Camden Township,traversed from north to south by Crooked Creek and intersected by the minorstreams of Cedar, Brushy, and Missouri, has a varied topography that includeslow alluvial bottoms, upland plains and heavily timbered sections, butwithal it is one of the most prosperous communities in the country, andits romantic history dates back to the year 1829, when the first permanentsettlement was made within its border.
In the fall of that yearJohn and Robert Brown and their brother-in-law, Luke Allphin, of MorganCounty, made their first trip to Schuyler County, crossing the IllinoisRiver at Beard’s Ferry, now Beardstown, and pushing on westward past thesettlements in Rushville and Buena Vista Township, to what is now CamdenTownship, where they settled on Sections 17 and 20. Here they made rudeimprovements in the wilderness, and the following spring the families ofthe three men were removed from Morgan County, where they had made theirhome since leaving Kentucky.
They were all natives ofGrant 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 ofCamden homeseekers in the spring of 1830. They settled on the northeastquarter of Section 20, and here Mr. Brown resided until his death, January10, 1871. Robert Brown, a brother of John Brown, built his cabin on thesouthwest quarter of Section 17. He was accompanied by his wife, and theywere permanent settlers in the neighborhood, residing there until theirdeath. Luke Allphin, the third member of the party, was accompanied byhis wife and two children, Zebadee and Jane, and they settled on the southeastquarter of Section 17. Mr. Allphin was a restless, adventurous man and,when the settlers began to invade the regions of Camden, be again soughtthe frontier and, in 1837, emigrated to Lee County, Iowa, and from thereto California, where he died in 1849.
These families had raisedonly a partial crop during the summer of 1830, and when the deep snow camethe following winter, they endured great hardships, and the men had tomake a trip to the Rushville Settlement, at the peril of their lives, toget food; and it is said Mrs. John Brown kept her calves from starvingby feeding them straw and shucks taken from the bed tick. But the men madethe trip in safety and returned with a supply of corn that was ground intomeal in the old hominy mortar, as at that time there was no mill nearerthan the Hobart settlement.
When these first pioneerscame to Camden Township, they followed an Indian trail that crossed CrookedCreek near where the bridge now stands. Two miles north of Camden, on whatis now the Callison farm, there were plainly marked traces of an Indianvillage, and arrow-heads, and stone axes were strewn about the ground incountless numbers. This had probably been one of the last camping groundsof the Indians before they made their final emigration northward.
Ephraim Eggleston, who hadsettled in the Hobart settlement in 1823, removed to Camden in 1830 andsettled on the southwest quarter of Section 15, and his son, William, wasthe first child born in the township. Philander Avery first visited CamdenTownship in the fall of 1830, but he migrated to Knox County and it wasnot until in the ‘fifties that he returned to make his permanent home inthe township.
In 1831 Thomas J. Chapmanarrived in the Camden settlement from Kentucky. He was a brother-in-lawof John Brown, and was induced to come to Illinois by the glowing accountsreceived from his relatives. Ephraim and Ira Owens arrived in Camden in1833, and that same year Hensen Marlow emigrated with his wife and childrenfrom Indiana, and settled on the southwest quarter of Section 22.
The year 1835 marked a periodof rapid growth for the Camden settlement, and among the new arrivals ofthat year we may note: William Allphin, who journeyed from Indiana withhis family in a wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen, and settled on the northeastquarter of Section 31; Robert Points, who settled on the northwest quarterof Section 5; Isaac Cady and his son, Isaac G., who settled on Sections19 and 20; Benjamin West settled on the southwest of Section 26, and hisbrother, William West, on the northeast of 35.
Among other early settlersmay 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 attemptedto utilize Crooked Creek for motive power to operate a grist-mill, wasJohn Taggart, and on December 8, 1835, the County Commissioners granteda petition for a millsite on the southwest quarter of Section 11, and itwas specified that the dam across Crooked Creek was not to exceed ninefeet 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 beforeit 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 businessfor many years.
Dr. B. P. Watts, in writingof the early history of Camden Township, gives an interesting story ofa Dr. Ward, a retired United States army surgeon, who took up quartersin a cave near the Taggart mill when be first came to the settlement. Hewas a man of more than usual ability, but very odd in his ways, and hiscave was filled with cages of snakes, birds and wild animals that he keptfor 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 thicklysettled communities where his talent would have been a source of pecuniaryprofit.
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 snowankle deep.
“Those times they were accustomedto live three or four days on baked squash alone. We heard of one instancewhere the wife and mother baked the last of the meal for breakfast, andjust as the meal was ready, a couple of neighbor men came in, and beingasked to partake sat down (the children those days always waited), andate all the bread and the little children had to go hungry until theirfather could go forty miles to mill and, perhaps, be a whole week makingthe 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! Shewas not the only one who suffered those cruel heartaches during pioneertimes.”
The first school taught inCamden Township was presided over by John Thornhill, a Kentuckian, whocame to the settlement in 1836 and opened his tuition school in a cabinon Section 17. George L. Gray was another of the early school teachers,and his cabin was on Section 22.
The village of Camden, whichis situated on the southwest quarter of Section 17, was laid out by RobertBrown and Joseph N. Ward, January 28, 1831, and was surveyed and plattedby Samuel McHatton, Deputy County Surveyor. The first store was establishedin the village in 1838 by John and Joseph N. Ward, and the following yearCamden was made a government post office, and Alexander McHatton was namedas the first government official. David Campbell built a flouring millin the village in 1856, and it was operated until recent years. Today Camdenis a flourishing inland village, with good schools, churches and mercantilehouses, and her citizens are looking forward to the time when they canbe put into closer touch with the outside world through the agency of anelectric railroad.
The village of Erwin, locatedon 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 villagewas built in 1866 and James Bliss was the first teacher.
The population of CamdenTownship, according to the census of 1900, was 1,278.
Excerpted from HistoricalEncyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, editedby Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Karl A. Petersenfor Schuyler County ILGenWeb
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