History of Will County
The alarms of cruel butcheries and inhuman massacres by the Indians had but ceased to echo through the State of Illinois, and the tracks of the red men were still visible in the soil—the Government having but recently removed them to reservations beyond the Mississippi—when emigrants from all portions of the East and South came pouring into the State. Prior to 1832, many settlements had been made in the southern and northwestern portions of the State; and, in the part of the State now embraced in Will County, a few white people had settled among the Indians. But in the year named, owing to the troubles alluded to, this county, with others near the scene of hostilities, was entirely depopulated, and immigration was temporarily ehecked. As soon, however, as it was apparent that the danger was past, the tide again set in with redoubled volume.
Before the Black Hawk troubles, probably, no white man had ever considered the part of the county now called Wesley Township his home, no traces of white men's cabins, or other improvements being detected two years later. John Williams, who still resides in the township, says that, when he first visited the place, in the Fall of 1833, there were no indications that it had ever before been inhabited except by Indians, and that his little cabin, erected at that time, was the first domicile of that nature ever erected here. Williams was from the Old Dominion, formerly, but had come to the vicinity of Danville in 1831, and was living there when the war broke out. He remembers quite well seeing the troops leave Danville, on their march to Rock River, where Black Hawk was gathering his allies, preparatory to taking possession of that region, and sweeping off the white population who had dared to encroach upon his domain. In 1833, he came to Joliet, and from there out to this place, to select some land, split rails and build a cabin, preparatory to making a permanent settlement the next Spring. In May of the next year, 1834, he moved to the place, occupied his land and began making other improvements. Mr. Williams was then 33 years old, being born in 1801. He still lives at the age of 77, with body and mental faculties unimpaired, and it is to him that we are indebted for most of the early history of the township.
Though Williams was the first to make an improvement in Wesley Township, he was preceded two weeks in its occupation. When Williams came to occupy his new home, he found George M. Beckwith, Andrew Pettijohn and Absalom Heyworth already here, and learned that they had left Indiana about a month before, and had arrived here after a journey of twelve days. Beckwith's brother, Daniel W., had been employed by the Government to survey this portion of the State, and from him Ke had learned of the character of the country, and had moved out. George M. Beckwith was a lawyer, or at least practiced a little in the lower courts, and before Justices of the Peace. He was also a good farmer. He died in 1845, of what is sometimes termed " milk-sickness." His widow afterward married John Frazier, who was also one of the early citizens in this neighborhood.
Daniel Beckwith, to whom allusion has just been made, took a severe cold while engaged in the work spoken of, from which he never recovered, but died in 1834.
A few weeks after Williams settled in his new home, John and Alexander Frazier and James W. and Joseph Kelly, from the same neighborhood in Virginia, made their appearance in the community. These were men whose coming would be a source of congratulation to any neighborhood and at any time; but at the time of which we write were they especially welcome. John Frazier was a man of education, and proved to be one of the most useful and influential citizens of the township. He was the first Supervisor of Wilmington Township, when Wesley constituted a portion of it; and, upon the division, he was elected to the same office from this precinct. There was hardly a position of responsibility and trust but that he has filled, and that with credit to himself and satisfaction to his constituents. He died September 13, 1868, and his brother Alexander about two years later. Arthur Potts and Robert Watkins, from Virginia, and Hamilton Keeney, from the same State, emigrated to this place a little later, arriving in the Fall of 1834. Watkins was a man of good judgment and some education. He was one of the early Justices of the Peace, being elected to the office before the township was organized. Hamilton Keeney was also a leading man.
During the year 1835, quite a number of new settlers made claims and occupied land, among whom are remembered J. T. Davis, George Gay, T. McCarty, Wesley Carter and Griffy Davis. J. T. Davis was an old veteran of the Revolutionary war; was in Washington's army, and in the important capture of the Hessians at Trenton. He used to relate the circumstances attending this movement with great minuteness and much interest. One of his greatest enjoyments was in thus "fighting his battles over again," and many a pleasant hour the younger folks enjoyed in listening to the old soldier's stories. The other Davis, "Griffy," was not a relative of the veteran. He came from Ohio, with his young wife, who took sick almost as soon as she arrived, lingered for six months, and died. This was the first death that occurred in the neighborhood. Rough but kindly hands laid her away in the soil of the strange land, and Davis returned to his native State. The place of burial was marked with only a slight wooden headboard, and, it having long since decayed, the spot is not now known. David Blackwell, though not a permanent settler,, being a Methodist preacher, came in this year, and organized the Church of that denomination.
William Forbes, William Goodwin, John Strunk, Henry Moore, Joseph Hadsel, Daniel McGilvery, John G. Putman and Elias Freer came in during the two years ending 1837. Forbes was a soldier of the war of 1812, and, like Davis, was fond of entertaining his friends with incidents of his soldier life. He was a millwright, and in this trade he is said to have excelled. He was subpoenaed in the great Parker wheel suit, as a witness against the patentees; and, though they had successfully contested the rights of many millers to use their device on account of its "back-action" feature, Forbes showed so conclusively to the Court the fallacy of their claim that not only did they lose this suit, but never afterward attempted to enforce a claim against an infringer. One of the counsel for the plaintiffs declared that Forbes knew more about hydraulics than any other man in America. John Strunk was a son-in-law of Forbes, and was also a miller. He worked in the mills at Wilmington for a time, and afterward moved to Momence, and bought the mill at that place. He died at Momence, about fifteen years ago. William Goodwin was one of the most substantial farmers of Wesley Township. His farm, near the center of the township, is one of the most valuable in this vicinity. William Goodwin died about* (*June 18, 1877) a year ago, at the age of 68 years, leaving a very large estate. Daniel McGilvery was a Scotchman. He died of consumption, in 1856. All of his family have since been taken away by the same disease. Joseph Hadsel was a native of New York, but had lived for a time in Michigan. His family consisted of himself, wife and six children, all of whom, except his wife, now verging on to her fourscore years, and a daughter, wife of the late Duncan McIntyre, of Florence Township, are now dead. One son, Charles, met a torturous death at the hands of the Indians, in New Mexico, whither he was traveling in 1862. Two other sons, Thomas and William, both died the same day, in this township, one of consumption and the other of pleurisy. The older Hadsel passed away in 1852. Elias Freer was a native of New York. His son, Dr. Freer, was one of the most prominent physicians of the Northwest, being, at the time of his death, a couple of years ago, President of Rush Medical College, of Chicago. Another son, L. C. P. Freer, is a prominent lawyer of the same city. Elias Freer removed from the township some years ago.
Some of the old settlers will remember Adam Reinish, of Reinish Creek. Could his history all be known, it would, doubtless, prove an interesting one, as he served in the war between the French and Russians, and was with Napoleon's army in the retreat from Moscow. No one familiar with that wonderful campaign can doubt but that Reinish saw sights that neither pen nor words can faithfully describe. John G. Putnam, mentioned among the early settlers of Wilmington, was also an early settler here, being in this neighborhood as early as 1837.
By the year 1845, many more had joined the settlement, prominent among whom were James Gould, John Kilpatrick, Anson Packard, David Willard, B. F. Morgan, Richard Binney, Robert Kelly and William Killy. Their names are given as nearly in the order of their coming as can now be remembered. James Gould was one of the most solid men of the township. He grew quite wealthy, and when he died, left a large estate, all of which was accumulated here. John Kilpatrick was also a good citizen, and left to the world a legacy of value—a good family. Hon. David Willard is a native of New York. When he first came to the county, he was employed as a laborer by Peter Stewart. He is a man of high standing, politically and socially. He has served the county eight years as County Judge, and in the discharge of his duties gave the most eminent satisfaction. B. F. Morgan is also of New York. He has gained the enviable reputation of being a good citizen. Richard Binney was a native of New York. He was a man of worth and a successful farmer. He died in 1856, leaving a wife, who still survives him. William Killy was from the Isle of Man. All that can be said of a good citizen can be truthfully said of him. He died about eight years ago. His son John occupies the farm; Robert Kelly came from New Orleans. A little incident is related of his coming, which is at the same time interesting and amusing. When Kelly came to the neighborhood, it was with the object of purchasing a piece of land, with a view of making it a home. Having fixed upon a tract belonging to John Kilpatrick, which land was for sale, a bargain was struck, the deed made and the purchase-money paid down—$800, all in Mexican dollars. Kelly, having bought his home, went his way, intending to return the next season to put out a crop and make improvements, and Kilpatrick pocketed his cash, congratulating himself on having made a.good sale. By and by Kilpatrick wished to use some of the money, and it was paid out in various ways—some of it paying bills at the store and other amounts being loaned to neighbors, who used it for different purposes, so that, in a short time, it was all in circulation. All at once it was discovered that the whole lot of coin was bogus. In those times, money did not leave a community and circulate so rapidly as now, so that, although the $800 had all been paid out, it had not left the neighborhood, and small amounts were in the hands of almost everybody. By common consent, and a suspicion that, perhaps, after all, the money was genuine, it continued to circulate and was paid out and taken at par. Gradually the coins became scarcer, indicating that they were finding their way out into the world; but "Kilpatrick's currency" was a standing joke for years after the last piece was seen. Kilpatrick and Kelly were both innocent parties, having both received and paid out the "stuff," supposing it to be good. Kelly returned in the Spring following and occupied his farm, and was much surprised to learn that it had been bought with counterfeit money, and gratified that it had been placed beyond redemption.
Nearly all of the settlers of this neighborhood were Methodists, and one of the first public acts was to organize a society for the purpose of holding religious services. In the Winter of 1834-35, meetings were held, and Rev. David Blackwell was sent by the M. E. Conference to preach. A Church and Sunday school were organized, and these have both continued in operation ever since. Although this society is the only religious organization in the township, and, although it has been quite strong and wealthy, no exclusive church-building has ever been erected. For a number of years, services were held in the little schoolhouse. After a time, when the congregation had outgrown its narrow quarters, it was proposed to build a new schoolhouse of such dimensions as would answer both purposes, and this building has ever since been occupied by the society and the school. The first members of the society or class were John Frazier, James W. Kelly, Hamilton Keeney, John Williams and John Kilpatrick, with their wives. Rev. Mr. Meedham is the present Pastor of the Church.
The first school taught in the township was in John Williams' log kitchen. The school was taught by John Frazier, in the Winter of 1836-37. The next Summer it was deemed expedient to build a house for that purpose. This was the first schoolhouse erected on either bank of the Kankakee River, in what is now Will County. The building is still in use, but not as a schoolhouse. It now serves the ignoble purpose of a lumber-room, on the farm of Frank Childs. The earliest record of schools dates back to 1841, and shows three schools in operation at that time. Of these, Timothy McCarty, James Hadsel and Joseph Dunlap were Directors of District No. 1; James W. Kelly, Robert Watkins and John Williams, of No. 2; and G. M. Beckwith, John Kilpatrick and Nathan Smith, of No. 3.
The school township then, as now, occupied all of Town 32 north, Range 10 east; and, consequently, all of that portion of Custer Township, then settled, was embraced in District No. 3, Nathan Smith being the Director from the "other side of the river." The arbitrary formation of all Congressional towns into school towns, while townships are bounded in many cases, as in this, by different lines, makes it impossible to give exact statistics. At the date named, there were in the school township, 132 children, 45 of whom were in District No. 1; 51 in District No. 2; and 36 in District No. 3. The first name ippearing on the record as School Treasurer, is that of David Willard, who jontinued to exercise the functions of that office until 1865. In 1846, a new iistrict, designated as No. 4, was formed of that portion of No. 3 which lay in Custer, or south of the river. The following table will serve to show the condition of schools at this date:
No. of schools - 10
No. of persons between 6 and 21 - 354
No. of children attending school - 317
Amount paid teachers - $1,824 00
Total expenses for sustaining schools - 2,394 00
The first year after the township organization act was in force in this county, Wesley Township was a part of Wilmington, as was, likewise, Florence. Of these three, John Frazier was elected Supervisor. The next year the township sf Wesley was formed and township officers elected. The first election was held at the schoolhouse, in District No. 2, April 1, 1851. Henry D. Childs was Moderator, and H. B. Putman, Clerk. Fifty-eight votes were cast, of which majorities were declared for John Frazier as Supervisor; Elias Freer, Clerk; David Willard, Assessor; Anson Packard, James Gould and Daniel McGilvery, Commissioners of Highways; B. F. Morgan, Collector; David Willard and Alfred Warner, Justices of the Peace; Daniel Ferris and Palmer Robinson, Constables; and Samuel Jewet, Overseer of the Poor. The present officers are as follows: Harvey Warner, Supervisor; Levi A. Richardson, Clerk; D. B. Ritchey, Collector; H. H. Jones, Assessor; John Ritchey and Amasa Richardson, Justices of the Peace; Charles Muncey, Constable; Joseph Johnson, George Binney and Thomas W. Jones, Commissioners of Highways; and Schuyler Ackerman, School Treasurer.
The notes of the bugle, summoning the loyal men of the country to come forward and rescue the country from the hands of those who would destroy it, were heard and heeded by the brave boys of Wesley; and scarcely had the first blast broken the peaceful stillness which usually precedes the storm, when many who loved country more than homes or kindred, were on their way to the front. Some of them never returned, but their bodies lie in the soil beside those with whom they struggled; others were permitted to return, disabled by wounds or disease, to die at their homes and be laid to rest by friendlier hands, in the little cemetery whither their fathers and kindred had preceded them; and, with thanks to God, who had preserved them through all of the dangers and hardships of the campaign, others returned at the close of the war and are still spared to their friends and to the country which they served so faithfully.
The township of Wesley consists of about twenty-nine sections, being all of Congressional Towns 32 north, Ranges 9 and 10 east of the Third Principal Meridian, lying east and north of the Kankakee River. The land in the north and east parts of the township is first-class, being of rich, deep soil and very productive of corn, hay, rye and oats, large crops of which are raised. The south and west portions are broken by sand ridges, and these are, in a measure, barren. Wheat is grown here to some extent; and John Kelly says that his farm has produced fair crops every year for thirty-nine years.
Of late years, many of the farmers have been giving attention to dairying and a cheese and butter factory has been recently built in the eastern part, by Elnathan Wright, of Manteno, to accommodate that industry. Stone of a good quality, but rather difficult to quarry is found along the bank of the Kankakee. Forked Creek which enters the township in the northeast corner and leaves at the northwest corner, flows, with long and gradual bend, through the central part, affording fine stock-water to th^ farms in its vicinity. Nearly one-half was formerly covered with timber. Much of the best timber, however, has been cut down, and the most of that remaining is valuable for posts and fuel. It is hardly necessary to inform our readers that the township was named in honor of the great apostle of Methodism, John Wesley. The pioneers of this vicinity were nearly all of that persuasion; and when a name was required for it, they bestowed upon it that name which, next to the saints, is dear to every Methodist.