Williamson County Early Settlers

The following was extracted from Goodspeed’s “History of Gallatin, Saline, Hamilton, Franklin and Williamson Counties, Illinois” and describes the first settlement of the county. It breaks down each township by who filed the first claims and in what year. The book was published in 1887 and data was likely accumulated in 1885 and 1886. Notes for clarification have been added in parenthesis.


Early Settlers, etc.

The first white men known to have been in the territory of Williamson County were Col. George Rogers Clark and his soldiers, while on their march to Kaskaskia, in 1796. After leaving Fort Massac, in June of that year, this command, consisting of about 150 men, entered the territory of this county at or near the southeast corner thereof, and marched by way of Sarahville to the Thomas Hill place, and then, turning northward, passed a little west of the site of Marion, thence through Phelps and Herrin’s Prairies, crossed the Big Muddy at or near the mouth of Pond Creek, and arrived at Kaskaskia, July 4, 1796.

The first settlement in Franklin County was made in 1804, by the seven Jordan brothers and others, and very soon thereafter Frank Jordan settled in and built a fort (Jordan’s Fort) in what is now Northern Precinct of this county. It was a stockade of timbers enclosing about an acre, and on the inside were a number of log cabins and a well. It was located about fifty yards from Pond Creek, and was afterward and is still known as the “Old Station.” An Indian doctor, by the name of John Dunlap, lived in this fort. “He claimed to have been captured by the Indians when a boy and brought up by them to the practice of medicine. He lived a great many years and followed his profession, and always got his medicine out of the roots and herbs in the woods.”

Francis Jordan was undoubtedly the first settler in the territory of Williamson County, and those who followed him up to and including the year 1822, as given by Milo Erwin in his history of the county, settled at the following dates and places: In 1811, John Phelps, on Phelps Prairie; Jay and McClure, at the Odum Ford; Joseph and Thomas Griffith, at Ward’s Mill; Wm. Donald, on the Hill place; John Maneece (Meneese) and his son James, on Phelps Prairie.

During this year these settlers and some living on the Cache, built a block-house on the John Davis place, west of Marion. It was built of hewed logs, was twenty feet square, was covered with slabs, and had port holes eight feet from the ground. They all went into this fort at night to sleep. A man by the name of Hibbins settled the west side of Herrin’s Prairie during this year, but was compelled to leave it the next.

In 1812, Flannery settled at the Flannery Springs, Richard Bankston on the Spiller farm north of Marion, and a few more at Jordan’s fort. Richard Ratcliff settled on the Roberts farm in Northern (Township).

In 1815, Nathan Arnett settled on the Hinchliff farm, and Abraham Piatt, William Doty and Nelson McDonald settled near him. Solomon Snider and James McDonald moved from Johnson County, and settled in Grassy Precinct. Dempsey Odum settled on the F. C. Kirkham farm, Spencer Crain at Bainbridge and Aaron Youngblood on the Jacob Sanders place.

In 1816, Joshua Tyner, Philip T. Russell and his three sons, and William Campbell settled on the Eight Mile Prairie, William Lindsey on the Samuel Russell place, and Jasper Crain on the west side of the prairie. The latter moved the next year to Phelps’ Prairie.

In 1817, Ragsdall Rollin settled on Phelps Prairie, Isaac Herrin on the Stotlar place in Herrin’s Prairie, Capt. David Springs on the Graves place. John Phelps moved to Union County, and John Roberts bought Ratcliff’s improvements in Northern Precinct, and John Hooker, James Howe and a Mr. Worthen settled near him. In 1818 Samuel K. Perkins settled on Herrin’s Prairie, William Burns and five brothers in

Northern Precinct, Major Lockaleer on the Burns place, George Davis on the Bell place, Dickenson Garrett a little south of the James Edwards place, Hezekiah Garrett on the Ben Eaton farm, and William Norris on Phelps’ Prairie. Elijah Spiller bought out and settled on the Bankston farm.

In 1819, David Herrin settled on Herrin’s Prairie, which was named in honor of Isaac Herrin, its first permanent settler. Sion Mitchell, S. M. Mitchell and Moses Jones settled in Northern Precinct, William and Benjamin Spiller in the Spiller settlement, Abraham Tippy and his son John, a little south of Bainbridge; Sterling Hill at the Hill place, and the Simpkins brothers near thereby.

The year 1820 is signalized by the settlement of Wadkins, and a Negro, the latter being the first colored settler. Dowell Russell settled on the Lewis Park’s place, Mark Robinson on the Kid place, the Shultzes in Saline Precinct, James Stewart and his sons on the Pease farm.

In 1821 David Corder settled the Erwin farm on the east, and George Davis on the west, and Maj. James Corder on the Stilly farm.

In 1822 Hamilton Corder settled where he now lives, Charles Erwin on the farm where he lived and died, Hugh Parks on the Jack Thompson place and Daniel Mosely on the Furlong place. In 1823 William Campbell settled at the site of Blairsville, and Samuel Stacks in Southern Precinct.

These early settlers being scattered as they were, all over the county, had made but little impression on the face of the country prior to 1823. Like the Indians, they depended mostly on hunting for their living. They never dreamed of living to see again a thickly populated community, and having imbibed the spirit of frontier civilization, with its attendant adventures, in a land where game and wild honey were abundant, they seemed content to live in their log cabins, surrounded only with a few acres of cleared land on which they raised corn and vegetables for the partial subsistence of their families, and obtained their meat from the abundant game of the woods.

After the year 1823, the settlement of the county increased more rapidly, though not with great rapidity, as will be observed by reference to the census of 1840, the first one taken after the organization of the county, when the entire population was only 4,457. The early settlers of the county were nearly all from the State of Tennessee, and consequently the most of them were either natives or the descendants of natives of the Carolinas or Virginia. The later settlers were also mostly from Tennessee, but many came from Kentucky, Ohio and other States.

The first settlers exercised squatter’s rights, and settled upon the lands of their own choosing, mostly along the streams, or where a good spring of water could be found, feeling that their rights would never be infringed upon. Many of them did not enter their lands at the land office, and take a patent therefor from the Government, for a long time after the same became subject to entry. Perhaps some delayed acquiring title to avoid taxation, for so long as the title remained in the Government, the lands were not subject to taxation.

The public lands were not made subject to entry until the year 1814, when Francis Jordan entered the first tract of land in the county. Some of the early settlers never entered their lands to acquire title thereto, but sold their improvements to others, who afterward entered the lands and acquired the title. Those who sold their improvements, generally moved farther to the west, either preferring to follow “the star of genial empire,” as it moved westward, or believing that they could find a better land toward the setting sun.

The following lists, the names of nearly all who entered lands in each year, and in each congressional township, prior to the year 1840, are given, viz.:

Township 8 south, Range 1 east (Blairsville Township): 1829, James S. Russell and Richard Tiner (Tyner); 1831, William Wilson; 1836, William T. Ryburn, John Stacks, Hannah Stacks and Isham Minor; 1837, Sarah Hinchcliff, Benjamin W. Thompson, Lewis Hogg, Willis Tiner (Tyner), William B. Sanders, Joshua Tiner (Tyner), Matthew N. Ryburn, Jacob Painter, William Nolen and Albert J. James; 1838, Thomas Burns, John D. Ryburn and James Mannering; 1839, Abraham North, John Woolsey, John N. and Bird T. Ryburn.

Township 9 south, Range 1 east (Carterville Township): 1816, Nathan Arnell, a Baptist preacher; 1817, Nathan Piatt and Wm. Lindsay; 1819, John Smith; 1827, Solomon Snider; 1831, Joseph Kershaw; 1832, Abraham North; 1833, Thomas Jones and Wm. T. Ryburn; 1835, Joseph Renshaw; 1836, Wm. C. Stover, James W. Ryburn, Samuel H. Ryburn, Peter Myers, Ephraim Snyder, and Jasper I. Crain; 1837, Cyrus Campbell, Michael  Snyder and George D. Gordon; 1838, Nancy Bainbridge.

Township 10 south, Range 1 east (Grassy Township): 1818, Solomon Snyder; 1831, John Smith; 1832, Spencer Crain and Oliver H. Wiley; 1834, Martin B. Spiller; 1836, Eli Hutson and Edwin Roach.

Township 8 south, Range 2 east (Herrin Township): 1816, Isaac Herrin ; 1818, Samuel K. Perkins; 1819, William R. Hines; 1829, David Herrin and Emanuel Hunter; 1831, Dudley W. Duncan and Benjamin Chitty; 1832, Josiah Dillard; 1833, William P. Duncan, Benjamin Spiller, James Duncan, Joseph Duncan, Roderick Reed, and Alexander and Jacob Arnett; 1836, Joseph K. Dillard, Robert Lipsey, Hardy W. Perry, Benjamin W. Thompson, Simeon Spiller, John W. Hoffman and Andrew Moak (Moake); 1837, William Harvell, George Cox, Joel Childress, Fred F. Duncan and Andrew Sanders.

Township 9 south, Range 2 east (West Marion Township): 1817, John Nelson, who built the first shingle-roofed house in the county, it being on Phelps Prairie, and the shingles being made by William Benson; 1818, Elijah Spiller, Ragsdall Rollin, John Pi. McFarland and John Norris; 1819, James Duncan, William Spiller and Sterling Hight; 1820, W. S. Duncan; 1829, James Wiley and Reuben Powell; 1833, William H. Duncan, Thomas H. Watson, Henry Robertson, James Sanders, Silas Gratton, Andrew Henry, William Norris, Austin Y. Kelley, Joseph Oglesby and John Stephens; 1836, Warrenton K. Spiller, Elbert C. Spiller, Allen Bainbridge, Thomas G. W. Murphy, William Benson, Noah Grain, Archibald C. Wagoner, Thomas Scurlock, John Davis, William Roberts and Charles Cagle; 1837, Samuel M. N. Dunaway, John Hundley, Samuel Aikman, James M. Campbell and Samuel Cripps; 1839, Giles Connell.

Township 10 south, Range 2 east (Southern Township): 1833, Dickson Ward; 1886, Benjamin McIntosh; 1837, Winfrey L. Grain; 1839, John M. Parks. Only a few entries were made in this township prior to the year 1850.

Township 8 south, Range 3 east (Lake Creek Township): 1830, Robert Worthen; 1833, Jacob Sanders; 1836, James Goddard; 1837, Pleasant L. Finney, William Pike, Jacob Hunter, George W. Binkley and Thomas Sanders; 1838, Robert Martin; 1839, Samuel Beasley. The remark above applies to this township also.

Township 9 south, Range 3 east (East Marion Township): 1816, James L. Cochran; 1817, Richard Bankston; 1819, George Davis; 1828, Samuel Swafford; 1833, William Groves, George Zachariah, James A. Parks, John D. Sanders, Elijah N. Spiller, Dempsey Odum, Timothy Feel and John Eaton; 1836, Luke Simmons, Joseph Grisson, William Pulley, James Campbell, Benjamin Bell, Moses Spring, Joshua Motsinger, John N. Calvert, Joab Goodall, Aaron Alexander, John Bradley, James and William Ellis; 1837, Thomas Harris and Addison Reese; 1838, William Benson; 1839, Robert L. Pulley, Thomas Culbreath, William T. Davis, Nicholas B. Chenoweth and Alfred Ferrell.

Township 10 south, Range 3 east (Creal Springs Township): 1816, Thomas Griffith; 1833, Gabrial Sanders, James Hill and Cutworth Harrison; 1836, Sterling Hill, Thomas Loudon and Henry H. Hudgens; 1838, Elias McDonald. Only a few tracts of land in this township were entered prior to 1850.

Township 8 south, Range 4 east (Corinth Township): 1814, Francis Jordan; 1819, Richard Ratcliff and Thomas Roberts; 1833, Isaiah Harlow; 1836, David M. Logan, Matthew G. Martin, Enoch Newman and Wesley Yost; 1837, Levi Summers, George Whitley, William Francis, James Milligan, William A. Roberts, John S. Roberts and James R. Stewart.

Township 9 south, Range 4 east (Crab Orchard Township): 1817, David Shultz; 1833, Hugh Parks and Elijah Mooneyham; 1836, David Scoby, Aaron Arnold, John Wright, Charles Erwin, Daniel Moseley and Washington Beasley; 1839, William Ferrell and Philip T. Corder.

Township 10 south, Range 4 east (Stonefort Township): 1818, Samuel Deason; 1820, James M. Daniel; 1836, John C. Parks, James Tanner, James Arnold and Elijah Mooneyham; 1837, John T. Davis, Samuel Wright and John E. Gibbs; 1838, John Wright and James Newton; 1839, Thomas D. Davis.

It will be observed that only a few scattering tracts of land in this county were entered prior to the year 1833, when a large number of entries was made, and that the largest number of entries made during any one year prior to 1840 was in the year 1836. During the decade of the forties, but few entries were made. Only about one-fifth of all the land in the county was entered prior to the year 1850. And during the decade of the fifties, more than one-half of all the lands in the county were entered.

After the gradation act was passed by Congress in 1854, reducing the price of the public lands from $1.25 to 12½ cents per acre, they were entered very rapidly for a few years, and until nearly all of the best quality was taken up. Those who made the entries, as mentioned in the foregoing lists, were all early settlers, nearly all of whom located in the townships where their lands were located. For further particulars concerning the early settlers, their disadvantages and inconveniencies, and their manner of living, the reader is referred to this subject in the history of Franklin County, as given in this work.

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(Extracted from Goodspeed’s “History of Gallatin, Saline, Hamilton, Franklin and Williamson Counties, Illinois”, published by Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1887)