STORY of OLD BROWNSVILLE
First County Seat of Jackson County, Illinois
Donated by Nancy Attey
Extract from an address given before the Illinois State Historical Society, by
Elbert Waller, a native of Jackson County and now representing them in the
Legislature. A. D. 1928 Reprint from the AVA CITIZEN.
On the banks of the Big
Muddy about four miles west of Murphysboro, are a few heaps of stones - all that
is left of the erstwhile County Seat of Jackson County. Those who struggled here
have all been called to their fathers on the other shore and unfortunately
nearly all the records were destroyed by fire. Doubtless many precious fragments
of history have been lost but a faithful tradition has handed down to us a great
deal of interesting information.
Who was the first to come or when I am not able
to state but records say Bennington BOONE was born there in 1807. He was the son
of William BOONE who operated a flat boat on Big Muddy and defended the people
against the Indians in 1812 and was later a State Senator. They were relatives
of the famous pioneer and Indian-fighter, Daniel BOONE.
In 1818, the same year
that Jackson County was organized, this town was laid out by the brave pioneers
who, drawn by the magic of the word, Illinois, had come hither to work out
their destinies in this strange new land. Every man belonged to the Citizen
Militia at that time and once a month the people roundabout gathered at the
county seat for Muster and after the officers had bawled themselves hoarse
they would have a barbecue, meantime they swapped yarns and sleights of art
and feats of strength went around. At such a gathering there was always some of
the Wimmem folks who usually prided themselves in being good cooks. Some of
them brought their knitting along. Often some old woman sat on an ox cart
selling a mixture of water and honey called metheglin for a penny a gourd.
Later, whiskey was freely peddled out at two-bits a gallon.
became disgraceful affairs and the best people were happy when the law was
repealed. They had elections then but quite different from the elections of the
present. On election days they met at the County Seat to hear some one read the
ILLINOIS HERALD, a newspaper published at Kaskaskia, and after a free discussion
of the pros and cons of the issues they voted Viva Voca . Their differences
were usually settled out of court by agreement, by arbitration or by fighting it
out. Lawsuits were uncommon but here is an account of one which was published
in 1878. A man named Wolf was charged with stealing a hog. He was asked,
guilty or not guilty? and he replied, If yer honor please I believe I am but
if you have any doubts just call Bill Page. He was with me and got half of it
but we needed it. The Judge replied, It appears that you are guilty. You are
fined five gallons of whiskey and the cost of the suit, the cost to be paid in
deerskins killed in the short-blue season.
Mr. Scott CREWS, a descendent of one
of the oldest families of Southern Illinois, tells me that the first school at
Brownsville was held at the home of William BOONE in 1814. The first bill
providing for free schools in Illinois was introduced by Senator Joseph DUNCAN
of Brownsville. It passed, was signed by the Governor and became law on January
25th, 1825. On the 6th day of June Jesse GRIGG who had been representative in
the General Assembly filed a petition signed by himself and sixteen others of
the Brownsville community, which laid out the first free school district in
Illinois. The school was held in the Court House and James McMURRAY was the
first teacher. He was a sort of jack at all trades , and each summer he would
build a flatboat and take a cargo to New Orleans which he exchanged for things
the people needed. He had gotten one leg broken and it was considerably shorter
than the other. He could not walk well and he was nicknamed Old Hopping John .
When the Legislature authorized the organization of the State Bank at Kaskaskia,
then the State Capital, and three branch banks, one of these was established at
Brownsville. Another was established at Shawneetown and the other was to be at
Albion but was never organized. Several of the older citizens of Jackson County
remember Rev. Phil DAVIS who taught school in Brownsville and was also pastor
of the Methodist Church at that place. He was one of the commissioners
appointed to restore the records that were burned. Milton REYNOLDS, the
great-grandfather of County superintendent L. E. ETHERTON, was a general
merchant at Brownsville. He often went down the Big Muddy and the Mississippi
to New Orleans to exchange produce for merchandise. From one of these
expeditions he never returned and is supposed to have been drowned. Old
Brownsville was not without names that will live in history. We have already
spoken of Senator Joseph DUNCAN who later became Congressman from that district
and was also Governor of the State. Conrad WILL manufactured salt and became
wealthy. He was State Senator for Brownsville in the First General Assembly.
We have already mentioned William BOONE who was Senator in the Second General
Assembly. Jesse GRIGG, already mentioned, was representative in the First
General Assembly. Sidney BREESE who later became United States Senator lived in
Brownsville, plead his first law suit there and lost it.
Alexander M. JENKINS
was a carpenter of Brownsville and helped build many of the houses. He was
Representative in the General Assembly in 1830 and again 1832 when he was
elected Speaker of the House. He was Lieutenant Governor form 1834 to 1836, was
the leader in organizing the Illinois Central Railroad Company and was a member
of the convention that gave us the Constitution of 1848. It is worthy of note
that he had a sister, Polly Ann GLENN, who lived and died at Brownsville and her grave in the old cemetery is a grave stone carved by his own hands, dated
January 6th, 1833.
The Court House was a two-story frame building in the center
of the Public Square. It was used also for a school house. Here is the story
of how Old Brownsville became a deserted village . Soon after midnight on the
morning of January 10th, 1843, it was discovered to be on fire. People worked
hard to save it but all in vain. Everything was burned except a few of the
records which were saved by the heroic efforts of County Clerk D. H. BRUSH who
later distinguished himself as one of the bravest Colonels of the Civil War. A
few hours and all was over for everybody knew that Brownsville was doomed and
that this was its funeral pyre. Four days later a marriage license was issued
to George M. BROWN and Ann CROSS. So ends the record.
The Old MANNING House - the last of the Old Town, was destroyed by fire about five years ago. Mr. J.
W. GRAEFF prizes as a valuable relic the key to the old jail. A good number of
families had settled farther East and were wanting the County Seat nearer the
center of the county. After a spirited election on the first Monday in August
1843, it was decided to locate it on a twenty-acre tract donated by Dr. John
LOGAN, father of the later famous General John A. LOGAN. This was the beginning
of Murphysboro, or as it was then called, Shieldsboro, and this was the end of
Colonel C. C. BOONE, now in the Soldiers
Home at Roseburg,
Oregon, is supposed to be the only person living who was born in Brownsville. A
few months ago Messrs. C. H. SCHUMACHER, Fred DOODY, Don HAGLER, Edgar WALLER
and myself with our families spent a day on this hallowed ground. We definitely
located the old jail and a few other places rather indefinitely. We found the
old cemetery, neglected of course and grown up in the woods. Yet even these
bones from insult to protect, Some frail memorial still erected nigh, With
uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked, Implores the passing tribute of
We managed to decipher a few names: Medina ROOS (ROSS) died September
1, 1828, Polly Ann GLENN died January 6, 1833, Ellis MANSKER died April 20, 1831,
Udosia BYERS died July 5, 1833, Margaret A. GLENN died October 31, 1833,
William OZBURN died February 7, 1837; Carved by OZBURN, Penina WELLS died
April 27, 1831, Mary--wife of Peter KIMMEL died April 1, 1839, Margaret Ann
LIMRICK died March 2, 1826, Ezra Jones HAUS (?) Died July 28, 1844. The last is
the only one we found buried after the removal of the County Seat. There were
several others we could not identify. William WORTHEN, from whom is descended
the well-respected WORTHEN family, lived in Brownsville as early as 1816 and is
supposed to be buried there. William BOONE surely was buried there but we found
no gravestone for him. Udosia BYERS, referred to above as buried there, was the
mother of indorph OZBURN, who later distinguished himself as the brave Colonel
of the 31st Illinois Infantry after General LOGAN s advancement from that
position. Colonel E. A. WELLS, President of the City National Bank of
Murphysboro, is a descendent of Homer WELLS who lived near Old Brownsville. Penina
WELLS was doubtless some relation of not his wife.
We are indebted to Col.
WELLS for several bits of information. Since I made my trip there Mr. G. A.
RATHGEBER of Murphysboro who has delved deeply into local history has found the
grave of Conrad WILL in the Old Brownsville Cemetery. But now the sounds of
population fail; No cheerful murmurs fluctuate the gale; No busy steps the
grass-grown foot-way tread; But all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
TRIPLES with EMMA