Putnam County

1860 History - Chapter IV

The History of Putnam County.

Six years had passed since the setting off of "Old Putnam." The population of Illinois had increased to more than 160,000, and the State had fairly entered upon its career of greatness. Emigration was flowing to the upper part of the Military Tract, and to the prairies north of the Sangamon and the Mackinaw. A few adventurous settlers had penetrated the wilderness, whence the Indian had not yet fled; and along the streams, and on the margins of timber skirting the prairies, the settlements of civilization were beginning to cluster. Chicago and Galena were giving indications of their future importance, and a county—Jo Daviess, the first in Northern Illinois after those mentioned in the last chapter—had been formed in answer to the demands of the latter.

But though Northern Illinois was thus opening its resources to the world, much the greater part of it was still in its primeval state, unbroken by the hand of the white man, when the later county of Putnam was formed. Chicago was not yet laid off, though a nourishing village of some 250 inhabitants, besides the garrison of Fort Dearborn; and Galena was the only surveyed town in the north of the State. The Indian title to the country had not been altogether extinguished, and little or no land outside the Military Tract had been offered for sale by the General Government. There were few roads except Indian trails, and not a post-route save the one from Peoria to Galena. But a single steamer had yet vexed the waters of the Upper Illinois, and public improvements aside from a ferry at long intervals, there were none. Within the limits of Putnam, at the time when it was created, there was not a settler upon the site of Hennepin, Lacon, Princeton, or Toulon, now the flourishing seats of justice for as many counties; and there was nowhere a cluster of houses of sufficient size to be termed a village. Settlements had begun on Round and Half-Moon Prairies, in what is now Marshall county; the Ox-Bow Prairie, and the neighborhood of Union Grove, in Putnam county, were somewhat thickly dotted with farms; a number of settlers had located on Bureau Creek, and about the site of Princeton; and a very few pioneers were scattered over the region of Spoon river. The population of the whole county probably numbered about eight hundred. No commerce was carried on, except by two or three Indian traders. There was not a post-office in the county, and but one or two log churches and school-houses.

At the session of the Legislature during the winter of 1830-1, a bill was introduced for "An act to create and organize the counties therein named" which passed without difficulty, as the country was beginning to demand their formation, and there were no conflicting interests of counties already formed to rise in opposition.* The bill provided for the erection of Cook, La Salle, and Putnam counties, and was approved Jan. 15th, 1831. The boundaries of Putnam were defined as "commencing at the southwest corner of town twelve north, range six east, running east to the Illinois river; thence down the middle of said river to the south line of town twenty-nine north; thence east with said line to the third principal meridian; thence north with said meridian line forty-two miles; thence west to a point six miles due north of the north-west corner of town seventeen north of range six east; thence south in a right line to the place of beginning."** An area of

*The country covered by Putnam east of the river had been attached to Sangamon county (1821), and afterwards to Tazewell (1827). That west of the river of course formed a part of "Old Putnam."
**Session Laws 1830-1, p. 54.

1548 miles—38 full and 13 fractional townships, comprising more territory than the State of Rhode Island —was thus included, being nearly the whole tract now occupied by Bureau, Putnam, Marshall, and Stark counties.

Joel Wright of Canton, Isaac Perkins of Tazewell county, and John Hamlin of Peoria, were appointed by the act Commissioners to select the county seat, which should be called Hennepin, and be located on the Illinois river, as near as practicable in the centre of the county, "with a just regard to its present and future susceptibility of population. " The Commissioners accordingly met early in May, and after examination of the various town sites along the river, were about deciding to locate the county seat where Henry, in Marshall county, now stands, when the inhabitants of the Spoon river region interposed a plea that its location there would delay them in the formation of a new county, which they desired to have set off as soon as population would justify.— The commission gave due attention to their plea, and resolved upon another site. As an understanding had already gone abroad that the location would be made at Henry, a chalked board was set up at that point, giving notice that another part of the county had been chosen; On the 6th of June, a report was made, to the County Commissioners' Court, then sitting near Hennepin, that "they have selected, designated, and permanently located the said seat of justice," where it now is. Provision was made in the organic act for its location upon Congress lands, if deemed advisable. As it was so located, two of the County Commissioners were early instructed to borrow $200 on the credit of the county, and send one of their number to make purchase of the site at the Springfield land office. Some difficulty was experienced in effecting the purchase, as the land of that region was not yet in market; and nearly three years passed before the title was obtained from the General Government. Nevertheless, several public sales of lots in the county seat were made during 1831 and ‘32; though deeds for them were not given until 1834—the first bearing date March 3d of that year.

The act of the Legislature ordered an election to be held at the house of William Haws (now near Magnolia), on the first Monday, in March ensuing, for three County Commissioners, a Sheriff, and Coroner. The day was one of the most unpleasant of that inclement season, and the roads were almost impassable. A very small vote was cast—twenty to thirty, it is said; but some of the voters came from considerable distances to exercise their privilege, and a number were obliged to remain over night. Thos. Hartzell and Thos. Gallaher, sen., were judges of this election and James W. Willis Clerk. Great unanimity of sentiment prevailed, and the candidates elected were chosen by triumphant majorities. They were Thomas Gallaher, George Ish, and John M. Gay, County Commissioners; Ira Ladd, Sheriff; Aaron Pain, Coroner. James W. Willis was appointed County Treasurer in June, giving a bond for only $1,000.* Hooper Warren, under various appointments, held the offices of Clerk of the Circuit Court, Recorder, and Clerk of the County Court; he was also a Justice of the Peace. Bradstreet M. Hayes was the first Surveyor appointed; Nathaniel Chamberlin the first School Commissioner.**

Putnam had been assigned to the fifth judicial circuit, which comprised fifteen counties, and extended from the mouth of the Illinois to Chicago and Galena. Hon. Richard M. Young was then upon the Bench in this circuit, and Thomas Ford (afterwards Judge and Governor) was State's Attorney. It was made the duty of the County Commissioners, by the organic act, to provide some suitable place for holding Court, until a Court-house could be erected.— Accordingly the first Circuit Court in Putnam was "begun and held," as the record shows, "at the House of Thomas Galaher, Esq., on the Bank of the Illinois River, about a fourth of a mile above Thomas Hartzell's Trading House,*** north of Hennepin, in

*Three years afterwards, the bond of Geo. B. Willis, then appointed Treasurer was for $20,000.
**For a list of officers of Putnam county, see Appendix.
***A letter from Mr. Hartzell states that the first Court was held in a blacksmith's shop.

May, 1831. The Grand Jurors for the term were David Dimmick, Elijah Epperson, Henry Thomas, Leonard Roth, Jesse Williams, Israel Archer, Jas. Warnock, John L. Ramsey, William Haws, John Strawn, Samuel Laughlin (foreman), David Boyle, Stephen Willis, Jeremiah Strawn, Abraham Stratten, Nelson Shepherd, Thomas Wafer, George B. Willis, John Knox, ---- Humphrey, Jesse Roberts, and ---- Gaylord, sen.* Petit Jurors: Sylvester Brigham, William Boyd, Hugh Warnock, William H. Ham, Lewis Knox, Samuel Patterson, Joseph Ash, James Laughlin, Christopher Wagner, Joseph Wallace, John Whitaker, William Cowan, Wm. Wright, Asahel Hannum, Anthony Turk, John Burrow, John Myers, Ezekiel Thomas, Eli Redman, Mason Wilson, Smiley Shepherd, Justin Ament, and William Morris.**

The arrangements for the accommodation of bench, bar, and juries were of a somewhat primitive character. The Grand Jury held its sessions upon a large log, under the shade of the neighboring forest. The only indictments found were against a couple charged with bigamy. The jury happened to be com-

*Of the first Grand Jury only three are now living in Putnam county—Wm. Haws, J. L. Ramsey, and Nelson Shepherd.
**In 1856 five of the first Petit Jury remained in Putnam—Wm. H. Ham, Joseph Ash, James Laughlin, Wm. Cowan, and Smiley Shepherd. [See the historical contributions of "H." to the Hennepin Tribune for Aug. and Sept., 1856, to which we are indebted for a number of interesting facts.]

posed, with few exceptions, of bachelors; and one of them gave as a jocular reason for the presentments that "a man ought to be indicted for having two wives, when most of us haven't been able to get one." No business came before the Court at this term. It lasted but one day, and adjourned to the September term, which was held in a house owned by Geo. B. Willis, opposite the mouth of Bureau Creek, and which also had no civil business to transact. About this time a temporary Court-house was ordered built by the County Court; which seems never to have been carried into effect until June, 1833, when a new order was issued, and a large wooden building erected for public purposes, which was superseded in 1837-8 by the present structure, which, being built in a time of general inflation and abundant "wildcat" funds, cost about $14,000.

The first County Commissioners' Court was held in the house of Thomas Hartzell, on the 2d of April. Little business was transacted. The Clerk, Mr. H. Warren, was instructed to correspond with the State Auditor, with a view of obtaining $350, which the county was entitled by law to draw from the State treasury, in lieu of taxes on the military bounty lands west of the river. At the June term, viewers were appointed to mark a road from the seat of justice of Putnam to the county line of Tazewell, in the direction of Holland's settlement (now Washington), in the latter county. A tax of one half of one per cent, on all personal property was levied for the current year, for county purposes. Licenses were granted to a number of merchants and pedlers to sell "foreign merchandise," for which permits a charge of $6 to $16 was made. The county was divided into four districts for the election of county officers, as follows: Sandy Precinct, including all the county south of the south branch of Clear Creek, to the Illinois river; Hennepin Precinct, including all the country south-east of the Illinois river, and north of the above mentioned line; Spoon River Precinct, including all the county south of a direct line from the head of Crow Prairie to Six Mile Grove, thence north-west to the county line; Bureau Precinct, including all the county north-east of the last above mentioned line, and north-west of the Illinois river.*

Each of the two precincts west of the river contained much more territory than was assigned to the counties afterwards created in those portions of Putnam. In subsequent years, the county was re-districted several times, as the increase of population or the division of its territory demanded. In 1854, after several refusals of the people to sanction the proposal, the county organized under the township law, and was divided into the townships of Hennepin, Granville, Magnolia, and Snachwine, which division has been retained to this time.

At the September term of the County Courts 1831, several sales of lots in Hennepin were ordered, and terms of sale prescribed. At the December term, two of the Commissioners were authorized to contract for the building of a jail twelve feet square and seven feet high in the clear, with a window a foot square; to be constructed—upper and lower floors and walls

*In this connection the first poll-lists of the precincts, for the general election August 1st, 1831, will be of interest. The orthography of the names is retained as they appear in the poll-books.

Sandy.—Lemuel Gaylord, Wm. Hart, Lemuel Horram, Robert Bird, William Hendrick, John Knox, James Finley, George Hilderbrand, Hiram Allen, Daniel Gun, Zion Sugais, Jesse Roberts, Isaac Hilderbrand, John S. Hunt, William Eder, William M. Hart, John Hart, Ephraim Smith, Peter Hart, Obed Graves, Hartwell Haley, William Graves, William Lathrop, Jesse Berge, Ezekiel Stacy, Litel Kneal, Hiram Hawse, William Knox, Marcus D. Stacy, J. G. Wright, Thos. Gun, John Bird, Samuel Glen, Elias Thompson, Robert Barnes, James Adams, John J. Griffith, Asahel Hannum, William Cowen, John Strawn, Geo. H Shaw, Abner Boyle.

Hennepin.—James W. Willis, Ira Ladd, Hooper Warren, Christopher Wagner, David Boyle, James C. Stephenson, Samuel Mannon, Alexander Wilson, John McDonald, William H. Hamm, John Griffin, James G. Dunlavy, Colby F. Stevenson, James A. Warnock, John E. Warnock, Jeremiah Strewn, Aaron Whitaker, Aaron Thomson, Aaron Payne, Joseph Warnock, Stephen D. Willis, Madison Studdevin, Samuel D. Laughlin, Hugh Warnock, Anthony Turck, Jonathan F. Wilson, Joseph Wallace, James Garven, George Ish, Joseph S. Warnock, Rob't W. Moore, James G. Ross, James Hayes, John L. Ramsey, William Durley, Thomas P. Hayslip, Thornton Wilson, John Short, George B. Willis, Smiley Shepherd, James S. Simpson.

Spoon River.—Wm. D. Grant, Sewell Smith, John B. Dodge, Sylvanus Moore, Benjamin Essex, Thomas Essex, Thomas Essex, Junior, David Cooper, Haris W. Miner, Isaac B. Essex, Greenleaf Smith, Wm. Smith, Benjamin Smith, John C. Owings.

Bureau.—Henry Thomas, Elijah Eperson, Leonard Roth, John M. Gay, Mason Dimmick, Samuel Gleason, Curlas Williams, Justice Ament, John Ament, John W. Hall, Henry H. Harrison, Abram Stratton, Ezekiel Thomas, Hezekiah Epperson, Edw'd H. Hall, Adam Taylor, Dan'l Dimmic, Thos. Washburn, A. Epperson.

—wholly of hewn logs. This little box proved insecure, as the first prisoner confined therein, a man named Tallmadge, made good his escape, some soldiers outside assisting him by taking out one of the logs. The log jail, which cost but $80, was replaced in 1833 by a larger one, costing $334, which in turn was pulled down, and a commodious brick jail erected.

In 1835, the population of Putnam county had increased to 3,948, divided as follows: white males, 2,178, white females 1,762, negroes 8, of whom two were "indentured and registered servants." The number of men subject to militia service was 688. The towns of Hennepin, Princeton, Columbia (now Lacon), and Henry, had been surveyed.

Movements had been early set on foot for dividing the wide territory of Putnam into counties, as the distance of many of the settlements from the county seat rendered the transaction of their public business exceedingly inconvenient. In the winter of 1836-7, the large county of Bureau was set off, leaving Putnam in a shape which soon demanded another division. In January, 1839, Marshall county was created from its southern half; and in March, 1839, Stark was formed of the part remaining west of Marshall, leaving Putnam dwindled from its former magnificent proportions to one of the smallest counties in the State, covering an area of scarcely a hundred and sixty square miles. To compensate in some measure for this loss, an act was passed March 2, 1839, adding two townships on the east to Putnam, (and the same number to Marshall,) provided the citizens of those townships would agree by vote to be detached from La Salle county, and annexed to the other counties named. The measure failed of success; and Putnam has remained within its shrunken boundaries.

In the visionary act "to establish and maintain a general system of internal improvement," approved Feb. 27th, 1837, which nearly proved the irrecoverable ruin of the State, those counties through which no railroad or canal at public cost was provided for were bribed into countenance of the scheme by an appropriation of $200,000, "of the first moneys obtained under the provisions of the act." Putnam county thus became entitled to nine or ten thousand dollars, which were drawn by Ammon Moon, then Treasurer of the county. It is said that "he loaned it partly to friends, and part he used himself. The money was squandered so that Putnam county never realized but little benefit from it." The same writer, however, expresses his belief that "the present jail was built from the proceeds of that fund."*

From this time the history of Putnam, as a county organization, presents few points of interest. The course of events upon its soil will be narrated in chapters VIII and IX, as the history of its several towns and settlements.

*Contributions of "H." to the Hennepin Tribune.

Source: History of Putnam and Marshall Counties authored by Henry Allen Ford, published in 1860

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