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Edgar County History Page

The History of Edgar County, Illinois

Transcribed and contributed by
Jane A. Fullington

This history of Edgar County is taken from the book, "The History of Edgar County, Illinois", published in 1879 by Wm. Le Baron, Jr. & Co., 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago, Ill. It was compiled by historians, W. H. Perrin, H. H. Hill, and A. A. Graham.



As we go up the ascent of time, past histroy shrinks and shrivels up into points, the light specks only making the darkness visible. While this is true of nations it is especially true of individuals, however great in their day, and however important the results achieved through their instrumentality. In this respect history does not repeat itself. It must be reproduced as far as possible with all its original antecedents and surrounds; otherwise, much that the world cannot afford to lose will pass silently, but no less surely, into the remorseless gulf of oblivion. The past, with all its momentous changes, has ever been regarded as important, and richly deserving of record. Long before letters were invented, legendary tales and traditions were employed to perpetuate a knowledge of important events, and transmit the same to succeeding generations. Hieroglyphics were afterward used for the same purpose. But all these forms of memorial have long since given place to the pen and the type among civilized nations. The introduction of modern alphabets made writing less difficult, and the invention of the art of printing afforded facilities for publishing books before unknown. The thirst for knowledge produced by the press and the Reformation, and the growing taste for history created by the latter, brought out a host of historians, rendered their works voluminous and scattered them broadcast over the world. Many of them, read in the blazing sunlight of civilization, have all the fascination of a romance, and but increase in interest as time rolls on. The papyrus roll of ancient Egypt, containing mysterious records of the Dark Ages, and the ponderous folios of Confucius, that antedate tradition itself, were not more valuable to the sages and philosophers of old, than the printed page of the nineteenth century is to the scholar and enlightened individual of to-day. It is hoped, therefore, that the present effort to select and preserve some gleanings and reminiscences of early days in this section of the State, will not be deemed unimportant, nor wholly destitute of interest.

Although Illinois has contributed much to enrich the pages of history, her resources are by no means exhausted, and it requires but the historian's pen to cull from the chaotic mass important facts, and present them in a tangible form to the reader. And with all her vast wealth of historical lore, no part of the great State possesses more of genuine interest than this section. A period of time which would be considered remote in Northern Illinois, would be regarded as recent in Edgar County. Pioneers here were beginning to look upon themselves as "old settlers" when Chicago consisted of but a fort and trading-point of trappers and Indians. Even before the bright star answering to the name of Illinois appeared in the azure field of the Stars and Stripes, the pale-face had begun to dispute with the red man for these fair lands, the smoke of his cabin to ascend from their forests, and his "civilized war-whoops" to awake the echoes of their hills and brakes.


Edgar County lies in the eastern part of the State, and is bounded on the north by Vermilion County, on the west by Douglas and Coles, on the south by Clark County, and on the east by the State of Indiana. It is nearly a square, being about twenty-three and a half miles wide by about twenty-seven miles long, and thus containing something less than six hundred and forty square miles. The eastern and southern borders of the county, comprising perhaps two-fifths of its area, are occupied by the timbered land adjoining the banks of the streams which run toward the Wabash River. The remainder, with the exception of a few sections about the head of Embarras River, in the western edge of the county, is occupied by the Grand Prairie, some arms of which also run quite deeply into the timber, along the divides between the different creeks. The timber is mainly the same as that of the timbered lands to the northward; but in the southeastern part of the county, beech begins to take a prominent place, and a considerable number of pines find congenial soil above the heavy-bedded soil; but, in some of it's eastern extensions into the timber * (footnote: * Geological Survey of Illinois), this is mostly wanting, and the soft, dark-brown clay of the subsoil comes nearly to the surface. The bottoms of the prairie sloughs generally contain more or less of the light-brown, marly clay, in which may be found fresh-water shells. The State Geologists' Report, from which we shall make occasional extracts in these pages, says that some years ago the almost perfect skeleton of a mastodon was obtained from one of these prairie sloughs, which, after having been exhibited through all parts of the United States, was sold to a Philadelphia museum, and that fragments of skeletons of this animal are not rare in this section. The beds of the "Drift Period" we shall notice more fully under the head of Geology, to which subject a chapter will be devoted fruther on in this work.


We have said that a period remote in the history of Northern Illinois, would be regarded as recent in Edgar County. Look at the dates, 1817-- 1879! Sixty-two years are between these milestones, standing along the highway of Time. Sixty-two years! Twice the chances of human life. Thirty years are a generation's life-time, and thus the allotted span of two generations has run out since white men first came to the wilds of Edgar County--one year before Illinois was admitted into the Union as a State. The entire State was then a "waste, howling wilderness," peopled by Indians, wolves, panthers, bears and other wild and savage animals. Lo, the change that threescore years have wrought! The Indians, the original owners of the soil, are fading away, as it were, in the distant West; the panthers and wolves are almost forgotten, and "the wilderness has rejoiced and blossomed as the the rose," while hundreds of happy and prosperous homes dot its forests and prairies. A large proportion fo the citizens of Edgar County are American- born. From the pine forests of Maine to the palmetto groves of South Carolina and the cotton-fields of Tennessee, her population has come. Every State lying between these points has contributed more or less to the settling- up of the County. The hardy sons of New England, with their thrift and Yankee ingenuity, the stirring New Yorkers, the Pennsylvania Quakers and Dutch, the far-seeing Buckeyes, the industrious Hoosiers, the dignified Virginians, the warm-hearted Southerners, the courageous Kentuckians, are here grouped together, forming a class of people that for native intelligence, favorably compare with those of any section or country; while one of the results of the late war was in importation of Sambo, who has been denominated "God's shadow on the dial of American Progress." The first settlement in Edgar County was made along the timbered margin of the "North Arm" of Grand Prairie, which extends deep into the county on its eastern side, and was originally known as







When Illinois was admitted to the Union as a State, in 1818, it was composed of fifteen counties. One of these, Crawford, included what is now Edgar County. The organization of the State drew the attention of emigrants toward it, and consequent enlargement of the settlements. This necessitated the formation of more counties, for men then, as now, considered themselves fully capable of managing their own governmental affairs, and, consequently, among the early acts of the Legislature appear the creation of counties almost as fast as the bills therefore could be presented and acted upon. The influx of immigrants to the northern portions of Crawford County, in 1819 and 1820, led to the formation of Clark county, which, by a similar manner, in the spring of 1823, suffered a division, and Edgar County was the result. The act for its formation we have been unable to obtain, and must, therefore, omit its insertion in this connection. For the benefit of our readers, however, we would state that the bill authorizing its formation as a county was passed by the Legislature January 23, 1823, and was approved and signed by Edward Coles, then Governor of the infant State. In pursuance of the act of organization, and election was held in the spring of 1823, when John B. Alexander, Elijah Austin and Charles Ives were elected County Commissioners.

When the county was organized, Judge Wilson appointed Col. Mayo Clerk of the Circuit Court. It was his duty now to put the county in proper shape to hold the election for County Commissioners. He went to Clark County, where he took the oath of office. Gov. Coles had appointed him Recorder and Notary Public, and, on his return from Clark County, he swore in Lewis Murphy as Judge of Probate Court, and all the Justices of the Peace that had been commissioned by the Governor. William Reed was appointed Sheriff, and as soon as the Commissioners were elected and qualified, Edgar County was a reality.

The county received its name from Hon. John Edgar, one of the first three Judges of the Illinois County, when that municipality was part of the "Old Dominion." He was a resident of old Kaskaskia when Gen. St. Clair arrived there, in February, 1790, under instructions of Gen. Washington.

The Commissioners met at the house of William Murphy on the first Monday in April, 1823, chose Amos Williams Clerk of Court, and were ready for business. The first thing on record is the report of John Boyd and John Houston, Commissioners appointed by the Legislature to locate the seat of justice for the new county. The seat of justice for Edgar County was to be located on twenty-six acres of land, the property of Samuel Vance, and to be known by the name of Paris.

The government of the county continued under the precinct system until 1856. By this system, the Court consisted of three Commissioners elected by the people. All business relating to the county was transacted by this Court as it is now done by the Board of Supervisors. In 1851, the newspapers of the county began a discussion as to the practicability of Edgar County abandoning the Board of Commissioners and adopting the township plan. It was agitated until 1856, when the Court, in answer to a united desire on the part of the people of the county, ordered an election to be held to determine the question. This election was held on November 4, 1856, and resulted in 1,349 votes in favor of township organization and 971 votes against it.

The County Officers

This list of officers from the organization of the county (January 23, 1823) to 1879, is furnished by the Secretary of State.

Note.--The dates designate "date of commission" unless otherwise stated:

County Judges.

Lewis Murphy, February 17, 1823, January 18, 1825; William Lowry, July 4, 1826; Smith Shaw, July 4, 1827 (resigned August 8, 1828); Jonathan Mayo, September 27, 1828, January 23, 1829; Henry Neville, September 11, 1837; Samuel Connely, August 31, 1839 August 18, 1843 August 18, 1847, November 21, 1849; James Steele, November 19, 1853; A. B. Austin, November 13, 1857; George K. Larkin, November 15, 1861; A. Y. Trogdon, November 17, 1865; R. B. Lamon, November 10, 1869, November 13, 1873; A. Y. Trogdon, December 1, 1877.


Jonathan Mayo, February 15, 1823; John M. Kelley, August 29, 1835; R. N. Dickenson, August 17, 1839, August 15, 1843, August 19, 1847.

County Clerks.

Robert N. Dickenson, November 21, 1849; George W. Rives, November 19, 1843, January 26, 1858; A. B. Austin, November 15, 1861; O. H. P. Forker, November 17, 1865; A. J. Hogue, November 10, 1869; George W. Baber, November 11, 1873, November 1, 1877.


Amos Williams, January 17, 1823; Hugh Scott, February 2, 1827; William J. Mayo, March 12, 1829, March 22, 1831; Brown Wilson, January 10, 1833, August 29, 1835, August 17, 1839; N. Guthrie, August 15, 1843; Benjamin F. Lodge, August 19, 1847, November 21, 1849; C. B. Jones, December 7, 1853; Edw. Woolcott, November 12, 1855; E. F. Miller, November 21, 1857; John Y. Allison, November 14, 1859; B. F. Lodge, February 3, 1862; George Anthony, December 9, 1863; Lewis Wallace, December 8, 1865; George W. Foreman, November 20, 1869, March 7, 1872, November 15, 1875.

Public Administrators.

Elijah Austin, January 18, 1825; Robert J. Scott, March 4, 1843; W. B. Edwards, March 3, 1854; Joseph E. Dyas, March 30, 1874.

Circuit Clerks.

James M. Miller, elected September 4, 1848, November 11, 1851; William J. Gregg, November --. 1852, November 14, 1856; W. D. Latshaw; O. J. Martin, November 22, 1864; A. B. Powell, November 6, 1868, November 18, 1872; S. O. Augustus, November 29, 1876.


William Reed, May 8, 1823, September 3, 1824; S. B. Shellady, April 18, 1826; William Whitley, September 1, 1826, September 9, 1828; Joseph Dunn, September, 7, 1830, September 5, 1832, August 25, 1834, August 9,1836; Robert M. Rhea, October 16, 1837, September 5, 1838, August 17, 1840; James Gordon, August 13, 1842, August 27, 1844; John Hunter, August 27, 1846; Robert Clark, August 17, 1848; James F. Whitney, November 20, 1850; James Gordon, September 29, 1851; Michael O'Hair, November 23, 1852; John C. Means, November 14, 1854; Michael O'Hair, November 11, 1856; William M. Snyder, November 10, 1858; M. E. O'Hair, November 26, 1860; William S. O'Hair, November 21, 1862; John W. Sheets, November 18, 1864; J. H. Magner, November 13, 1866; H. M. Swisher, November 6, 1868; W. S. O'Hair, December 1, 1870; Burt Holcomb, November 15, 1872, November 24, 1874; Charles L. Holley, November 15, 1876, December 2, 1878.

Associate Justices.

Joseph Neville (resigned), November 22, 1853; J. W. Parrish, November 22, 1853; John Ross, November 29, 1856.

School Commissioners.

S. P. Read, R. N. Bishop, George Hunt, R. S. Cusick, December 1, 1873; W. H. Roth, December 1, 1877.


George Govid, May 8, 1823; David Crosier, August 20, 1824; George Board, September 1, 1826, September 11, 1828; L. R. Noel, August 12, 1830; George Board, September 5, 1832; H. M. Elder, August 25, 1834; George Board, August 9, 1836, August 23, 1838, August 8, 1840, August 13, 1842, August 14, 1844; Levi James, August 27, 1846; Richard Childres, August 23, 1848; George W. Turner, November 20, 1850; Thomas Crimmings, November 23, 1852; Thomas Evans, November 14, 1854; Otis Brown, November 11, 1856, November 10, 1858; Levi James, November 15, 1860, December 6, 1862; George Titus, November 22, 1864; S. J. Young, November 13, 1866, November 6, 1868; Asher Morton, November 10, 1869, December 12, 1870, December 8, 1874; J. W. Garner, November 15, 1876, December 2, 1878.


J. H. Connely, A. J. Hogue; A. J. Baber, March 4, 1869; William J. Hunter, March 7, 1872; James L. Vance, December 1, 1873, November 11, 1875; A. J. Barr, December 6, 1877.

The First Birth, Death and Marriage.

The first white child born in the county is supposed to have been Charlotte Stratton, a daughter of John Stratton, one of the first five white settlers, who is said to have been the first white man that ate his dinner in his own house on this side of the Wabash. The daughter above referred to was born in August, 1817, and, after arriving at maturity, married Andrew Hunter, a son of S. K. Hunter, of Paris. They had two children and then removed to Platte County, Mo., where the parents died. The children were brought back to Edgar County, and raised by their grandparents. The first marriage of which there is any definite information was that of Edward Wheeler and Miss Narissa Jones, a daughter of Jacob Jones, an early settler of the county. They were married in 1822, by Elijah Austin, one of the Justices of the Peace. After marriage, they went to New York, his native State, where they remained several years, then returned to Edgar County and made it their permanent home. There is little certainty regarding the first death in the county. The first that has come under our notice was that of Dr. Url Murphy, a younger brother of James and William Murphy, early settlers of the county. He died in 1822, and if not the first, was one of the first, that occurred.

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