Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Organization of Lee County, Illinois

The first and only term of court for Ogle County held while joined with Lee, was held in Dixon as we have seen, in September, 1837. Judge Dan Stone presided. He appointed Thomas Ford to act as state's attorney, and the first term of court was held in the blacksmith shop of James Wilson, which by that time had its floor laid. Notwithstanding the amicable arrangement made by John Dixon and Mr. Phelps of Oregon City, certain disgruntled localities, notably Buffalo Grove, excepted to it in the fear that in the expansion of Dixon, certain to follow on the heels of its selection as county seat, Buffalo Grove as a village must decline inevitably. Some of Grand Detour feared the same results, and so we find the first locality opposing the arrangement strenuously.

To push this bill through the Legislature, Frederick R. Dutcher was selected by the people of Dixon. To oppose it, Virgil A. Bogue of Buffalo Grove was selected. Both went to Vandalia prepared to fight. The remonstrance which Judge Bogue expected to use against the bill was left behind to be signed more liberally when the desired number of signatures had been obtained, it was then to be mailed to him at Vandalia. Everything being thoroughly understood, the judge rested secure in the belief that he would defeat the bill.

The change from Buffalo Grove to Vandalia diet disagreed with the judge and for a couple of days be remained indoors to nurse his indisposition.

Meantime Mr. Dutcher called at the post office to secure for his friend, the judge, the latter's mail. At the first visit the remonstrance came and Mr. Dutcher put it away where it never bothered the Legislature afterwards.

The judge recovered, but his remonstrance did not reach him. Nothing but his eloquence remained and that he proposed to use in the lobby with unexampled persuasiveness.

But here again, Mr. Duteher circumvented the effects of the judge's eloquence in a most effectual manner. The vast majority of the legislators hated abolitionists. The judge was an uncompromising abolitionist and like Owen Lovejoy, he was not afraid to say so. Duteher knew this and so he got Bogue to make a public abolition speech, which many members of the Legislature listened to, his friend Duteher among the number. It was so much of a masterpiece that when the bill came up it passed almost unanimously, and was approved Feb. 27, 1839. Now, pray do not claim for the present generation a monopoly of wit in political schemes!

Frederick R. Duteher named this county Lee, in honor of Light Horse Harry Lee of Revolutionary fame and a national hero of Mr. Duteher's. Thus after many stormy scenes Lee County, as a separate and a legal status, was prepared to act. D. G. Salisbury, E. H. Nichols and L. G. Butler from various parts of the state were appointed by the act to act as commissioners to locate a coonty seat. On May 31, 1839, they selected Dixon. Following is their report:

The undersigned, commissioners appointed by the act creating the county of Lee, approved Feb. 27, 1839, having been duly sworn and after due examination, having due regard to the settlements and the convenience of the present and future population of said county of Lee, do hereby locate the seat of justice for the aforesaid county of Lee at the town of Dixon, and have stuck the stake for the place, or point, at which the public buildings shall be erected, on the quarter section composed of the west half of the northwest quarter of section 4, township 21, range 9, east of the fourth principal meridian, and the east half of the northeast quarter of section 5, same township and range aforesaid.

''And we further report, that, the proprietors and owners of lots in the aforesaid town of Dixon have executed certain bonds guaranteeing the payment of the sum of $6,460, which is exclusive of $1,050, signed by Messrs. Gilbraith, Wilkinson and Dement, which is embraced and included in a bond of $3,000 and included above. Also one bond for a deed of eighty acres of land adjoining the said town of Dixon.

''All of which is respectfully submitted to the county commissioners' court of Lee County.

D. G. Salisbury, [Seal] *
Ethan H. Nichols, [Seal]
L. Qt. Butler, [Seal]
Commissioners.

It was to be expected that Dixon would be selected. Never the less a feeling of relief was felt and expressed at the release of the people from future political quarrels over county seat affairs. The act creating the county fixed the time for an election of county commissioners on the first Monday of August, 1839, at which Charles F. Ingals of Inlet, Nathan R. Whitney of Franklin Grove and James P. Dixon of Dixon were elected our first county commissioners. In the absence of a courthouse, the first school-house was selected in which to hold the first session of what then was denominated the county commissioners' court.

Odd dates figured conspicuously in the early affairs of Lee County. On Friday, the 13th of September, Lee county began business, and who shall say she ever has met an unlucky or unpropitious minute! And who shall say she has failed to keep pace in the race with her 101 sister counties!

Isaac Boardman was elected clerk of the county commissioners' court Aaron Wakeley, sheriff Joseph Crawford, surveyor Harvey Morgan, probate justice or judge, and G. W. Chase, recorder. Instead of the present township and board of supervisor's style adopted in 1850, the older method of county administration by three county commissioners, acting as a court, prevailed.

At this first term of the county commissioner's court, the terms of office of the commissioners were settled as follows: Mr. Ingals, three years Mr. Dixon, two years, and Mr. Whitney, one year. Mr. Dixon was not present during the first session. He qualified Sept. 30, 1839.

The commissioner's per diem was $2.50.

The first business of the commissioners was to lay off Lee County into election precincts:
No. One was known as Gap Grove precinct and it comprised the territory known today as the township of Palmyra.
No. Two was called Dixon.
Precinct No. Three was called Franklin.
Precinct No. Four was called Melugin.
Precinct No. Five was called Inlet.
Precinct No. Six was called Winnebago and it took in the territory now comprising Marion, East Grove, Hamilton and Harmon.

The house of William Martin was selected for the polling place in Gap Grove precinct and William Martin, Thomas J. Harris and William Johnson were appointed judges of election. For precinct two, the polling place was fixed at the schoolhouse in Dixon and the judges of election appointed were James Santee, Samuel M. Bowman and Thomas McCabe. For precinct three, the house of Jeremiah Whipple was selected for a polling place and for judges, Cyrus Chamberlain, Jeremiah Whipple and Don Cooper were selected. For precinct four, the Melugin schoolhouse was selected for a polling place and for judges of election, David A. Town, Zachariah Melugin and John K. Robison were appointed. For precinct five, Inlet, the house of Benjamin Whitaker was made the polling place for elections, and Daniel M. Dewey, David Frost and Asa B. Searles were appointed judges. For the sixth precinct, the house of David Welty was selected as the polling place and for judges David Welty, Henry W. Bogardus and Nathan B. Meek were appointed.

Then as now the subject of better roads was one of paramount importance and we find the records of the county commissioners court which had jurisdiction of the subject, flooded with petitions to review and relocate roads and parts of roads and to view and locate new roads. The first road to come up for consideration before the court was one leading from Dixon's Ferry to Bush's Ferry, downstream a couple of miles. One should believe that with the orders the commissioners gave, it should not have required any order, because invariably, every order to comply with the petition was accompanied with a reservation to the effect that the county was to be put to no expense save the surveyor's fees, and in those cases the record generally showed that somebody deposited them in the county treasury, five dollars, to pay the surveyor, conditioned that the same should be repaid if not used.

The next petition to review and relocate a road was brought in on the same day and asked to relocate the road from Dixon's Ferry to the house of Cyrus Chamberlain. In this case William P. Burrows deposited the $5. But next came a pretty big job for so young a county. It was desired to review and relocate the road running from the ferry to Cleaveland's turnpike and from thence via the west end of East Grove to the south end of Lee County. To do this job, S. M. Bowman, David Welty and Henry W. Bogardus were appointed commissioners. Later it was ordered that an election be held in each of the six precincts to elect, on November 4th, two justices of the peace and two constables in each precinct. Running on down I found one very important item in the history of Lee County. Should the date grub desire to know the date of the first circus held in Lee County, it was Sept. 17, 1839, and for the privilege of holding it the circus of Howe and Sons paid into the Lee county treasury the sum of $10.

Few of you know what a keel boat was. It was the popular river boat for many long and weary years and was not superseded until the steamboat appeared. In point of form it resembled very much the canal boat. All around the top of the bulwarks a platform was built, along which the crew walked forward and back-wards with their long poles with which the boat was propelled. The poles did a good job while going down stream or while floating upon the surface of quiet waters, but while trying to make headway against the wind or the current, the task was nothing short of fearful. The crew were forced to go ashore with a long rope, tie the rope to a tree on the bank and then by bull strength one relay would pull the ropes and another would catch and hold the gain by having the rope wound round the tree tightly enough to prevent any ''give." This was called cordelling. If no trees appeared along the banks, then the crew were compelled to make for the shore and wade in the shallow water and pull the boat along by means of ropes. A sail was used in most instances, but the boats were so clumsy that sails afforded very little assistance. Keel boat crews were noted for their brutality, not to passengers and for their boat songs, sung too while in the act of their most slavish duties. But to apply the case to Lee County: On the payment of $5, Andrews and McMasters were granted by the board of commissioners, the privilege of selling merchandise on board their keel boat in said Lee County until the end of the next term of the county commissioners' court, ''about Oct. 13, 1839.''

On Oct. 2, 1839, the report of the commissioners locating the county seat at Dixon was ordered approved and spread on the records.

First Courthouse and Jail

On Dec 2, 1839, plans for a courthouse and jail were taken up and considered Commissioner Dixon was absent that day.

Messrs. Carpenter and Davy were employed to draft further plans for the courthouse.

On Dec. 26, the clerk was ordered to make out specifications for building a courthouse and jail. On' the next day the clerk submitted them the courthouse must be of stone or brick and the jail of stone and timber. They were accepted and filed, and the clerk was ordered to advertise for sealed proposals, to be opened Jan. 6, 1840. On that date the clerk was ordered to procure plans for jail, to correspond with specifications, and the time to contractors was extended one day when Cyrus E. Miner was paid $3 for draw-ing draft of courthouse roof. This was the great day of days for Dixon. The bids were opened but they must have been insufficient because the board at once ordered that S. M. Bowman and Smith Gilbraith and John Van Arman be communicated with regarding their price for doing certain work not included in the specifications.

Bids could not have been numerous. Zenas Aplington, of Buffalo Grove, and G. G. Holbrook secured the contract for building the jail, for the sum of $1,495, and for the faithful observance of the contract bond was required.

Samuel M. Bowman was given the contract for building the courthouse for the stipulated price, $6,800, and for the extras not included in the original specifications he was to receive $450. Bond was to be executed.

And right here in the midst of all this joy of expansion comes the first official record we have of a death in the new county. Oh this same day, Christopher Brookner was ordered paid the sum of $9 for making a coffin in which to bury Daniel Bremridge, a county charge. Nine dollars! Compare that with the price of a modem equipment in which to be ferried over the Styx!

A study of the struggles of Dixon, a little frontier outpost, to secure the county seat and then to provide funds with which to build the county buildings, furnishes a story of energy and pluck to be found only in a young and unconquerable community. Money was scarce in 1839, frightfully scarce. The effects of the 3837 panic were still hovering over the country. The Internal Improvement, after ruining the state, had collapsed. The people were generous but poor, and yet in order to secure county buildings for county uses, which should be paid for by all those who were to enjoy their benefits, the little village of Dixon was required by the act of the Legislature and the action of the commissioners in selecting Dixon, to provide a block or square of ground upon which to locate the courthouse and to provide money to build that courthouse, and a county jail as well.

It will be noticed by the report of those commissioners, that the block of ground had been offered (by John Dixon). It also will be noticed by their report that eighty acres of land adjoining the town plat had been secured. John Dixon added that to his contribution. It also will be noticed that Messrs. Smith Gilbraith, Wilkinson and Dement, (not John nor Charles Dement) guaranteed by bond to pay $1,050. Others guaranteed by bond, the sum of $6,460, and it also will be noticed that another bond of $3,000, less the one of Gilbraith, et al., of $1,050, was required as the sine qua non for settling the county seat in Dixon.

Lee County's Second Court House

And so the newly elected county commissioners proceeded to build the first county buildings of Lee County.

The first jurors, grand and petit, for the first term of the circuit court, were selected at this time and their names are:

Grand Jurors

William Martin
Noah Bedee
Reuben Eastwood
John H. Page
Oscar F. Ayres
Elijah Bowman
John Brown
Thomas McCabe
Cyrus Chamberlain
Cyrus R. Miner
Erastus DeWolf
David H. Birdsall
George E. Haskell
Daniel M. Dewey
Daniel Baird
James Blair
Joseph F. Abbott
Peter T. Scott
Nathan B. Meek
John Wilson
Zachariah Melugin
John K. Robison
Jacob Kipling

Petit Jurors, 1840

Oliver Hubbard
Simon Fellows
Jonas M. Johnson
Benjamin H. Steward
William F. Bradshaw
Hiram Parks
Jeremiah Murphy
Josiah Mooers
Charles Edson
Joseph Crawford
Samuel C. McClure
John Chamberlain
Edward Morgan
Amos Hussey
Daniel Frost
John Done
Richard F. Adams
Sylvanus Peterson
Asa B. Searls
R. B. Allen
William Guthrie
John Gilmore
David Welty
James S. Bell

From the records in the same office it may be interesting to know the movements of little Cupid in this new and expansive county of Lee! The first three marriage licenses procured in the new county, in their order, are Sept. 24, 1839, Gustavus Witzler and Louisa Dombach, who were married Oct. 10 by Smith Gilbraith, and the license was registered with the clerk Oct. 16. Thus the German was the first to get a new license in the new county and the thrifty German has been coming to this county and he has been growing into fatherhood and grandfatherhood ever since and to those same Germans the county is under lasting obligations. But Mr. Witzler was not the first bridegroom. The second man to get the license beat him: On Oct. 3, 1839, William Hopps (uncle of Clyde Smith of Dixon), who obtained license number two, was the first to wed, so the record says. He and Miss Martha Smith were married by Rev. Charles Morns, minister of the gospel, Oct. 5, and his license was registered Oct. 9. The third to procure a license was Henry W. Cleaveland, who was married to Rowena Smith, Oct. 23, by Rev. James De Pui, an Episcopal clergyman, who established the first Episcopal Church in Dixon. The license was registered Nov. 10, 1839.

Lee County History


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