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Chapter VIII - Early Settlements

Carter's Settlement. The first settlement made in McDonough county was in the year 1826. Riggs Pennington, with his family, in that year settled on the northeast quarter of section 24, Industry township. To him belongs the honor of being the first to settle in the county. He was immediately followed by William Carter, who settled on section 26, adjoining, and in his honor the first settlement was called Carter's settlement, and by which name it was known for many years after. Next came James Vance, in the same year. Mr. V. settled on the southwest quarter of section 24. Stephen Osborne, Widow Tomberlin, Isaac Fowler and Rev. John Logan were also among the number forming the early settlement. Here occurred the first marriage in the county, the second birth, and the first death. The first marriage was that of Mr. John Wilson and Martha K. Vance, who were married on the thirtieth day of October, 1828, by Elder John Logan, a minister of the Baptist Church. The second birth in county, but first in settlement, Nancy Carter, a daughter of Thomas Carter, who was born in August, 1828; the second birth was Elizabeth Black Logan, now Mrs. William C. Hainline, daughter of John and Nancy Logan. The first death was a son of Isaac Fowler, who died about the year 1829.

The little band of whites forming Carter's settlement erected in the year 1827 a block house, or log fort, near the residence of William Carter, on section 26. This was a two-story affair, the upper story projecting about four feet over the lower one on all sides. It was built in this way because it would afford more ample protection against being set on fire by the Indians. Where the upper story projected holes were made, through which an Indian could be gently tapped on the head should he come for incendiary purposes. The building .was eighteen by twenty feet, with numerous port holes for the guns of the inmates. Luckily they had no occasion to use the building for the purpose for which it was erected. The soldiers that passed through this county in 1831-32 to the seat of the Black Hawk war made considerable sport of this building, and of the idea of erecting one two hundred miles from the Indian country. But it should be remembered that the Indians were all around them every spring and fall, and like those of the present day, were a treacherous people. For some time this was the only settlement between Rushville and Rock Island, on the old Galena road.

Job's Settlement. About the same time that Riggs Pennington and William Carter were forming a settlement in the south part of the county, William Job and a few others moved to the north part near the present town of Blandinsville. To the older residents of the county the name of Job's Settlement is very familiar. Hugh Wilson and family started in 1826 from Schuyler county to go to some place on the Mississippi, near the Des Moines Rapids, and when they arrived near the present village of Webster, Hancock county, they were met by William Job, William Southward, and Ephraim Perkins, all brothers-in-law, who had settled in that vicinity a short time previous. Through the solicitude of Mr. Job, Mr. Wilson changed his course and went to the northwest part of this county, and settled upon section 9 of the present township of Hire, on the farm now owned by James Seybold. Here he erected a "half-faced camp," being nothing more than a shed with three sides and an open front. Preparing his ground, he planted it, and raised a crop. When his harvest was over he built himself a more substantial house, into which he moved, but only lived therein about two weeks, when a friendly Indian came to his cabin and gave the alarm by stating that a band of hostile Indians was coming that way, and he had better leave. This advice he followed, going to the Des Moines Rapids. Job, Southward and Perkins, who had also settled in the vicinity, went to Morgan county, but returned the following spring. Wilson never came back.

This Wilson was a pioneer, truly, for he could not endure living near a wholly civilized community. In 1814 he moved from Tennessee to Indiana. After a few years he went to Kentucky; thence to Missouri; thence to Arkansas. From there he desired to emigrate farther south, but his family objecting, he returned' to Missouri, from whence he moved to Schuyler county, this State, in 1825. The following year, as related, he settled in this county, in Job's Settlement, and thence pushed on to Iowa. He kept even pace with the Indians, being just far enough in their rear to be out of danger. His wife delighted in being on the move as much as he did, she averring "the food always tasted better when they were moving." Mr. Wilson was the father of John Wilson, of Industry township, and died in Iowa some years ago as much from grief as of old age, it is said, because he could not influence his sons to go further west as far as the new State of Colorado. He had a decided distaste for living in a town, saying he would as soon go to the penitentiary.

When William Job returned to the county in 1827, he drew around him a goodly number of people, and soon a very flourishing settlement was formed. John Vance, Nathaniel Heron, Redmond Grigsby, Coffman, Bagby and others were among the first.

Pennington's Point. This was the third settlement found in the county, the locality still retaining its original name. The Point embraces a little neck of timber in the southwest part of the present township of New Salem, 5 north, 1 west, it being the only timber land in the township. Hon. Cyrus Walker, it is said, gave this district its name in honor of Stewart Pennington, although William Pennington is entitled to the honor of being the first settler. The latter gentleman settled at the point in 1828, remaining about three years, moving from there to Spring Creek in the north part of the county. Stew T art Pennington was the second person to settle in the place, Salem Woods the third, and William Osborne the fourth. When Stewart Pennington settled in the place the nearest families were the Smiths', nine miles north; Barker's, nine miles northeast; Knott's ten miles east, in Fulton county; thirteen miles southeast was a lonely log cabin; six miles south were the Vance's, Stevens', and Carter's; while Resin Naylor was on the northwest, near the present town of Macomb.

The settlers at the Point, like those in other parts of the county, were poor in material wealth, but rich in faith, and each went to work with a will for the improvement of their respective homesteads. The result of their toils is now manifest, the farms in this neighborhood being among the best in the county. The settlers now living in the vicinity are all in good circumstances and as happy as kings.

Camp Creek derived its name from the fact that William Osborne camped on its banks the entire summer of the year 1829. At that time the timber near the Creek was large, and the land farther out on either side was covered with hazel brush, crab apples, plum trees, etc. At the present time, none of this is to be found. The fine timber on a part of Richard Pennington's farm is a second growth, the ground once having been cleared, and crops of corn, wheat and other grain raised thereon.

Macomb. Elias McFadden was the first settler in the vicinity of the present city of Macomb, and came to the place in the fall of 1828, or spring of 1829. He was followed soon after by John Baker, who is elsewhere spoken of in this work. After Mr. Baker, James Clarke, David Clarke, Resin Baylor, Samuel Russell, Wm. Pringle, Samual Bogart, _____ Anderson, and others, forming a very respectable neighborhood. Like other settlers of the county, this community hugged the timber, consequently we now find that all the oldest farms are timbered ones. The settlers were nearly all from Kentucky. In the year 1831, the original number was increased by the coming of James M. Campbell, Moses Hinton, S. H. Robinson and others. Several stores were opened, the tavern sign hung out, and entertainment was provided for man and beast. As we speak elsewhere of this place at considerable length it is needless to say more in this connection.

Hillsgrove. In the fall of 1830 Roswell Tyrrell, then a citizen of Fulton county, came to McDonough and built a cabin on sec. 26, 5 n., 4w., now Tennessee township, after which he returned to Fulton for his family, but the big snow of that winter falling, he did not return until the following spring. Here he remained until the year 1832, not having a neighbor within several miles. At this time James Fulkerson and family came and settled on a farm adjoining his quarter. The first day of their arrival, while preparing their noon-day meal, their dogs began to bark, and looking out they discovered a large black bear, at which they were somewhat alarmed. Their dogs took after it, and soon were joined by those of Mr. Tyrrell, the bear fighting and tearing several of them in a terrible manner. Mr. Fulkerson followed and succeeded in getting in a good shot, killed it, returning to the camp with his prize. It was dressed and weighed, bringing the beam down at two hundred pounds. This was the first, and so far as we know, the only animal of the kind ever killed in the county. When the dogs of Mr. Tyrrell returned he discovered they were badly torn, and, being ignorant of what had occurred,, and supposing it had been done by the dogs of his new neighbor, he was somewhat offended, but on receiving a huge slice of the bear's meat, and learning the particulars of the killing, he was satisfied.

Following Mr. Fulkerson, other families settled in the neighborhood within two or three years, forming quite a settlement. Among the number being ___ Hill, for whom the post office and settlement was called; Isaac Holton, Colonel Charles Wesley Waddill, Charles Waddill, David Kepple, Rev. James King, Charles G. Gilchrist.

Isaac Holton was a graduate of Brown University, one of the best educational institutions in the East, and when he settled in the neighborhood he conceived the idea of establishing a similar institution in this county at Hill's Grove, believing an institution located in the country would be better than one in a city, as the young educated therein would not be subject to the temptations incidental to city life. Accordingly, about the year 1835, he opened a High School in an old log house in the neighborhood, continuing the same for some fifteen years. In this school were educated some of the best men in this section of the country, among whom we may mention Dr. J. H. Bacon, now of Fort Madison, Iowa; H. W. Ferris, President of Carthage National Bank; John M. Ferris, attorney at law; Dr. Thompson Ferris, Carthage; Samuel Hunt, Bushnell; C. W. Fulkerson, Rev. Sampson Talbot, Rev. William Owen, Thomas Fulkerson, and Larkin Bacon. In the year 1837 he secured a charter from the Legislature of the State for the "Hill's Grove Academy," which he hoped would be the basis for a future college or university. We believe he never organized under this charter, but continued his school as a private institution until called to his final home.

The country about the Grove for many years was infested by rattlesnakes and other reptiles, and a little southwest was a hollow that bears to this day the name of "Snake Den Hollow." In this hollow, in the crevices of the rocks, the snakes would form their "den" for the winter, and as the warm days of spring approached they would crawl out in great numbers. As soon as this fact became known, the neighbors began to make a raid upon them, organizing parties for this purpose, taking turns in watching the holes from out of which the reptiles crawled, and killing them as they appeared. The snakes as they came forth from their dens would be in a torpid condition, and therefore were easily destroyed. The first year the manner in which the war was carried on was as follows: Stationing himself by the hole from which the snakes would crawl, a man would stand with a sharp pointed stick, and when the snake would show its head, he would thrust the stick through it, pulling it out, and then mashing its head. The second or third year a kind of trap was placed over the hole, into which the snakes would crawl, and at certain intervals someone would take and destroy them. This latter plan was preferable, as it required but little time. As many as nine hundred snakes were killed in one season, principally of the rattle and black snake species, these two dwelling together harmoniously. Great care had to be taken to avoid being bitten by these dangerous reptiles. Many a poor farmer lost his entire means of subsistence by having his horses or cattle bitten by them. Abraham Fulkerson, a brother of James, affected to care but little for the reptiles, stating there was no danger from them, but, alas, there was danger to him. One summer day, in order to cool and rest himself after the heat and burden of the day, he laid down on the floor of his cabin and fell asleep. On waking, he threw his hand over on one side, when he felt a sharp pain in one of his fingers, and raising his hand he observed a large rattlesnake with its fangs imbedded in his finger, and was compelled to give his hand a shake before it loosened its hold. His family was called, and the simple remedies known to the common people were tried, but without avail. The patient grew worse; a doctor was called, and his skill brought into requisition, and the life of the man was temporarily saved. Eye witnesses say never did they see a man suffer as he did, and they have no desire ever to witness another such scene. Although, as stated, the life of the man was saved for a time, the poison was not eradicated from his system, and in about one year after death came to his relief.

Hillsgrove settlement has not only the honor of killing the first and only black bear, and having the largest number of snakes in its midst, but two panthers were killed in that neighborhood at an early day. Elijah Tyrrell, a cousin of Eoswell Tyrrell, while out hunting, discovered an animal in a tree as he thought in the act of springing upon him, and although at best a poor marksman, he hastily took aim and succeeded in shooting it through the heart. While in the act of skinning it, a little dog that was with him began to bark, and looking up he observed another animal eyeing him, and taking aim, succeeded in killing it also. Not knowing to what species of animal his game belonged, he reported at the house that he had "killed the devil!" This same man was again out in the woods when the wolves got after him, and he ran in the direction of his house, followed by a considerable pack of the animals. Finding that he could not reach his house, he took to a tree, and as he ascended the wolves jumped up and succeeded in tearing off a goodly portion of his jacket. His cries brought assistance, and he was rescued without receiving any injury.

In the spring of 1832 seed corn was hard to obtain and brought a good price, and a number of the farmers could not obtain sufficient for their use. During this year 'several companies of soldiers passed through the county going to the Black Hawk war; and having with them a supply of corn brought from the south, the people endeavored to exchange what they had for the corn of the soldiers, and where they had none to exchange, and no money to buy, raked up the grains left by the horses where they were fed, saving them to plant.

The trouble in obtaining flour and meal by the early settlers cannot be realized by any at the present day. Charles W. Fulkerson gave the following as his experience on one occasion: Being out of flour, he was sent by his parents with three or four bushels of wheat to mill, going first to Bacon's mill, near Crooked Creek, where, on account of low water, he could not get it ground. He then went on to Marietta, in Fulton county, and, falling in with David Kepple, the two continued on together. At Marietta they again failed to have their grain ground, and went on to another mill on Spoon river, near where it empties into the Illinois. This mill was owned by an old Scotchman and his sons. Arriving here late on Saturday night, they explained to the sons of the old man their situation, and secured a promise from them to grind it on Monday morning. The old man was absent at the time, but the next morning he came into the mill yard where they had driven and ordered them to leave. Said he, "Get right out of my yard and home with you; I will not grind you a single grain. All you want with it is for speculating purposes, and I will have nothing to do with you!" Mr. Fulkerson and Mr. Kepple both tried to reason with him, assuring him it was not for speculating purposes, and that they had not a morsel of meal or flour at home; but he would not listen to them, and they were compelled to hitch up their teams and depart. Leaving this mill they went to Vermont, where a mill had lately been erected, but here they met with no better success, and had to return home without having their grain ground at all; but Mr. Kepple, before leaving, hunted around the mill and succeeded in finding about a half bushel of "shorts," which he said he would call flour, and took it hcme with him, but what success his people had in making bread out of it he never reported. When such a state of affairs occurred the only alternative the people had for making bread was to pound their corn with a pestle in a huge mortar made for that purpose, or, in lieu of that, to eat hominy.

Hillsgrove is frequently called "the old Methodist stamping ground," as here this body of people early secured a foothold and had many adherents. Many of the old pioneer preachers of this denomination held forth in the cabins of the early settlers. Thomas Fulkerson yet has a cabin standing on his place, where Peter Cartwright, the old Methodist apostle, preached to the hardy men and women of the neighborhood the unsearchable riches of Christ. The first sermon was preached by Rev. Valentine Wilson, a Methodist preacher, in 1833, at the house of James Fulkerson.

Edward McDonough, for a number of years past a dealer in flour, etc., at Macomb, was the first child born in the township, which event occurred in April, 1832. His father was Hugh McDonough, Sr., one of the pioneers of the county, and who died in 1849.

The country in and around the old Hillsgrove settlement is excellent, and the early settlers made a wise choice in their selection. At present writing (March, 1877) many wealthy men inhabit this part of the county men who obtained their wealth by hard labor in the early times.

Middletown. This place was laid out in the spring of 1837, by Major John Patrick and James Edmonston, Esq. The first house erected was by Major Patrick. The first settlers were James Edmonston and John Gibson, and Andrew Cox started the first store. It was called Middletown from the fact of its being the central point or middle town between Beardstown on the Illinois river and Burlington on the Mississippi river. It was also the crossing of the Beardstown and Burlington and the Peoria and Quincy public roads.

The first public sale of town lots occurred in April, 1837, lots realizing from $15 to $30 each. Very few have at any time commanded a higher price than this. Although the town never grew to any considerable size or importance, it was at one time a busy and prosperous village, as will be seen by the following article taken from the McDonough Independent of October 31, 1853:

"Middletown. A few days since we paid a flying visit to this beautiful village in the western part of this county. We were much pleased with the evidences of prosperity which the town presents. It contains about 180 inhabitants, three dry goods stores, three taverns, several blacksmith shops, and a splendid steam saw mill which does a tine business.

"Col. Patrick, who is engaged in the mercantile business, has just received an extensive stock in store, which were shown us by Capt. Lipe, his gentlemanly clerk."

The country in the vicinity of Middletown is thickly settled by a good class of farmers, and is generally level prairie land, well drained and fertile.

There was no portion of the county that labored harder to secure the line of the Northern Cross Railway than Middletown, which was to be on the main line of the contemplated road. At an election held August 20, 1853, for the purpose of voting for or against the county subscribing $75,000 to this railroad, Middletown precinct cast 198 votes for and but 2 against the proposed enterprise. The road, however, when built, failed to be a benefit to the town; it was on the other hand, the means of taking her established trade from her, and causing many of her more prominent and enterprising citizens to seek other locations. The reason was, that instead of the road running through the town it ran five miles north, where new towns sprang up, which with the advantages of the railroad commanded the patronage and interests of the people in the surrounding country. It is due the citizens of Middletown at the time the Railroad was projected to record that the failure of the road to pass through their town, was not a want of interest in the enterprise, or lack of earnest labor on their part to secure the road, for as before mentioned, none worked harder to secure it than they, but it was on account of the condition of the country through which the road would necessarily have to be constructed.

Source: History of McDonough County, Illinois, It's Cities, Towns, and Villages with Early Reminiscences, Personal Incidents and Anecdotes, and a Complete Business Directory of the County, by S. J. Clarke, published in 1878, pages 66-75. Extracted 30 Jul 2016 by Norma Hass.

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