Transcribed by: Ellen Booth.Page 328
The year immediately succeeding the admission of Illinois Territory to a position among the sisterhood of states, immigration commenced to flow steadily into the Sangamon country, and during the following half-decade quite a number of settlements were formed within the present limits of Menard County. Settlements, contemporaneous with those at Clary’s Grove, which are recorded as the first made in the county, were begun in the present precinct of Athens. But first as to its position and topography. It is situated in the extreme south-eastern portion of the county, and is bounded on the north by Indian Creek and Sugar Grove Precincts, east and south by Logan and Sangamon Counties, respectively, and west by the Sangamon River and Petersburg Precincts. In shape, it very closely resembles the capital letter L being ten miles along its northern boundary, by two and one-half on the east, and five and one-half on the west. The surface is pretty nearly equally divided between woodland and prairie. Congressionally, the precinct is included in Townships 17 and 18 north, Ranges 4, 5, and 6 west of the Third Principal Meridian. The northern half of this section is far better adapted to purposes of tillage and pasturage than the southern. The soil is of the finest quality, and yields abundant harvests of the various cereals commonly cultivated in this latitude. Handsome and costly private residences, such as are seen mostly in the suburbs of populous cities, are not infrequently met with in traveling through this part, and these along with the finely cultivated farms which they adorn, bespeak the success which has attended those who were fortunate enough to secure a firm footing here in an early day. Nearly the entire surface is sufficiently elevated and rolling to obviate the necessity of artificial drainage. The timber area is confined to the western portion, along Indian Creek and the Sangamon. The west and middle fork of Fancy Creek crosses the eastern portion, and affords drainage to a vast area of the prairie portion of the precinct. Indian Creek flows in a general western direction through the northwest part, and with streams of lesser importance on the west side, all tributary to the Sangamon drains effectually the woodland district. The Springfield & North-Western Railroad crosses it in a general northwestern direction. Having taken this somewhat cursory glance at the topography of this section, we will next direct our attention to its
As was the unvarying custom, these were made in the edge of the timber, and not far distant from the water-courses. And here, upon the very threshold of our investigation, we are environed with difficulties. To designate any one of the earliest settlers as being the first would be to assume a risk that we do not feel disposed to take upon our shoulders. A number came in at nearly the same date, and the testimony is so evenly balanced in making each first, that we are rather inclined to think that that honor cannot, at this late date, with safety, be accorded to any single individual. Among the earliest, however, we may chronicle the arrival of Robert White and William B. Short. Both were from Green County, Ky., and settled in the northeastern part of the precinct, in Indian Point timber. They are said to have staked off their claims and commenced their improvements in the fall of 1819. Short settled near the creek, while White laid his claim a short distance north and west of him. The claims first staked off they improved and afterward entered, and these they continued to hold during their lifetime. Short died in 1863, and was buried at the old Lebanon Cemetery, near his place of residence. He was the “most married” man in the entire community, as he plighted his love at the nuptial alter no less than five times. White’s decease occurred a few months ago, he having lived to a ripe old age. The old homesteads are owned and occupied by James C. Short and R.F. White, sons of the early pioneers. An elm tree, bearing the initials “W.B.S.,” yet stands not far distant from the family residence, and marks the corner of the Short claim made in that early day. The same fall, or possible in the early spring of 1820, Joseph Smith who came from the southern part of Kentucky, made a claim on the south side of Indian Point timber. Smith was a wagon-builder by trade, and, as he had a shop at his residence in quite an early day, it was beyond question, the first in the precinct. He improved the farm now owned by Alfred Turner. He died a number of years ago, and lies buried at Indian Point Cemetery. William Holland, a brother-in-law of Smith, came from Ohio and laid a claim, also on the south side of the creek. Holland was a blacksmith, and, like Smith, was the first mechanic of his kind in this entire section of the country. He was appointed by the Government blacksmith to the Kickapoo Indians in this section, and received for his services $500 per annum. Some years later, by order of the Government, he went to Peoria, or Fort Clark, as it then was, where he was similarly employed for some time. He finally moved to Washington, in Tazewell County, where he died several years ago. Some of his descendants are still living in and around the city. Matthew Rogers, from Otsego County, N.Y., built a log cabin one mile north and east of the present village of Athens. This he did not occupy, however, until the spring of 1821. Four years later, the claim was surveyed, and as soon as it came into market, he entered quite a body of land. The closing years of his life were spent in the village of Athens, where he closed a long and well-spent life in 1847. Three of his children are yet residents of the precinct—Henry C., its oldest citizen, Mrs. Amsberry Rankin and Mrs. Harry Riggin. The life of Mr. Rogers was so prominently connected with the early settlement of this section, that he seems worthy of more than a passing notice. He is a descendant from the name stock with the celebrated John Rogers, who was burned at the stake, a martyr to his devotion to religious principles. He married Anna, daughter of Timothy and Miriam Lee Morse, through whom the family is connected with the late Professor S. F. B. Morse, the illustrious inventor of the electric telegraph. While in New York, Matthew Rogers occupied a prominent position in the community, and was a colonel of militia. The family emigrated to Illinois in 1818, but so tedious and slow were the means of travel in those early days, that leaving home in September, they did not reach Troy until the following February. He built a frame barn in 1825 or 1826, and this is said to be the first frame building erected in the State north of the Sangamon River. He established the first nursery in the same limits, and kept the first post office. In the fall of 1819, Thomas Primm came from St. Clair County, and had a claim southeast of where Athens now stands. After taking the preliminary steps necessary to secure this claim, he retuned to his family. He returned in the summer of 1820, and raised a crop, but did not bring his family until the fall following. On his first visit, he sold the animal on which he rode, to Stephen England, in payment for which England was to build him a cabin and make a stipulated amount of rails. His cabin was built in 1819, but was not occupied till the fall of 1820. The family of John Primm, his brother, was here in the summer of 1820; the advent of the Primm family to Illinois dates back to a very early day. John, the father of Thomas and John above mentioned, came from the Old Dominion to St. Clair County in 1802. The date of coming on their mother’s side reaches even farther back. Mrs. Primm was a daughter of Abram Stallings, who came down the Ohio River from Virginia, and settled in the present bounds of St. Clair County in 1796. Their father, with his three brothers, William, James and Thomas, were soldiers in the Revolutionary struggle, and fought in Washington’s command. Thomas Primm died at his home, near Athens, in May, 1856, at the age of seventy-four. Three of his sons still reside in the precinct, viz.: William, Dr. Thomas L. and Abraham. Daniel, Ninian, James and John died after arriving at manhood, each having acquired considerable property. The sons of John still living are Elisha, John and Enoch. The settlements now mentioned were the very first made in what is now Athens Precinct. Orimal Clark laid a claim on the site of the village of Athens as early as 1820. He did not remain long before he sold out to Rev. John Overstreet, and moved to Fancy Creek, below Williamsville. He finally moved to Springfield, where he died a number of years ago. A number were added to the citizenship of the precinct during the year 1820, Martin Higgins, John Moore, a Mr. Terry, William Armstrong, James Haynes and John Good, all came during the last-mentioned year. Higgins was from New York and was a son-in-law of Matthew Rogers. He settled the farm on which William Primm now resides, and which, in an early day, he sold to his father, Thomas Primm. Higgins next located south of Indian Creek, and continued to live there until the date of his decease. Moore and Terry were both from Vermont, and settled at Indian Point. Moore was a cabinet-maker by trade, and had the first cabinet-shop in this section. Terry and his wife were finely educated, and found themselves ill at ease among their less fortunate backwoods neighbors. Both sold to Martin Higgins, and moved to Springfield. Here Moore followed his trade for some years, and then located in Macomb, Schuyler County. The last that was seen of him in this section, he was traveling in the capacity of a colporteur for the Presbyterian Book Concern. Terry, after his removal to Springfield, engaged in clerking, and his wife in teaching school. A few years later, they again returned to their native State and never returned west subsequently. William Armstrong settled near Indian Creek, and in a few years sold to Eli Branson and moved to what is now Sandridge Precinct, near the present village of Oakford. A number of his family resides there at present. Pleasant Armstrong, a single brother, lived with him and was an early Justice of the Peace in this section. Haynes and Good were both Buckeyes. The former settled south of Indian Creek, and, after some years, sold to Martin Higgins and moved to Texas. Good settled farther west on the prairie between Indian Creek and Oak Ridge timber. He sold to the father of Judge Tice, and, and in company with Haynes, moved to Texas. The name of James Gardner, also, should appear among those of the settlers of 1820. Gardner was from the Empire State, and laid a claim where the Widow Riggin now resides. His father, quite an aged man, lived with him. He remained but a few years, then sold to Harry Riggin and moved over into Fulton County. In 1821, Walter Turner made a claim on the south side of Indian Creek, which he improved and occupied until the date of his demise. His son Walter now occupies the old homestead. Harry Riggin also came the same year, purchased land and engaged in tilling the soil. His ancestry dates back to Ireland, and there bore the name of O’Regan. Soon after coming to America, having renounced Catholicism and espoused Protestantism, the family name was changed to Riggin, the form it has since borne. During his lifetime, he was often heard to express himself sorry that a change in the name should ever have been deemed necessary. He was an enterprising and useful citizen, and his name was many times prominently before the people. He was a member of the first Board of County Commissioners for Sangamon County, whose duty it was to locate the county seat. He was at different times a candidate for office, but was defeated, his competitors for popular favor being such men as Stephen F. Logan, Ninian Edwards and Abraham Lincoln—men who afterward achieved success in a wider field of fame. His long and public-spirited life closed in 1874, after he had attained to the ripe age of eight-one years and six months. Elisha, Abner and James Hall, brothers, came from Ohio and settled in the vicinity of the present village of Athens as early as 1822. Some of their descendants are still living in and around the village. Phillip Smith was a Buckeye, also, who made an improvement where Theophilus Turner now lives. Smith was a blacksmith by trade and followed his profession in connection with farming. William Johnson and James Williams were from Bath County, Ky., and made settlements in 1823, north of Indian Creek. Johnson died in 1843. His wife, having reached the seventy-fourth milestone on life’s journey, is yet living, and is passing her few remaining years in the families of her children. Her son Jefferson now owns the old homestead, and a naked spot in the yard, but a few feet distant from his excellent farmhouse, marks the location from which but very recently the pioneer cabin of his father and family has been removed. Williams located west of Johnson and further down the creek. He was a farmer and tanner by trade. He reared a large family, and amassed a goodly amount of this world’s goods. He died in 1837, and was buried on the farm which he improved and which is now owned by Col. John Williams, his son. Although Col. Williams has been a citizen of Athens Precinct only for the past three years, still we deem it apropos to give a short sketch of his life in this connection. At the time of his father’s removal from Kentucky, he was a lad of some sixteen or seventeen summers, and was engaged in clerking in a village store. His employer was unwilling to release him, and, consequently, he did not come until the year following. He made the trip on horseback, bringing the safe-money of his father, and, as the currency at that time was almost exclusively silver, to successfully conceal it and bring it safely to its destination was no small feat for a boy of his age to accomplish. This, however, he did, after a long, tedious journey. John’s inclinations were for the life of a merchant and soon after coming he obtained a situation as clerk in Springfield, afterward became partner and finally proprietor. His success fully attests the wisdom of his choice. He continued to make Springfield his home until about three years ago, when he erected his splendid mansion on his father’s old homestead and brought his family from the city to enjoy the retreats of his quite country home. In a business way, he is largely identified with the city of Springfield to-day, and is one of the solid business men of the capital. To him more than to any other one individual is Menard County indebted for the successful completion of the railroad which links with iron bands her county seat to the State capital. John H. Moore, from Kentucky, was here as early as the fall of 1823, possibly a year earlier. Included among those who came prior to 1830, we find the names of John Turner, William Stanley, Scott Rawlins, Jonathan Dunn, Asa Canterberry, John S. Alexander, William McDougal, Theophilus Bracken, Allen Turner, Amberry A. Rankin and Fleming Hall. They were mostly from Kentucky and Ohio, and settled near Indian Creek and in the vicinity of Athens. Fleming Hall had emigrated from Virginia to Missouri, in 1828, and, in 1829, he came to Menard and pre-empted the land on which the village of Athens now stands. He remained two years upon his pre-emption claim, then entered it and sold it to Abner Hall and a Mr. Catterlin. Mr. Hall removed to his present place of residence, a short distance from the village, some forty-eight years ago. Here, in the family of his son Elihu, the father, having attained the age of eighty-five and the mother the more advanced age of ninety-one, are passing quietly their few remaining days. When Mr. Hall and Benjamin and John Wiseman were laying off the school section into small lots for sale, Mr. Lincoln was their surveyor, and the tall, athletic form of the future President, passing silently through the deep ponds which the others were glad to avoid, is recollected as something edifying. Canterberry and Alexander were both from Kentucky, and settled in the south part of the precinct. Some of the descendants of Canterberry are still residents of the neighborhood in which he settled. Scott Rawlins settled on the farm now owned by W. L. Rankins. He was a kind of horse doctor and horse jockey professionally, and withal was not very popular with his neighbors. Indeed, his sudden accumulation of large numbers of horses at different times warranted the suspicion that they were not always obtained by strictly legitimate means. His increasing unpopularity led him to dispose of his land in an early day. He moved to an island in the Illinois River, not far from Bath, where he died a number of years ago. McDougal and Bracken are both dead, but have a number of representatives yet living in the precinct. Amberry A. Rankin is still living, and having accumulated a fine competency, has retired from active business pursuits, and is quietly passing his declining years in the village of Athens. During the years 1830-31-32, but few were added to the settlements already made. The excitement incident upon the Black Hawk war had a tendency to check emigration for a time. In the spring of 1832, J. Kennedy Kincaid, then a young man, came from Bath County, Ky., and located in the neighborhood where he at present resides. He was a carpenter by trade, and found here a fine field for operating his mechanical genius. Landing at Beardstown, he walked from there to Springfield, in order to save his scanty means for the purchase of a kit of tools. By dint of industry, he soon secured means enough to enter a small piece of land, and this he improved and still owns. He was also one of the early pedagogues of this section. In the fall of 1833, his father, Andrew Kincaid, came through on horseback to visit his son and prospect the country. In the fall of 1834, he came with his family and settled where his son Thomas Kincaid now lives. After a long and useful career, he terminated his life in 1872, at the ripe age of eighty-seven. His wife lingered on the shores of time till March, 1879, when she followed that beckoning hand at the more advanced age of ninety-one. They left a large family of children, and their sons are among the wealthy and influential farmers of the section in which they reside. James Rankin, also from Kentucky, settled in the vicinity in 1833. As early as 1840, further settlements were made by Jesse G. Hurt, David and James K. Hurt, Jesse Preston, Josiah Francis, Thomas Hargus, William Strawbridge, Charles Robinson, R. L. Wilson, Neal and Archibald Johnson and others, doubtless, whose names have passed from memory. But time and space forbid that we shall particularize in regard to all these. Suffice it to say that they were all good citizens, and aided in the improvement and development of the country of which, at an early day, they became citizens.