Blissville Township, which forms the subject matter of this chapter, is one of the west
tier of townships, and is situated southwest of Mount Vernon. It lies south of Casner
Township. west of McClellan, north of' Bald Hill, east of Washington County, and is
designated as Township 3 south, and Range 1east. The surface is rather broken, and
diversified between prairie and woodland. An arm of Grand Prairie extends into the
township. There are also several other small prairies notably Knob Prairie, in the south-
east part, which receives its name from the elevation of the ground, it being about as
high as the site of Mount Vernon. In the timbered section are found black, white and
post oak. wild cherry, black walnut, hickory, sassafras, together with hazel and other
shrubs. The principal stream is Rayse Creek, or the west fork of Big Muddy. This
passes through the northeast corner of the township and is fed by a few small brooks
and branches which form the natural drainage of the township.
The settlement of Blissvilie Township dates back to 1822-23. About that time
Sherman Ross and Jesse Green. Sr.. came and settled in the northeast corner. Jesse
Green died in the township and left a large family. Ross moved to Shelby County,
taking his family with him. He was a thriftless sort of a fellow, with but little
energy, but not of real bad habits. Green was fond of hunting, and participated
freely in all kinds of backwoods sports and pastimes. John Hailes settled in the
timber along Big Muddy, and was among the first comers in that section. He wae a
good, easy, harmless man, who never did much for himself or for any one else. He
cleared a small "patch" of ground, and put up a cabin of poles. About two years
afterward, he sold his improvement to Jesse P. Dees, an uncle of Judge Jesse A. Dees,
of this township, and moved up to Gun Prairie. Jesse P. Dees, however, soon settled
in another part of the township, where he died. He made an extensive improvement,
and opened quite a large farm for that early day, and was in good circumstances at
the time of his death. John Finch bought the first improvement of Jesse P. Dees,
and settled here about 1826. but afterward sold out and moved to Missouri. He was
a farmer and gunsmith; a rude, rough fellow, of the true frontier type, but finally
professed religion at a camp meeting in Washington County, and was afterward licensed
as a preacher by the Methodist Church. William Linsey was an early settler in the
neighborhood of Jesse P. Dees. He was a good, honest man. and sold his improvement
to Reuben Green and moved back into Washington County. Reuben Green, who bought his
improvement, raised a large family, who settled around him.
An early settler was Mr. Herron, on Grand Prairie. He afterward moved into
Washington County. Peter Sibert afterward settled on the place where Herron first located.
Erastus Fairchild settled in Grand Prairie, near the north line of the township. He was
a common farmer, and sold out to Thomas Bagby. The latter occupied it several years,
and then sold out and moved into Washington County, and afterward to Texas. Samuel
Hunter also settled in Grand Prairie about 1840, and is living there yet James Welch
settled in the same neighborhood about the same time. He was from Ohio, and was a
large land owner. He lost part of his family here in 1844 and returned to Ohio, but
afterward made several trips between Ohio and Illinois, and was finally lost on the Ohio
River in a steamboat disaster. A son of his had come here in 1839, and is still living in
Jesse A. Dees, one of the prominent and wealthy farmers of the township, came to
Jefferson County in 1824 with his mother and step-father, Lewis Green. They settled in
what is now Casner Township, where James Wood lives. Mr. Dees is one of the oldest
living settlers of the county, having been here almost sixty years. Joseph Laird came
in about 1840, and settled in Grand Prairie. Knob Prairie was settled bv David Fairchild.
who sold to B. L. Herrons. who came here about 1822. He was from Ohio, and was a
brother of Erastus Fairchild, already noticed. H. Hackett was here some time, but
was a kind of a transient character. Eli Gilbert settled in Knob Prairie about 1840, and
was from Ohio. He opened a store soon after settling here, and sold goods for several
years; he died here and left a large family. Another Ohio family was the Places—Isaac
and Sidney who settled in Knob Prairie in 1840-42. "The latter is still living here.
Henry Bushon came in about 1815, and settled between Knob and Grand Prairies.
Such were some of the settlements and the people who made them in this particular
division of the county. When we ponder on those olden times, rude and rough as they
were, we almost wish for their return. Those good old days when the girls rode behind
their sweethearts to church or dance, and when the horses always "kicked up." and
the girls held tightly on (then the girls hugged the boys—now the case is reversed);
when husband and wife visited on the same nag. and the wife carried her babe snugly
cuddled up in her lap. Those good old days when the hypocrisy, shams and selfishness
of modern society were unknown; when the respectability of men and women was not
measured by their bank accounts, nor by display of shoddy finery, but by the simple
standard of worth and merit, by their usefulness in the community, by their readiness to
aid the suffering and to relieve the distressed; when there were no social castes or
distinctions, and when honesty and uprightness were the livery of aristocracy. Ah!
those were the times of free-heartedness and genuine honesty
The pioneer's first thought is something for his family to eat, and hence a mill in a
new country is an object of supreme interest. One of the first institutions of this kind
was a tread mill owned by Maj. Herron on land now the property of Samuel Johnson.
It was a rude affair, but was much better than no mill at all. and the settlers used to
come from a considerable distance to it to get their corn ground. Eli Gilbert had a mill
very early. He built a water mill on Big Muddy but it was never much of a success and
soon disappeared altogether. He found it impossible to dam the stream, and so he
damned the whole thing and gave up the enterprise. A grist and saw mill, operated by
steam, was put up near Williamsburg. It passed through different hands, and was finally
moved to Saline County.
Blissville Township was named in honor of Augustus Bliss, who settled in Casner
Township and made an attempt to lay off a village, which never improved. He started
to California during the gold fever excitement, and died of cholera on the way, leav-
ing a wife and five children. The first voting place was an old house on the place
where Samuel Johnson now lives; the regular voting place at present is at Locust
Grove. The following is a list of the township officers since the county adopted
Supervisors—S. R. Johnson. 1870-73; J. A. Dees, 1874; Samuel Johnson, 1875-6; T.
H. Mannen, 1877; S. Johnson, 1878-79; 0. P. Norris, 1880; A. Welch, 1881-82:
J. D. Norris, 1883.
Town Clerks—J. R. Dunbar, 1871-73; J. Lemmon. 1874-75; L. E. Denslow, 1876;
E. Bagshy. 1877; J . D. Norris, 1878-80; W. D. Hicks. 1881; J. Perry. 1882; W. D.
Assessors—D. T. Campbell. 1872-73; W. H. Norris, 1874: William Robinson. 1875-
76: E. Green, 1877-79; J. W. Robinson, 1850-81: J. Hicks, 1882; E. Green, 1883.
Collectors—D. J. Hicks, 1872-73; H. P. Daniels. 1874-75; W. Gilbert, 1876;
W. Norris, 1877: M. F. Norris. 1878; W. Gilbert. 1879; Isaac Hicks, 1880-81;
J. D. Norris. 1882; W. Gilbert 1883.
School Treasurers—Edwin Green. 1872-73; E. Fairchild, 1874; L. E. Dunbar, 1875;
John Gaddis, 1876: J. Tuttle, 1877; J. M. Gaddis, 1878; J. M. McConneoughey, 1879-
81; J. V. Wingard. 1882; G. A. Baldridge, 1883.
Highway Commissioners—W. M. Elliston J. B. McConneoughey, J. P. Anderson, J. B.
McConneoughey, W. Gilbert, A. Welch, D. P. McConneoughey, A. Snider, A. J. Shurtz,
D. H. Keller, J. Jones. R. Green, C. Gilbert. W. B. Elliston, James Reed, R. Gilbert,
A. J. Shurtz.
Justices of the Peace—A. J. Shurte and B. L. Bowmaster, 1870-72: A. J. Norris and
J. R. Dunbar, 1873-74; J. McConneoughey and J. H. Dunbar, 1875-76; S. Johnson and
H.P. Daniels, 1877-80; S. Johnson and E. Green, the present incumbents.
Constables—Cyrus Gilbert, 1870-72; R. Green, 1873-76; A. J. McConneoughey.
1877-79; T. McAtee, 1880; J. Land, 1881; J. Wingard, 1882; J. Lemmington, 1883.
The first public highway in the township was called the Mount Vernon & Nashville
road, or Jefferson County & Washington County road J. A. Dees made the first trail
where this road was laid out. There were nothing but a few paths and trails before
this road was made. Good, substantial wooden bridges now span the streams where
they are needed.
Among the prominent stock-dealers are Joseph Mannen, Josiah Tuttle, Andrew
Welch, Jesse A. Dees. A. Gilbert, etc, etc. They buy and sell and deal in cattle, mules
and hogs. Mr. Dees has some very tine cattle, and deals largely in mules; he has on
Land at present some sixty odd head of mules. Mr. Gilbert also has a large number
Williamsburg.—The village of Williamsburg is situated in Knob Prairie, on the
northeast quarter of Section 35. It was laid off by Drs. Moore & Peavler December
17, 1867, into four blocks, one of eleven lots, one of twelve lots, and two of ten lots
each. John Hagle built the first storehouse, and David Hicks the first residence. His
sons opened a drug store, and also built a residence, into which Thomas Westcott
moved. The Mannings came a little later, and then Place. Henry Willis erected Borne
brick buildings, the first in the village.About the year 1864, Anderson built a mill,
but soon afterward sold it to Boswell, and Boswell sold it to James Dare. A good
schoolhouse has been built in the town. At present, J. D. Norris keeps a general store,
J. W. Robinson a drug store and William Hicks a drug store. Dr. 0. P. Norris is
Postmaster. The usual number of shops are operated. The place has about one hundred
inhabitants. The town is called Williamsburg, but the post office bears the name of
Blissville Township was not backward in educational matters, and schools were early
established and schoolhouses built. One of the first schoolhouses in the township was
built near where Eli Gilbert settled. It stood on the farm now owned by Cyrus Gilbert,
and was of logs 16x18 feet, the cracks daubed with mud. The first teacher was of
the name of Bellis. Another pioneer school house was on the land now owned by R.
Gilbert, and A. Welch was one of the early teachers here. A schoolhouse was built on
the land of G. J. Hoyt, in Grand Prairie, and another on the laud owned by the heirs
of Reuben Green, Jr. The township has at present six schoolhouses, conveniently
located on Sections 7. 10, 16, 18. 24, 28. In these, schools are taught for the usual
term each year by competent teachers.
The church history of Blissville Township is extensive, and dates back to an early
period of the settlement of the country. At tirst, meetings were held in dwelling-houses,
and in the woods in summer. The Grand Arm Methodist Church was the first church
built in the township. It was put up about 1840. Among the early members were Abner
Minson and wife, Jacob Freeman and wife, Susan Eubank, Jesse P. Dees and wife,
Naomi Dees, John Freeman and wife, and perhaps others. Among the early preachers here
were Simeon Walker, T. W. Williams, James Johnson, Files and J. Barnes. The organization
is still kept up, and the society has a good frame building. A graveyard is adjacent, in
which slumber many of the early members of this pioneer church. The membership of the
church is about sixty, and an excellent Sunday school is maintained during the summer,
of which J. Tuttle is Superintendent. Rev. Mr. Root is pastor of the church at the present time.
Mount Zion Church is located in the northern part of the township, and has but a small
attendance. Pierce's Chapel now bas no regular attendance or organization.
At Williamsburg, there is a Methodist Church with an interesting membership of
about forty. Rev. Root is the pastor. A good Sunday school is maintained.
There is also a Universalist Church at Williamsburg,with some forty members, under
the spiritual supervision of Rev. Mr. Maddox.
Blissville Township has no railroads, nor no manufacturing interests. It is decidedly
an agricultural and stock-raising region. Its nearest shipping point is Woodlawn,
on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, located a couple of miles from the northeast
corner of the township. This road: though not touching the township, has been of
great benefit, by increasing the value of property and real estate, as well as in
affording the farmers transportation facilities.
With all the growth and activity, which assumes larger proportions in the recital than
in the actual experience, the community which gathered in this township was really
on the frontier at the time of which we have been writing. While not so completely
isolated as some of the other earlier settlements in Southern Illinois, the people
experienced many of the hardships and discomforts incident to frontier settlements.
Mills were early built near by, but from lack of power or adequate machinery most
of the flour and much of the meal was procured at Carmi and other and even more
distant points, enduring long, tedious delays. As a farming district, the settlements
in what is now Blissville Township were of slow growth: the village of Mount Vernon,
some ten miles distant, seemed to absorb the floating population. Here and there the
smoke curled upward in the air from the scattered log cabins, and the busy pioneer
protracted the day long into the night in clearing up his farm.
Deer were plenty, and were shot in large numbers, while wolves, panthers, wild cats
an occasional bear, and the whole class of small game that was found in this section in
early times, afforded wholesome meals and rare sport to those fond of hunting. Most
of the early settlers were from the Southern States, and brought here with them many of
their social characteristics. Saturday afternoons, as they are still, were a general
holiday, and the farmers repaired to the neighboring village. But few in the community
had very strong scruples then against the use of whisky, and strong potations tended to
make fun lively, and not unfrequently caused rough-and-tumble fist fights.
Thus time passed in the early years of the country, the people enjoying themselves in a
rough kind of way. They were rude, but generous to a fault, and always ready with
their time and labor to assist a new comer or a friend in his time of need.
Source: The History of Jefferson County, Illinois
by William Henry Perrin
Published by Globe Pub. Co. in 1883)
Submitted By: Cindy Ford