Pike County ILTidbits Project


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County's Oldest Documents Rest ...
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County's Oldest Documents Rest ...
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The oldest document in Pike county history is presented by The Republican through the courtesy of Margaret Cross Norton, superintendent of the Archives Division of the State Public Library at Springfield. The facsimile reproduction is from a photostatic copy of the ancient record, which is a petition signed by fifty-two dwellers on the old Military Tract for the establishment of a new county upon the bounty lands, which county was named Pike.

This first record was found by accident in the Archives Division of the State Library in December, 1935. At that time, while Jess M. Thompson, Pike county historian, was in Springfield, searching the archives for data bearing upon the exciting Pike county election of 1824, Margaret C. Norton, superintendent of the Division, discovered the precious document. She handed it to Mr. Thompson with the remark: “Here is the beginning of Pike county history.”

The document, faded with age, its ink dimmed by the long interval of time since it was penned, proved to be the original petition of the settlers of this part of Illinois, praying the second state legislature, convened at Vandalia in December, 1820, to erect a new county on the bounty lands for their convenience. Appended to the petition are the signatures of fifty-two settlers whose habitations were in that vast region known as the Military Tract. Most of the subscribing petitioners dwelt in what is now Calhoun county and in the vicinity of what is now Atlas in Pike county, but some of the signatures are those of settlers who at the time resided on or near the sites of present Lewistown, Peoria, Quincy and Rock Island. For weeks, Captain Leonard Ross, one of the four Ross brothers who founded Ross’ settlement (now Atlas), rode the wilderness trails of the Military Tract, on horseback, securing the signatures of the pioneers to a petition for the new county. Pursuant to this petition, the legislature, on Jan. 31, 1821, erected a county on the bounty lands and named it Pike, for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer of the Louisiana Purchase, and for whom Pike’s Peak was named. Following is the text of the document, together with the appended signatures, which, with a few exceptions, are decipherable without the aid of a glass:

To the Honorable the Governor and Senate of the State of Illinois.

The petition of the subscribers, inhabitants of that part of the State called the Military Bounty Tract
Respectfully Showeth

That they understand there is some probability that a new county will be laid off in said Military Tract, on that part in which your petitioners now reside. They trust that the liberality and justice of the General Assembly will establish such a county, which is imperiously demanded by the circumstances of the country, and by the situation of the inhabitants.

If the General Assembly do determine to establish such county: Your petitioners beg leave to recommend to your notice Levi Roberts as a fit person to fill the Office of Recorder of said county, and we are satisfied that his appointment would be satisfactory to the inhabitants generally – And as in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

James Nixon
Amos Bancroft
Daniel Moore
Daniel Church
David Evelin
Stephen Eveland
Pendleton Lamb
Mason Cockerell
Nathaniel Hinckley
Noding Hill
William Frye
John G. Curtis
Rial Crandall
John C. Wadsworth
James Tidball
John W. Smith
Robert Gordon
Daniel Whipple
Egbert Jones
Samuel Williams
Belus Jones
William Mettz
Wm. Massey
George Robinson
John Mettz
George Hill
Wm. Ward
Bigelow C. Fenton
Comfort Shaw
Ebenezer Smith
John Smith
Cornelius Westerfield
Benjamin McIntire
Samuel Pinckney
John Richey
Thomas Brazen
Simon Crosier
David Dutton
Justus J. Perrigo
Jesse Westerfield
Samuel Gates
James Martin
Roswell B. Fenner
Isaac Eveland
John Eveland
Amos Eveland
John Ricksley
Robert McGuire
Baxter Brachwell
Abner Blasdale
Bss [sic] Belfarn
Leonard Ross

Major Levi Roberts, recommended by the petitioners for the office of Recorder, had arrived in what is now Calhoun county in 1811, making the journey from Ohio in a keel boat and landing at the present site of Bloom’s landing, on the Illinois river. He settled near the site of present Brussels. In the early history of the county he figured largely in the political and county-seat wars between John Shaw (the BIack Prince) and the Rosses of Atlas. The petition, signed by 52 persons, shows how wrong were the early historians who guessed that there were not more than five settlers within 50 miles of present Atlas, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, when the Bosses built their community settlement there in late 1820.

Reproduced also on this page from a photostatic copy (courtesy of Margaret Norton of State Archives) is the act organizing the county of Pike in its original vastness, as it was indited and approved by the legislative council of revision on Jan. 31, 1821, and signed by John McLean, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and James Lemon, Jr., Speaker of the Senate pro tempore, and subscribed by Shadrach Bond, first governor of the state.

Contemplate the vast territory of the original county as established by this Act, to Form a New County on the Bounty Lands, in these worth:
“Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois represented in the General Assembly, That all that tract of country within the following boundaries, to wit: Beginning at the mouth of the Illinois river, and running thence up the middle of said river to the fork of same, thence up the south fork of said river until it strikes the state line of Indiana, thence north with said line to the north boundary line of this state, thence west with said line to the west boundary line of this state, and thence with said line to the place of beginning, shall constitute a separate county to be called PIKE.” The Act further provided for the appointment of Levi Roberts, John Shaw and Nicholas Hansen to meet at the house of Roberts on or before succeeding March 1 to fix the temporary seat of justice for the new county; granted to the citizens of the new county the same rights and privileges allowed in general to the people of other counties in the state; and made the new county a part of the first judicial circuit.

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