Civil History of
Schuyler County, Illinois

Illinois had been but seven years a sovereign State when the geographical boundaries of Schuyler County were determined in 1825. Up to this time there were but thirty-one counties in the State and, with the exception of Pike and Fulton Counties, all of these were south of the Illinois River. In the early 'twenties the tide of emigration turned northward for the reason, perhaps, that land speculators had been buying up soldiers' claims in the Military Tract and were interesting Eastern people in the Illinois Country. To facilitate this emigration, and provide for civil government in the country already settled, the General Assembly in January, 1825, created ten Counties in the Military Tract. The counties set apart for civil organization were: Calhoun, Adams, Hancock, Knox, Mercer, Henry, Peoria, Putnam, Warren and Schuyler.

The geographical boundary of Schuyler included an area of 864 square miles, and so remained until Brown County was detached in 1839. The civil boundary of the county was even more extended, as may be noted from the following section of the legislative enactment:

"All that tract of country north of the counties of Schuyler and Hancock, and west of the Fourth Principal Meridian, shall be attached to the county of Schuyler for all county purposes, until otherwise provided for by law: Provided, however, that when it shall appear to the satisfaction of the Judge of the Circuit Court that any of the above name counties shall contain three hundred and fifty inhabitants, he is hereby required to grant an order for the election of county officers, as described in the ninth section."

By this act the civil government of Schuyler County was extended to include what are now the counties of McDonough, Warren, Henderson, Mercer and a portion of Rock Island, but in the County records it appears that McDonough was the only one of the five counties that shared in the civil government of Schuyler. The organization of McDonough County was authorized by an act of the Legislature approved January 25, 1826, and by June 14, 1830, the required population having been attained, a separate county was organized; Warren obtained the same in 1830; Rock Island was organized in 1831, and Mercer and Henderson some few years afterwards.

Of the ten counties created from the Military Tract in 1825, Adams, Peoria and Schuyler were the only ones that had the required population necessary for immediate organization, and, in the legislative enactment of that session, we find the following provision made for the civil organization of Schuyler County:

"Be it further enacted, That for the county of Schuyler, John Adams, Stephen Olmstead and James Dunwoody, of Morgan County. . . . be and they are hereby appointed Commissioners to select the permanent seat of justice for said county, who shall meet in the county of Schuyler, at the house of Calvin Hobart, on the first Monday of April next, or within seven days thereafter, and after taking and subscribing an oath before a Justice of the Peace, to locate the said seat of justice for the future convenience and accommodation of the people, shall proceed to fix and determine upon the same, and the place so selected . . . shall be the permanent seat of justice of the same, and the Commissioners shall receive for their compensation the sum of two dollars per day for each day by them spent in the discharge of their duties, and for going to and returning from the same, to be paid out of the first money in the county treasury after the same shall he organized."

In accordance with this act of the Legislature, John Adams and Stephen Olmstead came to Schuyler and located the county-seat about a mile west of the present village of Pleasantview, and for this service they were paid $20 each, with $8 additional to John Adams, who took the records of the proceedings to Pittsfield, the county-seat of Pike County, where they were recorded.

The seat of justice having been established, an election was called for July 4, 1825, and James Vance, Cornelius Vandeventer, and Abraham Carlock were named as judges, and Hart Fellows and Jonathan D. Manlove clerks, and they were allowed one dollar each for this work by the County Commissioners fourteen months afterwards.

At this election Thomas McKee, Samuel Horney and Thomas Blair were elected County Commissioners. They took the oath of office before Hart Fellows, who had been appointed Clerk of the Circuit Court by Gov. Edward Coles, and within the next twelve months met eight times to attend to the business necessary in the organization and administration of county affairs. The first meeting of the County Commissioners was held at the cabin of Jacob White on July 7, 1825, and at this session the new county-seat of Schuyler County was named Beardstown. John Terry was appointed Clerk of the County and served until December 3, 1827, when he resigned and Hart Fellows was named as his successor. At this first meeting of the Commissioners grand and petit juries were drawn and were served with summons by Sheriff Orris McCartney, to appear at the first term of Circuit Court held November 4, 1825. The records do not show who was elected chairman of the Commissioner's Court, but it is inferred that Thomas Blair held this position, as he signed the clerk's record of the proceedings.

The Commissioners met again on July 22, 1825, and at this meeting the first county order was issued to Jacob White, which called for seventy-five cents for the use of his cabin as a meeting place. At this meeting of the board a petition was presented to set off a school district and this was done.

When John B. Terry filed his bond as Clerk of the County, with Nathan Eels as security, he took the oath of office to support the constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois, and a supplementary oath required by the "Act to Suppress Dueling."
In the organization of the county it was necessary to have three Justices of the Peace, and Hart Fellows, James Vance and Willis O'Neal were recommended to Gov. Coles for appointment to this office. Later appointments made by the County Commissioners in 1825 were: William H. Taylor, as Census Commissioner; Jacob White and Joel Pennington, Constables; Riggs Pennington and Nathan Eels, Overseers of the Poor, and Samuel Gooch, John Richey and Jonathan Reno, Fence Viewers.

The sessions of the Commissioners were afterwards held at the cabin of Samuel Turner and a county order for $2 was issued him for four meetings of the Commissioner's Court. For three days' services as Commissioners, Messrs. Blair, Horney and McKee each drew $7.5O, and John B. Terry, Clerk, was paid $10 for four days' service.

In locating the county-seat the Morgan County Commissioners apparently did not respect the wishes of the residents of Schuyler County, as we find in the records that a petition to the General Assembly was formulated asking that a new commission be appointed. This was done and Levi Green, Thomas Blair and Benjamin Chadsey were named to select a new seat of justice. It was at this time intended to locate the county-seat a mile or more north of the present site of Rushville, on the fine, high prairie land, but the quarter-section of land most desired had been entered and the Commissioners realizing that the county was short of funds, selected the southwest quarter of Section 30, Town 2 North, Range 1 West, and entered it at the Land Office at Springfield. Their report to the County Commissioners made March 6, 1826, reads as follows:

"We, the undersigned Commissioners, appointed by an Act of the General Assembly of Illinois to locate a permanent seat of justice for Schuyler County, do certify that, after having been duly sworn before James Vance, Esq., we proceeded to view the county for the purposes aforesaid, and have located the same on the southwest quarter of Section thirty, township two north, range one west. Given under our hands this 20th day of February, 1826.
(Signed) Levin Green
Thomas Blair
B. Chadsey.

One may judge how strongly the financial consideration influenced the location of the county-seat, when it is stated that the east half of the quarter-section entered by the county for a town site was sold to Jacob White for $150, and that the county was not able to make payment to the State and secure the United States patent to the land until December 20, 1826, when, with the $150 paid by Mr. White, and $43.00--the withdrawal of which almost depleted the county treasury--the county came into full possession of a clear title to its seat of justice. Much as the county needed the money generously advanced by Mr. White, it was in the end an expensive bargain, for within a few years afterwards it was necessary to buy more land to allow for the growth of the little city. Even today we yearly see the folly of their economy, for the land owned by Mr. White came within eighty feet of the east side of Liberty Street and on the tax-books, it is necessary to carry the names of the property owners on the east side of the square in different additions, as the business block extends east 112 feet and into the William Manlove addition, afterwards platted on the land sold by the county to Jacob White.

Thomas McKee, Samuel Horney and Thomas Blair, who had been elected County Commissioners in 1825, served until August 4, 1828, when Thomas Davis succeeded Thomas Blair. Other early officers were: Cornelius Vandeventer, Thomas McKee, Jesse Bartlett and Levin Green, Justices of the Peace; Jacob T. Reno and Jacob White, Constables; John B. Terry, Judge of Probate; Hart Fellows, Clerk of Circuit Court; Orris McCartney, Sheriff; David E. Blair, Treasurer; Jonathan D. Manlove, Surveyor, and Levin Green, Coroner.

Much of the time of the Commissioners when they met for the transaction of business was taken up with passing upon petitions for roads and arranging for the platting and sale of townlots of the county-seat, and these subjects will be dealt with more fully in succeeding chapters.

The question of revenue was an all important one with the County Commissioners, as there was little money coming into the treasury from taxation and it was a difficult matter to collect cash for the town lots sold. The first tax-levy was ordered March 6, 1826, on the assessment made by Jesse Bartlett, who was allowed $6 for his services. All taxable property in the county was subject to a rate of one per cent, and the total tax collected in the county in 1826, was $118.90. On March 4, 1828, property liable to taxation was listed as follows: Slaves, indentured or registered negro or mulatto servants, all wheel carriages, stills and distilleries, stocks in trade, horses, mules, mares and asses, meat cattle, sheep, goats and hogs, watches with their appendages, and clocks. At the same time the Treasurer was instructed to make a list of "all resident land" subject to taxation. On March 3, 1832, the Commissioners specified household goods, furniture and farming utensils as subject to taxation, and also town-lots, except in incorporated towns. The owners of ferries also paid taxes varying from $3 to $20.

When the Commissioners met on December 4, 1826, Orris McCartney was authorized to receive the money appropriated by the State, under the act relating to the revenues of Calhoun, Pike, Adams, Schuyler, Fulton and Peoria counties, to replenish the depleted treasury. He was instructed to make the journey to the State capital at Vandalia and, while there, to exchange the State paper for specie, provided it could be done at reasonable discount. Schuyler County's apportionment under the State revenue act, was $225, and Mr. McCartney brought home the sum of $157.50, which was deposited in the county treasury. The first financial statement of Schuyler County is found in the report of the Commissioner's Court for the December term. 1827. It is as follows:

By amount of county tax for the year 1826 . . . . . $118.90
By amount of specie received from State
treasury in 1826 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .157.50
By amount received from Jacob White
for E1/2 S. W. 30, 3 N., 1 W . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150.00
By amount received for lots in town of Rushville . . 133.50
By amount received for fines, assessed
in Circuit Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21.00
By amount turned into county treasury
out of the tax for the year 1827 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48.44

To amount of county orders issued in
1825, 1826 and 1827. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $467.78
To amount paid into land office for the
S. W. 30, 2 N. 1 W . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .193.60
Amount due on Rushville town
lots, available . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $251.25
Amount due for fines assessed in
circuit court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.00
Balance due on tax of 1827 after
deducting the 7 1/2 per cent . . . 27.42
Amount in treasury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.10
Balance in favor of county . . . . . . .$259. 73

Until June 4, 1827, there had been no apportionment of election precincts, but the county had been considered as a whole in the selection of minor offices, such as Justices of the Peace and Constable. The rapid immigration, and the general tendency of the settlers to penetrate to every part of the county, made it necessary to divide the county into minor political subdivisions, and this was done June 4, 1827, by the County Commissioners, when they created five election precincts. In this civil division of the county McDonough County was considered as one election precinct, and was the fifth in the list. In issuing a call for election the place of voting and the names of the judges were specified by the Comity Commissioners as follows:

District 1, House of Isaac Naught. Judges--John A. Reeve, Willis O'Neal and Isaac Vendeventer.
District 2, House of Henry Hills. Judges--John Ritchey, Henry Hills and Manlove Horney.
District 3, House of Joel Pennington. Judges--John Pennington, Joel Tullis and Garrett Wyckoff.
District 4, House of Daniel Robertson. Judges--Daniel Robertson, Andrew Vance and Thomas Wilson.
District 5, House of James Vance. Judges--Riggs Pennington, Stephen Osburn and Hugh Wilson.

The year 1828 was prolific in elections and the Commissioners' record shows a general election was held August 4, and on November 3 came the presidential election, to be followed November 15 by a special election, at which time Joel Pennington was elected Sheriff of the county. At the general election of August 4, 1828, Thomas Davis was chosen County Commissioner to succeed Thomas Blair and Willis O'Neal was named as Treasurer.

On June 1, 1829, the Board of County Commissioners indulged in the luxury of employing a counsel for the court, and John Steel, Esq., was selected. As a natural consequence Mr. Steel wished to make a showing, and cases in court became more numerous. A year before the county had paid Jacob T. Reno $9 for caring for William Lammy, and Mr. Steel brought suit in the name of the county against his father, James Lammy, to compel him to aid in the support of his son. The court decided in favor of the county, and an entry is made in the Commissioners' record where James Lammy paid $9.50 into the county fund.

Quo warranto proceedings were also brought against Benjamin Chadsey and Jesse Bartlett, Trustees of the school land on Section 16, Rushville Township, and they were removed and John Ritchey and Henry Hills appointed in their stead. At this day it cannot be determined what the animus back of this proceeding was, but it did not in the least divert from the popularity of these two gentlemen, for we later find them taking an active part in the affairs of the county. As compensation for his services in these two cases John Steele, Esq., was allowed the munificent sum of $4.50, and soon afterwards the office of counsel to the Commissioners' court was abolished.

The first physician to present a bill to the county for professional service to a poor person was Dr. B. V. Teel, who was allowed $17.62 on September 7, 1829, for medicine and attendance upon Stephen Palmer. At the same session George Jones was allowed $2 for making a coffin for the said Palmer. On December 23, 1829, John Ritchey was authorized to purchase of Abraham Louderman one or two acres of land in some suitable and convenient place for buring ground, and the site chosen has since been enlarged to forty acres, comprising the Rushville cemetery of today.

On March 1, 1830, an election district was made of the territory now known as the county of Brown, and it was specified that the elections should be held at the home of Bentley Ballard. At the same time, McDonough County was separated into two election precincts, Crooked and Drowning Creeks being the dividing line. The elections in the east precinct were ordered held at the home of James Vance, and in the western precinct at the home of William Job. At this time McDonough County was arranging for the establishment of a civil government of its own, and on the petition of James Vance and James Clark, that county was permitted to retain one-half of the taxes collected, the petitioners standing good for the amount due Schuyler. Settlement was not made, however, until March 6, 1832, when $21 was paid into the Schuyler treasury.

As originally formed Schuyler was the largest of the ten counties created in the Military Tract by the General Assembly of 1825; and it so remained until 1839, when the territory lying south of Crooked Creek was detached and the county of Brown organized, thus reducing the area of Schuyler County from 864 to 430 square miles, and making it, next to Calhoun, the smallest county in the Military Tract.

As early as 1835 the people living south of Crooked Creek began the agitation for separation, but Schuyler's representative in the General Assembly prevented any action being taken. It was then proposed that a compromise be effected by removing the county-seat to Ripley, which was nearer the geographical center of the county, and this seems to have been the master stroke on the part of the agitators for separation, as the people in and about Rushville were willing to suffer the loss of half the territory of the county rather than relinquish the prestige which was associated with the seat of justice. And so it happened that Brown County was given a government of its own by act of the General Assembly in 1839, and John M. Campbell of Schuyler, John B. Curl of Adams and William W. Baily of McDonough were named to select the seat of justice, which was afterwards located at Mt Sterling. This settled for all time the location of the county-seat at Rushville, and Schuyler has been spared the bitter internecine warfare that has marked the history of county-seat contests in many neighboring counties.

After the organization of Schuyler County had been effected and the machinery of civil government put in force, things ran along smoothly for more than a decade and the records of the Commissioners' court are monotonous with routine proceedings. This is especially true from 1831 to 1838, but in the latter year there was a shaking up in county affairs that would do credit to the most ardent reformers of the present day, and as a result, the business affairs of the county were thoroughly investigated.

Thomas Brockman, Edward Doyle and Peter C. Vance were the Commissioners during the years 1838-39, and they started in early on their reform administration. County officials, School Treasurers and Supervisors of road districts were brought into the lime-light of a public investigation, with the result that one county officer was removed from office, a School Treasurer was called upon to make good a shortage of more than a thousand dollars, and other officers were forced to make settlement with the Commissioners to avoid the notoriety of publicity.

At that time, and for years afterwards, the fee system of paying county officers was in vogue and, while the officials might have had honest intentions in appropriating certain fees, it required ceaseless vigilance on the part of the County Commissioners to get what was due the county. This difference of opinion as to fees apparently disappeared, when an honest investigation was ordered, as in every case the officers made good the deficiency. It is a fact worthy of note that, during the eighty years of Schuyler's civil history, but one county officer has been convicted and punished for criminally appropriating county funds.
The new Constitution of Illinois, in force in 1848, made a change in the governmental affairs of the county, and it was provided that a County Judge and two Associates should administer county affairs. These officers were to be chosen at the general election to serve for a term of four years. The first county court of Schuyler County convened on the third day of December, 1849, with William Ellis as County Judge and Joseph N. Ward and John M. Campbell, Associates.

At the time these officials were elected a vote was taken in Schuyler on the question of township organization, and of the whole number of votes cast (1495), there were 673 in favor of township organization and 205 against. It was at the time supposed that the plan of township organization would be put into affect at once, but the Supreme Court decided that a majority vote was necessary to make the change and this had not been secured in Schuyler County. At the election of 1850 the question was again voted upon, and there were but 459 votes favorable to township organization out of a total of 1214. The advocates of township organization were persistent in their efforts and, in 1853, the question was again submitted and this time carried at the polls; 780 of the 1537 votes being favorable to the new plan of government. At the December meeting of the County Court John C. Bagby, I. N. Ward and Jesse Darnell were appointed Commissioners to divide the county into townships and, with minor changes, the boundaries so fixed are in force today. The townships so named and located were:

Oakland Township 3 North, Range 1 West
Littleton Township 3 North, Range 2 West
Brooklyn Township, 3 North, Range 3 West
Birmingham, Township 3 North, Range 4 West
Huntsville, Township 2 North, Range 4 West
Camden, Township 2 North, Range 3 West
Buena Vista, Township 2 North, Range 2 West
Rushville, Township 2 North, Range 1 West
Browning, Township 2 North, Range 1 East
Hickory, Township 2 North, Range 2 East
Frederick, Township 1 North, Range 1 East
Bainbridge, Township 1 North, Range 1 West
Woodstock, Township 1 North, Range 2 West

The two townships last named have fractional parts lying south of the base line, and bounded by the Illinois River and Crooked Creek.

Under the plan of township organization, as effected in 1854, Schuyler County has continued to be governed and the Supervisors are elected for a term of two years, six townships electing one year and seven the next.

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.

Copyright 2006 Judi Gilker; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.

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