Historical Sketch

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Inventory Of The County Archives Of Illinois No. 9 Cass County (Virginia). Prepared by Illinois Historical Records Survey Division of Community Service Programs Work Projects Administration


    The present area of Cass County was settled between the close of the War of 1812 and the beginning of the Mexican War - a phase of the westward movement in United States History which carried the frontier line to the one-hundredth parallel and beyond. In that interval local governmental institutions were set up in the county, schools and churches established, and agriculture developed. Since the land was rich and yielded of its fruit in abundance, the rural, agricultural way of living entrenched itself very firmly. Although the presence of a large number of immigrants, especially from Germany, added a distinctly European flavor to the social and cultural life in the county, yet the fact that they originated almost exclusively in western and northern Europe and that they arrived in the county during the formative years meant that the inhabitants of the county did not face difficult racial and religious problems. While towns developed early and the railroad entered the region in 1857-1858, the farming economy maintained its hegemony in Cass County up until our own day.

Physical Geography

    Cass County is located in the Illinois River basin, occupying an area 31 miles east by west and 17 miles north by south. The 294,400 acres within the approximate 400 square miles of the county are divided into three parts: prairie, wood, and river bottom lands.[1] When the early pioneers first entered the present limits of the county they found the grass on the prairie to be higher, in some places, than a man on horseback.[2] The woodlands contained trees of various species: oak, hickory, elm, sugar maple, black walnut, and linden were most prominent.[3] Although the surface is, in the main, rolling, some bluff elevations exist along the water frontage (45 miles on the Illinois and Sangamon). The land is about 630 feet above sea level.[4]

    Geologically considered, the formation of Cass County belongs to the Quaternary Period. Glacial drift and coal measures underlie the surface. While the eastern part of the county is of the Middle Illinois Glaciation, the western part, composed of sand, late swamp, and bottom lands is of the Wisconsin Glaciation.[5] The significance of these glaciation formations is readily understood when one realizes that the rock materials which entered into the glacial soils furnished the necessary plant food in abundance and left sand, gravel, and clay for building purposes.[6] The soil is dark loam with a light-colored clay subsoil; and the mean temperature of between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the growing season affords an excellent climate for agriculture.[7] The surface of the county abounds in rivers, lakes, creeks, and sloughs among which are the following: Illinois, Sangamon, and little Sangamon rivers; Clear, Mound, Treadway, Swan, Meredosia, and Cotton Wood lakes, mainly in the western parts of the county; Indian, Clear, Prairie, Little Indian, Little Panther, Big and Middle creeks; and Wood and Hager sloughs.[8]

Indians and the French

    The Mound Builders lived in the area in prehistoric days. The mound located in the Beardstown area region is evidence of their presence in the county.[9] They are considered by some anthropologists as earlier Indian groups. The Illinois Indians occupied the area for some time; and we know definitely that the Mascouten Indians, believed by some historians to be a subsidiary branch of the Illinois tribes, established a rather large settlement around the later site of Beardstown.[10] These Indians were driven out by the Miamis and Iroquois during the great wars between the Algonquins and the Iroquois in the eighteenth century; and the area was then occupied by an invading group, the Kickapoo Indians. They were still around the northwestern portion of the county when one of the earliest settlers, Thomas Beard, arrived in 1819 on the site later to be named after him. Further east, along the Sangamon, in the neighborhood of the present town of Chandlerville the Pottawatomies dwelt until 1825.[11]

    While the Indians occupied the region French explorers and traders moving up and down the Illinois passed by and frequently stopped within the Cass County area. Marquette and Joliet and other explorers no doubt passed along the western boundary; and French traders used the Beardstown site as their headquarters in the decades preceding the settlement.[12]

Coming of the Settlers, 1816-1840

Founders of Beardstown, Arenzville, Virginia and Chandlerville

    Although the earliest American settler in present day Cass County was Eli Cox, who arrived at Cox's Grove (later Sylvan Grove--in the eastern section of the county) in 1816,[13] the first important group of settlers established themselves in the northwestern section. Thomas Beard (1795-1849), a native of New York State, arrived in the Beardstown area in 1819 and was soon followed by others. During the first few years the settlers were squatters. In 1827, however, Beard and Enoch C. March another early settler entered the land on which Beardstown was platted. The first sale of land occurred in 1832--the year of the Black Hawk War when Beardstown served as a rendezvous for the troops and a depot for supplies.[14]

    Among the other settlers in the Beardstown area before 1831 were: John Cettrough (or Chittrough), Timothy Harris, Archibald Job (who later moved to Cox's Grove), Seymour Kellogg, the Lindsleys, the Egglestons, John Baker, Jerry Bowen, the Three Carr brothers, the Reverand Reddick Horn, Amos Hager, Benjamin Horrom, John Knight, Solomon Penny and the Plasters family.

    One of the most prominent settlers in Beardstown in the early thirties was Francis A. Arenz (1800 - 1856) a native of Prussia. He entered the merchandising and real-estate business, and was very active in the early life of Beardstown. For example, in 1833 he began to publish the first newspaper in the county, The Beardstown Chronicle and Illinois Bounty Land Advertiser. In that very same year Arenz purchased some land in the northern section of Morgan County, and in 1839 he settled in the present town of Arenzville. Other settlers and German immigrants soon joined Arenz in his new settlement.[15]

    Some persons attracted to Beardstown went eastward, and set up communities within the present limits of Cass County. In the early 1830's, Dr. Henry H. Hall (died in 1847), a native of Ireland and resident in the state of Virginia from 1818 to 1831, passed through Beardstown and decided to establish himself in the central portion of the county. He became one of the largest landowners in the county acquiring 1,475 acres of land and 20 town lots, and by 1837 was instrumental in securing the removal of the county seat from Beardstown to the central portion of the county on the site he called Virginia after his first adopted state.[16]

    Dr. Charles Chandler also passed through Beardstown on his way to the Sangamon River Valley in the northcentral part of the county. He located himself on the site of Chandlerville in 1832 where he built the first frame house and drug store. The town itself, however, was not laid out until 1848, Abraham Lincoln being one of its surveyors.

Origin of Settlers, Population 1840

    Scattered throughout the county were many settlers and their families who preceded in time of arrival, the founders (except Beard) of the above-mentioned settlements. Perrin lists over two hundred persons who entered land in the northwestern area alone before 1831.[17]

    Among the pioneers in the county we find the New England, Middle Atlantic, upper southern, and old northwestern and southwestern states represented, as well as at least a half a dozen German states (Prussia, Hanover, Hesse-Darmstadt, Bavaria, Bremen, and Frankfurt-am-Main), England, Scotland, Ireland and Switzerland.[18] The German and northern pioneers were located, in the main, in the western part of the county (Beardstown and Arenzville vicinity); and the southern and western pioneers in the eastern part (Virginia and Chandlerville vicinity).[19]

    Population increased slowly during the first decades of settlement, and in 1840 there were only 2,981 persons in the county including 11 persons of color.[20]

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[1] Charles A. Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 617, 619; Illinois Department of Secretary of State, Counties of Illinois, p. 66.

[2] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 618.

[3] William Henry Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, Illinois, p. 53

[4] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 618.

[5] Douglas C. Ridgley, The Geography of Illinois, p. 16-36, 152; Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 618.

[6] Ridgley, The Geography of Illinois, p. 34-36.

[7] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 618.

[8] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, map following p. VI; Illinois Department of Public Works and Buildings, Division of Highways, Map of Cass County.

[9] John Leonard Conger and William E. Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 18-28. For a photograph of the Beardstown Mound in 1817, see p. 19.

[10] Ibid., p. 61.

[11] Ibid., p. 30, 39, 42, 43, 55, 56. See also quote from Hiram Beckwith, Illinois and Indiana Indians (n. p.), in Ridgley, The Geography of Illinois p. 30, 31.

[12] Conger and Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 89; Bateman, et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 84.

[13] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 634 ff.

[14] Among the other settlers in the Beardstown area before 1831 were: John Cettrough (or Chittrough), Timothy Harris, Archibald Job (who later moved to Cox's Grove), Seymour Kellogg, the Lindsleys, the Egglestons, John Baker, Jerry Bowen, the Three Carr brothers, the Reverend Reddick Horn, Amos Hager, Benjamin Horrom, John Knight, Solomon Penny, and the Plasters family. Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 19-22, 115, 116; Bateman, et al. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 84. For a very early description of frontier condition in the area, see Mary W. Parkinson, "Travels in Western America in 1837," Journal of American History, III (1909), 511-16.

[15] Some of the settlers that preceded Arenz, in time of settlement, in the Arenzville area were James Crum, the Mathews, John Malone, the McKeans, William McHenry, the Pitners, Charles Robertson, and Charles Wiggins. John Savage settled in the area about 1823. Some of the early German settlers were: the brother of Francis Arenz, J. A. Arenz, John L. Cire, Henry Kircher, Frederick Diekel, Charles Coupor, Dr. George Englebach, and H. Lippert. See Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 23, 143, 149; Bateman et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 22, 23.

[16] Some of the settlers in the Virginia area by 1832 were: Jesse Allred, Reverend John Biddlecome, Elijah Carver, Joshua Crown, Nathan Compton, Jame Davis, the Eplers, the Clarks, Thomas Gatton, Richard Graves, Henry Hopkins, Alexander Huffman, the Montgomerys, the Pratts, the Stephensons, and the Yaples. Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 23, 24, 80, 84, 172-74.

[17] Some of the earlier settlers in the eastern part of the county were: William Crow, the Millers, the Nances, the Shorts, Robert Leiper, James McAuley, Amos Ogden, Isham Reavis, the Reverend Levi Springer, Bartlett Conyers, the Wilsons, and Robert Hawthorn. Newmansville was not laid out by M. Newman until 1858. Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 134, 137, 138, 155, 156, 161, 162, 179-81. Bateman, et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 87; Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 634.

[18] The old northwestern states were Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; the old southwestern states, Kentucky and Tennessee. Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 116.

[19] This generalization is based upon a compilation of the places of origin of those persons mentioned in the sketch as well as of those listed in the biographical sections of Perrin, Bateman, and Martin.

[20] U. S. Secretary of the Interior, Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, I, Population, 23.