Pioneer Settlers

From the time that Schuyler County was first visited by civilized men to the date of actual settlement there elapsed a century and a half, and this period is forever a hidden mystery, so far as the historian is concerned.  Situated as it was upon the great natural waterway between the lakes and the Mississippi River, the county was first visited by Louis Joliet and Father Marquette in their memorable voyage of exploration in 1673 and, long before the land trails crossed the prairie, Schuyler's border land was familiar to the hardy French voyageurs and the ever-zealous friars, who penetrated deep into the wilderness to carry the gospel to the savages. No palisaded forts were built in Schuyler County by these early French explorers, and there is no more record of their coming than of the migratory birds that come for a season and are gone.

The first authentic record of white men in Schuyler County is furnished through the government survey, which was begun in 1815 and completed two years later. And, even then, the only record is the work that was accomplished and the names of the hardy pioneer surveyors who braved the danger of the trackless wilds to lay out land boundaries in this portion of the Military Tract. For years afterwards very little was known regarding Schuyler County and the date of actual settlement did not begin until 1823.

Early in February of that year Samuel Gooch, Orris McCartney and Samuel Bogart crossed the Illinois River on the ice at Downing's Landing (now Beardstown), with about three hundred hogs, to give them the benefit of the range which was very abundant. They had come from the Swinerton neighborhood, six miles west of Mt. Pleasant (now Jacksonville) and brought with them only such things as were essential for their camp.  Gooch and McCartney remained to look after the hogs and built a camp of logs with walls on three sides and open in front, on the southeast quarter of Section Sixteen in Rushville Township. They remained in the county during the summer of that year tending their hogs and gathering honey, and in this they were assisted by Thomas Beard, who had previously built a cabin on the present site of Beardstown. As a result of their bee-hunting during the summer of 1823, they sent to St. Louis, then the nearest market point, twenty-seven barrels of strained honey and several hundred dollars' worth of wax, and counted the season's work a profitable one.  Gooch, McCartney and Beard afterwards became permanent residents of Schuyler County, and took a prominent part in the administration of affairs in the early days.

While these men were first to arrive in Schuyler County, the first actual settlement dates from February 19, 1823, when Calvin Hobart came with his family from the bleak hills of New Hampshire, to build for himself a home in the West. Even in that far-away State he had heard of the richness of the Illinois Country, where crops could be grown without laborious effort and cattle and hogs would fatten and thrive on the range. And so it happened that he sold his farm in St Albans, N. H., in 1820, and bought three quarter-sections of land in the Military Tract. In the month of August, 1821, he loaded his family and property possessions into a wagon and started westward. Thence the route led to Buffalo, N. Y., and along the shore of Lake Eire to Portage County, Ohio, where the winter was spent.  Here the journey was delayed until September, 1822, on account of illness, when the little caravan of two teams again moved westward. William Hobart Taylor, then a young man of twenty-one, joined the party here and, in addition to Calvin Hobart and his family, there were his aged parents and their granddaughter, Ruth Powers.  On to Cincinnati, and then west to Terre Haute, Ind., they traveled, and Illinois was entered near where Paris, Ill., has since been built. Crossing the Sangamon River north of Springfield, they camped at "Job's Settlement," in what is now Cass County, where they found a colony of four families consisting of Archibald Job, Thomas and David Blair and Jacob White, and of these all but Mr. Job afterwards became residents of Schuyler County.

Six miles beyond "Job's Settlement" at the foot of the Illinois bluffs and six miles east of the Illinois River, they came to the cabin of Timothy Harris, beyond which no settler had ventured westward. The hospitality of the home was tendered them and, in addition to Mr. Harris and his wife, and a Mr. Brown, Ephraim Eggleston, his wife and six children were quartered there and, two days after their arrival, Nathan Eels, wife and seven children appeared. Mr. Harris' cabin was only twelve feet square, but it afforded shelter for the women and men slept in the wagon. Other cabins were built and, while the family rested, Calvin Hobart set out to find the land he had purchased. Three months were spent at the Harris settlement and on the morning of February 18, 1823, the wagons were again loaded and a start made for the new home in what was afterwards to be Schuyler County. The Illinois River was crossed at Downing's Landing, and from there the little party journeyed to Section Sixteen in Rushville Township. It was here, on the southwest quarter of the section, that the first home was erected in the county. Calvin Hobart, wife and children, Samuel Gooch and William H. Taylor were the first occupants of the rude log-cabin erected, and they were joined two weeks later by Mr. Hobart's parents and Ruth Powers, who had remained in the Harris settlement until a home had been provided for them.

On the first arrival of this little colony of homeseekers, they set to work to build a cabin and it was completed within three days; and, it goes without saying, that no time was wasted in ornamentation. After Mr. Hobart's parents arrived another cabin was built, more pretentious than the first, and in the years to follow it served as home, school house and sanctuary. While yet a resident of the Harris settlement, Mr. Hobart had planned for the making of a home in Schuyler County, and had gone down the State some fifty miles to an older settlement, where he traded a wagon, watch and other things brought from the East for a yoke of oxen, plow, chains, two cows and seven hogs, and enough grain and meal was laid in store to last until mid-summer.

As soon as the weather permitted, ground was broken with a plow drawn by a team of oxen, and that year the Hobarts cultivated fifteen acres of timber land and about twenty-five acres of prairie soil, which produced a bountiful crop of corn, pumpkins, melons and turnips, In April of that year Ephraim Eggleston and family of six children arrived in the settlement and located near the Hobarts, where they broke land and planted a crop. Samuel Gooch, Orris McCartney and Isaac M. Rouse--all unmarried men--settled on Section 27 that same summer, but did not get their crop planted until June, and before harvest time it was nipped by the frost.

Following closely after the Eggleston family came Samuel and James Turner, who migrated from St. Clair County in the southern part of the State. They had traveled northward to find more healthful climate, for while residents of the American bottom death had claimed all the remaining members of their family. They built a cabin, but never occupied it, returning to St. Clair County with the expectation of returning the succeeding spring. While there James Turner died and, in the spring of 1825, Samuel returned alone and located on the southwest quarter of Section 25, Buena Vista Township, and he ever afterwards made his home in this neighborhood, where his children and grandchildren still reside.

Late in the fall of that first year of settlement in Schuyler County, a stranger appeared at the home of the Hobarts.  He was attired in the garb of the backwoodsman, with deer-skin moccasins and coon-skin cap, and carried a rifle with the ease of an experienced hunter. This stranger was Levin Green, and his coming brought keen joy to the hearts of the settlers, for he was a licensed Methodist preacher, and the Hobarts, who were a deeply religious people, looked upon his coming as a direct response to earnest prayer. Green had happened upon the settlement while on a hunting expedition, and volunteered the information that his family and his brother-in-law, George Stewart, and his family were camped on Dutchman Creek, sixteen miles above on the Illinois River, and that they were looking for a location. They had traveled by canoe from below St. Louis and, after the chance meeting with the Hobarts, the entire party joined the settlement and took possession of the cabin that had been built that summer by the Turners.

On the first Sabbath after Levin Green's arrival, it was planned that religious services should be held at the cabin of Calvin Hobart. Of that meeting Rev. Chauncey Hobart, in the "Recollections of his Life," says: "On that first Sabbath, in November, 1823, the whole settlement of thirty souls turned out, and we had a warm, earnest, pointed sermon.  This was the first sermon preached west of the Illinois River. I well remember, that my heart was much moved under that sermon, and when after it Levin Green began to sing, 'There is a fountain filled with blood,' and pass around, shaking hands with all in the house, I ran out of doors, fearing that my emotions would overcome me should I remain."

The only other settlers to arrive in Schuyler County in the year 1823 were Thomas McKee, who erected a cabin on the northeast quarter of Section 20, Bainbridge Township, and Willis O'Neal, who settled near by on Section 16. They were both Kentuckians and had come to Illinois from Indiana. McKee was a fine mechanic and gunsmith and, soon after building his cabin, he erected a workshop, and this was the first blacksmith shop in the county. He remained in Bainbridge until 1826, when he removed to Littleton and was one of the first settlers in that township. Willis O'Neal was later a resident of what is now the city of Rushville, and built a cabin just east of the square on the south side of East Lafayette Street. He later removed to Brown County and was one of the early pioneers in that locality.

Early in the spring of 1824 the settlement was still further increased by the arrival of Nathan Eels and family, who had been living on the east bank of the Illinois River. Mr. Eels' family consisted of six boys and two girls, and they were given a most cordial welcome, especially by the youngsters of the settlement who found life rather monotonous with so few playmates. Accessions to the settlement were now becoming more numerous and. during the summer of 1824, the following named persons took up their abode in the county: David and Thomas Blair, Jacob White, Riggs Pennington and his nephews, William, Joel and Riley; Henry Green, Jr., John Ritchey, John A. Reeve, George and Isaac Naught. Some of these made their home near the Hobart settlement, while others located in Bainbridge and Woodstock Townships.

The year 1825 marked the arrival of a number of men who were afterwards to take a prominent part in public affairs. In February of that year Jonathan D. Manlove, the first Surveyor of the county, became a resident of Rushville. Soon afterwards came Samuel Horney, one of the first County Commissioners. Mr. Horney was a native of North Carolina and had served as a volunteer in the War of 1812. He had moved to Illinois in 1818 and, until coming to Schuyler County, had made his home in St Clair County.

John B. Terry, the first County Clerk of Schuyler County, came that same year, as did also Hart Fellows, who was the county's first Recorder and Rushville's first Postmaster. Richard Black settled on what is now the site of Rushville in 1825, but was "entered out" of his improvement by the county and was forced to seek a new location, and he removed with his family to Woodstock Township. His son Isaac, who was a babe when the family first arrived in Schuyler, ever after made his home in Schuyler County and died in Rushville, October 2, 1907.

Benjamin Chadsey, who was one of the three Commissioners appointed to select the location of a county-seat for Schuyler County, was one of the pioneers of 1825. His arrival in the county is thus described in an article which appeared in the Schuyler Citizen of February 5, 1880:

"Late in the summer of 1824 two men (Benjamin Chadsey and his father-in-law, Mr. Johnson) started from the neighborhood where the city of Danville now stands, on a journey westward. One, Benjamin Chadsey, had been a soldier in the War of 1812 and had received as his bounty from the Government lands laid off in 1816, and set apart as a military tract for the soldiers of that war, the southeast quarter of Section 17 (now Rushville Township).  His business was to find the land and see if it would make a home for him and his little family. They traveled west, following an Indian trail, until, not far from Bloomington, on the Mackinaw, they found an Indian village, where they rested a night. The next day they followed the trail until they reached the Illinois River, opposite Fort Clark, now Peoria. After another night spent in the hospitable cabin of a settler on the bank of the river, they struck out on a trail leading to the southwest. They finally reached Sugar Creek, where they lost their bearings, but at last came out of the timber on the prairie near the center of Rushville Township, and near there found rest and refreshment in a cabin recently built, in which lived one of the thirteen families constituting the entire population of the county. With the early morning the young man hastened further west over the prairie, and soon rejoiced in the rich, luxuriant grasses that waved in all their primitive wildness on the beautiful piece of land that was to be his future home. After he had resolved to locate permanently, he hastened back to Eastern Illinois and, in the spring of 1825, settled on the farm, where he lived to a hale and hearty old age."

The first family from a foreign country to take up their residence in Schuyler County was that of Hugh McCreery's, who had come from Ireland and, in 1828, ascended the Illinois River on the first steamboat to traverse that historic waterway. The family consisted of Hugh McCreery and Sarah McCreery, his wife, and their children--William, the oldest, and his wife, Mathew, John, Margaret, Sarah and James. On reaching Rushville Mr. McCreery took possession of the old log court-house on the north side of the square in Rushville, for a temporary home, and his son William built a log cabin that now forms part of Mrs. John Ruth's residence on North Congress Street, the only one of the pioneer homes that has escaped destruction and oblivion from natural causes of decay or the ever ceaseless march of progress.

William McCreery was the first person in Schuyler County to take out naturalization papers and claim his rights as a citizen of the United States. His first papers were taken out in Morgan County, Alabama, in 1826, and it was therein stated that he had landed in New Orleans on February 7, 1825, and had renounced his allegiance to the King of Great Britain and declared his intention of becoming a citizen of the United States. On June 14, 1830, his application for citizenship was approved by the Circuit Court of Schuyler County. Mr. McCreery and his parents died during the cholera scourge of 1834.

During the early years of settlement in Schuyler County the Indians were frequent visitors, and we have noted in a previous chapter that their greeting was a pleasant one, and that no barbaric outrages marked the history of the county.  The only clash between the settlers and the Indians is recorded by Jonathan D. Manlove, who, in writing of early times in Schuyler, says:  "It is recollected by the pioneers that there were wild hogs in the county, and that the Indians and their dogs were very troublesome, running hogs as any other game; therefore, about the commencement of 1826, nineteen of the boys--and that was about all there were in the county--went to their camp on Crooked Creek, near the mouth, and ordered them off, giving them a certain time to do so, under the penalty of having their goods wet with Illinois River. There were some things done that did not meet with the approval of all, to-wit; two of them were slightly sprouted and several of their dogs were shot.  But few of them visited us afterwards. Our principal object was to remove the traders--white men who were encamped on the Illinois, just below the mouth of Crooked Creek, and traded them ammunition and whisky for furs and peltry--and the threatenings were more particularly to and for them. They left soon afterwards and never came back."

In concluding this chapter on the early pioneers of Schuyler County, we will add a few disconnected facts of interest pertaining to this period:

The first birth in the county was that of a daughter born to Mr. and Mrs. Ephraim Eggleston, in the spring 1824.

The first death was that of a son of Jonathan Reno, in the summer of 1826--a lad some nine or ten years of age. The first death of an adult was that of Solomon Stanberry, who died of typhoid fever in the winter of 1827, at the home of John Ritchey, north of Rushville. In reviewing the events of pioneer time, Jonathan D. Manlove writes that he rode to Jacksonville to secure a physician to attend Mr. Stanberry, but that he was dying when they returned.

The first child born in Rushville was Anna Fellows, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hart Fellows, who now reside in Bloomington.

The first marriage was that of Samuel Gooch and Miss Ruth Powers, which was solemnized by Rev. Levin Green, at the Hobart cabin in November, 1824. This was previous to the organization of Schuyler County, and the record of the marriage is in Pike County, where the groom had to journey to secure his license to wed.

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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