Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group

Clark County Illinois
Genealogy and History


line
Chapter 3
County Organization

line

The History of Crawford and Clark County
W. H. Perrin, O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883

Transcribed by Kevin Ortman and Barbara Z.
Page 236 to 251


CHAPTER III. ORGANIZATION OF THE COUNTY—THE LEGISLATIVE ACT CREATING IT-LOCATION OF THE SEAT OF JUSTICE—THE COURTS—AURORA AND DARWIN—REMOVAL TO MARSHALL-BITTER CONTESTS-THE QUESTION FINALLY SETTLED-DIVISION OF THE COUNTY INTO PRECINCTS—ENGLISH TITHING—TOWNSHIP ORGANIZATION—BENEFIT OF THE SYSTEM, ETC., ETC.

CRAWFORD County, from the territory of which Clark was taken, was created under the old territorial laws. It embraced a vast extent of country, including all of Eastern Illinois to the Canada line, and as far west as Fayette County. In order to form a new county, the law required the proposed district to have at least 350 inhabitants. The northern portion of Crawford having the requisite population a petition was filed in the Legislature for a separate county. That body, at the session of 1819, passed the following act: An Act Forming a new County out of the County of Crawford.

Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois represented in the General Assembly, That all that part of Crawford County lying north of a line beginning on the great Wabash River, dividing townships eight and nine north, running due west shall form a new and separate county to be called "Clark."

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That for the purpose of fixing the permanent seat of justice for said county the following persons are hereby appointed commissioners, viz.: Smith Shaw, Thomas Gill and James Watts, which commissioners or a majority of them shall meet at the house of Charles Neely between the first and second Mondays of May next, and after having been duly sworn before some justice of the peace within this State, faithfully to take into consideration the situation of the settlements, the geography of the country and the conveniency and eligibility of the place, shall then proceed to establish the permanent seat of justice for the said county of Clark, and designate the same, provided however the proprietor or proprietors owning such land on which the seat of justice may be fixed, shall give to the county of Clark twenty acres of land for the purpose of erecting public buildings, to be laid out into lots, and sold for the use of said county, but should the proprietor or proprietors neglect or refuse to make the donation as aforesaid, then and in that case, the commissioners shall fix upon some other place for the seat of justice for said county as convenient as maybe to the different settlements in said county, which place when determined on by said commissioners they shall certify under their names and seals to the clerk of the commissioners court, and it shall be the duty of the said clerk to spread the same on the records of said county, and the said commissioners shall receive two dollars per each day they may he necessarily employed in fixing upon the aforesaid seat of justice, to be paid out of the county levy.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted. That until the county commissioners shall other wise direct, the court and elections for said county shall be held at the house of Charles Neely in said county.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the citizens of Clark County shall be entitled to vote for Senator and Representatives with Crawford County in the same manner as they would have done had this act not passed.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That the said county of Clark be and form a part of the second judicial district and that the courts herein be holden at such times as shall be directed in the act regulating and defining the duties of the justices of the Supreme Court.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That the county commissioners shall proceed total' out the land that may be given to said county into lots and sell the same or as much as they may think proper and necessary for the erection of public buildings, within three months from the time the seat of justice shall be established.

Sec. 7. And be it further enacted. That in order to remove all difficulty concerning the future division of Clark County, it is hereby enacted that all that tract of country lying north of an east and west line dividing townships numbered twelve and thirteen north, shall l)e the line between the county of Clark and a county which may be laid off north of the same, provided, however. That ail that part of Clark County lying north of the one last mentioned shall remain attached to and be considered a part of Clark County until a new county shall be laid off north of the line as above stated. This act shall be in force from and after its passage.

JOHN MESSINGER, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

John Menard, Speaker of the Senate.

Approved by the Council of Revision, March 22, 1819. Suadkacu Kond.

Clark, at her organization, as we have said, embraced a large amount of territory. Fayette was formed in 1821, partly from Clark and Crawford. In the year 1823 Edgar County was taken from Clark, locating partly the present north line of our county. In 1830 Coles County was formed from Clark and Edgar. By the forming of Coles, Clark was reduced to the area contemplated in the original act. But at the session of the Legislature in 1823, William Lowry, the representative from Clark and Crawford, procured the passage of a bill, at the solicitation of the people of the newly formed County of Edgar, cutting off three miles from the north line of Clark and adding the same to Edgar, for the reason that Paris was very apprehensive of losing the county seat; but by having this slice attached, it would so centralize her position as to enable her to retain the seat of justice.

The county was named after Gen. George Rogers Clark, a gallant and meritorious officer of the Revolution, born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1752, and died in Kentucky in 1806. His campaign through the Illinois did as much to establish the freedom of the colonies as any act of the whole war.

Clark was the fifteenth formed county in the State. The fourteen older counties are mentioned in the first part of this volume.

At an election held in the county on Monday, April 2G, 1819, Joseph Shaw, John Chenoweth and Samuel Ashmore were elected county commissioners. On the 7th day of June, following, the first commissioners' court was held at the house of Charles Neeley, on Walnut Prairie, at which William B. Archer was appointed clerk of the court, and William Lorkard, treasurer of the county.

Smith Shaw, Thomas Gill and James Watts, the commissioners appointed under the act forming the county to locate the seat of justice, made their report to the court: That having proceeded to examine the different situations in said county of Clark, and have agreed on the following peace on a parcel of ground whereon the said seat of justice or court house shall be erected, situated on west fraction No. 15, Town 10N., of Range 11 W., in the district of lands offered for sale at Vincennes, given by Chester Fitch, John Chenoweth and John McClure, containing two hundred and two acres and an half of land, it being the donation granted agreeable to law by Chester Fitch, to be laid off by the direction of the said county commissioners into town lots; and it is to be expressly understood that the said Fitch is to be at one half of the expence in maping and surveying said town; and the said Fitch is to have every other lot in the whole town equal in quality and quantity reserved for the benefit of said Fitch and his heirs forever. Given under our hands and seals this 6th day of May, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen.

Witnesses. Signed SMITH SHAW }
Charms Neely. THOS. GILL }
John Essret. JAMES WATTS }

Very few people, except surveyors, understand the true meaning and application of the term, " town and range," as mentioned in the foregoing report, and a brief explanation might not be uninteresting:. In all Government surveys, "principal meridians" are first established, that is, lines running due north from some designated point. These lines are intersected by " base lines," that is, lines running west from some given point. The term " range," means townships numbered either east or west of a principal meridian line. The term "town," signifies townships numbered north or south of a base line. All lands in our county are reckoned from the second principal meridian, a line running due north from the mouth of Little Blue River, Indiana. The corresponding base line commences at Diamond Island, in the Ohio, opposite Indiana, and runs due west, striking the Mississippi a few miles below St. Louis. Our county lies north of the base line, and west of the participial meridian. Hence "town ten north, range eleven west," means the tenth township north of the base line and the eleventh township west of the principal meridian line; and as a congressional township is six miles square, the location of the county seat was sixty miles north of the base line, and sixty-six miles west of the principal meridian line. The reason it was called west fraction section 15, the Wabash River divides the section, leaving part in Illinois, the remainder in Indiana.

When the commissioners' court declared that the seat of justice should be known and recognized as Aurora, they named a capital, the realm of which was larger than the State of Connecticut. Under the auspices and guidance of Joseph Shaw, John Chenoweth and Samuel Ashmore, as county commissioners, and William B. Archer, as clerk, and William Lockard, as treasurer, was the infant county launched on her career as an independent unit of this great State. Could they but briefly return from that " bourne " and behold from the few and humble seeds they sowed, the mighty and wonderful growth of wealth, improvement, prosperity and power, well might they exclaim, in the language of the prophet of old: " Mine eyes have seen Thy glory, now let Thy servant depart in peace."

When Clark County was organized she had less than nine hundred inhabitants. Now, she has twenty-five thousand. When they named the seat of justice Aurora, there was not a town or village, not even a trading post. Now she holds within her limits sixteen towns and villages. Then there was but one road, the wilderness being threaded by the trail of the hunter or the Indian; now her bosom is checkered with highways, reaching; every point within her confines. Her first year's taxes were less than one hundred and twenty dollars; now they are over one hundred thousand.

About the year 1821, occurred a threatened government foreclosure on unpaid-1'or lands, that came very near leading to disastrous results, and forms an interesting episode in the early history, as well as the entire West, but our limited space will not allow of details in this work. All readers of the early history of Illinois are familiar with the subject.

We find on July 16 and 17, 1821, "Joseph Shaw and John Chenoweth, two of the commissioners, met at Aurora to take the outlines of the town, and fix the main street and public square." No court house was ever erected, the courts being held in a small log building, very low, and not to exceed twelve by fourteen feet, which was afterward used by Judge Stockwell, as a corn-crib, and afterward as a stable. In this small and humble building, jurists of eminence presided, and lawyers of distinction practiced, of which mention will be made hereafter.

The first sale of town lots took place August 5, 1819, and Septer Patrick purchased the first town lot ever sold in the county, for twenty dollars. Thirty-seven lots were sold, ranging in price from seventeen to three hundred dollars. The town improved as much as could have been expected, considering the meager number of inhabitants,that the country was a wilderness, that there was no money, no currency scarcely, the circulating medium being hides and peltry and the limited produce of the county, save when an occasional emigrant came in,with a little of surplus money left, after locating his land. But these visitations were few and far between at that day. There was no market for anything, and if there had been the people had nothing to sell. so their surroundings were not altogether cheery.

The county built a jail, a strong and substantial structure. It was about twelve by_ eighteen feet, and two stories high. It was built of round logs, the cracks chinked and daubed. The upper story was for the imprisonment of insolvent debtors, when the infamous code of imprisonment for debts disgraced our statute books. It had two barred windows, one on each side, where the unfortunate prisoner could sit and look out upon the sunlight and feel happy because he was in prison. A pair of rough stairs ascended to a stout, wooden door, opening into the debtors' room; there was no opening into the lower room, where all offenders other than debtors, were confined, from the outside, except a barred window. It was reached by a trap door from the debtors' room, through which the prisoners were taken in and out. The inside of the lower room, or cell, if such it may be called, was lined by oak slabs, securely pinned on with wooden pins; the ceiling was covered in like manner. The jail was built by Acquilla Pulteney, for seven hundred and thirteen dollars. He was paid notes on the purchasers of town lots in Aurora. The commissioners could afford to be a little liberal.

The estray law at that day made it incumbent on any taker up of an estray, to bring it to the county seat at the first circuit court after such taking up, and put it into the estray pen, which was a secure and substantial structure to say the least. It was constructed for the county by Col. Archer, and any one who knew anything of him, knows he never built anything but what was substantial. It was thirty feet square, six feet high, posts eight inches square, sunk three feet in the ground, and of white walnut wood. If an estray was not claimed and proven in open court, it was put up at auction, and if no one bid above the lawful charges on the same, it became the property of the taker up.

The county also erected one of those terrors to evil doers and petty offenders, a " whipping post." It was said to have been a round tree, stripped of the bark, and about twelve inches in diameter, and sunk about two feet in the ground. The offender was tied face to the post, his arms encircling it, his feet fastened on either side, his back bared, and the stripes well laid on. It was never used but on one occasion; a man named Whitley being tied up and whipped for stealing hogs.

Aurora was thought to be a most eligible situation for a town and county seat. It possessed the finest landing on the Wabash, which in that day was navigable all the year, and for crafts of considerable size.

The town was situated about two miles north of Darwin, and its site is marked only by the farm house of Oliver C. Lawell. Not a stone is left to mutely tell its history or existence. It but obeyed the eternal mandate that all things earthly must pass away.

The people of the county, believing that the present site of Darwin was a more pleasant location for a town, and a more central point than Aurora, that it would materially advance the interests of the county, and be more convenient to the then sparsely settled country, petitioned for a re-location of the seat of justice. By an act of the Legislature, approved January 21, 1833, the county seat was ordered to be removed to Darwin, then known as McClure's Bluff. John McClure, who had long kept a ferry there, was the proprietor of the land, and made a donation on which to build the seat of justice. The site was a level plateau, above high water mark, and sightly and beautiful. Being above the stagnant ponds, and the miasma arising from them, it is, to-day, the healthiest point on the Wabash.

William Lockard laid off the town, and it consisted of sixty-four lots; numbers twenty one and twenty-eight were reserved, by the commissioners, on which to erect a court house and jail. The sale of town lots occurred on the first Monday in August, 1833. The purchasers of lots were to pay six per cent of the purchase money on day of sale, one third of the remainder in nine months, the other two-thirds in equal annual installments.

John Chenoweth was the crier of the sale. Our early settlers were evidently not teetotalers and never dreamed of the mighty wave of prohibition, that, in after years, would roll across the land from sea to sea, and reach the uttermost points of this great country. For the commissioners enter the following record: " Ordered by the court that John Richardson procure ten gallons of whisky to be drunk on day of sale." Let us of the present day imagine a board of supervisors laying out a town into lots for sale, and then ordering the sheriff to procure ten gallons of whisky, to be drank upon the occasion, to be paid for out of the people's money. Such a storm of indignation would be raised about their ears that they would be glad to find peace and oblivion in their political graves.

There were thirty-four lots sold in Darwin at the first sale, John Richardson being the first purchaser of a lot, paying for it the sum of eighty dollars. Lot thirty-two was sold to John Stafford for one hundred and eleven dollars. Lot sixty- four was sold to John Chenoweth for one hundred and three dollars. The lowest price paid for any lot was thirty dollars; and these for bare, naked lots, in a town without a building erected. It shows conclusively, that the purchasers, and they were men of sound judgment, had great confidence in the future of Darwin.

After the removal of the county seat to Darwin, part of Aurora was inclosed by a fence. Those having purchased lots in Aurora were allowed credit on lots purchased in Darwin for the amount for their Aurora lots, after deducting twenty-five per cent for the first cost of lots, at ten dollars and fifty cents for each lot lying within the enclosure, or partly within, and fifty cents for each lot lying. without the inclosure. Why this distinction was made can only be conjectured.

Darwin soon rose in importance, justifying the foresight of those who had invested. Lots were in demand at increased values. Buildings sprang up, the population increased rapidly, the various industries flourished, and from a single cabin, that marked the site of McClure's Bluff, there arose a thriving, prosperous village.

By her thrift and enterprise she laid under tribute the country as far west as Effingham, and as far north as Charleston and Danville. Farmers wagoned their wheat and corn, and drove their stock long distances, and exchanged them for iron, salt, and other indispensable articles of frontier life. For five years Darwin town lots were worth more than those of Chicago. She soon became a formidable rival of Terre Haute, and caused that town great uneasiness about her commercial safety. Her future then gave brilliant promise of her becoming the metropolis of the Wabash valley.

On the 4th of August, IS^.j, the commissioners instructed the clerk to advertise and give notice that the removing of the jail and estray pen from Aurora to Darwin, would be let to the lowest bidder on the 3d day of the following September term of the court. It was afterward let to John Welsh who performed the work according to contract. This jail was used until about 1830, when it was destroyed by fire.

The commissioners on the 2d of March, 1824, ordered that proposals be received on the second day of the next circuit court, " for erecting a house to hold courts in," of the following description: " Twenty-five feet long in the clear, of hewn oak logs, with a lap shingle roof, two windows in front, and one in the rear; a story and a half high, a partition up-stairs; a small window at each end of said house; plank floor and rough plank stairs; the windows- up stairs to contain six and those below twelve lights each; chink and plaster the cracks, and finish the same in a workmanlike manner. The pay to be made in the notes of individuals who purchased lots in Darwin, in town lots in Darwin, or partly in each." The contract was let to Lucius Kibby for the sum of six hundred dollars. He agreed to take lots number forty-nine, fifty, sixty-three and sixty-four, at two hundred and eighty dollars, the remainder, three hundred and twenty dollars to be paid, one half on the first of April next (1825), and the remainder when the house is finished—which be engages to complete in one year from date. He did not finish the work within the time specified, nor was it finished until March, 1827, nearly two years and a half being spent in its erection. The county commissioners were the first to occupy it, and held a special term of their court, on the 28th of April, having met to examine the court house. William Martin and Enoch Davis, two workmen mutually chosen by the commissioners and Lucius Kibby, to ascertain the same, having examined the house, reported that it had not been done according to contract, and sixty dollars was deducted from the amount originally agreed upon for erecting building. The commissioners, however, gave Kibby an extra allowance of nine dollars for putting in a fire-place, and an additional window upstairs.

In September, 1832, the court house was weather boarded, and otherwise repaired, and rendered a very comfortable building for the period. A Presbyterian minister named Enoch Bouton, lived up-stairs and held services below. The hall of justice answered a variety of purposes, and was kept in constant service. The court house was situated on lot twenty-eight, and is still standing, and used as a stable by Doctor Pierce.

On Wednesday, December 5, A. D. 1833, at a meeting of the county commissioners, it was ordered that a new jail be built. On the 5th of January, 1833, the commissioners met and offered to the lowest bidder, Mechom Main, junior, the contract for building the new jail, for which ho was to receive the sum of four hundred and ninety-five dollars.

The glory and prosperity of Darwin were destined to pass away. Terre Haute, alarmed for her commercial safety, used every exertion to wrest from Darwin the trade she had earned. The National Road, that great thoroughfare from Wheeling, Va., to St. Louis, was in course of construction and passed through Terre Haute, who wished to secure the trade of the country west, while Darwin relied chiefly upon the river for prosperity. Terre Haute was independent without it.

The opening of the National Road through the county in 1834 greatly increased the facilities for travel and transportation, and the agricultural interests of the county, along its line, were very largely stimulated. The development of villages along and in the several townships contiguous to the then great thoroughfare, was very rapid.

The people soon began to feel that the seat of justice at Darwin, where they were compelled to go for the transaction of all public business, was too remote and isolated, and was not at all situated with reference to the wants and convenience of the then present and future population. The northern section also began to receive an influx of immigrants, and they, feeling and appreciating the inconvenience, joined in the clamor for the relocation of the county seat. The proposition was vigorously and loudly opposed by the southern portion of the county. Meetings were held for and against the proposition, and the excitement ran high. The merits of geographical and population centers were loudly and vigorously discussed.

In the fall of 1835 a petition for county seat removal, and remonstrance against, were industriously circulated through the county, the two receiving the signatures of nearly all the county voters, the removal petition having a decided majority. These memorials were presented to the Legislature at its session of 1835-6, which body, in pursuance of the majority petition, passed an act submitting the question to a vote of the people.

The commissioners were all eminent. Gen. Thornton being one of the most distinguished men in the State. However, they failed to locate the seat of justice, being unable to agree upon any given site, and so reported to the county commissioners.

In 1836 another petition and remonstrance were circulated, though not attended with the same excitement and acrimony that characterized the former year. These were presented to the Legislature, which body, in order to forever settle the vexed question, passed another act, which became a law in March, 1837, submitting the question to the people. The election came off unattended with the usual fierceness and excitement, for it was evident that a majority of the people favored removal, though the opposition to the proposition made a vigorous and gallant campaign. The result was as follows:

Precincts. For removal. Against.
East Union 39 55
West Union 4 2
Dubois, Cont. Darwin 6 138
Washington 164 31
Cumberland 91 2
Richland 64 0
Total
378 228
Majority for, 150.


But after the county seat removal question was settled, the more exciting and more momentous one arose, to which point should it be removed—Auburn or Marshall—they being the only eligible sites. Then occurred, from May to August, 1837, a brief, but one of the most bitter and exciting election contests ever in the county; one that was characterized by scathing personal detraction and abuse. There were no newspapers in the county in that day, and hence the matter could not be argued through those great disseminators of information. There were no politics in the question, and it became one merely of geographical location between the contestants, and one of personal and private interest. Meetings were held all over the county, which were largely attended by the people, to hear the merits of the two places discussed by haranguing orators. The only way of electioneering was to praise one place and denounce the other. Much that was bitter and acrimonious was said for and against the contesting points. Wordy documents were widely circulated, influencing the public mind. Vituperation and ridicule were indulged in freely, and so fierce and caustic was the fight, that the activity and bitterness of a present day political campaign would be moderation and mildness, compared with it. It was the all-absorbing topic—overshadowed and swallowed up everything else. The gathering of the people from different sections at the mills, on grinding days, in the small towns, at the blacksmith shops, and even at church meetings, was the signal for fierce discussions and clash of opinions. And in several instances where the respective merits of the two places could not be settled by argument and controversy, the matter was arbitrated by rough and tumble fights. It is related that before the commencement of hostilities in some of the engagements, it was stipulated that the defeated should vote at the dictation of the victor; and one brawny Hercules is said to have converted to Auburn three contumacious men whose predilections were for Marshall, his missionary efforts being attended with only the loss of a few teeth and a portion of his scalp. It was a vigorous but convincing way of electioneering.

The day at last arrived, the contest closed, and the votes gave the following result:

Precincts. Marshall Auburn.
East Union 63 72
Cumberland 4 123
West Union 5 42
Richland 19 57
Dubois l41 27
Washington 221 41
Total 453 362

362
Marshall's majority 94


Had it not been for the decided majorities in Washington and Dubois Precincts, the two then embracing nearly one-half of the county and its voting population, the whole current of our county history might have been changed.

Marshall had been selected by the people as their county capital, with every indication of its ever so remaining. The town was laid out, October 3, 1835, by the proprietors. Col. W. B. Archer, and Joseph Duncan, afterward Governor and United States Senator, on the south half of section thirteen, and the northwest quarter of section twenty four, township eleven north, range twelve west, the dividing line of the sections passion-through the courthouse, and was named in honor of John Marshall, the most eminent chief justice that ever adorned the Supreme Court of the country. The proprietors made liberal and munificent donations of land and lots in perpetuity to the county, for court house, jail and other purposes.

The county seat was removed to Marshall in June, 1838. The present court house was not completed until the following year. The first jail, a log one, stood on the lot on which Mrs. Hannah Patten resides. The first court was held in a frame building, its site marked by the residence of Mrs. Sarah A. Lawrence. Succeeding courts, until the completion of court house, were held in a building on south side of square, near the old Sutton homestead.

The county seat question like Banquo's ghost, " would not down." The corpse laid in its grave but a year or two, until the skeleton was dragged forth, clothed with specious argument and held up to the view of public opinion. The agitation of the question then began. At first it had but few followers or advocates; but these were earnest and tireless and kept the question continually before the people. And as the western portion of the county became more populous, the matter assumed definite shape. Again was the old question of geographical centers discussed, and for some time the contest was warmer and far more bitter if possible, than in the removal from Darwin.

Thus matters stood until the summer of 1848, when petitions were widely circulated and largely signed, memorializing the Legislature, for a re-location of the county seat. That body enacted a law at its next session, again submitting the question to the vote of the people. The campaign was short, sharp and bitter, and on the third Monday in May, 1849, the contesting parties rallied their forces, and the battle was fought with the following result:

Precincts. For Marshall. Against
Darwin 161 20
Clear Creek 99 00
Mill Creek 34 12
York 70 16
Auburn 29 82
Cumberland 00 43
Martinsville 14 126
Richland 47 127
Johnson 8 65
Melrose 11 89
Livingston 104 28
Marshall 194. 2
Totsl
771 640

640

Marshall's majority 131


Thus ended a memorable campaign, the last of the kind, and one, it is to be hoped which forever settled the county seat location.

In England, about A. D. 871, King Alfred, to prevent the rapines and disorders which prevailed in the realm, instituted a system of territorial division, which was the nearest approach to our American county and precinct system of which history gives any account, and it is not impossible but that it contained the first germes of the same. This was the division of the kingdom into " tithings," an Anglo-Saxon term equivalent to " ten things," or groups of ten. Each tithing was the area inhabited by ten contiguous families, who were "frank pledges," that is, free pledges or surety to the King for each others' good behavior, and were bound to have any offender within their district arrested and forthcoming. One of the principal inhabitants of the tithing was annually appointed to preside over it, entitled tithingman, or bead borough, supposed to be the most discreet man within it. And it is within the confines of possibility to suppose, that from "tithingman" through the modifications and gradations of the centuries, and our descent from the parent stock, was evolved our office of county commissioner or township supervisor. As ten families constituted a tithing, so ten tithings constituted a hundred, governed by a high constable or bailiff; and an indefinite number of families.

The shire, or county system, as created by Alfred the Great, changed and modified during the lapse of centuries, with its parish subdivisions, corresponding somewhat to the old precinct system, were imported from England by the first settlers of Virginia, and firmly engrafted upon the early statutes, where it still clings with unyielding tenacity, and with some modifications, is in full force at the present day. When Illinois was organized as a Virginia county, the same system was partially introduced for its government, which made a strong and lasting impress upon the early laws. It existed in Illinois intact while she was a Virginia county; through her several grades of territorial government; and as a State, until 1848, when the first departure was made. And in twenty-four counties the system, substantial!}', is still in force.

From the organization of the county, in 1819, until the year 1849, the management of county affairs was entrusted to a county commissioners' court, composed of three members, elected by the voters of the county. This court was first created under the legislative act of March 23, 1819, though the law was amended and changed at nearly every session of the Legislature, until the adoption of the Constitution of 1848. The court held four sessions each year, on the first Mondays of March, June, September and December, corresponding almost exactly with the meetings of our present board of supervisors. It could sit six days, unless the county business was sooner transacted. The court had exclusive jurisdiction in all matters pertaining to the fiscal affairs of the county, regulating and imposing the county tax. It appointed its own clerk, and could remove him at any time, for sufficient cause, and also had the appointment of county treasurer, grand and petit jurors, together with numerous other duties.

By the State Constitution of 1848, the form of the county commissioners' court was changed. The law provided for the creation of a county court, with original jurisdiction in all probate matters, etc., and the election of a county judge, to hold his office four years. The law further provided for the election of two justices of the peace, in the county at large, in addition to the number the county was entitled by law, whose jurisdiction was co-extensive with the county, and who should sit with the county judge, as a county court for the transaction of all county business, and in which court the law vested all the powers and authority hitherto exercised by the county commissioners' court. The county judge was the presiding officer, and any two of the court constituted a quorum. The two members of the court, other than the judge, were styled "Associate Justices." This form of county government continued until the adoption of township organization.

The early subdivisions of the county are somewhat vague, as the county' embraced so large a scope of country, that like the maps of the ancients the lines ran into unexplored realms. The law of 1819 made it obligatory, on the part of the county commissioners, to elect three justices of the peace to lay off the county into election districts, and upon the commissioners to divide the county into precincts or townships. The commissioners selected Joseph Shaw, George W. Catron and James W. Parker. They met at the house of Charles Neely, at the head of Walnut Prairie, April 19, 1819, and proceeded to lay off the county into election districts according to law:

No. 1. Beginning at the southeast corner of the said county, on the Wabash River, thence up said river to Mill Creek; thence up said creek to the west boundary line of said county, thence south to the southwest corner of said county, thence east with the county line to the place of beginning.

No. 2. Beginning on the Wabash River at the mouth of Mill Creek, thence up said river to the mouth of Kirkendall's Creek (now Big Creek), hence up said creek to the west boundary of said county; thence south to the main channel of Mill Creek, thence down said creek with the " mianders " thereof, to the place of beginning.

No. 3. Beginning on the Wabash River at the mouth of Big or Kirkendall's Creek, thence up the said river to the middle of the tenth range of townships to the north boundary of township twelve, thence west with the township line between twelve and thirteen, to the county line, thence south to Kirkendall's Creek, thence down said creek with the " mianders " thereof, to the place of beginning.

No. 4. Beginning at the middle of the tenth range of townships on the line between twelve and thirteen, thence north to the north boundary line of said county, thence west to the northwest corner of said county, thence south to the township between townships twelve and thirteen, thence east with said township line to the place of beginning. The first was called Union, the second, Dubois, the third, Washington, and the fourth, Wayne. The three first named townships, although greatly reduced in territory, retained their names and a portion of their boundaries, until after the adoption of township organization.

By an act of the Legislature, of 1823, Guy W. Smith, who was a receiver of public lands, at Palestine, was authorized and requested to procure and have placed where the dividing line between the States of Indiana and Illinois leaves, the northwest bank of the Wabash, forty-six miles due north of Vincennes, at a mulberry post forty links from the water's edge, a hewn stone of at least five feet in length and fifteen inches in diameter, and cause the following inscriptions to be made thereon, namely: on the east "Indiana;" on the west, " Illinois;" on the north; " 159 miles and forty-six links to Lake Michigan." He was to receive therefor any sum not exceeding one hundred dollars.

At the June term, 1820, of the commissioners' court, a petition was filed by sundry persons of the County of Clark and State of Illinois, praying for a new township to be composed partly of Wayne and Washington townships. The court granted the petition and named the township " Pike."

The formation of Edgar County, in 1823, extinguished Wayne township, and part of Pike. The commissioners ordered that Washington township include all the county north of Big Creek. In .lune, 1824, the boundary was again changed, and the county commissioners ordered " that all of this county north of the south line of town eleven (11) north, and all north of Big Creek, be included in Washington Township. In June, 1827, the county was again re-districted as follows:

" Court orders that all that part of this county, lying south of Mill Creek, be called Union Township. Court establish Dubois Township, as heretofore established. Court order that Washington Township include all of this county lying north of Dubois Township, and east of the line between range twelve and thirteen west. Court order that Embarrass Township include all of this county lying north of Dubois, and west of the line between range twelve and thirteen west." This line extending north, was the west line of Edgar County. The divisions so remained until in 1829, when there were some slight changes made in their territorial boundaries, but not of sufficient importance to notice here.

The law of elections in that day, required the polls to be open at eight and close at six. Thirty minutes' announcement before the closing of the polls was necessary. The judges, at their option,could postpone closing the polls until twelve o'clock at night. Any elector could vote for president and vice president anywhere in the State. For State senator and representative, anywhere in the district he was entitled to vote. For county officers, at and' voting place in the county. If he voted more than once, the penalty was a fine of a hundred dollars, to go to the county wherein the offense was committed. There was no penalty of imprisoned. Think of that law being in force to-day, in some of our large cities, or even in our own county! At the first close and exciting election, the aggregate vote would indicate a population of sixty thousand. No naturalization papers were required; all that was necessary was a six months' residence in the State preceding the election. The judges had the power, for the preservation of order and to protect themselves from insult and abuse, to fine any and all riotous persons, and upon failure to pay, to send them to the county jail not exceeding twenty days. After the closing of the polls, one of the poll books was sealed, and to be delivered to the county clerk within four days after the election, by one of the judges or clerks, to be determined by lot, if they could not otherwise agree. The other poll book was left with one of the judges, and kept open for inspection. Any person offering to vote, whose vote was challenged, merely had to swear or affirm that he had resided in the State six months immediately preceding the election and had not voted at the election. No identifying and corroborating witnesses were required. Any unqualified person voting, was to forfeit not more than fifty, nor less than twenty-five dollars. Though if the judges believed him a legal voter, he was not to be fined.

The county remained thus divided until Coles County was organized in the winter of 1830, which extinguished the townships or precincts of Embarrass and Hamilton. In March, 1831, the commissioners formed a new precinct in the northwest part of the county, called "Richland." In 1836 a new precinct was added, called "Cumberland." Union precinct had hitherto been divided into East and West Union precincts. The precincts or townships in the county were now named East Union, West Union, Dubois, Washington, Richland and Cumberland. In March, 1848, the county was redistricted by the commissioners into twelve precincts, named as follows: East Union, or York, Dubois or Darwin, Clear Creek, Livingston, Marshall, Mill Creek, Auburn, Melrose, Martinsville, Richland, Cumberland and Johnson precincts.

These divisions remained unchanged, with the exception that a new precinct, called Upper Marshall or Castle Fin, was added, until the adoption of township organization.

The Constitution of 1848, for the first time in the history of the State, contemplated and recognized a departure from the old and time-honored precinct system of county government, and opened the way for the introduction of the present township mode of government. The section relating to the matter is as follows: "The General Assembly shall provide, by a general law, for a township organization, under which any county may organize whenever a majority of the voters of such county, at any general election, shall so determine; and whenever any county shall adopt a township organization, so much of this Constitution as provides for the management of the fiscal concerns of the said county by the county court, may be dispensed with, and the affairs of said county may be transacted in such manner as the General Assembly may provide."

In pursuance of the foregoing, the Legislature enacted a law, February 17, 1851, providing that the county court, on the petition of fifty legal voters, should cause to be submitted to the voters of said county, at any general election, the question of the adoption or rejection of township organization. The law further provided that that county court, at its next session after such, adoption, should appoint three residents of the county as commissioners, to divide the county into townships. The commissioners were to divide the county into as many towns as there were Congressional townships therein. Where there were fractional townships, caused by county or State lines, or by streams, such fractions could be added to other townships, or added together. The commissioners were required to make a written report of their proceedings, giving the names and bounds of each town, to the county clerk, on or before the first day of March next succeeding the adoption of township organization. Townships were to be named in accordance with the expressed wish of their inhabitants, unless there was contention. In that case, the commissioners were to designate the name.

At the September term, 1854, of the county court, a petition was presented, signed by the requisite number of legal voters, praying the question of organizing Clark County into townships be submitted to the people, at the November general election following. There was considerable opposition to the new system, but the proposition carried overwhelmingly. The people had tried the precinct system, with its many imperfections, even since the formation of the county, and were ripe and ready for any change that promised better. Many specious arguments were urged in favor of the proposed township organization. By its adoption, it was claimed that every section of the county would have a representative in the board of supervisors to watch and guard its interests. By its adoption, each township was made a body corporate, with full and ample powers to manage and control its own internal affairs. It could dictate and control the levy of its own taxes for school, bridge, and the various other taxes for township purposes. It could conduct its schools after its own fashion, and could lay out, alter and vacate; its roads at will. It could choose one from their midst to value and assess their lands and personal property, and one also to collect their taxes. In short it made each township a miniature county, investing it with a degree of independence, and with powers not to be derived from, or enjoyed under, the old precinct system.

On the 7th day of November, 1854, the election occurred, with the following results:

Township Organization:
Precincts. For. Against.
Darwin or Dubois 47 111
Melrose 139 1
Livingston 127 20
Auburn 79 79
Cumberland 79 00
Mill Creek 20 3
Marshall 184 183
Richland 113 3
Martinsville 153 76
Union or York 34 15
Castle Fin 34 8
Clear Creek 86 29
Johnson 127 00
Totals 1277 528


And so township organization was adopted. Township organization is a system of county government having its origin in the New England States; and as the people of those States have migrated westward, it has been carried into most of the Northern and Western States. It is purely a Yankee institution, and is a system whereby the territory of each county is divided into convenient districts, called towns or townships, or as they are styled in the law, quasi corporations.

It is said the first town meeting ever held in New England or America to consider affairs of common interest, occurred on March 23, 1621, for the purpose of perfecting military arrangements against the Indians, at which a governor was elected for the ensuing year. And it is noticed, as a coincidence whether from that source or otherwise, that * the annual town meetings in the New England States have ever since been held in the spring of the year. New York imitate this example; and in every Northwestern State where the township system exists, the annual town meeting for election of officers, occurs likewise in the spring, either in March or April.

The township officers are one supervisor, who is ex officio, member of the county board, a town clerk, one assessor and collector each, three commissioners of highway's, two justices of the peace and two constables, and as many road overseers as there are road districts in the township. Our system, as adopted and perfected, is borrowed almost entire from the laws of New York. The officers are the same—their duties substantially the same. Boards of supervisors, as constituted by the laws of our State, are deliberative assemblies and their proceedings conducted according to general parliamentary rules.

The county court, at its December term, 1854, following the adoption of township organization, appointed Randolph Lee, Charles H. Welsh and John B. Briscoe commissioners to lay off the county into townships, as required and provided for in the legislative act, who performed their duty as follows: Wabash, Marshall, Dolson, Parker, Westfield, Cumberland, Martinsville, Anderson, Darwin, York, Melrose, Orange and Johnson. The first supervisors elected under township organization were John Pearce, from Anderson Township; George Conger, Cumberland; James Lockard, Darwin; Wesley Norman, Dolson; James Brooks, Johnson; Nathan Willard, Marshall; Morrison Spenny, Martinsville; James Cowden, Melrose; John Swope, Orange; T. H.Connelly, Parker; Andrew Dunlap, Wabash; Chas. Biggs, Westfield; and Jacob Dolson, York.

There was considerable dissatisfaction concerning the division of the county into townships. The people of York Township, at the September term, 1855, of the board of supervisors, petitioned that so much of York Township as lies north of Mill Creek, be attached to Darwin Township, which resolution was considered and rejected. The citizens of Darwin Township also presented a petition for a change and alteration of the boundary line of the township, which was also rejected.

The law delegated to boards of supervisors power and authority to create new townships. And so at the September term, 1858, the board created Douglas Township, the fourteenth organized township. At their June term 1859, the board organized a new township, composed of nine sections of land from Dolson township, three from Martinsville, three from Marshall, and one from Anderson, and called it "Auburn." This is the central township in the county, and was the last formed. It is four miles square, and contains sixteen sections of land.

No other change, either in name or boundary of any township has been made up to the present time. The names and land areas of the townships as now organized, are as follows:

Townships Sections
Anderson  35
Auburn 16
Casey 36
Darwin about 34
Dolson, 40 1/2
Douglas 18
Johnson 36
Marshall 33
Martinsville 37 1/2
Melrose 36
Orange 36
Parker 36
Wabash 72
Westfield 18
York about 35





BACK -- HOME

Find Your Ancestors wherever their trails led!

Copyright © Genealogy Trails