The early pioneers of Illinois came generally of pioneer stock. For the most of them coming to Illinois was not leaving one permanent home for another, but was simply one more stage in a restless western movement that continued for many years. This constant movement from place to place interfered seriously with the normal process of civilization by which each new generation inherits and makes its own, the achievements of those who have gone before. The civilizing influences of commerce was lacking. The family unit was economically independent, and from the very necessity of the situation the pioneers were hardy, self-reliant, resourceful, and by reason of this fact they contributed in no small measure to the incipient greatness and glory of Illinois.
The true history of a nation is best expressed thru the spirit and life of the people, and every local community, however humble, participates in the formation and expression of that life and spirit.
Who, then were these pioneers, these western men and women, who have given character to American history? In reviewing the history of Schuyler county, I find many who might well be named, but I will limit the list to thosse who were associated with the early educational work of the county, that the younger generation may note the heroic character of those engaged in this work in early days.
Within five years after Illinois was admitted to statehood the first permanent settlement was made in Schuyler county. In that little party of homeseekers who journeyed from the far eastern state of New York were Calvin and Nancy Hobart. Both had been teachers in their old homes, and they possessed the fundamental element of culture which gave character to that humble little settlement on the prairie. It was in their log cabin home that the first school in Schuyler county was held, and William Hobart Taylor, a member of their household, who accompanied them to Illinois, was the first teacher. As there were only three or four families in the county, his school was necessarily a small one, but nevertheless it goes to show that the first pioneers of Schuyler county did their full duty in an educational way.
It is becoming popular nowadays to advocate the use of public school buildings for community purposes, and that the same spirit was apparently deeply inculcated in the Hobart family in the management of their home, for here where the children gathered to receive their educational training was held the first religious service in the county.
Levin Green, a picturesque character of those early days, was the minister who came into that pioneer community and brought cheer and hope and happiness to the hearts of those earnest people. He had traveled up the Illinois river from below St. Louis in a canoe, and was one of that hardy band of pioneers who carried the gospel to the furthermost parts of civilization, for at that time there was not a settlement in the Military Tract between Ft. Clark, where Peoria now stands, to the juncture of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
Levin Green was born and grew to manhood in the mountains of North Carolina, and consequently grew up without the advantages of a scholastic training. It is therefore not strange that both in private and public life he should exhibit a lack of culture imparted by the schools of the present day. It is said of him that his wardrobe was not more extensive nor ornate than the Prophet Elijah or John the Baptist. It is true that his speech and his preaching was not “with enticing words of men’s wisdom,” but results showed that it was in demonstration of the spirit and power. The genuineness of his commission to preach was attested by the glorious fruits of his ministry.
Levin Green remained in the Hobart settlement until the tide of emigrants came sweeping over the country and the hillsides became dotted with homes, and then, like a child who seeks to find the end of the rainbow, he departed again for the western frontier and crossed the Mississippi river into Iowa, then the borderline of civilization.
That the educational and religious training in these pioneer homes was based on correct principles, even if there were no embellishing frills, is attested by results attained. Chauncey and Norris Hobart, twin brothers in that first pioneer home, were early in life called to the ministry and were admitted to the Methodist conference in Rushville in 1836.
Chauncey Hobart, embued with the restless spirit of the pioneer, took up work on the frontier, and is known as the Father of Methodism in Minnesota. He was stationed at St. Paul when that now thriving city was an Indian trading post known as “Pig’s Eye.” At this post the Roman Catholics had built a chapel of tamarack poles and called it St. Paul, and this mud-daubed chapel gave name to the village.
Chauncey Hobart build the first Methodist church in St. Paul. He was the first chaplain of the territorial legislature, and in his little brick church he conducted the first school taught in the state of Minnesota.
This honored pioneer school teacher and minister was spared to a long and useful life, and he passed away but a few years ago at his home in Red Wing, Minn., after more than a half a century of glorious work in his Master’s vineyard. It seems but a short step from that first early settlement to the present day, when the development of the country from its primeval wilderness to its present prosperous state of cultivation is spanned by a single life. I prize most highly a letter I received from this first settler of Schuyler some 15 years ago, accompanied by a volume of his “Recollections of Fifty Years in the Methodist Ministry.”
One of Chauncey Hobart’s early teachers in Schuyler county was A. W. Dorsey, whose chief claim to fame is that Abraham Lincoln was a pupil in his school when he taught near New Salem in the winter of 1828-1829.