William Henry Perrin.

History of Jefferson County, Illinois online

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after the first coming of a family until they
could clear a little truck patch to raise their
family supply was often a serious one in-
deed. Then, too, even after the fii'st corn
was raised, there were no mills accessible to
grind it. Corn was the staple production.
Wheat was not raised for several years.
Nearly all the bread used until the fall of
1818 was brought from the Wabash or |from
Kentucky. The first mode of procuring
meal by the settlers of Jefferson County
were by the mortar and pestle, the mortar
being a hollow stump, and the pestle a bil-
let of wood swung to a sweep or made
with a handle and used by hand. It was a
dozen or more years before these were laid
aside. Of this mortar-made meal, the finest
was made into bread, and the coarser into
hominy. Families were sometimes without
even this kind of bread for weeks at a time.

One of the first mills known to Jefferson
County was kept by old Billy Goings, as
early as 1817, but it is said that as he also
kept a tavern, a grocery (what we would call a
saloon now), and a great many other things,
including bad company, his mill was only
resorted to by the better class of people in
cases of extreme emergency. In the fall of
1818, Dempsey Hood put up a mill, of
his own manufacture, except the buhrs,
which he had bought from Goings. It was
ot the simplest mechanical construction, and
was operated by horse power. Many good
stories are told of these early mills. One
man used to say he always took his corn to
mill in the ear, as he could shell it faster
than the mill could grind it, and then he had
the cobs to throw at the rats to keep them
from eating all the corn as it ran down from
the hopper. Another story was told on
Hood's mill, that if a grain of corn got in
" endways " it stopped the mill until the ob-
struction was removed. Still another story

is told on the first water mill erected. The
miller put thn grist in the hopper, turned on
the water, and about the time the mill got
under good headway he heard a turkey "gob-
ble " in the woods near by, so he caught up
his gun and started out after the turkey.
While he was gone, a blue jay alighted on
the hoop around the buhrs, and as fast as a
grain of corn would shake down from the
hopper, he would eat it. When the miller
returned, the jay had eaten all the corn and
the mill stones were worn out.

William Maxey built a mill near where
Cameron Maxey now lives, in the fall of
1820, and for a number of years contributed
largely to the supply of bread for the set-
tlers. About the same time or soon after,
Carter Wilkey put up a "stump" mill, and
in the fall of 1823 Thomas Tunstall put up
a tread-mill, the first of the kind in the
county. A short time after, Arba Andrews
built a wind mill. By the year 1825, the
country was pretty well supplied with mills,
such as they were. They were much supe-
rior, however, to no mill at all, and whether
hand, stump, wind, tread or horse mill, they
all had one family resemblance, and that was
in speed. A blue jay might have eaten the
corn from any of them faster than they
could grind it. This is all changed now,
though, and the county is supplied with
mills that are without superiors in quality.
But it is hard to realize that only fifty or
sixty years ago, there were no mills, but such
as we have described, in the county. What
a gradual but wonderful development is there
in the slow growth of the splendid perfected
roller patent process mills from the pioneer
hand-mill and mortar!

Elisha Plummer is the first blacksmith
we have any account of, and came to Mount
Vernon in 1820. If his " smithy " was not
under a spreading " chestnut tree," it was



prnbably because there was no chestuut
tree, for houses of all kinds were scarce.
John Cooper, another blacksmith, came in
1824. A man named Lane was the first
gunsmith, and this was a very important
business then. He was in the county as
early as 1822-23. ButSagton was also an
early gunsmith; Rhoda Allen's sons were
the first cabinnt-makers. etc., etc. Thus the
trades became represented in the county as
business and population demanded.

The first birth, marriage and death are
always matters of considerable interest in a
new country, and usually ai-e preserved on
record. The first birth we have failed to
learn definitely, but it is believed to have
been a son of Isaac Hicks, born in 1817.
But that there has been a first one. followed by
many others, the present population of the
county is indisputable evidence. The first
marriage was a daughter of Joseph Jordan,
to Garrison Greenwood, a son of Fleming
Greenwood, but the date is not remembered.
Apropos of weddings, the following is re-
lated of Green Depriest, who is represented
as a kind of devil-may-care fellow, as fond
of fun and a good time as a monkey of a
basket of apples. He started out one day for
Walnut Prairie to have a littie spree. On
his way, he stopped at the Widow Allen's to
inquire the way. While talking with Mrs.
Allen, a young woman, her daughter, came
out of the house to speak with her. Depriest
was impressed favorably with the young
■woman's appearance, and, according to his
abrupt way of doing things, told her who he
was and that he would like to marry her if
she had no objections. She replied that
" Barkis was willin'." So he said he would
go to the field and see the boys about it,
while she could talk it over with her mother.
The result was he married her, took her up
behind him on his horse and went home, to

the great surprise of his friends and family.
Thus he had his spree after [all, but al-
together a difi'erent one from that he had
started out to enjoy.

The next wedding was three— a kind of
wholesale or job lot. On the 5th of October,

: ISiy, Harriet Maxey was married to Thomas
M. Casey, Vylinda Maxey to Abraham T.
Casey, and Bennett N. Masey to Sally Over-
bay, all at the same time and place. This

[ was overdoing the poet, for instead of " two
souls with but a single thought." it was six,
four more than the poet bargained for. It
was the largest wedding of the period in the
style put on and the numbers present, as well
as in the profusion of brides and grooms.
Every family was invited, and every man,
woman and child, who possibly could, at-
tended, and the good cheer was the best the
country afforded. Ransom Moss and Ann
Johnson were married July 6, 1821, and
thus the good work went on.

The death of Rhoda Allen, who was a
man, notwithstanding the peculiar name,
was the tu'st death of a grown person.
He passed to his reward in August, 1820,
and was buried at Union — the first person
buried there. A child of one of the Maxeys
died a short time before Allen, and is sup-
posed to have been the first death in the
county. Death has not been idle since then,
as the many graveyards in the different por-
tions of the county show.

An incident occurred in 1826 that cast a
gloom over the whole settlement and excited
the sympathy for the afflicted family. Jo-
seph McMeens had recently settled in Jor-
dan's Prairie and had a family of several
children. In the fall and winter of 1826,
his boys devoted considerable attention to
trapping. One. day they left the house to
visit their traps as usual, when a little sister,
only four years old, started unknown to



them, to follow. Her parents supposed she
was with her brothers until their return
and reported that they hail seen nothing of
her. An alarm was at once spread and
search made and kept up until in the night
without any success. It was renewed the
next day and continued for many days, but
the child was 'never found. The strangest
part of it was not the slightest trace of her,
not a shred of her clothing or a footprint
was ever discovered to tell the story of her
fate, or suggest a theory as to her strange
disappearance, and to-day, after a lapse of
nearly sixty years, when the circumstance is
forgotten by all except a few old people, the
mystery is as deep and impenetrable as
when it first occurred. The most plausible
theory was that she had been picked up and
carried away by some prowling band of In-
dians, though no trace of Indians were dis-
covered in the vicinity. It was one of those
mysteries that will probably never be cleared
up until that great day of final settlement.

A fight with a wild cat is related by
James Dawson, in which he triumphed over
his feline antagonist in a summary manner.
Dawson was a son-in law of Fleming Green-
wood, and a man who is represented as not
being afraid of the devil himself. Such a
thing as raising domestic fowls was impossi-
ble in the early times, without a stanch
house to keep them in at night. Even then
the " varmints " were as sure to find them
sooner or later as the colored American citi-
zen is to find the hen roost of the present
day. One night Dawson heard a racket in
his chicken house, that denoted the presence
of some unwelcome intruder, and he ran out
with a light to investigate the trouble.
Upon looking into the chicken house, he dis-
covered a huge wild cat in possession. Stick-
ing his torch in a crack of the building, he
gave the monster battle, and in a few min-

utes succeeded in making a fiaak movement,
seized it by the hind legs and knocked its
brains out against the side of the house.

Quite an amusing story is told of a man
named Dickens — James Dickens. He was a
rather early settler, and for some time had
charge of Tunstall's mill. The story goes
that one day, while in charge of the mill,
some ladies came to him who had become
considerably bothered and perplexed in their
calculations about a piece of cloth, and
asked him if he knew figures. Now there
was a tailor living in Mount Vernon named
Figgers, and supposing the ladies referred
to the little tailor, Dickens exclaimed in his
oif- hand style, " Know Figgers ? Wy, yes;
dodding if I didn't make him out of rags —
all but his head." The result of the joke
was a dickens of a fight, for the little tailor,
like little men generally, was inclined to be
a little " fierce," and he took mortal offense at
Dickens for the remark, and a fist-fight fol-

The state of society on the frontier fifty to
seventy-five years ago was not perfect in its
moral symmetry by any means. Every com-
munity had its rough characters, and it is
not improbable that the rough element some-
times predominated. Public days, such as
muster and election days, where cheap whis-
ky got the upper hand of the less free-willed,
free fights were often inaugurated which would
have done credit to a Donnybrook Fair. Jeffer-
son County was no exception to the rule, and
had its little episodes that would now be con-
sidered quire disgraceful. Mr. Johnson al-
ludes to a general tight that occurred in 1820,
in which nearly the whole population of the
county took part. He says: " It was said
that some of the Maxeys had said that the
Maxeys and Caseys were going to rule the
country. John Abbott determined to refute
the idea by whipping the first one of them



he might meet. This was noised abroad and
it fell upon Elihu Maxey to measure strength
with Abbott. Tliey met in town one day when
nearly everybody else was there, and at it
they went, like a couple of modern pugilists.
Everybody got excited, even Uncle Jimmy
Johnson laid aside his usual gravity, threw
his old straw hat as far as he could send it,
and requested any other man that wanted to
fight to come to him, while Jim Abbott
danced around and said, 'anybody that whips
John Abbott will have to whip Jim', but
Billy Casey picked up Jim and ran clear off
with him. But it was all over in five min-
utes or less time. It was roughly estimated

' that every man in town had his hat, coat or
vest off, calling for somebody to fight him,"
This was no isolated case, but of common

; occurrence in the early history of the coun-

i ty, when

' ' Frontier life was rough and rude,"

and to be considered the " best man " in the
neighborhood was an honor greatly coveted
and highly cherished by him who was so
fortunate as to possess the enviable ( ?) noto-
riety. But with the progress of Christianity
and tlie refining influences of education, so-
ciety improved, gradually at first, but then
more rapidly, until, at the present time, we
find the county equal in civilization and re-
finement to any portion of the State, and as
to Mount Vernon, it may very appropriately
be termed the Athens of Southern Illinois.

The best incident illustrative of the pio-
neer period is told at the expense of " Buck"
Casey, or rather, he tells it at his own ex-
pense. Although the incident has traveled
over the State and has been located in a
score or more of different places, yet it is
vouched for as having originally occurred in
this county and of Buck Casey having been
the actual hero of it. In early times, when
the settlements here were in their infancy,

teams were very scarce and the means of
hauling and plowing were restricted to the
naiTowest limits. To such straits were the
settlers sometimes reduced, and so sorely
taxed was their ingenuity to rig out a team,
that means would often be resorted to that
in this day of inventive perfection would
appear ludicrous in the extreme. It was not
uncommon for a settler to yoke up a pair of
bull calves when so young and small that
only dire necessity — which we are told is
the mother of invention — would sussfest
their ability to be of much service, even in
"snaking" up firewood. One year, so meager
was the supply of bull calves in the neigh-
borhood, that Buck Casey conceived the happy
idea of yoking himself with the only one his
family possessed, for the purpose of hauling
wood from 'the adjacent forest. The yoke
was adjusted, and with his younger brother,
Abram, to drive, the team was ready for
work. It is a tradition, however, that Buck
made such an " onery " looking bull calf that
his mate refused to pull or budge a step in
the right direction, but whirling his busi-
ness end to leeward, turned the yoke. Buck
had heard of tying the tails of young cattle
together to prevent such catastrophes when
breaking them to the yoke, so he gathered
up the big end of a corn-cob in the slack of his
leather breeches, and to this he securely tied
the calf -tail, then told Abe to give 'em the
gad. The calf made a bound, found his tail
fast, became frightened and then plunged
forward at the top of its speed, helter-skel-
ter, pell mell, over stumps, logs and brush
at a rate that bade fair to bieak the necks of
both. Buck became worse frightened than the
calt, and as they approached tlie house, he
yelled out at the top of his voice: " Here we
come, head us off, pap, damn our fool souls,
we are running away," It was Buck's " last
appearance" in the role of a bull calf.



One or the great'dangers the early settlers
were subject to were prairie and forest f res.
It is true, the danger is not so great here as
farther north, v?here miles and miles of pra-
irie grew rank with grasses, ten or fifteen
feet high, and' without a tree or shrub in
sight to break the endless monotony, but
still there was danger. AVhen ' the grass
dried up in autumn and the leaves fell from
the trees and they, too, became dry, the
whole presented one immense tinder box,
that, once ignited, no power could resist or
control. The roaring flames would sweep
over the prairies, and, reaching the woods,
where the leaves lay thick, diminished but
little in volume, but crackled, roared and
swept on, scorching the trees, sometimes,
forty feet from the gi-ound. We have heard
of no loss of human life in this county, but
stock often perished, and houses, stacks of
grain and other property were destroyed. In
many portions of the State much loss of life
has resulted from these autumnal fires.

Crime has never prevailed in Jefl^erson
County to that extent it has in some portions
of the State, though, of course, the county
has not been wholly free from it, and from
lawless charac;.ers. Among the first settlers,
there were a few whose morals would not
bear too close a scrutiny. Goings, who has
already been mentioned as having one of the
first mills in the count)', was accused of
being a counterfeiter. Goings always had a
lot of men around him of bad repute, and it
was generally believed that his house was a
regular rendezvous or headquarters for horse-
thieves, negro stealers and all sorts of low,
vicious characters. He left the county in
1821, impelled, no doubt, by the urgent wish
(!) of his neighbors. John Breeze, who after-
ward occupied Goings' house, found a quan-
tity of unfinished counterfeit money, that he
had been obliged to hide when he suddenly

left the neighborhood. A man named Her-
ron also became involved in counterfeiting.
He was arrested, and was tried at the June
term of com-t, 1821, and was fined $20 and
costs and sentenced to be whipped. The
sentence was carried out, the prisoner receiv-
ing thirty-nine lashes upon his bare back.
This seems to us a rather barbarous sentence
now, but fifty or seventy-five years ago it was
common, not only in Illinois but in many,
if not all, of the older States. Another case,
we noticed in running over the old records,
of whipping, that occuiTed here in 1830. It
was that of James Vance, who was tried and
convicted as a horse-thief. He was fined $22
and costs and sentenced to ten days in jail
and to receive twenty lashes upon his bare
back, which penalty was duly executed. A
number of other criminals, more or less
vicious, might be noticed, but such history is
better forgotten than perpetuated.

A case that caused the most intense escite-
ment was that of a "runaway negro," who
made his appearance in the county in 1843.
Runaway negroes, in old slave times, were a
common occun-ence, and there are still many
people living who well remember the line of
underground railway through Illinois on
which negroes, fleeing from slavery in the
Southern States, traveled on free passes to
the land of freedom. There were not many
people in this portion of this State, perhaps,
who would actually help the negroes to es-
cape from their masters, but there were many
who would not help the masters to re-capture
the negroes, and a little further north there
were many warm friends of the slave. Run-
away negroes, as we have said, were common,
and were much feared by the women and
children. A fretful child could nearly always
be quieted with the threat that " a runaway
nigger would get it." But it was in the
spring of 1843 that the runaway negro



Frederick first appeared in the county. He
was seen northwest of Mount Yernon,
near Jefferson City, where he attacked an
old lady named Campbell, but he became
alarmed and fled. The neighbors were
aroused, and soon there were several hun-
dred men sccairing the woods in search
of him. He was again heard of in the
the eastern part of the county, where he had
abused a Mrs. Sursa. Nest, he was heard of
in Wayne County, where his pursuers soon
followed him, but he had fled into Clay
County. Finally, he was captured near the
town of Maysville, Clay County, and was
brought to Mount Vernon, where the excite-
ment went up to fever heat. Some wanted
to burn him, others to hang him, and it was
only by the utmost exertions of the more law-
abiding citizens that he was not lynched.
Judge Scates, as soon as he found a chance
to be heard, made a speech to the excited
people, setting forth the sufliciency of the
law, the consequences of mob-law in general
and the penalties to which they laid them-
selves liable, individually, by persisting in
it. Concluding his speech, Judge Scates
remarked to Sheriff Stephenson: " I wish
you to watch this proceeding, and report to
me the very first man that you see doing what
is contrary to law; I will issue a writ, and
have him arrested, if there is force enough
in the State to do it." Law and order at
length prevailed, and the excited people with-
drew. The negro was indicted at the Au-
gust term of the court, 1843, for rape and
attempt to commit rape. Upon these he was
tried, found guilty on both counts and sen-
tenced to the penitentiary, on the first
charge, "for the full term of his natural
life," and on the other for " fourteen years"
longer. As there was no Gov. Blackburn to
pardon him out, the negro was still serving
his sentence the last knovyn of him.

The care of the poor is a duty we owe to
that unfortunate class, who have found the
thorny path of life " rough, adverse and for-
lorn," and crave our assistance. " The poor
ye have with ye alway," said the Master, and
we, who have been more fortunate than they,
should not fail to contribute of oui- earthly
goods, when we can, to smooth the path of
some poor unfortunate.

" A little word in kindness spoken,
A motion or a tear;
Often heals the heart that's broken,
And makes a friend sincere."

Kindness costs but little, and to'the child of
misfortune it sometimes goes almost as far
as dollars and cents. None of us know how
soon we may go " over the hill to the poor
house" ourselves. We recently visited one
of these institutions, and were pointed out
an inmate who once could ride ten miles, we
were told, in a straight line upon his own
land. But a multitude of misfortunes
brought him to the poor-house. Then, be
kind to the poor, for in so doing you may en-
tertain angels unawares.

As early as 1830, we find allusions to
county paupers. They were then usually
kept by some person who was paid for it by
the county. In 1843, the pauper list is re-
ferred to by Mr. Johnson in his sketches, as
being a Mrs. Henly, H. M. E. Herron, Will-
iam Tuck, a man named Beasley and a
woman named Shoulders. These were all
kept by individual citizens, at the expense of
the county. A few years later, they had
increased to some twelve or fifteen, who were
maintained in the same manner.

In 1859, the first steps were taken for the
establishment of a regular poor-house. Two
and a half acres of land were purchased,
situated in the northeast quarter of the south-
west quarter of Section 22, Township 2 and
Range 3 east. March 19, 1859, 120 acres



were purchased in Section 27 of the same
Township and Range, by the Coiiiity Board,
composed of J. R. Satterlield, W. Adams and
S. W. Carpenter, for the sum of $1,150, upon
which the requisite buildings were erected.
This is still used for a county farm and poor-
house, and is the home of all the county's
poor who are maintained at the public ex-

This chapter closes the history of the
county at large, and the succeeding pages
will be devoted to individual towns and town-

ships respectively. The foregoing, though a
sketch, and admitting of anecdote, excui'sive
digressions and a flexible texture of narrative,
yet, for the most part, it is essentially his-
torical. We have endeavored to narrate some
of the physical and moral features of the
county; its formation, settlement, local di-
visions and progress; the habits and cus-
toms of the early pioneers, interspersed with
individual incident. These we have recorded
as best we could, and now submit them for
the verdict of the general reader. _







"The hunt, the shot, the glorious chase.
The captured elk or deer;
The camp, the big, bright fire, and then
The rich and wholesome cheer."

— Gallagher.

nnHE public lands of Jefferson County were


surveyed in 1814 and 1815. The field

notes of the exterior lines of Town 2 south,
Range 3 east, are signed by Charles Lockhart,
Deputy Surveyor, and dated " December 18,
1814;" those of the interior lines, by Joseph
Meacham, Deputy Surveyor, "April 19,
1815." The surveys seem to have been very
accurate, as the aggregate— 23,022 acres —
falls only eighteen acres short of an exact
township; but there was carelessness some-
where, as this note on the records will show:

St. Lodis, Mo., February 17, 1817.
There are no notes of the east boundary of this

Online LibraryWilliam Henry PerrinHistory of Jefferson County, Illinois → online text (page 34 of 76)