Montgomery County Illinois History

Montgomery County - It's Early Officers and Citizens

By A. H. H. Rountree.  Published in the Hillsboro Democrat February 5, 1873

At the time that Montgomery was cut off from Bond, the member of the Legislature from Bond was William Crisp, who originally settled the place known as the Sam Isaacs’ place, and which Mrs. McIntire, widow of Sam Isaacs holds as dower from her former husband’s estate, the title of which we believe is in Berry Nail.

He (Mr. Crisp) came from Tennessee, was a man of considerable ability as well as a most estimable man in every respect, and was brother-in-law to Major James Wilson, one of our early sheriffs.

Mr. Crisp returned to Tennessee soon after the formation of the county; but the pioneer spirit was so strong in him that he afterwards emigrated to Missouri, where he again served in the Missouri Legislature, and on the breaking out of the Oregon fever, a few years since, he removed to Oregon, where we learn that he served in the Oregon Legislature, and died on the Columbia river, in Oregon, a few years after.

Under the early laws of Illinois some of our officers were not elective. Clerks were appointed by the courts, also recorders, justices of the peace were appointed by the Governor; constables by the county commissioners’ courts, (equivalent to our county courts).

The county commissioners were elective and of equal power.  The Judge of probate had no other than probate duties.  The first county commissioners were John Beck, John McAdams and John Seward, and held their first court at the house of Joseph McAdams, April 7, 1821.

It was at this term of the court that the commissioners appointed to locate the county seat (Melcher Fogleman, James Street and Joseph Wright made their report locating the county-seat as Hamilton, Joseph Wright not signing the report). 

It was at this term of the court that Hiram Rountree was appointed clerk of the county commissioners’ court.  John Tilson gave bond as county treasurer, the first in the county.  Joel Wright also gave his bond as the first sheriff, and Eleazer M. Townsend, son of Rev. Jesse S. Townsend, (the first Presbyterian preacher in the county), as judge of probate.  It was also at this term of the court that James Wright and Dan Meredith were appointed the first constables in the county.

John Beck, one of the first county commissioners, settled a place near the Vandalia road, on the east side of the East Fork, near what is called the Richard Blackburn place. He built in the county in 1824, on land now owned Robert Blackburn. It was an ox treadmill. It was of great use for several years, but we believe no part of the mill is left, except some of the timbers are in Mr. Easley’s barn.  Mr. Beck is long since dead, leaving four children, Mrs. Russell, John P., J., P., and Mrs. Sellers.


John McAdams, another of the first county commissioners, was son of Joseph McAdams at whose house the courts were held.  He removed from the county many years ago, lived awhile in Adams county, near Quincy, and afterwards removed to Iowa, where he died of cancer in the face, leaving several children, none of whom are now living in our county.

John Seward, the other of our first county commissioners, settled with his son at Seward’s grove.  Isreal Seward and Butler Seward were his sons.  Mrs. Burnap and Mrs. Glenn, wife of James Glenn, now of Litchfield, and Mrs. Dan Seward and Mrs. Wm. H. Brown, of Chicago, were his daughters.  He was uncle of the Late Hon. W. H. Seward, the distinguished politician and senator in congress from New York.  His son, Israel Seward, left a large family, among whom are William, George, and Clarence, of Butler, Henry, of New Orleans, Charles, of Minnesota, and Frank and Edward, near Butler, besides Mrs. Cowdy, of St. Louis, and Mrs. McGown, of Butler, his daughters.  Israel Seward for many years kept a public inn on the Springfield Road, made a large farm, and at one time built a steam flouring mill, saw mill and carding machine on his place about 1841, long since torn away.  The pioneer spirit was in him even in his old age, having gone to California in the earlier years of the gold discoveries and remaining until he had his pile and returned to his old home at the grove where he died two years ago leaving his aged wife to survive him.  She still lives we believe at the homestead, one of the very few of the pioneer mothers of Montgomery County.  She has lived to see our county emerge from a wilderness to its present condition.  She has undergone all the early hardships of settling a new county, and enjoyed after hard struggles for many years, an ample competence the result of her early toll; she can count numerous grand children and several great grand children.  Her house has given shelter and comfort to thousands.  The memories of her well souled hospitality, her kindness, her matronly dignity are dear all.  No doubt should our old settlers meet together next June she can tell the tales of other years with as much relish and vividness as any of them all will be rejoiced to see her. 

Israel Seward was the first school commissioner in the county.  Mr. Israel Seward was a man of great energy and decision of character, and was a progressive man.  He owned the first span of mulesever driven about Hillsboro, if not in the whole county.  He owned also the first jack we ever saw.  This jack was a large course animal whose hoofs being badly neglected had become much like rockers, making it very difficult to get around.  He traded for the jack about Vandalia and in getting him home was on the ridiculous episodes in the life of Jas. Scott, now of California, son of the late Deacon Alex Scott and brother-in-law of Col. Walter.  In a balmy spring day Jim was sent to Vandalia to ride the jack to Hillsboro.  All went well till they got into the prairie this side of Van Buren when the beautiful grass demoralized the jack who in spite of Jim’s kicking, striking, biting, crying and we fear swearing, would browse on the grass.  Jim was alone and certainly in great tribulation.  When a friend from home met him and gave him a switch with which to persuade the jack to go along.  Jim will never forget that jack nor his troubles.

Butler Seward settled, first the Burnap place afterward the place on the Springfield Road now owned by Elias W. Miller and raised quite a family there and afterwards removed to Chicago where we believe he and his wife both died, leaving one daughter Mrs. Doctor Herrick, and our own worthy and energetic citizen Mr. Oscar Seward.  We do not think any other of his children are living, certainly none but Oscar lives in our county.  His house, like that of his brother, was a public in as well as home for every one seeking entertainment.  In other years Butler Sewards house was the great terminus of sleigh rides and other pleasure excursions, and we never heard that anybody left his house hungry, nor do we believe his wife was ever caught unawares, no difference how big a crowd went.  It was at that time deemed a wide stretch of prairie cold and bleak in winter between Israel Sewards, and Butler Sewards while in summer the tedium, was relieved by herds of deer then very numerous while the whole prairie was nature’s flower garden.  Now the deer are gone and the whole prairie is converted into farms teaming with rich productions, with fine residences, and barns on every hand, with a numerous and wealthy population.

The Sewards used the first two-horse wagons that were driven with check lines we ever saw; they also introduced from Ohio a better class of wagons and fanning mills than those generally in use, and were too, energetic and useful citizens.  The Sewards were interested in several of the early mail routes, and run lines of stages that were important features of those early times.  The old-fashioned stage coaches with their stage-horses, while not among our earliest memories, are still pleasurable.  It was while running the mail route from Hillsboro to Alton that George Seward, the son of Israel, now living near Butler, passed a night of horror in a sapling in the West Fork.  Night was approaching; the crock was up and out of its banks, the bridge partly under water, and partly gone, when he, with his two-horse hack, tried to cross; the current swept the hack and horses down stream with the drift, and while the horses were being drowned, and the hack upset and carried away at the mercy of the waves, George managed to get out and gather a sapling, already waving by a fierce sweep of the foaming current, up which he climbed and seated himself in the crotch of a frail swinging limb, wet, cold, filled with horror and fear, he clung to his perch during the long dark light with the maddened flook rolling beneath him and swaying him too and fro till perhaps noon next day before relief could come to save him.  That scene of horror will long be remembered by those familiar with the facts, and George himself will never forget it.  Altho’ this event was not one of our early scenes; still it was when high were the rule and the few bridges over the important steams on the most traveled highways were very frail dependencies. 

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