A New Eden:

The Pioneer Era in Sangamon County

by Robert P. Howard

New Eden The men and families who began the settlement of the Sangamon  country reached it by following a well-marked Indian Trail, the main north and south land route in mid-Illinois.  Buffalo hooves had worn down the bluestem sod and Indians had inhabited the beautiful and fertile land that was distinguished by small prairies, intermittent hardwood timber and clear streams.  History does not identify the first white man who visited the area.  Joliet, La Salle, and Tonti kept to the Illinois River’s canoe thoroughfare, but some coureur de bois undoubtedly bargained for furs in Iliniwek and Kickapoo Villages along the Sangamon River.  The English-speaking knew about the trail before 1763, Governor Ninian Edwards led a small expeditionary force over it to Peoria in a preliminary to the War of 1812.

Known also as the Edwards Trace, the trail crossed the Sangamon river a few miles east of the "Handsome undulating prairie nook," as Zimri Enos called it, that became the site of Springfield.  At the southern end it connected with Kaskaskia, The first Illinois capital, and St. Louis.  Coming northward through Edwardsville, it veered eastward to the headwaters of Macoupin Creek, the main east-west stream in Macoupin County, and then entered Sangamon County on the watershed between  Sugar Creek and the south fork of the Sangamon River, which was the highest ground.  Largely the trail avoided timber, and the Sangamon was the only sizable stream it crossed.  Once that was accomplished, it traversed more prairie en route to Buffalo Hart Grove and Elkhart Grove.  At Peoria there were branches toward Galena, the Chicago portage, and Detroit.  In time there were other trails,  converging from other directions, and once they had a good look at the Sangamon Country the drivers of pioneer wagons decided there was little sense in seeking better homesites farther along the road.

"It is generally a level country," wrote one visitor.  "The prairies are not so extensive as to be incapable of settlement for want of timber.  The Sangamon itself is a fine boatable water of the Illinois….All of the waters that enter this beautiful stream have sandy or pebble bottoms and pure and transparent waters.  There is a happy proportion of timbered and prairie lands.  The soil is of great fertility.  The climate is not very different from that of New York, and the latitude is about the same.  The summer range for cattle is inexhaustible." 

Lewis Caleb Beck’s highly regarded 1823 gazetteer said that the Sangamon country "has been justly esteemed as the most desirable tract in the state and it consequently has been settled with a rapidity heretofore unequalled."  Beck, however, erred in judging the length of the Sangamon when he stated that the river "may at a trifling expense be made navigable for nearly 200 miles.  It is now obstructed with timber.  This stream passes through a tract that is unequalled in fertility."  The valley’s productivity was called almost proverbial by H.R. Schoolcraft in 1821.

Governor John Reynolds in his old age wrote that "Sangamon County became famous and known all over the west as the most beautiful country in the valley of the Mississippi.  It acquired a great reputation, as it deserved, for its exceedingly fertile soil and fine timber, which last advantage  attracted a numerous, respectable, and wealthy population from

The first settlers of the Sangamon valley and those who in 1823 began rushing into the Military Tract, the triangle between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, primarily were southern uplanders who came from or through Kentucky or floated down the Ohio River.  A sampling of heads of families listed in John Carroll Power’s Early Settlers of Sangamon County as having arrived before 1830 showed that nearly 80 percent had been born in southern states, while others of Yankee origin had spent some time there.  By the end of the Black Hawk War of 1832, a second stream of immigrants with eastern and European backgrounds began to enter northern Illinois and inevitably diluted the state’s southern heritage.  At that time, the frontier passed quickly into Wisconsin and across at the Mississippi.  Only a few times in the history of America did a frontier period end so quickly as it did in central and northern Illinois.  To be restless, anxious to move on to different surroundings and new homes, has been a typically American trait, and the south and east were filled with men and families willing to see if life was really better in Illinois.

Elisha Kelly, who came on foot, found that the Sangamon country as a hunter’s paradise.  A disciple of Daniel Boone, he was one of the  hunter-traders who lived alone in the wilderness on a wild game diet.  Early accounts are not specific, but Kelly spent two winters somewhere in what became Macoupin County and discovered superb deer hunting along a tributary of Sugar Creek.  Presumably he roamed through the Sangamon Valley, gun  in hand.  Then he returned to North Carolina full of chamber of commerce talk about this new Eden.  He came back In the spring of 1819 with his father, several brothers, and their families, and led them to Springfield’s future site.  Foot loose no  longer, Elisha Kelly married and died in Sangamon County.

Robert Pulliam, a one-legged Virginian, built the first cabin in the county in 1817, the year before Illinois statehood.  Pulliam was not typical of the primitive farmers, who followed the hunter-pioneers and were satisfied to raise a few crops in a clearing and then move on.  Like many others, he belonged to a rambling family and had lived in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Illinois again before settling down in St. Clair County in 1802.  A rugged man, he had endured amputation without an anesthetic.  Accompanied by two or  three hired men and a woman cook, he came to what was later known as Ball Township (Townships were not organized in Sangamon County until  the Civil War.  Without repetitious qualifications, the text in many cases refers to counties, townships, and municipalities before they legally existed.) in late l817 and built a cabin near Sugar Creek in sugar maple, oak, and ash timber.  There he pastured a herd of cattle and several horses.  When the grass was snow-covered, Pulliam’s men cut down elm trees so that the livestock could browse on the buds.  For the coldest months he went back to St. Clair county, but he could not forget the Sangamon country.  In 1819 he returned with his family and settled down as a patriarch who operated a tread-mill, had a tavern license, joined a church, and included cotton growing in his early farming operations.

Some descendants of Henry Funderburk, a South Carolinian born in 1773, claimed that he reached the county ahead of Pulliam.  Funderburk in the spring of either 1817 or 1818 settled west of Horse Creek in what became Cotton Hill Township.  Speakers at the Old Settlers’ Society annual picnics, which were discontinued long ago, generally recognized Pulliam as the first resident.

By 1818 there was a steady flow of families into the Timbered areas that bordered the Sangamon river and its tributary creeks.  Almost immediately the creeks had names—Horse, Brush, Fancy, Sugar, Lick, Spring, Clear, Prairie—as did the groves—hardwood islands away from streams---that were a distinctive geographical feature.  Island Grove drew settlers to the western part of the county. Buffalo Hart Grove and Fancy Grove, both north of the river, were others of importance. Some of the smaller prairie tracts also had names, such as Round Prairie east of Springfield and German Prairie to its Northeast.

Most settlers had what they considered to be good reasons for building cabins in proximity to streams.  The timber was the raw material for buildings, fuel, and fences.  Besides, most of the southern uplanders believed that farming the tough prairie sod was illogical if not impossible.  Mistakenly they were certain that the tallest trees located the richest soil and that, although it was hard work with an ax, the way to start a farm was to open a clearing in the timber.

In the late summer of 1818, Ferdinand Ernst, a German traveler, counted  sixty farms along fifteen miles of Sugar Creek. That year the first cabins were built in Auburn, Chatham, Island Grove, Pawnee, and Rochester townships.  The Sangamon River was crossed in 1819, two years before ferry service was started with a canoe, because the Fancy Creek country had an attractive mixture of prairies and tree-bordered streams.  Also settled that year were Cartwright, Cooper, Curran, Gardner, Loami, and Woodside townships.  The rest of the county remained vacant until 1824 or later because the matted prairie sod awaited the invention of John Deere’s steel plow.  In 1825, before the National Road was completed. 250 wagons bound for the Sangamon country were reported to have passed through Vandalia, then the capital, in about five weeks.  On the average there were five persons to a wagon.  The newcomers by-passed vacant land north of Vandalia and Edwardsville, as well as in unglaciated southern Illinois.  Because of word-of-mouth advertising they pushed ahead to the Sangamon valley.

Despite frontier hardships, it was possible to live at the far Edge of settlement.  The poorest immigrant had access to land, game was abundant, and maple sugar, wild honey, fish, fruits, and other edible plants were plentiful.  Hogs fattened on the forest mast.  Materials for clothing could be grown in the fields.  Tax laws were not rigidly enforced.  Those factors had appeal during an economic setback that caused unemployment in the East and financial distress generally during the early years of Illinois statehood. 

The first arrivals were squatters who built cabins and began farming on land they did not own, but they were confident that legal title could be obtained.  That was because an 1813 preemption law gave squatters the future right, whenever the public domain was placed on sale, to buy a quarter-section of land they occupied.  One of the squatters was Peter Cartwright, the Methodist preacher who made Pleasant Plains his home base.  He arrived in early 1823 and, like many others, hoarded money until the land office opened in Springfield.  When Sangamon and Morgan counties were created, the legislature
conferred upon householders the duties and privileges of freeholders, who at the time could not exist in the county.

Equally important, the Indian danger in central Illinois had been obliterated by two treaties—at Edwardsville in  1818 and Fort Harrison in 1819—that paid off the Kickapoo and started them toward the other side of  the Mississippi River. Another Edwardsville treaty of 1818 erased the last claims of the remnants of the Iliniwek.  The treaties gave Indians local hunting rights for several  years, and at the start of settlement there were two villages near Island Grove and occasional Potawatomi and Kickapoo encampments elsewhere.  In the reminiscences of Sangamon county pioneers, however, there are no tales of Indian violence.

Slavery was also a factor.  Uplanders from western Virginia, The Carolinas, and eastern Kentucky and Tennessee predominated among early Illinois residents.  Many emigrated because they philosophically objected to human bondage or because they could not compete in a cotton economy that required large plantations and work forces.  Early agitation that
Illinois become a slave state was finally quieted in 1824 when a Constitutional convention proposal was defeated.  The Sangamon County vote, 153 to 722 was the most decisive in the state.

Life was primitive and the first arrivals necessarily were hardy and self-sufficient.  Most arrived with their possessions in an ox-drawn wagon, but Hardy Council and his wife, Jane, rode two horses from Carmi to Fancy Creek in 1819.  Her horse also carried a sack of wheat and their household utensils, while he brought tools and farm implements.  With a grubbing hoe, they dug up the seed bed for an acre and a half of wheat.  There were other examples of hardships and determination.  David McCoy, one of the first to settle outside the timber, reached Gardner Township earlier that year with a prairie-breaking plow among his possessions.  To break the sod, he held the plow handles, Mary McCoy drove the oxen, and their baby slept in a cradle lashed to the plow beam. Annually he went to St. Louis to trade strained honey and deerskins for groceries.  Elizabeth Primm recalled that in 1820, while riding horseback at the site of Springfield, she used one hand to keep the tall prairie grass from the face of the baby she carried.  John Dixon a former New York merchant, spent the winter of 1820 nine miles north of Springfield, but sold his preemption rights and went northward to found the city of Dixon.  Maxwell Campbell, a North Carolinian, and his pregnant wife, Nancy, arrived northeast of Pleasant Plains in 1823 in a home-made ox cart whose wheels were solid wood.  While three crops were raised, the ox was their only transportation.  They lived in a small hut and delayed the raising of a standard-sized cabin for two years until they could afford to buy two gallons of whiskey.  Cabin raising required the help of the neighbors who expected refreshments.  Greenberry Dawson McGinnis used his last quarter of a dollar to buy whiskey for a house raising, so that his new neighbors would not think him stingy.  The cabin was close to the Lick Creek timber, and the neighbors predicted that if cattle were wintered on the prairie their horns would freeze and drop off.  Large families were the rule, and the McGinnises raised nine children in the cabin.  Among the rugged  pioneers were Mr. and Mrs. John Pike and their three children, who spent the winter of 1829 in a tent south of Rochester.

The hardship that was remembered the longest was the great snow that began on Christmas eve, 1830, and extended into January.  Across central Illinois fully three feet of snow was followed by a freezing rain that formed a crust not quite strong enough to bear a man’s weight.  Several hunters and travelers died when overtaken by the blizzard.  A few more inches of snow provided a topping and many accounts said the snow measured three and a half feet on the level.  Subzero cold lasted some two weeks, and one account  said the sleighing season lasted nine weeks.  At the start, it was great fun to ride with Dr. John Todd or Dr. Gerhsom Jayne, who had the best sleighs in Springfield.  Fuel supplies soon ran short, but Pascal P. Enos, who owned the closest timber and a big sled, used two yoke of oxen to haul wood to the needy.  Tree trunks and limbs, some fifty feet long, were left at the doorsteps of ministers and others.  Not all the corn had been harvested and farmers were hard pressed to feed their livestock. As an added hardship, some families did not have a reserve supply of flour or corn meal.  Wild game was nearly exterminated.  In one day, Japhet A Ball recalled, he killed fourteen deer that had been exhausted because their hooves constantly broke through the encrusted snow.  In later years Simeon Vancil told of seeing large quantities of buffalo bones on the highest ground.  The animals died of cold and hunger after going there because the snow cover was thinnest.

On December 12, 1836, the day of the sudden freeze, several inches of snow turned to slush just before a dark cloud and a great wind brought a drastic drop in temperature.  Washington Crowder was frozen to his saddle while riding to Springfield, but upon arrival he and the saddle were carried to a fireplace.  Crowder then completed his mission of getting a marriage license. 

Southerners usually arrived alone or in single-family groups,  But some Yankees reached Sangamon County caravan style.  Paul Colburn, who started from New Hampshire, reached the Lick Creek vicinity in 1821 with a reduced party of eleven after six years of hardships on the road.  Part of Loami Township was known as the Yankee settlement.  In contrast, a party of 52 New Englanders headed by Dr. John Lyman halted every Sunday for religious services and in 1833 reached Gardner Township in eight weeks.  They had scouted the route a year earlier.

The early settlement of the Sangamon valley found agriculture on the verge of a major transition, as this writer explains in Illinois: A History of the Prairie State:

"The Sangamon valley had many streams and therefore an
intermixture of timber and prairie.  Men who had been there did
not understand why, but they reported that the mid-state soil
was much richer than in the unglaciated, far southern counties,
where comparatively few had attempted to make homes.  In
mid-state the first farmers were just beginning to realize that it is
not true that where the oaks grew tallest the soil was richest.  In
their grandchildren’s generation, soil scientists would explain
why the best soil was on the prairie, where the fibrous roots of
the wild bluestem grass for centuries had produced humus of 
great natural fertility.  Another reason was that the matted
prairie soil helped check the leaching of calcium and other
minerals where were valuable plant foods.  The upland timber
soil had only 25 to 50 per cent as much organic matter as the
brown silt loams of the more undulating prairies or the black
gumbo of the flatlands.  Timber and prairie alike had been
leveled  and enriched by the glaciers, but since then the trees had
done little to add to the inherited fertility."
"In the Sangamon country tentative experiments in prairie
farming were made by men who came into Illinois over the
National Road and then turned northward into mid-state.  As
they edged onto the grass, at first they kept  close to the timber,
because the sod wasn’t so thick in the semi shady spots and a
 supply of wood was nearby.  Quickly they dismissed one of the
original objections to prairie settlement, since well diggers
usually found a good supply of water not far from the surface.
If anything, a large part of the prairie was too wet for farming
until the time came for ditching and tiling.  The only valid
objection was that a much better plow was needed for prairie

Sangamon County came into legal existence in 1821.  As created by the legislature at Kaskaskia, it was the twenty-second county in order of establishment.  In central Illinois, only Greene county preceded it.  Sangamon extended some one hundred miles northward, was bounded on the west by the Illinois River, and covered all of the present counties of Sangamon, Cass, Menard, Logan, Mason and Tazewell, and parts of  Christian, Macomb, McLean, Woodford, Marshall, and Putnam.

Sangamon County

Its area was more than five times that of the present county. The first election was held April 2, 1821, at the home of John Kelly, who was Elisha’s brother.  William Drennan, Zachariah Peter, and Rivers Cormack were named commissioners to locate a temporary county seat.  Drennan had reached the Sugar Creek area in 1818 with four other men. They build a cabin, cleared some timber, and raised a good crop of sod corn and pumpkins.  Peter, who also had a southern background, had occupied Pulliam’s  cabin in his absence but obligingly moved out upon his return.  Cormack might have drifted on, for he did not attend an April 10 meeting "at a certain point in the prairie near John Kelley’s (sic) field, on the waters of Spring Creek."  Drennan and Peter there drove a stake, marked Z. and D., into the ground and named the place Springfield.  The location now is the northwest corner of Jefferson and Second streets.  T he choice was obvious.  In all the county, at no other place did eight men, some with families, live within a radius of two miles.  Only there could lawyers and a judge find board and lodging.  Drennan and Peter engaged John Kelly to build a one-story courthouse of twenty-foot logs for $42.50.  The specifications called for a plank floor, a good cabin roof, and openings for a window and a door.  Before winter, the courthouse was chinked outside and daubed inside, a fireplace was added, and a door and a nine-light window installed.  Meanwhile, Charles H. Matheny, a Virginian who immigrated to Illinois as a Methodist missionary in 1805, agreed to come to Springfield.  He was also a lawyer and had been a territorial Legislator and clerk of t he Illinois house of representatives.  Upon organization of Sangamon County, he was made the county clerk, county auditor, and circuit clerk, everything but the sheriff in the primitive courthouse.

More than any others, Springfield owes its foundations to an unusual and diverse pair- --Elijah Iles, a 25 year-old frontiersman who became the first merchant, and Pascal P. Enos, a  Dartmouth graduate who was 51.  Iles had been a cattle herder in Kentucky and a land agent in Missouri before he wandered into Springfield when it was a few weeks old.  Deciding to stay, he built a sixteen-foot square store of hewn logs and at St. Louis bought $1,500 of merchandise that was taken to Beardstown by a keelboat crew of five men and then hauled to Springfield in two wagons.  Iles was the only retailer within seventy-five miles; and among his first customers were as many Indians as whites.  He stocked trade goods, whiskey, nails, stoneware, salt, and coffee.  The Indians bartered with furs, deer skins, and blue grass seed, while the whites brought in homemade cloth, honey and beeswax.

Enos, son of a general, had studied law and served in the Vermont legislature before coming west.  He was living six miles North of Edwardsville when the federal government ordered that the public domain be placed on sale in central Illinois. At the request of Vermont politicians, President Monroe appointed Enos the lad office receiver, responsible for the collection of $1.25 for each acre of land entered by squatters and new arrivals.  The land office was located in the east room of a two-story double cabin of hewn logs at Third and Jefferson streets, a block east of the Iles store.  The first land office  register, or record keeper, was  Colonel Thomas Cox, who weighed 250 ponds and became a drunkard.  Courage and leadership were other qualities possessed by Cox, who in a few years commanded a posse that recaptured Bellevue, Iowa, from a gang of cutthroats.  Several were killed in that battle.

In its beginning, Springfield was the property of five men, partners in a speculative town site promotion.  Such ventures were common before a financial crash in 1837, and whenever there was an attractive view or where a stream could be crossed without difficulty, it was easy for a politician or businessman to imagine that a prosperous municipality would soon take root, to the special benefit of the insiders.  Under those circumstances, it would have been strange had the new county seat not been purchased and promoted.  Iles, who had named the first east-west streets for Presidents, had as partners Enos, Cox, Sheriff John Taylor, and, on a nonresident basis, Congressman Daniel Pope Cook.  On the second day the land office was open for business, quarter sections that cornered in the settlement were entered by Iles, Enos, Cox, and Cook.  By agreement, Enos and Iles took title to the land where most of the cabins stood.  The partners paid the government $1.25 an acre and then began the private sale of lots.  Sales were not brisk, and early prices ranged from $15 to $50.  The proprietors named their town Calhoun, in honor of the south Carolina statesman, but the public rejected the idea.  In 1833, when the village was incorporated as a town, common usage was recognized and Springfield became the legal name.  The post office, called Sangamon Court House when it opened in 1822, took the name of Springfield in 1828. 

Many successful town site promotions collapsed in early Illinois, and Springfield was only the temporary county seat, challenged by Sangamo Town, which on paper existed seven or eight miles northward.  There were no buildings at Sangamo Town, but the beautiful spot overlooked the Sangamon River.  It would have been fatal to the Iles-Enos interests, of course, had the governmental offices been transferred.  The sole proprietor of Sangamo Town was William S. Hamilton., the adventurer son of Alexander Hamilton.  In 1824, Hamilton was elected state representative on a platform favoring his site.  The losing candidate, Jonathan Pugh, went to Vandalia and lobbied for Springfield.  The legislature left the final decision to five commissioners.  Four of them looked over Springfield and asked the way to Sangamo town.  Andrew Elliott, whose Buck Horn tavern was advertised by a pair of antlers above the door, and who had married a niece of Elisha Kelly, arranged to be their guide. Any Kelly in-law would be completely familiar with the countryside, but Elliott took them a  circuitous route that required the fording of spring Creek and crossing rough, wet, and brambly terrain.  On the return trip, the commissioners asked for a shorter route and were escorted through still rougher country.  Once back in Springfield, they were given a hearty dinner by Iles, who also cashed at par their warrants,  which were worth only twenty-five cents on the dollar at Vandalia.  Under  the circumstances the commissioners made Springfield the permanent county seat.  Iles and Enos deeded the public square to the state and, in compliance with the law, donated thirty-five acres to defray the cost of public buildings. Hamilton sought better luck at the Galena lead mines and California gold fields.  Elliott’s name has been forgotten in Springfield.

Sangamo Town, the last remnants of which were bulldozed into oblivion a few years ago so that a corn field could be expanded, at one time existed as a village sponsored by Moses Broadwell, It acquired some residents, a mill, one or two stores, a blacksmith shop, and in 1824 a post office under the name of Sangamon.  Postal service was discontinued in 1828, 
reestablished the next year, and in 1839 transferred to Salisbury, which had a store as early as 1832.  Some communities arose spontaneously, often around a mill site, and others were promoted by speculators.  Several vanished while nearby rivals were still being settled.  The territory north of Springfield had a post office, under the name of Fancy Grove, between 1823 and 1828.  The comparative concentration of population at the western side of the county obtained mail service at Island Grove in 1826.  Postal deliveries in time were switched to Berlin which in 1833 was platted by Henry Yates, grandnephew of Chief Justice John Marshall and father of Richard Yates, Civil War governor of Illinois.  Earlier Yates had a one-third interest in Warsaw, Kentucky.  When the Northern Cross railroad was located, Yates founded New Berlin on its right-of-way.  Auburn, which became the largest municipality outside Springfield, was laid out by George and Asa Eastman in 1835 and two years later took over the mail service that since 1827 had been provided by the sugar Creek community.  Mechanicsburg was laid out in 1832 by William S. Pickrell and five years later had more than twelve families.  Clear Creek’s post office, established in 1834, was changed to Mechanicsburg nine years later, Rochester had enough people in its vicinity to be recognized with a post office in 1834.  Four years later it was platted as a promotion by L.V. Hollenbeck, who owned mills, a distillery, and the property above Main Street.  John Taylor, whose land speculations covered much of the county, was joined by Governor Joseph Duncan and Eli Blankenship in the 1834 promotion of the original Illiopolis.  As the geographical center of the state, it received a few votes in the 1837 balloting that led to the transfer of the state capitol from Vandalia to Springfield.  Except for a hotel that was a white elephant, that town existed largely on paper about a half mile south of where the present municipality of the same name was later established. The Lick Creek post office, founded in 1840, was moved out to Chatham a year later,  Luther N. Ransom, a New Yorker, laid out Chatham in 1836, after he sold out at Farmington and bought some 2000 acres eight or ten miles south of Springfield.  Buffalo Hart Grove had postal service for a year starting in 1837, but four years later it was changed to Jimtown, a predecessor of Riverton,  Mazeppa, a short-lived promotion in Ball township, in 1837 had a store that was the scene of militia musters, an excuse for drinking. Mazeppa disintegrated when Cotton Hill, a mile northward, became a post office.  In Williams Township, the Village of Cicero existed in name only after it was platted in 1836.

Four years after its formation, Sangamon county lost the northern half of its area but not population.  New boundaries set by the legislature encampassed all of present Sangamon and Menard counties, the lower third of Mason, most of Logan, and  most of  northern Christian County. The center of population was still around Springfield.

Later agitation for re-division of the county provided a touchy political issue as small settlements pressed rival claims for designation as county seats.  New Salem, Abraham Lincoln’s former residence, encountered trouble when John Taylor bought the Petersburg site.  The issue was finally settled in 1839 with formation of three new counties—Menard, Logan, and  Dane, now Christian.  Lincoln wrote the bill that permitted Springfield to retain five state representatives where it formerly had seven.  Democrats had wanted to divide the old area into four equal parts in a manner that would have placed Springfield near the border of a new southwestern county. 

The 1840 census showed that Springfield had a population of 2,579 and Sangamon County 6,972.  Despite its reduction in size, the county had grown steadily.  A decade earlier, when it had twice the area, 2,955 residents had been reported.  The 1840 census was the first in which a few returns were made for municipalities and townships.  Only Chicago and Lockport were reported larger than Springfield in 1840, while Joliet, Quincy, Alton, Peoria, and Galena were smaller. 

State Map

Most of the business district was along Jefferson Street,  which was the way freight wagons arrived from Beardstown. The Edwardsville Trace, a relocation of the Old Indian Trail, intersected it just west of First Street.  The log courthouse had been twice replaced as the needs of government grew.  Because it smelled, William Proctor’s tannery had been located far out of town at Walnut Street.  Nearer in were a tread mill and distillery started by Thomas Cox.  Distilleries provided an efficient means of reducing the corn crop to a marketable form.  Many settlements had grist mills, corn could be pounded into a meal, but wheat had to be ground between stones to the fineness of flour.  The Cox mill was powered by an ox on a tread wheel.  In a few cases, men who intended to power their mills with running water were forced to convert them to treadmills.  John Kelly died in 1823 and some early rivals succumbed to the pioneer’s  wanderlust and left Springfield, to be replaced by permanent residents.  Dr. Gershom Jayne, one of the New Yorkers and Yankees who helped build the city, was the only physician in central Illinois when he arrived in 1820.  Other physicians followed him.  James D. Henry was a merchant a few years before he became a general and the Militia hero of the Black Hawk War, to which Sangamon county sent four Companies.  George Pasfield, who had been born in London and reared in Philadelphia, arrived in 1821 to become a merchant, a member of the town board, and one of the first businessmen to locate on the square where the state house would be built.

Elijah Iles in 1838-39 built at the southeast corner of Sixth and Adams the American House, the largest hotel in Illinois.  It had three stories.  Travelers also could stay at the Globe Tavern, a two-story frame building dating from 1835, and the Spottswood Rural Tavern, erected in 1836 by George W. Spottswood, a grandnephew of George Washington.
Springfield’s importance had been recognized in 1835 when the legislature made it the main office of the ill-starred State Bank of Illinois, while branch offices were assigned to other major cities of the young state.  Nicholas H. Ridgely came to Springfield as its cashier and stayed as a private banker.  Lawyers included John T. Stuart and Stephen T. Logan, whose names would be familiar to future Lincoln historians.

Springfield lacked a library and a theater, but it had changed greatly  since the Rev. John G. Bergen, a Princeton graduate,  arrived in 1828 as the eighth Presbyterian minister in the state and the farthest north of any of them.  The town then had about 35 cabins and two or three small frame houses.  Church services, originally held in private homes, had been transferred to the school house, which stood in a hazel and briar thicket in the intersection at Adams and Second Streets.  Neither the town authorities nor property owners had set aside a lot for a school house.  Bergen’s congregation finished construction of a 28 by
40 foot brick church a few months before a frame Methodist church was completed in l830.  Possibly the first sermon in central Illinois was preached in July, 1819, by Stephen England, a Virginian who settled on Cantrall Creek.  Neighbors for miles around attended the service in his cabin.  The first Catholic service in the county was in William Burtle’s Ball Township.

Early education was made memorable by Erastus Wright,who owned a semi-tame elk that he rode and drove to harness. He arrived in 1821 and traded eighty acres in Schuyler County for the elk.  Wright was one of the earliest teachers in the Springfield subscription school.  Job Fletcher, who became a member of the Long Nine in the legislature, in 1820 or 1821 taught in the county’s first rural school, a log cabin built for the purpose south of Sugar Creek.  When the Rev. John Mason Peck organized a Sunday School nearby, Fletcher also taught there. 

In the early development of Illinois, the larger cities were on rivers, exceptions being Belleville, Bloomington, Jacksonville, and of course, Springfield.  In the ice-free season, Springfield’s port of entry was Beardstown, which was forty-six miles away by ox team.  Steamboat service began there in 1831 and the Broadwell tavern (later known as Clayville) east of Pleasant Plains catered to teamsters, potential settlers and stagecoach passengers.  Mail and stagecoach service grew together, and in time extended in several directions.

Much of the land was still vacant, but Springfield and the outlying villages could consume only a small fraction of the produce of the county’s farmers, and shipping costs made it uneconomical to send corn and wheat to distant markets.  A better transportation system was obviously needed and optimists never overlooked a river.  The Sangamo Journal on
January 26, 1832, carried an announcement by Vincent A. Bogue of Cincinnati that the Talisman, a fifteen-ton "splendid upper cabin steamer" would navigate the Sangamon.  In late March the river banks were lined with persons who watched the steamer’s arrival at Portland Landing, about four miles to the north, which supposedly would be Springfield’s river port.  The Journal said it had been clearly demonstrated that an 80-ton steamer could get there from Beardstown in two days but that $2,000 would have to be spent on the removal of submerged logs and leaning trees.  By the time the cargo was unloaded,
however, the river level had dropped alarmingly.  The Talisman had to back all the way to the Illinois River.  No steamer attempted the trip again.

There were several proposals for solving the transportation problem with private financing.  The legislature in 1836 chartered the Beardstown and Springfield Canal Company, Capitalized at $200,000 and authorized to dig a canal part of the way and improve the Sangamon’s channel into Macon County.  The incorporators, who included John Taylor and Charles Broadwell from Sangamon County, had enthusiastic newspaper backing but let the project drop when an engineering survey placed the cost at $811,082.  At both Alton and Springfield there was sentiment but inadequate financing for joining the two cities with a privately owned railroad. 

Representative Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the Long Nine, so-called because the Sangamon County legislators had an aggregate height of 54 feet.  With their support, the legislature practiced fiscal insanity in 1837 by passing an internal improvements bill that envisioned a network of state owned railroads which the state could not afford.  A train ran on only one line, the Northern Cross from Meredosia on the Illinois River to Jacksonville in 1839 and on to Springfield in 1842, but revenues could not pay for repairs.

The 1837 legislature also ordered that the state capital be moved from Vandalia to Springfield, a by-product of which was the myth of the Long Nine.  Because it would demonstrate that young Lincoln had leadership talent, the story spread after the
Civil War that the Long Nine had indulged in logrolling by voting to let other cities have railroads in return for support for moving the seat of government to Springfield.  Everyone believed it for a century.  Then another legislator, Paul Simon, checked the 1837 roll calls and found that the Long Nine had split its votes in a leaderless and patternless manner.  The truth is that Springfield, which did receive one railroad, was near the center of Illinois population and thus the logical site for the seat of government.  "The move from Vandalia became effective July 1, 1839, by proclamation of Governor Thomas Carlin. As part of the transaction, Springfield promised to pay the state $50,000  for moving expenses.  Two payments were easily made, before  a financial crash became acute and put a damper on the development of Illinois.  Then 101 men signed a $16,666.67 note for the balance, which was finally paid off in 1846.

With the acquisition of the seat of government, the pioneer era for Sangamon County ended slightly more than a score of years after Elisha Kelly and Robert Pulliam led the rush of settlement to the New Eden. Springfield people might not have realized it, but the town’s future as a major downstate city was assured.  Possible some residents correctly  suspected that the transfer of the capital from Vandalia would be the greatest single event in Springfield ’s  history.  Among immediate benefits, population increased when several clerks moved along with their office records.  As soon as the capital relocation bill passed, Lincoln came from New Salem to Springfield, moving in with Joshua Speed in a room above his store and becoming John T. Stuart’s law partner and pupil.  Lincoln was a politician who wanted to live at the center of action, and had the seat of government gone elsewhere, he would have gone along.  Because his home and tomb are in Springfield, the city attracts tourists in large numbers.  State governmental payrolls and expenditures meanwhile provide a solid base for the city’s economy, whereas other leading downstate cities must depend upon industrial and commercial growth.  Without the capital and Lincoln, Springfield would be just  another county seat on the railroad connecting Chicago and St. Louis.


John Carroll Power’s History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County (Springfield, 1876), beloved by genealogists, is a gold mine of information on local history.  Also of great value is the Tour of Historic Springfield monograph by Dr. Floyd S. Barringer, the greatest living authority on Sangamon County and Springfield history.  The Inter-state Publishing
Company’s anonymous History of Sangamon County, Illinois, Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages and Townships… (Chicago, 1881) also is recommended.  Other works consulted:

         Adams, James H. (compiler), Illinois Place Names, Springfield:  Illinois State Historical Society, l968.

         Angle. Paul M., "Here I Have Lived": A History of Lincoln’s Springfield.  Springfield, 1935, and Chicago. 1971.

         Bateman, Newton, and Paul Selby, Historical Encyclopedia Of  Illinois. Sangamon County edition, 3 vols. Chicago,

         Clayton, John (ed.) The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac. Carbondale, l970.

         Boggess, Arthur Clinton, The Settlement of Illinois, 1778-1830.  Chicago, 1908.

         Counties of Illinois, Their Origin and Evolution.  Springfield:  Secretary of State.

         Enos, Zimri A., "The Old Indian Trail, Sangamon County, Illinois."  Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
            Vol. 4. (1911), 281-222.

         Howard, Robert P., Illinois: A History of the Prairie State,  Grand Rapids, 1972. 

         Pooley, William V., The Settlement of Illinois from 1830 to 1850.  Madison, 1908.

         Simon, Paul, Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness:  The Illinois Legislative Years.  Norman, 1965 , Urbana, 197l.

         Pratt, Harry E., "Lincoln and the Division of Sangamon County,"  Journal of Illinois State Historical Society, vol. 47
            (Winter, 1954), 398-409.

         Wadsworth, Moses Goodwin, The Sugar Creek Country in 1840.  Letters published in Auburn Citizen, 1903.
            Manuscript in Illinois State Historical Library.

Cover illustration is adapted from a steel engraving of a Sangamon River scene published in Illinois Capital Illustrated by the Illinois State Register (Springfield, 1898),  Portraits of Elijah Iles And Rev. John Bergen were taken from the Inter-State Publishing Company’s History of Sangamon County cited above.  The maps which appear on pages 15 and 22 are adapted from originals by Harriett M. Cantrall which appear in Helen Van Cleave Blankmeyer’s The Sangamon County, reprinted by Phillips Bros. Printers (Springfield, 1965).

Copyright:  Sangamon County Historical Society
All Rights Reserved