EARLY SETTLERS OF DE WITT COUNTY
N - Z
Names In Alpha Order
The biography that follows was published in the Clinton Weekly Register, Clinton, Illinois,
Friday, April 7, 1876, as part of the national centennial celebration.
A copy of the paper was furnished by Phyllis Lymh.
I was born in Jefferson Co., New York, August 27th, 1808, where I resided until I came to
Illinois, in the spring of 1833. I first came to what now constitutes DeWitt county in May of
that year, and in September following commenced improving the farm I now occupy in DeWitt
township. I had no family, consequently was under the necessity of "batching" it until I had
the good fortune to procure a helpmate. The country was wild and uncultivated and covered with
a luxuriant growth of grass and weeds, in many places as high as a man's head on horseback, with
now and then a little cabin along the edge of the timber and a small enclosure recently made,
the nucleus of the future farm. My nearest neighbors were a mile and a half distant. On the
south side of what was then known as "Fork Prairie," commencing at the fork of the timber and
coming up we find Hugh Davenport and Thos. Davis, then came my place, above that James McCord,
Millington Brown, John Heath and Nathan Clearwaters, who lived where Farmer City now stands;
and above that at a little grove lived Henry Huddleston. On the south side of the creek there
were John Donner, Richard Kirby, Dennis Hurley, James Morrison, John Miller and Benjamin Lisenby.
On the north side of the prairie were Felix Jones, Alexander Dale, Josiah Harp and Charles
McCord. These were my nearest neighbors, and there was no lack of kindly feeling amongst them.
No one ever passed a neighbor's house without calling to see if all was well, and in case of
sickness their were as well cared for as they would be in more densely populated communities.
On occasions of house raisings every man within a radius of ten or twelve miles would be present
to assist, sometimes coming the night before the raising and returning the morning after. In
the absence of lumber and other building material, the houses were uniformity built of logs and
covered with split boards, which were held to their place by heavy poles being laid on them, the
roof being always put on the day of the raising. The floors were of split logs, hewed on the
surface, called puncheons. There was always a huge fireplace in one end of the house and a
spacious hearth in front, made by beating moist clay in an opening in the floor, and the jambs
and back wall of the fireplace were made of the same material and in the same way, but occupying
a place outside of the house, an opening being made through the wall for that purpose, upon this
was surmounted the stick chimney, which was plastered with mud mixed with prairie hay to give it
tenacity. The manner in which they prepared their mortar for "daubing" their houses and
plastering their chimneys was primitive and unique in the extreme. A man having a house to
plaster up would dig a quantity of clay, timber soil being the best, mix in the grass and pour
on water enough to make it of the right consistency when mixed, then scattering over it a lot of
shelled corn, he would turn his hogs on it to pick up the corn, and by the time they had got all
the corn the mortar would be well mixed, or, if it was not convenient to use his hogs, he would
drive a yoke of oxen around in a circle on it until it was mixed. At that time there was no
public road nearer than the one running from Decatur to Bloomington, and we were obliged to go
there to perform our road work. We used to pack up our provisions and horse feed in a covered
wagon, go there and camp out until we performed our three days labor, which consisted in
following the line of the road and hacking the trees over again in the timber and in staking it
anew in the prairie. About this time we succeeded in getting a state road located from Paris
to Pekin, more for the purpose of having a place nearer home to apply our road work than for any
need we had for the road. On @s road for severel years we annually hacked and blamed the trees
through the timber and staked it out in the prairie, but never built a bridge or culvert, or
even drained a sloughs and I believe there was never a wagon or team passed over it. The timber
was so open and clear of underbrush and the prairies were unfenced so that people preferred
picking their way on the most eligible ground than being confined to one track, besides the road
was not in the direction of travel and was abandoned as soon as other roads were located where
they were needed. In the fall of 1833 end spring of 1834, our population was considerably
increased. Among the newcomers were Benjamin Day, Hiram Chapin, John Callison, Richard Webb, J.
W. McCord and Tobias Donner. As in most new countries, the "circuit rider" with his saddle-
bags", was here in the van of civilization, performing his monthly trips of one hundred miles or
more in extent and preaching daily to a few of the faithful assembled in private houses. There
were also a few local preachers who held meetings on the Sabbath at some private house in every
neighborhood. In January, 1835, the town of Marion was located by Benjamin Day, covering an
area of ten acres, and a public gale of lots was made in the same month, at which nearly all the
lots were sold at prices ranging from five to twenty dollars per lot. In August, 1835, the
first election was held in Marion precinct at the house of Benjamin Day for two Justices of the
Peace and two Constables, at which Gabriel Watt and Fleming G. Paine were elected justices of
the peace and James Hutchinson was elected constable; the other constable I do not remember. In
1836 Daniel and F. S. Robins opened the first store in Marion and built the first dwelling
houses. In the winter of 1836 and 1837, F. S. Robins taught the first school in town, using
Benjamin Day's kitchen for a school room. About the same time, or perhaps a little before,
there was a school house built in Hurley's Grove, and John Heath occupied it as teacher. For
several years we were destitute of mail privileges, the nearest post-office being at Decatur and
Bloomington. If we received a letter from our friends once a quarter it was all we expected,
and such a thing as a newspaper was a luxury not to be thought of In 1837 the boundaries of
Marion were enlarged by Day's addition of twenty acres and Robins' addition of forty acres. In
the meantime the mechanic arts were plied there to some extent and improvements had progressed
so that by the time the contest for the county seat came it was a town of considerable
You ask me what my occupation is and whether I or my family have ever held any office in this
My occupation has always been that of a farmer. I was elected Justice of the Peace in 1839 and
served one term. I have since served the township twice as assessor. My sons have never held
office in the county.
I have spun this article out to an unreasonable length, but you use such items as suit your
purpose and reject the rest.
I approve of our purpose of preserving the early history of our county, and hope to see it in
book form at some early day.
Very Truly Yours,
Richard D Webb
Mr. Webb was born in Kentucky, and will be 77 years old in May.
He came to this county in the fall of 1833, the first
place he stopped at being Colonel Wallace' house, in the west end
of the county, where he arrived Nov. 16th, 1833. His family
consisted of himself, wife and three daguhters. While moving
from that place, the wagon mired in the mud, and they lay out
there over night, which was the night of the great meteroic
shower of October, 1333. Mr. Webb recollects this distinctly.
The winter of 1833-4 was spent with Col. Wallace, and the next
spring Mr. Webb and his family moved to the vicinity of where
Farmer City now is, and he has resided in that vicinity ever
since. He was the fifth permanent settler, the others being,
in the order of their coming, Dennis Hurley, Richard Kirby,
Henry Huddleston, and Nathan Clearwaters. He settled at the
head of a piece of timber then known as Hurley's Grove, which
was about three miles in length. The country was then in a
very now state. Such a thing as a drain was unknown. There
are many good farms cultivated where he could have once gone
over them in a canoe at almost any season of the year. The
prairie land was not considered of any value, and Mr. Webb
if he had been offered 20,000 acres of prairie free on the con-
dition of his paying taxes on it, he would have refused the
offer. All the settlements were in or at the edge of the timber.
The next fall after moving here he went with his older brother
to the place where Clinton now is, and he remarked to him that
if he had seen the place before he settled, he should have set-
tled there, as he liked it a little better. A short time after-
ward the section was entered to lay off the town of Clinton.
At the time of the first settlement the wolves would come and
take the hens off the roosts. Deer and all kinds of game were
very plenty. Coons were numerous, and would lay around the
ground in the day time much the same as hogs now do. Wolves
would come up and carry off deer from near the house, and then
we would start out after the wolves, and often killed a number
of them. The first church built was one for the Methodist de-
nomination, down in the timber near where W. Y. McCord lives.
For a good many years a school house in the grove was used to
hold services in. The preachers were very ignorant men, mostly
Methodists, but men of intelligence came by-and-by. It was con-
sidered a big crowd at church if there were eight or nine to-
gether. At the first election there were eight or nine votes
cast in this precinct (Mt.Pleasant). Mr. Webb got up and cir-
culated the first petition for a new county, and got nearly 500
signers. The county was to embrace all the country from Goose
Creek to Chaney's Grove, and from the Sangamon timber to the
present western boundary. The object was to get all the valu-
able timber embraced in the new county. If it had not been for
the efforts of Mr. Webb, the present township of Santa Anna
would have been embraced in the county of Piatt, a Mr. Marquis'
a sly old worker, having been circulating a petition for the
forming of Piatt county. Mr. Marquis sent out some men with a
petition, and they brought it to Mr. Webb to get his signature.
After reading the petition he saw that this section of country
would be embraced, and he refused to sign it. He says the men
had been imposed on, and he got down on the floor and marked it
off to show them how it was, and having convinced them that they
had been deceived, they threw down the petition and refused to
carry it any further. So Mr. Marquis' scheme fell through. Mr.
Webb never held any public office except being judge of Mt.
Pleasant precinct at the first election. He and John Danner
went to neighborhoold of LeRoy to be sworn in, and returning
swore in Dennis Hurly, the other judge. Was a judge of election
two or three times while this precinct was embraced in McLean county.
Mr. Webb is now, at the age of 77, quite active, has good
use of his eyes with the aid of glasses, and his hearing
is not impaired to any noticeable extent.