislature foster the agricultural society which
was then in its infancy. Second, he suggested that a subject of prime
importance was the whole financial problem. Third, he was hopeful
that the state might soon see its way clear to take steps to connect the
Mississippi river with Lake Michigan by means of a canal. Fourth, he
was very deeply impressed with the injustice of slavery, and recom-
mended the freeing of the slaves in this state. He also called attention
to the need of revising the laws on kidnapping, and the black laws.
This speech very greatly disturbed the legislature, as well as the people
of the state. Nearly all the people had come from slave-holding states
and whether they ever had been slave owners or not they were easily
touched on this subject.


The slavery sentiment was rapidly crystallizing around the idea that
a convention ought to be called to revise the constitution ; for only in
this way could there be any hope of introducing slavery permanently
into the state. That portion of the governor's address which related to
slavery was referred to a committee which brought in a report and a


resolution. The report reviewed the history of slavery up to the admis-
sion of the state and then said :

Your committee have now arrived at the period when Illinois was
admitted into the Union upon equal footing with the original states in all
respects whatever, and whatever causes of regret were experienced by the

Online LibraryGeorge Washington SmithA history of southern Illinois : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interests (Volume v.1) → online text (page 21 of 65)