The history of Macon county is singular in this, that the first settlers came to stay. The list of genuine pioneers is short, comprising but two or three names.
A pioneer is "one who goes before to clear the way." He is the skirmisher of the van-guard of civilization, and never goes into permanent quarters. He sows the seed, but leaves others to gather the harvest. He is never happy but when upon the frontier. When the tracking columns of those seeking homes appear, he plunges deeper into the western wilderness. Let him not be despised. His mission is to spy out the land and direct the footsteps of the swarming millions behind him.
The first permanent settler of Macon county was Leonard Stevens, Sr. He built a log house in 1821 or '22 (most probably the latter on Stevens' creek, three miles north-west of Decatur. This became the nucleus of what was called the Stevens settlement.
It should be stated that the early settlements were made along the water courses, in the edge of the timber, where an abundance of wood and water was handy. In an early day it was not thought the prairies could ever be settled. In many places they were marshy, and so infested with flies and other insects that the settler was compelled to cross them with a team, and could only travel in the night time.
Mr. Stevens was a native of Connecticut, and was born in 1764. He was married in Connecticut to Alice Gates, also a native of that State, who was born in 1765, and survived her husband one year. Shortly after his marriage he emigrated to New York, where their children were born. They removed to Randolph county, Illinois, in 1818, distinguished as the year in which Illinois was made a State. From there he removed to Macon county. With him came Thomas Cowan, one of the commissioners appointed to select a site for the county seat. Mr. Stevens had a large family; seven sons and two daughters. Their names were Buel, Keziah, Leonard, Jr., Augustus, Luther, Dorus, Joseph, Harriet and James. Joseph died not long since, and at the time of his death, was the oldest settler of the county.
Joseph Stevens was born in New York, in 1808, and was thirteen years of age when he came to this county with his father. In 1830 he was married to Mary Warnick, daughter of William Warnick, the first sheriff of Macon county. He had three children by his first wife, Francis M., Wm. Henry and James M. His second wife was Mrs. Cunningham, nee Sentenay, who was a native of Kentucky. By her he had one child, Cyrus. The descendants of Leonard Stevens were numerous, and some of them are now residents of this county.
The first settlements were on the north and south sides of the Sangamon river. That on the north was known as the Stevens settlement, that on the south as the Ward settlement. Those comprising the Stevens settlements were from New York, Virginia and Ohio, and were called Yankees by those of the other settlement who were from the Carolinas and Tennessee. The felling between the two settlements was not very friendly, and fights were not uncommon. Many of the Ward settlement had served in the army under General Jackson, and were very proud of the fact.
Macon county was organized in 1829. Until 1828 the two settlements included about all the inhabitants who lived within the present limits of the county. In that year a wave of immigration poured into the county, and the settlements began rapidly to extend up and down the river. When Macon county was organized its area was much greater than at present; for it then included all of what is now De Witt county, except the northern tier of townships, all of Piatt except one township, and about half of Moultrie county.
The loss of so much territory occasioned no dissatisfaction, as at that time it was not thought the prairies would ever be cultivated, and the expense of maintaining roads was felt to be a burden. There seems to have been no immigration in 1823, but in 1824 came the Ward families from the vicinity of Vandalia. John Ward, Sr., was a native of England, born in 1769. In his youth he emigrated to South Carolina, where he married Mary Ward, a native of Ireland, born in 1768. They removed to Tennessee, and then in a few years to Logan county, Kentucky, where Mr. Ward died. The mother remained until October, 1819, at which time the family removed to the youthful State of Illinois, settling eleven miles from Vandalia. On arriving in the county they settled on the south side of the river. The family was a large one. The eldest son, Jerry, was born in South Carolina in 1788. He married in Kentucky, removed from this county first to Missouri and then to Texas, where he resided till his death. John Ward, Jr., was also a native of South Carolina, and was married in Kentucky. He had a family of seventeen children; died in 1831 and was buried at Walnut Grove. James, also, was born in South Carolina, and was married in Kentucky. He went ot Missouri, then to Texas, where he died. Sarah, Margaret, Polly and Lucy were all born in South Carolina. Sarah became the wife of William Gambrel, in Kentucky, and died in Texas. Margaret was married in Kentucky to Elisha Freeman, on of the first commissioners of this county. She died in 1873. Polly married William Freeman, and lives in Missouri. Lucy became the wife of Hiram Reavis, and became a resident of Missouri. William was born in South Carolina in 1802, and came to Illinois in 1819. He was the father of Franklin, Hiram and John Ward. The other children were Thomas, born in 1804, who died in Christian county; Nancy, born in 1806, who died in Missouri, and whose children yet live there; and Lewis B., born in 1809. To the latter are we indebted for the information relating to the family.
It seems probable that about the time the Wards came, the Spragues became residents here. Indeed, it is thought by some, that the third house in the county was built by Abraham Sprague, just south of the fair ground, and that the fourth house was built by Hubble Sprague on the site of the fair ground. They came from New York. Another early settler was William King, who settled a short distance south of the Spragues. He probably built on Stevens' creek, in 1826, the first mill in the county. This was afterwards owned by Mr. Renshaw, and was called Renshaw's mill.
The year 1825 witnessed the arrival of quite a number of good citizens. Among them we mention Benj. R. Austin, a native of Virginia, and a surveyor by profession. He laid out the plat for the original town of Decatur; was for many years justice of the peace. He married Margaret Warnick, by whom he had nine children. The same year also came Wm. Warnick, a native of North Carolina, born in 1784. He first moved to Tennessee and thence to this county. He bore a conspicuous and honorable part in the early history of this county; was its first sheriff, holding that office from its organization until 1835; was a captain of rangers during the Black Hawk war, in which he was slightly wounded. It was during his term of office as sheriff that Redmon and Wyatt were whipped, receiving 39 and 21 lashes respectively by order of the court. The sheriff himself laid them on. He died in 1855.
Mr. Warnick's children were John, Margaret, Polly, (who married Joseph Stevens) James, Lucinda, Clark, Ira, Robert, and Sarah. When Abraham Lincoln came with his father to Illinois, he first became a resident of Macon county. His mind was accidentally determined towards the profession of law by the perusal of some law books at the house of "Uncle Billy Warnick." It came about in this way: He went to Uncle Billy's house to see one of the girls, but in going got his feet badly frosted, and was, for a week or ten days, unable to return home. While under the medical treatment of old Mrs. Warnick, he began the study of the stray law-books owned by Uncle Billy.
In 1825 also came David Florey, a native of Virginia, born 1803, and settled in what was soon to be know as Macon county. He was first married to Isabella Wright, also born in Virginia. Jerome Florey was the issue of this union. His second wife was Rachael Rittenhouse, by whom he had three children: J.W., Melissa J. and Franklin. With him came P..D. Williams and Mr. Epperson. David Florey, the well-known farmer and stock raiser, yet lives in Whitmore township. One account states that Mr. Draper came with him, but this is an error, as Mr. Draper did not arrive until nearly three years later. The same year also came Samuel and Joseph Widick, and possibly also Jacob and George. They were brothers of John Widick.
The next year Edmund McDaniel, a young man, came with his family to cast his lot with the feeble settlement. A native of Georgia, he emigrated first to Tennessee, and then to Illinois, settling first near Vandalia. He came to Macon county in 1826. He was married in Kentucky to Margaret Widick, daughter of John Widick and was a member of the first grand jury. He reared a large family, and was a good citizen. Wm. W. McDonald, a good farmer in South Wheatland township, and one of the oldest and most respected residents, came to the county in 1825.
John Widick was born in Virginia, and settled here in 1826. The maiden name of his wife was Cohorine Traughber; she died most probably in 1832. Their union was blessed with eleven children.
Emanuel Widick settled here the same year. He was born in Tennessee in 1806. He married Sarah A. Cox. They both died in 1863; Mr. Widick in March, and Mrs. Widick in December of that year. Their children numbered nine.
In October, 1826, John McMennamy, a native of Tennessee and a brother-in-law of James Ward, arrived. In 1839 he removed to Texas, where he died.
The year 1827 witnessed a greater immigration than any previous one; and from this time on the tide of immigration was to set in more strongly. Prominent amongst the arrivals was Benjamin Wilson, who was one of the first board of county commissioners, and assisted in the organization of the county. He held the office for many years. His native State was North Carolina, from which he emigrated to Tennessee, where he was married to Jane Warnick, a sister of "Uncle Billy," the first sheriff of Macon county. From thence he removed to Illinois with his family, which eventually grew to be a large one; and many of the name are yet in the county. The same year saw the arrival of John Hanks, the friend of Lincoln, and a native of Kentucky, born in 1802. Before leaving Kentucky he married Susan Wilson, whose age was about the same as his own. He settled on Stevens' creek. Two of their children, William and Lewis, were born in Kentucky. Five more were born after their settlement on Stevens' creek.
This year came also Elcridge H. McDaniel, a young man of twenty years, who, notwithstanding his youth, had for a whole year rejoiced in the possession of a wife. His wife's maiden name was Mary Pope. They continued to reside here until their death. Mr. M. died in 1859, and his wife in 1871. They reared a large family.
Dempsey Pope, a native of North Carolina, settled on Mosquito creek in 1827. On leaving his native State he settled first in Tennessee. Before leaving Carolina he was untied in marriage to Sarah Edwards. Eleven children were born to them. Mr. Pope died in 1853/4 and Mrs. P. in 1874.
James and Jones Edwards came to this county with Mr. Pope. They were natives of the same State, and like Mr. Pope, first emigrated to Tennessee, where they remained only a few months. They reached this section in the fall, and at that time there were but sixteen acres of land entered upon the south side of the river. James worked the first year for John Ward, whom he assisted in driving away a band of Kickapoos that had made threats against the Wards. He, in the winter of 1830-31, took Nancy L. Hill to wife. She was a native of Virginia, and came to Illinois in 1829. They had ten children born to them. Jones Edwards, after a residence of twelve or fifteen years in this county, removed to Iowa, where he died.
This year also came Thomas Nelms, from Logan county, Kentucky, and settled here. He died from the effects of a tree falling upon him in 1830. The old settlers relate: "that after this tree was cutdown, and before being split, there was one continuous tingling sound heard, similar to that from the splinters when a tough stick of wood is being split. This continued long after the logs were made into rail and laid up in a fence. the attention of travellers was attracted by the peculiar noise, while they were passing along the road by the side of the fence."
It seems most probable that Michael Myers and Louisa, his wife, nee Atteberry, came the same year. Mr. M. was a native of North Carolina, while his wife was born in Kentucky. They raised a family of seven children.
The next year, 1828, the settlements were further strengthened by an increased immigration. And first we mention Capt. David L. Allen, a native of Virginia, who in the fall of this year, settled on what is now north Water street, Decatur. He was an energetic citizen, and in 1831/2 built the second water mill in the county, which he sold to Robert Moffett. Mr. Allen entered a body of land of which north Water street was the western line, and on this about one-fourth of the city of Decatur is located. Mr. A. made the first lime ever burnt in this county, and owing to its superior quality, it was greatly in demand, much of it going to Springfield to be used for finishing purposes. He was a prominent and useful man.
Samuel Braden was born in Ireland, in 1769, and came to this country shortly after the close of the revolutionary war. After a short stay in Philadelphia he removed to South Carolina, where he married Nancy Young, a native of that state. They moved from thence to Kentucky, thence to Tennessee, and in September, 1828 or '29, came to Macon county. They had three children, and their descendants are numerous. John Y. Braden, of Hickory Point township, is a native of Tennessee, and came to this county in 1829.
Warren D. Baker, a North Carolinian, a young man of 28, who had married Marilla Martin, in Tennessee, arrived in the autumn of this year, and settled in Long Creek township. He was an upright man, and all men spoke well of him. He was a member of the first grand jury of the county. He had five children, two of whom are ministers.
David Davis was born in North Carolina, in 1798. When 17, he moved to Tennessee, and 1828, he came to this county. When 23 he became paralyzed in his lower limbs, and thereafter walked with difficulty. In 1825, he was married to Mary Martin, a native of Tennessee. He had one child at the period of his arrival, and seven more were born to him. Notwithstanding his bodily affliction, by his energy and business capacity he became wealthy. He was one of the judges of the first election, and his name will be found among the county treasurers. He was noted for public spirit, and provided liberal means for beneficent charities.
James Myers became a resident of the county in this year. Born in Kentucky and married to a Kentucky girl, he came at the age of 24, and settled the Henry Davis nursery farm, in Long Creek township.
Ephraim Cox probably arrived here this year. His son, George M. was born April 6, 1830, in Macon county, and married Ellen Downs, who was born in Ohio, March 15, 1832. They had a family of ten children born to them.
Elder Dolliston Hefton was among the early settlers of the county, but the exact date of his arrival cannot now be fixed. He was a "forty gallon Baptist" preacher, and those who once heard his see-saw, sing-song tones while in the pulpit will never forget them. He was the equal in singularity of delivery of the Rev. Mr. Bosang, as pictured by Edward Eggleston. He kept store for a time at Mt. Gillead, and had family household goods and merchandize all in one room. His stock consisted of a barrel of pale whiskey, that must have been well watered, for it would freeze up in winter; some tin-ware and a few dollars' worth of sugar and coffee. His ideas of business corresponded to his stock, for it is said that on one occasion he refused to sell all of his tineware to a customer, saying that it would break his stock.
William Wheeler, Sr., was a native of Virginia, and was married to Elizabeth Hays also a Virginian. Mr. Wheeler and family removed to Illinois, and to Macon county, in 1828. He had nine children, one of whom, William, Jr., was destined to become prominently connected with the civil history of Macon county. A man of great popularity he has been repeatedly elected sheriff, assessor and collector. His daughter Elizabeth became the wife of William Ward, the father of Franklin and Hiram Ward.
Robert Smith, Sr., a native of North Carolina, came to Illinois in 1828, and settled first in Sangamon county. The spring was not far advanced of this year, when he removed to Macon county, and settled six miles south-west of the county seat. He came of good fighting stock, his father having been a soldier in the revolutionary war, and he fought under Jackson, at New Orleans. He was twice married; the first time to Eleanor Wilson, who died in 1824, and who bore him all his children, five in number, and the second time to Jane Allen. Mr. Smith died in 1855.In 1828 came two brothers, William C. and Andrew W. Smith, not related to the Smith above mentioned. Andrew was the older of the brothers, and attained prominence in the early annals of the county. He was a member for several years of the old county court, and was a volunteer in the Black Hawk war, serving in the company of rangers that went out from Macon county. Was twice married, and some of his children are now residents of the county. He died in 1875. William C. and his brother were natives of Tennessee, but on first coming to Illinois settled in Sangamon county. His children are well-known residents of the county.
In this year, J.A. Draper, a highly respected citizen of Mount Zion township, living on section 21, was born here. He had lived here all his life. He married Sarah W. Jones, an Ohio girl, who came here in 1839.
Until 1829, Jan. 19, the portion of Illinois now composing Macon county, formed a part of Shelby. Before the meeting of the legislature Benj. R. Austin, Andrew W. Smith, and John Ward had been selected to go to Vandalia, the capital, and procure, if possible, the passage of an act dividing Shelby and creating the county of Macon. These men were successful in their mission, and the act establishing the new county of Macon was enacted.
Jan. 19, 1829, closed one era of the county's history. The settlement had gained strength slowly but surely. The hard trials incident to pioneer life were not yet over, but the worst was passed. With the increase in population came improvement in condition, and henceforth they were not to be without the ministrations of religion, or the blessings of education (rude though it might be) for their children. As the wilderness became subdued it was to grow more healthful. It is no longer possible to speak at length of the immigrants; they began to pour in more and more rapidly. The year of the county's formation saw the arrival of a comparatively large number. Then came the Dickeys, a large and influential family, of southern descent. William Dickey, a native of Kentucky, came the preceeding year, but David, Alexander C., and John, came in 1829. Then, too, came Gen. Isaac C. Pugh, a man distinguished in the history of Macon county; a member of the second county commissioner's court and several succeeding; the twelfth treasurer of the county, and the first master in chancery, and a captain in the Black Hawk War. Ever foremost in his country's service he served as captain in the Mexican war, and in the war for the Union he was colonel of the 41st Illinois, and was promoted Brigadier General for meritorious services. He was held in high esteem, and was honored by the people with many positions of honor and trust. He was married to Elvira E. Gorin, and by her had eleven children.
In 1829 also came Alexander Bell, Josiah Abrams, Alfred Laymons, Christopher Miller, and James and David Miller. Then, too, came John Scott, Sr., and Francis D., his son. This year also came James Sanders, who was quite a character among the early settlers, and was renowned throughout the settlements for his prodigious strength and endurance. He used to relate with pride that he threw, in a wrestle, Abraham Lincoln, who had thrown the bully of the county. At Uncle Joe Stevens' wedding feats of strength were indulged in, and "Uncle Jimmy" took a piece of lead in each hand wwighing seventy-five pounds, and raised them to a level with his shoulders and then passed them around till they touched in front. He was Mr. Lincoln's most intimate friend, and they were often together at barn and house-raisings, fox-chases and wolf-hunts. He was a native of South Carolina. When he arrived in Illinois he had a wife, five children, four horses and 6 1/4 cents. This year also saw the arrival of the Travis family, who came in March from Wayne county, Ill. There were three brothers, Allen and Thomas Travis, natives of South Carolina, and Finis, who was born in Kentucky. With them came James D. Campbell and Andrew and John Davidson; Samuel Davidson did not arrive until the next year. In the year of the county's creation also came Henry Traughber, a Kentuckian who, after his arrival here wooed and wed Nancy Smith; and Parmenas Smallwood and family. Mr. Smallwood was a useful and honored citizen, and reared a large family of children, some of whom are now living in the county.
In 1829 came John Flora and wife, Mary Ott, with their family to Illinois, reaching his destination in the latter part of December. He moved his family and effects in four wagons drawn by horses, and at length reached John's Hill. Decatur had just been laid out, and Springfield was a market at that time. Mr. Flora entered land from the Government, and in a log cabin the family lived in true pioneer style, dressing in buckskin and wearing coonskin caps. Their beds were made on poles inserted between the logs, and clapboards were placed upon these. There were thirteen children in the family, hence the household was a large one. In Virginia the father owned a saw and grist mill, but after coming to the West he carried on agricultural pursuits. He became well-to-do, and, although he had served in the Revolutionary War and was granted a pension, he would never draw the money.
The members of the family were Sarah and Henry, who died in this county; Katie, on the old homestead; Cynthia and David, both deceased; Eleanor, who died in Long Creek Township; Polly, deceased; Mary Ann; Rhody; Jonathan, a farmer who died in Arkansas (*error in copy, he died in MO); Israel, who died in Urbana, Ohio; Cyrena, who died near Macon; Jackson, who died in this county; Isaac, who died in Virginia; and Virginia Flora Greenfield. About 1825, David, Henry and Cynthia came to Illinois, and in 1829 the rest of the family joined them. This was the winter before the deep snow. They suffered all the experiences and hardships of pioneer life, having to go to Springfield and St. Louis to trade, and they ground their hominy by scooping a hole in the end of a log and making a sweep to pound the corn. At that time Indians were still living in the neighborhood. The long prairie grass waving in the wind looked like the undulations of the ocean. There were deer, wolves and all kinds of game that were used for food.
The census of 1830 showed that the county contained 1122 souls. The emigration continued, but it was not large, while many who had come to settle permanently, disgusted with hardships and chills, which were very common and severe, moved back to the older States, from whence they came, to spread unfavorable reports of the country.
In this year came James M. Baker. Robert Law, who served in Capt. Warnick's company of rangers in the Black Hawk war, came the same year, and with him his brothers, James and John, and his sister Rose Ann; Andrew Hamilton and family, Samuel Rea, who has been honored by his fellow-citizens with positions of responsibility, and who was the soul of integrity; and William Muirhead, who came from Virginia with his family, and settled four miles west of Decatur. William F. Muirhead, who now lives on section thirty-three in Blue Mound township, a successful farmer and stock raiser, and a native of Virginia also, came this year. He afterwards married Margaret J. Hill, who was born in this county. Samuel Hornback and family arrived in September, 1830. Jeremiah Freeman, a public-spirited citizen of Harristown township, was born in this year.
The memorable "deep snow," from which the old settler dates events, occurred in the winter of 1830-31. It was an extraordinary event. Nothing like it has been seen since, and if Indian tradition may be trusted, nothing had been seen like it for more than half a century prior to the advent of the whites in this section. The snow began to fall early in the winter, and continued at intervals throughout the season. The snow falls would be followed by sleets, thus forming crusts of ice between the layers. For weeks at a time the sun hid his face, and the cold was intense, and the suffering among the settlers was great. The snow, compact as it was, reached a depth of three feet on the level, and a much greater depth where it had drifted. Vehicles passed over the tops of staked and ridered fences. So far as known no one starved or was frozen, but great hardships were endured, and in many instances only the greatest exertions kept starvation from the door. Much of the game was almost destroyed, and deer, prairie chickens and quails were scarce for years afterward. Mr. Lincoln lived in Macon county during that terrible winter. Another memorable winter in the early annals of the county was that of 1836, whn the "sudden freeze" occurred. The suffering from cold was most intense, and attended with loss of life to man and beast. The sudden freeze occurred in January, and it was scarcely fifteen minutes from the time the cold wave struck, "before the water and melting snow were hard enough to bear up a horse." The slush froze about the feet of the cattle, and it was necessary to cut them out. Geese and ducks were imprisoned in the same way.
History of Macon County, 1880, pp. 31-35
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