History of Coles County, Illinois

By Charles Edward Wilson

© 1905



©2004, Transcribed by Judy Anderson for Illinois Genealogy Trails



The first election in Coles County after its organization was held at the house of James ASHMORE (alluded to elsewhere), in what is now the town of La Fayette. Sixty votes were polled at this election.

Coles County has always been fighting ground between the leading political parties. In the days of the Whigs and Democrats, the Whigs had a slight advantage and it was called a Whig county. I those days voting was by viva voce, and it was said that when James G. BIRNEY, in 1844, ran as the candidate for President of the "Liberal Party" (the original Abolitionist party in the United States), he received twelve votes in what is now Coles County, and the names of most of those so voting are given as follows: Joseph ALLISON, G. M. ASHMORE, Theron E. BALCH, William BALCH, Wallace BALCH, Zeno and Eugene CAMPBELL, John and Isaac RODGERS and Hiram RUTHERFORD. The names of the other two have escaped the memory of the old settlers who furnished this information. All of them were of southern origin except RUTHERFORD, who came from Pennsylvania.

Early Abolitionists--Defeat of a Projected Kidnapping Case.--Hon. O. B. FICKLIN is authority for the statement that, in 1847, there were thirty-three pronounced Abolitionists in the County (then including what is now Douglas County), and he mentioned the RODGERS, BALCH, CAMPBELL and DRYDEN families, in Pleasant Grove, and the ASHMORES and Dr. Hiram RUTHERFORD, at Oakland, as among them, and added that nine-tenths of them were from slave States. I quote from what he said further: "They were man of pluck and of the Cromwellian mold, sober, quiet, industrious and thrifty. They were lampooned and derided for being neither Clay Whigs nor Jackson Democrats. But they traveled on the even tenor of their way, voting their convictions and accepting defeat from a sense of duty."

During these years and up to the period of the Civil War thereafter, a system was in vogue in the North of assisting the negroes from the South to escape from slavery by coming north, known as the "Underground Railroad," and some of these men were ever ready to lend a helping hand to assist in such escapes. Notable among those named in that connection were Hiram RUTHERFORD, Gideon M. ASHMORE and Joseph ALLISON, the latter of Pleasant Grove.

About 1847, one of the most important court cases that ever came up in Illinois, affecting slavery, was tried. Robert MATSON came up from Kentucky and bought land in the northeast corner of Coles, but now embraced in Douglas County. He brought along several of his slaves. He made a public statement that they were here temporarily and would soon be sent back to his Kentucky plantation. Among them was a slave woman who had married a freedman, Anthony BRYANT. He came along also. Matson's housekeeper lost her temper one day while he had gone to Kentucky, and told the negroes that they should all be sent to the far South (including the freedman) and sold. Thoroughly alarmed, they sought advice and, after being turned away by many, finally applied to G. M. ASHMORE and Hiram RUTHERFORD. These men heeded the appeal, took them in, and gave them shelter. MATSON returned home, and, learning what had happened, his Kentucky blood warmed up to fever-heat. He employed Usher F. LINDER and, later, Abraham LINCOLN, and had the negroes arrested as fugitive salves. ASHMORE and RUTHERFORD were not "bluffed." They at once employed O. B. FICKLIN and Charles H. CONSTABLE (later a Circuit Judge), both Democrats of the deepest dye, in behalf of the negroes. A writ of habeas corpus was served, the question to be decided being: Were the negroes "held in transitu, while passing over the State," or were they "located for a time, by consent of their master." If they were simply held in transitu, that did not free them. If they were located, even temporarily, by consent of their owner, that would set them free.

The case came before Chief Justice William WILSON, who, on account of its importance, called in Supreme Judge Samuel H. TREAT to assist in the hearing.

Never was a case fought with more vigor and earnestness than this, by those four famous lawyers, remarkable in the fact that the side of the negroes was taken by Democrats with natural sympathies for the South and its institutions, and that upon the other side was the man who later issued the fiat that emancipated the race. I wish I had space to dwell further upon the details, but must not. All the attorneys had the fullest confidence in the ability and fairness of the Judges, and, after the long arguments were ended, and due consideration given to the testimony by the Court, the painful suspense was ended by the announcement that the prisoners would be discharged and go free.

It was a glorious day for the MATSON slaves, and the emotions felt by those "Cromwellian" characters who opened their pocket books, and defied public sentiment in behalf of the poor, frightened negroes, will have to be let to the reader's imagination.

Memorable Political Campaigns.--There were no very spectacular campaigns in the county until that of 1860. One of those famous debates of 1858 between LINCOLN and DOUGLAS had been held on the Fair Ground near Charleston, and it was attended by almost all the male population of the county. So that those burning issues which stirred the people of this country at that time, as they never had been stirred in any previous election, were brought close to the minds and hearts of the people of our county. That debate was one of the notable events in the county's history, and old settlers relate many interesting personal reminiscences connected with it.

The debate was held on the Fair Ground near Charleston on September 18th of that year, in the presence of a great throng of the partisans of both speakers; and, when later, these two leaders were nominated for the Presidency, the campaign began at once with great earnestness. LINCOLN "Wide Awakes" were organized in every township, provided with oil-cloth capes and caps, and with torches for night meetings. The DOUGLAS partisans were fully as active, and had their uniformed marching companies, each side vying with the other in the matter of noise and display of numbers in the processions. Speakers of national reputation came into the county to deliver addresses, and upon such occasions the whole day and evening were devoted to the meeting. Demonstrations began early in the morning by the firing of anvils and other noises. the speakers, on arrival,, were escorted about the streets by a gorgeous procession of floats and decorated wagons. Young girls were arrayed in white or the national colors and represented the States of the Union. They were seated upon a great pyramid shaped float, which was drawn by six or eight white horses. The most beautiful young woman was arrayed as the "Goddess of Liberty," seated upon a spirited charger and attended by numerous liveried footmen, while the uniformed companies brought up the rear. The speech itself was punctuated by the most tumultuous demonstrations of enthusiasm on the part of the speaker's partisans, and often interrupted by loud hurrahs for the "other fellow" on the part of the opponents.

After dark the meeting was continued by a torch-light procession, with much noise, firing of anvils, red lights, etc., followed by speaking and the singing of campaign songs, the whole usually concluding with a display of home-made fireworks, consisting of the throwing of turpentine balls. Balls of cotton or candle wicking were made about five or six inches in diameter. They were thoroughly saturated with turpentine and ignited. The young men then stood out in the middle of the street and, taking them in their bare hands, threw them as far as possible. They would hardly touch the ground before some muscular youngsters would send them back whence they came. Sometimes four or five of these blazing balls would be seen hissing through the air at once, making a very effective and inexpensive display of fireworks.

The above--with variations--may answer for a general description of a campaign meeting in 1860. In that campaign the LINCOLN candidates for, Presidential Electors carried the County by twenty-eight plurality.

In 1863 the Republicans temporarily abandoned that name, and nominated candidates for county offices on what was called the "Unconditional Union Ticket," and it was elected over the Democratic ticket by about 170 majority. By the summer of 1864 the leading Democrats of the county, who had before that date advocated compromise and peace with the South on almost any terms, had, almost to a man, come out openly for the preservation of the Union, and for the prosecution of the war until the integrity of the Union was fully assured. The so-called "Charleston Riot" occurred in the spring of 1864, which was a violent political outbreak, described elsewhere in these pages as one of the "events" in our local history.

The campaign of 1864, though fervent, was not so spectacular as that of 1860. The LINCOLN (or Republican) Presidential Electors carried the County by six hundred and fifty-five plurality.

In subsequent campaigns nothing notable calls for our attention, unless I might allude to the preliminary contest in 1880 within the ranks of the Republican party, between those who favored and those who opposed a third term of General GRANT as a candidate for President. The party in Coles County shared in the general "warmth" which prevailed all over the State during that struggle.

For the past ten years the county has, as a rule, gone Republican at general elections by a plurality of five to eight hundred votes. In the election of 1904 the popularity of President Roosevelt, and the dissatisfaction of the Democrats with their candidate, had the same effect in Coles County as elsewhere, and the Republicans carried the county by a plurality of fourteen hundred and sixty-five for the Presidential Electors. In another chapter the full vote for President, from 1852 to 1904, is given.

Marriages, Births and Deaths.--The first births, deaths and weddings, and other events, in the county, are matters of interest; but it is difficult to get thoroughly reliable and accurate information about them. It is said that the wife of Daniel DRAKE, in Wabash Point, gave birth, at the age of 54 years, to a child, about 1826-27 and that a son was born to James NEES, of Hutton, in March, 1827.

A Mrs. WHITTEN, wife of a mill-wright on the Parker mill, is said to have died there about 1824-25. The date is uncertain and not fully authenticated. The following "first death" in Wabash Point is more circumstantial: James NASH injured himself, carrying a log with which to make a bee-gum, in 1829, and died. His neighbors split out walnut puncheons, made them as smooth as they could with an old drawing knife, and made his coffin. the women "varnished" it by melting and pouring bees-wax over it, and then, by running hot irons over it, giving it a polished surface. In the presence of all the population of that vicinity NASH was buried on the brow of the hill upon the east bank of the Little Wabash, in the northwest part of Section 4-11-7.

Soon thereafter a boy, "Adi," son of Charles SAWYER, died, and he, too, was buried upon that hill. Their bones now rest there alone and unmarked, while above them, each spring, the husbandman stirs the soil and each summer there nods and waves the growing grain.

James JEEMS is said, by the La Baron History of 1879, to have married a Miss BATES in 1827. That BATES family lived in La Fayette, and my best information is that a James JAMES moved into La Fayette not earlier than 1828. I find no evidence that any one who spelled his name "JEEMS" ever came into the county. Therefore, I prefer to dismiss that wedding and take the marriage of Levi DOTY, who wedded Miss PHIPPS about that time, as the first authenticated wedding.

First Courts.--The first Circuit Court in the county was held before the log court house at Charleston had been completed. It was held in the woods near the residence of Charles EASTIN, on the land of Levi FLENNER'S, west of the State road on the south part of Section 7-12-9.

William WILSON, afterwards Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, was presiding Judge. James P. JONES, of Clark County, was appointed by Judge WILSON at that session of the court to the office of Circuit Clerk, and his appointment was not liked by Coles County people. They believed that Coles County citizens should fill local offices. JONES must have been a man with a "pull." He was appointed, by the Governor, Coles County's first Probate Judge. It was not until later that these officers were elected by the people.

The records of these first courts have been lost, so that little is known of them, but the first Circuit Court already referred to as having been held in the shade of the trees in the western edge of Charleston Township, has been thus picturesquely described. "The Judge sat on a log, the lawyers on rotten chunks, and the litigants and witnesses swung to the bushes round about."

Criminal History.--The first murder within the county was the killing of Nathaniel KILLIM by Todd WALTRIP, in Charleston, about 1836. It was the result of a trivial quarrel in which whisky was the inciting cause, WALTRIP stabbing KILLIM in the neck with a pocket knife. A short penitentiary term was the punishment awarded for the offense.

In October, 1855, Adolph MONROE shot and killed his father-in-law, Nathan ELLINGTON, as the result of a little family disagreement, greatly augmented and stimulated by the fires of the whisky consumed by MONROE. It was a most lamentable occurrence. ELLINGTON was a man of exceptional qualities, held high in the esteem of the people. MONROE was a man of splendid appearance, of fine address and born of one of the best families that Kentucky ever sent to our county. MONROE was tried, found guilty and sentenced to be hung. The governor granted a thirty days respite, and the sullen spirit of the mob arose. It was the old story. Men who, as individuals, respected the law and loved order, became under the malign influence of that spirit, the agents of a merciless vengeance. The jail where MONROE was confined was the brick building which yet stands in Charleston, on the west side of Sixth between Madison and Jefferson streets. It was surrounded, its guards overpowered and MONROE was hustled, carried, dragged through the streets, to a point south of the Western School building, where stood a tree about two hundred feet north of the bridge that crosses the "Town Branch" on Jackson Street. To a limb of that tree he was suspended until life was extinct, and the insanity of intemperance and the insanity of the mob had once more jointly accomplished their perfect work.

The county was again disgraced and its law-abiding citizens humiliated in 1888 by the lynching of a negro charged with assault upon a white woman. The assault was said to have occurred in Mattoon, and the only evidence furnished was the story of the woman herself, who as a stranger passing through the city and who had stopped between trains at night in the waiting room of the station. She charged that the negro, William MOORE, inveigled her outside and into a vacant lot, where the assault was committed. The negro was arrested and confined in jail at Charleston, and at night a mob took him out of the jail and hung him on the water-tank of the Clover Leaf Railroad. Word came afterwards that the woman was of bad character and unreliable in her statements, but it was too late. The negro had been a man of good reputation, and his executioners have escaped punishment, except as their consciences could inflict. Coles County has had its share of murders and trials for murder, but I hope I shall be pardoned by the reader if I drop the subject here.

The Charleston "Riot."--On March 28, 1864, occurred that most unfortunate affair in our county history--the so-called "riot" at Charleston. The Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry (Col. G. M. MITCHELL) had, a short time before, arrived home from the South on veteran furlough, and had gone into camp at the barracks near Mattoon. Many of its members had gone from this county and some of them lived in and near Charleston. these soldiers had leave to visit their families, and so, for several days prior to the above date, they were upon the streets of Charleston. At first their minds were full of the visits with relatives and the joys of home-coming. After a few days they longed for more excitement. They passed upon the streets men from the country round about, who, they were told, were sympathisers with the South--"Butternuts" or "Copperheads." It occurred to the soldier boys that it would be great fun to halt these men, question them as to their loyalty, and then take them before a Justice of the Peace and have them take the oath of allegiance to the Government. This was done with several of them and so, day by day, they watched for more "Butternuts" to make take the oath. Many of the men charged with entertaining this Southern sympathy were discrete enough to remain out of the town during this time. Others, however, felt that their personal liberty and rights were being trampled upon wantonly by these young soldiers; and, possessed of a spirit of bravado, they armed themselves and came into the town several different days prior to the date of the riot, and bloodshed was only avoided by the narrowest of margins several times before it did occur. On that day, two boys about the same age--of whom the writer of these lines was one--having been privileged as boys to hear talk from both sides which indicated trouble, determined to remain away from school and see what would happen.

The Circuit Court was in session, Judge Charles H. CONSTABLE presiding, with Sheriff John H. O'HAIR in charge. The Fifty-fourth Regiment had been ordered to return to camp a Mattoon on that day, but some of the soldiers were still upon the streets at Charleston. It had been announced that John R. EDEN would speak, and the country people were in town in great numbers. EDEN, however, left town early and did not speak. Among the people upon the streets were many who had been hustled about and forced to take the oath, together with their younger and more active friends. The WELLS boys (Nelson and David) were among them. They were evidently prepared for trouble. Many had come in wagons, which, later developments showed, carried concealed guns. Such soldiers as were there were mostly unarmed and not expecting any serious concerted attack. On the east and west sides of the Court House were small brick buildings used as offices, the one on the west side being used as the Clerk's office. About that office were gathered scores of country people, court attendants and others standing around. Among them were the two boys who stayed away from school. About three o'clock in the afternoon Oliver SALLEE and some other soldiers came into the west gate of the yard and sauntered up to the little building, and SALLEE leaned against the south wall. Nelson WELLS and some of his friends separated from the crowd and started as if going out of the west gate. As they got opposite the little brick house, something was said. What it was, or by whom, cannot now be told; whether a casual remark or a challenge by SALLEE or some one about him is uncertain, but WELLS stopped, faced SALLEE and leveled his revolver. So instantaneously that it is doubtful which drew first, SALLEE's revolver was leveled at WELLS. Two shots rang out and both men fell. There was a scattering fusillade of fire-arms thereafter lasting several moments. The two boys alluded to ran east around the south side of the Court House, and glancing back, they saw the soldier, Alfred SWIM, fall and roll over in his death-struggle. The boys ran east into the front door of Felix LANDIS tailor shop, which was in the middle of the block directly across the street east of the Court House. continuing through the shop and out of its back-door, they saw Judge CONSTABLE, white and trembling, in a angle of the wall in the alley to their right, evidently uncertain what to do or where to go next. How a man of his portly form could have vacated the Judge's bench, come down from the court room, and got there so soon after the firing began never ceased to be a wonder to those boys. Having thus been circumstantial as to the beginnings and culmination of this sanguinary little encounter (miscalled a "riot"), I shall be as brief as I can with the remainder of the story.

Those killed outright, or who died later from their wounds, were: Maj. Shubal YORK, James GOODRICH, Alfred SWIM, William C. HART, John NEER, and Oliver SALLEE,soldiers and Nelson WELLS, Copperhead.

The following were wounded, most of them slightly: Col. G. M. MITCHELL, Thomas JEFFRIES, William GILMAN, William DECKER, John TREMBLE, George ROSS, Sanford NOYES, Young E. WINKLER and John HENDERSON.

Colonel MITCHELL telegraphed to Mattoon and a squad of thirty of forty, composed partly of soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Regiment and partly of members of the Mattoon Rifle Company (a local military organization) was hurriedly gathered into a box car and taken with all the speed of the locomotive to Charleston. This squad was in charge of Mustering Officer Robert Mann WOODS, now (1904-5) the Department Commander of the Illinois G. A. R. They were placed in charge of the Court House and directed to guard there any prisoners who might be brought in. Other soldiers of that regiment came over later, and they remained in Charleston for several days.

The city and country were scoured by soldiers and citizens in the search for those who were seen to have used weapons in the melee, or were suspected of having done so. John COOPER of Hutton Township, who had been in the city, was followed, overtaken and brought back. A part of the Mattoon Rifle Company and some of the soldiers were lined up on the south side of the Court House yard. COOPER was brought up the street from the east, and as his captors started with him toward the south gate of the yard, he must have become panic-stricken at the sight of so many men with shining guns, for he hesitated and then started to run. A volley was fired and COOPER fell dead. Two or three of the bullets hit the man aimed at, but most of them went wide of the mark. Some struck the sidewalk and some the tops of the brick buildings. One of these wild bullets pierced the front door of the JENKINS dry-goods store, then located about three doors east of the middle of the block on the south side of the square, and killed John JENKINS, a younger brother of W. M. and E. A. JENKINS, who had gone to close the door, thus making two more deaths in addition to the list heretofore given.

The following is probably as complete a list as can now be made of those who were arrested. Some of them, after being taken to Springfield, were sent to Fort Delaware, and after remaining there awhile, were released. One of the MURPHYS died while at Springfield. Several were indicted for murder and tried at Effingham and acquitted--among them, John REDMON, James O'HAIR and G. W. RARDIN. The list consists of several RARDINS--G. W. and B. F. and some others; Michael and Miles and J. W. MURPHY; James O'HAIR, Jr.; W. P. HARDWICK, and perhaps another one or two HARDWICKS; H. P. TICHNOR; B. E. BROOKS; W. C. BEATTY; Y. E. WINKLER; Aaron BRYANT; John T. TAYLOR; John REDMOND; G. J. COLLINS; John RENNELS; John REDMOND; G. J. COLLINS; John RENNELS; John HERNDON; Minor SHELBOURN; a Mr. HOUK and a MR. THORNHILL. The principal offenders succeeded in escaping and were never arrested.

Unfortunate as this affair was, it cleared the atmosphere in many respects. There was no more evidence thereafter in Coles County of any organized disloyalty to the Government.

A Fake Duel.--Going back thirty years prior to the affair just described, the following "sanguinary" affair is vouched for by old settlers as having occurred near Charleston in 1834: A difficulty had arisen between one Peter GLASSCO and John GATELY, which blood alone could settle. So a challenge to a duel was sent by one and accepted by the other. Seconds were selected and "hoss-pistols" chosen as weapons. In gloomy silence the hostile parties met at the appointed time and place. The seconds conferred in low tones. The ten paces were stepped off by them, the pistols loaded with powder only--but GLASSCO, who had been the most belligerent and determined that blood alone could atone for the insult given him, was not apprised of the fact that bullets had been left out. GATELY had been instructed to fall at the time of the first fire. This he did, and one of his seconds deftly and lavishly splattered his face and clothing with "blood" from a bottle of pokeberry juice provided for that purpose. GLASSCO came up and gave one look at his victim, and, terrified at the sight of so much blood, exclaimed, "My God, I have killed him!" threw down his pistol and fled. Some time afterward word reached him that GATELY still lived, and that the horrible blood he had seen was only the life fluid of the pokeberry, and he returned to the county cured of all desire to fight duels..

Notable Phenomena.--Three natural events occurred in the 'thirties that were so much out of the usual course of natural things that they were subjects for conversation for many years afterwards. The first was the deep snow of the winter of 1830-31. Snow began falling in November and continued at frequent intervals until late in January, a large part of the time being from two to three feet deep, and drifted in many places to a depth of six feet. Besides, the winter was cold and those first settlers, poorly provided with houses and other things that make for comfort suffered intensely. The melting of the snow in February caused a flood of water, and a sudden reversal of temperature covered the earth with a glare of ice. Horses and oxen both had to be shod to be able to travel, and few had the facilities to shoe them at home. Food supplies ran low and stock suffered for both food and water. People ventured out only for absolute necessities such as food and fuel. It was a bad time for the pioneers, but as all things have an end, spring came at last to their relief.

The next in order was the meteoric shower, the phenomenon called by the settlers the "Falling Stars," on the night of November 12, 1833. This occurred all over the country, and scientists have explained it to us, over and over to their own satisfaction at least. Mr. Hiram TREMBLE has left the following description of this event; "The air was full of falling drops of fire that immediately expired as they neared the ground. Sometimes they would alight on a leaf of a bush or a tree, and go out with a peculiar noise difficult to describe. It sounded something like "tchuck," given with the shortest possible sound of the vowel." Early in the morning before daybreak, Mr. TREMBLE was out with his ox-team; the air was cool, with a light frost. "At the start," said he, "I had nearly a mile of timber to pass through. The meteors were falling about me as thick as hail or as rain-drops in an ordinary shower. Some were so large as to cast shadows on the trees. Many of them came in contact with trees in falling, and burst, throwing off a myriad of sparks, illuminating the forest all about me. Emerging into the prairie, the sight was even more grand. All about and above me the air was full of the falling sparks, none of which touched me or my oxen. They did not seem to reach the ground, but expired as they neared it." Many of the people believed it was the beginning of the end of all things, and it was some time before the fear wore away sufficiently to enable people to resume their normal manner of living.

The next event in that memorable decade was the "Sudden Freeze" of December 20, 1836. It had been rather warm, and a slight rain had fallen in the forenoon upon a few inches of snow that lay upon the ground, turning it into slush. About the middle of the afternoon, a heavy cloud was noticed coming rapidly from the northwest. It came with a wind blowing at the rate of sixty or seventy miles an hour and was accompanied by a terrific roaring noise. As it passed over the country everything was frozen instantly. Water in the little streams and gullies was thrown into waves by the wind and then frozen before it could subside. Chickens running through the slush and mud for shelter were caught, held fast and frozen to death.

Animals, both domestic and wild, that were out in exposed positions, were chilled through and many were frozen standing in their tracks. Men attending to work out of doors and wading about in the water and slush walked upon ice before they could reach a house for shelter, even though it were near by. Many human lives were lost. In this county, three men were said to have perished near the Seven Hickories. The wave passed over Central Illinois, a strip of country in the southern half of Indiana, and was last heard from just below Cincinnati.

The dates of many family happenings and neighborhood events were fixed upon the memory of these early settlers by remembering that they occurred just before or just after the "Deep Snow," the night of the "Falling Stars," or the time of the "Sudden Freeze."

January 1, 1864, was remembered as the Cold New Year's Day. there was a great snow storm o the day and night before, the snow drifting so much that it covered fences out of sight in many places, stopped traffic on the railroads and "snowed in" the people so that it was difficult for them to go about. The snow was followed at once by a great drop in the temperature, which caused intense suffering, and the death of large numbers of stock and poultry. Three children of the HENDRICKS family, near Whitley's Point, were frozen on their way from school, and one man was frozen east of Charleston.

A Sham Wedding That Proved a Reality.--An incident is told in the Le Baron History, upon the authority of Captain ADAMS, that is worth repeating, particularly as it refers to one of the county's most popular pioneers and his estimable wife--Mr. and Mrs. Richard STODDERT--both of whom have long since passed away. It seems that Henry Clay DUNBAR was a Justice of the Peace in Charleston, and that he and Mr. STODDERT were both fond of perpetrating practical jokes, and "one bleak, dreary day, in the month of March--as disagreeable as March days can sometimes be--Mr. STODDERT told 'Squire DUNBAR that a friend of his in the north part of the county, some eighteen or twenty miles from town, was to be married on that day, and had requested him (STODDERT) to send DUNBAR to perform the ceremony. DUNBAR, nothing doubting, mounted his horse and rode up to the designated place to tie the knot; but upon arriving, discovered that it was one of STODDERT'S jokes. He said nothing but indulged internally, perhaps, in a few pages of profane history. Returning home through the March blasts, taking it all good-naturedly, and biding his time to pay off STODDERT in his own coin, an opportunity was soon presented. It was a custom at that day, at parties and gatherings of young people, by way of giving zest to the evening's entertainment, to get up a sham wedding of some couple who had been 'keeping company' or were particularly sweet on each other, and have a sham ceremony performed with all due solemnity by some sham official or sham clergyman. Soon after DUNBAR'S 'fruitless trip' above mentioned, one of those social parties came off in Charleston, and, with the design of retaliating upon STODDERT, DUNBAR went to the County Clerk's office and procured a marriage license for STODDERT and a certain young lady with whom he had been keeping company for some time. Armed with this document, he repaired to the party, and so engineered matters as to get up the usual sham wedding between STODDERT and his sweetheart. As Justice of the Peace, he was, of course, called upon to perform the (supposed) sham ceremony. Confronting the pair with all the solemnity he would have used had it been a pre-arranged wedding 'for keeps,' he asked the usual questions required by law, and was answered satisfactorily, winding up by informing them that, as they were aware, he was an officer authorized by law to perform the marriage ceremony, and asked if it was their desire to be united in holy wedlock. They answered in the affirmative, and holding the license in his hand (which they supposed was but a piece of blank paper, used for the sake of appearance), he went through the marriage ceremony in full, receiving the responses and solemnly pronounced them 'man and wife,' turned away and made out the certificate with the usual witnesses, and went over to the Clerk's office, and made a return of the license and had the certificate recorded that night, without a hint to the pair of the genuineness of the proceedings. The next day, however, the matter leaked out; and so many of STODDERT'S friends joked him about being married in the novel manner described, that he went to the Clerk's office to investigate, and found it true--the papers in the case returned and recorded in due form. He then went to the girl and told her what had occurred, when quite a little excitement arose. She cried and STODDERT swore (perhaps), not that they objected to each other, but to the way they had been inveigled into it. At last STODDERT told her that they had better make the best of a 'horrid joke' and call it genuine. She responded that, perhaps, she would never be able to do any better in the selection of a husband, and so the sham wedding was turned into a genuine affair. Before leaving the subject we will add that, if all reports be true, Charleston never knew a happier couple that the one united in this romantic manner."

Old Settlers' Association.--In the fall of 1878 an "Old Settlers' Association" was organized at Charleston. O. B. FICKLIN called the meeting to order, A. P. DUNBAR was made Chairman and W. E. ADAMS, Secretary; I. J. MONFORT, Isaac N. CRAIG and Thomas G. CHAMBERS were appointed a committee to report on a plan of organization. O. B. FICKLIN, Richard STODDERT and Dr. S. VAN METER were constituted a committee to define an "old settler," and their report was to the effect that thirty years residence in the county made one eligible to become a member of the Association.

T. G. CHAMBERS was made President and W. E. ADAMS, Secretary for the ensuing year, and the following chosen Vice-Presidents; Albert COMPTON, Thomas E. WOODS, Adam W. HART, Jesse K. ELLIS, James SHOEMAKER, James McCORY, I. J. MONFORT, E. R. ADAMS, Peter K. HONN, J. J. PEMBERTON, Y .E. WINKLER and Isaac PERISHO. An executive committee was chosen as follows; J. W. FRAZIER, Abram HIGHLAND, Dr. S. VAN METER, Col. A. P. DUNBAR and George BIRCH. Talks on old times were made by J. J. ADAMS, William RIGSBEY, Uncle John BATES, Aunt Polly KELLOGG and others, and Job W. BROWN, Jeptha PARKER, Isaac N. CRAIG and Michael HALL were others in attendance. Very soon thereafter these venerable men began passing away from earth, and I cannot learn of any subsequent meeting. Today, of all those named above, only J. W. FRAZIER is still alive.

Financial Panics.--Coles County people have shared in the demoralizing effects of the several financial panics that have occurred in the county. Times were hard and produce cheap in that depressing period before and after 1840. But our people at that early date lived so much within themselves, and their relations with the outside world were so few and unimportant, that they were not seriously affected. From 1857 to about the beginning of the second year of the Civil War was a period of stagnation and extremely low prices for the things produced by our people. From 1859 to 1862 corn sold as high in local markets as 30 cents and as low as 8 cents per bushel; rye from 20 to 30 cents; oats from 10 to 15 cents; potatoes from 30 to 40 cents; eggs from 5 to 10 cents per dozen. These figures will give a general idea of prices. State banks failed all over the county (including the one at Charleston), because their circulation was based on bonds of Southern States, which soon proved worthless. Such paper money as circulated was below par and fluctuated in value from day to day, generally on a declining scale, causing great loss to the people. Bank notes were variously designated as "Stump Tail," "Red Dog" and "Wild Cat" currency. The effect of the war after 1862, was rapidly to advance prices of all commodities.

When the panic of 1873 came, the county had become large enough and its interests were sufficiently diversified to make it a most serious affair to many of our people, and resulted in hardship to all. There were many failures of business men, prices of our products were low, and even that thing which lies at the bottom of our prosperity--our black soil--became so cheap that some of the best of it, even near Mattoon and Charleston, and pretty well improved, changed hands during several years following 1873 at $20 to $30 per acre.

Several years were required to recover from the effects of that panic, but at the time of the election of Grover CLEVELAND to the office of President in 1892, the whole country seemed to be again in the full tide of prosperity with the promise of many years of continuance. The following year, however, all was again changed; panic had again seized the hearts of the managers of the country's great business interests, and the people were entering upon another period of depression. Its effects were not so severe, nor so prolonged, however, as those of the panic of 1873. For several years past our farmers have been getting 35 to 50 cents per bushel for corn; $75.00 to $100.00 per ton for broom-corn; 20 to 35 cents for oats; remunerative prices for cattle, hogs and horses and the resulting prosperity of farmers has naturally extended to all classes of people. Prairie farms have been selling readily for three or four years past at $100 per acre.

Epidemics.--Coles County, in common with most of the interior regions of the country, has been comparatively free from violent scourges of epidemic and contagious diseases. About 1851 the Asiatic Cholera carried away many of our people, but the alarm was out of proportion to the actual number affected. Hundreds left the county without stopping to pack their trunks, and the excitement was great for a time. There is said to have been a previous visitation of the cholera here (about 1832) and, though the population then was small, the number of deaths was probably as large in proportion as in 1851.

Our cities and villages have had occasional visits of the small-pox, and have had to exercise great vigilance to keep it from spreading. But in recent years that disease, though recognized as one of the most loathsome that afflicts humanity, has not alarmed people as it did many years ago. Its nature and treatment are now better understood.

County Buildings.--In the year 1831 the first Court House was built north of the "Town Branch," on about where Sixth Street now runs in Charleston. It was the usual primitive building, somewhat more embellished by having its logs hewed instead of being covered with the bark, but otherwise finished in the same manner and furnished with wooden benches for seats. In 1835 this building was abandoned and a new brick structure erected on the site of the present Court House. It was probably the first brick building erected in Charleston. The contract for its construction was let to Leander MUNSELL, of Edgar County, who sent over James WILEY ( the father of Eli, Leroy and the others of that name) to do the brick work. It was a square building with a hip roof, and surmounted by a wooden cupola for the bell. The contract price was $5,000. The foundation was constructed of Ambraw River stone. About 1858-60 this building was enlarged by an addition on the north side, with wide porticoes supported by great round brick pillars. Between 1864 and '66 the same design as that on the north side was carried out all around the building on the three other sides. The court room was removed to the second story, offices for county officials and jury rooms were put in, and part of the lower story fitted up for the jail.

This building stood until 1898, when the present building was erected, which is described in the local history of Charleston, elsewhere in this work. The County Board of Supervisors passed an order to "repair" the Court House, and, under that order, proceeded to tear the building completely down and to build anew. This was considered by a great majority of the people of the county as a gross act of usurpation and a violation, not only of law, but of that principle of reasonable fairness, which all representative bodies are supposed to be governed by, and which would have prompted a preliminary expression of the people before contracting to expend such an enormous sum of the people's money. Several votes have since been taken to ratify this act of the County board, and provide the funds to pay the debt, but so far the proposition has been defeated by large majorities.

The first jail was also a log building near the first Court House. It was built in 1832-33. About 1842 a brick jail was built on Sixth Street between Madison and Jefferson. this building still stands there and remained the jail until the Court House was remodeled in 1864 to 1866, and the jail was placed in the first story of the Court House. In 1891-92 the present commodious jail building was erected on Seventh Street at a cost of about $25,000.

As to the care of the poor in early county history, the records indicate that it was done in a very desultory fashion. Some kind of a poor farm seems to have been provided near the south line of the county in early years. In 1855 the county purchased of George HALBROOK about a hundred acres in Sections 15 and 16-11-9, near Farmington, at a cost of $1,100. This was used as a "Poor Farm," until 1867, when it was sold and land in Section 7-12-9, in LaFayette township, was purchased by the County for a poor farm at a cost of about $5000. this was sold in 1870, and in the same year about 260 acres purchased of A. N. GRAHAM, on the east side of Section 35-13-10, in the town of Ashmore, a part of which has been sold since, but the most of it is still retained. A large brick building has been erected on it, which is the home of the indigent wards of the county. The Superintendent lives in a house near by.


Some of Coles County's people have participated in every war in which this country has ever been engaged. Pioneers George COTTINGHAM, John PARKER, Joseph PAINTER, Griffin TIPSOWARD and Elisha HADDEN were in the Revolutionary War, and some of them applied for and obtained pensions after their removal to the county.

Samuel ASHMORE commanded a company under General JACKSON at New Orleans, and George COTTINGHAM, William COLLOM, Thomas THRELKELD, John APPERSON and others were engaged in the War of 1812. Samuel ASHMORE was a Captain and Dr. John APPERSON a Sergeant-Major in that war.

Black Hawk War.--In the Black Hawk War Coles County, including the present counties of Cumberland and Douglas, had a company in the First Regiment of the Second Brigade, which was commanded by Capt. Thomas B. ROSS.

The names of those in that company who probably went from the territory now embraced in Coles County, were; Isaac LEWIS and Thomas SCONCE, Second Lieutenants; Silas PARKER and Samuel DOTY, Sergeants; Van S. EASTIN and James JAMES, Corporals; and the following privates: Nathan AUSTIN, John J. ADAMS, Thomas BARKER, John CARRICO, Reuben CANTERBURY, Harman EASTIN, Samuel FROST, Patrick GORDON, Gibson GASTIN, John J. GATELY, Jonathan HART, Samuel KELLOGG, S. H. LESTER, Isaac ODELL, Charles D. PHELPS; Nathaniel, Benjamin, Jr., and Jonathan PARKER; Obadiah VINCENT, and John YOUNG. There may have been others whose names are not remembered. Besides those in the above named company, Hiram M. TREMBLE went as a Second Lieutenant in a company from Shelby county, and G. B. FANCHER and John D. JOHNSTON were privates in still another company.

Pioneer Isaac N. CRAIG was a soldier in the Black Hawk War from Clark County, and other prominent citizens served in that war and removed here later.

Mexican War.--In the Mexican War, Captain William W. BISHOP commanded Company D in the Third Regiment, made up of Coles County men, which, at that time, included Douglas. this company rendezvoused near the old spring on the land known afterwards as the MOONEY farm, north of the State road in the northwest corner of Section 34-12-7. The night before they started wary, they were cheered up and entertained by Samuel VAN METER (later the Doctor), who came to the camp and in his characteristic way, gave them imitation of Dick NEWPORT, a famous early preacher in the county, and otherwise caused them to forget their sadness at parting from home and friends.

The names of those sufficiently familiar to indicate that they went from what is now Coles County, besides that of Capt. BISHOP, are: John J. ADAMS, First Lieutenant; H. C. DUNBAR, Second Lieutenant; Darius and Leroy WILEY, Sergeants; Arick A. SUTHERLAND and Austin WILEY, Musicians; and G. W. CARTMELL, Thomas DOWLING, Alex GRIFFIN, Joseph GOODE, Samuel HARMON, Wesley HOGE, Henry W. LOUTHAN, George W. MILLER, Samuel MILLER, Francis MARION, Thomas MITCHELL, Nathaniel PARKER, Thomas TURNER, Jackson SUBLETT, James WILEY, Reason WILEY, William C. ASHMORE, Joseph CARTER, Thomas FANCHER, William C. HARMON, Moses HART, James P. OWINGS, John D. POULTER, William SUBLETT, Bennett CORNWELL, Harmon EASTIN, Thomas HART, and Joseph L. WINKLER, privates. The company suffered much from sickness. The last four named died in the field and the preceding eight were discharged on account of disability. The company took part in the siege of Vera Cruz and the battle of Cerro Gordo. Of the whole company, there remain at this writing upon earth only four: Leroy WILEY, living in Paris, Ill.; Austin, his brother, in California; Joseph GOODE, near Mattoon; and George W. MILLER, in the Soldiers' Home, at Danville, Ill.

Civil War.--In the Civil War Coles County did her part nobly. Her sons were on many bloody battle-fields and hundreds of them never returned from the scenes of that terrible fratricidal strife. The first volunteers enlisted at Charleston and were mustered in Company C of the Eighth Regiment for three months, under the command of Col. Richard J. OGLESBY, James M. ASHMORE was its Captain; James B. HILL, First Lieutenant, and Daniel SAYER, Second Lieutenant. William S. MARSHALL, of Charleston, was the Second Captain of Company D in the same regiment.

Many Coles County boys were in Company E of the Twenty-fifth Illinois Volunteers (a three years' regiment), and that company had for its' Captains Westford TAGGART and William J. SALLEE, both of Charleston. TAGGART later became Lieutenant Colonel of this regiment.

U. S. GRANT was appointed Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry, by Governor YATES, in June, 1861, and assumed command of the regiment on the 16th day of that month, at its rendezvous near Mattoon; and from that, as a starting point, began the brilliant career of this great soldier which has made his name immortal.

Judge A. M. PETERSON, long an honored citizen of our county, commanded a company from Jasper County in that regiment.

Company D, of the Forty-first Regiment, commanded first by Edmund W. TRUE, who was killed at Fort Donelson, then by R. H. MCFADDEN, and then by Joseph WITHINGTON, was made up largely of Coles County volunteers. R. H. MCFADDEN was later promoted to be Major of the regiment.

The Forty-ninth Regiment was without any privates from Coles County, but William W. BISHOP, who commanded a company in the Mexican War, was its Lieutenant Colonel.

The Fifty-fourth Regiment, which had for its Second Colonel, G. M. MITCHELL, of Charleston, who later was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General, included very many Coles County soldiers. Company C of that regiment, commanded first by Byrd MONROE, then by M. W. ROBBINS, and then by Henry M. MCCRORY, all of Charleston, was made up almost entirely of men from our county. ROBBINS later became a Major, and MCCRORY became Sergeant Major (non-commissioned staff) in the same regiment. William W. PURINTON and Russell W. WILLIAMS, of Mattoon, were Captains of Company A, and James T. SMITH, of Mattoon, was Captain of Company F in the Fifty-fourth.The Sixty-second Regiment Illinois Infantry was commanded by Col. James M. TRUE. It had some privates from here and several officers. Lewis C. TRUE was First Adjutant, then Major and finally Lieutenant Colonel, and in command of the regiment at the date of its muster-out, March 6, 1866. The late Dr. V. R. BRIDGES was a surgeon of the same regiment. Col. James M. TRUE, while still a Colonel, was for a time in command of a brigade. This continued for a year or more, and just before the close of the war, he was promoted to Brigadier General by brevet.

The Sixty-eighth Illinois (a three months' regiment) had Houston L. TAYLOR, of Mattoon, for its Lieutenant Colonel, and Company C of this regiment was made up of Coles County men. The Captain of Company C was John P. ST. JOHN, of Charleston.

The One Hundred and Twenty-third Regiment had as its first commander Col. James MONROE, a most gallant and popular officer, who was killed at the battle of Farmington, Tenn., October 7, 1863. Jonathan BIGGS, of Mattoon, succeeded MONROE as Colonel. James A. CONNOLLY, then of Charleston, now of Springfield, was Major of the regiment. That regiment had in its ranks many Coles County soldiers, and Company A, commanded first by James B. HILL and then by Oscar F. BANE, both of Charleston,was made up entirely of volunteers from this county. Company D, commanded by James L. HART, of Etna; Company H, commanded by A. C. VAN BUSKIRK, John W. CHAMP and Thomas E. WOODS, all of Mattoon; Company I, commanded by William E. ADAMS, then of Mattoon, and Company K, commanded by Owen WILEY, of this county, were all composed mainly of men from this county.

The One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Regiment embraced few privates from Coles County, but its first commander was Jonathan RICHMOND, of Mattoon. It was organized and mustered in at Alton, September 4, 1862, and mustered out July 12, 1865.

The One Hundred and Forty-third Regiment had for its Lieutenant-Colonel John P. ST. JOHN, of Charleston, who afterwards became Governor of Kansas. This regiment contained a large number of privates who entered the service from Coles County. Company A of the regiment, made up entirely of Coles County volunteers, was commanded by Capt. Richard S. CURD.

The regiments just named were all infantry regiments.

Thomas A. MARSHALL, of Charleston, was the first commander of the First Regiment Illinois Cavalry, and Company C, made up mainly of Coles County volunteers, had for its first Captain, G. M. MITCHELL, who was later made Colonel for the Fifty-fourth Infantry.

The Fifth Cavalry was largely recruited from Coles County. Thomas MCKEE, of Mattoon, was the first Captain of Company B; George W. MCCONKEY, of Oakland, was the first Captain of Company E, followed by Francis M. WEBB, of Coles County; and Benjamin G. GLENN, of Mattoon, was the Second Captain of Company I, of the regiment.

The TRUE family was well represented, as the record shows. The following members of the family went from this county, and all of them were officers: James M., Edmund W., Lewis C., John W., James F., and Theodore E. TRUE.

The HART family, in the southern part of the county, probably had the distinction of sending a larger number of its members to the war than any other family in the county. The following is a list of the members of this family who enlisted and saw service: Aaron HART, A. Y. HART, Joseph HART, J. D. HART, W. P. HART, D. S. HART, W. H. HART, E. B. HART, A. Y. HART, Jr., Samuel HART, John HART, Miles W. HART, J. L. HART, J. M. HART and C. F. HART; also the following, whose mothers were of the HART family: J. F. GOAR, Robert FLOYD, Edward FLOYD, John REMELS and Joseph REMELS.

As an indication of the fidelity of the county to the cause of the Union in that memorable war, it may be stated that, by August 1, 1862, Coles County had sent to the front thirteen companies and had three more nearly full, making about sixteen companies in all. This would have been Coles County's quota for one hundred and sixty-three regiments--nearly twice as many as the State had furnished up to that time.

The Adjutant-General's report, issued early in 1864, showed that Coles County had then furnished to the Union Army more than her quota. Her quota, under the various calls up to that time, was about 1,339, but up to October 1, 1863, she had actually furnished volunteers to the number of 1,870--an excess of 531 above her quota--and this did not include those who had enlisted in regiments from Missouri and some other States. Not more than three, or possibly four, counties in the State furnished as many volunteers in proportion to actual population as did Coles County.

In July, 1863, about twenty men from Mattoon and vicinity, under the command of one LANE, a brother of T. P. C. LANE, went to Indiana to help drive out John MORGAN, who was reported to be about to ravage that whole State. On their return, not having gotten sight of the famous guerrilla, but having shown their good intentions at least, they were tendered a complimentary dinner at the Pennsylvania House, in Mattoon, by its proprietor, Thomas MCKEE.

In August, 1863, a regiment of State militia was organized at Charleston, under a call of the Governor. McHenry BROOKS was made its Colonel, James M. ASHMORE, its Lieutenant-Colonel, and John P. ST. JOHN, its Major.

Many citizens who have been prominent in county affairs, enlisted elsewhere and moved to Coles County after the close of their term of service. In this category stand the names of Hon. H. A. NEAL, of Charleston, and Hon. H. S. CLARK, Col. J. F. DRISH, Hon. L. LEHMAN, Capt. W. E. ROBINSON, of Mattoon, and others.

I feel that, in this brief review, I have not done Justice to Coles County's share in the great war for the preservation of the Union. There are scores whose names deserve to be recorded here, but this is rendered impossible by lack of space in this publication. To the remnant of that great army still lingering on earth's shores, let us be tolerant and tender. For those who so freely laid down their lives that this Union might not perish, we can only scatter the flowers of each recurring spring upon the earth in which they sleep, and utter, with sorrowful lips, the universal benediction, Requiscat in Pace!

Spanish-American War.--In that short and sharp little difficulty with Spain in 1898, Coles County again was there with her share of volunteers. Company E, in the Fourth Regiment, Illinois Infantry, commanded by Charles E. RUDY, was made up--with only two or three exceptions--of Coles County boys, and quite a number of volunteers from this county were in other companies of that regiment.

The regiment went to Cuba early in January and remained there about three months, performing guard duty in the vicinity of Havana. It was not the fault of its members that they failed to do much fighting. The destruction of Spain's war vessels upon the sea by our great captains of the navy put Spain out of the war business so early, that the land forces had little opportunity to give evidence of their prowess.

Return to the main index page for Coles County

©2004, Transcribed by Judy Anderson for Illinois Genealogy Trails