Hardin County

1939 Shawneetown and Early Records

No history of Hardin County would be complete without mention of Shawneetown. Up until 1816 all of Hardin was included in the county of Gallatin, of which Shawneetown was the county seat. After 1816 and until 1839 southwestern Hardin was included in Pope County. But the northeastern part remained in Gallatin until 1847.

Through all these years, particularly the early ones, Shawneetown was the metropolis of Southern Illinois. It was never a large place; floods and a malarial location kept its size down to less than one hundred buildings; but it was a thriving place with its brick bank, its newspaper, its brick hotel where Lafayette visited in 1825, its busy blacksmith shops, general stores, its taverns crowded with emigrants — and it would be hard to overestimate its importance. Chicago could be walled off and cause less inconvenience to the population of near-by states today than would have been caused in early times if there had been no Shawneetown.

It was the port of entry to the Illinois country. From it ran the best and most traveled trail to Kaskaskia and the other Mississippi settlements. The salt works which supplied the Middle West with most of this article, producing over 300,000 bushels a year, were located on Saline Creek only ten miles away. This salt was routed through Shawneetown to ports up and down the rivers of Ohio and Mississippi.

In other ways, too, the town was a part of first importance. It was near the junction of the Wabash, which was an important water highway in early pioneer days. Farm produce from the Wabash Valley settlements was brought to Shawneetown and sold to speculators who shipped it on to New Orleans.

Manufactured goods, brought up the Mississippi and Ohio by keel boats or down the Ohio from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were unloaded and sold here. It was here that the first postoffice was located; here the early settlers in Hardin County came to do their trading, exchanging pelts and pork, both on the hoof and as bacon, and their crops of potatoes and corn for iron tools and pans, ammunition and glassware, muslins from England, tea from India, and other items common today, but which to the early inhabitants were prized because they were touches of civilization.

Here, in Shawneetown, on May 24th, 1813 two flat-boats were warped together and moored at the low, un-leveed landing; and with the long row of river-front cabins as a background, the first Court of Common Pleas of the new County of Gallatin was opened with L. White, J. C. Slocum, and Gabriel Greathouse, Gentlemen, presiding.

On that day this flatboat court heard the petition of one Lewis Barker for the inhabitants of Rock-and-Cave (later Cave-in-Rock) Township to establish a road from Barker's ferry to the U. S. Salines at Francis Jourdans. The petition was granted and viewers were appointed to survey the best route, these being: Lewis Barker, Phillip Coon, Issac Casey, Chisem Estes, Francis and Joseph Jourdan.

On the following day, the 25th, the county was laid off in townships (i. e., precincts), with the bounds of the militia companies designated as boundaries of the townships. Thereafter the captains of the companies of militia were appointed: Captain Steel of Grandpier; Captain McFarland of Big Creek; Captain Barker of Rock-and-Cave — the foregoing being officers for townships within the modern boundaries of Hardin County. Constables for these townships were: Leonard Harrison of Big Creek; John Jackson of Grandpier; and Asa Ledbetter of Rock-and-Cave.

During this term, the court ordered a jail to be built in the public square, to consist of two stories, and of two thicknesses of white oak, hewed to 10 inches square. Among other items: a tax of $2 per year was levied on a ferry operating next above the mouth of Saline Greek. Jeptha Hardin was admitted to practice law. And the legal prices which taverns could charge were established; breakfast, dinner, supper, not over 25c; lodging 12^c; horse to hay or fodder, 25c; oats or corn per gallon, 25c, 1/2 pint whiskey 12-1/2c; peach brandy or cherry bounce 25c.

In September court was held again. During this term James McFarland for the inhabitants of Big Creek prayed for the establishment of a road to U. S. Saline Salt Works; and Win. Frizzell, Elias Jourdan, Peter Etter and Lewis Watkins were appointed to view out the best routes.

A report was made on the Barker Ferry road: "Agreeable to an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Gallatin County, May Term 1813, to have a road viewed from Barker Ferry to the U. S. Saline, we, the viewers . . . did begin at the said ferry and review thence to Nathaniel Armstrong's; thence across Harris Creek to a large spring; thence to cross Eagle Creek just above the forks; and the U. S. Saline."

Upon the submission of this report, overseers were appointed with power to call out all the hands on each side of the route within six mlies of it, to cut it out and keep it in repair; Henry Ledbetter to oversee the stretch from the Ohio to Harris Creek and John Stovall from Harris Creek to the Saline.

On September 29th, James McFarland was licensed to keep a ferry where he resided on land belonging to the U. S. government until the sale of these lands.

In the January, 1814, term of court, a report on the McFarland road was made, the route decided upon being from McFarland's ferry to Absolom Estes; thence to Nathan Clamhits; thence to Betty Pankey's on Big Creek, thence to Elias Jourdan's thence to Lewis Watkins, taking the old road to Willis Hargrave's salt works.

On the 2nd of May, 1815, the court found it necessary "to exercise its authority and fine Jeptha Hardin and Thos. G. Browne for contempt offered this court."

In the April term, 1819, the Court had the county laid off in five township or election districts, with judges of election appointed: John Black, Asa Ledbetter and Alexander McElroy for Rock-and-Cave; John Groves, Joseph Riley and Mr. Stout for Cane Creek; Hankerson Rude, Hugh Robinson and Chishem Estes for Monroe.

Later in 1819 a report was made by viewers for a road from Flynn's Ferry to Saline Tavern. These viewers were: Isaac Baldwin, John Black, Neil Thompson, and Alex McElroy. At this time ihe court ordered the road established as a public highway with Hugh McConnell appointed supervisor of stretch from the ferry to Powell's cabins, Isaac Potts supervisor from there to include the crossing of Beaver Creek, John Black thence to Eagle Creek, and Robert Watson on to the intersection with road from Shawneetown to Saline Tavern.

One interesting item, this court set an annual tax of $150 each on all billiard tables.

Extracted from History of Hardin County, Illinois, written in 1939 by the Committee for the Centennial, pages 32-35.

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