Peoria Township History
Second Nat'l Bank...Davis &
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City of Peoria
Atlas Map of Peoria County, Illinois, 1873, page 19
Early History - French Settlement
"The old village of
Peoria was situated on the northwest shore of Lake Peoria, about one mile and a
half above the lower extremity of the lake. This village had been inhabited by
the French previous to the recollection of any of the present generation. About
the year 1778 or 1779, the first house was built in what was then called LaVille
de Maillet, afterwards the new village of Peoria, and of late the place has been
known by the name of Fort Clark, situated about one mile and a half below the
old village, immediately at the lower point or outlet of Lake Peoria. The
situation being preferred on account of the water being better and its being
thought more healthy. The inhabitants gradually deserted the old village, and by
the year 1796 or 1797 had entirely abandoned it and removed to the new village.
"The inhabitants of Peoria consisted generally of Indian traders, hunters and voyageurs, and had formed a link of connection between the French residing on the waters of the great lakes and the Mississippi river. From that happy faculty of adapting themselves to their situation and associates for which the French are so remarkable, the inhabitants of Peoria lived generally in harmony with their savage neighbors. It would seem, however, that about the year 1781 they were induced to abandon the village from apprehension of Indian hostilities; but soon after the peace of 1783 they again returned, and continued to reside there until the Autumn of 1812, when they were forcibly removed from it, and the place destroyed by Capt. Craig, of the Illinois militia, on the ground, as it is said, that he and his company of militia were fired on in the night, while at anchor in their boats, before the village, by Indians, with whom the inhabitants were suspected by Craig to be too intimate and friendly.
"The inhabitants of Peoria, it would appear from all I can learn, settled there without any grant or permission from the authority of any government: that the only title they had to their lands was derived from possession, and the only value attached to it grew out of the improvements placed upon it. That each person took to himself such portion of unoccupied land as he wished to occupy and cultivate, and made it his own by incorporating his labor with it, but as soon as he abandoned it his title was understood to cease, with his possession and improvements, and it reverted to its natural state, and was liable again to be improved and possessed by any one who should think proper. This, together with the itinerant character of the inhabitants, will account for the number of persons who will frequently be found; from the testimony contained in the report, to have occupied the same lot, many of whom, it will be seen, present conflicting claims.
"As is usual in French villages, the possession in Peoria consisted generally in village lots, on which they erected their buildings and made their gardens, and of outlets or fields, in which they cultivated grain, etc. The village lots contained, in general, about, one-half of an arpent of land; the outlots or fields were of various sizes, depending on the industry or means of the owner to cultivate more or less land.
"As neither the old nor new village of Peoria was ever formally laid out or had defined limits assigned them, it is impossible to have of them an accurate map. * * * * I have not been able to ascertain with precision on what particular quarter-sections of the military survey these claims are situated."
This is the first written reference to the French settlement at Peoria we have been able to find, and it is indefinite and unsatisfactory. There is no authority extant, so far as we can find, to show that there were any French people here previous to 1760, or until eighty years after LaSalle's party left.
Under a treaty made by the United States with Great Britain in 1783, and under the Jay treaty made in 1794, the French people in Illinois became citizens of the government of the United States. When the war broke out between Great Britain and the United States, it was treason under the terms of these treaties for the French to take sides with the British or British allies, the Indians. But notwithstanding this, the Peoria French were charged with obtaining ammunition and other munitions of war from the British in Canada, and with furnishing it to the Indians; with murdering the American settlers in the southern part of the Illinois Territory, and Captain John Baptiste Maillet, the chief military man at Peoria, who was afterward rewarded for his supposed fidelity to the government of the United States, was openly charged with stealing cattle from the settlers in the Wood river country, in Madison county, and driving them north to feed the Indians. Whether true or false, these stories had sufficient plausibility to demand investigation from Governor Edwards, and he ordered Captain Craig, of the Illinois militia, "to ascend the Illinois river — there were no roads between the southern part of the territory and Peoria then — to ascertain the truth or falsity of these accusations, and to act accordingly. That Governor Edwards believed they were founded in fact, is evidenced by the following letter to Mr. Eustis, then United States Secretary of War, under date of August 4, 1812, in which he said, speaking of the Indians:
"Those near Peoria are constantly killing and eating the cattle of the people of that village. The Indians on the Illinois are well supplied with English powder, and have been selling some of it to the white people. A few days ago they sent some of their party with five horses to the Sac village for lead." In a postscript to this letter he added: "No troops of any kind have yet arrived in this territory, and I think you may count upon hearing of a bloody stroke upon us very soon. I have been extremely reluctant to send my family away, but unless I hear shortly of more assistance than a few rangers, I shall bury my papers in the ground, send my family off, and stand my ground as long as possible."
Craig's command reached Peoria in small row-boats on the 5th of November, 1812, remained four days, and left on the 9th. In his report to Governor Edwards he stated that on his arrival at Peoria he was told the Indians had all left, but that he believed from the actions of the citizens the statements were false; that the sentinels on his boats could see them passing through town with candles, and hear their canoes crossing the river all night during the time he remained. On the night of the 6th of November the wind blew so hard they were forced to drop down the river about a quarter of a mile below town, where they cast anchor, but the wind continued with such force that their cable parted and the armed boat drifted ashore. Between the break of day and daylight on the morning of the 7th, the boat was fired on, as Captain Craig thought, by ten or more guns, not more than thirty yards distant from the boat. Arrangements were made immediately to give the Indians battle, but it seems they fell back and escaped as soon as they had discharged their pieces. Immediately after daylight Captain Craig landed his boats opposite the center of the village and sent to know what had become of the citizens, to which he received the reply from those interrogated that they had heard or seen nothing unusual. He then sent to the place from which his boat had been fired upon, and found plenty of tracks leading up to the village. This was sufficient to convince Captain Craig that the Frenchmen there were not faithful to the Americans and that they were in league with the Indians and siding with the British, and ordered them taken prisoners. He found them all in one house, and their guns were empty and had the appearance of having just been discharged. We quote in full the concluding part of Captain Craig's report:
"I gave them time to collect their property, which was done immediately. Howard's express came on board my boat and told me that seven of the citizens went out (they said to hunt beef) the morning we were fired upon. They started about the break of day, and returned about daylight. He said perhaps there were more, for they would never let him know what they were going to do, and would talk together in his absence. We stayed two days after they were taken prisoners. I made them furnish their own rations all the time I kept them. I burnt down about half of the town of Peoria, and I would have burnt the whole and destroyed all the stock, but I still expected Hopkins' army to pass the place. I found four American muskets in their possession, and one keg of musket balls, and one musket in the house under the floor, and some brass musket moulds. On our way down the river, they were all unarmed. I gave them permission to camp on shore, while I anchored in the river. They always preferred the Indian side for their camping ground."
This is all we find in this report about the old French village of Peoria. Captain Craig does not give any estimate of the population nor the extent of improvements, and much less of the character of the inhabitants. Mr. C. Ballance, in his history of the city of Peoria, published in 1870, says on this subject:
"I apprehend that the men LaSalle and others brought here were of the lower class, and the most ignorant of the French population. If not, they had woefully deteriorated between the time they were brought here and the destruction of their village. I have not been able to ascertain the population of Peoria, when the village was broken up by Captain Craig. Every man of them, I believe is dead, except Robert Forsyth, of St. Louis, who was then a boy. I wrote to him for a list of them, as near as his recollection could furnish it, and I suppose he knows, for besides being born among them, he spent fifteen years in hunting them up, and bringing and conducting suits, in which he derived his title through them; but he has never answered my letter. Nor do I find any record or history giving the number of the population at that time. From all information I possess, I can only find the names of sixteen men who were there (here) at the time. As this statement will probably be disputed, I here insert their names: Thomas Forsyth, Louis Pilette, Jaques Mette, Pierre Lavoisseur dit Chamberlain, Antoine LeClair, Michael LeCroix, Francis Racine, sen., Francis Racine, jun., John Baptiste de Fond, Felix Fontaine, Louis Binet, Hypolite Maillet, Francis Buche, Charles LaBelle, Antoine LePance, and Antoine Bourbonne. Of these, Michael LeCroix escaped to Canada and accepted a commission from the enemy, and fought against us. Others claimed lots by reason of their residence at this place; but the proof on file at the land office, an abstract of which can be found in the third volume of American State Papers, page 422, shows that they had previously abandoned the place, some of them more than twenty years before. But I will suppose I have overlooked some, which is possible, and call the number twenty-five. Then, if these men had, on an average five in a family, which is the usual calculation, we have in this village, that has made so much noise and caused so much trouble, a population of one hundred and twenty-five souls, all told; and, except these, I know of no French inhabitants on the Illinois river in those days, nor between the Mississippi and Wabash, excepting, always, a very ancient Frenchman, by the name of Bissow (pronounced Besaw), who always lived at Wesley, then called the Trading House. I have seen many affidavits and other papers signed by these men, but signed with a mark. I remember as exceptions to this rule that Thomas Forsyth, Michael LeCroix and Antoine LaPance wrote their names. There were probably others that could write, but I do not remember them. I recollect no case where a French woman could write her name. The depositions in the Peoria French claims at Edwardsville, and in the many suits brought on them, will show if I am right. These were fishermen and hunters, and not farmers. All the fields they pretended ever to have in cultivation amounted to less than three hundred acres, even if none of the fields had been deserted before they left. When the village was burnt I think they had less than two hundred acres in cultivation. They, however, sometimes acted as voyageurs for the Indian traders, but of manufactures they had none. They had not a school-house or church, nor a dwelling-house that deserved the name. I saw and examined the ground on which their houses had stood, before it was disturbed, and I am able to state that there was not a stone nor brick wall in the village, for any purpose, nor was there a cellar. Some of the houses had a small place excavated under the floor in front of the fire-place, for potatoes. Some of the houses had posts in the ground, and some were framed with sills ; but instead of being boarded up as with us, the space between the posts was filled with pieces of timber laid horizontally, with mud between them. The chimneys were made of mud and sticks. That they had no gardens, in the common acceptation of the term, is manifest from this: many of the cultivated plants, when once introduced in a place, will never cease to grow there. This is true of all the fruits that grow in this climate, and it is true of many herbs, and of some culinary vegetables. Every one knows that long after a farm is deserted, the apple trees and gooseberry and currant bushes will continue to grow; and tansey, flags, lilies, mustard and many other plants, were never known to voluntarily abandon the place where they had once grown. Yet, when the present population commenced to settle here, about forty (fifty?) years ago, there was not to be found in this vestige of a tree, shrub or plant belonging to Europe. They would have made wine of the sour grapes of the woods, if they had had sugar to assuage its acidity and cellars to preserve it, but the sugar could not then be afforded, and the cellars they had not. And we know they had no French grapes, for the reason above—no vines remain * * * *."
SECOND EXPEDITION TO PEORIA—FORT CLARK
A second expedition to the Lake Peoria country was planned and carried out in the Summer and Fall of 1813. Large numbers of Indians, disaffected with the turn of affairs between the British and American Governments, collected among the Pottawatomies and Kickapoos, from whence they made frequent predatory raids on the frontiers of Illinois and Missouri. These harrassments were so annoying and threatening that a joint expedition from Illinois and Missouri was projected, an army of 900 men were collected, of which Gen. Howard — who had resigned the governorship of Missouri to accept a Brigadier General's commission in the United States army — was placed in command. Most of the Illinois troops concentrated at Camp Russell, near Edwardsville, in Madison county, from whence one company was ordered to the Mississippi, at a point called the Piasa, opposite the Portage des Sioux, where it remained several weeks, during which time the men suffered seriously from sickness. The Illinois troops were organized as the second regiments, with Benjamin Stephenson, of Randolph county, as colonel; W. B. Whiteside and John Moredock, majors, and Joseph Phillips, Samuel Judy, Nathaniel Journey and Samuel Whiteside as captains. When the time for the forward movement came, the Illinoisans marched up the Mississippi river by companies, to the Illinois, which they crossed a few miles above its mouth. The Missouri division marched up the west side of the Mississippi for a distance of one hundred miles, and crossed to Illinois, at Fort Mason, where a junction was formed with the Illinois division. The Missourians crossed the Mississippi by swimming their horses, on which they were mounted, naked. Their clothes were carried across on a platform supported by two canoes. The Missouri division was commanded by Colonel McNair, who was afterwards made Governor of the State. After crossing, the whole force was re-organized, of which General Howard was commander-in-chief.
After the re-organization was perfected, the march was continued up the Mississippi, and at the present site of Quincy, the column passed the Indian camp and village which had recently been deserted, and supposed to have contained one thousand Sac warriors. At "Two Rivers," the army turned east, and crossed the high prairies to the Illinois, near the mouth of Spoon river, and not far from the present site of the city of Havana, where the provision boats were met, and to which the sick were transferred. The march was then continued up the Illinois to Peoria, where there was a small stockade in charge of Captain Nicholas, of the U. S. army. Two days before the arrival of General Howard's command, the Indians had attacked the stockade, but were defeated and driven away.
In the heart of the enemy's country, accustomed to the stealthy habits of the Indians, and the troops being without thorough discipline, unprovoked night alarms were of frequent occurrence. The troops were often paraded and ordered to arms; and under the general excitement incident to a constant dread of an attack, and not knowing from which side the attack would come, every little noise added to the uneasiness of the situation; guns were incautiously discharged, and a state of constant alarm existed. In one of these panicky spells, one of the troopers, a young Kentuckian, was shot dead by a terror-stricken sentinel. "All this time," says the authority from which we quote, "the Indians were far away."
From Peoria, Howard's army went up the river as far as Gomo's village, at the present site of Chillicothe, but the Indians had fled. After burning two of the deserted villages, the command made a retrograde movement to Peoria Lake, and went into camp at the outlet, and remained several weeks. As a precautionary measure of safety and protection in case of a sudden Indian attack, a small stockade was built, which was named Fort Clark, in honor and memory of General George Rogers Clark, the hero of Vincennes and Kaskaskia, whose gallant exploits in connection with the early history of the Illinois country are elsewhere detailed.
While Howard's army remained here, Major Christy, of the Missouri division, was sent up the river as far as the rapids to rout and chastise such of the enemy as might have stopped in that region. Major Boone, with another detachment, was sent out to scour the country in the direction of Spoon and Rock rivers, for a like purpose. Both expeditions returned without finding any signs of Indians, except the signs of alarm and retreat. In October the army left the port and took up its line of march for Camp Russell, and arrived there on the 22nd day of that month, 1813.
Fort Clark is thus described by Mr. C. Ballance. It was a simple stockade, constructed by planting two rows of logs firmly in the ground, near each other, and filling the space between them with earth. This, of course, was not intended as a defense against artillery, of which the Indians had none. This fort was about one hundred feet square, with a ditch along each side. It did not stand with a side to the lake, but with a corner towards it. The corner farthest from the lake was on the upper side of Water street, near the intersection of the upper line of Water and Liberty streets. From there the west line ran diagonally across the intersection of Water and Liberty streets, nearly to the corner of the transportation warehouse, at the lower corner of Liberty and Water streets. At this corner was what I suppose military men would call a bastion; that is there was a projecting corner made in the same manner as the side walls, and so constructed, as I imagine, as to accommodate a small cannon to command the ditches. And the same had, no doubt, been at the opposite corner, but when I came to the country in November, 1831, there was no vestige of it remaining, In fact, at that time there was but little to show that there had ever been a fortification there, except some burnt posts along the west side, and a square of some ten or twelve feet at the south corner with a ditch nearly filled up, on two sides of it, and on the west side of the square. The fort had been burnt down to the embankment of this square and of the west side, after which the embankments had been mostly worn away by the rains and other means until that part of the logs that was under ground had become charred posts. Some of them, however, had become entirely decayed and were gone. On the other sides there was but little to be seen of logs or embankment. I lived where the transportation warehouse is for more than ten years, and when I leveled down the southerly angle, for my own convenience, one of those posts become high enough and was strong enough for a hitching post, and I employed a blacksmith, Isaac Evans, to put hooks in it for that purpose. That post was thus used until I removed from there in May, 1844. It was then taken up by Mr. Drown, and sawed up into walking canes and sold on speculation at fifty cents each."
Colonel G. J. Hubbard, an Indian trader in Illinois, was prominently identified with the affairs of the commonwealth and of Chicago in after years, is authority for the statement that Fort Clark was burned by the Indians in the latter part of the year 1818. In a letter to Mr. Ballance, under date of "Chicago, Dec. 30th, 1867," he says:
"I have to say that I was in Peoria in the last days of 1818, for the first time on my way to St. Louis passing there, returning about the 20th November, and wintering about one mile above Hennepin. It was my first year as Indian trader.
"As we rounded the point of the lake above Peoria, on our down trip we noticed that old Fort Clark was on fire, just blazing up. Reaching it, we found about two hundred Indians congregated, enjoying a war dance, painted hideously, with scalps on their spears and in their sashes, which they had taken from the heads of Americans, in the war with Great Britain from 1812 to 1815. They were dancing, rehearsing their deeds of bravery, etc. These were the only people then there, or in that vicinity."
This statement of Colonel Hubbard has been the subject of some controversy, as appears from a paragraph on page forty-four of Ballance's History of Peoria, in which he writes:
"Since writing the above I have talked with Josiah Fulton and William Blanchard who first came here in 1819, and they are both positive that they found it (the fort) on fire, and put it out. Perhaps they are both right. Perhaps when it was first set on fire it was only partly consumed. Earth having been filled in between the pickets, they would not burn fast, and the fire would be easily extinguished."
On page forty-five, Mr. Ballance says: " In the Spring of 1819, seven men, then living in a settlement called Shoal Creek, Clinton County, Illinois, to wit — Abner Eads, Joseph Hersey, Seth Fulton and Josiah Fulton, S. Dougherty, J. Davis, and T. Russell, made up a company to emigrate to Peoria, then called Fort Clark. Eads and Hersey came through by land with two pack-horses. The others came up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers in what was then known in the west as a keel boat."
Mr. Blanchard's name does not appear in this paragraph. And, according to Mr. Ballance's own statement (see page forty-seven in history of Peoria), that gentleman did not come until about the 10th of June of that year. Eads and Hersey arrived "on the 10th day of April, 1819, and pitched their tents against some of the remaining timbers of Fort Clark, which had been burnt by the Indians." The other five men arrived on the 17th. If Mr. Fulton came in April and found the fort on fire, how could Mr. Blanchard, who did not come until June, help him extinguish the burning timbers? But Mr. Fulton said to the writer on the 27th of September, 1879, that only the west side of the fort was burned away when he came here in April, 1819. This is no doubt true, for it has always been stated that Eads and Hersey, who arrived on the 15th of April, of that year, pitched their tents against one side of the fort. Hence Colonel Hubbard is right in so far as one side of Fort Clark was burned in the last days of the year 1818. The other parts of it were burned at a later period, and at a time when Fulton and Blanchard were present and extinguished the flames, as Mr. Fulton claims they did, but does not fix the date.
Between October, 1813, and the Spring of 1819, there is a blank in the history of Fort Clark. The garrison that had occupied it had been withdrawn, and there is no evidence to show the presence of white men anywhere in the vicinity, unless it were the U. S. soldiers garrisoned at Fort Clark, and the surveyors of the military tract in 1816-17; hence we are left to conclude that the country was occupied only by wild beasts as a grazing place, and as a hunting ground by the Indians. But, with a diversity of soil, an abundance of good water, and a most desirable climate, it could not long remain in unproductive idleness. First, the country had been traversed by a small army in 1812, of which Captain Craig's company formed a part, and again in September and October, 1813, by the army of General Howard. These armies were made up of Kentuckians, Missourians, and men from the southern part of Illinois, with probably some from Virginia and other States. When they were discharged from service and returned home, they carried with them golden stories about the country's beauty and fertility of soil. These stories were heralded wherever the discharged soldiers went, and wherever their friends were found. Under such circumstances Illinois soon come to be regarded as a region of unsurpassed excellence—a very Valparaiso [Spanish for Vale of Paradise], where nature had lavished her fondest touches and stored her richest treasures.
In the early Spring of 1819 a small colony was made up from among the settlers on Shoal creek, in Clinton county, to found a settlement on what was then called Mauvesterre Prairie, near the present site of Naples. This colony was represented by Abnear Eads, Seth Fulton and Josiah Fulton, Virginians by birth; Joseph Hersey, a New Yorker; S. Daugherty, J. Davis and T. Russell, of Kentucky parentage and birth. They left Shoal creek in the last days of March and traveled across the country (forty miles) to St. Louis on foot. There they purchased a keel-boat and other necessaries preparatory to the trip up the Illinois. Eads and Hersey returned to Shoal creek for a pair of horses, while the other five proceeded up the river to their point of destination, where they arrived in safety, and where they were soon joined by their two companions, Eads and Hersey, with their two horses. After a careful examination of the country around there, they were not satisfied, and Eads having heard from a French trader of the beauties of the country around Fort Clark, they determined to push on to this place. They launched their boat and ferried their horses across to the west side of the Illinois river, where Eads and Hersey mounted them and struck out for Fort Clark. The country was swampy and the waters high at that season of the year, and they either swam or forded all the streams on the route, and arrived at Fort Clark on the 15th, and made a camping place against one side of the remaining timbers. The other five men, the two Fultons, Daugherty, Davis and Russell, were left to the management of the boat and the care of its cargo." On the 17th," says Mr. Fulton, "Eads hailed a deserter from Fort Dearborn (Chicago), who was coming down the river in a canoe, and joining him as a passenger, started out to see what had become of their friends and outfit. He met them in the vicinity of La Marsh creek, slowly forcing their way against the current, and returned with them to the camp at Fort Clark, on the afternoon of the same day, the 17th. They were pleased with the lay of the land, and determined to remain here and found a settlement.
"We found," continues Mr. Fulton, "the walls of two small log cabins, which we supposed to have been built by the soldiers of the garrison stationed here, and at once set to work to cover them over and finish them up for dwelling places. While we were employed at this work, we made out to be comfortable in the shelter of our tents and boat. The cabins stood in what is now Water Street, and almost directly in front of the Germania Hall Building. These cabins were the first American dwelling places at what is now the city of Peoria.
"There were also rails enough, which the soldiers had made, to enclose fifteen acres of ground. The ground was broken up and planted to corn and potatoes, from which a pretty good crop was gathered in the Fall. The north line of that first field ran west from the river, and not far from Fulton Street.
"About the first of June, Eads, Fulton and Daugherty returned to Shoal creek with their two horses to move Eads' family, consisting of his wife and three children, to their new home. After settling up his affairs in that neighborhood, Eads loaded his household effects, wife and children on a two-horse wagon, and headed across the country in the direction of the beginning of Peoria—the new settlement at Fort Clark. They reached and crossed the Illinois river, at the present site of Wesley City, where there was a trading post, and where Indians and Indian canoes were nearly always to be found. Some of the canoes were secured, the household goods were unloaded from the wagon, and with the family transferred to the canoes, and carried over to the west side of the river. The wagon was taken to pieces and carried in the same manner. The horses and cattle were made to swim across.
"After Eads and his family were landed on this side of the river, the balance of the trip to the location of the new colony only required a few hours, and it was not long until the presence of his wife relieved the monotony of bachelor life in the wilderness. Mrs. Eads was the first American woman to see the site of Peoria."
While Eads and his family was toiling over the prairie, where roads were unknown, Captain Jude Warner arrived in the lake from St. Louis with a small fishing smack. They made the trip from St. Louis in a keel-boat, and brought seines, salt, etc., and came to spend the season catching and salting fish, with which the lake then abounded. Only the choice kinds, such as bass, pickerel, pike, etc , were saved, and these found a ready market at St. Louis and Louisville at sixteen dollars per barrel.
Warner's company, on arrival, consisted of Isaac De Boice, James Goff, William Blanchard, David Barnes, Charles Sargent, and Theodore Sargent. The arrival of this fishing party increased the number of men at Fort Clark to fourteen, "and we were just about as happy a little circle," says Mr. Fulton, " as has ever lived in Peoria. We were isolated, completely shut out from the rest of mankind, it is true. We heard but little from the outside world, and the outside world heard but little from us. But little was known at that time about the Fort Clark country. There were no roads, nor steamboats, nor mail routes, nor communication of any kind, so that in point of fact, we were as much a community by ourselves, as if our cabins had been built on an island in the middle of the sea. Our post-office was St. Louis, and we never got our mail, those of us who got any, only when we went there for supplies, and then our letters cost us twenty-five cents, and we couldn't muster that much money every day.
"Mrs. Eads was duly installed as housekeeper, and the rest of the company, except Hersey, who didn't remain long, boarded with her. It was a pretty hard Winter on us, but we managed to get through. Breadstuff gave out and we had to fall back on hominy-blocks and hominy. It was a coarse kind of food we got this way, but it was a good deal better than none, and served to keep hunger away. Hominy blocks went out of use long ago, and there are thousand of people in Peoria county that never saw one, but they were a blessing to hundreds of the pioneers to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and in fact to the first settlers of the entire country, and were the means of keeping many of the pioneers and their little ones from starving to death."
Hominy blocks are so long out of use that a description of them is introduced here as pertinent to the memory of pioneer times. They were made from a section of a suitably sized tree, say from twenty inches to two feet in diameter. The tree was felled, and the stump and squared or "butted" with a cross-cut saw or the axe. The desired length, three to four feet was then measured off, and the axe or cross-cut saw again brought into requisition, and the section or block cut off. It was then hauled or rolled if there happened to be no teams at hand, to the cabin of the settler where it was set on one end, and the work of preparation continued. The mortar end was made by boring or burning out. Sometimes both fire and auger were used, the auger first, and then the fire. The holes were bored slopingly from near the outer edge towards the center, the auger being directed so as to attain the required depth, and have the several holes meet at a common center. A fire was then started at the bottom of the auger holes, and carefully watched until the end had burned out. Then the "ragged edges" were dressed away with such tools as happened to be most convenient, after which it was ready for use. The pestle or crusher was made by fastening an iron wedge, with the large end down, in a block of wood. Sometimes the wedge was fastened to a spring stick attached to an upright post, like an old fashioned well-sweep, to which handles were attached, when the operator commenced pounding, the elasticity of the spring stick lightening the labor by raising the wedge after it had struck the corn. Sometimes one hominy block would serve a whole neighborhood. With hominy, venison, wild turkey, wild honey, and wild fruit, and plenty of fish, the pioneers in most of Illinois fared sumptuously. At least with such fare there was not much danger of starving.
But it was not long after settlements were commenced until mills, of some kind, superseded the hominy blocks. Some of the first mills were very primitive concerns. They were made of two prairie boulders, fashioned like ordinary mill-stones. One of them was fastened to a beam or block of wood, and served as a lower mill-stone. An eye was drilled through the one intended for the upper stone, which was hung as all mill-stones are hung. This kind of mill was operated with an upright stick, one end of which rested in a socket drilled towards one side of the upper stone, and the other end in a socket or auger hole in a beam overhead. Such mills were usually operated by two men. There were no hoppers, and while each of the two operators took hold of the upright stick with one hand giving it a circular motion, and turned the upper stone, they fed the grain into the eye of the revolving stone with the other. Many hundreds of bushels of corn and buckwheat were ground in this way in the first settlement of the western country. There was no bolting apparatus, and the only refining process to which the meal or flour was subjected after leaving these hand mills, was a wire sieve. Under the manipulations of the pioneer mothers, corn meal ground at these mills made the best kind of Johnnie-cakes — that is made in dough of the proper consistency, spread on a board and baked before the fire in an old-fashioned open fireplace.
The Shoal Creek pioneers were soon followed by others, although the settlement of the country was very slow as compared with that of many of the northern counties after settlements commenced there, or of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It must be remembered, however, that 1819 was a long while ago. Ohio, as a separate organization, was only in its teens, and but very little of its territory, comparatively speaking, occupied by settlements. Hundreds of thousands of acres of the lands were vacant, and Illinois was "away out west," Indiana, with millions of acres of unoccupied land and a climate equally as good as Illinois, was awaiting settlement. Then come the other great facts — the great distance of Illinois from the centers of civilization, and the difficulty and trouble of getting here. There were no railroads in those days to reduce distance to hours, nor steamboats to defy wind and waves. The first steamboat, the Clermont, the invention of Robert Fulton, had been launched on the Hudson river in 1807, only twelve years before this settlement was commenced. Ten years passed away after the launching of the Clermont before steamboats were introduced on Western waters. On the 2d day of August, 1817, not quite two years before the Shoal Creek colony came to Fort Clark, the General Pike, the first steamboat on the Mississippi, ascended as far as St. Louis. Previous to that time, all foreign products consumed in Illinois were first brought to New Orleans in ocean sail vessels, and from New Orleans they were brought up the Mississippi in keel-boats, which, with their mode of management, have already been described. When not brought that way, they were wagoned across the Alleghany mountains from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, or from Baltimore to Wheeling, thence floated down the Ohio river in flat boats, landed at convenient points, and wagoned to their final destination. A trip with keel-boats from St. Louis to New Orleans and return generally consumed six months. As stated elsewhere, the most of the settlers in the southern part of the State came by keel-boats, or family boats — i. e. boats made expressly for the journey, in which several families had a co-interest.
Steam railroads were not introduced in the United States until 1829 — ten years after the date of the planting of the colony at Fort Clark, and it was more than a quarter of a century after that before iron ways and steam locomotive whistles were known in Illinois. In addition to the absence of steamboats and railroads, there were neither canals, wagon roads or bridges, and it was a long tedious way to come down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and Illinois, or by the lakes and down a hundred miles overland to the navigable waters of the Illinois and Mississippi. Besides all these obstacles, it was more than a hundred miles from the centers of emigration to either the lakes or the Ohio. These were all hindrances to travel and immigration, and under them it was not to be wondered at that the country settled up slowly.
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Of the first seven men who came to Fort Clark in 1819: Josiah and Seth Fulton went across the river in 1820, selected a claim on Farm creek, at the place now owned by Thomas Cornlin, and commenced to make a farm. They sold that claim in 1824, after which Josiah pre-empted the quarter section now owned by William Hall, near Peoria. He subsequently sold that, and in the Fall of 1832 bought what is known as the "Pulsifer Eighty," and in 1834 settled at his present residence in Richwoods.
Seth Fulton lived at different places, part of the time at the lead mines at Galena, and is now residing with a son in Henry county.
Abner Eads bought the quarter section which includes the old Peoria graveyard, and began to improve it. He subsequently bought a timbered quarter section on the south side of Kickapoo creek, now cut up in coal lots, and commenced to make improvements there. About 1833 he moved to Galena and engaged in business until 1854, when he went to the Pacific slope and commenced to make a farm in Lower California. After he had the farm well under way, he started back for his family, which he had left at Galena. On the trip homeward he contracted was was called the Chagres fever, died and was buried at St. Louis.
Daugherty was a wild, reckless, daring Kentuckian, and was never better pleased than when he could engage in a fight. He did not remain long in the country. An incident occurred while he remained with the little colony, at one of the cabins, the relation of which will serve to illustrate his character. Some Virginians had come to Fort Clark to locate some land for which they held military warrants, and were guests at the Eads cabin. One evening while they were here, three Indians came into the door yard having in their possession a bottle of fire water." Two of them belonged to one tribe, and the other to a different band. They were friendly with the white colonists, but soon began to quarrel among themselves. At last one of the two kindred red men gathered up a club, and, in the presence of the "pale-faced " spectators, dealt the "lone Indian " a blow on the head that felled him a corpse at their feet. The Virginians were shocked and frightened, and declared that they would not remain a week in the country for all the land in the military tract. They urged the Shoal Creekers to abandon their cabins and flee to a land of civilization and safety, and wanted to know how they could think of remaining in such a heathenish, outlandish country, where their lives were in danger of being sacrificed to the fury of drunken Indians every hour. Daugherty had drank enough with the Indians to arouse his recklessness, and he replied to the Virginians something like this: "O, that's nothing but fun. We are used to that kind of thing, and if you are so chicken-hearted you can't stand to see one Indian kill another without getting scared, you'd better git. We have no use for such critters in this part of the country. Them that don't know any thing, don't fear any thing. You may go, but by G —— d we're going to stay." But he didn't stay long, not because he was afraid to remain, for Fulton says he didn't "know any thing," and consequently wasn't " afraid of any thing," but because whisky and fighting white men were too scarce; so he turned his back upon Fort Clark and drifted down the river and out of sight.
Hersey, the "New York Dutchman," as he was called, went down to the southern part of the State and, with another man, got into trouble in trying to confiscate " a herd of cattle belonging to Governor Kinney. The old court records at Bellville show that he was arrested for the offense, but by some means escaped punishment and got away. He was followed to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was again arrested. The matter was finally compromised by the payment of damages or the value of the cattle, after which Hersey was never heard from again. When he came here in April, 1819, he had about seventeen hundred dollars in money, and subsequent inquiries, instituted by his heirs in New York, showed that he was the owner of valuable property in that State. Some years after Fulton settled out on his present farm, an agent for the heirs, a preacher, came there to find, if possible, some clue to Hersey, living or dead, The agent had been employed by the heirs, and stated to Fulton that he had traveled all over the United States in search of him, and that at St. Louis he heard that a man of that name had come to Fort Clark with a company from Shoal Creek in 1819. It seemed that two brothers of Hersey were conspiring to defraud his rightful heirs — whether children or not Mr. Fulton did not state — and hence the search. The description of the Hersey the agent was hunting tallied exactly with the Hersey who came here with Fulton. The agent was referred to the court records mentioned above and departed on his way. Whether Joseph Hersey was ever found or not, was never known to his old comrades from Shoal Creek.
Davis went to Farm Creek in 1821, remained there awhile, and then removed to Sangamon county. From Sangamon county he removed to Texas, where he died.
Russell was not here long until he took to the river and drifted back to St. Louis, where he was last heard from.
Four of the men who came with Captain Warner, Blanchard, Barnes and the two Sargents, were discharged soldiers. They had served in the United States army, and had warrants for one hundred and sixty acres of land each in the military district, which they came to locate. Blanchard has always remained in the near neighborhood, a useful citizen, and now lives in Woodford county, a few miles from Peoria. He married here, his marriage license being the first issued from Peoria county.
Barnes located his warrant some where in the country west of Fort Clark, and died at Bushnell some time in 1878. Charles Sargent located in what is now Hancock or Warren county, where he was still living at last accounts. Theodore Sargent located his warrant on a tract of land with which he became dissatisfied, subsequently sold it and bought another tract at the present site of Farmington, where he died.
Some time in August, 1820, Captain Warner dreamed a dream that he didn't like. In the midst of a profound slumber it was revealed to him by an angel of the Lord that on the first of the next October, all the settlers at Peoria Lake, except two young women, were to be massacred by the Indians. The young women were to be taken captive and subjected to a fate worse than death. The dream so preyed upon the mind of Captain Warner that he closed up his fishing and trading operations and left the country. The settlers were not massacred, nor were the young women taken captive. When Warner abandoned the lake, his employees scattered away to other parts of the country and were lost forever to Fort Clark.
The only addition to the Fort Clark community in 1819, was a shoemaker named Douglas Thompson, who came late in the Fall.
In the Winter of 1819-20, a man named Andrews came with his family down the river on a sled from Fort Dearborn. They stopped at Fort Clark a short time only, and then went over to the east side of the river.
John Hamlin, Judge Lockwood and Judge Latham came up from Sangamon county in the Spring of 1821. The Moffatt family, consisting of Joseph A. Moffatt, the father, and five children, three sons — Alva, Aquilla B., and Franklin — and two daughters — Mary and Olive — came on the 2d day of June, 1822. Aquilla, now seventy-seven years of age, and Alva, some years his senior, have lived in sight of the location of old Fort Clark for fifty-seven years, and have seen the country developed from an untamed wild to its present highly prosperous and thickly populated condition. Aquila says when they landed from their boat, and he looked out over the prairie plain on which the busy city of Peoria has grown into existence and to the summit of the bluffs beyond, he thought it was the prettiest sight his eyes ever had or ever would behold. The prairie was covered with a dense, rank growth of tall grass that was plumed with myriads of flowers of every conceivable hue. As the grass was swayed by the wind it fell and rose and rose and fell like the billows of the ocean, while the flowers seemed to dance with delight at the beauty of the landscape over which they spread their fragrance. Far away to the right and to the left, as far as sight could reach, this garden of nature's handiwork was hemmed in by a range of bluffs whose summits seemed almost to kiss the clouds and to have been planted there as an impenetrable barrier and protection against the cold, bleak winds as they come whistling from the snow-capped mountain regions of the far-away West. "It was a scene of natural beauty and grandeur," concluded the venerable and honored Aquilla Moffatt, "which I can never forget; and when the time comes that I must close my eyes to all things earthly, the last sight upon which I would like for them to rest would be that landscape as I saw it on the 2d day of June, 1822. Its gorgeous beauty can only be excelled by the glories of the world beyond."
When the Moffatts came at the date mentioned, there were only four cabins at Fort Clark. Three of them were occupied as residences, and the fourth one was occupied as a chair shop by John Hamlin. The elder Moffatt built the fourth residence-cabin not far from the location of the C., B. & Q. railway depot.
The next settlement after that made at Fort Clark by the Shoal Creek company, was commenced on LaSalle Prairie, in the neighborhood west from Chillicothe and fifteen miles north from Peoria. It was called the Upper "Settlement," and was commenced about 1824. It was named in honor of LaSalle, the French explorer and founder of Fort Crevecoeur in 1680. In early times it was a noted settlement, and was known all over the country.
The first settlements were generally confined to the near vicinity of the river, either in the timber or on the prairies skirting its borders. None of the pioneers ventured very far back into the country, and it was several years before improvements, to any great extent, were commenced out "over the bluffs," and as late as 1832, there were only twenty-two buildings in the town of Peoria. (The History of Peoria County, Illinois, 1880, pages 273-285, submitted by Janine Crandell)
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Updated December 13, 2004
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