Thayer's Note: When the various counties are mentioned, the boundaries of which changed constantly thruout the period covered by this book, it may be useful to you, as it was to me, to refer to Michael L. Hébert's excellent page of maps, Illinois County Boundaries 1790‑Present.
On each of the successive American frontiers, pioneer life was advanced by the same stages — first a relapse to primitive conditions, followed by the gradual development of a more complex civilization. Illinois was no exception to the rule. Even the pioneer who came to the Illinois wilderness from a region only recently advanced out of the frontier stage encountered inconveniences and privations; the immigrant from New England or from across the water must have found this adjustment to the new conditions very difficult. Fortunately, however, a spirit of hospitality and neighborliness usually accompanied the early settlers and helped them to overcome the difficulties. "When a new-comer arrived in the country," wrote a man who came to Illinois in 1817,
the settlers, without distinction or ceremony, went at once to pay him a visit, whom they usually found in a tent or camp. The warmest sentiments of friendship and good-will were interchanged, the old settlers assuring their new neighbor, that every thing they possessed, in the way of tools, teams, wagons, provisions, and their own personal services, were entirely at his command. Hence, in a few days, all hands, as the phrase then was, turned out, and built the new-comer a house, cut and split his rails, hauled them out, put them up in fence around the land he wished to cultivate, and then his land was broken up for him ready for the seed. Thus, in the space of a few days, the new-comer was in a comfortable condition, well acquainted and upon the best terms of friendship, with the whole neighborhood. And to conclude these friendly attentions to the new-comer, a most joyous and convivial occasion was enjoyed, when the younger portion of the company would trip the light, fantastic toe, over some rough puncheon floor. Thus would be formed the most warm and enduring friendships — such as no ordinary circumstances could disturb.1
The spirit of cooperation did not disappear once the new-comer p160 was established. Whenever a task was to be perfected which required many hands, the neighbors would gather from all directions. Most of the social gatherings in the country
had their origin in utility. Apple parings, quiltings, corn huskings and barn raisings, and often there was a combination of these entertainments, a barn raising, or a corn husking would be held, and at the same time and place there would be a quilting party, and the women guests would help to cook and serve the dinner for the men who were doing the rougher work; and at night the young people stayed to dance, the more opulent ladies going and coming on their horses with habits and side saddles. The less fortunate (or were they less fortunate?) riding behind their husbands, brothers or sweet-hearts on the same horse. Even when neighbors went visiting they carried their knitting or sewing — "calling" in its present sense, there was not.2
But though the frontier men and women managed to combine some pleasure with their work, it was at best a hard life that they led. "There are in England," wrote Fordham, "comforts, nay, sources of happiness, which will for ages be denied to these half savage countries, good houses, good roads, a mild and healthy climate, healthy, because the country is old, society, the arts of life carried almost to perfection, and Laws well administered." There is abundant testimony to the prevalence of disease, especially among the newcomers, who had not become acclimated. In February, 1819, Gershom Flagg wrote from Edwardsville: "The principal objection I have to this Country is its unhealthiness the months of Aug. & Sept. are generally very Sickly. I was taken sick with the feever & ague the 15 Sept. which lasted me nearly two months. I shall try it one season more and if I do not have my health better than I have p161 the season past I shall sell my property and leave the Country."3
Flower gives a more detailed description of his encounter with this disease:
The summer had been very hot and latterly wet. Thunder showers of daily occurrence sent mosquitoes in swarms. My cabin, recently built, of course, of green logs, unfurnished, with rank vegetation growing all around it and up to its very sides, was in its situation and in itself a sufficient cause of disease. My shepherd and his family came, bringing a few choice sheep and an English high-bred cow. His whole family, in a few days, all fell sick, lying in a small cabin just built about a hundred yards from my own. Mr. White, carpenter, from London, wife, and two children, occupied a two-horse wagon and a soldier's tent. There was no house for him; they all fell sick. My two sons were speedily taken with fever and ague, to us then a new disease. Miss Fordham, who shared our cabin, was attacked with the same disease. My constitution, strong and good, yielding from exposure to heat and rain, took another form of disease. Boils and irritable sores broke out on both my legs, from knee to ankle, incapacitating me, for a time, from walking. Thus we were situated for two or three weeks, without the slightest assistance from any source, or supplies other than from my own wagons, as they p162 slowly arrived from Shawneetown, giving us sufficient bedding with flour and bacon. All the other merchandise and furniture did but add to our present embarrassment, in attempts to protect them from the weather, and in endeavoring to dry what was wet.
We were carried through this period of trial by the unremitting labor and self-sacrifice of my wife. She alone prepared all our food and bedding, and attended to the wants of the sick and the suffering by night and day. To all this was added a fatigue that a strong man might have shrunk from, in bringing water from that distant well. Sustained in her unremitting labors by unbounded devotion to her family, and a high sense of duty to all within her reach, her spirit and her power seemed to rise above the manifold trials by which she was surrounded. And thus we were saved from probable death or certain dispersion. The incessant labor of the mother told on the infant at the breast; it sickened and died. With returning health we worked our way unaided through our difficulties.
As Flower indicated, the principal cause of ill health was the stagnant water and decaying vegetation. In October, 1820, Flagg wrote: "Several towns in this state have been very sickly this season especially those situated contiguous to Rivers or mill-Ponds. The waters are very low and in many places covered with a green poison looking skum. The fogs arising from this [sic] stagnated waters makes the air very unwholesome."4 As the country became more thickly settled, and more land was brought under cultivation, this condition was ameliorated. Apparently some of the more enterprising people were not content to leave the remedy to time, but proposed to take action themselves; for in November, 1819, Morris Birkbeck "returned from a tour through Illinois, by way of Kascasky, where he was chosen President of the agricultural society of Illinois, one grand object of which will be, to rid the state of stagnant waters."5
Various other factors doubtless contributed to the poor health of the people in the early days. Fordham reached the conclusion that
p163 there is, upon the whole, a superiority in the Climate of the western Country to that of England; though not so great as I first imagined, or as you would expect from the latitude. Consumptions are almost unknown here. Bilious fevers are rather prevalent, but not dangerous when early attended to. Women have not such good health as the men have; but that is to be attributed to their mode of life, — being always in the house, usually without shoes and stockings, and roasting themselves over large fires.
People are not so long-lived here as in England, and they look old sooner. This I think may be justly attribute to
1st. The universal use of spirituous liquors.
2dly. The disregard of personal comfort and cleanliness, exposure to bad air near swamps &c, and want of good Clothing.
3dly. The great stimulus and excitement of the mental passions, which adventurers and first settlers are, by their situation, subject to.
4thly. (Perhaps) violent religious enthusiasm.
5thly. In some instances, very early marriages.6
While the task of hewing out and developing a farm in the wilderness was undoubtedly an arduous one, many of the pioneers were quite willing to progress slowly. In a land where the soil was fertile and the woods full of game, it was not difficult to make a bare living; and for most of the settlers, this was enough. Gershom Flagg wrote in 1818: "The people of This Territory are from all parts of the United States & do the least work I believe of any people in the world."7 This is corroborated by Daniel M. Parkinson. "The surrounding country, however," he wrote, with reference to Madison County in 1817, "was quite sparsely settled, and destitute of any energy or enterprise among the people; their labors and attention being chiefly confined to the hunting of game, which then abounded, and tilling a small patch of corn for bread, relying on game for the remaining supplies of the table. The inhabitants were of the most generous and hospitable character, and were principally from the southern States; harmony and the utmost good feeling prevailed throughout the country."8
p164 Such descriptions apply particularly to the first comers; and Flagg hastens to add that "these kind of People as soon as the settlements become thick Clear out and go further into the new Country." Even their successors, however, often took their farming operations very casually, and found plenty of time to devote to hunting and recreation of various sorts.
In the villages a favorite form of diversion was the celebration of anniversaries, participated in by the people of the surrounding country. Thus the Fourth of July, 1818, was marked at Kaskaskia by a dinner to which all the people were invited and which was followed by an oration by one of the local lawyers. At Edwardsville, a year later, the day was ushered in by discharges of artillery, while "the American Flag waved triumphantly from the top of a lofty liberty pole." At noon a procession formed and marched through the main streets. After the Declaration of Independence had been read on the public square, dinner was served, followed by appropriate toasts. The Masonic lodge at Kaskaskia was accustomed to celebrate the anniversaries of St. John the Baptist in June and of St. John the Evangelist in December, usually with a dinner and an oration. The annual inspection and review of militia and the occasional elections and court sessions at the county seats also furnished occasions for amusements of various sorts. Horse racing, cock-fighting, and gambling were favorite diversions, although attempts were made to suppress them by laws and ordinances. Everybody played cards, and to play for money was both fashionable and honorable. Another and a somewhat more refined form of recreation was the singing school. There was a singing society in Edwardsville in 1819 which was called to meet at the courthouse for the purpose of organizing a singing school for the coming winter. Three dozen of the "most choice selection of Music Books" had recently been received from Boston.9
Facilities for education were extremely mild in Illinois at the close of the territorial period. A system of public schools was scarcely dreamed of, and the few private schools in existence p165 were very rudimentary in character. Although surveying and bookkeeping were taught in a school near Belleville as early as 1806 and a Mr. Sturgess in 1816 advertised a school at Prairie du Rocher where grammer,º geography, surveying, astronomy, Greek, and Latin would be taught, instruction was generally confined to the "three R's." John Mason Peck, the Baptist missionary, and one of the best-informed men on the frontier in all that pertained to matters of culture, after a survey of educational conditions in the neighboring state of Missouri, where the frontier life was similar to that across the river, reached the conclusion "that at least one-third of the schools were really a public nuisance, and did the people more harm than good; another third about balanced the account, by doing about as much harm as good, and perhaps one-third were advantageous to the community in various degrees."10
The conditions in Illinois were thus described:
During the early history of Illinois, schools were almost unknown in some neighborhoods, and in the most favored districts they were kept up solely by subscription, and only in the winter season, each subscriber agreeing to pay for one or more scholar, or stipulating to pay for his children pro rata for the number of days they should be in attendance. The teacher usually drew up articles of agreement, which stipulated that the school should commence when a specified number of scholars should be subscribed, at the rate of $2, $2.50, or $3 per scholar for the quarter. In these written articles he bound himself to teach spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic, as far as the double rule of three. Occasionally a teacher would venture to include English grammar. But in the earlier years of my youth, I knew of no teacher who attempted to give instruction in grammar or geography. And such branches as history, natural philosophy, or astronomy, were not thought of. Many parents were unwilling that their children should study arithmetic, contending that it was quite unnecessary for farmers. And what was the use of grammar to a person who could talk so as to be understood by everybody? I studied English grammar, and all the latter rules of arithmetic, when about twelve years old, without the aid of a teacher, and geography at a later age, after I had begun to prepare for college.
The mode of conducting schools was peculiar. All the pupils studied their lessons, by spelling or reading aloud simultaneously, while the p166 teacher usually heard each scholar recite alone; although, in the opening of the school, a chapter of the Bible was read by the older scholars by verses, in turn, and at the close in the evening, the whole school, except the beginners, stood up and spelled words in turn, as given out by the master.11
It would naturally be expected that schools of a somewhat better sort would be found in the capital of the territory, but such does not appear to have been the case. As late as November, 1816, the Intelligencer published a long editorial bewailing the lack of a school in Kaskaskia, "a place which must at some day be a towering city." About a year later one J. Cheek published a card "To the Patrons of Literature" in which he
informs the friends and the guardians of erudition that he had opened a school in the town of Kaskaskia, for the instruction of youth, in the different departments of English literature. — He will extend the sphere of instruction, so as to include the following sciences, viz. Reading, Writing, Orthography, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Geography, History, Rhetorick, Composition, Elocution, ect.º He flatters himself that from his attention of the morals and scientifick avocations of his pupils, he will share no inconsiderable portion of the patronage of a judicious and descerningº people.12
A teacher who arrived in Kaskaskia in 1818 appears to have aspired to the role of public entertainer. The paper of December 2 published a notice in which "Mr. Cross respectfully informs his fellow citizens of Kaskaskia, that he will, this evening, ascend the Rostrum, in the Representatives' chamber, and exert his best efforts for their moral amusement." In the next issue of the paper,
Mr. Cross respectfully informs the citizens of Kaskaskia, and its vicinage, that he intends, should sufficient patronage be afforded, to open a school in this town, for the instruction of youth, in Orthography, Orthoepy, Reading, Writing, English Grammar, Arithmetic, and Elocution.
Scholars who shall have graduated in these branches of tuition, will be instructed in the rudiments of History, Geography, Natural Philosophy, and Mathematics.
p167 Mr. C. will endeavor to instill into the minds of his scholars, the vital importance of sound moral principle, and correct manners, which he will elucidate, by a regular course of lectures, every Saturday. As soon as he can procure the necessary appendages his school will be Lancasterian. No advance payment will be required, but a punctual compliance with the terms of subscription, at the expiration of each quarter, is confidently calculated upon.
Mr. C. will, this evening, in the Representative chamber, give various specimens of Elocution, Instructive and amusing, original and selected. Tickets to be had at Burr and Christy's Hotel, and at this office.13
An entertaining side light on the character of the man who thus proposed to instruct the children of the community and to furnish "moral amusement" for his fellow citizens may be learned from the opening paragraphs of a "Masonic Oration" which he delivered a few weeks later and which, printed in full at the request of the committee, filled nine columns of the paper.
That the rostrum has been assigned to me on this august festival, excites feelings which language faulters to impart, and I address you with sensations too strong for entire suppression. Oh permit me, your homeless, healthless brother, an exile from domestic enjoyment, to claim all the indulgence which our sacred relationship affords.
With a resolution and perseverance which I hope will win for the meridian of my life, the esteem and respect of society, and in obedience to my duty as a Mason, I have, under the blessing of the Great Architect, regained the narrow, but Heavenward path of temperance. No longer succumbing to the pressure of misfortune and far superior to the blandishments of indolence and dissipation with which the profession of arms and my sanguine nature have seduced me, I returned towards Missouri, of which I am a citizen, in the hope & belief that domestic happiness would reward my self-conquest, and that a friendship, which had proved as sincere and magnanimous as my delight in looking at the bright side of human nature induced me to believe it would have honored the Grecian Pythyas, awaited my embrace. You know, brethren, how my dearest earthly hopes have been blasted, and how little my heart deserved the remediless infliction.
I stand before you with a lacerated bosom, endeavoring to act with that fortitude and resignation which the principles of our order enjoins [sic]. Believe me, therefore, that I acknowledge with gratitude the influence of the oil and wine which, with the brethren of Columbia, Virginia, p168 Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Illinois, you have poured into my wounds; and, though you have much over-rated my talents by this honorable distinction, gratitude to the fraternity, and my ardent love of the soul-redeeming science of Masonry, must, at least for the day, absorb my individual sufferings.14
These rudimentary attempts at academic instruction were not supplemented to any considerable extent by reading. There were few books among the people of the frontier. A dozen years before Illinois became a state, according to Reynolds, "not a man in the country, professional, or otherwise, had any collection of books, that could acquire the name of library. There were some books scattered through the country, but they were not plenty. Although my father was a reading man, and possessed a strong mind, yet as far as I recollect, he brought to the country with him no books, except the Bible. Many of the immigrants acted in the same manner as to books."15
By 1818, some of the lawyers possessed fair collections of p169 books. In that year, one of the rooms of the market house erected in the English settlement of Albion "was fitted up for the reception of books, that were given by individuals in England, as a nucleus for a public-library, and was used for public-meetings, and public-worship." The credit for the establishment of this institution is due to Richard Flower, and something of its development and of the attitude of the American frontiersman toward books may be seen in an extract from a letter which Flower wrote in January, 1820, to friends in England.
You would have been much amused if you had been with us a few weeks since, when I had a visit from Captain Burke, a sensible and intelligent backwoodsman. He paid me a short visit, put off his business that he might fetch his wife, which he did; we thought we saw through the plan; he returned with her the next day, and we felt disposed to gratify their curiosity. "There wife," said he, "did you ever see such fixings?" He felt the paper, looked in a mirror over our chimney-piece which reflected the cattle grazing in the field before the house, and gazed with amazement. But turning from these sights to the library, — "Now," said he to my wife, "does your old gentleman" (for that is my title here) "read those books?" "Yes," said she, "he has read most of them. — "Why if I was to read half of them, I should drive all the little sense in my head out of it." I replied that we read to increase our sense and our knowledge; but this untutored son of nature could not conceive of this till I took down a volume of Shaw's Zoology. "You, Mr. Burke, are an old hunter, and have met with many snakes in your time. I never saw above one in my life; now if I can tell you about your snakes and deer, and bears and wolves, as much or more than you know, you will see the use of books." I read to him a description of the rattle-snake, and then showed him the plate, and so on. His attention was arrested, and his thirst for knowledge fast increasing. "I never saw an Indian in my life, and yet," said I, "I can tell you all about them." I read again and shewed him a coloured plate. "There," said he, "wife, is it not wonderful, that this gentleman, coming so many miles, should know these things from books only? See ye," said he, pointing to the Indian, "got him to a turn." In short, I never felt more interested for an hour or two, to see how this man's mind thirsted after knowledge; and though he dreaded the appearance of so many books, he seemed, before he left us, as if he could spend his life amongst them.
Our library is now consolidated; and that the kind intentions of yourself and others may not be lost, and that your names may live in our memories and be perpetuated to future generations, I have conveyed all the books presented to us, in trust to the proprietors of the town, p170 for the use of the Albion Library; writing the names of the donors in them; and in my next letter I shall, pro forma, be able to convey to you our united thanks for the books presented. Our little library is the admiration of travellers, and Americans say we have accomplished more in one year, than many new settlements have effected in fifty — a well supplied market, a neat place of worship, and a good library.16
This first public library in Illinois owed its existence to the unusual character of theº founders of Albion and cannot be considered as typical of frontier Illinois. Less than a year after it was founded, however, a subscription library was organized in Edwardsville, though the funds for it evidently were collected with some difficulty. On August 7, 1819, the "Director" gave notice through the Spectator that the books ordered from Boston had arrived, and urged those who were in arrears to pay their subscription, so that they might entitle "themselves and families to the use of one of the best collections of books in the country." Fortunately a catalog of the books in this library in November, 1819 has been preserved; it is worthy of reproduction in full as evidence of the books which were available for reading in this pioneer American community.
American State Papers, in 12 Volumes; Adams' Defense; Burns' Poems; Blair's Lectures; Brydon's Tour; Butler's Hudibras; Beauties of History; Bartram's Travels; Belknap's American Biography; Coeleb's in Search of a Wife; Cowper's Homer, 4 volumes; Campaign in Russia; Carvel's Travels; Camilla, or a Picture of Youth; Clarke's Travels; Christian Researches in Asia; Clarkson's History; Clark's Naval History; Depom's Voyage; Domestic Encyclopedia; Ely's Journal; Elements of Criticism; Ferguson's Roman Republic; The Federalist; Guy Mannering; Gibbon's Rome, 4 volumes; Goldsmith's Works, 6 volumes; Grand Pre's Voyage; Gil Blas, 4 volumes; History of Carraccas; History of Chili; History of Greece; History of Charles Fifth; History of England; Hawkworth's Voyages; Humboldt's New Spain; Jefferson's Notes; Letters of Junius; Marshall's Life of Washington; McFingal, a Modern Epic Poem; Mayo's Ancient Geography and History; Modern Europe; McLeod on the Revelation; McKenzie's Voyage; Moore's Poems; McNevins' Switzerland; Ossian's Poems; Practical Education; Plutarch's Lives; Porter's Travels; Ramsey's Washington; Rob Roy; Rollin's Ancient History, with atlas, 8 volumes; p171 Rumford's Essays; Robertson's America; Scottish Chiefs; Sterne's Works, 5 volumes; Scott's Works, 4 volumes; Salmagundi, 2 volumes; Shakespeare's Plays, 6 volumes; Spectator, 10 volumes; Tales of My Landlord; Telemachus; Warsaw; Travels of Anacharsis; Thompson's Seasons; Turnbull's Voyages; Universal Gazetteer; Vicissitudes Abroad, 6 volumes; Volney's America; Virginia Debates; Vicar of Wakefield; Views of Louisiana; Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry; Watt's Logic; Wealth of Nations; Young's Night Thoughts; Zimmerman on National Pride.17
A century ago, a considerable part of the reading of the people was furnished by newspapers, just as it is now. Besides outside publications, which were probably taken in considerable number, two weekly papers printed in Illinois at the time it became a state were available. The older of these was established at Kaskaskia in 1814 by Matthew Duncan, with the name of Illinois Herald. Its publication was made possible by both federal and territorial patronage, for it was paid liberally for printing the United States laws and proclamations, and had in addition a monopoly of the public printing for the territory. In 1816, probably in April, the paper was sold to "Daniel P. Cook and Co." and the name was changed to Western Intelligencer. Late in May the firm name was changed to "Cook and Blackwell," in September it became "Berry and Cook," and in October it changed once more, this time to "Berry and Blackwell." With the issue of May 27, 1818, the title was changed to Illinois Intelligencer.18
Under a United States law of November 21, 1814, the Secretary of State was "authorized to cause the laws of the United States, passed, or to be passed, during the present or any future session of congress, to be published in two of the public newspapers within each and every territory of the United States; Provided, In his opinion, it shall become necessary and expedient."19 With only one paper printed in the territory it would seem that an opportunity was being missed, and this probably p172 explains the establishment of the second paper in Illinois in the summer of 1818. The promoters of the enterprise were Henry Eddy, a young lawyer, and Peter Kimmel and his sons, printers, all of Pittsburgh. With the aid of Nathaniel Pope, the territorial delegate in Congress, they secured before leaving Pittsburgh authorization for printing the United States laws. Loading a press on a flatboat, they floated down the Ohio to Shawneetown, p173 set up their establishment, and began to publish the Illinois Emigrant. The firm name was Eddy and Kimmel, and it is probable that the editorial work was done by Eddy while the Kimmels, who were somewhat illiterate, ran the printing establishment.20
The weekly issues of both papers consisted of four small pages of four columns each. Rarely were more than two columns devoted to local news and editorial comment. Often a full page or more was required for the printing of national or territorial laws, and further space was occupied by official notices and proclamations. When Congress was in session its proceedings and debates, copied from a Washington paper, were printed at great length, while the proceedings of the territorial legislature and the convention, reported briefly in the Intelligencer, were copied in the Emigrant. The remaining space was filled with foreign news and literary productions in both prose and poetry reprinted from other publications. As a rule about one-fourth of each issue was occupied with advertisements of various sorts. Local merchants called attention to their wares in notices which ran for months without the change of a word; lawyers and physicians published their cards; and those who wanted to buy feather beds, provisions, law books, or servants were told to "enquire of the printer." During a political campaign and occasionally at other times much space was given over to lengthy communications. Often these were published in series and sometimes they took the form of a debate which would drag on and on until the issue under discussion would become almost wholly obscured by personalities.21
The spiritual welfare of the Illinois pioneers was not neglected. The religious observances, with the exception of those of the p174 French Catholics, were of the familiar frontier type. The principal Protestant denominations at the close of the territorial period were the Methodists and the Baptists, the latter classified as "regular," or "hardshell," and separating. Presbyterianism was just beginning to get a foothold. The ministers were of two types — the circuit rider, who covered wide stretches of country and devoted all his time to religious work, and the occasional preacher, who supplemented his meager income from the church by farming or some other occupation. Governor Ford has left an account of the unlearned but zealous frontier preachers, of their sermons, and of the results of their work, which cannot easily be improved upon.
Preachers of the gospel frequently sprung up from the body of the people at home, without previous training, except in religious exercises and in the study of the Holy Scriptures. In those primitive times it was not thought to be necessary that a teacher of religion should be a scholar. It was thought to be his business to preach from a knowledge of the Scriptures alone, to make appeals warm from the heart, to paint heaven and hell to the imagination of the sinner, to terrify him with the one, and to promise the other as a reward for a life of righteousness. However ignorant these first preachers may have been, they could be at no loss to find congregations still more ignorant, so that they were still capable of instructing some one. Many of them added to their knowledge of the Bible, a diligent perusal of Young's Night Thoughts, Watts' hymns, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Hervey's Meditations, a knowledge of which gave more compass to their thoughts, to be expressed in a profuse, flowery language, and raised their feelings to the utmost height of poetical enthusiasm.
Sometimes their sermons turned upon matters of controversy; unlearned arguments on the subject of free grace, baptism, free will, election, faith, good works, justification, sanctification, and the final perseverance of the saints. But that in which they excelled, was the earnestness of their words and manner, leaving no doubt of the strongest conviction in their own minds, and in the vividness of the pictures which they drew of the ineffable blessedness of heaven, and the awful torments of the wicked in the fire and brimstone appointed for eternal punishment. These, with the love of God to sinful men, the sufferings of the Saviour, the dangerous apathy of sinners, and exhortations to repentance, furnished themes for the most vehement and passionate declamations. But above all, they continually inculcated the great principles of justice and sound morality.
p175 As many of these preachers were nearly destitute of learning and knowledge, they made up in loud hallooing and violent action what they lacked in information. And it was a matter of astonishment to what length they could spin out a sermon embracing only a few ideas. The merit of a sermon was measured somewhat by the length of it, by the flowery language of the speaker, and by his vociferation and violent gestures. Nevertheless, these first preachers were of incalculable benefit to the country. They inculcated justice and humanity, and to the sanction of the highest human motives to regard them, added those which arise from a belief of the greatest conceivable amount of rewards and punishments. They were truly patriotic also; for at a time when the country was so poor that no other kind of ministry could have been maintained in it, they preached without charge to the people, working week days to aid the scanty charity of their flocks, in furnishing themselves with a scantier living. They believed with a positive certainty that they saw the souls of men rushing to perdition; and they stepped forward to warn and to save, with all the enthusiasm and self-devotion of a generous man who risks his own life to save his neighbor from drowning. And to them are we indebted for the first Christian character of the Protestant portion of this people.22
The Methodist church was very active during the later territorial period, under the leadership of such vigilant characters as Jesse Walker and Peter Cartwright. In 1818 there were five circuits in the Illinois district, one with three preachers, four with one preacher each. In addition there was a presiding elder for the district. A contemporary account of one of the rounds of Jesse Walker and John Scripps, as written by the latter, will serve to illustrate the character of the work and the difficulties encountered.
He commenced this round at Goshen meeting-house, near the site of the present town of Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday, the 1st of April. Closing his meeting on Monday, the 4th, he traveled a zigzag route, filling daily and nightly appointments in different neighborhoods in the Illinois Circuit, till he arrived at the Big Spring meeting-house on Friday, the 8th, where, in a protracted meeting, he labored till Monday, the 11th. A second week of similar services, through otherwise destitute settlements, brought him to Davis's school-house, below the confluence of the Big Muddy River with the Mississippi, probably one hundred miles south of his starting-point. I found him here on Saturday, the p176 16th, accompanied by Jacob Whitesides (then just putting on the itinerant harness). At this place there were some conversions, and a class of sixteen persons was formed. Jacob Whitesides was sent back to labor in the field of the last week's operations, with directions to form a new circuit, which was eventually effected, and it was denominated the Okaw Circuit.
On Monday, the 18th, Jesse Walker, J. Patterson, and myself set out for the Massac camp-meeting, to be held at the Rock and Cave, on the Ohio River. We traveled this day in an easterly direction, through a generally uninhabited country and almost pathless woods, thirty-two miles, to Thomas Standard's, where a congregation, previously notified by Brother Patterson, awaited our arrival. The exercises of the evening were thrillingly interesting, and continued till midnight. About noon the next day we separated, still tending onward in devious paths to hold night-meetings six or eight miles apart, to meet again the next day, probably again to part for the night, to hold as many meetings as our numbers and the localities of the neighborhood would admit of. On Friday, the 22d, we arrived at the camp-ground. Services commenced immediately upon our arrival, and during the entire progress of the meeting we had precious seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, several conversions, and many accessions to the Church. Brother J. Johnson was with us one of the nights, and preached for us. The meeting broke on Monday. Brother Walker closed the services with an interesting discourse; but Monday night found him several miles on his way to his next appointment, again holding forth to a large congregation in Proctor's meeting-house. But to particularize his labors would swell this account to too great an extent. Suffice it to say that, crossing the Big Wabash near its mouth, we ascended that river in the then Territory of Indiana, crossed the Black River, Patoka and White Rivers, to Brother Johnson's, about twelve miles from Vincennes. By the next Friday, April 29th, the quarterly-meeting for Vincennes Circuit was held. It was a time of power, and closed Monday morning. We made a short travel that day of six or eight miles, and held a night-meeting at Dr. Messick's; the next day, noon, at Harrington's Tavern; at night at Anthony Griffin's, on Black River. We recrossed the Wabash, and commenced the Wabash Quarterly-meeting, Friday, May 6th, at Brother Hannah's, in a block-house, from which our next appointment was one hundred and seventy or eighty miles south-west across the Mississippi, to New Madrid Circuit, Missouri Territory, commencing Friday, the 13th; thence sixty miles north to Cape Girardeau Circuit, May 20th. At both these appointments, and all subsequent to them through the Summer, camp-meetings were held, the necessity for which grew out of the fact that no one-room, or even two-room, log-cabin (and we had no other sort of houses) was capable of entertaining one-half or even one-fourth of Jesse Walker's quarterly-meetings; for his regular p177 Sabbath congregations collected, far and near, from ten, twenty, or thirty miles around, to these attractive centers of religious services. From Cape Girardeau Brother Walker proceeded, by himself, to hold a camp and quarterly meeting on Saline Circuit, commencing Friday, 27th; on the Maramec Circuit, June 3d; Cold Water, 10th; and Missouri Circuit, June 17th; to which appointment, following the circuitous route he had to travel, it was upwards of two hundred miles north; and here, on Monday, the 20th of June, he concluded his second round of meetings, about eighty miles north-west of home, and sixty from Goshen, the commencement of this round, where he again preached in returning to his family, there to enjoy a few day's respite, to repair his itinerant gear, and prepare for the still more extensive operations of the Summer campaign, under the more favorable auspices of shallow streams, better roads, longer days, and the sweltering fervor of a July sun.
Such labors as I have recounted would, in these times of good roads, bridged waters, wealthy friends, comfortable accommodations, and table luxuries, be deemed great; but the circumstances under which Jesse Walker performed them were characterized by difficulties, dangers, privations, and sufferings almost inconceivable in the present improved state of things. Our roads were narrow, winding horse-paths, sometimes scarcely perceptible, and frequently for miles no path at all, amid tangled brushwood, over fallen timber, rocky glens, mountainous precipices; through swamps and low grounds, overflowed or saturated with water for miles together, and consequently muddy, which the breaking up of the Winter and the continued rains gave a continued supply of; the streams some of them large and rapid, swollen to over-flowing, we had to swim on our horses, carrying our saddle-bags on our shoulders. It was a common occurrence, in our journeying, to close our day's ride drenched to the skin by continually descending rains, for which that Spring was remarkable. Our nights were spent, not in two but in one room log-cabins, each generally constituting our evening meeting-house, kitchen, nursery, parlor, dining and bed room, — all within the dimensions of sixteen feet square, and not unfrequently a loom occupying one-fourth of it, together with spinning-wheels and other apparatus for manufacturing their apparel — our congregations requiring our service till ten or twelve o'clock; our supper after dismission, not of select, but of just such aliment as our hospitable entertainers could provide (for hospitable, in the highest sense of the word, they were); corn-cakes, fried bacon, sometimes butter, with milk or herb-tea, or some substitute for coffee. At the Rock and Cave camp-meeting, the measles being very prevalent in the congregation, I took them. Very high fevers were the first symptom; but, unconscious of the cause and nature of my affliction, I continued traveling through all weathers for upwards of two weeks, before the complaint developed its character. My stomach became very delicate, and through a populous part of our journey I inquired p178 for coffee at every house we passed, and was invariably directed to Mr. L's, several miles ahead, as the only probable place for the procurement of the grateful beverage. On making known my wants to Mrs. L., she searched and found a few scattered grains at the bottom of a chest, of which she made us two cupfuls.
We have sometimes sat in the large fire-place, occupying the entire end of a log cabin, and plucked from out the smoke of the chimney above us pieces of dried and smoked venison, or jerk, the only provision the place could afford us, and the only food the inmates had to sustain themselves, till they could obtain it by the cultivation of the soil. Our horses fared worse, in muddy pens, or tied up to saplings or corners of the cabin, regaled with the refuse of the Winter's fodder, sometimes (when we could not restrain over-liberality) with seed-corn, purchased in Kentucky at a dollar per bushel, and brought in small quantities, according to the circumstances of the purchaser, one hundred miles or more at some expense and trouble. This, when they had it, our remonstrances to the contrary could not prevent being pounded in mortars to make us bread. Our lodgings were on beds of various qualities, generally feather-beds, but not unfrequently fodder, chaff, shucks, straw, and sometimes only deer-skins, but always the best the house afforded, either spread on the rough puncheon floor before the fire (from which we must rise early to make room for breakfast operations), or on a patched‑up platform attached to the wall, which not unfrequently would fall down, sometimes in the night, with its triplicate burden of three in a bed. Such incidents would occasion a little mirth among us, but we would soon fix up and be asleep again. Now, I would here remark, that many of these privations could have been avoided by keeping a more direct course from one quarterly-meeting to another, and selecting, with a view to comfort, our lodging-places. But Brother Walker sought not personal comfort so much as the good of souls, and he sought the most destitute, in their most retired recesses, and in their earliest settlements.23
In spite of the tremendous exertions of the pioneer preachers, many of the remote settlements must have been practically devoid of religious observances, and even in the older settlements the influence of occasional visitations, however inspiring they might be, was often lacking in permanence. "The American inhabitants in the Vil[l]ages," wrote John Messinger in 1815, "appear to have very little reverence for christianity or serious things in any point of view."24 Reynolds is authority for p179 the statement that "in early times, in many settlements of Illinois, Sunday was observed by the Americans only as a day of rest from work. They generally were employed in hunting, fishing, getting up their stock, hunting bees, breaking young horses, shooting at marks, horse and foot racing and the like. When the Americans were to make an important journey they generally started on Sunday and never on Friday — they often said 'The better the day the better the deed.' "25
In view of the inadequate facilities for educational and religious developments, the mental quality of the Illinois pioneers was surprisingly high, according to the recollections of Robert W. Patterson. "But in spite of the prejudices and illiteracy of many of our early citizens," he states,
they were by no means an unthinking people, their minds were stimulated by the necessity of invention imposed upon them by their peculiar circumstances; by the political discussions in which they became interested from one election to another; by the moral questions that were debated among them; and, above all, by the religious discourses to which they often listened, and the controversies between the adherents of different sects, in which almost everybody sympathized with one party or another. It was surprising to find men and women of little or no reading, ready to defend their opinions on almost every subject, with plausible, and sometimes exceedingly forcible, reasons. Women, especially, were even more accustomed than now to discuss grave questions which required thought and provoked earnest reflection. Often a woman of unpromising appearance and manners would prove more than a match for a well-educated man in a religious dispute. In one sense the people were intelligent, while they had little of such knowledge as readers usually derive from books. Their intelligence consisted mainly in the results of reflection, and conversations one with another, and in varied information derived from their ancestors by tradition. In respect to knowledge of human nature and judgments upon the characters of men, they were far in advance of many who were learned in literature, science, art, and history; and, accordingly, many men of inferior education in those days competed successfully with rivals who had enjoyed the best early advantages. This was often witnessed in the political conflicts of the times, and in the ministerial, legal, and medical profession.26
1 Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2:327‑328.
2 Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1904, p510.
3 Ogg, Fordham's Personal Narrative, 227; Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1910, pp163‑164.
4 Flower, English Settlement, 122‑123; Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1910, p166.
5 Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 11:162.
6 Ogg, Fordham's Personal Narrative, 200‑201.
7 Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1910, p162.
8 Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2:327.
9 Spectator, October 30, 1819; Reynolds, My Own Times, 82‑86.
10 Babcock, Memoir of Peck, 123; Ford, History of Illinois, 38; Reynolds, My Own Times, 95; Intelligencer, September 5, 1816.
11 Patterson, "Early Society in Southern Illinois," in Fergus Historical Series, no. 14:121‑122.
12 Intelligencer, January 1, 1818.
13 Intelligencer, December 9, 1818.
14 Intelligencer, January 6, 1819.
15 Reynolds, My Own Times, 93.
16 Flower, English Settlement, 133; Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 10:126‑128; Illinois State Historical Society, Journal, 6:248.
17 Illinois State Historical Society, Journal, 6:246‑247.
18 Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals, 28, 211‑212; Intelligencer, passim.
19 Statutes at Large, 3:145.
20 Kimmel to Pope, December 22, 1817, Pope to Adams, January 22, 1818, Adams to Pope, January 23, 1818, in United States State Department, Bureau of Indexes and Archives, Miscellaneous Letters; Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals, xxix, 314. The Shawnee Chief listed by Scott is a myth. The paper was called the Illinois Emigrant from the beginning. There appears to be no evidence that the two papers were the organs of rival parties in 1818.
Thayer's Note: Notwithstanding, a "Shawnee chief" is listed with the dates 1818‑1818 among the newspapers in the Illinois Newspaper Project database, q.v.
22 Ford, History of Illinois, 38‑40.
23 Leaton, Methodism in Illinois, 110‑115, 151.
24 Messinger to Lee, June 30, 1815, Messinger Manuscripts.
25 Reynolds, My Own Times, 60.
26 Patterson, "Early Society in Southern Illinois," in Fergus Historical Series, no. 14:124‑125.
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