Early Settlement of Woodford County
source: Past and Present of Woodford County, Illinois, 1878, pages 224-232
Transcribed by Dena Whitesell

Woodford County has drawn its population from many different sources. Half the States in the Union are here represented, while many of the countries of the Old World have contributed their delegations to its settlements. The courtly and dignified Englishman, the bonny Scot, the warm-hearted Irishman, the genial Frenchman, the good-natured German, with many others from “beyond the seas,” are here, and together furnish some of the prosperous and solid men of the community.

Of our own countrymen, we find the New Englander, from his cold and sterile hills, and the chivalrous Southerner, from his palm-tree groves and “sunny land,” dwelling side by side and mingling together, with no sectional lines drawn between them on account of birthplace, or feelings of political prejudices engendered by either against the section from which the other came. And here, too, like way-marks along a. lonely highway, we now and then meet with a “wandering son of Ethiopia’s fated race,” who, since the war, has straggled away from the “Sunny South” to the distant prairies to find a new home. Many of the first settlers were from Indiana, Virginia and. Kentucky, with perhaps an occasional family from some other Southern State. Coming, as they did, from a land of hills and vales,, and creeks and rivers, bordered with grand old forests, they very naturally shunned the prairies and “pitched their tents” by the rivers and the “purling brooks,” under the broad, sheltering branches of the trees.

Hence Walnut Grove, as it is still called, and what is now Spring Bay, together with kindred regions and localities, were settled long before any hardy pioneer became imbued with sufficient courage to venture to rear his cabin far out on the vast prairie, which, to his inexperienced. eye, appeared at best but a “desert waste.” Close in the wake of this early importation of “Hoosiers” (The name “Hoosier” was usually applied to everybody along the border, on both sides of the Ohio River, at the early day) came the Yankees, as all Northern and Eastern people were called by the Southerners, with their thrift and ingenuity, and both the settlements and the population increased slowly at first, perhaps, but at least. surely.

From a work entitled “Old Settlers’ History of Woodford County,” written by Prof. Radford, of Eureka College, we take the “historical table” of early settlers, given below, who came to the county up to 1835, together with the date of their coming and the place of their location. The only change we have made in the table is to so arrange the names as to bring the dates in regular rotation:

Wm. (or Geo.) Blaylock, near Spring Bay...1819

 Daniel Deweese, Walnut Grove...1830

William Blanchard, near Spring Bay...1822

 Thomas Deweese, Walnut Grove...1830

-- Dillon, near Spring Bay...--

 Rev. John Oatman, Walnut Grove...1830

Horace Crocker, near Spring Bay...--

 Lewis Stephens, White Oak Grove...1830

William Philips, near Spring Bay...1823

 James V. Phillips, White Oak Grove...--

William Sowards, Metamora...1823

 Josiah Moore, near Panther Creek...1830

Solomon Sowards, Metamora...1823

 Campbell Moore, near Panther Creek...1830

George Kingston, Spring Bay...1823

 Rev. Amos Watkins, near Panther Creek...1830

John Stephenson, Spring Bay...1824

 Warren Watkins, near Panther Creek...1830

Joseph Dillon, Walnut Grove...1824

 Thomas A. McCord, near Panther Creek...1830

Austin Crocker, Spring Bay...1824

 James S. McCord, near Panther Creek...1830

George Kingston, Metamora...1825

 Matthew Blair, Walnut Grove...1830

Gershom Harvey, on Mackinaw...1825

 Joseph Belsley, Spring Bay...1831

Charles Moore, Walnut Grove...1826

 Phineas Shottenkirk, Spring Bay...1831

Daniel Meek, Walnut Grove...1826

 Rev. Joshua Woosley, Walnut Grove...1831

Jonathan Baker, Walnut Grove...1826

 Francis Willis, Walnut Grove...1831

 Charles Fielder, Spring Bay...1827

 Daniel Travis, Walnut Grove...1831

 Benjamin Williams, Partridge Creek...1827

 Caleb Davidson, Walnut Grove...1831

 John Bird, Walnut Grove...1827

 John Butcher, Walnut Grove...1831

 -- Wathen, Walnut Grove...1827

 Cooley Curtis, Walnut Grove...1831

 Rowland Crocker, Spring Bay...1828

 Daniel Allison, Walnut Grove...1831

 Jacob Wilson, Spring Bay...1828

 Isaac Black, Walnut Grove...1831

 Amasa Stout, Panther Creek...1828

 Aaron Richardson, Panther Creek...1831

 Adam Henthorne, Panther Creek...--

 James M. Richardson, Panther Creek...1831

 -- Bilberry, Panther Creek...1828

 Joseph Wilkerson, Panther Creek...--

 Robert Philips, White Oak Grove...1828

 William McCord, Panther Creek...1831

 Samuel Philips, White Oak Grove...1828

 Samuel Kirkpatrick, White Oak Grove...1831

 John Harbert, White Oak Grove...1829

 John Benson, White Oak Grove...1831

 Jesse Dale, Spring Bay...1829

 William Benson, White Oak Grove...1831

 Richard Williams, Spring Bay...1829

 James Benson, White Oak Grove...1831

 David Matthews, Spring Bay...1829

 David Banta, Metamora...1831

 "Widow" Donohue, Spring Bay...1829

 Cornelius Banta, Metamora...1831

 George Hopkins, Spring Bay...1829

 Peter Muler, Germantown...1832

 Hiram Curry, Spring Bay...1829

 Thomas Deweese, Walnut Grove...1832

 William Atteberry, Walnut Grove...1829

 James Harlan, south of Walnut Grove...1832

 John Davidson, Walnut Grove...1829

 Noel Meek, near Panther Creek...1832

 John Dowdy, Walnut Grove...1829

 Basil Meek, near Panther Creek...1832

 Joseph Martin, Walnut Grove...1829

 John Armstrong, near Panther Creek...--

Matthew Barcken, Walnut Grove...1829

William C. Moore, near Panther Creek...--

 James Bird, Walnut Grove...1829

 Rev. Lewis Stover, White Oak Grove...1832

 Robert Bird, Walnut Grove...1829

 Louis Guibert, near Spring Bay...1833

 Nathan Owen, Walnut Grove...1829

 -- Gingerich, near Spring Bay...--

 Eli Patrick, Walnut Grove...1829

 Rev. Zadock Hall, Germantown...1833

 Allen Patrick, Walnut Grove...1829

 James Mitchell, Walnut Grove...1833

 John Harbert, White Oak Grove...1829

 Rev. Ben. Major, Walnut Grove...1833

 William Hoshor, Spring Bay...1830

 Thomas Kincade, Walnut Grove...1833

 John Sharp, Germantown...1830

 Jonah Brown, White Oak Grove...1833

 John F. Smith, Germantown...1830

 Jacob Ellis, White Oak Grove...--

 Joseph Meek, Walnut Grove...1830

 Reubin Carlock, White Oak Grove...1833

 Henry Meek, Walnut Grove...1830

 Winton Carlock, White Oak Grove...1833

 William Bird, Walnut Grove...1830

 Peter Engle, Sr., Metamora...1833

 John Verkler, Metamora...1822

 William Hunter, Spring Bay...1835

 Christian Smith, Partridge Point...1833

 Charles Molitor, Germantown...1835

 Morgan Buckingham, Low Point...--

 Solomon Tucker, Walnut Grove...1835

 John Synder, Spring Bay...1834

 Rev. Wm. Davenport, Walnut Grove...1834

 Isaac Snyder, Spring Bay...1834

 Thomas Bullock, Walnut Grove...1835

 Peter Snyder, Spring Bay...1834

 Elijah Dickinson, Walnut Grove...1835

 David Snyder, Spring Bay...1834

 Rev. James Robeson, Panther Creek...1835

 Samuel Beck, Germantown...1834

 James Rayburn, Panther Creek...--

 Thomas Sunderland, Germantown...1834

 James Vance, White Oak Grove...1835

 William R. Willis, Walnut Grove...1834

 Rev. Abner Peeler, White Oak Grove...--

 M. R. Bullock, Walnut Grove...1834

 Humphrey Leighton, Metamora...1835

 Benj. J. Radford, Walnut Grove...1834

 C. P. Mason, Metamora...1835

 John Page, Sr., Metamora...1834

 F. Dixon, on Mackinaw...1835

 Thomas Jones, Low Point...1834

 Isaac Moulton, Low Point...1835

 Rev. James Owens, Low Point...1835

 Parker Morse, Low Point...1835

The foregoing dates are doubtless as correct as it is possible to get them, after this long lapse of years.  Away back in the by-gone time, lost' mid the rubbish of forgotten things, are many dates and events pertaining to the early history of this county.  The information given above does not agree precisely, in all cases, with what we have collected, but the discrepencies are few and of minor importance.  From this table, as well as from the information we have been able to gather, the first settlement in Woodford County was made in what is now Spring Bay Township. 

The man Blaylock, However, whose date is here given, 1819, it seems, never made an actual settlement - never built a house or bacin, nor opened and cultivated a farm.  Neither can any of the old settlers now living give the exact date that Blaylock came to the county.  That he was "found here," living in "Indian style," and "hunting and fishing," by the first settlers, is as definite as anything now to be obtained in regard to him. 

William Blanchard, of Spring Bay Township, while he did not settle in this county, or the territory now comprising it, until 1830, yet he was living so near as to be familiar with all the settlers and settlements made in this section.  Blanchard came to Peoria (then called Fort Clarke) in 1819, and stated to us that there was then but one white family in sixty miles of that place, and to wander far from the fort was not only imprudent, but extremely hazardous.  In the Summer of 1819, Blanchard raised a crop of corn, potatoes and pumpkins, just across the river from Fort Clarke, which he cultivated entirely with a hoe.  In 1822, he mad a little clearing, on which he put up a cabin, on what is now known as the "Gibson place" (which was also in Tazewell), but within a mile or two of the present line of Woodford, and but a few miles from where he now lives.  This was the first cabin built between Peoria and Chicago, and likewise the first farm opened.

First Farm Opened

As already stated, this was in Tazewell County, but so near to Woodford, and the party who made the improvement has been fro almost a half of a century living in Woodford County, that to omit its mention would seem like leaving out an important part of the county's history.  Blanchard states that a man named Darby, whose first name he had forgotten, and who came from Vermont, made a clearing and built a cabin in the Spring of 1823, on land now embraced in the Crocker farm, in Spring Bay Township.  This is supposed to have been the first settlement in Woodford County, and, so far as it is possible to obtain reliable information of events which occurred more than fifty years ago, the supposition is a correct one. 

Other hardy pioneers soon made their way to the Spring Bay settlement, and in a few years we find here Austin, Horace and Rowland Crocker; Phineas and I. C. Shottenkirk; John, Isaac, Peter and David Snyder; -- Richard and Lewis Williams, William and Jefferson Hoshor, C. A. Genoways, George Kingston, Joseph Belsley, Louis Guibert, George Sommers, Angus McQueen, Elzy and Sampson Bethard, Nicholas Henfling, William Hunter, John Stephenson, Jesse Dale, David Mathis, Jacob Wilson, -- Donohue, George Hopkins, Hiram Curry, Charles Fielder, Isaac and William Philips, "Red" Joseph Belsley and Philip Bettelyune. 

The energy and enterprise characteristic of the "New York Yankees," at once took hold and commenced work in earnest.  Crocker's mill, one of the first water mills built in the county, still stands a monument to their enterprise, and performs its allotted tasks with as much despatch as it did forty years ago. 

Philip Betteyune and the Snyders were from Pennsylvania, and, like all the old "Pennsylvania Dutch," of course became the most prosperous farmers.  They built good barns, on the principle that "barns will soon pay for dwelling houses, but dwelling houses never pay for barns."  The Williamses, from Indiana; the Hoshors and Genoways, from Ohio, have been active men in their day, and those who still survive have lost none of their former energy.  Elzy and Sampson Bethard came from Maryland; the Belsleys, George Sommers, Louis Guibert, from the vine-clad hills of sunny France; George Kingston, from the "Gem of the Say;" Angus McQueen, from the "banks and braes of Bonny Doon," and Nicholas Henfling, from the "Faderland," and from them developed some of the worthy and solid old farmers of the country. 

Of the rest, William Hunter, John Stephenson, Jesse Dale (Dale lived here but a short time, when he removed into the Metamora settlement), David Mathis, Jacob Wilson, -- Donohue, George Hopkins, Hiram Curry, the Philipses and Charles Fielder, but little information could be obtained. 

Although this was termed the Spring Bay settlement, many of the parties whose names are given above settled in Worth and Partridge Townships.  Bettelyune, "Red" Jo Belsley, as he was called, the Snyders and Louis Guibert - perhaps others - settled in what is now Partridge Township; while quite a number, of which were the Williamses, who first settled there with their father, "Squire Benjamin Williams, were in the present town of Worth. 

The Illinois River, with its "Broadening sweep and surge subline," the thick forests on the adjacent hills, and the hundreds of springs of pure  water bursting from tile ground in “crystal floods,” were some of the attractions that brought the early settlers to this spot. Plenty of timber for building and fuel, and water in unlimited quantities, were objects not to be passed by in the search for future homes. These unfailing springs they soon utilized by building mills to which they supplied the power.

Crocker’s mill, one of the first of its kind in the county; Hoshor’s, built a few years later, and to which was added a distillery, in Spring Bay Township, and Guibert’s mill, in Partridge, were operated principally by them. If it was not
“A land of corn and wine, or milk and honey,” it was at least highly productive of the first, and we have the evidence of an old settlers, that they “used to raise 100 bushels of corn to the acre,” in the bottom lands. Of course so much corn must be disposed of in some way, and this suggested the distillery, which became an institution of the settlement at an early day, and supplied the “invigorating cordial” for many a backwoods frolic.

Another of the early settlements was made at Walnut Grove—the very paradise of Woodford County. The gentle slopes and sweeping valleys, through which winds Walnut Creek, like a “tangled ribbon,” crowned with groves of giant trees that had stood the storms and tempests for hundreds of years, appeared to the new corners a haven of rest. On the confines of this mighty forest or within its borders, “whose deep, dark shades” they almost feared
to enter, soon developed a prosperous settlement, and the petition—” woodman, spare that tree “—was forgotten or disregarded, as the huge “monarchs of the wood” began to fall.“

The century living crow, Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died Among their branches,” and still they had flourished in all their transcendental glory for ages, until the coming tide of immigration rolled in that direction, and its waves were checked against “these fair ranks of trees.”

As early as 1824, it is said that a few bold and daring spirits, more venture some than their kind, wandered this way and erected their cabins in Walnut Grove. But the precise date of their settlement is involved in some uncertainty, and there are now none left who can give their history with correctness.

Joseph Dillon, whose coming dates back to the year mentioned above, 1824, or thereabouts, was probably the first to make a clearing. He opened a little place and built a cabin where “Uncle” Jo Meek now lives.

About 1826, Chas. Moore and Daniel Meek located in Walnut Grove, and in a few years more were joined by James and Robert Bird, Matthew Bracken, the Davidsons, William P. Attebery and Nathan Owen. This was the beginning of the settlement of Walnut Grove, which was for years, if not still, one of the most prosperous communities in the county.

In less than ten years from the time the germ of a settlement was planted here, in addition to those already noticed, it numbered among its inhabitants Joseph and Henry B. Meek; Francis and William R. Willis, James Harlan, Thomas and M. R. Bullock, Ben. Major, Benj. J. Radford, Rev. Wm. Davenport, Joseph Martin, Rev. John Lindsey, David and Thomas Deweese and several others, who came from Old Kentucky, “the dark and bloody ground,” and have furnished us with men of genius and ability, and many of the leading citizens of the county.  John Darst, Matthew Bracken and A. S. Fisher are Ohioians, and have been enterprising men of their neighborhood. Bracken is noted as having been one of the first Justices of the Peace, and Fisher, for having taught the first High School in the county.

Charles Campbell and John A. Moore were from Tennessee, and the last two named have the credit of putting up the first mill, with a water power, in Woodford County, which was built some two or three years before Crocker’s.

John Dowdy, John and William Bird, brothers of those already mentioned, Rev. Joshua Woosley. Jonathan Baker, James Mitchell, Daniel Travis, Solomon Tucker, Rev. John Oatman, Thomas Kincade, Isaac Black, Daniel Allison, John Butcher, Matthew Blair, Cooley Curtis and Elijah Dickinson were all our own countrymen, but from what States they came we are not able to say.

The names above given constituted the settlement up to about 1835. These "worthy scions of a noble stock" have given to the country soldiers who fought on many a fierce - contested field, and never turned their back upon an enemy: and lawyers, doctors and ministers of the Gospel of no mean repute may claim the same origin.

The settlers of Walnut Grove were mostly in what is now Olio and Cruger Townships, though the Grove extended from the south edge of Metamora down into Montgomery Township, and those living at "the head of the Grove," if not in Metamora Township, were very near the limits, while others perhaps lived in Montgomery.

A settlement was made in Metamora Township at a period almost, if not quite, as far back as that of Walnut Grove. It is held by many that some of the Sowards family settled here as early as 1823. That they were here at an early date there can be no doubt, but whether as early as 1823, is a point that cannot now be determined. The old ones are all gone, and the younger members of the family, which was a large one scattered to the four corners of the earth, so that to fix the exact date of their settlement is attended with some difficulty. They were of New England origin and claimed to have descended from the genuine old Puritan stock, and to be a branch of the same family of the late Wm. H. Seward, notwithstanding the difference in the manner of spelling the names. We have no record of any member of this branch of the family holding so important a position as that of Secretary of State, or otherwise distinguishing himself by rising above the station of farmer. It is pretty generally conceded, however, that they were the first to erect their wigwams in this immediate vicinity. The next after the Sowards, perhaps, was old ‘Squire Ben Williams, as he was called, who settled about half a mile from the present village of Metamora, where he remained but a short time, when he removed into what is now Worth Township.

Next we have an importation from
La Belle France, in the families of Peter Engle, Sr., John Brickler, Joseph and John Verkler, Francis Bregeard. Pichereau, Rev. Christian Engle and Michael Ioerger. In the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” they became good and worthy citizens, distinguished alike for their integrity and business energy. Some of them still live on their original settlements, and those who have gone to rest have left behind them representatives to fill their places.

Robert T. Cassell, Jacob Banta and his sons, David, Albert J. and Cornelius P. Banta, and Wm. H. Delph, came from Kentucky, the land of blue grass, pretty women and good whisky, and were of a good old stock. C. D. Banta informed us that he went to school, in Kentucky, more than fifty years ago, in a little log cabin 10x12 feet, with ex-Governor Beriah Magoffin, who was Governor of Kentucky when the war commenced in 1861, and, it was said, resigned the office because Kentucky would not secede with the other Southern States. Other members of this delegation will receive further notice in another page.

The first account we have of anything like a regular New England colony were John Page, Sr., and his brother, Ebenezer Page, Nathaniel Wilson, Stephen Dudley, John Mason, and their families, who settled in Woodford County in 1835. Most of the settlers at that day were from Kentucky and other Southern States, and cherished the strongest prejudices against all Yankees. They would have welcomed as freely a colony of Hottentots or cannibals, and to have these “Yankees” settle in their midst, they say, seemed at the time like a judgment sent against them for some mighty transgression. They had never before seen the genuine Yankee. They had seen a skinning, trafficking and tricky race of peddlers, from New England, who much infested the West and South in those early times, with tinware, “wooden nutmegs,” clocks and other small assortments of goods, and supposed all New England people to be like these specimens. They formed the opinion that the genuine Yankee was a close, miserly, dishonest, selfish getter of money, void of generosity, hospitality or any of the kinder feelings of human nature.

But with that sympathetic feeling born of the privations endured in a wilderness home, where few of the comforts and none of the luxuries of more civilized life are attainable, and the polite dignity, and broad and liberal views of these old New England Quakers, their antipathy melted away like “frost in the morning sun,” and with all the chivalrous courtesy, so strongly characteristic of the Southern people, they buried their former prejudices, and cultivated a friendship with this hitherto detested race, which grew brighter and stronger with advancing years, and which “Wanes only within the grave.”

Jacob Reeder was from Virginia, the home of statesmen and the birthplace of Presidents, and receives further notice in the history of Metamora Township. Joseph Morley came from Maryland, and Thomas Warren from Tennessee. Ohio furnished to the settlement Dr. J. S. Whitmire, one of the oldest physicians now in it, and George Ray, who has raised a family of stalwart sons, who  have become worthy men of the county.

The old Keystone State contributed the first Circuit Court Clerk of Woodford County, in the person of Samuel J. Cross, who has held several other important offices, among them that of the first Master in Chancery, after the organization of that branch of the courts, and James Boys, one of the first Postmasters. From Indiana we have Benjamin Williams, and from Connecticut, Amos A. Brown, two of the early Justices of the Peace in this section of the county, and whose courts furnished many an amusing incident of the backwoods.

The great State of New York gave us that old Jackson Democrat, Judge W. P. Brown, the first Judge of the Woodford County Court. “Learned in the law” and the compeer of Douglas and Lincoln, and David Davis in the dawning period of Illinois’ greatness, the Judge’s mind is well stored with anecdotes of these great men, some of which will be given to embellish the pages of this history. Of Wilson Tucker, Humphrey Leighton, C. P. Mason and Jesse Dale, not much is known. The latter, however, was once known to be Treasurer of Woodford County, and it is said tried to bury the funds in the ground for safe-keeping, and that upon one particular time he buried them so securely that he had a long search before her could find them.

The Panther Creek settlement was commenced at an early day. As early as 1828, there was a cabin or two scattered through the timber that skirted its banks. Arnasa Stout and a man named Bilbery were among the first to settle in this section, but, concerning them we could obtain but little information. In 1829, the Patricks, and in 1830, the Watkinses and the McCords, who were followed the next year by the Richardsons and Joseph Wilkerson. Noel and Basil Meek settled here in 1832, and Rev. James Robeson and James Rayburn, in 1835. Like the other settlements already mentioned, many of these pioneers came from Kentucky and Tennessee, and have done their part in building up the good old county. Thomas A. McCord is one of the old veterans of this little flock, and is verging on to his three score and ten years, but is still vigorous and hearty for his time of life. This settlement extended into Panola, El Paso, Roanoke and Greene Townships, and has furnished some of the live business men of those towns.

The first settlement at White Oak Grove was made about the time of that on Panther Creek, by Robert and Samuel Philips, in 1828. John Harbert settled here in 1829, and Lewis Stephens the year following. In 1831, the Bensons and Samuel Kirkpatrick arrived, and Jonah Brown, James Vance, Rev. Abner Peeler and the Carlocks in 1833. These and their descendants have spread over “the Lowlands,” otherwise Montgomery and Kansas Townships, and on the Mackinaw, in the southern part of the county. Another small settlement was made at Low Point, in Cazenovia Township, in 1834—5. The Buckingbams, Thomas Jones, James Owen, Isaac Moulton, James G. Bayne and Parker Morse and his sons were the first to settle in this place.

Some of these were men of more or less celebrity in their day. Morgan Buckingham was one of the first Justices of the Peace in this section; James G. Bayne as an orator and politician of the day, and a delegate to the Convention that framed the Constitution of the State. The Morses, who first settled here, but soon removed into what is now Metamora Township, were New England Abolitionists, and if they did not plant the germ of that party in Woodford County, they at least were among the first to nurture the tender plant. Being on the direct line of the “Underground Railway” from St. Louis to Detroit, via Chicago, they became conductors on this “line,” so much patronized by the “darkies” when making a break for freedom.

They were, no doubt, sincere in the part they enacted, and believed they were discharging a solemn duty in relieving the citizen of his legitimate property, recognized by the laws of the land, when they thus aided the negro to escape from slavery. Many are the exciting stories they tell, as they “fight their battles o’er again,” of their long and lonely trips by night, and through cold and storms of rain and snow, in assisting the fleeing fugitives on their way to freedom. But, like Othello, “their occupation is gone;” and one of the results of the war was the accomplishment of the end which was the principal dogma of their political creed.

In 1830, a small settlement was made near what is now Germantown, in Worth Township, and in 1835 numbered several families, of which we find John Sharpe, Samuel Beck, Thomas Sunderland, Peter Muler, Rev. Zadock Hall, Charles Molitor, John F. Smith, Andrew Cress and Joseph Shertz. Many of these are from France and Germany, and rank in thrift and prosperity with any citizens in the county. Old “Father” Hall, as everybody calls him, is one of the first Methodist preachers in this section of the country. Thus we have endeavored to notice briefly the first permanent settlements made in Wood-ford County, and with a short retrospective view of some events connected with this early settlement, we will resume our work.

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