LaSalle county was named after Robert de la Salle, a French explorer who sailed down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the region for France.  De la Salle was responsible for the first European settlements in the area - Fort Crevecoeur on the Illinois River near Peoria in 1680, and Fort St. Louis on Starved Rock in 1682.

Established in 1831

LaSalle County was originally part of Putnam County, which had been established in 1825 Because of the lack of population, the original Putnam County was reorganized and at act on January 15, 1831 established three counties - Cook, Putnam and LaSalle County.  In 1831, LaSalle County covered parts of present-day Kendall, Livingston, and Marshall Counties, and the entirety of present-day Grundy County. The current boundaries of LaSalle County were established in 1843.

Charles Edwin Youmans and the Underground Railroad
(The Escape of Nigger Jim)

Donated by Leo Ingmanson

Leo writes, "The following is from Historical and Genealogical Notes of the Youmans and Underhill Families and Connected Family Lines compiled by Louis Irwin Youmans, Oakland, Chicago Illinois 1936. The book is hand written, and this is an excerpt from the biography of Charles Edwin Youmans, born May 4, 1832, Rockland Co., NY; died July 29, 1887, Seneca, La Salle Co., IL. "

In the early days of his residence in Seneca, he (Charles Youmans) was associated with D.C. Underhill, a Quaker and a well known, early settler of the region. Quaker David, as he was generally called, was before the Civil War, a zealous abolitionist, and participant in the operation of the famed "Underground Railway", by means of which many slaves escaped from southern slavery to liberty.

A story little known and jealously kept secret for many years was that of the escape of a slave "Nigger Jim", whose case was a celebrated one in Illinois history. A runaway from the south he found refuge for a time in Illinois, but was apprehended, and brought into court to be sent back south, under the fugitive slave law. But while the proceedings were going on in court, a disturbance arose, developing into a near riot. The slave was grasped by friendly hands, and which his enemies were so jostled about, apparently by accident as to prevent them from interfering, was ushered from the court room, and when the confusion was over, and quiet was restored, he had vanished and was never again apprehended.

That is the history of the case so far as was generally known. But long after the death of my father, I learned from my mother and elder brother, Wm. A. Youmans, that one night two young men traveling up the valley, who had for traveling companion, a colored man, the "Nigger Jim" of the escape. The two young men of Seneca, guided the fugitive thru the miles of swamp and forest (for they durst not follow the roads lest they be seen and betrayed) to the old homestead of David C. Underhill " Quaker David" which still stands along the road at the foot of the north bluff of the Illinois valley about one and one half miles west of Seneca. On another night, the same two young men, conducted the fugitive slave on his way to the north and Canada, until they delivered him in safety to other agents of the Underground Railway, with whom he journeyed on toward liberty.

The two young men of Seneca, as I learned, were David L. Carpenter and Charles E. Youmans, my father. As their action in assisting a runaway slave, would have subjected them to severe penalty, had it become known at the time, their connection with the affair was kept secret. After the Civil War, of course there was no necessity for further concealment, but by that time the affair was far in the background of time and importance that it is not surprising that I, a youth at the time of my father's death thirty years later, had no inkling of the story until long after his death. Nigger Jim escaped to Canada and did not return till the Civil War freed him. I have no information as to his subsequent history.

Back to LaSalle County Illinois History and Genealogy

Back to Illinois Genealogy Trails