Past and Present of Will County, Illinois
By W. W. Stevens
President of the Will County Pioneers Association
Assisted by an Advisory Board,
consisting of Hon. James G. Elwood, James H. Ferriss,
William Grinton, Mrs. Kate Henderson and A. C. Clement
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Dedicated to the Pioneers of Will County
This township is in the southern part of the county and lying along the north bank of the Kankakee river, which forms the boundary between that township and Custer on the south side of the river. It is a small township having but twenty-eight and a half sections. Lying along the river as it does it is largely covered with timber only a few sections on the north side of the township being free from it and those sections constitute the best part of the township for agricultural purposes, the only occupation pursued by the citizens to any extent. The only railroad in the township is the Wabash which passes through the western part of it and has a small station which has been named Ritchie in honor of one of its early settlers. There are two or three stores in the village, a grain warehouse, school house and one church. There is nothing to build up a town there. What grain raised is shipped by the railroad to Chicago and elsewhere and the trade of the township is mostly in the adjoining town of Wilmington.
The first actual settlers in the township came soon after the Black Hawk war. John Williams built his cabin there in the fall of 1833 and when he came he found George and Daniel W. Beckwith, Andrew Pettijohn and Absalom Heyworth there, haying preceded him but a few days. A few weeks after Williams had got his cabin built, John and Alexander Frazier and James W. and Joseph Kelly came there and built their cabins near his. They were all from Virginia, were good men and made excellent citizens. John Frazier was a man of good education and a very useful and influential citizen. He was the first supervisor of the township while Wesley was yet a part of Wilmington and Florence, and when the townships were separated he was the first supervisor of his own township. There was hardly a position of trust or responsibility in the gift of his township that he did not fill and always with the best of credit for himself as well as his constituents. He died September 13, 1868, and his brother Alexander two years later. Arthur Potts, Robert Watkins and Hamilton Keeney, all from Virginia came and built their cabins in the fall of 1834. Mr. Watkins was one of the first justices of the township and being a man of good judgment was well qualified to fill the position. During the year 1835, quite a number of new settlers came into the township and entered claims and built their cabins. They were J. T. Davis, George Gay, Thos. McCarty, Wesley Carter and Griffy Davis. Mr. J. T. Davis was quite an old man when he came there. He had been a revolutionary soldier having served under Washington at the capture of the Hessians at Trenton. He was a man of much intelligence and could relate circumstances of early life with great minuteness. The other Davis was no relative of the veteran. He came from Ohio and brought with him a young wife who was in very delicate health and the climate not agreeing with her, she soon sickened and died. She was lain away by kind and gentle neighbors and friends in the soil where she had sought a new home, but the place of her burial is wholly obliterated and now unknown. Rev. Daniel Blackwell a Methodist minister came there the same year and organized a church of that denomination but did not remain there long and hence he was not called an early settler. In 1837 William Forbes, William Goodwin, John Strunk, Henry Moore, Joseph Hadsel, Daniel McGilvery, John G. Putnam and Elias Freer came to the township. Mr. Forbes was a soldier of the war of 1812 and like his neighbor Davis, delighted to "fight his battles over again" and would entertain his friends with the many scenes and incidents of his soldier life. He was a mill-wright and in this trade he excelled. He was a witness in the great Parker Wheel suit against the patentees and although they had successfully contested the rights of many millers to use their patent or device on account of its "back action" feature, Forbes showed so conclusively to the court the fallacy of their claim against any infringer that they not only lost the suit, but never attempted to enforce it against anyone thereafter. One of the counsel for the patentees 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 and worked in the mills in Wilmington for several years. He afterwards removed to Momence and bought a mill there. He died in 1863. William Goodwin was one of the most substantial of the farmers in the township. He owned a large farm near the center of the township which was considered to be one of the most valuable in the county. Mr. Goodwin died in 1877. Daniel McGilvery was of Scottish birth. He suffered with that dread disease consumption for many years and finally passed away in 1856. In a few years every member of his family was stricken with the same disease and soon followed him to the grave. Joseph Hadsel was a native of New York, but had lived for a time in Michigan before coming to Wesley. His famih consisted of himself and wife and six children, all of whom we believe have passed to the other shore. Elias Freer was born in New York. His son Dr. Freer was the president of the Rush Medical College in Chicago at the time of his death in 1876. Another son, L. C. P. Freer was for many years a prominent lawyer in Chicago.
Adam Reinish a native of France was an early comer into the township. He had been a soldier in the French armies under the first Napoleon and participated in that memorable retreat of the French army from Moscow in 1812. John G. Putnam who appears among the early pioneers of Wesley is also mentioned as an early settler of Wilmington.
Between the years 1840 and 1845 several more joined the Wesley settlement, among them being: James Goudel, John Kilpatrick, Anson Packard, David Willard, B. F. Morgan, Richard Binney, Robert Kelly and William Killy. James Goudel was a most substantial and solid man of the township and died many years ago leaving a large estate. John Kilpatrick was also a good citizen and left a family that has since proved to be his worthy progeny. David Willard was a native of New York, but came to the township a young man, full of energy and with a determination to make his own way in the world. He was county judge for eight years from 1864 to 1872 and filled the office with ability. He died in Joliet, July 28, 1903. B. F. Morgan was also from New York and had the reputation of being a most excellent citizen. Mr. Binney, also a native of New York was a man of worth and a most successful farmer. He crossed the dark river in 1856. William Killy was from the Isle of Man. He settled in the western part of the township and was a most useful, honest and upright citizen. His son John Killy occupies the old homestead and is a most worthy son of an honorable sire. Mr. Killy, Sr., died in 1870. Robert Kelly came to the township from New Orleans. His object in coming was to buy land in that vicinity and having found a piece that suited him a bargain was soon made and the money paid for it, and now comes the sequel to the transaction. The land he had bought belonged to John Kilpatrick and when he got his deed he paid Kilpatrick $800, all in Mexican silver dollars. Kelly then left with the intention of returning the spring following and putting in a crop on his land. After Kelly left Kilpatrick heartily congratulated himself on the bargain he had made. Soon he began paying out the money. Some went to pay debts and more was loaned out among his neighbors, until it was all paid out. Soon it was noised around that the money was all counterfeit but still it seemed to circulate all right, every one took it at par and no questions asked. So it continued until it had left that community and gone elsewhere to be used as a circulating medium. It had all gone out into the great large world at large and thus became as lost to that neighborhood. When Kelly returned the next spring he was very much surprised to learn that he had paid for his land with bogus coin.
The first settlers of the township were nearly all Methodists and hence one of the first acts of the settlers was to organize a society and hold religious services. That was in the winter of 1834-5, and a Rev. Daniel Blackwell was sent there to preach. That society then organized has continued to the present time. The services were held at first in the cabins of the settlers but soon a school house was built of sufficient size to accommodate the pupils week days and then be used by the society on Sunday for preaching and Sunday school. The first members of the society were John Frazier, James Kelly, Hamilton Keeney, John Williams and John Kilpatrick and their wives. The first school taught in the township was in John Williams' kitchen, and John Frazier was the school teacher. That was in the winter of 1836-7. The next summer it was deemed expedient to build a school house and so the citizens united and put up a log structure that served the purpose of school room and church for many years. When the township organization went into effect in 1850. Wesley, Florence and Wilmington were united in one township and John Frazier was elected supervisor, but the next year Wesley was separated from the other two and was formed into a township by itself with John Frazier again as supervisor. The election was held in the school house in district number two on April 2, 1851, and a full set of township officers was elected.
When the war of the Rebellion broke out and a call for troops was made, Wesley was equal to the much larger towns in population in proportion to its inhabitants and furnished its full quota at every call made. But all who went to war did not return to their homes again. Some died on the field of battle, some died of disease and others gave up their lives for their country in the southern prisons.
The township was named for the great apostle of Methodism, John Wesley. As we have stated above the first settlers were nearly all Methodists and it was but natural that the town should be named for their patron saint.
The only stream in the township, of any size except the river on its southern border is Forked Creek, both branches of which pass through the township. The population of the township in 1900 was 630 and the vote cast was 190.
The schools of the township including the eastern part of Custer township are as follows:
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 228
Number of school districts, 12
Number of teachers, 14
Number of ungraded schools, 12
Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 1068
Loss in thirty years, 840