Camden Township History
Camden Township, traversed from north to south by Crooked Creek and intersected by the minor streams of Cedar, Brushy, and Missouri, has a varied topography that includes low alluvial bottoms, upland plains and heavily timbered sections, but withal it is one of the most prosperous communities in the country, and its romantic history dates back to the year 1829, when the first permanent settlement was made within its border.
In the fall of that year John and Robert Brown and their brother-in-law, Luke Allphin, of Morgan County, made their first trip to Schuyler County, crossing the Illinois River at Beard's Ferry, now Beardstown, and pushing on westward past the settlements in Rushville and Buena Vista Township, to what is now Camden Township, where they settled on Sections 17 and 20. Here they made rude improvements in the wilderness, and the following spring the families of the three men were removed from Morgan County, where they had made their home since leaving Kentucky.
They were all natives of Grant County, Ky., and had left that State in 1825 to seek a home in Illinois. While a resident of Kentucky John Brown was married to Sarah Points, who, with her two children, Lucy and Thomas B., were in that first party of Camden homeseekers in the spring of 1830. They settled on the northeast quarter of Section 20, and here Mr. Brown resided until his death, January 10, 1871. Robert Brown, a brother of John Brown, built his cabin on the southwest quarter of Section 17. He was accompanied by his wife, and they were permanent settlers in the neighborhood, residing there until their death. Luke Allphin, the third member of the party, was accompanied by his wife and two children, Zebadee and Jane, and they settled on the southeast quarter of Section 17. Mr. Allphin was a restless, adventurous man and, when the settlers began to invade the regions of Camden, be again sought the frontier and, in 1837, emigrated to Lee County, Iowa, and from there to California, where he died in 1849.
These families had raised only a partial crop during the summer of 1830, and when the deep snow came the following winter, they endured great hardships, and the men had to make a trip to the Rushville Settlement, at the peril of their lives, to get food; and it is said Mrs. John Brown kept her calves from starving by feeding them straw and shucks taken from the bed tick. But the men made the trip in safety and returned with a supply of corn that was ground into meal in the old hominy mortar, as at that time there was no mill nearer than the Hobart settlement.
When these first pioneers came to Camden Township, they followed an Indian trail that crossed Crooked Creek near where the bridge now stands. Two miles north of Camden, on what is now the Callison farm, there were plainly marked traces of an Indian village, and arrow-heads, and stone axes were strewn about the ground in countless numbers. This had probably been one of the last camping grounds of the Indians before they made their final emigration northward.
Ephraim Eggleston, who had settled in the Hobart settlement in 1823, removed to Camden in 1830 and settled on the southwest quarter of Section 15, and his son, William, was the first child born in the township. Philander Avery first visited Camden Township in the fall of 1830, but he migrated to Knox County and it was not until in the 'fifties that he returned to make his permanent home in the township.
In 1831 Thomas J. Chapman arrived in the Camden settlement from Kentucky. He was a brother-in-law of John Brown, and was induced to come to Illinois by the glowing accounts received from his relatives. Ephraim and Ira Owens arrived in Camden in 1833, and that same year Hensen Marlow emigrated with his wife and children from Indiana, and settled on the southwest quarter of Section 22.
The year 1835 marked a period of rapid growth for the Camden settlement, and among the new arrivals of that year we may note: William Allphin, who journeyed from Indiana with his family in a wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen, and settled on the northeast quarter of Section 31; Robert Points, who settled on the northwest quarter of Section 5; Isaac Cady and his son, Isaac G., who settled on Sections 19 and 20; Benjamin West settled on the southwest of Section 26, and his brother, William West, on the northeast of 35.
Among other early settlers may be mentioned Robert Brooks, Hazel Dorsey, Adam S. and John Corrie, M. M. Cleek, John L. Callison, George L. Gray, Robert G. McHatton, R. B. Stubblefield, B. F. Taggart and Joseph N. Ward.
The first pioneer who attempted to utilize Crooked Creek for motive power to operate a grist-mill, was John Taggart, and on December 8, 1835, the County Commissioners granted a petition for a millsite on the southwest quarter of Section 11, and it was specified that the dam across Crooked Creek was not to exceed nine feet in height. Two years previous to this Mr. Taggart and his father-in-law, Mr. Wolberton, had begun the erection of a mill on Section 26, but before it was completed the owner of the land forced them to abandon the enterprise. But in the year 1836 the second mill was completed and it did a good business for many years.
Dr. B. P. Watts, in writing of the early history of Camden Township, gives an interesting story of a Dr. Ward, a retired United States army surgeon, who took up quarters in a cave near the Taggart mill when be first came to the settlement. He was a man of more than usual ability, but very odd in his ways, and his cave was filled with cages of snakes, birds and wild animals that he kept for pets. That he was a skilled surgeon was demonstrated on several occasions, but he chose the free life of the pioneer in preference to the thickly settled communities where his talent would have been a source of pecuniary profit.
We are also indebted to Dr. Watts for the following description of social life in the Camden settlement: "Shoes were unknown to children; they went barefooted, winter and summer, and their feet got so tough they would knock fire out of a flint rock, drive a ten-penny nail with their heel or chase rabbits all day in snow ankle deep.
"Those times they were accustomed to live three or four days on baked squash alone. We heard of one instance where the wife and mother baked the last of the meal for breakfast, and just as the meal was ready, a couple of neighbor men came in, and being asked to partake sat down (the children those days always waited), and ate all the bread and the little children had to go hungry until their father could go forty miles to mill and, perhaps, be a whole week making the trip. We were told that even the mother did not get any of the bread, and that when the men folks left, she sat down and cried. Poor woman! She was not the only one who suffered those cruel heartaches during pioneer times."
The first school taught in Camden Township was presided over by John Thornhill, a Kentuckian, who came to the settlement in 1836 and opened his tuition school in a cabin on Section 17. George L. Gray was another of the early school teachers, and his cabin was on Section 22.
The village of Camden, which is situated on the southwest quarter of Section 17, was laid out by Robert Brown and Joseph N. Ward, January 28, 1831, and was surveyed and platted by Samuel McHatton, Deputy County Surveyor. The first store was established in the village in 1838 by John and Joseph N. Ward, and the following year Camden was made a government post office, and Alexander McHatton was named as the first government official. David Campbell built a flouring mill in the village in 1856, and it was operated until recent years. Today Camden is a flourishing inland village, with good schools, churches and mercantile houses, and her citizens are looking forward to the time when they can be put into closer touch with the outside world through the agency of an electric railroad.
The village of Erwin, located on the northwest corner of Section 26, was laid out by Columbus C. Meeks, March 27, 1860. Four years previous he had built a cabin and opened a store, and was that year appointed postmaster. The first school house in the village was built in 1866 and James Bliss was the first teacher.
The population of Camden Township, according to the census of 1900, was 1,278.
Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb
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