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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History


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Amity Township - History
Livingston County, Illinois

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(Transcribed by: Teri Moncelle Colglazier)


1833—1878. But little more than forty years ! Only half of a good lifetime. A very short period when past. And when our vision, in its backward glance, is confined to our own narrow lives, how little has been done ! Yet when we look around us, and compare the present with the past, allowing our imagination to run carefully over the intervening period, we are amazed at what has been accomplished. Forty years ago, where stands the proud city of Chicago, with its half million inhabitants, its tunnels, its water works, its custom house and its magnificent system of railroads, was a small dilapidated, wooden town, located in a marsh. More than this, forty years has seen this same town rise and fall and rise again.

Forty years ago, there was not a railroad in the State, now there are thousands of miles. In forty years, all of this country has been netted over with telegraph wires, so that friends and business men and officials converse as readily between New York and San Francisco, and between New Orleans and Chicago, as did neighbors across the hedge that separated their lots forty years ago. Forty years have witnessed two bloody wars in which this country has been involved. Mexico has given up her most valuable possession to the United States, and 8,000,000 of slaves have been set at liberty. Within forty years. 10,000,000 of the oppressed of other countries have found a home in this free land, many of whom have become citizens of this State, this county, this township.

During the period named, wonderful changes have come to the West in particular. At the former date, the county of Livingston had not yet been organized. Not a town, not a school house, not a church building in all the territory now embraced within its limits, had been built. In all of the thirty townships were not half as many inhabitants, and less than one-tenth the wealth now contained in Amity alone. Indeed, had these remarks been confined to the last thirty years, they would have been almost as appropriate ; as the events mentioned have almost all transpired within that time.

Forty-five years ago, no white man had ever called what is now embraced in Amity Township his home. In the year 1838, Thomas N. Reynolds, Samuel K. Reynolds and E. Breckinridge found their way to this then desolate place, and, selecting spots on which to build, erected for themselves and families little cabins, in which they lived for some years.

The farm on which the Reynoldses built is the same now known as the J. P. Houston farm. His wife was the first white person buried in the township. She lived but a few years after coming to the country. The coffin used to inclose her remains was such as served the purpose of many a worthy pioneer. It was constructed by splitting open a walnut log and scooping out sufficient from each portion to admit the body. These two troughs were then placed together in their original position, and. in this rude casket, Mrs. Reynolds, the pioneer woman of this township, awaits the call to proceed to a better country, where frontier hardships are not known.

Of a large number of the name who eventually made this their home, only Samuel K. Reynolds still remains. All others have either removed or died. Breckinridge made some improvements and built a cabin on the James McKee farm. He remained here about ten years, until he found he was being "crowded," and then pushed on further west into the newer country “beyond the Mississippi.” These three, with nearly all who sought this part of the county for a number of years, were from the State of Ohio ; and this was, in reality, as it was named, the "Buckeye" neighborhood.

The next year, 1884, Thomas Prindle came out from Ohio and located in the southeastern part. Prindle was a blacksmith, as well as a farmer. He erected a shop and plied his anvil for the accommodation of himself and his few neighbors while he stayed. But the light of his forge and the light of his life went out together in 1845, and for thirty-three years his anvil has been silent. In the latter part of 1834 and the early part of 1885, a large number of families followed the ones already mentioned from the Buckeye region, at least six of which came to this township. They were John W., Joseph, Stephen and Cornelius W. Reynolds—brothers and cousins of the two who came in 1833 — William Springer and Thomas Campbell.

John W. Reynolds was one of the first Justices of the Peace of Bayou Precinct, and performed the ceremony of marrying the first couple in the township. The happy parties on the occasion were Isaac Painter and Nancy Springer. The nuptials were celebrated in 1840—perhaps a year earlier. The first mill built in the county was constructed by John W. Reynolds, soon after his arrival. It was as primitive an affair as any of the institutions of its time, being nothing more than a corn cracker, the motive power of which was furnished by a horse. Though a very rude concern, it was a very convenient one for this neighborhood, and was well patronized. But its proprietor "ground the last grist," and "took his last toll" thirty-five years ago.

Joseph Reynolds was a young, unmarried man, and lived with his brothers Thomas and Samuel K. He was the first Sheriff of Livingston County, being elected May 8, 1837, at a county election held at the house of Andrew McMillan. His opponent was Simeon S. Mead. He was probably a popular man, as he received, out of the eighty-five votes cast, more than eight-ninths. At this same election, another brother, Cornelius W. Reynolds, was a candidate for a county office, that of Surveyor ; but no doubt the people thought one county office in a family was enough, for he was beaten by Isaac Whicher, who received a small majority. C. W. was a physician, and, after election, went to Pontiac and practiced medicine a little, acted as Deputy Sheriff for his brother, was Postmaster of Pontiac, and was afterward elected Clerk of the Court. He finally removed to Ottawa, at which place he is still engaged in the practice of his profession.

Stephen Reynolds resided in the township until his death, which occurred about seventeen years since.

William Springer was the forerunner of a large family, who came to the county two years afterward. He lived only a year or two after his relatives came out.

Thomas Campbell settled on Section 5, arriving at the place on the 5th of July of the year named. He continued his residence here until November, 1865, which is the date of his death. His son, Thomas M., still occupies the old homestead.

In 1836, H. M. D. Morris, Thomas Armon, William Reynolds and Samuel Boyer made their advent into the neighborhood. The first three were from Indiana, and the last from Pennsylvania.

Morris settled on Section 17, on Short Point. He was the first preacher in the township. He was not an itinerant, but a local Methodist exhorter, who farmed all week and preached on Sunday at the cabins in the neighborhood or in the grove—'' God's first temple "—as the weather or the occasion seemed to indicate. Mr. Morris died here in 1848. His son, Chester Morris, still occupies the old place.

William Reynolds was not a relative of the others of that name, who had settled here previously, but was a brother-in-law of Morris and Armon, they having married sisters of his. He was himself a bachelor, and remained here but a few years, when he removed to Oregon, where he lived until about fifteen years ago, when he returned on a visit, staying here a short time, and then locating permanently in Iowa.

Samuel Boyer's name was one of the most familiar in the early days. He was a man of means, education and piety, and, withal, very industrious and economical. He brought with him, from his native State, all of the wagons and farming implements needed in the cultivation of his land, bringing them all the way by boat down the Ohio, up the Mississippi, and thence up the Illinois to Hennepin. He was particularly interested in all religious services, and his house was always open to the public for meetings of this kind, and his home was the home of the missionary or others of “the cloth.” He was one of the first School Commissioners, though the duties of the office then did not necessarily require either a man of leisure or great ability, there being but three very small schools in the county, and the course of instruction being of the most primary character. His son, Isaiah Boyer, resides in the village of Cornell.

The year 1837 brought several new families to this locality, among which were two of the most worthy and solid that have ever made this their home. Thomas Louderback and Uriah Springer were both from Ohio, and came to the township within a few days of each other. They both had large families, and, inasmuch as they were all of the most estimable character, their coming was a valuable accession, not only to the neighborhood, but to the whole county. From that day to this, the word of a Louderback passes for currency wherever it is heard. The Louderbacks had lived a few years in Vermilion County, before coming to Amity Township. The sons. Liberty, Mills and Levi, are still here, and Thomas, Jr., is in Iowa, having left this place eight years ago. The elder Thomas Louderback died in 1854, his wife having preceded him twelve years. The old homestead on Scattering Point is still in the possession of, and occupied by the family. Uriah Springer and sons, Levi and Joseph, and sonin- law, D. M. Prindle. arrived about ten days after the Louderbacks, and settled on South Point.

Springer had been a man of some political standing in his native State, and had held the office of Magistrate for twenty years. When he came to the county, he was somewhat advanced in years, but. notwithstanding. was elected to the office of Associate Justice of the county, in the discharge of which duties he gave good satisfaction. He, with Thomas Barton and A. J. Gilmore, erected the first real flour mill in the county, in 1838. The latter two were from McLean County, and came to this place for the purpose named. The mill, however, was but partially successful, as the builders were not practical architects and millers. The mill was located on the site of what is now known as the Dodwell Mill.

D. M, Prindle was cousin of Thomas, who had preceded him three years, and who had induced him to emigrate. He was a great singer, and led that part of the service in all the religious meetings. There were no organs or church choirs in his time, and he pitched the tune and sang the hymn as he was moved by the spirit, "lining out the verse" to enable all of the worshipers to join in the exercise. Prindle's voice was hushed, however, more than twenty years ago, and he now sings a new song in the great temple above. The years 1838 and 1839 brought two men to this township, of whose advent the town and the county are thankful.

Walter Cornell came from. Maine, and has been notorious as a leader in every movement calculated to benefit the community. He has held several county offices, among which are named those of Treasurer, School Commissioner and County Assessor, and has filled many positions of minor importance in the township. He was the first and, until last Spring, the only Postmaster of Cornell, having filled the position since the establishment of the same.

Amos Edwards, formerly from New York, but directly from Ohio, was a school teacher in those States, and had "wielded the ferule and the birch " for a dozen years before coming here. He was the first resident teacher in this part of the county, though to him does not belong the honor of pioneer educator in Amity Township, as he did not engage in the profession at once after his location ; otherwise he would have received the credit, for up to this time no steps had been taken to open a school. The first school taught in this part of the county was opened in a small cabin, that had been built and occupied as a dwelling by E. Breckenridge. The school was kept by Martha Rutherford, and the enterprise bid fair to be a great success, but " Uncle Johnny " Foster, of Pontiac, had found out the worth of the young lady ; and to the regret and somewhat to the disgust of the community, he paid her frequent visits, and finally persuaded her to desert the school and turn her attention to conjugal matters. To be plain about it, Foster's wife having died, and he being sadly in need of some one to look after his domestic affairs, married her. The school consisted of only a dozen children, their tuition being paid for by subscription at the rate of $1.50 per term. " Uncle Johnny " says, if they don't like the part he took in this matter, they needn't grumble, as some of them still owe for their tuition.

The same year, 1840, the first school house was erected. This was not only the first in the township, but, as indicated by the United States census taken that year, was one of only three in the whole county. Doubtless a description of it will be interesting to very many of our readers. Interested parties, to the number of eight or ten, came together, by appointment, bringing with them their axes, saws and whatever implements they possessed, and built it on the mutual assistance plan. Small trees were felled and cut to the length of eighteen feet. Notches were cut in each end, to admit of others designed to rest thereon. Then the logs were built up in the manner of constructing a rail pen. When the building had been raised to a sufficient height, openings were cut out for a door, fire place and windows.

The cracks between the logs were "chinked "— that is, partially filled with small pieces of wood wedged in—and then daubed with mud. The roof was of "clap-boards," very large shingles split from the bodies of straight-grained trees ; and these were held in their places by the weight of poles laid thereon. In the building of King Solomon's Temple," it is found worthy of record that it was constructed "without the sound of axe, hammer or other tool of iron." In our temple of learning, it is worthy of note that not a nail or any other piece of iron entered into its composition. The door was made of slabs split from the trees, after the manner of the shingles, and the boards were pinned together with wooden pins. The door was hung on wooden hinges, and fastened with a wooden latch, which only the ingenuity of the backwoodsman can invent. The latch was raised by means of a leather thong, attached to it, and hung through a small auger hole, a few inches above. This was a very common method of fastening the doors of the ancient cabins, and originated the saying that the "latch string is out."

The floor was made of "puncheons" or logs split in two parts, each of which, with its flat surface turned upward, rested on the ground. The desks were broad boards, resting on strong pins, driven into the wall. The seats were constructed of slabs, into the ends of which were inserted wooden pins, serving as legs or supports. These benches were placed in front of the desks ; and, while the children studied from their books, they made the sharp edge of the desk the support for their backs. When writing time came, the little fellows elevated their heels to a horizontal line with their eyes, and, by a movement which can be more easily imagined than described, and which must be learned by experience to be accomplished gracefully, performed a half revolution of the body, bringing the face toward the desk. When writing was over, a reverse process brought them to the original posture.

The chimney and fireplace were composed of small sticks, built up after the manner of the house, and plastered with mud, the fireplace being very ample, to admit of large logs used for fuel. The windows, however, were the parts which displayed peculiar ingenuity. Glass was too expensive, and had the further objection of allowing the glaring rays of the sun to enter the room, and also of permitting the children to look out, thereby diverting their attention from their studies. So, instead of using the transparent medium, a translucent one was invented. Strong white paper was thoroughly soaked in oil or lard, and this process rendered it permeable to light, sufficient for the purpose, and also dispensed with extra blinds.

The house was located on Section 16, near the northwest corner, and thus, being near the center, was not only designed for the use of the whole community, but was amply commodious, accommodating pupils from what is now known as Rook's Creek Township. The first term taught in this academy, seminary or institution was by Elizabeth Miller, afterward wife of William Eaton. This was also a subscription school, of three months, and tuition was $1.50 per term. The branches taught were reading, spelling, a little arithmetic and writing. In the last named branch the teacher was required, not only to understand the art itself, but also an art which may now almost be counted as one of the ''lost arts"—that of making a pen out of a "goose-quill ; and there are many who yet survive that declare that no pen has ever been invented which writes like the quill pen, as made with the schoolmaster's pen-knife.

The "Scattering Point Institute" served its purpose well, and in it was received much sound instruction ; and many still remember the days spent within its walls, and the precepts of Betsey Miller and her successors, as the most pleasant period in their lives. However, by 1849, "Scattering Point Institute " had outlived its day, its size and location being no longer adequate to the increased population and the location of the newer settlers. So, with many regrets, it was abandoned, and two new institutions, built much on the same plan, and with like specifications and details, though somewhat larger, were erected in portions of the township convenient for the patrons. The course of instruction, salary, etc., were about the same as in their predecessor. Teachers received $1.50 to $2.00 per week, and "boarded 'round."

The year 1840 brought to the neighborhood two reliable and solid men—Philip Nigh and Charles Earp. They were both from Ohio, and still reside in the township.

Philip Dean was a contractor on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was being constructed at this time, and entered some land and resided for a few years in the township. He brought with him a few goods, and kept them for sale. After his removal, he went to Chicago, of which city he has been Mayor.

Moses and Hiram Allen removed to this part of the county, from Ohio, in 1837, the year the county was organized. The former was a man of more than ordinary character. He held several offices of trust and honor, among which was that of Supervisor of the town. He and his brother have both been dead some years.

The Mormon troubles at Nauvoo, 1840-45, were the means of bringing to this township a good family. James Bradley, who had professed the faith and taken up his residence in the Mormon territory, at the breaking up of the settlement, instead of following the fortunes of Brigham Young, came with his family to this vicinity. Joseph Smith, it will be remembered, never professed polygamy ; on the contrary, his lineal descendant, Joseph Smith, Jr., utterly opposed that peculiar institution and became the acknowledged head of all the dissenting Mormons throughout the States, establishing his headquarters at Piano, Ill., where he still resides. To this branch Mr. Bradley and those who settled in Broughton Township afterward held allegiance.

Some of the implements of agriculture, used in the early times, were as primitive as the methods of education. At first, it was not supposed that the vast prairies to the east and west would ever be utilized. The little bar-share plow, with the wooden mold-board, in common use in the Eastern States, was not to be thought of to turn over the prairie sod, matted thick with grass roots as hard almost as hickory withes. But soon the inventive genius of the Yankee supplied an article, though somewhat rude and unwieldy, with which most of these plains have been brought to cultivation. The original '' sod plow " is seen no more, as it has long since outlived its usefulness. It consisted of a large share, cutting a furrow of two feet in width, with iron bars for a mold-board. The beam of the machine was fifteen feet in length. No handles were needed, though sometimes they were attached, but were used only for the purpose of starting or throwing it out of the ground. To this immense machine were hitched five to eight yokes of oxen.

The breaking was usually done late in the Spring, and with the turning over of the sod was deposited seed, which produced an inferior crop of corn the first year, which grew and ripened without further attention. From this crop has come the brand of a favorite drink in the Western country. Hay was cut with scythes, and gathered with hand rakes. Wheat was cut with cradles, and threshed by causing horses to tread upon it.

These ancient landmarks have all passed away, and but few who wielded them still remain to tell us the story of these and the many other peculiar institutions of the olden time. Here and there is seen a whitening head. Here and there we behold a tottering frame. Ere long, they too will have passed from earth, and their places will be filled by the more modern style of humanity. This township was perhaps the most generally settled by the date last mentioned, 1843, of any in the county. In the ten years, it had numbered within its limits not less than 200 persons, embraced in a fifth as many families, nearly all of whom had become permanent settlers. Unlike many other neighborhoods, whoever came usually stayed. The society was better than that found in most frontier places, and the interest manifested in educational enterprises, as we have seen, was praiseworthy.

The preaching of the Gospel led to one of the earliest church organizations in the county. As early as 1840, H. G. Gorbet, a Methodist preacher, known in the time of which we write as the " Prairie Breaker," organized a society of this denomination (not Prairie Breakers, but Methodists) at the Scattering Point Institute. He seems, however, not to have cultivated the soil to any degree of success, as the organization went down in a few years. Perhaps his first crop, like the first crop of sod-corn, was not of sufficient yield to warrant in harvesting, or to encourage subsequent planting. So, in 1843, the United Brethren occupied the land. They organized a society under the leadership of Isaac Messer, of McLean County, which flourished for six years, when it, too, for want of cultivation or other cause, disbanded. In 1849, another branch of the Methodist Church—the Protestant—was organized by Jacob Fowler, under whose pastorate, and that of his successors, it has flourished ever since. In 1876, the society having grown to number seventy-five or eighty members, built for themselves a handsome little house of worship, at a cost of $1,400. The building is 28x38 feet and will seat, comfortably, 200 persons. Rev. Mr. Darby is present Pastor, and D. H. Snyder is local preacher. In 1860, the M. E. Society, in the vicinity of Mud Creek, having, some years previously, organized a church of this denomination, built the house of worship, now at Cornell. When that village had been fully established, the building was removed to the place named and newly fitted up. The building is a comfortable frame edifice, about 30x40 feet in size, and will accommodate 250 persons. The membership is about 120. The present Pastor is the Rev. Mr. Smith. In connection with the church is a flourishing Sunday school, under the superintendence of A. Newberry.

The township of Amity was one of the first twenty organized in the county in 1858. Electors to the number of fifty-six assembled on the 6th day of April, 1858, and proceeded to organize by the election of Liberty Louderback as Moderator, and Walter Cornell, Clerk pro tern. Reason Mc Douglass was elected Supervisor; Charles Hallam, Clerk; James Bradley and Liberty Louderback, Justices of the Peace ; Walter Cornell, Assessor ; Moses Allen, James Gourley and E. W. Breckinridge, Commissioners of Highways. On the question of keeping up stock, the vote stood singularly unanimous for allowing stock to run at large. Doubtless this can be explained by the fact that Amity Township, being one of the most heavily timbered in the county, and the farms being already fenced, the owners preferred the free use of the vacant prairie lands for pasture, rather than the trouble of herding their stock. At the successive elections, the following are the names of the Supervisors and Clerks chosen:

YEAR

SUPERVISOR

CLERK

1858

Reason M Douglass

C H Hallam

1859

Moses Allen

C H Hallam

1860

Moses Allen

C H Hallam

1861

Moses Allen

C H Hallam

1862

Moses Allen

C H Hallam

1863

Moses Allen

C H Hallam

1864

Walter Cornell

C H Hallam

1865

Liberty Louderback

C H Hallam

1866

Liberty Louderback

J C Antrim

1867

Benjamin Bedea

Amos Edwards

1868

W D Blake

Amos Edwards

1869

D H Snyder

James Bradley

1870

J P Houston

W A Tyree

1871

J P Houston

Uriah Springer

1872

Liberty Louderback

James Bradley

1873

Eben Norton

James Bradley

1874

Eben Norton

James Bradley

1875

Eben Norton

James Bradley

1876

Eben Norton

J J Reeder

1877

Eben Norton

William Miner

1878

Eben Norton

J J Reeder

The balance of the complete list of township officers elected is as follows : David Heckmann, Assessor ; George Louderback, Collector ; E. Norton, School Treasurer ; Simon Jemmison, Alfred Gourley and John Calder, Highway Commissioners; Liberty Louderback and A. L. Trim, Justices of Peace; George Louderback and John P. Guernsey, Constables.

We have seen, in 1849. two school houses had been built. In 1855, James Bradley reports an increase of one school house and numerous other interesting items, showing an increasing interest in the subject of education, which, to enable the reader to compare, are placed with like items in a convenient table:

Date

No. Schools

Scholars in attendance

Whole amount paid

1855

3

75

$185.03

1866

5

240

$1,035.00

1873

7

340

$2,264.00

1877

7

362

$3,413.00

Amity Township took a prominent part in the late war. Some of the bravest and best men that went from Livingston County were from this locality. Some who enlisted from this part of the county were in the Fifty-third Infantry, and some in other regiments, but most were in the One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Infantry.

The names of all deserve honorable mention, but space permits the record, in this place, of but a few, and that number will be confined to those who not only braved the dangers of the battle field, but who, in addition, gave up their lives in defense of the principles which they went out to defend. Of these were Joseph Springer, Uriah Springer, Judson Hoag, Samuel W. Houston, Thompson Laycock, John B. Lucas and Thomas Sutcliff. There were others, accredited to other towns, which will be found in the general war record.

Amity Township is one of the best-watered and best-timbered in Livingston County. To the early settlers, there were three special attractions in a new country — wood, water and stone ; and these three being found in the vicinity had much to do in drawing to this locality the people who first inhabited it.

The Vermilion River passes almost directly through the center of the township, from southeast to northwest. Rook's Creek comes in from the south, and forms a junction with the Vermilion, near the center. Scattering Point also flows from the south, and empties into the Vermilion, near the northwest corner. Wolf Creek flows from the northwest corner of Pontiac Township, and empties into the Vermilion near that point. Mud Creek flows through the northeastern part, emptying into the Vermilion in Newtown Township. Besides all of these, there are several small tributaries, which furnish' water to almost every section of land in the township.

Each of these creeks is fringed with a belt of timber, varying in width from a quarter to a mile and a half, so that, originally, fully one-half of the township was timber land.

Underlying the whole township is, doubtless, a bed of coal. A shaft was sunk at Cornell, several years ago, and a good quality of this article found.

The Chicago & Paducah Railroad crosses the township, from northwest to southeast, cutting off about six sections from the northeast corner.

The meaning of the name of the township is friendship or good will ; and if bestowed on it as denoting the peculiar trait of its inhabitants, could not have been better selected. These ancient Buckeyes have always been noted for their hospitality.

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


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