History of Stephenson County
Stephenson County (Plat Map) was named in memory of Colonel Benjamin Stephenson. He served as a Colonel in the War of 1812 in the Illinois Militia. In 1813 he was appointed adjutant general of the territory. In 1814 Colonel Stephenson was elected delegate to Congress, where he served until 1816. He was married to Lucy Van Swerington in 1803. His son, Captain James W. Stephenson moved to Galena, Jo Daviess County, in 1828.
Before the first white men visited the area, it had long been the hunting grounds of the Sac and Fox Indians. The valley of the Pecatonica River was allotted to the Winnebago Indians. Their chief, Old Winneshiek, had his village at the mouth of Spring Creek which is in the present site of Freeport. Their cornfields extended across the plain on the opposite bank.
In 1826 Col. E. H. Gratiot, with one companion crossed the county on his way from Jacksonville to Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin. Another man, by the name of Kirchner, came to the county that same year. Mr. Kirchner built a cabin at Burr Oak Grove. This in most likely the first dwelling of a white man on Stephenson county soil. In the autumn of 1826, Oliver W. Kellogg arrived and found the cabin deserted. He lived in it until he could build a larger home. Kellogg sold his cabin to a frenchman named LaFayette, and like Kirchner, moved on. LaFayette was frightened away by the indians. Then Mr. Greene owned it and in the spring of 1835 he sold to Mr. James Timms. Mr. Timms became the second permanent settler in the county. The house remained until 1862 when it was demolished to make room for a larger dwelling.
In the fall of 1832 William Waddams, from Jo Daviess county brought his two sons and staked a claim three miles northwest of Lena. The following summer he built a small log house and cleared four acres of timber without the use of a team. After the Black Hawk war, Mr. Waddams' family enjoyed the distinction of being the only citizens of Stephenson County for two years.
Winslow (Plat Map):
The first settler was Lyman Brewster in the spring of 1833. He established a ferry on the Pecatonica River, the first in the county. Ransomburg was the first townsite in the county, but its glory was short. The first marriage was of Dr. W.P. Bankson and Phoebe Macomber. The first death was a son of Lemuel Streator. The first birth was Sarah M. Denton in the fall of 1836. It could also be said that a son to George W. Lott was the first birth. The town of Winslow was plotted in 1844.
Oneco (Plat Map):
The first settlers were Simeon Davis, Andrew Claro and John M. Curtis, all at about the same time, in 1833. The Lott suicide is claimed to be the first death. The first marriage was Henry Reybold and Lizzie McNear.
Rock Grove (Plat Map):
Albert Albertson and Jonathan Corey were the first settlers, in 1835. They settled on section 36. They were followed the next December by Eli Frankenberger at the village of Rock Grove. Louisa was the first birth. The first school was held on section 36 in the winter of 1846.
Rock Run (Plat Map):
The first settler was Mrs. Swanson, her claim was located on sections 10 and 11. The Mullarkeys, Fooleys, Flynns, Hulses, Lees and Bakers were not far behind. The first wedding was "Poney" Fletcher and Marcisse Swanson.
Dakota (Plat Map):
Dakota's first settlement dates from 1836, but since it was a part of Buckeye until 1860, the facts are unclear.
Buckeye (Plat Map):
John Goddard was the first settler, arriving in the spring of 1835. The first school was held about three miles north of the site of Cedarville in 1836. The first death was that of Richard Parriott, Sr. in May of 1837. Cedarville was not plotted until 1849.
Waddams (Plat Map):
On February 14, 1835, Levi Robey was the first settler, and his son, William A. Robey was the first birth, September 21, 1836.
West Point (Plat Map):
Williams Waddams and his 2 sons have the distinction of being the first settlers in this township and the county. Thomas A. French came in 1834 and Luman Montague at about the same time. The first birth was Amanda Waddams on February of 1836. She is claimed to be the first white child born in the county. George Place and Eunice Waddams celebrated the first marriage on July 4, 1837. The death of Minerva Rathburn in 1839 was the first recorded.
Kent (Plat Map):
The first houses where built here, being the Kircher cabin and Kellogg house. James Timms was the first permanent settler in the area. The first school, held in the Timm's house, was conducted by William Ensign in 1837. 1837 is also the year of the first wedding, James Blair and Kate March. Harvey M. Timms was the first birth, on May 27, 1837. Jessie Willet, Jr. is said to be the first to die.
Erin (Plat Map):
Valorous Thomas, arriving in 1837, is probably the first settler. The first birth is that of George Cavanaugh, in 1843. It wasn't until 1844 that the first wedding took place, Robert Cavanaugh and Bridget Maher, in the town of Dublin.
Harlem (Plat Map):
In 1835 Miller Preston was the first settler. He was a prospector in the west for two years before. He returned to Gallipolis, Ohio, closed his business and in the spring of 1835 came through with a drove of cattle. The first death was Louis Preston, in 1838.
Lancaster (Plat Map):
Benjamin and John Goddard along with John Jewell took up claims here in December of 1835. Lucy Goddard was the first child born, on March 31, 1836. Ryan Lewis was the first to die in the fall of 1837. Thatcher Blake and Jane Goodhue celebrated the first marriage.
Ridott (Plat Map):
On March 4, 1836 Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Niles were the first settlers. Harvey P. Watters took a claim not long after. Daniel Wooten announced the birth of his daughter, Margaret, in the fall of 1837. On March 10, 1830 A.J. Niles and Nancy A. Farwell united in marriage. The first school, held in a log structure, was held in 1845 by Laura Colburn on her father's farm.
Silver Creek (Plat Map):
August of 1835 is when Thomas Crain claimed a quarter section in the south-west corner. Crain's Grove is named after him. The first birth was Jacob Thompson in the summer of 1838. His proud parents were William and Lucinda Thompson. The first wedding didn't occur until February 11, 1841 when Frederick Baker and Miss Crain were united. The drowning of Milburn and Reed are supposed to have been the first deaths. (This may have occurred in Ridott.)
Florence (Plat Map):
Conrad Van Brocklyn claimed 17 sections in the fall of 1935. The first school was taught by Miss Flavilla Forbes in an abandoned log house in 1840. It wasn't until the railroad in 1859 that Florence contained a village.
Loren (Plat Map):
In 1836 William Kirkpatrick entered his claim and built a mill the following year. The first marriage occurred in the fall of 1840 with Thomas French and Polly Kirkpatrick. In the winter of 1840-41 the first school class was conducted.
Jefferson (Plat Map):
Hector C. Haight settled in early 1837. He later joined the Mormons and became a leader in their councils at Salt Lake City. Louis Kleckner died in 1844. In the fall of the following year Henry Doherty and Catherine Flickinger were married. Jefferson Township has the wildest and most beautiful scenery in the state, abounding in picturesque hills and dales and woods.
Black Hawk War
The Black Hawk War peaked in the summer of 1832. It had been brewing for several years, starting in 1804 when several members of the Sac and Fox were arrested and imprisoned at St. Louis for an alleged crime. A party of lesser chiefs went down the river to secure their release. Apparently, these chiefs where "entertained" with liquor, which hampered their judgments. Once they came out of their unfortunate condition, they headed for home loaded down with worthless trinkets and having the vague memory of selling some land. They were, however, promised that their brothers would be released. The prisoners were released, but before they could reach safety, they were shot down as they ran.
There was no immediate move to take possession of the land, so nothing further occurred until several years later. The treaty was confirmed by some of the tribes the following year, but when Black Hawk found that they must abandon their villages, fields, and graveyards, he strenuously disagreed. Under protest to that 1804 treaty, he removed his band to the west side of the Mississippi. Seeing the graves of their dead desecrated, their villages in waste, he could no longer endure this indignation. In the Spring of 1831, with about 300 warriors of his and allied tribes, and their families, Black Hawk re-crossed the "Father of Waters" to claim his own. He ordered away the white settlers that were there, proceeded to destroy their dwellings, fences and crops. With the approach of General Gaines and his militia, Black Hawk quickly moved his people back to the west bank and gave assent to the treaty of 1804. Brooding through the long winter, finding it very difficult to clear the wilderness for new fields, their anger and resentment burned beyond control.
In the spring of 1832 Black Hawk again sprang to action. On June 25 one of these battles took place in Stephenson County. Major Dement of Dixon, was reconnoitering near Bur Oak Grove and discovered a band of the hostiles in the timber that far outnumbered his group. The Major retreated to the house built by Kellogg (near the site of Kircher's cabin) and prepared to defend himself to the bitter end. Two couriers where sent to bring back reinforcements from General Posey at Buffalo Grove. Black Hawk withdrew after he saw what was about to happen. The losses from this battle were nine on each side. This was the last indian battle in Illinois. This stone monument sits on a hill near Kent to mark the site.
Mr. Baker returned in 1835 and settled at Chief Winneshiek's village. William "Tutty" Baker was the founder of Freeport. In 1836 he opened an Indian trading post, built a hotel and operated a free ferry. Thus the name "Free Port". Tutty became prominent in the early affairs of the city.
In the fall of 1833 or spring of 1834, Lyman Brewster and Joe Abeno established a ferry at the site of present day Winslow. Prior to that Winslow was called Brewster's Ferry.
In 1835 immigrations began to rise in the county. Early county names were: Amos, Robey, Goddard, Hollenbeak, Jones, Lucas, Parriot, St. John, Trotter, Gappen, Graves, Wait, Watson, Wills, Denton, Wells, Kneeland, Streator, VanMatres, Kaufmann, Preston, Giddings, Willett, Craine, Albertson, Frankenberger, Dimmick, VanBrocklyn, Love, Montague, Tucker, Kirkpatrick, Galbraith, Brown, Burns, Crocker, Dodds, Eads, Goodhart, Hinkle, Smith, Wilmott, Write, Bennett, Blakely, Brown, Boynton, Carnefix, Chilton, Cogshall, Denison, Dernio, Flynn, Forbes, Fowler, Guddings, Grigsby, Hathaway, Hawkins, Holly, Hulse, Job, Lee, Lloyd, Lobdel, Macomber, Malloy, Manny, Marcellus, Mullarky, Nichols, Niles, Norris, Osborn, Ostrander, Perkey, Pile, Phillips, Reed, Sanborn, Shunkle, Snow, Stowell, Swanson, Velie, Wait, Water, Welsh, Wilcoxon, Wooton and others.
1837 was a momentous year. On March 4th the Legislature passed an act authorizing the organization of the county. On the first Monday in May, at William Baker's house an election was held. Sheriff: William Kirkpatrick; Coroner: Lorenzo Lee; Recorder and Commissioners' Clerk: Orestes H. Wright; County Commissioners: Lemuel W. Streator, Issac S. Forbes and Julius Smith; County Surveyor: Frederick D. Buckely. The first jail being William Baker's root cellar.
More settlers arrived in 1837. In addition to those mentioned above there were: VanValzah, Turner, Howe, Judson, Babbitt, Bailey, Bollinger, Brace, Brewester, Burbridge, Chambers, Corcoran, Dodds, Dwelly, Edwards, Farwell, Forbes, Fowler, Frettville, Gable, Gaylord, Giblin, Billett, Graham, Green, Guyer, Haight, Harmon, Hill, Howard, Howe, Johnson, Kleckner, Lashell, Lewis, Lloyd, Macomber, Milburn, Moore, Morton, Musser, Miles, O'Brien, Osborn, Perry, Price, Reed, Reynolds, Ricket, Snyder, Tharp, Thomas, Thompson, Tompkins, Turnbull, Wallace, Webster, Welles and Wilcoxon.
The first marriage licensed issued in the county was to George Place and Eunice Waddams. William Ensigned opened the first school in the residence of Mr. Timms at Burr Oak Grove. On May 24th, 1837, Harvey M. Timms was the first child born in the new county. Milburn and Reed, drowning near Ridott, were the first recorded deaths.
We see more immigration in 1838. Some of the names are: Allen, Bradford, Brazee, Brendall, Brown, Bogenreiff, Carter, Clay, Cowan, Davis, Forsyth, Fowler, Gaylord, Gitchell, Gore, Hammon, Hunt Kinney, Lathrop, Liebshuetz, Lloyd, Loring, Lucas, Perley, Pitcher, Preston, Rand, Rosensteil, Scott, Sisson, Stebbins, Strockey, Thompson, Walsh, Waren, Wright.
In 1839 we see the first stage routes develop. This was a great way for the mail to be carried. The post office was established in the summer of that year. The spring of '39 brought a colony of Norwegians to settle in Rock Grove. This was the first colony of that nationality to venture to our shores. A partial list of newcomers for this year are: Anderson, Babcock, Bardell, Boyden, Berry, Bordner, Bree, Brown, Canutson, Cockrell, Corwith, Covertson, Cox, Curry, Drummond, Epley, Fair Fisher, Flower, Flynn, George, Gibler, Gund, Hawkins, Hawley, Hoebel, Howard, Judkins, Karcher, Langdon, McElheny, McGee, McKee, Mallory, Marlow, Muller, Oleson, Pattee, Patten, Pratt, Preston, Price, Shoup, Smith, Stabeck, Stoskepf, Templeton, VanMatre, Watson and Zimmerman.
A very partial list of others that came after 1839: Andrews, Babb, Baldwin, Barber, Barkalow, Bennett, Bolender, Clarke, Ditzler, Eddy, Ferry, Foster, Frybarger, Gossman, Hammond, Hinds, House, Hulbert, Ilgen, Illingworth, Knese, Lamb, Lovdel, Loyer, MacGinnis, Maurer, Muller, Naramore, Norris, Parriott, Post, Reitzell, Reybolt, Rush, Schermerhorn, Scott, Shively, Shockley, Tower, Wilson, Wohlford and Woodman.
In 1842 another colony settled in the county. A party of twenty two from England, that settled in Ridott on a tract of land selected for them by a forerunner who had come out a year prior.
1847 brought talk of the railroad coming to Stephenson County. On January 7th, at Rockford, the first session of the railroad convention in the "west" was held. Stephenson County was represented by John H. Addams, D.A. Knowlton, Adrian Lucas, Jackson Reichart, Luman Montague and Martin P. Sweet. After the line had been completed to Belvidere, there was talk of Freeport being detoured for Savanna. A committee went to Chicago and spoke with the authorities and succeeded in having the original route carried out.
In 1848 the county changed from commissioner form to the township organization and has remained under that form of government since.
On August 23, 1853, the first construction train crossed the Pecatonica River and the passenger and freight service was established on September 1. The Illinois Central entered Freeport a few weeks later, having purchased the right of way from the Chicago and Galena Union. The formal opening of the line was on July 18, 1855. Stephen A. Douglas was the orator of the day.
The Lincoln-Douglas Debate
Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter on July 24, 1858 to Senator Stephen Douglas asking him to meet to debate questions in each of the Congressional Districts. It was Douglas that suggested Freeport, Ottawa, Galesburg, Quincy, Jonesboro and Charleston.
During their Freeport debate, Lincoln confronted Douglas about popular sovereignty and it's contradiction with the Dred Scott decision. Douglas responded.......with what became know has his Freeport Doctrine.
On June 3, 1903 at 9:30 in the morning before a large crowd, a boulder with a bronze plaque attached was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt at the courthouse. The plaque reads:
Within this block was held the second joint debate
in the senatorial contest between
August 27, 1858
"I am not for the dissolution of the Union
under any circumstance." - Douglas
"This government cannot endure permanently
half slave and half free." - Lincoln
Erected by Woman's Club, 1903
June 3, 1903
The Civil War
Stephenson County showed their patriotism during the Civil War. On April 18, 1861, a meeting was held at Plymouth Hall. Several enlistments were made that night and within two days the first company was filled and ready for muster. A company was recruited at Lena and other parts of the county gave their quotas to the cause.
Under the command of Capt. Smith D. Atkins, Lt. Newcomer and Lt. Field, the company left for the front on May 1 and was mustered in as Company A, 11th Reg. Shortly after, a second company under the command of Capt. W.J. McKim, Lt. Settley and Lt. Arno went to the front.
The 15th Reg. was organized in Freeport and mustered in on May 24th. A few weeks later, after receiving instructions at Alton, they left for the field. Their first battle was in Missouri. It was mustered out at Fort Leavenworth on September 1, 1865. Travel by foot, boat and train, a distance of about 11,000 miles was covered. The officers were Col Thomas J. Turner, Senior Major William R. Goddard, Junior Major Rufus C. McEathron, and Surgeon William J. McKim.
The 46th, made up almost wholly of Stephenson County men, was organized at Camp Butler on December 28, 1861, by Col. Davis. He was succeeded after his death at Bolivar, Tennessee on October 10, 1862, by Col Dornblazer. Maj. McCracken and Maj. Clingman were next in command. They were at Ft. Donelson and Ft. Henry, Pittsburg Landing and the campaign through Tennessee. They also participated in the Siege of Vicksburg and marched through to the Gulf. The 46th was mustered in as a veteran regiment January 4, 1863, returned to Freeport and was furloughed on the 27th, seeing no active duty after that.
The 92nd, mustered in at Rockford, September 4, 1862, and contained 3 companies from Stephenson County. It was assigned to the Army of Kentucky. Their first stronghold was on Point Lookout. They participated in battles around Chattanooga, fought under Thomas at Chickamauga, were in the hottest of the fighting in the Atlanta campaign, and swung south with Sherman on the world famous March to the Sea. The 92nd was musted out at Concord, North Carolina and discharged and paid off at Chicago on July 10, 1865, after nearly three years of the hottest fighting in the war. The regiment came out under command of Col. brevetted Brig. Gen. Smith D. Atkins, Lt. Col. Christopher T. Dunham, Adj. Issac C. Dawver and Quartermaster Phillip Sweely.
Besides the above, Stephenson County furnished companies of men in the 14th; 26th; 45th; 47th; 71st; 74th; 90th; 93rd; 142nd; for 100 day service, 146th, 1 year service; 147th, 1 year infantry; 7th; 8th; 12th; 13th; 14th and 15th cavalry, and the 1st and 2nd artillery.
"Portrait and Biographical Album of Stephenson County" 1888
"In the Foot-prints of the Pioneers of Stephenson County, Illinois" 1900
"Kent for a Century and a Quarter" 1952
"Postscript to 1970 Stephenson County History" 1976