First Settlement by Theodore Sergeant, Isaac Swan and Nathan Jones


     Prior to 1821, the present site of the Town of Canton was uninhabited. Deer, turkeys, and other wild denizens of the wood and prairie, were the only occupants. In 1822, Theodore Sergeant, Captain D. W. Barnes and Charles Sergeant came into the township, settling on the place now occupied by John Lane, Esq., northwest of Canton.
     In 1822, Theodore Sergeant visited the land office at Vandalia and obtained a list of Congress lands in Fulton county. By some mistake, the northeast quarter of section 27, in Township 7 North, 4 East, on which afterward was laid out the original town site, was given, on this list, as Congress and unentered land. Sergeant, being then a single man, decided to "preempt" it; and accordingly erected a cabin near but north of the site of the present High-School building, and broke up and put into cultivation a few acres of ground. Being a single man and not disposed to keep bachelor's hall, he employed a blacksmith, in about 1823, by the name of Harrison Hughland, to occupy his cabin, board him, and carry on blacksmithing. Hughland was a maker of cow-bells, and did the first manufacturing of any kind in the township, manufacturing bells for the few settlers in the county. Hughland carried on the shop only about one year for Sergeant, but afterward worked here for a short time on his own account.
     In 1824, Sergeant was visited by Isaac Swan, who exhibited to him a military title for his claim. Sergeant at once vacated the place, and Swan entered into possession. Swan was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Nathan Jones. Jones owned the northwest quarter of section 34, in the same township; and as the two quarters "cornered " with each other, and as Jones's quarter was timber land, considerably broken, and considered of little value for cultivation, while Swan's was prairie, smooth, and a choice farming tract, they entered into an arrangement by which each quarter was divided through the centre from east to west. Swan took, under this arrangement, the north half of each quarter, and Jones the south half.
     Isaac Swan saw the advantage of the location as a town site, and determined at once to lay off a town. He proposed to Jones that they should jointly survey the west forty acres of each one's prairie tract; but Jones objected.
     At this time a man by the name of Kinney was living on the northeast quarter of section twenty-seven, since known as the old Coleman farm. Kinney claimed to own the quarter, and proposed to Swan that he would join in the enterprise. To this Swan consented; and accordingly, on the 10th day of December, 1825, the Town of Canton was "staked off" and began its career. Kinney's lots were numbered from one to fifty-four, in consecutive order, and Swan's, beginning at fifty-five, continued up to one hundred and eight.
     Some time in the following season, John Coleman, sen., came into the country with a title to the quarter of land claimed by Kinney, and at once ousted him from possession. Prior to this, Kinney, doubtless knowing his claim to be worthless, had proposed to Isaac Swan that they should divide lots alternately through both tracts, in order that, when purchasers presented themselves, they might say that one-half their lots had already been sold. Swan very foolishly consented to this arrangement. At the time Coleman ousted Kinney, he had sold no lots except on Swan's part of the plat. Of course, such sales proved to him clear profit.
     Kinney remained in Canton a few years, until, finally, on one occasion, he proposed to Swan that he could make more money manufacturing bogus silver than in any other way, and proposed to Swan that he join him in the business. Swan was an honest man, and no such proposition could be made to him with impunity. He at once notified Kinney that he had just twenty-four hours in which to wind up his business relations with Canton and Canton people, and make his escape from the wrath that was sure to overtake him if he tarried beyond that time. He did not tarry, it is recorded.
     The boundary-line between Swan and Kinney was Adelphi street. When Coleman came into possession, he fenced up Kinney's survey, fencing to the centre of this street; and here originated a controversy that for years was kept up in regard to Adelphi street—one party claiming that Coleman could not, by law, vacate it; the other claiming that he could.
     The boundaries of Swan's portion of the town were as follows: beginning at the corner of Fourth and Adelphi streets; thence west to the corner of North-First and Adelphi; thence south to the corner of North-First and Union; thence east to the corner of Union and Fourth streets; thence north to the place of beginning.
     Swan soon induced Jones to lay off an addition immediately south of the original town, but at what date the recorded plat does not show. This was Jones's first Addition to the Town of Canton, and extended from the corner of Fourth and Union streets west to the corner of Union and First streets; thence south one block to Elm street; thence east to the corner of Elm and Fourth streets; thence north one block to the place of beginning.
     Jones laid off on his the present Public Square, he owning the property on three sides of it, and Swan on one (the north) side. This addition was probably laid out in the spring or summer of 1830.
     Canton received its name, given to it by Isaac Swan, from a notion he entertained that in its location it was directly the antipodes of its Chinese namesake. Pekin, in Tazewell county, had been laid out a short time previously, and Isaac determined, he said, "that the two celestial cities should be represented at precisely their opposite pole on the earth's surface."
     Isaac Swan erected the first building on the original town plat, immediately after it was laid out. This building was a log-cabin, perhaps sixteen by eighteen feet, and was for some time known as “Swan's catch-all.” It was designed as a stopping-place for any family that might come in, until they could build; when unoccupied, he used it as a carpenter's shop. This building was situated on Union street, above Fourth.
     The first family to avail themselves of this "catch-all" was the family of John Hannan, who came in soon after Swan and Jones. Hannan obtained from Swan a lot on Main street, now occupied by S. Smith, Esq., and built the first house intended for a residence in town. This was a cabin, and was occupied by him until his death, which occurred at Beardstown, in 1831, as he was returning from a trip to St. Louis. His widow continued to occupy the same house for some time, when she removed to the Hannan farm, just east of the C. B. & Q. Railroad.
     John C. Owens came in about the same time the Hannans did, and erected a cabin on Wood street, on the block now owned and occupied by Mrs. Dr. Childs. It was in this house that, in all probability, the first white child was born in the original Town of Canton. It is claimed by some that Harrison Hughland's wife gave birth to the first white child while living near the Central School-House site. If this is true, as there seems to be reason to believe, this child—whether male or female is not now known— was the earliest born within the present city limits. But John C. Owens's oldest boy—name not known—was, without doubt, the first born in the original plat. Mr. Owens was a farmer. By his first wife he was a son-in-law of old Father Fraker, who lived just west of Big Creek at that time. Owens at this time, how­ever, was living with his second wife, who was a sister of Lewis Walling's first wife. Owens and Fraker removed from Canton, at an early date, and settled at Fraker's Grove. Owens is still living, at or near Mt Carroll, in Carroll county.
     Swan was a man of enterprise, and was determined that his town should be populated at once; so, as an inducement to settlers, he announced his determination to give a lot to any man who would build and become a settler in the town. John Hannan was the first man to secure a lot, and was followed soon by others. Swan kept this offer good until about 1833, stipulating, however, in later years, as to the kind of house that should be built.
     At this time (1826) Samuel Morse resided on what was then known as the Morse quarter, west of and adjoining the town plat. His cabin stood on the ground now occupied by the residence of Perry Plattenberg, Esq., on Main street, west of First street. Morse was the owner of a hand mill, upon which was ground much of the corn-meal of the settlers of Canton. As most of the present generation have not been blessed with a sight of one of the old style of hand mills, we will copy for their benefit Gov. John Reynolds's description.
     "In the hand mill, the stones are smaller than those of the horse mill," (the lower stone was fixed and the upper movable) "and are propelled by man or woman power. A hole is made in the upper stone, and a staff of wood is put in it, and the other end of the staff is put through a hole in a plank above, so that the whole is free to act. One or two persons take hold of this staff, and turn the upper stone with as much velocity as possible. An eye is made in the upper stone, through which the corn is let into the mill with the hand in small quantities, to suit the mill, instead of the hopper."
     Samuel Morse continued to reside in Canton until some time about 1834, when he removed to Knox county. He was a plain, unassuming, honest man, a good neighbor and citizen. His wife, Mary Morse was a tailoress, and the first who ever worked in Canton. She is still living in Mills county, Iowa, and, although more than eighty years of age, still makes her own living by her needle. She was a pattern of the best class of pioneer women. Intelligent, of fair education, kindly impulses, and of courteous carriage, she made the impression upon all with whom she came in contact that she was indeed a lady of the old school. Of her numerous children, but one, Thomas A Morse, is now living.
     Theodore Sergeant, who was indeed the pioneer of Canton, was born in New Hampshire. He served five years in the Regular Army, including in that period the War of 1812. He was discharged at Detroit, Michigan. Soon after his discharge, he fell in company with Captain D. W. Barnes and Wm. Blanchard, who, with his brother Charles Sergeant, determined to unite their fortunes and visit the Far West in search of the "Bounty Land" Congress had given them in the Military Tract of Illinois. This party, after leaving Detroit, made their way on foot through the wilderness to Fort Wayne, Indiana; thence by skiff down the Wabash to Vincennes. Here disposing of their skiff, they walked across the Territory of Illinois to St Louis, and, again taking skiff, came to Fort Clark—now Peoria. In 1819 they jointly opened a farm opposite Peoria, at the mouth of Farm Creek, to which they gave its name.
     Sergeant soon made a trip into Fulton county in search of his land. He found it to be located in the brakes of Big Creek, some where in what has since been known as the Wilcoxen settlement, several miles south of Canton, and by no means a desirable location for a farm. He reported, however, to his companions that there were fine lands, good timber, and plenty of water, a few miles north of his land, and advised the party to make their final and permanent settlement here. Accordingly, in 1821, Captain D. W. Barnes, Theodore Sergeant, and Charles Sergeant, removed to Fulton county and made a temporary settlement near the mouth of Spoon River. Barnes was the only married man in the party, and hence has the honor of being named in this connection as being indeed the first settler in Canton township, to which he removed in 1822. His location was on the farm now owned and occupied by John Lane, Esq., northwest of town.
     Sergeant continued to make his home with Barnes until his marriage, which occurred on the 5th day of November, 1824. He married Miss Rachel Brown. This was the first wedding that occurred in Canton township, and was one of the earliest marriages celebrated in the county. It has been incorrectly stated that this wedding was the first in the county; but we have Mr. Sergeant's own statement to the contrary. He says, however, that he did make proposals for the hand of the lady for whom is claimed the honor of being the first woman married in the county. He relates it as follows:
     "I had made up my mind that I ought to have a housekeeper, and accordingly had my eye out. for one. Some how, I heard that there was an old lady living down toward the mouth of Spoon River, by the name of Wentworth, who had some gals that wanted to marry, so I concluded I would go down and see about it. I did so, and on arriving there at once made my business known to old Mrs. Wentworth. The old lady looked me over, with the air of a judge of the article she wanted, and began her catechism by asking me what I followed, my age, and where I was from. I told her I was twenty-nine years old, had been five years a soldier, and thought I could manage a wife. That I was from Barnes's settlement, was opening a farm, and wanted a gal to help me pull through the start. The old lady shook her head and informed me that I would not suit her gals, as she had made up her mind that they should all marry store-keepers. I told her, if that was the case, I reckoned her gals would not suit me, as I wanted one that could pull with me on the start."
     Sergeant returned to Canton from this unsuccessful wooing, and reported the result to the few young men in this part of the county. They at once determined to get even with the family whose notions were so aristocratic. There was an occasional peddler, named Clark, who came through the county on horse­back, carrying needles, thread and other small wares in a sack, dividing his stock into equal portions and balancing it over his saddle. This Clark was the first peddler who visited the county. Clark was not a man of much force of character, and it was determined to send him after the Wentworth girls. He readily acceded to the proposition, and soon visited Mrs. W. In reply to her interrogatories, Clark informed the old lady that he resided in Peoria, and sold goods for a livelihood. This filled the old lady's bill, and she at once gave her daughter to Clark in marriage; and Sergeant thinks theirs was the first wedding celebrated in the county. It took place a few weeks prior to Sergeant's wedding.
     George S. McConnell, however, relates an incident connected with the first court held in the county, in the spring or early summer of the same year, which establishes the fact that Clark's could not have been the first wedding, as at that court a couple were divorced, the woman being a sister of the Tottens, and the same night the divorced woman was married to one of the jurors, by the name of Williams, who had tried her cause.
     Sergeant's wedding, being the first in the township, is well worthy of commemoration, and fortunately we have, in the person of Henry Andrews, one of the wedding party, a faithful and graphic chronicler.
     He says, this wedding was an event in the Barnes neighborhood. It occurred at the cabin of Daniel Brown, the father of the bride. All the neighbors were invited, and probably all were assembled in the cabin: still, though small, it was not nearly full. The bride was gorgeously appareled in a checked linsey homespun dress, a three-cornered handkerchief about her neck, and her feet encased in moccasins. The groom also wore moccasins, and a full suit of new linsey, colored with butternut-bark. The guests were dressed much the same, and were seated on puncheon benches around the sides of the cabin. Captain Barnes, at that time County Commissioner, performed the marriage ceremony, with due and becoming dignity. At the conclusion of the ceremony, all the gentlemen present "saluted the bride." When this ceremony had been completed, old Mr. Brown produced a "noggin" of whisky and a bran-new tin-cup — then considered a very aristocratic drinking-vessel, — and passed the customary beverage to all present. All drank from the cup, filling it from the "noggin" when empty, and passing it from hand to hand until again empty. The liquor soon began to make the guests merry, and jokes and songs were considered to be in order. George Matthews, a gay old bachelor, was considered a very fine ballad-singer, and sang a song that would scarcely be considered appropriate on a festive occasion at this day. Mr. Andrews gives from memory two verses of this ballad:

"There's the silly old man
Of a hundred and twenty,
Who pines on his riches,
Though stores he has plenty;

"He'll exchange all his riches,
His lands and his rents,
For a worm-eaten coffin,
A hundred years hence."

     This song was vigorously applauded, and was followed by several others of the same sort. The party dispersed about eleven o'clock.
     During this season, William Betson, a New-Light preacher, preached in this settlement, at Canton, and at other points in the county. His wife was a German lady, and waged warfare against the Masonic fraternity,—her one argument, on all occasions, being, "I does not pelief in dose Freemasoners; kaze 'dey vont lets de vimmens knows all apout it: so dere!"
     In 1824, Yelverton Peyton erected a house within the present city limits, on the Coleman tract, near where Hayden Keeling now occupies as a brickyard. Peyton was a large man and a giant in strength. It is said that he cut the logs for his cabin and "backed" them up on his shoulders, carrying logs no two ordinary men could have lifted. Peyton lived here a few years and was taken down with consumption. He went south, finally, for his health, and died. His widow, who is a sister of John McCann, is still living near Utica.
     Until about 1830, there were no regular dry-goods stores in Canton. Up to that period goods were purchased either at Edwardsville or St. Louis. The settlers would several of them club together, and select one or two of their number to take a "pirogue," loaded with the neighborhood peltry, beeswax and honey, to one or the other of those markets, and exchange it for salt, lead, powder, and such other goods as might be within the scope of their ambition or means. This trip occupied about two months' time, and was attended with considerable difficulty and not a little danger.
     One of the buildings erected in Canton in 1825 was a school-house. It was situated on the west side of Wood street, between Union and Illinois streets, on the lot now owned and occupied by Hon. A. C. Babcock. John C. Owens was the first school-teacher. This house merits a description. It was of logs, unhewn and by no means straight. The roof was low and covered with clap­boards, kept in place by weight-poles. The house-logs were very small, of willow and cottonwood timber, principally. Several holes were cut through the logs to let the dark out, but admitted a very scanty supply of light. The floor, for the first year, was of the best variety of prairie soil, tramped hard by the feet of the young ideas who were there taught to shoot. The seats were logs split in two parts and supported on pins driven into holes bored for the purpose. The one writing-desk was a wide puncheon, with its upper surface planed, and supported on slanting pins driven into one of the logs. The door, of unshaved clap­boards, swung upon wooden hinges. One side of the room was occupied by an enormous old-fashioned fireplace. There was no ceiling save the clapboard roof, although one or two joists held a wide puncheon, whereon, at overcrowded meetings—for this school-house also did duty as a place of worship,—the more adventurous of the boys would climb and sit out the service, with their bare legs swinging over the heads of the worshipers below. Here Owens assembled a few of the children in the winter of 1825 and 1826—Jo. and Jim Anderson, Henry Andrews, Ed. Therman, Harriet, Elmira and Williston Jones, the Owens children, the Peyton, Hughland and Fraker children, and a few others. Owens was succeeded by Ezra Fairchild. Fairchild succeeded in getting a puncheon floor put into the school-house, and some other trifling improvements made. He was an excellent teacher, and for many years held the position of Justice of the Peace in Canton, being the successor of Isaiah Stillman in that office.
     Fairchild opened the first coal-mine ever regularly worked in the township. It was a drift mine, on the Morse quarter, and the mouth of the mine opened at the east side of where the engine-house of Babcock's Mill is now built.
     In 1823 there settled, on the northwest quarter of section thirty-five, 7 North, 4 East, a man by the name of Joseph Anderson. Anderson had before been living for a time near the present site of Utica. He had been a soldier in the British army during the war of 1812; but, being taken prisoner by the American forces under General Scott, had decided to cast his fortunes with the American people. Anderson was a thorough-going, enterprising man, an Irishman of education, and the kind of man best adapted to pioneer life. He brought with him to Canton township seven children—five boys and three girls. The boys were Joseph, Richard, James, Samuel, and A. N., familiarly known as Doc. Anderson. Samuel died when only seven years old; Richard died here at an early day, James only a few years ago. Joseph and A. N. are still living in Canton. The girls were Marguerette, who died here unmarried; Jane and Isabella, both of whom were—Jane the first, and Isabella the second — wives of J. B. Maloney. Isabella is still living in Canton.
     Mrs. Anderson survived her husband until August, 1865, residing constantly on the old homestead. She was an excellent woman, well remembered, by old and young who lived in Canton during her life, as "Aunt Molly Anderson." She was in some degree eccentric, but kind, genial, and hospitable. No person in want or trouble ever applied to her for aid or sympathy and was refused.
     The Anderson farm extended as far north as Walnut street, and as far west as the C. B. & Q. railroad track. A portion of it is now occupied by Anderson's Addition to Canton.
     The very first mill of any description in Canton township was a band-mill owned by Father Fraker, as he was called, who lived on the east end of Captain Barnes's farm, a little west and north of the Fairview Bridge. He came into the neighborhood in 1823, and remained two or three years, when he removed to Frakers Grove, in the north part of the state, to which he gave its name.
     There was a family here in 1824 by the name of Garland, who lived on the Coleman land. Garland is believed to have been a brother-in-law of Kinney, but little is known of him.
     In 1826 the entire population of Canton consisted of the families of Nathan Jones, Samuel Morse, John Hannan, J. C. Owens, Harrison Hughland—who went to the lead-mines with his family the next year and did not return,—Joseph Anderson, Wm. Higgins, Yelverton Peyton, and Isaac Swan—a single man. Swan soon after married Elizabeth Addis.
     In the township, outside of Canton, were living Captain D. W. Barnes, Theodore Sergeant, Charles Sergeant, Henry Therman, George Matthews, Aaron Roberts, John Pixley, Seth Littler—in whose memory Littler's Creek, in Knox county, was named,— David Gallentine, a Mr. Campbell, John Coleman, Father Fraker, Thos. Wolf, Daniel Babbett, and possibly one or two others, whose names are not now known.
     In about 1824, Jacob Ellis was living in the neighborhood of Independence, in Putman township. He was running a band mill, the first in this portion of the county. I am indebted to Reynolds's History of Illinois for a description of the pioneer "band mill."
     "The Band Mill was so called because a raw-hide band was put on the large drive-wheel, in the place of cogs; it saved the gearing of the mill. They constituted the lowest and cheapest order of horse-mills. Pins are put in the place of cogs, and around them the band is placed. These pins may be changed into holes made for the purpose, so that the bands may be made tight when necessary."
     John Coleman established one of these mills north of the Fairview Bridge. This mill was celebrated for "making haste—and meal—slowly." It was said that it ran so slow that the dogs were in the habit of chewing in two the band while the mill was running; when Coleman would call to Jerry, who drove the team, to know what was the matter, and Jerry would respond that "the dod derned dogs had chawed the band in two again."
     Jacob Ellis erected a water mill between Canton and Lewistown about 1824, which did a good business. He erected another mill within three miles of Canton, on Big Creek, about 1829-'30. This mill brought milling very convenient to the people of Canton.
     Some of the people, who were not close to some of these primitive mills, contented themselves with preparing their meal on a "grater." These "graters" were perforated sheets of tin bowed on to a board, so that the shape was similar to half of a section of stove-pipe; the rough edges of the perforated tin would tear the grains of corn, when it was rubbed briskly over its surface, and by an hour's hard labor meal enough for a small cake could be manufactured.


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