Embracing an Account of the Settlement
and Early Progress - Compiled and Published by Mr. Henry A. Ford in
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
The opening of the year 1825 saw Illinois a State of less than a hundred thousand inhabitants, and the whole of its northern half still a wilderness, without an organized county, a post-road, or a considerable settlement. Chicago was little more than "a village in Pike County, situated on Lake Michigan, at the mouth of Chicago creek, containing twelve or fifteen houses, and about sixty or seventy inhabitants." (Becks Gazetteer of Illinois and Missouri p. 100) -- Peoria was "a small settlement in Pike county, situated on the west bank of the Illinois river, about 200 miles above its junction with the Mississippi." (Ided, 143).
A few winners had clustered about the lead mines in the vicinity of Galena, which had been opened in 1823; but a road through the unbroken wilderness eastward or southward was not made until late this year, when "Kelloggs Trail" pointed the devious way from Peoria to Galena (History of Ogle County, pg. 30). Not a white mans habitation, nor a ferry, was to be seen along its entire route, Northern Illinois was still the roving ground of the Winnebago and the Pottawatamie.
The "Military Bounty Land Tract" was the first to be settled when the tide of Americans emigration began to flow with some rapidity to Illinois; and at a very early day pioneers had located at various points on its broad prairies. (Reynold; Own Times). This Tract was surveyed by order of the Government in 1815 and 1816, and the greater part subsequently appropriated in bounties to the soldiers of the regular army in service during the last war with Great Britain. It was located between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and extended due north 169 miles from the mouth of the Illinois river, to a line drawn from the great bend of the stream below Peru to the Mississippi, which it strikes about fifteen miles above New Boston, being ninety miles between the two points. The whole comprises 207 full and 61 fractional townships - altogether 5,360,000 acres, of which about 3,500,000 were appropriated for soldiers bounties. After satisfying the military claims, the remainder was made subject to entry and purchase, like other Congress lands; and it was rapidly disposed of.
The necessity of a county organization on the Military Tract, for judicial and other purposes, was early apparent. In 1821, Pike county was laid off by the Legislature, including all that part of the State north and west of the Illinois river from its junction with the Mississippi to the Kankakee, and north of the latter to the Indiana line, covering a vast extent of territory. It was described in 1823 as containing between 700 and 800 inhabitants. (Becks Gazetteer, p. 82). It sent one member to the House of Representatives, and, with Greene county, one member to the Senate. The county seat at first was Atlas, and afterwards Colesgrove, mentioned two years after the county was created as "very little improved," but "bids fair to be a place of importance." (Reynolds Own Times, 238).
Ten counties were organized within three years after State Government was formed; but only three were created within the next two years, showing that emigration had received a check, or that the previous grants of the Legislature were nearly equal to the demand for new counties. A considerable number were set off at the session of 1824-5. During the years since the State organization, the Military Tract had increased its population more, perhaps than any other section of the state; (Reynolds; Own Times, 283) and land could be procured there cheaper than Congress price. It was now thought advisable to divide it into counties.
On the 6th of December 1824, in the House of Representatives, Nicholas Hansen, the member for Pike county, presented a petition for its division into sundry counties. It was referred to a select committee, of which Hansen was Chairman, who reported "an act forming a new county out of Pike and the attached portion thereof." On the second reading, it was referred back, with directions to inquire if it would not be expedient to lay off the whole Military Tract into counties, and if so, to report by bill.
A new Committee was soon after appointed, with definite instructions to divide the Military Tract into counties, under such regulations as they should deem expedient. Accordingly they reported "An act forming a new county in the vicinity of Fort Clark," (Peoria County) and "An act forming new counties out of the counties of Fulton (Fulton had just been created at the same session) and Pike, and the attached portions thereof." The bills passed, their several readings without difficulty; and on the 30th of December were carried through the House. In Senate shortly after, both were passed and sent back with amendments. The House concurred in an amendment to the first bill, but refused to concur in the amendments to the second. Subsequently, however, its action was reconsidered, the amendments passed and the bill became a law Jan. 13th, 1825 (See House Journal for 1824-25)
The act provided for the formation of Schuyler, Adams, Hancock, Warren, Mercer, Henry, Knox, and Putnam counties. (It will be observed that all these counties are named from Revolutionary heroes.) The provisions for the erection of each was substantially the same. Putnam county occupies but a single section.
Sec. 7 -- Be it further enacted, That all that tract of country within the following boundaries, to-wit: Beginning at the point where the township line between Townships 11 and 12, north touches the Illinois river, thence up the said river to the south fork thereof, thence up the said fork to the line dividing the State from Indiana, thence up the said line to the north-east corner of this State, thence west on the north boundary line thereof to the range line between ranges 4 and 5 east, and thence south on said range line to the line between Townships 11 and 12 north, thence east to the place of beginning, shall constitute a County, to be called the County of Putnam. (Revised Laws, 1824-25, p. 94.)
These boundaries, stretching from the present northern limits of Peoria county along the Illinois and Kankakee rivers, the Indiana line, the lake shore, and Wisconsin boundary to a point only 35 miles from the Mississippi, and thence due southward 105 miles, included nearly 11,000 square miles, being the tract now covered by Bureau, Stark, Kendall, Lee, Ogle, DeKalb, Kane, Boone, Lake, DuPage, McHenry, Stephenson, Winnebago and Cook counties, and portions of later Putnam, Marshall, Henry, LaSalle, Grundy, Will, Kankakee, Carroll, Whiteside and Jo Daviess. Chicago was the only town in this great wilderness county.
As soon as the county had 350 inhabitants, they were authorized to organize and elect county officers for which the Judge of the Circuit Court was directed to issue an order. In 1830, Putnam and Peoria counties (whose census returns were united) contained 1,310 whites, (U.S. Census Rep, 1830, 140.) and Putnam has been estimated to have had at that time a population of about 700. (Peoria Register, June 30, 38). It was never organized, however, as its people were too widely scattered to make organization convenient or necessary. Whatever judicial business there was appears to have been transacted at Peoria.
The county was ignored by subsequent Legislatures, in the formation of other counties upon its territory; and it was not recognized even in the act of 1831, creating the present county of that name. Nevertheless, it has usually been considered by writers on Illinois as the original of the present Putnam, and its so mentioned in their works. (See Peck;s New Guide for Emigrants, Pecks Gazetteer of Illinois - both editions-, Ellsworths Illinois in 1837, etc., etc., etc.,)
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