Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group

Clark County Illinois
Genealogy and History

Chapter 5
County Organization


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


As  early as 1647, the question of educating the masses through the medium of common schools was agitated in New England. In that year, an act was passed, to enable " every child rich and poor alike, to learn to read its own language." This was followed by another act, giving to every town or district, in owing fifty householders, the right to have a common school, and to every town or district having one hundred families, a grammar school taught by teachers competent to prepare youths for college. An eminent writer, in after years, commenting upon this act, stales it to be the " first instance in Christendom where a civil government took measures to confer upon its youth the blessings of education." " And never before," he adds, " was embodied in practice, a principle so comprehensive in its nature, and so fruitful in good results, as that of training a nation of intelligent people, by educating all of its youth." When our forefathers, nearly a century and a half later, declared in the ordinance of 1787, that "knowledge, with religion and morality was necessary to the good government and happiness of mankind," they struck the key-note of American liberty.

The educational history of the county, should interest every reader of this work, more perhaps than any other subject mentioned and treated in the general history of Clark. When the survey of the Northwest territory was ordered by Congress, it was decreed that every sixteenth section of land should be reserved for the maintenance of public schools within each township. The famous ordinance of July 13, 1787, proclaimed that "schools and the means of education, should forever be encouraged." B . the act of Congress of April 15, 1818, enabling the people of Illinois to form a Sta e Constitution, the "section numbered sixteen in every township, and when such section has been sold, or otherwise disposed of, other lands equivalent thereto, and as contiguous as may be, should be granted to the State, for the use of the inhabitants of such township for the support of schools. The act further recites, " That five per cent of the net proceeds of the lands lying within said State, and which shall be sold by Congress from and after the first day of January, 1819, after deducting all expenses incident to the same, shall be reserved for the purposes following: two fifths to be disbursed under the direction of Congress, in making roads leading to the State; the residue to be appropriated by the Legislature of the State for the encouragement of learning, of which one sixth part shall be exclusively bestowed on a college or university." In other words. Congress donated to the State a full township, six miles square, for seminary purposes, and the thirty-sixth part of all the residue of public lands in the State, and the per cent of the net proceeds of the sales of the remainder, to support common schools, and promote education in the then infant State. Truly a most magnificent and princely donation and provision for education. The sixteenth section, so donated, amounted in the State to nearly a million acres; in Clark County, to about nine thousand acres.

Laws were first made directing county commissioners courts to appoint three trustees for the school land in each township, where the inhabitants of such townships numbered twenty white persons. The first school trustees in Clark County, were appointed December 2, 1819, and were Samuel Prevo, William Lockard and William B. Archer, for Union, or what is now York township; Charles Neely, Zaecheus Hassel and John McClure for Dubois, now Darwin township; Thomas Black, Richard Armstrong and Samuel Peery for Washington, now Wabash township; Jonathan Mayo, Lewis Murphy and John Stratton for a township then in this county, and lying about seven miles north of the jjresent town of Paris. The commissioners also appointed three trustees for the school section lying two miles east of the city of Danville then in this county. These trustees had power to lease the school lands at public outcry, after twenty days notice, to the highest bidder, for any period not exceeding ten years, the rents to be paid in improvements, or in shares of the products raised. The laws were crude, and fell far short of their intended object. The school lands under the lessee or rental arrangement, yielded little or no revenue; many of the renters having no title to, nor common interest in the land, only opened and cultivated enough for a bare support, and of course produced nothing to divide. Then squatters took possession of a considerable portion, and wasted the timber, and in many ways depreciated the value of the lands. As a result, the cause of education languished, and was at a stand-still for years. There were a great many influences and obstacles in the way of a general diffusion of knowledge. The settlements were sparse, and money or other means of remunerating teachers were scarce. And teachers competent to impart even the common rudiments of an English education were few and school books were fewer.

This state of affairs continued until 1835, when Joseph Duncan, then a member of he State senate, and afterwards joint owner with W. B. Archer, of the lands on which Marshall is situated, introduced a bill for the support of common schools by a public tax. The preamble to the act, appended, was as follows: "To enjo}' our righs and liberties, we must understand them; their security and protection ought to be the first object of a free people; and it is a well-established fact, that no nation has ever continued long in the enjoyment of civil and political freedom, which was not both virtuous and enlightened; and believing that the advancement of literature always has been, and ever will be the means of developing more fully the rights of man: that the mind of every citizen in a republic is the common property of society; and constitutes the basis of its strength and happiness; it is therefore considered the peculiar duty of a free government, like ours, to encourage and extend the improvement and cultivation of the intellectual energies of the whole."

This admirable law gave education a powerful impetus, and common schools flourished in almost every settlement. But the liw was in advance of the civilization of the times. The early settlers had left the older States, and plunged into the wilderness, braving countless dangers and privations, in order to better their individual fortunes, and to escape the burdens of taxation, which advanced refineiiient and culture in any people, invariably impose. Hence the law was the subject of much bitter opposition. The very idea of a tax was so hateful, that even the poorest preferred to pay all that was necessary for the tuition of their children, or keep them in ignorance, as was generally the case, rather than submit to the mere name of tax. This law, is the foundation upon which rests the supersti-ucture of the common school system of to-day. In fact, our present educational laws contain nearly all its salient and distinctive features. The law provided for the division of townships into school districts, in each of which were elected three trustees, corresponding to directors of the present day, one clerk, one treasurer, one assessor and one collector. The trustees of each district, had supreme control and management of the school within the same, and the employment of teachers and fixing their remuneration. They were required to make an annual report to the county commissioners court of the number of children living within the bounds of such district, between the ages of five and twenty-one j'ears, and what number of them were actually sent to school, with a certificate of the time a school was kept up, with the expenses of tlie same. Persons over the age of twenty-one years, were permitted to attend school upon the order of the trustees. And it was no uncommon thing for men beyond the meridian of life, to be seen at school with their children. The law required teachers at the close of their schools, to prepare schedules, giving alphabetically, the names of attending pupils, with their ages, the total number of days each pupil attended, the aggregate number of days attended, the average daily attendance, and the standing of each scholar. This schedule was submitted to the trustees for their approval, as no teacher was paid any remuneration, except on presentation to the treasurer of his schedule, signed by a majority of the trustees. The law further provided that all common schools should be maintained and supported by a direct public tax. School taxes were Dayable either in money or in produce, and teachers would take tiie produce at market price, or if there was no current value, the price was fixed by arbitration. Peltries were received in full payment of school taxes. It is related that the salary of a teacher named Malcom, for a ten weeks school, was once paid wholly in coon skins. And that the pedagogue carried them on his back to Vincennes, a distance of over thirty miles, and there disposed of them.

When this wise and wholesome law was repealed by the Legislature, General Duncan wrote, as if gifted with prophecy, "That coming generations would see the wisdom of his law, and would engraft its principles on their statute books; that changes in the condition of society, might render diiFerent applications of the same necessary, but that the principle was eternal and the essence of free and enlightened governments." " And," he added, " legislators who voted against the measure, will yet live to see the day, when all the children of the State will be educated through the medium of common schools, supported and maintained by a direct tax upon the people, the burden falling upon the rich and poor in proportion to their worldly possessions." These predictions are yellow with the years of a half century and over, and have been faithfully fulfilled and verified.

The Duncan School Law, as it was called, remained in force only a little over two years, when it was repealed. It was, substantially, that the legal voters of any school district, had power, at anj' of their meetings, to cause either the whole or one half of the sum necessary to maintain and conduct a school in said district, to be raised by taxation. And if the voters decided that only one half of such required amount was to be so raised, the remainder was to be pa'd by the parents, masters and guardians, in proportion to the number of pupils which each of them might send to such school. No person, however, could be taxed for the support of any free school, unless by his or her consent first obtained in writing. Though all persons refusing to be taxed, were precluded from sending pupils to such school. In almost every district there were those who had no children to educate, and then there was an uncivilized element of frontier life, who believed education was a useless and unnecessary accomplishment, and only needful to divines and lawyers. That bone and muscle, and the ability to labor, were the only requirements necessary to fit their daughters and sons for the practical duties of life. A proverb then current, was: " The more book learning, the more rascals." To quote a localism of the day: "Gals didn't need to know nothin' about books, and all that boys orter know, was how to grub, maul rails and hunt." That senseless prejudice, born of the civilization of the time, has descended in a slight degree to the present, and yet tinges the complexion of society in some localities in our county.

The law required the trustees, when they deemed it expedient, to divide the township into school districts, so that each district should not contain a less number than eighteen scolars; and that the funds arising from the rents of school-lands, should be paid over to the several districts, in proportion to the number of attending scholars, to be applied toward employing a school teacher, etc. At this time, 1827-8, there were only three or four schools in the county. This law was repealed January 22, 1829, and a law enacted the same date, provided that the sixteenth section, given by the government to each township, might be sold upon petition of nine tenths of the freeholders of the township, to the trustees of school lands, the proceeds to be loaned on real estate and personal security, and the interest to be applied toward the payment of teachers. The lands not to be sold for less than government price, one dollar and twenty- five cents per acre. This law was repealed in turn, by an act of the Legislature of February 15, 1831, which provided th:it three fourths of the white male inhabitants of any township could petition for the sale of their school section, the proceeds to be loaned at the highest obtainable rate of interest. The law furthur provided, that any five citizens, of any school district, could borrow any sum not exceeding two hundred dollars, for a period not exceeding ten years, for the purpose of erecting a schoolhouse.

Not one of all these laws embodied, nor did they for many years after, embody, a standard of qualifications for teachers. All that was necessary, was for the instructor to satisfy the people and trustees hiring them. As a consequence, many of the early schools were of a poor description. The teachers, as a rule, were illiterate, their acquirements consisting of a smattering knowledge of the trinal branches of early day teaching, namely: reading, writing and ciphering, which were then considered to comprise all needful learning-. Geography, history and grammar, were never taught, the latter being considered as especially useless and superfluous. Once at at a debate, where the question, " whether or not grammar was necessary to learning," was discussed, a pioneer teacher paralyzed his opponents, and demolished their argument, by declaring that " grammar was like the top-knot of a jay bird—more for ornament than for use." "For," he continued, " what difference does it make whether a fellow says onions or ingens,' so he can finger, and tell what five and a half bushels come to at twenty-three and three fourths cents a bushel."

A portion of the school fund received from the State, known as the " State Interest Fund," and which has been paid regularly for over half a century for the support of common schools, occurred substantially in this way: In 1828 the practice of selling the school lands was first inaugurated. The system was continued under various laws, to follow which, through all their ramifications, would necessitate tedious prolixity, and be of no interest to the reader. The proceeds of such sales, together with the 3 per cent of the net proceeds of the sale of public lands, were paid into the State treasury, and were disbursed by legislative authority, as other moneys. But the State only borrowed these funds, and agreed to pay interest on them. Under the law trustees of school lands were authorized to invest the funds resulting from their sale in auditor's warrants, and State paper, as the notes of the State bank were then called, at any discount they were able to procure. These vouchers were received by the State at face value, and interest was paid on them at the rate of 3 per cent per annum to February 15, 1831, when ttie interest was added to the principal, the State paying G per cent interest on the aggregate, and so on, adding the yearly interest to the principal, until December 31, 1833, when the total amount became the principal, to which has been added ail amounts since received, and on the total the State pays an annual interest, which is distributed yearly among the counties, the share of each being proportioned to its school population.

The first educational effort attempted in the county was a school taught by Peleg Spencer, west of York on Union Prairie, about the year 1820. He afterward removed to Lawrence County, and is described as having been a successful teacher for the period, but very harsh and severe; a grim tyrant in his little literary realm, over which he ruled with despotic sway. He was a conscientious man, it is said, and ever bore in mind the golden maxim. "Spare the rod, and spoil the child." And from his freedom with the hazel and hickory it is safe to say his pupils were not spoiled. The next school was on Walnut Prairie, in a log building, where the brick school-house, near Shaw's Ferry, on the Wabash, now stands. It was taught by Robert Taylor, a pioneer and highly respected citizen of Clark, and who died in 1869. Mr. Taylor was eminently successful, as an educator; was a marked exception and far superior to the teachers of his day and age. There are estimable citizens now living in the county who remember him as their best benefactor. These were the pioneer schools of Clark County, no others being established until about the year 1825, under the Duncan law, when three or four were put into operation: one in Washington, now Wabash Township, and was taught by a man named Johnson; one near the present town of Westfield, and one near Charleston, which was then included in this county. After the repeal of the Duncan law, education, for over a generation, was in anything but a flourishing condition, either in the county or State. Like the stagnant waters of a southern lagoon, it was difficult to tell whether the current flowed backward or forward. For nearly forty years the school-houses, school books, school teachers and the manner of instruction, were of the most primitive character throughout a large portion of the county.

The early school-houses, as a general thing, were of the poorest and rudest kind, and are fully described in other chapters of this work. A few of these humble school-houses—timeworn relics of the early days—are yet standing, eloquent of an age forever past. The writer recalls one, rotten and shaky to the last degree, and serving as a receptacle for a farmer's corn-fodder. The huge, open-throated chimney has fallen down; the broad clapboards of the roof, held on by crumbling and worm-eaten weight poles, are deeply covered with moss and mold; the rude door is gone and the puncheon floor has disappeared. The The genius of learning has long since flown to finer quarters, and over the whole edifice hangs a' gloom—a mist of decay.

The old-time pedagogue was a marked and distinctive character of our early history — one of the vital forces of our earlier growth. He considered the matter of imparting the limited knowledge he possessed, a mere question of effort, in which the physical element predominated. If he couldn't talk or read it into a pupil, he took a stick and mauled it into him. This method, though somewhat distasteful to the urchin, always had a charming result,—a few blubbers, red eyes and a good lesson. The schoolmaster, usually, by common consent was a personage of distinction and importance. He was of higher authority, even in the law, than the justice of the peace, and ranked him in social position. He was considered the intellectual center,of the neighborhood, and was consulted upon all subjects, public and private. Generally, he was a Hard-shell Baptist in religion, a Democrat in politics, and worshiped General Jackson as his political patron saint. But the old-time pedagogue—the pioneer of American letters—is a thing of the past, and we shall never see his like again. He is ever in the van of advancing civilization, and fled before the whistle of the locomotive, or the click of the telegraph were heard. He can not live within the pale of progress. His race became extinct here over a quarter of a century ago, when our common school system began to take firm hold, and became a fixed institution among our people. Our older citizens remember him, but to the young of to-day, he is a myth, and only lives in story and tradition.

The Legislature, in 1837, again revised the school law, making several important changes, repealing many objectionable features of former enactments, and adding several wise and liberal amendments. Under this act, any township might become incorporated by a two thirds vote of the inhabitants. Three trustees were elected, whose duty it was to divide the township into school districts. Teachers were to be paid wholly, or as far as the same might extend, out of the interest arising from the proceeds of the sales of school lands, then or thereafter made. Any excess remaining, was to be added to the principal of the township fund, at the option of the trustees, and any existing deficiency to be raised cither by taxation or subscription, as the voters might determine. No teacher was to be paid, except on presentation to the township treasurer, of a certificate of qualification to teach. A section of this act, and which is embodied in the school law of the present day, created what is known as the Surplus Revenue fund, and from it is derived a portion of the State Interest fund.

The first step toward establishing a higher or more advanced institution of learning in the county, than the common district school was in 1839, when a bill was passed incorporating the " Marshall Academy," with William B. Archer, James Whitlock, William C. Griffith, Channing Madison, Justin Harlan, Nineveh Shaw, William McKeen, Woodford Dulaney, Stephen Archer, James Plaster, John Bartlett, Jcmathau K. Greenough, William Tutt, Nathan Tefft, Thomas T. Wethers and Joshua P. Cooper as trustees. Stephen Archer is the only survivor of the original board. The act provided, that if at any time, the trustees desired to change the character of the institution, from an academy to a college, they should minorialize the Legislature to that effect, when a liberal charter woulilbe granted, with all the necessary powers to carry the same into effect, and that the name and style should he the " .Marshall College, of the Eastern Division of Illinois." The first academic building stood where the present brick high school of Marshall is situated; it was a long one-story frame structure, and was afterward removed to the present premises of M. R. Chenoweth. The academy was placed in charge of the late Rev. Dean Andrews, and many are the living representatives throughout the county, who received instruction in that humble building and from that able preceptor. The main portion of the present brick building was afterward erected, and about 1856, the building and grounds were sold to the Methodist denomination, which conducted the school for many years. In 1872, the people of school district, number five, Marshall township, became the purchasers of the building and converted it into a graded c muion school, and by additions to it, and improvements to the grounds, have rendered them commodious and sightly.

In 1839, also, a law was passed, incorporating the "Marshall Female Academy," with James McGabe, Isaac Hill, Thomas Henderson, Thomas Carey, Justin Harlan, John Bartlett, Stephen Archer, Woodford Dulaney and "William B. Archer as trustees. This institution was never carried into successful operation.

Matters pertaining to education and common schools, remained substantially unchanged until 184-3, when a law was passed making the secretary of State ex-officio State superintendent of common schools, and authorizing a school tax to be levied in each district, subject to the decision of the voters. The secretary reported to the Legislature in 1847, that the common schools throughout the State, with the exception of a few localities, were in a deplorable condition, especially in the southern portion.

After the adoption of the constitution of 1848, the school law was again revised in all its details. From the passage of this act, dates the office of school commissioner, who was made ex-officio county superintendent. School lands could be sold when two thirds of the white male inhabitants thereof, over twenty-one years of age, should petition the school commissioner. Each congressional township, was established as a township for school purposes; the law provided for the election of three trustees in each township, who had supreme control of the schools. The trustees divided the township into school districts, and three directors were elected in each, the employment of teachers, building and repairing school houses, and many other duties. Taxes could be levied by a majority of the voters of each district, but the levy was limited to twenty-five cents on the hundred dollars valuation of property. The law required that all teachers be qualified to teach orthography, reading in English, penmanship, arithmetic, English grammar, modern geography and the history of the United States. Each teacher was required to exhibit a certificate of the school commissioner certifying to his qualifications. This revision is essentially the foundation on which our present superstructure rests.

The Constitution 1818, is silent upon the subject of educating the masses through the medium of common schools. The framers of the Constitution of 1848, went a little further, and said, in a subjunctive way, that the general assembly might provide a system of free schools. But it was not until after half a century of existence as a State, that, our delegates in convention assembled, engrafted upon the pages of our organic law, a mandatory section, declaring that " the general assembly shall provide a thorough and efficient system of free schools, whereby all children of this State may receive a good common school education."

The following exhibit of the condition of the common school system in the county, for the year ending June 30, 1882, is not uninteresting to the friends of education. There are at present, in the county, on hundred and two school districts, and one hundred and four school buildings. There were employed, during the year, one hundred and seventy-seven teachers, who imparted instruction to six thousand and thirty-eight pupils. Of the one hundred and four schools taught in the county, six are graded, and two of the six are high schools proper, one each at Marshall and Martinsville. A graded school is where there are more than -one teacher, and where the school is divided into departments) usually with a reference to the age and advancement of the pupils, and known as the primary, intermediate and advanced grades. The county in addition to her excellent and flourishing common school system, and her high and graded schools, has one college, conducted by an able faculty, and with a reputation inferior to none; it is under the direction and management of the United Brethren denomination, and is located at Westfield. All these will, be fully written up in the respective townships in which they are situated. The educational history of each township will also be given, from the small and humble beginnings, through their various changes and improvements to the almost perfect state of the  resent.

The total school expenditures, in each township, for all purposes, including wages of teachers, repairs, fuel, erecting school buildings, etc., are as follows:

Anderson, $1,397.92; Casey, $14,794.93; Darwin, $1,497.65; Dolson, $3,908.53; Douglas, $619.05; Johnson, $1,150.18; Marshall, $6,721.84; Martinsville, $4,439.19; Melrose, $1,955.32 ; Orange, $1,417.91 ; Parker, $1,325.88; Wabash, $4,336.51; Westfield, $8,018.87; York, $3, 459.65. -Total, $54,143.43.

In the townships of Westfield and Casey new school-houses were built, which will explain increased expenditures over those of the other townships. The above expenditures were for the year ending June 30, 1882. About one hundred and eighty unexpired teachers' certificates are outstanding, of which about twenty are first grade, the remainder second grade. The county received from the State school fund, for the year, the sum of $7,437.13; from the State interest fund, $423.45; from fines and interest on loans, the sum of $189.42, making in all $8,050.00, which was distributed by the county superintendent to the treasurers of the different townships in the county


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