Lake County History
|Indians Helped First Arrivals to Build Homes||
Rich Farming Country Was Goal of Hardy Pioneers Who Pushed Into Lake County Before Opening Date of 1835.
By Jack Morrow
Tucked up in the northeast corner of the state of Illinois, bounded on the north by Wisconsin, on the east by Lake Michigan, on the south by Cook county and on the west by McHenry county is a tract of land containing 294,400 acres.
It is called Lake County.
Its length is about 23 1/2 miles and its average breadth is 19 1/2 miles. Originally it was a portion of that vast area, described in the early history of the United States as the Northwest Territory.
Historians differ as to when it was first known to the white man; but old mission records confirm the belief that French traders were familiar with it as early as 1650; these traders carrying on a lucrative business in furs and skins with the Indians who made the territory their hunting grounds.
When the United States government became vitally interested in the district, it was held by the Pottawatomie and several other tribes of Indians. Federal authorities conferred with leaders of these Indian tribes at Prairie Du Chien in August of 1829 and by treaty procured the land for settlement and development by white men. The Indians were given until August of 1836 to move to a new district in what is now the state of Kansas.
Settled in 1834
Pioneer Americans, however, did not wait for the departure of the red men. As early as 1834 they began the trek into what is now known as Lake county, with Daniel Wright as the first white man to build a permanent home.
Wright settled on the virgin prairie land, a shore distance from the Des Plaines river and about one mile south of present day Half Day.
Wright was a veteran of the war of 1812, a man in his early fifties, when he took up his homestead in Lake County. He was not long in getting into the good graces of Chief Mettawa of the Pottawatomies, who raised no objection to his ciolation of the treaty that forbid white men to take up permanent residence in the district before August of 1836.
As a matter of fact the Indians pitched in and help Wright build his home, a log cabin 20 by 20, constructed on what is now known as Section 26.
Wright brought his wife and several children with him. A yoke of oxen and a cow were all his worldly possessions, besides a few dollars he had saved, some farming implements and a few carpenter tools.
Aided by Indians
In the fall of that year a prairie fire destroyed the hay he had put up for the winter and once again the Indians came to his rescue.
This was only the beginning of the pioneer settler's troubles. On September 7, death took his young son and three days later Mrs. Wright died. One year later, a son who had just reached young manhood, passed away.
In January 1836, Wright's daughter Caroline was married to William Wigham. The ceremony was performed by Hiram Kennicott, first justice of the peace in the district. Historians pretty well agree that this was the first marriage ceremony performed among whites in what is today Lake County. Dr. Halsey, in his history of Lake county, says: the marriage was undoubtedly recorded in the Cook county records destroyed in the great fire of 1871.
Captain Daniel Wright, Lake County's first white settler. Captain Daniel Wright lived to a ripe old age, passing away on December 30, 1873. He is buried at Half Day. A stone memorial has been erected to his memory on his old farm, a little over one mile south of Half Day, on the river side of the highway.
Other white men followed Wright into the Half Day region, or to be more exact, into Vernon Township in 1834. Theron Parsons made his home there for a time, then moved west. Hiram Kennicott established a claim and built a cabin. Shortly afterwards he opened a store, built a saw and grist mill. Kennicott was a lawyer and had studied law with Millard Fillmore, who later became president of the United States.
Other early settlers in this district were: William Cooley, Jesse Wilmot, Joseph Flint, Jacob Miller.
Going further north in 1834 and 1835 were Charles Bartlett, Richard and Ransom Steele, Moses Putney and Andrew S. Wells, most of whom settled in the region of present day Libertyville.
The Steele brothers built a cabin near where the belt road now crosses the highway, south of Libertyville. Albert B. Steele, son of Richard Steele, was born in this cabin on June 20, 1835.
It was only natural that Vernon township would draw the majority of early settlers. It was on the river road and most accessible to Chicago, then a hamlet it is true, but nevertheless the most advanced center of civilization in this young western country.
William Easton and his two sons, Robert and John, staked their claim east of Half Day. John Gridley came with his three sons, Elisha, George and John T. They built their cabins west of Half Day, taking over what is known as Section 17. Mathias Mason, John A. Mills, Jonathan Rice, John S. Chambers, James M. Washburn, B. F. Washburn, Roswell W. Rose, Asahel Talcott, William Wigham, joined the colony at an early date.
Later on Orange Brace, John Herrick, Rufus Soules, Job W. Tripp, Jesse Leavenworth, Charles Darling, Stephen M. Salisbury and Seth Washburn took up homesteads.
First Postoffice and School
Vernon township had the first postoffice in the county. It was established on August 22, 1836, and Seth Washburn was named postmaster. In the fall of the same year Laura B. Sprague open the first school in the county in the same place.
Rather interesting is the history about the name of Half Day. There are many who labor under the impression that the village took its name from the fact that the town was considered on half day journey out of Chicago.
The story does not hold water. The journey to Chicago, even on horseback could not be made in one half day. The fact is that an underling in the postoffice department in Washington named the village, and here is how it happened:
In the vicinity of the village there resided an old Indian chief named Hafda. He was an excellent friend of the white men, had helped them over some mighty rough spots. In appreciation of the kindness of the red man, the pioneer settlers decided to name the village after him. To them it was Hafda. In making an application for a postoffice they wrote it Hafda. The postal underling in Washington received the application, presumed the pioneers were ignorant, corrected the spelling in the application so that it read "Half Day". The settlers made no protest and today the village is name Half Day.
To substantiate this contention on the part of the Indian Chief, several prominent attorneys of Lake county told the writer that in examining titles of old properties in Vernon township, they have found the name of the village spelled Hafda.
From Vernon the white men spread fan shaped over the territory to the north and the west. An Englishman named George Vardin settled in what is the village of Libertyville. Tobias Wynkoop built his cabin on the banks of the creek that bears his name. Klkanah Tingley was his neighbor. David C. Steele was another early settler in Libertyville. Then there was Morse the blacksmith, Henry B. Steele, who took the Vardin claim. Out at Diamond Lake was Samuel Wayman and Enos Covolt. Charles Bartlett also moved into this region.
There was a beautiful oak grove out where St. Mary's of the Lake Catholic Seminary now stands. It was then known as Mechanics Grove and here lived Life Wilson, a ship captain, and James Hutchinson. Lewis G. Schenck, Solomon Norton, Elisha Clark and Hiram Clark settled right in the grove close to the lake, then known as Lake Eara.
Dr. Jesse H. Foster, Horace Butler, the Rev. Samuel Hurlbut, a Methodist clergyman, Dr. William Crane and others settled in the vicinity of Libertyville, then known as Vardin Grove. Butlers Lake takes its name from the Butler Family, who built their cabin on the banks of the lake.
First White Child Born
There has been a great deal of argument back and forth as to who was the first white child born within the boundaries of Lake county. Historian Halsey admits of no doubt on this score and says: "This first child, a native of the county, was born in Libertyville, June 20, 1835, at the home of Richard Steele and was named Albert B. Steele. The second, a daughter of Willard Jones, was born at Mechanics Grove, July 9, 1836. The fourth was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Landon, born in Benton, July 27, 1836."
In the early forties Richard Drew, Thomas Madden and Archibald Darragh settled in the northeast end of Vernon township. The Bradleys made their claim southwest of Roundout.
While Miss Sprague established the first school in Lake county, the distinction of building the first school house belongs to Vardin Grove, Independence Grove, or Libertyville; all three names following one another in respect to present day Libertyville.
This first school house was of logs, a block house, if you please, and the ones who did the major portion of men from the surrounding territory.
A rapid fire listing of early settlers in the various townships of the county is in order at this time.
The first settlers to file permanent claims in Antioch township, according to E.M. Haines, were: O.B. Gage, Thomas Q. Gage and Thomas Warner. The first house built wfthin the limits of the town was built in April of 1837 by D.B. and Thomas Q. Gage.
This trio of pioneers located temporarily at Walker's Bridge on the Des Plaines River, but in December of 1836 followed the river on an Indian trail, shifted their route at Mills Creek and proceeded westward to Loon Lake, where they put up a log cabin.
Others who joined them later on were: Henry Rector, William Flagher, Robert Stalker, E. F. Ingalls, Loami Piersons, E. S. Ingalls, Parnell Munson, Leland Cook & and Hiram Butrick.
The first claim made in Avon township was that of a man named Taylor. He planted his stakes in 1835 on the north side of the lake known as Taylor's Lake. Taylor hung on until 1836, then departed. In 1837 he sold his claim to Leonard Gage.
Other early settlers in this township were: Noer Potter and his sons, Churchill Edwards, Delazan E. Haines, Harley H. Hendee, David Hendee, David Rich, Levi Marble, George Thompson, Thomas Renchan, Leonard Gage, Thomas Welsh, A F. Miltimore, Lawrence Forvor, Freeman Bridge, Nathaniel King and William Gray.
The Gray's Lake of today takes its name from William Gray, who in pioneer days settled on the south side of that body of water.
Benton Township had its first settlers: Nelson Landon, Jermiah Stowell, Hanson Minsky, Henry I. Paddock, Philo Paddock, Jermiah Porter, John R. Nichols, Chester Butterfield, Samuel P Ransom, Rev. Samuel Stebbins, Edward Putman and Oren Jerome. Amos Flint was the first to stake his claim in the township of Cuba. He arrived there in 1834 and built his cabin on the banks of the creek named after him.
Olcott A. White, Joshua A Hardon, Jack Aylesworth, V. H. Freeman, L. H. Bute, Robert Conmee, Jared Comstock were among the pioneers in this settlement.
Jacob Caldwell is generally credited with being the pioneer settler of Deerfield township. He left his New York home in 1835 and built his permanent home in Deerfield in 1836. With him were his sons Madison, Philomen, Caleb, Hiram and Edwin.
There are some who discredit this statement and claim Horace Lamb was the first settler in the township. Lamb, however, is listed among the first settlers as well as John Matthews, Jesse Wilmot, Lyman Wilmot, Ben Marks, Robert Dygert, John Cochran, Michael Mehan, Magnus Tait, Anthony Sullivan, John King and Francis McGovern.
Ela township is rightfully named after George Ela, pioneer settler, who came to the township in 1835. Those who followed him were John Robertson, S.A. Shephard, John E. Deil, George Cook, Leonard Loomis and Richard Archer.
Daniel Marsh entered Freemont Township in the fall of 1835. He was accompanied by his wife and a niece, Ellen Watson, then only a little girl.
William Fenwick made a claim in 1835 and built his house on the south bank of Diamond Lake. Other early settlers were: Dr. Bryan, John G. Ragan, Hiram and Elisha Clark, Oliver and Stephen Paine, Nelson and Thomas Darling, Joseph and Samuel L. Wood, Thomas H. Payne, Oliver Booth, Charles Fletcher, P.P. Houghton and Michael Murry.
Harley Clark built his cabin on the north side of Fish Lake in the summer of 1839. This was the first white man's residence in Grant township.
Robert Stanley, Rufus Willard, Chester Hamilton, Devaraux and Henry Goodale, T.D and D.C. Townsend and Timothy B. Titcomb are listed as early settlers in this region.
Jacob Miller arrived in Newport township in the fall of 1835. He located his claim on the banks of Mill Creek and in 1836 built a sawmil, then a grist mill. Historian Haines claims his was the first grist mill in the county.
Joining him at intervals as pioneers of this township were: Merril Pearsons, Alvin James, James Melinda, John Reid, Asa Winters, Peter Cassidy, James Emory and Elijah Alvord.
Shields township, known all along the shore line in the early days as the Irish township, claims among its first settlers Dr. Richard Murphy, William Dwyer, Lawrence Carroll, Benjanin P. Swain, Isaac Hickox, Godfrey Dwelley, Michael Dulanty, Michael C. MeGuire, John Mullery, Otis Hinkley and John Cloes.
Claiming the distinction of pioneers in Warren township are Samuel Brookes, Thomas McClure, Amos Bennet, L. W. Craig, Ezekiel Boyland, Leonard Gage, George Gage, George A. Drury, Avery Esty, Moses Esty, William Lovejoy, Abram Marsh, William Ladd, Willard Jones, Orange Smith, Orlin B. Srn;ith, David Gilmore and Amaziah Smith.
At Wauconda, Justus Bangs, Elisha Hubbard, Mark Bangs, Peter Mills, A.J. Seeber, D. H. Sherman, John C. Wooster, Daniel Martin, W.H. Hawkins, Thomas F. Slocum, Stephen Rice and R.R. Crosby blazed the pioneer trails.
The pioneers of Waukegan are listed in the history of that city, appearing in another section of this centennial edition. In an earlier part of this story the early settlers of Vernon arid Libertyville townships are mentioned.
"Jumped the Gun"
These hardy pioneers, in many respects, were outside the law. A large number of them had staked their claims before the expiration of the federal treaty agreement with the lndians. In their zeal to establish homesteads they had traveled beyond the powers of civil law. They were shrewd men and it did not take them long to realize the fact that enthusiasm had carried them into an uncertain situation.
Absolutely necessary was some sort of mutual understanding to protect their claims against trespassers.
The settlers on the upper reaches of the Des Plaines river got together on Friday, December 2, 1836 and held a meeting at Independence Grove (the Libertyville of today). Samuel Brooks was in the chair and George Kimball was the secretary of the meeting. Nelson Landon, Samuel Brooks and Willard Jones were named a committee to draw up resolutions.
The resolutions presented provide that the territory between Indian Creek on the south to the north boundary of the state be divided into three sections. The first from Indian Creek to Independence Grove; the second from independence Grove to Mr. Lovejoy's tavern, later to be the famed O'PIain House; the third from the tavern to the state boundary on the north.
Provision was made for three commissioners in each district, these officials to be elected by the residents of the district for a term of one year. The officials were vested with full authority and their duty was to protect each and every settler in his or her just claims on lands, and to establish the boundaries thereof.
It was further provided that the decisions of such commissioners be final unless an appeal was filed. In such a case all settlers were called in and the case was determined at a public meeting. Any settler who refused to abide by the decisions of the commissioners or the vote of the community involved in the dispute was outlawed and considered "inimical to justice and good order and treated accordingly".
This community government within a government prevailed until February 27, 1837, when the legislature passed a law protecting all settlers in their "possession of land not exceeding 320 acres of unsurveyed land and not exceeding 160 acres of land that had been surveyed".
Form New County
The legislature, on January 13, 1836, decided that Cook county was too large and provided for the formation of a new county The act stated explicitly that the district must first show 350 white inhabitants.
The Indians were still in the northeastern section of Illinois and it was not until March 1, 1837, that the organization of McHenry county (including present day Lake and McHenry counties) was authorized. The act set June 5, 1837 for the election of county officers, the election to be held in the home of Hiram Kennicott on the Des Plaines river. Peter Cohen of Will, Merritt Covell of McLean and Daniel Dunham of Kane were named commissioners to locate the county seat.
Leaders in the district circularized the county and called for a meeting at the home of Tobias Wynkoop, a mile and a half north of Libertyville, on Saturday, April 22, 1837 Attending that meeting were Henry B. Steele Phineas Sherman, A. B. Wynkoop, Samuel Sherman, Benjamin Marks, Arthur Patterson, James H. Lloyd and William Easton. Easton was the only Whig at the meeting, all the others being Democrats. Steele was chosen president and Patterson secretary. Nothing was acomplished and it was decided that a more general notice be be sent out for a meeting to be held at noon on May 6 at the Wynkoop home.
The second meeting brought out Arthur Patterson, Benjamin Marksm Michael C. McGuire, Lawrence Carroll, William Walters, A.C. Ellis, B. Blaisdel, R Wilcox, Samuel Sherman, C. Tuttle, Godfrey Dwelley, Isaac Hickox, William Easton, James H. Lloyd, Henry B Steele, Willard Jones, Phineas Sherman and Archimedes B. Wynkoop. Patterson was chairman and Wynkoop secretary.
Most of these men from east of the Fox river, an indication, the historians claim, that Lake was filling up more rapidly with settlers than McHenry.
Be that as it may, this gathering placed in nomination the following list for county offices: Commissioners, James H. Lloyd, Benjamin Marks, Edward Jenkins; for sheriff, Henry B Steele; for coroner, Michael MeGuire; for surveyor, Charles E. Moore; for recorder, A.B. Wynkoop. A vigilance commitee was also named, consisting of A.C. Ellis, A. Patterson, S. Sherman, W. Jones, Mathias Mason, W. Easton, James Hutchison, L. Carroll, C. Tuttle and B. Blaisdell.
(This article was written by Jack Morrow and originally published in The Waukegan News Sun on June 26, 1935, the Centennial Edition. Thanks to the Waukegan Historical Society for providing us with this information. The picture of Captain Daniel Wright was taken from This Land of Lakes and Rivers by Virginia Mullery. The Waukegan Historical Society provided the picture to Virginia Mullery.)
The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization of veterans of the Civil War. The Waukegan Post #374 was formed on January 3, 1884 and included veterans from all throughout Lake County. They met every two weeks with the exception of the months of June, July and August, for which they only met once a month. In 1937, when there were so few members left, the organization disbanded and turned the records over to the American Legion, Homer Dahringer, Post #281, 501 Washington Street, Waukegan, IL. In addition to the records turned over, they also have the original Post #374 flag which is on display.
Personal War Sketches were filled out for each veteran upon entering this organization. Included in the information is date of birth, place of birth, when and where the veteran enlisted, the regiment they served with, their rank, and when and where they were discharged. Much of the time there is information written about the battles they were involved in, injuries they may have sustained or details of being captured and imprisoned. Some entries were made at a later date, noting the date of death and place of burial of the veteran. If you have ancestors who lived in Lake County after the Civil War and joined this organization, these Personal War Sketches could be instrumental in learning what role your family member played in this war. The Waukegan Historical Society has copies of these sketches in a bound book which includes an index. The Waukegan Historical Society, John Raymond Memorial Library at 1911 North Sheridan Road, Waukegan, IL 60087 is open Wed.-Fri. 10-2:30 PM. Thanks to the Waukegan Historical Society for providing this information.
Information taken from Lake County History, by Ruth Mogg. (Please note-according to Everton's Handybook for Genealogists, Crawford Co. was created in 1816.)