History of Mercer County, Illinois

Part 2: Mercer County - 1834 to 1845

Return to Mercer Home Page
Part 1 - 1818 to 1833
Part 3 - 1845 to 1860
Surnames Page
Social and Home Life in the 30's and 40's

The divisions we have chosen for our mini-history are somewhat arbitrary. Part 1 took us up through the Black Hawk War which ended in 1832. For at least a year thereafter settlers did not come in, not being sure of the Indian situation.

In 1834 a group of settlers came from Wayne County, Indiana, planted crops in the spring, and went back in the fall for their families. They took back word of the rich soil and the fine timber, and from 1835 on there was a steady stream of settlers, mostly from Indiana, but a few coming up the Mississippi.

Contributing to this inflow of settlers was the publication of A Gazatteer of Illinois in Philadelphia in 1837. It is described as "Containing a general view of the state, a general view of each county, and a particular description of each town, settlement, stream, prairie, bottom, bluff, etc…" It contained an Appendix "Suggestions to Emigrants" including canal, steam-boat and stage routes - other modes of travel - expenses - roads, distances, etc." It says of Mercer County: "It is about thirty-two miles long and eighteen miles wide, containing about 550 square miles. It is watered by Edwards and Pope rivers, and the northern branches of Henderson river, along which are excellent tracts of timber, as there is on the borders of the Mississippi…It is said that the seasons are more uniform, the winters more severe, and the summers more pleasant than in the counties further south; but the frosts of spring do not injure the labours of the husbandman." For those interested in Illinois history in that time period there is a wonderful reprint of this book published in 1993 by Heritage Books and available through vendors such as Amazon.com.

In 1845 the phrase "manifest destiny" was coined, implying that the new nation had the right to spread out across the entire continent. This cry started with the annexation of Texas, continued through the Mexican War in the late 1840's, and with the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the rush further West was on.

The period 1835 to 1845 was a period of steady growth for Mercer County, and then beginning about 1845 there began to be an outflow as well as an inflow.

Early Settlers

The History of Mercer County 1882 tells us that those "worthy of note" who came in 1834 were Joseph Glancey, William and Isaac Drury, William, Newton J. & Joshua Willits, and Joseph, John S. and Lewis Noble. One must take the "worthy of note" comment with a grain of salt. These County Histories produced in the late 1800's and early 1900's were a commercial enterprise. Those who subscribed a sum to the publication were mentioned and those who did not were left out. County histories are a wonderful source of information, though often inaccurate, but be aware there may be much more going on than what is mentioned in the history. Others mentioned as very early settlers in the western part of the County were John Long, William Nevius, Eli Reynolds, and Isaac Dawson.

It isn't clear exactly why this group came to Mercer County although Wayne County, Indiana, had some serious problems. It had been settled starting in about 1806 and hunting in the area had become sparse. While the early pioneers relied heavily on crops, they also secured a large part of their livelihood by hunting, both for food and for furs to trade. There was also a great deal of sickness in Wayne County, including "milk sickness" where whole families perished from drinking the milk from cows that had eaten poisonous plants. Reuben Willits, brother of the above mentioned Willits men, and his wife had perished in just such a way. Another reason for migration that often isn't mentioned is simply the genetic urge to move about that came from Teutonic ancestors in Europe. These men had probably set out to see the land and had been brought up short at the Mississippi River. Here they found remarkably rich soil from the periodic flooding of the River, a regular river highway for transporting crops to markets, and excellent timber for firewood and for building cabins. A population density map for the US shows the shift between 1820 and 1840 and indicates population pressure from the east that pushed families farther west.

Getting to Mercer County from southeastern Indiana was not easy. Southern and Central Illinois contained numerous sloughs and bogs, and streams and rivers to cross so there was no easy route. The settlers probably brought their families back in the fall because they realized the following spring would be impossible for wagon travel. As well as bringing their own families, they brought friends and neighbors. Some of the rigors of the journey are described in the biography of Levi and Clarinda Drury Willits. Despite the hardships some of the families made the journey more than once (cf. Emerson).

Another Early Settler and Story of a Journey

We have included a page for the Benijah Lloyd family, one of the first settlers of Millersburg Township, on our Rootsweb Site. As some visitors have discerned we occasionally deviate from settlers of New Boston and Eliza Township because there were families in other townships who married into several families in our subject townships and are very pertinent to their history and genealogy. In addition the Lloyd family's migration to Mercer County is a fascinating piece of early history in Mercer County and the difficulty of the journey there.

Settlers from Maine

Groups of settlers from faraway Maine began arriving about 1839. We have set up a separate page documenting these families, hoping to learn how they heard of Mercer County and what their mode of transportation to the county was.

Public Land Claims

According to public domain land records (see Illinois Archives), those making land claims in New Boston and Eliza Townships between 1835 and 1840 included Jesse Adams, Joseph Alyea, Richard Barrett, Jacob & Martin Bear, Patrick Beard, William Belcher (MiscFam), Edmund Belden, Thomas Biddle, John Black (Penn Families), Oliver Blaisdell, Valentine Boruff, William Boster, David Bowen, Jr., James and Miles Boyd, William Brewer, William Brown, James Burleigh, Sanford Burlington, A. Burnett, Edward Burrall, William Butterfield, Augustus Childs, Thomas Church, Benjamin Clark, John Clark, George & Isaac Dawson, Garrett DeBaum, Aaron Delabar, William, John, James and Joseph Denison (also see Part 1), Thomas Dill, Eli, Isaiah, James, John, Miles, Minerva, Priscilla, Silas, and William Drury , Samuel Elliott (see Myers), James Emerson, George, John, and Martin Fisher, Suel Foster, Ephrain Gilmore, John Glancey, John Hill, William Hooper, Stephen Hum, Samuel Ingam, Harley Ives (see Surnames for link), Charles Jack, Joseph Leonard, Shadrack LeQuat, Isaac Lutz, Michael Mardoc, William McCloud, Daniel McCray (see Delabar), John and William McGreer (Misc Fam), James McKee, Andrew Meyers, Thomas Miller (see Surnames for link), Isaac Mitchell, George & James Moore, Thomas Morgan, Marcus Mullen, Joseph Murfin, William Nevius, Daniel, Lewis & David Fruit Noble , Simon Nowlin, George Pay, Francis Perkins (Maine Fam), Daniel Pinkley, John & Rezin Pratt, Harley Press, Harper Reed, Eli, James, John, and Larkin Reynolds, Larson Riggs, Benjamin & Samuel Robinson, David, George, and John Shaunce, Alexander Sims (see Beverlin), Daniel Stroup, Frank Taylor, James Thompson, Alexander & Andrew Thomson, James Vernon (see Blaisdell), Brady, Charles, Isaac, Isaiah, Jesse, Joshua, Josiah, Levi & William Willits, Abijah, Allen, Charles, John and William Wilson , James Wonn, & Gad Woodruff.

Many of these names are never mentioned again in connection with Mercer County. They may have been land speculators who never actually lived there. Some names are no doubt missed, as the list is taken only from public land filings. Some settlers may not have obtained land (or clear title to land - see Part 1), or may have moved into New Boston or Eliza Townships later from adjoining locations. The Martin Kellogg, George Mossman, and Adam Davis families purchased land in Keithsburg Township in 1839; the Samuel Love and Chauncy Stannard families purchased land in North Henderson Township in 1839; Peachey Rader purchased land in Abingdon Township in 1839; all (except Mossman) are found in New Boston Township in the 1840 census. John Strickland (see Blaisdell) is in New Boston Township in 1840 but did not purchase land until 1854. Amos Prouty did not purchase land until 1851. Only those names connected at some point in time with New Boston or Eliza Townships are included in this study. We have included George Mossman as he served as blacksmith to the New Boston Township residents.

A Description of "squatting" from The Illini

(A colorful description of one of the problems in obtaining title to lands in Mercer County in the early days.)
"He's a squatter, - makes a business of squattin'. He squats on land."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Why, ye see, I don't myself 'zacly understand, but a gentlemen, a land-shark from Chicago, a real nice young feller, hired him to squat on land fer him. Ye see, when a feller who has a tax-title or suthin' on his land, and gits careless like and don't stay on it, Hobbs'll go on the quarter-section arter night, and build a shanty, and put some straw on the ground to sleep on, and have some grub to eat, and when the man who owns it comes along and asks him what he's doing there, Hobbs'll say, 'What am I doin' yere? It's my land; I own it. I've got the real true patent title from Uncle Sam comin' right direct from the sojer!" An' nobody can't drive Hobbs off! He jes stays squattin' thar on thet quarter till he gits the land, or they have a law-suit, or the owner settles and pays a lot o' money to the man Hobbs works fer. It's mighty ticklish business, for some of these men'll shoot; but Hobbs don't skeer easy, an' he never gives up."

Census Records

Other names found in the 1840 census in New Boston (T14NR5W) and Eliza (T15NR5W) Townships, but not in the public land records are: Robert Sloan, Henry Grinder, John Roberts, Richard Staunton, Jeremiah & William Swafford, Samuel McMannus, Nancy Mosby (see ), Jonathan Larrance, Edmund Harrell, R. R. Tillottson, Michael Seydal, John Allen, Alexander McKenzie, Richard Smith, William Crapnell , James McColgan, Anderson Perina, Pettis Finch , Samuel Maxfield, Patrick Shirkey, Joseph Alexander, John Bates , Henry Hiers, William Rutherford, William Epperly, John Cloke (see Fisher), Cyrus Davis , Robert Dungan, John Dewitt (Jr & Sr), Thomas Haltmann, Aaron Mannon, and Elisha Essley.

The 1840 Census of New Boston & Eliza Townships lists the names of heads of household (135), and then enumerates males and females in age categories. 46% of the population was female, so it was definitely a family oriented area. It lists the families by township and includes an occupational code. There were 51 families in Eliza Township and 84 families in New Boston Township. 84% of those families lived on farms. The population of New Boston and Eliza Townships was essentially a young one. 324 children under the age of 15 are listed in a total population of 714. 45% of the population was children under the age of 15! Only 41 persons over the age of 50 are listed. William Wilson, William Dennison, and Gad Woodruff are males listed as over 70. The Rezin Pratt and John DeWitt families each list a woman over 70. The woman in the Rezin Pratt family was Jemima Santee Long, Rezin's mother-in-law, who was actually only 63. Determining age accurately is a problem in the older censuses where the census taker could easily mark the wrong column on the form (as well as being given wrong information!).

The population was largely a farming one and farms were located well back from the River. Only one family, that of Samuel Nowlin, is located in Range 6 West (along the Mississippi River) and that in Eliza Township. By 1850 he was gone having probably used up the timber on his land. Most people owned a farm inland and a small plot of timberland along the River which they used for firewood and for lumber.

The town of New Boston included 15 families. Of those, five had persons engaged in commerce, seven had persons engaged in trade, two had persons engaged in river navigation, and three families were engaged solely in farming though they lived in town. Only the Alyea family included professional persons (4).

An Example of the Life and Times

Another characteristic of this time period was a lack of cash. There had been a panic in 1837 with many bank closings, and most of the settlers had come to Mercer County without ready money. Isaac Willits,son of Isaiah, and father of several of the Willits families of Mercer County, died in 1844. His estate inventory included notes for numerous small debts he owed persons in the county for services or goods. The amounts ranged as low as 67 cents. Typically in this time people simply didn't have cash for payment. The bartering system was in place, as it had always been all over the country; people then usually only settled their debts when crops came in. The goods and services for which Isaac owed money are of interest, as they tell us about the life of the people and serve as an informal census of the time. Note the exchange of pork and wheat for merchandise, and the payment of one debt with the note for another. The notes included:

G. Mossman, $13.50 for shoeing several horses and various blacksmith work
Warren Shed, $1.00 for school tuition (for Isaac Willit's grandson)(the bill was actually for $1.37 1/2 but the Township treasurer paid the 37 1/2 cents)
James Mitchell, $21.40 for seven loads of wood and 530 split rails. Another bill for $6.02 for 32 and 1/8 bushels of corn
John Fraley, $5.00 for 3 hogs, $8 for one month's work (this note was passed on to the Denison's as a credit on Fraley's debt)
John Hasket, $7 for 4 days labor chopping wood, hauling wood, & hoeing, for cutting and hauling hay, and for labor by his wife
S. P. Smith, $3.16 for tuition of children during 1842
Harley Ives, a four year note for $100 to be paid in pork or wheat (probably for store merchandise)
Thomas Moore, $40 cash lent and $18 interest for 7 yrs, 6 months (note dated 1836)
C. W. Wilkinson, $3 for stud service for one mare for one season
W. H. Butler, $1.44 for subscription to Peoria Register & Northwestern Gazeteer from April 14, 1843 to September 30, 1843
Sally Halsey $1.25 for weaving ten yards of blanketing
Harrell and Willits, $44.25 for medical services from Nov 1, 1842, to October 29, 1844
H. W. Thornton $20.00 for foreclosing a mortgage
John Windel, $17.27 for miscellaneous carpentry work and "varnishing" various household items
Isaac Beeson & Joseph Leonard, $41.00 for administering the estate of Isaac's deceased son Joshua M. Willits
Drury and Willits, $53.00 (probably store merchandise). Another bill for $30.25 for five yards broadcloth, for hauling, for bed (the last item from Dennison & Ives)
Joseph Alyea, $36 (probably for medications as Alyea owned the drugstore)
Doughty & Barnes, $1.00 for three incidents of repair hames (parts of harness)
Alexander Davis, $2.50 for five bushels wheat
George Lowe, $6.25 for hauling 2 load of oats, three loads of wood and moving hay & corn (A credit of $4.82 was applied to this note for 7 1/2 bushels of corn, 143 pounds of pork and 100 pounds of salt)
Frederick Frick, $1.00 writing and acknowledging deeds for Isaac & his wife
James Swafford, $1.50 for stove box and drawing knife
J. C. Swafford, $5.83 for ten incidences of shoe repair, and 140 bricks to build stove flu (for stove box above)
W. Crapnelll, $22.37 for 17 incidences of shoe repair and/or purchase (A credit of $22.00 was applied to this bill for the rent of 11 acres of ground to Crapnell)
Michael Poffenbarger, $14.89 for various blacksmith repairs (A credit for cotton cloth and flour of $3.54 was applied to the bill)
Brady Willits, $10 for 20 apple trees and 3 months rent
John Jackson, $0.67 for repairing a neck yoke and setting shoes (for oxen?)

As people began to leave the area starting about 1845, there appeared to be less of this kind of trust. Newspaper ads were often placed pleading with people to settle their accounts, both with stores and with individuals.

The Mercer County Advertiser, New Boston, March 24, 1849 carried the following notice:
"Black List. We are the holder of quite a batch of small obligations, in the way of outstanding accounts, which our necessitous condition renders it necessary should be collected. We therefore give timely warning to all that three weeks from to day we shall commence the publication of a black list, which will embrace the names of all who remain delinquent at that time, and shall continue to parade them before the public, as the great 'Anti small-debt paying party,' of Mercer and adjoining counties, from week to week until they 'round up.' Don't get mad if, after this notice, you find yourself posted. It makes little odds whether you 'don't know that' you owe us or not. As an honest man, it is as much your business to know to whom you are indebted, as it is our's to notify you; and you will be apt to find your neighbor agreeing with us in the opinion that, he who forgets to pay one small debt, is equally liable to neglect all."
(It is a pity the following issues are not available so we cannot see the "black listed" names!)

More deductions about the life and times have been made from Issac's will and included in our page Social and Home Life in the 30’s and 40’s

Forming the First Militia

Though the Black Hawk War was over, there was still a good deal of nervousness about the Indians. In the 1840's the Governor of Illinois commissioned Andrew Myers to form a militia. He did so with William Nevius as Lieutenant Colonel and Benijah Lloyd as Major. This was the only organization of this kind formed in the County until the Civil War. They met for drill at Millersburg and parade days brought hundreds from around the County to watch. "The companies were well drilled, fully officered, fairly uniformed and armed with such guns as pioneers had for hunting and common protection." (Ref: Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois & History of Mercer County, 1903)

Updates: 4/28/2007 Added a bit of information from A Gazetteer of Illinois about immigration to Illinois and Mercer County.