Calhoun County

1934 History of Calhoun County

Chapter 4 ~ The Formation of Calhoun County

The territory now included with the bounds of Calhoun County has changed hands many times and has been under the control of many different governments and many units of governments. Until the close of the French and Indian War (1763) the territory in what is now Illinois was claimed by both the French and the English. But the Treaty of Paris in 1763 gave the land to the English, and much of it was under the control of the English Colonies along the Atlantic seaboard.

While the American Revolution was in progress, General George Rogers Clark wrestled the territory now embraced within the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio from the British Government. In the spring of 1779, Col. John Todd, commissioned by the state of Virginia as its lieutenant, went to Vincennes and Kaskaskia and organized Clark's conquests into a county of Virginia, to which was given the name of "Illinois County."


In 1790 the region now included in Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory and the two counties in Illinois were St. Clair and Knox. In 1801 the region became a part of the Indian Territory and in 1809 the Illinois Territory was formed, and continued until 1818 when Illinois became a state.

From 1801 to 1812 the territory now included within Calhoun County was a part of St. Clair County. It then became a part of Madison County and remained in that county until the formation of Pike County in 1821. For the next four years it was a part of Pike, and then it was made a separate county.


When Pike County was organized in 1821 it included all of the territory between the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers as far north as the present Wisconsin line and as far east at Lake Michigan. The county seat of this vast strip of territory was located at Coles Grove (now called Gilead). The first Probate Court to be held west of the Illinois River was held at Coles Grove on May 23, 1821. The first Circuit Court to be held in the region was also held at Coles Grove (October, 1821), and John Reynolds who was later a governor of Illinois served as the judge. The first case that came before the court was a divorce case, the second a murder case. Two Indians had been arrested in the northern part of the state for the killing of another Indian and they were brought to Coles Grove for trial. The court appointed two interpreters, since the Indians could not speak English, and also appointed two lawyers to defend the Indians. The jury found one of the Indians not guilty, and he was released. The other Indian was found guilty and he was fined twenty-five cents and sentenced to one day in jail. The prisoner broke out of jail and escaped the first night, but he probably had little difficulty in doing so as the jail had been hurriedly constructed from an old rail pen. During the four years that Calhoun was a part of Pike County a number of men who later became county officials in this county, served as officials in Pike County. In this way they received much valuable training that aided them in performing their official duties in Calhoun.


The southern part of Pike County was cut off, by an act of the Legislature of Illinois, and made into a separate county. The new county was named Calhoun in honor of John C. Calhoun one of the greatest of the southern statesmen at that time. The act of the Legislature was approved on January 10, 1825. George A. Allen and Gershom Flagg were appointed to select a county seat for the new county.

On January 27, 1825 the two men mentioned above met and selected Coles Grove as the county seat, but they recommended that the name of the village be changed to Gilead. The change was made and it has retained that name ever since.


The first election was held on February 2, 1825 at the homes of James Gilman and John Bolter. The following officers were elected: James Nixon, Ebenezer Smith, and Asa Carrico, County Commissioners; Bigelow Fenton, Sheriff; James Levin, Coroner; A. M. Jenkins, Circuit Clerk; A. M. Jenkins, first Notary Public. Mr. Jenkins was also appointed County Clerk.

The first act of the County Commissioners was to confirm the selection of Gilead as the County Seat. They also accepted the eighty acres of land and the twelve lots in Gilead which was given to them by John Shaw. The first meeting of the County Commissioners was held on March 8, 1825, at Gilead, and two of the Commissioners, James Nixon and Ebenezer Smith were present.

It is interesting to note that the Commissioner system of county government was adopted for the new county. Under this system the general powers of control are placed in the hands of three County Commissioners elected from the county at large for a term of three years, one being elected each year. The early records make no mention as to the reasons for adopting this form of government. Some of the early settlers may have lived for a few years in states or counties that had a similar type of organization and thus may have been familiar with its advantages. Then, too, the form of the county may have had something to do with the adoption of this type. Calhoun is so irregular in shape that it would have been impossible to carve out townships that would have been of the same size.


On March 24, 1825 the first marriage license was issued, the contracting parties being Samuel Cresswell and Eliza Hewitt. The Commissioners Records for the same date show that "Samuel Still received permission to run a ferry across the Illinois River at the mouth of Apple Creek. The rates are to be as follows:

Single person, 12 cents
Single horse, 12 cents
Cattle, under one year, 12 cents
Each hog, 3 cents
Two-wheeled venicle, 37 cents
Four-wheeled vehicle, 50 cents”.

During the same year John Shaw received permission to operate a ferry across the Mississippi River opposite Clarksville, Mo., and John Bolter received permission for a ferry across the Mississippi at Little Cap au Gris, near the present site of the Golden Eagle ferry.

Another one of the first acts of the Commissioners was to let the contract for the building of a jail at Gilead. The building was to be twelve feet square, eight feet high, and to be made of hewn timber. The contract was let to Daniel Church for forty dollars, and the county to furnish the materials. The contract also stated that the building was to be completed by the first Monday of June, 1825.

At the same session, Levi Roberts made an application to run and operate a tavern at Gilead. He was granted a license, the fee being two dollars. The following rates were to be followed:

"Meals, 25 cents
Keeping horse overnight, 25 cents
Lodging, 6 cents
Whiskey, 1/2 pint, 12 cents”.

In the period of 1825 to 1840 we find a number of unusual entries concerning different departments of the county government. One of these has to do with the keeping of a stray pen. Such a pen was erected in Gilead in 1834, as a place to keep stray animals that were going about the county doing damage. They were kept in the pen until the owned called and identified them. Each farmer had a certain brand or mark that was registered in the office of the County Clerk. By means of these brands the farmer could prove ownership to the animal. If no one claimed the animal, it would be sold, the expenses of sale and feeding would be deducted, and the balance turned over to the Treasurer of the county. The stay pen was usually in charge of the Sheriff. One record shows that John McDonald, the Sheriff, had charge of the pen and received $1.75 a week for the work.

Another interesting and amusing fact is that the first two jails that were built at Gilead were not strong enough to keep the prisoners from escaping. We find dozens of records in the period before 1846 where persons were paid so much a night to guard the jail. In 1845 a runaway negro, probably a slave from Missouri, was captured and placed in the jail. The county had to pay a guard fifty cents a night to watch the jail, during the period of forty days that the negro was kept there. The county officials and the citizens probably kept watch over the jail in the day time, so no regular guard was maintained.

In 1830, the county decided to build a new brick court house at Gilead. The contract was given to Benjamin Munn, and he completed the building in 1832. The total cost of the building was $1,600. In 1835 a new jail was constructed by John Huff. He received $299 for his labor and for the material that he used in the building.

Extracted 20 May 2017 by Norma Hass from History of Calhoun County, pages 14-17.

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