The History of Henry County
Its Tax-Payer and Voters
Chicago: H. F. Kett & Co., 15 Lakeside Building
History of Henry County
Speculation in Illinois lands got fairly under way in 1835. It was in that year that Henry County was first
visited by persons authorized to purchase large tracts of land for the benefit of certain companies. The county was
then without an organization. The southern boundary was on the parallel 13 north of the base line, and its western
boundary was upon the 4th principal meridian. It extended five townships, or thirty miles, east, and north it
reached to the 18th parallel north of the base line. Rock River entered the county on the north about midway from
east to west, and formed its boundary on the northwest for about twenty miles, leaving it about midway of the
fourth tier of townships. These boundaries have been retained ever since. It extends over no less than twenty-one.
entire townships of six miles square each, and four fractional townships aggregating a little less than three
entire townships. The square miles foot up to about eight hundred and thirty, and the acres to nearly or quite
530,000. Of this number there were probably about 70,000 acres of timber land. Exclusive of the timber on Rock and
Green Rivers there were a dozen distinct groves, besides a few clusters of trees dignified sometimes as groves.
Red Oak, White Oak, Round Hickory, Sugar Tree, Big Barren, Richland, and a few smaller groves, were found in the
southern portion of the county; Shabane or Shabbona, Crocker's, Trading House, Eight Mile, and several other small
groves, as well as the timber on the Green and Rock Rivers, in the northern. It will be remembered that a large
share of what was called timber lands contained only here and there a tree. The northeastern part of the county
contained swamp lands, which were at that time undesirable as an investment. The balance of the prairie, excepting
a few hilly quarters, was of the most desirable quality for farming purposes. This was then the inviting prospect
held up to the poor man looking for land for "actual settlement," and to the capitalist for hypothetical
Unfortunately for the growth and prosperity of the county, the latter class of settlers were the most numerous,
very large portions of the best land in the county being taken up by them, and the poor man, the actual settler,
was compelled to look elsewhere for a location. Many would not locate close to the colonies, on account of reports
that the organization intended to swallow all outsiders who settled close to them.
In the early settlement of this county, William Roberts, who afterwards lived at Andover, and moved thence to
Texas and there died, resided near Quincy, in Adams County. One night a prospector, who had been through this
county, put up with Roberts. He said he couldn't stop in Henry County; 'twas too full of colonies. Of course there
was much misapprehension as to the character of those colonies. Henry County seems to have furnished remarkable
attraction for them - Andover, Wethersfield, Geneseo, Morristown, La Grange, in an earlier day, thus originated,
and Bishop Hill in a later. This last, however, differed from the others fundamentally. It required no accession
from outsiders for support. The first mentioned five colonies had educational projects in view; and three of them,
viz.: Andover, Geneseo and Wethersfield, aimed at the dissemination of religious truth. The last named, or Bishop
Hill Colony, was strictly a religious organization, the members of it coming directly from Sweden, and was the only
one that obtained a legal existence. The modes by which the other colonies endeavored to build up their educational
and religious establishments, though not differing much one from another, will be delineated when treating of them
separately. For the present it is sufficient to say that all of them had public property, the proceeds of which, in
some form, were to be used to build their schools or colleges. These five settlements began their existence nearly
at the same time, Andover having precedence chronologically; then followed Geneseo, Morristown, Wethersfield, La
Before the commencement of any of these colonies, Dayton, near Rock River, had commenced. This is known as
"Brandenburg's settlement," George Brandenburg being one of the earliest settlers. He laid off the town, and for a
long time his house was the whole of Dayton. In those days there was a great amount of travel to the land office at
Dixon, and some from Knoxville to Albany, on the Mississippi. Dayton was at the crossing of those roads, and
Brandenburg's hotel was a central point of great interest. The popularity of the "Judge" attracted a host of
customers, and out of pure regard for their comfort he erected another cabin by the side of the first, leaving a
space for a hall between them, and covered the whole with one roof. That was then the most commodious house of
entertainment in all this region; and an additional supply of furniture in the shape of beds, bedding and benches,
with some other luxuries for the repose of the weary, made it a desideratum with travelers to reach that commodious
About the time the Judge had got fairly under way, Caleb Pillsbury, brother of George and Levi Pillsbury, at
Andover, opened a public house, which contained one room below and a loft above.
The First Entry
Of land made in this county was on June 8, 1835, N. 1/2 34, 18, 2, now Hanna Township, by Giles Williams. He is
believed to have been a speculator, from the number of lots entered in his name in the following year. July 7,
1835, Jas. W. Stephenson entered N.E. N.W. 10, 17, 1. Later in the same year many thousands of acres were entered,
the New York Company alone entering some thirty thousand acres. Dr. Thomas Baker has the credit, generally, of
building the first house in the county; but that is a mistake, as James Glenn erected the first house. Dr. Baker's
was the first family in the county. It is a little remarkable that a man of his temperament should have become a
pioneer. He is said to have loved his ease exceedingly. Passing near a man who was making rails one warm day, he
begged him to stop his work till he could get by, as it hurt his feelings to see a man work in warm weather. He
moved to Rock Island County some years ago, and thence to Missouri, and died there. In April, 1885, James Glenn
settled on Section 20, in what is now Colona township, and erected a house thereon in the same month, and still
resides on the same farm. At this time Dr. Baker and family, heretofore mentioned, were living near him in a wagon.
The next house was built at White Oak Grove by a man named Butler, who was bought out by the New York Company. The
house is believed to have been the Company House, and if so, is still standing near the residence of Dan Moore.
Butler is said to have been the first white man who planted and raised corn in the county. He sold out in the Fall
of 1885, and is believed to have moved to Kansas. Washburne, an early settler and well known in the county, sowed
the first wheat; others, however, sowed wheat the same Fall. The first mill was at Andover, built in 1836-7, and
the first "grist" for which toll was taken, after the bolt was put in, belonged to this same Washburne. He says
that before the mill was running they got their samp by grating corn upon an old tin pail with holes punched in it,
and meal in much the same way. This provender answered a good purpose where only "corn bread and common doings"
were gotten up, unless too liberally supplied with blood from knuckles barked during the process of grating. Wheat
bread and "chicken fixins" could be found more frequently in the cabins after the mill got into operation. In that
day many early settlers began going to Spoon River, in Knox County, to get their meal.
ORGANIZATION OF HENRY COUNTY
Henry County was under the jurisdiction of Knox County till its separate organization in 1837. The Legislature
then met at Vandalia. Major James M. Allan took a horseback ride from Brandenburg's to Vandalia, via Knoxville,
Peoria, Tremont and Springfield, a distance of some two hundred and fifty miles, for the purpose of getting an act
passed organizing the county, in accordance with the wishes of its inhabitants.
As the population increased the people demanded the organization of their county, and an enabling act was passed
March 2, 1837, when commissioners were appointed to, locate and name a county seat. They were Francis Voris, of
Peoria County; Jonas Rawalt, of Fulton County, and Isaac Murphy, of Warren County.
THE FIRST ELECTION
Was held June 19th, 1837, at the house of George Brandenburg. There were to be elected three County
Commissioners, Sheriff, Coroner, Surveyor, and Recorder. John P. Hanna, Charles Atkinson and R. R. Stewart were
judges of election; James M. Allan and Arba M. Seymour clerks. As this was the first election we have no doubt but
it will be of interest to many of our readers to know the names of all the candidates, and we here insert them,
with the number of votes for each
||No. of votes
|Phillip K. Hanna
|Thos. R. Saunders
|Arba M. Seymour
|R. R. Stewart
We will give the entire LIST OF VOTERS in the order in which they voted: George Brandenburg, Samuel Sullivan,
David Wiley, Washington B. Colbert, Samuel Withrow, John T. Smith, Thos. R. Saunders, Smith Bennett, John McLinn,
Henry Sullivan, Jas. Withrow, Neely Withrow, George A. Colbert, Edward C. Hall, Preston Browning, Alfred Beck,
George Tyler, George Goyer, Edward A. Mix, Thos. Miller, William Hite, Elisha Cone, Cromwell K. Bartlett, Wm. C.
Bartlett, Wm. H. Hubbard, John Sullivan, Henry G. Little, Ithamar Pillsbury, Eben Townsend, Albert Jagger, Wm. S.
Woolsey, Adrian Van Winkle, Alfred Ball, Thos. Glenn, Earl P. Aldridge, Stephen Marshall, Anthony Hunt, Solomon
Penny, Caleb Pillsbury, Jesse Woolsey, Wm. Potts, Samuel Clark, Jerome Brittain, Ebenezer Walters, Joshua Browning,
Geo. McHenry, Robt. McCullough, Jas. P Dodge, Wm. McNevin, Philip K. Hanna, Joshua Harper, Rufus Hubbard, John P.
Hanna, Chas. Atkinson, Roderick R. Stewart, Jas. M. Allan, Arba M. Seymour, Reuben Cone.
Many of the gentlemen whose names appear in the foregoing list have figured somewhat prominently in the history
of the county-not all officers, but before the public in some capacity. Philip K. Hanna and Geo. A. Colbert will be
remembered as the earliest Methodist ministers in the county. Ithamar Pillsbury, the Christian gentleman and
energetic agent, was the first Presbyterian minister. Jas. M. Allan has been one of the most prominent men in the
history of Henry County. He was the first clerk of the county, and in all political, social, military and county
seat matters of early days, he was the most prominent figure, and in later days is known as an energetic, esteemed
and valuable citizen. Geo. Brandenburg figured as the first landlord of the county, and has been well and favorably
known. Eben Townsend, an aged gentleman of large experience and observation, of will imperious, strong affections,
manners blunt or bland, as circumstances seemed to require, figured in the affairs of Andover for many years, and
was well known to most of the early settlers. R. R. Stewart, the impartial magistrate, an exact public officer,
long controlled the first and best public house in Geneseo. Henry G. Little has been called to serve his country in
many positions of honor and trust. Jesse Woolsey, the unobtrusive home man, and as the upright and trusty landlord
at Andover, he is known to a large share of the gentlemen who attended the early courts at Cambridge. Joshua
Harper, the mild and courteous gentleman, correct business man and faithful legislator. We might go on in this
style, but limits must be set. Indeed, not a few of the gentlemen whose names are recorded at that first election,
have histories belonging to the county, which will appear as we progress.
As before stated, the county was organized 19th June, 1837. On the 27th of the same month the Commissioners met
in Dayton at the house of Geo. Brandenburg, and after being duly qualified, the first County Commissioners' Court
for Henry County was opened. Jas. M. Allan was appointed Clerk. Robert McCullough was his security in the sum of
$1,000. Ithamar Pillsbury (one of the Commissioners) administered the oath of office to Mr. Allan, and the court
was ready for business. Chas. Atkinson was appointed Treasurer, took the oath, and gave bonds according to law.
Records do not state who his sureties were. The clerks and treasurers of counties up to this time were appointed by
the Commissioners, but by an act of the legislature, 7th February, 1837, those offices were made elective from and
after the August election of 1837. Accordingly at that election (August 7, 1837), the people returned Mr. Allan to
the Clerkship, and Mr. Atkinson was elected Treasurer. At the September term of the Commissioners' Court (September
4, 1837), the Clerk gave bond in same amount as before, with Robt. McCullough and John P. Hanna as sureties. No
record is discovered of treasurer's bond or surety. The first recorded order of the court was on June 27, 1837,
authorizing Charles Atkinson, John P. Hanna and Geo. Tyler to keep a ferry on Rock River at Cleveland. The second
ordered that the tax on the above mentioned ferry he fixed at one dollar and fifty cents. The Commissioners
doubtless had an eye to a revenue when they charged that dollar and a half. June 4, 1838, this "tax" was
raised to five dollars, and the party was authorized to work it out on the road under the direction of the
Supervisor. One-half of one per cent. was fixed as the rate of taxation upon pleasure carriages, horses, cattle of
every description, watches, wagons, hogs, sheep. Mules, clocks, and other property that might be mentioned, went
"scot-free " it seems. A road tax of one dollar and twenty cents was placed upon each taxable quarter section of
land. At a term of the Commissioners' Court, held March 5, 1838, every legally able-bodied man was required to work
on the road five days in a year. On application for a license to sell goods being handed in, George Brandenburg,
for the snug little sum of five dollars, was permitted to merchandise in Dayton. Later in the day, on a similar
application, Geo. Tyler was authorized to run an opposition establishment in Cleveland. These were the beginnings
of the commercial enterprise of the county. On the second day of the court the county was divided into five road
No.1, included townships 16, 17, 18, N. 1 and 2 E.
" 14, 15, N. 1, 2 and 3 E.
" 14, 15, N. 4 and 5, E.
" 16, 17, N. or so much as is S. Green
River 3, 4, 5, E.
" 17, 18, or so much as is N. Green River
3, 4, 5, E.
Supervisor of 1st District, John P. Hanna; 2d, Albert Jagger; 3d, John F. Willard; 4th, John C. Ward; 5th, Neely
Withrow. Here was a great extent of country for a hundred voters or thereabouts to supply with roads. Those now
living in the localities mentioned can perceive at a glance the probable character of the roads then constructed.
The sparseness of the population, however, made it unnecessary to go in direct lines as we do now, and advantage
was taken of the lay of the ground, and thus ridges were followed and sloughs headed, which rendered the
construction of many bridges, now needed, unnecessary. It must not be understood that road-viewers and
surveyors laid out the roads on such circuitous routes. The truth is, the roads were "run" more directly
from point to point, but the "travel" had to make the circuit in order to avoid the sloughs that no labor which
could then be spared could make passable, and thus the proverb "the longest way round is the shortest way
there," was literally verified. The first road ordered surveyed by the county was from Andover to Geneseo, thence
to Rock River road at or near Joshua Browning's. C. K. Bartlett, A. M. Seymour and Joshua Browning were appointed
viewers, and the road was to be laid without cost to the county. That rule was observed till June 6, 1838, when an
order for the location of a road from Andover Mills in the direction of Peoria, was made at the expense of the
county. The first appropriation for building was $50, to apply in part on a bridge across Green River, on road from
Cleveland via Dayton to Andover, and in part on a bridge across same stream on the road from Geneseo to the
junction of "Big Slough" with Rock River; this was made March 5, 1838. The second appropriation was made June 4,
1838, of $10, for a bridge on Camp Creek on the road from Andover to Cleveland. The first road from Andover to
Wethersfield was declared to be such, June 4, 1838. It is probable that most persons acquainted with the streams
mentioned will know how such small sums could be of essential service in constructing bridges over them; it is very
doubtful if such small appropriations were really economical.
Larger expenditures would undoubtedly have secured more durable structures; but the problem was, Where was
the money to come from? The justices' districts and the election precincts were each five in number, and the
limits the same as the road districts. The increases of population, however, soon required alteration in all of
them. By order of the court, on the second day of the first term, 28th June, the town of Dayton was designated as
the place for holding elections in first district. From this it is to be supposed that the house of George
Brandenburg was the town of Dayton.
In the second district the Company House was selected for holding elections; in the third the house of Henry G.
Little; in the fourth the house of John C. Ward; and in the fifth the house of Joshua Browning. Before adjourning,
the court ordered that the courts be held in the town of Dayton until the permanent seat of justice could be
located, and proper buildings erected therein for their accommodation.
In accordance with the Militia Law of the state, an election was the 12th of August, 1837, for the choice of an
officer to take command of the Henry County battalion. James M. Allan was elected Major, and commissioned
accordingly by the governor.
At the regular term of the court, Sept. 4, 1837, after the qualifying of the clerk and treasurer, an order was
passed authorizing the clerk to employ the surveyor to run the line between Henry and Rock Island counties, to
ascertain if a certain man who had perished of cold near the line of the counties in March, 1837, had really died
in Rock Island County or in Henry. The man had some money and no known heirs, and Rock Island County claimed
jurisdiction in the case and appropriated the money. The man really died in Henry County. A lengthy litigation
ensued, but all efforts to compel Rock Island to refund the money proved unavailing. The first writ of ad quod
damnum -damages for locating a dam-was issued in behalf of Charles Oakley, through Joshua Harper, to enable said
Oakley to build a dam across Green River on E. ½ N. E. 12, 17, 1, later known as Green River Mills, and burned in
1874. The second writ of ad quod damnum was also issued at this term of the court. It was to enable Ithamar
Pillsbury to build a dam across the south fork of Edwards River on N.W. 18, 14, 3.
A sawmill was soon after erected there. These were not the first mills in the county; those at Andover were in
operation a couple of years before. It was at the close of this session of the court the first jurors were
selected. But as there was no circuit court till the Spring of 1839, there was some change made in the list, and,
indeed, upon examining the records of the circuit court, it was found that very few of those selected by the county
court were empaneled.
When the County of Henry was to have a seat of justice located, those possessing eligible points for such
location did not fail to urge the great advantages of their several positions. The county seat of Henry County has
been thrice located, and not once was there an approximation to unanimity of views and feelings in regard to the
site. Twice were Commissioners appointed to locate a seat of justice, and once, upon petition, the legislature
designated the point. The first location was unquestionably a tolerably wise one, if prospective considerations
were to prevail in the decision. If the limits of the county were to be preserved intact, and the “swamp lands”
were to be rained so as to make them inhabitable the Commissioners could not resist the conclusion that the site
selected would be but little north of the center of population after a lapse of from twenty-five to fifty years. It
was not far from the geographical center. The second location was made by a larger bonus being given by the owners
of the town to thecounty than was offered at any other point.
That selection was within six miles of the west line of the county, and but three miles from Rock River, the
northwestern boundary of the county.
The third point selected was designated by the legislature on petition of a majority of the voters of the
county; it is about four miles south and one mile west of the first location. As has been stated, the enabling act
to organize the county appointed Commissioners to locate the county seat.
The oath qualifying them to act, was administered October 3, 1837, by William McMurtry, of Henderson, Knox
County, an acting Justice of the peace and afterwards Lieutenant Governor of the state. Andover had just sprung
into vigorous existence under the auspices of capitalists in New York, and was a prominent candidate. Geneseo,
having claims as to position delightful situation and well-to-do citizens, was also in the field. Morristown,
situated in a beautiful prairie, and having backing in the shape of wealth, put in her claim. A little place on
Spring Creek, southeast from Geneseo a few miles, known as Ford Town, asked to be noticed in the race for
distinction. In the Summer of 1836, James M. Allan, being wide awake, saw at a glance that there must not only be a
county seat, but that it ought to be located no great distance from the center. To ascertain how nearly in the
center an eligible situation could be obtained, he rode down to an established “corner.” Designated by a government
tree in Spring Creek, and from that point guided by a pocket compass, rode due west and counted the steps of his
horse as he proceeded till he reached, as he supposed, section 17, 16, 3, some four or five miles from the starting
point, in the midst of as beautiful prairie as nature has furnished. His figures did not deceive him. He afterwards
bought S.E. 17, staked out a town, named it Richmond, and entered the lists for the seat of justice.
The law required the Commissioners to meet at the house of Dr. Baker and thence proceed to select a site.
Another requirement of the law was that government land should be selected equally eligible. At that time
four-fifths of the land in the county was in the hands of the government. The Commissioners met as required,
accompanied by a delegation from Andover. At Brandenburg’s they met Major Allan who accompanied them to Geneseo.
His point was well considered, the arguments pro and con. Heard, and the party went out into the open prairie to
Richmond, on nearly the highest ground in the vicinity, with no house within five miles or a tree within three
miles. The site commanded an extended view of a splendid though nearly entirely unoccupied country. Upon examining
a map of the county this point was seen, as before stated, near the geographical center, and what was there in the
nature of the soil of this county to prevent its becoming the center of population? Nothing, except the swamps in
the northern part, and they would be drained and populated with inhabitants other than frogs in the course of fifty
years. Allan offered 120 acres of the site to the county, and Richmond was the county seat. This decision of the
Commissioners disappointed the calculations of Geneseo and Andover more perhaps than those of the other towns, for
those places had been fairly under way, and it was supposed would soon have a heavy settlement around them.
Andover certainly had no claims on the score of position, as it is just seven miles from the west line of the
county, and but ten miles from the south line. Geneseo was more favorably situated as to geographical position, as
the town is centrally located from east to west, though but nine miles from the northern boundary and six from Rock
River, but it was clear if the county was to remain intact, she would be considerably north, not only of the
geographical center, but of the center of population. This latter fact probably determined the action of the
In all counties not bounding upon navigable streams it was usually supposed, at that early day, that the county
town had a far better prospect for population and wealth than other towns. Hence the great struggle for location.
But since the introduction of railroads eligible points for towns along their lines have led all other towns in the
counties in the race for population and wealth, whether seats of justice or not. The great struggle among holders
of town property has since been for railroads. Without them but little, with them a great deal, may be
To return to the commissioners: they lodged at Andover that night, made out their bills against he county,
presented them for payment, and left for their respective homes. They were qualified on the 3d, and presented their
bills on the 6th of October. Voris charged, for twelve days, $36.00; Raywalt charged, for ten days, $30.00; Murphy
charged, for seven days, $21.00.
It seems that major Allan had a partner in this town speculation, for we find a deed made to the County
Commissioners for land above specified by James M. Allan and Gilbert C. R. Mitchell, October 16, 1837. Allan and
Mitchell made a deed for 120 acres on S. E. 17, 16, 3, to County Commissioners 16th of October, 1837. The day
following, Commissioners met to determine the plans and measures necessary to be adopted in relation to the county
seat. The surveyor was directed to layout and make plat of town, for which he was to have forth dollars. The entire
quarter section was laid out, 40 acres for the Allan party, 120 for county, in lots 4 by 8 rods, with streets
mostly six rods wide. Each party had a public square. "Three choice lots” were donated to George Harris, upon
condition that he should build a public house sufficient for the accommodation of company by the first day of June
next. He was also to have three other choice lots to be paid for in work. He put up the house with tolerable
promptitude, but it will be seen in the sequel that it went down more promptly, and without his help. Sale of lots
to come Wednesday in June, was advertised in Peoria and Chicago, Canton and Galena papers. In the interval
first-class lots were ordered to be sold for fifty dollars, second-class for twenty-five dollars; one-third in
hand, balance in six months. It was ordered that propositions for building a temporary court-house be received at
the December term of this court-size 18 by 24 feet, story and a half high. There are no records to show that
“propositions” were made, but at that term, December, 1837, the clerk was directed to let the job to the lowest
bidder. George Harris got the job, and in part built that and his own public house during the ensuing year. The
latter was a frame, 36 by 40 feet, or about that size, two stories high, the best in the county at that time. At
the June term, 1838, the Commissioners pledged the faith of the county that money received on sale of lots should
be returned if the county seat should be moved. Sales were not numerous, and the clerk was authorized to sell to
the best advantage he could, for the interests of the county. In August, 1838, the term of office of the first
Commissioners elected expired, and Marcus B. Osborn, Sylvester Blish and John P. Hanna were elected to succeed
The legislature had passed an act during the preceding Winter requiring the boards to be elected in August, to
draw lots which member should serve for three, which for two, and which for one year. Upon the lots being drawn,
Osborn retained the office three years, Blish two, and Hanna one. At a special term of the court, 23d of October,
1838, George Brandenburg was allowed $12 for furnishing court-room one year.
At the regular term, December 3, it was ordered that hereafter in all county elections the people shall assemble
at the county seat to vote. The Commissioners, it would seem, were determined to have the people come to the county
seat occasionally, at least. The voters in Richmond, at the August election, 1838, amounted to just seven, and
perhaps the Commissioners hoped to cover up the feeble condition of the seat of justice by compelling the people to
vote at this point only. This order was repealed 17th of June following. It was during this term of the Court that
it was ordered that the representative from this district be requested to inform the state legislature that this
community, and Henry County particularly, has suffered very materially in consequence of there not being any
circuit court held since its organization.
It will be perceived at once that Henry County did suffer materially on that account, when we state that at the
court held the Spring following there were just ten cases on the docket. One of them, however, was a criminal case,
the principal in which, a counterfeiter, had to be guarded day and night, or else sent to another county to prison.
In view of such cases it was ordered that propositions to build a jail be received January 1, 1839. On that day the
proposals were all too high, and the court adjourned without making a contract. The next day, however, a bargain
was struck with Geo. W. Harris, who was to have it completed by September following. It was never built. Circuit
court was held in April, 1839; Thos. Ford, Judge; James M. Allan, Clerk. The prisoner above referred to took a
change of venue to Ogle County. Soon after the adjournment of court, while this and another prisoner were being
kindly cared for at Mr. Harris’ public house, by having their ankles ornamented with iron, and a keen lookout for
them kept by the family, the house caught fire and was soon in a blaze beyond control. The court-house was in close
proximity, and the fire reaching it, the two buildings were destroyed. Soon after the alarm, the two prisoners went
to the wood-pile, and with the ax relieved each other of their ornaments, and then bent all their energies to
saving the movables in the house. Porter, the counterfeiter, who was a small man, attempted to take down the coats
hanging in the bar-room. One of them, belonging to Abram Miller (of the Geneseo House now), he found he could not
get off the hook without tearing the loop. This he thought was a pity to do, and ran out to get a stool to stand
on, so as to reach the hook. When he returned the coat was in a blaze. He succeeded, however, in carrying to a
place of safety a small stand, in the drawer in which was the complimentary document which afterwards enabled a
jury of twelve men to order him cared for at public expense in Alton for the term of one year. Neither prisoner
tried to escape. The court-house was not yet completed, and Harris wanted his pay as far as he had gone with it.
This the Commissioners hesitated to grant, but ordered an election to be held upon that and other matters, so as to
decide what was to be done. The result of the election was that Harris got $30 in addition to what he had received,
and gave up the contracts for building both court-house and jail. The election took place July 9th, and the
arrangement with the County Commissioners the day following.
The town of Richmond, with the exception of the stable having been reduced to ashes and “thin air,” immediate
steps for reconstructing the public buildings seemed imperative. All parties agreed as to the necessity of getting
up new buildings, but the point at which they were to be erected was at once the subject of earnest dispute.
Meetings were called at different points to discuss this, at that time, all-absorbing question. At a meeting held
at a school-house on Rock River it was resolved that we are in favor or removing the county seat from its present
location. Then followed petition to the Commissioners’ Court asking for a convention of the people to take action
on this momentous affair. The entire document is brief and to the point, and the insertion of the last resolution
entire will doubtless be tolerated here, as it indicates the existence of a very strong conservative and
anti-progressive policy (to use no harsh terms) among the citizens of Rock River. It reads:
“It is further resolved at this meeting, by an unanimous vote, that we concur with the majority of legal
voters of the county (when then shall be taken) for the re-location of the county seat of said county; and we
further disapprove of the minority REMONSTRATING against any location that may be made by the majority.
[Signed] Geo. Colbert, Chairman.
Saturday, June 1, 1839 Geo. Tyler, Secretary.”
A meeting called at Andover, June 13th, to consider the same topic, memorialized the Commissioners to call a
convention of the people to take the sense of the county on several topics of importance, among which are:
1st. The Revenue Law.
2d. The Internal Improvement System of this State.
3d. Adjusting the accounts of Geo. W. Harris.
4th. The removal of the county seat.
On the last named subject we suggest the following considerations in favor of a removal: 1st. There have been
strong objections from the first to the present location; that it is remote from timber; that it is destitute of
water power, of facilities for steam power; that it is not on the direct route of travel; the difficulty of
obtaining suitable persons to hold office at the town of Richmond. This memorial was signed by fifteen citizens,
among whom appear the names of I. Pillsbury, Wm. Ayers, Joseph Tillson, and others.
The memorials were presented at the June term of the court, and an order passed recommending the people to
convene at Geneseo “to compare views and consult on such matters of immediate importance to the county as may be
then and there proposed.” As stated before, the convention met 9th July. The court, on the 10th, passed an order
for the settlement with Harris, as before noticed. The terms of the court subsequent to the June term were held at
Geneseo because houses were more plenty. The inhabitants of Richmond had been under the necessity of lodging in the
stable, and the court held one session in the same building. At the December term, 1839, the court petitioned the
legislature to legalize acts during the sessions at Geneseo, that officers might be permitted to hold their offices
at their own houses to January 1, 1841, and that the courts might be directed to sit at Geneseo. At the session of
the legislature of 1839-40, an act was passed re-locating the seat of justice for the County of Henry, and
Alexander Turnbull of Warren County, M. W. Conway of Rock Island County, and Harmon Brown of Knox County, were
appointed Commissioners to locate and name the town.
This matter was postponed by the Commissioners till after the August election of 1840, and then summarily
disposed of. Andover does not appear to have struggled a second time for the location; Geneseo and Morristown were
the principal, if not the only, competitors. The population of the former place, no less than its location, pointed
to it as the inevitable seat of justice. This led to more confidence than liberality, if the opposite party can be
relied upon, and Morristown overbid her largely for the coveted honor. Geneseo, it is stated, offered the county a
respectable portion of the village, as a bonus, while Morristown, or Charles Oakley and Joshua Harper, who
represented that interest, offered an entire quarter section, sixteen town lots and one thousand dollars in cash.
This settled the matter, and Morristown was a seat of justice. The Geneseo party claim to have made a more liberal
offer than did Oakley & Co., but the offer came after the Commissioners had made their decision.
The first marriage within the present limits of Henry County was that of James P. Dodge and Samantha Colbert,
daughter of Rev. George A. Colbert, before the county was organized, Feb. 7, 1836. The license was issued from Knox
County, where the record is also entered.
The first recorded marriage in the county was that of Mr. Louis Hurd and Miss Caroline W. Little, of
Wethersfield, August 22, 1837, Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury officiating. That notable event seemed to inspire the
reverend gentleman, for we find his marriage with Miss Caroline E. Miller of Andover, December 18, 1837, Rev. Enoch
Mead officiating. December 24, just six days after the Rev. Mr. And Mrs. Pillsbury’s marriage, Wm. B. Goss of
Savannah, Jo Daviess County, was married by the aforesaid Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, to Miss Ellen Baldwin of
Cleveland. During the year 1838, there were five marriages in the County; in 1839 six marriages are recorded. This
year Geneseo witnessed the first wedding within her limits; James M. Allan and Susannah D. Stewart were married by
the Rev. Jairus Wilcox, March , 1839. In 1840 there were ten couples united. In this year Morristown enjoyed her
first wedding in the persons of Mahlon Lloyd, Esq., and Miss Amelia L. Davenport, December 30. During 1841 there
seemed to be a very sudden increase of marriages, there being twenty-two recorded, of whom James Knox, afterwards
representative to Congress, found a wife in the person of Miss P. H. Blish of Wethersfield, January 20, 1841. In
1842 there were twenty-three marriages; in 1843 fifteen; in 1844 eighteen; in 1845 twenty-one; in 1846 twenty-five;
in 1847 twenty-three; and they gradually increased till 1851, when there were sixty-three marriages in the
The first physician was also the first settler, it is believed-Dr. Baker, who settled on Rock River in 1835. We
have no extensive record of his AEsculapian performances. The presumption is, his well known lack of adipose
material was a constitutional bar to active practice, and he was not much known as a physician. Dr. Maxwell, who
settled on Rock River in what is now Phenix township, in the Winter 1836-7, is said to have been a man of
another cast, possessing a great deal of activity and promptness; he has been represented as an eminent
physician, very complaisant and agreeable in personal address. Dr. Pomeroy came in 1837. He had a very
extensive practice, and is still residing in Geneseo, an active and highly respected citizen. In 1845 Dr. S. T.
Hume made his debut as physician of Henry County in Geneseo; he is still a practicing physician in that place.
About the year 1840, Dr. Geo. Shipman, a Homoeopathist, settled at Andover and built the house afterwards
owned by Mr. Ayres; he soon moved to Chicago.
Fortunately for the people of all new countries, lawyers find little encouragement at first to settle among
them. Henry County was no exception. We have no data for an account of lawyers at an earlier date than 1845, unless
we include an early settler of LaGrange, who has since practiced in the courts of California, but who left no
record of his legal performances-if there were any-in this region. Nearly all who are now in the county have either
moved into it since 1850, or have been admitted to the bar since that time. Our earliest information of attorneys
in the county is connected with two brothers, Wm. H. and Samuel P. Brainard.
They were young men of promise; Samuel P. holding at one time the clerkship of the county and circuit courts.
Neither the law nor the offices, singly or jointly, afforded that gentleman an income sufficient to satisfy him
immediately or prospectively, and upon the breaking out of the gold fever in 1848-9, he suffered from a lingering
attack of it and appointed a deputy to fill his post, while he went to California for gold which he never got. Wm.
H. also filled the office of clerk of the circuit court and was ex-officio recorder. He was also school
commissioner at a time when most of the school lands were sold, and sold for a large price, from which office he
reaped a rich harvest. It is not possible to follow up the attorneys of the county individually and expect a
narrative of them.
Among the provisions for the settlement of Morristown was one that a public house should be built out of the
general fund, and that within a certain time (one year), each of the colonists should erect a dwelling-house upon
his land. A very “considerable” building for those times was erected out of the funds proposed to be applied in
that way, and a few, very few (three or four), dwelling-houses were built as per contract. The town plat was just
one mile square; large enough in all conscience, and if it could have been peopled the county would have been much
the gainer. In the center of the plat was a public ground of 440 feet square. The lots were 45 feet front and
varying in length from 155 to 270 feet.
When the settlement first commenced the prospect seemed very fair for a rapid increase of population; this was
anticipated by a Mr. Crocker, who, just before the Morristown entry, had entered what is known as Crocker’s Grove
(sometimes called Brown’s), as well as a large tract of prairie, all of which was near by the lands soon after
entered by the New York Company and named Morristown. He had bought for the purpose of farming with an abundance of
elbow room, and expressed his regrets that range for his cattle would so soon be limited by the improvements of
that company. It turned out, however; that little or no improvement, beyond the few farms at first commenced, was
This, then, was the extent of the improvements in and about Morristown when it was the county seat. It was in
better condition to accommodate courts, etc., than was Richmond at its inauguration as seat of justice for the
county, and the public could look for better accommodations than at the last named point. But dissatisfaction with
the location grew apace, and it was soon a fixed fact that a contest for the removal and a re-location of the
county seat was unavoidable. In fact it began as soon as the decision of the Commissioners was known. As Geneseo
was the only point that competed with Morristown for the honor conferred, it is natural to suppose that that was
the point at which the great body of the disaffected would endeavor to establish their county town.
But it was soon ascertained that there were several candidates for that honor. General dissatisfaction prevailed
on account of the location as it then stood; four men out of five probably being anxious to remove it on account of
the great distance to which they had to travel to attend courts. The site itself was delightful, and those
principally interested in its property were enterprising, intelligent and popular. Other sites, however, equally as
eligible for beauty and salubrity, and much more central, could be picked out of every third section in any of the
more central townships; and to one of these points the people determined to take it.
The county courts were held at Geneseo till the Summer or Fall of 1841. The first circuit court held in
Morristown was in May, 1842, the last in May 1844. As stated before, the legislature authorized the holding of
courts in Geneseo till suitable accommodations could be prepared at the county seat. The public house at Morristown
was conveyed to the county, and a contract for “improving” it was made with David Gove and Nathaniel Walters, an
order for seventy dollars being issued for their benefit December 9, 1840. On June 28, 1841, a contract was made
with Thos. W. Corey and George Brandenburg, for the erection of the COMMODIOUS court-house 18 by 24 feet, one and a
half stories high, and also for the building of a jail, according to specifications and contract made with another
party for building one at Richmond. The public house now (then) the county house, was rented to Corey and
Brandenburg for two years for the sum of one hundred dollars, they to furnish a suitable courtroom for the use of
all courts of the county during the two years, in which time they were to complete the public buildings. The
courthouse was built. The jail was a mere structure on paper; the uncertainty of there being any use for it in that
place causing the court to postpone its erection.
The dissatisfaction with Morristown as the county town was so extreme that some of those who had been most
determined to honor Geneseo with it, expressed a willingness to have it located at some other point than that of
their choice, even at Sugar Tree Grove, rather than have it remain at Morristown. Commissioners had twice been
appointed by the Legislature to locate a seat of justice for the county, and were sworn to study the interests,
immediate and prospective of the population in determining the site. The first selection it seems was a judicious
one. But the people were dissatisfied with it, and a change was effected. The second was judicious or not, just as
the parties might think.
We can imagine no good reason for the choice save the liberal donation for the county. That it was liberal is
certainly true, but the loss to which the citizens of the county would have been yearly subjected on account of the
remoteness of the site from the center would have counterbalanced, four times over, the extra liberality of the
enterprising proprietors of Morristown. This the people knew, and while determined to effect the removal of the
county capital, they were very generally determined to designate the point at which it should be located. It is
believed that this feeling of distrust in Commissioners possessed nearly every citizen of the county, and during
the greater part of the agitation of the question no one proposed a resort to the old process; the reasonableness
of the demand for a removal was acquiesced in by the citizens of Morristown themselves. Indeed, Joshua Harper, one
of the donors of the county, and principally interested in the prosperity of Morristown, was, in 1842, a candidate
for the legislature, and if he had shown the least disposition to oppose the wishes of the people he could have got
no support. He distinctly stated that if elected representative, and a majority of the voters of the county sent a
petition for the county seat to be removed into the Winnebago swamps, into the swamps it should go. At least his
influence should not prevent it. He was elected, and no man was ever more faithful to the interests of his
Geneseo was the point to which the majority in the northern part of the county wished the seat of justice
removed. A point near Sugar Tree Grove was selected by the southern. Some manoeuvering was resorted to to get an
admission from opponents that a site on Section 7, 15, 3, was an eligible point for the location.
All that was done, however, in the way of manoeuver was to get the admission before the name of the owner of the
property should be known. The owner was Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, of Andover. He was active in his efforts to secure
the first location at Andover, but the position of J. M. Allan was too strong for him up to that time, and after
there was a feud between the two points Andover and Geneseo, and it was thought best by the Pillsbury party that he
should not be known in the transaction till suitable admissions had been made by the other party. We have said the
“Pillsbury party,” but the prime mover, the great laborer in behalf of the point near Sugar Tree Grove was Joseph
Tillson, Esq. The “Judge,” as he is usually called, was an early settler, and an active man in some important
matters of the county. Canvassing for signatures to a petition locating the town near Sugar Tree Grove-at what is
now Cambridge-progressed steadily, though with very variable results, as different localities were entered. The
petition was drawn up in Wethersfield, by Col. Wells it is believed. John Kilvington circulated it at Wethersfield,
about Barren Grove, on Spring Creek, and obtained a few signatures in Geneseo, after which the Judge took charge of
it. When it was ascertained that a majority of the voters of the county had signed the petition to have the county
seat located on Section 7, 15, 3, a remonstrance was got up at Geneseo against the location, with a petition added
that Commissioners be again appointed to locate a county seat. It is believed J. M. Allan, whose home was then at
Geneseo was the most active man in behalf of his locality. The contest was warm. The Judge sent the petition north
of Green River for signatures, and it was returned with a single additional name affixed. He took it himself, went
over the same ground, and obtained forty signatures. Brandenburg leading off. He also re-canvassed the settlement
The petition was sent to Oxford, where a friend promised to circulate and return it. The time for its reception
arrived, but no petition came; the Judge was in a flurry; time was getting precious; Wm. A. Ayers volunteered to
look up the missing paper, and get such signatures as had not been appended; he found it shut up in a chest, where
it had been placed for safe keeping, with a very few additional names on it. Mr. A. pushed the matter along, and
without difficulty obtained the signature of every man he met in that locality. It was extensively signed
throughout the southern part of the county. A few residents on Spring Creek who signed the petition to locate at
Cambridge, it is known, afterwards signed the remonstrance.
The petition to have Cambridge the new seat of government of the county was forwarded to Colonel John Buford, of
Rock Island, who then represented this district in the Senate. A bill was brought before the Senate re-locating the
county seat of Henry County. It passed both houses on petition of a majority of the citizens of the county.
The bill locating the county seat of Henry County was approved by the Governor February 21, 1843. It provided
that the courts should be held at Morristown till accommodations should be provided at the new location. It also
required the re-conveyance of all property that had been deeded to the county at Morristown, and the refunding of
The difficulty of pleasing the citizens of Henry County in the location of their county town was a matter well
known outside. The truth is, there was very little in the immediate vicinity of the location except a fine grove of
timber to demonstrate the wisdom of fixing the seat of justice at that point. There was no house north of Sugar
Tree Grover nearer than those immediately about Geneseo. West there were but two or three until within a mile of
Andover. In the grove, and at the “East End,” a settlement had fairly commenced. South of what is now the Town of
Cambridge, Red Oak, nearly six miles distant, was the nearest settlement. There was no Bishop Hill Colony, no
Galva, and no one in that township but James Bonham, at Hickory Grove, and two or three in the northeast corner of
the town. A good settlement existed at Wethersfield and along Barren Grove in the southeast corner of the county;
but at Wethersfield an anti-Cambridge feeling existed to a small extent, which grew out of a desire of those
malcontents, or the most of them, to be annexed to the County of Stark. At Oxford, in the southeast (sic) corner of
the county, and about Richland Grove, west of Andover, a few families had collected. The settlement at Andover was
one of the most flourishing in the county. Ten miles northwest was a cluster of three or four houses, and a
respectable settlement a few miles further, on Rock River. All the settlements in the southern part of the county
(except the slightest opposition at Wethersfield), favored the location, but how was a town to be built? Men and
money were required. There was but little immigration to the county or state, and where were numbers and dollars to
be obtained, was the question of the hour.
In the Winter of 1835-‘6, a notice was inserted in several of the New York city daily papers, calling a meeting
of persons interest in Western colonization.
This was held in Congress Hall, and at a subsequent meeting to further consider this matter, a colony was formed
and organized under the name of the New York Colony. At these meetings some forty or fifty persons became members
of the colony. Charles Oakley, Esq. (now deceased), once Fund Commissioner of the State of Illinois, took a leading
part in all these transactions. He had been prospecting out West, and gave a glowing description of the wonderful
“prairie country.” At the close of these meetings an agreement was drawn up and signed by the colonists,
authorizing Charles Oakley and C. C. Wilcox (now of Chicago) as trustees, to proceed to Illinois and locate about a
township of land in such part of the state as they might think for the best interest of the members of the colony;
the intention being to enter land somewhere near the Illinois River. But other parties having preceded them to the
designed location, which was probably in Bureau County, near or upon the ground now occupied by the Providence
Colony, they proceeded into Henry County, and selected their land in Townships 16 and 17-some 30 sections, nearly
20,000 acres. Every individual of the colony bound himself to erect within two years a house or building to cost
some specified sum, about $200, on his land, and in case of neglect the land was to revert to the colonists, with,
however, this unfortunate condition attached: That the colonists, through their trustees, had the privilege of
taking the land from those parties failing to fulfill their part of the contract, and paying three dollars per acre
for the same, or double of the cost of their land. The result proved that four-fifths of the members preferred the
hundred per cent. advance to the hardships of Western life, and did not build; and ere two years passed the panic
of 1837-‘8 rendered the other parties unwilling or unable to fulfill their part. Oakley and Wilcox were to receive
for their services twenty-five cents per acre for locating these lands, and for surveys and incidental expenses.
When surveyed and the town laid out on some eligible spot near the center of the location, the lands and lots were
to be put up at auction, and the colonists were to select their property-eight lots in town being distributed with
each quarter section.
The colonists were to bid for the preference or choice of lands and lots. At this distribution, which was in the
Summer or Autumn of 1836 (the lands were entered in June of that year), only a few persons were present. The
majority of the colonists acted through their agents. There was paid as “preference money,” for the choice of these
lands, some $6,000 or $7,000, some paying as high as $400 for the choice of a quarter section. After the selection,
the balance were distributed by the trustees at their discretion, each member getting the number of acres for which
he had paid. This preference money was to be held as trust, and appropriated for the benefit of the colonists as
follows: First, to have a colony house built, in which the colonists could live until their residences could be
erected; this was to cost some $3,000. Second, to build a mill and school-house, or to be appropriated as the
colonists might desire, or distributed among members.
Few came that season. Messrs. Oakley and C. C. Williams remained but a short time. The colony lands were
surveyed by Arba M. Seymour, the County Surveyor. A log house was erected in Morristown, and a colony house
contracted for, and afterwards built. This was a fine large building two stories high, and well finished, the
latter being done by R. R. Stewart, Esq. of Geneseo. This building was erected upon a lot owned by Chas. Oakley,
Esq. It was afterwards sold by Col. Oakley to Joel Wells, whose widow now occupies it. A mill was also built upon
Green River upon land owned by Charles Oakley. In the Fall of the year 1836 speculation was still high.
Pre-emptions on farms on Rock River with small improvements were valued at $15 to $25 per acre. These prices were
for lands in the vicinity of the timber, as prairie land was considered worthless by western men.
Joshua Harper, N. W. Washburne, Luke C. Sheldon, Chas. W. Davenport, Jr. and ________ (sic) Tompkins were all of
the original colonists that were here in 1836. In 1837, John Appleton and Chas. W. Davenport, Sr. and family came,
and with them the venerable father of Mrs. Davenport and Thos. Fitch, who died at Morristown a few years after at
the advanced age of 80 years. These people, with a few others, comprising in all about ten families, scattered over
some ten miles of prairie, which constituted the settlement for some twelve or fourteen years. After that time, a
new exodus from the East again sent an army westward of good, substantial citizens-a considerable number of whom
settled on Morristown prairie, and made it what it now is-one of the best settlements in Henry County.