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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History

The History of Livingston County

The county is bounded on the north by La Salle and Grundy Counties ; on the east by Kankakee and Ford ; on the south by Ford and McLean ; on the west by McLean, Woodford and La Salle Counties. It embraces Ranges from 3 to 8, east of the Third Principal Meridian ; and Townships from 25 to 30, north of the base line of the State, being thirty-six miles from cast to west, and twenty-four from north to south, with an addition of eighteen by nine and three-fourths miles, lying south of the eastern half of the county. It contains twenty-seven full Congressional Townships, namely: Reading, Newtown, Sunbury, Nevada, Dwight, Round Grove, Long Point, Amity, Esmen, Odell, Lnion, Broughton, Nebraska, Rook's Creek, Pontiac, Owego, Saunemin, Sullivan, Waldo, Pike, Eppard's Point, Avoca, Pleasant Ridge, Charlotte, Indian Grove, Forrest and Chatsworth ; and three fractional townships, to wit. Belle Prairie, Fayette and Germantown.

In size, it is the fourth largest county in the State, being exceeded only by La Salle, McLean and Iroquois. It is principally prairie land ; but timber is found along the Vermilion River and its branches, and also in some fine groves of native timber, in various parts of the county. Round Grove, near the northeastern corner, originally contained 80 acres ; Oliver's Grove about 800 acres, situated near the southeastern corner; Indian Grove, near the soutliwestern corner, about 800 acres; and Babcock's Grove embraces 100 acres, standing on high ground near the center of the county ; Packwood's Grove, near this point, contains 20 acres ; and Five Mile Grove, near the head of the north branch of the Vermilion, closes the list. Each of these, with the exception of Round Grove, which is on a branch of the Mazon, stands at the head of a small stream which, on leaving the timber, flows through the open prairie and empties into the Vermilion.

The timber land does not exceed six per cent, of the area. The different varieties of oak, elm, maple and walnut predominate, while ash, Cottonwood, whitewood and some other varieties are not uncommon, and a few cedars are found on the banks of the Vermilion.

The Vermilion River has its rise in the extreme southeastern portion of the county, and has the following tributaries : South Branch, Indian Creek, Turtle Creek, Wolf Creek, Rook's Creek, Mud Creek, Long Point and Scattering Point Creeks, most of which have their rise in the county. All of these streams are living water, fed by springs, affording ample water for stock, and splendid drainage for all parts of the county.

The Vermilion and the larger branches are well stocked with fish, of which the pickerel, bass and cat-fish are the predominant varieties. The Vermilion affords water-power for a few mills, the best point being at Pontiac, where Thomas Williams' fine grist-mill and saw-mill are located.

The soil is principally the deep, black alluvial, common in this State. The surface is gently undulating, with broader stretches of level land than are found in the northern and western counties. The lands lying south, southwest and northwest of the center of the county are, for the most part, level, while north, east and southeast of the center, the land is more rolling, yet not so uneven as to receive any ill effects from washing, while under the plow.

The chief advantage which land of this character has over a more rolling and broken surface is that, for many years to come, there can be no perceptible loss in its fertility, from washing while under cultivation.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


The territory which is now Livingston County was, in the first division of the State, a portion of Cook County.

After that, it became a portion of Vermilion County, and hence the name of the river which flows through it, which had no other reason for its name, either in the color of its water or its surroundings.

Subsequently, in the organization of those counties, nearly all of it became portions of McLean and La Salle, though a portion remained attached to Vermilion until this organization.

By act of the Legislature, approved and in force, February 27, 1837, Livingston was created a county with its present boundaries. Its name was suggested by Jesse W. Fell, and was due to the popular esteem in which Edward Livingston was held, in consequence of his being the reputed author of President Jackson's famous proclamation to the South Carolina nullifiers, in their first unseccessful attempt to disrupt the Union.

In the act of organization, James W. Piatt, of Macon County ; William B. Peck, of Will County, and Thompson S. Flint, of Tazewell County, were appointed Commissioners to locate the permanent seat of justice; and they were to take into consideration the convenience of the people, and the situations of the settlements, with an eye to the future population.

Edward Livingston was a native of New York, and one of the prominent Livingston family of that State. He removed to New Orleans on account of his health, and became a leading lawyer of that city. He was appointed, by President Jackson, Minister to England, and was recalled to take the position of Secretary of State, when Jackson re-organized his Cabinet, in consequence of his quarrel with Calhoun. He was popularly credited with being the author of the proclamation which "Old Hickory " sent out against the South Carolinians, when they adopted the ordinance of nullification.

No more worthy name could have been selected for this great county than the one popularly identified with Jackson's stern determination to maintain this Union under all circumstances.

At this date, there were no settlements to receive the commission kindly vouchsafed in the enabling act, except those along the river from Indian Grove to La Salle County ; and the entire population did not exceed 450.

They were to meet at the house of Andrew McMillan, on the Vermilion River, about four miles northwest of where Pontiac now stands, on the first Monday in June, and proceed to examine and determine upon a place for the permanent seat of justice.

The county seat was to be located on government land, or if upon private land, then the owners thereof should be required to donate twenty acres, or the sum of three thousand dollars, the proceeds of the land, or the money in lieu thereof, to be used in erecting county buildings. The Commissioners met and selected the ground, and accepted the offer of Henry Weed, Lucius and Seth M. Young, who, as proprietors of the land, proposed to give three thousand dollars, a block of land two hundred feet square on which to put the Court House, and an acre of land not more than thirty rods distant from the Court House block, on which a jail was to be built, and an estray pen, and agreed, further, to build a good and substantial wagon bridge across the Vermilion River at that point.

They gave their bond, signed by themselves as principals, and C. H. Perry, who was the first merchant in the county, James McKee, who was interested in the water privilege at Pontiac, and J. W. Fell, as sureties for the faithful performance of the contract.

By the enabling act, an election was to be held at the house of Andrew McMillan, on the second Monday in May, for a Sheriff, Coroner, Recorder, County Surveyor and three County Commissioners, to serve until the next regular election in August, 1838. This election was held, and officers were duly elected to launch the new county on the stormy sea of political existence: Joseph Reynolds, Sheriff; Robert Breckenridge, Jonathan Moore and Daniel Rockwood, County Commissioners, who met May 18, and organized, appointing Abram W. Beard, Clerk. That there was the usual amuount of log-rolling and managing to secure the location of the county seat is more than probable, as at the next session of the Legislature held after the location was made, an act was passed providing for an election in the new county to determine whether the county seat should be changed from its location.

The County Commissioners for a time held their meetings at McMillan's. There were three voting precincts in the county ; the upper was called Indian Grove ; the middle one Center, and the one in the northwestern portion of the county Bayou.

The Commissioners, at their first meeting, ordered that ''All horses over three years old, and all horned cattle over three years old, all sheep over one year old, all wagons, carriages, clocks, watches, jacks, jennies, mules, etc., are considered as being taxable property, upon which there shall be a tax of 1/2 per cent." The Court also ordered that an election should be held in the several precincts for the election of Justices of the Peace and Constables, on the 24th of June, and appointed John Recob, Treasurer, who gave bond in $1,000.

At the session of the Court July 11th, Cornelius W. Reynolds was granted a license to keep a store for a year on payment of $5. Sept. 4th, Court appointed Matthias I. Ross, Clerk. Dec. 4th, James C. McMillan was appointed first School Commissioner. The Sheriff having failed to receive his commission, the Court appointed Joseph W. Reynolds, Collector of Taxes.

At the March term, 1838, the Court prepared the first list of grand and petit jurors, which embraced such well known names as Darnall, Spence, Moore, Isaac Wilson, Popejoy, Blue, McMillan, Edgington, Barrackman, Boyer, Norton, Moon, Steere and Donaho, who, or their representatives, still remain with us.

It is not known that these juries performed any duty, as, by the records of the Circuit Court, no term of Court was held until October, 1839, at which Court there was no Clerk and no grand or petit jury, the Clerk, Henry Weed, having removed from the county. Joseph Reynolds, Sheriff, presented at this term his settlement with the Treasurer, and presented a receipt for $68.71.

For the following year, the Court added to the taxable property "All town lots, hogs over one year old, stock in trade, fiirm and household utensils, money loaned, houses, mills and factories."

The county formed a legiflative district with Kane, De Kalb, La Salle and Iroquois Counties. Joseph H. Churchill and Wm. Stadden were elected Representatives at that election. John T. Stewart was elected to Congress from this district, which embraced all the State north of Springfield, the " Little Giant"' being for the time defeated.

In drawing for seats by the County Commissioners, Uriah Springer, who was absent, drew the three years term, Albert Moon two years and Wm. Popejoy one year. This Court had more bills to pay than its predecessor. Among them was one to Henry Weed for "$4.12-1/2 for paper, sand and ink, used by him as Circuit Clerk up to this time." Just how much of it was for sand, the bill fails to mention ; but it should be remembered in honor of Livingston County, that it paid for the sand its first Circuit Clerk used.

April 9, 1839, the Court appointed the first Assessors, one for each precinct—Robert Smith for Indian Grove Precinct, Andrew McMillan for Center, and John Dermey for Bayou—and ordered that seventy cents on $100 be levied and collected on certain property, among which is this singular item: " Slaves and servants of color." It is not generally known that the laws of this State at that time, or at any time, recognized property in human chattels, but such was the revenue law of 1839. Robert Smith was appointed School Commissioner.

On the 3d day of December, 1839, the County Commissioners entered into a contract with the proprietor of the town for the erection of a Court House, to be 22x30 feet, two stories high ; to be built and completed within twelve months after " there is sufficient rise in the Vermilion River to allow the proprietors of the saw-mill to put said mill in operation." When completed, the Commissioners were to cancel and deliver up the bond which had been given for the location of the county seat.

In August, 1840 ... the Court extended the time for building the Court House to May 1, 1841; and John Foster received an order for $5.00, for use of his room for holding Circuit Court. Robert Smith and John Blue were appointed Assessors.

At a meeting of the County Court, July 23, 1842, the Court House was accepted and occupied.

After the census of 1840, the State was re-apportioned for Congressional Representatives, giving seven Representatives instead of three, as heretofore. This county was in the Fourth District, which first elected John Wentworth to Congress. He remained our Representative as long as we remained in that District. Previous to this, John T. Stewart, of Springfield, had been our Representative.

On the 2d day of December, the following minute is entered of record : " This day comes Andrew McMillan, Treasurer of Livingston County, and makes settlement with the Court, and pays over to the Court $13.00 in county orders and 20 cents in specie, it being the whole amount of funds received by him." It is hardly necessary to add that McMillan did not default to the county during his term.

In 1845, the same Treasurer reported and turned over without default, 20 cents in silver. There is no record of what his commissions amounted to.

At the March Term, 1845, Hugh Taylor was rented the jury room, for a store, and the court room for three months, on paying $3.00 per month.

Andrew McMillan was appointed to take the census for that year.

And again, Hugh Taylor appears of record in the following:

"Ordered That Hugh Taylor & Co. remove their goods, chattels, etc., out of the Court House by the 1st day of November next ; and if they should fail to do so, then they shall pay additional rent."

As they were already paying the sum of $3.00 a month, this seemed like a threat to ruin their business.

In September, the County Court contracted with Henry Jones, J. H. Demoss and Philip Rollings to build the bridge over the river at Pontiac, for $450.

"In March, 1849, the bridge which had just been completed and accepted by the court was carried away by a freshet, and Rollings and Demoss were ordered to save what they could of it, and report what portion of it could be used.

That all the offices were not vastly remunerative is evidenced by the following order at the October term of the Commissioners' Court : " Ordered, that Andrew McMillan be allowed ten dollars ($10) for services as County Treasurer for two years."

The County Court under the new Constitution organized December 31. 1849. J. C. McMillan, County Judge ; Philip Rollings and James Bradley, County Justices, and S. C. Ladd, Clerk.

At this time first appeared the constitutional clause in the oath of office : " I do solemnly swear that I have not fought a duel, nor sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel, the probable issue of which might have been the death of either party, nor been a second to either party, nor in any way aided or assisted in such duel, nor been knowingly the bearer of such challenge since the adoption of the Constitution, nor will be engaged in such duel during my continuance in office."

That our foremost citizens earned their bread in those days is drawn from the following recorded order : " Ordered, that John A. Fellows be allowed sixty two and one-half cents for chopping wood for county." It does not appear whether his services, like McMillan's, were of two years' duration.

In 1853, the number of voting precincts had been increased by addition of Reading, New Michigan, Mud Creek and Avoca Precincts. Any inhabitant of the county will recognize these localities, although the precincts are known to the law no longer.

The vote at that election was : For County Judge—Billings P. Babcock, 243 votes; John Hoobler, 133. For Clerk, George W. Boyer, 221 ; 0. Chubbuck. 118. For Associate Justice, D. Mcintosh, 4 ; J. P. Garner, 74 ; Eli Myer, 278 ; John Darnall, 228. For Treasurer and Assessor, Walter Cornell, 272 ; Philip Rollings, 94. County Surveyor—James Stout, 156 ; Charles Hustin, 73; Amos Edwards, 48 ; Nelson Buck, 58; E. B.Oliver, 21. For School Commissioner—Joseph A. Hews, 118 ; Eli Meyer, 103 ; H. H. Hinman, 134.

This list, together with those elected to the minor offices at this election, embraces many names new to the records of the county, but which are now familiar as household words. The Breckenridges, the McMillans and other old families seem to have given way all at once to such new blood and new material as B. P. Babcock, James Stout, Louderback, Hinman, Boyer. Chubbuck and Mcintosh, although Darnall seems to have have retained a place in official life.

The amounts of revenue levied and collected during the first four years of the county's existence, commencing with the year 1837, are as follows : First year, $113.71 ; second year, $109.80 ; third year, $180.56 ; and the fourth year, $166.26.

When it is recorded that the levy in the county for the year 1877 is about $400,000, the figures in the former years are as astonishing as the figures in the latter year are astounding.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


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