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

Early Social Institutions

Educational Progress, 1827-1867

    The establishment of schools and churches followed soon after the clearance of the first farms and the growth of the early businesses. The frontier schools were usually constructed by the citizens of the locality who were anxious that their children should be taught how to read, write, and cipher. M. L. Lindsley erected a log-cabin school, near the river bluffs about five miles west of Beardstown as early as 1827. A few years later, Messrs. Beard and Arenz built a log cabin in Beardstown and donated it to the inhabitants of the thriving community for school purposes. Amos Egden did the same for his neighborhood in the northeastern part of the county.[94]

    Some of the early teachers in these log-cabin schoolhouses scattered throughout the county were William Holmes, Mrs. Henry Ingalls, Moses Hurlinson, Thomas S. Berry, and B. F. Nelson. Berry, it was reputed, had made a 900-mile journey on horseback from the State of Virginia to Virginia, Cass County, in 1829 carrying all his belongings in a saddle bag. Of Nelson one author says that he was "'a man of prepossessing appearance, scholarly and gentlemanly in his manners, but entirely without energy and industry.'"[95]

    The first school commissioner was a member of the politically active Plasters family, Thomas, Jr. He was appointed in 1837 and held office until 1841. His successor was Richard S. Thomas who was elected in 1841 and served until 1849. Besides serving as school commissioner Thomas interested in railroads and became the president of the Illinois River Railroad in 1857. Other school commissioners before the Civil War were John B. Shaw, Ebenezer Leonard, and Isaac W. Overall.[96]

    Several important events happened in the latter 1840's which served to promote educational activities. In 1845 Richard S. Thomas was instructed to apportion and distribute the school funds to all the school districts or townships making a proper return of the children under twenty years, in the areas,[97] and in the same year the courthouse at Virginia was given to the school trustees of township 17, north, range 10, west, for a period of ten years (at a sum of $1 per year) to be used for school purposes.[98] Two years later, under the leadership of Henry E. Dummer, the Beardstown Library Association was incorporated to provide library facilities for its members. The trustees of the Association were Virginius A. Turpin, Thomas R. Sanders, James McClure, George H. Nolte, and Henry E. Dummer. The association was allowed to use the room formerly occupied by the clerk of the circuit court for library purposes.[99]

    A very significant educational event was the incorporation of the Virginia Seminary of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1852. The original incorporators of the Seminary were John M. Berry, Abraham H. Goodpasture, Nathan H. Dowing, Elihu Bone, Richard S. Thomas, Mahlon H. L. Schooley, John B. Thompson, Harvey O'Neal and Gilbert Dodds. The objects of the institution were to serve as a seminary of learning for the advancement of religion, science, and the cause of education generally.[100] It was located near Virginia and seems to have disappeared in the 1870's. Its name was changed in 1857 to the Union College of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but the old name was assumed again in 1869.[101] There is also a law dealing with the establishment of the Virginia Female Seminary in 1857, but no mention of it ahs been found in the records of the county court or in secondary sources available.[102]

    Although various state laws had been passed dealing with a system of public instruction of the first comprehensive act was the school law of 1855. Embodying the principal suggestions of the memorial present to the state legislature in 1844 by J. W. Wright of Cook County, H. W. Wead of Fulton, and D. J. Pinkney of Ogle, the law provided for a state superintendent of schools; for a system of county superintendents of schools; and for local taxation sufficient to keep open a free school in every district at least three months a year.[103] By 1867 there were 65 public schools in Cass County in 66 school districts serving 3,306 pupils out of a possible school population of 4,188 (including children between the ages of 6 to 21) having 103 teachers. Two private schools with 70 pupils also existed in the county. The total expenditures for the year ending June, 1867 were $31,303, and the district tax levy for the year was $22,506.[104]


    Religious organizations were established in the county area almost as soon as the settlers arrived, although church buildings like school buildings were not erected until after the inhabitants had established themselves. Among the earliest denominations in the county were the Methodists. The Reverend Levi Springer came to Illinois in the fall of 1823 from Indiana, and settled near the town of Virginia. He and his wife had traveled on horseback and spent their first two nights sleeping in the open prairie with only blankets for protection and the wolves howling in the neighborhood.[105] No church organization seems to have been effected in Virginia, however, until about 1836. In that year an old horse barn was secured and services held therein. The Reverend Springer was a member of this group; but the pastoral duties were performed by the Reverend Enoch Faulkner.[106]

    In Beardstown the Reverend Reddick Horn, also a Methodist preacher, began to conduct services in the  log-cabin used as a schoolhouse in 1832.[107] An amusing incident, illustrating the close tie between religion and politics, is told of the Reverend Horn. One time, during a service in the courthouse in 1838, the Reverend Horn, a Whig, ascended the rostrum to preach. Mr. N. B. Thompson a Democrat, arose, put on his hat, and left the hall. Before Thompson could reach the door the Reverend Horn, in a loud and firm voice, recited the following verse of scripture: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth!"[108] This group built their first church in 1848 at the corner of Fifth and State Streets.[109]

    The Presbyterians were organized at the home of Dr. Charles Chandler by the Reverends Hale and Theron Baldwin in October, 1836. The services were held there until 1841--both Professor J. B. Turner and the Reverend Thomas Lippincott preaching before the group occasionally.[110] In 1847, however, the group turned into a Congregational church.[111] The same incident occurred in Beardstown when the Presbyterian church, formed in 1845, became Congregational in 1850.[112]

    The Reverend Samuel Brockman served the Disciples of Christ church organized at Princeton (later moved to Philadelphia a village southeast of Virginia) in 1837.[113] Princeton was then a thriving town of about 200 in habitants but it rapidly disappeared after 1860 when the Illinois River Railroad missed the town.[114] The Virginia Christian Church was organized two years later (in 1839) by the Reverend William H. Brown.[115]

    According to the records dealing with the admittance of new churches into the Baptist Association, the Sangamon Bottom Church was organized in 1838.[116] The quotation, dated October 3 and 4, 1838 reads: "The Sangamon Bottom Church, consisting of seven members (and) located in Cass County...(was) received into the Association, the hand of fellowship being given to their delegates by the moderator."[117] This church ceased to exist in 1864.[118] The second Baptist church in the county was organized at Virginia in 1841 but it lasted only four years.[119] Two other churches, one at Virginia and one at Beardstown, did not survive the beginning of the Civil War.[120]

    Among the early Baptist preachers in the county were the Reverends Cyrus Wright and William Crow. Although they visited both Beardstown and Virginia during 1827, they did not organize any churches in the county.[121]

    A Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized in Arenzville in 1854. This church paid off its debt on the church building in 1870, and for a time, prospered; but gradually it disappeared.[122] The Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 3 1/2 miles west of Virginia, was organized in 1857 and continued its existence after the Civil War.[123] The Reverend John Dale organized a Presbyterian church at Virginia and erected a building for services in 1857, serving a its pastor until 1862 when he entered the army as a chaplain.[124] G. W. Goodspeed, M. D., petitioned the Presbytery for a formal organization of this church; and it was duly formed as the Presbyterian Church of Virginia on July 4, 1863--he and David Downing being elected and installed as elders.[125]

    The parent denominations of these early frontier churches aided their offspring with money and preachers. The religious conquest of the frontier was prosecuted with real zeal in the Illinois area by the representatives of the frontier-minded denominations. The Methodists especially were very successful in establishing themselves as the largest group in the county. An interesting tale is told by Dr. French regarding one of the churches in Cass erected from funds supplied by eastern religious groups. He wrote:

On my way across Cass County I saw a little place with a rather pretentious name, on of the numerous churches which had little hope of ever being completed. In my eastern home I had often heard from the pulpit appeals for aid for western particularly Illinois churches and there was a pretty steady flow of contributions for that purpose and here was one of the products. The building had got itself inclosed, but if the door or windows had been used they were now gone, and a flock of real sheep sought within a shade from the summer sun. A purer congregation is not conceivable, for not a goat was there.[126]

    The early church-goers did not always distinguish very clearly between the religious services offered by the various denominations. Many were interested in going to church for religious and social reasons: the type of service did not bother them very much as long as it was offered by the prevalent American Protestant denominations. A very keen observation of this important fact was noted by Dr. French during his week's stay in Beardstown in 1848. He said:

Several religious societies existed in the town of Beardstown and as many efforts had been made to erect places of worship but none of them had been brought sufficiently near completion to be used. So by common consent each church in turn used the courthouse as a place of worship. The Episcopalians would meet in the morning, have their spontaneous singing, responses, untied oral prayer, while sitting, responsive reading, etc. In the afternoon, the Presbyterians would assemble, sing the formal hymns first, then read to them, rise for prayer, and sit during the singing and enjoy a formal and well studied sermon all with marked due solemnity. In the evening the Methodists took their turn in the use of the public building, kneeled during prayers, stood in singing and as was their custom in those days relieved any dullness which an observer might feel by individually injecting into the ceremonies a little ejaculatory agreement with sentiments uttered, etc.

Now the queerest part of all this is, that with a half a dozen exceptions in a full house, exactly the same men and women filled the seats and participated in the morning worship, afternoon and night, adapting themselves so well to what was expected of them by the man in the pulpit, or rather on the rostrum, and fullfilling the requirements of each mode of worship.[127]

    The immigrant groups in the county established their own churches. The Irish, German, and other Catholic groups held services in private homes during the early years. In 1833 the Reverend Charles Felix Von Quickenborne, S. J., of St. Louis visited Beardstown and organized one of the oldest parishes in the sate. In 1838 the Reverend J. B. Raho of La Salle visited the county. He described his journey through the area in the following terms: "I discovered about 200 Irish Catholics scattered around a radius of 60 miles of Beardstown. I visited them on foot carrying a carpet bag containing everything necessary for the celebration of Holy Mass and the administration of the Sacraments..."[128] In 1851 the Beardstown Catholic community was favored with a visit by the Right Reverend James Oliver Vandervelde, second bishop of Chicago. He initiated a movement for the erection of a church in the town and contributed $50 from his own funds for that purpose. This church was completed 1852 and was called St. Alexius Church.[129] Catholic societies also existed in Virginia, Arenzville, and Ashland before the Civil War, but no churches were erected until after the war.[130]

    The German Protestant groups organized the first German Evangelical church in Beardstown about 1841. This church became a German Methodist Episcopal church in 1845.[131] In 1850 some members left the church for doctrinal reasons and formed the Evangelical Lutheran church at Beardstown.[132] German religious groups were also prominent in Arenzville and Chandlerville before the Civil War.[133]

Local Newspapers

    The political newspaper appeared very early in the county. The Beardstown Chronicle and Illinois Bounty Land Advertiser, which appeared in June 18, 1833, lasted only until the fall of 1834.[134] For the next twelve years Cass County did not possess a newspaper.[135] On August 15, 1845, however, Sylvester Emmons, a famous anti-Morman leader who had been expelled from Nauvoo the previous year, established the Gazette, a Whig sheet, in Beardstown.[136] The Whigs had carried the county in the presidential elections of 1840 and 8144 by small margins, and succeeded in beating the Democrats again 1848.[137] Emmons ran the Gazette until December 2, 1852 when he sold it to J. L. Sherman. The latter changed the name of the paper to the Beardstown and Petersburg Gazette.[138] The owner of the sheets were changed again in 1854; and it was named the Central Illinoisian--under which title it was published until the Civil War.[139] Other newspapers appeared sporadically during the 50's and 60's; but they either did not last very long or their owners removed them from the county. Among them were the Owl, a reputed "scandal-mongering society paper" which appeared in Virginia from 1848 to 1849;[140] the Virginia Chronicle an ultra-Whig paper put out by a Mr. Tilden from 1847 to 1852 and then removed from the town;[141] and the Democrat issued by W. D. Shurtleff in Beardstown from 1858 to 1865.[142] The last-mentioned newspaper no doubt helped the Democrats continue their control over the county, which they had established in the elections of 1852 and 1856, during the Civil War period--for Lincoln did not carry Cass County either in 1860 or 1864.[143]

German Literary Association

    The presence of  a large number of immigrants from Germany during the ante-bellum period and their contributions to the economic and social life of the county has been pointed out. In 1857 a group of Germans in Beardstown secured a charter for the "German Literary Association of the city and vicinity of Beardstown." The leading spirits of the Association were Christopher H. C. Kaveklut, Frederick Ehrhardt, Frederick Krohe, Ferdinand Gibbers, Alexander Sommers, Emil Lippert, and Joseph Strehlin. The object of the Association was declared to be "to unite Germans, of all creeds and classes, in a literary bond of brotherhood and mutual friendship, in the pursuit of science and literature."[144] With schools, churches, a theological school, a library association, and a  literary association established in the county by 1860, the educational and religious needs of the inhabitants of Cass County were adequately served.

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[94] Bateman, et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 84; Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 31, 77, 112, 146, 148; Conger and Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 290, 291.

[95] Ibid., p. 291.

[96] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 6, 146; County Court Record, v. B, p. 254, 262, 281, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[97] L. 1844, p. 185.

[98] Commissioniers' Court, v. 1, p. 308.

[99] The name of Henry E. Dummer appears quite frequently in the records. He often rendered legal advice to the county and played an important role in the cultural development of the county. He rode the circuit with such famous lawyers as Abraham Lincoln, Orville Hickman Browning, William Brown, and Henry J. Shaw. Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 398, 399, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3. Almost a half a century later the Women's Club of Beardstown secured $10,000 from the Carnegie Fund and built the Beardstown Public Library (1902). See Edward F. Dunne, ed., Illinois the Heart of the Nation, V, 200, 201.

[100] L. 1852, p. 25-27.

[101] Priv. L. 1857, p. 1072, 1073; Priv. L. 1869, I, 49-52.

[102] Priv. L. 1857, p. 843-45.

[103] Samuel Willard, "Brief History of Early Education in Illinois," in Illinois Department of Public Instruction, Biennial Report, 1882-1884, p. cxvii.

[104] Illinois Department of Public Instruction, Seventh Biennial Report, 1867-1868, p. 476, 480, 484.

[105] James Leaton, History of Methodism in Illinois from 1783 to 1832, p. 394.

[106] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 97-102.

[107] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 746-57.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid., p. 750.

[111] Ibid.

[112] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 750.

[113] Nathaniel S. Haynes, History of the Disciples of Christ in Illinois 1819-1914, p. 127, 128.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Edwin S. Walker, History of Springfield Baptist Association, p. 17.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid., p. 107.

[119] Edwin S. Walker, History of Springfield Baptist Association, p. 107

[120] Ibid.

[121] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 751.

[122] Ibid., p. 752.

[123] Ibid.

[124] Ibid., p. 752, 753.

[125] Ibid.

[126] French, "Early Reminiscences," Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1901, p. 61.

[127] French, "Early Reminiscences," Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1901, p. 61

[128] Joseph J. Thompson, Comp., Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Diamond Jubilee History, p. 174.

[129] Joseph J. Thompson, Comp., Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Diamond Jubilee History, p. 174-76.

[130] Ibid., 232, 233.

[131] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 750.

[132] Ibid., p. 751.

[133] Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, Statistical Year-Book 1938, p. 43.

[134] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, 786.

[135] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, 786.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Theodore C. Pease, Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848, p. 117, 149; The Whig Almanac and United States Register (1849), p. 62. The vote in 1840 stood: Whig, 397; Democrat, 315. In 1844, Whig, 423; Democrat, 408, In 1848, Whig, 761; Opposition, 724.

[138] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 786.

[139] Ibid., p 786, 787.

[140] Conger and Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 359.

[141] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 92.

[142] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 782-84.

[143] The Whig Almanac and United States Register (1853), p. 61; The Tribune Almanac and Political Register (1857), p. 60; The Tribune Almanac (1861), p. 56; Ibid., (1865), p. 59. The vote by party for the elections held during the years 1852-1864 was: 1852, Democrat, 830; Whig, 784, In 1856, Democrat, 914; Republican, 303. In 1860, Democrat (Douglas), 1,301; Republican (Lincoln), 1,046. In 1864, Democrat, 1,243; Republican Union, 863.

[144] Priv. L. 1857, p. 421, 422.