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Jersey County Page     Jersey County History

Lawlessness 1860s

Notes from Oscar B. Hamilton, Ed., History of Jersey County Illinois, Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1919. Notes from the text only, not an exact transcription. There will be typographical errors.

After the preliminary proclamation by President Lincoln in September 1862, there were many people whose sympathies were with those of their former homes in the southern states. Others opposed the President’s policy from political motives. Others were lawless, vicious, idle persons, some of whom had deserted from one or other of the armies. Some others were officers who had resigned their commissions and returned home.

Since Jersey County was separated from Missouri by only the Mississippi River, the lawless and vicious class only had to cross that river to be beyond the reach of the low, so the result was an increase in any form of crime, especially larceny, robbery, horse stealing, gambling, murder, etc. Intemperate, though not meant to be taken literally, remarks by many of Jersey County’s best citizens encouraged this vicious class. In some areas the friction between the lawless and law abiding citizens was great. People were arrested, confined to jail, and released in a day or so. It seemed nearly impossible to enforce the law through the courts (e.g., the county jailor was indicted for allowing persons to escape).

The Jersey County Horse Thief Detecting Society was organized because horse thieves had harassed the settlers from the beginning of settlements in the area, first Indians, later whites. This led to societies to detect horse theives in the older settlements and later in Jerseyville. Jerseyville became the head association with branches in other settlements in the county. When a horse was stolen, the president notified the members and a chase after the thief ensued for as far as a trace could be found (even past the river). The horse and thief were often returned. Sometimes just the horse and the thief was reported as escaped; but sometimes later the body of a man was found suspended from the limb of a tree. The societies were vigorously maintained until the close of the Civil War.

At Grafton a posse of citizens organized due to the lawlessness, taking the law into their own hands and killing five men. One man who was killed had been surrendered to the posse by the sheriff. The citizens were tried but the juries gave a verdict of not guilty. Such was the condition of the publlic mind and spirit of anxiety and unrest that a Jerseyville Self-Protecting Society was established on August 17, 1864, to protect themselves agains the lawlessness of the times. Clubmen were to arm themselves and serve duty. The signal for a mass meeting of members was, at night, a red light on the courthouse and the firing of the cannon three times. In the day, a white flag on the courthouse and firing the cannon twice. Members wore a badge when on duty. All members were to be above the age of eighteen. Fifty-six more men enrolled at the second meeting. One original member declined to act. One member was expelled for using derogatory language to a gentleman. The members were assessed fifty cents for club expenses.

The Carlin Raid, August 1864. A lawless group led by John Carlin (son of the ex-governor) came from Montgomery County into the northeast part of Jersey County. In a conflict with armed citizens, Carlin was shot and the group disbanded. Citizens became intensely excited and towns and neighborhoods organized for protection, including Otterville. Guards were place on all roads leading through the community.

So many horses were stolen, other robberies, other lawlessness and the rumor that an ex-Lieutenant M. Scott was connected to these crimes that a posse of substantial citizens of Jersey County (Jerseyville and vicinity) surrounded Scott’s residence and arrested him and some of his associates. Some were jailed at Jerseyville. One (Henderson) was taken to the military prison at Alton for fear he would be mobbed. Two (Henderson and Moss) escaped and returned to Jerseyville in disguise. Henderson was recognized, and he shot the arresting officer and escaped to Fidelity. Henderson and Moss, on a drunken spree, November 7, 1864, had a conflict with the Fidelity citizens and three citizens were killed. Moss, Scott and Henderson fled, but they were followed by a constable and posse from Fidelity. Another posse who had found Henderson wounded, turned him over to the Fidelity posse and constable. While they were returning with him to Fidelity, Henders was shot and instantly killed by some person. His body was place in an unmarked grave and cannot now be located. Moss was caught; and after a trial, he was executed on September 1, 1865, by hanging at Jerseyville. This was the only execution of the death penalty within Jersey County since it was organized. While Moss was in jail, citizens voluntarily contributed to a fund to keep a close guard around the jail to prevent his escape. Moss and Henderson were from Missouri.

Jersey County Page     Jersey County History
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