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

Organization of the County

Enabling Act of 1837

    Three years before the census of 1840 was taken, Cass County was organized from Morgan County. the enabling act of March 3, 1837 defined the boundaries of the county and laid down certain specific regulations governing, among other things, the establishment of the county, location of the county seat, division of the school funds between Morgan and Cass counties, and representation in the state legislature. The stipulation regarding the county seat was interesting. In view of the fact that Beardstown was already well established, the law provided that the town pay the county $10,000 to be applied in the erection of public buildings if it be chosen as the county seat. If the corporation of Beardstown, however, failed to pay the $10,000 (by a later law of 1837 the town was allowed to pay the amount in three annual payments instead of one payment), "the county commissioners' court (was ordered to)...locate the county seat at some other point near the center of said county, where the quantity of land mentioned (15 acres)...shall be provided...."[21]

    The movement for this division of Morgan County antedated the year when Cass County was erected. The people of the northern part of Morgan County had joined the group in Illinois that favored the selection of Springfield as the state capital rather than Jacksonville, the county seat of Morgan; and Thomas Beard and Archibald Job (of Beardstown and later Sylvan Grove) were delegates to the Rushville Convention (Schuyler County) in 1834. In fact, Job was appointed one of the locating commissioners after Springfield was chosen by the convention as its selection for the capital.[22]

    As provided in the Act of March 3, 1837, elections were held in April and May 1837 to decide whether the division of Morgan County met with the approval of the people of that county and whether the county seat should be located at Beardstown. Although the exact results of these elections are not known, we can infer the following things from the laws regarding Cass County approved July 21, 1837: (1) "A majority of the voters" of Morgan County voted for the creation of Cass County; (2) Beardstown received the highest number of votes for the county seat; and (3) special acts were passed to do away with any doubts that Cass County was created, that Beardstown was established as the county seat, or that Beardstown was an incorporated town. These laws also discussed the procedure regulating the election of county officers, selecting O. M. Long and Thomas Pogue, notaries in Beardstown to be in charge of the election.[23]

Election Results and Procedures

    The election of August 1, 1837 resulted in the selection of Joshua P. Crow, Amos Bonney, and George F. Miller as the first county commissioners, and John W. Pratt as the first clerk of the county commissioners' court.[24] The other first county officials for their respective offices were: John L. Wilbourne, probate justice of the peace; Thomas Wilbourne, county treasurer; Thomas Plasters, Jr., school commissioner, and Lemon Plasters, sheriff.[25] The first grand jurors were William H. Nelms, Isaac C. Spence, Jesse Ancrum, William De Haven, James Pounds, William Sewall, David Carr, Isaac Plasters, Robert Taylor, Richard McDonald, Joshua Nancy, George Boggs, Stephen Lee, Joseph Robinson, John Nickolls, Berry Freeman, Reddick Horn, Ephraim Moseley, James Boland, Benjamin Beasley, Caleb Lee, James Davis, and William B. Gaines; and the first petit jurors were Thomas Wilbourne, Elisha Ollcut, Ruben Hager, Joseph Baker, James Carr, James Logan, Lucian T. Bryant, Isham Reavis, Benjamin Sutton, John P. Dick, William McAuley, Marcus Chandler, Archibald Job, William Blair, Ezra Dutch, Jonas McDonald, Amos S. West, Jesse B. Pearce, Joseph Corbey, Alfred Elder, William Schoopman, Henry McKean, Robert B. Gaines, and Mathew McBride.[26]

    For future county elections the county commissioners' court divided the county into six districts and selected the judges and places of election. (See Table I)


Districts Judges Village or Town House of
Beardstown Peter S. Bell
William L. Felix
Joseph Neiper
Beardstown Augustus Knapp (one of his buildings)
Virginia John Scott
James Ross
J. J. Brown
Virginia John Deeber (?)
Monroe A. Huffman
Jasper Buck
James Arnold
Monroe (?)
Sugar Grove Henry Hopkins
John Slack
John Wilson
Philadelphia John Slack
Richmond Robert Leiper
Carey Nancy
John Taylor
Richmond Eaton Nance
Bowens John Waggoner
Jeremiah Northern
William Cole
(?) David Carr

    By 1847 it was no longer necessary to use private homes for election places since towns had developed in the southwestern southeastern and northern parts of the county. The election districts were then renamed as follows: Arenzville, Beardstown, Virginia, Lancaster, Richmond, and Sangamon.[28] In 1857 Indian Creek had been set off from Arenzville as a new election district.[29] The increase in the number of election districts continued with the growth of the population: in 1852 to 9 and 1923 to 19.[30] The procedure of voting also changed: after a decade of voting by voice the secret ballot was introduced in the county following the law of February 12, 1849.[31]

Change in County Boundary, Name of County

    The original boundaries of the county were also changed during the first decade. Some of the settlers living in the three-mile strip in the northern part of Morgan County were eager to join Cass County. The law of February 26, 1845 gave them permission to decide whether they should be attached to Cass or remain in Morgan County.[32] At the election of May 5, 1845 the voters decided by a vote of 246 to 78 in favor of having the area attached to Cass County, and the Arenzville and Princeton election precincts were set up accordingly.[33]

    The area of Cass County was by this action enlarged to its present size. The county was then bounded on the west by Brown and Schuyler; on the north, by Mason; on the east, by Menard and Sangamon; and on the south, by the "mother" county, Morgan. The setting off of Cass County was the fifth subdivision of this section of the state: St. Clair, 1790; Madison, 1812; Sangamon, 1821; Morgan, 1823; and Cass, 1837.[34] It is significant to note that the man after whom the people of Cass County named the area, Lewis Cass (1782-1866), was playing a very significant role in western and national politics during this period in American history.[35]

Shifts in County Seat - Beardstown, 1837-1839, Virginia, 1839-1845

    Although the county seat was established by the law of July 21, 1837 at Beardstown it did not remain there very long. The corporation of Beardstown failed to pay the $10,000 which had been stipulated in the law of March 3, 1837, for several reasons: (1) it was difficult to raise $10,000 in a frontier community even in three years; (2) many of the people in Beardstown did not favor paying the entire cost of the county buildings; and (3) the first county commissioners seemed to favor the location of the seat at Virginia.[36] According to a later law the county commissioners secured from Dr. Henry H. Hall, the owner of the site of Virginia, fifteen acres for county purposes.[37] County business did not begin at Virginia until 1839.[38]

    A well-organized minority in Beardstown, however, continued the struggle to have the seat returned to their town. They pointed out that, even though Beardstown was not centrally located, it was the largest town in the county and accessible to most of the inhabitants. By the act of March 3, 1843 a special election was held to determine the location of the county seat. Beardstown was chosen by a vote of 453 to 288, and the commissioners' court began its meetings there on March 3, 1845.[39]

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[21] L. 1837, p. 101-3.

[22] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 36, 37.

[23] L. 1837, Sp. Sess., p. 48-50, 95, 96.

[24] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 1, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[25] Ibid., p. 2, 3, 10, 27.

[26] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 7, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3. The jurors each received seventy-five cents per day (p. 27).

[27] Ibid., p. 2, 13, 36.

[28] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 395, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[29] County Court Record, v. B, p. 240, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[30] The election precincts in 1852 were: Beardstown, Arenzville, Monroe, Houstin, Virginia, Princeton, Chandlerville, Lancaster, and Richmond; in 1923: Arenzville, Ashland no. 1, Ashland no. 2, Bluff Springs, Chandlerville, no. 1, Chandlerville no. 2, East Beardstown, Hickory, Indian Creek, Monroe, Oregon, Philadelphia, Princton, Richmond, Virginia, West Beardstown no. 1, West Beardstown no. 2, West Beardstown no. 3, West Beardstown no. 4. County Court Record, v. B, p. 83, 84, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3; Miscellaneous Record, v. E, p. 121, see entry 67. See also maps before prefaces in Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, and Martin ed., History of Cass County, for names of election precincts in 1882 and 1915.

[31] R.S. 1845, p. 214; Const. 1848, Art. VI, sec. 2; L. 1849, p. 71-75 (approved February 12). See also Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 532 where it is "Ordered that Philip Gooth be allowed and paid the Sum of Six Dollars for making Eight Ballot boxes. Ordered that L. L. Sanders be allowed and paid the Sum of Three Dollars for Doors, Hinges of Screws for ballot boxes."

[32] L. 1845, p. 313-15. A previous act of March 4, 1843 had contemplated the creation of the County of Benton from parts of Morgan and other counties. See L. 1843, p. 105-8.

[33] Commissioiners' Court, v. 1, p. 288, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[34] Illinois Department of Secretary of State, Counties of Illinois, p. 66.

[35] Lewis Cass had achieved a significant record of service to the West (brigadier-general during the War of 1812 and civil governor of Michigan, 1813-1831), and Jackson appointed him Secretary of War - a marked compliment from one general to another. Cass also served as Secretary of State under Buchanan. He was one of the two ante-bellum Democratic candidates to be defeated by a Whig, and will be remembered in American constitutional history as one of the "fathers" of the popular sovereignty idea. See Benson John Lossing, et al., Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History from 485 A. D. to 1905, II, 67.

[36] In answer to a letter from Thomas Wilbourne, president of the Board of Trustees of Beardstown, requesting an extension of time to make the payment, John W. Pratt, county clerk, answered: "I am directed by the county commissioners court to inform you that they have considered the proposition submitted to them from B. G. Gatton through your board and regret that they do not feel themselves authorized by law to accede to it." See Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 109, 110.

[37] L. 1839, p. 287, 288; Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 79.

[38] County Court Record, v. B, p. 52, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[39] L. 1843, p. 102-4; Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 50; Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 440 in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.