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Greene County, 1818-1821 Jersey County was part of Greene County until 1839. Thanks to Marty Crull and Jersey County Historical Society for this page.
That Paper About Greene
Read by Editor Bradshaw before the Illinois State Historical Society at Springfield last week.
Illinois is a domain comprising 102 counties. Each of these counties has within its borders towns, villages and communities, and these in turn are made up of homes – the homes of the people, the seven or eight million people who really constitute the State of Illinois
The early history of Illinois is a composite photograph of life in these scattered communities and isolated cabins that made the pioneer counties of the state. There were 15 of these counties in 1818, when Illinois became a state. Four more came into existence the following year, and at the session of the General Assembly during Jan. & Feb. 1821, there was increased activity in this line, and seven new counties were formed. The Centennial Anniversary of these counties in the order which they were formed are Lawrence, Greene, Sangamon, Pike, Hamilton, Montgomery and Fayette.
This paper is to deal with the early history of one of the seven – Greene County.
During the spring of the year 1820 several house and barn raisings took place between Apple and Macoupin Creeks, a region that, two years before, had been the uttermost frontier of civilization in the then newly-born State of Illinois. During the summer of that same year there was an occasional “hoss race” within that same territory. In the fall there were husking bees and hunting frolics. These house and barn raisings, these horse races, these husking bees and hunting parties provided the only means by which pioneers of that region could exercise their natural bent as social beings. It was 35 or 40 miles to Edwardsville, the nearest town and their county seat. Not a church nor a school house between the Apple and the Macoupin, nor for many miles in either direction beyond those streams.
Hence the typical social gatherings of a pioneer settlement – the house raisings and husking bees – were well attended functions. Always there was one topic for talk wherever a few of these hardy pioneers gathered. It was the growth and future development of their sparse settlement into a political unit of the sovereign State with a capital of their own – a county, with a county seat located somewhere between Apple and Macoupin Creeks.
The Spring and Summer of 1820 brought many accessions to the scattered settlements of that region, and the rapid growth gave weight to the agitation for forming a new county. The second General Assembly of the State of Illinois assembled at Vandalia, December 4, 1820. The future county, of course, had no representative in that body, and whether it sent any lobbyists over the bridle paths to the new state capital or not, can only be conjectured. Probably that we unnecessary. At any rate, a bill to create the new county was introduced early in the session, was passed January 18 and approved January 20, 1821.
The act creating the county bestowed upon it the name of “Greene,” in honor of Gen. Nathaniel Greene of Revolutionary fame. The boundaries as then defined included all of the present counties of Greene and Jersey, and to this territory was added that of the present counties of Macoupin, Morgan and Scott. Thus the county became “Mother Greene” to a bevy of buxom daughters. Miss Morgan was the first to set up housekeeping for herself in 1823; Macoupin followed in 1829 and Miss Jersey became a matron in 1839. Little Miss Scott remained in the Morgan household until ’39, and then followed the example of her sisters.
The forming of Greene County brought on a contest for the location of the county capital. The contest was short, sharp and decisive. One February 20, 1821 – just a month after the county was created by enactment, the fine commissioners who had been named in the act met at a lone cabin on the prairie and proceeded to consider the eligible sites.
There were several of these. One was a beautiful mound about 3 miles Southwest of the present town of Carrollton. Fifty years afterward a somewhat florid description was written by a man who remembered it as it then was, untouched by the hand of man, and he declard that “the sun in all his wanderings had seldom shone upon a lovelier spot of earth since the day on which the flaming sword was placed at the gates of Eden.” The owner of that spot, Thos. Hobson, confident that no other proposed site could compete with his, had laid out a town on that mound and had it named Mt. Pleasant.
But Hobson was an Englishman who had come out from his native country only a short time before. The War of 1812 had ended, but it left more or less bitterness rankling in the breasts of these pioneers whose lines and homes had been menaced by the Indian allies of the British. This probably had something to do with the result of that contest. But perhaps a greater factor in it was the personality of the man who won.
The official report of the Commissioners, as it appears in the records of the county states that “after examining the most eligible situation in said county, giving due weight and attention to the considerations set forth as to present the future population, etc.” that had concluded that the most suitable place for said seat of justice was a point 88 poles South of the N.E. corner of Section 22, Township 10 North, Range 12 West of the Third Principal Meridian.
The land thus described and selected was owned by one of the Commissioners, but it is said that he refused to vote on fixing the site. The other four were unanimous. The man who did not vote and whose land became the site of Green County’s capital, was Thomas Carlin, afterward sixth Governor of Illinois.
Local historian have been content to add that, after the decision had been made, one of the Commissioners paced fifty yards to the West and said, “Here let the Court House be built,” that the town was immediately laid out and named Carrollton.
Many have since wondered why the town was not named in honor of its founder, and why, a few years later, the county seat of Macoupin was apparently so named. Several years ago a descendent of Governor Carlin – a man who had never been in the West – came out to visit the scene of his grandfather’s pioneering. Quite logically he steered his course to Carlinville, and was puzzled to find there no trace of ancestral records. I do not know why Carlinville was so named; why Carrollton was not is, partly at least, a matter of tradition only.
We can imagine those four other Commissioners suggesting that the town be named for Mr. Carlin, and we imagine him declining the honor with the modesty of real greatness. “Suggest a name, then,” they no doubt said to him. And it is fairly well established that he did suggest the name. Himself a pioneer, he greatly admired those earlier pioneers who laid the foundations of a nation in the Declaration of Independence, and he especially loved the name of that signer of the document who, in order that no British high executioner would be put to the trouble of enquiring, wrote down his name – “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”
And so he gave the town a name, beautiful in itself, honored in history, and significant of courage and fidelity to principal.
Perhaps it would be well at this point to pause a bit in the story itself, an introduce the case of characters in this little drama, “The Birth” – not of a Nation – but “of a County.”
When the Federal Government was unable to send troops to protect the settlers in Illinois from Indian atrocities, encouraged by the British during the war of 1812, the settlers themselves organized as Rangers. One of the camps was at Edwardsville. “For several years,” says Clement Clapp in his history of Greene County, “these brave determined men rode over the bare and silent prairies for hundreds of miles, now chasing a band of fleeing savages, now hurrying to the defense of a threatened settlement. They were almost always constantly in the saddle, rarely slept under a roof, and exercise almost super human viligance in keeping the red men at bay. They were familiar with every feature of Indian warfare and their deeds of daring and endurance have been made the theme of many a thrilling poem or romantic tale.”
Published June 10, 1920, Carrollton Patriot.