Embracing an Account of the Settlement
and Early Progress - Compiled and Published by Mr. Henry A. Ford in
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
History of Marshall County
The lower half of Putnam county, on both sides of the river, had gained strength enough, by the opening of the year 1839, to demand county privileges of its own. Lacon was beginning to assume some importance; Henry had made a promising commencement; there was a flourishing little village on the site of Webster; and the prospective cities of Dorchester, Bristol, Auburn, Lyons, Chambersburg, and Troy City, had been staked out upon the prairies or by the river side.
About ten years had passed since the first settlers of Marshall made their claims at Roberts Point and near Strawns Woods; and settlements had spread far out upon the Round Prairie, and were skirting the Half Moon had thinly dotted with farms the high prairies west of Illinois and scattered habitations about nearly every grove and through the strips of forest belting every stream.
But there were wide tracts of unoccupied prairie still in its primeval wildness on the eastern and western borders, and magnificent distances between many of the fields in the settled districts. The population of the territory set off to from Marshall county was not far from fifteen hundred and was rapidly increasing.*
In1836, a considerable colony arrived from Ohio, and settled in Lacon (then called Columbia). The new settlement comprised a number of men of large intelligence ane enterprise, who at once gave an impetus to the infant town and surrounding country.
At the first session of the Legislature after their immigration, several chartered privileges were granted to the colony; and two years after, in great part through their exertions, movements for a new county were begun, and prosecuted to a successful issue.
On the 13th of January, 1838, a meeting of the citizens of Lacon precinct was held, ostensibly to nominate candidates for Senator and Representative, to be supported at the ensuing August election, but evidently with a view to the formation of another county from Putnam. The meeting expressed a high opinion of the ability and integrity of Col. W. H. Henderson, of Spoon River, and recommended him to the district as a candidate for Representative.
*In 1840, the census returned a population of 1649 993 males, 556 females, no negroes.
John Hamlin, of Peoria, was also recommended for re-election to the Senate. A Committee Dr. H. W. Efner, Ira I. Fenn, Esq., and Jesse C. Smith was appointed to act and correspond as might be necessary in forwarding the objects of the meeting. A few weeks subsequent, some fear being entertained in Tazewell county that its territory would be abridged to the amount of two townships, in the event of the division of Putnam, a meeting was held at Washington for the purpose of consulting on the best means to prevent the citizens of Putnam county from curtailing our county on the north (that part which is now Woodford county). Learning this, the Lacon Committee of Correspondence promptly disclaimed any such intention; and the matter rested there.
As already noted, the vote of Lacon precinct was cast very largely in favor of Col. Henderson, the Representative elect, who was expected to carry out in the Legislature the measures already taken for a new county. The local press favored the project, even that at Hennepin giving a qualified approval, as many inhabitants there feared they would lose the county seat, if a division were not made. The things promised success; and the usual advertisement of intention to present a petition for dividing Putnam county was made in October.
On the 10th of December, Col. Henderson presented a numerously-signed petition from citizens of Putnam, praying the establishment of a new county to be called Marshall. It was one of the first petitions presented in the House, and met with speedy favor. A bill was reported two days afterwards, in accordance with the prayer of the petitioners, which had any easy passage through the House, as it proposed to cut off territory from no other county than Putnam, and hence there were no local interests to oppose it. On the 1st of January the bill went to the Senate, where it received some unimportant alterations and passed. The House agreed to the amendments without a contest; and the bill became a law Jan. 18th, 1839. This was only three days after the petition to establish Stark had been presented.
This act fixed the boundaries of Marshall as they now are, except that the two townships on the east, then belonging to the county of La Salle, were not included. At the same session, however, an act was passed to add range one to the counties of Marshall and Putnam, which provided for the addition of these two townships to Marshall, if the qualified voters therein gave their assent. This was not obtained, and the measure failed. Four years later, a similar attempt was made with better success, under an act approved March 1st, 1843, which granted part of range one to Marshall alone, upon the same condition, which was fulfilled by the voters of the two townships and the annexation effected.
The Commission to locate the seat of justice for the new county consisted of William Ogle of Putnam, D. G. Salisbury of Bureau, and Campbell Wakefield of McLean county, who were faithfully to take into consideration the convenience of the people, the situation of the settlements, with an eye to future population and eligibility of the place. If selection were made of any town already laid off, the proprietors should be required to donate to the county a quantity of lots equal to twenty acres of land, or a sum of $5,000 in lieu thereof, for the purpose of erecting public buildings. Under these requirements, but one town was likely to become a candidate for the honor, as Henry was owned by a school district, and neither of the paper towns answered the other conditions of selection.
The Commissioners accordingly reported (6th April, 1839,) that they have selected and hereby located the seat of justice of the County of Marshall at the town of LACON, and designate Lots number four and five in Block number forty-five on the plat of the addition to the original town of Lacon, as the place on which the Courthouse shall be erected; also Lot number three in the same block, on which the other public buildings are to be erected, said lots having been donated by the proprietors of said town for the aforesaid purposes. The proprietors also, with their characteristic liberality, gave notes for the required instalments of money, to commence the erection of county buildings. Otherwise there was not a dollar in the treasury.
The organic act provided for an election of officers, to take place on Monday, the 25th of February, of which fifteen days notice were given by Geo. Snyder, Esq., a Justice of the Peace in Lacon Precinct. Twenty-eight candidates offered themselves for the several offices, no less than eight of them being for Sheriff; and a considerable interest in the election was excited, though the canvass was a short one.
The candidates chosen were Elisha Swan, William Maxwell and Geo. H. Shaw, County Commissioners; Wm. H. Efner, Probate Justice; Chas. F. Speyers, Recorder; Silas Ramsey, Sheriff; Anson L. Deming, Treasurer; A. S. Fishburn, County Clerk, Geo. F. Case, Coroner; and Jordan Sawyer, Surveyor.*
The Commissioners met on the Saturday following their election, in Lacon, at the house of John D. Coutlet, and organized the first County Court. Upon casting lots, Wm. Maxwell was made Commissioner for the term of one year, Elisha Swan for two years, and Geo. H. Shaw for three years. Ira I. Fenn was appointed Clerk pro. Tem. The county was laid off into justices districts or precincts, two east and two west of the river, to which the names of Henry, Lafayette, Lacon and Lyons, were given.
*For a list of officers of Marshall county, see Appendix.
John Wier was appointed School Commissioner, and Mr. Shaw authorized to demand and receive a third of the internal improvement funds paid into the treasury of Putnam county, to which Marshall was entitled under the act for its creation. Several endeavors were made afterwards, through various agencies, to get a proportion of the fund, but without success, for the reasons mentioned on a preceding page.
The first Circuit Court began on Tuesday, the 23d of April, and was held in the Methodist Church, in Lacon, a building now occupied for a carpenters shop. Hon. Thomas Ford sat as Judge, and J. M. Shannon was appointed Clerk. The Grand Jurors were Ira F. Lowry, foreman, Lewis Barney, Joel Corbell, Jeremiah Cooper, Allen N. Ford, Charles Rice, Wm. Gray, Enoch Sawyer, Zorah D. Stewart, Elijah Freeman, jr., Nathan Owen, George Scott, Samuel Howe, Robert Bennington, John Bird, Andrew Jackson, Henry Snyder and Allen Hunter. The Jury had no criminal business brought before them and were discharged on the day of their organization. There was no Petit Jury, and but little business at this term of Court.
A movement toward the building of a Court-house was made in June, 1839, and one of the Commissioners instructed to ascertain the probable cost of materials for its construction. Proposals for putting up such public building were soon after advertised for; and in December a contract was concluded with White & Shepherd, of Tremont, for the erection of a Court-house forty feet wide and fifty-five feet long, with superstructure of brick and underpinning of stone.
It was built the following year, at a cost of $8,000, and stood until the afternoon of the 5th of January, 1853, when it was burned to the ground, through a defect in one of the chimneys. All the records, books, papers, and furniture, with a portion of the structure, were saved; and, as an insurance of $5,000 had been effected upon the building, the process of re-construction was commenced without delay. The present handsome edifice was built by two Peoria firms, for $7,300.
The destruction of the Court-house incited the citizens of a portion of the county to attempt the removal of the county seat, or the formation of a new county west of the river, of which Henry should be the seat of justice. A meeting was held, and a Committee appointed to draft a memorial to the Legislature, and to procure subscriptions for a Court-house in Henry, should the county seat be removed thither. But the prompt rebuilding of the Court-house, and discovery of an article in the State Constitution prohibiting the division of any county so that the boundary of the new county passes within ten miles of the county seat already existing, prevented the prosecution of their purposes.
The first jail was erected in 1844. It was a square building of hewn timber, two stories in height. It appeared to be strongly constructed,but proved insecure, many prisoners escaping from it. In 1857 it gave place to a new and much larger prison, built of brick and stone, at an expense of $12,000.
At the November election in 1849, the system of township organization was adopted. The townships were set off the next February by the County Commissioners, with the advice and assistance of citizens from different parts of the county; and were organized in April. The original township lines, according to the surveys, were retained throughtout, and the townships named respectively Evans, Roberts, Hopewell, Lacon, Richland, Belle Plaine, Henry, Whitefield, Fairfield and Steuben. Fairfield has been since changed to La Prairie; and Bennington and Saratoga have been organized in townships where then population was too limited to justify organization.
Some excitement was created in 1855 by the absconding of the School Commissioner, Lucius Loring, with a large portion of the school fund. His sureties were held for it, however, and the county was not largely the loser.
Only the leading events in the history of Marshall as a county organization have been outlined in this chapter. Other facts in the history of its people and early settlement will be related under another title.