Long ages ago, the worst curse that a good man could wish to befall an enemy was that he were compelled to "write a book," for good old Job cried out in anguish "O, that mine enemy would write a book;" and surely this should be enough to gratify the enmity of a much worse man that he of Uz, especially if the book written was to be one giving a detailed history of the early settlement of a central county in Illinois sixty years after the beginning of that settlement.
Immediately after the close of the war of 1812, or, at least, as soon as the news of peace was confirmed through the country, the mass of the people were seized with a mania for Western emigration, and, although the sagacious editor of New York had not at that time given the advice of young men to go West, yet thousands of both young and old were seized with the fever, and, as a result the Western Territories began to fill very rapidly from the older settled portions of the country.
During almost the whole of the eighteenth century, the name Illinois was applied to all the known region lying west and north of Ohio. As early as one hundred years from the establishment of these colonies, the territory of which they were the nucleus, in conjunction with Canada, was ceded to Great Britain. This was again transferred to the United States in 1787. In t he same year that this territory was acquired, Congress passed an ordinance that the territory lying north and west of the Ohio River was to be divided into not less than three, nor more than five, States. Congress also divided the region named into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. When we remember that this legislation was statesman, especially when we reflect that the territory was bounded on the north by the British Possessions.
So rapidly did this Northwestern country fill up, that, in 1810, the Illinois Territory, which then included a part of Wisconsin and Minnesota, contained a population of 12, 282. Michigan had been formed into a separate Territory in 1805, and Indiana in 1809. The reader is, perhaps, acquainted with the history of the controversy with Wisconsin concerning the northern boundary of Illinois. If the people of Wisconsin are correct in their views of the matter, then Illinois has no northern limit save that first given to the Territory and her area still extends to the British Possessions in Canada.
Illinois, like other new Territories, was at first divided into counties, covering very large areas, in fact, the entire State was once, "Illinois County;" but as the country became more thickly settled, these counties were subdivided, and many portions re-divided the third or fourth time. Illustrative of this fact, it may be stated that at the time of the admission of Illinois into the Union, it comprised only fifteen counties. As the settlement of the State began in the southern portion and gradually extended northward, it is not at all surprising that in more than one case it would have been impossible to find the northern boundary of the county unless it were considered as extending to the north line of the State. As an illustration of this subdivision of counties, I t may be stated that the city of Chicago, or at least the land on which the city now stands, was once in Fulton County; whereas, the nearest point of Fulton County to the city of Chicago is now 150 miles on an air line. A further illustration of this fact may be briefly given. If the reader will turn to the map of Illinois, he will observe that Crawford County is the eighth county south of the State line from Chicago. This county at first included Chicago. When Clark was formed, it embraced Chicago; and when Edgar was cut off of Clark, the "great city" was in it; and then when Vermilion was cut off of Edgar, Chicago fell into it: so that a great many counties in Illinois can boast of at least at one time including Chicago.
In consideration of the fact that Menard County was stricken off from Sangamon, it becomes necessary to give a brief outline of the latter. The reader, having perused the history of the Northwest, as given in a former part of this volume, will remember that portions of Illinois were settled even before the close of the last century. Prior to the formation of the county of Sangamon, by act of the Legislature, approved January 30, 1821, the territory of which it was formed was included in the counties of Bond and Madison. Sangamon County, when first formed, included all of what is now Logan, Tazewell, Mason, Menard, Cass and parts of Morgan, McLean, Marshall, Woodford, Putnam and Christian. The boundary remained thus till the year 1824, when the Legislature reduced its limits; it still, however, extended to the Illinois River and included all of Menard and parts of Christian, Logan and Mason. The boundaries of Sangamon County remained unchanged till the year 1839, when the Legislature again subdivided it, cutting off Menard, Logan and Christian. The name Dane was first given to the latter, but, after a few years it was changed to Christian.
At the session of the Legislature in 1838 - 39, Menard County was stricken off from Sangamon, and named in honor of Col. Pierre Menard, a Frenchman, who settled at Kaskaskia in 1790. Menard was so popular in his day, with the people of Illinois, that when the Convention framed the Constitution of the State, a clause was included in the schedule to the Constitution providing that might be eligible to the office of Lieutenant Governor. This was done in order that Col. Menard, who had only been naturalized a year or two at the time, might be made Lieutenant Governor under Shadrach Bond, first Governor of Illinois, after its formation into a State.
As Menard County was named after this popular Frenchman, it may be interesting to the reader to give a brief account of his life. Pierre Menard was born in Quebec in the year 1767. He remained in his native city till in his nineteenth y ear, when his native spirit of adventure led him to seek his fortunes in the Territories watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries. He was, therefore, soon found in the town of Vincennes, on t he Wabash River, in the employ of a merchant, one Col. Vigo. In the year 1790, he formed a partnership with one DuBois, a merchant of Vincennes, and they removed their stock to Kaskaskia, in Illinois. Menard, though possessed of but a limited education, was a man of quick perception and of almost unerring judgment. He was candid and honest, full of energy and industry, and these qualities soon marked him as a leader among the scattered population of his adopted home. For a number of years, he was Government Agent for the Indians, and his candor and integrity soon won for him the esteem and friendship of the Indian tribes. This fact secured him great advantage as a merchant, as he could buy their peltries for half that they could be purchases by the "long knives." He was a member of the Lower House of the Legislature while Illinois was under the Indiana regime, and, from 1812 to 1818, he was a member of the Illinois Legislative Council, being the President of that body. He was Lieutenant Governor from 1818 to 1822, and after that he declined to accept further honors at the hands of the people. He acquired a considerable fortune, but much of it was good old age of seventy-seven years, in Tazewell County. Such was the man for whom the county of Menard was named.
The boundaries of the county of Menard are as follows: Beginning at the southeast corner of Section 22, Township 17, Range 8 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence east to the southeast corner of Section 21, Township 17, Range 6 west to the Third Principal Meridian; thence north to the southwest corner of Section 15, Township 17, Range 8 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence east to the southeast quarter of Section 18, Township 17, Range 5 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence north one-half mile; thence east one-quarter of a mile; thence north one and one-half miles; thence east to the southeast corner of Section 30, Township 18, Range 4 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence north to the northeast corner of Lot 19, Township 19, Range 1 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence west to the southeast corner of Section 13, Township 19, Range 5 west of the Third Principal Meridian; thence north to Salt Creek; thence with said creek to the northeast corner of Section 7, Township 19, Range 6, where said creek unites with the Sangamon River, thence with the river to the southwest corner of section 10, Township 19, Range 8; thence south to the place of beginning. The county contains an aggregate of 197, 975 acres. The Sangamon River is estimated to occupy an area of 700 acres with the limits of the county. This will leave the entire area within the limits of the given boundary, 198, 675 acres.
The Sangamon River flows through the county from south to north, dividing it into almost equal parts. A number of small streams flowing into the Sangamon River and Salt Creek afford an abundance of pure, fresh water for every purpose. The surface of the county is gently undulating, in the main though for a mile or two back from the river it is somewhat broken. The greater portion of the land, in its native state, was prairie, covered with a rank and luxuriant coat of grass, and interspersed with a countless variety of wild flowers.
Groves and bodies of timber are interspersed all over its entire area, in ample abundance for all purposes of manufacture and agriculture. Along the Sangamon River, for a distance of a mile and a half, on either side, there is heavy timber; while on Rock Creek and Indian Creek, are considerable bodies also. In the eastern part of the county are Irish Grove, Bee Grove and Sugar Grove, each large bodies of good timber. On the west side of the river are Little Grove and Clary's Grove, which are also good timber. The principal kinds of timber are black, spotted, burr, white and pin oaks; elm, ash, walnut (white and black), hard and soft maple, sycamore, linden or basswood, hickory (white and shell-bark), cottonwood, black and honey locust, pecan, cherry and mulberry.