Page 283Transcribed by: Jeanie Lowe
The first settlements made in this division of Menard County are involved in some obscurity, and authentic information pertaining to them seems almost beyond reach at the present day. With nearly sixty years stretching between the advent of the pale-face pioneers and the present period, it is not strange that there should be conflicting statements as to whom belongs the honor of making the original settlement in Petersburg Precinct. From our investigations and the most reliable sources of information at hand, we are of opinion that the Esteps were the first white men in this locality. They were originally from the state of North Carolina, but emigrated to Tennessee early in the beginning of the present century, and from thence came to Illinois, locating in St. Clair County. In the spring of 1820-21, James Estep came to Menard County, or Sangamon, as it then was, and made a claim in this precinct, near or within the present city of Petersburg. He was followed in a few months by his brother Enoch and his father, Elijah Estep. Upon the arrival of his father, he gave his claim to him, and moved across the river and located on what was later known as Baker's Prairie. Elijah Estep built a small horse-mill, which was afterward embraced in the city limits, and otherwise improved the claim by erecting on it a cabin of the regular pioneer pattern. He died early, and but little is remembered of him by any now living in this section. Enoch Estep removed to Arkansas many years ago, and whether living or not, we do not know. James, who seems to have been a kind of roving character, never contented long in one place, from Baker's Prairie moved over into the present township of Crane Creek, in Mason County, where he bought a claim of one James Sutton. In a few years following, he occupied various places, and in 1832 moved to Arkansas, but returned the following y ear to Mason County. Remaining a few years, he moved back to Menard County, and finally to Missouri, but again returned to Mason County, where he died in 1857, on the place now owned by his son, J.M. Estep. He is described as a man of considerable eccentricity, and, with all his meandering around from place to place, never rented a home, but always bought and sold. True, the old saying is, that "A rolling stone gathers no moss," and Mr. Estep accumulated but little of the world's goods, dying in indigent circumstances. This pioneer, supposed to have been the first white settler in Petersburg Precinct, sleeps in New Hope Cemetery, in Mason County, besides the partner of his life, who preceded him a few years to the "land of shadows."
Soon after the settlement of the Esteps - probably the latter part of the same year -- the Watkinses and a man named Teeters came to the precinct. There were Joseph, Samuel, James, John and Thomas Watkins. They were from Kentucky, and some of them settled in Clary's Grove as early as 1819-20. Joseph and Samuel Watkins made claims in this precinct in 1821, as noted above, while James Watkins did not come until 1825-26. Thomas Watkins bought the claim from John Clary, acknowledged the majority of old citizens to be the first white settler of Menard County, as noticed in the history of Clary's Grove. This claim Watkins sold to George Spears, in 1824, and removed to the "river timber," near the present city of Petersburg, where he eventually died. The old Watkins sold to George Spears, in 1824, and removed to the "river timber," near the present city of Petersburg, where he eventually died. The old Watkins stock are, we believe, all dead, but there are still descendents of the family living in the county. Thomas, Jr., a son of Thomas Watkins, was born in the county in 1824, and may be recorded among the early births. He is still living in this precinct, and is probably the oldest native-born citizen of the county. He served one year in the Mexican war. Mack Watkins, another son, also lives in the precinct. Teeters moved into Sandridge Precinct, where he is further noticed. Jacob Short and three sons, Obadiah, Harrison and James came in 1822. They were from the south end of the State, where they had resided for some time before coming to this county. In 1824, they moved into Sandridge, where Jacob Short died in 1825, and where Harrison also died some years later. Obadiah died at Nauvoo, and James removed to Iowa, where he, too, died.
During the next two years, the little community was increased by the arrival of several additional families, among which were: Jesse Baker, Henry and William Clark, Ephraim and William Wilcox, Henry McHenry, Daniel Atterberry, Andrew, Jacob and Spencer Merrill, and perhaps others,. Jesse Baker settled on Baker's Prairie, and from him it derived its name. He moved into Mason County about 1836, and located in the present township of Kilbourne, where he is mentioned as one of the pioneers of that section. He has passed to his last account since we began the work of compiling this history. Henry and William Clark, brothers, came from Kentucky and settled in t his precinct. William died many years ago, but Henry is still living upon the place of his original settlement, just across the river from Petersburg. He and his wife have lived together for fifty-six years. Ephraim and William Wilcox were also from Kentucky, and both died in this county, a number of years ago. Henry McHenry still lives in Petersburg, and, owns the brick hotel at the northeast corner of the public square. Daniel Atterberry was from Kentucky, made a claim here, but has been long dead. Andrew Merrill and his sons, Jacob and Spencer Merrill, were also from Kentucky. The old gentleman died in 1835, and it is said that he pointed out one day, a short time previous to his death, the spot where he desired to be buried. When he died, his son Jacob carried out his wish and had him laid away in the designated spot. In 1859, his wife was laid by the side of him. Jacob and Spencer are both living but a short distance west of Petersburg, the former in his seventy-fourth year. Thomas Edwards was among the very early settlers, but is described as a rather hard character, and of little benefit to any community. He remained here but a short time, pulled up stakes and moved on to other frontier settlements. Thomas F. Dowell came about 1825-26, and is still living in Sandridge Precinct, at an advanced age. Jesse Gum was among the early settlers of Clary's Grove, as noticed in the history of Tallula Precinct. He was a native of Kentucky. Charles Gum, living near Petersburg, is his son. John B. Gum, who now lives at Kilbourne, Mason County, and who is one of the largest landholders in Mason or Menard County, is also a son of Jesse Gum.
In addition to the names already given, the following recruits were added to the settlement prior to the "deep snow;" George Curry, Henry Bell and sons, John Jones, Zachariah Clary, Bartley Milton, John and Anno Ritter, Pollard Simmons, William Edwards and sons, John Jennison, Bartlett Conyers, Henry and David Williams, Conrad Strader, Josiah Crawford and others. George Curry came from Green County, Ky., and laid a claim in this precinct, near where his sons, Rev. H.P. Curry, now lives. He died in 1876. Rev. H.P. Curry has been actively engaged in the ministry for thirty-nine years, and at present administers spiritual consolation to four churches, in addition to superintending his farm. Henry Bell and sons were from Kentucky. The old gentleman is long since dead, but some of the sons still live in the county. John Jones was another Kentuckian, and settled in Clary's Grove in 1824. He moved into this precinct some years later, and finally located in Little Grove, where he died. Zachariah Clary, a brother to John Clary, the first settler, came from Tennessee and settled in Clary's Grove in the latter part of 1819, and, in 1825, moved into this precinct. He still lives upon the place where he then settled, a mile or two north of Petersburg. He is eighty-two years old, and his good wife, who is also living, have been plodding on over the old stumpy road of life together for fifty-nine years, having been married, as he informed us, in 1820. John and Anno Ritter were from Kentucky. Anno died here: John moved to Mason County, where he died. Pallard Simmons removed also to Mason County and died there. David and Henry Williams, and Bartlett Conyers settled I the same neighborhood, but where they came from, we could not ascertain. Conrad Strader is dead, but has a son still living in the precinct. Josiah Crawford moved to Mason County, where he died. This completes the settlement up to the time of the deep snow, so far as we have been able to obtain names and facts. As we have had frequent occasion to mention, in our capacity as historian, in Northern and Central Illinois, the "deep snow" is an epoch from which the chronology of the pioneer dates "fore and aft." All-important events are reckoned from the deep snow. It is a way-mark that will not be forgotten by those who witnessed it, until their life journey closes at the brink of the tomb. Ask the old grandfather or grandmother about the deep snow, and note the sparkle of their eyes, as memory rolls back over a period of fifty years, when
"All the land with snow was covered," to a depth of four feet, and so remained for a period of three months or more. They can tell you of the hard times, and the dreary aspect of that long, long, winter, better than we, for it was before our day.
The population was increased during the five or six years immediately following the deep snow, by the following emigrants, a majority of whom came from Old Kentucky, that famous land of blue grass, pretty woman and good whisky: The Davidsons, the Taylors, William Butler, Dr. John Lee, William P. Cox, W.G. Greene, Thomas Epperson, William J. Hoey, the Bennetts, C.G. Brooks, S. and C. Levering, A.D. Wright, Jacob H. Laning, James S. Carter, John McNamar, A. Humphrey, John McNeal, Samuel Hill, Nathan Dresser, Charles B. Waldo, Zachariah Nance and sons, George U. Miles, Chester Moon, Thomas L. Harris, W.C. Dawson, Martin Morris, Jordan Morris, J.W. Warnsing, William Haggerty, Dr. John Allen, George Warburton, Peter Lukins, the Rutledges, Jonathan Colby, Robert Carter, J.A. Brahm, James Goldsby, Nicholas Tice, Abraham Bale, Jacob Bale, Hardin Bale and others. The Davidsons, George A., Isham G., and Jackson, were from Kentucky and were among the early merchants of Petersburg. They first settled in the southern part of the state, in Bond County, we believe, where they resided for a number of years before coming to this county. George A. Davidson lives at present in Greenview, Isham G. in Fulton County, and Jackson has been lost sigh of. They were related to the Taylor family, and came to the county soon after, or about the time the Taylors came. The Taylors were from Kentucky. John Taylor was the first merchant of Petersburg, and one of the original proprietors of the town, as noticed in the connection. He died in Beardstown, but was living in Springfield at the time. Richard Taylor was a brother, but never a permanent resident here. James Taylor was a son of John Taylor, but did not live here. Made frequent business visits to the place, however. He died in Springfied, where he made his home. James Taylor, a cousin to the latter, lived here some years and died here. William Butler was a transient guest and did not remain long in the community; was merely here attending to Taylors business for a short time. Dr. John Lee was from the Old Dominion and a member of the original Lee family of Virginia. He at present lives in Athens, this county. William P. Cox came from Kentucky and is yet living in the county. William G. Greene came from Tennessee, but his father, William Greene, was a native Kentuckian. He came to Illinois in 1821-22 and settled near where the village of Tallula now stands, where he died. William G. Greene was a mere boy when his father came to Illinois. He is and has been for years a prominent man of the county and is still living. He is mentioned elsewhere as an intimate friend of Mr. Lincoln when he was a resident of Menard County. Thomas Epperson was from Kentucky and died here many years ago. William J. Hoey was a son of the "auld sod" and was one of the early merchants of Petersburg. He had a brother, James Hoey, who was also an early settler, but came several years after William. They both died here.
The Bennetts came from Old Virginia, the home of statesmen and the birthplace of Presidents. There were three brothers - John, William and Richard E. Bennett. John came to Illinois in 1835, and to this section in 1836, and became one of the early merchants and prominent businessmen of Petersburg, as noticed in that chapter. He was a member of the Legislature during the session of 1840-41, and was one of the first directors of the old Tonica & Petersburg Railroad, now the Jacksonville division of the Chicago & Alton Railroad, besides holding many other positions of importance. He is still living in the city of Petersburg, retired from active business life, and to his excellent memory we are indebted for much of the early history of Petersburg and surrounding vicinity. William Bennett came to the settlement one year after John, and is long since dead. Dr. Richard E. Bennett came about the same time, and is elsewhere mentioned as the first practicing physician in this portion of the county. Dr. Bennett is dead, but has a son, Theodore C. Bennett, living in Petersburg, who is the present Circuit Clerk. C. G. Brooks was from Kentucky and came in 1836, and died here years ago. Septimus and C. Levering, half-brothers, came from Baltimore; Septimus came in the spring of 1837, and his brother some time later. The former is dead, but the latter is living here still. James S. Carter was from Virginia and came in 1838. He is at present living in the village of Oakford. Jacob H. Laning came from New Jersey in 1838. He is still living in the city of Petersburg, and his sons are among the prominent businessmen of the place. A.D. Wright is mentioned in another place as connected prominently with the mill interests of the city at one time. John McNamar was a "Down Easter," but from what State is now known. He was one of the early merchants in Salem, and moved to Petersburg after the decline of Salem, where he again embarked in mercantile business. He died here about a year ago. Dr. John Allen was also an early merchant at Salem, as well as an early physician. He moved to Petersburg about the same time as McNamar. They were in business together at Salem, which was continued for a time after locating in Petersburg. He died here some years ago. A. Humphrey was also a "Down Easter," and came here about 1837-38, and died long ago. John McNeal was a native of Pennsylvania, but went to Virginia, where he married, and then removed to Illinois, locating in this precinct, where he finally died. Samuel Hill came from Ohio and first located in Salem very early. He moved to Petersburg in 1839, and died several years ago. Charles B. Waldo, Nathan Dresser and Thomas L. Harris were natives of Connecticut, whence they emigrated to Virginia, then to Illinois and settled in Petersburg. Waldo is mentioned on another page as the first pedagogue in the neighborhood. Both he and Dresser moved to the southern part of the State, in the vicinity of Cairo, where they died. Harris, though originally from the same place, came several years later, one or two terms in Congress with some distinction. He died here, but his widow and other members of the family are still living. Zachariah Nance and several sons came from Kentucky to Illinois in 1838, locating in what is now Rock Creek Precinct. Here the old gentleman died and was buried in the Farmer's Point Graveyard. Among his sons were Thomas and Washington, the latter now living in Petersburg; quite an old man. Albert G. Nance, a son of Thomas, served two years in the Legislature, and was a candidate for dead. Mrs. Hill, widow of Samuel Hill, now living in Petersburg, is a daughter of Zachariah Nance. George U. Miles was from Kentucky, and settled here in 1839, but had been living in the southern part of the State several years before coming to Menard County. He is still living, but very old and feeble. Chester Moon was a Yankee, but what State he came from we could not ascertain. He died some years ago in Morris. W.C. Dawson came from Kentucky about 1840, and resides at present in Springfield. Martin and Jordan Morris, though of the same name, are both blacksmiths, were in no wise related. Jordan was one of those transient characters who are always on the move, and did not remain long in this community, but what actually became of him is not now remembered. Martin Morris, after a residence here of some years, removed to Missouri, where he still lived at last accounts. William Haggerty was also a blacksmith, came with Jordan Morris, worked with him and left with him. J.W. Warnsing was a German, and came here very early. Has been dead several years. Samuel Berry came from Tennessee at an early day and died long ago.
George Warburton, who is noticed in the history of the city of Petersburg as the owner of a part of the land on which the town was laid out, came from the East. He was drowned in the Sangamon River, when the water, it is said, was not over six inches deep. It is supposed that he was intoxicated, as he was in the habit of drinking to excess, and in that state fell into the water, when no help was at hand, and being unable to help himself, was drowned. Peter Lukins, the joint proprietor with Warburton of the land on which the town stands, and for whom Petersburg was named, as noted hereafter, came from Kentucky. He and Warburton, as more particularly detailed in the history of Petersburg, owned 160 acres of land, upon which the original town was laid out. This they afterward sold to Taylor & King, who became the proprietors of the town. Lukins is noticed as the first hotelkeeper and the first shoemaker. He was found dead in his bed one morning, supposed to have been the result of excessive drink, as he too, was in the habit of taking overdoses of the fiery demon. The Rutledges are originally from Kentucky, and are elsewhere noticed in this work. The Rutledges went from Kentucky to South Carolina, and from there came to Illinois, locating first in White County, where they remained some years, and then came to the present county of Menard, in 1825. William and James Rutledge, and John Cameron, came to the neighborhood together, and settled in the vicinity of Old Salem. Cameron and William Rutledge were brothers-in-law. They lived in the county until their death, and still have many descendants residing here. Jonathan Colby came from New Hampshire in 1834, and located where he now lives. His parents lived together as man and wife for sixty years, and at their death their combined ages were 172 years. Robert Carter came from Kentucky in 1830, and settled where his daughter, Mrs. Jemima Gum, now lives. He died in 1866. J.A. Brahm came to this county with his father's family, in 1830, and settled just north of Petersburg. They were from Germany. The elder Brahm died here in 1852. His son, J.A. Brahm, is a prominent banker and businessman of the city of Petersburg. James Goldsby came from Kentucky, and settled here in 1830. He was a soldier of the war of 1812, and the first Sheriff of Menard County. He has a son, Rev. William M. Goldsby, in this precinct, who has been a minister of the Baptist Church for a quarter of a century. Nicholas Tice was a native of Virginia, and came to Illinois in 1831, locating at the village of Athens. In 1832, he purchased a farm at what is now Tice's Station, where he died in 1856. John Tice, a son, is the present County Judge of Menard County. He is one of the faithful county and precinct officers, as evidenced in the fact that he has been in the official harness for thirty years in succession.
The Bales were from Kentucky. Jacob Bale located near the present city of Petersburg, in 1830. He was a minister, and the father of Hardin Bale, proprietor of the Petersburg Woolen Mills, which are more particularly alluded to on another page. Abraham Bale came to the precinct in 1839, and located at Salem. In 1840, he purchased a farm, on which he resided until 1852, but he died in 1853. His sons completed the repairs he had begun, and, in 1873, T.V. Bale became sole proprietor of the once famous Salem Mills, and has ever since operated them. The Bales seem to have had a kind of genius or talent for mills, as we learn that Rev. Jacob Bale bought a small grist-mill, wherein his son Hardin took his first lessons in the business, and thus qualified himself for the successful business man that he is to-day. Aaron B. White was among the pioneers of Clary's Grove, and came from Kentucky. He has a son, William M. White, living in Petersburg, who remembers the hardships of those early days. Judge Pillsbury is a son of Alpha Pillsbury, and is a native of New Hampshire. His father died there in 1831, and, in 1836, the family came west, locating in the town of Petersburg. Hi smother died here in 1868. He has served several terms as County Judge, and was for several years Principal of the city schools. Mrs. Elizabeth potter, the widow of Elijah, ranks among the pioneers. Her husband was a native of White County, Ill., and came to Menard County in 1819-20. He died in March 1876, on the place where his widow now lives. Robert McNeely was an early settler in the neighboring county of Morgan. His son, Hon. Thomas W. McNeely, is one of the prominent men of Petersburg.
This comprises the early settlement of Petersburg Precinct up to a period when emigrants were flocking to the great plains of the West in such numbers as to render it a Herculean task to keep trace of them. It is a work of no little trouble, owning to the large and irregular divisions of the county, to avoid confusion and error in the location of early settlers, and mention them, in all cases, in the precinct or particular locality where they truly belong. We have exercised the utmost care in this respect, yet doubt not that many such mistakes have been made. And doubtless, too, the name of many pioneers of the county and precinct have been overlooked, which deserves honorable mention in this work. But when we reflect that the allotted period of almost two generations have passed since white men came to this region, and that many of these early comers are gone and the memory of others weakened by age, it is not strange that early facts are sometimes difficult to obtain, and when gathered from different sources, as they necessarily must be, are often so at variance as to baffle the historian's skill to place them before his readers in a satisfactory manner. Had the compilation of this work been postponed a few years longer, the last of the old settlers, able to contribute facts and incidents of the far past, would have been beyond the historian's reach, and the opportunity of getting an authentic history lost forever.