Knox Township, Knox County, Illinois, goes to par in this, the year of our
Lord, 1919. In the early days of a century ago, as was mete and proper,
counties and towns were named after famous generals of the wars of preceding
years, and Knox County, Knox Township and Knoxville have always pointed with
pride to the brave General Henry Knox, a soldier of the war of the
revolution, who commanded the storming party at the battle of Stony Point.
After a major general and Washington’s secretary of state this Garden of Eden
was named. “For there was nothing base or small, or craven, in his soul’s
broad plan.” In his second annual message to the House of Representatives,
November 6, 1818, President Monroe laid before that body for their advice and
consent the several treaties which had been made with the twenty-five tribes
of Indians. By reference to the journal of commissioners it appeared that
George and Levi Calbert had bargained and sold to the United States the
reservations made to them by the Treaty of 1816, and that a deed of trust had
been made by them to James Jackson of Nashville, Tennessee. He therefore
suggested that in case the Chickasaw Treaty was approved by the senate the
propriety of providing for the payment of the sum stipulated to be given to
them for their reservation. The land upon which Knox County was located was,
therefore, ceded to the United States, August 30th, 1819, just a hundred
years ago. The exact location of the township is number of eleven north of
range two east and is marked by the C.B. & Q. Railway survey as being the
highest point of land and almost equidistant between the Illinois and
Mississippi rivers. According to the state records, Knoxville is the tenth
town incorporated in the State of Illinois. The land is a rich, alluvial
soil, being thoroughly drained on the south by Haw Creek and on the north by
Court Creek. It was on this high point that the Indians and many friendly
tribes passing through from Peoria Lake to the Mississippi River, found a
pleasant home, and there are many evidences that this point was their
headquarters for many years. On the road which led north from Hebard Street,
recently closed, many arrow heads and chips of flint were found. The early
settlers found a cleared plot of ground about a half mile north of town
showing evidences of having been used for raising crops. Surrounding this
field was a dense timber of white and black oak trees of immense size,
growing so closely together that the sun could scarcely shine through the
leaves. But closer and on the border of the clearing, was an abundance of the
wild fruit, including strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, while
immense wild cherry, red and black haw trees bore fruit of most excellent
quality and in great abundance. So carefully had this fruit been cultivated
that even as late as 1860 fruit of rare quality and unlimited quantity was
gathered by the white people.
Old Captain Stevens, a retired naval office, who made his home in Knoxville,
organized a cavalry company of young men of this community and it was on this
spot of land that the company was drilled. When the boys were sufficiently
skilled in the military tactics, P.D. Rogers, for many years proprietor of
the old Hebard House, was elected captain and they were ready to defend the
people from incursions of all foes. Another company, with Captain Hale of the
United States regular army, as drill master, was organized about the year
1855.with their old muzzle-loading guns, they were so proficient that when
the call to arms came in 1861, Knoxville was among the first to respond to
the call by Lincoln for an army of defense. A little later a company of
Zouaves was organized, but the calls for recruits were then so frequent that
its members soon enlisted for “three years or during the war.” At this time
Knoxville was the county seat and this probably accounts for the fact that
the town is credited with sending 547 soldiers to the front during the War of
the Rebellion. When the call came for volunteers for the war with Spain, 29
Knox Township boys responded. During the late World War, 132 responded from
this township to fight for “freedom for all, forever.”
It was in Knox Township that the Indians spent their summers and harvested
their crops, made their preparations for their annual hunt in the region now
known as Wisconsin.
The east part of the State of Illinois in 1790 and the larger part of Indiana
was once named Knox County, but by a change of boundaries, Knox was joined to
Knoxville was a stopping place and trading point for the Indians who lived in
or traded through this locality 75 and more years ago. Sam McFarland, who
lived in Chestnut Township, tells of coming to Knoxville 77 years ago with
his father to see a tribe of Indians pass through this place, it being the
only town of importance between the two rivers. The Black Hawk Indians were
in the habit of coming down from Rock Island with a supply of beaded
moccasins and other specimens of their work to sell to the visitors here.
When less than a century ago wolves and deer roamed in the wild country, now
thousands of sleek cattle browse on the rich pastures.
The first child born in Knox Township was Grace Hansford, whose married name
was Shock. She was the daughter of Dr. Charles Hansford, our first physician,
and she was born in 1834. E.T. Eads, a son of John Eads, was the first boy
born in this city and he first saw the light of day in 1835. Harvey
Montgomery, who is now living on the spot where he was born, is the oldest
child in the township, and has probably lived longer in the county than any
other person now alive. The date of his birth is 1834. He is the largest land
owner in the town, having more than 1,200 acres upon which he pays taxes.
Jacob Gum came here from Menard County in 1827. He was the first student of
the first school taught in the county. The first couple married here was
Alexander Osborne and Ann Hendricks, who were united in the hold bonds of
matrimony July 1, 1829.
Our first post office was established in 18331, and John G. Sanburn was our
first postmaster. The first observance of Independence Day was in what is now
known as Gilbert’s Park on July 4, 1836, and Hon, James Knox was the orator
of the day. The display of fireworks was on the prairie north of the
Knoxville Old Ladies’ Home. Balls of candle wicking were soaked in what was
then known as coal oil and they were lighted and thrown from one side of the
lawn to the other. When the balls began to unravel and streams of fire were
seen flying from one to the other.
The first meeting of the board of supervisors was in Knoxville in 1853. The
first session of the circuit court was held October 1, 1830, Judge Richard M.
Young, presiding. The first jail was built in 1832 at a cost of $250, J.G.
Sunburn being the builder and contractor.
The first men tried for murder in the county was John Root, a Henry County
man. John M. Osborne was the only man ever hung in Knox County, suffering the
death penalty for the murder of Adelia M. Matthews, at Yates City, August 5,
Our first hotel was built on the corner of the public square and West Main
Street and was owned and kept by William Newman. R. L. Hannaman was Knox
Township’s first lawyer, coming here in 1831. The first courthouse was built
in 1831, at a cost of $393.43. Our first alms house was built in 1856. The
Old Settlers’ association was organized in 1867. The Knox County Agricultural
Board was organized in 1851.
Our first county clerk, John G. Sanburn, served from 1830 to 1837. The First
National Bank has been in existence since 1865.
The first mayor of Knoxville was James Price. Knoxville has long been an
educational center. Ewing Female University was established in 1859, and St.
Mary’s School has been in existence since ever since. There are many
interesting stories of people of the early days. Daniel Fuqua came to this
place in 1830—the year of the big snow, when the snow as three feet deep on
the level and all roads were badly drifted.
Uncle Dick Haney, and old-time Methodist minister, tells of a sight which he
witnessed in the early days, when he went into a cabin and saw there a woman
running a spinning wheel with one foot, rocking a cradle with the other, her
hands meanwhile being engaged, one in churning, the other holding the flax as
it was made into yarn. To some this story seems like a fable, but the truth
of the statement was vouched for by others present, the lady being none other
than the wife of Uncle Daniel Fuqua, who, in a reminiscent way, related to
the old settlers’ secretary that he came to Knox County may 2, 1830, landing
at Henderson Grove, coming from Kentucky with oxen and horses, and lived in
an old log cabin the first six months. He took possession of a small clearing
about seven acres and raised a crop of corn. It made about 50 bushels to the
acre and it was all that was needed for the family use. He took a land claim
in the fall and built a double log house on the land. In those days there was
no need of fraternal organizations, for as soon as a newcomer arrived,
provisions were prepared and for miles around they assembled to give what
usually a very home-sick family a hearty welcome to the new home. At this
time there was not a town in Knox County, but shortly afterwards the house of
John Gum was used in which to transact business.
In 1831 Knoxville was laid out and the courthouse was established in a log
cabin, the only houses then known. In the fall of 1830 he broke up five
acres, of land, sowed wheat and raised 250 bushels. Horses trampled out the
grain and a sheet was the fanning mill. This was the winter of the big snow,
three feet deep on the level. This made traveling almost impossible, but with
plenty of corn and an abundance of wild game, such as deer, squirrels, wild
turkeys and chickens they lived in what would now be considered the most
profligate luxury. The tediousness of life was relieved by going to the mill.
There was a good water mill at Rock Island, about 60 miles away, another on
Spoon River, in Fulton County, a third in Stark County and still another in
Warren County. The time spent in these long travels was not considered lost,
for this was their only opportunity to get a glimpse of the outside worked.
Human nature, then, as now, ever sought companionship.
The first ripple in the quiet life of those early inhabitants was the
breaking out in 1831 of the Black Hawk War. The Indians were feared and
dreaded, and to protect the families Fort Gum was built near Henderson. After
a short time their fears were allayed and they returned to their homes. In
1832 block houses were built in different parts of the county and a company
was enlisted. Looms were seen in almost every cabin, and until sheep could be
reared, the clothing was all of flax and cotton. They made a virtue of
necessity and lived within themselves, for money was a scarce article in
1830. Everything was barter and trade. What little money they had was used to
pay taxes. Each of the few first families brought with them a few cooking
implements, but soon the young people began to mate, and then the houses that
enjoyed two cooking implements was fortunate, indeed, for then they could
divide with the young people. There being no stoves, fireplaces were used to
cook over, the kettle hanging from a crane and the hoecake taking on that
delicious toothsome brown while reposing in depths of hot ashes. “How dear to
my heart,” said the old gentleman, as he waxed into a reminiscent mood, “is
the memory of my first attempts at founding a home. I had attained the mature
age of 19 years and my dear wife of blessed memory was a demure maiden of
almost 16, the most beautiful woman and the best the Lord had ever make,
whose life of love and constancy continued through 52 short but happy years.
With what happy expectation I watched her boil water for coffee in an old
cast iron skillet, which was then used to fry the venison, which was kept
warm on the cover, while the same faithful utensil did triple duty on baking
our bread. Our daughters have a local reputation as good cooks, it is true,
but none of them have been able to furnish me a feast so delectable and
satisfying as was this, the first repast eaten with thankfulness and joy
under vine and fig tree.
Our first furniture was indeed crude, but tired nature’s sweet restorer,
balmy sleep, was just as refreshing upon a bed of clapboards, held in
position by poles inserted in holes in the logs of our 14 X 16 cabin. A
clapboard table was a luxury, the making and using of which was enjoyed and
stools and benches making and served instead of the present divans and
“There were no churches in those days, but occasional services were enjoyed
at a centrally located cabin, where all seemed to be fervent in the worship
of the Lord, and who shall blame us if, as now the case, these occasion were
often used to form acquaintances which often resulted in happy alliance?
Matches are made in heaven, it is said: I know there were heavenly matches
made in the old log cabins in those days.”
Politics in Knoxville were always of the independent kind. while the
Republicans usually have a plurality of about 200 when general elections were
held, in spite of the fact that in the county the Democratic vote only varied
29 in five years, and the Republican vote only 49, a Democrat has represented
Knox Township more terms on the board of supervisors than have republicans.
Knoxville has always been considered the center of agricultural industry. She
looks down upon a century of achievement with a pride that is little short of
devotion, and having given to the world such men as Judge Craig, of the
Illinois Supreme Court; Hon. James Knox and Hon. J. H. Lewis to the halls of
the nation’s congress; Hon. R. W. Miles, Hon. P. H. Sanford, Julius Manning
and Henry J. Runkle to grace the halls of Illinois legislature, she feels
that she has done her full share in furnishing men and names by which this
great commonwealth has taken its high place upon the topmost round.
Note: Mr. Campbell gives the date of the laying out of Knoxville as 1831,
instead of the earlier date, given in the county histories.