Before Sangamon County was created in January 1821, its territory was divided between Madison and Bond counties (mostly in Madison). Between the arrival of the first settler in 1817 and the ultimate formation of the county in 1821, a significant amount of organizing activity occurred that helped determine how the county was developed and who would play roles in its governance.
At first, only a small number of extended families settled in what is now Sangamon County. However, after the Kickapoo nation ceded its lands in central Illinois in 1819, a great influx of settlers moved into the area. The population grew large enough for county officials to appoint administrative officers and turn their attention to infrastructure, primarily roads.
The Sangamo Country’s inhabitants were first politically recognized on July 12, 1819, when the Madison County Commissioners voted to establish an election district for all the settlements on the Sangamon River and its tributaries. The new district was called Sangamo Township. Elijah Slator, Daniel Parkinson, and William Drennan were appointed election judges.
That September, the commissioners appointed several local people to fill positions in the new township. Daniel G. Moore was named constable, while William Roberts and John Taylor were assigned the duties of overseers of the poor. Others, including Joseph Dixon, Henry Brown and Matthew Eads, were given the jobs of fence viewers.
William Drennan and Zachariah Peter were recommended to the governor as persons fit for the office of justice of the peace. Their duties included enforcing law and order and settling minor squabbles, but the justices were also responsible for performing marriages. Peter conducted seven of the 16 weddings known to have taken place in Sangamo Township between 1819 and 1821. Ministers James Sims, Rivers Cormack and Stephen England performed the others.
Conducting business in the county seat at Edwardsville involved a 70-mile trip down the narrow, unimproved trail known as the Edwards Trace, the only link to civilization
A group of Madison County residents signed a petition for improvement of the trace and presented it to the Madison County commissioners’ court, where it was read on Dec. 7, 1819. The petitioners asked for creation of a road from Edwardsville north to the junction of the North Fork and South Fork of the Sangamon River. From there, the road was to continue on to the head of Clear Lake in the direction of Fort Clark (present-day Peoria). The commissioners appointed Field Jarvis, John Ferguson and Robert Stice to lay out the proposed road, and Jacob Judy was appointed the road surveyor. The commissioners also ruled that the petition be laid over for a second reading the following day, a decision that may have been prompted by a desire to discuss the needs of a second group of Sangamo citizens.
The next day, three additional men, Stephen Dewey, Matthew Eads and John Esterbrook, were appointed to view the road.
The commissioners also ordered surveys for two possible routes to the Sangamo Country. Leaving Edwardsville, both followed the Edwards Trace until they reached the area of the South Fork of the Sangamon, where the routes split. At the South Fork, one route headed west and followed the old trace to where it crossed the river just west of the forks of the Sangamon. The other route forded the South Fork and went up the east side of the river to a point on the North Fork. Both routes then went to the head of Clear Lake.
Judy and the viewers returned to Edwardsville March 8. Hearing their report, the commissioners authorized work to begin.
However, Jarvis, Ferguson and Stice, the viewers of the first road, reported their doubts about the proposed road staying within the Madison county limits. They believed the road might venture into neighboring Bond County. The court ordered a stay on this route until the next term. The route viewed by Jarvis and others did enter into Bond County and though it was not chosen at this time, a crossing on the South Fork called Jarver or Jarvis Ford does appear later.
The Edwardsville to Sangamo Road, as it became known, was marked with a post every mile. Road commissioners were appointed to oversee sections of the road and were made responsible for its maintenance. On March 9, 1820, George Hayworth was appointed supervisor of the road from the south side of Brush Creek north to the 68-mile stake. His work force consisted of all the men within four miles of either side of the road (all able-bodied adult males were required to help with road maintenance.)
Also by March of 1820, Sangamo Township had grown so populous that it was divided into three smaller townships. The first, which retained the name Sangamo, included all the territory north of the Sangamon River and east of the Illinois River. Matthew Eads, Stephen England and Joshua Dean were appointed election judges there. The second township, Fork Prairie, consisted of the area south of the North Fork of the Sangamon River running west to include the settlers along Sugar Creek. The election judges appointed there were William Roberts, William Drennan and Daniel Lisle.
Springfield Township, the third election district, covered all the country west of Fork Prairie and south of the Sangamon River. Jacob Ellis, John Clary Sr. and John Campbell were appointed the judges there. This appears to be the first time the name “Springfield” was used to describe a geographic location in Sangamon County.
The jurisdiction of these three judges was extended when Apple Creek Township near the Illinois River was added to Springfield Township in June 1820. The other two townships, Fork Prairie and Sangamo, were reestablished at the same time, but with no change in boundaries.
Coincidentally, another Sangamo Township was created in neighboring Bond County on June 6, 1820. That election district included parts of present-day eastern Sangamon County, including Cotton Hill and Cooper townships. Joseph Dixon of Cotton Hill Township was named one of the judges. Commissioners made another series of appointments in September 1820.
No other action appears in the Madison County commissioners’ minutes regarding Sangamo Township before the founding of Sangamon County in January 1821. But clearly, these formative years were active and important ones for the future of Sangamon County.
Contributors: David Brady and Curtis Mann (originally published in Historico, newsletter of the Sangamon County Historical Society, in 2003)
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.