Hardin County

A Brief History of James B McFarlan

Early settler and founder of Elizabethtown, IL

by Joseph Howard Simmons
(great-great-great-great grandson of James B. and Elizabeth McFarlan)

(Editor’s Note: Mr. Simmons specifically wanted this article printed this week because James B. McFarlan would be 204 years of age Saturday, March29, if he were living. Also, if anyone is interested, Mr. Simmons furnished 25 footnotes verifying his research on the article.)

James B. McFarlan, the first settler in Elizabethtown, was born 29 March 1776, an important year in American history. The name McFarlan is often spelled McFarland or McFarlane and the discrepancy in spelling is trace­able to the tendency of early settlers to drop unneeded letters of the alphabet as with the name ending in “d” or “e”. It is believed by some authorities that McFarlan came from the Waxhaw settlement in the Carolinas, settled for a while in Tennessee and then came on through Kentucky to settle here in Hardin County. The earliest known rec­ord of him, other than his birth date, is the record of his marriage to Elizabeth STUART in Montgomery County, Tennessee on 22 January 1806. The exact date of his arrival to Southern Illinois is not known, partially due to the fact that the Hardin County Courthouse has burned at least twice destroying most of the valuable early records. For­tunately, Hardin County was until 1839 part of Pope and Gallatin counties and a little information is available from the records of these two counties. Practically each book which states the arrival date of James McFarlan to this county differs in the year of his settlement. Five different accounts of him in five different articles place his arrival here at 1804, 1806, 1808, 1810, 1812 respectively. However, he was here by 1810 as the 1810 Territorial Census of Illinois has him listed in the Shawneetown area. He settled at the present site of Elizabethtown where the trail crossed from Nashville, Tennessee to the salt works at Equality.

It is believed the parents of James B. McFarlan were James and Margaret McFarlan of North Carolina, later of Montgomery County, Tennessee. The older James’s will was written 2 November 1796 in Montgomery County, and Margaret and young James are both listed on the 1800 tax list of that county. Since young James was already over 21 at the time of his father’s death and had begun his own life he was not mentioned in the will. This was sometimes the case in earlier days, to mention only the children at home who were dependant on the parent in the will. These children later appear in Gallatin County, Illinois where several of them were to marry. Achilles married Polly Eubanks 5 July 1814. Cynthia married Thomas Davis 24 May 1814, and Delila married William Frizel on 25 February 1813 all in Gallatin County. Two other sons, William and Marvell, were also in Gallatin County at this time. There were several court proceedings involving James B., William, Marvell, and Achilles in Gallatin County: however, the nature of these problems cannot be determined as flood waters destroyed most of these early court records of Shawneetown and Gallatin County. There were at least eleven proceedings involving these brothers in the years 1814-1815. The most likely cause of the quarrels would be over the father’s will or perhaps after the mother’s death. This is just conjecture.

James B. McFarlan took part in the War of 1812 when he was concerned in the transportation of the baggage wagons from the Saline Salt works to Camp Russell. Elizabeth Stuart McFarlan, wife of James B. and the woman for whom Elizabethtown was named, submitted an application for bounty land from the U.S. Government on 5 June 1855 on the basis that James was a teamster for a Captain Whitlock during the War of 1812. The Act of 31 March 1855 gave persons entitled to it, bounty land for their service in the War of 1812. It is not known whether or not Ms. McFarlan received any bounty land. On 2 June 1812, the Governor of the Illinois Territory, Ninian Edwards, appointed James McFarlan Captain of the 4th Regiment of the Militia. On 25 May 1813, he was again appointed Caption of the Militia of the big Creek along with Captain Steel of Grandpier, and Captain Barker of Rock-and-Cave. McFarlan’s name is also listed with 140 other names in a petition sent to Congress in December 1812 concerning the establishment of a land office for the sale of area lands.

On 29 September 1813, James McFarlan was licensed to keep a ferry where he resided on land belonging to the U.S. Government until the sale of these lands. This ferry was previously owned and operated by a man named Barker, probably the same Captain Barker mentioned earlier, and was built by a band of settlers from the Carolinas who came to the Ohio River at the point and found no means of crossing it. They built the ferry to cross into Illinois. Along with the ferry business, McFarlan had a contract with the U.S. Government to furnish beef to the garrison at Ft. Massac. He also, about this time, built a home and hotel which became a popular stopping place for travelers. In the spring of 1813, he secured a license for a tavern and filed bond to assure legal and proper operation of his establishment. Thus was born McFarlan’s Tavern later to be known as the Rose Hotel, the oldest hotel in Illinois still in existence. The prices set at the tavern are a far cry from today’s cost of food and lodging. Breakfast, dinner, or supper was $ .25, lodgings - $ .12½, oats or corn per gallon - $ .12½, a half pint of whiskey - $ .12½, and a small beer (one quart) - $ .12½. The tavern also served drinks line taffia, cherry bounce, and cider royal, contents unknown. The main part of the old hotel was built shortly after the arrival of the McFarlan family which would put the date between about 1807-1810. Another wing was added by James B. McFarlan, Jr. in 1840, and the kitchen quarters where added about 1860. The Rose Hotel (McFarlan’s Tavern) gained further notoriety on 26 December 1872 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1935, the National Register is a list of the places which best typify our nation’s cultural heritage and which should be preserved for future generations.

James B. McFarlan worked for the development of roads in the area through petitions and his terms of office a Circuit Court Clerk. In the January 1814 term of court, a report on one of the roads was made. The road was the McFarlan road with the route decided upon being from McFarlan’s Ferry to Absolom Eaten; thence to Nathan Clampits; 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.

There are still some records of land transactions by James B. McFarlan in Pope county with duplicates located in Springfield. On 9 October 1814, he owned a total of 425 acres all but 125 of which were located in Section 27, Township 12, Range 8 with the other 125 acres located in Section 26, Township 12, Range 8. This would include all of present day Elizabethtown. Also on 25 November 1814, Grant #829, James McFarlan of Gallatin County paid $475.32 for the acreage just mentioned. He had prepaid $118.83 on this same land on 18 October 1814. He was the grantor and William Hosick the grantee in a Pope County land exchange in 1829, and grantor with his son, James, Jr. the grantee in several land exchanges in 1834. Land was also exchanged from James and Elizabeth “Betsy” McFarlan to their son-in-law Phillip Jones Howard in 1834. He purchased another 160 acres on 1 October 1831 and another 40 acres in January of 1837, shortly before his death.

As mentioned before, McFarlan was listed on the 1810 Territorial Census, and he was also listed on the 1820 State Census of Illinois in Gallatin County, and the 1830 Federal Census of Pope County. The first post office of Elizabethtown, known at the time as McFarlan’s Ferry, was established on 5 November 1830, with McFarlan as the postmaster and this office was discontinued on 23 August 1834.

Not much else is known of James b. McFarlan’s activities during the 1820 and 1830s, but it is assumed that with his ferry business, tavern, and County work that his life was a very busy and productive one. He died on a cold day, the first day of December 1837 in the hame that he had built by hand some twenty-five years before. His remains were laid to rest behind the old Hotel, and his tombstone is still marking his resting place after these 142 years. His wife, Elizabeth, was to live several more years in Hardin County, and with her son, James, Jr., she operated the Hotel until her death on 11 August 1863 at the age of 73 years.

James McFarlan left five children when he died, all of whom later died in Hardin County. John L. b. 10 May 1807 died 13 September 1844, James B., Jr. b. 6 Dec. 1810 married Matilda Hobbs and died 30 Mar 1883, Margaret Minerva b. 6 Dec. 1812 married Philip Jones Howard who died 10 March 1840 and is buried behind the Hotel. Margaret later married James Kirkham and she died 24 Jul 1890. The fourth child of James McFarlan was William Pinkney McFarlan b. 1 February 1817 married Drusilla Morris and died 15 June 1849. Captain B.P. McFarlan was the youngest son of James and Elizabeth McFarlan and he was born in 1820, married Marcella C. Stuart and died 3 April 1893. Caption B.P. was the man responsible for the construction of the pagoda on the Rose Hotel bluff.

The name McFarlan is carried on today with the McFarlan Precinct in Elizabethtown. A small but honored tribute to a true American pioneer and settler.

Source: Hardin County Independent, March 1980

Contributed 2015 Feb 28 by David Howard. This article was written for the Hardin Co. Independent in the early 1980s by my cousin Joe Simmons (passed away in June 2012). When Joe Simmons wrote the McFarlan article in 1980 we knew of only 5 children that James & Elizabeth McFarlan had. With further resesrch we discovered a sixth child. They had a daughter named Delila, who married James Dunn on 13 Mar 1834 in Pope Co, IL. Delila was born berween 1811 & 1818. We have never been able to determine the exact birth year. In the 1850 census her age was 39 -- in 1860 it was 45 -- in 1870 it was 52. So you see the problem with determining her birth year. I don't know exactly how to get Delila listed as a child of James & Elizabeth, perhaps in a note at the end of the article??? I did notice a mistake in the date given in the article for the year the hotel was listed on the National Register. The year in the article is 1872. That can't be right. I believe 1972 is the correct year.

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